Posts Tagged ‘Dystopia

08
Feb
15

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996)

kithposterA truly great comedy film is a difficult thing to find. The odds of finding an acceptably entertaining comedy are only slightly higher than the likelihood that any given horror movie will actually scare you. But finding a comedy that makes you laugh throughout the whole film, for years and years after you’ve seen it the first time? And one that only seems smarter the more you see it? That’s like climbing Mt. Everest and, you know, surviving. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed and laughed during a first-time watch of a comedy, only to show it to someone and realize: holy shit, this movie sucks. So naturally, when I feel I’ve found that needle in the haystack, it shoots right up to the top tier of my favorite films. Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy is just such a film.

Look, I won’t deny growing up a relatively privileged kid. I had everything a kid could want or need, but perhaps more important than anything (except maybe a mother’s unconditional love), I had cable. Shit, I’ll do you one better: I had HBO. I was watching the Kids in the Hall sketch comedy show before I had any damn clue what their jokes were on about. For the uninitiated, at its core the Kids in the Hall are five Canadian guys who write and perform sketch comedy. They play most, if not all of the characters in their sketches, which naturally means half the time they’re in drag. Growing up with their quirky brand of comedy probably predisposes me to appreciating their film more than the average Joe would. I do have it on good authority though that folks who have never really ‘got’ the Kids‘ sketch comedy can (and some even do!) appreciate the film to the fullest.

God damn the pusher scientists!

God damn the pusher scientists!

The plot is simple: Roritor Pharmaceuticals’ research department is about to get gutted. After spending a great deal of time on top of the Big Pharma heap as the geniuses behind stummies, a prozac-like pill that you can pop like candy whenever you feel a bit down, they’re now facing the possibility of bankruptcy. Don Roritor, the ruthless madman behind the company, is personally interviewing each scientist about their research; not only is he out to separate the wheat from the chaff, but he is also on the lookout for a hot, new, marketable drug, like, yesterday. When they get to Chris Cooper, they find out that he and his team have discovered a drug that will cure depression. Though they’re still in the early stages of testing, Cooper is pushed into a corner: tell them the drug is ready, or he and his entire team get the axe. So naturally, he lies and says it’s ready to go.

Gleemonex, as the drug is soon dubbed by Roritor’s wacky marketing executive Cisco, works by latching onto a patient’s happiest memory. For instance, test subject Mrs. Hurdicure reminisces in the happiness of her last

Mrs. Hurdicure, a.k.a. patient 957, is reluctant to take the new drug.

Mrs. Hurdicure, a.k.a. patient 957, is reluctant to take the new drug.

Christmas, when her lovely family came to visit… for 30 seconds. She is the first of millions of Americans to “cure” their depression by reliving their happiest memories, which honestly folks, are all pretty damn pathetic. Sadly, it’s just a matter of time before the unfortunate side effects take hold…

I truly believe Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy to be one of the smartest, funniest comedies I’ve ever seen. I am quite honestly astounded that it’s not more highly rated on Rotten Tomatoes (38%?!) or IMDb (6.8). Not only are the laughs consistent, but as I said before, it really holds up over time. Almost 20 years on, the subject matter is still relevant; perhaps even more so now than ever, what with Big Pharma growing so ubiquitous we simply take it for granted. But the Kids’ take on Big Pharma is just a small slice of the biting commentary it has to offer on our fucked-up society, but I must admit it’s my favorite part.

Ah, the perks of corporate rulership.

Ah, the perks of corporate rulership.

For as long as I’ve watched Kids in the Hall, they’ve been mocking businessmen. From the sketch where a young boy brings home a Businessman to his mother hoping to keep it as a pet to the one where businessman-Bruce literally rips his heart out of his chest and pours coffee on it to keep it ticking, the subject is obviously one the Kids are quite familiar with, and frankly, very good at making jokes about. But with an hour and a half running time to work with, the Kids have a serious field day with it, not only mocking what an asshole corporate bigwigs tend to be (this one evidently resembling Lorne Michaels more than just a little bit), but exactly how dangerous and reckless it can be to keep one’s eye on nothing but the company’s bottom line.

The Kids of course don’t stop there, they have plenty to say about how pathetic all our lives are. The characters that inhabit the world of Brain Candy are naturally pretty miserable, but not outrageously so; most of them strongly resemble folks we know in real life. Our narrator, a nasty old curmudgeon who drives a taxi seems to be the only guy who really understands that you can’t have happiness without sadness. But all that makes it sound like the film is preachy; it isn’t. Sure it’s got something important to say, but I don’t think you can have good, lasting comedy without cultural commentary. The bottom line is, of course, whether or not the movie will make you laugh. The only way to know that is to watch it yourselves, I suppose, so get to it.

Advertisements
20
Sep
14

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

When I first heard someone had filmed a horror movie at Disneyland, I thought ‘how the heck did they get away with that?’ After seeing the trailer for Escape from Tomorrow, I became impossibly intrigued. I’m already a person with an intense distrust of all things Disney, so a film using the theme park as a stage for horror sounded like the perfect idea. My only fear was that my expectations were way too high; nothing could possibly live up to the horrific ideas I’d created in my head.

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

Then, we waited. A few months passed by and people stopped talking about it. Every now and again, Q and I talked about whether or not we should pick up a copy (at Target of all places) and for whatever reason, we didn’t. Until we did. And then, it sat there, in the middle of a pile of movies we intend to watch in the possibly distant future. There are, after all, an awful lot of movies to watch out there! Then, one fateful night we finally decided it was time. Ladies and gentlemen, my fears were totally unfounded. I was incredibly impressed with this film!

Jim and Emily White are a terribly typical couple. Their kids Sara and Elliot haven’t fallen very far from the tree. Today is the family’s last day at Disneyworld, and Jim is determined to enjoy himself in a very Clark Griswold kind of way, despite the fact that he spent the morning on the phone getting fired from his job. Naturally, Jim doesn’t share this information with his wife, and the family sets off for one last “great” day of vacation.

On the way to the park, the Whites share a shuttle with other happy-go-lucky folks, including two too-young French girls. Jim, doofus that he is, can’t take his eyes off of them. The girls seem to know what he’s interested in, and coyly swing themselves around a pole, almost taunting the poor goober. The exchange isn’t lost on Emily, either, but she is pretty sure it’s just harmless attraction.

G-O-O-B-E-R

G-O-O-B-E-R

Things only get stranger from there; while on one of Disney’s famously irritating rides, Jim sort of blacks out: the dolls seem to become evil before his very eyes, and his family turns on him. Eventually things turn back to normal, but Jim is clearly shaken. It seems as though this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and while I wouldn’t have let my prone-to-blackouts-husband take my only son alone in a giant theme park, that’s exactly what Emily does; what else are you supposed to do when your kids can’t agree on what ride to go on next?

Unfettered from his wife, Jim spots the two French girls and, like a total idiot, blatantly follows them around the park. The girls take notice, and so does Elliot, especially when his dad makes him ride Space Mountain just so he can keep up with the girls! The boy vomits all over himself and Jim, naturally, is in very big trouble with his wife, who has yet to allow him to kiss, hug, or even touch her at all. The parents exchange kids and Jim takes Sara around the park, this time meeting some other weirdos, including a nurse who warns Jim of an impending Cat Flu epidemic, and a former Disney Princess, who lets Jim in on a few secrets of the Disney Princess trade…

That is a terrifying child!

That is a terrifying child!

The first half of this movie is so extraordinarily anxious and claustrophobic, I could barely stand it! Even without the evil dolls, it is so frightening with the anticipation of something really, really bad happening. Will Jim lose the kids? Will he actually approach these French girls? What’s up with that creep on the scooter? As the movie progresses, and Jim walks around the park in a swirl of drunkenness, the anxiousness turns into terror, confusion and conspiracy. At a certain point, the film turns into a real mindfuck and goes in some very strange directions. I don’t want to give away all the film’s secrets, so I’ll let you discover some of the strangeness for yourself. I definitely recommend you do.

I really, really loved this movie. I thought it was hilarious and terrifying at the same time, a feat that is never as easy to achieve as it seems. I must say I am very surprised at its negative reception; only 58 on metacritic? It does such a great job of capitalizing on the average Joe’s fears of loss, rejection, and sickness all while being filmed at ‘the happiest place on earth,’ I’m surprised more people aren’t legitimately horrified by it. Perhaps they were expecting an axe-wielding Mickey, a psychopathic Minnie, or maybe Goofy in a skin-suit? I think by preying on the simple fears of the typical American white dude (i.e., the fathers of Disney’s target demographic) is what makes this movie so

The Disney Princess finds it difficult to let go of perfection...

The Disney Princess finds it difficult to let go of perfection…

effective. Personally, I think watching it is a lot more fun than any expensive trip to Disneyworld would be!

I can’t rightly publish this post without mentioning just what a marvel it is that they were able to actually complete the thing. Somehow the filmmakers were actually able to pull off shooting the film guerilla-style in a place that is heavily guarded and surveilled. That in itself is an achievement to be lauded, and knowing what difficulties they may have encountered doing so is enough to forgive the obvious green-screen shots. No matter how clear it was that a particular shot wasn’t actually taken at the park, I never felt removed from the setting. I was definitely there, in Disneyworld, living a nightmare.

I really don’t have anything bad to say about the film, except that I’m not quite sure why it takes some of the strange turns it does. The answer may actually be that they had to make it more obviously a parody in order to avoid legal issues with Disney. As it is, I’m shocked they got away with releasing the film at all, let alone on DVD and on sale at Target.

07
Mar
14

RoboCop (1987)

I managed to go a very long time before first seeing Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Perhaps it is because I am not a boy, and RoboCop was for boys. Perhaps I was just a little too young when it came out, and Total Recall satisfied my Dutch-director quota. I really don’t know why it took so long, but when I finally first watched it, I was floored by how legitimately good it is. Now that a shiny new reboot is out, I thought it was time to revisit it and see if the five stars I originally granted it would withstand the scrutiny of a second viewing. The short answer is: of course it did. In fact, I think I liked it even more now than I did before, quite possibly because I am growing more and more pinko by the day. More on that later. First, the basics. Also: WARNING. SPOILERS LIVE IN THIS POST.

Alex Murphy, the unsuspecting, optimistic cutie.

Alex Murphy, the unsuspecting, optimistic cutie.

RoboCop is set some time in the dystopian future. Detroit is an absolute mess; there’s no money, no jobs, and crime is rampant. In a desperate move, the mayor signs a shady deal with a company called Omni Consumer Products (OCP), handing over control of the Police Department to the private company. OCP has a big stake in controlling crime in Detroit, because they’ve also got license to demolish the worst parts of the city to make way for the new, shiny corporate city of the future, “Delta City.” How could they market their new Utopia to the rich and powerful if they’d all have to worry about having their wives getting roughed up outside their own high-rise condos?

Detroit’s police force is in an uproar over the change, and many of the cops are considering a strike. Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is the new guy on the scene, passionate, a little cocky, but optimistic and ready to take on the mean streets of Detroit. His partner, Anne Lewis, is pretty badass herself. Together, they make a really good team. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for their teamwork to gel: on their very first outing together they find themselves hot on the trail of Clarence Boddicker, a notorious drug lord and gang leader. The two become separated and Boddicker and his cronies pump wide-eyed Murphy full of lead. 

That's a big robot.

That’s a big robot.

Sad for the police force, but a boon to OCP, whose biggest decision-maker is on the lookout for a new, robotic policing option. The first proposal, brought to the table by senior president Dick Jones was nothing but a giant robot with bad programming.  When it blows a chairperson to pieces, the company’s at a loss, until up-and-coming corporate asshole Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) lets the RoboCop out of the bag. The only thing they need to start the cyborg project up is a fresh dead body. 

Enter Officer Murphy’s corpse. When the cyborg cop makes his debut at the station, the cops are more than pissed off, but Officer Lewis is pretty sure she recognizes what little of the cyborg’s face she can see – she knows it’s Murphy, but the cyborg has been programmed and reprogrammed to have no memory of its former life. It has only been programmed to seek out crime and squash it out immediately, by any means necessary. What could possibly go wrong?

RoboCop's Prime Directives.

RoboCop’s Prime Directives.

Imagine my surprise when I first saw RoboCop; I was expecting pretty standard shoot-‘em-up sci-fi horror fare, but it is so much more than that. The phrase “brilliant satire” is pretty irritatingly eye-roll-inducing, but god dammit, the shoe fits here. Just the company’s name in itself, Omni Consumer Products, is such a perfect name for corporate evil! I’m sure there are many films depicting the dangers of privatization and capitalism run rampant, but this is definitely the best example I’ve ever seen. It not only covers what people stand to lose when its government relies on corporations for protection, but also lets us in on the greedy guys who hide behind the corporate name and allow their insatiable thirst for wealth and power to consume their lives. 

Certainly RoboCop spoke to the political issues of 1987, when America was in the midst of Reagan’s presidency, but it is just as relevant today as it was back then. Living in the economically fragile time that we currently do, we hear all sorts of ideas about how to improve wealth and economic stability, but none are as loud as those who want to cut taxes and hand everything over to private corporations. I think we can all say pretty safely how Mr. Verhoeven feels about that idea.

The Future Has a Silver Lining indeed.

The Future Has a Silver Lining indeed.

As much as I love the message and how its conveyed here, there’s an even greater message to be taken away from RoboCop, and it speaks to the strength of the human spirit. Murphy’s reclamation of his own body tells us that no matter how insurmountable the obstacles seem, no matter how much they pump you full of lead, no matter how much of your body they morph into a robot, they can’t change who you are; they can’t own you – not if you don’t let them! Human will and character is too strong to be broken even by the biggest, nastiest corporations.
Wow, well, sorry for getting so intense guys, but what can I say, RoboCop inspires intense emotions in me. I wish more movies were as brazen and bold as this one. I sincerely wonder how it’s possible that Peter Weller is not the mega superstar he deserves to be. Sure, half the movie he plays a helmeted cyborg, but nobody does it better! I know this is a common Schlock Wave refrain, but why would anyone dare to attempt to retell this story? It can’t possibly be told as well as it was here. Admittedly, I am curious to see what they’ve done in the reboot, mostly I’d like to see if it holds any of the same values as the original. Even if it isn’t a total disgrace, it is most definitely unnecessary. I firmly believe Verhoeven’s RoboCop can’t be improved upon – it is nearly, if not totally, perfect. I love it a whole hell of a lot. I am gushing, and for that I apologize. But god damn what a fine movie!  
18
Feb
14

They Live (1988)

they_liveAs members of the film-geek community, we can all agree that John Carpenter has his ups (The Thing) and his downs (The Fog; come on guys, it’s not good). They Live lies somewhere in between, a film with absolutely fantastically wonderful ideas but pretty flawed, though nonetheless entertaining, execution. I’d always been told that I’d like They Live, but the never-ending list of films to watch is vast indeed; it took Slavoj Žižek’s endorsement to finally put it at the top of the list.

Our hero, John Nada (Roddy Piper) is trying his best to thrive in a flailing society; jobs are scarce, and it’s the hunt for work that has brought him to Los Angeles. He’s not having too much luck there, until he stumbles upon a pop-up community of like-minded individuals who will work whenever they can find it and help out those who are having a rough time of it. There he finds a friend (sort of?), a hard-working dude named Frank Armitage (Keith David) who takes him under his wing (sort of?).

The community is next to a church, where the choir sings well into the night, or at least that’s how it seems, until Nada walks in to find the singing is just a recording. The church is actually a cover for an underground group that is attempting to illuminate the truth for the poor dupes in the world. Their main attempts to infiltrate television broadcasts are sloppy and ineffective; your Average Joe just bangs on the television set, complaining of interference. The mother lode lies in magic sunglasses.

These aren’t your average Ray-Bans; as soon as Nada puts them on, seemingly innocuous billboards and magazine covers reveal their true purpose. An advertisement for a hot vacation, under examination of magic sunglasses, is a blatant message commanding consumers to “Marry and Reproduce.” Other messages spotted are “Obey,” “Stay Asleep,” and “Submit to Authority.” The true messages behind the glossy marketing are upsetting, of course, but what’s worse is what Nada sees in people: a great many of them no longer look human, where there pretty faces once were now reveals nothing but a soulless skull.

A revelation such as this is hard to keep to oneself, so Nada tries his darndest to get Armitage to put on the glasses. He has absolutely no interest in “waking up” and is defiant enough to warrant a notoriously long and over-the-top fight scene between the two. Eventually, Nada succeeds in putting the glasses on his pal and Armitage can do nothing but admit the truth. The two hatch a plan to rebel, and quickly learn that the Earth is being controlled by a small cadre of elite aliens (those skulls we’ve seen around) who are exploiting it for their own purposes. The unsuspecting humans are kept under control by a broadcast signal; if the two men can find the source of it, they can see to it that everyone wakes up.

I can’t express how much I love the premise of this movie: the 1% are actually aliens from another planet brainwashing the rest of us 99ers? Brilliant. Seriously. I love it. And as simple as the premise may seem, I could expound for several paragraphs on its far-reaching implications, but let’s see if I can sum it up in just a few sentences. Of course the 1% don’t care about the Earth, Global Warming, pollution and poor people – they aren’t even human for chrissakes. Their humanity is all-but erased by greed and they are drunk on power. They keep the poor schlubs, those of us who keep the clock ticking for the rich and powerful thinking that we actually have a choice in the matter, but when we look deeper, there is of course no choice at all, there is only the illusion of choice. No matter what route we take, we are all doomed to a meaningless life of servitude and we are so blinded by the rat-race we can’t even see the truth for ourselves.

What a great idea for a movie, right? Unfortunately, Carpenter gets more than a little off track, and what could be a truly intellectually challenging and thought-provoking film turns into a brutish wrestling match. What do you expect, of course, when your lead guy is a famous WWF wrestler? The poor fella can’t act his way out of a paper bag, so instead he just punches his way out, and Carpenter seems to blithely go with it. All that being said, it may be the lightness with which the subject is eventually tackled that makes this a really enjoyable, though terribly confused, movie. It is nothing if not fun, and to be perfectly frank, that’s my favorite part about watching movies: having fun. I guess Carpenter proves that you can still have fun while calling out some of the worst injustices of modern society, and I think that ability might be more than just a little worthwhile.

They Live might be a little unsure about what exactly it wants to be, but don’t judge it too harshly. While definitely not as good as I wanted it to be (and not as good as I thought it was going to be 30 minutes in) it is still a movie worth seeing, and it definitely gets points for trying. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a must-see, I am most definitely glad I watched it, and I can’t wait to watch it again.

11
Feb
14

Logan’s Run (1976)

We’ve all heard the phrase “life ends at thirty,” though I think none of us take it as seriously as the characters who inhabit the world of Logan’s Run. For them, life actually does end at thirty; but at least you get to go out in a blaze of glory. Once your life-clock hits its fourth decade, it’s off to Carrousel with you, where you wear an awesome bodysuit with flames on it, float up into the air and explode, all in the name of “Renewal.”

Carrousel: it's a blast. You're gonna love it.

Carrousel: it’s a blast. You’re gonna love it.

But, of course, there are some folks in this world who don’t believe in Renewal. They believe once you’re through with Carrousel, you’re just through. Toast. Curtains. So instead of go through with it, they run. The Establishment employs Sandmen to pursue and kill runners. One such Sandman is our hero, Logan (Michael York). He’s not the best at his job, but he’s okay enough. Perhaps that is why he is selected by the great computer to go undercover to find out where the hell all those runners have gotten off to. He’s expendable. And that’s when Logan’s perception of reality begins to crumble…

Stick 'em up, York!

Stick ’em up, York!

Ah, there is nothing like a good dystopian sci-fi flick to get you questioning social norms! The story isn’t so different from some others you’ve probably seen, but it does take some interesting turns along the way. I mean, I have to admit, the thought of a time-clock in the palm of your hand dictating whether or not you have the right to live or die is pretty frightening. Even worse is knowing that the all-knowing computer can advance your clock by as far along as it likes, all in the name of keeping the peace. Logan’s Run‘s message to its audience is pretty darn clear: when your government says it’s going to kill you at thirty for your own good, you probably should run!

Chokers are hot.

Chokers are hot.

 

All that sci-fi social commentary aside, Logan’s Run is a damn fine-lookin’ movie, and that’s not just because there’s only one old guy in it! The costumes in this film are pretty bomb; I mean, check out Jenny’s Ankh! That’s one thing you’ve got to hand to science fiction flicks of this vintage; they’ve got style. And that’s why I shake my head in sadness at the news (or, perhaps, non-news) that someone someday (maybe) might remake this movie. No matter who it ends up being, I have no doubt it will have about as much style as a burlap sack.

Am I too cynical?

10
Dec
13

Death Race 2000 (1975)

America's sweetheart, Frankenstein

America’s sweetheart, Frankenstein

In a lot of ways, Death Race 2000 is my ideal movie. It’s got science fiction, horror, comedy and camp. While definitely not the first cocktail of its kind, it might be one of the first to do it so perfectly. It might be one of the best examples of a movie exploiting exploitation.

I guess a little back story might be in order, so I will relay to you what my husband told me, which is something along the lines of: Roger Corman wanted a gory action science-fiction flick, and director Paul Bartel wanted something goofy, campy and self-aware.

If you ask me, Bartel wins in the end, and thank gods! The final product, apparently hacked and re-

Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane

Mary Woronov as Calamity Jane

hacked in Corman’s interests, is still most definitely heavy on the campy goofiness we’ve come to rely on Paul Bartel for, and frankly, what we’ve come to rely on Corman for, too.

Anyway, the movie is just about what you’d expect from a flick titled Death Race 2000: it’s a dystopian future, and it’s time for the annual Transcontinental Road Race, where participants are followed by camera crews as they drive race cars through the American landscape and take out innocent bystanders along the way.

What starts off as a typically bloody annual celebration of the new America’s moral nadir quickly turns into a different kind of scandal: a revolutionary group has infiltrated the race, and young Annie has been sent along to destroy America’s

And of course, Sly.

And of course, Sly.

favorite racer, Frankenstein (David Carradine, hubba hubba!). Will the resistance succeed in overthrowing the corrupt government?

This movie is just so darn wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am excited to watch it again. I mean, really, the only way to watch a race car movie is by laying on the camp pretty thick and making the blood Herschell-Gordon-Lewis red. And by having Sylvester Stallone play a really dumb guy. And Mary Woronov playing a chick called Calamity Jane! And David Carradine in a latex body suit?! So many reasons to say yes.




Categories

Old Wave