Monday, April 30, 2012

Tooth and Nail (2007)

Title: Tooth and Nail (2007)

Director: Mark Young

Cast: Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones, Rider Strong, Michael Kelly


I’ve noticed that filmmakers behind post apocalyptic films always try to add their own twist to them. For example Stake Land (2010) mixes vampires with the apocalypse, Waterworld (1995) is the apocalypse brought on after the polar caps have melted, Tank Girl (1995) is the ultimate grrrl movie while still remaining post apocalyptic, The Terminator franchise adds time travel to the mix…and so on. With Tooth and Nail, the film that I’ll be discussing today, they’ve gone and mixed a post apocalyptic film with the a-typical slasher film. The result is interesting, though not altogether innovative.

On Tooth and Nail we are presented with the idea that the world has gone to hell because one day we ran out of gas. In this movie having no gas for cars or electricity equals total world destruction. Now if that’s believable or not doesn’t really matter, what matters is the point that the film is trying to make. How obsessed our society is with oil; how much of our society depends on it and what will happen if we ever run out of it. These are all interesting ideas the film presents us with; no doubt. I’m all for using cleaner and safer forms of energy; oil will have to go at some point. So after that’s been established we meet a group of survivors who call themselves ‘The Foragers’. Basically, they are a small group of people who’ve gathered in an abandoned hospital. Together they are trying to regain normality. They even have a leader, a scholar type by the name of ‘Darwin’ who wants’ to attempt to rebuild the human race. He’s got a job for everyone to do; one picks the wood, the other one gathers water and so forth. Unfortunately, Darwin isn’t thinking about ways to protect his group. And so ‘Viper’ the hot headed dude in the group is all worried about what will happen if someone comes with bad intentions. And he is right! They should be preparing. You see, a part of humanity has adapted to this awful end of the world scenario and now the’ve started feeding on their own kind! That’s right! There’s a group of cannibals on the loose! it isn’t long before these cannibals show up at the hospitals door steps…and they’ve brought their hunger with them!

Tooth and Nail was part of the ‘8 Film to Die For’ that the folks at After Dark Films started back in 2006. These After Dark films are hit and miss bunch; you might catch a fairly good one, or a really crappy one. They tell you that these films were ‘too scary’ to be released in theaters, when in reality they were simply not deemed worthy enough for theatrical release. But this doesn’t make them any less fun to watch.  I’ve enjoyed some of the films they’ve released like for example The Gravedancers (2005) a film from Mike Mendez the director behind the demonic ultra cheap-o good time The Convent (2000). Tooth and Nail was part of the second batch of ‘8 Films to Die For’ that came out in 2007, and it’s neither good, nor bad. It simply is what it is, a post apocalyptic slasher with a couple of ultra gory deaths.

The problem with some ultra low budget post apocalyptic films is that because of their budgetary limitations, it is often times difficult for them to convey the end of the world. It takes a truly gifted and imaginative filmmaker to pull this of on a small budget; but it’s not impossible, it can be done. Just look at Six String Samurai (1998). Often times directors will choose to shoot their post apocalyptic films in the dessert because it’s easier, you don’t have worry about showing decaying buildings or anything, just the dessert. Kind of like the same way that many slasher films take place in the woods, because filming in the woods is cheap and it cuts down costs.

Unfortunately Tooth & Nail takes place in a city, and the buildings don’t look post-apocalyptic enough. Tooth & Nail does good by starting the film with real life news reel footage of chaos in the world, which is a good trick used by a post apocalyptic films to convey chaos and disorder in the world; for example Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004) does this. We even get some cool shots of burnt decaying corpses inside of smashed up cars. The problem for me with Tooth and Nail is that the characters in the film simply look too squeaky clean to inhabit a post apocalyptic world. This is the same problem I had with another post apocalyptic film I saw recently called Carriers (2009). Characters just look too clean! In Tooth & Nail even the interior of the building that the foragers stay in looks too new, too clean, too organized, not enough rot and decay. A post apocalyptic world needs to be rotting, old, decomposed, not squeaky clean. Guys need to have long beards, girls should have their hairs all messed up and not wear any make up. Everyone should be smelly and dirty. But not on Tooth and Nail where the characters seem to have time to even shave.

Too pretty for the apocalypse

Slasher films aren’t by definition an intelligent bunch of films, quite the contrary, these are films that simply exist to scare you with the killer hiding behind the shadows and shock you with their grizzly, gory deaths, nothing more. In this sense, Tooth and Nail succeeded because the deaths are pretty gory. This film actually reminded me of a slasher film from the eighties, you know, the kind that doesn’t cut away when the time comes to show some gruesomeness. It seems to me that those days are bygone; American horror films of today are no longer truly gory, at least not the theatrically released ones. They may try and be, but they always cut away at the exact moment when we’re supposed to be seeing some gore. Best example of this was that ultra shitty Friday the 13th remake (2009). I hated that one because every time Jason’s machete was about to inflict some damage, the film would cut away to something else. Tooth and Nail doesn’t do that, the gore is there and it’s plentiful. Unfortunately, when that’s the only thing that’s good about your movie, then you’ve got a pretty shallow movie. I’m not saying Tooth and Nail has nothing to say, it’s just that it says very little. As a bonus we get Vinnie Jones and Michael Madsen playing two bloodthirsty cannibals, but their performances in this movie are closer to cameos, since they only appear sporadically through out the film. Madsen and Vinnie don’t really contribute anything to the film. The main gripe I had with this movie was that its villains though vicious, had no personality whatsoever. Personality wise, the good guys themselves where just as bland as their villains.

The real idea, the real theme that Tooth and Nail is rooted in is the quintessential ‘survival of the fittest’. In this film what we really meet is a bunch of weak individuals; even the guys in this group aren’t the strong type save for one, the one called ‘Viper’, the hot headed one. What these characaters don’t realize is that civilization is long gone and that the world they are living in has changed. They actually recognize that they are the weak link, that athe bad guys are stronger, more numerous. Hell, even knowing the have weapons, they still dont have faith in themselves, they live afraid to fight, afraid of change, which is something we should never be afraid to do. Fight for whats right, for our survival.  I also liked that at one point, all males disappear and it’s up to the women to fend for themselves in this big bad world. The femaels in the film discuss how much they'd prefer the stronger men of the group to protect them, but at one point, the protection of men dissapears, and then it's up to the ladies to show they have what it takes to survive in this world on their own. They stop depending on the men for protection when they realize that no one is going to save them, but themselves. It's now a dog eat dog world and if you don’t adapt, you die. And this is really the one idea that I did like about the film.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 


Memorable Movie Vehicles (Post Apocalyptic Edition!)

The appropriate vehicle can mean everything when your surviving in a post apocalyptic world; it means you can leave those bloodthirsty cannibals behind to eat your dust, or  it can help you escape that colony of mutants you happened to come across in your travels across the wasteland. Which reminds me, the vehicles that appear on these post-apocalyptic movies are part of what makes them so much fun to watch! On this blogpost you'll find cars that have appeared on all sorts of post apocalyptic films, hope you enjoy it! 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tank Girl (1995)

Title: Tank Girl (1995)

Director: Rachel Talalay

Cast: Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell,  James Wong, Ice-T, Iggy Pop


It’s been a while since I last saw Tank Girl. I remember, the first time I saw it; I didn’t fall in love with it for some reason, I guess I was too young to really ‘get it’. But this film proves to me once again that sometimes the way you look at a film changes with time. As time goes by, you live through certain experiences and learn certain things that affect the way you see a film. As it is, Tank Girl is a very subversive film, it’s all about rebellion and going against the proverbial system; which of course is one of my favorite themes in film. If you want to read a bit more about subversive cinema, check out this article I wrote called Totalitarian Futures (BigBrother is Watching You!), on that one I mention a series of films that depict  abusive governments and the rebels that oppose them. And if you want to read about rebellious characters, then check this one out: Viva La Revolution III: 20 Fictional Characters that Beat theSystem; after seeing Tank Girl, I figure she should have been on that list! She’s an extremely rebellious character!

Tank Girl takes place in the year 2033, on a post apocalyptic version of earth that was destroyed by a meteor that wiped out almost all of humanity. 11 years have passed since this happened, and now a new form of government has arisen, one that controls all the water and all the power and even has it’s own army. This new government system is appropriately called “Water and Power” or WP for short. The leader of this organization is a dictator called Kesslee played by the one and only Malcolm McDowell. He wants to own all the water in the land so he can control everyone. He’s made siphoning water illegal. But the rebels don’t care about legal or illegal, they only care about surviving.  In Tank Girl’s own words “as long as they don’t find out, who cares? “ So of course, they steal as much water as they can. Problem comes when the powers that be find out the rebels have been stealing water. They blow up the rebels hide out, kill as many of them as they can and take Tank Girl as prisoner. Will she survive living under the oppressive power of the system?

Wow, so to me this is a hidden gem. Yeah it’s got a couple of flaws here and there, but damn it I love it anyways. What did I enjoy about Tank Girl? Lot’s of things, but first off there’s Lori Petty as Tank Girl who in my opinion was a fun character, she loves her liberty, she curses like a sailor and she does not care for rules and regulations. Living under rules and regulations is a complete bore for her; she prefers being the master of her own destiny. She’s kind of like Spiderman in the sense that she has a little joke or sarcastic remark every five minutes. ‘The man’ might be stepping on her face but she’s quick with a sly remark, just so she can piss them off.  Some might find her annoying? I thought she was fun to watch, kept me laughing all the way. For those of you not in the know, Tank Girl is based on a comic book created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, the comic has been in publication in one form or another since 1988. I personally really dig the art work on those comics, Tank Girl a.k.a. ‘Rebecca Buck’ has a very distinctive look, one that I believe this film did a swell job of bringing to life. Lori Petty looks and acts the way Tank Girl should; so this is something that the film got absolutely right. Lori Petty is Tank Girl. Loved that scene where she first gets into her tank! The tank was pretty awesome looking as well by the way.

When MGM bought the rights to the property, Tank Girl’s journey to the silver screen began. Various directors were associated with the films adaptation, amongst them Steven Spielberg and James Cameron! Ultimately, it was female director Rachel Talalay who ended sitting in the directors’ chair. She’s the director responsible for Freddy’s Dead: The  Final Nightmare (1991) one of the most profitable films in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. I think she made a good film with Tank Girl, the look and the dynamism of the character works, the over all look of the film is interesting, and the message the film is trying to convey is commendable. I loved the rebellious elements of the film, Tank Girl has a lot of Orwell’s 1984 in it. There’s a scene where Tank Girl get’s caught by the government and tortured which reminded me a whole lot of Orwell’s famous novel. I guess what the filmmakers where trying to achieve with Tank Girl was a version of 1984 in which the good guys actually win. When you read Orwell’s 1984, it can be a grueling and overpowering experience. I mean, when you read that novel you feel as if ‘the system’ has taken it’s shit stained boot and shoved it real hard in your face. Real hard. In fact, as you read, you feel as if they've shoved the whole damn boot down your throat! It’s one of my favorite novels, it managed to squeeze a tear or two out of me, honestly, it’s that good! Well, Tank Girl is along the same lines as 1984, playing with the same themes, having the government really getting in the good guys faces, messing with their lives, trying to get them to ‘play the game’ so to speak, only in Tank Girl, the good guys aren’t that easy to squash. Tank Girl is a very resourceful and lively bug; she doesn’t take shit from anybody!

I enjoyed how the film is so very much like reading a comic book, I loved the fact that the film opens up with a credit sequence that showcases art work from the original comics. The art work from the comics is fantastic, very sketchy in nature, very detailed. The filmmakers also included animated sequences through out the whole film;  which by the way reminds me that this film was a bit of a chore to make; it had many production woes. One of them being that at the end of the day, the studio interfered immensely with the look and feel of the film, this being such a subversive film in nature, of course they wanted to tone down many of the more controversial attributes of the film. The mutant Kangaroo’s that appear in the film for example. One of the more ‘controversial’ things about the film is that the mutant kangaroo’s or ‘Ripper’s’ as they are called in the film are a horny bunch of individuals who are always hitting on Tank Girl and Jet Girl. Ultimately, Tank Girl ends up falling for one of the Ripper’s and you can catch a glimpse of that in the finished film, but originally they had filmed scenes with Tank Girl and the one of the Kangaroo’s making out in bed! Ultimately, the studio interfered and cut that stuff out. They also cut out more scenes, you kind of get the feeling when you watch Tank Girl that it wasn’t completely finished, the ending feels a bit rushed, leaving many questions unanswered. Hell, the last five minutes of the film were completely animated! So yeah, it feels like in the end, the film was incomplete, almost as if it was taken away from the filmmakers unfinished.

Personally, I dug the animated sequences in the film, but don’t ask Jamie Hewlett (one of Tank Girl’s creators) about them, to Hewlett making the film was a “horrible experience”. According to Hewlett, the many animated sequences in the film are there because the filmmakers supposedly forgot to film about ten major sequences! So they had to add these sequences through the use of animation so the film wouldn’t feel incomplete; but honestly? I loved those animated sequences; they go very well with the films pulpy comic book origins! Plus, the animated sequences were very well achieved, they have these awesome angles, I really dug them. And so what if they were placed their to fill in for unfilmed shots? They turned out pretty cool in my book.  The animation gives the film a unique feel that aligns perfectly with the kind of punk attitude that a film like Tank Girl has. Another thing I dug about Tank Girl was how many old school filmmaking techniques they employed to make it. Rachel Talalay used every trick in the book: matte paintings, make up effects and the use of excellent looking miniatures! It reminded me of why I love practical effects as opposed to computer generated ones.

And yet another positive thing I can say about Tank Girl is that Stan Winston created the Ripper’s! Reportedly he liked this project so much that he did the mutant kangaroos for half the price he normally charged! What else? Oh yeah, Ice-T plays one of the mutant Kangaroo’s! Also, Naomi Watt’s plays ‘Jet Girl’, a girl that plays the polar opposite of Tank Girl. Tank Girl is the wild one who doesn’t follow the rules while ‘Jet Girl’ works for the system. She plays by the rules; she thinks that the more you follow the rules, the less the system will mess with you. Thankfully, Rebecca helps her see things differently, she helps her find the ways of liberty or death! Of daring to live life on the edge! Tank Girl teachers Jet Girl to dare! It was interesting to see Naomi Watt’s in one of her earliest film roles. Malcolm McDowell as the villain was interesting just because he’s Malcolm McDowell, but his character uses this cool glove that has these blades that come out of it, cool gadget. He also has a holographic face? You’ll see what I mean. And another cool thing about the movie: James Wong is in it as a crazy inventor who works for Water and Power! He’s the guy who invents the glove thingy; any film with Lou Pan in it goes up a couple of notches for me in the cool-o-meter. Hell, even Iggy Pop cameos! 

Jet Girl in her Jet

The film even has this really awesome 90’s soundtrack! Ultimately, hearing this soundtrack filled with all that alternative music got me quite nostalgic for that era. Yeah, it reminded me of when I was a teenager, listening to all those cool bands that I still listen too by the way! The soundtrack is sprinkled with Bjork, Devo, Hole, Bush, Portishead, Joan Jett, Belly, Ice-T and Veruca Salt! I know I’m going to be hunting down this soundtrack as soon as I can; it’s one of the memorable ones. So as you can see, even though Tank Girl was a very troubled production, I still think that Rachel Talalay and crew got away with a fairly decent movie. Too bad it died a quick death at the box office. Too bad the studio didn’t back it up as much as it should have. You feel like the film is bursting with ideas and that they didn’t all make it to the screen. But hell, if even with all these troubles you managed to make a decent looking picture then you are too be commended Mrs. Talalay! Tank Girl in my opinion is a hidden gem of apocalyptic cinema worth revisiting. Highly recommend it.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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