Friday, June 25, 2010

Film #30: Cube (1997)

The horrors of the cube!
Each weekday we are sentenced by “life” to endure the seemingly endless cube torture.
Danger, mayhem and mind-melting boredom lurk within every dark Formica corner.
Beware the nine-foot-high stack of manila folders, full of work, just waiting for the right time to absorb and eat you ala The Blob, or fly down one by one to paper-slice your eyelids.

Oh, the incessant hell-scream ringing of that devilish number-adorned device that tears apart the mind by connecting you to morons and assholes.
Even if you can survive the cuts and conversations, not even the strongest mind can withstand the most insidious contraption of the cube: the looming illuminated “Dell” portal one is forced to stare into for hours. First your eyes dry up into microwaved berries, then begins the machine's nefarious plot to slowly suck one’s mind and corrupted corporate soul.

No, don’t make us go back! It’s not Monday yet! Seriously, we have vacation time to use! VACATION TIME! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

As horrific as your 9 to 5 cube may get, it ain’t got nuthin’ on the namesake square of this week’s frightful feature. Seven strangers wake up in their worst nightmare… they are stuck in a cube with FOUR walls and no smoke breaks, internet or escape. Talk about a lack of work/life balance.

Like David Hasselhoff on a Saturday night, no one has a clue how they got there, or just where “there” is. Each person’s background is seemingly random at first: a geeky teenage math whiz, a jail-bird with a penchant for escapes, a gruff, life-weathered cop, a bleeding heart doctor, a mentally disabled man, and a boring, life-hating pencil pusher.
The wall, ceiling and floor of their cubed prison have futuristic doors that lead to the other (literally) 17,000 cubes, but don’t pick the wrong one! Some cubes allow safe passage, but others are booby-trapped with complex, murderous devices that are quick to melt your face off or chop-suey your sternum.

What the hell? Are they in some sort of alien prison? A Saw-like maze developed for some rich sicko’s amusement? A government-controlled psychological experiment?
The group doesn’t want to stick around to figure it out, and begins to carefully make their way through the seemingly endless cube maze – desperately seeking an exit.

Along the way, our confined friends soon realize they are not quite so random after all… each holds a unique talent that if utilized properly, could lead them to the leave their cubbyhole cage.

However, they also discover that human nature, not the murderous devices, will be the biggest barrier to their escape… and survival. Take away food, water, comfort and security, and it seems different types of people don’t get along in stressful situations… and it doesn’t help that the mentally-challenged man keeps screaming in rooms wired with sound-triggered spikes.
It’s a cube breakout attempt equal to downtown at 4:59 on a Friday, in 1997’s “Cube.”

RDHP Ratings and Review

C-Rating: 4.7
Chris Dimick figures:
“Gotta love a horror movie with a message. Dawn of the Dead had one (commercialism is a waste of life), The Mist did too (fundamentalist religion should never compromise logic/it ain’t over till the fat lady sings) and much to my delighted surprise, Cube has one as well.
Actually, there are two messages in Cube. The first is horribly depressing, and something a person can’t really take back to their own life without becoming a mountain man. But, just because it is depressing doesn’t mean it’s void of merit!

I can’t get too specific with this message without ruining parts of the film… which my movie-soul won’t allow me to do since I highly recommend watching this flick. But it goes a little something like this: government committed atrocities happen because the blame is so fragmented, so shared, that no one feels they deserve to take the responsibility. Everyone, and no one, is at fault for the demonic things we do under the guise of “our country”. As long as we are comfortable and not directly affected, we can just shrug, turn off the TV footage, and down a six-pack while wrapped in the comfort that these travesties are someone else’s fault, and business.

The second point in Cube focuses on human nature, and is thankfully a lesson that can be applied daily without becoming a nihilist. Even though it wasn’t obvious to the characters, each person trapped in that Cube-hell was there for a reason, and held a piece of the puzzle to surviving the ordeal. Everyone… from the weak teenage girl, to the autistic man.

Message: don’t count somebody as worthless just because you can’t see how they contribute to the whole. You might just be missing the big picture – looking at what’s directly in front of your face (what is inside that Cube) and not thinking about the structure as a whole.
Each of us has a role, a purpose, even though the opportunity to exploit this specialty may not have revealed itself yet.

Within this point, Cube also makes a darker comment on human nature…we are kill or be killed. In extreme situations, the key to our survival is to stick together and trust that we each have worth in the situation. But that key is almost always thrown down the sewer of life in the panic, and non-rational, animal instincts win out. The law of the jungle says: “the weak endanger the pack.”

Holy poop, I’m being so serious! It’s a freaking horror movie, Chris! Lighten up!
Good advice, Chris. I’ll just pop a few Xanax here and….(plop, plop, fizz, fizz)
Aside from all the “messages,” Cube is just a really kick ass horror movie! I mean, you get to see a guy sliced into a thousand cube-like pieces by a futuristic death machine! I was all like “whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

From start to finish you are going to be entertained by this movie. Intrigued even. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. This is a setting- and character-driven horror movie, two elements that can easily be tossed to the hungry dogs in a horror plot. The situation is horrific, but after awhile you don’t care much about what crazy killer bobby-trap lurks in the next cube. You are too busy trying to figure out the mystery, and see how the characters are going to react next.
You can see this film reflected in the first few Saw movies… you know, the good ones. Same kind of “put people in horrific situations and see how they act” type biz.

Be forewarned, however, to bring some bread and butter, because this movie has so much CHEESY acting that if applied to said perishables and roasted over heat, one would have enough grilled sandwiches to feed John Goodman and Kirstie Alley COMBINED! Zing!

Once I’ve had my Xanax, I’m an easy enough going guy and can usually overlook bad acting if a movie’s plot, writing and direction make up for the blunders. Some are not as forgiving, and I can see their point. Therefore, the only reason this movie isn’t rated 5.0 is due to the acting. There were some over-the-top dialog exchanges that had me howling with laughter… but that isn’t always a bad thing, right?

Can’t decide if you want a horror movie or a thought provoking drama?
Choose Cube if you are looking for a movie to spark a few life discussions.
Choose Cube if you are looking for a fun Friday night flick to eat popcorn to.
Like the performers at Halsted Street’s Kit-Kat Club, Cube offers the best of both worlds.

N-Rating: 4.0
Nick Rich figures:
"Cube presents yet another unique reviewing opportunity for us here at the RDHP and our readership (aka Jim): the first impression and the second viewing. In case you weren't able to figure it out by the ratings, I've been fated to provide the second viewing experience.

The first time I saw Cube was around its original release circa 1998. As a young lad having recently become a so-called "adult," I found this film to be amazing - it was innovative, intriguing and insightful. It had so much going for it (which is why I wanted to add it to the RDHP lineup) and made such a great impression that I, frankly, didn't remember the lack-luster parts. Even as I write this, there's a part of me that is already forgetting the bad parts and whispering "well, I suppose we could raise the rating" (yes, when I hear voices in my head I become a 'we'). But, alas, it is my burden, nay, duty to provide the second viewing review:

Cube (at second glance)
Certainly, Cube is a movie that is more than worth seeing and I definitely recommend you give it a 'go' as our characters in the film do... but I would advise against attempting a repeat performance. Cube is a lot like the Blair Witch Project in that it provides you with a situation and experience like none you've ever encountered before... sure there are other films that are similar and you can trace where the idea had its roots, but in their execution, these films feel refreshingly original. However, unlike the Blair Witch Project which (hehe witch, which) goes beyond the initial awesome viewing to be intensely creepy every time you view it, Cube falls short of being a re-watchable classic.

Cube is such a great experience the first time through that on a second viewing, you find yourself disappointed that it's just not as good as you remember it. What ever is? Memory is a tricky thing, in that it tends to filter out anything bad if there's an enjoyable aspect to a situation and store the good for posterity... and Cube gives you quite an enjoyable first viewing. Sure, the film is still well executed (except for the aforementioned 'cheese' factor) but as you watch it for the second time, all you can do is think 'hrmm, didn't this effect blow my mind before?' and 'gee, I remember being way more impressed with that idea...'. As a result you begin to resent the film due to its lack of staying power and regret watching it again because it is tarnishing your well preserved memory of it.

None of this is really Cube's fault, it more than achieved the fundamental goal of every film: provide an awesome experience. But films like Cube remind us of how special other movies are in that their magic can be experienced again... and again... and again. Oh Cube! Like a high school sweetheart, I'll try to remember you as you were and not as you are.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you haven't seen it, or if you want to experience what it would be like if your small town summer stock troupe made a horror film - 'to be or not to be, that is like da question, eh?'

Quote of the Viewing
[Context: Several of the Cube trapped people turn on cynical Worth when they grow suspicious of his actions. Quentin decides using Worth as a human booby-trap detector is a good idea.]
Chris: “They can’t kill Worth! If they do, they will ALL be Worthless.
Nick: “That joke isn’t even worth a boo.”
Chris: “I could respond to that comment, but it isn’t worth it.”

Things We Learned from Cube
-Everyone has a purpose, even ‘tards (settle down, just kidding).
-Screw Rolex. A hour is as long as Quentin says it is.
-Prime numbers are bad!
-Cops can read people like an x-ray.
-Sucking on a button keeps the “saliva flowin’”
-Eating perogies = being kidnapped
-“Holy Cats!” is a perfectly adequate expression after discovering you’re trapped in a murderous cube.
-Red rooms make autistic guys freak out.
-Your Algebra teacher was right, math can save your life:

RDHP Presents:
Secret Government Experiments/Conspiracies
One theory our Cube-mates have about their deadly situation is they are part of a secret government experiment. It’s a plausible theory, and if true would just add to the ever growing list of other horrific government experiments/conspiracies being conducted on the American people today. Below, we blow the lid off a few in classic screaming homeless man fashion!

Justin Bieber is a Recruiter Robot!
What better way to enlist new recruits for the military. The brass first build crooning tween sensation Bieber and then implant subliminal messages into his warbling music that force people to enlist in the Army. The stupid hair cut trend was unintended, just another causality of war.

Dental Fillings are Gov. Microchips!
Dentist implant these mind-controlling microchips while you are strapped down and oblivious to the world in those reclining torture chairs. Next thing you know you are trying a yellow ribbon around your front yard tree, eating processed cheese, and blindly trusting elected leaders to do what’s best for you.

Coke and Pepsi Are the Same Thing!
Sure, they WANT you to think they are rivals, but Coke and Pepsi have been secretly stashing their mounting fortunes so one day they can buy off the government and turn the Great Lakes water into sizzling pop! That money will be used to give President Obama his much desired breast implant/junk-removal surgery, finally making him the first African-American AND woman president in US history. It is a liberal super-person! He’d be unstoppable!

JFK Faked His Own Death!
Grassy knoll, Lee Harvey Oswahhhh? All whoey. You believe everything THEY tell you? With the help of the CIA, JFK actually faked his own death so he could escape the icy-grip of Jackie O’, and entertain another kind of O with real love Marilyn Monroe. YOU probably thought she died from a drug overdose… sucker. The two ran away to Area 51 where they lived on the taxpayer’s dime smoking drugs, making sex, and listening to that rock and roll music.

Aliens Walk Among Us!
The Roswell Incident was the just the beginning of our government’s encounters with alien life. Today these freaks from beyond space and US officials are so chummy that the aliens have been allowed to walk freely down our own streets. Just look some well known faces when the prostheses and make-up are removed!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Film #29: The Man Who Laughs (1928)

There are some things that just go perfectly together:
-Cheesecake Factory and diarrhea
-Cedar Point and mullet-hunting
-Jack and Coke
-Edward and Bella
(F*$k Team Jacob, we all know Bella’s (and our) heart belongs to the vamp!)

And such is the case with this week’s film’s lead characters – Gwynplaine and Dea.
Gwynplaine is a hideous 17th century freak whose face is snarled in a permanent jokers grin. Dea is a blind, but extraordinarily beautiful woman who loves Gwynplaine for his kindness. Match made in heaven right!
He doesn’t care that she’s blind because she can’t see his freak-face, and she doesn’t care that he has a freak-face because she can’t see it anyway. What are you waiting for? Hook up and live happily ever after, right?
Oh, but only if things were that simple.

But, before we get to all that drama, let us start from the start. Years earlier a long hair rebel royal is banished to the Iron Maiden by the evil King of England. Before sending him to the spiky cage, the King informs the man that his son (Gwynplaine) was handed over to gypsies who sliced and diced his boy’s face into a horrifying snicker “so he can forever laugh at his fool of a father.”

Later, the King gets sick of the dirty gypsies, and banishes them from the land. But when they leave, they abandon goofy-grin little Gwynplaine all by his woe-some. Wandering the snowy England countryside, the boy stumbles upon a frozen beggar woman holding a tiny baby.
Lil’ smiley-face likes the tike, and snatches her (Dea) up. The pair keep on truckin’, but soon come under the care of traveling showman and playwright Ursus, who decides to take in the kid-couple out of pity.

Flash-forward 18 years and our little orphans are all grows up. Gwynplaine is a popular clown in one of Ursus’s shows, but not for his pratfalls and ability to make small children shit themselves. People line the block to see Gwynplaine just so they can mock his monstrous mug. If that wasn’t bad enough, old Gwynplaine is being a real pussy when it comes to Dea, who grew up a lovely, but blind, lady.

She obviously loves the guy, but Gwynplaine has his butt all hurt over the fact that Dea only loves him because she can’t see his ugly yapper. Dea can’t truly love him, Gwynplaine believes, because she doesn’t know how ugly his face is. If she did, there is no way she would love him… at least that is his logic.
Yeah, the guy is a dumbass.

Ursus and his clown-packed show hit it big when they arrive at a London fair, even drawing the slutty royal Duchess Josiana into the balcony. This chick loves anything with a point, and as soon as she lays her eyes on Gwynplaine she has to know what it feels like to have that sickening smile grope her.
Her advances only intensify when she learns Gwynplaine is the real royal in the house, and in order to keep her Duchess title she has to dump her current idiot husband and marry Gwynplaine.

The freak has a choice to make – become a royal Lord, marry Josiana and get herpes/crabs/AIDS/crotch-rot, OR, insult the Queen and face her death-wrath, finally pull the trigger on that blind babe Dea, and continue his true calling of being the center of people’s ridicule. What’s a facially-challenged fella to do in the 1928 epic “The Man Who Laughs?”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 3.8
Chris Dimick smiles:
“Who would have thunk there would be an EXCITING silent movie out there! Sure, there were some slow parts, which is expected since this flick comes in at just under two hours.
But I was pleasantly surprised when The Man Who Laughs started off with a blazing pace and quick, almost MTV-style edits, then kept the action and emotion going till the fin.

Definitely the most elaborate of the silent’s we have seen in the RDHP, the huge talented cast, decorative sets, and outside-studio filming really made this movie worth watching. This one is emotional, and even tugged on my cold man-heart.
It even got a good junior high laugh out of me, as the dog’s name in the movie is, I shit you not, “Homo.” Yep, which led to lines like “Where are you taking me, Homo,” and “Quit licking me homo.”

Another notable note, give a hand to the 1920s for not shying away from the human body! This film era was pre-conservative film board Nazism, and there is a scene where the slutty Duchess is shown nude! Gasp!
I didn’t care so much about the nudity (there is more skin shown in a 5 p.m. Victoria’s Secret TV ad) but the fact that it was tastefully left in for the mere sake of realism.
People need to get over this modern day, contradictory embrace of violence yet fear of nudity! My soapbox is so high I can see China!

Calling this a horror movie is a bit of a stretch. The premise of being surgically altered to have a permanent grin is where this film’s horror lies, not so much in the main plot which revolves around royal positioning and the love story between Gwynplaine and Dea.
Although the horror wasn’t outright, it was definitely still present. The thought of having your face permanently frozen in a sickening grin is pretty distributing. As is the thought of making your deformity your livelihood as a circus freak.

I once read in a book about turn-of-the-century sideshow freaks that although one would think being a freak would be horribly depressing and hard on one’s self-esteem, the freaks themselves didn’t think they had it so bad. How else were they going to make a living?
No one would hire them due to their appearance, and even if they did come across a kind soul, usually their deformity prevented them from the manual labor prominent of the day.

One of the midgets who was included in the book was quoted as saying that he was going to be gawked at and laughed at everyday of his life anyway, he might as well charge people for it and make a living! Not only that, but traveling with the sideshow put him in proximity to a family of sorts in the other freaks.
They all had something in common, and could bond together… even protect one another. It was sort of an insulated world of his own kind, he said, with the freak shows just an easy way to turn a buck.

Even though that midget had to put up with staring, laughing rubes during the day, at least he got to count the money he took from them each night. Now that is what I call making the best of a lousy hand.
Or better yet, in the context of this week’s film – he may have been laughed at by day, but that midget got to laugh that night swindling moron’s for their hard earned wages --- all for just standing on a stage and enduring insults.
‘He who laughs last, laughs best.’”

N-Rating: 4.0
Nick Rich smiles:
"This film, like it's main character (whether he realized it or not), had a lot going for it . From the opening scene I immediately was impressed with the shooting style, sets and acting... it felt as if I were watching a modern-day movie - not a film from 1928! Which, needless to say, is very impressive.

At a soaring budget of $1,000,000, The Man Who Laughs was a full fledged Hollywood blockbuster that surely wowed audiences of the time. Not only was everything about the film eye-candy, but this film also was one of the first films to begin the transition from silent to sound. Chris and I were confused and confounded enough when we heard mobs mumbling (did you hear that? Was that in the original release? Quick - to Wikipedia!), so I can only imagine how audiences in the 20's reacted to organic sounds accompanying the film! I imagine it was very similar to how audiences have been reacting to James Cameron's Avatar.

I really can't stress enough how crazy it was to see shots and techniques featured in a silent film that are more advanced than any film for the next 30 years (well, in my experience anyway). Major props to director Paul Leni, who strangely enough died at the age of 44 from blood poisoning two years after making this film... maybe he rocked so hard his body couldn't take it anymore and gave out on him (either that or the rest of Hollywood was intimidated by this German import and made sure he didn't stick around).

Now that I've touched upon the rational reasons this movie is an important work and just plain cool, I feel free to focus on general things from this film that made an impression on me:
  • There's something oddly appealing about scarves...
  • Homo the dog was totally rad. Not only did this dog steal the show, but he was the only heroic character in the whole film! In a world beset with buffoons, loose women and whiny "heroes" this pooch was a real winner!
  • Is Regis Philbin related to Dea (Mary Philbin)?!? (Don't worry, he's not)
  • Seriously, Homo was awesome! The last thing I expected to see in a film this old was a dog tearing out a man's throat!
  • It used to be cool to live in a trailer (ala traveling circus)! I think things started going south when they were no longer made of wood and had those killer huge wheels...
  • I don't think I'll ever understand how wearing wigs became a fashion trend/tradition. Weird... just weird.
  • Who knew eyes could be so expressive? Well, ok, everyone... but seeing Conrad Veidt's performance takes eye-expression to a whole new level!
As Chris said, this wasn't a horror movie per se, but the first 20 minutes of the film will definitely leave you with a chill in your bones... that coupled with the horror that is our protagonist's lot in life and I think you're left with a film that makes you want to smile.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you want to see how old school was new school before there was new school - or if you're horribly disfigured and need a pick-me-up.

Quote of the Viewing:
[Context: Nick decides to see how long he can keep a painful, crazy smile on his lips. He gives up after about 30 seconds.]
Chris: Ahhh, you blew it. Now see how long you can frown.
Nick: Frowns are much more natural than smiles.
Chris: Such is life. Such is life.

Things We Learned from Watching "The Man Who Laughs"
-Duchesses love drunk pirate gropes.
-Blind girls are always hot in the movies.
-[Said in Yakov Smirnoff voice] "In Royal England, Iron Ladies poke YOU!"
-It was totally cool to name a dog Homo in the 1600s.
-The best way to examine a child is to lay it down and feel it.
-Constant smiling was HILARIOUS in 1600s England.
-Flintstone capes were a fashion statement outside of the Stone Age (Thanks, Mel)
-When in doubt, jump out a window.
-Clowns were always creepy:

RDHP Salutes: Smiles and Frowns!
Let's turn some frowns upside, and vice versa, with a look at some fantastic facial expressions.







The Man Who Laughs Bizarro Cast
The fine actors in this 1920s movie all resembled people currently famous! It was uncanny. Here, the cast and their modern day doppelgangers that could play them in the remake.

Duchess Josiana

Played by: Madonna


Played by: John C. Reilly


Played by: Jack Nicholson


Played by: Taylor Swift

Homo the dog

Chris's Pick:
Played by: Ryan Seacrest

Nick's Pick:
Played by: Robert De Niro
(Who better to play the hero of the film than the greatest character actor of his generation?)

Things that Make the RDHP Smile Uncontrollably
There are just some things in life that plant a permanent smile on our faces. Here are a few examples of things in life that are worth drawing one's facial muscles upward.

Chris Smiles At:

Wrigley Field
Show me a better place to be on a sunny summer afternoon. It's all smiles the second you cross Clark and Addison Streets.

Stuff Getting Smashed
That crunch noise is just so satisfying.

Music Box Theatre
They just don't make movie houses the way they used to. This is a rare palace gem, and one of the few places I never want to leave... even after a 24-hour horror movie marathon.

Finding a Seat on the Bus
Just when you think you'll have to stand forever in rush hour traffic, someone empties their seat right next to you. Grin-time.

Whittle Babies
They are just so cute before they start crawling, talking, borrowing your car, and killing you in your sleep.

Syfy's Twilight Zone Marathons
This only comes twice a year on the 4th of July and New Years Eve. Put in the books, Rod Serling is a horror/sci-fi genius. It is so hard to pry my eyes, and my smile, away from the tube bi-annually to light fireworks or shoot my shotgun in the air.

What? They are f$%king beautiful.

Nick Smiles At:

French Bulldogs
I can't be held responsible for the noises I make when I see these oodle-licious creatures,
nor in what tone of voice said noises are made.
Ooo-gee-boo-gee-who? Yeeesssssss widdle-ones!!!

Created me? Check. Loves me? Double-check! Smile? Well, duh!

San Diego Comic Con
The largest gathering of basement dwelling SWM's in world...
in spite of that, it still manages to be totally awesome.

Asian Babies
Occasionally I can control myself when I see babies of other races, but for some reason
- pound for pound -
Asian babies are the cutest babies EVER.

My Wife

Sure she can make me frown, but by far she makes me smile more than anything else!
(In fact, I'm smiling as I write this!)

Lucha Libre's Queso Taco
Highly addictive and always makes me feel like a champion!

Old Couples in Love
It's always nice to see it can happen!

Who doesn't smile when contemplating what they will do when the Zombie Apocalypse happens?