Alien Arsenal (1999)

alienarsenal_6Alien Arsenal (1999)
AKA Alien Weapons

Starring Josh Hammond, Danielle Hoover, Michele Nordin, Krisztián Kovács, Jerrod Cornish, William Vogt, Riley Smith, Dominic Catrambone, Stephanie Mennella, Chris Olivero, Robert Donavan, Brenda Blondell

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Pretty boys in their underwear with varying levels of acting quality? Must be time for another David DeCoteau film! Alien Arsenal is a loose remake of Laserblast, one of my favorite Full Moon films. Generally I’m against remakes, but Laserblast is the kind of movie that could definitely use some improvement. Don’t get me wrong, I love it just how it is, but it’s the ultimate “Let’s roll with this movie’s inherent shittiness and have a good time” movie. Sure, Laserblast has a massive amount of slo-mo explosions LASERBLASTS, blowing up everything from popcorn machines to bullies driving hot rods, but you have to wade through a river of shit to get to them.

For the most part, Alien Arsenal does a good job of taking Laserblast and applying a plot to the general premise. That’s right, Laserblast is largely a plotless film, strung together by nothing more than teenage rage and fiery explosions. Alien Arsenal retains the premise of a bullied teen acquiring an alien weapon, but the whys and the hows are much more than, “He finds it in the desert.”

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

mad_max_fury_road_Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, John Howard, Richard Carter, Iota, Angus Sampson, Jennifer Hagan, Megan Gale, Melissa Jaffer

Directed by George Miller

Expectations: Initially nothing, then moderate after I saw the 1st trailer, then the hype dropped and my expectations ballooned to astronomical proportions.

fourstar


HHHHHHOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLYYYYYY FFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKK! The idea of trying to write something relatively coherent after experiencing Mad Max: Fury Road is straight-up ludicrous. While watching it I kept thinking to myself, “This is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.” I know that sounds ridiculously hyperbolic, but it’s true. So what more do I have to say? GO SEE IT IN THE THEATERS! Of course, there’s lots more to say, but that’s the only thing you need to hear if you haven’t seen it yet. Just see it, then we’ll talk.

[Deep breath.]

OK, I can do this.

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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

madmax3_1Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
AKA Mad Max 3

Starring Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Angelo Rossitto, Angry Anderson, Helen Buday, Tom Jennings, Robert Grubb, Paul Larsson, Bruce Spence, Adam Cockburn, Frank Thring, Edwin Hodgeman, Rod Zuanic

Directed by George Miller & George Ogilvie

Expectations: Vroom?

threehalfstar


Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the much-maligned entry of the Mad Max trilogy, and I had only seen it once in my teenage years prior to this re-watch. Back then, I expected it to be Road Warrior 2, and when it wasn’t I called it a shitty movie. I guess it’s fair to assume that a sequel would somewhat resemble the films that came before it, but in this particular case it’s the wrong way to come at Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome because there’s virtually no way to enjoy it if you do so. But when considered on its own, and as a continuation of the wasteland and the societal issues built up in the previous films, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a fantastic sequel.

This one is far more story-driven than the other films, making it a more traditional film in a very non-traditional franchise (and thus probably causing more people to be perturbed). Anyway, we open with Max making his way across the great desert via camel-drawn wagon. He gets robbed by a huckster pilot (who is totally not the Gyrocopter pilot from Road Warrior even though they’re both played by Bruce Spence), so Max continues on his way to Barter Town on foot. Once there Max attracts the attention of the town’s leader, Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), who decides to use his talents for her own purposes.

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The Road Warrior (1981)

madmax2_1The Road Warrior (1981)
AKA Mad Max 2

Starring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston, Max Phipps, Vernon Wells, Kjell Nilsson, Emil Minty, Virginia Hey, William Zappa, Arkie Whiteley, Steve J. Spears

Directed by George Miller

Expectations: Vroom! Vroom!

threehalfstar


The Road Warrior is not a direct sequel to Mad Max, instead it jumps forward a number of years to present a much more advanced version of the wasteland. This is never expressly stated, but it’s really the only way to explain why the two films are so aesthetically different. Anyway, The Road Warrior is an incredible film, and much different than its predecessor. Director George Miller proved on Mad Max that he had a punk spirit that was willing to tell his story without adhering to traditional filmmaking rules, and here on The Road Warrior the same spirit is in evidence (both in visual design and storytelling).

At this stage, society as we know it is completely gone. Gasoline is far more precious than it was in Mad Max and the bandits have also become much more insane, embracing their law of chaos. The bandits dress like scavenger punks, wearing leather chaps, football pads and whatever the hell else they found that looked suitably badass. Their leader is a huge guy in a hockey mask named Humungus, a name both fitting for his stature and for the bandits’ outlook on life. They don’t have time to waste on bullshit; this guy’s humongous so his name will be Humungus!

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Mad Max (1979)

mad_max_ver2Starring Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward, Lisa Aldenhoven, David Bracks, Bertrand Cadart, David Cameron, Robina Chaffey

Directed by George Miller

Expectations: Vroom!

threehalfstar


Ever since I first watched Mad Max as a teenager, I’ve harbored a serious love for it. The opening chase is probably one of my all-time favorite opening sequences. While going about my day, I will often randomly recall the moment when the car crashes through the trailer and smile to myself; it’s one of those small pieces of film on my mental highlight reel (along with other gems like the head explosion at the beginning of Dawn of the Dead). But even though I watched Mad Max many times during those years, enough to sear this moment into my brain, I went into this re-watch not recalling much of anything specific except that.

Max is a cop for MFP (which does not stand for Mother Fuckers Protectin’ like you might expect), and MFP is one of the last shreds of ordered society left in the world. Max and his few compatriots do their best to enforce the law, but it’s like fighting an ocean wave; it’s coming through you no matter how hard you struggle against it. Chaos is taking hold over Australia, with no remedy in sight. The MFP is a dying breed in a land that has moved on.

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator_2_posterStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton, S. Epatha Merkerson, Castulo Guerra, Danny Cooksey, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: I’ll be back.

fourstar


You shouldn’t need me to tell you that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an incredible movie. One of the greatest blockbuster films of all time, T2 is a total thrill ride that, like the Terminators themselves, never stops. It is expertly paced and written in such a way that it is both a perfect sequel to the original film and completely self-contained and accessible to anyone in the audience. And does it hold up nearly 25 years after its original release? No problemo.

T2 brought revolutionary FX to the screen, and honestly they still look fantastic to me. Due to the limitations of the time, the CG is used exactly how it should be: to augment real footage to create incredible illusions of fantasy. The grounding in the real world makes the unreal feel all the more real because it’s seemingly happening in the same world we live in. The physical FX work is top-notch as well, with the scene when Arnold tears off his skin to show Miles Dyson his cyborg endoskeleton remaining my favorite. It blew my mind when I was a kid, and it still looks so real to me. I guess that’s what you get when your movie has a crazy budget and you’ve got Stan Winston on the case. Practical FX work may have gone out of style, but I stand by the claim that it does and will continue to age much better than CG.

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Quick Takes: The Stand, The Wind Rises, Gold Told Me To

the-stand-movie-poster-1994-1020189668The Stand (1994)
twohalfstar

Starring Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Jamey Sheridan, Corin Nemec, Adam Storke, Laura San Giacomo, Ruby Dee, Ray Walston, Rob Lowe, Bill Fagerbakke, Peter Van Norden, Ossie Davis, Miguel Ferrer, Matt Frewer, Bridgit Ryan, Kellie Overbey
Directed by Mick Garris

Having recently re-read the book, I had to also revisit this. It’s a fair adaptation, about as good as you could hope for from a network TV mini-series of the ’90s. Of course, everything is truncated quite a bit (even at 6 hours long), but its the characters that suffer the most. So much depth is lost in this version, especially with Fran, but it’s still worthwhile for fans of the book looking for a “quick” refresher. I was also disappointed that they ended without including the final scene of the book. Yes, it probably would’ve been more comical than anything else in this version, but that basic idea that “Ka is a wheel,” that this is a struggle that has been and will always continue to go on for all time, is one that feels so integral to King’s work. Oh well… I can hope for this ending in the new version. The CG is also quite dated, but the makeup FX work by Steve Johnson still shines brightly.

TheWindRisesPosterThe Wind Rises [風立ちぬ] (2013)
fourstar

Starring Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Miori Takimoto, Masahiko Nishimura, Mansai Nomura, Jun Kunimura, Mirai Shida, Shinobu Otake, Morio Kazama, Keiko Takeshita
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

The Wind Rises is beautiful in every way. It sits apart from the rest of Miyazaki’s work as his most grounded film, which is funny as it’s entirely about flight. What really impressed me was how Miyazaki weaves together the professional and personal lives of real-life aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi. I later found out the personal part of the story was pure fiction, adapted in part from Tatsuo Hori’s 1937 short story The Wind Has Risen, but knowing this doesn’t diminish the film’s power in any way. I was moved to tears by the relationship between Jiro and Nahoko, as I found it oddly similar to my situation as I care for my spouse as she is debilitated further and further by multiple sclerosis. It may not hit you the same way, but The Wind Rises made me appreciate each day just a little more. An absolutely wonderful film for Miyazaki to go out on.

god-told-me-to-movie-1088207586Gold Told Me To (1976)
AKA Demon

threehalfstar

Starring Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sidney, Sam Levene, Robert Drivas, Mike Kellin, Richard Lynch, Sammy Williams
Directed by Larry Cohen

With a title like God Told Me To, I expected the film to be about a religious nutcase going crazy in some kind of slasher-esque film. God Told Me To is vaguely like that in the first few minutes, but very quickly you realize that there’s a lot more going on here than some simple slasher horror film. In hopes that someone reading this will watch the film, I’m going to remain vague, but know that God Told Me To is a highly ambitious B-Movie that tackles huge issues and largely succeeds. It’s the kind of movie that will require some suspension of disbelief, due to the subject matter and the limited FX work, but those willing to appreciate its power will find much to like. Personally, I think the FX work is perfect and everything the film needed, but I can easily see people nowadays laughing at it “because it’s old.” Their loss. The cinematography is also excellent and vibrant throughout, thanks in part to the brand new Blu-ray from Blue Underground. In any case, if you dig B-Movies, Larry Cohen is one to explore, and God Told Me To is one of the best films I’ve seen from him.

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