Friday, December 6, 2013

Worth Mentioning - 13 inches... with an attitude

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody bids fond farewells.

DOLLMAN (1991)

When low budget filmmaking legend Albert Pyun (Invasion '05, Kickboxer parts 2 and 4) was first offered the chance to direct a movie called Dollman for Full Moon Entertainment, the project was basically another take on The Incredible Shrinking Man - it would tell the story of a scientist who accidentally shrinks himself to a miniscule size in his own home and is then menaced by his cat. Pyun was up for making a movie featuring a small protagonist, but had a much different approach in mind. To get the go-ahead to bring his vision of a Dollman to the screen, Pyun agreed to work on the film for free.

Pyun's idea has a much larger scope than what was originally presented to him. The film begins on the planet Arturos, which is located 10,000 light years away from Earth, but is a very Earth-like place, ochre tint to the lighting aside. They're very technologically advanced on Arturos, even slightly ahead of us, especially in the medical department. And like Earth, they have a problem with crime.

When a criminal on the run in the big city takes the people inside a laundromat hostage, the mayor intends to go along with his demands, give him what he wants and let him get away. Then hard-boiled, suspended police detective Brick Bardo shows up on the scene under the pretense of doing his laundry. He strides past the police outside and into the laundromat, putting his clothes and detergent in a washing machine, ignoring the ranting of the armed hostage taker. When the washing machine goes to work, so does Bardo, turning his attention to the criminal... and pulling out his custom made Proto Blaster, the most powerful handgun in the universe. But he doesn't even need to fire a shot in this case. All it takes is his words and a threatening attitude to bring about the death of the criminal and an end to the hostage situation.

The mayor is so angry that Bardo disregarded his orders that he has him fired from the police force and even made out in the media to be a homicidal renegade. Bardo has no time to deal with the repercussions of this before he's captured by a henchman working for an enemy of his and taken for a meeting with this longtime foe Sprug. Bardo and Sprug have encountered each other many times over the years, violent encounters that usually ended with Sprug losing limbs. By this point, Sprug is nothing more than a head on a floating platform. Bardo is surprised to see he's even still alive, but that's the wonders of "modern medicine" for you.

Sprug's latest scheme is to demand fifty thousand ions from the city, and if they don't pay up, he'll destroy the entire city with the dimensional fusion bomb that he has loaded on his space cruiser. But first, he needs Brick Bardo out of his way. Unarmed, the guns of Sprug's two henchmen trained on him, the situation is looking dire for Bardo. Until he's revealed to somehow have the ability to magnetically draw his Proto Blaster back to his gun hand. Custom made indeed. Blaster in hand, he opens fire, and we see why the gun has a powerful reputation - its bullets cause a person to explode on impact.

His henchmen dead, Sprug makes a run for it in his cruiser and Bardo quickly gives chase. This chase takes the pair out into space, and into an unexplained phenomenon called the energy bands. When their ships reach the bands, they suddenly disappear... And when they blink back into existence, they're crash landing on Earth. In the South Bronx, to be exact.

Emerging from his ship, Bardo finds that, while the atmosphere is suitable and the people of Earth are built like him, on our planet he only stands at a height of thirteen inches. Soon after his arrival, he witnesses a young woman being roughed up by some gang members - and being the champion of hardcore justice that he is, opens fire on the bangers. Luckily, his ammo is so overpowered on his home planet that even though his gun is just small here it still has the same effect on a body that a regular handgun would.

The woman, a single mother named Debi, takes Bardo in and the two bond over their shared distaste for crime, which they've both lost loved ones to. Bardo's family was murdered, presumably by Sprug. The father of Debi's son was killed during a hold-up. She has since dedicated her free time to working on the Neighborhood Watch and trying to clean up the area for the sake of her son. And Bardo... well, we've seen how he deals with criminals. His approach is too violent for Debi's taste, but it repeatedly saves her life.

Like Bardo, Sprug also ends up with a like-minded individual; trigger happy gang leader Braxton, who has an unrequited romantic interest in Debi. When he's told of Sprug's dimensional bomb, visions of blowing up rival territory and expanding his own fill his mind. But just like on Arturos, Brick Bardo is here to stand in the way of the villainous schemes Sprug and his cohorts have.

The situation builds over the course of violent encounters to a climactic shootout action sequence in which Brick Bardo takes on Braxton and his entire machine gun armed gang as a thirteen inch tall one man army.

Dollman is a very simplistic, fast paced little sci-fi action adventure, and Pyun's idea makes for a much more entertaining and memorable film than the Shrinking Man retread likely would've been. The concept of another world's badass coming to Earth and being the size of an old G.I. Joe is a fun one, made even more enjoyable in its execution by the fact that Dollman/Brick Bardo is played by Tim Thomerson.

Thomerson played "Future Cop" Jack Deth in Full Moon's Trancers series, and is our "Tiny Alien Cop" hero here. As Braxton, the man who becomes his greatest threat since Sprug is just a tiny head, is Jackie Earle Haley, then best known for his work in the late '70s in the Bad News Bears movies and Breaking Away. Haley's career was in a bit of a down swing at this point, but he gives it his all and does quite well in the role, as would be expected from those who know him from his recent, impressive career resurgence that includes movies like Shutter Island and began in 2006 with an Oscar nomination for Little Children. Kamala Lopez is also very good and likeable as Debi.

6'2" in real life, Thomerson becomes the 1'1" Bardo through the use of forced perspective photography and over-sized props. The hope when he was cast in the role was that this would become a second franchise at Full Moon for Thomerson, but Dollman didn't really take off in the way that Trancers did. While Trancers got five and 3/7 sequels (the 3/7s being the recently released, 1988-filmed short Trancers: City of Lost Angels), Dollman made only two appearances after this - a brief end credits cameo in the following year's

Bad Channels, and then the 1993 crossover Dollman vs. Demonic Toys.

Watching his debut and only solo movie makes me wish there had been more Dollman adventures. He's an enjoyable character to watch and there's a lot more that the tiny lawman could have done on our planet. He's still out there somewhere, so hope for a sequel endures even more than twenty years later.

Unfortunately, Albert Pyun recently announced that he is retiring from filmmaking, which has been his passion since he was a young kid, due to struggles with multiple sclerosis. In just over thirty years, Pyun racked up nearly fifty directing credits, providing us with a whole lot of entertaining movies with his own brand of charm. He's even such a cool guy that he left a comment here on Life Between Frames, on the article about the Kickboxer series. It's sad to see him retiring, unfortunate that the world isn't going to be getting any more Albert Pyun movies, and that we'll never see the Pyun/Sasha Mitchell Kickboxer reunion that he was musing about in his comment here. I hope he can improve his health by fully focusing on it. MS is a terrible disease, but I trust that Albert Pyun can put up a good fight against it.

Thanks for all the fun times, Mister Pyun. Good luck and good health, sir.

Last Sunday, a movie theatre that I had spent a whole lot of time in over the last twenty-plus years closed its doors for the last time. It hadn't been the city's first run theatre since the same chain opened a new 14 screener with stadium seating around nine years ago, but it kept going strong by showing movies that had lapsed out of the first run theatre and charging just $1 for admissions - $1.25 in the evening, $3 for a 3D movie. And how can you beat going to see a theatrical screening of a movie for just $1? I took to being pickier over what movies I would see in the first run theatre, because even if I had a passing interest in a movie, I could still wait a little while longer to watch it for the lower price. For $1 I would even give movies I didn't think I would like a chance.

As I mentioned in my Django Unchained write-up earlier this year, the dollar theatre was still primarily projecting the movies it showed on 35mm. While the 14 screener down the road upgraded to digital projection completely, only a couple of the dollar theatre's screens had gotten a digital upgrade. Already nostalgic for the era gone by, I found it quite enjoyable to revisit 35mm at the dollar theatre. The scratches, the heartwarming sight of reel change "cigarette burns", by which a person could estimate what point in a film's running time they were. Digital projection having no reel changes, you're just lost and adrift when watching a movie that way. But in the end, it was the dollar theatre's reliance on film that ended up putting it out of business.

As of the end of this year, studios will no longer be making 35mm prints for the major markets. By 2015, film prints for new releases will be a thing of the past for the entire world. Any theatre or drive-in in the United States that cannot afford the ridiculously costly upgrade to digital projection, a cost of $80,000 per screen, will either have to close this month or only show movies made pre-2014. The dollar theatre I often attended is only one of the many victims of the digital revolution.

The theatre was up for a remodel, but the company behind it ultimately decided the money that location would bring in wouldn't be worth the money that would have to go into it. It's not that the place didn't do good business, the ticket prices ensured that it was always steadily busy, but it takes a lot of cheap admissions to make up for a $650,000 or so remodel.

Having spent so much time at the theatre, going back to its early days when I remember going to see Home Alone or Home Alone 2 there, standing in a massively long line, the theatre announcing over a loudspeaker as showing after showing sold out, I couldn't let its last day pass without going to see one last movie there.

With the options before me, I chose to see the theatre off with a screening of

ELYSIUM (2013)

Writer/director Neill Blomkamp takes today's issues of immigration, healthcare, and class warfare and spins them into a sci-fi action tale set in the dystopian future of 2154.

140 years from now, life on Earth has crumbled, conditions on the planet are so bad that its wealthiest citizens have abandoned it in favor of living on a space habitat called Elysium. As the poor and impoverished struggle in the crime-ridden slums below, the paradise of Elysium hangs in the sky above like a constant mockery.

Every house on Elysium is equipped with a DNA-reading medical machine that can instantly heal all ailments, including fixing bones and even curing cancer. On Earth, people get treated in hospitals the same as they do today.

When our lead character Max gets hit with a high dose of radiation in the factory where he works assembling the very government employee robots that put him down every day, he's given only five days to live. His entire life, Max has dreamed of going to Elysium. Now that his life is at stake, he's determined to get there and heal himself - even if he has to fall back into the criminal underworld he had left behind to do it.

At the behest of a criminal/hacker/revolutionary called Spider, Max goes through a painful and disgusting makeshift surgery to have an exoskeleton sawed into his flesh, drilled into bones, connected with his brain, so he can lead an assault on the big wigs of Elysium that could better not only his life but the lives of everyone on Earth... Or could just see him dying even sooner.

Matt Damon stars as Max and has a great supporting cast that includes Alice Braga as Frey, the girl he's been in love with since they were children ("Frey and Max forever") - and never mind that they have a Brazilian actress playing a Mexican character and speaking Spanish, because Braga is awesome - Diego Luna, and Wagner Moura, with Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, and Sharlto Copley playing baddies of various degrees who want to keep Earth and Elysium as separate as possible, even going so far as blasting immigrants attempting to make illegal entry into Elysium out of the sky.

While some have expressed disappointment with Elysium because it didn't play up the social issues even more, I found that they worked just fine as they are. They were present enough to get me on the side of the lower class citizens, but not so much that they relentlessly beat me over the head. They were a fine set-up for what turned out to be an exciting and emotional action adventure film which I enjoyed much more than I expected to. My only complaint is that there's a bit too much going on in the story - we see one group of immigrants reach Elysium and one of its healing machines, then we wait the rest of the movie waiting to see if Max can do the same, and not only is he slowly dying of radiation poisioning, but he also has to get to Elysium to save Frey's daughter, who's dying of leukemia. It's too much, I would've preferred if it had been streamlined down to only one successful attempt to reach Elysium and only one character at death's door. Not only that, but there are also unnecessary subplots involving the villains and talk of a coup among the leaders of Elysium that goes nowhere. Just keep it simple, Blomkamp.

Despite the feeling that the script could've used some simplifying revisions, I still found Elysium to be a very good movie overall, and so my last film-going experience at the dollar theatre was a pleasant one.

Before leaving the theatre for the final time, I took a few pictures, some of which can be seen below. I didn't want to leave, but not wanting to seem like a weirdo just loitering around the lobby, I soon had to, giving the place one last lingering glimpse before walking out the door. I'm really going to miss this place and the chance it gave me to see movies for just $1.

1 comment:

  1. I think I may have commented here at one time about the period when I was getting Full Moon screener tapes because I'd led them to believe I was a buyer for the small video store chain I worked for. Well, when they sent Dollman as a screener there was a little something...unusual...about it. I watched the movie and enjoyed the low budget thrills - but man the special effects were AWFUL. Months later, with the screener packed away somewhere I convinced some friends to rent a copy and watch it to see the horrible special effects. SURPRISE! The effects in the rental tape were fine! Low budget, certainly, but they looked pretty danged good! Turns out - the Dollman screener was sent out on such a short turnaround - Full Moon was releasing a movie a MONTH at the time - that they had to go with unfinished and what appeared to be test special effects shots! There was no explanation of this on the screener box or anything - and it seems pretty wild to think the company would send out the movie in a pretty unappealing way when that screener is supposed to be convincing you to load up on copies for your video store! Having seen Dollman in its intended and completed form I agree with you - perfect low budget comic book style thrills, and I wish there had been more. I still have that screener tape somewhere - I wonder if it's worth anything for the curiosity value alone?

    And that was a great remembrance of your local $1 theater. I would have been just as nostalgic. The theater I worked in as my first job closed a few months after I left for college - it was turned into a furniture store for years after - I never went in, but always wondered if they somehow took out the slope in the auditorium, or were you shopping at an angle?

    Great post Cody!