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G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

G.I. Joe RetaliationI so wanted to start this review with the emphatic words, “THEY GOT IT RIGHT!”  Now, this is not to say this movie doesn’t move G.I. Joe into the right direction, but it left me lacking for many reasons.  One of them being that this movie had too many trailers that spoil too much.  If you’ve seen all three trailers for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, there are not many surprises left for you here.  But frankly, the big problem with this film is that the villains and far more entertaining and memorable than the heroes.  Simply said, I wanted Cobra to win because I didn’t care about the Joes.

Mercenary and master of disguise Zartan, who is still impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce), frames the G.I. Joes as traitors, and has them terminated.  However, three survive in Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona) who must go it alone in order to fight back against those who conspired to kill them and their fellow Joes.  Meanwhile, Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) initiate a prison break to free Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey, voiced by Robert Baker) to set the next stage of their plans forward.  Cobra Commander’s plan is to eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons so that Cobra can take over the world by threatening to use its massively destructive Zeus space-based weapon.  Roadblock, Lady Jaye, Flint, Snake Eyes, and Jinx team up with General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis), the “original” G.I. Joe, to stop Cobra Commander from implementing his plan and expose their treachery to the world.

What this sequel gets right that the first didn’t was the tone and style.  There are high tech gadgets and such peppered throughout the movie, but on the whole, this sequel features more visceral weaponry and warfare.  No more energy weapons, no more holograms.  This has a more grounded feel while still giving use a technological boost to make the story and scenarios work.  Also, the CGI is vastly superior in every way.  There wasn’t a single moment where my eyes caught a badly rendered shot, or witnessed anything that looked discernibly CGI.  Another thing that is gotten right are the iconic characters themselves.  Cobra Commander looks like Cobra Commander, and feels like a serious take on the character being a ruthless leader of a terrorist organization hell bent on dominating the world.  Although, with the now slightly garbled and digitally processed voice for him, at times, it can be difficult to understand what he is saying.  However, all in all, I was far more pleased with this representation of the character which never does anything to blatantly contradict who he was in the previous film.  At most, it’s barely acknowledged in order to simply move forward without dragging undo baggage along.

The action sequences are greatly done giving us that tougher, more hard edged style.  It feels like more straight forward military combat using recognizable tactics and weaponry.  It’s all generally well shot, but the camera can get a tad too unstable with some editing that is slightly quicker than necessary.  It’s a very tame shaky cam / quick cut mentality that really shouldn’t detract from your experience.  This is mostly seen in the close quarters combat, or when Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow fight.  That is another great confrontation that is again treated like a special attraction, but like before, we don’t get nearly enough of it.  Probably the best action scene is with Snake Eyes and Jinx fighting the ninjas on the mountain side swing back and forth taking shots and slashes at each other.  It’s dynamic, fun, and dangerous with plenty of smart turns.  I like the touches the filmmakers threw in where some of the ninjas either miss the zip line or hit a rock formation, causing them to plummet to their deaths.  It’s a very nice, smart touch that simply sells the precarious peril of the situation.  I also loved the clever setup and execution of the jailbreak sequence.  It had a lot of great touches that made it intriguing to watch unfold.  However, the problem of this film is that there is so much action but so little plot to justify it.

And even then, the plot itself doesn’t always flow smoothly or coherently.  At times, some plot elements feel disjointed and rushed.  This happens in one section of the movie early on in two segments.  First, we are introduced to Jinx as she trains with Snake Eyes while Blind Master, portrayed poorly by RZA, imparts some abrupt exposition in voice over that is just dropped on us without context.  There’s no setup to anything he’s saying about Snake Eyes having to locate Storm Shadow and bring back to face justice for what he did to their clan.  It’s just, “Where did this subplot come from?  What does this have to do with the main plot of this film?”  It just drops into the movie as if you missed a string of scenes somewhere.  Jinx has essentially no real introduction here.  She just happens to be there, and we’re just supposed to happen to know who she is.  Also, once Storm Shadow is there facing judgment, a whole bunch of new exposition gets breezed through in a flash about who really killed their master and why.  It’s very jarring and poorly handled as if they thought up this subplot on the fly and just crammed it into a tight corner of the movie just to have it there.  Even then, how Storm Shadow and everyone else jumps around from one conclusion to the next follows no stream of consciousness.  It’s implausible how they make these rapid fire connections and revelations.  It’s awful screenwriting and direction.  And again, RZA can’t act worth a damn.  Every line he delivers just sounds terrible.  So, I have no idea why they cast him in this role of a wise martial arts sensei.  He puts in the worst performance of the entire movie.  Yes, he is an exponentially worse actor in this movie than Channing Tatum, who actually does a better job in this film than the last.

There is also a scene where Roadblock, Lady Jaye, and Flint setup a plan to get close to the imposter President in order to confirm their suspicions and expose him.  However, the scene is laid out without really understanding what their plan is.  Roadblock is setup outside ready to take a shot at President Zartan after he’s lured out of the banquet hall, but it’s never understood what they plan to accomplish by doing this.  This sequence came off as confusing and disjointed because there’s no setup to understand what their ultimate goal is or what everyone’s purpose is in the scene.  It seems it served two purposes.  One, just to clue the Joes in on who was impersonating the President, and two, to setup another action scene where Roadblock and Firefly throw down.  It’s a damn good action sequence, but it was a lot of clunky screentime used up with little purpose.

The film has so much action and little plot that once we were actually in the third act, I couldn’t be sure it was the third act.  The movie doesn’t ramp up to another level of tension or urgency to signal that these action scenes are any different than the half dozen we’ve already gotten in the movie.  And the other problem is that I was more engaged by the villains than the heroes.  I didn’t want to see Cobra get defeated.  I liked those characters because they made the movie fun and entertaining.  I kept waiting to get back to seeing Cobra Commander, Firefly, and Zartan conspiring about evil schemes, and having loads of fun doing it.

Now, the most I will confirm to you about Channing Tatum is that he doesn’t have a lot of screentime.  I know I’m going to deserve a kick in the head for saying so, but I think the movie would have been better if he was in it more.  Tatum and Dwayne Johnson do have excellent comedic chemistry that really entertained me, and made their characters really fun and exciting.  This made Duke and Roadblock lively, relatable characters that I wanted to spend time with.  If we had this chemistry flowing through the whole film with them teamed up and trading sharp quips, taking on Cobra with a smile on their faces, I think I would have been more engaged by the heroes.  Instead, they fall kind of flat.

While Dwayne Johnson puts in a good performance, it just doesn’t seem like he was portraying a character.  It just seems like Johnson being himself, more or less.  There’s nothing distinct about Roadblock apart from Dwayne Johnson.  I didn’t really see a character in there that had his own distinguishing characteristics or attitude.  Maybe this is also a script problem, but you can watch an interview of Dwayne Johnson and he doesn’t seem any different from how he is in this role in this film or any other film he’s been in.  As the heroic lead of the movie, I felt letdown.  He doesn’t inject enough weight or action hero mentalities to really support this film the way it needed to be.  Once he no longer had Tatum to bounce that charismatic, funny personality off of, I found myself no longer invested in Roadblock at all.

Even Bruce Willis seems like he’s just being lazy Bruce Willis here.  There’s almost nothing more he does in this film than what you saw in the trailers.  General Joe Colton is a bland character with no depth, no interesting qualities, and no real back story given that links him with the G.I. Joes.  He’s mostly there just so they could have Bruce Willis in the movie for name recognition.  I’ve never seen him do so little in a role before as he does here.  What this movie needed was strong leads as strong characters with a real vibrant, passionate, gung-ho attitude, but no one here has that at all.

The rest of the Joes, aside from the always cool Snake Eyes, are throwaways.  By the time the film bothers to give us any insight into who they are, I had already stopped caring about who they were.  Jinx isn’t even given that much.  These are characters put into the film to fill out the plot and nothing more.  The script barely does anything with most of them, and the actors in many of these roles aren’t engaging, charming, particularly charismatic, or especially memorable.  They were just there, and I didn’t connect with any of them.

Conversely, same as with the first movie, we get great villains that make the movie as enjoyable as it is.  As I said, Cobra Commander gets the perfect makeover finally giving us the iconic chrome mask and militaristic garb.  He’s given a great presence, and an intimidating driving purpose in the story.  Destro is mentioned and technically seen, but Cobra Commander chooses to abandon him during the jailbreak sequence (which features a wonderfully funny and sharp performance by Walton Goggins as the warden).  Cobra Commander is a great villain being very single-minded but also intelligent and cunning.  He’s not the excitable, egotistical fool from the 1980’s cartoon.  He is very much like a cobra – sharp, deadly, and fierce.  I want to see more of him!

Although, I have to say my favorite villain here is Firefly, portrayed by Ray Stevenson.  Frankly, Stevenson is a born bad ass.  I have yet to see this man do wrong in anything he’s done, and he is an absolute pleasure to experience as this rugged, smart mouthed villain.  Being a major fan of what he did as the Punisher, I bought into every second of his action scene abilities here.  He clearly had a lot of fun digging into this character which is full of evil charisma and wit.  He probably has the most action scenes to his credit in this movie amongst all the villains, and I couldn’t have been happier to see him kick some ass.

And color me impressed by Jonathan Pryce sinking his acting talents into President Zartan.  Arnold Vosloo has not even a minute’s worth of screentime in this movie, and so, the portrayal of Zartan as the President falls entirely on Pryce.  Like Stevenson, he was having loads of fun being this charismatic, playful villain.  He is so much fun to watch, and not for an instant did I doubt he was fully into being Zartan in disguise.  Pryce usually portrays rather sophisticated, cultured characters, but this gave him the chance to just chew a little scenery and be a total bad guy that was loving every minute of it.  Cobra Commander, Firefly, and Zartan just make an excellently entertaining trio of bad ass bad guys.

And Byung-hun Lee does put in another excellent performance as Storm Shadow, but the story takes him in another direction than we saw before.  However, it is entirely in line with the character’s history as he has switched loyalties before, but I just wish his motivations had a better build up and pay-off.  This is in relation to the rushed and disjointed exposition scenes I mentioned previously.  It didn’t sell his turn in the story at all to me, and I kept waiting for him to pull a double-cross to make at least one satisfying plot turn for Storm Shadow.

In terms of creative direction, tone, and style, this is absolutely the better G.I. Joe movie.  It never outright contradicts the first movie, but instead, strips away what wasn’t palatable and make it a leaner, tougher action franchise.  However, the plot is kind of clunky never really finding its footing, and never adequately conveying the stakes or objectives to the audience.  It’s clear the characters know what they’re doing, but not often enough does the audience understand where things are going, what characters are planning, or what the scope of the threat truly is.  Frankly, I think the filmmakers weren’t that concerned with that.  The movie is generally fun, exciting, and technically well made, but the plot seems to exist for no more than to string a series of action scenes together.  There is a main plot here that is very good, does work, and could work amazingly well if handled with more care.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers just seemingly didn’t know how to utilize solid, fleshed out, and well flowing storytelling skills to make this plot fill up the movie.  You could take out maybe two extraneous, if not well done, action scenes, and use that screentime to smooth out the jagged edges in the story.  Use it to bridge the gaps and convey characters’ intentions as they move forward in the plot.  I just never got that feeling that the plot was developing towards an apex, or that even the heroes themselves knew what the stakes were going forward.  It seems the most the filmmakers felt we needed to know is that these are the good guys and they need to stop the bad guys.  If Paramount Pictures really did postpone the release of this movie at nearly the last minute to do a good chunk of re-shoots, I’m not sure what they were for except for maybe a single scene with Johnson and Tatum trading witty banter over some target practice.  It was a fun scene, but could’ve easily been cut.  I don’t think they shot anything to flesh out or smooth out the story more because, obviously, it could still use some work.  While this movie might have gotten squashed if released last summer, I’m not sure how much better it will fair in this early Spring release.

While I would recommend seeing G.I. Joe: Retaliation to an extent, I still wouldn’t recommend it above Olympus Has Fallen.  That was a much better put together action movie on every level than this with an action lead that an audience could really get behind.  I’ll be interested to see if this G.I. Joe sequel gets an extended cut on Blu Ray because it could benefit from some added scenes of plot and character.  Ultimately, the entertainment factor for me entirely came from Cobra.  When the film was focusing on the heroes, I couldn’t wait until we cut back to the villains.  They were just all kinds of enjoyable because the actors were charismatic and vibrant where the heroes where one dimensional and rather bland.  I mean, in a film where all of their friends and fellow soldiers are violently blown to hell, you’d think these heroes would have a fiery passion lit underneath them.  You’d think they’d be ready to throwdown an all-out assault, and wage a take-no-prisoners type of war against Cobra.  Unfortunately, there is no such fierce emotional drive to these heroes, and that’s what made them fall flat for me.  If you just want a slew of really good action scenes, this film will deliver that for you, but director Jon M. Chu is not the most competent storyteller.  Maybe there was studio interference that resulted in making changes here and there due to supposed poor test screening response.  But if there’s one thing you don’t sacrifice is good storytelling.  There was a really good story here, but not the right storytellers to make it good enough.

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28 Days Later (2002)

It’s a strange thing to be very impressed by a cutting edge movie in the theatre, but then, not watch it again for nine years.  Such is the case for me with 28 Days Later.  I even purchased the DVD a few years ago, and only just now dedicated myself to watching it for this occasion.  Now, the common misconception about this movie is that it is a zombie flick.  While it does have the trappings of one, these people are not zombies, merely human beings who have been infected with a virus that turns them into rage-filled animalistic people.  This film presents a very interesting and clearly expressed departure from that classic subgenre while still baring some resemblance to it.

It has been twenty-eight days since Jim (Cillian Murphy), a young bicycle courier, was knocked off his bike and injured in a car accident.  When he wakes up from his coma, the world has changed.  London is deserted, litter-strewn and grim, and it seems the entire world has disappeared.  The truth, however, is even more horrifying – a devastating psychological virus has been unleashed upon the world, turning the population into blood-crazed psychopaths driven only to kill and destroy the uninfected.  Jim coincidentally joins up with the tough and strong-willed Selena (Naomie Harris), who has become accustomed to the hard reality of survival.  While out-running the savage infected, Jim and Selena add the father and daughter survivors of Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Hannah (Megan Burns) to their struggle to get out of the city to a military encampment at Manchester, but there, their troubles are just beginning.

This movie was shot on standard definition digital video camcorders, and so, it offers a rather unique visual quality.  Director Danny Boyle even did post-production work to further degrade the picture quality to give it an even rougher look to reflect the film’s harsh reality.  I think this was an immensely successful artistic idea.  The Canon XL1 camera clearly performed well in low light situations allowing the filmmakers to create some strong contrast and atmosphere.  From that digital video quality comes a bleak appearance which dominates the movie, even in broad daylight.  28 Days Later is shot amazingly well with a lot of intense, kinetic camera work heightening the chaos and adrenalin pumping terror.  The cinematography regularly highlights the desolate landscape of London, and shows how isolated these characters are from any semblance of civilization.  The overall tone and visual style is unlike any film I believe I’ve ever seen, and in those dark scenes, this movie can look immensely gorgeous.

This movie doesn’t focus heavily on the intense fury of the infected.  While it does that exceptionally well creating many tense and violent sequences, and making them count when they do occur, it instead takes most of its screentime to focus on its characters, and make the story about their struggles for survival.  We are given strong character building scenes which create an emotional context for the audience.  It let’s us know how this horrific event has affected them, and invests the audience in the depth of those characters.  They are heartfelt and intelligent people that you can come to care about.  On the most part, this is a very well-acted movie with some strong recognizable talents.

This was my first exposure to Cillian Murphy, and he delivers a very grounded and human performance.  He and Naomie Harris really warm to one another as the film goes on, and create a very heartfelt chemistry.  Harris herself slowly peals back the tougher exterior of Selena to ultimately show the vulnerability deep down inside.  She had to be tough to survive, but Jim allows her to show her true self.  Harris displays a wide range of talent in this role that starts out as a self-minded survivalist willing to cut loose anyone at a moment’s notice to a strongly sentimental and hopeful person.

Brendan Gleeson does a fine job making Frank a very wholesome father.  He has a lot of heart, and rarely allows despair or desperation to creep into himself.  He keeps a positive attitude which really boosts the mood of the picture, and gives hope to all of the characters.  Christopher Eccleston turns in a hardened and off-putting performance as Major West, the leader of the military encampment.  He certainly has the presence and authority of a leader, and gradually creates an intimidating foil for our protagonists.

Composer John Murphy created a very aural, almost ethereal score that taps into the hope, sorrow, isolation, and humanity of the film.  It really elicits a wealth of heavy emotion from its ambient style, and never does exactly what you’d expect from a horror movie score.  It’s more about establishing mood than enhancing scares.  Case in point is that the climax is not scored with pounding drums or shrieking strings.  It has a very impending sense of doom with a slow, deliberate rhythm given edge by a rising electric guitar.  The horror is never telegraphed.  There is no musical warning that something terrifying is about the befall our heroes.  One such moment has almost pure silence as an infected child jumps down from above and creeps up behind Jim.  This creates a stronger and more unique suspense that has greater pay-off when the visceral violence hits.  The only other work I know from Murphy is his bleak and very heavy toned Miami Vice film score, and so, it’s nice to experience a different range in his musical abilities with something like this.

I believe that, from one perspective, you could call 28 Days Later a far more realistic and believable sort of zombie movie.  Instead of people rising from the dead, which is an extremely fantastical idea, humanity is being wiped out by a man-made virus that turns the populace into nothing better than mindless creatures.  They scavenge for food by attacking those who are still normally human, and can infect you with just a single drop of blood.  The change is near-instantaneous, and there is no cure, no way of fighting it.  So, while these are not actually zombies at all, this film does take the conventions of that genre, and apply it into a context that we can take with seriousness.  The concept is easy to comprehend and accept, and the imminent fear of infection is something we can all grasp onto.

As opposed to the slow, lumbering characteristics of the classic style of zombies, these fast moving, bloodthirsty infected create the heart pounding urgency and tension that this film required.  Screenwriter Alex Garland cleverly took only the base elements of the zombie movie template, and adapted them into a different sort of horror movie full of immediate danger and frightening excitement.  Again, the film is not about blasting away hordes of ravenous infected humans, but about these characters struggling for survival in a desolate landscape where even those they believe can save them turnout to be no more human than those who have been infected.

The movie does take a more unsettling turn when our protagonists join up with the soldiers.  The fact that they are welcomed there, not out of a pure humanitarian reasons, but for far more traumatic and frightening reasons creates a whole new style of danger and threat.  They are ultimately held captive by Major West, and will be forced against their will to do whatever these soldiers want with them.  Once Jim escapes execution, the film really ramps up the danger and suspense as it practically becomes a horror film version of First Blood.  While Jim is no soldier himself, he takes his fierce determination, and uses it to strategically strike back against these military men in merciless fashion all while more infected run amuck.  Cillian Murphy becomes greatly impressive handling the physical demands fantastically, and adding a fearsome quality to his performance.  Part of what makes the film so effective is that we are not following around a group of highly trained military professionals.  These are average people who do get frightened, and are pushed to their limits.  They are generally no more capable of surviving this situation than you or I, but they never give up on the chance of survival or rescue.  They continually trudge forward through whatever horrors they encounter.

28 Days Later is an excellent horror film that may not be for everyone.  It does have a slow, gradual pace that nearly fills up two hours of runtime.  There is plenty of gore and ravenous violence to go around, but it’s never an onslaught.  The characters are the central piece in the film, and the filmmakers want you invested in them with the horror and action being secondary.  That is not at all a bad thing, but it is something that might not be everyone’s appeal.  The cast features some names that have really come into wide prominence since this film was made such as Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris, and I believe that should give you confidence in the quality of the performances and characters.  Danny Boyle really delivered something dark, intense, and innovative for its time that was creatively and commercially successful.  I’ve never been much into the zombie subgenre, but this film smartly took the right ideas from those films and injected them into a very effective and fresh approach.


Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

Okay, I didn’t have time to watch and review the first two movies for this month.  However, I feel this has generally been regarded as a markedly different entry to warrant being judged apart from them.  It’s a zombie film meshed with a teenage love story.  It’s no Shaun of the Dead, another film that I’m overdue in revisiting, but Return of the Living Dead 3 is a decent watch with one hell of a sexy horror femme fatale.

Colonel John Reynolds (Kent McCord) and his group of government scientists experiment on re-animating the dead for military use.  Meanwhile, his son Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke) use the Colonel’s security pass card to sneak in and watch the proceedings, and are startled by the grisly sights they witness.  Later, when father and son have a disagreement, Curt and Julie take off on a motorcycle, but a little too much frisky behavior results in an accident which kills Julie instantly.  Grief-stricken, Curt takes her body to the lab and resurrects her.  However, she is now changed into an undead creature who craves brains to curb her incessant hunger, and self-mutilates herself to ease the terrible pain that now consumes her.  Yet, driven by his genuine love for Julie, Curt struggles to help her deal with her new existence as military agents and local gang members try to find them, who all have vile intentions.

The strong suit of Return of the Living Dead 3 is the love story between Julie and Curt.  This is mainly due to the very impressive acting talents of Melinda Clarke and J. Trevor Edmond.  Since the film doesn’t delve into the characters all that much, it really fell to the actors to make it click, and it does.  Julie is quickly established as a bit of a wild girl who enjoys a little bit of danger and risk.  She also has great sexual charisma.  Curt also has a wild spirit to him, but definitely shows he loves Julie dearly.  She’s really captured his passion and brings out the full life in him.  There’s never a point where their love isn’t strong or convincing.  When things take that undead turn, they both keep selling the emotional depth of their characters, but now, it’s a tragic pain and grief which they pull off amazingly well.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call this a horror comedy as it doesn’t go for parody, satire, or laughs particularly.  Yet, I wouldn’t say the film takes itself too seriously.  It’s really in that middle ground between true horror and gory comedy.  It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly it wants itself to be taken.   I think this is mainly due to a lack of a consistent visual tone.  It doesn’t always look like a tense, gruesome horror film.  Considering the very well executed love story concept, I think keeping it away from blatant laughter is best.  Yet, it does have its darkly quirky aspects which are just a matter of taste on whether its appropriate or not.  I would’ve preferred the movie go for straight horror, but the opposite fits better into this franchise.  Still, it doesn’t go remotely as far out with the comedy as its predecessors.

This was a release from TriMark Pictures, who I’ve mentioned before were mainly a low budget B-movie company in the 1990s.  So, a $2 million budget it was for this one, and while the production values are a little low, they are not bad.  TriMark really seemed to make the most out of what they had, even if there wasn’t much to work with.  The military base interiors are very nicely designed with a bunker mentality, and are brightly lit showing that the sets are fully constructed.  The sewers later in the film are filled with colorful production design, and serve their purpose just fine.  It’s certainly a film made within the means of the budget, but it does nicely make use of some practical locations.

All that sounds very tenuous, sort of like I’m straddling a line of light criticism.  This is because the problem is not in the budget, but in how the filmmakers present a film of this budget to an audience.  What I think the film really lacks is artistic and visual flare.  Just because this film has a low budget doesn’t mean it has to lack cinematic quality.  You’ve got lights, you’ve got a camera.  You just need to know how to use them both to create something that looks strong and compelling.  So, it’s a matter of talent, not budget.  An innovative filmmaker will use the restraints of budget to get more creative.  They can’t have the elaborate, mega-budget sets to really make the film look high grade, and so, they’ll use lighting and camera angles to create a striking visual appeal.  This film can be very well shot at times, but it’s usually in the more dramatic or horrific moments.  Many times, it’s just sort of point-and-shoot stuff with no sense of real danger or urgency in how it’s shot.  Aside from those big dramatic moments, the filmmakers don’t take advantage of tight framing to build up tension, or utilize lighting to create any kind of atmosphere.  They show the ability to create that kind of style at certain times, but the vast majority of the film just looks rather bland.  If the filmmakers could’ve maintained the stronger visual style throughout, I think the overall tone would’ve benefitted from it immensely, and made this a creepier, more tense horror flick.

Now, there is certainly plenty of blood and zombie gore done with fairly good results, but it’s just unfortunate that the unrated cut has not been released on DVD.  Despite the film passing through the hands of three different studios since its release, none of them decided to upgrade us from the VHS unrated release.  The horror level is pretty good, but certainly very tame by even the standards of the day.  Return of the Living Dead 3 is more a film focused on the tragic love story and a sense of gory fun.  While we get the brain eating undead arising throughout the runtime, the full-on zombie action really doesn’t materialize until the final thirty minutes of the film.  Still, it is quite good with a good helping of graphic imagery.  However, I couldn’t say it would satiate a modern audiences’ desires for zombie horror carnage.

What really gets gruesome is when Julie takes her self-mutilation to its fullest extent.  All manner of sharp objects are freakishly pierced through her skin, and it’s in every way terrifyingly imaginable.  She herself looks like something out of Freddy Krueger’s nightmares.  She’s both frightening and sensual at the same time.  The sensation gives her such a powerful rush that it transforms Melinda Clarke’s performance from tragic to absolutely ferocious and ghastly.  These make-up effects are immensely amazing.  It’s also lovely that Melinda Clarke had no issues with repeatedly appearing nude in the film.  We certainly don’t get enough sexual content in our horror films these days.

Notably, there is a supporting role of Lieutenant Colonel Sinclair portrayed by Sarah Douglas.  You would best know her as Ursa from Superman: The Movie and Superman II.  Her role here is nothing much to talk about, but it’s just a special casting note.  The rest of the casting is generally okay.  Not doing exceptionally excellent work, but not being exceptionally bad, either.  Although, Basil Wallace, who plays the homeless Riverman, does not put in a good acting job.  Every line is overacted.  It’s clear that there’s supposed to be an honest dramatic intention with the character, but this performance is just too silly to be taken seriously.

So, is the film all that good?  It’s okay.  It’s nothing I’ll ever rave about, but it’s worth a watch.  I definitely believe that a more dead-set tone of true horror would’ve strengthened the movie along with a darker, more atmospheric look.  They should’ve just gone for broke with intense horror all the way, and shy away from the strangeness or the low budget quirkiness.  There’s not much in the way of tension or suspense.  I will admit that zombies have never done all that much for me.  Slashers are really my favorite subgenre of horror.  Although, I do think Julie, in her fully mutilated state, comes off as an iconic image that wasn’t in a film of iconic status.  Her look is surely the one big impression that I’ve always been left with over the years from this movie.  I really think the tragic horror love story is greatly executed with two solid young lead actors.  It’s where this film shines the brightest, and with a more innovative visual style and tone, this could’ve been a really damn good flick.  As it is, I would say it’s generally all right.  If for nothing else, it’s worth checking out just for seeing Julie in her full horrific glory.


Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator was a disastrous, pathetic, and lame piece of garbage.  I won’t even get into it, but after seeing it at the theatre, midnight showing no less, I wanted my money back.  Unfortunately, I got into the showing via a free movie pass from purchasing the Predator Special Edition DVD.  So, I couldn’t even get that satisfaction.  I don’t think I’ve ever held a film in such disdain as to have the desire to demand my money back.  Instead, I wish I had those two hours of my life returned to me.  When things were developing for AVP2, obviously there was a lot of speculation and negative light upon it.  Though, with Anderson nixed, the film seemed to have some hope.  I was very interested in seeing the film theatrically, but then, I heard scores of negative reviews.  It really made me back away from it.  I see now that was a mistake.

This film picks up directly after the conclusion of the previous AVP film.  A Predator-Alien hybrid is born, and begins to wreak havoc on board the Predator space craft.  It soon crash lands in a small Colorado town.  All Predators on board are killed, and the Xenomorphs are set loose on the population.  The crash landing is monitored from the Predator home world (seen for the first time ever on film), and a veteran warrior departs to clean up the mess.  Face huggers attack many of the townspeople, giving rise to further Aliens to ravage the town.  The lone Predator attempts to hunt and eliminate every trace of the Xenomorphs’ presence.  The residents do all they can to defend themselves, but it’s a Catch-22.  Anyone with a gun is immediately a target of the Predator, but without firearms, you stand zero chance against the Aliens.  Eventually, humans, Aliens, and the Predator collide after dark, and all hell breaks loose.  Even help from the National Guard is short-lived, and ultimately, more extreme measures are necessary to eliminate this escalating threat.

Yes, I enjoyed this film (the unrated cut), and kept waiting for something totally bullshit to happen to justify all the god-awful reviews.  It never really came.  There are definite problems with it, but it’s not deserving of being saddled with the statement that “this isn’t even as good as the first Alien vs. Predator.”  I could provide a very long list of how AVP-R is superior to its predecessor, but that’s not the point here.  Though, brief comparisons will be made.  I am not at all saying AVP-R is of the same caliber as Alien or Predator, but at its lowest, it’s no worse than Predator 2.  I’d probably put it a notch higher than Alien 3 (either the theatrical or special edition cut).  But let me get into the meat of things.

My first impression of the film was how excellent the cinematography and lighting was from Director of Photography Daniel Pearl (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974 & 2003).  There’s a definite cinematic feel to this film with good use of angles, cranes, and camera moves.  The film really pushes to give itself a grander scale and impact with its visuals.  The few shots on the Predator home world are marvelous.  Somewhat reminds me of the scenes on Vulcan in Robert Wise’s ‘Director’s Edition’ of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  The lighting itself can be intriguing and amazing, at times.  Thin layers of fog and smoke add atmosphere in select scenes.  The best looking visuals are mainly the scenes inside the space crafts, and the daytime sequences.  Problems arise during the far darker scenes in the subterranean tunnels and the rain.  At times, the lighting is so minimal and the framing so tight, it is difficult to follow the action.  As the film goes on, the framing gets better as the creatures are better revealed, but never in full light.  They essentially remain as silhouettes throughout the movie.  This is much more akin to the original Alien – only showing glimpses of the monster.  Still, the majority of the film is very dark, and whenever frenetic action begins, it can be a chore to keep track of it all.  Maybe, a high-def presentation might lessen this problem marginally, but standard-def is my current situation.

One thing that I’m sure would be truly enhanced by a high-definition viewing is the excessive, yet welcomed gore levels.  This absolutely goes back to John McTiernan’s 1987 film that introduced the merciless Predator.  Bloodshed is everywhere, and people are killed indiscriminately.  Only one person survives who you’d swear should be dead, but other than that, people are slain left and right.  The film is very satisfying in that aspect because the filmmakers, aside from the just mentioned situation, don’t go out of their way to keep people alive in the face of certain death.  If it looks like they’re gonna die, they die.  No dodging hits at the last second or anything of the sort.  Children die, pregnant mothers die, old guys get their arms acid burned off.  There’s really no holding back, which can’t be said of its PG-13 predecessor.  The makeup and visual effects are simply astounding.  Some of the gore and creature moments are even down right grotesque and sick.  The opening shot of Earth from space with the sun glaring in the background seems to have such an old school quality to it.  It doesn’t appear to be so much of a digital composition.  It really looks more like similar shots from Predator, Aliens, or even John Carpenter’s The Thing.  There’s just such depth of detail to the shot, and impressive sense of scale that you rarely see nowadays.  I was captivated by this shot.  Subsequent CGI shots are also presented with such a standard.  Nothing ever felt like a digital effects shot.  It all blended smoothly and seamlessly with the live action.  The movement of the Predator or Aliens never seems goofy, awkward, or over the top.  It’s very much in line with the characters’ presentation from the seminal films of each, separate franchise.  CGI versions of them are only used when it is necessary.  Everything else is practical, physical effects.

Speaking of such things, AVP-R presents both alien races with a great deal of respect.  The Predator, this time, is a definite seasoned warrior.  He knows how the hunt is played, and takes on a good dozen Aliens on his own.  The only one that really kicks his ass is the PredAlien.  He’s not some punk rookie Predator in some training ground.  It’s a real situation with him taking it upon himself to clean up this mess, and proves to be exceptionally capable.  Though, this doesn’t mean the Aliens get busted up like a bunch of bitches.  They hold their own, stalking and attacking with intelligence and ferocity.  This is much like James Cameron’s Aliens.  They work as both a cohesive whole and lethal individuals.  They are indeed an infestation that continues to grow out of control, and is never made easy for the Predator.  I really feel the filmmakers treated both sides with great respect.  I love how we see the Predator work, even before he even begins the hunt.  How he gathers his gear, and investigates the crash site.  The film treats him like a proper character with a keen mind and cleverness, not a one-dimensional ugly beast rampaging through scenes.  Just the level of intelligence both alien races are given says so much.  Just as the Aliens set traps for others, the Predator shows he’s able to do the same.  It’s a very pleasant surprise.

Now, I found the music to be appropriate to the film.  I wouldn’t say it is exceptionally memorable, but it served the purposes of the movie.  It is jarring, tense, and explosive.  Thought did go into it, and you’ll notice the end credits theme is a mixture of the original Alan Silvestri Predator theme and the James Horner Aliens theme.  It is titled ‘Requiem.’  I felt there was a good level of suspense in the film.  Not a great deal, but in certain scenes, there is build up and tension towards a pay-off.  I think the subterranean sequence is probably the best and most cleverly crafted one in the whole film.  The fight choreography is inventive and imaginative.  The staging of the cat-and-mouse hunting / stalking scenes are continually creative.  It’s far more of what I would’ve wanted from the first film, and it is as an Aliens vs. Predator film should be.  It’s quite fascinating as they are both the hunter and the hunted at the same time.  Kill or be killed, it seems.

The acting certainly comes up as a negative on the reviews I’ve scanned over.  Not every film can have the caliber of acting of a Scorcese or Coppola film.  Like Francis Ford Coppola version of Dracula, sometimes you get Gary Oldman, and sometimes you get Keanu Reeves.  The acting here falls within that deep gap.  Essentially, it is solid enough to serve the purposes of the film, and I never felt that it turned ridiculous or annoying.  You, honestly, don’t need Robert De Niro or Marlon Brando quality acting in an Aliens vs. Predator film.  That’s not me discounting the wonderful performances we’ve had in the Alien & Predator films, but what are you really expecting from this film?  The content and context of the film do not call for such glorious depth of acting ability.  This is not to say that the acting here is crap.  This is far above standards of something like Jason X or Freddy’s Dead.  Those films feature a cringable lack of acting talent.  What you get here is good, and allows you to enjoy the meat of the film.  I didn’t feel like the film was dragged down by any of these characters, or their own, individual stories before the action begins.  It helps the pace of the film to build up slowly as all elements begin to converge.  I know Steven Pasquale from the cable television series Rescue Me, and John Ortiz I’m familiar with from the 2006 Miami Vice feature film.  Both present characters with identifiable, relatable, and likable traits.  They certainly show range to me, knowing those other roles they inhabited, and I found them to be worthwhile characters to spend my time with.  These characters are quite human, but have a good deal more depth than your standard slasher film fodder.  The filmmakers and screenwriters seemed to treat these new characters with respect.  They easily could’ve gone with the fodder that Anderson’s AVP film offered, but chose to spend some decent time to develop their personalities on-screen.

The film’s ending needs to be addressed, and is certainly a borderline turn.  It could either keep you hooked or lose you completely.  The filmmakers could’ve really botched it up if they had everyone taken out, but there are survivors.  So, that eases the tension.  Still, there are elements that could be called cheesy or stupid.  I, personally, don’t agree with that.  You have to remember that while these are sequels to the Predator films, they are prequels to the Alien films.  Events need to fall in line with that continuity to preserve certain knowledge of the Xenomorphs amongst humanity.  Government cover-ups are necessary to serve that purpose, and the extra tag at the end was nice, if not somewhat predictable.  Where in AVP, you met Weyland, this time, you meet Yutani – whose two corporations eventually form the infamous ‘Company’ from the Alien franchise.  As I said, things of this nature could potentially lose an audience who perceive it as fanboy bullshit.  They need to realize that this film was made because of fanboys (as much as I hate the term).  Without them, these films would’ve died out a very long time ago.  The ending might not be the most universally satisfying, but it is a logical and appropriate one.  I could go further into depth about it, but suffice it to say, it helps to avoid continuity conflicts with the Alien films.

Colin & Greg Strause made a conscious effort to stay true to both franchises, and make this a real tribute to the fans.  I think they succeed, to a point.  It is a gorgeous film at times, and also a very grotesque feature, as well.  It’s simply more technical elements of lighting, composition, and editing in certain scenes that lessen the effectiveness of those scenes.  The film is terribly dark, visually, and the addition of a rain storm can complicate matters.  It would’ve helped to cast some extra light on the battling alien beings to better distinguish them from each other.  Still, at the most pivotal and impactful moments, the filmmakers allow for the shots to play out more dramatically.  They hold on the shots longer, and the action therein is better defined.  Beyond those shaky aspects, I feel this is a far superior film to 2004’s AVP.  Everything is handled with a great deal more respect and weight.  No ‘buddy cop’ Predator sidekick moments, no rookie Predators getting their butts kicked, and no skimping on the gore.  While this doesn’t equal the caliber of Alien or Predator, it doesn’t fall very far below those standards.  A classic this won’t be, but I feel it’s a worthy addition to your DVD or Blu Ray library.