Monday, 30 November 2015

Movie Review: The Human Centipede III: Final Sequence (2015)

This review is something of a milestone for me, as this is where I officially come full circle. After all, the original Human Centipede was the first film I ever reviewed in any semi-semi-formal capacity. However, over the years, I’ve come to the realization that my initial hatred for the thing was most likely a result of the reputation it had received. As such, I’ll set the record straight right now: While I still maintain that the characters in the film were often thicker than a second coat of paint, Dr. Heiter’s performance along with the overall concept were enough to at least make it watchable. Then came the sequel, and it is here that I fear I will lose every one of my readers: The Human Centipede II, despite being a film that I predicted would happen when I first reviewed, is one of the best sequels ever made. Seriously, it does everything that a sequel should do right, with Tom Six looking back on the original idea and basically riffing on his own writing to create what I genuinely consider to be a great film… provided that your stomach can handle the gore, that is. With this patently absurd opinion of the rest of the series, and my knowledge that Rotten Tomatoes can be incredibly misleading when it comes to what is better than what (Hypocrisy ho!), I’m looking at today’s film with probably the most optimism of any film I’ll look at this year. I think I broke at some point during The Green Inferno, but let’s see if this new perspective does me any favours anyway. This is The Human Centipede III: Final Sequence.

The plot: Bill Boss (Dieter Laser) is the warden of an American prison that, among many others in the nation, is starting to cause concern over growing costs. He wants to enforce mass castration as a deterrent for criminals, but the medical costs as a result of that would only make things worse. However, his accountant Dwight (Lawrence R. Harvey) may have found a solution from a most unlikely source: A duo of exploitation films called The Human Centipede I & II. Despite initial scepticism, Bill agrees to the procedure so that he can prove to Governor Hughes (Eric Roberts) that his methods work. Extremely gory analingus ensues.

The acting definitely feels like Tom Six wanted to go out with a bang on what will be the finale to his memetic trilogy, both in terms of casting and performances. As much as getting Eric Roberts for your movie is hardly an achievement, considering the guy works for pocket lint nowadays, it’s still nice seeing a B movie legend on the big screen again. That, and it’s nice seeing him in a movie that doesn’t feature talking house pets for a change. We also have Bree Olson as the assistant Daisy, continuing the weirdly self-aware sexual nature of the core idea, along with Tom “Debo” Lister Jr. and a few recognizable faces from the last two films as some of the inmates. And speaking of recognizable faces, let’s get to our two mains: Dieter Laser and Laurence R. Harvey. Harvey’s American accent is constantly in flux throughout the film, and he kind of just sits in the corner and plays sexual frustration for the majority of the film. Laser, on the other hand… I’m almost at a loss for words. It’s as if Tom Six looked at the original film and went “You know what? You didn’t go NEARLY far enough, Dieter. I want to see paint chips stuck in your teeth once shooting is over, goddammit!” As a result, his performance as Bill Boss is just about the most over-the-top performance I have ever seen. Period. Every single word out of his mouth only increases in intensity to create stupefyingly hammy and occasionally incoherent gold. Whether he’s eating fried body parts, getting sodomized in a most uncomfortable place or questioning his life’s ambitions and succumbing to suicidal thoughts, the man gives it his all every time. It looks like his face is about to break in half with how much mugging he does from scene to scene.

The film opens in much the same way that the second film did: Showing the ending of the previous film. Okay, I have no shame in admitting that I liked the metafiction aspect of the second film. Here, it just feels like a needless retread to introduce how the idea of the Human Centipede reached Bill Boss. However, while the film starts on an off note, credit where it’s due in that it continues what seems to be the series tradition of self-examination and improving on the previous film’s formula. Here, we’re shown modifications on the original Centipede to make a more viable means of punishment for inmates, in keeping with the genesis of the idea that was Tom Six joking about how to punish child molesters. It goes through a few bits of medical terminology that I’m not going to insult by stating accuracy and just give credit for even attempting to justify any of it. We also get a variation on the Centipede that… well, let’s just say that my first impression on Tom Six swiping ideas from the Internet for his movies might be more accurate than I thought. Unfortunately, it seems that all the attention his films have been getting is starting to get to Tom Six’s head. We keep seeing characters say that they love the films, and Six himself shows up at the prison to hear it first-hand as he is brought in as a consultant for the Human Prison Centipede. Hell, we even get Dwight reeling off the parodies that have been made of the concept by name. This self-congratulatory tone starts to grate after a while, which doesn’t help the script’s attempts at making political commentary. Yes, seriously.

From the tagline “100% Politically Incorrect”, it should be easy enough to discern that this is going to be taking pot shots whenever it can. I mean, the prison this all takes place in is called the George H. W. Bush Prison, for crying out loud. It goes into matters of how much America’s prison-industrial complex is costing taxpayers and how, by cutting down costs through the HC plan, they can put money back into other areas like hospitals and schools. Yeah, I wouldn’t put too much stock in any of this though for two key reasons. One, take another look at that plot synopsis: Does that really look like something that’s meant to be taken seriously? And two, the commentary doesn’t even work anyway. Okay, to save myself even more political grandstanding, I’ll put it as simply as I can: The 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits slavery or involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime. As such, the U.S. prison system regularly uses prisoners for legal free labour. It doesn’t really make sense to use the HC method to cut down on costs when the entire prison-industrial system is set up to reduce costs in the first place. If they’re in the position of forever kissing ass until their sentence is finished, something tells me that penal labour isn’t going to happen. But then again, this is just the garnish on the big putrid steak that is the bulk of the film; this is meant to be watched for the over-the-top performances and the well done gore effects, not for a Dutch man’s perspective on the U.S. penal system. He could’ve at least called it the Ronald W. Reagan Prison, though.

All in all, this is a film about 500 prisoners being sewed to each other ass-to-mouth; for what it is, it is incredibly entertaining. The sun-burnt look of the film helps differentiate it from the rest of the series, Bill Boss is amazingly fun to watch and the writing, while not as politically clever as it thinks it is, manages to further the self-aware streak Tom Six has built for himself. Even if he is starting to get too big for his boots, I still reckon this is worth a watch even beyond just basic curiosity. If you can stomach the main premise of this film, I’d definitely recommend checking it out. This ranks higher than Trainwreck because, believe it or not, this film registered more laughs purely because of how much fun Bill Boss is to watch. However, considering this doesn’t succeed on every front it tries to pull off, it ranks just below Man Up. Sure, that was just a basic rom-com but it did astoundingly well for being just a basic rom-com.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)

If you spent any amount of time watching Cartoon Network during its heyday, or even grew up on it like I did, then you owe a lot to one Genndy Tartakovsky. The man’s work on shows like Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated mini-series has gone on to make him one of the most vibrant creative minds that Hanna-Barbera has ever been associated with… yes, seriously. As such, the next big step in terms of flexing animated muscle is going on to do feature films, and so he was brought on to direct 2012’s Hotel Transylvania. That is, he was brought on as the sixth reported director of the film. Usually a pretty bad sign, especially for a first-time film director, but he nevertheless gave it his all and made the film his own. The result was a surprisingly fun and not-surprisingly well animated family film; sure, it had its annoying/stupid moments but the good points far outweighed the bad. Since it made over four times its budget at the box office, it of course got a sequel. Let’s hope that this isn’t another sequel made for its own sake, because I want to maintain my respect for Genndy as best I can. This is Hotel Transylvania 2.

The plot: Since the events of the first film, the now-married Mavis (Selena Gomez) and Johnny (Andy Samberg) have had a child called Dennis. A human child, a fact which worries Dracula (Adam Sandler) who wants his vampiric bloodline to continue. While Mavis and Johnny are having a vacation in California, Dracula is left to take care of Dennis. With the kid’s fifth birthday fast approaching, Dracula gathers his monster friends to help teach Dennis how to be a monster. However, it seems that it may not be so simple these days.

The big draw of the first film was undoubtedly the animation. In an industry where studios are almost too hesitant to put the effort in, it is just about the most gleefully energetic of the last several years. It transcends simply being composed of constant movement in order to keep the attention of children and fulfills the director’s intention of creating a 3-D representation of old-school Tex Avery cartoons. It’s the kind of fun that speaks to all the demographics that enjoyed Genndy’s work on Cartoon Network. Here, while it definitely keeps consistency with the previous work in terms of character design and setting, it has sobered up a hell of a lot in the three-year interim. There aren’t any big chase sequences, no ultra-kinetic character movements, no real showcases for what we know full well these filmmakers and this studio are capable of. The only exception here is the finale, where our monsters duke it out against a brood that wants to kill Dennis and, not gonna lie, it almost makes up for the more subdued tone of the rest of the film. Sure, it’s not that long a sequence but what we do get is amazingly well animated, probably the best use of computer graphics I’ve seen all year. Yeah, I still maintain that Hoopa And The Clash Of Ages has the best on a technical level, but in terms of its effectiveness, this is astoundingly good.

The comedy is a lot more levelled-out than before, which is both good and bad. Good, because it contains far less gags that rely on bodily functions and the strangely well-detailed arses of the characters; that, and former weakest link Johnathon doesn’t reach the peaks of annoyance that he did prior. Bad, because it doesn’t have as many quick jokes that were not only performed excellently but surprisingly clever in how they played on the tropes of the classic monsters that make up the main cast. Basically, it follows the same mode of writing as Fifty Shades Of Grey: It took out the weaker parts, but also the stronger points too. It has its moments, particularly the one-off remarks from The Phantom Of The Opera during certain scenes in the third act, but it doesn’t deliver the serious side-ticklers that helped the first film. Then again, this is all being said after gaining a far greater appreciation for the original upon re-watching in preparation for this review; maybe the same thing could happen here. However, as it stands now after first viewing, it’s just okay in terms of chuckles.

The writing as a whole continues on with the minority analogue from last time, only turning it around here and mainly looking at the humans reacting to the monsters. A lot of the gags involving Johnathon’s family features some blunt observations about how they want Dennis to be raised around ‘normal people’, even inviting some tokens to join them for dinner as a means of showing that they’re not racist; they have friends who are monsters. Now, when talking about prejudices, I don’t have the most stable legs to stand on. I am a white able-bodied male whom society could easily just dismiss as being straight despite the reality of things without much issue; all things considered, I’m better off than most. However, when it comes to seeing how the real monsters react to how humanity views them, both in the flesh and through a Sesame Street surrogate called Cakey, I can actually sympathize. We got a brief glimpse of this in the first film with a short Twilight parody, but here is where it really sticks. How these monsters feel about their representation in human society, right down to the humans dressing up as them complete with face paint, is easily translatable to my own reaction to The Big Bang Theory as a geek: All they have done is boiled it down to its most basic elements, resulting in an unfair representation of that demographic. Or, if that’s not close enough to connect with, imagine a white family dressing up as minstrels to welcome an African-American family into the neighbourhood. Yeah, it may be well intentioned, but that doesn’t make it any less offensive.

Alongside the attitudes to ‘the other’, the writing also works as a look into modern culture’s perspective on the classic monsters themselves. As I’ve discussed before, it has been a long time since we’ve looked at vampires, werewolves, zombies and the like as something to be completely scared of. They have become far too familiar to us and have been filtered through so many reinterpretations and reimaginings that they have almost reached Krillitane-levels of dissimilarity. As we watch Dracula try (and fail) to teach Dennis how to be a vampire in the same way he was taught, the film brings up a question that I don’t think gets brought up often enough: Do they have to be scary to be taken seriously? Back in the Universal golden age, these monsters were taken at face value and treated as something to be afraid of, much like anything that is different from what we consider the norm. Now, we’ve dug under the surface and found the person that the monster is, or at least was. After the works of Anne Rice, Joss Whedon and even Stephanie Meyer have altered the collective mindset when it comes to vampires, people often cry out that they miss the days when they were scary and not portrayed as the romantic, brooding and sparkly creatures that they are seen as today. This all ties back into the racial elements of things in a rather unexpected way: These monsters can still be scary, but it’s not something to be forced. Just as women shouldn’t have to be portrayed as servile housewives, black people as heartless thugs or gay people as sexual deviants, monsters don’t have to fit the mould that they have long since outgrown. That’s not to say that they can never be scary again; just that people are still acting like that is the natural order of things. As much as people may argue that problems with our fiction shouldn’t be put on the same level as problems with our reality, certain people get pigeonholed in both for the exact same small-minded reasons.

All in all, while I do consider this to be an unfortunate step down from the previous film in terms of overall entertainment, I am gobsmacked by how observant the writing is in terms of not only our attitudes to these monsters, but also to pretty much anyone that is considered ‘different’. The comedy is balanced out, for better or for worse, the music shows a definite improvement over the previous LMFAO-heavy soundtrack, the acting is still excellent (even if Mel Brooks isn’t in it nearly enough) and its subtext is something that definitely needs to be looked at, considering that attitude is one of the main reasons why people couldn’t get into the excellent original film in the first place. It’s better than Blinky Bill: The Movie as, from a more subtextual standpoint, the message conveyed here is a bit more unique than the usual Australiana story of forced relocation. However, on a more immediate level, the material that comprise the whole that is Amy makes for a superior viewing experience on its own.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Movie Review: Kill Me Three Times (2015)

This might go down as one of the most bizarrely marketed films I’ve seen this year, and considering we “only just” had The Interview earlier in the year, that is saying a lot. Allow me to break down the sequence of events here: This film apparently had a cinematic release here in Australia. That makes sense; it’s an Aussie film and we’ll seemingly support any local production with a pulse these days. However, I say ‘apparently’ because I can find evidence of only one cinema that showed it, and even then it was a Q&A screening with the director in tow. Compare this to the marketing done for the DVD release, which got a colossal upgrade in terms of media attention. I have never seen a DVD release get so much cinema advert time, not to mention poster space, as this film. With this rather sporadic attempt to sell the film, and its currently abysmal approval ratings, I can only assume that this was all done as a hasty salvage operation to make sure it turned in a profit by any means necessary. Jai Courtney isn’t as big of a red flag for a film as that background. Well, let’s see if the Simon Pegg assist can rescue this film any, although I seriously kind of doubt it. This is Kill Me Three Times.

The plot: Charlie Wolf (Simon Pegg) is a professional hitman working in Australia. Over a few days, he plays a voyeuristic role in the unfolding conflict between bar owner Jack (Callan Mulvey), his sister Lucy (Teresa Palmer) and her husband Nathan (Sullivan Stapleton) plotting to eliminate Jack’s wife Alice (Alice Braga). As alliances are forged, crossed and double-crossed… ugh. You know what, I legitimately can’t be arsed to pretend to hype this film up; it’s THAT boring.

The acting sucks, plain and simple. Everyone feels stiff and unnatural, coming across like performances in a third-rate Underbelly rip-off with barely any of the charisma that made those shows work (usually). I say ‘barely’ because we have at least a couple of people willing to try and raise the subpar material on offer. One of them is from Bryan Brown as Sgt. Bruce, a police officer on Jack’s pay-roll, who seems to have a handle on how to do a shakedown and look intimidating while doing it. The other is, big surprise, from Simon Pegg. Sure, he’s pretty under-utilized and it takes until at least halfway through the film for him to unleash what he’s really capable of, but it’s nice to see him when he finally does. It’s cool seeing him as a far less reputable character this time around, and he can definitely pull off menace like he was made for it. He also seems to be the only one who’s in on how lame the overall film is and has fun playing the linchpin voyeur that ties everyone together.

The score is almost mind-numbing in how repetitive it is; Johnny Klimek needs to get nougied by Alan Silvestri for this one. Surf-rock guitar twangs with heavy reverb, alien whistles synths, licensed music that is jarring in comparison because of how it differs from the ‘original’ music; it’s almost ridiculous how monotonous all of these elements become within the film’s music. It doesn’t help that it all suffers from Young Chop syndrome and seem to be playing the exact same notes every time they’re used. With a few exceptions, the instrumental work is saved for the transitional shots of people driving and the dialogue scenes, again with the rare exception, are left silent. I’d even go so far as to say that monotony need not be a bad thing in it of itself; if these tracks were any good on their own, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with them. Then again, even if the music is pretty bad on its own merits, it suits the plodding tone of this film perfectly.

The writing is weak in the way that only amateur crime thrillers can manage. There are no characters to be found here, only people that plot-related stuff happens to, while the plot is the kind of non-linear crime mosaic that people directly lift from Tarantino’s early work. The problem with that is the same problem that every Tarantino clone seems to have: They forget that there’s a reason why his dialogue is so full of seemingly pointless tangents. Yeah, his characters talking about McDonald’s and Like A Virgin doesn’t have anything to do with the story at all, but it gives a better insight into the characters saying them. Here, there is literally nothing of the sort. No time is given for any kind of development of character, aside from who they are in relation to someone else. And even then, it’s through fairly blunt expository dialogue where people awkwardly announce what that relation is; “You’re my brother” and the like. It’s not easy to get invested in this kind of convoluted caper in the first place, but it’s even less so when we know next to nothing about the people it’s happening to. The film is about 84 minutes long excluding credits, and it’s hard to care about what’s going on for even that long.

All in all, this is straight up boring. Weak writing that focuses too much on the events and not the people they’re happening to, the acting doesn’t even try to be compelling or in any way engaging, save for Brown and Pegg, and the music is just about the laziest and most annoying I’ve heard all year… okay, save for Pan’s jukebox moments, but even then it was only a couple of isolated moments; here, it’s for the whole damn film. It’s worse than The Dressmaker, because despite how chaotic it was overall, I still find it easier to recommend to people than this film. However, because this film at least has Simon Pegg doing the best he can with the material he has, it only just fares better than The Last Witch Hunter. Regardless of how much you love the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, skip this one; not even Pegg can save this thing.