Monday, September 24, 2012

Dredd Tidings

Back in my days of working at video stores, it would be common for a customer to come in asking for something "good," as if that were a simple request to fill - oblivious to the fact that when it comes to movies (or any kind of entertainment, really), everyone has a different definition of "good." Case in point: Dredd. Or, Dredd 3-D.

I absolutely loved the shit out of this movie but I'm guessing it doesn't hold a lot of broad appeal. It's the second try at adapating a cult comic book whose greatest audience lies in its home base of the UK and it stars the talented but not terribly well-known Karl Urban (Bones, in the Star Trek reboot) who, for the entirety of the movie, wears a helmet that hides all but his mouth. Oh, and it's violent - just a full-on bloodbath.

So, for general audiences, this may not pass for "good" but for the cult crowd - the comic book freaks, the action junkies, the sci-fi nerds - this is practically tailor made. As many have noted, there's great similarities between Dredd's plot and that of the Indonesian fave The Raid from earlier this year but it's a total coincidence and as close as their plots are (both involve police having to make their way to the upper floors of an apartment tower, through a gauntlet of thugs), neither feels like a weaker copy of the other.

With The Raid, the focus was on elaborate hand-to-hand combat while Dredd is more about non-stop shoot outs. Dredd is a member of a futuristic police force called the Judges and his weapon is a voice-activated gun equippped with multiple functions. Dredd's partner is a rookie named Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who he's assigned to assess. Anderson's scores techinically would've kept her out of consideration for being a judge but as she has the rare advantage of being a psychic, those scores will be overlooked pending Dredd's decision.

On their first day together, Dredd and Anderson respond to a call from the 200-story Peach Trees apartment complex and before long, the simple arrest of a suspected gang member leads the drug lord known as Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) - the unofficial overlord of Peach Trees - to put the entire building under lock down and call for the assassination of the judges. It's up to Dredd and his inexperienced partner to survive and bring Ma-Ma to justice. Or better yet, bring justice to Ma-Ma.

The screenplay by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), is simple but in a very smart, efficient way. I forget exactly what the big scheme of the villian was in the Stallone version of Dredd but I seem to remember it was something grandiose - something that would've changed life in Mega-City forever had it succeeded. In contrast, what plays out in Dredd is just a day in the life. You get the feeling that whatever call Dredd and Anderson would've answered to, it would've been just as brutal as their trip to Peach Trees. You also sense that this is not an unusual day for Dredd. With all that's going on, he never loses sight of the fact that this is supposed to be Anderson's test as a judge. When the shit hits the fan, he doesn't simply take over but frequently asks Anderson to make the call on what their next move should be. He keeps his cool under fire and expects Anderson to as well.

Director Pete Travis is mostly known from British TV and while there's been rumors that Garland took over the editing of Dredd from Travis, the movie doesn't betray any signs of a troubled production. It comes across as a tightly concieved piece of work. Based on its US box office, I'm guessing we shouldn't expect a sequel any time soon - at least not one that'll reach theater screens in this country. But that's ok. Dredd isn't for everybody. I do wish it had done bigger business but then again, with so many nerdy properties becoming huge these days, it's kind of comforting to see something that's best appreciated by the true geeks of this world.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Manimal: The Movie

If you went back in time and told my fourteen year old self in 1983 that in the year 2012 a Manimal movie would be in the works, I'd be like "Holy shit - the future is gonna be freakin' awesome!!"

As it turns out, the future is pretty shitty but on behalf of my fourteen year old self, I'm delighted by the prospect of a Manimal film. I'm highly skeptical that it'll ever come to be but just the fact that it's being seriously considered is hilarious.

During its eight episode run in 1983, Manimal (the brain child of producer Glen A. Larson) was must-see TV for me. I was old enough to be aware of how cheeseball it was but come on, it was a show about a crime solving professor aiding the police on cases who also had the ability to turn into whatever animal he chose to. That's such a cool concept that it instantly overrode any flaws in the execution. Genre TV is so serious now but back in the day, Manimal was aimed at a blissfully unsophisticated audience of kids who just wanted to see star Simon MacCorkindale transform at least twice an episode.

The FX for Manimal were handled by superstar to be Stan Winston and while MacCorkindale's character of Jonathan Chase had the ability to change into any animal, he mostly stuck with a panther and hawk. Because it was so costly to produce the show's FX, they couldn't do a different on-screen transformation for every animal Chase turned into so they tended to just recycle the same footage over and over. It got a bit repetitive, yes, but this was back when prosthetic makeup was all the rage with films like The Howling and An American Werewolf in London so to see the same sort of thing on TV was a big deal - especially if you were too young to see those R-rated movies.

With CGI, there's no limitations to how many animals Chase can change into in a feature film but while the main selling point of the show was its then-cutting edge FX, another CGI-fest doesn't seem like it would stand out at all. However they end up going with this movie, though, as soon as it hits screens, it's already a win for Team Manimal. Automan is waiting patiently in the wings as we speak...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Old Man Jenke

As of today, Dinner with Max Jenke is half a decade old. It's been five years since I inaugarated this blog back on September 12th, 2007 - that's practically an eternity in blogosphere time. A huge thanks to everyone who's stopped by to read and comment over the last five years - it's much appreciated.

I don't go back and look over old posts - mostly because I don't want to be confronted with my shortcomings as a writer - so I can't say how much, if at all, things have evolved or changed here over the past five years but I'm guessing that the picture that emerges of me is of a consistently middlebrow fan. I don't have esoteric tastes, I'm not especially intellectual (if at all), and I can't resist the allure of fair-to-middling genre efforts. That's my sweet spot right there. Hell, after I post this, there's a very strong chance I'll pop in my disc of The First Power. Or maybe Shocker. I don't know. God, I wish there was some beer in the fridge. That'd help me make up my mind.

When I started this blog I was still a fresh-faced thirtysomething. Now I'm a still moderately fresh-faced fortysomething. Every year, I wonder if this'll be the year when I finally get fed up with the current crop of horror and become disengaged as a fan but it hasn't happened yet. Sure, I don't love everything and there's plenty out there - including stuff that other fans embrace - that makes me roll my eyes in an exaggerated fashion but I like rolling my eyes in an exaggerated fashion.

More than that, though, I like coming across some new horror movie or TV show that reminds me of why I love the genre in the first place.

So here's to that. Cheers!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Here Comes The Broom

I have to say, I've been a little worried about myself lately. You see, for the first time since I've been old enough to get to a movie theater on my own, I skipped a new horror movie. If I tell you that movie was The Apparition, you might say "Duh, why wouldn't you skip it?" But that's the thing - I don't usually show that level of adult discretion. If a new horror film opens, I'm there - regardless of whether I suspect that it might not be the second coming of The Exorcist. I'm all about going into each movie with the intent to enjoy it for whatever it's worth. Sometimes a movie will break me of those intentions (I'm looking at you, Creature) but I'm always ready for the next ride.

With The Apparition, though, I just couldn't bring myself to go. You'd think that given how dry the summer has been horror-wise, I would've jumped at it but with The Possession due in theaters the following week, it didn't seem worth breaking the horror drought for the lesser of the two films. While that may seem like the sensible move, I've never been about being sensible when it comes to being a devoted horror geek. The fact that I couldn't be bothered to see The Apparition left me just a little bummed. I showed an ability to not waste my time with a movie that was almost certainly a piece of garbage and that uncommon act of willpower made me think I had turned a corner in my life. I was finally a discriminating, clear-eyed genre connoisseur - something I actually never really wanted to be.

Luckily, unexpected salvation arrived for me this week in the form of the trailer for Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.

As soon as I laid eyes on this trailer and felt an involuntary rush of excitment at - among other things - the sight of witches on brooms flying into a zig zag of wires stretched across trees, I knew that my experience with The Apparition had been nothing more than a fluke. Most people will look at this trailer and, with good reason, ask "Who would ever go see this shit?" while I'm grinning in giddy anticipation.

Yes, I have a strong hunch that it won't be such a great movie. Hell, let's be honest - it looks like a complete train wreck. But what fun is there in making such an obvious observation?

Some might say people like myself are fools, rushing headlong to see films we know full well will be disasters and, you know, they'd have a point. But on the other hand I take comfort in the fact that a lifetime of seeing bad movies hasn't made me into a cynic.

I probably made the right call about The Apparition, though.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Evil Wears Many Faces

Coming of age during the glory days of horror franchises in the '80s made me soft-hearted towards shitty horror sequels so I'm already predisposed to giving the latest installment in the Chainsaw saga (due January '13) a fair shake but that said, the above poster piques my interest in the new Chainsaw an extra notch.

I don't know what kind of approach I expected the marketing for this movie to take but this is definitely grislier than I expected so thumbs-up for that. Back when the '03 remake was released, the poster was a real ho-hum affair. Remember?

I guess they were trying to stay classy, what with remaking a classic, but when you're working with one of the most brilliantly exploitative titles in the history of horror, why not incorporate that spirit of exploitation in your advertizing? After all, it worked for the original:

To be fair, we're talking entirely different times. And hey, the remake's poster was still arguably better than the poster for TCM 2, which - for reasons I don't think have ever been explained - spoofed The Breakfast Club.

But anyhow, back to this new poster...

It's ironic that the most graphically gruesome Chainsaw poster yet is for the first film in the franchise to have no Massacre in the title but dropping "Massacre" is no more offensive than squeezing another buck out of Hooper's masterpiece in the first place so I'll let it slide.

My reaction to this poster is pretty simple - I like how straight-up nasty it is. It reminds me of the kind of garish VHS box art that would've demanded that I take a movie home back in the day. It revels in surface level grossness rather than promising to explore true terror (we'll see how the film itself is) but my inner adolescent will always have room for crassly marketed horror.

As genre franchises go, Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn't have the best track record but it's no Howling or Return of the Living Dead either. It's true that post-Hooper, there's never been a great TCM movie but when you're talking horror sequels, "great" seldom enters into the equation. Sometimes the closest you get to that is with the marketing material.

That's not ideal, but you've got to take great where you can get it.