Archive for the ‘Aliens’ Category

Lady In The Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan, the kinda-sorta auteurist filmmaker who rocketed to above-the-title fame with a couple movies only to struggle critically over the tail end of the past decade, has a new movie coming out this summer.  It’s called AFTER EARTH and it stars Will Smith, one of the last dependable movie stars, and his son Jaden.  The movie is a sci-fi epic about a father and son who return to Earth in the deep future, long after the planet has been abandoned by humanity.  I included AFTER EARTH on my list of 2013’s potentially strangest movies, which is totally a dick move on my part.  I mean, how much have I done with MY life to be sitting here taking cheap shots?  At least this guy is out there making movies, and making them with some of the world’s hugest stars.  In my heart, I’m really not a so-called hater.

Quite the contrary in this case, in fact.  I think there’s a particular angst for movie lovers when we start following a talented filmmaker who then makes a severe right turn down the off-roads of unfulfilled or squandered promise.  It happened to me with Kevin Smith, for example, a witty, bold, and perceptive writer who I always hoped would take an interest in learning what to do with a camera, but it turned out he’d rather pursue other interests besides visual storytelling.  By contrast, Shyamalan never had a problem being cinematic, but he certainly grew overly enamored of certain tics that precluded concise and coherent films.  I would have liked to remain a fan, but at a certain point I had to decide that I didn’t want to follow these guys up their own asses.

So here’s a chronicle of me falling in love with another man’s talent, and then rapidly falling out of it.  I wrote most of this piece back in 2008 but unfortunately my mind hasn’t much changed since then.

NOTE: This will not include anything Shyamalan did before THE SIXTH SENSE, because I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I’m most interested in the Shyamalan of self-created myth & legend, the Shyamalan we have come to know in the past decade, the one who – like a young Bruce Wayne in his study who looked up at a bat and gained an instant career direction – looked up at the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster in his office and asked himself why he wasn’t making those kind of movies. That is the filmography I will be talking about here.

I also won’t be talking about anything after THE HAPPENING, for reasons that may soon enough become apparent.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – This one came out of nowhere in the summer of 1999 and blew most people’s minds.  It was a ghost story with the emphasis on story.  The dramatic twist near the end actually deepens the experience, and it doesn’t hurt that it makes you want to re-watch the movie with the twist now in mind.  This is an extremely solid movie about faith and the after-life and how those intersect and overlap. Is it maybe even good enough to one day sit on a shelf alongside another one of the director’s inspirations, THE EXORCIST? That may be going a little far. But it does serve as an answer to the most vehement haters, the ones who, burned by his later films, have rechristened him F. Night Shyamalan:

Anybody wondering why they still allow this guy to make movies should re-watch THE SIXTH SENSE. It was a massive financial success achieved with an actually good movie. The people who make the decisions are no doubt optimistic that one day, this guy will do that again. (So am I, for the record.)

But the movie itself does indeed hold up to revisiting. To prospective screenwriters like myself, I also recommend reading it in script form, if you can track that down, because it’s still just as affecting on the page. This movie is so solid that it has a good performance by Donnie Wahlberg.  That’s directing, son.

The truth is that Shyamalan’s filmmaking talent is very real. Every movie he has made since THE SIXTH SENSE has contained varying degrees of that copious cinematic talent. Key word: “varying.” It’s why his filmography is so frustrating. He wouldn’t be so widely discussed if he wasn’t so capable.

UNBREAKABLE (2000)

UNBREAKABLE (2000) – I loved this one when it was first released. Saw it twice theatrically and a couple more times on DVD. So I hope that earns me enough leeway to suggest that it does not really hold up viscerally eight years later. It’s slow as a turtle attempting to moonwalk. Okay, hang on–

Here’s a rule: You can’t make a movie that’s more boring than real life. You just can’t. It’s why — to take a random and unrelated example — BROKEN FLOWERS was so disappointing to me. No matter how much Bill Murray you pour into a movie, you can’t slow a story down so much that you leave out the space for narrative.

Anyway, that’s why Shyamalan’s “deliberate” pacing falls so often flat. It also plays into the cardinal mistake Shyamalan likes to make of turning lighthearted subject matter — in this case superheroes — into a somber and ponderous suite of melancholy. It’s true that comic books themselves have been doing this for years, and now comic book movies are doing it too, so Shyamalan can’t be entirely faulted there.  In a way, he was ahead of the curve.

On an intellectual level, UNBREAKABLE still works. It’s an interesting approach to the standard superhero/supervillain origin story. I just don’t want to rewatch it ever again. Unless…

You know what would solve all its problems? If the once-rumored sequel were to actually happen. Because as it stands now, UNBREAKABLE feels like the longest first act ever.  I would definitely be curious as to what happens in the second UNBREAKABLE movie if it ever happened, especially since the second act is traditionally where the majority of the actual story takes place.  UNBREAKABLE doesn’t add up to much without its MR. GLASS STRIKES BACK.

Signs (2002)

SIGNS (2002) – Forget the fact that it’s kind of impossible to look at Mel Gibson anymore without off-the-screen baggage.  He’s fine in the movie, really.  It’s the movie itself that’s the problem.  This is where the storytelling problems infecting Shyamalan’s arsenal start to rear up violently. Shyamalan’s technical skill is still crazy-impressive – every scene where those aliens appear (or don’t) is freaky and great.

It’s the other stuff that just plain doesn’t add up in a coherent way — first and foremost that ending — and there’s been enough cyber-ink spilled on the subject for me to not bother to add to it. But the movie still made tons of money, and enough people still inexplicably say they like it, which is no doubt precisely how the first out-and-out blunder came to pass.

The Village (2004)

THE VILLAGE (2004) – Or as I call it affectionately: Cinematic blue-balls.

There’s nothing wrong with the original premise – colonial village is surrounded on all sides by a thick forest and maintaining an uneasy truce with the horrible monsters who live there – in fact that’s a great goddamn premise! And the way those red-cloaked spiny creatures are set up is chilling. Even knowing how things turned out, I still get chills thinking of their first couple appearances in the movie, and trust me, I don’t scare easy at movies. The first half of THE VILLAGE does the tough part and brings the fear.

So why completely subvert it for a corny twist ending? I’ll tell you how I figured out the twist after the first five minutes of the movie: “Okay, colonial village, bunch of musty old white people, how are they going to work in a role for the director, a modern-sounding East Indian guy, AHA! – it’s actually set in the present day!” And sure enough, there he was, and so it was. Sorry to ruin the movie, but you’d be a lot happier if you turned it off at the hour-mark anyway.

Lady in the Water (2006)

LADY IN THE WATER (2006) – Even worse, somehow.  Massive folly. Near-unbelievable, but I didn’t see it alone, so I know for a fact it really happened.

Reading Shyamalan print interviews is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m just fascinated by how someone so smart and talented can so often be so misguided. I may risk sounding like an asshole to say so, but I truly find it illuminating. For a while there, Shyamalan was fond of defending his work by questioning why so many people criticize him and not his movies. Seems to me that one way to avoid that is to take a break from casting yourself in your movies. Right? Kind of hard to separate the two when, in this case, you’re playing the pivotal role of the man who will write the book that will change the world, even though it will mean he will die a martyr. And you can’t be so naive as to think that notebook-toting, detail-oriented professional film critics won’t pick up on the fact that the only character to meet a gruesome death, in an entire movie about the act of storytelling itself, is the cranky film critic.

The same way that you can’t complain about the way that people are always trying to figure out the twist endings of your movies when you keep putting twist endings in your movies. Right?

I particularly liked how the title character spent very close to the entire running time curled up in the shower. That was exciting.

And Paul Giamatti had the speech impediment coming and going, and that Latino dude with the fucked-up arm… (Now I’m getting confused again.) The wolf made of grass was pretty cool though. (Was I high?)  Wikipedia tells me there was in fact a grass-wolf. It was called a “scrunt,” which really isn’t a great word to have in what was intended as a children’s movie.

The Happening (2008)

THE HAPPENING (2008) – Okay. Okay.

It’s starting to become apparent that the director may no longer be interested in suspenseful stories about the supernatural, and has in fact now evolved into the maker of really, really weird comedies.

If you go into THE HAPPENING in this spirit, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a creepy edge-of-the-seater, you surely will. Without giving anything important away (I want to leave the half-hearted yet still insane ultimate revelation to the bravest among you), here are some reasons why I enjoyed THE HAPPENING:

  • “Filbert.”  Let me explain: The main characters are fleeing Philadelphia on a railroad train, which inexplicably stops. Someone ducks their head away from the window, and the name of the town in which they are now stranded is revealed: Filbert. FILBERT! Duh-duh-duhhhhh! No, God, please, no, not…      Filbert! Filbert! Dooooom! I don’t even care whether or not I’m the only one who laughed at that, because it’s still funny to me. Fucking Filbert, man.
  • I was NOT, however, the only one who laughed when the construction workers started walking off the building. Everyone in my theater laughed at that.  It’s mostly because the plummeting crazies are played by dummies. And if we learned anything from The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, it’s that dummies are the greatest of all comedy props.
  • I don’t know who in all of Hollywood I would cast as a science teacher and a math teacher, respectively, but Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are not they. Likable and down-to-earth actors both, but far better casting for, say, the cranky gym coach and the wisecracking AV teacher. They do their best, but the dialogue they are given does them no favors.
  • I swear a couple times Shyamalan cuts away from the action to a reaction shot of Zooey Deschanel and it looks like she’s trying to suppress a crack-up. Shyamalan may not have noticed, but I’m sure I did.
  • Intentional laughs are in the movie for sure, to the point where it’s almost confusing when it happens – stay tuned for the scene where Wahlberg tries to relate on a personal level to a plastic plant. Expertly written and played, and I’m not being sarcastic at all.
  • Far and away Shyamalan’s best and most hilarious cameo in all of his movies to date happens in THE HAPPENING. If you end up going, please stay for the credits to see what role he played. It’s just got to be a joke. But one of those jokes that only the one making it gets; you know that kind.
  • The Lion Scene! Oh man, the lion scene. The lion scene is a horror-comedy classic of which an EVIL DEAD 2-era Sam Raimi would be chainsaw-wieldingly envious. Soon to be a YouTube staple, guaranteed.

So if you’re looking for scary, this is not your territory. Watch the news instead. But if you’re a certain kind of moviegoer in a certain kind of mood, grab a couple like-minded buddies and Mystery-Science-Theater away.

Now, I skipped Shyamalan’s 2010 movie, THE LAST AIRBENDER, because I didn’t think my brain could handle all the fart jokes I was destined to make about that title.  By every last account (except probably Shyamalan’s), I made the correct decision.  But I’m curious about AFTER EARTH.  Did the nasty thrashing he got over his last couple flicks make Shyamalan reconsider some of his more over-used quirks?  Does the presence of Will Smith, one of the most infallible choosers of successful projects of the last decade-and-a-half, suggest that Shammy has reclaimed his earlier mojo?  The AFTER EARTH trailer does not look overtly comical.  It’s somewhat well paced, and more importantly, it has hordes of monkeys in it.  That’s not any guarantee I’ll be able to stay away.

@jonnyabomb

MANKEY

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Cloud Atlas (2012)

 

If you didn’t see this movie on the big screen, you missed out.  If you missed it entirely, you fucked up.  And if you were one of those who called it “the worst movie of the year” (whoever Mary Pols at Time magazine is; stupid stupid Peter Travers) – God help you.  When this movie comes to be seen as a lost classic in a few years, you may wish you weren’t so nasty.

I won’t be gloating though.  I choose the avenue of love.  This movie encouraged me to be that way.  This movie is about a lot of things I may or may not believe in – fate, true love, reincarnation of sorts – and it made me believe – strongly – in them all.  That’s the power of love, son.  That’s the power of cinema.  And I was skeptical too.  I’ve always liked the Wachowskis but I’m not as high on THE MATRIX as so many are (although, weirdly, I liked the sequels better than most), and I haven’t seen a Tom Tykwer move that really resonated with me since RUN LOLA RUN.  Most of all, without having read David Mitchell’s original novel it was hard to tell in advance what the hell this movie was going to be about.  Answer:  It’s kinda about everything.

It’s a 19th-century nautical drama involving slavery and other human cruelties.

It’s a period piece about the creation of classical music and an impossible romance.

It’s a 1970s political thriller about an intrepid reporter (co-starring THE THING‘s Keith David as SHAFT‘s Shaft!).

It’s a whimsical farce about an attempted escape from a nursing home.

It’s a science-fiction anime action-movie love-story.

It’s a post-apocalyptic future-tropical tribal-warfare-slash-horror-movie that turns into a campfire fable.

It’s like no other movie I’ve ever seen before, which for the record is exactly why I go to the movies:  To see things I haven’t seen before.  The performances are surprising and exhilarating, the score is clever and moving, the cinematography is colorful and absorbing, the scope is bold and ambitious.  Does it matter too much that some of the storylines are more affecting than others?  You think I care about anybody’s stupid little quibbles over some of the makeup effects?  This is a movie that shoots for the moon and more than once hits the stars.  This movie didn’t just surprise me with what it is – it surprised me about ME.  It’s sad that more people haven’t embraced it yet, but believe me, I’m happier loving this movie than you are disregarding or ignoring it.  Feel free to come over to this side anytime!

I wrote this for Daily Grindhouse and reposted it here because CLOUD ATLAS is out on DVD & Blu-Ray today. Now’s your chance to remedy the mistakes of the past…

@jonnyabomb

 
 
The Blob is the Rodney Dangerfield of horror characters.  It may seem odd to you and me that a gigantic neon space-booger isn’t as sexy to kids as vampires are, but that does seem to be the case.  No respect.  No love.  No romantic TWILIGHT-style franchise for this guy.  Can you imagine?  I can, but then I’m deranged.  Still, you don’t have to be crazy to appreciate the frequently-underconsidered cinematic adventures of The Blob.
 
When I bring up THE BLOB, I’m really referring to the 1988 remake written by Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell, not the 1958 original – which, even though it stars Steve McQueen, is not exactly as memorable as the newer version.  All due respect to the original THE BLOB for lighting the way – it may just be that slime technology advanced so much in the intervening thirty years.It’s not that the idea of a killer pink mess from space is necessarily refreshing, but then again the horror landscape has been dominated by vampires and zombies for a long, long time, and a guy can’t help but get the wandering eye.   The Blob is one of the most overlooked horror creatures; even werewolves, so often neglected, get more attention.  I haven’t revisited The Blob in a while, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by how fun it is.  I guess most people just don’t remember the modest greatness of this movie, if they were ever aware of it in the first place.

As I mentioned two paragraphs back, the 1988 remake of THE BLOB was written by Frank Darabont, who is most famous for adapting and directing THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and c0-scripter Chuck Russell, who also directed, and on his own is probably most famous for directing Jim Carrey in THE MASK.  These guys never seemed happier than when unleashing their vision of THE BLOB upon the world (a suspicion given credence by Darabont’s terrific return to horror with 2007’s THE MIST and 2010’s TV pilot for THE WALKING DEAD) – THE BLOB ’88 is funny, unpredictable, exciting, suspenseful, and occasionally genuinely spooky.

THE BLOB opens with a trio of main characters that are pretty much your basic BREAKFAST CLUB archetypes – the jock, the princess, and the criminal – minus an Anthony Michael Hall or an Ally Sheedy.  You’ve got the all-American high school football hero (Donovan Leitch), working up the nerve to ask out the cutest cheerleader (Shawnee Smith), while the rebellious motorcycle punk (Kevin Dillon) sneers in the background.  Okay, hang on —

 

Can we just have a moment of appreciation for Kevin Dillon’s macro-mullet in this movie?  No, that’s no mullet – that’s a mane.  Kevin Dillon’s hairstylist on this movie must have taken inspiration from that mightiest of jungle beasts, the lion.  Truly magnificent.

Meanwhile, back in the film:  An asteroid falls out of the sky and spits out some pink sludge that looks not unlike strawberry Jell-O.  It’s the title character!  A surprisingly stereotypical (even for 1988) old hobo is the first to stumble upon The Blob, which promptly attaches itself to his hand and starts nibbling.  The hobo frantically runs around trying to get it off, and runs right into the path of the jock and the princess on their date.  The teenagers try to get him help, but things just keep getting worse for everyone from there.

The movie descends into chaos from there, and it’s joyous.  The great thing about this movie is that, as jaded as one may be from watching tons of similar movies, you just can never tell exactly where it’s going next.  Characters who you were sure were the movie’s main character might be swallowed up early.  The authorities, normally an obstacle to heroes because they never believe the threat until it’s too late, here believe the threat fairly quickly — because they’re getting swallowed up by them.  No one has movie immunity here – the very young and the very old alike get eaten by The Blob.  The kill scenes are original and unusual; they play out as thrilling for gore hounds, and as effectively disturbing to the more well-adjusted.  The characters are almost universally likable, particularly Kevin Dillon, the super-cute Shawnee Smith, and Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn – and you’re always rooting for them to get out alive, although unfortunately not all of them do.

I won’t say any more than that, but I will provide a brief “Where Are They Now?” update in case you’re curious about what becae of THE BLOB‘s promising young cast: 

POST-SCRIPT:

After filming, the stars of THE BLOB went their separate ways…

Kevin Dillon was shorn of his mighty locks.  He wandered steadily through character roles until earlier last decade, where his odd charisma was rediscovered and he went on to entertain millions of douchebags as [arguably] the only remotely likable character on HBO’s Entourage.

Shawnee Smith, as cute and lovable as ever, apparently ran afoul of the Devil and was sentenced to appear in every single SAW movie to date.  It gets worse.  See her now on FX’s Anger Management.  That’s right, the Charlie Sheen show.  She deserves better, but that’s not how Satan works. 

Jeffrey DeMunn discovered incriminating photographs of Frank Darabont and parlayed that into featured character roles in every movie Darabont has made since.

Del Close, who played the deranged Reverend in The Blob, remained most famous for being a teacher at Second City and having taught just about every great sketch comedian of the past thirty years.  He is also credited with having uttered the greatest last words ever.

The Blob has had a roller-coaster of a show business career since its impressive screen debut in 1988. 

One year later, it had the highest-profile role of its career as “Pink Mood Slime,” the fearsome adversary of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and company in GHOSTBUSTERS 2.  After over-extending itself in that film by attempting to swallow an entire museum, The Blob became addicted to painkillers and was forced to take supporting roles in increasingly shoddy science-fiction films for cash before, in 1997, turning to porn. 

That was a dark, dark time. 

In 2004, The Blob found Jesus (in a nice callback to the final scene of THE BLOB ’88) and moved to Pasadena. 

Today, The Blob hopes to return to mainstream movies, and is now lobbying for roles in both Rob Zombie’s scheduled re-remake of THE BLOB, and in the forthcoming sequel to JULIE & JULIA, against the Blob’s acting idol, the great Meryl Streep.

 

More up-to-the-minute showbiz info on Twitter!:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

Talib Kweli has for a long time been my favorite MC, certainly the one I’ve seen most often in concert.  Few in any genre of music can match him for consistency and substance, and none have better balanced witty wordplay with words actually worth saying.  Matching Kweli with DJ Z-Trip is inspired, since Z-Trip is one of the most inventive and playful of the mash-up artists to have appeared in the hip-hop underground over the past decade.  Kweli brings a sophistication, sincerity, and sardonic humor to everything he does, and Z-Trip brings the wild sonic inspiration.

Their Attack The Block mixtape is a riff on my favorite movie of last year (and apparently Kweli’s als0), with contributions from all-stars like Black Thought, Styles P, and 9th Wonder (among others) and musical nods to Dead Prez, Public Enemy, Eric B., and REM (!!!!!!).

In my opinion this is pretty much the best thing to happen on computer speakers all year.

Download Attack The Block FOR FREE here:

http://www.datpiff.com/Talib-Kweli-Z-Trip-Attack-The-Block-mixtape.389953.html

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Here are a couple samples to wet your whistle:

Attack The Block” [Title Track]

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NY Shining”  [my favorite track at the moment]

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Follow TK on Twitter:  @TalibKweli

Follow Z-Trip on Twitter:  @ztrip

Follow me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Predator was released 25 years ago, on July 12th, 1987.  The movie was written by Jim and John Thomas (with possible on-set contributions from Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black, who also played the Sgt. Rock comic-loving Hawkins) and it was directed by John McTiernan (whose very next film was Die Hard) .  It’s one of my favorite movies, so I watched it last night to mark the occasion.

The following is what happens when you deprive me of sleep for a couple weeks and then mix me and an internet connection with a movie I’ve been known to say I love like a brother.

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It’s the 25th anniversary of the original release of Predator.  If you doubt this is a thing I’d actually celebrate, get to know me better!

Here’s to 25 more years of love and friendship! #PREDATOR

“Goodbye” by Alan Silvestri, off the score from Predator. #gonnahavemesomefun

Old Painless. #namestocallmyprivates

The #PREDATOR platoon includes three future lawmakers, the director of Iron Man 3, the director of Sister Act 2, and Carl Weathers. #victory

No one ever remembers poor Poncho. #PREDATOR

“If these guys are Central Americans, I’m a goddamn Chinaman.” (Mac does not appear to possess Asian lineage.) #PREDATOR

Arnold actually never sounds more awkward than when he’s saying swear words.  #PREDATOR

It’s so silly that Arnold is the star of this movie.  Or any movie, really.  It gets weirder the more you think about it.  #PREDATOR

“Hey Billy, get me a way out of this hole.”  #thingsArnoldmightalsosayatanorgy

Fun fact: Carl Weathers and Elpidia Carrillo later reteamed for Dangerous Passion, the insane movie I watched the other night.  #PREDATOR

Fun fact:  The guy in the Predator suit also played Harry in Harry & The Hendersons, which also was released in 1987! #silveranniversary

#PREDATOR has moments of magic that none of the sequels or remakes have been able to approximate. I’m serious!

A partial list would include:

Sonny Landham’s laugh. #PREDATOR

Mac and Blaine’s friendship. #PREDATOR

“We’re all gonna die.”

Billy admitting he’s scared. #PREDATOR

Mac’s moonlight soliloquy. And then the surprise pig attack. #PREDATOR

The razor snapping off against Mac’s cheek. (Mac is kind of the most watchable character for me on this go-round.) #PREDATOR

Carl Weathers’ disembodied arm refusing to lay down and die. #PREDATOR

That splash in the lake the very moment after Arnold collapses in the mud. #PREDATOR

Food for thought: #PREDATOR shows a friendship in irrevocable decline (Dutch & Dillon) against one that will never die (Mac & Blaine).

Or maybe the fact that Dutch tosses Dillon the gun when they split up means there’s [briefly] hope for their friendship after all. #PREDATOR

Dutch tells Anna “he didn’t kill you because you weren’t armed”, yet when Dillon is disarmed (literally) the Predator axes him anyway. #notfair #badpun

The Predator is a total dick, for the record. The won’t-shoot-if-you-don’t-have-a-weapon thing does not at all level the playing field WHEN YOU CAN TURN INVISIBLE.

They love because they are so alike.

It’s worth noting that #PREDATOR is structured a whole lot like a slasher film, with Arnold in the Jamie Lee Curtis role. #genderstudies

I’d love to get Dick Cheney’s take, considering that the Predator is a recreational hunter who royally screws over the American military.

Now realizing that I ranked #PREDATOR too low on my all-time top-50. Gonna be time soon for an update.

But that’s it for now.  Good night, #PREDATOR.  Good night, @Twitter-platoon.  Cuidado a “el cazador trofeo de los hombres.” It’s the hot season.

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See also:  Predators (2010)

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Now go ahead.  Mess with me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

When STARSHIP TROOPERS was released, the TV spots went heavy on the use of Blur’s “Song #2” (Woo-hoo!) and explosions and the Melrose Place prettiness of its cast.   I remember seeing those ads.  I remember how the marketing went overboard to make STARSHIP TROOPERS look like, for example, INDEPENDENCE DAY, from the year before, the kind of hooting-and-hollering us-versus-them supermovie that raked in cash like dead leaves throughout the 1990s.

This is normally the part where I go, “This movie is SO not that.”

Only this movie is so totally, absolutely, completely that.

It’s also a whole lout more than that, as an ingenious satire of the big dumb ugly-American blockbusters that were popular at the time (and are even moreso now — how YOU doing, TRANSFORMERS franchise?)  STARSHIP TROOPERS was written by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven, the devilish tandem previously responsible for ROBOCOP, one of the great satires of the 1980s or any decade, really.  These guys have the tools  — state-of-the-art special effects, smooth cinematography by Jost Vacano, crisp editing by Mark Goldblatt and Caroline Ross (TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY), a triumphant score by the late Basil Poledouris (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) — to produce a thoroughly rousing action epic, and the brilliant perversion of STARSHIP TROOPERS is that they totally did.

STARSHIP TROOPERS is as well-made, visceral, and stirring as any other action film of the 1990s, even predicting the disturbing carnage of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN by a year, but while it’s played straight, its soul is anything but earnest.  STARSHIP TROOPERS was originally a novel by Robert Heinlein, which I haven’t read, but by every account it’s not a very faithful adaptation.  The basic premise is that in the distant future, humanity is colonizing planets and facing competition/resistance from literal giant “bugs” whose home planet is excellently named Klendathu.

 

As the story opens, this war against the bugs has been going on for years, and human teens are recruited right out of high school to enlist and see combat.  Military service is expected of them, and also generally desired by them.  Most of the kids in the movie are totally enthusiastic to sign up and suit up.  One reason is that the armed forces are co-ed, which, because this is a Paul Verhoeven movie, means shower scenes.  The other reason is that these bugs are nasty — gigantic, spiky, slimy beetle things — which of course stands in counterpoint to the almost-comical prettiness of the movie’s heroes (including a pre-Charlie-Sheen Denise Richards, and not counting Jake Busey).

 

STARSHIP TROOPERS confused mainstream audiences and humorless critics as much as it delighted those with sensibilities more finely attuned to skepticism, cynicism, and irony.  The original release is often classified as a “flop”, which isn’t technically true — it made money, but only a little, which isn’t viewed as a success because of how much it cost.  What is true is that many of the “straights” were turned off to STARSHIP TROOPERS.  Here in America we seem to like our blockbusters the same way we like our wars:  Unambiguous, neatly resolved, with as little consideration as to the thoughts of the enemy as possible.  Verhoeven uses conspicuous facist imagery straight out of Leni Riefenstahl in his depictions of the surging Space Marines, and unsurprisingly many critics of the movie missed the point.  The masses don’t much enjoy these sorts of dangerous ideas either.  We want to see our armed forces as Captain America, and everyone they battle as The Red Skull.  I’m not necessarily criticizing that instinct.  I’m the same way.

But I also happen to believe that the point Neumeier and Verhoeven are making is a viable one:  That war is violence, and engaging in violence makes monsters of all of us.  If you disagree with me, I invite you to see how you feel after reading this news article which I read just this morning.  If we really love our troops, we can show it by not sending them away to face (and occasionally to become) monsters if it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Or we can just keep on squashing the bugs and enjoy watching those green guts ooze out.  There’s plenty of fun in that too.

STARSHIP TROOPERS is playing at 7pm tonight at the 92Y Tribeca screening room.

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I probably should be doing about 50 other things at this very moment, but I saw this great top-50 list today and was inspired it to immediately answer it.  I made my list very, very quickly, so in plenty of ways it’s the most honest form a list like this could ever arrive in.  While the numbering is fairly arbitrary (until the top five, where shit gets definite) and while the contents could easily change as soon as five minutes from now, this is still a fairly good representation of what a top fifty movies list from me should look like.  Anyway, let’s hit it.  Links where they fit.  I eagerly await any and all comments you might make!

50. Watermelon Man (1970).

49. Fletch (1985).

48. The Great Silence (1968).

47. Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954).

46. The Hit (1984).

45. Knightriders (1981).

44. The Night Of The Hunter (1955).

43. Of Unknown Origin (1983).

42. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973).

41. Prime Cut (1972).

40. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997).

39. Coffy (1973).

38. Trainspotting (1996).

37. In Bruges (2008).

36. Quick Change (1990).

35. Collateral (2004).

34. Out Of Sight (1998).

33. Halloween (1978).

32. Magnolia (1999).

31. Raising Arizona (1987).

30. Escape From New York (1981).

29. Shogun Assassin (1980).

28. Goodfellas (1990).

27. Purple Rain (1984).

26. True Grit (2010).

25. The Unholy Three (1925).

24. My Darling Clementine (1946).

23. The Insider (1999).

22. Alligator (1980).

21. Animal House (1978).

20. High Plains Drifter (1973).

19. Freaks (1932).

18. Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

17. An American Werewolf In London (1981).

 

16. Predator (1987).

 

15. Jaws (1975).

14. Shaft (1971).

13. Evil Dead 2 (1987).

 

12. The Wild Bunch (1969).

11. Manhunter (1986).

10. Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976).

9. Heat (1995).

8. King Kong (1933).

7. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

6. Big Trouble In Little China (1986).

5. Unforgiven (1992).

4. Dawn Of The Dead (1978).

3. Ghostbusters (1984).

2. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968).

 

1. The Good The Bad & The Ugly (1966).

@jonnyabomb