September 15, 2014

Battlefield Earth

One thousand years after our planet was conquered in nine minutes by floppy clown-gloved leather-fetish Rastafarians on stilts, humanity has been reduced to small isolated communities of impeccably beautiful and healthy model-actors in lush green forests--no wait, excuse me, I'm sorry, the totally-not-stolen-from-Star Wars opening text crawl says humanity's remnants are "hiding in radiated areas".  Not the verdant forests of Canada. Nope. Radiated areas. Totally.

Did I mention that director Roger Christian worked on Return of the Jedi? Because you might notice a little similarity in some of the filmmaking techniques employed here.

Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 is the story of humanity's oppression at the hands of a dreadlocked John Revolta and his offensively oversized codpiece. Revolta plays Terl, the security chief of Earth for the evil psychiatrists Psychlos of the planet Psychlo, a galaxy-spanning race of morally-bankrupt resource-hungry capitalists that have been ruthlessly strip-mining gold from our Earth for a thousand years running. Despite having defeated Earth's entire combined military force in a total of nine minutes through the use of their gas drones(?), the Psychlos have been unable to wipe out humanity completely because their "breath-gas" explodes(!) on contact with "radiation", allowing the remnants of the human race to eke out an existence in areas that have been saturated with nuclear fallout.


Our hero (we know because of his long, flowing blonde locks), Jonnie Goodboy Tyler(!!), appears on his horse. Because we still have those. We brought them into the irradiated zones and have feed and saddles and brushes and stuff for them, what? Anyway, Private Jackson (sans his trusty sniper rifle, sadly) is returning to the movie set on which his tribe lives with medicine for his sick father, but his bland love interest Bland Love Interest, played by a Montreal actor to satisfy the legal requirements for getting Canadian funding, informs him that Dad done died. Johnny lets out a good movie "NOOOOO!" and destroys the medicine in rage. Boy, I sure hope Pop's illness wasn't contagious!

After arguing with the village elder (you got to have a village elder in these things, it's Movie Law) about the existence of the "demons from the sky who are totally not the Psychlos that we read about in the opening crawl", Jonnie rides out of the village to find a better life than slowly dying in the irradiated zones. Which is what the script says is happening to the people in the village, despite their gym-toned bodies and perfect make-up and gloriously white teeth. Jonnie meets Kim Coates and Another Guy shortly before the Psychlos appear and shoot Jonnie's horse, causing him to let out a "NOOOOO!" that's every bit as heartfelt and genuine as the one prompted by his father's death. The dastardly aliens then kill Another Guy, stun Kim, and force Jonnie to shamelessly ape the "Zhora crashing through glass after being shot in the back" sequence from Blade Runner, if that sequence were shot by a talentless hack through a murky green filter. Jonnie is hauled aboard a Psychlo air transport, causing him to scream in horror at being trapped with Kim Coates. The transport takes our hapless zeroes to the worst prison on the entire planet.

Denver. Oh yeah.

As an aside, from this point forward, every shot--and I mean every goddamned shot--is filmed through a murky blue filter at a Dutch angle. Don't know what a Dutch angle is? Tilt your head to the left as far as you can. Now imagine the entire movie looks like that. Watching this movie, you'll constantly suppress the urge to reach out and tilt the TV so the damn shot will be straight. Oh, and also the urge to turn the TV off and not have to watch the rest of this crap.

After the little transport lands in the crumbling, decayed remains--okay, more crumbling and more decayed remains--of Denver, Goldilocks McAmericanpatriot makes a break for it as soon as the craft's door is opened. A Psychlo tries to stop him, but Pvt. Jackson ends up with the alien's gun, asks God to lend him His strength, and blows the alien away. At this point, Terl appears and immediately lets loose with one of the all-time worst performances in the history of hammy overacting. Seriously, Revolta goes so far over the top he has to dodge low-flying aircraft. He doesn't chew the scenery so much as inhale it like Rob Ford on a crack pipe. We're talking Bruce Payne in Highlander End Game levels of overacting. HADDEGEBURN levels of overacting. Brian Blessed would tell him to take it down a notch.

Another guard reports that Pvt. Jackson killed the guard, but Terl sniffs at this, remarking that the guard must be out of his skull-bone (eh?) to ask him to believe that a man-animal (seriously?) could do such a thing. Terl gives Jonnie the gun back and orders the guard to let Jonnie shoot him, which he does. Terl, being a good villain, laughs uproariously at this and--scene!

Why didn't Jonnie shoot Terl as well? Uh...hey, look over there!

Cut to--no, I'm sorry, wipe to Jonnie and some other humans getting hosed down by the Psychlos as Jonnie snarls "Get your stinking paws off me, you damn, dirty alien!" Oh wait, that was me. Jonnie ends up getting the hose away from the guy--Jesus, he can just take anything out of their hands at any time--and sprays the Psychlos with it, who stumble around on their stilts in slow-motion. Galaxy-spanning conquerors my ass. The Borg these guys ain't.

Cut Wipe to Terl, along with *sigh* his assistant Ker (Forest Whitaker--I so wish I were kidding), waiting to meet up with Zete, who we gather is somebody important. He beams in from the home planet and immediately declares Earth a "craphole" ("craphole"?) because the sky is all, like, blue. Get it? It's funny because what we think is beautiful is ugly to the Psychlos. Really makes you think, doesn't it...about how fucking moronic this movie is, I mean. Zeke...Zeel...Zete says that they should kill all the humans after all the gold is mined. Uh....why wait? In fact, why haven't you done it already, if you can? And why are you capturing them, anyway? They don't mine the gold; you have Psychlo workers who do that. So why not use Psychlos for other jobs, too? Like, uh...breaking rocks (the only "job" we ever see the human slaves doing).

Another bigwig appears, the Planetship of Earth. What's a Planetship, you ask? Why, a fat bald man with a gigantic bulging neck tumor, of course! I mean, what else would a Planetship be?

The Planetship and Zwhatever laugh at Terl, who thought they were coming to reassign him to a sweeter gig, after they reveal he will instead be assigned to Earth permanently. Terl goes to a bar to seek solace from the sweet, sweet booze, which for Psychlos is called kerbango ("kerbango"??) and is a glowing green liquid. Apparently the Psychlos get drunk on the Predator's blood. Ker tries to console him by pointing out that Earth is a pretty "cushy job", and Terl responds....

Okay, now, you have to say this line as far over the top as you can. Think of a community theater reject doing the "hold their manhood cheap" line from the St. Crispin's Day speech, then raise it about an octave, and then put him in floppy clown gloves, dreadlocks, and hideous contact lenses as he delivers the line:

"While you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being conquer galaxies!"

As long as those being conquered don't, I don't know, try to take something out of your hands. Because then you'd just look silly.

It's too bad nobody trained Terl to act, because fucking Jesus. And he's got to have some serious balls to deliver a line that badly as a scold to Forest fucking Whitaker. I assume the next scene will have Revolta lecturing Barack Obama on the finer points of public speaking just before instructing Morgan Lander on how to death growl.

Throughout the movie Ker tries to outfox Terl in some incredibly lame boss-employee scheming. (Petty office politics...OF THE YEAR 3000!) This time he puts a file with the potential for big profits--which he had kept for himself assuming Terl was about to be reassigned--on Terl's desk. But it's all for naught, because Terl has a picto-camera (picto-camera?!) installed in his office that catches Ker in the act. In the movie's sole moment that comes anywhere near succeeding, Ker says he didn't think Terl would mind a little scheming (being that the Psychlos are evil and all), and Terl replies that he doesn't mind and permits Ker to claim a share of the profits. Kind of a nice moment. And then Terl orders Ker to "check the compo-gradients" (Compo-gradients?!?) Whew, I was afraid the movie might stop sucking.

Ker's file details massive gold deposits in the irradiated zones, meaning the Psychlos can't get to them. Remember? The exploding breath-gas thing? ("Breath-gas"?) Terl's insanely stupid plan is to recruit human slaves to mine the gold, when 20 minutes ago Terl got a guard killed because he didn't believe Jonnie could even pull a trigger. Ker and Terl ask the Planetship to approve this plan--because if there's one thing this movie needed, it's more of that guy--and he says no because humans are too stupid to learn to mine. So Terl blackmails him into letting him do it. There, that wraps up one pointless subplot that's stretched out over a good half hour of the film's running time.

Terl selects Jonnie to lead the team of miners. He takes Our Zero to a machine that beams knowledge directly into his brain. So then what's with the business of how smart humans are, if you can just zap skills and knowledge into their heads? Terl wasn't very selective with the machine though, since it beams into Jonnie's head everything the Psychlos know. Maybe Terl should've fittled with the settings a bit more so that the machine wouldn't teach Jonnie things like, oh I don't know, that the Psychlos' breath-gas ("breath-gas"?) explodes on contact with radiation. Or how to both speak and read their language. Or how to operate their computers. Or that they have a teleporter that leads directly to their home planet. Or everything else he'll use to lead the humans to overthrow and destroy them. (Oops, sorry to blow the ending of the movie for you.)

The teaching computer also teaches Jonnie how to read and write English. Seriously, why would the Psychlos have any interest in preserving the written languages of the species they exterminate and/or use as slave labor? Shut up, because they do, that's why! (It also teaches him Euclidean geometry. We know because this space alien machine built by space aliens from space uses the term Euclidean.) Terl wants to make sure Jonnie doesn't get any bright ideas about resistance, so he takes him to the Denver Public Library (you know the one) and leaves him alone because "there is nothing here that will help you". Oh Terl, if only you knew, since Jonnie immediately picks up a copy of the Declaration of Independence(!!!). Well, the Psychlos are done for now! Jonnie has the words of the Founders burning in his heart, so tyranny's days are numbered. No genocidal gas drones without representation!

Oh, and I'm just going to point out that the teaching computer, when teaching Jonnie the Psychlo language, appears as a Chinko Clinko, an offensively racist obsequious fawning stereotype of an arcane-knowledge-possessing exotic Chinese mandarin. You're welcome!

Jonnie attempts his first uprising, stealing some Psychlo sidearms from a locker using Terl's security code, which Jonnie figures out in about five seconds. Way to lead by example there, Chief of Security. But when he and the rest of the initial mining group turn the guns on Terl, they don't fire. "If you rat-brains knew anything about firearms," Terl sneers, "you'd know that you never store loaded weapons." So Jonnie got the knowledge of the Universe beamed into his head but not how to make sure a gun is loaded? Jesus, I don't know which of these guys is dumber. Holmes and Moriarty these guys ain't. More like Derrida and Fukuyama. 

Also, "rat-brains"?

To quell this little rebellion, Terl shoots the legs off some cows in the middle of a field somewhere (uh....) and then threatens to kill Bland Love Interest (remember her?) with an exploding neck collar. Somewhere, Wile E. Coyote is nodding approval. To demonstrate that he's totally serious and the neck collar really does explode you guys, he slaps one on...a guy who is also there. When Terl gets ready to push the button on the remote detonator he holds, Jonnie begs him not to kill whoever this is, and Terl agrees as long as Jonnie promises never to ask him for any favor again. Does anyone not see where this is going? If I tell you Ker is there too, does that help? Anybody? Should I put in a disclaimer for anyone who has a weak heart and might be shocked, shocked! by what happens next?

Terl says, "I only said I wouldn't kill him" and tosses the detonator to Ker, who blows off the guy's head real good. Ha! Betcha didn't see that--oh, you did. Oh. Ohhh. Ohhhhhhh--

So Jonnie and his crew are sent off to mine the gold, more or less unsupervised, but Jonnie knows something the Psychlos don't know: When he was in the library, in addition to reading the holy scripture of the Founders, he also discovered the existence of Fort Knox.

*Imagine the sound of a record scratch here.* Wait. Back this crazy train up. I know the Psychlos are dumb, but really--in a thousand years of mining gold, the only substance they care about, the substance they came to Earth to find in the first place, they never found Fort fucking Knox? Plus, the gold in Fort Knox is already smelted. And shaped into bricks. Even Terl isn't dumb enough to buy that they just pulled this stuff out of the ground.

Wait, I'm wrong. He is, and he does.

And it just gets dumber. While one group of cavemen is at Fort Knox, another is locating a massive storehouse of military weaponry, including Harrier jets(!) complete with training simulator(!!) and a nuclear bomb(!!!!!!!).

So these primitive cavemen spend what must be hours on a still functioning and powered training simulator in order to learn how to fly thousand-year-old Harriers (notorious for being probably the most difficult vehicle to fly, combining all the issues involved in piloting both a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter). Intensive day-long training complete and still-functioning nuke armed, Jonnie and the cavemen put their plan into action.

Blah blah shooting, blah blah Jonnie shamelessly apes the "people shooting at Neo and destroying the pillars around him" scene from The Matrix, blah blah cavemen fly thousand-year-old Harriers and score somewhat improbable air-to-air victories in Independence Day-errific style, blah blah Terl thinks he's blowing off Bland Love Interest's head with the exploding neck collar but instead blows off his own arm (don't ask), blah blah genocide when Jonnie beams the nuke over to Psychlo and utterly destroys the entire planet, blah blah Terl is left imprisoned in Fort Knox surrounded by the gold he so lusted after, while a double-crossing Ker has joined up with Jonnie. The end.

So humanity 1, Psychlos minus several billion, I guess. Humans rule!

Battlefield Earth is a godawful mess of a movie, difficult to watch due to the constant eye-straining blue filter, incessant Dutch angles, and scenes with John Revolta . The film is laughably goofy, purging some of its source novel's most egregious bad elements while still keeping way too much, and Revolta's performance is ham-heavenly bliss. For the seasoned bad-movie watcher only....but if you count yourself among that number--and God help you if you do--you must have blown a head-gasket if you haven't seen the glorious trainwreck that is Battlefield Earth.

Oh, and Scientologists eat babies.

September 1, 2014

In My Sleep

In My Sleep is what you get when a mediocre filmmaker gets entirely too excited after seeing Memento for the first time: cheap, confusing, and kind of shitty. In fact, you could say that if you watch this movie, you'll be in your sleep in no time! Ha! I got a million of 'em, a-cha-cha!

A guy who looks enough like Helo that I was continually annoyed he wasn't Helo stars as Marcus, a shallow, self-hating sex addict who is also a sleepwalker who continually wakes up in various embarrassing places with no memory of how he came to be there. If that doesn't sound like enough crippling mental issues for one indie film protagonist, trust me, it's more than enough. And if you haven't already started writing the plot for this movie in your head, then you're probably a happy, well-adjusted person who hasn't spent her life watching terrible indie suspense thrillers.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, not-Helo awakens in bed covered in blood with the Fuzz beating down his door. Our hero hides his bloody knife and cleans up a bit before letting the Man in. While one of the Po-pos glances briefly around searches the apartment, the other gives one of the most jaw-droppingly awful performances you've never seen as he interrogates Marcus with all the intimidation that his utter absence of acting talent can muster. Marcus stands in awe of the bad acting clinic the 5-0 puts on, gives him some bull, and sends him and his partner off none the wiser. Soon enough Marcus finds out that his best friend's wife Ann, with whom he just had a one-night stand, has been knife-murdered, and the best friend (a certain Justin) is increasingly suspected of being the culprit. Except when the schizophrenic detective handling the case has another episode and decides to treat Marcus like the prime suspect instead. It's that kind of movie.

Marcus worries that he may have murdered his best friend's wife in a sleepwalking stupor, so he does what any of us would do: He gets Mako to handcuff him to his bed every night so he won't go out a-murderin'. Mako clearly wants to jump his bones, but being that he's a sex addict, he flatly rejects the advances of his hot, unattached, and obviously (and I mean obviously) willing upstairs neighbor. No, instead he goes to Sexaholics Anonymous (I'm serious) where he immediately puts the make on fellow sex addict and lifelike mannequin Gwen (Abigail Spencer), who is emphatic that she will only be friends with men from this point forward--no sex, no siree! Marcus invites Gwen to totally-not-prelude-to-freaky-sex dinner at his apartment, but then Mako appears at the door with handcuffs asking if it's time to "lock you up", and Gwen leaves in a huff. See, it's funny because she's jealous and thinks he's going to have intense light bondage sex with Mako, when really he's only trying to avoid sleepwalker murder! Oh Gwen, you've got it all wrong!

Once he finds out Gwen is a nurse, Marcus gives her a sample of the blood he was earlier covered in to find out if it's his or not, despite the fact that he clearly has no injury that would've produced that much blood. (I assume the film's budget didn't cover the forensics lab in his bedroom in which he stored this sample for several days.) Turns out it's someone else's blood (bum bum bum!), but then Gwen implies that she won't send the sample off for the necessary further testing to find out whose blood it is unless he sleeps with her. Now that the movie has finally had a decent scene and built a modicum of interest and dramatic tension, the next scene immediately undercuts it all by revealing that Gwen is in fact Ann's previously-mentioned but unseen sister who has been spying on Marcus. See, Ann confessed her one-night stand to Gwen just before her murder, so Gwen infiltrated the SA meeting on suspicion that Marcus was involved.

Um...then why did Gwen get all huffy when Mako showed up with the cuffs? And why did she hint that she would help Marcus in exchange for sex? I think writer/director/producer/caterer/Grand Moff/Supreme Overloard of the Tripton Lineage Allen Wolf indulged in about 68 too many script re-writes. You've got your sex addiction plot and your murderous sleepwalker plot, and they seem to exist in separate movies. Equally boring, stiffly acted, boring movies, but separate movies. The one point at which it seemed these two plots might intersect in some way (Gwen's demand for sex in order to continue helping Marcus despite her earlier dedication to not engaging in such relations) is undermined by the sudden and highly moronic revelation that Gwen is Ann's sleuthing sister and not a sex addict at all, utterly ruining the film's one chance of rising to the mediocrity of your average Hitchhiker episode.

Oh, and once Gwen reveals her secret truth, she disappears from the movie. That's right, her sleuthing, her accusations, the whole whose-blood-is-it bit--all of it gets dropped like a smart bomb on the Middle East. Gwen doesn't factor into the reveal of the killer at all.

If you care about the resolution of this story--and God help you if you do--Marcus reads that sleepwalkers don't swim during their episodes (both Marcus and Justin were established as swimmers early in the film), so he places the knife in the drain at the bottom of the pool in his apartment complex. When Justin confronts him over Ann's death, Marcus calls Mako to check on the knife, which she immediately does. Man, this chick changes into a swimsuit and goes downstairs to the pool and dives to the bottom of it to root around in the disgusting pool drain to see if the knife Marcus may or may not have murdered someone with is still safely hidden on demand, and the guy won't even return her flirtation. Men. Amirite, ladies?

Anyway, when she tells him the knife is missing, Marcus knows he's innocent after all (so then whose blood was he covered in, and why?) and goads Justin into revealing that he's actually the killer. (I hope you were sitting down for that shocking revelation.) They fight, because you have to fight in these things, and then the bronze show up just in time for Justin to accidentally fall on the knife and die. The film's final scene has Mako revealing that Marcus did sleep with her some days before--in his sleep (like in the title!)--but doesn't remember. (Rob Ford might want to give this "did it in my sleep" excuse a try.) They embrace in a way that (I guess?) means Marcus is going to try to have an actual relationship for the first time. Because nothing gets you to settle down with a girl like sleeping with your best friend's wife, thinking you might have murdered her, concealing your possible murderin' from the police, and watching your best friend die in your arms after a struggle over the knife he tried to kill you with, amirite? Guise?

You know you're in trouble when Mako gives by far the best performance in the movie. She's genuine, likeable, and believable in the role, none of which describes any of the other actors. The better ones (Justin, Ann, Marcus) are stiff and awkward, while the less said about the rest (Gwen, the schizo detective, the kid playing Young Marcus in the repressed memory scene that reveals why he's both a sleepwalker and a sex addict*), the better. In fact, the less said about this movie, the better.

Now how about a romantic comedy starring Helo and Mako? Helo is the intergalactic bounty hunter, Mako is the Cylon infiltrator who falls in love with him, and somehow the whole thing ends with Cylon raiders attacking the Death Star.

"You're far too trusting. Caprica is too remote to make an effective demonstration, but don't worry. We'll deal with your toaster friends soon enough."


* Spoiler: He has daddy issues.