Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Final

Title: The Final
Director: Joey Stewart
Released: 2010
Staring: Marc Donato, Jascha Washington, Whitney Hot, Julin, Lindsay Seidel, Laura Ashley Samuels, Justin S. Arnold, Travis Tedford, Eric Isenhower, Vincent Silochan, Farah White, Zacherias Judge.

Plot: After being a target of the popular kids for years, a group of misfits and outcasts band together to plot their revenge on their tormentors.

Review: High school is hell! This is the general opinion I had of school which I recall as a daily ritual of beatings and humiliation, before going to college and truly finding myself, while those who tormented soon struggled and dropped out as they failed cope with no longer being the big fish in the little pond, so guess karma has a way of working things out. Still perhaps it’s because my own school days were so similar to the bullied teens seen here in this film, that in many ways I can relate to their plight, after all who hasn’t thought about getting revenge on someone whose sole purpose in life seems to be about making yours as miserable as possible, while at the same time certainly making it ripe for a horror twist.

While there might have been films in the past which have looked at similar themes of revenge on the tormentor such as Larry Clark’s explicit “Bully” (2001) and the slightly lighter “Mean Creek” (2004), while “Elephant” (2003) and “Zero Day” (2003) attempted to attach the theme to recreating the events of the Columbine High School Massacre, still for horror films this as far as I’m aware is a first, seeing how previous films have always focused on the individual pushed too far rather than a group and it’s this slight twist which certainly makes it more interesting, while also making it awhole lot more plausible, especially when their tormentors easily reach into double figures and to have one person extracting revenge against them all would no doubt have not been able to maintain the same level of focus that this film does on ensure that the so called victims know exactly why they are there.

The group are the usual collection of misfits and outcasts, all bullied and tormented for similar reasons, while the majority of them also have equally disturbing family lives with Ravi’s (Silochan) family barely communicating with each other, while Dane’s (Donato) parents are shown to be constantly fighting, as home provides little in the way of shelter for these teens who are all brought together under the leadership of ringleader Dane, who identifies their similarities to each other and entices them in with his plans for revenge. It’s strange though that once the revenge begins that he takes a backseat to the torture games instead preferring to torment the tormentors with extensive monologues and leaving the rest of the group to carry out the grunt work, ironically only getting his hands dirty when it comes to keeping the rest of the group in line with his plans.

Having lured thier tormentors to a mock costume party we see the group at the start of the party in their innocent looking costumes, which soon change to much more twisted ones once they get their tormentors were they want them, having drugged them all with a spiked punch, as if the second costumes are supposed to represent the darker alter ego’s of the group at the same time with their first costumes representing their usual faces of false innocence they present on a daily basis. The second costumes are also clearly designed to reference other horror films with Emily’s (Seidel) costume in particular basically being a copy of the one seen in “Audition” (2000), a reference only made all the more clearer once she starts her own brand of acupuncture on one of the male jocks.

While the film quickly descends into becpming yet another torture flick, director Stewart atleast bothers to stop the scenes from becoming the usual mix of gratuitous violence and prolonged torment, keeping the focus purely on revenge via Dane’s taunts as he addresses their captives and by also keeping the revenge aspect until the second half of the film, using the first half wisely to make the bullies as evil and vicious as he can. Still the revenge aspect atleast bothers to be slightly more creative than the host of Hostel clones we have seen in the last couple of years, as acidic skin cream and a cattle gun all come into play, with Jack (Isenhower) and Emily dishing out the majority of the revenge, with a focus on disfiguring and maiming their tormentors, before unceromonsley dumping them in the back room and moving onto the next victim, which was kind of a change from the usual torture to death, much like the fact that the group are more than willing to let their captive to walk out, knowing all to well that they will not only have to negotiate a maze of bear traps, but also the homicidal mute triplets who happily hunt down for sport those who want to take their chances in the woods. Still the worst torture of the whole film has to be when Jake starts playing the banjo, which irritatingly soundtracks the majority of scenes in a clear reference to Deliverance with the redneck vibe only added to by Jack’s Scarecrow costume. Now this is not to say that he is not talented, as he clearly know how to play the instrument, it’s just that it’s not exactly the most ideal instrument for building tension in a scene and in fact the majority of times it was used only took away from the film, much like the inclusion of the war veteran neighbour, whose inclusion could have easily been emitted.

While Stewart throws up a couple of twists throughout the film, such as the neutral friend Kurtis (Washington) who is seem befriending both groups, even sticking up for his bullied friends when he finds out how they have treated Bradley and it was his character which proved the most surprising twist, especially when the group soon begin to fall apart over what judgment he will face, with Dane soon being blinded by his hate while the others members of the group soon begin to suspect that he has lost focus from their original intentions as only highlighted by the ending which in many ways was almost predictable, seeing how the film has worked itself into a corner by this point and almost feel like Stewart is afraid to have the film without the group facing any form of punishment for their actions and even more so that he would be seen portraying the groups actions as an acceptable way for equally bullied viewers to deal with their own issues, though the setup is so clearly fantastical it would be doubtful that anyone could see it as a how to guide to dealing with bullies.

Originally released as part of the “After Dark Horrorfest” which has showcased equally noteworthy films such as “The Hamiltons” (2006) and “Frontier(s)” (2007) and this film is equally noteworthy as it is flawed, but for trying to do something different with an overly stale sub genre of horror, it’s worth giving a look even if the groups actions are ultimately questionable.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Running Man

Title: The Running Man
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Released: 1987
Staring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, Marvin J. McIntyre, Mick Fleetwood, Professor Toru Tanaka, Gus Rethwisch, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown, Erland Van Lidth, Dweezil Zappa

Plot: After being framed for a massacre he tried to prevent Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger), escapes from prison with two members of the underground resistance William (Kotto) and Harold (McIntyre). Plotting to escape the country he soon finds himself drawing the attention of Damon Killian (Dawson) who soon is pulling the strings to line up Ben and his friends as the latest contestants on his hit show “The Running Man” were they will be given a change to win their freedom, providing they can survive that is.

Review: Made at the tail end of his action films period before he moved onto more lighter subject matter, “The Running Man” for one reason or another seems to be frequently forgotten when fans reel of their favourite Arnie movies, which is a shame as it has all the trademarks of his Golden years I.E: One liners, cigars and a healthy dose of OTT action sequences, all of which are present and accounted for here, as well as the usual excuses for Arnie to show off his super strength. So if it ticks so many boxes why then is it so frequently overlooked? Sure that I was rating it so highly, due to the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia clouding my opinion I knew it was time to revisit what I honest belive is an underated classic.

Set in the near future of 2025 America, the film has the look of the majority of the 80’s post apocalyptic movies and when combined with a dated electro score by Harold Faltermeyer who with his synthesiser soundtracked some of the most iconic movies of the 80’s and it’s that same period were the score along with so many of this film keeps it firmly as a piece of classic 80’s nostalgia, while furthering the myth that the 80’s were better than they actually were. Still the idea of reality TV pushed to the extremes being explored in the film, feels only all the more relevant now, than it did upon the films release, with reality shows in recent years seeing contestants living on a rubbish dump as well as seeing who can stay awake for a week without sleep and with producers only continuing to scrape the barrel for ideas and push the boundaries of good taste, so how long is it before we see convicted criminals being executed for general entertainment?

It would seem that aswell as reality shows in 2025, society has also become a lot more obsessed with violence not only with the titular game show but also in a brief scene from “Climbing for Dollars” in which contests climb a rope to grab easy cash, while attack dogs jump eagerly directly below them, while a framed poster in Damon’s office advertising “The Hate Boat” only further emphasises the general mood of this alternative America, with TV being used as a general distraction from the failings of the government, giving TV Executives like Damon a power comparable to that of the government, as they essentially tell the masses what they should think and believe, even more emphasised by his audience shouting out their declaration of love for him at the start of the show and showering the audience with prizes to only further reinforce their material love for him. Still the casting of Dawson as Damon is an inspired piece of casting comparable to that of casting Jerry Springer in “Citizen Verdict” (2003), especially with Dawson being best known as the host of “Family Feud” and “Family Fortune” with his game show host persona jacked up to another level here, as Dawson is clearly having a blast playing Damon, as he plays the audience with smiles while having a truly ruthless side off camera, aswell as being the only baddie to have a comeback for Arnie’s trademark “I’ll be Back” in which he calmly responds with “Only in a rerun” which could honestly be one of my favourite moments of the film.

Plot wise the film rumbles along at a quick place, soon becoming a two thread story, as the action shifts between Ben and Co. as they make their way through the zones, facing off against the various stalkers, with the second main thread concerning Damon and his production team as they struggle to maintain control on the show, especially when Ben takes on a cult status with the audience who are soon backing him to win, rather than backing any of the shows stalkers with Ben inspiring the masses to fight against the brainwashing media and start thinking for themselves.

The cast outside of Arnie are all pretty much cult actors, with the majority of them getting their most recognisable roles, before slinking back into obscurity as is the case with the majority of the “Stalkers” with the only two perhaps recognisable for the more cult obsessed movie goer as is the case of Tanaka (still no idea what he is a professor of though) and more the more noteworthy Van Lidth, who is probably most memorable as the monstrous leader of “The Baldies” in the frequently over looked “The Wanderers” (1979) and here turns up as the opera singing Dynamo and who also seemingly drew the short straw when it came to costuming seeing how he is essentially a walking Christmas tree, while the other stalkers all get costumes more suiting of their personalities from Sub Zero’s (Tanaka) Psycho ice hockey gear, complete with razor sharp hockey stick to the road warrior Esq. get up of the chainsaw obsessed Buzzsaw (Rethwisch).

Gore wise it is surprisingly light, with only a couple of graphic deaths via barbed wire as well as an exploding head and while most of the gore is implied it still remains satisfying even if it’s holding back on some of the more gruesome moments, yet manages to convince the audience that they aren’t being short changed at the same time, which isn’t the easiest of things to pull off, especially when you consider how enthusiastic 80’s cinema was and even more so when it came to gore and violence.

It might bare much of a resemblance to the source novel, but the same could be said for “The Shining”, whose adaptation by Kubrick is frequently named amongst the best adaptations of Stephen King’s novels, unlike the more faithful and Stephen King approved adaptation by Mick Garris and here Glaser makes the smart choice of reeling in the scope of the novel for a more tight and restrained feel and all the more to max the talents of the assembled cast, while making the stalkers more like Gladiators with celebrity status, helps keep the action easy to follow especially with each of the stalkers having their own unique personality, it helps keep the action scenes fresh with each stalker posing their own challenges, unlike the novel who only had the one named hunter aswell as its gung-ho ending which now has unintentional echoes of 9/11.
It might lack subtly but didn’t all the best films of Arnie’s career and it might be more of the same, but it’s certainly not the worse and should definatly be ranked amongst his best, even if it doesn’t have the same cult following that some of the other key titles in his back catalogue have, one thing is clear and it's that everything else pretty much sucked about the 80's atleast they could make a decent action movie as this clearly proves.
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