Sunday, September 30, 2018

R.I.P. Gary Kurtz

Damn, another obit. This one's particularly painful for me..

R.I.P. Gary Kurtz, who died on September 23, 2018 at age 78. 

Kurtz was a very talented Hollywood producer, and very good friends with one Mr. George Lucas. Kurtz collaborated with Lucas, producing American Graffiti, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. He also produced non-Lucas projects such as The Dark Crystal and Return To Oz.

While Kurtz's name may not be a household word, Star Wars fans owe him a HUGE debt of gratitude. Kurtz wasn't afraid to tell George Lucas "No," and overruled many of his more boneheaded ideas. Without Kurtz, Star Wars and Empire would be VERY different movies indeed, and likely wouldn't have been anywhere near as good or successful without him. In fact, looking at Lucas' original ideas, they'd have been downright awful.

Sadly, Kurtz and Lucas had a falling out prior to filming Return Of The Jedi. Kurtz was all set to produce, but became disillusioned with the direction the project was taking. In particular he objected to the inclusion of the cutesy Ewoks. 

When Kurtz asked why there was an army of sentient teddy bears in a Star Wars movie, Lucas cynically admitted he stuck 'em in so he could sell more toys. Sadly, Kurtz left the production immediately, to the film's detriment.

You can actually chart the exact moment Kurtz dissolved their partnership by looking at the quality of Lucas' output. Everything he made after Kurtz' departure is sadly lacking. It makes me sad thinking of what could have been under Kurtz's firm hand and sensibilities. 

R.I.P. Gary Kurtz!

To Boldly Disembowel Where No One Has Disemboweled Before

By now you've probably heard the news that director Quentin Tarantino wants to helm an R-rated Star Trek movie (!). When asked why he thinks that would possibly be a good idea, Tarantino said his Trek film needs to an R in order to properly depict "the horror of space."

Karl Urban, who plays Dr. McCoy in the current movies, took to the internet to justify Tarantino's controversial decision in a borderline incoherent rant. Said Urban, and I quote, "You shouldn’t worry that it is going to be full of obscenity and stuff. Tarantino wants an R-rating to really make those beats of consequence land. If it’s not PG, if someone gets sucked out into space, which we have all seen before, we might see them get disemboweled first… It allows some some breadth… gives him some leeway to do that."

Yes, because if nothing else, the bright and hopeful Star Trek has always been about the disembowelings. The constant, incessant and narratively necessary disembowelings.


Jesus wept. I officially give up and am lying down in the middle of the highway. Bring on the rush hour traffic!

Monday, September 24, 2018

R.I.P. Al Matthews, AKA Sgt. Apone

R.I.P. Al Matthews, who had a small but memorable role as Sgt. Apone in one of my all-time favorite movies, ALIENS.

Matthews was a Sargent in real life as well, and served in the Vietmam War.

"Another glorious day in the corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I love the corps!"

It Came From The Cineplex: Summer Of 84

Summer of 84 was written by Stephen J. Smith and Matt Leslie. It was directed by Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Kark Whissell. Try typing those names three times fast!

Smith previously wrote The Harrowing, whatever that is. Leslie previously wrote... well, nothing. Summer Of 84 appears to be his first theatrical work.

Simard and the Whissells (they're brother & sister) are a trio of Canadian directors, who go by the collective name of "RKSS." Hey, everyone knows the more directors, the better, right? All the best movies have more than one. RKSS previously directed Turbo Kid, which had a similar 1980s aesthetic.


When I first saw the trailer I thought, "Wow, a Stranger Things ripoff! That didn't take long!" It's a fair comparison, since both properties take place in the mid 1980s, and feature a quartet of teenaged boys riding around on bikes as they investigate mysterious happenings in the suburbs.

But that's where the similarities end though. In reality, Summer Of 84 is pretty much a remake of Disturbia, which itself was a retelling of the Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window. It's a remake of a remake that looks like a ripoff.

Honestly I'm not sure why the film was set in the 80s, as there are few if any references to the decade, and the setting has absolutely no relevance to the plot. There's no reason it couldn't have been set in the present day.

There've been a lot of recent TV series and films that worship at the altar of the 1980s, including Stranger Things, IT and Ready Player One. I'm assuming the filmmakers were just riding that wave of nostalgia here.

Despite its less than original storyline, Summer Of 84 manages to be a decent little thriller. It's definitely a slow burn film, which may turn off some viewers. Things finally pick up some in the third act, as the tension and suspense ramps up, but by then it may be too late.

I was expecting some king of plot twist toward the end, but sadly it never came. The storyline is pretty simple, and makes a unwavering beeline from setup to resolution, with no sidesteps or surprises along the way. 


Ordinarily I don't have a problem with stripped-down plotting, but in this case it made the killer's ultimate reveal predictable and underwhelming. 

Summer Of 84 had a VERY limited theatrical release, so much so that I can't find any info on its box office gross or even its budget. I can't imagine either one was very high. Why the hell would anyone spend all that time and money making a film and then not show it?

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
In the summer of 1984 (natch!), the sleepy town of Cape May, Oregon is rocked by the disappearance of yet another teen boy. The townspeople suspect it's the work of the Cape May Slayer, a serial killer who's abducted thirteen boys in the past decade.

We then meet our characters, as they chill in their tree house hideout discussing the Slayer. There's Davey Armstrong, the town's resident conspiracy theorist and our main character, Woody Woodworth, the "fat one," Curtis Farraday, the "brainy one," and Eats Eaton, the delinquent. 

For some reason, Davey suspects his neighbor Wayne Mackey (played by Rich Sommer— the only cast member you're likely to recognize) is secretly the Slayer. The others think he's nuts, as Mackey is a popular and respected police officer.

Desperate for proof, Davey sits in his room and trains his binoculars at Mackey's house, which is just across the street. He sees Mackey inside, talking with a teen boy he's never seen before. Feeling this is suspicious, he makes a note of it.

Davey then uses  the binoculars to peer at the home of Nikki Kaszuba, his secret crush and next door neighbor. He watches her as she changes clothes in her bedroom, but she unexpectedly turns around and catches him spying on her. 

Nikki comes over to Davey's house, lets herself in and goes up to his room. She's more bemused than angry that he's been watching her. Her mood changes as she tells him her parents are getting divorced, and she'll be moving away soon. She thanks him for listening, gives him a kiss and climbs out the window.

A few days later, the boy Davey saw in Mackey's house appears in a "missing child" ad on the back of a milk carton. This convinces Davey's friends that he may be onto something.

The four teens begin spying on Mackey, keeping a detailed account of his daily activities. They notice he buys an inordinate amount of gardening tools and lots of bags of soil. He also brings a mysterious duffel bag to work every day, and goes jogging late at night. 

Unfortunately none of this provides them with any evidence, so they decide to hide a walkie-talkie outside Mackey's bedroom window. Davey watches Mackey's house, and sees him standing in his bedroom window, holding the walkie. Davey worries that Mackey's onto them.

Meanwhile, a black-haired teen boy is walking home through Davey's neighborhood at night. He hears something behind him and when he turns, he's knocked out and abducted by the Cape May Slayer.

The next day Davey comes up with a more daring plan. He waits till Mackey leaves his house and sends Woody and Farraday to follow him. Davey and Eats then investigate Mackey's garden shed.

Woody and Farraday tail Mackey to a self storage center, where he keeps a second car and large canisters of sodium hydroxide. Farraday gulps and says sodium hydroxide can be used to dissolve organic tissue. Meanwhile, Davey and Eats break into the shed and find a bloodstained shirt. Davey recognizes it as the one the Milk Carton Boy was wearing.

Davey and the others then present their evidence to his parents. Mr. Armstrong, who's a local TV reporter, is shocked and appalled that they've been following and harassing an innocent man. He marches the boys over to Mackey's house and forces them to apologize. 

Mackey's amused by the boys' antics, and says there're no hard feelings. Mackey says the chemicals are for his garden, and the bloody shirt belonged to his nephew, who cut himself while helping him move a table. Mr. Armstrong tells Davey he's grounded for the rest of the summer.

Davey doesn't believe Mackey, and tries to get the other boys to continue the investigation. They're satisfied with his explanations though, and tell Davey to drop it already. Later that day, Mackey shows up at Davey's house while his parents are out. He offers to call his nephew to prove to Davey that he was telling the truth. Davey says OK, but becomes nervous when Mackey enters the foyer. He tells him to stay put and brings the phone to him. Mackey calls his nephew, but there's no answer. Davey says not to worry about it, and hurriedly rushes Mackey out of the house,locking the door behind him.

Davey then calls the operator, and discovers Mackey called his own number instead of his alleged nephew's. This reaffirms his suspicions that Mackey's a serial killer.

The next day, the town's abuzz with the news that the Cape May Slayer's been caught— by none other than Officer Mackey! Davey doesn't believe it of course, and somehow talks his friends into reopening their investigation. He gets Farraday and Eats to attend the Annual Cape May Festival and keep their eyes on Mackey, who's the guest of honor. During the Festival, Farraday finds out that Mackey bought the bags of soil for a park beautification project. He and Eats then abandon their posts and go home.

While his parents are out, Davey, Woody and Nikki sneak into Mackey's house. Woody films the whole thing with Mr. Armstrong's new video camera. They go down to the basement, where they find a bizarre and creepy recreation of Mackey's childhood bedroom. They then find a locked door and nervously force it open. Inside they discover the remains of the Milk Carton Boy being dissolved in a tub of sodium hydroxide. As they back out of the room in horror, they stumble over the black-haired boy, who's still alive.

Cut to Davey and the others in the police department, as they play the tape for the Chief. He watches in shock and disgust, and issues an APB on Officer Mackey. Mr. Armstrong apologizes profusely to Davey for not believing him.

Woody then spends the night at Davey's house for reasons. Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong very awkwardly assure the two boys they're safe now, and tell them goodnight. Right on cue, Mackey creeps down out of the attic and knocks out the two boys. He takes them to a remote tidal island and turns them loose, announcing he's going to play a game of "Manhunt" with them.

The boys take off into the woods, but tumble down a hill and land in a bog where Mackey's been dumping his bodies. Davey sees Mackey's police cruiser parked a few hundred feet away. He tells Woody to make a run for the car, and runs off in the opposite direction, yelling Mackey's name.

Woody makes it to the cruiser, but Mackey comes up behind him and slits his throat (!). Davey finds Woody's body and cradles it in his arms. Mackey then captures Davey, curses him for ruining his life, but decides not to kill him. Instead he tells him he's free to go, but warns he'll return for him some day. He'll never know exactly when though, and he'll have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

Cut to Davey on his paper route, as he passes the homes of his neighbors: 
Eats' house (his parents fighting in the front yard), Milk Carton Boy and Mackey's now-abandoned home. He stops and opens one of his newspapers, whose headline reads, "Cape May Killer Still At Large."

Thoughts:
• Not a lot to say about the movie, so this'll be brief.


• Kudos to the four main actors, who all did a great job in the film. They seemed like actual kids, rather than the typical "movie teens."

One could argue that their characters are all stereotypical teen archetypes— you know, the brain, the punk, etc. Eh... I wasn't bothered by that, as I thought it helped differentiate them from one another.

That said, how the hell did this group of friends ever form in the first place? Davey, Woody and Farraday are all fairly nerdy, so I get why they're pals. But Eats is definitely the odd man out in the group. He's a heavy metal delinquent who's even had run-ins with the local police. 

He seems like the type who'd rather beat up Davey and the others than hang out with them. Especially in a freakin' backyard treehouse.

The only thing I can figure is that Eats was once a nerd like the others, but his horrible home life caused him to go through a "phase."

• Rich Sommer also does an amazing job as Officer Mackey. Somehow he manages to make him likable and endearing, but with an undercurrent of danger and malice. You're never quite sure whether he's going to hug someone or snap their neck, which really ratchets up the tension.

You may recognize Sommer from Madmen, as well as a few guest appearances in The Office

• When Nikki sneaks into Davey's room, she reminisces about how she used to babysit him. Wha...? How the hell did that work? They look like they're the same age!

The more I thought about it though, I realized that even if they're both in high school, they could still be four years apart. That means when Nikki was 14, Davey would have been just 9, and he'd have likely needed a sitter. So her statement checks out.

• The scene in which Davey's home alone and Mackey tries to "innocently" but firmly invite himself in was incredibly tense, and very well done. It's been a long time since a scene in the movie made me sit on the edge of my seat, so kudos to the directors!

• Unfortunately the film breaks down at the start of the first act, when Mackey's secret is revealed. The movie does its level best to pretend it's over and the threat's been eliminated,
 but it fails miserably as there's still another half hour to go!

I freely admit I can't think of a good way to fix this "fake ending" problem. It's common to many slasher/horror movies.

The worst part of the false denouement was the scene in which Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong assure Davey and Woody that they're safe. Their dialogue is extremely contrived, as they literally say, "You boys can sleep easy tonight, as that sicko Mackey will never get in here!" They then awkwardly leave them alone so Mackey can sneak in and attack them!

• In the final minutes, Mackey decides not to kill Davey, as he's come up with a better punishment. He vows to kill him someday, but he'll never know when. That way Davey'll have to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

Yeah, yeah, I get that this was supposed to be unsettling. But it felt like the movie just sputtered and coasted to a weak stop. It definitely needed a punchier ending.

Summer Of 84 is stripped-down, slow burn little thriller that's elevated by its top notch performances. Unfortunately it's also highly derivative, meaning there're absolutely no surprises. It falls apart a bit in the third act, but it's still worth a look. I give it a B-.

SPACE FORRRRRRCE!!!

Recently Asshole Race Bannon, er, I mean Vice President Greg Pence held a press conference, in which he reinforced the trump administration's vow to create a sixth branch of the U.S. military, dubbed the Space Force. 

According to Pence, this brand new division will be responsible for "the national security of space activities," whatever that means.

Never mind that the U.S. Air Force already handles this sort of thing. The Air Force Space Command is headquartered in Colorado, and oversees the military's use of satellites, rocket launches and cyberwarfare operations. It also tracks space junk in orbit around the planet, as well as incoming foreign weapons.

Apparently Pence either doesn't know about that or doesn't care, and wants to establish a separate department that does the same thing as one we already have. Because why spend $10 billion when you can milk the taxpayers for $100 billion or more? Instead of Space Force, they should call it Boondoggle Platoon.

Eh, I wouldn't worry too much about it, because it's never gonna happen. For one thing, Pence stated the Space Force would be up and running by 2020. For those of you not good at math, that's less than two years. Just a little over twelve months to create a brand new military branch, based in outer space, that will protect us from enemy space-based weapons, and will require technology that's likely not even invented yet. 

In addition, the president can demand this ill-advised idea all he wants, but he can't create the Space Force without the approval of Congress, which seems unlikely.

But those are all just minor details to be worked out. Pence's press conference was about more monumentally vital matters— namely picking a design for the Space Force's logo! Because that's what's really important right? Forget figuring out how to fund and build dozens of cutting edge spaceships and laser weapons, what we really need is a snappy logo!

Here are the six designs proposed by Pence. Wow. That's quite a collection there, Mike! Let's take a closer look, and mock them in true assholish internet fashion, shall we?

First up is this striking little red number. The colors are nice, even though they don't scream "outer space" to me, and the composition is well done. I'm not a fan of the font though, as it's a little too "1970s Sci-Fi Movie" to ever be taken seriously as a branch of the military.

Still and all, this one's definitely the best of the lot. Turns out there's a very good reason for that, too...

IT'S JUST A SLIGHTLY REWORKED NASA LOGO!

Whoever designed this logo just took the current NASA emblem, swapped out the text, changed the colors and called it a day! It's even got the same sweeping arrowhead wingding in the center! Sadly, the Space Force artist apparently didn't understand how Adobe Illustrator works, and couldn't quite figure out how to get the bottom leg of the arrow to pass in front of the text like it does on the real NASA logo. So he didn't even try.

Verdict: PLAGIARISTIC FAIL!

Yeesh. I don't know where to start with this one. Once again, they've chosen a wacky, happy-go-lucky font that's completely inappropriate for the armed services. And why does the logo look... incomplete? The inside of the oval is filled with stars, but there're only four outside it like they were added as an afterthought. Did the designer run out of time? Or is drawing stars too much like work and he got bored and just quit?

My biggest problem with the design is the placement of the rocket. See how the tip of it touches the light blue border? That's called a tangent in the design biz. A tangent is when two objects line up or bump against one another, creating a point of tension in a design. 

A tangent inadvertently draws the viewer's eye right to it, and away from what should be the center of attention. It's like they drew a big red arrow pointing at the tip of the rocket. Here's a really good article explaining tangents in further detail and why they're so bad.

I'm also not a fan of the way the rocket's flame is "hollow" and overlaps the border either. 

There are several ways to fix this design. You could shrink the rocket and so the tip and the flame are inside the blue oval. Or make the rocket even bigger, so the tip and flame extend well past the oval. Maybe put a thick white outline around the rocket, to separate it from the background. Or scrap this idea and start all over.

Verdict: TANGENTIAL FAIL!

Once again, someone simply aped the current NASA logo. Same basic shape, same colors and same starry background.

Sadly they picked the ugliest font possible, and then crammed it right up to the edges of the circle, leaving the words with no room to breathe. But hey, at least this guy was able to figure out how to get the red lines to go both behind AND in front of the letters! Impressive!

My favorite aspect of this design are the red lines. I assume they're supposed to be the spaceship's contrail? Unfortunately the way they're laid out makes it look like the rocket's hopelessly lost and out of control, flitting wildly through the void of outer space. And what's with the awkward split in the line under the letter R? Did part of the rocket break off and go flying away on its own trajectory?

Verdict: MAJOR TOM FAIL!

This particular emblem's actually not bad if you're designing a 1980s videogame console in an arcade.

Once again they've used the exact same font as the NASA ripoff, which does NOT suggest a military organization to me. Seriously, can you imagine a squad of highly trained, tough-as-nails space marines wearing this emblem on the sleeves of their uniforms? They'd be laughed back to Earth by an alien attack force!

Verdict: 8-BIT FAIL!

Seriously? This is legitimately being considered as a logo for a branch of the United States Military? All I see is a giant red & blue nose under the ship.

Verdict: NASAL FAIL!

I'm genuinely puzzled by this logo and what exactly it means. I was under the impression the Space Force was meant to repel threats from above. This design implies the goal's to get to Mars. So which is it, Pence?

I suppose it could be both, but sending a military organization to another planet makes me think we're going there to conquer, not study it.

Also, whoever designed this logo apparently believes Mars is covered in Magic Rocks.

It doesn't matter whether this logo's good or bad, because the odds of us traveling to Mars and setting up a permanent base are the same as Greg Pence dressing up as Dr. Frank N. Furter at a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Verdict: IRRELEVANT FAIL!

Now I know what you're probably thinking here you're saying, "Bob, if you're so smart and talented, why don't YOU submit a logo of your own instead of making fun of other people's hard work.

Alright, I will.

I present to you MY design for Mike Pence's Official Space Force Logo. One that truly captures the essence of the whole ill-advised idea.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Peppermint

Honestly there's not much to say about this movie, so you know what that means! Time for a Micro Review!®

Peppermint was written by Chad St. John and directed by Pierre Morel.

St. John previously wrote London Has Fallen, and that's pretty much it. Morel specializes in action films, as he previously directed District B13, Taken, From Paris With Love and The Gunman.


I was pleasantly surprised by Taken, as it was a brutal, stripped-down little revenge flick that managed to rise above the trappings of its genre. Sadly, director Pierre Morel seems to have forgotten the lessons he learned on that film, as Peppermint is an uninspired and subpar followup.

It's practically a shot for shot remake of the recent Death Wish remake, right down to the main character becoming a folk hero on social media. It adds absolutely nothing new to the genre either, making for a dull viewing experience with zero surprises.

Revenge films have been popular for decades, due to the fact that they're power fantasies. Audiences love seeing a tragic hero deal out justice to those who wronged them. Peppermint doesn't quite seem to understand this. The film's structured very oddly, as the heroine gets her revenge at the beginning of the second act. We don't even get to see her kill them, as she does so offscreen! Who the hell thought THAT was a good idea?

It's great to see Jennifer Garner back on the screen again, kicking ass just like she did back in her Alias days. Garner somehow manages to elevate the material a bit, but even she can't save the film with what she's given to work with.

Audiences apparently agree with me, as so far Peppermint's a box office flop. It's grossed just $29 million against its meager $25 million budget. Since movies need to make around twice their production budget to break even, Peppermint needs to make $50 million or more. That seems unlikely at this point.

Poor STX Entertainment studios! They're having a rough year. In addition to Peppermint flopping, Mile 22's not doing so well, and The Happytime Murders is a complete and utter bomb. I don't know who's greenlighting movies over there, but it's time they "stepped down to spend more time with their family."

SPOILERS, I GUESS.

The Plot:
It's Death Wish with a chick. Goodnight, everyone!

Sigh... OK, I guess I can do a little better than that.

Riley North (played by Jennifer Garner) is a loving wife and mother, who works as a banker in L.A. Her husband Chris owns a failing auto repair shop, and longs to provide a better life for Riley and their daughter Carly. Things get so bad that when a sleazy employee of Chris' tries to talk him into robbing dangerous drug lord Diego Garcia (wow, what an original name), he actually considers it.

Eventually Chris decides it's not worth the risk, and backs out of the scheme. It's too late though, as Garcia magically finds out that Chris so much as thought of crossing him. He orders his men to wipe out Chris and his family, to send a message to any other would-be thieves.

Riley and Chris take Carly to a winter carnival for her birthday. Carly orders peppermint ice cream, giving the movie its stupid-ass title. As Chris and Carly walk ahead, they're brutally gunned down by three of Garcia's men, right in front of Riley's eyes. She's wounded as well, but survives.

A Detective Carmichael visits Riley in the hospital, and vows to help her find the men who killed her family. She goes to the police station and identifies the trio of shooters. Carmichael's partner, Detective Beltran, is reluctant to press charges against them though, as they're members of Garcia's cartel. He warns Riley that Garcia will retaliate. Riley wants justice, and insists on going through with it anyway.

Riley's visited by the thugs' creepy lawyer, who of course is on Garcia's payroll. When he tries to bribe her into dropping the case, she angrily tells him to get the hell out. At the trial, the Creepy Lawyer discredits Riley, claiming her pain medication fogged her recollection of the thugs. Judge Stevens, who's ALSO secretly owned by Garcia, agrees and dismisses the case.

Riley's outraged and lunges at the three thugs. She's wrestled to the ground, tasered and taken to a mental hospital. On the way there she escapes from the ambulance and disappears, going completely off the grid.

Cut to five years later, when Carmichael and Beltran discover Garcia's three men hanging upside down from a Ferris wheel— at the very carnival where Riley's family was gunned down. Welp, that's that, I guess! Apparently Riley got her revenge and everything's all wrapped up. The End!


Wait, what? That's not the end? There's still an hour to go? Then why the hell did the movie just kill off its villains? Has the writer ever seen a revenge movie before?

FBI Agent Inman arrives and joins the case. She tells Carmichael and Beltran that right before Riley North disappeared, she stole a large amount of cash from the bank where she worked. Inman suspects Riley then traveled the world, learning to fight, shoot and kill. Hey, just like Batman!

Inman then produces security footage of Riley robbing a local gun store, proving she's returned. Based on all that circumstantial evidence, Inman is convinced Riley killed the four thugs in revenge. Carmichael and Beltran are skeptical.

Meanwhile, Riley kills Creepy Lawyer, even though we don't actually get to see her do it. Because nothing's more satisfying than an offscreen death in a revenge movie, dontcha know. She then captures crooked old Judge Stevens, ties him to a chair and blows him up inside his house. These events finally convince Carmichael and Beltran that Riley's their man, er, woman.

Social media then gets wind of Riley's exploits, and half the population sees her as a dangerous vigilante, while the other half praise her as a hero. Wow, exactly like in the recent Death Wish remake. 

Inman examines crime patterns in the city, and discovers Skid Row is now the safest place in L.A. From this she deduces Riley's living in a van down by the river parked right out in the open in Skid Row. When she investigates, the homeless people living on the street tell her they consider Riley their guardian angel.

Riley then begins a ruthless campaign against Garcia, destroying his expensive drug shipments and killing dozens of his men. He vows to kill her slowly and painfully. Riley tracks Garcia to his mansion, and manages to wipe out his entire army without taking a single hit, as she's protected by magical plot armor. 

Riley corners Garcia, but just as she's about to kill him, his young daughter runs in and embraces him. This triggers a flashback, as Riley sees a vision of her own daughter. She hesitates long enough for Garcia to wound her and escape.

Inman calls Carmichael to Skid Row, in order to set a trap for Riley. Unfortunately Carmichael's also on Garcia's payroll (SINCE WHEN?), and coldly and dispassionately shoots Inman in the head. He calls Garcia and tells him where Riley's headed.

Right on cue, Riley shows up at Skid Row, which is now crawling with Garcia's men (where the hell does he keep getting these hundreds of fresh troops?). A huge setpiece battle erupts, as Riley kills dozens more of Garcia's men. Riley's shot, but is able to shake off the injury in true revenge movie fashion, but wrapping her wound with duct tape. She finds Inman's body and uses her phone to live stream the battle, inviting the media and the LAPD to Skid Row.

In the confusion, Garcia kills Carmichael for some reason. Riley then confronts Garcia and beats him senseless. She points her gun at him again and just as she's finally about to pull the trigger, she's surrounded by the police. Beltran begs her to stand down, but Riley shoots Garcia in the head anyway. Somehow she manages to escape the hundreds of police who've formed a circle around her.

Beltran knows exactly where Riley's headed, and finds her, dying and bleeding, crouched at the foot of her family's gravestone.

Riley wakes in the hospital, handcuffed to her bed. She receives a visit from Beltran, who tells her there're a lot of people who agree with what she did— even some in the police department. He squeezes her hand, wishes her good luck and leaves. Riley looks down and sees Beltran slipped her the key to her handcuffs.

Thoughts:
• As a general rule I don't pay much attention to movie titles, and couldn't care less what they're called. That said, Peppermint may go down as one of the worst titles in film history.

My main beef with it is that it tells you absolutely nothing about the movie you're about to see. Is it a light-hearted family movie about a sunny young moppet with a taste for candy? An animated Disney feature set in a magical land? A film about a lovable mutt who brings a shy kid out of his shell? Or is it a brutal and violent revenge film filled with over the top gore? Who the hell knows?

I predicted "Peppermint" was probably the nickname of Riley's daughter, and her death drove her to revenge. While that would have been a hackneyed and cliched explanation, but at least it would have made sense.

But no, it's not anybody's nickname. Instead, the movie gets its title from Riley's daughter's favorite flavor of ice cream. No, strike that— it's not even her favorite. After she asks for peppermint ice cream, Riley asks if she can have a taste. That implies Casey's never even had it before!

To make it even worse, there's no significance to the title. Casey doesn't utter "Peppermint" with her dying breath like a pint-sized Charles Foster Kane. Riley doesn't keep her daughter's ice cream-stained jumper as a memento. She doesn't scrawl "Peppermint" in blood on the foreheads of her victims. 

The word has no bearing on the plot whatsoever, and is absolutely meaningless. They might as well have called it Rocky Road, Cookies And Creme or Spumoni.

 In addition to this movie being a carbon copy of Death Wish, Riley has the exact same origin story as Batman
— particularly the Christopher Nolan version. She sees her family gunned down before her. She then leaves her old life behind and travels the world, learning to fight and become a deadly fighting machine. Heck, I half expected her to face off against Ra's Al Ghul!! She then returns to her home and begins fighting crime. 

About the only difference between her and Bruce Wayne is she doesn't wear a costume. She even has a sympathetic friend on the police force who helps her out! And a secret headquarters! Sure, it's just a crappy van parked in Skid Row, but it's still her house, clinic and storage facility.

I suppose technically she has the exact same origin and story arc as the Punisher as well.

• I know Skid Row is a real place in L.A., but every time I heard it in this movie, all I could think about was the musical version of Little Shop Of Horrors.


The appeal of the Revenge Film comes from seeing the main character exact justice on the criminal or criminals who wronged them. Since this epic comeuppance is the entire point of the movie, it generally comes in the final minutes.

Apparently Peppermint doesn't understand how its own genre works. Riley gets her revenge at the beginning of the second act, when Detectives Carmichael and Beltran discover the bodies of the three men who killed Riley's family hanging from a Ferris wheel.

The instant I saw that I thought, "Welp, that's that, I guess! Let's go eat!" 

But it turns out that scene wasn't the end, and the movie had another hour to go. What. The. Hell? Why would anyone resolve a major plotline like this a third of the way into the movie? It pretty much takes the wind out of anything else that happens.

Even worse, she kills the three men OFFSCREEN, robbing the audience of the chance to see them get their just desserts. Have the filmmakers ever seen a revenge movie before?


• Agent Inman realizes Riley's the vigilante after she sees security footage of her robbing a gun store. I guess when she was overseas training to be a vigilante, she must have skipped the part on "How To Hide Your Identity From CCTV And Avoid Getting Caught."


Seriously, why wouldn't she cover her face during the break-in? Wouldn't constantly having to dodge the police impede her revenge plot?

• Several times in the movie we're told (not shown) that Riley's become both a folk heroto the people of Skid Row. This despite the fact that we never actually see her do anything to earn this title. In fact we never see her interacting with any of them at all.


Same goes for the two homeless kids who worship and admire her, despite the fact that Riley seems unaware of their existence.

Peppermint is a stale and uninspired Death Wish clone, that adds absolutely nothing new to the already crowded revenge film genre. It's also an oddly structured movie, as the heroine kills the ones who wronged her at the half hour mark offscreen! Jennifer Garner practically pulls a hamstring straining to elevate the material, but even she can't save it. I give it a C.

Pret-ty Sneaky, Sis!

Saw this when I was oot and aboot today:

I dunno... Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't a "Neighborhood Surveillance Unit" look a little less... conspicuous?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Kin

Kin was written by Daniel Casey and directed by Josh and Jonathan Baker.

Casey is a writer, actor and director. He previously wrote The Passage, Secrets Of Fenville and The Death Of Michael Smith, none of which I've ever heard of.

The Bakers are working partners who previously directed several short films. Kin appears to be their theatrical debut, and is based on their short film Bag Man.

Overall it's not a bad debut. It's a fun little low-stakes sci-fi film with an interesting story, and features some top notch acting. 


It starts out promisingly, but falters a bit in the second act before rallying at the end. Some of the plotting's a little clunky, but seeing as it's the Baker's first feature, I'll allow it.

Unfortunately Kin features pretty much the exact same plot as 1978's Laserblast (which I'll get to in more detail later). That's too bad, as it became distracting after a while, as I sat in the theater mentally comparing the two movies. 
Was this similarity just a coincidence? Or did the Bakers deliberately ape Laserblast, figuring no one would ever remember such an obscure film? Well, I remember it, Josh and Jonathan. I remember.

Somehow Kin cost $30 million dollars to make, which is a lot for an indie film like this. I'm honestly not sure where all that money went. Sure, it's a good looking movie, but it's VERY light on CGI and special effects. I have a feeling the bulk of the budget probably went to stars Dennis Quaid and James Franco?

So far the movie's absolutely tanking at the box office. It's grossed a paltry $8.6 million against its whopping $30 million budget! WOW! Now that's a flop!

I can tell you why it bombed— because nobody knows it's out! I go to the cineplex every weekend and see tons of trailers, so I consider myself pretty well informed, movie-wise. Yet I never saw a single piece of marketing for Kin. No trailers, no posters, no signs on the sides of buses, nothing. In fact I didn't even know the movie existed until the day I saw it!

I get that smaller studios don't have the marketing budgets of the big dogs, but... if you want people to show up for your movie, you gotta advertise, guys.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Eli Solinski (played by newcomer Miles Truitt) is a fourteen year old boy who lives with his adoptive father Hal (played briefly by Dennis Quaid) in the economic ruins of Detroit. When Eli's suspended from school for fighting, Hal sternly tells him he needs to straighten up and fly right if he ever hopes to succeed. Hal then mentions that his biological son Jimmy is being paroled and coming to stay with them, and warns Eli to "be careful around him."

Eli sneaks out of the house and goes to an abandoned factory to scavenge copper wiring. He stumbles across the aftermath of a battle between what appear to be armored aliens. Eli notices a high tech rifle lying next to one of the corpses, and picks it up. He accidentally turns it on, spooking him and causing him to run home.

Later that evening, Jimmy (played by Jack Reynor) returns home to a chilly reception from Hal. Jimmy asks if Hal can get him a job at the construction company where he works. Hal refuses, saying he doesn't trust him to do a good job. Harsh! Jimmy storms out of the house in anger.

Jimmy pays a visit to Taylor Balik (played by James Franco, of all people), a strange and violent local drug dealer. Jimmy owes Balik $60,000, and now that he's out of prison, his bill is due. Jimmy assures him he has the money, but needs time to get his hands on it. Balik warns Jimmy not to think about skipping out on him, or something bad might happen to his family.

That night Eli has a dream about the high tech weapon. He sneaks out, returns to the factory and recovers the Gun. He fiddles with it and accidentally fires a plasma blast across the factory. He giggles, wraps it up and brings it back home. There he overhears Jimmy arguing with Hal. Somehow Jimmy knows Hal's boss has a safe full of money, and asks him to help steal $60,000 to pay off his debt. Disgusted with his own kin (hey!), Hal kicks Jimmy out of the house and tells him not to come back.

The next day Hal flips his lid when he finds out Eli's been "stealing" copper wire from old buildings. He tells Eli he's going to pay back the owners of the properties, along with calling them all and apologizing. He drives Eli to his construction site office to get the list of local building owners (gosh, that's not contrived at all), and notices the door's open. He tells Eli to stay put, and cautiously enters the office trailer.

Inside Hal finds Jimmy and Balik robbing the boss' safe. Hal tells them to put they money back or else. There's a scuffle and Balik shoots and kills Hal (!). In the confusion, Jimmy shoots Balik's brother Dutch, grabs the money and runs off.

The movie then takes a bizarre turn, as it shifts its focus from Eli to Jimmy. He piles into Hal's truck, where Eli's still waiting. He says Hal suddenly suggested they drive to their vacation cabin in Lake Tahoe, where he'll meet them later. Amazingly, Eli buys this obviously phony story. 


They stop back home to grab some clothes, and Eli secretly stuffs the Gun into his backpack. They roar off a second before Balik and his thugs arrive and ransack the place. A furious Balik vows to kill Jimmy, no matter what it takes.

Jimmy and Eli then bond along the way to Nevada. Jimmy stops at a strip club, and bribes the bouncer to let the underage Eli in. Inside, Jimmy makes a spectacle of himself, tossing back drinks and throwing around money like it's going out of style. They befriend a stripper named Milly (played by Zoe Kravitz), who takes a motherly shine to Eli.

Just then a drunken Jimmy tries to climb on stage and dance with Milly. Lee, the owner of the club, orders his men to beat the living crap out of him. As they pummel him senseless, Eli suddenly appears, holding the Gun (I guess he ran out to the truck to get it?). He fires, blowing a hole in the side of the building. Eli & Jimmy run for the truck, and Milly follows them for no good reason, other than because the script says so.

Meanwhile, two seemingly alien figures outfitted in helmets and uniforms arrive at the warehouse back in Detroit. They scan the aftermath of the battle, and determine the Gun is missing. They detect it hundreds of miles away, so they commandeer two motorcycles and speed off after it.


At the same time, Balik figures out where Jimmy's going, and he and his men head for Lake Tahoe.

Back in the truck, Jimmy realizes he left his bag of money (the $60,000 he stole from Hal's company) back at Lee's. Milly says she knows how to get it back, and leads them to a farm in the middle of nowhere. There Lee and his buddies have a permanent high-stakes poker game going on. Jimmy & Eli disguise themselves, break into the farm building and take the money back. Eli fires the Gun to show them they mean business, and they flee. Eli destroys Lee's vehicles so he can't pursue them, and they drive off.

The trio arrives in Nevada, get a luxury room at a casino hotel and begin living it up. Jimmy heads straight for the casino, while Milly chats with Eli in his room. She tells him about her childhood, saying she ran from her abusive father when she was a teen and has been on her own ever since. She notices a small scar on Eli's thumb, and he says he probably got it from his real father when he was a baby (PLOT POINT!). She tells him he should be proud of this tiny, almost unnoticeable scar, as it means he's a survivor.

They go down to the casino to look for Jimmy. Eli sees a news report on Hal's murder, which identifies both him and Jimmy as suspects. The crowd spots them, and before you can say Laserblast they're both arrested. Milly watches from the sidelines and slips off. Don't worry, the movie's just trying to make us think she abandoned them. She'll be back at the most dramatically appropriate time

Jimmy's tossed into a county jail cell, while the police interrogate Eli. They take him to see Jimmy, and he accuses him of killing Hal (which he sort of did, indirectly). Eli angrily tells him he never wants to see him again.

Just then Balik and his men arrive at the jail, and obliterate the entire police force, Terminator-style. A dying cop tosses the keys to the evidence locker to Eli, somehow knowing his high tech alien/futuristic Gun will be able to stop Balik.

Eli retrieves the Gun and fires on Balik's thugs, blowing them up in gorgeous sprays of technicolor gore. Balik sees what's happening and runs for the hills. Eli apparently has a change of heart and frees Jimmy.

They enter the jail lobby, and see what appears to be every cop in Nevada outside, their guns trained on them. Realizing there's no hope, Jimmy says they have to surrender and orders Eli to set the Gun on the floor.

Just then Balik reappears and shoots at Jimmy's head. Eli watches as the bullet sails through the air, slows and then finally stops. As he looks around, he realizes time has apparently stopped for everyone but him.

The two helmeted figures enter the lobby and approach Jimmy. One of these "Cleaners" (played by Michael B. Jordan) removes his helmet and reveals he's human, or at least humanoid. The Cleaner says Eli's actually from his world, which is in the middle of a centuries-long war. He says Eli was hidden on Earth until he's old enough to join the fight. Sure, why not.

The Cleaner takes the Gun back and deactivates it. He shows Eli that he has a scar on his thumb too, which is actually an implant that allows him to use the Gun. As Eli looks at his scar in wonder, the Cleaner tells him to stay with Jimmy.

Eli points out that there's currently a bullet headed right for Jimmy's noggin. The other Cleaner walks over and turns the bullet around so it's aimed at Balik. The two then open a rip in spacetime, walk into it and leave.

Time starts back up, and the bullet hits Balik in the head, killing him instantly. Jimmy's arrested yet AGAIN.

Cut to FBI Agent Morgan Hunter questioning Eli. She tells him Jimmy will go to jail, but not for as long as he thinks (?). She asks him about the Gun, but Eli refuses to talk about it. Morgan accepts this and leaves. Milly arrives (told you) and embraces Eli.

Thoughts:
• Apparently the filmmakers could only afford Dennis Quaid for a week or so, as his character's killed off at the end of the first act. Quaid brought a real sense of gravitas and gruff realism to the movie, and I liked his Hal character quite a bit. 
Too bad they got rid of him, as the film definitely could have used more Hal.


• The Kin trailer starts with an overhead drone shot of a city, accompanied by a couple of somber plinks on a single piano key. You know, THE SAME EXACT WAY EVERY GODDAMNED TRAILER I'VE SEEN THIS YEAR HAS STARTED.

Apparently the "Plink" is this year's "BRAAAHHHHHMMMM!"

For some reason, the movie takes every possible opportunity to explain to us why Eli, who's black, has a white father and brother. Yeah, we get it, movie. He was adopted. It's not that hard to understand, and we could have figured it out on our own.

• For a sci-fi movie, there aren't a lot of flashy special effects in Kin. Most of the CGI revolves around the alien/high tech/futuristic Gun, which seemingly has a life of its own as it unlocks and unfolds in Eli's hands. 

The sparse effects all look great though, which is always a plus. In fact the entire movie looks good, with some gorgeous and interesting cinematography.

• I enjoyed the movie for the most part, but that said, it has its share of clumsy plotting. For example, there's the Jimmy's non-explanation for the sudden road trip.

Hal surprises Jimmy and Balik as they rob his office safe. Balik then shoots and kills Hal. A panicked Jimmy escapes and climbs into Hal's truck, where Eli's waiting. When Eli asks what's going on, Jimmy lies and says Hal suggested they go on an impromptu vacationin the middle of the night.

Whaaa...???

OK, I realize Eli's just a kid, but I'm having trouble believing he'd accept Jimmy's obviously phony story so easily. Just a few minutes earlier Hal was so angry he was practically foaming at the mouth. Why the hell would he suddenly suggest a family vacation?

This scene's doubly stupid when you remember that Jimmy's been in prison for six years, and is virtually a stranger to Eli. He has absolutely no reason to believe anything Jimmy says.

I understand that the movie needed to get the two brothers alone so they could bond, but surely there was a smoother way to go about it.

In a similar vein, Milly suddenly decides to chuck her whole life and take up with these two brothers she's known for all of an hour. There's absolutely no sane or logical reason for her to do this, other than because the script said so.

• I'm not a fan of the movie's mid-point shift in focus. The first act is all about Eli, giving us a look at his somber, lonely life, and the spark of hope after he finds the mysterious Gun.

Then suddenly the movie becomes all about Jimmy and his attempts to stay one step ahead of Balik. Jimmy's nowhere near as interesting as the movie thinks he is, which dings its overall enjoyment quite a bit.

I'm assuming the filmmakers thought Eli wouldn't be able to carry the movie by himself, so they shoehorned Jimmy in to share character duties. But there was no reason to practically shove Eli off the screen just to make room for Jimmy.

• Earlier I said that Kin has the same basic plot as Laserblast, and I wasn't kidding. Let's take a look at the two movies, shall we?

— In Laserblast, two aliens hunt down a man with green skin, who's wearing a strange necklace and carrying a high-tech gun. They vaporize him, and for some reason leave the gun and necklace lying on the ground.

— In Kin, several armored aliens have a battle for some reason in an abandoned warehouse. They're all killed or wounded, and one drops his high-tech Gun on the ground.

— In Laserblast, "teenager" Billy Duncan is wandering the desert and finds the alien necklace and gun. He puts on the necklace and plays around with the gun like a six year old. He's shocked when it fires a powerful death ray, and he realizes the necklace allows him to control the weapon.

— In Kin, teenager Eli Solinski scrounges around in an abandoned warehouse, and finds a high tech, alien Gun. He plays around with it and is shocked when it fires a powerful death ray. Later on he discovers a chip implanted in his thumb that allows him to control the weapon.

— In Laserblast, two cool looking stop-motion aliens return to Earth to hunt for the high tech weapon. They discover Billy has it, but by this time he's been taken over by the necklace and has become a deadly monster. They have no choice but to kill him.

— In Kin, two alien Cleaners return to Earth to hunt for the high tech Gun. They discover Eli has it, and fortunately they take it peacefully from him.

The details and a couple subplots differ, and Kin is better by leaps and bounds, but they're basically the same damn movie!

About the only difference between the two films is that in Laserblast, the otherworldly necklace grafts itself to Billy's chest, and slowly transforms him into an alien.

• Eli discovers the truth about Jimmy in Nevada, when he sees a news report on Hal's death. Um... was Hal really such a prominent citizen that his murder would be reported nationwide? He lived in Detroit, for poop's sake! There're probably fifteen or twenty murders there every day! There's no way his death would be reported clear on the other side of the country.

• After their arrest, Jimmy and Eli are taken to the Sulaco County jail in Nevada. I check just out of curiosity, and sure enough there's no such place in that state. Was that a not-so-subtle ALIENS reference?

• Michael B. Jordan was one of the producers of Kin, and has a small role at the end as one of the Cleaners.

• Speaking of the Cleaners, the movie gives us precious little info on who or what they are. The Male Cleaner talks about the war on his world, and says Eli was hidden here on Earth until he was ready to join the fight.

This implies that the Cleaners— and Eli as well— are aliens who look exactly like humans. Or does it? I guess they could also be humans from the future, who fled Earth for some reason and sent Eli to the past for safe keeping.

I don't need for a movie to explain every tiny detail to me, but this was all a little too vague for my liking.

• So why are these alien soldiers called "Cleaners?" That's never really explained either. I'm assuming they were sent to "clean up" the mess caused by the Gun getting into the hands of someone not yet ready to handle it?

• In the final minutes of the movie, the Male Cleaner shows Eli that he has a scar on his thumb, just like he does. At first I thought he was implying he was really Eli from the future. Apparently not though, and every soldier on their world is implanted with a weapon chip that leaves a scar.

• Boy, Agent Hunter sure seems to give up awfully easy. She questions Eli about his role in Jimmy's crime spree, specifically about the Gun. Eli refuses to say anything about it, and Hunter pretty much says, "Welp, I tried. There's literally nothing else I can do, as there're laws or courts that could force you to answer my questions! Checkmate!"

Kin is a decent little sci-fi film with some fun, low-key effects and good performances. There's some clunky plotting, and it drags a bit in the middle, but overall it's not too bad. Sadly it's not an original story though, as it cribs its basic plot from Laserblast. It's still worth a look though, and I recommend it. I give it good solid B.

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