Friday, December 14, 2012

Apocalypse Wow! - Week the Second

Well, here we are, back on time with week 2 of the Third Row's Apocalypse Wow! Event (name was changed because the reference was too good to pass up.  If you recognize it, get yourself a snack, you earned it in my books!)

With 7 days left on the clock, this one's been a pretty damn bipolar week...but no sense spoiling it for ya.  Let's go to work.

You may not think the ability to lick your own junk is that great a skill at first...
Then the apocalypse hits and there's no women and you gain a whole new reason to envy that dog.

12/8    A Boy and His Dog

You know, it's somehow fitting that we go from last week's ending us on the grim note of Children of Men to going into this week's entries with some comedy.  Of course, in keeping with the apocalyptic theme, it's pretty black comedy, so you've been warned.

Based on the novella by Harlan Ellison, this is a pretty bizarre film to jump right into.  For one thing, it only gives you the very basic knowledge of its setting (which, given some of the major elements of the story, is a bit odd.  I mean, you can still watch it without knowing the full backstory on the world, but it does add more to things if you've done a little prep reading.)  For another, the story is...actually not really there for a good chunk of the first part of the movie.  We're introduced into a world devastated by atomic warfare used in the fourth world war (no, that's not a typo.)  In particular, we follow our two...not really heroes: Vic, an impulsive young man with a rifle and a taste for sex played by a young Don Johnson, and his dog, Blood, voiced by Tim McIntire (the dog himself being played by a dog named Tiger.)  The two share a telepathic bond, which drives much of their dynamic - Vic hunts for food and supplies for the two of them, while Blood searches the area for women for Vic to...
...well, let's just say life after the bomb didn't leave a whole lot of women and leave it at that.

Most of the first half, while not really having a direct plot, is still fairly entertaining largely thanks to the dynamic between these two.  Alongside the scripting, they act off each other surprisingly well given one was voice acted - McIntire's voice and Tiger's movements make Blood an endearing and pretty fleshed out character, and Johnson, having to just act off of a dog, still does well with showing the weird sort of father-son bond the two have.  It really says something for how effective the movie is at building these two up that, when the two are separated in the third act, the scene actually feels rather sad (again, thanks in large part to McIntire/Tiger.)  The main plot beyond the sort of twisted 'slice of life' that is the first half is also actually a pretty interesting take on the post-apocalypse society - with Vic getting mixed up with an underground civilization that plays out like Americana seen through a mirror darkly and best embodied in their benevolent-cum-sinister leader played by Jason Robards.

All things considered, this is one worth seeing - the plot can be a bit scattershot in its focus, and, alongside the generally dark humor, there's parts of the setting that may be offensive to some (the ending is a BIG example of this...I suppose it says something horrible for me that I went from shock to laughter as it sunk in.)  That said, for its faults, it's still a rather sickly entertaining look at the 'nuclear wasteland' future that's become so part & parcel in fiction these days.

Incidentally, if this provides any incentive to people who didn't already know this - this movie is considered among the main influences on the Fallout game series.  So there's a bonus reason to track it down.

Charlton Heston is Pip in Great Expectations II: The Revenge

12/9    The Omega Man

Made roughly 35 years before last week's I Am Legend, we have Matheson adaptation attempt #2. 

As it's the same book, the story is largely the same, albeit it's the execution that makes things here.  One of the biggest differences coming to mind between these two versions lies in the fact this version is a bit more forthright on two matters: for one, we learn Robert Neville, played this time by Charlton Heston is not alone in the first scene as we watch him take a shot at a cloaked mutant, and for another, the movie establishes within the first 10 minutes that this isolation has definitely been getting to him.  It's a different enough take on the character that it feels odd to compare with Smith's later performance, but for what this movie wants to do with the character, Heston handles it well.  As a man traditionally known for the big heroic leads, it's interesting to see him playing a man who may be losing his mind and he actually does a pretty good job at it without overdoing it.

In this case, other survivors and mutants are much more prominently featured.  In particular, the film's female lead, Lisa (Rosalind Cash), is a welcome addition to the cast - playing a role with some bite to it, but also having a more human side without either feel too contrived.  The other standout in the supporting cast being Anthony Zerbe as the leader of the mutant survivors, Matthias.  The role of the mutants is arguably one of the biggest departures this film takes from the text, as it maintains their humanity, but also presents them as a people regressing and seeking to destroy all things outside of their culture.  Zerbe plays this in a sort of subdued cult leader style that fits the change well, as the one really notable part of an antagonist group that is, admittedly, somewhat forgettable.

Again, it's tough to compare this with the later IAL adaptation.  Both have some parts that work, and each actually handles the theme of isolation and what it does to its protagonist well and with restraint . Yet at the same time, the nature of the mutants, and subsequently the meaning of the title become lost.  Though this version does come a bit closer as it's somewhat acknowledged by Matthias in one scene and later forgotten.

Both interesting standalone movies, but still kind of hit or miss adaptations.  Here's to seeing if our third visit/first try fares any better next week.

Additionally, as random trivia goes, this movie holds a small place in film history as one of the earlier known depictions of an interracial couple and kiss between Heston and Cash.  Just some fun facts for ya.

After cleanup, the survivors agreed never to talk about the picnic in the summer of 1970 ever lives now only in their nightmares.

12/10    No Blade of Grass

Holy shit.

I'm sorry I had to start it that bluntly, but damn.  This one was a lot bleaker than I was expecting.  For a movie made in 1970, this still feels horrifically relevant.  Of course, this may likely be thanks to the fact that the reason for this apocalypse - pollution leading to massive plant die-out and subsequent starvation, food riots, and breakdown of order, still feels all too plausible as a future barring some of the right steps being taken (but that's a discussion for another time and place.)  The 70s aesthetic doesn't even really feel too off-putting in this movie, and really only occasionally makes its presence known through select soundtrack cues.  Otherwise, the movie still holds up quite well as a rather grim tale of one family's attempts to survive as society crumbles around them and they seek shelter.

To that end, this film pulls no punches in how it views the crumbling old order - riots break out, gangs viciously beat, rob, and rape, and the film offers no last minute saves of convenience from these horrors.  One of the other strong elements here, both in filmmaking and driving the point home, is that the film doesn't overly embellish these things - we see them rather bluntly and the horror of the acts speaks for themselves.  This also helps the film's story to degrees as we see the ties between this group of survivors change and wear down as a result of the things they see on their journey.  Speaking of, the one other part of this that further drives home this movie's message - there is no clear 'closing' point.  The movie ends with the survivors finding neither salvation nor damnation, but simply continuing to live in this new world.  It's a grim sort of 'life goes on' that tries to create the idea of this not as a singular story that closes when it's done, but as an afflicted world that still continues even after the film stops.

The one other thing I'll say for this film, though I'm still trying to determine if I'd call it a strength or a weakness, would be its editing.  Many times over the course of the movie, certain decisions the survivors make are then foreshadowed by flashes of events to come, showing how this will effect their decisions.  Strangely, this doesn't feel that much like telegraphing the movie as it is reminding us of something these characters don't seem to realize yet - the world is no longer safe.  It's an interesting effect, albeit one that sometimes fits awkwardly in some scenes.  A nice narrative touch, if not always effective, really.  Similar can also be said for a similar effect early in the movie as the signs of the growing famine are first showing - as we intercut between scenes of starvation in other countries with some still well-fed British eating and discussing the situation.  Thematically it's a strong message - how people take these things for granted when they're happening to others.  In terms of execution though, it does feel a bit overdone and burdens the point after a while.

Still, the shortcomings are fairly minor and the overall film still remains surprisingly effective.  As the last line of the movie puts it all best "This is a motion picture.  It's not a documentary, but it could be."  As a message movie goes, a genre I have a very tumultuous relationship with, it's actually quite well handled.  Grim, but without going overboard, and really driving home that this is indeed a risk to be keeping in mind as humanity considers its next steps.

You know, I'm actually kind of convinced family restaurants already do this in order to stay perky.  They just know to hide the glowsticks from the customers.

12/11    Seeking a Friend For the End of the World

I'm gonna go ahead and start this by saying I still maintain this movie takes the prize for the most poorly marketed movie of 2012.

I almost didn't see this one based on mixed feelings from the promotions, and largely gave it a go based on some strong word of mouth.  The result compared to what the studios tried to sell was...I still wonder who greenlit it.

Based on the ads, the film looks like a rather light, goofy comedy about the end of the world and all the odd ways people choose to embrace it, often in forms of wild hedonism.  This is still in the film, don't get me wrong (including some rather amusing brief performances by Patton Oswalt, Rob Cordry, and Gillian Jacobs,) but all things considered, the larger chunk of the film is actually fairly dark.  Whether it's the first half where Steve Carrel's Dodge is a depressed man taking hits of cough syrup to get through the day, or a semi-recurring element involving people hiring others to kill them so they don't have to live to see the doomsday comet hit the Earth.  The film has a surprisingly darker side that much of the marketing leaves out. 

It's actually a shame too, as the film overall is surprisingly pretty well done.  While looking like an odd combination on paper, Carrel and Keira Knightley actually make a good team as two somewhat mismatched people finding each other as the rest of the world loses their minds around them.  It is admittedly something of a cliched character arc, but it's played well enough here that it works.  In particular come the final act of the film, which is honestly rather bittersweet to watch play out (cause when they say it's the end of the world, it is NOT false advertising.)  This is one of the few movies I remember seeing in theaters where, when the credits rolled, people didn't just get up and leave, but rather had to let that all sink in. And in some cases, cry.

I kind of hope that, like Miracle Mile (which many people compared this movie to, and some even accused this of ripping off) this movie does eventually come around more for people.  It was actually a fairly different idea (relatively speaking) for the studios to greenlight, and the fact that it was largely done in by their own inability to sell the movie is unfortunate.

Time will tell is all I can really say otherwise.  For my vote though, I still think this is among the more unexpected surprises of this year.

The kicker being, this is on the better end of Roger Corman's invocations of Poe.

12/12    Gas-s-s-s!

Before I get into this one, let me just start by saying I love the subtitle of this movie ("or: It Became Necessary to the Destroy the World in Order to Save It.")

Having said that...well, this came at a perfect time in the list.  After the last two days that could be summed up in the phrase "Shit just got real, yo," this was a release as only the great and somewhat insane Roger Corman could do it.  As his last directorial effort for American International, this movie - like several others on this list, gets its main apocalypse done fairly early on.  It's also one of the more unique forms on this list - a biological compound that kills off anyone over the age of 25.

The resulting film is a bit of a bizarre mish-mash of ideas.  Corman puts together a world in which we follow our young protagonists (played fairly likably enough by Bob Corff and Elaine Giftos) through a landscape rewritten by its new youngsters and their own weird new order.  The film plays out as a sort of bizarre mix of road movie and the odder anarchy ideas of the 70s and the various teen types are all open game, ranging from frat boys, to hippies, to black power (played in a pretty entertaing spot by a young Ben Vereen, who rationalizes his having a white girlfriend explaining "We all have our inconsistencies.")  It's definitely a movie that's a product of its time, however, and if you have a low tolerance for 70s fare, you're gonna want to pass this one up.

For my own part, I have to admit, it's fascinating, in a weird sort of way.  I mean, it's Roger Corman, which means the watermark is going to be set low, admittedly.  At the same time, the movie has just enough of a lack of self-seriousness with its subject that some of it is rather entertaining (another example coming to mind being Bruce Karcher as a character who styles himself as a modern day Edgar Allan Poe on a motorcycle.  It's a completely bizarre sidenote, but still strangely fun to watch.)  I wouldn't call this one a great film by any stretch, but if you have an affinity for cheeze, I'd say buckle in and give this one a shot.

"Merry Christmas, you--...where the Hell is everyone?"

12/13 The Day the Earth Caught Fire

Almost two weeks of this, and we're only now getting to an example of the nuclear holocaust films of the 60s?  Wow, randomizer.  Didn't expect that.  I mean, we've had some 'aftermath' stories, but this is the first that's really addressed the nuclear Hell itself.

It's also actually a pretty interesting take on the dangers of nuclear weapons - focusing less on their singular destructive powers but rather exploring the consequences of other things their use could do to the planet - in this case, sending Earth off course and heading towards the sun.  It's a premise that, just on paper, could have been downright ridiculous in its execution - surprisingly, this takes a concept that could have fallen flat on its face and gives it a good dose of maturity - even the risky gamble of trying to use further nuclear weapons in hopes of changing the Earth's fate is played seriously, complete with a haunting finale.  This approach is further aided by the film's cast, in particular Edward Judd as the protagonist, a reporter who now has a front row seat to the grim proceedings that will either save or damn all humanity.

Additionally, the film makes some nice use of fairly minimalist effects in its approach as a bonus.  Using matte paintings to give an effect of the otherwise busy city of London now utterly abandoned, as we see in the film's opening as Judd wanders the empty streets, creates a striking image that helps set the tone for the grim events the film grows into.

It's funny in a way-we get so used to the goofier sides of how the 60s' fear of the atomic age embodied itself in giant mutations et al, it becomes a surprise to remember that some films still tried to approach the possible risks seriously enough to pitch a story like this with a straight face and have it stick.

Fun fact: In the 1980s, Roland Emmerich was cut off by another driver in the city of Los Angeles.  Everyone else forgot about the incident.  Emmerich did not.

12/14    2012

...and so week 2 rounds out at this - the movie that really revitalized interest in the 2012 Mayan prophecy that got many giving serious thought to whether or not it could happen.  It also became the reason there's one man at NASA who probably dreams of punching out Roland Emmerich as this movie lead to him being the one who had to constantly assure people calling in that no, there is no actual Mayan apocalypse.

As for my own thoughts - well, I don't mind saying this is a pretty simple one to sum up: if there's one thing Roland Emmerich does well, it's disaster porn.  I mean, this has been his skill in trade since the mid-90s (with the possible exception of Stargate, and Hell with it, I still enjoyed that one.)  From Independence Day on, Emmerich proved he had a knack for wrecking people's shit with a vengeance. use the common parlance.

So, in 2009, he decided he was going to send off his disaster phase in style - and by 'send it off in style' I mean he decided to completely take out the planet.  The finished film is admittedly kind of all over the place - like most of Emmerich's fare, the characters and story themselves aren't necessarily deep or involving, though in many cases he does do well with making them likable enough.  For the most part, the story is somewhat standard, albeit with a VERY upped ante.  2012 rolls around and the disasters unfold (and Emmerich goes all out on these, including taking out the Yellowstone Caldera-editor's note: the explosion is FAR smaller than it would be if it actually happened. Everything within a radius of 50 miles would be toast- and a rather entertaining Woody Harrelson in the process) as we follow our cast members in their attempts to survive.  It's the style of film Emmerich does well, so it's really hard to pick too many things in particular to really speak out for just this movie.  Though one thing I do have to give this (beyond some damned fun disaster sequences) is the fact that Emmerich does at least manage to work in some decent diversity to the cast - yeah, the primary focal point for marketing is still John Cusack and his family, but the Chinese still have a prominent role in the film, particularly in the final act, and a Tibetan family has their own plotline running throughout the movie that actually makes for some interesting viewing.

For all the ups and downs this week had to offer in mood, I'm actually really glad the randomizer ended this one where it did.  I don't care how sick it sounds to say, seeing the planet get its proverbial shit kicked in was relaxing after some of these titles, dammit.

Well, as said above, it's now 7 days left on the clock.  At this point, I'm keeping score less should something happen, and more till I go back to just full-size reviews.

Keep with us until then...especially since I'm partially lying and a full-size review goes up this weekend.  In the meantime, have a good weekend!

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