Sunday, January 27, 2013

Spoiler Alert: John Dies at the End

David Wong's 2007 novel, JOHN DIES AT THE END, was lovingly described by cult favorite horror director Don Coscarelli as "Stephen King meets Douglas Adams". I admit I can't speak for Wong's novel, but if Coscarelli's new film of the same name is any indication, I tend to think a more fitting comparison might have been if Hunter S. Thompson had decided to start adding to the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. Needless to say Coscarelli quickly purchased the rights to adapt Wong's book soon after he'd read it, and with principal photography having started in 2010, the long, strange journey has come to a close, resulting in a 99 minute film that premiered at Sundance in January of 2012, and has finally seen the light of day in North America one year later, with the "official" test-release at the Arclight Theater in Santa Monica this week. I sincerely hope it does well, as the box office take there will determine how wide a release Magnolia Entertainment will actually give it across the country.

So... what on earth can you even say about this flick? At the end of the day, the film is largely an origin story for a pair of slacker supernatural busting specialists, both blessed and cursed with the ability to see, hear, and interact with things on a dimensional wavelength not usually offered to the people of Earth. Cellular hot dogs, explosive corpses, wormholes into alternate histories, zombie biker skinheads, and gratuitous cartoon violence become the norm in a film that only continues to up its WTF factor after a charming opening monologue that sets the irreverent, violent, surreal, and philosophically curious tone that follows. The heroic David Wong - and thus, the film itself, is smart enough to ask these questions and present them in a terrifyingly meaningful way... it's just that neither of them really care.

Perhaps "terrifying" isn't a word that'll go on to describe the film in general, though. I suppose for lack of a better classification it is, technically, a horror film dealing with interdimensional invaders and angry souls from beyond this mortal coil, but the often accidentally-heroic duo of David Wong (oddly Caucasian Chase Williamson - yes, they explain that) and John Cheese (Rob Mayes) go about their work of exorcism, monster killing, and alien tracking with a sort of detached frustration, having initially only gotten involved when their own lives were on the line and eventually took to handling wayward trans-dimensional visitors as a way to make ends meet. It's not like you'll tend to be much good at doing anything else when you're constantly seeing creatures and people from alternate realities in your every day life, anyway. There's a level of mystery and repulsive body-horror that flows through the film, but it's a dry, snarky comedy first and a love letter to horror later, in the same way that the aforementioned Douglas Adams had a gift for turning the stuffy minutiae of Science Fiction world building and made it a place to joke about how there are no answers - not any that make sense, at the very least.

The bulk of the film is actually a flashback to when David and John were first introduced to "soy sauce", the nickname they give an alien goo that gives both of them a shocking level of perception unknown to most people. He decides to meet a down on his luck reporter and give a confession, of sorts, to the skeptical Arnie (Paul Giamatti). He weaves a story of madness, violence and paranoia, of his friends being murdered by a strange new drug that turns them inside-out, about a spore shedding demon named Shitload, and a universe dedicated to caring for a being known only as Korrok. It's a lot to take in, but the devil's really in the details, and honestly even mentioning the existance of the "Meat Monster" is bordering on territory I'd rather you guys just saw for yourselves. This story is so strange, so layered, so different from anything I've seen in ages that, honestly, I'm amazed it was made in the first place, much less that it's currently in an extremely limited theatrical release (while also, incidentally, playing On Demand and getting a Blu-ray/DVD release in April). I'm clearly an advocate of people watching movies in general, but with all the dedication this uniquely fucked up journey clearly had put into it, I'm doubly inclined to request that anyone reading the thought-vomit that comes out of my digital mouth somehow pay to see this thing. They don't make 'em like this anymore - hell, they never really did! - but the fact that they even tried is incredibly beautiful, and it deserves your time, your respect, and give or take, twenty dollars out of your wallet.

The film isn't flawless, though arguably the biggest problem is that it's not entirely a straight adaptation of David Wong's book. Don Coscarelli served as both screen writer and director, and while he clearly loved Wong's original material, he also knew going in that once the original novel gets to Las Vegas it basically became "unfilmable", at least on the modest budgets they were asking for. (The actual production budget has yet to have been revealed, but if it was more than one or two million dollars I'd be surprised.) Coscarelli did the best he could as the man bringing Wong's unconventional novel to the screen, adapting the first 1/3rd or so of the text as close to verbatim as he could, and then skipped to the last stretch of the novel's episodic insanity, hoping to explain just enough about the universe the origin story took place in, and give us an idea of how David and John "became" accidental heroes. Coscarelli's film may be a shadow of Wong's original novel for all I know, but as a movie that stands on its own two feet, the story felt complete enough, at least in that "This Is Going To Be A Beloved Midnight Movie 20 Years From Now" sort of way. Again, I haven't read the book myself, but on its own merit the film explains everything it absolutely had to and leaves itself open-ended enough that it could continue on perhaps indefinitely, with David and John traveling to untold alien worlds and fending off every kind of crazy bogeyman the universe can throw at them... and yet, it doesn't have to. We get enough to be satisfied with, and it's a fun ride unto itself. Still, Don Coscarelli says anyone who liked the movie can find a bunch of great stuff that he didn't get a chance to show us, and with their continuing adventures having already culminated in a full length sequel called, I kid you not: This Book Is Full Of Spiders. (Seriously Don't Touch It.)

I'll admit that as fascinating and fun as the film is, there are still limits to adapting difficult material like this on a shoestring budget; the practical effects and fairly limited use of CG in the first hour or so all work just fine, but once the "Ghost Door" makes its appearance the TV quality digital effects become a bit more apparent, and the last act - a sweeping, grandiose tale that introduces a creature of Lovecraftian scale - begins to look just a little silly, and not the same kind of silly the Meat Monster or Brain Crab set pieces had been. Honestly, it just looks cheap, and not even in the "we totally meant to do that" way I can almost forgive in films like Father's Day. It's still fun, and packed with a surreal sense of humor and some fantastic moments of unprecedented badassery, it just doesn't have the same intimate, natural connection with the audience that the first hour and change were so good at keeping. Before Korrok's Universe is introduced, everything felt absurd but totally, unmistakably possible and "real" in the limited scope of the story being told; once that alternate dimension is introduced, the whole thing feels just a bit hokey. It ends on a high note, though, and even when the film fails to convince us that what we're seeing is in any way legit, it's still a charming and confounding experience that I recommend you take for what it is, and not what it could have been with limitless resources.

The two leads were graduates fresh from UCLA, if I'm remembering right, but the characters they're playing are supposed to be young and a bit thick-headed anyway, and I thought they did a very good job with the admittedly difficult to roll with material they were handed. Angus "The Tall Man" Scrimm has a memorable cameo, Kevin Michael Richardson has some utterly howl-inducing vocal acid to sling as Korrok, Glynn Turman is left with the unenviable position of being the heavy in a film where he doesn't understand the forces he's up against, Clancy Brown shows up to be the ultimate psychic badass in the cheesiest wrapper possible, Daniel Roebuck affably convinces us he's a dedicated and dangerous cultist (despite never taking off what vaguely looks like a trimmed down Richard Nixon mask), Doug Jones gets to walk around with his actual face hanging out for a change, and if you don't immediately want to hug Fabienne Therese there might be something physically wrong with you. Even the nothing parts that get one or two lines are consistently decent, and while Giamatti is easily the "biggest" name attached to this film it's worth noting that he was a producer and probably showed up just because he thought it was such a goddamn cool idea. He was right, too.

I like Phantasm and Beast Master just fine, but this and Bubba Ho-Tep are by far the best features Coscarelli has given us yet. I'm hard-pressed to say which is "better" since they operate on such different wavelengths; it's like asking someone if The Godfather is better than Apocalypse Now, a slightly useless comparison only made possible by the fact that the same man happened to direct both. (The answer is Apocalypse Now, by the way.) It's just a fun, uniquely crazy ride that's far better experienced than described. I haven't been this pleasantly befuddled about what to say about a movie since the sexual-dysfunction fueled beat poetry epic that was Dr. Caligari, and at least that was such an obscure piece of lost trash I had no choice but to say something about it. John Dies at the End is readily available to anyone with cable or The Internet, and as such I'm willing to let you guys bite the bullet and decide for yourselves what muddled adjectives should be strung together to try and explain what just made your brain boil and then glaze over.

If you need any more convincing, just take a peek here:

I don't get to say this anywhere near often enough, but the film not only delivers everything the advertisements promise, but it surpasses any sane expectation they might have given you.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Kentai's Rage 2

Koei-Tecmo's multi-format fan baiting extravaganza, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR: KEN'S RAGE 2/真・北斗無双, was released in Japan in late December and remains set for a North American/European release in early February. I gave the first game a fairly positive review here when it came out, and while I stand by everything I said: The game does an admirable job of condensing the Hokuto no Ken saga into a linear, arcade style beat-em-up adventure, with an "original" storyline that puts the forces of Hokuto and Nanto into a bizarre 'what if?' scenario that'll be of interest to fans familiar with the universe of Buronson and HARA Tetsuo. It does, however, get slightly tedious once you've finished the two main storylines and are basically just grinding the 8 playable characters to unlock the rest of their finishing moves that (at that point) won't actually help you beat the game anyway.

Understand, the game was announced as a part of the Dynasty Warriors franchise right from the start, so nobody can claim they didn't know exactly what they were getting into; repetitive grinding with a half-dozen characters on the same map using a total of four main attacks and occasional limit breakers is basically that franchise's whole thing, and I'll fault nobody for either loving them or finding them boring as shit. I've got one foot in both camps, but seriously, you got to play as fucking Jagi, steal a thug's motorcycle, and shoot missiles at a 10 foot mutant before whipping your Hokuto Hyakuretsu Ken on his stupid face. Every word of that sentence is awesome in a blatant fan-wankery sort of way, and the moment I start apologizing for it is the moment I start apologizing for loving Hokuto no Ken's unbridled, borderline parody level of grotesquely 80s machismo in the first place.

Now, here's the stickiest of wickets; Sony has a blanket policy that all disc-based games MUST have English audio upon their US release. They can have other languages - in this case, most notably Japanese - as well, but an English dub is a necessity to appear at Best Buy and Wal-Mart. Based, I'm sure, on "meh" sales of the first game K-T decided to release this in Japanese with subtitles only. Hey, groovy - I never listened to the dub on the first game anyway, and have some difficulty understanding why anyone would. In other words, Ken's Rage 2 has become a download-only game in North America, because Sony said fuck subtitles.

Meanwhile France, Italy, and possibly other areas that grew up watching Kenshiro murder-fuck the entire human race as children, are getting a port of the positively bitchin' Japanese Collector's Edition:

Visual Storybook, a postcard calendar, art cards with (presumably) DLC for the original manga outfits, the original soundtrack CD likely missing the new V6 themesong, and a goddamn 4GB USB stick shaped like Kenshiro. This is fucking AWESOME... and as an American I get offered not one scrap of it. The "International Version" probably has more blood, I admit, but if I can't save MP3's to Kenshiro's dick, I'm still a sad violence entertainment junkie.

Importing is theoretically an option, but at 99 Euros MSRP it probably would have been cheaper to have bought the Japanese release. I also have no clue if 720P games are rejiggered in Europe to playback at 50fps - a curious glance through various forums suggest that I'm in the clear on that one - but at the very least it'd put me in a shitty spot should I want to experience some DLC. And if that means more chapters of the original manga are brought to life, you bet your ass I'm interested.

At this point there's no word on the price tag for the US Download Only release, but I have little doubt I'll bitch and moan, pop a new fucking HDD into my PS3, bend over and bite the bullet in the end. I've loved Hokuto no Ken since even before purchasing VHS tapes every month at Suncoast Video was a thing, and I have little doubt that cult favorite franchises like this won't be available on disc much longer anyway. Still, for this to be a title that got slapped with the DL-only model just fills me with... well, you know.

EDIT: Since I didn't specify this earlier, apparently the US Xbox 360 version will still be released on physical media for the full MSRP of $59.99. No word yet on the size or price of the PS3/WiiU releases, though.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Little Sister Can't Be This Expensive

Fans of the only slightly-satirical exploration of otaku culture, OreImo: My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute/俺の妹がこんなに可愛いわけがない are going to get more of the fantastic TV series starting in April. This is good news in the Kentai household, as I thought the show was a well realized, charming piece of  fluff that basically revels in how silly this little hobby of ours is at its core. One of the funniest goddamn things I've ever seen as a nerd willing to share that which tickles my fancy is the "Viewing Party" episode. If you haven't had this exact infuriating experience, at least once, you aren't sharing your affinity for nonsense hard enough.

Whatever misgivings I had about turning the vices of creepy young men into a peppy young lass who keeps her fandom (quite literally) in the closet was basically ended with the episode where Kirino spends the entire time playing a galge in which you carefully weigh your options to molest cute pubescent girls; if there was ever a moment of clarity and truth in  this show, this was the one. Kirino is one of us, putting on a pretentious, cloying facade of somehow being better than everyone else with the same fascinations, but at the end of the day it's just who she is, and if we're comfortable with it, nobody else's understanding of our fantastic vices and affection for entertainment comfort food should matter in the first place! Trash is treasure, friends, and as long as you know the difference on your own terms, why do you care what other people think? OreImo's sole piece of advice is "to thine own self be true", and it does it by showing you how absurd and self-servicing the very entertainment you consume is. It was the logical next step after The Melancholy of Haruhi Susumiya, and at least as of this writing hasn't mostly been nullified by a second season that serves as epic trolling more than narrative advancement.

We've been supporting the show since its broadcast by the most sensible manner we found: My wife owns all of the non-variant Good Smile figures released so far, and we only held off on the initial Aniplex of America LE DVD set because... well, it was a goddamn DVD. The show was animated in HD and was already getting Blu-ray singles in Japan, so why buy an SD release? We figured patience would pay off, and a recent announcement had - at least at face value - proven that we were due a High Definition, English subtitled release eventually.

2/27 is the official US release date for the OREIMO BD-BOX, and at first I was excited to give the show a re-watch... but then, I saw the odd note that it was an "Import". Aniplex of America has done this before, and it means we're actually getting the same exact box set as Japan, which already has English subtitles on it. Heck, we talked about this when I bought two out of three of those mostly-awesome RUROUNI KENSHIN OVA sets, and I also purchased the R.O.D: READ OR DIE box, though admittedly the latter I only grabbed up when the price had sunk pretty dramatically in an effort to get rid of whatever stock remained. That's the same reason I now own the stripped-down US release of BACCANO!, despite never once having seen the show or knowing much about it beyond "it made everybody flip their shit".

On the one hand, that means we get the same as-of-yet-unseen impressive packaging... on the other, it means that we're paying full Japanese prices. In this case, $278.98, which is A) the "discounted" price from the seemingly arbitrary $329.98 MSRP, and B) due to a number of factors, that means it's actually $30 cheaper to import the fucking thing from Amazon Japan, shipping included! If that doesn't raise any fucking red flags, I don't know what could.

Look, Aniplex... I get it, I do. You're catering to the bleeding edge fans of these shows, and goddamn it, I was right there with you when I paid over $200 to get all three Puella Magi Madoka Magica LE sets, in part because I was curious if you'd make good on that threat to make a "Bonus Item" TRSI would ship out, should it ever materialize. (They didn't, by the way.) I was walking along the proverbial edge, ready to pull the trigger for Bakemonogatari, despite the fact that $150 is slightly more than Shinbou's indulgent experiment is actually worth. You're trying to find that sweet spot between the cheap assholes who want everything to be $30 a season and the crazy Japanese bastards who are willing to spend $100 on two goddamn episodes, and sometimes you figure a title will shift more one way than the other. I won't fault you for seeing where that line is, even if you think it changes for each and every title.

Personally, I wish more BDs were $50 "Limited Edition" deals sporting new transfer instead of a $20 bargain release that looked like crap, and yes, I acknowledge that high quality releases should cost more due to the investment they clearly require. But where's that line? At what point do they put a product on the market that's so over-priced that you just can't justify it? For me, this is the goddamn line. There reaches a point where you've gone too goddamn far, and for you to be selling a $330 Blu-ray set right next to a $60 DVD set with the exact same content is my personal limit. I'm not mad, I'm not boycotting you or even suggesting anyone around me does the same. I'm just... not gonna' fucking buy this. I wish I could. It was something I really wanted. But the terms just aren't worth it, not for this, or for any show I can think of. If the set ever hits the $150 mark, I dunno, maybe we'll revisit this.

Make no mistake, OreImo is a fantastic series, and one both your time and your paycheck... it's just not worth $269, not unless you regularly spend that much on Japanese imports to start with. You guys do exist the world over, and I admire your enthusiasm, even if I don't quite share it. I could literally get a half-dozen shows of the same exact length from FUNimation, Sentai Filmworks or NIS America for the exact same price, and as disappointed as I am that OreImo won't be one of them, I think that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Upscaled Lovecraftian Horrors

The cover itself is promising you that there's a less FSK
heavy option on the reverse side. Jesus, Germany...

I was lucky enough to watch DAGON on 35mm a few weeks ago, which to both director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna's recollection might have been the first time an actual print was played in the United States. On the opposite end of the viewing perspective, this could literally have been the very last movie I ever rented on VHS, and despite having thought it was pretty good I never picked it up on DVD, so my memory was a bit hazier on the whole thing than I'd like to admit. Upon a second, much-belated viewing I think I like the film better than when I'd seen a fuzzy pan-scan print, finally getting to appreciate just how atmospheric and uncomfortable the mostly untouched Spanish locales the film takes full advantage, and the film's big twist - which actually begins in the first reel and only becomes obvious towards the end - works better than I remembered. Ezra Godden was decent enough a bastard who couldn't have worse luck if he'd tried, and having learned that he was actually British but perfected a flawless American accent gave me a new level of respect for him as a performer. Macarena Gómez also impresses as well as the pagan priestess who shifts gears seamlessly from childish damsel in distress to sadistic murderous psycho-bitch without missing a beat. Celebrated Spanish character actor Francisco Rabal also makes something of an extended cameo in the thankless role of a filthy drunk filled with exposition, but he does a lot with just a little and is rewarded with, easily, the most disgusting set piece in the whole movie.

Dagon - or, really, Shadow over Insmouth - is perhaps looked at less fondly than Gordon's other attempts to bring H.P. Lovecraft to life due to its troubled, decades long history. The plan was actually to shoot this as a sort of sequel to Re-Animator with Jeffery Combs and Barbara Crampton as the stars, but a lack of sustainable funding and being unable to find a suitably scummy New England fishing village half a century after the original tale was penned kept pushing production back, until Gordon and Yuzna had essentially pushed it off to produce a string of other Lovecraft-themed works, which ended in Gordon directing the thematically similar From Beyond and Castle Freak (and, much later on, Dreams in the Witch House), and Yuzna directing a pair of sequels to Re-Animator, an interesting choice considering there was lore left over to explore, even though the titular character was torn to shreds in the final reel of the first film. It's never as overtly grotesque or emotionally as its better known Gordon/Yuzna/Lovecraft brethrin, but Dagon is still a great, perhaps underrated horror film, and likely the most complete, faithful, and on some levels perhaps even the most satisfying adaptation of Howard Philips' universe of eldritch terror to date.

The only part of the film that really drags it down is the clumsy CG, which was pretty bad even when the film was released in 2001, but it only crops up in a handful of scenes and the over the top nature of the material meant they had to roll the dice one way or another. The majority of the film's effects are of the practical variety, and all of them look fantastic, as do the religiously themed set designs and unnerving score which literally uses the now ironically legendary Call of Cthulhu chant as its basis. There's little doubt that Guillermo del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness had at least the potential to take be the "Ultimate" Cthulhu Mythos movie, but unless Del Toro and Tom Cruise can convince producers that $200 Million is a small risk to take on an R-rated 3D horror film based on an 80 year old novel that sounds almost suspiciously like the 2011 "premake" of The Thing (which flopped pretty hard), I'm happy with Gordon's film taking the top spot on the pyramid of cinematic attempts to bring Lovecraft's madness into the 20th and even 21st century.

Naturally I was excited when I saw that a new German Blu-ray was making the rounds... and then immediately recoiled when I saw the CAPS-A-HOLIC COMPARISON with the R1 DVD. I'll grant that the German release is a minor upgrade over Lionsgate's horribly compressed DVD, but the total lack of fine detail, grain, and heavy issues like edge-ringing and aliasing all make this look suspiciously like an SD upscale. Even if it's not an upscale and I'm just being thrown off by a terrible HD master (as was the case with Image's 2012 BD release of Re-Animator), I stand by my bitter disappointment. The 35mm print I saw was full of print damage and had a generally soft, hazy appearance, but it still looked substantially better than anything in those above comparisons. The fact that the US DVD KINDA' SUCKS compared to the uncut German release makes this comparison even less telling than it could have otherwise been.

If you're still on the fence, also keep in mind that this is the FSK 18 cut of the film, which is missing 20 SECONDS. The FSK board might as well be dragging their balls all over the negative with that cut!

Censored, upscaled, and not even a sweet Digibook to distract you from the rest of those issues? Yeah, this is one German release I'm going to sit out. It's a damned shame, since having been reminded how good this movie is I'd love to get my hands on a nice HD release.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Union Jackoff

This, friends, is the Venus of Cyrene. It's over two thousands years old, and while perhaps not as famous as its not quite so headless cousin, the Venus de Milo, it remains an iconic, haunting relic of mankind's fascination, obsession, and boundless appreciation for the youthful, fertile, female form.

This is... not a statue of Venus. It's the "Zombie Bait Edition" of the DEAD ISLAND: RIPTIDE due April 23rd, and yes, the first sequel to a game I had more than a bit of fun (and a pound of intense frustration) with. But still, the inspiration seems pretty goddamn evident, doesn't it?

Most surprising of all is that the hand painted, solid resin torso - complete with (as of yet unannounced) individualized bikini themes for different areas of the world - was met with... wait for it... controversy. First you get the hate mail from people calling it trash. Then Deep Silver's own apology, which reads like this:

We deeply apologize for any offense caused by the Dead Island Riptide "Zombie Bait Edition," the collector's edition announced for Europe and Australia. Like many gaming companies, Deep Silver has many offices in different countries, which is why sometimes different versions of Collector's Editions come into being for North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

For the limited run of the Zombie Bait Edition for Europe and Australia, a decision was made to include a gruesome statue of a zombie torso, which was cut up like many of our fans had done to the undead enemies in the original Dead Island.

We sincerely regret this choice. We are collecting feedback continuously from the Dead Island community, as well as the international gaming community at large, for ongoing internal meetings with Deep Silver's entire international team today. For now, we want to reiterate to the community, fans and industry how deeply sorry we are, and that we are committed to making sure this will never happen again.

There's also a fun little twist where Deep Silver basically said "Hey, how do you know what's under that thong?" on the same twitter account they apologized with, suggesting that everyone being so upset that this literal chunk of resin somehow represents violence towards one half the planet's population might actually be upset about violence against transgendered individuals. Because that tactic totally worked for Poison in Final Fight. (And by "worked out" I mostly mean "tons of canonically justified shemale porn".)

Perhaps you've not noticed yet, but y'know what that sincere, heartfelt apology was missing? A CANCELLATION. In other words, they're sorry all the way to the bank, and if you don't like the grotesque jacked-up lady torso... well, fuck you. It's not like it's going to come with the regular edition of the game anyway, and considering the collector's edition for the first game came with a thoroughly gore-soaked beach towel, I'd say this is kicking it up to the next logical level.

Another thing that I'm surprised a lot of people seemingly haven't picked up on is the fact that the Union Jack Edition is going to Australia. The land down under, home of Paul Hogan and the late, great Croc Hunter. Y'know, the country that, as of this week, FINALLY ALLOWED ADULTS TO PLAY AN 18+ RATED VIDEO GAME. This was a calculated assault on good taste in the name of extravagant, corporate trolling - what else would it be? It's a foot tall hunk of gore that literally serves no useful purpose!

That said, while I'll totally cop to it being trash, I'm less convinced that it's overtly misogynistic trash. Yes, the perfect pair of presumably jiggly D-cups on an otherwise gnawed on torso of exposed meat and bone is another layer of sexually charged offense, but is it literally celebrating the destruction of the female form? And does that alone denote an obsession or thread of violence towards women? The last year or so has been packed to the gills with talk of sexism in geek culture and especially in relation to vidjah games, what with the whole Anita Sarkeesian shit storm (which I really should talk about at some point), and naturally, that's the first thing that pops up when they had the balls to put a pair of tits on anything that might piss people off.

Is the bust offensive? Duh, just look at the goddamn thing. But is it literally misogynist? I tend to think not, or at the very least, not intentionally. For one thing, I have trouble believing that any sculptor, any artist - commercial or otherwise - isn't at least passingly familiar with the history of his or her chosen medium, and as such I really do think that they based this item on the statue we've got up at the very top of the page. I also think that the presence of a bikini gave them an easy way to create obvious, distinct versions for different areas of the world. The even more obvious reaction I have to it is that had this been a male torso, Deep Silver would be trying to fend off an overwhelming number of people talking about how gay it was, and with the primary audience for most extreme violence themed merchandise being middle class males in their teens and twenties, I can see why offending the squares and ladies seemed like a better idea for this particular product concept. Most 20 year olds with an Xbox Live account probably don't know what the word "misogynistic" means, but you bet your ass they'd turn their backs on an overpriced lump of plastic if the community could just as easily have called this the Queer Bait Edition.

Besides, let's be real for a second; if this HAD been a male torso, say one based on David, do you really think people would have reacted much differently? Maybe there would have been different insults - "pornographic violence" or "sick in the head" or whatever - but it still would have involved a lot of people bitching, still would have involved Deep Silver giving a half-hearted apology for upsetting people, and it still would have come out. The difference is tits will sell better than dick, and anyone who thinks otherwise has about as much brains as Miss Britania up there.

Oh yeah, and it turns out the game designers liked that Hokuto no Ken themed Dead Island mod I posted a video of in '11 that they basically invented a new character just so you could punch zombies back to death. And best of all, his name is John Morgen, which should pretty well silence any lingering doubt that these guys just fuckin' love Fulci movies.

UPDATE (1/20): Deep Silver have apparently confirmed that while the Zombie Bait Edition will still come out in Europe, if nowhere else, us Yanks who are all terrified of lady parts will only be getting the substantially less icky Rigor Mortis Edition, which comes with a zombie hula girl, replica room key, zombie hand bottle opener and the whole thing comes packaged in a suitcase-themed lunchbox.

So... there you have it. The fan community bitched just hard enough to prevent Americans from getting anything obscene, but not the Aussies and the Brits. How fucking weird is that?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Texas Chainsaw" Massacred in 3D

So let's just get this out of the way; Lionsgate's 2013 revival of Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, is not a good film. I'm confident that everyone reading this doesn't survive on a diet of lead paint chips and Jersey Shore reruns alone, so I'm pretty confident you all guessed that from the title alone. Having finally seen this confounding mess for myself, however, I'm convinced it's the WHY this is a bad movie that's worth talking about. Just so we're clear, SPOILERS follow, but you really shouldn't watch this movie - at least not without knowing exactly what sort of pain you're in for -  so... proceed as you like.

Opening on August 19th, 19XX, the day Sally Hardesty escaped from the deadly Texas clan that massacred her friends, the sheriff of Newt (Thom Barry in an afro wig) drives up to the Sawyer farmhouse to take in Jed, the "simple boy" they had long assumed was capable of destructive force. He never gets a chance to take him peacefully, though, as a local mob of Good Ol' Boys led by the future mayor (Paul Rae) show up to enact a little street justice, and burn the Sawyer's home to the ground, lobbing molotov cocktails first and asking questions never. There was one survivor, a baby pulled from her dying mothers' arms, and left for dead (because apparently a kick to the face is a one-hit-kill in Texas), and taken in secret by one of the vigilantes unable to have children for themselves. The local band of thugs declare themselves heroes, hang the recovered chainsaw from the local pub as a trophy, and are confident that the deadly legacy of the Sawyer clan is over...

Right from the start, we're treated to cameos by Bill Mosley, Gunnar Hansen and John Dugan - names that should be all too familiar to anyone who consider themselves fans of the first two Tobe Hooper Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. Bill Mosley is playing Draton "The Cook" Sawyer - an interesting touch, considering he played Draton's eldest son Chop Top about 15 years earlier - and Dugan is actually reprising his mute, make-up heavy role as Grampa from the original film! Curiously, Gunnar Hansen isn't playing Leatherface, except in the stock footage leading up to this scene... instead he's playing a never before seen Sawyer Patriarch who snorts out that they should "give up the boy", which may be the only time I've ever seen an actor literally tell the audience fuck my other character in this same universe. It's jarring, uncomfortable even, and feels like it was a cameo put there just to satisfy fans of the original but does it in a way that un-does the majesty of Hansen's original role in the first place. This sort of clumsy, mismatched fanservice logic will come to dominate the film's runtime... but, let's get back to the story for a while.

Fast Forward 20 years, and the baby pulled from the wreck has grown into the lovely Heather (Alexandra Daddario), who's push up bra clearly prevent her from ever finding a shirt that covers more than half of her ribcage. Maybe she's just convinced Jessica Biel somehow didn't show enough belly button in the 2004 flick, I don't know. She also makes nifty, if morbid art projects with the meat-refuse she brings home from working in the butcher shop at a supermarket, and her plans to take a trip to N'orlans for Mar-Tay-Grass with her boyfriend Ryan (hip hop mucisian Trey Songz), her best friend Nikki (Tanya Raymonde), and said gal's new beau Kenny (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) are cut short when she gets an unexpected letter, informing her that her grandmother has passed away. Not knowing she even had a living grandmother, she confronts her parents, only to learn that she was adopted, and - after a shitty meeting that proves she may have been better off with her blood relatives - leaves in a huff, and considers forgetting all about it... only for her friends to surprise her by saying they'll accompany her to Texas! Awww! Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker (Shaun Sipos) - a surprisingly well spoken, beefcakey kind of hitcher you'd expect to find in a particularly classy porno, rather than a no-budget horror flick. But they nearly ran his handsome ass over, so hey, why not drag him along?

They meet with the Sawyer's lawyer (Richard Riehle), who gives Heather a letter and the keys to her new mansion, telling her that it's all hers now and that she can't even legally sell it... but seriously, please, read the fucking letter. This being a dumb horror film the notion of "reading" is promptly forgotten, so they explore their new digs and then leave that skeevy hitchhiker they picked up at a gas station alone, in the house, while they go to get supplies for the weekend - because who doesn't leave complete strangers alone with priceless antiques you've just inherited? Naturally he starts casing the joint, because legally you should get robbed in those circumstances, but he unlocks a strange, hidden door in the house, unleashing... DUN DUN DUN...

You guessed it: "Miss Leatherface".
I'm dead serious, this is a licensed costume.

Back in town, Ryan and Nikki are getting friendlier than they should - like, dick grabbingly so. Boyfriend tells Bestfriend "It was a mistake! I was shitfaced, stop turning my crank!" to which Bestfriend says "FUCK ME AGAIN, DAMMIT!", thus setting up a conflict that hadn't been hinted at, and naturally ends up with the two of them fucking like rabbits, off screen, in a filthy barn, where we both know all good infidelity happens. Ah well, there goes our "interracial relationship in a mainstream R-rated film cast in a positive light" vibe for the day. Don't get me wrong, I doubt they actually wrote Ryan's character giving much thought as to if he would be black or not in the finished film (because, y'know, that would imply there was any thought put in at all), but here we were with a generically happy couple who's difference in pigmentation hasn't meant shit, and yet, we have to pull out the fact that her generic best friend's sole characteristic is that she demands only the finest dark chocolate sausage in her baby oven. Hear me out, she's gone out of her way to point out that she likes Keram Malicki-Sanchez, so at this point there's really no other explanation other than she's bored of white dick. Again, probably wasn't the intention going in, but with zero other notable character traits, "unfaithful" is hardly an endearing one. Oh yeah, Keram M. Sanchez? His sole defining characteristic is "he can cook" and for what it's worth, he gets what might be the nastiest death scene in the film. So I guess he wins. I don't fucking know, it's difficult to keep track of which of these characters is the least interesting.

So everyone gets home, discovers that their hitcher was of the more Rutger Hauer variety than theyd expected, but can't find him anywhere. They shrug it off, instead of calling the cops or anything, get wasted from red plastic cups (you just inherited stemware to spare, goddamn, live it up a little!), and it's not until Skanky McSeducer's evidently wang-deficient boyfriend is baking a cake or, some shit I don't remember, that he winds up discovering Leatherface in the basement, and promptly gets fucked up pretty good with a meathook. (He gets sawn in half a little later, which is easily the most gruesome scene in the film, but even then if it's kinda'... whatever.) Everyone else is too busy boning or being depressed to hear him, and it's not until Leatherface discovers that Daddario is fucking around in the family plot that he gets his panties in a bunch and finally grabs the expected titular power tools for a good old fashioned Texas Barbeque. The most squirm-inducing scene from Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is appropriated here (and, to be fair, is probably the one really effective use of 3D in the whole flick), which gets the attention of the other surviving morons, who pick up our seemingly requisite Final Girl and get a move on. Leatherface trashes the van during an exceptionally ill-advised escape attempt, killing Heather's cheating boyfriend with a broken windshield (lame) and leaving her to act as a distraction so her slutty friend might live another... hour, maybe two. She inadvertantly drags Leatherface into a crowded carnival, where of course nobody dies, Heather shows off every inch of her belly hanging from a Ferris Wheel instead of just running more (because why not?), and a fucking cop has a loaded gun, but for some reason lets Leatherface escape into the night, despite a crumby looking CG chainsaw being an absolutely terrible ranged weapon. Any Gears of War fan could have told you that.

At the Newt police station, the mayor and the sheriff listen to what Oscar nominee Alexandra  Daddario has to say... which is surprisingly deadpan for someone who's friends have just been chainsawed into pieces. "He was wearing a face." What, a mask? "No. He was wearing a human face." Said with all the terror, confusion and anxiety of someone at the Burger King drive through confirming that, yes, I wanted a LARGE Mountain Dew, not a Medium. They're called away when another cop checks out the van and confirms that, holy shit, there's a blood trail going back the house, and we should totally check that shit out. Seeing a malicious glint in his eye, Sheriff Do Good tells Mayor McMurder Pants not to try any funny business, and our heroine reads through the police file left over her grandmother, which - conveniently! - features the newspaper from August 19th, spelling out in detail how the townsfolk murdered her clan and left her an orphan. This cuts back and fourth between a grouchy cop going down the bloody rabbit hole on goddamn FaceTime, so that the mayor and sheriff can explore the house despite not being there, doing, like, Sheriff Stuff. Yes, it's as retarded as it sounds, and it bums me out that South Park not only did this a few months ago, but did it better. Eventually Heather has had enough of slow-pans of police reports with the year of the incident conveniently smeared or blocked out, scrawls "MURDERERS" on the photo of the Good Ol' Boys who ruined her life before it began, and trots out to talk to the lawyer and figure out what the fuck he was thinking handing her a caged maniac in a backwoods town that probably just wants her dead.

Heather meets the lawyer at a crowded pub that still displays the spoils of the Sawyer razing, and explains that Leatherface - apparently named "Jedediah", because naming him Cletus or Darryl would just be silly - is just a simple boy and doesn't really understand what he's doing. Also, why didn't you READ THE FUCKING LETTER, YA DUMB BITCH? I mean he says it nicer, but that's the jist of it, and right around that time Mayor Scumsuck shows up to put that innocent girl in a world of hurt, even though she's literally done nothing except be a little snarky about, y'know, her entire bloodline having been Hitlered'. Meanwhile, Leatherface chops the face off of that one cop nobody thought to send back-up to, despite knowing he just accidentally shot someone before they lost contact, and we get confirmation that the rest of Heather's useless, stupid friends are in varying stages of being turned into delicious hamburger patties. Not that we see anything especially nasty, just some generic limb-flopping.

And oh yeah, apparently Officer Figpucker was one of the Good Ol' Boys who killed his family, which Leatherface promptly scratches off of his "Revenge Board". Seriously. It's setting itself up to be a fucking Kill Bill franchise.

As for our heroine, she escapes the mayor just long enough to be picked up by a local "good cop" who hit on her earlier, who - SURPRISE!! - is actually Mayor Scumfuck Jr., which actually isn't all that surprising when you figure A) you're in a county with, like, 500 people, and B) you're in a town where half of those 500 people banded together to burn your entire clan to the ground, and C) HE TOLD YOU TO GET INTO THE BACK OF A POLICE CAR. Lines, bitch. Read between them. Reading of any sort is clearly over Heather's pretty little head, and that's a shame. This being a shitty ironic sort of punishment trying to cram in yet another piece of misplaced fanservice, she's dragged to the old slaughterhouse, and tied up with her boobs almost exposed (and lookin' good, at that), along with her Sawyer Family "Birthmark" I've yet to mention because up until now it really hasn't mattered. Also, because it's stupid. A scar left on a baby would generally heal and distort until it was completely unrecognizable. The fucking pendant that left the mark in the first place was literally delivered to her on a silver platter. Fuck, wouldn't it have made, like, a hundred times more sense if she just put that on, and THAT'S why the rednecks were all ready to stab her? Getting ready to murder because of some baby coming back two decades later seems a wee bit paranoid, even for Deliverance rejects, but if she shows up literally wearing the standard of the people you thought you eradicated... well, it'd have made just a bit more sense.

And miss Daddario, seriously, please do a role in the near future where "almost exposed" isn't a phrase I have to use. By which I mean the 'almost' part of the phrase. You're kind of a terrible actress, or at least you were here. You're goddamn cute though, and I don't usually take the time to say that about an actress in a 7th franchise entry I'm seeing in what's the cinematic equivalent of hatesex. Those things stretching at your tank top are your best asset; use them while people might still care. Just, y'know, friendly advice from someone who doesn't think this film is going to do your career any major favors.

Anyway Leatherface shows up to cut off any loose ends, sees the "birth mark", and cuts the girl free. Despite toting a giant, bladed power tool gets his ass handed to him by a pair of middle aged men with lead pipes (fuck, I'm beginning to hate this movie even more). They chain him up to a giant grinder and let him slooowly get dragged in, Bond villain style, but Daddario feels bad for the violent giant, turns off the machine, stabs Side Kicks just to be a dick about it, and tosses the saw to our Hero. Leatherface does his thing, wickedness is punished while Sheriff Do Good watches through gritted, morally conflicted teeth as Mayor Scumsuck gets ground up into Mayor McNuggets. Heather and Leatherface limp back home, and she finally opens the letter, which included both her Sawyer Pendant and a full breakdown on the fact that her murderous human-skin-wearing cousin will protect her with his life, but only she has the key to his release. So y'know every dumb-assed thing in this movie could have been avoided if she'd taken 30 seconds to read the note Marilyn Burns left her. That's right, the girl who played Sally the "Final Girl" in the original film appears as Leatherface's aunt. (Because THAT isn't meta-weird, right?) Cut to some shitty emo-rock song about revenge over the best bleeding plugins After Effects can muster, and a final gag that's about as unfunny as the rest of the film. (I actually took a piss and missed it, 'cause I was done about half an hour ago. Mrs. Kentai was a trooper and described it to me. If you want to know more, read Wikipedia like everyone else.)

Okay, let's just do the math here; Leatherface lost his family in a tragic, brutal crime. He lives underground, crafting gadgets and disguises, and is unleashed to the world above to quell injustice on his own terms. We're about a cape and a lively Danny Elfman score away from Leatherface being The Goddamn Batman, and that was a very, VERY bad idea. The only reason this even begins to work is because there is no implication of cannibalism. None. I mean yeah, Leatherface hacks up corpses in his basement room, and one brief gag has him in the kitchen cutting the fingertips off of one character's hand into a mixing bowl (...'kay?), but other than these non-sequiters that could be summed up as "Jed don't know any better",  the fact that Draton Sawyer and the rest of his clan were involved in a grave-robbing, flesh eating conspiracy is simply swept under the rug. Kind of a weird move considering the film takes great care to try and keep whatever consistency was set down in Tobe Hooper's original film, other than it generally pretending that "Part 2" - also co-written and directed by Tobe Hooper - never happened. Though they do keep the name "Sawyer" which is... odd, considering it was a goddamn joke. Seriously, SAW-yer... get it? The fanservice peppered through the film is just bizarre like that, giving long time fans of the original three films little moments of familiarity that only serve to remind us how big a mess everything else on display tends to be, and how poorly this stuff fits back into what's left.

No. I'm not posting the high-res version of this stupid photo.
Just not gonna bother. You don't care. Why am I even saying this?

I spoke about how Ryan and Nikki (BF and BFF, respectively) were knocking boots shortly before getting killed - let's explore this for a second. There's zero doubt in my mind that this scene was put here so that the audience would be rooting for them to die and give Heather an anchor to embrace her dark destiny without needing to look back. In theory, it's actually kind of a cool hook; betrayed by the only people she had left, she sinks into a violent paranoia and embraces the one monstrous option left. Classic morally indistinct stuff! The problem with that is that she doesn't actually know her friends are lying to her - there's no moment of clarity with her asking why they're basically naked, no mention of her knowing "something" happened and her trying to ignore it, not even a look of her looking betrayed when she sees the two of them together from a distance. As far as we, the audience, can tell she's blissfully unaware that her boyfriend is cervix-ramming her best friend the second her back is turned. And then, just in case you forget, they get murdered in the face by a chainsaw wielding maniac.

So tell me, friends, how would you react to this same situation?

Using any semblance of logic, Heather should hate LEATHERFACE, not the townsfolk! Their "friendship" in the final reel should be an uneasy alliance where she's ready to turn on him as soon as she's safe - hell, if anything she would have stabbed him in the back as soon as Leatheface was done doing her dirty work! (I actually feel like this reveal should probably have happened earlier, giving Heather the knowledge she needs to try to warn her friends but also know that Leatherface is really on her "side"... wouldn't that have been neat?) Regardless, because the audience knows they betrayed her, the character switches sides, because that makes the loosest kind of sense, and that's all the film seems concerned with. We as a viewer are meant to feel good about that, even though the characters shouldn't. There's a subtle implication that she was "always a Sawyer" with her morbid arts and crafts and all of that, but it's so half-assed and buried under stupidity that's never properly explored I don't want to give it any more love than I absolutely have to. It's shit like this that consistently make the film feel disjointed and dumber than it was meant to. Well, that and the film pulling out a groaning one-liner at the single most inappropriate moment possible, seemingly just so they had something badass to put in the marketing materials.

Leatherface himself, played by 6'6 Dan Yeager, is... kind of dull, to be honest. Not achingly bad, but he's given fuck all to do but look vaguely menacing and grunt in monotone. As I've likely discussed ad-nauseum before, my fascinating with Leatherface is largely due to Gunner Hansen's original take playing him not as a giant lumbering sociopath, but as a terrified special needs kid who literally doesn't understand that what he's doing is wrong. In the original film, Leatherface defended his home from strangers, and one of the most terrifying, poignant moments is after he's killed three people and sits in his own filthy living room, holding his head like it's ready to explode. This isn't the boogeyman; this is the kid who doesn't understand that he pet the doggy in the parking lot too hard, and doesn't understand why it bit him. Hansen's Leatherface was an emotional fragment grenade, cutting into every bit of fear and sympathy the view can muster. What we get here is much closer to the rumbling, sighing, boring impression from LEATHERFACE: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3. The Sawyer's lawyer (a thankless role) calls attention to the fact that Jed's a mental deficient, but the actions we get are of a brooding madman looking for satisfaction, not an overgrown anxious child capable of destruction he doesn't fully understand. If any film in this franchise, ANY of them, had an excuse to play up the "It's not really his fault, he's just a giant child!" angle, this would be the one... and, we get pretty much fucking nothing. Brilliant. Had Leatherface tried to connect with Heather - carried her home at the end like a kitten, or had a moment in the middle where he tries to communicate with someone he realized was kin, anything remotely human at all, this whole dumbass idea of him being a murderous superhero just might have had a prayer. Too bad this idea whips right over the film's head, along with a dozen others that would have made a whole lot more goddamn sense.

The heavies in the film (such as they are) -Paul Rae as the murderous but charismatic mayor, James MacDonald as a twitchy cop, and Ritchie Montgomery as Rae's... goofy sidekick, really - are all kind of weak as villains. They try to look intense and cackle like good stereotypes, but I am having some SERIOUS trouble pinning down their fucking motivation here. Look, I can understand the gut instinct to kill anyone that wears other people's faces, but the lengths they go to kill a pretty girl who's literally done nothing wrong except breathe is just... obnoxious. They should come off as OCD madmen obsessed with some kind of petty revenge, but since the kids who were killed in Newt 20 years ago hadn't lived there in over a decade, and with all grave robbing and flesh peddling swept under the rug, I honestly don't know what they're so protective of. They're only villains because the film wants to make Leatherface a hero, and that's such a bad idea I can't even begin to explain why this feels forced. Oh yeah, Scott Eastwood plays the corrupt deputy (which is weird to start with - Christ, he looks like he's 20!) but he's waved away with a throw-away line and completely disappears by the end of the film. Look, he's the sheriff and his pa's dead... you think he isn't just going to storm the Sawyer mansion and fuck shit up?

The tone of the film is a mess, never taking itself seriously enough to hold any weight, but never outright playing it for laughs either. Going one direction or the other could have netted some interesting results out of the "Family Is Everything" thread running through it all, but it's so inept it seems to be going for the hardcore horror angle and just looks goofy for it. Going as far as to re-create several iconic scenes from the original film (and one notable sequence from the third), every act of fanservice is clumsy, and even when it doesn't totally suck it's still nowhere near as clever as it seems to thinks it is. The one time there's potential for some serious shit going down - Leatherface, saw ablaze, running through a fucking crowded carnival - basically amounts to him waving his bigger phallic symbol at a minimum wage kid in a Saw costume with a plastic chainsaw. Isn't that WACKY? Does that amuse you, and satisfy your distaste for modern franchise horror? Well it shouldn't, because that's exactly what you're watching right now.

Writer Adam Marcus, who was also responsible for the head-scratingly bizarre JASON GOES TO HELL which turned everyone's zombified teenage killer into a vagina hunting AIDS worm demon, describes the film as "good fun". I don't know if the director cut those parts, or if his definition of "fun" is simply on a different planet from my own... but I just don't like it. It's a crappy movie. Not as crappy as part 4, but again, making a TCM film worse that part 4 than that would require the total re-animation of Ed Wood and literally all of the SyFy Channel's resources. I guess it's even a marginal improvement over part 3, if for no other reason it desperately tried to do something different... even it didn't work. At all. But at least it's not dull AND familiar, I guess. If any one moment from part 3 sums up everything wrong with it, it's a sweet little girl pouring blood down the clearly dead grampa's throat, as if there was any life left in him, or he even cared. You couldn't come up with a better metaphor for that well meaning but completely mistaken rehash, not if you tried.

If nothing else, the opening montage featuring funky "3Dified" footage from the Tobe Hooper 1974 film on the big screen was a treat. Don't spend ten bucks just to see that, though; buy the original film again, or maybe give the Nispel remake a second chance. Seeing how much worse the alternative clearly is, I'm starting to think I might owe that stylish slice of experimentalism an apology. This just sucks, and it sucks for reasons that are so mind boggling and broken to the core that I can't even talk about them further without risking long term psychological damage.

I'm out.

Slightly updated from start to finish for clarity.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Zombified Customer Service

Good news, everyone!

Arrow Video has acknowledged that the missing 6 seconds after the opening titles on ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS (y'know, Lucio Fulci's ZOMBI 2) was a casualty of them using seamless branching for the first time, and have - after much good natured pestering - finally said that they'll fix it on subsequent pressings. In short, soon, the Arrow Video release will be the best version possible. Arrow Video, you finally made it to the top goddamn tier on this one!

Oh right, the bad news: They're NOT planning to replace anyone's current copies. Ouch.

Keep in mind that their initial reaction was "Psh, it's nowhere near six seconds long, and we've already spent a goddamn fortune. GET OVER IT." The fact that such a stunning, loving, and otherwise grandiose presentation of a movie I do legitimately like the hell out of was let down by a minor authoring glitch was something even I was willing to overlook (financially, if nothing else!), and seeing them finally cop to the fact that they done fuk'd up and will - eventually - fix it was heartwarming.

The fact that they'll make me purchase another copy to get those six seconds back? Not really helping the "New and Improved!" Arrow Video theme so much. Evidently they've finally ditched that PR company that ran their forum for a few years now, which means the Cult Lab Mods might be a bit less... enthusiastic, going forward. But it also means that Arrow Video might well step in a big pile of not-giving-a-fuck going forward too, since they no longer have anyone to tell them "The Beyond is a fucking train-wreck, and you aren't helping by promising a BD-50 on the box. Fix it up as best you can and offer replacements, now."

Still excited by Arrow Video's upcoming 2013 slate. Doesn't mean the above info isn't a shitty way to start the new years, though. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

UPDATE: Wow, it gets even shittier! Arrow Video have seemingly had a change of heart, and will let anyone trade in their faulty first press copies... for 5 pounds sterling. Yes, now even the people who pre-ordered that release with nothing but positive advance reviews will have to cough up about eight bucks American to fix a fuck-up Arrow themselves caused.

HERE'S THE ACTUAL PRODUCT PAGE. Hand of Argento, that thing's legit. The best part is there's no free shipping outside the UK, so dirty Yanks like myself will pay a bit over of $12.80 for a replacement copy of a disc that never should have shipped, because they clearly didn't pay close enough attention to the one thing in the authoring process they had never done before. It's not like it could somehow have gone horribly wrong...

Their galling excuse for charging half the cost of the retail version is that when they offered a replacement for THE BEYOND - a miserable looking disc, I must add, which was only improved marginally on the "Replacement" version - they only requested that the sales recepit or sales eMail be sent, not the actual faulty disc... like, you know, every other label who's done this, ever. Arrow Video claims that due to their "fan friendly" trade-in plan, they actually sent more replacement copies than they had originally produced! That's horrible (if true), but begs the question why they didn't require anyone to surrender the original disc in the first place? 1 original, 1 replacement. End of story. If you only cover the UK, well that sucks for us Yanks who'll import, but that's all part of the game ain't it?

The 5 Pound "Disc Only" option is even more offensive to people who went out of their way to pre-order the title directly from Arrow Video themselves - they aren't getting comped, despite the fact that Arrow not only got every pence of their purchase, but that they know for a bloody goddamn fact that they deserve a replacement, free of charge! I ordered through Amazon UK, so I'm not bitching because it'd benefit me in any way; I'm bitching because that's what any other fucking company would do, and it's deplorable that Arrow Video isn't, on what's easily their biggest title of the quarter.

I honestly can't decide if the current compromise is better or worse than not offering a replacement at all. All I'm certain of is that replicating and shipping a single BD-50 shouldn't cost Arrow Video more than two pounds tops, so they're not just being ridiculous about charging their customers for a replacement copy, they're actively profiting from it. In short, this has pissed away whatever good will the company had put in my pocket over this release.

Yes, I'd love to have a fixed copy of ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS to put back in my limited tin I pre-ordered. I'd pay for the actual postage of a replacement copy. But I'm not paying over two dollars a fucking second because their QC team doesn't double-check the one thing that so easily could have gone wrong, and I swear, if any of you reading this do you're bigger idiots than I am.

UPDATE #2: And at last, Arrow Video has pulled the stick out of their asses and promised that anyone willing to send in their original "faulty" disc will get a complimentary replacement.

See, Arrow? It's not that hard to stop sucking at everything! GREAT JOB!

And, yes, everything I said yesterday stands: Arrow Video did a shitty thing, and taking it back after your entire customer base tells you to fuck off with it doesn't undo your 24 hours of douchebaggery. But I'll strike it out anyway, so people don't stumble upon it a week later and then start flipping tables or something.

Monday, January 07, 2013

An Unexpected Brain Dump: THE HOBBIT

I've been going to see new release films in the theater a lot, which is unusual for me. Must be the slowly increased overtime coupled with the want to not be at home on the weekends. Without delving into specifics, I'm just going to let my brain unzip and dump out whatever it has to say about a few of them I saw at the end of 2012. I don't do "year end" lists, so a couple rambling cases of thought-diarrhea is as close as we're going to get on the Kentai Blog.

So, where to begin? How about with the one I saw most recently? Because that totally makes sense.

Hell of a lot better than the billboards I see every day.

I'm just gonna come out and say it: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY actually isn't bad. Don't get me wrong, it's got problems - some bigger than others - and as both a huge fan of Peter Jackson's stylistically indulgent re-wiring of Hollywood in his previous Tolkien Trilogy, and someone to whom this story was read to me when the notion of a "chapter book" still seemed like a daunting threat more than a treat, I might as well go over those flaws now so we can get back to the fun stuff.

Yes, it's bloated and runs (at least) one reel too long, even with the methodical pacing and expanded scope that, by and large, lends it to its almost shockingly massive runtime. Yes, it's really more an adaptation of the Tolkien Appendices, with some pretty dramatic licenses taken on the specifics, particularly making Radagast the Brown and Azog The Defiler major players - the latter of whom is, I shit you not, poised to become "The Last Boss" of the Hobbit Trilogy. It also works in loving cameos from both Hobbiton and The White Council, but considering the former is a cute little sendoff for fans and the latter is going to be used to expand the living shit out of the next two movies, I suppose that's a fair compromise to make in the long run - ah yes, the "expansion". Let's talk about that as a concept for a second: Right from the start when it was announced that Del Toro was going to be adapting this as two films, I was nervous. When it was announced that Jackson was helming three, all I could do was laugh. A book that's literally 1/5th the length of The Lord of the Rings getting the same number of films? Who the fuck thought that was in any way, shape or form a sane idea?

 On paper, yes, it's the worst kind of excess, and the majority of people writing this off as a shallow, desperate cash-in had completely valid arguments before even a frame of the film had been shown to the public. All of that angry, dismissive thought process is forgetting something, though: They're forgetting that Peter Jackson loves Middle Earth, and he'd be the last person on the planet to half-ass a potential ten-plus hours to explore every single nook and cranny of the universe he's spent so much of his lifetime sharing with the world. In short, how much you think this is a shitty cash-grab depends largely on how you see Peter Jackson. I won't say the man isn't above failure - he did, after all, direct The Lovely Bones, a film I've yet to subject myself to for fear of "losing" Jackson's indulgent but otherwise fantastic winning streak of cinematic gold - but I tend to think that "apathy", much less for the things he loves, is simply not within Jackson's vocabulary. I'll be the first to admit that the film is 'big' and 'epic' in a way that Tolkien's children's book never was, or was ever meant to be. Every aspect of the film is designed to be bigger, bolder, and somehow more "final" than Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, but for all the time and money it spends trying to wow us, I'm not convinced that the cynicism leveled toward it is being entirely fair. If the Devil is in the Details, then Peter Jackson must be Beelzebub, tearing Tolkien's complex jumble of notes, journal entries, and rough dates and trying to slowly, carefully re-purpose them into a single cohesive narrative, something the man that wrote these damn books never could!

"Not all those who wander are lost, bitches."
- Dictated. Probably never once uttered.

The Hobbit, at its core, was a simple tale about taking back treasure from a wicked dragon; there's no moral ambiguity, no simmering romances, no big ideas about freedom or sacrifice. There's some trolls, a couple eagles, some goofy songs, barrel riding... and that's really about it. It's a cute story, really, but not one that translates into a 10 hour trilogy.  Jackson has made Tolkien, in the minds of the general public, an epic about Sauron's rise to power, and the Fellowship that cut him back down to size. 15 years ago, when per-production on Jackson's indellible mark towards Hollywood began, he had to trim and streamline and modernize Tolkien's work as carefully and respectfully as he could, just for a chance of getting his vision, his passion, onto the big screen. 15 years later, he's taking this final, unexpected opportunity to film EVERYTHING he's legally allowed to, filling in the gaps of his own films, and trying to close the door on Tolkien cinematic adaptations behind him while he's at it. It's a mad, perhaps even a selfish vision... but one that's made over $800,000,000 in theaters. Clearly the world at large is still willing to take Jackson's idealism with their hearts and their wallets, mad or not.

The film makes a lot of ballsy choices under Jackson's watch, one of the most interesting being the new, underlying idea that The Lonely Mountain - or more specifically, the halls of Erebor beneath it -  were a great loss to the Dwarves who lived there. Not because of the vast riches Smaug took from them, but also because it left them homeless, nomadic wanderers, the downtrodden and weary hobos of Middle Earth without a land to call their own. It's an interesting, smart take on why the Party of Dwarves would march on a dragon despite being obviously ill-prepared to take him head on; it gives the journey a more thematically satisfying, and if you know how it all goes, tragic direction for it to march toward. Azog the Defiler is, similarly, an element that not only gives Thorin more credibility as a hardened warrior, and thus has earned the respect of his wards as the last king of their people, but it also sets up a nice (if not fully necessary) character arc for Thorin to finish at The War of Five Armies. There's also a lot of little dialog about how Thorin especially sees Bilbo as dead weight on their journey, a coward ready to bolt, and he has to prove himself by the end of the first act as anything but a deserter. None of this is directly in the book, no, but then Bilbo's constant narration isn't in the movie either, so his personal growth has to be measured by external factors. Fair enough, even if it does make Thorin into a bit of a needless hard-ass, to the point where you almost don't blame Bilbo for wanting to ditch them all.

 Well, at least his boots aren't yellow...

It also adds everyone's favorite pastime: RACISM! Specifically it adds a distrust and weariness to Thorin over the elves, who he felt turned their collective backs on his people when Smaug fucked Erabor up real good, leaving his society in shambles and eventually leading them to Khazad Dum where... well, you know. Much has been made of Tolkien's descriptive use of broad-stroke African and Asian features to describe the various "races" of Orcs in the Lord of the Rings, but introducing a level of separation and ignorance between the 'heroic' races is an interesting, human reaction to his frustration that "those people" refused to help "his people" in their time of need. Of course, the elves had every reason not to assault Smaug, and it wasn't because they disliked the dwarves, but it still presents Thorin with an innate moral flaw that makes him more believable, if not actually more likable. This'll have a greater impact later on, but it's nice to see Jackson extrapolating real-world reactions to traumatically fantastic experiences. It's not even a central point to the story; it just is. Thorin's a racist asshole. Love it. Not that I love racism itself, just that I love Jackson acknowledging that any nuanced and fully realized fantasy world can be full of short-sighted and detrimental hatred... you know, just like our own.

The real star of the show - no exceptions - is Andy Serkis proving, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that the concept of "filming" an actor's performance is no longer required to be done in the traditional manner. Gollum was an impressive, almost shocking apparition of polished digital workmanship in 2001, but WETA and Serkis have finally bridged that gap, making the "animated" Gollum just as believable a presence as Martin Freeman as Bilbo. The Uncanny Valley is certainly a reality in the human subconscious, but Jackson and his team have furthered the ways around it for the purposes of film more than anyone before them, and for that alone, the three of them deserve unending respect for moviegoers everywhere. The entire "Riddles in the Dark" scene was worth the price alone, leaping off the page in a way that nobody but Jackson could have delivered, and if you don't feel a tinge of both horror and pity for Gollum's horrible existance... you kind of suck. You really do. Yes, the final line in the scene was a bit of a head-scratcher (how did they NOT exploit the split personality angle the full line presents?! ARGH!!), but it's delivered with such astounding conviction and amazing fury that I'm willing to give it a pass.

Poor Serkis will never have the Precious Oscar he do deserves.

That's not to say Freeman, or anyone else in the film, isn't pulling their weight - I have no complaints with his portrayal of Bilbo as a befuddled, frustrated, but ultimately trustworthy and well meaning "burglar". Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshielf has a hell of a lot of brooding presence for a guy named after a chunk of log, while the semi-original villain Azog is brought to life via Manu Bennett, does a lot as the surprise heavy with the script giving him little to do. The dwarves have largely been expanded into something resembling actual characters (rather than just funny names), and Gandalf having a bunch of "Expanded Universe" stuff to do makes his belated return to save everyone's asses, multiple times, feel slightly less deus ex-ish than it did in Tolkien's texts. Ian McKellen and, frankly, everyone returning from the last decade are all in top form, and as absurd as it might sound to cast actors a decade later as their younger selves, I didn't notice anything distracting about the decision.

The less sure to please change is the prominence of Radagast, who's not only so ridiculous he makes the cast of Meet the Feebles look nuanced and subtle, but doesn't do anything that Gandalf couldn't have done (and did, in the fucking books, by the way). Still, if a 'shroomed up hippie on a rabbit powered sleigh sucking poison out of a sick hedgehog - yes, I swear I didn't make any part of that up - is the single worst thing I could complain about... well, actually saying it out loud, it does sound kind of full of bullshit, doesn't it? So yeah, mark me down as someone not wowed by the introduction of a batshit crazy wizard covered in bird poop, even if he is, technically, Tolkien canon. That said, any and all comparisons to Jar-Jar Binks will be met with the back of the hand, so don't even fucking go there. Yes, he's a waste of space in a film with nothing but runtime to spare, but he's never that useless.

A Greeeeeeeeat, Adveeeeeenture, should not soooound like thiiiiiiiiiiiis...
(Oh come on, like you didn't want this in 1978.)

The one thing that's missing from the book? Tolkien's songs. The Fucking Songs are missing, despite half the movie being made up of scraps and fan fiction (minus the expected slash boning). Look, I'm not one to judge the gayity and overt insanity of filling a 9 hour journey with shitty traveling music, but it's just... weird, isn't it? I'd complain that the Great Goblin didn't explicitly lose his head, either, but the impression I get is that Jackson filmed it, and shortly thereafter the MPAA decided one major decapitation was plenty for a PG-13 film. Maybe on the extended Blu-ray - and yes, that's already confirmed to be happening. I like this film quite a bit, but you know what it doesn't need? Another half hour of bullshit, like Gandalf setting off fireworks and the dwarves being loud and disgusting and generally making the elves react the way that high society reacts to Rodney Dangerfield. Clearly Jackson knew that some of this had to hit the cutting room floor, but when you re-write the very DNA of your chosen medium, you tend to get carte blanche to do whatever the hell you want when you go back into it, regardless of how much your movie could use just a little trimming. (Again, see George Lucas for how terrible that can go.)

Even holding aside his early splat-stick masterworks, Peter Jackson was a goddamn pioneer in bringing nerd culture to the masses in the one vehicle they'd happily consume it - lavish, stand alone theatrical films - and in doing so he expanded and perhaps even corrupted the landscape of franchise films around him, making them bigger, more complex, and more in tune with whatever the creators original work had been. This change has finally come full circle, with Jackson expanding all of that sort of material he had to skip last time into an epic unto itself, ridiculously - but perhaps not unfairly - expanding just a bit over 300 pages of narrative into a multi-faceted trilogy. Yes, it's over the top. But you know what? That first film was a lot of fun, too. Do you remember that? When you just watch a bunch of silly men with bitchin' beards fighting against a horde of goblins for ten minutes because that's fucking awesome? Based on the middling reviews by critics, no, they don't recognize tits sized fun when they see it. Fuck 'em. If they hadn't had The Phantom Menace to cock-slap them violently back to the reality of what a BAD geek movie looks like, I'm sure Fellowship of the Ring wouldn't have been as warmly received as it was either. Damn good quality never looks better when it's sat next to horrific failure.

Please put on your 3D Monacles... NOW.

As for the 48fps... cripes, what is there to say, really? It's new tech that works most of the time, but fast pans are a quick and unpleasant reminder that something's "off". Once you get over the initial acid flashback weirdness that, yes, does look uncomfortably like footage that's been sped up in-camera but then doesn't drop frames. Much like the difference between film playing on a 30fps monitor versus video actually shot at 60Hz, the difference is jarring and ugly at just a little unnerving at first, but once your brain adjusts to it, that whole "HFR48" technology just looks a little smoother than typical 24fps. But it's not "sharper", and every time you try to describe the effect and use the 's' word, your penis shrinks just a little. The film was edited on a 2K DI, same as pretty much any major Hollywood blockbuster, but the film appears clearer because there's less motion blur - not better resolution. It'd be like getting a warmer piece of food and commenting that it's "saltier". You're being an idiot. Stop being an idiot, please.

Video games are used as a pretty common comparison, but I refute that based on the fact that a great many games still run at 30fps, including Dark Souls, which is currently sodomizing anything resembling free time into a miserable, bloody heap of lost limbs and broken thumbsticks. My gut reaction here is that 48fps looks great when the camera isn't mounted to a helicoptor or swinging from one side of a chasm to the other; DP's will have to get used to this new format to make the most of it, the same way they had to for 3D to work properly. And yes, I still think 3D is a waste of time and effort, but I'll give Jackson his due and note that this could be the best looking film I've ever watched through a pair of tinted goggles, using it to stage different elements of set design in a way that - at least to me - seems natural and not especially reliant on gimmicks. Moments of arrows or fireballs being shot directly into your eyeballs are kept to a bare minimum, and if you're going to go out of your way to pull this crap, that's about all I ask.

But, yeah... It's no Fellowship of the Ring. Nor was it ever going to be - or should it even have been, really. The scope, tone, and goals of the source materials were so drastically different that even with Jackson drumming up the drama and epicality[TM] from a short children's book to an older, smarter demographic... there just isn't enough there to ever eclipse Lord of the Rings. No matter how hard he tries or how cool it might have been. This isn't the tale of a nation uniting to overthrow evil itself with the very fate of the world in the balance, it's a bunch of goofballs trying to ransack a dragon's hidey hole and then get back home for supper. Approach it for what it is, rather than its bigger brother, and I think it's a perfectly serviceable experience, full of impressive visuals and as much fun as it deserves to dole out. It's all a little goofy, sure, but anyone complaining about that in a movie about bare-foot midgets stabbing goblins really needs to chill the fuck out for a couple hours.

In short, it's a lot of fun groundwork. Recommended, if your love of casual whimsy and tolerance for bladder destroying epics haven't both been quashed.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Happy Stranger Double Feature

Sony Pictures' deal with Mill Creek has led to a few misses - such as that HOSTEL Double Feature that plays the wrong audio over the single included ending - but this is a pleasant surprise! And yes, just in case anyone's unsure, that's the 1976 original version of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, even if they're trying to modernize those on-set photos so hard it'll give you eye cancer.

What's most surprising is that HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME - other than them not using the original badass poster, I mean - had its soundtrack edited for the 2004 DVD, and yet the original score has returned for its High Definition home video debut. Music editing is one of those things that always makes me wince a little and then try to move on - I get it, music rights are just that fucking expensive - but hearing these gaffes corrected always warms the cockles of my black, shriveled heart.

If you want a copy, you're going to have to swap your dashing fez and monacle combo for your filthy "ironic" trucker cap and make your way to the nearest Wal-Mart. It's a surprise in-store exclusive until April, and as it's selling for $5 out of the gate, it can't be one that's making anyone a small fortune.