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THE BLOB (1988)

The Blob Starring: Kevin Dillon, Shawnee Smith, Joe Seneca. Director: Chuck Russell. Cliche-wranglers: Chuck Russell, Frank Darabont
Hey, remember the 80's? If you do, you'll recall that you couldn't make a monster movie set on Earth in the present day without tossing in an Evil Government Conspiracy. I mean, it was one of the rules, I think, because I guess people would turn up their noses at your little monster movie unless you showed an underlying solidarity with The People who were being repressed by the Government. Oh, you made a movie about a monster, how clever, was quickly replaced by Wow, you sure aren't afraid to stick it to the powers that be! And suddenly you're invited to all the best parties, and reviewers talk about you in hushed tones as one of the few persecuted voices of dissent who is willing to stand up and speak for the Truth. At least, I imagine that's the plan; in the case of The Blob, the movie tanked at the box office and, while it got some respectable reviews (mostly highlighting the advance in special effects) no one today really clamors for a three-DVD Collectors's Edition.

And I think a lot of this has to do with that very Evil Government Conspiracy. It's not really necessary. You have one of the most original monsters ever, but apparently that's not enough: you want to surprise people with this Evil Government stuff. The only problem is, it's not a surprise. As noted, everyone was doing it. During the 80's, nobody in Hollywood liked the government. Everyone went on and on about how bad it was, and how righteous The People were. It would be really daring NOT to have a conspiracy, or to have the military actually turn out to be helpful, but no one was interested in that kind of daring. (They still aren't.) In this case, the original version of The Blob does the remake better: neither the teenagers nor the cops who don't like them were either all good, or all bad. In fact, “Steven” McQueen is level headed and tries to be responsible, and the police chief is sympathetic to the kids and tries to be understanding. I doubt you could make a movie like that today.

The original film, made in 1958, is certainly no masterpiece (in many respects it's not even very good) but it does have a certain charm to it, it takes its characters and its menace seriously, and it has some cool set-pieces that are still remembered today. The remake, in fact, duplicates many of these sequences while upping the ante in terms of mayhem (the theatre scene captures the rampage well). But this brings up my second problem with the film: The new Blob itself.

The original Blob was pretty unique: it was simply a big ball of protoplasm that followed the food. It had no identifyable characteristics other than hunger, and, memorable for a 50's monster, it was absolutely quiet. There's once scene where it rolls across a garage floor toward a victim, who's busy working on a car, and thus has no warning at all. The Blob was smooth, featureless, quiet and inexorable.

The 80's Blob, on the other hand, makes all kinds of racket. It mewls like a kitten, squeals like a pig, rumbles like a flushing toilet, and generally couldn't keep quiet if you promised it a quarter and a ride on the merry-go-round. I don't see how it could possibly sneak up on anyone, and to the film-makers' credit, it never really does. It also looks less elegant; in fact, it looks like a chewed-up cellophane bag full of pink vomit.

The 50's Blob rarely attacked anyone onscreen; the “old man” and the doctor are the only ones we see Blobbed, and only briefly. This works well, not only to keep the budget low but to increase the unease that the Blob generates.

The 90's Blob attacks people right and left, usually doing a good job, with one notable flaw. Being surrounded by a protoplasmic, acidic creature, and devoured by said creature, doesn't seem to hurt at all. The only guy who really seems to be in appropriate pain is this movie's “old man,” and that's at the beginning. The football player seems to be hurting, true; but shortly after that, a young lady (passed out drunk) is dissolved from the inside. Now, I think that would wake me up, at least I hope it would. (The larger problem with this whole sequence is that it's just an a-ha setup, which means it doesn't have to make sense.) The biggest example of “doesn't hurt” has to be the sheriff—as he, imbedded in the blob, floats past a telephone booth, he rolls his eyes as if to say, If it's not one damn thing it's another, huh. My general feeling is that if you're going to show things rather than imply them, you should think this stuff through.

Now, I will say this in the movie's favor—it's well paced. The scenes move forward with very little dead space. And the cast has a lot of fun B-actors, like Jack Nance, Jeffrey DeMunn, Art LeFleur, Candy Clark, Paul McCrane and Del Close. Also, two Playmates: Julie McCullough (Feb. 86) and Erika Eleniak (July 89). Hey, a pre-Blob one, and a post-Blob one! Who they played, I couldn't tell you. (There's no nudity.)

In summation, I guess I have to say that, much as this film irritates me, once it gets going it's pretty easy to watch. The stupid parts are just as stupid, and the smart parts...well, there aren't any. How will you react? Well, overall opinion on this film is much higher than mine. You may decide this is the ultimate something. Good luck with that! And watch out for the government, man.

“Chew on that, slime-ball.”

Resident Evil: Apocalypse Starring: Milla Jovovich, various other people, zombies. Director: Alexander Witt. Typist: Paul W. S. Anderson
One night recently I saw Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and the next day I had trouble even remembering that fact. It's not because it was a bad movie, necessarily—I had fun while watching it, to a certain limited extent. It's true that it's disorganized, formulaic and I never found it frightening at all; I can say the same about a number of films that I enjoyed more and can remember quite well. I hate to use words like “unmemorable” or “unremarkable” because that sounds worse than this movie is. Perhaps a better word might be “undistinguished.” If asked, I could tell you the main characters, some of the high points, and (with a bit of thought) some of the things I liked. I might also be able to give you a general plot synopsis, though I'm not really sure that would do you any good.

I thought the first Resident Evil movie was okay, kind of like this one in being undistinguished, and Apocalypse is a direct sequel, taking place in parallel with the last few minutes of the first film. A deadly virus, one that kills and then re-animates its victims, has broken out in a city that is (fortunately) easily contained. (Some have questioned the ease of erecting a fifteen-foot wall in a matter of hours, but I suspect that the Evil Corporation might just have been expecting such a setback—working on deadly viruses and all--and had the walls already positioned underground. Just in case, you know.)

Alice, our heroine, must escape from the city (along with a small band of survivors) before the whole place is nuked. What follows are basically a number of set pieces in which Alice (or others) encounters zombies, mutant creatures, secret weapons, and finally evil scientists. It's nothing you haven't seen before, except the spectacle is raised several notches (though honestly none of the notches is all that interesting). One thing I will give the film-makers is that they convincingly portrayed a city totally overrun with cannibalistic dead.

Returning from the first Resident Evil are Milla Jovovitch as Alice, and writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson, though Anderson only wrote the script this time; the direction is by one Alexander Witt, who I have never heard of.

And I'm sure Mr. Witt is a nice guy and everything, but I really question whether he ought to be behind a camera. Watching this film is made all the more difficult by Mr. Witt's chaotic, distracting style. Generally speaking, when watching a horror movie I'd like to be swept up in the, you know, horror, and not in trying to figure out what's going on.

I can easily imagine Mr. Witt instructing his DPs (there are two), “No, no, pan much faster, so we can't tell what's going on! This shot is too clear, blur it up! Hey, I wanted some pointless slow motion here! No, I want this angle, because it makes the viewpoint most confusing!” And then he perhaps told his editor, “These shots are two long, cut them down to less than a second...and this sequence makes too much sense, add in some of that infrared stuff!”

And on and on. No, I know Mr. Witt didn't say these things. It's just my imagination. Must be, right?

Of course, the film is, shall we say, immodest enough to plan its own sequel in the last few minutes. There is one scene that genuinely puzzles me, and I'm sure I'm not spoiling anything by going into some detail. As she calmly escapes the building near the end of the film, Alice looks up at a security camera. A guard is watching her; before he can broadcast a warning, he starts bleeding from every orifice and keels over dead. My thought at first was that there was a new, deadlier strain of the virus now loose. Either that, or Alice somehow caused it to happen (though it doesn't seem likely). Given the nature of the ending, it is possible that a hidden third party was trying to assist Alice's escape; I suppose that must be what happened. It was awfully confusing at the time.

Finally, what is wrong with zombies? Why are they so rarely allowed to be the main source of danger to our protagonists? Think back, even to George Romero's Dead Trilogy, 28 Days Later, the second Blind Dead movie, even some of the Italian things...there are always human villains who are traitors, or protecting their self-interest, or just more destructive (the motorcycle gang in Dawn of the Dead). I'm trying to think of a film where the zombies were more than occasional window dressing, and I can only come up with Return of the Living Dead. Which is one of the greatest zombie movies of all time. Film-makers, maybe you should take note of that.

As for this film...perversely, I find my sheer inability to remember experiencing it the most fascinating thing about it. It's almost as if some evil scientists brainwashed me!

Team America: World Police Starring: Puppets. Voices: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller, Masasa. Director: Trey Parker. Writers: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady.
I suspect there won't be any middle ground opinion on this film: you're either going to find it terribly offensive, or terribly hilarious. I confess I fall right into the latter doubt impaling myself on something sharp while doing so, and gushing lots of blood. Maybe they'll put me in the next movie then!

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the creators, writers and voices behind the “South Park” cartoon, nor do I need to remind you that they did the same for the big-screen South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. “South Park” is not only funny and offensive (though it should be noted that it is an equal-opportunity offender), but also strikingly intelligent and perceptive as well. As as with the South Park movie, Team America drops some of the intelligence and raises the offensiveness to new heights. Yes, those of you who thought South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut wasn't offensive enough, might just have found your movie here.

The story of Team America is very similar to the old “Thunderbirds” television show, in that both are cast entirely with puppets, and that said puppets operate an array of advanced vehicles for all terrains. While they travel the world hunting terrorists, they frequently wreak havoc on the surrounding countryside as well (largely because they're, well, not very bright. Even their computer speaks with a stoner accent). They are assisted by Spottswoode, who communicates from their vast base hidden inside Mount Rushmore.

They've just been alerted to the biggest terrorist threat of all time, and to combat this, they need just one more thing: an actor.
To say much more would spoil the fun (yes, fun) of this film. I found it hilarious from start to end, which probably says more about me than you wanted to know. The puppets are great-looking, with some good facial expressions (the Chiodo Brothers created them). The voice acting is great (“MATT DAMON”) and the production design, the backgrounds and sets, is all incredibly detailed and beautifully shot. Then there are the songs.

As in South Park: BLU, the songs are terrifically infectious, but as in South Park: BLU, you don't dare sing them in mixed company (although the one about how to use a montage is probably safe).

There's so much I'd like to tell you about. There are virtual shot by shot remakes of the Cantina scene and the “You don't need to see his identification” bits from Star Wars. Kim Jong Il sings a song about being lonely. Fruit-eating gorillas, it turns out, can be deadly. Three years on, Parker and Stone still hate “Pearl Harbor.” I actually applauded at the “panther attack,”, no, you'll just have to see the movie for these things, as well as the scene where Hans Blix reveals the awesome power of the U.N. The urge to revisit the bits of this movie, and give them all away, is a very difficult one to resist. Must...resist!

My overall opinion is that this is a hilarious movie and you should see it. Right now.

Now, a word of caution: this movie is definitely not for everyone. Go back and read that sentence again. If you have problems with foul-language, graphic sexual situations, extreme gore, or the longest vomiting scene ever, there is a lot of that here. Take heed. You can't quote very much of the film (or sing the songs) in front of your mom. And I didn't even mention the hot puppet sex, which is...disturbing.

But this is the best movie Alec Baldwin has ever made. And Roger Ebert didn't like it, and I bet that is because Roger Ebert makes doody in his pants.

Go Team America! For the first time I can recall, I'd love to see a sequel.