Sunday, January 30, 2011

Baby Bumps Off: It’s Alive (2008) Review

Do we need more proof that filmmakers are so bankrupt of original ideas that they will remake absolutely anything? No? Too bad, because more proof is here, in the form of It's Alive, the 2008 remake (released DTV here in 2010) of the somewhat obscure 1974 original of the same name.

Lenore (Bijou Phillips) is a heavily pregnant post-grad college student who decides to put her studies on hold to move in with her boyfriend, and father of her baby, Frank (James Murray) to see out the pregnancy and have the baby. Shortly after moving in with Frank, Lenore goes into premature labour. Frank dutifully rushes her to hospital where her obstetrician explains that the baby has had a "growth spurt" and is ready to be delivered via caesarean section, stat.

What ensues is shown in disorientating jumps cuts, shaky camera work and almost subliminal flashes of bloody images. The end result: Lenore and baby are bloodied but alive, whilst the four medical practitioners in attendance are all dead. Bloody, splattered all over the room, dead.

Thanks to the effects of the anaesthesia, Lenore can't recall what happened. So the cops are left scratching their heads trying to figure out what went down while Lenore and Frank head home with their new born bundle of joy, Daniel, as if having your obstetrician and a team of medicos brutally slain during your birth is no real biggy. In the comfort of Frank's remote retreat things go from bad to worse, as their baby grows up fast and develops a taste for flesh even faster.

If you set aside the question of why you would bother remaking It's Alive and just, for a moment, assume that it had to be done, this updated version does do a lot of things right.

In the original, the baby's exploits and the post-traumatic stress of the parents were told as two separate sub-plots, only converging towards the end of the film. By changing this, and having the baby go home with Lenore and Frank, the remake feels less disjointed and Lenore's neurosis ultimately makes more sense.

The overt, borderline preachy, social commentary of the original has also been toned down a lot. The new film updates the message, taking a swipe at the usage of the internet for self-diagnosis and self-medication, but it makes its point relatively succinctly and then moves on. There are no rambling didactic monologues like there was in the original.

Finally, director Josef Rusnak, shows us plenty of carnage but hardly ever shows us the actual baby. He obviously understands that showing the baby in anything more than fleeting glances just highlights how ridiculous the whole notion is and leaves the audience in a state of laughter rather than a state of horror.

So, compared to the original, this remake is all good. That said, you still have to ask: is it a good film in its own right? Sadly, the answer is no, not really. You just can't escape the fact that the basic premise is pure schlock, and it doesn't matter how competent the execution, killer babies are just plain daft.

The film is also brutally short, not really allowing time for much of anything to actually happen. Just when things start to get going it all comes to a grinding halt. In fact, when the end comes you might just assume it's one of those faux endings that are followed by a resurrection of the antagonist before another finale or crescendo. The closing credits will swiftly inform you you've assumed wrong.

You could argue that the basic premise is so silly that the 1974 original probably shouldn't have been made, and therefore a modern remake is doubly pointless. In the end this remake just feels like a turd polishing exercise. Everyone involved has done a good job, but you're ultimately left wondering why they bothered with such a dubious project.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Off Topic: Dot Dot Dot

In May 2009 developer Jeremy Bush (aka Rhete) created a flash "game", Super PSTW Action RPG, that was clearly a joke parodying adventure and RPG games. PSTW stands for Press Space To Win, which is explained on the front screen of the "game".

In February 2010 a kid (aka Axeman13), too stupid to realise it was a joke, posted an earnest, but typo riddled, rant about just how crap the game was.

Amused the comments, the developer enlisted a voice actor, Deven Mack (aka D-Mac-Double), to record a reading of the review including phonetic pronunciations of all the misspellings.

Then this month, a graphic artist (aka RicePirate) created an animated flash of the comments to accompany the voice actor’s reading.

Here’s the end result, which I thought was hilarious...

…but you might think is worthles.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You’re Entitled To My Opinion: Gervais At The Globes

Did Ricky Gervais go too far with some of his jokes at this year's Golden Globe awards?

I think you can get away with being "controversial" if you're actually funny, but the problem for Gervais (as is often the problem with Gervais) is that he just wasn't.

I mean, did anyone actually find his gay Scientology gag funny? Tom Cruise and Scientology are pretty easy targets but still Gervais' gibe was clunky, and lacked any real wit. I didn't laugh, and neither did anyone at the award ceremony.

You can usually tell when people find an "offensive" or "controversial" gag funny: they laugh first and groan second. When a joke is not funny, the groan comes first, as it did on a number of occasions during Gervais' hosting duties.

And his "Ashton Kutcher's Dad" joke didn't even really make sense.

I've never found Ricky Gervais to be terribly funny and his stint on the Golden Globes hasn't changed my mind. The thing I do find amusing, however, is that many observers are now posing the question "will this kill Gervais' chances of making it big in Hollywood?" Honestly, I though Ghost Town and The Invention Of Lying already had.

Of course, in this age of faux controversy publicity stunts the whole thing was probably a deliberate attempt to generate interest in an award ceremony that no one gives a gay scientologist's dad's ass about anyway.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Today, When I Committed Treason: Tomorrow, When The War Began (2010) Review

Sometimes I feel like a traitor for not being as generous towards Australian films as a lot of Australian film critics seem to be. But I just can't bring myself to forgive a film for clichéd characters, clunky dialogue, dull action, and an incomplete story simply because the people that made it come from the same country as me. Err... mate!

In Tomorrow, When The War Began, Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) and Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) are BFFs living in the small town of Wirrawee. One day, they decide to go on a camping trip to a remote secluded location with Corrie’s boyfriend (Lincoln Lewis).

In what turns out to be the first of many examples of lazy screen-writing, Ellie's parents arbitrarily stipulate that at least seven kids must go on the trip, so Ellie does a phone around enlisting a bad boy (Deniz Akdeniz), a hot girl (Phoebe Tonkin), an Asian guy (Chris Pang), and a religious nerd (Ashleigh Cummings) to accompany them. Before you ask "where's the stoner slacker kid?" don't worry, they pick him (Andy Ryan) up later in the adventure. If it were established that these kids were actually good friends, or if fate threw them together somehow, I might forgive the clichéd character types, but the setup is so lazy and unconvincing that the contrivance (of these disparate kids deciding to go camping together) becomes a particularly annoying way to establish proceedings.

After the short camping trip, filled with clunky pseudo-philosophical dialogue that I defy anyone to describe as anything other than completely unconvincing, our Whitman's sampler pack of teenage character types returns home to discover a foreign alliance has invaded the country and taken everyone they know and love prisoner. Of course, our heroes do what those American kids in 1984's Red Dawn did and decide to fight back.

If an alliance of foreign nations really did invade Australia, their motivation might very well be to stop us making films like Tomorrow, When The War Began.

I really wanted to like this film. I mean, I do appreciate that someone in this country has tried to make something other than another depressing, gritty, urban drama. Unfortunately, Tomorrow just ends up being a stark illustration of the fact that attempting to make an engrossing action/adventure film and actually succeeding are two significantly different things.

Most of the film's problems come from writer/director Stuart Beattie's screenplay. It's just littered with unconvincing situations and dialogue, that continually jar you out of the moment. Take for example a scene where the religious nerd gets permission from her strictly religious father to go on the camping trip. He clearly has serious reservations about his precious daughter fraternising with any boys, so the notion that he'd approve of her camping with the local criminal bad boy, just doesn't ring true. Also, early on, a big deal is made of Ellie borrowing her parents Landrover for the camping trip, but when hot girl vomits in it, Ellie, oddly, just laughs like it's no problem. It's almost as if Beattie continually forgets what he wrote on the previous page of his script.

The main attack that the kids plan and execute against the occupying force is also hopelessly unconvincing. We're expected to believe that an invading force that can so ruthlessly and efficiently round up so many people as POWs, and orchestrate such a well organised invasion would leave a key strategic piece of infrastructure guarded by half a dozen infantry that could be easily displaced by a herd of cows? Really? I mean, really?! Perhaps if North Korea continue to get out of hand we should just send South Korea some cattle.

Another annoyance is just how hackneyed the characters' transformations all are. They are all just as obvious as their character type. Will bad boy ultimately become good? Will the timid religious nerd come out of her shell? Will hot girl become more down-to-earth? Will Corrie’s cowardly boyfriend become more courageous? Will the stoner kid become more responsible? You know the answer to these questions as soon as you recognise the types and, sadly, that is very early on in the proceedings.

Finally, Tomorrow commits my favourite movie making sin: it has no ending. It finishes like a TV pilot with all the main "characters" established but most of their adventures obviously yet to come. Note to film's producers: TV pilots belong on TV!

All the films flaws would be more forgivable if the film was funny, or entertaining in an escapist sort of fashion. But the whole thing is fairly humourless and the action sequences, whilst impressive by Australian film standards, are pretty low rent compared to your average Hollywood action/adventure. Sorry, but, exploding ride-on lawn-mowers just don't get the blood pumping.

The film's one saving grace is the excellent cinematography. I can't deny that the film looks great, but that's just not enough to elevate Tomorrow above being a dull, predictable, b-grade genre pic. Err... fair dinkum!