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Bloody Battle is 10% more futuristic than its predecessor, as measured in the new style fancied in the gangsters of the day — gas masks. The two movies take place in a familiar post-apocalypse, one where it’s likely that down under Master Blaster upholds his power in Barter Town, though Japan has a more cyberpunk feel (if Versus can be said to have a horror movie feel, for example). The war-torn buildings and desolate interiors offer an appropriately impressionistic environment for our formidable heroine Milly, though they also offer the audience’s best guess that Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle is after all, a budgeted affair.

Though a larger world is implied, much of the story unfolds in parking garages and non-descript warehouses, with the occasionally dressed-up set peppered in for world-building’s sake. Fortunately, by the endgame this actually registers as insignificant, because the action these environments house is a specific flavor of stylized ultraviolence, one with flying kung-fu, cool poses, and wacky weapons that inflict impressive spectacle when unleashed on smug, gas-mask-clad do-wrongers.

The action in the film is one end of the Hard Revenge Milly equation that’s so frustrating. The premise of this sequel doesn’t stray far from the original’s plot, certainly not for the purposes of puzzling out what’s so problematic in an otherwise highly entertaining gore-fest. Milly, after massacring the gang that brutally murdered her husband and set her baby on fire, while at the same time tearing her body apart with knives and forcing her to watch, finds herself hunted by friends of the gang — as we learn from the hardly comparable Chan Wook Park’s Vengeance Trilogy, revenge is a cyclical, spiralling affair.

At the same time, Milly is approached by a young woman whose lover was killed, and seeks training for vengeance of her own. It may not sound like much, but keep in mind that the original movie was 45 minutes long, and this one still isn’t quite average feature length, clocking in at 74 minutes.

So what’s the trouble with Hard Revenge Milly?

The opening fight scene embodies a rare and beautiful ideology in action movie filmmaking, where the action hero is depicted as a slasher villain in how he/she dispatches foes. The only contemporary example that springs to mind is the critically discarded Punisher: War Zone, a film that sees Frank Castle slaughtering villains as if they were zombies — heads explode, bodies explode; the carnage is front and center, and there’s a gleeful joy in the application of a crazed badass to the action.

When this badass is essentially the Terminator, the entertainment is in the creativity of the hero killing slimy villains rather than the drama of ‘will the hero prevail?’ since there would clearly never be a question (there never is a question, regardless of what action movie you’re watching, but let’s not parade on the dreams of the Len Wisemans and the McGs of the world*). Punisher: War Zone succeeds where the 2004 Punisher fails (for one) in the villain department, because there’s a nemesis cold war going on — Frank Castle might be crazy, but Jigsaw and Looney Bin Jim are batshit. John Travolta? Not very threatening and surely no threat to Thomas Jane, which deflates the drama of ‘will the hero prevail?’

War Zone goes above and beyond, then, where Castle has gangsters to kill like a regular Jason, but with more RPGs, and these guys are no threat, but also a villainous element that provides any measure of suspense. Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle, as well as its predecessor, have the same pretty Japanese pop-singer dude who happens to be a badass.

It’s odd, because while the end fight of the original is much longer than any other fight scene in the movie, it’s less entertaining because the guy offers a sizable opposition, and this is not what we were being driven toward with Milly tearing through people earlier. What makes this guy special? His kung-fu seems to be pretty good but he looks like everyone else and isn’t characterized appropriately in this regard. The sequel does a little better by having the villain be a cyborg, but any cyber-fuelled cool factor is negated by his villainy stemming purely from his sexual deviance — aka homosexuality. That’s great, guys.

This may sound like a lot of talk for something pretty unimportant, but the in-the-moment result is that Milly gets thrown around a lot by these lame villains where she should be trouncing everyone, save for something actually impressive. Anything other than yet another gangster dude. Like the Bride, Lady Snowblood, or Lady Vengeance, Milly gets her gender-equality fair share of the action movie beating, but to me it doesn’t make a lot of sense given the premise of what these movies are. This might sound like sexism, and it probably is, but this time, I honestly just don’t give a fuck. I don’t want to see a woman nicknamed Hard Revenge Milly getting her arm chopped off and defeated, only to win with further cyborg upgrades further down the road.

Not to mention that Milly technically falls into that more recently popular category of kick-ass females, here dubbed the Dragon Tattoo category, where only rape or violence against the heroine can incite bloody rebirth. That’s not a big deal here, because not only is Milly’s origin story so absurd, the movies are extremely obviously not meant to be taken very seriously.

I mean, look — when Milly cuts some dude’s body with her elbow sword, their high blood pressure sprays in an initially hesitant fountain in the grand tradition of Chinese and I think Japanese cinema. It’s great, silly fun, but it is metered a bit by Milly’s qualified badassery. That said, Bloody Battle is an improvement over an already entertaining original, one that reaches for eleven on the novelty dial in the fight scenes: we never know what her metal body’s gonna drum up next to slice and dice her foe, or what lethal new form this familiar weapon will take, but we know it’s gonna be bloody as hell. Meanwhile the action is intense and fantastical, remaining compelling through the whole of the two films with the promise that they’ll end in brutal, comedic splatter.

This movie is also interesting for its essence as a sequel. This is an instance where the follow-up deconstructs the original, showing the aftermath of the events in the first movie and the effects they have on the heroine. She isn’t just a killing machine, she’s a killing machine with no sense of control and a lost past that she can’t even be sure of. In a peculiar moment, Milly questions her memories in a spot of dialogue lifted straight from Ghost in the Shell. The self-deprecating doctor character plays Batou here, swatting down her Shirowesque cyber-Descartes existential quandaries much in the way the audience might.

Philosophical questions about revenge are paid equal lip service, but it amounts more to an intriguing setup to a theoretical third installment than an actually compelling discussion. Milly might be cursed by her vengeful journey, which infects others and only begets violence and death, but we’d rather see her kick some ass than mope around like the Major.

Or get her ass kicked by the villains, for God’s sake. Somebody needs to give this director, Takanori Tsujimoto, a bigger budget and put the lead, Miki Mizuno, in more action movies — they make a great team.

 

*Because I like Len Wiseman for some reason and I really enjoyed Terminator Salvation for some reason

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Like Prometheus, I guess I never really truly imagined the day would come. Prometheus doesn’t even feel real to me — the Alien cycle is the closest thing to Star Wars I have in terms of movie fandom, and not even those damn dirty execs want to touch that franchise after two clunky AVP flicks. Prometheus won’t have the iconic Xenomorph, but it’s got Stringer Bell, so the excitement factor is through the roof. 2012 is officially the next 2009 — John Carter, Prometheus, Total Recall, Cosmopolis, even The Avengers (which was good!), and I suppose The Dark Knight Rises (don’t care!) — and now I’m hearing news that a real live, actual factual Blade Runner sequel is on the books, but for truth? It’s a good time to be a scifi fan, at least on the big screen. On TV… I don’t know. People seem to like that AMC zombie show.

On June 1st, Prometheus lands (using Halo marketing-speak), and it’s success will not only signal the future of this series within a series, but how Blade Runner 2 might shake out. In my opinion, Ridley Scott hasn’t made a good movie since Gladiator — but has he had to? Most filmmakers can’t lay a claim to three of the greatest movies ever: Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator, in this case, but Ridley Scott can. But now he’s doing something very, very important to the landscape of science-fiction — coming back to it.

Sure, we may tire of retreads and sequels, but the universe of Blade Runner at least, is rich (Alien is often said to be better unexplored, I agree) and inhabiting a subgenre screaming out to be revisited — hasn’t been done proper since ’03, though we’ve been getting recent respites in other fronts like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and a Ghost in the Shell… Lucas Special Edition every so often. All of these things have been hugely influenced by the 1982 greatest-SF-movie-of-all-time, and have roots in cyberpunk’s 90s glory days. I’d love to return, and maybe this new Blade Runner will usher in a new generation of creators tuned into artificial intelligence and cyborg proxy soldiers, to whom the name “Tetsuo” means spinning dick-drills and giant nuclear babies that explode and destroy Tokyo.

I wonder if this new Blade Runner will be influenced at all by the over-the-top Japanese sensibilities that were themselves influenced by the original tech-noir, and the debut novel of the godfather of cyberpunk. That would be a strange and rare cycle between east and west that I’ve only so far seen in westerns. There’s a back and forth in the lineage of chambara (that the right term?) samurai and westerns, which are linked thematically; each generation become spritual successors of each other — between Ford, Kurosawa, Leone, and now Miike. It’s interesting, and if it happened to cyberpunk I feel like it’d be as natural.

Although thematically all cyberpunk is pretty much the same — what is human? What… do robots do? How fun would VR really be? — and not as poetic in this regard with the gunslinger/samurai, ritualistic violence and honor parallel, Blade Runner might use a touch of exploration, though being novel certainly didn’t help it commercially the first time around. I just think that by 2016, maybe 2017 when considering a two-three year turnaround time for Scott (after a movie set in the Middle East following Prometheus), we’ve seen it all. Cyberpunk was considered dead — for Christ’s sake there’s a subgenre called postcyberpunk — Blade Runner’s had its day in the sun.

Look Familiar?

But there is something interesting, something I like to stress as often as its relevant (not often) is women in science-fiction. Two of the most inexpilcably successful SF franchises of the day — Resident Evil, going five strong and soon to be six, and Underworld, on its fourth — feature female protagonists. So we’re getting there, but how about good characters, and good movies? Alien was both, and we’ll get that again with Noomi Rapace in Prometheus — and then with Blade Runner 2, believe it or not.

Some of the earliest news on this recent development is that Scott and co. (Hampton, but so far no Peoples, I gather) are pursuing a strong female lead, and this is very exciting.

So what’s to concern over?

Well, I suppose that this is just another in the line of redos and continuations of old properties, but hey — Blade Runner is Blade Runner. I love The Thing ’82, so I was super-excited when the new one was coming out, but Blade Runner is like… personal top five, and without a doubt the greatest science-fiction movie of all time. More of the same would be a hell of a thing.

For more on Blade Runner, check out the Blade Runner Directory

Official trailer for Prometheus dropped yesterday. I’ve been plenty aware of Prometheus for a while now, being pretty enamored of The Sci-Fi Movie Page because I think that guy does pretty well with the news for movies of years down the line, but I guess it never occurred to me that Ridley Scott’s scifi would actually come out. To me it was similar to Metropolis, the Blade Runner sequel, or James Cameron’s Battle Angel. Too good to be true. But no, it’s actually done and here’s a trailer. I just about peed in my pants when I saw that post on The Movie Blog, and the trailer did not disappoint.

How could a trailer possibly be disappointing? Well, I don’t remember what I said about the first Avatar trailer either recently or in 2009, but that first trailer was pretty underwhelming. It was the art design that didn’t jibe, but because HR Giger’s on board for Prometheus — and it shows — Prometheus was immediately stunning. The cast is also amazing. I had known ahead of time, but Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce and Charlize Theron are in this; that’s great, and really speaks to not only Ridley Scott, but where we are right now in terms of science-fiction film.

These are all incredibly talented actors, and they take this space romp totally seriously. I think that’s one of the good things that Avatar did for our perceptions of the genre in film. I remember seeing one picture from Avatar of Col. Quarritch holding a futuristic looking gun and thinking, man — that could be from anything. That could be a still from Saturn 3… or Virus (note that there was only sky for background). How far we’ve come, that movies like Avatar share the lifeblood of its shameful forerunners, and garner mainstream and critical attention.

2012 is shaping up to be a good year for scifi movies. You got this, you got John Carter, there’s Total Recall… well not much else after that but hey even one is good. Just like this year, and better than last year. But. Prometheus worries me for several reasons. Even though the trailer is undoubtedly Alien-tastic (it’s now very easy to decipher all that marketing speak about having “Alien DNA”) and super wow, this has Avatar written all over it. There’s a reason why I brought that partic title up twice before — not just because it festers in my mind minute-to-minute — this is the return of a great director to a genre he started in.

When Avatar was coming out late 2009, it was James Cameron’s first scifi movie since his best, Terminator 2. It had been over sixteen years, and I know because I was born shortly after T2. That’s a long freaking time, man, but Ridley’s been out of the game for exactly thirty, by the time Prometheus will be released, unless you count that classic Superbowl ad. True, he never took any extended breaks from making feature films, but I have yet to see a movie of his after Gladiator that approached passable. I hated Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, and Body of Lies — they were just mystifying to me. It got to the point where my roommate and I were literally contemplating who was the better director, him or Tony Scott?*

We went with Ridley, because even though Tony’s got… Domino, Ridley does have a holy three that are some of my all time favorites. But it’s been so long. Scott followed Alien, one of the most important movies in science-fiction, and the powder-keg that led to everything from The Thing and Aliens to Event Horizon and Dead Space, with Blade Runner, which is the most important movie in science-fiction, and the powder-keg to everything. Blade Runner is so goddamn good it’s hideous. It did have a source material though, and I wonder now if that’ll help Prometheus

From where I’m standing Prometheus will be a prequel, but in a weird way. It’ll be like the Alien movies are spin-offs of a much larger property that just so happened to come out ten years later. This is fine, but the Alien movies were very quiet in terms of their mythology. You know, like why robots? What’s Weyland-Yutani all about? And of course that immortal question that inspired this movie — what the hell is that dude in the Alien ship? There’s something poetic going on here, and I like that every filmmaker involved in the Alien series proper handled the world-building the same way, which isn’t to say they didn’t. The universe is in the details, and nobody’s going around talking about FTL and Xenomorph morphology.

Not only would they logically just not be thinking about those things or even know them, the film is a medium quite unlike the novel. In a scifi novel, world-building is key, and sometimes king. Movies only have 90 minutes, not hours of your time. The vaginal and phallic designs on the walls and in the creatures — that’s the world-building. In time, we may have explanations to everything, and it isn’t so much I don’t want to know these things, but the impact this movie will have on the Alien series is yet to be known. Those four movies are very important to me, so c’mon Ridley. Don’t fuck up. Don’t make me wait for the action sequel, Prometheuses

I’m just kidding. Prometheus looks great, I heart hard for it. And the last time I concerned over a movie, it was The Thing ’11, and that one turned out excellent. Of course, there were low expectations going in…

*I actually do like some of his stuff

Two things were zapping through my head as the lightcycles and disccs passed across the screen: Avatar, and – strangely – Mamoru Oshii. For the former, this movie is its little brother. It creates a world, and populates it with characters created digitally. For the latter, I wished earnestly during the first half that a movie this visually dazzling was more cerebral, slower. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that Tron Legacy shouldn’t be an Oshii picture, that it’s a great film even without that meditative bent.

Having never seen the 1982 original, my only familiarity with the universe is vicarious through fellow nerds on the Internet and scifi history books. It’s the movie that revolutionized the use of computer graphics in film, and established a distinct look. It also came at a price for fans – the movie, from what I understand (and can infer from from Legacy), is totally goofy. Truly nobody believes that this is what the inside of a computer looks like…

No, it’s not cyberpunk by way of Gibson, but it’s a family movie. Kids, as we know, are ace at suspending their disbelief. Assumedly then the theory is ‘turn your brain off, sit back, and enjoy.’ Have your mind blown – one half of it, anyway.

Tron Legacy does the same thing: it numbs the skull as it blows the mind. It’s a battle between A to B storytelling and character and a devastatingly beautiful world. For me, the victor of this struggle was undeniably the visuals. In the end I suppose that this movie stands where Avatar falls, and it becomes one of the best scifi action movies in recent memory. The story and characters aren’t stellar, but they aren’t stultifying or offensive like most action contemporaries like The Expendables and Machete.

We find the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges’ character from the original), Sam, the daredevil bad boy type, returning to Tronworld, better known as the Grid. There he meets his father who’s been trapped for twenty years, and one of the few non-hostile inhabitants of this strange world, Quorra. Together, they journey back to the Real World, and must contend with Clu, a doppleganger of Flynn who’s trying to defect to the Real World for nefarious Bond villain reasons. Blow up the ocean, probably. Father and son will reunite, good will fight evil, there will be betrayals, there will be chases of all kinds.

On paper, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. So how did something like this get greenlit? Well, that’s a question that has more to do with the Tron brand than anything, but it works because of the product on screen. It can’t help but feel fresh. I’ve seen stills and a trailer from Tron, and this is very rather different – they definitely embodied the J.J. Abrams philosophy of design, where everything has that Apple Store shine, right down to the lens flares themselves. The polygonal cyberspace of Tron has been given quite the update – I believe on critic described the world as “Blade Runner after gentrification.”

No matter what you call it, it’s still pure visual stimuli. It’s the kind of thing one watches scifi film to see – I feel like we’re glimpsing a rare thing here, the climax of cinema dreams thirty years old. I’d advise you to turn the sound off and just take the world in, but that’d be doing everybody a disservice. Yes, the dialogue is flat – though never poorly delivered – but the real kicker is the sound effects and score. Daft Punk’s thumping soundtrack looms with foreboding swell or pops with electric energy when the scene calls for it – layer this on top of some of the movie’s action scenes and you’ve got a recipe for gold.

It’s an action movie where the story doesn’t bother me; in movies in the mold of Bond or Bourne, the budgets are high, giving the action scenes the filmmakers’ attention. They may be entertaining, but much less focus put on the characters, premise, and storytelling shows. So in between car chases we must slog through dead characters and poorly told story that was bland to begin with.

The argument can be made that Legacy is the same way. But it offers something new in these hard times between the action. The characters don’t gather into the Pentagon or in a hotel room or outside the White House to move the story along, they sit on a floating laser train in an electrical sky, or on the neon streets of the Downtown area, where fog and light dance in the background like classic Ridley Scott.

Of course, the action scenes alternating the obligatory plotforwards are so good, they make the movie. Fighting with discs may sound idiotic, but it’s elevated to aesthetically violent pleasure by the art design of the costumes, the environments, and the weapons themselves, all of which light up and react when touched. Everything’s streamlined and coupled with the slick energy and movement of the choreography and cinematography. The director comes off as an expert here, despite this being his first – and rather ambitious – feature film. He establishes rules for the action and then lets the situation run wild. Everything feels logical as it flows by us.

There is also that great sense of invention pervading these sequences. I know that the trailing light was a product of the first movie, but it’s a great idea, and lovingly applied to the new film. For offense and defense, the characters find many inventive purposes for it, and it feels like something that would be difficult to handle. Every time a vehicle would emanate with that light stream my interest would pique, the suspense would ratchet up – how are the heroes going to maneuver this challenge?

As inventive and dizzying as everything was, there was one major issue I have with the action scenes, and with the movie in general, and her name is Quorra. Olivia Wilde’s character is terrible, an absolute joke that makes the movie feel like it was made in 1982, an era where genre women had to be punched in the gut by the hero for him to move on, like in the otherwise awesome Streets of Fire, or nearly raped as in Blade Runner: the women that make Ripley look like a fucking saint. Remember the little girl from The Matrix Revolutions? The one Neo meets in Mobil Station? That’s Quorra. A program who doesn’t quite understand you humans, only twenty-something years old, just like all the naive alien babes out there who you can totally have sex with.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Kate Lloyd, from the other update of a 1982 classic, may have been a simple imitation of the aforementioned Alien heroine, but she was proper in the form of the Strong Science-fiction Female Character arehetype. These women don’t get kidnapped – and by extension don’t get rescued – they kick just as much ass as everyone else, whether that means fighting Agents in the Matrix or Renaissance knights in the post-apocalypse, and probably looking good as they’re at it, because there’s nothing nerds like better.

It wouldn’t be a problem (I can handle weak females just like I can handle weak males), but it didn’t match up with expectations. Wilde, in some of her press interviews, discussed how little girls these days don’t really have movie role models anymore – obviously this doesn’t mean women a la Kill Bill, but certainly not this. I did assume that her perception of Quorra was pure marketing speak, but in my heart, I hoped. Cyberpunk is generally pretty good about tough, well-to-do women, but alas.

One minor fumble aside, Tron Legacy is great fun. It’s an exhilarating marriage of image and sound – there’s nothing that looks or sounds like it, not even Tron. Maybe it could’ve been bettered if there was no dialogue (same solution to Wall-E), and if it was ninety minutes of straight action, but as it stands, it’s a delightful entry in a cult favorite franchise. My appreciation of Tron Legacy was as a nerd. I liked the flashbacks, the moments where we find that Tron had fought to save Flynn from Clu during the creation of the Grid – I don’t know, something about that rang right with me, the history of this world. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the original mythos, so named for a character and not the world itself, a fact I always found odd, but it was interesting to me nonetheless. I look forward to this story being furthered.

For more, be sure to check out the Review Index

The Chronicles of Riddick, written and directed by David Twohy, represents one of the biggest missed opportunities in recent years. The question I have is this: did it shoot too high, or did it not try very hard? It’s a tough call but I’ll have to go with – and this is a cop-out – a bit of both. Great pains were taken to put this character from Pitch Black into a greater universe, and measured creative actions were undergone to make it as cool as possible. Unfortunately I don’t believe that Twohy thought too far out of the box, or outside the box at all. When you think ‘space story,’ the first thought you may have is Star Wars. That particular franchise is very successful I heard, and had a war going on that the heroes fought on one side of. Want to know what The Chronicles of Riddick is?

I’ll tell you what it isn’t – very successful. Its critical and commercial failure, particularly the latter, can be blamed for the eight year delay between The Chronicles of Riddick and the expertly titled sequel The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking. Audiences didn’t seem to respond too well to the shoddy cinematography and editing during action, nor the underdeveloped characters, nor the length. I’ll take them one further; the chief issue with Riddick is its universe. The space war template is not served well here where it is in Star Wars because the enemies are so damned stupid. Indeed Stormtroopers and then droids were absurd enemies that posed no real illusion of menace – perhaps they posed a phantom menace – but they weren’t derivative and lame creatons known as the Necromongers, which are not only derivative and lame, but go on to influence the space story universe for the worst.

The perfect The Chronicles of Riddick movie, in my opinion, and a cool sidequel (is that a term yet? I suppose only Soldier really counts as one) and sequel to Pitch Black, would have Riddick out on his own in a galaxy that’s swarming with mercenaries, PMCs, space prisons (like Mass Effect 2), bounty hunters, and the occasional clawed alien. Twohy could have expanded the Crematoria sequence in the middle of the actual film into a feature, and it would’ve been fine. It wouldn’t have needed such a huge budget, and it wouldn’t have required such a lame universe, but kept in tune with the gritty original.

My own personal feelings on fantasy as a genre, as a well as the sword and sandal epic, don’t enter into this because even those who enjoy sorcery and magic will find those and other traditional tropes disjointed here when applied to the science-fiction world established in the first movie. In Pitch Black there were no Necromongers, and that’s how it needed to stay, because then we also wouldn’t have elementals and soul-stealing and something called the Underverse, which at this point I can only visualize as Robot Heaven from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. These things are all reinvented pieces of fantasy bullshit – which I hate – which is coupled with planets and spaceships and guns that shoot bullets but sound like they shoot lasers. Sure, everybody likes Krull because they saw it as a young age, but that movie sucks. Perhaps that’s not due to its genre-mixing, but rather its pacing.

I’m not some genre stickler who never wants to mix things, I mean the horror/comedy is one of my favorite genres, and has only let me down once, with Zombieland, but it is very necessary to mix these genres correctly, or cleverly, or with a purpose. Star Wars, to go back to that one again, started out mixing fantasy and science-fiction very well, with all talk about planets and spaceships and lasers coming first, and the Force coming a bit later. It totally fit within the universe, but the Necromongers are more invasive in the context of the universe than the narrative. They show up and I’m just dumbfounded. They’re a religious empire on a crusade to convert all of humanity, and this is just no good for Riddick, so he goes and fights with them.

Another problem with the Necromongers comes out of their interactions with Riddick. Just like the Stormtroopers and the droids were not threatening villains that could ever scratch the heroes, these guys are in a constant badass competition with Riddick, who aspires to be the ultimate badass. He can kill anyone with anything, so that’s a really difficult character to create a sense of vulnerability. That doesn’t really matter – we still root for James Bond even though we know he’ll never die, surviving even time and the Pierce Brosnan era (my personal favorite) – but it really reflects poorly on the villains.

Even when we did have Stormtroopers we had Darth Vader, but I’m not too into Colm Feore as a badass. I liked him better as a John Woo regular and his brief but memorable turn as the First Gentleman in 24: Season 8. Not only that, but these Necromongers get taken out so easily. It’s like the badguys and cronies in a movie like The Punisher or The Marine. I’m not convinced that these dudes will be able to take out John Cena, not for a second. Riddick in the universe is the most powerful being, and the Necromongers seem to bend to his will, as do the mercs and the prison lions.

The most telling piece of the the universe of Riddick‘s haphazardness in its media world is a Franchise Collection (I think that’s the releasing company) DVD set called The Riddick Trilogy, including Pitch Black (or The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black), The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury, and The Chronicles of Riddick. That they’re actually going to make a real trilogy with Pitch Black as a prequel is just perfect, because in a few year we may see, in some less sensical retailers, The Riddick Trilogy collection sharing a shelf with The Riddick Trilogy, containing The Chronicles of Riddick, The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking, and The Chronicles of Riddick: Live 2 Tell.

It’s not all bad. The Crematoria sequence is the closest in comes to being genuinely entertaining, rather than ironically for its B-movie dialogue and acting. There is something interesting, reflected in the killer character who finds trouble in his replication; this is speaking specifically to Kira, an older version of Jack from the first movie. The heartless killer (proven to have a heart by the end of Pitch Black so WTF) takes responsibility for his actions as measured in this killer jr. character, and the audience could potentially read remorse in our anti-hero, where he can actually see the monster he is standing in front of a mirror. I’m glad it wasn’t a romance, but every element, including this one, comes across weakly, as Kira turns about to be a whiner and not nearly as badass as she thinks. And it’s once again interrupted by the ubiquitous Necromongers. In fact, all the elements in the movie are spoiled; ruined by either the Necromongers or the audience’s inability to immerse themselves in a universe that seems to exist only in support of its eponymous character. The minor characters in Star Wars probably wouldn’t have the same sense of importance or specialness were it titled The Adventures of Starkiller.

Here’s an example of how one action scene is marred by this strangely niggling idea: the action scene is ‘the fleet is mobilized during the Necromonger invasion, several pilots go to war.’ First of all, I don’t know what the fuck planet we’re on. Let’s call it Helios Prime, going off of memory. Why should I care about this planet? Riddick has no stake in it. Oh – Keith David’s here. Space Imam. Second-of-ly, what fucking fleet? Why do we spend so much time watching the pilots fly their spaceships into the air doing their standard “WHOOO-YEAH” yelps and getting blown to pieces if they ultimately don’t do anything? I’m not just saying they ultimately didn’t defend the planet – I’m saying we could have easily not spent so much time. Riddick, from the ground level, could have been fighting Necromongers (or massacring, as it were) while in the background we see the dogfight. Eventually, towards the end of the scene we watch as the remaining pilots are taken out.

The scene sticks out to me because it seems reminiscent of Star Wars – the Hoth scene or the final assault on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi where we jump around to different pilots in the cockpit radioing things to each other. But those guys were aligned with the hero, so we rooted for them somewhat. We have zero stake in the pilots of The Chronicles of Riddick, and indeed this scene happens so early that we don’t really care, and at the end, it amounts to nothing. The planet’s overtaken, and to Riddick, nothing’s changed.

This movie could have been an interesting story – dark, space-faring science-fiction about the seedy underbelly of the galaxy and the occasional alien. From what I understand this is what the video-game Prey 2 is going to be – aside from a total departure from the original. The Chronicles of Riddick is exactly what everyone says it is: overblown. It’s really too bad, and I feel like this may be science-fiction’s second Heaven’s Gate in terms of original material. I know you’re thinking ‘it’s not original – it’s a sequel,’ but I’ll take sequel over remake, reboot, or even adaptation any day. A writer who sits down to his typewriter and bangs out characters, situations, plot points, and in the case of science-fiction, sometimes an entire universe, is incredibly valuable and increasingly on the decline. These people know that you can’t turn up gold in mined areas – though you often run the risk of turning up The Chronicles of Riddick.

It hardly feels original – note how many times I brought up Star Wars in this post…

The tagline should be: There’s a fine line between anti-hero and dick. This summer, it’s crossed.

The Terminator

Having not seen the film in probably five years, I have nothing to say about this one, despite considering it one of my absolute favorites…

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2 in relation to the original is almost like the relationship between the current Clerks movies, where Clerks 2 uses its deconstruction of the first, the undeniable fact of passing time, and as its very presence as a sequel, to highlight loftier themes where the original was unable to. By using the original movie as something of a foundation, it achieves something higher, but not without staying true to spirit. Terminator 2 expands on the cautionary themes of The Terminator by taking the concept a step further.

Essentially what James Cameron was saying with the 1984 film was that machines will bring about our destruction because they are our instruments – and we are super dicks. The prevailing theme in opposition to this premise is hope, which is dramatized here in a pregnant Sarah Connor, unTerminated at the end of the movie.

In Terminator 2, the positive outlook may seem less so in some ways – by the end of the movie we’re following a dark highway and it’s uncertain (certain in 2003, but left ambiguous in ’91 due to a cut ending*) whether the battle’s won. Yet, things are okay on a grander scale than in the first movie because it operates on a larger scope, dealing with humanity. The point of the sequel was to see the villainous, evil T-800 ‘cyborg’ learn about peace and the value of human life. As Sarah says, if a machine can learn such things, maybe we can too. This theme would be echoed later on, to less (in my opinion) success in the year 2009.

The film ends on a note of hope that’s equally as larger than the first movie’s as its budget is; the two seem proportionate, and Terminator 2 is a massive film, much larger than the first and even larger than Aliens and The Abyss, despite the latter being a shoot so difficult and dangerous as to nearly claim the life of our adventurous director. By this logic, Terminator 3 would seemingly be even larger…

*Before the revision post-test screening, Terminator 2 originally ended with a flashforward to a bright future where an older Sarah watches from a park bench the now grown John, a US Senator, playing with his daughter. It was reviled, but closed the book on SkyNet…

Major spoiler for Cowboy Bebop

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker whose greatest asset and most obvious flaw is his writing. The film I’d use to illustrate this point is definitely Kill Bill Vol. 2, where we can find a huge disparity between the beginning areas and ending of the movie.

Overall, the movie is a masterful celebration of the mythical heroes, fabulous archetypes, wacky styles, and diverse music of world cinema over the years. Whereas the first volume was to the creator considered to be the eastern homage (with western undercurrents), where in one scene the young girl straight out of Battle Royale defends Lady Snowblood from the warrior clad in iconic Bruce Lee costume, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is the western (with eastern undercurrents). It’s a logical prgression in terms of genre; just as Fistful of Dollars borrowed from Yojimbo, so too did their respective genres. The gunslinger in the spaghetti western is just like the samurai in the jidaigeki film, and something like this is very, very base knowledge for a film freak like Tarantino, whose entire career has been a love letter to film.

Kill Bill Vol. 2 is postmodern and it’s a semi sequel. It embraces the confines of the medium while defying it, and there’s nothing else orthodox about it. It is slightly less ‘fun’ than the first volume, where there is no anime segment (it wouldn’t have been appropriate) and the timeline seems more straightforward and internally logical. For example, the past for two characters is tied together by Pai Mei, and the Brides training sets up part of her fight with Daryl Hannah. That being said, it’s possible that we might simply be getting used to the scattered timeline.

Indeed we’ve seen other Tarantino films. And three of the four before Vol. 2 have had nonlinear timelines. We’re becoming familar with the Tarantino way, and were becoming familiar with these characters. This is important because Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a film about culmination, bringing everything together for entertainment with a sense of gravity. I mean Christ – the movie’s called Kill Bill; it’d be like if we called the Star Wars saga “The Showdown Between Luke and Darth Vader,” or the series Cowboy Bebop “Spike Dies.” We’re always looking forward, and so the climax of the movie has incredible weight placed upon it. It’s with tremendous thought that Tarantino has arrived at this point without falling flat.

And yet, some areas feel weak. The ending of the movie, and by extension of course, the saga, the mythic revenge narrative, is handled excellently. The conftrontation between the Bride and Bill is just as exciting as that between she and Lucy Liu. Yet there is little action, which would throw it into huge juxtaposition with the aforementioned sequence – the Crazy 88 scene rivals the Oldboy hallway fight and the never-ending shot from The Protector in terms of craziest action scene of the decade. Instead, each word packs the punch required to support the weight of an entire preceding feature length setup. Contrast this with a minor scene between Bud and the Bride, where Bud threatens her with a can of mace, offering the choice of mace or flashlight.

The scene goes on and on and we can infer that it precedes an escape scene. We want to get the guys setting up the escape by burying the Bride in a coffin over with so that we can see how she escapes, a classic setup. But this bit of dialogue, which is one sided and meant to be darkly tongue-in-cheek and mildly villainous, even comes before the setup to the escape! Once it takes too long, it becomes boring and we’re witness to Tarantino seemingly indulging in himself and overwriting in the sense of writing too much. And then it goes on longer.

As great a movie Kill Bill Vol. 2 is, as much as it heralds a more blatant and more celebratory era of Tarantino’s filmography-de-homage, it does suffer from Tarantinoisms. If you like Tarantino – this doesn’t present a problem. But strangely, that number is dwindling, even after the rather successful Inglourious Basterds.

A look back on the various movies that recall why I like movies any. This week, it’s one of the most important films from my childhood, and easily Cameron’s best directorial outing…

The Dreckulative One Year Anniversary has come and gone, and it has left me thinking about why I had started the site, and why I continue to post on it. The mission statement is at the bottom of the page here, and says something to the effects of: I want to legitimize the genre of science-fiction in film for the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Alright that’s fair – sci-fi gets a bad rap, and maybe undeservedly – but why? Why do I want to do something like that when I could just as easily – or perhaps, as some might say, easierly – not do it?

Because science-fiction is something that is significant to me, and I could never, ever say that to anybody except for you and through this medium of text. Out loud, that might sound strange. On paper, or screen in this case, it could almost be misinterpreted as mild. As a kid, I grew up watching what I consider to be the classics of sci-fi cinema, and this is the reason why I envision my idealized personal film (if ever I was to make them) as a science-fiction one, and why seven or so of my top ten are science-fiction. The other angles of the speculative fiction triangle, fantasy and horror, never appealed to me. Fantasy always struck me as uninteresting, and when Harry Potter came out and I distilled an entire genre down to wizards and trolls, that went doubly so. Fantasy to me was something for kids only. Of course, I never once thought that science-fiction might be too.

And horror never interested me because simply put – I was a pussy. I was afraid of many things that happened in movies: aliens (which is odd*), ghosts (because if they’re real, then that’s the worst thing ever), demons, and dying. I guess the last one is kind of understandable.

So fantasy was for children. Science-fiction on the other hand, was my bread and butter when I was a young youth, and even now as a youth. Movies like Robocop, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, and the two Terminator movies convinced me that robots and science were cool and meant violence, which I also liked a lot. It wasn’t until I saw Ghost in the Shell (1995) in mid-high school that I understood the literary potential the genre had on the screen, but you’ll have to wait until the Ghost in the Shell Franchise: An Appreciation post for that story.

Even to this day, probably my favorite moments in movies are the future war sequences in the first two Terminator movies – seeing the field of skulls driven over by giant tank robots, all the pink lasers going back and forth with extremely unthreatening sound effects, the grittiness and the darkness, the overall spectacle – it’s a blast of nostalgia every time I even think of them. These were the moments that crystallized my early love for the genre, and captured my imagination unlike any other movie would until Ghost in the Shell 2.

Indeed the first two Terminator movies effected that adoration of science-fiction, and it didn’t hurt that they were such good films, it even got across to an idiot kid they were good. I remember not liking 2001, Blade Runner, Princess Mononoke, even the original Ghost in the Shell, because I was either too young or too stupid. No joke.

The Terminator is an incredible film, a perfectly paced chase movie with great imagery (the middle future flashback with the Terminator infiltrator shooting the mini-gun and all you see is his silhouette and two red eyes is pretty cool) and a memorable ending sequence assisted by robotic stop-motion. Michael Biehn, like Sam Neil, was to me the essential film hero, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was and always will be my favorite star. He’s got it all – the presence, the one-liners, the ability to dual wield a machine-gun and a shotgun – and the supporting cast was also good, especially Lance Henrikson, a fan favorite for his role as Bishop in Cameron’s next movie.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day was all this and more. It was a relentless machine-gun hail of set pieces that seemed to be in some fierce competition with each other to be the absolute best. A mindless action movie can be a great movie if the action is good enough. Think Punisher War Zone. An action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think Die Hard, a thoughtful action movie can be great if the action is good enough, think First Blood. A sci-fi action movie that’s mindless can also be great – Doomsday – now let’s take the best of these categories: Terminator 2 is a thoughtful sci-fi action movie with action that is good enough, making it a triply great movie.

Dr. Silberman makes a reappearance as the snarky psychologist or whatever he is, and he’s the first antagonist Sarah Connor must deal with. Ultimately he is overshadowed by the T-1000, one of the coolest special effects and villains to hit the big screen. How could the outdated T-850 from the original film overcome this new threat? Well, plot armor… But also, with the help of both Sarah Connor and young John Connor, a character who’s never been as good as he was in the original T2. The grand sense of adventure in this movie moves the plot along with ease as these characters meet up and conflict, and we learn that the T-1000 isn’t just dangerous because he can be the floor – or you – but because he kills everybody he meets, and the Arnold Terminator is more human than meets the eye. Maybe not more human than human, but he’s only learning. He was designed to kill, and he’s just been told not to. Intriguing…

Maybe not high science-fiction, but it doesn’t need to be. It still makes for one hell of a movie. And the T-1000 is one hell of a villain. Not my favorite, though I do like Robert Patrick. I would throw the T-1000 in direct comparison to another robot villain I’ve been thinking about for awhile now after having seen Star Wars Episode III again recently, and reminding myself just how much I actually liked it – General Grievous. Visually, Grievous is one of the coolest designs for a character ever. But he was written as a coward, and that disappointed me heavily. He was not a threat, he was not imposing – when Obi Wan was going for the showdown halfway through the film, the outcome was a given fact, and there was no dramatic weight behind the spectacle of the fight. T-1000 on the other hand is somebody who you almost don’t want the characters to have to deal with, because you know that he’s capable of so much.

And he does do a lot to poor old Arnold, who loses a limb in his wordless fight with the other robot. They’re programmed against each other, and like computers, they don’t exchange pithy dialogue or play pranks like in T3. The duel at the end of the movie is also superior to the one that ends T3 – the effects are better, the choreography is better – and the environment it takes place in offers a very atmospheric and explosive setting for these two to duke it out in.

This was back when James Cameron was making movies to make good movies. With the release of Avatar, he seems to be making movies to make good money-making movies. Avatar wins the popular vote on financial terms, but it’s as smart as something that is not smart. Terminator 2 is smart, not necessarily intelligent, and succeeds – and exceeds – at everything it attempts. This is truly science-fiction filmmaking at its best.

*For a long time I was terribly frightened of aliens, and especially the aliens from the Alien franchise. I thought that if those things were real, then we were really fucked, and I had never ever seen a single alien movie. I’m sure that would’ve done me in – seeing what these aliens actually did to people. I just didn’t like how they looked, they were freaky. Then one day a switch flipped and I thought these things were so aesthetically pleasing perhaps they were worth a second look. To this day I’ve always considered the Alien franchise the best science-fiction has ever produced.

As though the genre produces movies

The Godfather Part II is a movie whose thesis is nearly lost in the complexities of its subject matter. This is exactly what happened in the original, but the ‘problem’ is amplified here because of one of the dual storylines. Vito Corleone is a much more interesting character this time around, despite his mass presence in The Godfather. The origin story approach for the sequel was an inspired decision, but it makes Michael’s continued saga seem less impressive than it was in the first movie. He’s no longer the innocent bystander turned crime boss – that’s Vito’s role now – he’s a madman losing his grip on the family. The reinforcement of the final moments of The Godfather, where Michael closes the doors on his wife, effectively making the choice he swore he wouldn’t at the start of the film, and losing himself to crime, was played out logically, but somewhat messily.

Organized crime as a subject matter brings with it a need to delve into complications of family, betrayal, justice, and business, and these are tropes akin to cyberpunk’s artificial intelligences, body modifications, and virtual realities. Because The Godfather was the movie that revised the previously very pulpy genre of crime fiction, it was the original serious crime drama. It introduced to the world those tropes, and since The Godfather Part II came only two years later, the filmmakers didn’t think much in the ways of post-modernism when the modern was so recent. So The Godfather Part II embodies these affairs, and finds Michael involved in hearings and playing families against each other and being betrayed. In premise, all of the these things are good and necessary: they create the plot and give a reason for Michael’s decline. But for the movewatcher like me, they also create situations that don’t click.

All too often in the movie do the characters go deeper and deeper into the complications of the genre staples, and scenes of dialogue that are necessary to the plot stretch out the length and tamper with the pacing. Alone, this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It would be a slightly overly complex movie that nearly dilutes the main theme. But when each scene involving Vito Corleone is so tight and obviously important to its story arc, Michael’s overall three-quarters of the film appears bloated.

If The Godfather Part II was entirely Vito Corleone’s rise to power, and The Godfather Part III was Michael’s continuing saga ending in the death of Fredo and Michael again closing the door on his wife, that would be perfect. Plans for The Godfather Part III apparently were to repeat the formula in Part II, but with Tom Hagen’s origin story. That didn’t happen, but I don’t know what did because I haven’t seen the third installment, arguable the most infamous sequel ever. I think that the parallel between Vito and Michael would be more profound over two movies, rather than just blatant within the confines of a single movie. Overall, The Godfather Part II is probably an unecessary movie afterall, as it doesn’t say a whole lot new. I’m glad it does exist though, because it’s a better watch than the first, and the first was already famously good.

I would also contrast The Godfather Part II with Goodfellas, as the Martin Scorsese mob flick is very streamlined, despite having a comparable number of characters and relationships mixing and interacting. Goodfellas also has a similar theme, where the family dynamic between goodfellas in the end doesn’t mean shit because everyone’s looking out for themselves in a world that’s organized to be violent. People losing themselves to the life of crime that comes with money and power is shared across both movies, but Goodfellas played out much more straightforwardly, and benefitted. Ultimately the Michael bits are overly complicated for their purpose, but this has to be because the genre walls are two strict.

The original Godfather has a plot that could not be told many other ways and still arrive at the end point with the same level of understanding for where each character is. The intent for The Godfather Part II is to further Michael’s story, showing how he is driving his family into the ground in his attempt to drive it forward. More importantly, we see how his character is deteriorating, which was implied at the close of the first movie. Because the first bit, the family matters, is so crucial to the second, we need all this stuff about business relations and assassinations and deals. Unfortunately, it could be done any number of ways, and I think the most effective would be an approach similar to Goodfellas – show us just what we need to see, otherwise we could get distracted, and even the parallel between Vito and Michael is made less obvious than the film’s structure would propose.

Not a major problem, and certainly not one everyone would have, but I think it’s an interesting thing to see where a filmmaker will place focus on – the themes or the plot. In the long run, the overdone plot of The Godfather Part II makes it seem a bit draggy, where the first certainly was not. Whenever 50’s era New York came on screen I kind of shifted in my seat, waiting for the next time we could see Robert DeNiro, because his story was more interesting and less complicated.

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