Friday, November 16, 2012

Not Quite There: The Man With The Iron Fists

Going For It:
  • Fairly bloody
  • Doesn't take itself too seriously
  • Created by a true kung-fu film devotee
  • It might convince some people to dig deeper and find a really good kung-fu movie?
  • RZA
The Case Against:
  • So quick of a pace that most of the movie fails to keep up
  • Half of a movie, that should be a trilogy, masquerading as whole
  • Not enough cameos
  • Not enough true kung-fu film fighting
  • RZA
MMG Says:

RZA is a beautiful, beautiful man.  He has legitimately changed the landscape of music from his Wu-Tang days.  We are not going to take anyone seriously who says otherwise.  He was a delight in his Jim Jarmusch acting roles and on Chappelle's Show.  He is also a real, true fan of kung-fu movies, and seems to take from them the best of what there is to take from them. However:

1) He should NOT be an acting lead under any circumstances other than a Bobby Digital road movie or something like that

2) It is questionable whether he should be directing anything (jury's still out for the moment)

3) While it's possible to tell that he's a true fan of kung-fu movies, the fighting has more in common with any 2000s-era generic action film than anything from Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest

So what is left from a kung-fu movie that only allows shadowy glimpses of wire work and fighting styles named after animals and eschews balletic orchestrated bouts of fisticuffs?  Plenty... in fact, way too much.  This movie has some brilliant ideas behind it, and some very colorful characters.  Having a town run by animal-based clans that are constantly warring? Fantastic!  But why not actually show them really having it out against each other?  And why tease us with a fucking bird man if you're only going to show him for 15 seconds?!  The Gemini Killers? Great, old-school idea.  But how about a little hint of backstory?!  Brass Body?  Very cool.  But maybe throw us a fucking bone about how he turns into metal.  Oh, and Lucy Liu's cadre? A nice bit of an admittedly inconsequential twist... except that we have no idea why they are doing the twisting!  Explain shit to us!

Here's the problem: this movie was mangled.  It's unclear if this is a RZA or Eli Roth problem, notes from the studio, or the result of test audiences imposing their ADHD all over the place.  What is clear is that RZA and Roth were unsure they'd every have the opportunity again to take the studio money and run with a martial arts movie... so they crammed it with dozens of great ideas and characters and moments, and sensible Western updates to countless classic kung-fu tropes.  Whether though it found its way to the cutting room floor, or just the pink butt end of a pencil during a rewrite, there is another half of a movie lurking around somewhere.  Everything was just so partially conceived or poorly explained that there is no doubt in our mind that the explanation exists somewhere.  This is not a case of depicting archetypes and scenarios from old school movies and we're just expected to go with it; it is very apparent just from the pacing and certain ineffable qualities that what we are watching is not whole.  Hell, this is likely 3 or 4 movies even... and what we are left with is a tame smile, a couple chuckles, and an empty feeling as to how this movie really could have been and meant something.


P.S. We hate to be a broken record.  This site isn't called the Titty Movie Guide or anything.  But how the hell is it that much of the movie takes place in a brothel, and there is an extended scene of multiple couples having sex, and we don't get so much as one single boob or butt cheek?  This movie has numerous spurting decapitations... they couldn't finagle one damn nipple?!

P.P.S. The ad campaign of having multiple hip and unconventional posters was a great idea.  We think this might be one of the best movie posters we've ever seen:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Not Quite There: Hell Comes to Frogtown

Going For It:
  • Wrestling legend "Rowdy" Roddy Piper
  • Frog people with decent make-up/costumes
  • That's about it...
The Case Against:
  • Severely uneven tone for the protagonist in the writing
  • Severely dull
  • Severely disappointing
MMG Says:

While we are a proud people here at the Man Movie Guide, we are not afraid or ashamed to admit when we were wrong.  This is one of those instances.  You will have noticed that some time back we posted, on its lonesome, the trailer for 'Hell Comes to Frogtown'.  In MMG-ese, that is our way of saying that we approve of that movie and that it qualifies as a true Man Movie up for review on down the road.

Let us set the stage for you:  Post apocalyptic.  Starring Roddy Piper, wrestling legend and pitch perfect star of MMG favorite 'They Live'.  The protagonist is named Sam Hell, one of the few times we endorse a cute/clever character name.  Sam is an exceedingly rare fertile man in a world that consists only of the following: fertile women, desert wasteland, fertile women, mutant frog people, and fertile women.  Sam is contracted by the government to begin repopulating civilization.  This, dear reader, is a can't-fucking-lose proposition... right?  Not so.  Not so.

The movie starts off nicely enough.  Piper is detained for a crime before the movie begins.  In the initial few scenes he is a wisecracking jokester; and while not every line hits its mark, it is a very good indication that we are getting our hands on the one-liner wisenheimer brand of action hero in this movie.  Only this never really happens.  The viewer must slog through an entire movie as bare and bereft of life as its arid backdrop. The action is few and far between, fairly somnambulent, and Piper doesn't do quite the ass-kicking job that we'd come to expect from either the ring or 'They Live'.  Piper's character even loses his charm pretty quickly; as his 'sit-on-it-and-spin' attitude largely falls prey to a messianic mope routine with occasional bouts of slapstick (centering around his genitals in an electric chastity belt and his ability to cross his eyes... which is oddly not related to his balls' predicament).

As for the supporting cast, it's a mixed bag.  We get a super butch/fairly attractive commando who shows off her tits while escorting Piper.  And if you have a thing for Katey Sagal, then perhaps you can make a case for watching the movie, since there are extended scenes of her bordering-on-malnourished doppelganger prancing around in assorted lingerie.  Then we have poor Rory Calhoun, who genuinely looked and sounded like his handlers had to unhook his oxygen tank between takes (he seemed so close to death that we actually had to check on the proximity of this movie to his actual demise... and astonishingly he held on for another 11 years, and worked another 5).  Lastly, there are the frogs.  There isn't a whole lot to say about them, except that looking at them was one of the scant pleasures this reviewer got from the movie.

This movie, like so many others that fall short, failed to achieve true Man Movie status because it tried to walk in both the light and the dark.  If it resorted to Lloyd Kaufman (Troma) antics?  We have ourselves a winner.  If it went the route of all the killer action movies of the 80s, the Golden Age of the one-liner action film, and focused more on making Piper an ass-kicker who always says something droll after offing a frog? We'd worship it as a direct-to-video masterpiece.  Instead we're left with a movie that gets a passing grade only because we're proud they tried.

Friday, November 2, 2012

“You Shoot Zombies Where Now?” or Do We Need a New Paradigm?

The zombie genre in film, as we know it today, is now 43 years old (thanks to Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead).  Scientists estimate the number of zombie movies since 1968 at roughly 71,286,492.  It is statistically likely that three more will be made before you finish reading this article.  This then, begs the question, “Why don't the folks in zombie films know what a god damned zombie is?!”

Now I'm not going to pretend that I have seen every zombie film.  Many of you out there may be just as qualified on the subject, if not more so.  There could be some straight-to-video, big box, halfway decent zombie movie out there where the second the dead start coming back with a case of the munchies everyone just instinctively knows to plug them right between the eyes.  There could be dozens of movies where all people are well-informed on zombie dispatching methodology.  But there has yet to be a single one to have captured the imagination of the public...or even the rather hefty zombie nerd cabal.
The rather hefty zombie nerd cabal.  To be fair, the author looks just like this...

The modern vampire movie admittedly has something of a head start on zombie flicks.  But in that time, there have been several dalliances with aware characters handling nosferatu.  While people might be a bit slow to catch on, once it's been established that vampires are involved, people seem to know all the 'rules'.  And there're lots of them!  There are so many rules regarding vampires, that characters in movies will even fight over which ones are the correct ones (as in the vastly underrated From Dusk 'Til Dawn) or fall victim to believing some of the more agreed-upon rules, as in Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck (you know, “Oy vey! Have you got the wrong vampire.”)

When you think about it, the vampire expert is just as central to a vampire story oftentimes as the bloodsuckers themselves.  Reaching all the way back from the Bram Stoker original, there is a sizable vein of Van Helsing-type characters who will appear if only to inform everyone else of what to do and what not to do.
What not to do: Get bitten.

We certainly don't see much of that in zombie films.  The corollary may be the scientist figure that will conclude after half the population have become undead cannibals that these people may in fact, just possibly, might not be living people anymore.  At that point some revelation often comes in the form of a rough how-to in zombie killing. 

And the funniest thing about this all?  The guide to how to best quickly and definitively kill a zombie is an awful lot like how to best quickly and definitively kill a regular person.  Want to kill somebody real quick?  Shoot them in the head!  Want to make sure that someone doesn't recover? Burn them till there's nothing left!  We're not talking neurosurgery here.

The closest we've come to anyone actually knowing ahead of time what to do with a zombie is the farcical and hilarious Shaun of the Dead.  But even then, it took an overrun town and a whole record collection to understand what was truly going on.  You could try to argue that movies like Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead had resident zombie experts.  But, and this is a big but, those movies take place in a world where people ran around clueless for two movies before that.  Nobody ever sees it coming, and nobody ever accepts it even in the face of irrefutable evidence.
Nothing to see here. Things couldn't be more normal...

One of the many things that make zombies so captivating and terrifying can also be one of the most overdone and cliché devices in all of zombie movies.  You know what I'm talking about, when a character will watch their beloved boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/bartender/softball coach get bitten, spew gore from every conceivable orifice, go limp and die, only to come back up with that fogged-over thousand-yard-stare and inhuman gurgling snarl.  And what does the character do when watching their brutally maimed loved one creep towards them hungrily like a fat person towards a Krispy Kreme?  Why, they run right into the zombie's arms; and when those arms start digging into flesh, all the character can muster is, “Why are you doing this?  It's me, Johnny So-And-So!”  Even if I didn't know what a zombie was, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be looking to embrace my mom if I just saw her get chewed up by a skeletal corpse to the point where she looked like a run-over squirrel.

And so we come to the point where it's fair to ask: “Do we need a new paradigm?”  Do we need a zombie expert to hear one report of suburban cannibalism before he or she successfully forewarns anybody willing to listen?  I would argue yes.  And I would also argue no.  Over 40 years into the genre, I think it's safe to write characters that exist in a world where zombie fiction or lore exists prior to the latest radioactive accident/spellbook read/grave disturbed/Voodoo curse.  But, then again, 71,286,495 zombie movies now exist... and yet, we're still watching... and we're still amused.