Roar (1981)

February 7th, 2018

The thrill people get from riding roller coasters is different from being hurled over a cliff and plummeting to your own death. Roller coasters contain dips, curves, and loops designed to scare and excite us, but they’re also made with people’s safety in mind. Most people who ride roller coasters are no worse for wear by the end of the ride. People ride roller coasters every day because they are thrilling, yet safe.

Movies are a lot like roller coasters. We jump at horror movies and bite our fingernails when the hero faces certain death, but deep down we know that it’s just a movie. The heroes and villains we watch on screen are actors following a script. The ditsy blonde who gets hacked to pieces in the first act in reality goes home at the end of the day, because she’s an actor, and what happens in movies isn’t real.

That brings us to Roar, the equivalent of placing a bunch of actors inside a mine cart and shoving them over the side of a cliff just to see what happens. Except in this film, it’s not the side of a cliff the actors are facing; it’s 150 wild lions, tigers, and jaguars (oh my).

Roar was written and directed by Noel Marshall, who also portrays the film’s protagonist, Hank. Noel’s then-wife Tippi Hedren is Madelaine, Hank’s wife, and the couple’s three real-life children (John Marshall, Jerry Marshall, and Melanie Griffith) play the couple’s three children. Noel Marshall produced The Exorcist and Tippi Hedren starred in Hitchcock’s The Birds, and Roar is more terrifying than either of those films.

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Hank’s African wildlife refuge. Hank has acquired over a hundred wild lions, all of which roam freely both on his property and in his home. People seeing Roar for the first time must have wondered how the actors were able to safely walk among wild lions — and the answer is, it wasn’t that safe. Our first hint of this comes 10 minutes into the film. As Hank is discussing the different lions, one leaps from off screen and hits him the chest, knocking him to the ground. As the actor he was talking to wisely exits stage right, half a dozen lions pile on top of Hank as Noel Marshall shouts “they’re just playing!” It is unclear who he is trying to convince — us, himself, or the lions.

Pretty soon the local officials arrive and inform Hank that his sanctuary is unsafe. We, as viewers, already know this. As Hank counters with how safe it is, lions arrive and attack everybody.

Everyone flees, just in time for Hank’s wife and kids to arrive on a surprise visit. For 20 minutes, the actors run from room to room and hide as wild lions, now covered in blood, attempt to eat them. One of the sons hides in a refrigerator. Another hides in a metal locker, which the lions knock over. The girls hide inside a wooden bookcase, which the lions knock over and destroy. The look of horror on these peoples’ faces is real. There is no doubt that these lions would have killed anyone they could have.

According to IMDB’s trivia section, during the making of Roar, cinematographer Jan de Bont was “mauled and scalped by a lion,” requiring 120 stitches to sew his scalp back on. Assistant director Doron Kauper was bitten on the throat and jaw and almost lost an ear. Jerry Marshall was bitten on the foot; John Marshall was bitten on the head, requiring 56 stitches. Tippi Hedren fractured her leg after being thrown from an elephant, and needed 38 stitches after being bitten by a lioness. Melanie Griffith was mauled, received 50 stitches and plastic surgery, and almost lost an eye. Noel Marshall was injured so many times by the lions that he contracted gangrene.

Yes, lions love to play. And when Hank flees the cabin on his motorcycle in search of help, the lions are still playing. First they play “chase the guy on the motorcycle” and then they play “eat the motorcycle.”

Some other stuff happens. The government people kill some of the lions, some of the lions kill some of the other lions, and all of the lions try to eat all of the actors.

And while all the actors (somehow) lived through the making of this movie, all the animals did not. There was both a fire and a flood on the set. During the chaos, local sheriffs arrived and shot three of the lions, including Robbie, the main lion in the film.

All of this behind-the-scenes knowledge makes watching Roar absolutely terrifying. It’s difficult to watch knowing that most of the blood that appears on screen is real. When the actors are hunkered down trying not to be seen by the lions, it’s difficult not to be afraid for them. It’s almost impossible to watch this film, and, once it starts, it’s almost impossible to look away.

Shortly after the release of this film, Tippi Hedren was quoted as saying there will never be a Roar 2. I think I speak for Tippi, everyone else involved with the making of this film, everyone who watched the film, and the lions themselves when I say that’s a pretty good idea.

The Last Jedi (2017)

December 15th, 2017

This review contains minor plot spoilers.

If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.

Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi picks up where the previous film (2015’s The Force Awakens) left off. The Resistance, led by Leia Organa, has been discovered (once again) by the First Order, and their attempt to flee is thwarted when it is discovered the First Order has developed the ability to follow ships through hyperspace. Due to simple logistics (big Star Destroyers have larger gas tanks than small rebellion ships), a ticking clock is introduced; if our heroes can’t evade or disable the First Order’s new tracking technology before the single space cruiser the entire Resistance is conveniently located on runs out of fuel, the First Order will blow them to smithereens.

While Finn, Poe Dameron, and newcomer Rose Tico attempt to evade imminent destruction, to ultimately defeat the First Order the Resistance will need help from Luke Skywalker, who, as we learned in the previous film, is living as a hermit on an island in the middle of nowhere. Old friends Chewbacca, R2-D2, and the Force-sensitive Rey have been dispatched to cajole Luke into helping the cause, but unfortunately for them, he don’t wanna.

Snoke, the mysterious and evil being we first saw in The Force Awakens is back, as is his young apprentice, Kylo “Ben Solo” Ren. After murdering his father in cold blood in the previous film, Kylo Ren is hell-bent on personally tracking down and killing Leia and Luke. Fortunately while he’s away, Snoke has a

More so than any previous installment, The Last Jedi is structured like a video game. To disable the tracking system, someone from the Resistance has to go “here.” Once there, they need to track down “him.” And then they need to get the “thing,” and take it to the “place.” Every twenty minutes, another mini-mission is introduced, and our pals in the Resistance have to hop in another ship, go to another location, and unlock another achievement.

To a large extent, the “old” characters — the ones I grew up with — don’t do a lot. Legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker has largely reverted to the whiny Luke we met 40 years ago in A New Hope. He doesn’t want to leave his island, doesn’t want to help his sister and save the Rebellion, and certainly doesn’t want to train Rey in the ways of the Jedi. Leia, for her part, can’t seem to hide the Rebellion (which again, fits on a single ship) from the First Order, despite having the ability to go literally anywhere in the galaxy. Chewbacca and R2 fail at their single task of returning with Luke. When the Rebellion is successful, it’s usually thanks to one of the new, younger characters. The reminder that this universe belongs to younger characters — and perhaps fans — is a little too on the nose at times. It’s possible BB-8 does more in this film to save our heroes’ hides than R2 and 3P0 did in the past seven movies combined.

Like The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi serves as a bridge between two movies. By the end of this film, it is abundantly clear what stakes and conflicts are waiting to be resolved in the next episode. Older fans may spend the film’s 2 1/2 hour run time asking questions like, “why would Luke do that?” or “when did that become a Jedi power?” but younger fans, those who grew up with CGI Transformers bashing each other into a million pieces and thinking the Sharknado films “kind of made sense” probably won’t mind. If you’re more “how will they get out of this” than “why did they get themselves into this mess in the first place?” then you’ll love it.

Stranger Things Season Two (2017)

November 4th, 2017

(Spoiler-free review of Stranger Things Season Two)

In the second season of Stranger Things, newcomer Bob Newby (Goonies alumni Sean Astin) suggests something every viewer of show must be thinking: “We could always move to Maine.”

The first season of Netflix’s breakout hit dealt with the disappearance of and search for Will Byers, a pre-teen boy living in the town of Hawkins, Indiana. The official story was that Will got lost in the woods, but the truth was much more sinister and far more complicated. The city of Hawkins is connected to the Upside Down, an alternate plane of reality home to the Demogorgon (a creature as nasty as it sounds). Hawkins is also home to a government research facility that is good at studying children with psychic powers, but not so good at containing them. With all powers that be (both human and otherwise) in place, it was up to Will’s friends (Mike, Dustin, and Lucas), family, Chief of Police Jim Hopper, Eleven (a girl with telekinetic powers) and various other members of the community to find Will and defeat the Demogorgon.

That’s how the first season ended, and if everyone’s efforts had rid Hawkins of evil, there wouldn’t have been a need for a second season — and since there is (along with two more seasons planned), you can guess evil continues to lurk in (and under) Hawkins.

All the major characters from the original season return, along with a few new additions. New this season are Maxine (aka “Mad Max”, a skateboarding, arcade game-playing girl the same age as our heroes) and her pissed-off mullet-wearing brother, Billy. Inside the medical research facility we meet Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), the yin to Jim Hopper’s yang. And then there’s Bob Newby, Joyce Byers’ love interest and local Radio Shack salesman.

If you love 80s nostalgia, Stranger Things continues to drip in it. The episodes contain toys, cars, and even a local arcade. More than the first, the second season cheats a bit more when dealing with the era’s lack of cell phones by equipping almost everyone with walkie-talkties, CB radios, and a working knowledge of Morse code. I remember spending a lot of time in the 1980s riding around on my bicycle just looking for people. The kids in Hawkins never have that issue (nor is there any shortage of batteries in the town).

Stranger Things wears its homages to films from the 80s proudly on its sleeve. There are scenes that reminded me of Jaws, Alien, Goonies, E.T., Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters, Stand by Me, Poltergeist, Pretty in Pink, and even The Exorcist, but perhaps an unintentional comparison I made was to Star Wars. When evil returns in its new form, it becomes obvious that in the first season the denizens of Hawkins were dealing with a single Stormtrooper. In season two, Darth Vader — or perhaps the Emperor — has come looking for them.

The show continues to grow. While the first season consisted largely of practical effects, the size and scope of season two all but ruled that out. Once praised for their lack of CGI and green screens, the show now relies heavily such technology. Pacing, on the other hand, has been greatly approved. At times the first season felt like two episodes worth of material, stretched out into eight. This season feels like twelve episodes worth of action, crammed into nine. Unlike the first season, viewers rarely have to wait for action or wonder where the story is headed.

The Duffer Brothers did a good job of typing up most of the questions asked not only in season two, but some of the ones left unanswered in the first season. In fact, so many things are wrapped up by the end of of season two that it’s hard to imagine where things will kick off in season three. If it’s anything like this season, it’s hard to imagine everyone not following Bob’s suggestion in regards to moving to Maine.

Cult of Chucky (2017)

October 10th, 2017

When filming a Hollywood sequel, there are many methods in which writers and directors can bring back characters who have died in previous installments. The flashback is perhaps the easiest way to include new footage of a deceased character without breaking continuity. Directors can bring back the dead as ghosts, a’la Obi-Wan Kenobi. And then there are wackier methods; explaining away the person who died as the character’s evil (or good) twin, or claiming the death occurred in a dream sequence, unbeknownst to audiences.

Horror writers have it the easiest because, I guess, horror audiences are so forgiving. No matter how many times Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, or Michael Myers get killed, drowned, incinerated, or blown to smithereens, all it takes is 30 seconds of exposition to resurrect them. A random lightning strike or voodoo spell is enough to bring back the dead and get the murders rolling again.

We first met Chucky, the killer doll possessed by the soul of serial killer Charles Lee Ray, in 1988’s Child’s Play. In the original film we learned that the longer Ray’s spirit remained in Chucky the more human he became. He was so human by the end of the film, in fact, that a police detective was able to kill Chucky by firing a bullet into his beating heart. And if you think that stopped him, you haven’t seen any of the following six films in the franchise released over the past twenty-nine years.

At the end of 2013’s Curse of Chucky, the sixth film in the series, we witness Chucky transferring his soul into the body of a young girl named Alice. In the final, post-credits scene, Chucky has mailed himself to Andy Barclay (the young boy from the original film, now grown up) and attempts to stab him. Andy counters by placing a shotgun inches away from the doll’s head and pulling the trigger. This had to have been the end of Chucky, right?

Wrong.

In 2017’s Cult of Chucky we rejoin Nica, the wheelchair-bound girl from the previous film, who is being transferred from a maximum security mental institution to one with medium security. The other residents in the new facility make the folks from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look downright normal, as she is welcomed by patients with multiple personalities, paranoia, and delusions. Nica is visited in the institution by Tiffany Valentine (a known murderer and accomplice of Charles Lee Ray) and given a Chucky doll. The twisted and sick Dr. Foley doesn’t see anything wrong with this, even after Nica apparently attempts to slit her own wrists. When a second doll arrives and faculty, staff, and patients all begin dropping like flies, Dr. Foley sees this is a therapeutic teaching opportunity.

Audiences spend much of the film trying to figure out which of the Chucky dolls is the killer, until finally we learn that they both are. Chucky has gained the ability to transfer his soul into anyone or anything (a power he says he learned from the internet) as many times as he wants. Keeping up with who is who, who is Chucky, and who is not, is fair game.

At this point, my mind began to wander. Could Chucky take over a car lot, creating a hundred killer Herbie the Death Bugs? Could he take over furniture, smothering innocent people looking to take a load off their feet? Once you can transfer your soul into inanimate objects (like dolls) and do it an unlimited amount of times, it seems (to me) that limiting yourself to a single model of a single toy line is small-minded. In fact, showing up in the shape of a Chucky-shaped doll seems to be about the worst choice.

Anyway, back to the film. There is a showdown, of course. At first it’s Nica vs. Chucky, then it’s Andy vs. Chucky, and, at all times, it’s Chucky vs. everybody. I won’t say how things end, but just so you know, there are already talks of an eighth film.

Cult of Chucky isn’t a bad film, but it doesn’t make much sense, even in the wacky rules established within the Child’s Play universe. The only reason Chucky would have for tracking down Nica would be to kill her, and then he doesn’t do it. Sure, he kills other people, which places the blame on Nica, but if he planned on killing everyone there, who cares who takes the blame?

Another part that doesn’t make sense is Chucky’s reaction to Dr. Foley, when he learns Dr. Foley has been molesting Nica during their weekly hypnosis therapy sessions. Charles Lee Ray (the soul inside Chucky) is a serial killer who has murdered multiple teenagers and young children throughout the franchise. It’s a stretch to think that hypnotic molestation (of a girl he plans to murder) is where Chucky would draw the line in the sand, but that’s the problem; he doesn’t draw a line in the sand. Instead, he cold cocks the doctor (twice) and tries to get Nica to kill the doctor. This means Chucky doesn’t really want the doctor dead (or he would have killed him), and doesn’t seem to condone the doctor’s actions either. The way the doctor is killed is even more confusing; Chucky, possessing Nica’s body, does it. This can’t be cathartic for Nica (who is now possessed with the soul of a serial killer), nor does it make sense that Chucky would do it now, when he had the chance twice before. It comes off as a writer who likes his own creation a little too much.

It’s ironic that the more Child’s Play movies you’ve seen the less this one makes sense, as the only possible audience for this direct-to-video seventh installment are those of us who grew up afraid of the red-headed killer doll. By giving Chucky the ability to transfer his soul into an unlimited amount of hosts at the same time, I’m afraid the Child’s Play series may have opened a Pandora-sized can of worms that they might not be able to logically write themselves out of.

Then again, while knives, guns, drills, and scalpels have always been Chucky’s thing, logic never has.

It (2017)

September 11th, 2017

I never read It, Stephen King’s 1,138 page novel about the evil that lurks in (and underneath) the city of Derry, Maine. Instead, I opted for the four-hour mini-series that aired in 1990. From what I understand, that version did an okay job of taking the highlights from a 1,138 page book and condensing it into a four-hour television mini-series.

According to legend, every 27 years the evil that haunts the city of Derry returns. True to form, 27 years after the release of the mini-series, it — It — has returned, this time to theaters.

In the film, seven young teens known as the Loser’s Club discover that they have all experienced an evil being that inhabits their town. As more and more children from the town begin to go missing (including the younger brother of one of the main characters), the Loser’s Club decide that they are the ones who must fight the evil within Derry. The seven teens face push back from adults and are frequently harassed by an older group of teens, but in the end Pennywise the Clown will be the worst thing they face.

It’s impossible to compare 2017’s version with the mini-series, and impossible not to. The original was made for television with a budget to match, and was more creepy than scary. The 2017 version has several advantages, including CGI, an R-rating, and a Hollywood budget. In the original, Pennywise the Clown snarled at children to reveal a set of prosthetic fangs before the camera faded to black; in the 2017 version, his head bends open to reveal a computer generated mouth containing a thousand teeth while teenagers scream and drop f-bombs.

Two major differences to note: first, while the original and the book take place in the late 1950s, the 2017 version is set in the late 1980s. That updates the cars and pop culture references, but doesn’t change the story (although it does give the film a decidedly Stranger Things look). The other major difference is that the 2017 movie is only the first half of the 1990 mini-series. In the original (and the book), the kids return to Derry 27 years later to face It again as adults. Modern audiences will have to wait until 2018/2019 to see the second half.

For a horror movie, It wasn’t bad. My kids, who have never read the book nor seen the original mini-series, both loved it. The latest version is more faithful to the book in some parts and less in others. If you’re looking to complain about differences between the 1,138 page source material and this two hour film, I’m sure you’ll find plenty to sink your teeth into. On the other hand if you’re simply out for two hours of entertainment and a few jump scares, Pennywise is waiting for you in the sewer.

After all, they all float down there…

The Road (2009)

March 6th, 2017

Viewers get only brief glimpses of life before “the incident” in 2009’s The Road. I suspect he reason we don’t see more of them is that life before the incident, much like the source of the incident itself, is irrelevant. No one cares what you used to do for a living when they haven’t eaten in two weeks.

The film follows a man and his son (both unnamed) as they make their way “south” toward water and, hopefully, less ravaged terrain. Whatever the cataclysmic event was has left the country largely barren. There is no grass on the ground or leaves on the trees, nor are there any birds in the sky. Everything that remains, including the people, is gray.

There is no guarantee that greener (both literally and figuratively) pastures lie to the south, but when resources run out, only hope is left. With little more than the clothes on their back and a pistol with two bullets as a last resort, the man and his boy head out. “Remember, put the barrel in your mouth and point it upward,” the man says as he places the barrel of the gun in his young son’s mouth, showing him the proper way to end his own life. In this post-apocalyptic world, there are fates worth than death.

Along the way, the pair encounter various groups of marauders who have resorted to violence and, in some cases, cannibalism. Multiple times the boy asks his father if they are the “good guys.” As resources run low and the two encounter others who are as hungry as they are, the line becomes as gray as the cloudy sky.

The Road mixes the hope of humanity with the despair of unknowing. The pair travels as long and as far as they can because, what else is there to do? Sometimes, survival comes down to one day at a time; sometimes, it comes down to a single step.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PC)

February 14th, 2017

Originally published on Caltrops.com

In one final push to beat Hotline Miami 2, I decided to skip sleeping last night and blast my way through the game’s last five scenes. By 2 a.m., the tendons in the back of my hands burned so bad I had to start taking short breaks. At 3 a.m. I unlocked my first achievement, KARMA, by dying 1,000 times. Somewhere around 4 a.m., I fell asleep in my chair.

As the game’s synth-heavy soundtrack continued to pulse through my speakers, I dreamed that I was still playing the game. I was stuck in a never ending hallway filled with doors. The only way to see inside each room was to kick open every door and deal with whatever was hiding behind it. Some of the rooms were empty. Others contained hoards of enemies. The hallway was painted with blood. Much of it was mine.

Around 6 a.m., my wife entered my office to see if everything was okay since I hadn’t come to bed. The sound of the door opening woke me and almost caused me to fall out of my chair. She’s very lucky I didn’t have a nail gun or chainsaw within arm’s reach.

If you thought the plot of the first Hotline Miami game was twisted and confusing, don’t bother trying to unravel the sequel’s. Unlike the original game which had two playable POV characters, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has thirteen, with a story that takes place both before and after the original. In flashbacks we see at least one character die that appears later in the game, which means either the earlier story line was a hallucination, or the latter one was. Or maybe both of them are. I’ve read Wikipedia’s plot summary of the game a dozen times and understand twice as much as I did before, which still isn’t much. Fortunately, Hotline Miami 2 can be played and enjoyed without understanding a lick of the plot, which is good news for dullards such as myself.

Summaries of the game sound like the fevered nightmares of someone suffering from malaria. At one point in the game I was a prison inmate, disguised as a cop, killing other cops, and eventually other inmates. I think. In another level I played as two swans — one armed with a chainsaw, the other, a revolver. A few minutes later I was a girl wearing a zebra mask with deadly fists. Each level is designed with a touch of genius and a sprinkling of masochism. Get caught in an enemy’s line of sight and they’ll either charge you at full speed or fill your face full of buckshot. Walk around the wrong corner or past a window and a dozen enemies may come at you. If you happened to bring a knife with you to that gun fight, you might as well use it to start digging your own grave.

After beating the original Hotline Miami I swore I’d never play it again, and I loathe myself for playing the sequel. With unlimited lives you can play each level an infinite number of times until you figure out the pattern, but many times I just wished it would end. Some levels took me hours to beat. Once I was dropped weaponless into a room with two enemies, the only solution being to knock one out, steal his knife, stab the second, and slash the first one’s throat before he bashes your brains in from behind. On another level I appeared in a room (again without a weapon) with an angry cop and an aggressive dog. Killing dogs is a big part of Miami Hotline 2. Dogs killing you is an even bigger part.

With so many playable characters come different rules and limitations. Some characters can use any weapon they find in the game, some are locked into using the ones they start with, and a few cannot use any weapons at all. On a few levels you can pick which character you wish to control, but more often than not, one is assigned to you based on the narrative. On at least one occasion, I spent several hours attempting to beat a level only to run into a glitch that made completing it with that character impossible. My only two options were to restart the level with a different character and lose a few hours worth of progress, or curl up on my futon and cry myself to sleep. In the end, I did both.

Along with hundreds of dogs, I’ve slaughtered soldiers, mafia men, cops, inmates, and thousands of other people over the past month. Beating the game unlocks hard mode, something you’ll need if you want to earn the Genocide Achievement (50,000 kills). After a month though, my nerves are shot. After beating pixelated men to death with a lead pipe for hours, I… I just wanna go home.

The game’s final level is a drug induced nightmare where the walls bend and sway and motion blur distorts reality. Compared to the rest of the game, Hotline Miami 2’s final stage is relatively easy, and your reward for enduring some of the most sadistic game play of all time is literally nuclear annihilation. As for you… well, let’s just say anybody not wearing two million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day.

I need somebody to hold me.

Salt-N-Pepa – Hot, Cool & Vicious (1986)

December 19th, 2016

It’s hard to believe that Salt-N-Pepa’s debut album Hot, Cool & Vicious turns thirty years old this month. While kids today may only know Salt-N-Pepa from their recent Geico Commercial, both Salt-N-Pepa and Hot, Cool & Vicious were considered groundbreaking back in 1986.

In the mid 1980s, rap and hip hop escape from coastal clubs and found a more mainstream audience, thanks in part to the breakdancing fad. While acts like Run DMC and LL Cool J found success within the genre, it was the Beastie Boys who released the first Billboard number one rap album, Licensed to Ill, in November of 1986. Salt-N-Pepa’s Hot, Cool & Vicious was released the following month.

MC duties are split evenly between Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandy “Pepa” Denton. Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor not only produced all nine tracks, but is credited as the band’s sole musician and lyricist. (Deidra “Spinderella” Roper did not join the band until after the album was recorded.) As was the style at the time, every track features samples, some more obvious than others. Some, like The Meter’s “Handclapping Song” (on “Beauty and the Beat”) and a drum sample from Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” (on “I Desire”) are instantly recognizable, while I wouldn’t learn the source of others (“Flash Light” by Parliament on “I’ll Take Your Man” and Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Mister Magic” on “My Mic Sounds Nice”) for years to come.

Although it comes late in the album’s track list, Hot, Cool & Vicious got its start with “The Show Stoppa,” a track Salt-N-Pepa recorded in response to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s “The Show.” The track references both that song and “La Di Da Di” while squeezing in samples from both Johann Sebastian Bach and the Revenge of the Nerds. Based on “The Show Stoppa” airplay, Azor put together an album’s worth of material. While “Tramp” found limited early success, it was the dance remix of “Push It” that eventually propelled the girls into stardom, and Hot, Cool & Vicious became the first rap album by an all female act to go gold (and eventually platinum).

Lyrically the band doesn’t break much ground here. In most of the tracks, the girls explain how they are hot, and other girls are not. Compared to modern hip hop the tracks have limited subject matter, but considering the time frame, they aren’t dissimilar from their contemporaries. Salt-N-Pepa would expand their scope on following albums.

“Push It” remains the album’s stand out track, a thirty-year-old dance track that still gets airplay today. “Chick on the Side,” “It’s Alright,” and “Show Stoppa” still sound fresh, while tracks like “Beauty and the Beat” and “My Mic Sounds Nice” don’t have enough meat on the bone to keep them in regular rotation.

Not only did Hot, Cool & Vicious launch the career of Salt-N-Pepa, but it showed fans of rap (and perhaps more importantly, industry executives) that female MCs could hold their own. Following the group’s success, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Roxanne Shante and Sister Souljah all saw play on radio stations and MTV.

Hot, Cool & Vicious was re-released in 1988, along with the group’s second album (A Salt with a Deadly Pepa). That same year, the track “Let the Rhythm Run” appeared on the Colors soundtrack (along with Roxanne Shante’s “Go On Girl”). From there, the rest is history.

01. “Push It” (Remix)
02. “Beauty and the Beat”
03. “Tramp”
04. “I’ll Take Your Man”
05. “It’s Alright”
06. “Chick on the Side” (Remix)
07. “I Desire”
08. “The Show Stoppa (Is Stupid Fresh)”
09. “My Mic Sound Nice”

Westworld (1973)

November 18th, 2016

Kids play make-believe by pretending to be cowboys and medieval knights, but at Delos’s amusement park for adults, guests can actually become those things (for only $1,000 a day). The Delos state-of-the-art theme park consists of three separate worlds (Roman World, Medieval World, and West World), fully populated with robots indistinguishable from human beings. In these worlds you can be whoever you want and do whatever you wish, and the best part is guests cannot get hurt. As the advertisement says, nothing can go wrong… go wrong… go wrong…

Co-workers Peter (Richard Benjamin) and John (James Brolin) are visiting West World (interchangeably referred to throughout the film as Westernworld, West World, and Westworld) to escape their jobs and marital woes. It’s a return trip to the park for John, and Peter’s first time. Through his wide eyes, we discover the wonder of Westworld. Approximately twenty people arrive along with the pair to Delos before splitting and heading to their respective worlds of choice. The robots inhabiting each world follow pre-written scripts, but contain enough artificial intelligence to improvise. There are good guys and bad guys, evil knights that challenge guests to duels and sheriffs who arrest bank robbing guests. Plot holes notwithstanding, we learn that the weapons wielded by androids cannot harm guests. Should anything go wrong, technicians monitor every interaction between guests and robots and can disable them instantly should troubles arise.

The company behind the park thought of everything… except a computer virus. When the robots begin to malfunction they turn violent and attack the park’s guests. It’s up to John, Peter, and the rest of the park’s visitors and employees to try and survive.

I revisited Michael Crichton’s 1973 directorial debut after watching several episodes of the HBO’s recent reboot. In the real world, a whole lot has changed since 1973, a time when very few people dreamed of owning (or even being able to afford) a home computer. (In my home office, I count half a dozen.) Robots with artificial intelligence were fanciful thoughts relegated to works of science fiction in 1973, and while we don’t have androids quite as indistinguishable from humans as the ones in Westworld, in a world where most kids know how to use a smartphone before they enter kindergarten, the concept seems closer to science than science fiction today.

As artificial intelligence evolves, ethical questions are raised. Do non-living creations have rights? Do they think, or dream? These ideas are being explored in HBO’s modern take on the franchise, but the original is less about intellectual and moral issues and more focused on the action — what could possibly go wrong in a town full of semi-sentient robots? The first time an android rams a sword into a guest’s gut, we find out. It’s a topic that Crichton would discuss in more depth in Jurassic Park, and while being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex must certainly be terrifying, being relentlessly hunted by a humanoid gunslinger in black (portrayed by Yul Brynner) is no less terrifying.

While the concept of Westworld is interesting, the film is far from perfect. There are plot holes galore when it comes to the park’s technology, from how the guns work to the safety of the guests, but even the film’s structure has some major issues. The movie is front loaded with exposition as the concept of humanoid robots had to be slowly explained to audiences in 1973, and in direct juxtaposition, the film’s third act (a solid 30 minutes) contains no dialogue at all as one character desperately tries to flee from another. Without a sidekick or inner monologues I understand the dilemma, but modern viewers used to explosions and action may find something lacking from the tension.

Fortunately the robotic revolt portrayed in Westworld has not come to fruition, and we haven’t (yet) had our creations turn on us en masse’. Everything from gas pumps to amusement park rides even modern weapons systems contain kill switches and manual overrides, giving human beings ultimate control and ensuring that nothing can go wrong.

Go wrong… go wrong… go wrong…

Yoga Hosers (2016)

October 29th, 2016

At what point do you stop apologizing for your idols?

I was 21-years-old when Kevin Smith released Clerks, a film that equally represented twenty-somethings trying to find their place in the world and independent, DIY filmmakers trying to find their place in the market. In the 20+ since we met Dante and Randall, Smith’s career has seen more ups and downs than Jay and Silent Bob in a seedy New Jersey strip club. Each time Smith announces he’s finally going to put his “View Askewniverse” characters to rest, we get films like Tusk and Red State and Cop Out and he goes back to his well of familiarity. The fact that Smith announced Clerks III and Mallrats II (which has since morphed into a television series pitch) after a series of box office bombs is no coincidence.

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Yoga Hosers the second of Smith’s loosely-connected “True North” trilogy, three films that take place in Canada. There aren’t a lot of establishing shots to place the action in Canada, but fortunately everybody says “eh,” “zed,” and “aboot” (about) enough times to convince Americans the action takes place north of the border. More people say “aboot” in this film than utter the f-bomb in all of Kevin Smith’s previous films combined.

The film opens with the fifteen-year-old Colleens — Colleen C. (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen M. (Harley Quinn Smith) — performing a cover version of Anthrax’s “I’m the Man” in the back room of the convenient store they work in. Anthrax released “I’m the Man” 29 years ago in 1987, 14 years before the Colleens were born. We also meet Ichabod, their drummer and friend who promptly disappears for the rest of the film. Why are the girls enamored with an 80s thrash metal band? (Their band is called “Glamthrax”.) Why are two 15-year-old girls allowed to work alone in a convenient store? Nothing in this scene makes sense, and yet ten minutes later you realize this scene makes more sense than anything else in the film.

Kevin Smith smokes a lot of pot, and tells anyone who will listen about how much pot he smokes. Smith brags about all the things he has written and directed while smoking pot. None of them have been financially successful. When the New York Post asks you to smoke less weed, it might be time to cut back. I don’t know why I feel compelled to tell you Kevin Smith smokes a lot of dope. This film is about an army of foot-tall Nazi bratwursts (“Bratzis”) that kill people by climbing into their butts. Without a bong in hand, the plot leaves something to be desired.

The Colleens lose their phones (“that’s so basic!“) and are forced to work in Colleen C.’s dad’s convenient store instead of attending a “senior party” before the plot starts to roll. Normally a film this bad with an 88 minute running time would seem to drag, but today, the day after watching it, it seems like it was only 15 minutes long. After surviving an attack by high school senior devil worshipers, the girls go on to fight Bratzis and Andronicus Arcane, the head of the Bratzis. Arcane has also built a ten-foot-tall Golem Goalie to “kill all the critics of his previous work.” I can only imagine film critics sitting in the theater and watching this film raising their hands, offering to be first. To quote Holden from Smith’s 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, “When, Lord when? When’s gonna be my time?”

Smith has gone on record as calling his previous movies a “collection of dick and fart jokes,” and I’m sure the idea of sausages going up people’s butts seems really witty to a guy who smokes more green than Snoop Dogg. When Dante in Clerks whined, “I’m not even supposed to be here today,” we knew who the film was written for: the Dantes of the world, those of us working and thinking and wanting to go somewhere and going nowhere. Yoga Hosers wasn’t written for the Dantes, but for the Jays — Silent Bob’s drug-dealing burned out cohort. Jay, with a super-sized bong in hand and few remaining brain cells, would no doubt find miniature talking Nazi sausages hilarious.

In a recent interview with the Nerdist, Kevin Smith revealed his new business model. He can make terrible movies, tour around the country with them doing pre-and-post-show Q&As, and make his money back. If you’re fortunate enough to catch one of these shows, I recommend it — Smith remains a good stand up speaker and story teller, and him talking about this film is probably more interesting than this film. But without an accompanying appearance by the filmmaker, the rest of us are left with just the film, and a feeling of being hosed.