Thursday, April 13, 2017

Chupacabra Territory (2016)

In 1980, the movie Cannibal Holocaust was released. In this film, a documentary crew had traveled to the jungle to film cannibal tribes, and then was never heard from again. The crew’s footage, however, is recovered. Then, nearly two decades later, The Blair Witch Project was released. In this movie, a documentary crew goes into the forest to document a local legend, and then is never heard from again. The crew’s footage, however, is recovered. Yeah, same thing, except The Blair Witch Project did it without style or any actual scares. But it was a surprising hit (surprising to me because it’s such an awful, pointless film), and its success basically guaranteed that we’d be subjected to a seemingly unending stream of so-called “found footage” films. These movies are characterized by shaky camera work, repetitive bare-bones scripts, and some of the worst acting imaginable. Now, don’t get me wrong, occasionally we’ll get a halfway decent found-footage film. But most of them are just fucking terrible, filled with lines like “What was that?” and “Did you just hear that?” and “What the hell is that?” and “What the hell was that?” and “What the hell happened?” Yes, all of those lines are in Chupacabra Territory, the latest offering in this tired (and tiresome) sub-genre of horror.

In Chupacabra Territory, a young documentary crew goes into the woods to document a local legend and then is never heard from again. Their footage, however, is recovered. Sound familiar? Yes, because it’s exactly the same stupid shit that all of these films give us. It opens with title cards telling us, “In 2013, the FBI released footage by four campers who went missing in the North Pinewood territory” and, of course, “Police recovered several video cameras, their bodies remain undiscovered.” Then Joe, before their trip into the woods, talks about how four experienced campers hiked into the area and three days later were reported missing. Those aren’t the four this movie is about, however. Joe and three friends go into the area, hoping to document the presence of the chupacabra, and they are the four that are the subject of this film. Joe has a strange book that is supposedly made of chupacabra skin and contains spells for contacting the creature. No word on how he obtained such a book. But no matter. He is accompanied by Amber, who is completely gung-ho about the project and is clearly a little nuts; Dave, who mans the camera and is almost never seen; and Morgan, who introduces himself by saying he hates camping, dirt, cameras and chupacabras. He claims to be there because of his good looks “and of course my giant dong.” Yeah, he’s a moron. But we wonder why he did go along on this trip. No idea.

A gas station attendant named Andrew gives the friends information about the local legends and relates how he happened to personally see the chupacabra. Apparently, it is responsible for the patch over Andrew’s eye. He also draws a map for them, showing them the site where the other four people had camped. The map is like a child’s sketch, and it’s completely unbelievable that anyone could follow it, but that really doesn’t matter. They next encounter a park ranger, who tells them the trail is closed and that they have to go back. He says, “Trees are dying, falling all over, coyotes have been found dead, pieces of them found spread everywhere.” Great dialogue. Amber and Joe see this as evidence of a conspiracy. Amber says: “I feel like there’s a lot of mystery in this forest. I feel like people really want to help us, but they’re just too afraid to really talk.” What? They’ve met a total of two people, one of whom not only talked, but drew them a fucking map. Not a good map, granted, but a map nonetheless.

Each of the four friends straps a camera to his or her head, ensuring plenty of shaky camera work. And they – against the warnings of the park ranger – head up the trail. I do appreciate that they point out a misspelling on a trail sign: “TRALHEAD.” I wonder if that was in the script, or if someone in the art department made a mistake and the actors decided to play with it. By the way, even though they all have cameras now, we still mainly get Dave’s perspective for some reason. (The reason is that he is the director of photography, and not really an actor.) On the trail, they meet three hikers who are looking for their friend Bobby. (So in this land, apparently people can only camp in groups of four.) They go their separate ways, promising to meet up later. And then suddenly we get footage from those three hikers, because one of them has a camera. It’s ridiculous that they are suddenly filming everything too, but they have to because this is a “found footage” film. However, there is a fun moment when they play a prank on the park ranger. There are actually some good moments in this movie. I like when a camera catches something that their eyes did not – a cool touch.

Morgan slips and ends up with some goo on his arm (why is Morgan there again?), which Amber has apparently read about. She tells the others that it’s “chupacabra residue.” Oh boy. Also, a branch nearly falls on him, just like the park ranger warned (“Trees are dying, falling all over”). He ends up with a rash on his arm, but it doesn’t occur to them that perhaps they should head back so a doctor can look at it. Instead, they set up camp and drink beer. Hey, here’s a question: how did they carry at least one full case of beer in their backpacks, along with their other supplies, such as two tents, four sleeping bags and so on? I don’t know. But I do love that Amber has to say, “Children, stop peeing on each other.”

Suddenly Amber declares that the other campers are in trouble. Apparently, Amber has psychic abilities. And then the film cuts back and forth between their campsite and the campsite of those three hikers (four, once Bobby returns). So who is responsible for that sort of editing in the story of this film? The FBI? Well, those hikers have only one camera, so they’d better place it in just exactly the right spot to catch everything. Of course, I don’t believe for a second that they would leave the camera running, set at the perimeter of their camp and aimed into the camp. It’s completely ridiculous. But how else can the filmmakers show us what’s happening at that other camp? Oh, I’ve got a solution: don’t make found footage films. But hey, it’s a good thing that girl landed right in front of that one camera – not once, not twice, but three times.

Well, Morgan’s arm becomes infected and Amber begins acting strangely, saying she wants to commune with the chupacabra, and apparently has to have sex with Joe to manage it. Whatever. Is there anything less sexy than a sex scene in a “found footage” film? Another problem with these movies is that people inexplicably continue to film once things have gone really wrong, which is never believable. And yet another problem is that you know from the beginning how these movies will end. After all, no one ever comes back to tell the tale.

But this movie does provide a few jolts, a few scares. The creature is pretty cool, and is used sparingly. And, rare as it is for this type of film, the cast actually isn’t bad.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Airboss 4: Eco Warrior (2000)

Could the world have gotten along well without Airboss 4: Eco Warrior? We’ll never know. What we do know is by this point, the filmmakers had completely given up trying to create a story that lasts the full length of a film. Just throw a few things together, that seems to be the strategy with this one. By the way, the movie is also known as Airboss IV: The X Factor, which is the title on the DVD case. The title during the opening credits is Airboss: Eco Warrior, and the title at the end is Airboss 4: Eco Warrior. Whatever you call it, it’s the final movie in this incredibly shitty series. Amen.

Well, Frank White, Webb Buckley and the others are out in the woods, training. Why are those two FBI agents running exercises with them? Seems odd. Didn’t they finish that mission (or, actually, three missions) from the previous film? Wouldn’t they be back to their regular assignments? Or are they now just permanently assigned to work with Frank and Webb? Well, whatever. They’re working on a training exercise that simulates a hostage situation, and for some reason they’ll be in the woods for a week. Wait, isn’t Frank the Airboss? Shouldn’t he just fly over the woods?

Frank tells the others: “We’re less than a mile from our objective. Here’s the plan. We’re going to lie low and wait.” Wait for that last mile to come to you? How does remaining a mile from one’s objective allow one to meet that objective? Dumb fucking plan, Frank. But soon they’re being shot at with real bullets, and Frank is captured by some weird Russian guy and a Korean chick who want to test some new interrogation techniques on him. Sounds fun. Except it’s not, at least not for us. The Asian chick starts asking him about old missions, and so we start getting little flashbacks to things that just don’t matter.

Meanwhile, Murphy and Daniels huddle in the woods and talk about their own past experiences. Hey, wait, that chick isn’t Daniels. Now she’s someone named Whitney. Where is Daniels? Who made the switch? I guess it doesn’t matter. Nothing really matters in this movie. This one is particularly boring, with Frank telling the Asian chick stories of no consequence for reasons that are unclear. And what’s Webb up to? Well, after getting shot, he stumbles upon a cabin owned by a couple of hicks and enters a drinking contest with them. Did someone actually plan this movie out, or did these guys just grab a video camera and go out into the woods with a few costumes and a case of beer?

Anyway, Murphy and the new Daniels run into Mr. Bernard, a man whose wife Murphy killed by mistake years earlier. Mr. Bernard and his men decide to help Murphy and Faux Daniels find Frank. And soon Webb and a military team join them. But what is it the Russian guy hopes to gain from Frank’s capture anyway? After he becomes aware that he’s lost a patrol, he tells the Asian girl he wants results, but what precisely does he want? How can a drugged up Frank help him find his missing patrol? Again, it doesn’t seem like the filmmakers had any idea what they were doing. And guess what? Frank is rescued less than halfway through the film, and it seems like both the Russian guy and the Korean chick escape. Will we see them again? Will they play a significant role in the rest of the film? No, not at all. They are never again seen, or even mentioned.

So…?

So Frank goes back to training pilots. Airboss is back in the air. But only briefly. Then he goes on vacation. This movie is a mess. So basically the film starts all over with a different plot, having completely abandoned the one about the Russian guy in the woods. Now the daughter of Frank’s commanding officer has run away and joined the crew of a boat called Eco Warrior. (Now we’re getting somewhere; after all, this is mentioned in the title. Well, one of the titles.) Frank is ordered to also join the crew of the boat to watch out for this daughter. Frank flirts with some other girl on the boat, and there’s a musical montage of them spending time together. And Tammy – that’s the daughter – is attracted to Frank too. Is the movie becoming a romantic comedy? There is also a plot involving a duplicitous company and hazardous waste, but don’t worry, nothing will come of that plot either.

Things start going wrong on the boat. A guy runs into Frank’s room, saying: “Frank, you gotta come quick. The radio’s been sabotaged. The engine’s been sabotaged. And Joey’s dead, man.” Hmm. I would have led with that last bit. In fact, he told things in the exact opposite order of importance. Come quick, the radio’s broken? Fucking hell. Then the movie becomes a whodunit on the boat. There is a cute moment when Frank flips a coin to decide which wire to cut to defuse a bomb. But wait, what about the company? It gets away with its evil plan apparently. And what about the Russian guy and Asian girl? They were never caught? What exactly happens in this movie? Nothing, that’s what. Nothing at all.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Airboss III: The Payback (2000)

When we last left the Airboss (I’m assuming Frank White is the Airboss), he had gone into space for some reason, and then fought the head of the CIA, who had planned to kill everyone in New York because he didn’t feel anything anymore. When Frank was done with that, he’d gone home with his gay companion, Bone.

When Airboss III: The Payback opens, two gunmen sneak aboard a Russian ship and interrupt an innocent game of strip poker, then steal some weapons-grade plutonium (what other grades are there?). The military and the FBI have to work together to get the plutonium back, even though, well, it wasn’t theirs to begin with. Frank is back to flying training missions. I guess he lost his job at NASA. That means more dull footage of planes and some of the worst dialogue ever written by anyone anywhere. And it looks like Frank has a new male companion, Webb Buckley. And Webb asks aloud what we’re all wondering, “Whatever happened to Bone Conn?

Well, this isn’t the kind of film to let us ponder anything too long. The very next shot shows Bone leading his own little party in Colombia. But Webb interrupts Bone’s fun to see if he’ll come join his mission. Wow, Webb got there quickly! Involving his lover’s ex seems risky, but maybe Webb is planning on a threesome. Though Bone starts fantasizing about a girl. These heterosexual fantasies don’t last long, of course, and in fact he kills off the girl in his little fantasy. When Bone and Webb meet an actual woman, they express befuddlement. “I’m confused,” Bone says. “I wasn’t aware that Agent Daniels was a woman.” Even after seeing she is in fact a woman, he remains confused and calls her “Daniel” at one point. Webb watches him affectionately as he makes an ass of himself until Mr. Beaver smooths things over. (I’m not sure the character’s actual name, and I didn’t really hear anything he said, because I was just staring at his teeth the whole time he was speaking.) Then the four of them begin training together, but it’s not done to a 1980s rock song, so it seems weird. And why isn’t Frank involved? Isn’t he the star of this series? Isn’t he the Airboss?

The guy with the plutonium holds an online auction to sell it. Weird, he can afford a blue screen backdrop but not someone to man the camera. That must have been an awkward moment when he came online, having to step into frame. Well, now he has fifty million dollars. Maybe he can hire someone before his next auction. By the way, there’s a nice moment when someone bids fifty-five million, and the auctioneer cautions him, saying he knows that his organization doesn’t have that kind of money. That’s one of the film’s best little moments.

The captain of a submarine gets inspiration from Star Trek. And more than a third of the way into the film, the writers remember Frank White and give him a phone call with a mission. Well, not really a mission. He is to just sit there in a room, following the other characters’ mission. He doesn’t offer advice, or even speak. What kind of Airboss is he?

Anyway, halfway through the movie, they catch the guy with the plutonium, so immediately the characters hear of some other, completely unrelated act of terrorism, some other group, blah blah blah. Yes, a totally different mission halfway through the film. Is Frank White a part of this mission? Nope. Lazy Airboss. This time he’s not even listening in. Where is he? And Webb wears Frank’s “Bad Dog” helmet. Must be a lovers’ thing, wearing each other’s clothes. (Though in another shot, the helmet doesn’t say “Bad Dog.” Hmm.)

Well, Bone doesn’t make it. So there is a montage of shots of him, a tribute of sorts to a gay character that we hardly knew, ending with a shot of a cemetery. Ah, that’s how we’ll always remember him. And somehow there is still a half hour left in the film, so the remaining characters start drinking. Me too.

Soon the three are given another mission, and this time it is decided to bring in Frank White, who in the last twenty minutes has taken up ornithology and gotten a better haircut. But upon hearing of his old lover’s death, Frank gets angry and accepts the mission. So…. I guess the guy with the plutonium is…. What? Safely locked away somewhere? And the Russians who owned the plutonium aren’t asking for it back? Who knows? This movie is a mess, but it might actually be better than the second one. It’s certainly better than the first one. Ah, what will Airboss IV have in store for us?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Airboss II: Preemptive Strike (1998)

I put off watching Airboss II: Preemptive Strike for a long time because the first Airboss was so awful. I wanted to forget it, in order to give this one a chance. And I did, largely, forget it. Now I need to start working on forgetting Airboss II: Preemptive Strike. While it is actually better than the first one (it couldn’t possibly be worse), it’s still not a good movie.

James Kelley gets a phone call from a mysterious man who asks him how he feels watching his fighter planes. “I don’t feel anything,” Mr. Kelley says. Oh boy. The mysterious caller, who apparently owns a lot of oil, then tells him, “I despise your decadent society, and I’ll tell you, I will destroy it.” There is actually a nice political message in there about the corruption of our government. Also, check out this eerily prescient line: “As long as the economy is good and we’re at peace, Charles Manson could be in the White House, and no one would give a shit.”

There are a lot of boring shots of planes flying around as Frank “Bad Dog” White trains another pilot. Things pick up a bit, however, with the appearance of two strippers. Boobies work to distract me from the lack of story and characters. Unfortunately, those breasts are seen only briefly, and then we have to go back to the plot, such as it is. Frank White is giving up the carefree life of a fighter pilot to become an astronaut, and is going to command his maiden space voyage. Frank’s gay friend (whose name is Bone – I’m not kidding) watches the launch, commenting, “God, you look great up there.” He then says, “Just get back to me, all right?” But Frank might be more interested in Lucy, his young female co-pilot, though he does request a golden shower from his gay friend. Keeping up his options, I think.

One of the scientists on the space shuttle reveals that he’s brought a genetically altered strain of the Ebola virus on board in his lunch box. (By the way, the scientist is named “Bix Bender,” though every time his name was spoken, I thought they were saying “Big Spender.”) There are only four people on this mission – two scientists, Frank and Lucy. And Lucy doesn’t seem to do a single thing on the mission. Anyway, when the shuttle lands, two people in sunglasses say they’re from NASA security and need to talk with the scientists. A little later they approach Frank just to tell him he’s been asking a lot of questions, this coming immediately after we hear him ask his first question, about the whereabouts of the science team. They must have been standing nearby waiting for him to ask a question, just so they could try to intimidate him with their cliché line. Well, it doesn’t work. Frank is not intimidated. He finds Big Spender, who tells him that someone took the Ebola virus. Uh-oh.

And it gets worse. The CIA and FBI are behind it, so Frank and his gay friend lead a black ops mission to take down the villains. They buy a tank and some guns, and… Well, it’s all very silly. And a girl is able to hack the CIA computer system in like three seconds. Soon a plan to kill everyone in New York is revealed. Frank asks Mr. Kelley, “How can you kill that many people?” Kelley responds, “What have they ever done for me?” Ah, it’s difficult to argue with that logic. But the movie ends happily, with Frank going home with his gay friend.

The lesson you might take away from this film is that people who wear sunglasses and smoke cigars are bad people.