Friday, January 30, 2009

Killer Mutant Mammal Week: Man's Best Friend (1993)

Horror movies, especially the much maligned Slasher, are often guilty of creating memorable villains, then asking the audience to identify with a pack of vacant teenage husks. Who could possibly sit through a Friday the 13th sequel and not end up rooting for Jason. Most of the "actors" could easily be replaced by their Savini designed Mannequin doubles and none of us would notice.

At first it might seem a little embarrassing for the cast of today's Killer Mutant Mammal Movie, Man's Best Friend, to be completely and utterly upstaged by a simple, non-celebrity voiced dog, but after seeing the genetically engineered ultra-pooch in action, there is no shame in ceding him top billing. A handsome Tibetan Mastiff, Max the super dog is both a surprisingly talented actor and probably the coolest canine character this side of Rowf & Snitter. Benji, Old Yeller, Cujo, Marley, Lassie, Dogmeat, Winne-Dixie, and the dog from Fable II aren't fit to sniff Max's (probably enormous) stools.

Contrary to the cover artwork's shameless Terminator cribbing, Max is in no way a robo or cyber-dog, but is in fact a chimeric experiment by mad scientist and ubiquitous genre heavy, Lance Henriksen. He's half cheetah, half jaguar, half chameleon, and yet somehow all dog. When a fashion reporter seeking carrier advancement (Ally Sheedy) breaks into the lab for a scoop, she inadvertently adopts the superdog, who thinks she'll make a totally sweet master, but hates everyone else and will go completely bonkers at the end of a indeterminate ticking clock if his evil creator doesn't give him his doggy mood-meds.

In the meantime, Max gets into all sorts of PG-13 to R rated mischief in order to show off his massive arsenal of canine superpowers. When the neighborhood kids goad him into chasing a cat, he reveals retractable claws, climbs a tree after the feline, and swallows it whole. When a trigger happy mailman sprays him with mace, he rips the guys throat out and hides the body. When he hears the barking of an attractive, un-spayed collie, he breaks into her master's house and makes passionate love to her. (Whether or not this was a consensual act is up in the air. Frankly neither would surprise me; Max is a rebel.) When his new master's boyfriend escapes his wrath and tries to feed him poisoned steak, he chews through the guy's break lines. For Max, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

You has a flavur

Henriksen spends most of the movie looking creepy and sulking around, pausing occasionally to dart someone with his trademark tranq-gun with laser sight. Eventually he figures out who took max, but is beaten to the punch by the police, who are slowly following the trail of bodies. When they try to take him down, Max shows off some of his other abilities, such as somehow knowing what police sirens mean, and being able to run faster than automobiles. The chase is joined by a pair of overeager dog catchers, who fall prey to Max's least probable power yet: invisibility.

Click for Doggy Detail

All right, now the filmmakers are just pulling things out of their ass; why bother giving him the power to turn invisible if he's only going to use it in one scene that involves no other main characters and has no bearing on the plot. Also, last time I checked, chameleons could change the color of their scales, not turn invisible Predator style. (Maybe splicing "ability" genes from random animals into a dog without somehow turning it into a helpless abomination that can only prey for death causes said genes to amplify.)

I can getz mah dik wet?

While I'm making jokes at the expense of director John Lafia's vague idea of how Science! works, (apparently it gives animals magic powers, makes them mean, and occasionally blinds people) what animal did they steal genes from in order to give Max his most awesome (and arguably least useful) power yet: Acid Pee!

You can just barely make out the smoke

Does he always pee acid, or can he turn it on and off? How strong is the acid? Does he have a separate organ for acidifying his pee, or is it a byproduct of his mutant digestive system? Is there a specific type of grass I can plant in my yard in case my dog develops the ability to pee acid? The mind just reels.

3-Star Wanted Level

Eventually there is a showdown between Max and his creator, as well as a game of cat and mouse between him and his new master (he forgives her in the end), but by now the movie has run out of ideas and things are pretty rote. How it ran out of ideas is a mystery, as it is obvious that the director was just asking his 11-year-old nephew to think of powers and activities for Max. (Maybe it was passed his bedtime at that point.)

Ur mace iz delishus

Near the end of Man's Best Friend, as Max finally turns on the heroine, an attempt is made to divest him from the audience's sympathies. A seedy junkyard proprietor (William Sanderson, minus his brothers Darryl), in an attempt to turn Max into vicious guard dog, gives his face what-for with an acetylene torch before being promptly mauled. Now partially abjected, Max can be a true villain for a minute before his inevitable redemption. (Also, T2 style half-messed-up faces were all the rage in the early '90s)

The problem is that the viewer just spent an hour slowly learning the extent of Max's total badassery. It's going to take a lot more than monster makeup before I stop yelling "Go for the throat, Max!" at my TV. Of course he has to die in the end, but if there is anything John Lafia cannot resist in his movies, it's an easy setup for a sequel.

Max's Powers:
1. Super Strength
2. Super Speed
3. Retractable Climbing Claws
4. Enhanced Senses
5. Invisibility
6. Can swallow a housecat whole
7. Knows more about cars than I do
8. Adorability
9. High Sperm Count
10. Can go from wet to dry instantaneously
11. Acid Pee!!

Max's Weaknesses:
1. Jealousy
2. He has the crazy
3. Close range shotgun blasts to the face

I can has mah paychex?

That Son of Man's Best Friend never got made is a downright crime against B-moviedom. Also, I really, really want a Tibetan Mastiff now.

Check back tomorrow for a much larger Killer Mutant Mammal from a much larger director.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Killer Mutant Mammal Week: The Rats (2002)

The threat of government censorship has been an enduring thorn in the side of the film industry. During the golden age of the studio system, the Hays Code (or Breen Office, yuk yuk) was developed as self censorship to appease the clucking moralists in Washington. Early cinema, having germinated in the soil of vaudeville, was quite racy compared to the studio era, and as it grew in popularity, the threat of government intervention increased.

One of the more informal rules of the code was that filmmakers could show as much criminality and immoral behavior as they wanted, as long as the characters partaking received their just deserts by the final reel. Normally I'm against all such forms of censorship, but 2002 TV movie The Rats made me wonder if perhaps a variation of this rule should be implemented with regard to stupidity in fictional characters.

If you are a parent, never ever let your kids watch The Rats; it could profoundly retard their intellectual development. They won't become violent, start killing rodents in their spare time, or develop any other signs of being a serial killer, but they will spend the rest of their days thinking that it is okay to be a total chowderhead in life threatening situations. Natural selection should have weeded out this movie's entire cast before their tenth birthdays, let alone the movie's opening titles. By the climax, they have come up with the single worst plan to defeat a swarm of killer mutant rats I have ever had the misfortune to have explained to me in great, clunky detail by dead-eyed leading man, Vincent Spano. I am completely serious; this is the worst plan developed by genre movie characters since Tom and Judy tried to get gasoline in Night of the Living Dead. Of course, T&J became a hot ghoul meal for their trouble; the vapid CHUDs running around The Rats all manage to survive to the end credits. Every last one of them.

Much of this can be traced back to the feature's TV-movie origins. The Hays Code has got nothing on television executives. Not a single main or supporting character bites the big one and even the red-shirts are in low supply. Even the black guy survives! He doesn't even have to nobly sacrifice himself to save the happy white couple. (Leviathan and pretty much every other Sci-Fi horror film ever made.) The first guy to die is a seedy landlord who, in a possible nod to the Willard films, has pet mice that forsake him when the rat army approaches. His death was gruesome enough to pass my "15 minute" litmus test (if an "iffy" movie doesn't intrigue me within 15 minutes I call it a night) but I guess the filmmaker's were planning on viewers like me, because it takes until the final act for anyone else to get eaten.

The story opens with another one of the movie's highlights, care of the attractive girl who gets accidentally chainsawed in the Dawn of the Dead remake.

A rat hides in her unused drawers while she tries on clothes at an upscale apartment store and when she reaches inside, it gives her a little nibble, requiring the attention of supermom and middle manager extrodinare, Susan Costello (the smoking hot
Mädchen Amick). A few scenes later, the girl is in a coma and covered with sores. The doctors happily explain things to Susan in great detail, despite her not being friends or family with the girl (and wanting to keep the source of her illness under wraps for the sake of the store).

To get to the bottom of the infestation, Susan brings in a chiseled exterminator (the above mentioned Mr. Spano) with a penchant for constantly spouting rat factoids. In between their creakingly inevitable romance, they make attempts to convince recalcitrant business owners and city officials of the dangers posed by the increasingly numerous diseased rats spreading through the neighborhood. Apparently all the actors playing authority figures lost their copies of the script and just read from a copy of Jaws.

I sure hope that this is rat pee.

Then nothing happens for a solid half hour.

Eventually our heroes discover that the rats are romping around behind the department store's false walls that Susan probably should have told the exterminators about right away. A couple commercial breaks and one random scene from CSI: Rodent later, it turns out that the rats have been genetically engineered for enhanced speed and strength, and were abandoned by their creators when the lab (which is now their home base) was shuttered by budget cuts. Why the lab was making the rats strong and fast instead of using them to cure cancer, is beyond me.

Also, the department store's signature perfume is made from the same flower that... um.... had something or other to do with the rats creation, and when you drop a bottle of it on the subway, they go fucking nuts and eat the conductor. (At least they finally ate someone.)

Now that the characters have gathered up the puzzle pieces that the screenwriter keeps shoving in their faces, it is time to drive a certain race of genetically engineered super rats to extinction and give poor Knarf an aneurysm with the awful plan I mentioned earlier:

Step 1: Fill public pool with macguffin strength rat attractant. Note: Do not safely pour out the perfume like a sane person; there is a reason those bottles look like little grenades. Huck 'em.

Step 2: Crawl around in broken glass and rat attracting perfume in order to open the grates at the bottom of the pool.

Step 3: Do nothing. Wait until pool fills with rats to the point of Rat Geysers!

Step 4: Begin attaching explosives to the edges of the pool. Don't worry about the rats at the center and bottom of the pool, they will die of grief for their comrades and families.

Step 5: Survive somehow. Blow up rats.

Jumping Jesus on a Pogo Stick! Did the script pages get stapled together backwards or something? Why on God's Green Earth would you wait until after the pool is coated in broken glass and liquid rat bait to climb in and start letting the rats in? Then you fucking wait until the pool is swarming with highly infectious rats before setting them up the bomb? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Before they execute what I have come to call "Plan R" (try and guess what the 'R' stands for), their black guy red-shirt fellow survivor burst onto the scene with a waterfall of rats, knocking our heroine into the swarming pool. In one of the film's best (non rat geyser) shots, the exterminator reaches into the multitude to pull his lady love out by the arm. Meanwhile, I'm sitting in a pile of empty beer cans, crossing my fingers and praying to the lords of crap cinema that he only retrieves the arm, or at least an arm attached to a gnawed skeleton.

No dice. She is pulled to safety and the "incendiary devices" go off, creating some nifty ratsplosions, but somehow not producing any fire. Oh well, at least everyone has been bitten by now and will succumb to the incurable rat disease that the movie occasionally cuts back to the hospital to remind us exists.

Again, no dice. The next scene shows our heroes walking through the park, sans rat bite super infections. No indication is given on how much time has passed, so I think it is safe to assume the screenwriter has forgotten about that little plot element by now. There is even a final shot of a garbage can swarming with rats; the monster movie equivalent of putting a question mark after "the end."

If I had to think of a name for the genre that The Rats falls into, I would call it "Lifetime Horror." (Sorry ladies) It's ostensibly a horror film, with a pair of boobs and a mildly gruesome kill grafted onto the first act to keep people like me from switching back to a rousing game of Dead Space, but it constantly undermines any tension that it delusionally believes itself to be building with scenes devoted to "character" and "relationships." Not that such scenes are necessarily bad in a horror film, but when they are as lifelessly written, acted, and shot as these, while being sprinkled willy-nilly throughout the third act, they are poison to the suspense.

The entire film repeatedly grinds to a halt so that the leads can sit back and eat Chinese food while falling in love.... in the third act! Beyond mind numbing boredom, this gives the unshakable impression that these characters are never in any real danger, and that this is a jolly fun adventure to spice up their upper-class existence. Not that they ever are in any real danger. The movie has a total body count of two; both tertiary characters at best.

To sum up, The Rats is a bait-&-switch of epic proportions, that has no knowledge of logic, science, or proper pacing, and is a total waste of its incredible rat geysers.

Also, it could have really used a Rat King or two.

You let her out?!?!?!

Tune in later this week for more Killer Mutant Mammal Video Updates, including an infinitely superior film by the director of The Rats,
John Lafia, who might be familiar to horror hounds as one of the minds behind the Child's Play francise.

Friday, January 23, 2009

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming to Bring You...

.....Excuses. This week's review of the 2002 TV masterpiece The Rats will not be seen today, as Netflix has dropped it from Watch Instantly and I don't want to pollute my standard queue with its awfulness in order to get screen-caps. I should really start a second queue for movies that I'm only enjoying ironically. That, or Netflix should have different tiers of movie rating. It's awkward to try and rationalize how Surf Nazis Must Die has the same 4-star rating as Andrei Rublev.

Thankfully, one of my fellow drones had the poor luck to receive the abomination in a pile of terrible DVDs at the office white-elephant gift exchange this year. (I'm pretty sure they were floating about at last years, as well.) She'll be bringing it in on Monday, so expect a vulgar rant about the absolute worst monster killing plan in the history of cinema.

While you wait, ponder these other killer rat flicks:
Of Unknown Origin
Food of the Gods
Willard (1971) & (2003)
Mulberry Street - A mutant hybrid of the rat and zombie genres
The Secret of NIMH - Childhood classic & sort of like The Rats from the rodents' perspective

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Greatest Page in Comic History

Click to Embiggen.

Courtesy of a beat-up old 70's style Manhunter #1. I often wonder if Rob Zombie has read this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Killdozer! (1974)

Many years ago, when I was a fresh faced child with a full mop of unkempt hair, my parent's account at the local video store was set up so that my sister and I were unable to rent R-rated movies. (A few years later I discovered that this "parental lock" did not apply to unrated films, but that is an entirely different story.)

My dreams of watching Return of the Living Dead 2 or House shattered, I turned to the public library, where I settled for reading Lovecraft and non-fiction books about horror. One tome in particular, a horror movie encyclopedia of some sort, was incredibly influential on my pre-teen gray matter. Importantly, it was the first time I learned that a movie existed where the hero is forced to chop off his own hand and replace it with a chainsaw in order to fight demons.

I quickly became familiar with the basic premises of a great number of obscure films, though I often cannot remember the titles. To this day I spend occasional sleepless nights mulling over half-remembered synopses of cool sounding movies that will undoubtably disappoint if ever tracked down.

One such disappointment is the inaugural winner for my "Best Title for the Worst Movie" award: Killdozer! A microbudget '70s TV movie, and the least distinguished member of the 'Killer Inanimate Objects' subgenre (itself subdivided into mobile and immobile killer objects), Killdozer! is almost exclusively remembered for its sweet title and self-explanatory premise. The classy exclamation point doesn't hurt, either.

I finally got around to seeing the film after casually mentioning it to a co-worker. The pure unadulterated awesomeness of its title and premise overwhelmed his system and infected him with a strange sort of madness. He spent weeks perusing eBay for bootleg copies, forgoing food, water, and human contact. There were plenty of available copies, but they were all "too expensive for a stupid movie." (Madness cannot overcome cheapness, apparently.) Eventually, he found a copy at a reasonable price and watched it. Disgusted, he handed it to me as a "Christmas Present" and lapsed into his new lunacy: an iPhone.

The movie's packaging was not encouraging.

Apparently, today's video bootleggers can't afford color printers or proper disc duplication. The movie comes on a partially full, single layer, purple DVD-R in a case with a poorly printed sheet of paper hastily shoved into the cover. I'm surprised they bothered with a label on the disc; "KilDozar" written in semi-legible sharpy seems more appropriate.

Popping the disc into my progressive-scan, upscaling DVD player yielded no surprises. The quality hovered around sub-YouTube levels and was riddled with fascinating video-compression errors, such as blue globs of color floating around inside of people's shirts. This is especially annoying considering the movie's liberal use of crappy "blue globs of color" special effects. I would make a drinking game out of trying to guess which floating blue globs are intentional, but I'm not willing to watch the movie enough times to determine for sure which is which. Truly this is the reason why I sprang for the big TV and sound system.

Can you tell which is supposed to be there?

Furthermore, the whole movie has some sort of Sci-Fi channel logo in the corner the whole time. (I'm reasonably certain it's not the Sci-Fi Channel.) So someone must have taped the movie off of a Sunday morning movie special and uploaded it to YouTube or a torrent site, where our bootlegging friend leeched it to make DVDs with the recently installed LightScribe burner in his G4. The result: an easy $5 in pure profit.

This looks significantly better than my DVD copy, I shit you not.

All right, enough beating around the bush, Killdozer! sucks. Hard. The filmmakers were clearly suffering from the same "Killer Bulldozer! OMG!!!11 Nom nom nom TEH PIZZA!!!!!" derangement as my coworker when they decided to start production. A derangement that blinded them to the central dilemma of making a totally rockin' killer bulldozer movie: wouldn't an evil, killer bulldozer be incredibly slow and ineffective at killing people? The answer, unless you are refering to Killdozer at the Assisted Living Center, is a resounding Yes. Upon freeing your mind from Killdozer-itis, you should become gradually aware that bulldozers are slow, unwieldy beasts that, while terrifying to even the most powerful stationary objects, are not much of a threat to anything nimble enough to walk a few feet to the side as it goes by.

The setup of Killdozer! does what it can to mitigate the structural flaws of the premise: a group of construction workers are working on a remote island when their bulldozer is granted malevolent sentience by ramming into a hunk of space rock.

So they have limited supplies in their struggle and no help is coming. Fair enough. Let's also give them the benefit of the doubt and say that the dozer is magic and won't require fuel or regular maintenance. I'm still putting my money on the characters with opposable thumbs and the ability to turn 180 degrees in under a fortnight.

Luckily for the hapless 'dozer, his potential victims are all dumber than boxes of paint-chip eating rocks. Perhaps television mega-star Robert Urich might have been resourceful enough to defeat their glacial tormentor, but he is killed in the first couple of minutes by the evil, blue radiation emanating from the weird space rock that they decided to ram with their bulldozer.

I'm aware that they came to the island for the specific purpose of bulldozing things, but my first reaction upon seeing a giant ball of shiny metal ore that Robert Urich cannot identify would not be to smash it. (My first reaction would be "Woo! Space Rock! I'm rich!") Also, if you are reading this and find yourself becoming excited about Mr. Urich's top billing (misleading and misspelled as it may be) you are most likely my mom.

Hi Mom! It's that TV guy you like.

It would be too much to ask for the movie to get down to brass tacks and begin the ultimate battle of man v. machine, so '60s TV Western staple Clint Howard must spend the next fifteen minutes not telling anyone about his suspicions that their bulldozer has developed a homicidal streak. Apparently he is a recovering alcoholic and afraid that his wild tales will convince his men that he has fallen off the wagon. (Not that they seem to care. There's even a scene with them trying to get him to drink.)

At long last the Killdozer lives up to its name and slooooowly takes out one of the workers. It then goes on a "rampage" through the workers' camp site. Tents collapse, equipment is smooshed into the ground, Science-Fictiony bleep-bloops play on the soundtrack, and garbage is strewn about wildly as Killdozer ravages the shanty town with the ferocity of The Incredible Hulk on Quaaludes.

Forced to abandon their camp for the safety of a shallow grade, (slight inclines are the garlic and crucifixes of the sentient bulldozer world) and finally convinced of the evil machine's intent, the men set aside their petty squabbling to formulate a plan of attack. Unfortunately, their "plan" consists of ramming the bulldozer with a pickup truck full of explosives. (It's time to fight smashing with smashing.) And they don't even do it right! Killdozer ambushes them and they ram their pickup sideways into the damn thing's scoop, killing half the remaining characters. That's like trying to defend yourself from a tiger by ripping off your shirt and trying to shove your beer gut into its jaws: perhaps it will choke to death, but I doubt it.

Freed from the baggage of its cast of useless red-shirts, Killdozer! can finally get to the main event: Clint Walker trying to kill a bulldozer with a crane.

High. Fucking. Octane.

Killdozer ends the worlds largest scale (and somehow most boring) episode of Battlebots by pinning the crane shovel under its blade. Their giant, mechanized game of thumb-wars over, the surviving humans abandon ship to try and think of a better plan. In an amazing turn of events, they do! A few poorly edited moments later, they've constructed a giant electrified grate that they use to send Killdozer to that great big pile of gravel in the sky. Too bad no one will ever believe poor boozy Clint Walker's story and he has to resign himself to the fact that his construction career is over and he will likely be tried for murdering his crew. The End.

The biggest thing Killdozer! is missing is the MST3K guys down in the corner making wisecracks. The movie is absolutely riddled with poor acting, poor filmmaking, and continuity errors. Unless, that is, the evil blue glow that animates Killdozer also causes the sun to rise and set at wildly random times, for it is rare that a scene goes by in the film without at least one radical and unexplained change in the time of day. The characters are all sort of annoying and only exist to look scared, hold still, and get flattened. One guy, his jeep stalling as Killdozer approaches, just closes his eyes, when he could have easily gotten out and walked briskly into the nearby forest. The damn 'dozer is the smartest of the bunch; it sets up ambushes, destroys their radio, and even puts out an attempted signal fire.

This scene takes place during the day, if you can believe that.

I don't want to sound too negative, but there is only one solitary redeeming factor to Killdozer! (Other than the excuse for me to write the word killdozer over and over again. Killdozer.) The '70s boop-beep music truly kicks ass, even if it is tacked on in a transparent attempt to give the titular machine an "otherworldly" feel. It often reminded me of "Commingled Containers," the only Stan Brakhage movie I ever saw with a score. That or something that Hal 9000 would put on his iPod.

After watching Killdozer! and determining to write a review on it, I did some research and was shocked to discover that the filmmakers were not the originators of Killdozer-itis, but early victims. The story dates back to a 1944 novella by obscure Sci-Fi author
Theodore Sturgeon. I've yet to pick up the copy I reserved at my local library (the Netflix of the 19th century) but you can read the marvel comics adaptation (which is supposedly more faithful to the book) right here. (Just scroll down past the massive banner.) The basic structure is the same, only with a more elaborate backstory for the animating power. Of course any backstory whatsoever is more elaborate than "space rock make 'dozer bad." Also, the cover is terribly misleading, even if the story inside is more interesting than the movie. (Again, just about anything is.)

Just for kicks, here is a Killdozer video-game adaptation that is amazingly faithful to the pacing of the source material. Here is the inarguably necessary Christmas themed sequel. Enjoy!

I've also learned that Killdozer-itis has spread to a new generation, with the upcoming indie horror, Crawler
, which attempts to get around Killdozer's stumbling blocks by giving the eponymous evil machine the ability to shoot lightning and make zombies. Or something.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Off Topic - Superman: Red Son

I just finished reading the DC limited series Superman: Red Son, an alternate universe (Elseworlds in DC speak) story wherein Superman is raised in the Ukraine rather than Kansas. I've always been a big fan of alternate history Sci-Fi, as well as alternate universe comics. Because of their non-canon nature, they are almost always fairly self contained stories, which conveniently avoids the frustrating, soap opera style rolling storylines that finally turned me off of traditional comics as a pimply teen. (Damn you mid-ninties Ghost Rider and your casual abandonment of characters and story arcs!)

Red Son tells the story of a Soviet Superman upsetting the balance of the cold war in the Reds' favor. (Sort of a reverse Watchmen) In response, Lex Luthor and his delicious brains become capitalism's last hope, while Batman surfaces as a Russian domestic terrorist. Eventually Supes becomes Stalin's successor, and begins reshaping the world into a comfortable dystopia much like the settings of half of today's videogames. (The other half being uncomfortable dystopias.)

I love the way alternate universe comics drop beloved and shopworn characters into morally ambiguous situations that wouldn't fly otherwise. (Dark Knight Returns is an excellent example.) While the traditional Superman/Luthor rivalry is (almost) always a black and white good vs. evil story, their relationship in Red Son is more complicated. Superman, ruling 90% of Earth as a communist dictator, slowly becomes a Big Brother/nanny state type, converting dissidents to his cause with brain surgery. It's better than Stalin's purges, but still a far cry from "truth, justice, and the American way." Meanwhile, Luthor does the right things for all the wrong reasons. By the end of the series, he has become president of the crumbling USofA and singlehandedly fixes the economy. He eliminates unemployment and quadruples life expectancies, but only to give himself a stable, powerful nation to attack Superman with.

Moral sophistication aside, I have some quibbles with the story. As the timeline quickly diverges from mainstream DC (not to mention real life), it becomes less and less about communism and the cold war, and more a generic alternate Superman story. Details of how the characters feel about the specific ideologies they supposedly embody are few and far between. Whenever pressed, Superman cops out, claiming that politics bore him and that he is more concerned with rescuing people from earthquakes. Luckily the morally questionable Supes' conflict with Luthor is facinating, because that is all the book boils down to in the end.

Also, the hundreds of little in-jokes about various other DC and historical characters are really distracting. Sure it is nice for the fanboys to see cameos from Green Arrow and whatnot, but us (semi)outsiders are left struggling to figure out who the hell Oliver Queen is and why does he get a panel and dialog if he isn't going to have any sort of interaction with any of the main characters whatsoever. (Even indirectly.) The constant throwaway lines about Nixon being assasinated or Kennedy marrying Marilyn are also irritating. Not to mention that they stink of lazy 'world building.'

Otherwise, the artwork ranges from decent to excellent, and it has a totally sweet Batman v. Superman brawl. Though in my limited experience, Batman trying to take Supes down is always a pretty intense couple of pages.


Note to both my readers: I promise I'll have my review of Killdozer! done tomorrow. I won't leave you hanging like those other bloggers. Knarf cares.

Knarf cares.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday the 13th: The Equation


X = Quality of Filmmaking
Z = Quality of Acting
Y = Canonical Accuracy

For those of you who lacking a handy graphing calculator, it means that the acting and writing have an inverse relationship with the canon.

So if Citizen Kane=Z+X=100,000 then a Friday the 13th that is as well acted and directed as Wells' masterpiece gives you a canonical accuracy rating of 0.00013, which is roughly how much Citzen Kane has in common with Friday in the first place.

The system works.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Basement Cinema - Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

It's Thursday night and the stars have aligned properly, which means it is time for Basement Cinema, a hyper-elite, micro-scale, (literally) underground film screening. Originally started in the basement of UW-Milwaukee's Mitchell Hall, "famous" as the stomping grounds of Mark Borchardt in American Movie, Basement Cinema has since died an ignoble death, then risen from its grave to spread across the mighty Mississippi. Previous screenings that I've attended have included Jack Frost (not staring Michael Keaton), The Stuff, highlights of Turkish cinema, The Found Footage Festival, Deadbeat at Dawn, Blood Freak, and an entire evening of tool themed slashers.

Tonight's film was Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, the completely unhinged, kung-fu gore masterpiece that you most likely know of as the movie with the sweet head crushing scene that they constantly showed on the Craig Kilborn era Daily Show. It takes place in the distant, dystopian future: the year 2001 AD, where title cards inform us that corporations run everything as businesses, including prisons. (Jennifer Government this ain't, as the corporatist premise is basically never mentioned again.) Riki-Oh is a new arrival to the high-tech ultra prison, having been convicted of manslaughter for taking revenge on the man responsible for his girlfriend's death. For most people, this would mean a lifetime of dropping the soap and/or a brutal death, but Riki-Oh is not most people. Flashbacks inform us that, thanks to a weird sensei who liked to hang out at the local cemetary, he is extremely good at kung-fu. Gravestone smashingly good, even.

Here is some easy math for you: Corrupt Ultra Prison + guy who can focus his qi until the laws of leverage no long apply to his strength = totally sweet.

Sure, there is some "plot" nonsense about Riki's sympathy for his downtrodden fellow prisoners, poppy cultivation on the prison grounds, and the warden's fat, man-child son, but that really doesn't matter in the face of a hero who can block a punch by counter-punching his attacker's fist so hard that the entire forearm splits open like a ripe banana; plus villains who will commit seppuku in order to strangle you with their own intestines.

Enter the Dragon by way of Dead Alive, and It. Is. Glorious. I lost count of how many times Riki punches completely through someone. Limbs are removed, eyballs are knocked out, skulls are crushed, and gimmicky "mini-bosses" are dispatched with intestinal flair, all in anticipation of Riki's final confrontation with the evil warden, who looks like a Chinese Hunter S. Thompson and can mutate himself into an eight foot tall monstrosity at will. Their climactic battle takes place in the kitchen next to a giant meat grinder, and, needless to say, someone (actually several people) gets grinded ground.

So go out and rent a copy of Riki-Oh: The Story of Riki, consume a large amount of psychotropic substances, and (for an extra layer of madness) leave the awful English dubbing on. Most likely you will melt like a Nazi opening the ark of the covenant.