Saturday, March 19, 2011

Terror at the Futureworld Theme Park

After the misfortunes at Westworld, you would think nobody would try again, but if there's anything we learned from Jurassic Park, people will stop at nothing to make dangerous theme parks with the potential of disaster.  Hence Futureworld, the sequel to Westworld.

Peter Fonda and the oddly named Blythe Danner starred in this 1976 thriller, which featured a cameo from Yul Brenner, who starred in Westworld, which surely excited fans at the time.  His cameo is in one of the strangest dream sequences I've seen on film, and you will come to this realization once witness with your own two eyes.  It starts off as fairly normal and then turns into some weird romantic thing that is oddly cold (symbolic of him being a robot, I imagine).

Critics were not fond of this when it came out.  I can understand why.  There is a lot of time spent wandering around in tunnels by our reporter main characters as they look for clues to prove that Futureworld is some sort of sham.  It is, of course, and they are right, but this conclusion could've been reached simply by spending about a half hour with the scientist/doctor involved in making the robots.  He was an odd character, and any good reporter could see that is where the story lies.  Rarely do you find anything by wandering around underground and throwing random switches.  It can make for an interesting movie, but here it falls flat.  You want to see robots tearing stuff up.  Admittedly, seeing Blythe and Peter fend off samurai robots brings a smile to my face, but only for the "1976 factor."  (The year anything and everything happened in mainstream movies.)

Futureworld is one of those forgotten relics that may someday be remade by some brave soul who is fresh out of ideas.  Should it be remade?  Of course not?  But if Ryan Gosling and Sandra Bullock ever need to supplement their income, they should be pitching it.

Ridiculous FTC Disclaimer:  I did not receive a copy of Futureworld to review.  I did it out of the kindness of my own heart.  If you click on any of the links here and buy something from Amazon, I will receive a small commission.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sheer Torture

I recently watched Hostel 2 for about the fourth time.  I've made no bones for my positive feelings on this franchise, and I've often said I think the sequel is the far superior film.  The characters are more engaging, seeing the entire process behind how the elite depraved procure their victims is fascinating, and the film itself shows that director Eli Roth is definitely coming into his own.  Not everyone agrees.

Many critics didn't like it, citing the usual "gore" and "torture porn" tags.  ("Torture porn" is a lazy term if ever there was one.)  Movie goers must have heeded their warnings, as the film failed to live up to the first film in terms of sheer dollar amounts.  (Wikipedia puts the film's final gross at $17 million, while the first film had an opening weekend of $19 million and went on to gross over $40 million.  That is, in a word, pitiful.)

The homoerotic tones of the first film are still here, but involve females this time, and there is also a feminist undercurrent in the last act of the movie.  While the first film had as part of its focus the typical "we are Americans, we can do anything," the sequel freed itself from such constraints, which enabled you to actually care about the characters more.  That, coupled with the fact that the main characters were female, and we as a general audience always seem more emotionally involved with them on various levels in a horror film (they may be the sex to die, but rarely do we think they deserve it as much as the men do), which ultimately makes this film work better than Hostel.  It could not exist, however, without the foundation laid by Roth's first film in the series.

The story of the first film is laid down again during the opening of the sequel in a very clever way.  It is unlikely that people who saw the second film did not see the first, so the scene just re-established the basics.  Knowing what we knew from the first film, though, set us up to understand that these torture kings were efficient and very good at what they do.  We know going in that it is unlikely these women will escape the same way the first film's survivor did because we know the Elite Hunting Club doesn't make the same mistake twice.  If it did, it wouldn't be in business.  That puts the viewers a few steps ahead of the protagonists with absolutely no way to warn them.  It's a good set-up on Roth's part, and it helps sell the film.

So why did it do so poorly at the box office?  Sequels often make less than their predecessors.  The first film was dramatically hyped and in my opinion failed to live up to the hype despite being pretty good.  This film was less hyped and people may have thought "fool me once."  And then there is the fact that the trailers made no secret about the victims being women.  That either makes audiences turn away from seeing women tortured (though I normally don't think that is the case when it comes to a movie since females are often dangled as victims to lure in audiences, I do think it might have worked here because going into it you were fairly sure of their fate and few would want to stomach that), and it made far too many other people think that it would be the same film as the first only with women this time.  It surely wasn't the story, which was far superior to the first film.

Time will tell how cinema history treats this franchise.  It may be ignored for the most part, but I do believe that ten years from now people will still be discovering this gem of a sequel ... and wondering how the hell it did so badly at the box office.

Obligatory FTC disclaimer nonsense: I was not given a free copy of this movie to write about.  I bought mine.  Clicking on the ads for the movie in this posting (and buying them) will earn me a tiny commission.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

And the Oscar Goes To ...

As usual, the talk after the Academy Awards turns to the usual suspects for about four days: what was who wearing, the hosts' performance (Franco stoned, Hathaway lame), surprise moments (someone said "fuck" -- how shocking), what films deserved to win, which ones didn't deserve it, the ratings, the swag, and on and on.  The E! channel seems to have several hundred hours of shows dedicated to after parties and so-called "fashion police" (which are apparently just like Nazis in the sense that they send fashion faux pas folks straight to the ovens). 

None of this means anything, though.  It's an awards show.  A very boring awards show that gets it right sometimes, gets it wrong often, and seems (thankfully) out of touch with what most Americans watch.  If it were in tune with the cultural zeitgeist, the show would be honoring The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which was the sixth highest grossing film of 2010 according to Wikipedia.  Imagine the horror of that awards show.

For people whose film knowledge is based solely on what they see on television and read in Entertainment Weekly, the Academy Awards show offers them a chance to feel cultured and as if they are part of something greater.  For those who really love cinema of all types and delve into the history of film and filmmakers as a way of learning more about the art -- the awards is really nothing more than a write-off.  You're happy when something good is acknowledged, but you understand it means little more than an ego boost to the participants.  Great films are overlooked every year.  That will never change.  So what kind of validity does the show have for cinemaphiles?  None.  But for the average viewer with it mirrors their tastes almost perfectly.  Boring, predictable and scattershot.  People may be tuning in less and less, but they are still tuning in, and people are still talking about ... including me.

Oddly enough, I wasn't going to write anything on this subject except I overheard a snippet of conversation that made me think it was warranted.  I heard one man tell a woman that he has as many of the Oscar winners lined up in his "queue" to watch.  "I figure if they won I better watch them," he said without a trace of irony.  And that's why I wrote this.  A boring show with boring awards that matches the audience.