Sunday, June 8, 2014

‘R Xmas (2001)

Putting Ice-T in your film basically guarantees it’s going to be bad. By hiring him, a filmmaker is giving up before even going into production. It’s like saying, “I’d really like to make a seriously awful film.” But director Abel Ferrera actually keeps Ice-T out of ‘R Xmas for the first forty-two minutes. And so after a while the viewer is tricked into thinking he or she is watching a halfway decent film.

What we have during those first forty-two minutes is a lot of atmosphere, and a nice quiet creation of tension. So you actually start enjoying the film, almost forgetting about that threat in the opening credits. Though there are lots of pointless shots during these first forty-two minutes, like a shot of Yankee Stadium for no particular reason, and some neighborhood basketball court scene. But aside from that crap you get an interesting atmosphere and two characters who are going about their business without awful dialogue telling us what their business is. Ferrara is good at that. He carefully builds a reality, and before long we’re immersed in it.

And then suddenly there he is, Ice-T, ruining everything that has been established. He plays a jerk who hates Dominicans, and does his usual faux tough guy routine. As always, it’s completely laughable.

He has kidnaped the husband. When the wife asks what he wants, he says, “I want money, and a lot of it, and you got it, and don’t bullshit me, ‘cause I know.” He’s not more specific than that. What is a lot of money? A thousand is a lot to me. But who knows what constitutes a lot to this guy? While he makes no specific demand on the amount of money, he does give her a specific amount of time in which to get the non-specific amount of money: twenty minutes. In fact, he stresses that by repeating it, and louder this time: “Twenty minutes!” So she drives off, in search of a lot of money.

When she goes to some other guy for help, the guy almost immediately asks, “How much do they want?” Good question. So she takes $16,000 to Ice-T, and he gets angry because it’s not enough. Well, maybe if he had started with a specific amount of money rather than a specific amount of time. His priorities are a bit out of whack. And besides, sixteen thousand is a lot of money, especially in only twenty minutes. So again she asks, “How much?” And guess what he says? He says, “A lot.” And then he threatens to kill her husband if she doesn’t comply. Geez, this guy just doesn’t learn. Or perhaps he just wants to play this game all day long. Though it’s also a waste of gasoline on her part, what with her driving back and forth all day with various amounts of money.

Once again he gives her precisely twenty minutes. He’s really hooked on that number. And that makes me wonder if perhaps $20,000 would be enough. It seems worth a try. He tells her, “And bring back some more money.” This movie gets more and more stupid with each syllable that Ice-T mumbles.

So she goes off looking for more money, and Ice-T returns to his hide-out. That, of course, makes no sense, because he had told her to return to the spot where she had parked her car. So if she arrives in twenty minutes and he’s not there, what then? She has no phone number for this guy. He’s only given her twenty minutes. He can’t remain in that spot for that short amount of time? Well, no matter, because a lot more time passes before she returns.

As she walks down a hall, suddenly in voice over Ice-T gives her new instructions – to get all her cash and all her dope and bring it to him. Was this a telepathic message? Apparently she receives it, because she gathers all the drugs and takes it all to him. At this point their interaction should be at an end. But Ice-T gets in her car to learn her life story for some reason. He then ridicules her for doing precisely what he had commanded her to do, saying her husband wouldn’t do that for her. She then goes to a store to buy a pack of cigarettes and he accompanies her. Why, why why? The movie is over. Why are they still talking? (At this point I check, and the film still has another twenty-seven minutes to go. Oh boy.) He starts asking about her daughter, then suddenly demands more money, then demands she make her husband stop selling drugs.

Then we have a scene of Christmas morning, and the family is all together again, and the daughter is excited about a doll. But who cares? The film can’t recover from those scenes with Ice-T. While the first half of the film avoided a lot of dialogue, the second half of the film is basically all dialogue, and most of it is completely terrible. It seems improvised, because it’s bad and repetitive, like the result of an acting exercise at a community college.

At the end of the film, it says, “To be cont …” Really? And why couldn’t they spell out the word “continued”? There’s not even a period after “cont,” just the ellipsis, as if “cont” were a word. It’s just one more irritating thing. And really, how could this story continue anyway? There isn’t much of a story to begin with.

The Dinosaur Experiment (2013)

The Dinosaur Experiment is a ridiculous and very silly horror film, that plays more for comedy most of the time (intentionally). There are a lot of flaws, but the film is often quite enjoyable.

It opens at night with some voice over by Abbi Whitecloud, who introduces herself, telling us she’s twenty-one years old (almost twenty-two), lives in Fossil Ridge, a small town in Texas, far from the nearest city of Abilene. She dreams of heading to that city and pursuing a career in music. She is also proficient with the bow and arrow. Six months ago her mother was out in the forest praying for a better life. But, as often happens in a situation like that, a dinosaur rushes out of the woods.

We’re then introduced to a lot of characters, some of whom are interesting and some of whom are dull stereotypes. One of the interesting characters is Dr. Cane. When we’re introduced to him, he just seems like some weird guy whom we expect to quickly become a meal for a dinosaur. After all, he’s entering a barn, and we hear weird noises in there. But it turns out he has a dinosaur trapped behind an electric fence in there. And, as he reminds the dinosaur, he raised the creature. “I used to hold you and sometimes you’d come and crawl in my bed.” They have a special bond, which is delightfully twisted. I like the way the film very early on goes against expectations.

Meanwhile, in North Dallas University, Lucas Young is late for class, arriving just in time to hear the professor say that man became upright for survival. Then the bell rings. Why go to class for just the last minute? Lucas owns a mug shaped like breasts, and talks about being a tittie man. Why are characters like this even in college? I always feel like characters like this were written by people who never attended college themselves, and got their entire concept of college from other films written by people who also didn’t go to college. Anyway, Lucas and his two friends, one of whom is named Beast (Really?), take a skiing trip (though this is Texas, and appears to be summer). Beast is the typical party animal, and Sheldon, the third member of this ski trip, is the normal guy that is taken advantage of (it’s his mother’s car that they’re using).

Then Abbi wakes up and shoots an arrow at a picture of Billy Wayne (the picture says, “Billy Wayne for mayor”). A package of sexy red shoes arrives at her door, and so she puts them on and heads to work. So we think maybe she’s some kind of stripper or something. But those expectations are played with as well. It turns out she works at a gas station that also has a convenience store and a small diner. And her dead mother owes Billy Wayne (who apparently lost his mayoral bid and owns the gas station) money for a truck she bought, a truck we’ve already seen break down. I like that she doesn’t argue with him that the truck he sold her mother has broken down. It’s like she knows that would be pointless, and her silence on it gives us the feeling the truck has been an issue for a while. There is also some silliness about squirrel being the secret ingredient at the diner portion of the convenience store.

We’re introduced to more ridiculous characters. A band is playing at some town hall, a trio made up of front man Little Willie (reminding me of that great Sweet song) and two girls. The girl behind the drum kit is clearly not playing at all. They couldn’t find a female drummer who could match the playback track? Sure, she’s cute, but come on! A redneck in the audience holds up a gun, so the band stops, escaping in their Partridge Family bus in the middle of the day. Why did all those folks pack that hall if they weren’t interested in the band? It’s stupid.

And then we meet a couple of FBI agents at the Federal Building in Austin. They receive an email about a killing in Fossil Ridge. Oddly, one guy says, “in this town called Fossil Ridge, Texas.” But they’re in Austin, so wouldn’t he just say “Fossil Ridge”? He wouldn’t mention the state unless it were a different state.

Back in the band’s bus, Josie, the blonde, argues with the brunette (the Non-Drummer Girl) about which one of them looks slutty. Important stuff, to be sure. Where are the dinosaurs already?

The FBI guys arrive, but Atwood, a CSI member is already on the scene. So are Sheriff Morgan and Deputy Jones. Sheriff Morgan asks Atwood if she’s had a chance to check anything out yet. She says, “No.” So Morgan begins describing the scene, but Atwood interrupts. “This is very unusual. The teeth marks indicate a very large predator-type creature.” But she hasn’t checked anything out yet. She then goes on to describe footprints. But she hasn’t checking anything out yet. Well, the two FBI guys to go a diner (not the same one we’ve already seen), where an Irish lass named Carri Anne pours them coffee and then is reprimanded by her boss for telling them about Old Man Cane. Why? No idea.

Meanwhile, Little Willie’s bus is breaking down, and the college boys run out of gas in Fossil Ridge. (Where is this ski resort they’re going to?) So everyone ends up at Billy Wayne’s place. (For fuck’s sake, bring on the dinosaurs already!) Anyway, the gas station is out of gas because Dr. Cane took it all. The college boys are interested in the two female band members, and Little Willie is interested in the college boys. Abbi narrated the beginning, and she is perhaps the most interesting and believable character. So why are we spending so much time with so many other characters? Well, they hear a groan, which Billy identifies as coming from Dr. Cane’s place. There are rumors of what is going on up there, but no one knows for sure because he’s so mysterious and secretive and so on. Anyway, Abbi leads a few of them to Cane’s place to get gas.

Meanwhile Atwood calls Special Agent Logan to divulge the results of the tests on the body. Velociraptors. She warns him that they’re nocturnal and tells him to stay indoors.

Abbi and the others reach her truck, which is now running somehow. They drive to Cane’s property which, by the way, has a large sign saying “Raptor Ranch.” So not such a secret project after all. So much for the mystery surrounding the good doctor. Cane is lying on the ground after suffering some physical ailment, so they help him inside. Abbi asks if there’s some kind of medication he takes. “It’s upstairs, in the attic,” he tells her. Who keeps important, life-saving medication in the attic? Anyway, Abbi is slow getting the medicine, and Cane dies. The gang then finds a chick coop of young dinosaurs.

While looking for a gas can, Beast finds an electric box marked “Lights,” so he turns it on. To the right is a box marked “T Rex.” To the left is a box marked “Doors.” He says, “I love The Doors,” and flips the switch. What, not a Marc Bolan fan? Of course, that opens the doors, releasing the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs look pretty cool, by the way.

They drive to Abbi’s house for some reason, rather than return to the gas station to regroup. And then, inexplicably, Billy Wayne is in her house. But before he can explain his presence, a dinosaur comes breaking into the house and eats him. Abbi then grabs her bow (finally).

Soon these stupid characters are picked off. There’s a cute moment where Lucas is fucking Josie. She’s on top, and a dinosaur comes in and bites her head off. There’s one very brief shot where Lucas’ hands are still on her breasts, but the dinosaur’s head is coming in over her neck, so it looks like Lucas is fucking a dinosaur-head girl. Yeah, I love it.

Abbi, Sheldon and Non-Drummer Girl run through the woods for some reason instead of getting back in her truck. Perhaps it has stopped working again. Who knows? Sheldon lets Abbi know she doesn’t have to go into work tomorrow since her boss is dead. And Non-Drummer Girl says, “If that thing catches up to us, we’re all going to be on a permanent leave of absence.” Really. She says that. The three start blaming each other for their troubles, which is stupid. They then run back to the convenience store, where Lucas is still alive.

Lucas and Sheldon say they should call the cops, but Abbi tells them, “There ain’t no cops in this town.” Really? That reminds us: Where are the sheriff, the deputy, the CSI chick and the two FBI agents? We haven’t seen them in quite a while. Anyway, the four survivors get on the Partridge Family bus, and it’s running now. Sheldon is now more annoying than Lucas, worrying about leaving his mother’s car behind.

The bus soon breaks down again. When dinosaurs attack the bus, Non-Drummer Girl starts laughing. She goes a bit mad, which is nice. You don’t see that often enough in horror films, and it’s a totally believable reaction to such an insane set of circumstances. At one point she says she’s fishing. Sheldon asks, “For what?” And the joy in her response, “I don’t know,” is fucking great. It’s one of my favorite things in the film. (Later, she has a wonderful moment on a bicycle.)

It’s interesting that with all the dinosaurs and destruction in town that no one else has come around to see what the fuss is about.  But then again, the film told us, “There ain’t no cops in this town.” And everyone else in town is probably conked out on sleeping pills.

The next morning the three survivors run to an abandoned factory (because of course there has to be an abandoned factory). Abbi has shot off only one arrow at the dinosaurs, by the way. What the hell? Why introduce the whole bow thing in the very first speech of the film if it’s not going to come into play later on? Finally, with twelve and a half minutes left, Abbi fires another arrow (and then drops the bow). And with less than six minutes left (including end credits), the FBI agents wake up. Good morning!

At the end, one of the agents tells a reporter, “This isn’t Jurassic Park.” Indeed it isn’t. And then we have one final scene with Abbi having pursued her musical career. Well, sort of. She is on a small stage, lip-synching to some song. I don’t think karaoke counts as a musical career, but I guess we should just try to be supportive of the poor girl. Good for you, Abbi. Reach for the stars.

By the way, there is no explanation on how Cane created the dinosaurs.

(Note: I posted a slightly shorter version of this review on another site.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Zombinator (2012)

You might guess from the title of The Zombinator that it's is going to be a silly one. You might also expect something to do with time travel and robots. I did. But no, there is no time travel aspect, and the Zombinator is not any sort of android.  The DVD cover has to do with the film’s title, but nothing whatsoever to do with the film.

The Zombinator, despite its title, is actually quite good for a while. It isn’t until the title character becomes a major force that the film falls apart. It opens with shots a family of three eating breakfast, and a voice off camera asks, “How would you guys describe Joanne?” Joanne is the young woman at the table, the daughter of the other two people. So it’s set up to be a documentary on a woman who is pursuing fashion as a career.

Early on there are shots of the crew as well, talking about murders in the area. Seems silly, but the filmmakers save it by having Joanne (off screen) ask, “What’s it like outside?” to which one of them responds, “Murdery.” It’s actually a nice, totally believable moment, especially for anyone who has worked on a low-budget film project. And the rest of that scene is kind of delightful, with Joanne saying she’s upset that they’re talking about their next project while they should be working on her story.

And then in the next shot apparently Joanne has adjusted by deciding to become part of that story as well, taking the crew (along with two female friends) to the train tracks where supposedly some murders have occurred. Joanne says “supposably,” and I wonder is that a character flaw, or an actor flaw? They see blood on a concrete pillar under a bridge. And while Joanne and her friends get ready for a party, the camera crew remains, looking at the blood, the sound guy even licking it on a dare.

The film then goes to the party, which is actually a wake for a soldier named Bobby, though Joanne gets a little upset when people talk about Bobby instead of about fashion. But all of this is believable, because of the characters. The tone is not silly or goofy. Though finally one of the guys, Marcus, does ask about the cameras, then points out, “You guys realize this is a wake, right?” And we’re introduced to The Colonel, the man who brought back Bobby’s ashes (so I guess they cremated him overseas). In a film full of young characters, the Colonel says the dumbest thing thus far: “They talk about the Greatest Generation, but I really believe that this is the greatest generation, and Bobby was a member of that.” And even though Marcus pointed out that it’s a wake, a hard rock band dressed like zombies begins playing, and folks dance.

One of the girls, Yanna (Diana Sillaots) is beautiful and is wearing a cute furry coat, and is an artist herself, and another girl strokes the arm of her coat. Right away, Yanna becomes the character I am most interested in.

There is a commotion outside, the sound of gunshots, and then the zombies arrive. So of course there is plenty of jumpy camera work. And we briefly see the Zombinator (a man dressed in a dark coat and sunglasses) shooting zombies. People scatter, and one of the camera men follows Yanna, a really cute girl in a furry coat (I would too, even though she’s not the subject of their documentary). Soon everyone regroups at a school, and they begin discussing the situation by saying things like “We’ve got to figure this out.” They discuss at some length which door they should go through. But if this is a school, don’t all the doors lead to classrooms? Does it matter if they go into any of them?

One girl becomes hysterical, saying “I don’t like this, something isn’t right.” It turns out she is upset because she left her pet zebra alone. So there are crazier things than zombies in this film. And in the building they run into another crew, this a group of paranormal researchers hired by the owner of the building. It’s kind of funny that the paranormal team doesn’t believe the college students about the zombies, an irony not lost on the students.

Because of the hand-held nature of the filming, there are moments when it’s not exactly clear what’s going on, like when one girl, Nina, goes to investigate a sound. And after that, the group scatters again, and again, one camera guy follows the blonde in the fur. I like this guy. She runs off with a guy named Scott, and then tells Scott she’s breaking up with him. Scott is understandably shocked, saying, “Get a fucking grip, this is not the time for this shit.” But the camera man must be pleased.

There is, of course, plenty of bad dialogue. Even though there are zombies all over the place, one guy suddenly confesses that during his childhood he was abused by his dad. But it’s when the college students run outside and are rescued by the Zombinator that the film begins to fall apart.

First of all, what happened to the paranormal investigation team? They were a nice touch, a sort of mature voice of reason, so it’s a shame to lose them so early on. But mainly the problem becomes the logistics of the documentary camera crew. Basically at this point the whole idea and conceit of the camera crew ceases to make sense or be the least bit believable. And that’s a shame too, because the film is surprisingly good up to this point.

But the Zombinator ushers the college students into the back of a truck. One camera guy and presumably his sound man get in the truck. But the other remains behind, as we get footage of the zombies banging on the truck as it drives away. Wouldn’t they want to stick together? Does each camera man have his own sound person? Well, the camera man who is left behind is never heard from again. So you’d think you’d only get one angle from now on. Not so. By my count, there are at least four different camera men, including the one left behind. That was going to be some fashion documentary.

Unfortunately, there is a priest in the back of the truck too, so we have quite a bit of footage of portion of prayers. The truck stops, and the Zombinator yells at everyone to get out. He doesn’t remove his dark glasses, and it’s quite dark outside, so isn’t Corey Hart having trouble seeing? Don’t you want someone with a gun to be able to see well? Anyway, he leads them inside some building. Yanna and Marcus take off, not trusting him. They seem the most sensible at this point (that will soon change). And this time the camera guy doesn’t follow Yanna (perhaps the one who liked her is the one left behind).

At this point it still seems like there are two camera men in the room because we get two angles of everything (though later there will prove to be three). The Zombinator orders everyone up against the wall, except the camera crew, which is odd. But this is a sort of theme throughout the rest of the film. No one bothers about the camera crew. Not the Zombinator, not the zombies, not the Colonel (who turns out to be the villain of the piece). It’s one of the problems inherent in the chosen method of telling this story.

Anyway, the Zombinator tells the students that the zombies are the result of military experiments. “They have a cure, but they will not use it until it gets so big, after Youngstown is gone. And then they’ll present it on the market and make billions.” What? The Zombinator also reveals that he knew Bobby: “Bobby was on our team.” One of the girls tells him he looks like The Terminator. Scott decides it’s about time to go looking for his girlfriend. The rest babble about what they should or shouldn’t do, and it gets tedious.

Joanne decides to leave with another guy, and a camera man follows them. Another remains in the room with the others. But the next shot is of Marcus, who is still inside, but no longer with Yanna. Why not? No idea. But this means that a camera man did follow Marcus and Yanna, but stayed with Marcus when they split up. And this is the moment we realize Marcus is actually the stupidest character in the film. He is standing in front of glass doors, looking out at a mass of zombies. Well, apparently he thinks a couple of the female zombies are cute, so he opens the door. Unfortunately, they all come in, cute ones and not-so-cute ones, and of course kill him. And now the zombies are inside the building. And though there are lots of them, they must all prefer dark meat because they completely ignore the camera man who is right there.

And there is Yanna. We don’t know why she became separated from Marcus, but now she is calling out his name. The camera man doesn’t respond. And then someone grabs her from behind. Suddenly the Zombinator is there also, and he shoots the man holding Yanna, and in the process seems to have shot Yanna as well. We don’t know, because he doesn’t bother to kneel down and check on her.

The camera men refuse to become involved in their new subject. When Scott asks them, “Where’s Yanna? Where’s Marcus?” they don’t reply. But hey, Joanne is still alive, so they can finish their fashion documentary later. Joanne suddenly confesses her love for Scott, so perhaps that’s another angle the documentary crew could explore later.

Well, the Colonel shows up with a few other military people, and they grab Joanne and the other guy, who are hiding in the bathroom with a camera man. But they leave the camera man alone. He follows them outside anyway, along with another camera man, and both are allowed total freedom of movement, even later as the Colonel is revealing the plot to the chained up Zombinator. It seems odd that the Colonel would allow this to be filmed, as he is implicating himself in a heavily illegal plot that has already resulted in several deaths. The Colonel then leaves the room, leaving the Zombinator chained up. So of course the two camera men unchain him. The Colonel didn’t consider that possibility?

So at this point it seems to be just the film crew and the Zombinator. By the way, The Zombinator is by far the worst actor of the film. Oddly, at this point one of the sound guys quits the project. Why would he leave? Being part of a film crew is the only thing that makes you invulnerable in the world of this story. Everyone leaves you alone to do your thing. I’d want to keep that shield as long as possible.

Where are the police, by the way? There have been a lot of gunshots, and quite a lot of murders. Aren’t the police the least bit curious about this? And if the Zombinator was in on the project, as the Colonel revealed, and knows there’s a cure, why isn’t he going after the cure instead of killing everyone? The zombie cure isn’t going to help anyone with a gunshot wound in the head or heart. And in fact, he really hasn’t saved anyone.

The documentary conceit is trouble all the way to the end of the film. There is a moment where the film crew is following the Zombinator down a flight of stairs. The Zombinator stops right at the bottom of the stairs and engages in a gun battle, keeping the film crew at the top of the stairs. And yet, one camera man is magically downstairs. How did he get there? Was he there already? It makes no sense whatsoever. And again the Colonel leaves him alone, even as he takes another person hostage (it’s unclear how that woman got there too, come to think of it).

The film ends with zombies surrounding (and presumably killing) the Colonel, while the film crew captures it on camera. So it’s unclear whether the Zombinator is going to bother going to get the serum and distribute it. It doesn't seem likely, especially as he's not much of a hero, and doesn't seem really seem concerned with anyone's safety.

Oh well.

(Note: I previously posted a slightly shorter version of this review on another site.)