Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Snakes on a Plane

Quick Note: Sorry I haven't posted something new in a while. I'm currently very immersed in another writing project so that's been taking up a lot of my free time. Here's a post I wrote and meant to post a while back on a modern cult classic!

My Edition: Single disc widescreen day one release copy.

History: This one has quite a bit of history. Essentially it was one of the first movies to be born from the internet, if not THE first. Snakes on a Plane started out as the movie's working title and was at one point going to be titled Pacific Air Flight 121. It was also originally going to be directed by Ronny Yu (who previously directed Freddy vs. Jason and a ton of movies back in China) but left due to creative differences and was replaced by David Ellis (may he rest in peace). The movie's B-ticket style gained tons of popularity online and even somewhat determined how the movie turned out in the end. It was originally being aimed at a wider audience with a PG-13 rating, but after the internet spoke up there were re-shoots done to make it an R with some intense snake violence. It also spawned the famous line, "I've had it with these mother fucking snakes on this mother fucking plane!" spoken by Samuel L. Jackson and is now one of his most quoted lines. Speaking of Sam Jackson, there was a point where his agent insisted the title be changed because Sam "couldn't" work on a movie with it's original title. When Sam found out about this he opposed it saying the only reason he accepted the role was because of the title. The movie released at #1 on it's opening weekend and eventually grossed a little over $60 Million. It remains a cult classic and if you watch the bonus feature that talks about the fans on the DVD you'll see tons of examples of fan art and projects based around the movie. One of those items includes a destruction derby car with 'Snakes on a Car' painted across the hood with a snake drawing, something that my freshman college roommate designed.

Personal History: I saw this opening weekend, actually at a Thursday night early screening with a few friends of mine. The place was packed with people all my age and mindset ready to see Sam Jackson kick snake ass! Got the DVD immediately when it hit stores and have watched it countless times since.

Review: Snakes on a Plane is truly a unique title. It's a movie that was born out of the bizarre sense of the humor that is thrown around on the internet through memes and other jokes. I do think this movie could have existed in a previous decade only it wouldn't be the same approach. I'm imagining a way too serious horror film with the same theme and not nearly as fun of a title. So for it being what it is, is what makes it so great. Cause the whole thing is one big joke and that's what I think a lot of people were missing when this first came out. Let me stop myself right there before I go much further. I'm starting to sound like one of my pet peeves. It's okay for people to simply not like this movie despite if they get the joke or not. Maybe it's not their sense of humor. However I think that the perspective on it is absurd because it's seen as so stupid, when a lot of people I believe don't get that the point is for it to be stupid like that. Snakes on a Plane is not a horror movie. It's a comedy that tells the jokes straight faced, and that's what I like about it.
Quick sidenote on comedy. My favorite kind of comedy is when it's just like this. Let the jokes do the work. I like not just dead-pan humor, but straight faced acting that goes with it. I do not like the Adam Sandler-type of comedy where it has the actors telling jokes but trying to be funny in the process. This is why I liked, let's say, Airplane for example. Leslie Nielson is absolutely brilliant because he's not jumping around trying to act silly. The comedy is in his portrayal. He takes a comedic scripts but plays it like a drama and it's way funnier than it would ever be if it were the "trying to act funny" kind of comedy. Now I realize comparing Snakes on a Plane to Airplane is both unfair and appropriate at the same time. Unfair because it's a comparison to the Zucker Brothers who have stood the test of time with their comedies, but appropriate because it's on a plane. But all I'm trying to say is that this movie is clearly a comedy. Whether or not you get the joke it's a comedy. I just think that since it plays the comedy straight then people get confused about what it really is.
I am playing it off like this movie has a lot of hate. I don't think that's the case. It hasn't lived through the ages cause I think anyone looks at it like they look at a Furby. A fad that was huge for a little while but now is an old forgotten joke. But in the movie's defense it had a niche audience from the start. This was never meant for the mainstreams. It knew who would love it and it focused on that to make it perfect for those people. I think that's what I liked about it so much. Instead of trying to appeal to everyone it just did what it could to appeal to the people who wanted it. It's very Kevin Smith-like. And all in all the movie is honest. It doesn't try to sell you on anything less. It says right there in the title, Snakes on a Plane. The fact that it presented itself in such a way shows it knows that it is. If it was call something like Flight 42, or something like that it would give the impression that it is trying to be something different. It would be false advertising. I love the fact that it is titled Snakes on a Plane. Like many others that title sold me on the movie alone.

Okay let's talk about the actual movie instead of my crush I have for it. As you can imagine, this is a movie about snakes who show up on a plane. But the thing is that there needs to be some level, even the slightest, of logic that may make sense to get the snakes on the plane. Really anyone who is legitimately interested in this movie for what it is doesn't care about the plot but I guess it's somewhat necessary. So in short there are snakes on the plane because an unsuspecting citizen of Hawaii stumbles upon a murder by some mob dude. After barely escaping Samuel L. Jackson (playing himself) shows up at his place telling the witness that they need to fly to LA so he can testify against this mob dude. So they jump on the plane and take off and that's when shit hits the fan, cause Mr Mob Man snuck on a whole mess of snakes to take down the witness and everyone else on board. The scenes with this guy and the brief scenes of investigation surrounding it are easily the least interesting parts. For one, it's shoehorned, and therefore cliche. Secondly, who cares cause I came to see snakes. Lastly, it takes time away from Sam Jackson on screen, the only thing more people are interested in seeing above the snakes. I guess having the character in the story was necessary or else it's just a plane full of snakes for no reason. Maybe the (mob dude) could have been so much wackier or over the top like everything else here. Then maybe it would have been better when he was on screen. Thankfully these scenes are very brief.
Now all the characters on the plane itself are pretty wild as well. There's the germaphobic rapper who is constantly applying hand sanitizer. Then there are his two goofy "bodyguards" (I guess), one of which is played by Kenan Thompson! There's a new mother, a martial artist, a pompous business man, the male stewardess who everyone thinks is gay, a Paris Hilton-esque character, and the list goes on. These very un-P.C. stereotypes are a part of what gives the movie as a whole it's B-Ticket fun! Also a lot of them are pretty much bitches or dicks so you find yourself rooting for the snakes because you want to see these people dead, most of them.

Unlike the way the birds start attacking out of nowhere in Birdemic the typical horror fashion kicks in with a slow progression of kills by the snakes before it becomes flat out insanity. When I went to the first screening of this there was a lot of laughs and cheering at different parts but I think these first kills got some of the biggest screams. The first couple kills we see happen in the bathroom on board. One is when a guy is taking a leak. The snake comes up from the toilet and snatches on the guy's dick. We see him thrashing about while swinging the snake around everywhere and it is absolutely hilarious! The other is when a young, attractive couple go into the other bathroom to join the mile high club. While they're making out and getting naked they get attacked. And yes, the girl gets her tit bit. These caused a hilarious reaction in the theatre and whenever I watch it at home with a group. It's a great way to make fun of the typical horror movie tropes of having a kill either during or around a sex scene.
What happens next is complete insanity. Suddenly snakes are everywhere. All the different kills that come up seem to try and top the last one. A man gets trampled and then a woman's heel digs into his ear, people are getting bitten and swelling up having a puss-filled death. It's just complete insanity from here on out until the plane lands. But outside of the insanity there is something you'll discover. Somehow in the mix of all these crazy characters who are essentially glorified stereotypes, you'll find you have empathy for some of them. One good example revolves around two young boys who are going to meet their mom in L.A. They are flying alone. The younger of the two brothers is bitten by one of the snakes causing his arm to swell up really bad. While waiting and anticipating what will happen next, and then when the new mom comes to the rescue but sucking the poison out of his arm you feel this great sense of release and care for the kid. The great thing is that despite the silliness of the story and character execution you may be dang near brought to tears because of some of their actions (Maybe a slight exaggeration). The other prime example I have is when the very likable older lady stewardess runs into a crowd of snakes to save a helpless baby. The poor woman is of course bitten but the baby is safe. It's a bummer because she was a really fun character so seeing her die, and in such a heroic and heartfelt way, it tugs at the heart strings.

I think I may be thinking too hard because I'm honestly having trouble figuring out what all to talk about. I mean, the thing is that there's not a lot of depth but in the crazy B-Ticket department it's just so wonderful. So there's not much of the story or character to discuss. It's just that this is one of those titles that really needs to be seen to believe. If I keep talking it'll just be me describing all the other crazy shit that happens throughout and part of the fun is not seeing it coming. Much like I sated earlier all the kills just get weirder and weirder. Even the way they fight back can get great, too! One of my favorite parts of the movie is when the male stewardess is fighting one of the smaller snakes, and kills it off by picking up, throwing it in the microwave and blasting it on while screaming, "Who's your daddy now, bitch!" followed by a snake literally exploding. And a lot of the other stuff I don't even want to try and describe here because I won't do it justice. Just know that what else happens in this movie is both insane and hilarious. The dickhole characters get what's coming to them, too. Another one of my favorite scenes is towards the end when the jerk of a businessman gets eaten whole by the (big snake).
Now over the course of the third act the story does need to come into play again to help resolve the issue. Since a lot of people were bitten and nobody on board knows anything about snake venom they're stressing out big time on who will live and who will die when they land. So they call up one crazy character of a snake expert who is also kind of a dick but a dick that's easier to work with. Basically everything that happens on ground from here on out is like a watered down crime show with another cliche of a cop character tracking down the bad guy so they can get all the right antidotes to the exotic snakes. It makes you want to get back on the plane which does happen pretty quickly.
So essentially through the rest of the movie they find an insane way to get all the snakes off the plane, then find out that Kenan Thompson has over 1000 hours of flight experience putting him in the captain's chair, we then find out it's for a video game and that he was never able to land, etc etc etc, tension ensues, celebration. It's just hard to talk about this cause it's such a crowd movie. Part of the fun is watching it with a crowd and I don't think I've ever watched this movie alone come to think of it. I've seen it multiple times but every single time has been with people. And it's always been a blast because it is straight up good fun. So watching on your own would probably be fine if you're into intentionally chessy and over the top flicks, but I still think you would have a better time with it if you watched it with a willing group of good friends.

And the movie's credit sequence song is really badass.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: A Haunted House

Version I Watched: Redbox DVD rental

History: Was released on January 11th 2013 which was originally the release date of Scary Movie V. The movie had a budget of $2.5 Million and it wound up making nearly $60 Million worldwide. It was received mostly with negative reviews but a sequel is already in the works.

Personal History: I'm just as surprised as you are.

Review: It's true I am a fan of bad/good movies. I recently exclaimed on my FB page how I'm planning on pre-ordering Sharknado to add to my collection of other bad/good movies like the Puppetmaster movies and Mega Piranha. But some movies are just so bad they move beyond becoming good and become bad again... or were just bad in the first place. In this case I want to touch on spoof comedies. I talked about in my Mafia review that in the recent years there's been a lack of quality in spoof comedies. We used to have Naked Gun, not much anymore. In recent years we've had multiple Scary Movie titles and then the craptastic Friedberg/Seltzer comedies like Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Disaster Movie. The only truly great spoof comedy there's been in the last decade or more has honestly been Black Dynamite (Don't worry, I've got something planned for that one). So whenever a new one comes out that isn't a sequel (i.e. Scary Movie V) it's understandable to be very skeptical. But in terms of A Haunted House... could have been worse.

I don't know what drew me to this one. I had no interest in it when it came out in theatres and passed it off as just another one of "those" comedies. Did I want to see it just to see how bad it was? Or did I have a legitimate interest in it? Any way you look at it I decided to pick it up. And the following may surprise you. I actually laughed a lot during the movie.
Something that usually takes me out of these more recent spoof comedies is that they look crazy cheap. For an example here's the trailer to Scary Movie V. One of Scary Movie's biggest downfalls over most of their movies is that they try to cram as many references together as they can regardless of relevance. Because of that everything looks out of place and that it doesn't belong. Now take a look at the trailer for A Haunted House. Now, while it doesn't mimic Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, or The Devil Inside it gives off a better vibe of satire right from the get go. And what I liked about A Haunted House so much is that it knew it's theme and it stuck with it. This has benefited from the fact that it's from Marlon Wayans who was one of the writers on the first Scary Movie which was pretty decent (I'm sure if I watched it now it wouldn't be as wonderful as I remember). And overall Marlon Wayans, along with the rest of the Wayans brothers, are pretty funny guys. So they know what they're doing. They have experience with pretty fun comedy. Not smart comedy, more so unintelligent dirty comedy that's just fun to laugh at for an easy watch.
But that's what A Haunted House was. A low down dirty good time. Most of the humor was sexual and Marlon Wayans exploiting stereotypical black humor/reactions. There's even one part where Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) refuses to go into a room because he said if they were watching their story in a movie theatre then some black folks would be screaming not to go in the room. And I hope this doesn't come off weird (especially since I'm as white as a college ruled notebook) but I enjoy humor like this from time to time. I enjoyed the Nutty Professor movies back in the day, and whenever I see a fast talking black character in modern comedies I find them hilarious, and yes in the way they intend it to be funny (hashtag not racist). So honestly there were plenty of moments when this movie made me laugh out loud. But I guess that's mostly what can be said about this. It's a fun example of losing yourself in some silly humor. I'm just glad that they chose a style and theme and actually stuck with it.
Don't start to think this means the spoof comedy is starting to come around again. Hardly. I wish it would come back the way it used to be. And while I laughed a lot at this there were a ton of times when they were trying way too hard with some of their jokes, or they went on way too long. Mostly with the sexual humor. Early in the movie Malcolm is excited for sex and he's showing his camera what he's gonna do when his girl returns. He uses a stuffed animal and if it went on for maybe ten to fifteen second that would be one thing. It had to have lasted at lease a minute or longer. It kept going and it felt like it would never end. Also there was an ongoing joke where Nick Swardson's character kept not so subtly trying to have gay sex with Malcolm. I did however enjoy seeing Cedric the Entertainer. He's always made me laugh when I see him. Also one part that I was surprised I enjoyed was a joke that started as way too over the top. Later in the movie there's a moment when Malcolm is raped by the demon that haunts their house. It was of course all caught on camera and since the demon is invisible, then all you see is his ass in the air while screaming. A bit over the top. But when his girl watched it and she's laughing so hard at the video while Malcolm has his hand over his face out of embarrassment it made me crack up.
But probably my favorite joke in the entire movie was when Malcolm's girl said, "I may have failed to mention I sold my soul to the devil when I was younger."

I guess there's not much else to say about it. Kinda hard to talk about this movie without talking about the jokes specifically. But my overall, even shorter review is this. It's silly, it's stupid, but it made me laugh. It's not a higher grade of spoof comedy (especially now that I re-watched Black Dynamite the other day) but I feel it's an improvement that did more right than wrong. Just don't expect too much out of it. I don't want to oversell it cause I don't know if it'll be as funny as I remember it if/when I see it again.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review: Sadako 3D

Version I Own: Non-3D region 3 DVD from Hong Kong

History: I found very little on this one. Basically it's based on the novel S by Koji Suzuki who wrote the original Ring books this entire franchise has been based on. It was released in Japan on May 12th 2012 with little to no release elsewhere. During it's run there was one particular screening that was in 4D where at key moments the theatre would fill with smoke and the audience's legs would be grabbed from under the seat.

Personal History: I've had my eyes on this one since I first found out about it around the time I started this blog because I wrote about it. This is my first viewing of the newest entry in one of my favorite franchises.

Review: When you're a long time fan of any franchise whether it's a book, movie, or a video game you're bound to be disappointed at some point if the creators (or new creators) keep cranking out new installments. So you should naturally anticipate sequels or alternate takes on the story will not be that great. Not even great. Sometimes you just need to anticipate a horrible mess so you don't wind up disappointed every time. This is why when I saw Paranormal Activity 4 I got what I expected, a lesser experience that added little to nothing to the overall series. But I was curious none the less. I think you can see where I'm going. Basically Sadako 3D is another one of those examples. As big of a fan of this franchise I've gone through many interpretations and expansions on the story. Some are great, some are terrible, and some I have very mixed feelings on. So my expectations for Sadako 3D were very low, especially after seeing the trailer. I knew it would be bad. I knew it wouldn't provide enough new to the story to be considered a worthy addition. What I didn't know was some of the directions it would attempt to go in to try and scare the audiences. Some of them were somewhat expected, but others were out of left field and a poor attempt. Anyway, getting to it.

The first thing I noticed about this movie within the first few minutes was how it took a totally different direction in style from the previous stories. It had a very fast paced, quick cut style to it and even some shaky cam. The opening credits were blurred in and out in a rough font like someone scribbled them on the screen. The score was a bass heavy booming "scaaaAAAAaaary" music that was trying too hard. And so forth and so forth. In short it looked and felt right off the bat like an American remake of a classic horror movie. It reminded me of the remakes of A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003, not 2013, the one from 2013 was surprisingly amazing!). But more importantly these opening moments felt like what the American remake of Ring could have been. Thank the Lord it wasn't, as the actual remake from around a decade ago did manage to capture a good portion of what made the original great. No, this had that feeling of a super Americanized remake but coming from the country of the story's origin. It felt like the original story was taken as the base but made changes to make it suit a more mainstream audience or something.
Now in a sense there were some changes that needed to be made to have it properly appeal to a modern audience. It can still have the same kinds of scares as the older movies (which it doesn't) but one part that is severely outdated now is the tech that initiates the plot. In the first adaptations of Ring as it was in the books the curse was spread via a cursed video. This video was on a mysterious VHS tape. I'd like to think that audiences could get behind the creep factor that a tape would give off what with the fuzzy and distorted images from multiple viewings (or copies spoiler alert for a story that's over ten years old). In a way it makes more sense to have the cursed video on tape if anything because of reasons I just stated. Also, think about this. How scary is a scratched up DVD? It skips. It doesn't distort or warp like a tape does. It freezes up and you may need to skip to the next chapter. Way less scary from a pure aesthetic perspective. But in the case of Sadako 3D it's an online clip. That's even less scary! And I can sum it up in one short sentence. 404 File Not Found.
The supposedly scary parts of the movie were so poorly done and 404 is the poorest attempt of them all. Seriously, watch the trailer and in there they treat the 404 error like it is something so terrifying and if you even look on the poster it is there, too. It's like the movie is being sold on an element that is more annoying than scary. The 404 error is in reference to the cursed (now video clip online instead of a mysterious tape) footage that will kill anyone who watches it and how the page won't load the video. The cursed video this time around is also completely different. And not just different in terms of how it interpreted the mysterious imagery. All this was, was footage of a man supposedly killing himself on camera via a live feed and it's the recorded footage that's circling the internet. Obviously there's more to it than that and he didn't kill himself. He was killed by a mysterious being but there's no sign of the body and so forth and so forth you know the deal. Eventually we do get to see the video where he is flying through the air as if being held up by someone being choked to death. Well who do you think was holding him up? Of course, Sadako. And now I move onto some of the parts that bug me the most.

Sadako is a terrifying character. She was born with special abilities that could kill someone with little to no effort. She was murdered when she was still a young woman but still haunts the world in the modern day. She hates the human race so much she wants it wiped out completely and plans to take everyone one by one. Also her appearance is scary. She is a tall woman with a white dress that is wet, dirty, and moldy showing how long she's been down the well. Her long black hair covers her face making her even more mysterious. She has a distinct look and it's creepy. Leave it to Sadako 3D to make this scary character look terrible.
Sadako in Sadako 3D doesn't look like Sadako. Yes she has the white dress, but it looks cheap. Yes she has the long black hair, but it's greatly exaggerated and literally touches the floor. Also she uses as a weapon in multiple scenes. Basically overall it's a Sadako that looks like a Halloween costume or a parody from a movie like Scary Movie. She does not look or feel like Sadako. She looks and feels like a totally different character. But they sure tried hard. Remember a couple sentences ago when I talked about how long her has is? And how it's used as a weapon? Well the theme of this movie IS hair. Her long black hair is everywhere and is used for multiple purposes, specifically to try and make things look scarier. But can you blame them for trying? I guess committing to it is better than throwing it away. But the hair is used like Zombies in modern American horror. The more the merrier I guess. Seems like if you need something scary you can just throw in some zombies and it's an instant horror tale and I guess the same must apply here with her hair. Long black hair is a common theme for Japanese horror but this is just overkill. But that's only one of many things that felt off.
So many things just didn't feel like a Ring film. It's weird cause I've seen almost every version of these stories. Some amazing and some horrendous. But there was one thing they had in common. They all somewhat felt like a Ring tale. I even dug the poorly done 13 episode mini-series based on the second Ring book, Spiral. That adaptation went off the rails by going very fast and loose with the story, but it was still somewhat interesting with some unique ideas. But so many things in Sadako 3D didn't feel like Ring. I'll try and summarize or else I could go on all day.
First, this is supposed to be a sequel, right? Then why is there no recognition of at least the rumors about a cursed video tape from the 90s? Usually urban legends like that would go around. I would almost expect some of the adults in the movie may have heard about it when they were in middle/high school. That really bugged me. Next, why does Sadako now kill instantly? Nowhere else in the stories has Sadako ever killed so instantly. The older stories gave a sense of coming terror with a chance of false hope that may or may not work. It was a brilliant method of pacing and atmosphere. Whereas here you have Sadako literally reaching her hand out of the monitor the very moment you watch the video (sometimes not even when you do watch the video). Next, TV portals. For some reason Sadako now NEEDS a TV to be able to attack. Or a monitor of some kind like a cell phone. Keep that in mind knowing that the whole TV trick was thought up by the filmmakers of the first theatrical Ring movie from 1998. A monitor isn't something she needs to attack. It's something that is an ability, but not her entire means of attack. Lastly, fucking spider Sadakos. Everything was going terrible up to this point and this somehow made it worse. In the third act of the movie a couple of the leads go to the well that Sadako was thrown into to investigate. It was no surprise to see that Sadako crawled out. But it wasn't just her, it was her but with insanely long spider-like legs and attacked like she was a mindless demon from hell. She was quickly defeated only to be followed up by a good dozen more of the SAME THING! This took a lot of credibility from the character in this adaptation cause it made her look weak. And she was very easily defeated in the end, surprisingly.
All in all when it comes down to it this didn't feel like a Ring movie and could have easily been about anything else. This could have been The Unborn, this could have been Darkness Falls, this could have been The Messengers. Basically any of the generic cookie cut horror movies from the last 10 years about demons or angry spirits felt just as creative and scary as this one. It's hard to recognize this as a Ring title. Maybe the concept of Sadako online just works better on paper. Or at the very least in the hands of a more competent set of actors and filmmakers. But what's probably one of the most unsettling is that fact that it's based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, the writer of the fucking original stories!
I was in denial thinking about that. I wonder if this is a case where the adaptation is very poorly done and the novel is a lot better. It just blows my mind that the original writer could turn something so great that he created into something completely unrecognizable from his previous works. I would really like to read the novel but it is yet to be translated. So until that day comes (if it ever does) I guess I'll just be left to wonder or learn to read Japanese. But at least it can't be as bad as The Ring: Terror's Realm, the video game adaption for Sega Dreamcast. I hear that is abysmally horrendously terrible.

Before I close out I found something when doing some of my history research. There's unsurprisingly going to be a sequel. I'll provide the link for the article I read here. It does have some cool ideas with the 4D experience, but I can't imaging this would be much if any better than the first one.