Saturday, May 02, 2009

Cinema Critique, Light.

Sweet knees! It's been almost a month to the day since my last post. Unfortunate because I promised reviews for no less than 3 films. Sad thing is, I've had nothing on my plate for the last 30 days, save for some self loathing, a busted cardiac muscle and a renewed addiction to online poker. You can find me at the tables on Facebook and mySpace, if you want to find me.
In the interest of saving time, I'm trying something new. Rather than give a full summary and analysis ("full" being what full is by my standards) I want to kill 2 birds with one stone with brief, diluted overviews and general thoughts on the films I promised for you.
So, pardon the experiment and the tardiness as I give you, "Turzman's Cinema Critique, Light."

Prophecy (1979)
starring Robert Foxworth, Talia Shire, Armand Assante
written by David Seltzer
directed by John Frankenheimer

This is a film I have wanted to watch since I saw the trailers on TV back in '79, but never did until just recently when it quietly made its way to the top of my Netflix queue. I can say with certainty I wish I had seen this film before now. This gem has been lost in the obscurity wake of the Jaws ripoffs, despite the clever marketing that failed to mention its monster was a killer, mutated bear. I can only surmise that once word of mouth leaked out the word, "bear" people thought Grizzly and, by extension, Jaws, whose clones had grown tiresome by 1979. People simply lost interest. It's a shame, too because Prophecy offers commendable performances from the principle actors, is executed well enough by the masterful director John Frankenheimer and tweaks its premise enough to separate itself from the flagrant ripoffs. Still, it's a Jaws cousin, once removed and has its share of flaws.
Inner city doctor Robert Verne (Foxworth) is sent to Maine to settle a land dispute between a tribe of Native Americans and lumberjacks working for a paper mill. Now, a medical doctor is hardly qualified to settle land disputes, so why would the American government send a physician to do so? The short answer is, they wouldn't, except it's necessary for the plot later on. Also, there is no way said doctor would drag along his wife (Talia Shire), who doesn't even want to go, on such an excursion but he does. Why? Because unbeknownst to the doctor, she's pregnant, and that's important for the plot later on.
Before the doctor can mediate, he is intrigued by the over-agressive behavior of a raccoon that breaks into their cabin and attacks him and his wife. So he starts to study the local animal and plant life. Instead of mediating the land dispute. Based on the behavior of one raccoon. "Focus, Doctor!"
Anyway, long story short- the doctor figures out that the local animalia and botanica are being mutated because the eeeeeeeviiiiiil paper mill is dumping toxic chamicals into the lake. Only a doctor could have figured this out, which is why a doctor was sent in the first place. Get it? He also determines that this particular mutation process is immediate, rather than taking generations, like a regular mutation. Mrs. Verne hears this, after eating tainted fish from the tainted lake and realizes it means her baby will be born a mutation. Which is why a pregnant woman had to be dragged along on the trip. To add drama to the story. Get it? Oh well...
The lapses in reason take a back seat to how much fun Prophecy is to watch. Also, the film has one of the most memorable and creative death scenes I've ever seen. For your enjoyment, "The Exploding Sleeping Bag."

Oh yeah, baby.

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
starring Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb
written by Jeff Buhler (screenplay), Clive Barker (short story)
directed by Ryuhei Kitamura

I don't know how often it's been done, but The Midnight Meat Train is an example of excellent execution of a very, very stupid idea. I must make it a point to someday read Clive Barker's source material just to see how much of the story's utter nonsense is actually his fault.
A secret society is over-seeing the slaughter of innocent, unsuspecting subway passengers for the purpose of feeding humanoid monsters dwelling beneath the unnamed metropolis in which this story takes place (My first guess would be New York, based on the surface scenery. But the film shows none of the familiar landmarks and I didn't recognize any of the station names). Their sole enforcer is a big, mysterious, brutish mute named Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) who spends the waning hours of each morning murdering and skinning people in preparation for the demon feast, all on the in-service subway car. Down on his luck photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper) makes it a point to take pictures of "real people" and crosses paths with Mahogany, stumbling upon his bloody secret. A crazy cat and mouse hunt ensues. Not a bad idea, but in order for it to work, someone should have explained some basic, general facts to the production team in order to avoid errors in both logic and physics. For example, knowing how a train works would have helped these people not come across as idiots.
Again, the city never gets named, but having spent a fair amount of time on the New York City subway system, I can make some general obervances about the titular choo-choo in TMMT. People who like this film may choose to ignore the following, but that says more about them than me for not ignoring it...

What Mahogany does requires an insane amount of privacy. Even in the middle of the night, big-city subways have too many commuters to make the events in TMMT even possible, never mind plausible. Even by Hollywood Logic standards. Strike one.

There is no such thing as an "abandoned station" on any rail system in any city in all the world. Yet TMMT features dozens, when convenient to the plot. Even stations that are not in commuter use are still used by transit authorities to house equipment, vehicles, tools, etc. There would be both employees and guards in and out at all times. Yes, even at night. Strike two.

It seems this train only stops to pick up one passenger at a time, and then speeds non stop while Mahogany does his work, bypassing station upon station. And that's fine, most communter rail systems offer an express line to ease passenger congestion. But if Mahogany's train isn't express, it would catch up to the car in front of it, causing nothing but headaches for the bad guys. If it is an express line, modern technology allows authorities to locate any car at any time. It is not possible for an anonymous car to speed along unnoticed. If the train deviated in any way from its route or timetable, it would raise red flags with the controller, and if smeone wanted to find this train, they would know exactly where to look and when. There is no way in hell these people could have gotten away with what they're doing for as long as the film purports. In a word, it's impossible. Strike three.

If a city has a transportation system, it has a police department with a transportation division. Every subway has police sub stations throughout the system. Cops patrol the subways. So even if someone from the general public like Leon were never to accidentally find out what's going on, the police would. You can believe what you want, but not every cop is dirty, and not every cop is a member of this secret society. They would have been busted at some point. Strike four.

Finally, and this is the biggest faux pau in TMMT's logic, the climax takes place in a cavernous sub section of the city that apparantly no one knows exists. This is where the beasties live and eat, and Mahogany's work sees fruition. It's supposed to be "off the grid," but that would mean there are no tracks. If there are no tracks, there can be no train and yet, there it is, in plain sight throughout the film's endgame. Strike five.

TMMT fails on so many levels it's insulting, but its merits are great. Visually, this film is very effective and is testament to director Ryuhei Kitamura. His style is so cool that when watching, the plot holes almost go unnoticed. Vinnie Jones' silent performance as Mahogany is creepy and scary and he is the film's stand out performer. Also, there are great performances from Brooke Shields and Peter Jacobson in supporting roles.
Watch this film for a lesson in film making, or to be creeped out. Just don't expect it to make much sense.

That's all for now. In my next review, I'll explain why Quantum of Solace is not the worst film in the James Bond franchise, and why JCVD is the best film of Jean Claude Van-Damme's career.