Saturday, April 27, 2013

Instant Action: Get the Gringo (2012)

I'm not sure if most people would use the word charming to describe Mel Gibson, but I will!

Written By: Mel Gibson, Adrian Grunberg, & Stacy Perskie
Directed By: Adrian Grunberg

I completely understand the amount of backlash directed towards Mel Gibson in recent years. As a human being he deserves all the derision he has received, and then some. Mr. Gibson is not a pleasant human being, or someone whom I would choose to associate with if he lived down the block from me. However, I always try to separate the person from their art. In the case of Mr. Gibson that means removing his woman hating and racism from the equation and focusing on him solely as an actor and director. I have no qualms proclaiming that I am a big fan of Mel Gibson, the artistic talent. I've enjoyed just about every performance of his that I've seen, and Mr. Gibson is one of the few big time Hollywood stars in recent times who I would say is just as much of an actor as he is a star. As a director Mr. Gibson is a formidable talent, with a a visual eye that has always impressed me. Taking all of that into account it shouldn't be surprising that Mel Gibson, the actor, straps Get the Gringo to his back and carries the film to all of its success.

As I said in the teaser, it's not easy to think of Mr. Gibson as charming. But, as an actor, that's exactly what Mr. Gibson is. He is gruffly charming in a way that gives his character in Get the Gringo a worn out feel. The cracks in his skin and the tired look in his eyes aren't just an act, they are a part of his being. The key to Mr. Gibson's performance in Get the Gringo is that he accomplishes said worn out feel effortlessly. I never got the sense that Mr. Gibson was trying to feel worn out, he just is and that suited his character of Driver just fine. The camera loves Mr. Gibson, and there's no reason that it shouldn't. His presence is magnetic and it is in Mr. Gibson's acting abilities that the film gains and loses all of its momentum.

Unfortunately all of the supporting characters in Get the Gringo are rather weak. The setting of the prison is a nice one, and it is populated with a number of colorful characters. The characterization of those colorful characters is paper thin, and that leads to problems whenever Mr. Gibson is not on screen. The relationship between Driver and the characters of Kid and Kid's mom are a prime example of the characterization problems in Get the Gringo. They have a solid base of a relationship, one that's interesting enough on its own. As the film moves forward the relationship stays at the same level because the supporting characters stay exactly the same. There's never enough emotional, or character, honesty given to the Kid or Kid's mom for me to care about them beyond being people associated with Driver. This is a problem throughout most of the film, and it does hurt the film a fair amount when the screenplay asks the shallow supporting characters to take over for Driver.

The action and violence in Get the Gringo is quite stylish and well done. I was especially fond of the way the film used blood, particularly the darkness of the blood on display. It's a small matter, but in a gritty film said grit is helped when a dark red glob of blood accompanies a guy getting shot in the eye. The opening chase scene was refreshing, and one of the few car chases in recent memory that is actually exciting. The penultimate showdown at the prison isn't so much an action set piece as it is a dramatic set piece for Driver with action moments inserted to mix things up. Still, the action in Get the Gringo was well done and captured my interest throughout. There's a grittiness to the violence and action in Get the Gringo that I appreciated, and I'm always down for some well done gritty blood and guts.

As a reclamation project I'm not sure that Get the Gringo succeeds. Mr. Gibson is great in his role of Driver, and the film on the whole is pretty darn good. But, as an actor Mr. Gibson never needed to undergo reclamation in the first place. He may be a scumbag of a person, but he's always been a great actor and Get the Gringo serves as further proof of that. In a day and age of codified and glossy action films, the grit and dirt of Get the Gringo is a welcome change of pace. Get the Gringo won't blow anyone away, but any fan of classic blood and guts action violence should come away from Get the Gringo with a smile on their face.



Bill Thompson

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Spider Labyrinth (1988)

When I was young, I wanted to be a makeup effects artist.  The work of such artists as Jack Pierce, Dick Smith, Rick Baker, and Rob Bottin fired my imagination (names like Sergio Stivaletti and Gianetto De Rossi were still unknown to me, and where the hell’s the comprehensive book about the FX masters of Italy [he wondered as he jotted down a note to himself]?).  Rather ignorantly, I used to say that I wanted to be in special effects, not realizing that the two are not wholly the same thing.  But I wanted to create cool-looking characters like Rawhead Rex or the Mummy (in fact, I used to wrap myself in Ace bandages [or as much of myself as the couple we had in the house would allow, which wasn’t much on a portly kid]) not wire bullet squibs or build retractable blades.  Today, I’d probably kill for the opportunity to do any of it.  

Back to the point (which I so rarely have), one Halloween I got a werewolf makeup kit rather than one of those rigid masks and plastic non-costumes that were staples of the holiday for decades.  This makeup required the application of cotton to my face with a green (yes, green; I suppose the makers didn’t want kids being mistaken for rabid dogs and being shot in the streets, though I would suggest they had nothing of the sort to fear) liquid latex.  A set of vampire teeth to complete the illusion, and I found myself staring into the mirror at one of the worst monster makeups I had ever seen, even for one applied by a child.  The instructions said that if you removed the makeup gently, it would come off in one piece and could be used again (how droll).  Well, it didn’t come off in one piece, but I wasn’t terribly broken up about it.  My love of practical makeup effects continues to this day, and if this escapade taught me anything it is that even cruddy work can consume an inordinate amount of effort.  But there is still a difference between work that simply doesn’t succeed and work that doesn’t succeed because of laziness.

When Alan (Roland Wybenga) was a child he was traumatized by a giant (stop-motion) spider while hiding inside a wardrobe during a game of Hide & Seek.  As an adult, he is a professor of Oriental Languages and part of the Intextus project, whose committee calls Alan in to discover the whereabouts of one Professor Roth (László Sipos) who has gone incommunicado while working on the project in Budapest.  Alan meets Roth’s pretty assistant Genevieve (Paola Rinaldi) and even manages to meet with the Professor himself who warns Alan that he is being drawn into something from which he is not going to be able to extricate himself.  After a large black ball smashes through Roth’s window, and the older gentleman is subsequently found hanged and covered in webbing, things get really weird.

To say more about the plot of Gianfranco Giagni’s The Spider Labyrinth (aka Il Nido Del Ragno) would be unfair, since the whole thing hinges on mystery.  However, it is almost impossible to talk at any length about the film for the same reason, so there may be some spoilers ahead (I’ll try to avoid them, but I can promise nothing).  It has also come to my attention via IMDB that I watched what is probably the shortest version of the film available, so I can’t be certain that any of the film’s shortcomings are intrinsic to the film or its various forms.  I hate that.  Onward…

If you look anywhere that this film is written or talked about, the obvious references will be to the Giallo and Horror genres, and they are prevalent throughout, no argument (though I would suggest that this leans more toward the latter than the former).  However, I also noticed a heavy Noir aspect to the film, and I think it’s here that hairs can begin to be split.  Alan is a Man of Letters but he has a past which haunts him into the present.  In fact, the film is obsessed with motifs of the past.  As the film opens, Alan drives in an old car listening to Oldies music.  He sees a young boy decked out like one of the “Dead End Kids” at multiple points in the film.  Roth lives in an old, decaying apartment building.  The Intextus project is interested in old religions and (probably) older gods.  

Further, Alan is a man who is held prisoner by a fate he cannot escape, and this accounts for the arachnid and maze themes.  Consequently, there are spider webs galore as well as piles of wood and barbed wire which block roads, a labyrinth made up of windblown sheets, and long stretches of road which reveal nothing of a way out, just more confusion.  The filmmakers string the plot along like a gumshoe flick from the Forties, with questions leading to answers leading to more questions.  There are heavy shadows and low angle lighting in almost every interior shot of the film, as well as the use of poor weather as a portent of doom and thick fog which obscures the truth and in which danger lurks (as well as a little illumination).

The Spider’s Labyrinth also deals at length with concepts of conspiracy, paranoia, cultism, and institutions versus individuals.  When Alan is called before the Intextus committee, he is essentially cajoled by a priest (Bob Holton) and coerced by the tacit implications in the presence of a pair of corporate executives (John Morrison and Bill Bollender), that being the threat of losing his livelihood.  Of course, the Intextus committee is fully aware that they are sending Alan into a perilous environment, but they mention nothing of this to the man.  Nearly everyone in Budapest gives Alan sideways glances, and there are a great many shots of people around our main character trading knowing looks with each other.  Add to that, everyone who discovers anything about the Weavers tends to become overly suspicious of everything, and their dialogue tends to lean toward the realm of street corner preachers.  The members of the Weavers are all characterized as classic cult members; hive-minded, zombie-esque, untrusting, and untrustworthy.  Of course, the inferences of trust can also be applied to the Christian representatives in the film.  Thus, Alan is alone in a hostile world, torn between two deities, and losing his sense of self in the strands of some very metaphorical webs.

And so we come to my grievance with the film.  Without getting too far into details, Giagni and company drop a huge reveal fairly early in the going (in the scene with Maria the hotel worker, played by Claudia Muzi).  Afterward, the film seems to want to keep up the pretense that what we have seen may not have been entirely real, despite certain aspects of the event being true in the cinematic world based on how they are depicted in the film and (far more significantly) who witnesses them.  That the film maintains this façade for as long as it does is frustrating, since the movie could just as easily have moved into this strange, new territory and continued developing itself in that direction.  But since the film wants to be Giallo, Mystery, Horror, Noir, and Psychodrama for as long as it can perpetuate any one of them, it eventually crumbles in the end, falls back on the easiest of these to pull off (or the easiest in terms of wrapping up a film and giving the audience a cheap thrill), and leaving the audience stuck between bemused and befuddled.  Despite this, it is an intriguing and entertaining film, and I’d like to think that an inspection of its extended cut would provide a smoother transition between its disparate flavors.

MVT:  The general atmosphere surrounding the film is moody and effective.  The film also looks great thanks to some fantastic scenery and the cinematographic eye of Sebastiano Celeste (credited as Nino Celeste).  So, even if you’re let down by the way this film was written, you certainly cannot say the same thing about the way it was photographed.

Make Or Break:  The Make is the scene of Alan’s first night at the hotel.  As he is getting settled, he spies Genevieve (at least I think it is she) across the way undressing and cavorting around her place.  It brings to mind Hitchcock’s Rear Window, DePalma’s Body Double, and other films while being alluring and runic all on its own.

Score:  6.75/10  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Episode #232: Last Night & Feedback

Welcome to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week Sammy returns from his time away from the show and we cover Last Night (1998) directed by Don McKeller. This film was selected by Deadly Dolls Emily for our Kickstarter campaign and we thank her for the support. We also cover some listener feedback and give you a sneak peak into next week's show we are chomping at the bit to do!!!

Direct download: ggtmc_232.mp3

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Episode #231: Crazy Thunder Rush

Welcome back to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week Large William is joined by PickleLoaf from the Silva and Gold podcast for coverage of Crazy Thunder Road (1980) directed by Gakuryu Ishii and Terminal Rush (1996) directed by Damian Lee. We want to thank Loaf for stepping in during Sammy's absence and check out the Silva and Gold podcast if you havent already!!!

Direct download: GGtMC_231.mp3

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Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Eternal Evil Of Asia (1995)

I realize my mind can be shaky at times.  There’s a history of Alzheimer’s in my family (and baldness) which, I’m sure, will one day come a-knockin’ for me (the baldness already paid me a visit far too early, but I suppose that neither of the two are things you want to encounter either early or late in life).  My point is, the first Chinese film I can remember ever having seen (if my memory can be trusted) was Chang Cheh’s seminal Wire Fu Melodrama Five Deadly Venoms.  Television station WNEW out of New York would broadcast various Horror and Martial Arts movies every Saturday afternoon under the Drive-In Movie banner.  More than the movies, though, they had great (okay, they were cheap), custom introductions and bumpers (you can find them on Youtube, if you care to check them out, and, to be frank, I feel the halting of their production and inclusion on all stations was a mistake, as they were a personalized introduction for the viewer and an indication that the people showing you the movie were actually aware of what they were putting on the air [sure, there were errors made, but come on]), and just hearing them was enough (then and now) to instill an excitement that today most kids get from…whatever it is that excites kids these days.  At any rate, the sight of the perennially crag-faced Lo Meng as a Taoist priest in Chin Man-Kei’s The Eternal Evil Of Asia (aka Nan Yang Shi Da Xei Shu aka Erotic Black Magic) instantly transported me back to those days of my youth.  Funny enough, it’s a feeling which is rarely duplicated by watching the pristine DVD I have of that earlier film (part of the reason being that the method of exhibition of certain films in certain settings will create as different an experience as the variety of films being shown).

Eternal Evil… opens with a quick bit of exposition explaining that in certain parts of Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, etcetera; the implication is they are the less “sophisticated” areas), the idea of magic and enchantments (an evil form of Buddhism, we are told) is believed in as a matter of daily existence.  The story next jumps over to Hong Kong, where Nam (Bobbie Au-Yeung) has recently buried his parents.  Whilst arguing with his wife and junk food junkie son, a malevolent figure stands outside Nam’s apartment building, straw doll in hand.  The wizard Laimi (Ben Ng) manipulates the doll, and suddenly Nam sees the corpses of his parents, begging to come home.  Nam flips out, grabs a knife and stabs at his undead ancestors.  It should go without saying that things go downhill from there for poor Nam.  Meanwhile, lovely cosmetologist May (Ellen Chan) begins to suspect her fiancée Bon’s (Chan Kwok-Pong) recent out-of-country activities with regards to the supernatural goings-on and their escalation in her life.

The Eternal Evil Of Asia is a Category III (more familiarly Cat III) film from Hong Kong, and I believe this is the first Cat III film I’ve ever reviewed (see my notes on memory above).  Briefly (and this is in no way intended as a comprehensive overview, explanation, or dissection of this type of film, so on the better-than-average odds you know more about these films than I do, please chime in), this rating designation is the Chinese equivalent of the American X or NC-17.  Even in a film industry where bullet squibs and disembowelings are fairly commonplace, Cat III films go a step or two further in either blood or sex (or both and possibly even at the same time), though I don’t believe they have ever actually depicted sex in a hardcore pornographic fashion (again, I could be wrong).  Thus endeth the quasi-lesson.  

Regardless, sex and blood are the order of the day here, and it’s intriguing what this film says about sex.  Essentially, sex is all things in the world created by the filmmakers.  Sex is a motivator for men and women alike.  Sex is an industry.  Sex is the ultimate expression of both love and hate.  Sex is liberating and imprisoning.  Perhaps more than these, sex is a weapon, and a powerful one at that.  Much of the magic shown in the film is brought about through the physical act of sex.  Nowhere is this more on show than in the duel between Laimi and married magicians Barran and Chusie (Julie Lee) in Thailand.  The couple literally copulates in midair in order to cast spells, including one which traps Laimi inside a giant placenta.  Later, Laimi casts an enchantment so that Bon will fall in love with and have sex with his sister Shui Mei-mei (Gwan Chin).  Laimi also casts a spell on Bon preventing him from achieving an erection while May undresses for him and then making it return later when it’s no longer of use (at least for certain things).  The climax of the film involves sex being used by both the protagonists and the antagonist.  

Further, the female characters in the film are all fairly modern and liberated in regards to their approach to sex.  An older lady at May’s salon goes into lavish detail (replete with visual demonstration) about ways to fellate a man and work the wrinkles out of his scrotum (yes, really).  But sex in the film does have consequences at all times.  I cannot recall a single instance during the runtime where sex does not affect the well-being (or fate) of one or more of the characters involved in the act.  Sex is not meaningless here.  It is not engaged in lightly.  For a film selling itself as primarily prurient fare, that the filmmakers would treat coitus with a certain air of responsibility is somewhat refreshing.

In the Western countries of the world, if you were to ask someone on the street what they’re concept of magic is, you would most likely hear one of three names: Gandalf, Merlin, or Harry Potter.  These are fairly altruistic characters (fairly, I said), and there is an air of formal theatricality in their practices.  Magicians or wizards on this side of the pond are thought of as kindly, elderly, and wise.  In the East, magic is more visceral and more spiritual, being tied to religion as it is.  Even the Lord of the Nazgûl could never be envisioned bathing himself in the blood of innocents in order to acquire the power needed to rape his enemy’s girlfriend via astral projection.  Western magic is thought of as long flowing robes and beards, pointed hats, and magic wands/staffs.  Eastern magic is viewed as crude effigies, bodily fluids, and strong emotional motivators.  It naturally lends itself to a more horrific cinematic portrayal, filled with wriggling animals expelled from human bodies, ghosts bursting forth a la Alien (but chunkier), and even compulsions to auto-cannibalism.  

Director Man-Kei uses the camera to describe a magical world.  Even for Hong Kong cinema, the camerawork in The Eternal Evil Of Asia is manic, to say the least.  I don’t think there is a single shot in the film composed from atop a tripod, and almost every one of them twists and whirls around any given subject.  Normally, this sort of frenzied camerawork is a massive put-off for me, but I must say, it was largely successful in its dynamism and in conveying to the audience that none of what we are seeing is taking place in the real world.  But while I enjoy both versions of filmic sorcery, I must say that, given a choice, I think I’d prefer to have drinks with Sabrina any day of the week. 

MVT:  I really took a shine to the core idea of the film; this concept that sex can be an element of control, and it can be both beneficial and destructive.  Even with this sense of accountability with regards to sex, though, Man-Kei’s film also succeeds wildly at being sexy (with a goodly dose of sleaze thrown in, to be sure).

Make Or Break:  Nam’s opening demise Makes the film.  It is the most atmospheric and genuinely creepy of the mystical attacks in the film, and it locked in my interest for the rest of the film’s ride.

Score:  7/10

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Instant Action: Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Oooh, a black cop in Beverly Hills, how edgy!

Screenplay By: Daniel Petrie Jr.
Directed By: Martin Brest

Just a quick introduction, and then we'll get on with the review of Beverly Hills Cop. My name's Bill Thompson, and I've been reviewing movies at my blog, Bill's Movie Emporium, and over at Sound on Sight, for a while now. I'm also a big fan of The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema. However, for whatever reason I tend to not cover much action in any of my blogging endeavors. Being a part of the community for The Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema I got the idea for a new column a few months ago. On a non-regular basis I'll be posting a review of an action movie that's available to stream online instantly, hence the column title, Instant Action. I'm hoping this will be a fun enterprise for me, and that maybe, just maybe, a few of the readers of The Gentlemen's Blog to Midnite Cinema will enjoy reading what I have to say. With the intro out of the way, let's get into this Eddie Murphy vehicle.

I was never a big Eddie Murphy fan growing up. It wasn't that I was averse to Mr. Murphy or his comedic style. Rather, I had a pretty strict grandmother who sure as heck was not about to allow her only grandson, at the time, to watch anything as foul mouthed as Mr. Murphy's stand-up or films. With that being the case I can honesty say that I didn't watch a single film of Mr. Murphy's until I watched Mulan in 1998. For as great as Mulan is, it's obviously a far cry from his earlier, far raunchier work. That's why, when my wife randomly picked number 23 from the action section of my Netflix Instant queue I was excited to see Beverly Hills Cop in that slot.

I'm probably late to the party in saying this, but Eddie Murphy is a special kind of screen presence. It's clear from the first time that Mr. Murphy pops up on screen that he is fully capable of grabbing hold of the camera and not letting it drift away for any reason. This of course has its drawbacks in that some of the weaker elements of Beverly Hills Cop are exposed when Mr. Murphy isn't being lusted over by the camera. But, on the whole that isn't too much of a problem because the camera is almost always focusing on Mr. Murphy in some way. From his giant smile to his infectiously large laugh Mr. Murphy has charm and presence to spare. It's rare that an actor as untrained and as young as Mr. Murphy can have "it", but Mr. Murphy most certainly has "it."

The film itself is a well-balanced blend of comedy and action. I was impressed with the opening truck chase scene, both in terms of filmed carnage and in the fun nature of the chase. Right off the bat Beverly Hills Cop establishes a fun tone. Maybe it's because of the presence of Mr. Murphy, or the loose direction of Martin Brest, but whatever the reason there's never a moment where Beverly Hills Cop takes itself too seriously. The light tone greatly aides in the mixing of the comedy and the action. The only moment when the two are at odds with one another is when a pair of characters are trying to scale a wall during the final showdown. I understand completely what Mr. Brest was going for, but those two characters bumbling at that moment distracted from the drama taking place. Luckily that was the only moment where the comedy and the action didn't mix.

The story in Beverly Hills Cop is a very simple one, but I appreciated the streamlined nature of what is essentially a revenge tale. The supporting characters are pretty weak, but this is Mr. Murphy's vehicle through and through and he shines more than enough to make up for any shortcomings in the rest of the cast. More than anything Beverly Hills Cop is a fun romp that's funnier than it is action filled. But, when Beverly Hills Cop does get down to its action it presents some pretty cool and well done action. I'm late to the Eddie Murphy train, but after Beverly Hills Cop I'm certainly interested in seeing more of his early work.



Bill Thompson

Friday, April 12, 2013

Episode #230: Afraid of the Day of Beasts

Welcome to another episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week Large William is joined by Josh Hurtado, who writes for, for coverage of Day of the Beast (1995) directed by Alex de la Iglesia and I Am Afraid (1977) directed by Damiano Damiani. We want to thank Josh for stepping in wioth Sammy being out of town it is greatly appreciated!!!

Direct download: GGtMC_230.mp3

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Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Arcade (1993)

I’m keenly interested in the evolution of video game graphics.  When they were first introduced to the public, they were as basic as basic could get.  Everything was a square, and the squares were made up of squares (“pixels,” for all you squares).  There was no such thing as a round object.  The “ball” in Pong is a small square which behaves with only the rudimentary physics that an actual ball would have.  Early graphics were the merest suggestions of shapes in reality.  Yet, they were effective in the same way as the graphic design work of someone like Saul Bass, just more regimented by the strictures of the medium.  Nonetheless, there is a reason why we revere the poster for Vertigo but not the graphics from Atari’s E.T. The Extraterrestrial game.  That difference is in the discipline.  

As I stated, video game graphics were limited by grid like template for everything.  Mr. Bass, by contrast, used the simplicity of shape, but his work still looked handmade.  The objects were not perfectly-formed, and this is why we scoff (well, I do) at the idea of art produced by a computer.  Just so we’re clear, I’m not talking about art produced on a computer, I’m talking about work produced with little to no input from a human element.  There is a wild difference between painting a metallic sphere and rendering a metallic sphere by asking a computer to do it.  Despite all of this, I personally would rather play the first Mega Man game than many of the more immersive games of today.  I’m not certain if it has anything to do with my love of simplicity or my dislike of the modern world.  Perhaps it’s because sometimes I revel in being contradictory.  Perhaps it’s because I can’t stand being contradictory.  I am large, I contain multitudes (thanks and apologies to Walt Whitman).

Alex (Megan Ward) is tortured by the constant specter of her mother’s (Sharon Farrell) suicide and the stress of having to take care of her traumatized father (Todd Starks).  Wandering over to the local arcade (ominously dubbed Dante’s Inferno), Alex and her pals are invited by one Mr. Difford (John de Lancie)to play the latest, greatest console, titled Arcade.  After Nick (Peter Billingsley) gives it a quick spin as well as his enthusiastic seal of approval, Alex’s beau Greg (Bryan Dattilo) gets behind the controls while everyone conveniently leaves the room.  Of course, Greg is pulled into the world of the game, while Difford bestows every kid in the joint with a home version of the game to test and evaluate.  But that clever, clever Alex knows there’s something rotten in Los Angeles (and thank you Coen Brothers for engraining in me the habit of pronouncing that city’s name with a hard “g”), and she sets about getting to  the bottom of it all.

Thus do we come to Arcade (aka Cyber World), Albert Pyun’s direct-to-video attempt to cash-in on the public’s growing fascination with more immersive video game environments.  Despite the talent at work on the film (including one of David S. Goyer’s early writing assignments), it sadly reeks of everything about the Nineties, and nary a one of the few good things.  The characters are drawn straight out of an Aaron Spelling primetime melodrama; the cool couple, the cool sidekick, the weirdos, the “that guy,” etcetera.  They are also painfully undeveloped, with characterizations so thin they only have one side (thank you, Red Skelton).  Interestingly, the only two who are given any sort of depth are women.  Alex is a tragic case, written as being haunted by the guilt of her mother’s death, but aside from when it comes up as a cheap way to generate drama, this aspect lays there like a dead fish.  Laurie (played by the ever-adorable A.J. Langer) feels unwanted and unattractive among her friends, and she probably harbors not a small amount of jealousy toward Alex.  But again, this is essentially blurted out in one scene and then forgotten.  Rather than relying on the conflict between characters to generate tension, Pyun and company relegate all of the heavy lifting of the film to the video game scenes (but we’re coming to that).  Possibly worst of all, the midtempo, corporate rock soundtrack conjures memories of dreck like Collective Soul or Everclear (or just throw a friggin’ dart, and you’ll hit some shitty Nineties frat rock band; I don’t care).  The more I dwell on it, the more I realize exactly why I spent so much of that time period getting drunk.

Let’s discuss computer-generated graphics/effects.  As the state of the practice is, it still is not entirely convincing, to me.  Let me be more specific.  On rigid or inorganic objects, they can work very well, so long as the lighting is matched moderately closely to the live plates (if any are used), and they are a godsend, I’m sure, for compositing elements together.  On living things, however, they simply just don’t cut it.  But we’re not here to get into a huge discussion on the uncanny valley as it pertains to virtual actors.  That said, my theory (and I’m sure it’s yours, too) is that CG characters move too perfectly.  There is an element of chaos in natural movement (sometimes all but indiscernible, but it’s there, and the naked eye recognizes it) which cannot (at this time, anyhow) be programmed by a computer.  Computers work on a basis of ones and zeroes, and that’s great for precision and number crunching, but living things are imprecise by their very nature.  Even if a computer artist can detail every individual pore on a virtual character’s skin, every hair on their body, their behavior will always be dictated by two states of being; essentially, “yes” or “no.”  Thus, these characters are little more than glorified versions of Jerry the Mouse dancing with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (and let me just say, that sequence was better executed than a lot of CG work I’ve witnessed).  

Bearing all of this in mind, the early Nineties were a time when everyone was eager to experiment with and play in the digital effects playground, and the filmmakers or Arcade were no different.  However, for as smooth as a surface could be made to look, everything in the video game world of the film is still very basic objects put together in very traditionally ordered ways.  The amount of space and time needed to render graphics also limits the variety of the labyrinth’s corridors.  Ergo, we are treated to the same three or four shots of dungeon walls edited slightly differently over and over.  And, of course, none of the live characters fit into the video game world in a believable fashion.

To be fair, the filmmakers do start off with some interesting (if not entirely original) ideas.  There is the idea of video game addiction (and addiction in general), which could have been investigated, and it would have been just as prescient today (if not more so).  There is the idea of Hell, and the journey depicted through it in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (though he had nine circles, and the video game only has seven).  There is the idea of control, our craving for it in our lives, and the false sense of it imparted by immersion in video games.  There is the idea of being tempted by our heart’s desires and being doomed by our giving in to them.  This is some compelling material when utilized properly, and there is a lot that could have been done with it.  But Pyun seems solely interested in giving the audience the spectacle of the then-newfangled computer graphics, and they just don’t cut it (then and now).  That he plays to the level of his production’s limitations rather than around them is somewhat baffling to me.  But what do I know?  I’d rather play Xevious than Grand Theft Auto any day of the week.

MVT:  Despite my despising just about everything from the Nineties, they were a part of my youth.  There’s a sense of nostalgia I have, then, about things from that era (even when I hate them), and this film is no exception.  In flinging every Nineties cliché onscreen, the filmmakers actually do a decent job of capturing the time when the film was made.  Don’t that beat all?

Make Or Break:  The Break is the ineluctable “twist” ending, which succeeds in being not only utterly predictable and telegraphed from the film’s first frames but also in being flat out dumb.  Go ahead, watch Arcade if you don’t believe me.

Score 4.75/10