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Poor Low-Budget Project
I'm really unsure exactly what to make of this project, and while I understand that this is obviously the lowest of low-budget projects (and does deserve respect as such), let's face the simple facts – the actors are not, well, actors. And the script is absolutely atrocious. Is it a drama? Is it a comedy? Who can tell...
The basic plot revolves around our three young heroes – Marshall, Jenny, and 'All-Star Pete' (and, yes, in dialog he is always referred to as 'All-Star Pete') – all three of which are the Manchvegas Outlaw Society (MOS). The three 20-somethings pull a red wagon around town delivering newspapers and selling hotdogs, pulling pranks on each other, and saving the day as necessary. It's, quite simply, bizarre.
The technical aspects of the project deserve little comment. From the synthesizer-based score, to the poor editing and camera-work (focus is always nice), there's not much here. And I'll not even comment on MOS's "pop music."
As I understand the challenges small projects face I'm always willing to forgive flaws when obvious talent is present. After all, money can easily fix technical problems in small projects (i.e. bad lighting, sound, etc.), however if the mega-hits teach us anything it is that money cannot fix poor scripts or poor acting. However, with Manchvegas, there is no talent present – the script is ridiculous and the acting poor – so throwing money at the project would not fix its glaring flaws. Unfortunately, this is just a poor low-budget project.
Pass on this one. 1/10.
Not as good as the first, but better than might be expected
Starship Troopers II, a film that will always live in the shadow of its excellent forerunner, is hardly as bad a film as most reviewers would lead one to think. The film, set shortly after the first installment, depicts the fate of one troop of federation fighters, stranded in an abandoned outpost on a hostile planet. The troopers, who can thank repeated deus ex machina for their survival against a dizzying number of bugs, accept into their midsts three troopers infected with a body-conquering brain bug. The events unfold as expected from that point on, as one-by-one the troopers are conquered by the bug, usually as a result of their own vices. One intrepid (and very lucky) female trooper, aided by a federation 'hero' who repeatedly kills generals and breaks the rules, are the humankind's last hope for survival.
The film undeniable suffers from poor production values (resulting from the small budget), and as a result the entire film has a claustrophobic surrealistic feeling. All of the outdoor shots (that are not recycled from the first film) are shot at night; only slight hints are given as to landscape or topography, as it appears that each time the troopers step outside they are immersed in a never ending landscape of darkness. The scenes with the large bugs become boring after a time, as there is little or no interaction between the actors and the CGI. Too many scenes show troopers firing into darkness or clouds, with only sound effects to remind us that bugs are present. The shots of the outpost and the transport at the end look undeniably fake; video games have better shading and animation. The sound effects, especially those of their automatic weapons, seem way too underpowered for the firepower the weapons must produce.
However, while the film's special effects leave a lot to be desired, the film does make up some points with acting and plot. While the overall plot (think: Starship Troopers meets Aliens) is hardly original, the idea is still entertaining. The plot holes (i.e. the troopers being able to hold off millions of bugs, the troopers ignoring the rather strange behavior of their comrades, etc.) can be chucked up to arguably necessary plot devices, as we could not have the majority of the troopers realizing what is wrong with their fellow troops too early in the movie, just as we could not have our small troop force killed off thirteen minutes into the movie. One major plot hole regarding how the general made his way to the outpost safely (when other shots show the entire outpost surrounded by bugs) is a bit painful, however once again necessary for future events. Admit ably not the best writing, however such is still acceptable in fiction of this nature. While others have criticized the acting, I noticed no problems here some actors did seem stiff and out of place, however understanding how the federation recruits soldiers, this could be understandable. Most of the characters were stock, but once again were entertaining enough to watch.
Unlike the first film, Starship Troopers II never raises to a level above that of mere thriller/science fiction/horror. While copious amounts of blood is spilled in increasingly gruesome manners, without the sarcastic tone of the first film, this film uses the gore merely to excite and not to make a larger statement. The two recruitment videos shown in this installment are by far the high points of the movie, but they are not frequent enough to make a deep statement, use too many recycled scenes from the first film, and seem overly repetitive.
Starship Troopers II is, quite simply, not as good a movie as the first. However, the sequel, taking a couple good aspects of the first film and mixing in stock sci-fi/horror scenes, still has some valuable things to say, especially about the nature of 'heroes' and what it means to be a 'hero.' All in all, an entertaining film that does reach the superior originality and tone of the first film, Starship Troopers II deserves just a bit better than most reviewers give it credit for.
Roger Dodger (2002)
Intriguing characters in a mediocre movie
Roger Dodger is one of the few films could be truly intriguing and almost brilliant, if only a frustrating plot did not place itself in the way. Both Roger and his nephew Nick are, at least for me, immensely intriguing characters that each almost deserves their own movie. However, because the movie falls short of its true potential, the ride it provides is not fully satisfying.
Roger, a bona fide 'ladies' man', thinks he knows all of the right angles for everything - from sex to responsibility, he can slide right in and right out. However, in reality, he is a lot less than he believes. He may think that he is God's gift to women; however his own cynicism often kills the deal. He is too often overbearing, and his motives are so transparent as to send even the most 'free-spirited' women away. He seems completely incapable of accepting rejection gracefully, something that it would seem he would have learned to use to his own advantage. However, through all of his frailties, he still is an amazing person, with the immoral traits of a conman we all secretly wish we could master. Even though his advice for baiting women may not be based in reality, he is truly brilliant (albeit a misguided genius) - his ability to categorize people is uncanny, and the stepwise procedure he has devised for attracting women (referring to the procedure itself, not the content of the procedure) shows his true superior intellect. While he spends so much time contemplating new ways to watch and attract women, one can only guess as to the splendor he could create if he were to put his mind to admirable pursuits. In that way, he is rather like Hitler.
And then there is Nick, Roger's nephew. While the two have had little contact since an undescribed incident at Nick's grandmother's funeral, Nick selects Roger to teach him the ways of the trade. Nick, too, is a fascinating character to study; Nick practices meditation, plans to have himself cryogenically frozen, and does not want to go to college because he can just look up anything he wants to know himself. However, through all of his nervousness, he proves that there is worth in what Roger is teaching, however worth not in the letter of Roger's words but in the interpretation of them. Nick, who seems to be a virgin in more than one sense, takes what is good in what Roger is teaching and uses only those portions. He does not look at women as show pieces as Roger does, however he uses Roger's advice to have true emotional connections with women (something that Roger is incapable of). However rather little of Nick's true character is displayed because of Roger's heavy influence on him, and so his true complexities are never touched upon. Nick, who obviously inherited many positive aspects of Roger's genius, should have been explored more, and we should not just have seen the Nick as modified by Roger.
While both Roger and Nick would be amazing characters to study in depth, we are presented with more of a farce than introspection. While I often gripe that a movie needs more of a plot to be good, this movie needs less of a plot. Both characters would be amazing to watch grow, simply grow, without any need to 'move' the story to the next point. Furthermore, we should have seen more of the characters then just their sexual sides; I would have enjoyed a better balanced presentation of the characters. However, I feel the ending to the film to be perfect, as it is truly open ended, allowing us to choose a fate for the characters ourselves.
On a technical note, the entire film seems to have been shot with a handheld camera, a bit of a gimmick that almost provides sea sickness in a couple scenes. While a handheld camera does add a nice touch to certain scenes, especially scenes that have full flow, it can be overused. During rather static scenes where conversation is the focus, we do not need the camera to be jostled to keep our interest. Also, lighting seemed rather problematic in a number of scenes, with the characters in focus being lost to a frame of darkness. Once again, dim lighting can be a nice artistic touch if used rarely, however it was overdone. Acting, however, was superior from all involved.
Overall, Roger Dodger is a very good character study that is misrepresented as a witty sexual comedy. While the movie would have benefited from a different plot, the intrigue of the characters is enough to draw an audience.
Roger Dodger: 7/10
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Tries hard, but never accomplishes anything
Natural Born Killers is a truly tumultuous ride, and one that quickly becomes unpleasant. Ranging from truly offensive to mildly humorous, the film never stays in one place and never decides how best to deliver its message. And while the visual imagery of the film is an interesting but gimmicky touch, the film never really reaches the place it wants to be.
The film's message is clear - it is a condemnation of our society's love of violence. To portray this message, Stone weaves a simple tale of mass murder around the gimmick of color transformations and stock horror footage. However, for all of Stone's manipulation, Mickey and Mallory Knox never become likable characters. Whereas most films would portray the police and jail guards that imprison the Knoxes as heroes, Stone bends reality (in much the same way as many screen visuals are bent) so that the police are corrupt and the jail guards inept. However, while the authorities themselves are inept and unlikable, the magnitude of the evil of the Knoxes does not let the audience side with them. No matter how hard Stone tries to make the authorities and the Knoxes foils for each other, the Knoxes will not come out the better; they are the extreme base of life, and even the pathetic creatures that the authorities are still come out looking better. And for all of the false philosophy that Mickey spouts, murder still is not cleansing, and all people do not deserve to die. During Mickey and Mallory's escape from jail, I was rooting for the police to shoot the Knoxes dead, even if it meant the loss of a hostage. And that was not the emotion Stone intended.
There may be almost no instances of justifiable homicide, but the 'murder' of Mickey and Mallory Knox would be one instance it was acceptable.
For the film to be truly effective, the audience would have to side with the serial murderers; since the message of the movie is that our society loves violence and the Knoxes represent pure violence, then we should like the Knoxes (assuming the film's premise is correct) as much as we like violence. However we never befriend the two murderers, and even though one can argue that they are just lovers trying to live a life together, no real logic can defend these two.
Stone truly fumbled with Natural Born Killers and the film never lives up to the artistic and satiric delight that it apparently wants to be. While the message of the movie is an acceptable message, the movie can not deliver the emotional impact necessary to drive this message home. Stone apparently noticed this, and tried to fix the movie's shortcomings by using a rather visually pleasing style, however the novelty of this style quickly wears off and soon becomes annoying. All in all, Natural Born Killers is neither the masterpiece it wants to be nor the gospel that fans believe it to be.
Runaway Jury (2003)
Tense and exciting, if not too political
Well made and somewhat suspenseful thriller, `Runaway Jury' is a good adaptation of the John Grisham novel. While the feats of the characters are entertaining if not unsettling, the film is too heavily overshadowed by its political message.
The film is, without much argument, pro-gun control. Sadly, though, it seems that much of the work is spent building this case, for as much the jury as the viewing audience, so that the major plot (jury manipulation) is often lost. It is amazing that the audience is only told two things about the plaintiff's husband - he is a stock broker, and he loves his kids. It seems that the plaintiff's attorney (Dustin Hoffman) is only armed with these two pieces of information as well, for he builds his case around circumstantial and non-existent evidence and the emotions of the jury. By not providing any more information about the victim, the audience is forced to sympathize with the plaintiff; the two sides of the case are as stereotypical as possible, with the plaintiff shown as all good and the defense shown as all bad. Instead of allowing you to make up your own mind as to whom to side with, you are forced to agree with the politics of the movie. Whether or not you sympathize with the anti-gun industry message of the movie, the political sentiment seems to overwhelm the movie, thereby removing the focus from the entertaining plot to this near PSA.
Leaving the political message aside, the plot is entertaining if not chilling. The idea that powerful attorneys can 'buy' juries for a price thwarts the entire purpose of the justice system; Rankin Fitch (Gene Hackman) stated this perfectly by stating that `trials are too important to be left up to juries.' Excellent performances from the persuasive John Cusack and the chilling Gene Hackman, however Dustin Hoffman fell short of excellence -- seemingly too busy trying to coat all of his lines with a poor southern accent to give a good performance.
Watch it for the intrigue and subversion, and try to ignore the political ramblings that too often get in the way of entertainment. 7/10