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September 2010 Review Roundup

OK month of movie watching that unfortunately marked the start of a three month slack off on getting reviews posted. I'm hoping to backfill some of these if/when I get a chance.

Sept. 4 - Samurai Princess (2/10)
Sept. 5 - Breathing Room (6/10)
Sept. 6 - Machete (6/10); How To Be A Serial Killer (4/10)
Sept. 8 - Starship Troopers BD (6/10)
Sept. 11 - Sex Drive (8/10)
Sept. 16 - Galaxy Quest BD (9/10)
Sept. 27 - Teenage Paparazzo (8.5/10)
Sept. 29 - The Expendables (5/10)

Month's Movies Watched: 9
Previously Unseen: 6
Theatrical: 1
Home: 8
Year-To-Date: 79
YTD First-Timers: 71
YTD Theatrical: 22
YTD Home: 57

"Sex Drive" Review

The "young virgin guy takes road trip to get laid" genre has be around for ages and includes films such as The Sure Thing and Losin' It. Since the plot is pretty obvious, what matters is the writing and execution and Sex Drive does a nice job of cutting what could've been just stupid raunch with some sincere sweetness.

Josh Zuckerman stars as your typical Dweeby Virgin. He's in love with his best friend, Amanda Crew, who can't think of him in "that way" since they've known each other forever, and is envious of his friend Clark Duke, who despite being a doughy fellow of questionable sartorial tastes manages to bag the babes and exhibit Jedi-level people skills. When a hot blonde he's met online offers to sleep with him if he comes to her (no pun), he borrows his brother's GTO and heads out on the highway for wild adventure.

What makes Sex Drive work is that it manages to walk the fine line between clever and stupid, outlandish impossible situations (e.g. a wild Amish barn party with Fall Out Boy playing) with heartfelt emotional moments. Rest assured, the laughs stick on the more juvenile side of things - with boobies! - but it's not as condescending or offensive as it could've been in lesser hands.

The director and writers went on to be involved with She's Out of My League (which was so-so) and Hot Tub Time Machine (pretty good with heart), but the best of their work is this gem that no one saw. When I described it to people, I just got blank looks until I mentioned the bit with Seth Green as a sarcastic Amish stunning them with his knowledge of cars - it's in the trailer below - at which point they had their bells rung a little.

Score: 8/10. Rent the DVD at least.

"Starship Troopers" Blu-ray Review

Picked up a used Blu-ray of this for six bucks and decided to give it a spin to see if time has been kinder to my memory of it being a mixed bag of action and silliness. It hasn't.

I read Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers back in high school and barely remembered much of it in 1997 when Paul Verhoeven's goofy film version came out. Verhoeven was returning to the sci-fi genre of his prior films Robocop and Total Recall after a detour into Joe Eszterhasville with the tag team of Basic Instinct and Showgirls.

The brightly-lit cheesiness of ST with big-teethed stars Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards along with a closer-to-Doogie Howser-than-Dr. Horrible bugged me (no pun) back then and it hasn't gotten better with time. The core problem I've always had with the movie is the utter stupidity of the military tactics: When you're fighting a monster foe on a barren planet with no cities or resources to preserve, what's the smart part of the idea that instead of just nuking the place from orbit (it's the only way to be sure) you should send legions of foot soldiers down there to shoot it out with a fast-moving, swarming, armored enemy that requires a clip of ammo to be emptied into their bodies to bring them down? Less cinematic, to be sure, but hella more sensible.

My comment about Richards when I saw the film in 1997 was, "We're supposed to believe she's this awesome starship pilot when she looks like she couldn't get the family's LeBaron station wagon out of a mall parking lot without denting the fake wood paneling." Put it this way: She makes Jessica Alba look like Helen Mirren in the acting department. Watching it now it confirms that her best performance was in Wild Things because all she had to do was be dumb and look good naked.

The Blu-ray is pretty good with a clean transfer and suitably booming sound. What's interesting to see in the clarity of high-def is how cheap the sets look. I watched Galaxy Quest a week later and what was supposedly a comic spoof had better production values. The bug special effects haven't aged that well, but are still pretty good by contemporary standards - it's just that the bar has been raised so high by films like Avatar and Transformers.

Score: 6/10. Buy it if you're a fan of the film, otherwise rent.

Note: The extras were done for a 2002 Special Edition DVD and really play up the liberal cast's take that the fascism they thought the film portrayed was being whipped up by the government post-9/11. I only started watching them, so if there's more to be gleaned, I'll update this section.

"How To Be A Serial Killer" Review

This black comedy starts off promisingly with an infomercial encouraging viewers to "stop ignoring the voices in your head" and attend the motivational seminar put on by Mike (Dameon Clarke, who's like a TV version of Edward Norton) and setting up the premise that he is willing to help a greasy video store clerk learn the dark arts of serial killing.

Using a mix of seminar snippets, straight narrative, and to-the-camera interviews with a criminal psychologist, Mike's girlfriend and the protege, it's not bad for the first 20-30 minutes and then starts to drag and lag before it gets frenetic and messy at the end. Perhaps it would've worked better as a short film of half the length.

Score: 4/10. Watch on a friend's cable.

"Breathing Room" Review

Another of my 50 cent Hollywood looting pickups, all I knew about Breathing Room was this cover...

...and the premise on the back cover. (Watch the trailer below which sets it up nicely.) For those unwilling/unable to click, a young woman (Ailsa Marshall, who looks like a prettier, more girly Katee Sackhoff) arrives naked (no skin, sorry) in a room that looks like a warehouse with 13 other people, none of whom know how they got there either. She's given a numbered jumpsuit and signs on the walls and floor warning of dire consequences for breaking the rules. Why are they there? Is this tryouts for a Slipknot tribute band or a struggle for survival in which all but one are promised to end up dead? (Survey says.....B!!!)

Shot for what looks like $50 with a camcorder - the actual budget was $25,000 according to Wikipedia and the camcorders were prosumer grade - Breathing Room benefits from having a decent, albeit unknown, cast with the ability to breathe some life into their thin-due-to-numbers characters. While you'll probably be able to figure out how it ends (though the final twist was a little less expected), the co-writing/directing team of John Suits and Gabriel Cowan pace things well and don't turn it into the Saw knockoff it could've been and it appears to be marketed as. I hate "torture porn" movies, so I'm glad to say this wasn't one in that sense.

While there are a few logical lapses - while there's a bathroom, no food or water is ever given and no one seems to complain about hunger or thirst; one player is killed and no one seems to notice their absence; people act like ninnies instead of trying to solve the puzzle of their confinement - it's to Suits' and Cowan's credit that I wasn't yelling, "Yeah, right!", more than a couple of times. While it's not a mandatory film to check out, it's far better than it could've been and it's worth checking out if you come across it.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable if it ever gets shown.

"Samurai Princess" Review

While I was looting a going-out-of-business Hollywood video, I picked up this DVD for 50 cents:

I overpaid by 50 cents and 85 minutes of my life.

With the success of gonzo mutilation Japanese horror splatter flicks such as The Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police, it's natural that their would be more, but unfortunately all the creativity is going into the yucky effects at the expense of the story, characters, comprehensibility and anything that would make it more than something to be cut down to a YouTube highlights reel.

Since I don't care to waste time on this, here's the plot from Wikipedia's page:
A band of criminals who have raped several school girls is attacked by the Samurai Princess. She is a cyborg, created by the scientist Madness from the parts of the gruesomely murdered girls. The criminals maintain they didn't kill them, but the princess kills them anyway. She now sets after the responsible Red Dragon and Butterfly, who see their murders as artistic.
The star, Aino Kishi (me neither), wasn't hired for her acting or martial arts skills and isn't all that hot. (BTW, she never wears the outfit on the cover.) The style of the film is utterly random: it starts off in "the Infinite Woods" with what appear to be medieval warriors, but they have video cameras, chainsaws, boob grenades (not making this up), and cybernetic enhancements. Suddenly, the two good guy characters are in what appears to be a empty hotel conference room before going into a lackluster soft-core sex scene. The end of the film ends up in warehouses.

It's all a boring mess and I wanted to shut it off several times but kept slogging on in hopes that something, anything, either really awesome crazy or hot would happen, but it never did. I've put it into my sell box. Even if you like this genre, don't waste your time on the Samurai Princess.

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

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