Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)

The Movie: Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) is your average nice guy living in New York City. His problem is that he’s not great with women. He’s desperately in love with his best friend and coworker Hannah (Anna Faris, of May and the Scary Movie franchise). However, she’s dating an underwear model, so he figures he doesn’t have a chance. Worse, he has a knack for getting involved with crazy women; and his last relationship has him scared to date six months later.

Matt’s problems really begin when his friend Vaughn (Rainn Wilson, no relationship it seems) convinces him to approach a woman on the subway. Despite himself, Matt does wind up impressing her, and he and Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman of Kill Bill and the Adventures of Baron Munchausen) start dating. Matt has some misgivings at first, thinking she seems like some of the other crazy women he’s been involved with, but for a while it doesn’t go too badly.

Things start to change after a run in with super villain Professor Bedlam (comedian Eddie Izzard), and Matt finds out who his girlfriend really is. He’s been dating G-Girl, the local superhero. Worse, Matt’s initial impression about her was correct; Jenny is insecure, jealous, manipulative and unstable.

When Matt has enough of it and breaks up with her, things get really bad. Jenny is determined to make him pay for breaking her heart. You think psycho exes are bad? Imagine a psycho ex who is capable of putting your car into orbit, or hurling a shark through your window…

The Review:

Wow, no woman’s ever done that to me; and I am a dick.”

I would like to begin by wishing my readers (all four or five of you) a happy Valentines’ Day. In recognition of the holiday, and to show my views on it, I have two reviews; this one, and Humanoids from the Deep.

Admittedly, My Super Ex-Girlfriend is not a great movie. It’s not a bad movie (those who say it is have no idea how bad movies can get), but it definitely could have been better. However, I have an affection for it nonetheless. I can cite three reasons for this. The first one is probably the circumstances surrounding the first time I watched it. I had wanted to see it for a while, and one night I rented it along with the movie May. After watching both movies I suddenly realized two things; it was about two weeks since I had broken up with my ex, and I had just rented and watched two movies featuring a break-up that went catastrophically wrong. I cannot help but wonder if it truly was a coincidence, or if there was something going on in my subconscious. Admittedly, both movies also star Anna Faris; but since I was unaware of it at the time I’m pretty sure that was a coincidence.

My second reason for liking this movie, and my reason for wanting to see it ever since I first saw the previews, is its handling of Jenny aka G-Girl. I have long had a problem with the character of Superman, he’s too perfect. Not only is he practically unstoppable physically, he is completely incorruptible psychologically and morally. Aside from his allergy to a rare mineral, he pretty much has no flaws whatsoever.

With the exception of her gender, G-Girl is Superman. Physically, she has all of his powers and abilities. However, psychologically she is Superman as I am sure he would really turn out. While having those kinds of powers would seem fun, they would also serve to separate their recipient from the rest of humanity. Even before Jenny got her powers she was socially awkward, and they have further served to isolate her. As a result, she is insecure, having very little ability to actually socialize with the people around her. Each mistake she makes in that regard reinforces her sense of isolation and insecurity in a vicious cycle, making her unstable.

Kudos are due to Uma Thurman and the makers of this movie for G-Girl. She is convincingly dangerous and scary, but at the same time she is sympathetic as well. I have actually known some people like Jenny in my life, sometimes even felt like her myself. The only difference being G-Girl is a lot worse on account of her being able to throw a car when she has a temper tantrum.

The third reason I like this movie despite its flaws is my identification with Matt Saunders. I, myself, have long had a knack for attracting crazy women; at least, crazier than usual. Yes, I did just say women are crazy. Men are equally crazy and, while I have yet to meet any hermaphrodites, I would bet anything they are no less psychologically messed up. To be human (and, I’m beginning to suspect, sentient) is to be insane, screwed up and damaged to some extent. It’s just that for some reason I seem to attract the women who are more blatantly so than usual.

Admittedly, Luke Wilson’s performance as Matt isn’t particularly memorable, either as really good or really bad. However, he plays the part adequately. The role itself, though, is very convincing. Matt is a more or less decent guy who is just trying to do the right thing, but who keeps winding up with the wrong type of woman. This is the hook that keeps me engaged in the film despite its other flaws; I know all too well what it’s like when the ones you want always seem just out of reach, while the ones who want you always seem hazardous to your health.

So those are the good points, what are the bad? Well, a lot of the attempts at humor fall flat. The movie provides not one, but two sources of odious comedy relief. There’s Matt’s uptight boss, Carla (Wanda Sykes), who is convinced that he’s some kind of sex fiend and constantly on the lookout for a reason to bust him. Then there’s Vaughn who is a sex fiend, and an asshole to boot. Both actors obviously have some talent, but their parts really don’t provide them much to work with and they tend to come off as painfully unfunny.

As a whole the movie is well shot and blocked. The special effects are good, and they are actually directed by the story instead of the other way around. I also love the animation during the ending credits, although I make a point of muting it because the song played is so insipid.

As a whole, I would say that My Super Ex-Girlfriend is a decent movie. It’s far from great, but it is fun and it handles well several issues I can relate to. What can I say? I like it, whether or not anyone else does.

Humanoids From the Deep (1980)

The Movie: A small fishing town is having problems; namely, it’s getting harder and harder to find any fish. This is impacting the local economy and therefore bad all around. There is some hope, the corporation Canco wants to set up a cannery in town; and in return promises needed jobs as well as a refurbishing of the fish population. Of course, this is met enthusiastically by most of the town, especially by the fisherman Hank Slattery (Vic Morrow from 1990 Bronx Warriors).

But one of the citizens is completely opposed: Johnny Eagle (Anthony Penya), our local Indian/Native American. Johnny is convinced that the cannery will only make things worse, and he’s determined to prevent it from being built. This puts him at odds with Hank, who is determined to prevent Johnny from spoiling the business deal.

And there have been strange happenings around as of late to ramp up Hank’s hatred and paranoia. Happenings such as a fishing boat mysteriously blowing up with all on board, or all of the dogs near the water (except, ironically, Johnny’s) getting mysteriously killed one night. Hank is convinced that Johnny is doing this in order to sabotage the cannery deal, and he and his redneck thugs are resolute that he learns a lesson.

Fortunately, Johnny has some friends in Jim Hill (Doug McClure) and his brother, Tommy (Breck Costin). Jim is in favor of the cannery, but he’s also an intelligent and reasonable man. He’s seen enough of the events himself to determine that a lone saboteur would be unlikely to accomplish it all. Besides, Johnny would rather fight Canco through the legal system.

With all the political games going on, nobody notices the monstrous fish-mutants that are really behind the problems. Not only are they killing dogs and attacking boats, they also attack some couples who happen to be on the beach by themselves. The men are killed gruesomely, of course, but the women are in for a worse fate.

The answers lie with Doctor Susan Drake (Ann Turkel), the Canco scientist who has come with its representatives. Remember how Canco promised to refurbish the fish population? Well their solution was a genetic treatment Doctor Drake developed. Unfortunately, some of the treated salmon were accidently released. It turns out that they were eaten by coelacanths (consistently mispronounced ko-al-i-canth instead of see-la-canth throughout the movie), and the genetic treatment kick started their evolution. The result is the creatures that have been causing the trouble, and a subconscious desire to evolve further has invested them with the desire to mate with human women. Unfortunately, by the time our heroes discover it the town’s annual Salmon Festival is underway, and it provides the fish men with plenty of walking targets…

The Review:

In most ways, Humanoids from the Deep is an exploitation film pure and simple. There’s the impossible science and the caricatures, the extensive gore and nudity, the rubber suited monsters at the center of the mess. In fact, Humanoids somehow manages to shoehorn in almost every B-movie trope of the previous few decades.

At the same time, there are a lot of little touches that help it rise a little above the status of just another piece of sleazy trash. A large part of it was probably due to how it was put together. The original director Roger Corman hired was Barbara Peeter, who put together a serious, non-exploitative take on the script. However, after it was filmed Corman determined that it lacked what the intended audience desired; namely, gratuitous gore and female nudity. He brought in director James Sbardellati, later to direct Deathstalker, to shoot the more exploitation friendly elements.

The end result is not a schizophrenic mess, as one might expect, but a competent blending of the two approaches. On the serious side, the characters aren’t all one-dimensional cutouts. There is actually some fairly thoughtful interaction between them. Our main hero, Jim, is actually for the cannery, but he is not going to allow opposing opinions to be beaten down. What’s more, he is willing to keep an open enough mind about the subject that he immediately takes notice when something isn’t right.

The conflict between Johnny and Hank is also a little bit more nuanced than it might be. Hank is the spitting image of a lot of public figures I have born witness to. Likewise, having lived in small towns a large portion of my life, I can say that this movie nails small-town politics near perfectly. However, while Hank is obviously an antagonist and an asshole, he’s not irredeemable. He and Johnny wind up working together to save some kids in the climactic attack on the Salmon Festival. What’s more, in another thoughtful touch Johnny winds up saving Hank’s life, and Hank is clearly conflicted over being at the mercy of the man who he’s been persecuting, not to mention Johnny’s willingness to do the right thing regardless.

On the exploitation side of things; there’s some decent stuff too. As another reviewer points out, it’s doubtful that it’s a coincidence that a single movie can incorporate all of the B-movie tropes it does and still maintain a brisk 82-minute running time. Not only that, but there are a lot of fun little touches throughout. As an example, one of my favorites is two of the victims; a couple in a tent on the beach. The guy is using a ventriloquist dummy to seduce his girlfriend, I kid you not, and succeeding. Not only that, but the dummy is funny as all hell.

Humanoids from the Deep has been facing charges of misogyny since it came out. I can see where one would get that impression, but I don’t believe this is the case. If nothing else, it features some rather strong, competent female characters. Jim’s wife Carol (Cindy Weintraub) certainly does an extremely good job at fighting off the fishmen attacking her and her toddler son. Or, in another one of my favorite parts there is Sandy, aka Miss Salmon (Linda Shayne, who later went on to direct, herself). On the one hand she initially seems like just another beauty queen bimbo. Then there’s the obvious jiggle factor when one of the humanoids chases her; she’s only wearing a skimpy bikini, and she gets her top torn off. However, when she is cornered, her reaction is to pick up a rock and apply it to her attacker’s skull. And she wins, too.

I only have two things about this movie that bother me. First is the rapes. On the one hand, the guys in the rubber suits make it look just ridiculous enough that it’s not as unpleasant as it could be; but the scenes are still a bit graphic and rape always bothers me. The other is the killing of the dogs. Admittedly, it’s not at all graphic, but I really don’t like it when animals get killed in these movies. Even (maybe I should say especially) when I’m actively hoping for all of the human characters to meet gruesome deaths, I really don’t like it when animals get killed, whether or not it actually shows it. What’s that? Misanthropic? Moi? Well, maybe just a little.

In the end, I would say that Humanoids from the Deep is a well made, if sleazy, little B-movie with just enough brains to raise it above being merely that. If nothing else it’s good, cheap sleazy fun; and sometimes that’s all we’re after.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Night of the Creeps (1986)

The Movie: We start out aboard an alien spaceship, where one baby-like alien is being chased by two others. When the pursuers are locked out of the corridor their prey escaped to, one emphasizes to the other that the experiment in the capsule he was carrying must not get off the ship. Unfortunately, he takes it to the airlock and it does just that.

The experiment winds up on a certain blue planet that should be very familiar to all of us. Specifically, it lands just outside Corman College in 1959. There, a sorority girl is about to go on her first date with a guy who she hopes will be her new boyfriend. Unfortunately, the evening goes even worse than you could normally expect a date to go. First, the beat cop who interrupts the couple on lovers’ lane to warn them about the escaped ax-wielding psycho turns out to be her recently dumped ex. Then when they see something fall out of the sky in the woods, the boyfriend goes to investigate, leaving her in the car by the road. Loverboy is attacked by slug things that come out of the alien capsule. The girl, meanwhile, meets the escaped psycho and gets the ax.

Twenty-seven years later, on the same campus, we meet best friends Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall). Chris sees and immediately falls in love with the beautiful Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow), but is too terrified to approach her. Fortunately for him, J.C. has no such reservations. J.C. is a paraplegic chronic smart-ass, and he’s well aware he’s never going to get laid anytime soon; so he figures he should help his best friend in that regard instead.

Chris gets it into his head that the only way Cynthia will give him the time of day is if he pledges a fraternity. Unfortunately, frat president Brad (Allan Kayser), who unbeknownst to the boys is also Cynthia’s boyfriend, has no intention of pledging them. Still, since they’re kind enough to present themselves for some humiliation, he feels he should give it to them. They are told to steal a corpse from the school’s medical center and leave it on the doorstep of a rival fraternity.

Searching for a corpse, the boys stumble across a top-secret cryogenics facility. They take the body out of the device, but unfortunately it turns out to be Loverboy from the beginning of the movie. When he moves, they freak out and run like hell, so they miss him killing the grad student who attends the facility.

The cop called to the scene is Ray Cameron (the prolific Tom Atkins) who, by a really nasty coincidence, turns out to be the jilted ex of the girl we saw axed in the first scene, and the first person to find her remains. Loverboy, meanwhile, turns up outside of Cynthia’s window, so she gets to not only see the corpse move, but also to see the head explode in a shower of slugs. Having dumped Brad for being an asshole (considering the kind of woman she turns out to be, you have to wonder what took her so long), she turns to Chris and J.C. for support. It looks like Chris might have that shot at the woman of his dreams after all.

Of course, it’s not that easy. The alien slugs infest all the bodies they can get, animating them and in turn causing them to infest the living. Cameron has some demons from his past that literally aren’t going to stay buried. Finally, the whole mess cumulates when a bus crash results in a horde of slug-infested zombie frat-boys….

The Review:

I personally would rather have my brains invaded by creatures from outer space than pledge a fraternity.”

As I mentioned in my review of Re-animator, creating a successful horror comedy presents a very difficult balance. If you lean too far in either direction you either wind up with a bad, tasteless (and not in the desirable way) attempt at comedy or a weak, half-assed horror movie. Also, if you’re not careful about how you balance the humor and horror elements, they can cancel each other out. Either way, the outcome is rarely entertaining.

However, every so often somebody is able to strike that precarious balance. Night of the Creeps is one of those rare attempts at a horror comedy that actually manages to get it right. For the most part, it is just a plain fun movie to watch. The humor, while often twisted, mostly works; only occasionally aging badly or falling flat. On the other hand, while Night of the Creeps mainly operates in the spirit of good, though usually perverse, fun; it does have teeth and doesn’t hesitate to use them.

On the fun side of the equation, Night of the Creeps has all the beloved staples we expect from our B-movies. The very beginning has some goofy alien costumes, and the rest of the film contains obviously low budget, yet still good and effective, special effects. We have likeable heroes, villains we love to hate, and gratuitous boob shots.

The humor can be hit or miss, but for the most part it works. J.C. and Detective Cameron get all the best lines, and they deliver them well. Where it misses is in the culture references, such as how almost everyone is named after B or horror movie directors.

As for the horror side, when Night of the Creeps gets dark it really gets dark. Things happen to characters we are led to like and care about; even when other movies of this sort would lead us to believe that some of said characters are off limits. Also, the character of Detective Cameron is one of the really bleak points. On the one hand, Atkins plays the character well, making him believable as an exasperating but likeable curmudgeon. He also provides a large portion of the humor. On the other hand, as the movie goes on we get to see how damaged an individual Cameron really is, and the situation with the alien slugs really isn’t helping him with that any.

One final issue of import is the ending. Night of the Creeps actually has two endings; the one that the moviemakers originally intended, and the theatrical ending that the studio made them use instead. For the longest time the theatrical ending was the only one I was able to see, as it was the one on the VHS tapes that were available to me. However, with the recent release on DVD (I snapped up my special edition copy as soon as I could get my hands on it), we are provided with a cut that has the original ending; although the theatrical one is apparently provided as a special feature.

I won’t spoil the endings for you, but I will offer this critique. The theatrical ending is your typical horror movie kicker ending that pops up out of nowhere. It’s not bad, but it’s not great and is something of a disappointment compared to the rest of the film. The original fits in much better, and is also much more ambivalent. You can probably guess which one I prefer.

So in conclusion, Night of the Creeps is a fun, well made little classic of a B horror movie. The acting and writing are good and the special effects, while obviously low budget, are equally well done. It’s also one of the few attempts at a horror comedy I’ve seen that gets it right; the humor mostly works and it’s fun, but the movie also has some rather nasty teeth. Definitely a must see for the B-horror aficionado.