Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Third Row - On Second Thought Ohata, Maybe You Should Let Cronenberg Handle the Intellectual Gore

Well readers (...all...two...maybe three of you? I can't tell, I
think there's someone hiding over there...) welcome back to the Third Row once

As some of you may have been aware...and likely not that broken up over...last
week we kind of welched out on our initial promise to give you the blood-soaked
sequel to M.D. Geist - DEATH FORCE.

Well, I did some conferring with the lawyers and it appears as though, flimsy as
it is, a blog entry DOES constitute a binding legal contract. I come before you once again, offering you all the old Gallagher-esque
protective tarp as we prepare to once again waltz into the bloodsoaked world of
director Koichi Ohata.

Now, for those of you who either never saw the first part, or who just can't be
frankly arsed to go back and read the first review (hey, I don't blame ya...)
we've been benevolent enough to bring you up to speed quickly (...but first, a
bang-up opening sequence in which a bunch of random survivors are savagely
murdered by killer machines...that apparently eat humans, and Geist arrives and
kills the machines... ...after everyone else is dead.)

...I'm not exactly seeing the logic in a doomsday weapon that runs on machines
hunting and eating humans. Wouldn't it be more efficient to just use that tank
that clearly has enough firepower to level humans in an instant?

...oh, who am I kidding? We already set the rule in part 1 that militaries in
this universe get their kills graded for style over efficiency.

OK, back to the story!

Here to explain the situation is a man who we chained to the front of a tank:

A man we chained to the front of a tank, ladies and gentlemen...

He'll be here all week, whether he wants to be or not.

Now then, with that, you just about know the score.

At the end of the last part,everyone's favorite murderous psychotic, the titular
Most Dangerous soldier, Geist, completely screwed the planet Jerra.

It's some time later and, as we can see, he's clearly not regretting his
decision. Quite the opposite. In fact, if anything, Geist seems to have become
even more of an asshole in this new Hell on Earth, using people as bait so he
can wage war against the vicious human hunting machines of the DEATH FORCE
( his credit, he DOES thank them for being such good sports...that's gotta
count for something, right? Right?)

Our 'hero' play in the ashes of the world he flushed in the
first one for the sheer Hell of it.
You can just hear the triumphant fanfare as he walks off to right the wrongs and
slaughter the innocent!

We're next treated to an opening montage and narrative crawl that explains what
we were already prettymuch able to gather. The machines of the DEATH FORCE now
rule the planet are any and all remaining humans are just waiting to be hunted
and eaten.

...yessir, it's a pretty hard knock life.

Anyways...from here, we cut to another group of survivors. No sense getting
attached since we all know where they're headed. All that really separates this
group from the last are two things:

1) Well I'll be damned, there ARE children on Jerra afterall

2) Vaiya's back...and wow...actually dressed this time.

Don't ask how she survived, they're never gonna explain.
But, for your entertainment, she WILL go insane at least three times before this
is over!

Seems they're part of a group of survivors that have taken to
scavenging in cities for supplies.

As they search, an old man talks about a last stronghold of survivors out there
that can fight back against the machines...everyone blows him off, which means
you KNOW it's gonna be foreshadowing.

As is the luck of the normal folk of Jerra, they're found by more machines and
slaughter commences in fairly short order.

Something about a robot piloting a machine that just feels pretty redundant
right here.
The more I look at it, the armies of Jerra put NO thought into this ultimate
weapon and just sort of pulled a bunch of ideas from a hat.

Just when things look darkest, and almost everyone except for Vaiya and the kid
are now dog food.

Look! Up in the sky!

It's a bird!

It's a plane!



Anyways, we find out their savior is Krauser, a strangely blue-skinned man who
is also part of the M.D. line of soldiers. It seems he's running the base of
survivors. They've managed to actually develop a passable living condition
(although they seem to be somewhere between a military force and a cult...the
latter only added to by Krauser's armor bleeding religious symbolism out every

We learn that the main reason they've been able to survive is thanks to a device

effectively, cloaks the presence of humans to the DEATH FORCE.

Krauser without his armor. This Smurfs remake's already off to a bad start.
...what? Somehow, an Avatar joke felt too easy.

Naturally, we quickly learn the reason Krauser was also in the MDS program. He's
a short-tempered, violent nut with a god complex. In short, he's Geist with an
ego in place of his bloodlust.

With the mention of Geist himself, the story begins to get disjointed again.
We're treated to an odd series of moments of people recalling Geist (first Vaiya,
who starts losing it as she remembers him more, and then the base's scientist,
Dr. Breston, who created the old Cap'n Killforfun.)

Working under Krauser's nose, Breston enlists Eagle, an earlier prototype cyborg,
to go outside of the base and bring him Geist. Why he wants the murderous
psychopath never quite seems clear.

Eagle. For a cast aside bastard child of technology, he may be the most
sympathetic being in this story. me. In this, that says a lot.

Rather than bother with a drawn out hunt, we just cut straight to Geist and
Eagle throwing down. All the while cut with scenes confirming to Krauser that
Geist still lives. As Geist takes Eagle to the cleaners, Krauser finds out about
Breston's plans, whilst flexing his own ego, and the sutures in Breston's skull.

So...amidst all the war and Hell, Eagle apparently finds Geist in one of the
only jungles left on a planet where everything else looks like either The Road
Warrior or Tattooine.

On the one hand, Eagle succeeds. On the other, he's intercepted by Krauser's
men, who trash him and take Geist back to the home base. As is customary when
traveling with Geist, things go bad quickly, and a DEATH FORCE robot slaughters
the guards, only to be stopped by Geist.

Back at base, Breston decides, once again, he's going to defy Krauser's orders
and keep Mr. "I Kill for Fun and I've Already Slaughtered the Planet" alive. |


Because he finds Geist more interesting than Krauser as far as a weapon.

...why do these guys never learn?

Rather than labor things down with exposition, Ohata just cuts straight to the
inevitable so we can get right back to the violence. Geist somehow escapes and
begins, yet again, killing everything in his path.

While it's hard to hear, if you listen carefully in this scene, you can pick
up a heartfelt monologue from Geist about why he fights as he chews on this
man's trachea.

Said rampage is, by this point, fairly standard. Geist butchers
everything that crosses his path. It's entertaining at first, but let's face it,
after a while, it just lacks the zing.

Realizing we might be getting bored with the one-sided slaughter, Krauser goes
down to face Geist himself. It turns into a battle of Geist's bloodthirst
against Krauser's ego... ...again.

On the plus side, we FINALLY get a break in Vaiya's plotline.

She finally remembers Geist...

...oh does she ever...

she immediately calls for Krauser to kill him.

With his followers cheering him, Krauser beats the piss out of Geist. Despite
his assertions, however, he hasn't killed him (something only confirmed by Vaiya,
who's now declared quite insane.)

Krauser, meanwhile, now conspires with survivors from the army to finally put a
stop to the DEATH FORCE with a plan that's...well...for the military minds of
this universe, it's amost too easy:

lure all the machines into one city and then nuke them.

Seriously? Wouldn't this have been the smarter move for their doomsday
weapons in the first place?
I mean, if you're gonna wipe out all life on the planet, might as well go all in
or not bother.

...of course, because this WOULD be too easy, it's revealed the bomb itself
requires several pieces which need to be set off manually.

Honestly...there's just no sense of efficiency with these people.

Anyways, just to further make this plan more complicated, Eagle decides he's
gonna help our favorite murderous slaughter factory. Seems years of working for
normal people has made him bitter and downright vengeful (...actually, in this
universe, I can't blame him. Hell, he's the one person in this futuristic
abbatoir whose mindset actually feels relatable.)

Kids, take the next bus out of state, Daddy's back and he found the gun

Sure enough, Geist arrives in the middle of the bomb setting, and now he wants a

Much like the last film, this is the token 'Everyone else gets savagely
murdered' sequence.

Of course, to make it more interesting, Geist is now using one of the lures to
lead the DEATH FORCE out of the city and towards Krauser's base.

You know how it long as it's breathing, Geist can't let it go.

No sense doing a blow-for-blow on what follows since we all know where it's

Shit goes down in almost every possible fashion. Vaiya, once again, manages to
survive (you were doing well for a while Eagle, then you went and spared
her...well...I suppose one mistake's fine.)

As everyone gets killed, Geist and Krauser wail on one another. As Krauser
prepares to strike the final blow, his followers all flock to him, as he's
undone by a dramatic twist that's as fittingly ironic as it is hilarious. Krauser's aim is that bad, or that kid could REALLY jump, but he
to somehow manage to catch the kid in the chest at THAT height is a Hell of a

What's sad is...that's prettymuch the ending for this. Krauser's base burns,
Krauser himself is

killed, and we see a few of the stray survivors, including Vaiya and Eagle.

Roll credits.

Inevitable sting image to suggest there's hope for a sequel (even though we know
that's not gonna happen now.)

You know...on rewatching this, I have to say...honestly, this wasn't as amusing
as I initially remember.

Don't get me wrong, it has some great 'so bad, it's funny' moments (see above.)

At the same time though, there's a lot less of that 'fast and loose' feeling
that made the first one feel like such a comedically fun action send-up (even if
it wasn't meant to be.)

To his credit, Ohata HAS gotten visibly better at trying to convey a message
this time around.

...unfortunately, many of his old flaws still dog him after the years between
the two installments. The narration is still disjointed and has many awkward
time skips in its rush to get to the next action sequence. The cast are still
largely just talking heads to die painfully, except this time we're given even
LESS reason to care about most of them.

Now, as said, this time around, Ohata is a bit more on-point with trying to make
a message. Krauser and his whole army of followers are a pretty strong jab at
religion. Unfortunately, thanks to all the other shortcomings of the production,
the message comes across as very hollow.

It's not preachy, I'll give it that, but it feels out of place here. This mostly
comes from the fact that, like the first movie's message, it is all too
regularly forgotten under the

trappings of the next wave of blood and guts.

I said it last time, I'll say it again. On the one hand, I want to commend Ohata
for trying to make some science fiction with a brain. Unfortunately, he's still
a very visually minded director, and as a result, any message he wants to try
and convey here is all but guaranteed to be lost in the sound, the fury, and the

...especially the blood.

DEATH FORCE isn't without its upsides at least.

Thanks to the extra funding provided by US Manga Corps (who, for the record,
have recently gone under, which, sorry to say, eliminates any chance for another
sequel) the animation looks considerably better than the first part.

Most of the time, anyways (there's still a few sequences, such as Krauser's
questioning Vaiya about where she's seen the MDS dogtags before, where the
animators cut some corners, resulting in the whole scene being done in sort of
time lapse still frames and voice over.)

Also, in this case, I'd say watch either language. The dub is still pretty bad,
but without the already over the top nature the first one had, the generally bad
performances don't seem to add quite as much to the effect. So really, this
one's up to your own judgement.

Really, if you enjoyed the carnage from the first movie...and, let's face it, if
you bought this, you probably got the second part anyways since they're on the
same disc. It's worth watching this.

It's nowhere near as entertaining and its message while more clear spoken feels
less like it belongs, but it still has some nice bits of sick humor peppered
throughout (all unintentionally), and at only around 45 minutes, you could do a
lot worse things to yourself.

Well, that concludes this week's edition of the third row.

You guys tread carefully on the way out while I mop up the blood.

See you again next week when we run with a relatively less violent title (I
know, I know...where's the fun in that?

Humor me here.)

M.D. Geist will be back in Thunderball... ...OK, probably not.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Those Parts of '09 We Look Back On and Go "...OK, THOSE parts didn't suck."

Chalk one up for the power of procrastination, folks.

As a small benefit to the stall in getting the Third Row off the ground, this place begins its life by dancing on the grave of 2009.

I could give you this cliche-riddled pep-talk about how
going into a new year makes for a great start, clean slate, day one, etc etc...

But really, I'm more looking forward to this because:

a) For one thing, for a lot of people I know, the consensus seems to be that 2009 was kind of a shit year (gotta love the fact we're putting the close on what's apparently going to be labeled as 'The Decade
from Hell.'

THIS is gonna make some fun stories for kids years from now

"You kids think you had it bad...I survived the decade from Hell...yes, I
know the Depression-era had it worse, and so did the guys in the 60s who got shipped off to Vietnam...but no one called THEIR era the one from Hell, now did they?"


b) This gives me a cheap excuse to port over an annual
ritual I picked up a couple of years ago (not a terribly unique one, admittedly,
reviewers pull these pretty regularly.)


It's the obligatory 'Best of last year' list.

Now, in an act of mercy, this list is only five titles

With that said, three provisos:

1) In the interest of giving these films a fair break, I'll try and tone down being a cheeky little shit, but I promise nothing.

2) These lists are based off of what I've seen up to this point. As a result, many times there are great films from years past that would have made my lists but I hadn't seen them at the time (2007 REALLY hit me in the cojones on that...)

3) Generally, these five aren't listed in any set order of quality. This goes especially for this year, where the list seems to have a somewhat bipolar feel.

With that, let's begin:

*Inglorious Basterds

This gleefully smug grin can only mean one of two things...

either Christoph Waltz is in good spirits about the speculation he's a shoe-in for at least a Best Supporting Actor nom

or there's something going on under that table that's best discussed on other sites.

OK, I'm not gonna lie. While I enjoy some of his movies, Tarantino has never been a name that'd automatically get me to see one of his films. To this end, when I'd first heard about this movie, I had absolutely no idea what to make of it. The ads were amusing, so I figured 'What the Hell?'

...I'd like to say to the advertisers for this
film...shame on you, you REALLY underrepresented this.

Don't get me wrong, there was definitely fun to be had in Pitt's group of basterds "killin' Nazis," but it kind of blew my mind that the ads completely skipped over the secondary revenge plotline, which actually really helped flesh out the movie.

Hell, the movie in general can be best described as a sort of Reese's experience. Some kind of odd, but good-tasting elements, that somehow manage to taste great together (you know you've done a good thing when you can successfully fuse WWII, a spaghetti western, and a revenge film.)

Load this up with some of Tarantino's delightfully anachronistic style, some great tips of the hat to film buffs, some actually surprisingly effective suspense, and a solid cast (including the deservedly praised Christoph Waltz as the film's villain, the gleefully smug little asshole Col. Hans Landa) and you get a finished product that is not quite like anything else you'd find out nowadays.

Thankfully so, since it makes finding it that much



He knew that Russell meant well in trying to raise spirits...

But after the twentieth encore of 'Spanish Flea', Carl was seriously starting to contemplate homicide...

...I can't say this director's cut ending is doing it for me either.

It's the old joke about these retrospectives on good movies of the year: Always bet on Pixar.

Admittedly, it's not without grounding in truth...while a couple of titles may be up for debate, they do have a fairly solid track

This year's Up was no exception to this. Containing a lot of the classic elements of humor and heart, this was also a bit unexpected in that this showed signs of a bit more matured Pixar than we've had to this point. The opening sequence in which we're introduced to the film's protagonist by going over his life is, for an animated CG movie, surprisingly emotional.

One can't blame Carl (in a great turn by veteran actor Ed Asner) for keeping to
himself after that kind of a loss. Despite this, however, it's still encouraging to see him finally learn to care about others again over the course of his adventures with his unintended passenger Russell, and the animals Dug channeling probably one of the most accurate takes on a dog's mindset in movies to date) and Kevin (see above, replace 'dog' with 'bird.')

Funny, touching, etc, etc,...yeah, the old Pixar review phrasebook, as it were...but again, there's a reason these phrases tend to keep coming back. Up continues to prove the streak continues.


Fun fact - As the general cost for talking animals go, the cutesy talking ones are quite expensive

But for just ten bucks, you can get a horrifically mangled one that barks grim omens of doom, like this happy fellow!

The kids won't mind...I's a talking animal!  They love those, right?


How's that for a jump right there? We go from a heartwarming Pixar film about a lonely curmudgeon who learns to live with other people again to a grim Lars von
Trier film about varying degrees of grief, fear, sex, madness, and the nature of evil. Just puts a big old smile on your face, don't it?

I'm gonna say this straight out. For all the hype when
it came out, I only found Paranormal Activity to be mildly creepy.

THIS was the movie that managed to legitimately freak
the Hell out of me. After hearing of it in passing in several reviews, I became
curious about this controversial piece of film (some labelling it a drama, others a horror film)  The fact this seemed to be blurring a line of that sort was already the first step to intrigue me.

Truth be told, if I'd told the me that just finished watching this that it'd be on my top 5 for this year, my past self would probably punch me for messing with it. This is one of the first times I've legitimately felt horrified after watching a movie (I believe my first words were "...I think I need a shower.")

After the initial shock wore off, however, the more I
looked back, the more I was surprised to find that...I was actually impressed
with what I'd seen.

It's definitely an unusual film (like the earlier mentioned reviews, I don't know HOW to categorize this one...and it seems even the generally esteemed Cannes film crowd weren't sure what to make of it either...on the one hand, praising actress Charlotte Gainsburg, deservedly so, for her acting, while on the other giving director von Trier a special 'anti-award' for allegations of misogyny...curiously, the film also DOES have some believable feminist interpretations) but alongside its rather curious story, it's also quite well made.

Bearing some strong acting, both by the aforementioned
Gainsburg and Willem Defoe, as well as establishing, for the most part, some downright unnerving atmosphere, this film manages to carry itself quite well as
a rather untraditional mix of drama and horror that actually succeeds in managing to crawl under your skin and set up shop.

WARNING: If you consider yourself as
being squeamish or weak of stomach in any way, much as I recommend this film, you might want to pass on it. It's a well done film, but also VERY intense at points (Hell, even I felt uncomfortable during parts of it...that takes a lot.)

Worth the trip if you're up for it, but don't say I didn't warn you in the most
spoiler friendly terms possible.

*District 9

"...and after I say 'Who's on first.', you say 'That's what I want to know!'

You getting it?"

My my eyes deceive me? Is that...?

Yes! Yes it is! It's a science fiction film that
actually asks its viewers to think!

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit here, but really, in a lot of ways, this film was a long time coming.

With about the only big name on here being Peter Jackson (who mainly worked the producing end) this big-screen debut for director Neil Blomkamp went from being a low-buzz film adapted from Blomkamp's short 'Alive in Joburg' and, through a combination of cautiously used viral marketing, and their own good work, became a surprise hit.

Drawing on his own experiences growing up in South Africa, Blomkamp turned the idea of first contact on its ear, using mankind's first meeting with aliens (referred to in the film simply as Prawns) to present an allegory about apartheid (except now the blacks are replaced by aliens, so all of humanity get the chance to be racist jerks!)

An interesting concept further helped along by a narration that manages to successfully blend actual film with pseudo-documentary footage, it's a rather stark look at the the old tried and true concepts of humans and aliens (who look quite impressive given the movie's budget compared to most blockbusters of the summer.)  In almost every way, this film feels like a welcome injection of new blood into cinema (to this end, I'd like to tip my hat among the many others who've done so to the film's lead, first time actor Sharlto Copley, whose turn as ill-fated census worker Wickus goes from a slightly goofy start to running an impressive range of emotions. In particular, he manages to make the infamous weapons test scene painful to watch...the good kind of painful...wrong as THAT makes it sound.)

So wrap up...a fresh approach on some old sci-fi tropes, a fairly new director, a largely unknown, but quite promising, cast, and some surprisingly well blended effects for their budget all pooled together around a story that did something science fiction movies haven't gotten the chance to do in ages...give us a film that actually gets the audience thinking as well as enjoying themselves (...OK, given some of the moments of this, maybe 'enjoy' isn't the word, but...)

Here's hoping Blomkamp can keep up the good work. A few
more like him and maybe we'll see the return of science fiction as a viable genre yet.

...and speaking of, we come to number five.

*Star Trek

I know it hurts now, Spock...but look on the bright side!

With most of your family now written out, this timeline's been spared the existence of Star Trek V.

Ah, the immortal paradox...

On the one hand, as a culture, we tend to loathe the idea of remaking something. I mean, if it's not broke, why fix it, right?

and then...just to mess with us...something comes along
that manages to prove sometimes you CAN fix something that isn't broken, but may
not be up to full speed again.

We saw it happen with Batman (...OK, I'll concede this
actually WAS fairly broken as a film property) ... we saw it with the most recent James Bond (Hell, this is kind of a ritual there...once the most recent formula starts to run out of gas, it's back to the drawing board for a tune-up.
So far, at least, the current run's going strong...but that's for another time.)

So, after 5 series, 10 movies, and a veritable boatload
of other material, we now come to Star Trek...a franchise that's been somewhat on the fence with its fans lately. Some credit a fear of a continuity so loaded,
it makes writers afraid to try and take a chance. that light, it was probably a lucky gamble that Paramount then turned to a guy who didn't know the franchise to really get too hung up on that (fortunately, his writers did, so it all balanced at least.)

Using an alternate timeline (to their credit, the concept DID manage to find a nice balance so as to not override the well known canon) the new team managed to establish a fresh look at the beloved team of the old Enterprise.

Succeeding at the ever risky juggling act of balancing
old and new, they've given us a reboot that so far is shaping up quite well. 
...OK, it's still got a few lumps...Eric Bana's antagonist was a little underwhelming...but for a reboot that's still testing its strength, the fact they already hit a solid chemistry with the main crew that will be around for the sequels is really the more important step.

Where they take this timeline from here remains to be seen, but in light of the last couple of franchise reboots we've seen, I like the odds.


Well, that wraps up last year's list.

I would like to again point out, before I get comments
about "How could you ignore *?" that this list is currently based off what I had seen to this point, and there is still a list of films I still need to see, one or two of which may wind up usurping a slot on here (most notably, I can feel The Hurt Locker burning holes into the back of my head.)

Until such a time however, join us next week, when I finally make good on the promise/threat of before and bring you M.D. Geist: DEATH FORCE.