Friday, February 21, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: I'm Not Mad at ROBOCOP (2014), I'm Just Disappointed

Full disclosure: The original RoboCop is my #2 favorite film of all time. While it is impossible for me to completely separate my intense bias for the original and my views on the remake, I will do my best to judge this new film on its own merits and not to fill this review with superfluous comparisons to the 1987 classic. However, the very nature of remaking a film invites comparison, so while I will undoubtedly reference the original film when I find it appropriate, I will attempt to keep such references at a minimum.

I'm not against remaking films. In fact, one of my most anticipated films of 2014 is the remake of the Japanese classic, Gojira (Godzilla to all of us gaijin). There is almost always a new and interesting way to tell an old story, even when it doesn't seem necessary. RoboCop (2014) seems utterly unnecessary, and it more than proves that it is, but what is ultimately disappointing about director Jose Padilha's new version is that there are so many original and thought-provoking ideas, but they end up getting suffocated by the very nature of the narrative and the fact that this is a RoboCop movie, which means the audience is supposed to expect certain things (or so the filmmakers believe).

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Everyone has a story to tell when it comes to the first time they ever saw a memorable movie (whether it be enjoyable or deplorable). Art is dependent on the experiences we bring to the table, and these are mine. Some are funny, some are sad, some are good and some are very, very bad. Hopefully, they'll all be worth a read.

The Film: Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

Let Me Set the Scene: When it came to being raised with a strong moral attitude towards visiting the movie theater, I think my parents failed wonderfully. They would use my backpack as a way of sneaking in candy and drinks (we never bought the over-priced concession items if we could avoid it), we would see two movies for the price of one by hopping to another theater at the end of one film, and I have to thank my mother for buying me tickets to R-rated films when I was a young teenager and letting me go see them by myself (or with friends who thought my mom was the coolest). While my present day self is intensely law abiding (where going to the cinema is concerned, at least), tiny Drew was a theater owner's worst nightmare. At least I wasn't recording and pirating films back then.

I wouldn't? You obviously don't know me well enough to make that statement.
So, when I was at summer camp in 1996, we had a field trip to the movies one day. I remember not being particularly jazzed on the film the counselors had chosen (the kids had absolutely no input, which I felt was extremely unfair), but for the life of me, I can't remember what that movie was. Looking at release dates for 1996 (keeping in mind that this theater didn't play new movies, but was rather cheap and either obtained prints later on or ran some truly terrible and/or low budget films, like Tarzan and the Lost City), I am pretty sure the film was Two Much. If you actually know that that title refers to the thankfully forgotten Antonio Banderas rom-com, you are a greater film historian than I. Why this was chosen for a group 7 and 8-year-olds, I have no idea. Probably because the majority of the counselors were teenagers with raging hormones, and a romantic comedy (that was PG-13, so the kids could get in) was the best option to get some juices flowing.

I was visibly upset all the way to the theater, but when we arrived, my morbidly curious side noticed the above poster for Hellraiser: Bloodline. I had seen the first film on TV (albeit through the jumpy anxiety of changing the channel back and forth when I got too scared) and was just entering my full-on horror fan stages, courtesy of my mother and aunt. Although they were not horror fans at all, they happened to support me searching out horror films from when they were growing up, leading to some truly bizarre discoveries like Phantasm.

More fuel for the "fear of glowing red eyes" fire. Thanks again, Mom.
Thanks to my dubious movie theater morality, I made the decision to try and sneak into Hellraiser. I told my counselor (I can't remember his name, but he was maybe fifteen/sixteen and very blasé about his counselor duties) that I was going to go to the bathroom to "do a number two" and I would come in afterwards. After hiding out in the bathroom for maybe ten minutes, I stealthily slunk my way into the adjoining theater, feeling like the craftiest kid who ever lived.

The First Viewing: When I got inside, I took a quick look around the theater. There were only two other people in there (both men, both sitting separately) and they were both towards the front four rows. The movie had already started, so sneaking into the back row was easier than opening the Lament Configuration, which apparently even Terminator robots could solve.

Not how I would go about trying to kill John Connor, but I guess you have to explore all available options.
I was riding high from the adrenaline of actually seeing a movie I wasn't supposed to, so my critical mindset was not really taking into account how pretty awful and surprisingly boring the film was. Plus, I was still young enough to be scared by silly stuff, so a good amount of the film was viewed through the cracks between my fingers. I also made a conscious decision to stifle any vocal reactions so that the two lone gentlemen seeing the film didn't know that a kid (who tellingly left his summer camp group, thanks to the t-shirt I was wearing with the camp's name and logo) was hiding out in the back row.

To be totally honest, I didn't remember a lot of what I had seen for a long time (thanks to those pesky fingers in front of my eyes) until revisiting the film a little bit later in my life. The few things that did stick with me were the fantastic decapitation chain gimmick (which is still cool), the creation of the twin Cenobite and Pinhead's hell-hound, which even my 7-year-old self found to be funny.

This goofy concept is still better than every subsequent Hellraiser film. That says a lot.
I got a bit paranoid that I would be caught missing from my group, so towards the tail end of the film (when the giant space-station is transforming into a huge puzzle box), I ducked out and quietly sat myself in the back row of the theater playing whatever film it was (it had to be Two Much, it just had to be). I didn't really pay attention as my mind was racing with all the insane images I had just witnessed, and my heart was pumping from actually getting away with it.

When the movie ended, I got up and rejoined my group. The counselor who I had talked to earlier asked me why I didn't come and sit with everyone. I said that I didn't want to disturb people by walking in front of them. I don't know if he bought it or not, but the conversation ended there, leaving me with a movie experience I will never forget.

Lasting Effects: Now just to be clear, Hellraiser: Bloodline is not a good film. It's an ambitious and interesting place for the franchise to go, but it's a horribly compromised and dull experience. Read up on the behind the scenes drama when you have some time. I'd love to see a full documentary on the series (ala Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories) if just to hear all the stories about this entry.

I credit Hellraiser and Halloween with being my first true horror movie experiences. Even though I saw things that could be somewhat classified as "horror" (Jaws, Gremlins and Critters being the first few I can remember), these two films stick out as undeniable horror experiences that I caught on late night TV, probaly courtesy of MonsterVision or something similar.

I used to do a Pinhead impersonation in high school and turned a couple of people on to the movie. Definitely something I'm proud of.

Like all horror series I find some enjoyment in, I did eventually seek out the entire franchise. Of all the horror franchises out there, Hellraiser probably has the biggest miss-to-hit ratio ever. So many bad films. I would say if you are going bare bones, just see the first two. If you want a little bit of dumb fun, go ahead and watch Hellraiser III. If you have some stupid emotional attachment to a pretty crappy film you weren't supposed to see when you were seven, see Hellraiser: Bloodline.

Even Pinhead can't take his own film seriously.