Tag Archives: dystopia

Starship Troopers Series – Review: Part 1

15 Sep

Science fiction is one of my favorite genres of film, and when you add the themes of war and militarization along with the enemies being giant bugs from another planet, I’m completely on board. This makes the Starship Troopers movies right up my alley, but not all of them have gotten much praise. Based off of a 1959 novel by Robert Heinlein, the story of humanity in a utopian, yet oddly fascist, world in the 23rd century who go to war against a race known as the Bugs provided a lot of heavy handed messages that the author believed in. It seems pretty ripe for feature film story telling, and in some ways it worked. This series, like many others, certainly has its fair share of ups and downs.

Let’s start with Paul Verhoeven’s original cult classic from 1997, Starship Troopers.

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By the 23rd century, the Earth is now classified as a federation that is ruled in a fascistic and militaristic way. It’s a strange utopia that condones violence to survive and the only way to become a citizen is to serve in some branch of the military. That’s exactly what Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) intends to do once he graduates high school. Along with his friends Carl (Neil Patrick Harris), Carmen (Denise Richards) and Dizzy (Dina Meyer), Rico joins the military and is assigned with Dizzy to Mobile Infantry. After a race of giant insects called the Bugs shoot an asteroid across the galaxy and completely wipe out Buenos Aires, the Mobile Infantry and the Federation’s air fleet mobilize to the Bug planet of Klendathu, where a bloody war begins for the survival of the human race.

When it was first released, Starship Troopers was not met with too much success critically and the box office return was less than what was expected. Over the years, however it’s gained a status as a cult classic. When the film first begins and a lot of time is spent at the high school and basic training, I was worried that this would be an uneven mess with a disappointingly low amount of action. The first 45 minutes seemed to drag, but when the action does begin, I became thankful for all the time setting up the characters’ personalities and relationships. This makes the war scenes all the more impactful, and when someone gets hurt or is killed, I really felt like something was lost. Believe it or not, this is not a mindless movie and does evoke some real emotion, even though the acting is less than stellar.

Let’s face it, though, this is a sci-fi war film, so let’s get into the real nitty gritty. Paul Verhoeven may have had some missteps as a film maker, but it’s much easier to remember his films like Starship TroopersTotal Recall, and RoboCop. This movie stands as one of his achievements. The special effects are out of this world for the time and were even nominated for an Academy Award. When the Bugs swarm the soldiers, the movie gets so intense and action packed, which is where it really shines. There’s also lots of what I like to call “Verhoeven gore,” which, if your like me, adds some fun to the movie. He just seems to love blowing people up. Finally, this film works great as a satire of fascism and blind love and devotion to the military. The 1959 novel this film is based on got a lot of flack for seemingly glorifying a Nazi-like utopia. Verhoeven used this, flipped it on its head, and created bitingly funny satire that’s the backbone of this entire movie.

While I was planning on not really liking this movie when it first started up, I ended up loving it as the credits began rolling. It’s such a fun movie loaded with action, great special effects, and hilarious satire that starts in the very first scene. I was even surprised with how much I cared for the characters, despite some rather tone deaf performances. This is a movie I wish did better when it was first released so Verhoeven would have returned for a sequel. Nevertheless, it is what it is and this particular movie is a total sci-fi blast.

Final Grade: A-

I feel like I was just talking about direct to video movies with my review of the Darkman films, and here I go again. The original Starship Troopers was the only film to make it to theaters, and all the sequels went right for the home viewers. Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation premiered on Encore (now known as Starz Encore) in 2004, and then went on DVD a few months later. The reasons can not be more clear.

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The war against the Bugs has been raging for nearly 5 years, and while the humans are victorious in many places, there are fronts where the Bugs have the clear upper hand. On one such planets, a group of troopers are overrun by a swarm of Bugs and are forced to retreat to an abandoned outpost called Hotel 1-8-5. With their commanding officer, General Shepard (Ed Lauter), missing, the squad is under the new leadership of psychic Lt. Dill (Lawrence Monoson) and Sgt. Rake (Brenda Strong). As the Bugs find the outpost and prepare to attack, Pvt. Sahara (Colleen Porch) releases an imprisoned officer, Captain Dax (Richard Burgi), in the outpost to help fight against the swarm. What these troopers don’t know is that the Bugs can now infect people and infiltrate squads from within, which spells danger for these soldiers confined to this small area.

With Hero of the Federation, we go from the knock out action, special effects, and satire from the first one and just downgrade it to what comes close to the lowest it can possibly get. I understand that a t.v. movie isn’t going to have the budget of a Hollywood feature film, but my goodness this movie looks hideous. Aside from the fact that it was shot on HD video, it’s just a dark and colorless film. All of the exterior shots are filmed at night with only a small area lit or sand completely covering up any scenery that could’ve given me an idea of where everything was taking place. Once the soldiers get into Hotel 1-8-5, things remain dark and colorless, but everything now just looks old and gross. I give the film makers credit for the claustrophobic feeling, which is nailed really well, but this is just not an easy movie to look at.

Phil Tippett, who is known for his special effects work on Jurassic Park and the first Starship Troopers, returns to direct this film which helps in a lot of ways. For one thing, for a t.v. movie that’s then released right to DVD, the special effects are really good. They aren’t stunning, but there are some scenes that had really impressive practical work. I can’t really say the same about his work with the actors. The acting in the first film really wasn’t anything special, but this is a different story completely. There are some line deliveries that made me either cringe or burst out laughing. The fact that this isn’t a big budget film really isn’t much of an excuse since I’ve seen t.v. movies with impressive performances. I feel like the ambition of this project just didn’t meet the standards of what was actually possible in making a good movie.

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation is more than a disappointing sequel. It hardly even registers as a sequel. Not only was it released almost 8 years after the original, but it was also a t.v. movie that loses a lot in translation to the small screen. The acting is subpar, the cinematography is bland, and the only saving grace is some cool special effects and an action filled ending. If you want to watch a movie with close to the exact same storyline, watch The Thing, or forget this storyline and just put on the original Starship Troopers.

Final Grade: D

So far we have a one great movie and one that really bugged the hell out of me, pun definitely intended. We still have a few more movies to go with this series, but that review will be coming soon. For now, stick with the original.

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Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

13 Oct

… Hmm… How can I even start this review? I have just watched one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. As you can probably guess by the title, it’s the Hong Kong martial arts cult classic Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. Take the gore effects from exploitation horror films of the 1980s, combine that with martial arts action, and top it off with some wonderfully hilarious gallows humor and the end result is Riki-Oh. This will be an easy movie to talk about since it left me with such a strange reaction that made me both laugh and cringe, and while I personally thought this film was a riot, it really only is for a certain type of audience.

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In the early 200s, prisons have become a privatized business, which led to higher levels of corruption and violence in order to keep business booming. Ricky Ho (Fan Siu-wong) is the newest prisoner in one of the most violent prisons in the world. Upon his arrival, Ricky sees how corrupt the jail really is and how it’s actually run by a gang called the Gang of Four, who works in league with the sadistic Assistant Warden Den (Fan Mei-sheng) and the Warden (Ho Ka-kui). The gang and the wardens become determined to kill Ricky when he starts fighting their men and destroying their business, but what they fail to realize is that Ricky has the power of superhuman strength and is nearly invincible. Let the battle begin.

This may be a pretty short review because there isn’t a whole lot to say about it. It simply is what it is and you have to accept it as such. What’s actually surprising is how many really good reviews this movie has gotten. It looks like it’s filmed on the cheap, it’s loaded with over the top gore, and the English dubbing is so bad it’s hilarious. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky succeeds, however, because the movie knows what it is and takes great pleasure in being as over the top and stupid as it can possibly be. In some ways, that’s pretty respectable.

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Let’s get down to it though. What did I think of this movie? It’s not all too surprising that I think it’s a gem of a movie. It made me laugh the entire way through with both its intentional and unintentional humor. Let me just list a few of its most over the top moments. In one scene, Ricky punches the top half of a guy’s head clean off. He just punches it off. In another scene, an opponent of Ricky rips out his own stomach and tries to strangle Ricky with it. Who in the world can think of something like this? Someone with a twisted mind or a really strange sense of humor? Or both?

Everything else in the movie that has nothing to do with its violence or humor is pretty useless. There is almost literally no story, at least not one that I can see. Characters are introduced throughout the whole film but then die in the next scene, which means there isn’t any character development at all. That being said though, that’s not what the movie is about. This film is about showing off some pretty gross special effects and making people laugh. In that regard, it succeeds.

Since it’s release in 1991, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky has gained a fair amount of cult success. It makes sense that a movie like this doesn’t appeal to a wide audience. It’s schlocky, violent, and gory but it’s also a whole lot of fun. I can’t wait to show this movie to more people just to see how they are going to react to something like this. To me, this movie succeeds at what it sets out to do and I had more fun than I probably should have watching it.

Escape from New York & Escape from L.A. – Review

27 Sep

To me, John Carpenter is an amazing film maker. He’s made some of my favorite horror movies, like Halloween and The Thing amongst others. He’s also known for more action oriented movies like Assault on Precinct 13 and the comedic Big Trouble in Little China. One of his most respected action movies, and in fact one of the most respected movies of his career, is the 1981 film Escape from New York. This was a dark, dystopian thrill ride that was a major hit with audiences and critics alike, which is surprising that it took 15 years for the sequel, Escape from L.A., to finally be produced and released. While both of these movies have something good to offer, Escape from New York is a far superior film than its sequel… depending on what you’re looking for.

Let’s start with Escape from New York.

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In 1988, crime in America rises by almost 400% (remember this was made in 1981) forcing the government to create the United States Police Force and also convert Manhattan into a giant maximum security prison surrounded by giant walls. When terrorists force Air Force One to crash land inside the prison walls, the president (Donald Pleascence) finds himself stranded. Luckily for him, there’s a new prisoner about to be admitted, the notorious soldier and gunslinger Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). Before all of the formalities can even be completed, Snake is tasked by New York Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to infiltrate Manhattan and save the president and in return all of Snake’s crimes on record will be cleared. As an added incentive, Snake is injected with a small explosive device that will detonate in 22 hours. Now with no other choice, Snake wages a one man war with the inmates of Manhattan.

What really grabbed my attention first was how Escape from New York looked. It is a minor visual masterpiece that perfectly sets the tone. From beginning to end, this movie is enveloped in darkness and fog and destruction. It’s exactly how a dystopian film should look. Of course, this was also done in a time before CGI, so this destroyed version of Manhattan is all just brilliant set design, miniatures, and matte painting. Speaking of design, I can’t go through this review without mentioning the iconic anti-hero, Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell growls his way through the movie and succeeds at playing one of cinema’s cult badasses. Not to mention that he was Konami’s main inspiration for Solid Snake in the Metal Gear video game series.

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There’s a simplicity to the story that has also grown on me. While there is something of a message behind the story of the film, the main focus is always Snake rescuing the president. There is a pacing issue that happens about 20 minutes into the movie where it sort of grinds to a halt, but it picks up speed soon enough and I was right back into the action. The movie is a little bit dated, but there are plenty of reasons not to forget it. The cast that I’ve mentioned before, along with Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, and Harry Dean Stanton are all great as always. The film is also just an achievement visuals, character, and the fact that you don’t need a huge budget to make an influential movie. Escape from New York truly deserves its recognition as a cult classic.

After a sequel was written in 1985 and quickly dismissed as being “to campy” by John Carpenter, the official sequel was finally released 15 years later in 1996.

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After an earthquake in 2000 pretty much levels all of Los Angeles. The island that is created as a result is turned into a prison when a strict theocratic president (Cliff Robertson) is elected and implements a moral code that is enforced throughout America. When the president’s daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer), is influenced by a terrorist in the L.A. prison, Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), she steals a device that can be used to control satellites orbiting the entire earth with the capability to shut down all forms of power sources on the planet. After once again being arrested and facing a life sentence in L.A., Snake is recruited to go into the prison, retrieve the device, and eliminate Utopia and Cuervo in exchange for his freedom and an antidote to a virus that has been injected into his bloodstream.

Think of this movie as the Joel Schumacher Batman movies compared to Tim Burton’s, except not as disastrous as Batman and RobinEscape from New York had a dark and brooding atmosphere, whereas Escape from L.A. is brighter, louder, and much more excessive. That being said, there’s some really fun action sequences, but there’s a lot missing from this movie. For one thing, Snake is pretty much turned into an indestructible hero, which pretty much takes away all sorts of suspense. The special effects in this movie are also… pretty awful. I mean, Independence Day also came out in 1996, so there’s really no excuse the effects in Escape from L.A. should be so weird. I can’t even say it’s because it had a low budget because it was a $50 million production.

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There’s still a lot of imagination behind a lot of the different prisoners and sets. Also, besides Kurt Russell and Cliff Robertson, there’s also cameos and supporting roles for Bruce Campbell, Pam Grier, Peter Fonda, and Steve Buscemi. It’s just really unfortunate that all of this imagination and great actors is sort of drowned out in excessive special effects, a lack of suspense, and noise. While the story does move a lot faster than its predecessor, I really missed the style, suspense, and tone of the first film. It’s also worth mentioning that the whole story is almost a perfectly recycled version of Escape from New York.  Escape from L.A. isn’t an awful film, but it’s far from being any real form of good.

John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. are two very different movies. His first film is a cult classic, and rightfully so, while the second one bombed when it was released and it’s still considered a bomb today.

Judge Dredd (1995) & Dredd (2012) – Review

1 May

With a summer full of comic book movies, I’m gonna be writing plenty of reviews of our favorite masked heroes. Let’s look at a more out of the way comic series for just a bit, though. In 1977, the British comic book 2000 AD was first published, which provided readers with new stories every week. The most famous recurring character of this series is none other than Judge Dredd himself. Like many comic book characters, movies were eventually made. In 1995 there was Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone, and in 2012 there was Dredd starring Karl Urban. To compare the two, let me just say think Batman and Robin compared to The Dark Knight.

Let’s look at the 1995 version first. Or maybe let’s just try and forget?

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By the latter part of the 21st century, the Earth has been turned into a desert wasteland. Whoever is left alive are forced to reside in giant Mega-Cities where crime runs rampant, as opposed to the alternative, which is getting torn apart in the areas outside the walls. In these cities, the law is upheld by “judges” who act as judge, jury, and executioner. The most feared of these judges is Judge Dredd (Sylvester Stallone), who is recognized for outstanding service and a brutal, no nonsense attitude. When one of his biggest criticizers is murdered, Dredd is framed and is forced to go on the run in order to clear his name and restore justice to the corrupted Mega-City One.

Now, I’m all about silly movies especially when the likes of Sylvester Stallone are involved, but holy hell… What is this? After researching, I’ve found that he production of this movie was nightmarish since director Danny Cannon and his screenwriters had a huge disagreement with Stallone over what this movie was supposed to be. Was it a serious action/sci fi or was it an action/comedy? Stallone preferred the latter which made for some serious rewrites. The outcome is bizarre. The film has a great look to it and the special effects are all really good, but everything else is pretty awful. Rob Schneider’s comedic relief is anything but funny and the plot is so confusing and muddled that I didn’t really care what happened in the end.

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The best way I can sum up Judge Dredd is by saying I was baffled. How could a movie based off such a cool, rough character be this silly? Did they really think the jokes were that funny? Did they know that the plot made barely any sense? I honestly don’t now. The movie starts off cool enough, but once the real story kicked in, I found myself losing interest fast. Stallone looks ridiculous in the he’s always standing ramrod straight and Rob Schneider was just plain awful. I could really only enjoy Armand Assante’s performance as the villainous Rico. He was way over the top and loving it. This film is hated by fans of the comic series, and honestly, even though I haven’t read any of the stories, can see why.

But all was not lost. In 2012, director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland teamed up to hopefully bring some redemption to the character. The result was Dredd.

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A new plague has struck Mega-City One, and it is the newest, most popular designer drug called Slo-Mo. It’s main draw is that upon inhaling, the brain is tricked into perceiving the world around it as moving at 1% its normal speed. Enter Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and his new trainee, Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a psychic who although she performed poorly at the academy may have special uses with her power. The two arrive at Peach Trees, a 200 story slum, to investigate a triple homicide. What the judges don’t know is that they are working against drug kingpin Ma-Ma’s (Lena Headey) best interests in the production of Slo-Mo. To counteract her situation, Ma-Ma has the entire complex locked down and orders all of the criminals inside to hunt down and kill the judges. What follows is a two man war to the top of the complex to find and judge Ma-Ma, but also just to make it out of there alive.

I said earlier that these two movies can be compared like Batman and Robin to The Dark Knight. While Dredd certainly isn’t as incredible as The Dark Knight, the comparison can still be seen. This is a much darker take on the lore created in the comic books and it succeeds so much more. Karl Urban surprisingly plays a much better, real, and strangely likable Dredd, but that’s just the beginning. Instead of trying to complicate things unnecessarily, Alex Garland kept the story simple and straightforward, resulting in a movie that felt like I was watching a live action graphic novel of the story. Another contributing factor to this is the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle, who has done work on Slumdog Millionaire28 Days Later, and Antichrist to name a few.

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Dredd is simply a much better movie than the 1995 original. It’s stylistically beautiful, is loaded with nearly non-stop action, and has a sense of humor that is appropriate to the content. I also can’t help but mention that it reminded me of The Raid more than once, but that’s great considering The Raid is one of the best action films of the decade. While this doesn’t reach the heights of comic book adaptations like The Dark Knight or The Avengers, it’s still a damn entertaining movie and one that I would love to see again and again.

So there you have it. If you haven’t seen these films already, I highly recommend skipping over Judge Dredd and moving right on to Dredd. He may not be the most well known comic book character, Judge Dredd has lasted over 35 years and counting, so much respect should definitely be given.

THX 1138 – Review

28 Jun

Cinephile or not, it is probably correct of me to assume that most people have heard of George Lucas. He is responsible for creating one of the most fantastic and immersive fictional universes to grace any medium ever. Of course, I’m talking about his Star Wars films, which he didn’t always direct, but is completely responsible for. There was a pre-Star Wars Lucas believe it or not. One of his films is American Graffiti, a look into youth culture of the 1970s. The film I want to discuss is the science fiction film that started it all: THX 1138.

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Far off into the future, human beings are kept under control by a large amount of sedatives that block any sort of emotion or opinion, with love being the ultimate crime. THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) is just another mindless cog in the machine until his room mate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) stops taking her sedatives and tricks THX into stopping his sedation. As THX begins to think for himself and even fall in love with LUH, the government quickly catches on starting a labyrinthine game of cat and mouse through the darkest recesses of this future dystopia.

Does this movie sound familiar to the people who follow this blog? I’d say the reason it might is that the plot sounds very similar to Equilibrium. While the plot may be similar in more ways than one, THX 1138 is executed in a completely different way. The best way I can describe this film is by calling it a new wave science fiction film. THX 1138 was released in 1971 when the New Wave “style” finally made its way to American with the likes of The Graduate, so this film can definitely seen as taking a style that has travelled from Europe, Asia, and finally America and making it into something that wasn’t really seen before. The minimal set design and constant wandering of the characters with out a completely defined goal are characteristics that are seen in many New Wave movies that came before THX 1138.

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This is a very different movie, especially from what you may have come to expect from George Lucas. This is in no way extravagant. The copy that I watched did have some computer generated enhancements that both helped some scenes and made others look ridiculous, but for the most part, the set design is pretty dry. I mean that in the best way possible, however. The coolest part of the movie takes place in a white room that seems to go on for all eternity. This perfectly describes the hopelessness and emptiness of a society without free thought. It’s a void of emotion and opinion where only those brave enough to dare to think for themselves are kept. It’s visually memorable and psychologically haunting.

The minimalism of THX 1138 is where it really succeeds as dystopian science fiction. I’m, personally, a huge fan of the genre and seeing a film, such as this, succeed in such a remarkable way is refreshing. This was before Lucas became so obsessed with creating outstanding blockbusters that mainly were used as money grabs. I’m in no way bashing the original Star Wars trilogy. They were outstanding homages to multiple genres and had outstanding characters and plot development, but then Jar Jar… No. THX 1138 is not flashy nor is it overt in its themes. Prepare to ponder this film long after it ends.

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THX 1138 is a intellectually stimulating and visually remarkable example of science fiction film making. The plot takes its time and the setting is sure to make you uncomfortable and have you longing to return to your own comfortable paradise called your living room. I can say that this movie isn’t for everyone and the pace will surely throw some people off. To those who don’t mind a plot that moves deliberately slow and enjoy a film that is minimalistic in its style, than I’d highly suggest THX 1138.