Wednesday, January 31, 2007

DVD Review

A searing indictment of man's inhumanity to man displayed amidst the turmoil of the age-old conflict of man against nature. No, wait. My bad. It's about motherf***ing snakes on a motherf***ing plane. The sheer simplicity of the film's concept is its greatest strength. Snakes On A Plane is its own built in excuse; whenever something preposterous happens, the viewer just shrugs and says, "Hey, it's Snakes On A Plane. If I wanted gritty realism I'd have rented Mean Girls." Historically, the film recalls not just the airline disaster movies of the seventies, but the nature gone amok genre from the same period, represented by Frogs, Fer de Lance (snakes on a submarine, if you will), and a seemingly forgotten tale of bats going bats in a subterranean complex called Chosen Survivors, to name but a few.

Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips ) witnesses a mob hit on Daniel Hayes, a prominent prosecuting attorney from Los Angeles. Hayes has been laboring to put mobster Edward Kim behind bars, but for his troubles Hayes is beaten to death with a baseball bat. Sean is taken into protective custody by FBI Agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson ), and arrangements are made for Sean to fly to California under FBI protection to testify against Kim. Why exactly he needs to fly to California to testify about a murder that occurred in Hawaii is not mentioned, but hey, it's Snakes On A Plane, if I wanted a lecture on legal jurisdiction I'd rent High Noon. The FBI sets up a decoy private jet, while actually transporting Sean on a commercial 747. All the other passengers are forced to travel coach as Flynn has commandeered the first class section for his passenger. Kim's goons are not fooled, though, and they manage to get a large container filled with poisonous snakes from all over the world stowed in the luggage section. The flowered leis the passengers are given have been treated with snake pheromones, making those slithery bastards all the more aggressive.

Screen time is split between the live snakes and they're more energetic but far less convincing digital stand-ins. Once the vipers are loose the plot rarely takes a second to breathe, with snakes putting the hurt on the passengers at a breakneck pace. Even the heartiest of souls will cringe when they see the "snake on snake violence" as some poor schmuck just tries to take a leak. These cold-blooded belly-crawlers present not only an immediate threat to the passengers and crew, but they play hell with wiring and ventilation. Sean is relatively safe in the first class compartment, but he doesn't need to be bitten if the snakes can bring the entire plane down into the Pacific. One might ask why Kim would go to all this trouble. Surely a small but powerful explosive could do the job more efficiently. True, the plan is as convoluted as anything the worst James Bond villain could concoct, but hey, it's Snakes On a Plane, if I wanted realistic plotting I'd rent Capote.

The film's simplicity carries over into its use of characterization. Everyone in the movie has a personality that can be summed up in a few words: arrogant rap artist, bubbleheaded socialite, snotty British guy, etc. Even our hero Agent Flynn is a career cop with a failed marriage, and flight attendant Claire Miller (Julianna Margulies) is making her last flight before leaving the job. Introducing the characters as they board the plane is also a convenient shortcut which will seem familiar to anyone who has ever seen The Love Boat.

In the months prior to Snakes' theatrical release, there was buzz on this flick all over the internet. Not since The Blair Witch Project has a film's online promotion campaign so threatened to outshine the film itself. A catchy no BS title, a fast paced script, and the involvement of Samuel L. Jackson, and you've got one good time at the movies. The film also performs the difficult task of being predictable without being boring, and of being preposterous without insulting the viewer's intelligence.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Kaiju Love

This is both disturbing and hilarious. Here is a series of love-themed paintings featuring kaiju (giant Japanese monsters). Thanks to Boing Boing for pointing this out. All I can think is that the artist's sexual awakening happened in an instant, and he was watching Ultraman at the time. These probably aren't safe for work, so proceed with caution.

Friday, January 26, 2007

DVD Review

This is the third film in the Marvel Animated Features line to be released by Lionsgate Films, following in the wake of Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2. Never having had a big time live action incarnation -- or even a particularly notable animated one -- Iron Man lacks the immediate name recognition of Spider-man, X-Men, or some of the other leaders of the Marvel Comics pantheon. I'm sure all that will change once the big budget Iron Man film starring Robert Downey, Jr. hits screens in Summer 2008, but for the moment, this direct to DVD animated feature is old Shell Head's chance to shine (with the aid of a little Turtle Wax).

Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark has been channeling a lot of his company's funds into a pet project in China. He hopes to literally raise a long buried city, though a group of Chinese terrorists, fearing the return of an ancient emperor known as The Mandarin, attack the excavation. Stark's friend and overseer of the project James Rhodes is taken hostage, and Stark is injured during a rescue attempt. With Rhodes' help, Stark builds a high tech suit of armor with advanced weaponry, and the two manage to escape. Upon returning to the U.S., Rhodes learns that the armor he and Stark built together was only a crude version of a project Stark has been working on for some time. In a secret area of Stark Industries there are dozens of similar suits, each designed for a specific purpose. This is fortunate, as the raising of the Chinese city has awakened four superhumanly strong creatures, each mastering one of four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. They travel to the four corners of the earth in search of the five rings that will raise The Mandarin from the dead. Stark realizes that this is his fault, and perhaps the only one who can stop these creatures is Iron Man.

The back story receives a much needed revamping. In the comics, Iron Man's origin took place in Vietnam in the early 1960s, and his amazing armor was built with those miracles of modern technology known as transistors. You didn't see it much, but I bet the suit had an 8-track player too. According to an interview on the disk, the idea was to use a mystical adversary to counter Stark's advanced technology. While a sound theory, the elemental villains do little to grab my imagination, and the fact that their faces never change expression doesn't help either. The Mandarin is an imposing enough character, but he's saved for the film's climax. The film does a good job of incorporating terrorist leader Wong Chu and The Mandarin, two characters from the comics, but I think a high tech villain along the lines of The Crimson Dynamo or The Titanium Man would have been a better match for Iron Man. Characterization is often flat, particularly with Wong Chu, whose emot-o-meter is stuck on asshole. This can be attributed, in a large part, to the unremarkable voice talent, though I did like that Marc Worden reprised his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man from the Ultimate Avengers features.

In the plus column, the action scenes work very well. The elementals may not make for interesting characters, but in a mindlessly fun super hero brawl they get the job done. Iron Man's battle with The Mandarin's servants in a live volcano is a real stand out, and the climactic showdown with The Mandarin himself does not disappoint. When I first saw Stark in the familiar red and gold armor I got a fanboy chill down my spine. The film mostly uses traditional 2-D animation, though the elementals and Iron Man himself are rendered using 3-D computer animation. The design of the Iron Man character lends itself well to this process and it works quite effectively.

I enjoyed The Invincible Iron Man, though not nearly as much as I had hoped to. Perhaps a sequel not bogged down by the origin story will be more to my liking.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Way Cool Trailer

Oh my God, this is an awesome trailer. You can see influences from Bad Taste through Shaun of the Dead. I even see parts of The Killer Shrews in there. Even if the movie turns out to be a total piece of crap we'll still have the trailer, but I have I hopes for this one.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cool Video

As cool as the whole Youtube thing is, there's plenty of crap to sift through before finding something exceptional. Tony Vs. Paul, is a hilarious work of stop motion animation. I found the link to this on Boing Boing. Check it out.

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