Starring Karl Urban, The Rock, Rosamund Pike, Deobia Oparei, Ben Daniels, Razaaq Adoti, Richard Brake
Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
Consume too much liquor and your stomach will reject it. You’ll spew that bottle of hooch you tried to put down along with whatever bile and flavorful fast food was clinging to your insides. Some day, and I’m waiting for it, the same reaction is going to occur after watching too many movies that fall under that impervious category “guilty pleasure.” Entertainment was to be had. Brain cells die. Shallow fun overall in spite of the notion the film wasn’t all that good – but hey, it had a few good scenes that made you feel something, no matter how ridiculous they were. If brain cells could be vomited, I’d be wrapped around that porcelain god in my bathroom after watching Doom until the sun came up knowing full well later on…I’d do it again. But maybe not so soon.
Never been much a of a gamer myself. All I knew of Doom came second-hand through friends discussing cheat codes and strategies in hushed tones like spies during a World War. Boy, did I ever feel out of the loop. When I was eventually allowed into that secret circle one day after school and given the chance to experience the FPS (truncated video game vocab for “first person shooter”) game play of the first Doom, I was surprised by just how much it felt like I was in the middle of James Cameron’s Aliens. Except I wasn’t taking down Giger-inspired xenomorphs, I was nuking the shit out of demons from hell. Fair enough. I was hooked.
So it comes as no surprise that Doom story-wise has nothing original to offer after a trio of opening gags. Following the requisite introductory voice over to tell the audience how far into the future the story takes place – here, far off enough that we’ve colonized Mars and can reach the planet through the Arc, a silver little blob thing that sucks you up and spits you out at your final destination – the famed Universal Studios logo appears, except the familiar revolving Earth has been replaced by cinema’s favorite distant red planet. Slam cut to a bunch of running, screaming scientists down a metal grate-lined, scarcely lit corridor, chased by an unknown “thing.” One white coat makes it, another…not so much, her arm cleaved from her body by a closing door. Begin title sequence.
More gruesomeness ensues. An ear is torn off. Someone’s attacked by a slinky-fied detachable tongue. Then the plot grows from a Stan Winston effects reel to…well, a Stan Winston effects reel with a considerably stale story.
A Rapid Response Tactical Squad is sent from Earth to the Olduvai Research Station on Mars to get to the bottom of a pretty serious quarantine problem. The Rock heads up this indiscriminate group of Marines as Sarge and their mission is about as unambiguous as the tough guy “Semper-Fi” tattoo emblazoned across the former wrestler’s back: go to Olduvai, find out what’s going on, kill anything bad, head on home. For John Grimm, a.k.a. Reaper (Urban), the trip to Mars is a chance to stir up past drama with his braniac scientist sis, Samantha (Pike), who he hasn’t seen since their parents died and their career choices divided them. A proper family reunion is hardly in the cards, however. Once inside the quarantine zone, the Marines, with Pike as their guide through the facility, are attacked by lumpy, jacked up humanoids and zombies. Yes…zombies. And the introduction of the walking dead feels every bit like an opportunity to jump on the zombie movie bandwagon.
Outside of that mistaken identity snafu, Doom knows exactly what it is. Or at least what it’s trying to be – an intelligent, hyperactive rival to Aliens. The biggest problem rests on director Bartkowiak’s shoulders. He doesn’t have the chops to sustain the action and keep it exciting. A chase-and-be-chased narrative lugs us through a somewhat confusing second act during which our Marines run in and out of the quarantine zone. New characters are introduced, some are picked off, groups of Mars residents are evacuated and you lose your grip on where anybody is really located in the research facility. You also begin to question the purpose of the “nano-walls” – walls that act on a timer and can disappear allowing someone into a room – other than to trap one of Doom‘s Imps. The ugly chap is caught half in and half out of the wall. A great effect, but whatever happened to doors in the future?
From what I’ve heard, the original video game centered on a portal to Hell that is accidentally opened. It’s the whole reason Mars is plagued by demons. Its filmic counterpart nixes the supernatural bent in favor of something vaguely scientific and hard to swallow (the answer to Doom‘s mystery concerns Chromosome 24 and superhuman research). However, it’s peculiar that writers David Callaham and Wesley Strick establish one of Sarge’s men as a religious freak, a “cutter” who tends to slice himself whenever he takes the Lord’s name in vein. It’s a terrific touch – most of the Marines have their own exclusive manners – but it’s one that leads to nothing but the character’s untimely cliché death. Callaham and Strick had every opportunity to blend science and religious faith, but like most of the film, there are a few cool ideas, a number of decent set-ups…but there is never any satisfying follow-through.
The build-up, of course, is to get Doom‘s core audience to the FPS centerpiece which comes across like a fairgrounds haunted house ride that whisks you along on a rickety track. From the POV of Reaper we push through Olduvai’s corridors blasting monsters and avoiding rat-infested corpses that drop down from the ceiling. It’s a wad-blowing scene and I truly believe it robs the ending of the film of what it needed the most: a giant monster. It’s Queen Alien, if you will. I won’t tell you what exists now, but it ain’t pretty.
The Rock, Urban and the rest of the cast are all appropriately over-the-top although Urban’s Reaper is the most generic, underdeveloped hero of the lot. You’ve also got to love any movie where a monster uses a man in a wheelchair as a weapon (this flick earns its “R” rating). Stan Winston’s rage-filled creatures, when you do get to see them, don’t boast the most inspired designs but given their origins, they‘re adequate. And composer Clint Mansell’s (Darren Aronofsky’s main man on Requiem for a Dream) guitar wailing, cymbal crashing score has a guaranteed place in my CD player. I liken it to John Carpenter and Anthrax’s work in Ghosts of Mars. Not everyone’s going to dig it. I do.
It’s interesting to see Doom on the big screen now after turning on a spit over the fires of development hell for so long because it’s a blatant case of cinematic cannibalism coming full circle. A movie inspired by a video game inspired by a broad range of action/horror flicks. The snake is eating its own tail again. We’ve seen this trick before.
2 out of 5
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DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!
Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon
Directed by Adrian Corona
I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.
Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.
Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.
Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.
If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review: A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form
Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes
Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace
“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.
That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.
Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?
At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play
second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?
These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.
Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?
It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.
If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.
The Shape of Water Review: A Quirky Mix of Whimsy and Horror That Does Not Disappoint
Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stulbarg, Doug Jones
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
“True Blood,” Beauty and the Beast, and Twilight aside, the notion of romantic love between humans and otherworldly creatures has been a popular theme throughout storytelling history. The ancient Greeks told tales of Leda and the swan, while stories of mermaids luring sailors to their lusty demise were met with wonder worldwide, stemming from Assyria c. 1000 BC. To this day, there’s Creature From the Black Lagoon fanfic that’s quite racy… for whatever reason, some people are fascinated by this fantasy taboo.
The new period film from co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water, dives right into the erotic motif with the tale of how Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) fell in love. (While I personally could have done without the bestiality angle, I do applaud del Toro for having the balls to show what’s usually implied.) Having said that, The Shape of Water is about more than just interspecies passion.
The Shape of Water is a voluptuous, sumptuous, grand, and melodramatic Gothic fable at times (there’s even a lavish 1940s style dance routine!), but mostly it’s an exciting and gripping adventure, pitting the good guys against one very bad buy – played with mustache-twirling (minus the mustache), bug-eyed glee by Michael Shannon. Shannon is Strickland, a sinister and spiteful Cold War government operative who is put in charge of a mysterious monster captured in the Amazon and shipped to his Baltimore facility for study. When using cruel and abusive methods to crack the creature’s secrets doesn’t work, Strickland decides to cut him open to see what’s ticking inside.
Elisa, a lowly cleaning lady at the facility, has meanwhile grown fond of “the Asset,” as he’s called. She’s been spending time with him on the sly, not even telling her two best friends about her budding tenderness for the mute and isolated alien. She relates to him because not only is she lonesome, she’s unable to speak (an abusive childhood is alluded to – which includes water torture). Using sign language, she first tells out-of-work commercial illustrator Giles (Richard Jenkins), then her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), about the need to rescue her waterlogged Romeo from Strickland’s scalpel. Needless to say, it won’t be easy sneaking a classified government experiment out of the high security building.
The Shape of Water is vintage del Toro in terms of visuals and accoutrement. The set-pieces are stunning to say the least. Elisa and Giles live in cozy, cluttered, age-patinaed apartments above a timeworn Art Deco moving-pictures palace; Strickland’s teal Cadillac is a collection of curves and chrome; and the creature’s tank is a steampunk nightmare of iron, glass, and sturdy padlocks. DP Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak) does justice to each and every detail. Costumes (Luis Sequeira) and Creature (Legacy Effects) are appropriately stunning. The velvety score by Alexandre Desplat (“Trollhunters”) is both subdued and stirring.
While the film is a fantasy-fueled feast for the senses, it’s really the actors who keep you caring about the players in such an unrealistic, too-pat story. Jones, entombed in iridescent latex and with GC eyes, still manages to emote and evoke sympathy as the misfit monster. Jenkins is endearingly morose as a closeted gay man surrounded by his beloved cats and bolstered by the belief his hand-painted artwork is still relevant in an ever-more technical world. Spencer is the comic relief as a sassy lady who’s hobbled by her station in life but leaps into action when the chips are down.
Del Toro cowrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor, whose credits in the television world are numerous – but she’s probably best-known for her work on “Game of Thrones” – which adds an interesting and feminine perspective. The story definitely feels more comic-book than anything, which is okay I guess, but I prefer del Toro’s deeper delves into history and character (The Devil’s Backbone is still my fave). But, for those who love del Toro’s quirky mix of whimsy and horror, you will not be disappointed.
The Shape of Water is a dreamlike, pulpy adult fairytale that dances on the surface of reality while remaining true to the auteur’s vision.
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