An imaginative and unique science-fiction thriller. That’s how I would define Snowpiercer. Is it highly improbable that an experiment meant to slow global warming could backfire and kill off the majority of the planet? Well, yeah, but it still works.
This movie has a lot of post-apocalyptic subplots happening. In the year 2031, the only remaining people on Earth live on a train called Snowpiercer, which apparently will just zip around the frozen world forever (global warming experiment = new ice age) using a perpetual-motion engine.
But it’s not all “kumbaya” on the choo-choo.
People exist as the haves and the have-nots. The poor are treated like slaves and fed a weird gelatin substance while the Richie Riches’ occupy a completely separate part of the train and have fancy dinner parties. Military police keep the peasants at bay by beating old women and yelling aggressively.
Curtis (aka Chris Evans, aka Captain America) is one of these lower class passengers, and he has had ENOUGH. He devises a scheme to get to the classy part of the train and take it over. Curtis believes he and his motley crew must aim for the train’s engine. He who controls the engine controls the world.
Everyone keeps asking Curtis if it’s time to execute his big plan, but he’s still figuring out the details. In the meantime, the psychopathic upper class steals tiny children from their moms (Octavia Spencer for one), freezes a man’s arm off, and generally treats the oppressed people like subhumans. Tilda Swinton plays the creepy, sadistic leader with John Hurt as her regular-guy adversary.
Finally, after all the waiting, Curtis’ plan is set in motion. The back-of-the-train people use metal barrels affixed together as a giant battering ram. They ram through each train car and fight the military police they meet. Once they enter the prison, they release the cracked-out genius who designed the train’s locks and security systems to help them make headway.
Each train car reveals a new nightmare and each step unravels their master plan a little bit more. The closer they get to the front of the train, the crazier and more brutal things become. I’m not one for brutality, but there is a pretty epic hand-to-hand combat scene at one point.
Nothing is constant and the story takes several horrifying turns as we discover new truths about the characters’ backstories. The end may surprise you.
LISTEN – if you’ve been dismissing black and white movies because you think they’re not “sophisticated” enough for your fancy expectations, then this film is your challenge.
The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 film with all the pizzaz of your precious modern-day blockbusters, but without the help of CGI, which makes it WAY more impressive.
The Incredible Shrinking Man also does something I find especially powerful: it builds visceral empathy for the main character. You literally FEEL his suffering. The basis of the film is sci-fi-of course, but the intensity makes it more of a drama.
It all starts when Scott Carey and his wife are vacationing at sea. When his wife goes inside their boat to grab beers, a strange mist passes over, leaving a residue on Scott’s skin. Weeks later, he starts noticing odd changes in his size.
Scott is getting smaller every day, and he decides it’s time to seek professional help. A team of doctors run endless tests, and finally, a breakthrough occurs. They identify two factors contributing to Scott’s ailment: his exposure to the apparent radiation cloud that passed over him on the boat, and (because his luck isn’t bad enough) his accidental exposure to a powerful insecticide sprayed near his house two weeks later. This combination of radiation and chemicals sparks a condition for which there is no precedent.
It’s not long before Scott’s story goes public and he and his wife find themselves confined to their home, hiding from reporters and gawking neighbors. Meanwhile, Scott’s team of doctors work feverishly to find an anecdote. Sadly, when they finally discover a serum they think may help, it’s not enough. Scott continues shrinking, now living in a doll house on the floor of what was once his home.
Living in a doll house may sound kind of awesome, but being that small comes with some serious dangers. Cue Scott’s inevitable run-in with the cat, which spurs the turning point of the film.
This movie is surprisingly DARK. From almost being eaten by a cat, to nearly drowning, to fending off a giant spider, the main character is in constant conflict. We watch him teeter between losing his mind and fighting for survival for most of the film.
I mean, imagine if you were shrinking. Do you really think your wacky inventor Dad would nuke you with his laser and bring you back? That some rude caterpillar would feed you a psychedelic mushroom to make you normal again? No. You’d be screwed and therefore horrified.
This film accurately captures that anxiety and imagines how a person would react mentally, physically, and emotionally to such a life event. It’s also a testament to the awe and wonder at a universe bigger than us — even us normal-sized, non-shrinking humans.
Vampires + Reality TV = what? You’ll find out if you watch the comedy/horror mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows (2014). The film was written and directed by two of its stars, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and it has it all: deadpan comedy, relatable roommate squabbles, social rejection, darkness, aggressive artery punctures (which I could do without), a feeling of general creepiness, documentary vibes, and old timey clothing.
What We Do in the Shadows is set in modern day New Zealand, where four roommate vampires are trying to navigate 21st century life. I say four vampires because technically it is four, but one of the vampires, Petyr, is every child’s nightmare, so he only makes limited appearances. The other three vampires – Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav – are the main subjects of the “documentary”.
This film is bizarre, creative perfection. It must have been pretty amusing to sit in a room and brainstorm all the ways modern life would be inconvenient for vampires. Today’s vampires not only have to deal with the whole ‘drinking blood and staying out of the sun’ thing, but also negotiate the stale day-to-day conflicts of us “regular people”. Arguing about whose turn it is to do the dishes. Who forgot to pay rent. Which friend is trash talking the other one. We’re all just people/immortals trying to find some joy in this crazy world.
The vampire roommates struggle with issues us humans would never have to worry about. Not having a reflection, for instance, makes it pretty hard to play “What should I wear tonight?” before you hit the club. And then, even if you do pick something suitable, you can’t actually get into the club unless the bouncer invites you.
At the beginning of the “documentary” each vampire explains how they became who they are. I don’t want to ruin their backstories, but here are their general personalities:
Deacon: Deacon is described as the “bad boy” of the group. He is a sensual, wild, vampire nazi.
Vladislav: Vladislav has been around since the medieval times, so he has a more old school mentality about vampiring.
Viago: Viago is the diva who often appoints himself the leader and mediator of the group.
Although their lives are restricted, the vampires aren’t living in complete isolation. Not only are they interacting with humans like Deacon’s servant Jackie and their friend Stu, but they know other vampires and creatures as well. In fact, there’s a bustling society of vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, and other nonhuman beings running rampant around the city. The “documentary” is filmed as a lead up to the Unholy Masquerade, which is an annual gathering of all these creatures.
If I reveal too much about the plot it may ruin the experience, so instead, I’ll end this post with a few teaser quotes to look forward to when you watch it….
[On why they like virgin blood] Deacon: I think we drink virgin blood because it sounds cool.
Vladislav: I think of it like this. If you’re going to enjoy a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.
Anton the Werewolf: [to all the werewolves] What are we? We’re… [All, together] We’re Werewolves, not Swear-Wolves.
Stu: [Showing the vampires Google] Anything you want to find you type it in.
Viago: I lost a really nice silk scarf in about 1912.
Deacon: Yes, now Google it.
Deacon: Shut up, Nick! You’re not Twilight.
P.S. – The creators of this film now have a hit tv show with the same name! It features different characters but is equally hilarious and well-written. You can find it on FX and Hulu.
Remember all those films where Ryan Gosling plays the deliciously dreamy heartthrob who consumes every woman’s deepest fantasies? Mmyeah, this is nothing like any of those.
In Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays Lars Linstrom, an exceedingly awkward man who lives in his brother and sister-in-law’s garage. The majority of Lars’ time is spent trying to avoid human contact and minimize the duration of conversations.
I think Lars’ awkwardness is supposed to be endearing, but it also comes off a little murdery. Lars is like the guy you hear about on the news who committed a heinous crime and all the neighbors comment that he “always kept to himself” and “seemed like a nice guy”. He rocks an unsettling mustache and often sits alone on his bed at night…in the dark…staring down at the floor. If that doesn’t scream SERIAL KILLER, I don’t know what does. And yet, as you watch the movie, you grow to appreciate his strangeness.
Lars’ sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer) tries desperately to get Lars to come and spend time with her and her husband, Gus. Karin is a compassionate, motherly type who has made it her personal mission to help Lars. Perhaps one of my favorite scenes in this movie is in the first act where Karin is trying to get Lars to come over for a meal. First, she invites him to breakfast, but he makes the excuse that he has to go to church. So, she says he should come by after church. Not wanting to be rude (and also hoping she’ll go away) Lars reluctantly agrees. But he still doesn’t show up. So when Karin sees him pull in the driveway the next night, she runs out to invite him to dinner. After several pleading exchanges, Karin ends up physically tackling Lars to the ground. It is quite hilarious, but it also shows us how seriously Karin worries about Lars’ isolationism.
Other than being a total weirdo, Lars leads a normal(ish) life. He has an office job where he shares a cubicle with a porn-addicted creeper, and fends off advances from his innocent coworker, Margot, who has a crush on him. One morning, the cubicle creeper shows Lars a website for anatomically correct sex dolls, which is seemingly of little interest to Lars. However, six weeks later, a large package is delivered to the garage. Lars shows up at Karin and Gus’ door to let them know he has a visitor — It’s Bianca, his new “girlfriend” who he “met on the internet”. Karin and Gus are thrilled at the prospect of Lars having a girlfriend, and Lars explains that he needs a favor for his new lady. Bianca is very religious and doesn’t feel comfortable staying in the garage with Lars, so he asks if Karin and Gus will allow her to use their guest bedroom. They agree with an almost giddy enthusiasm. Of course, that’s before they “meet” Bianca and realize the situation they’ll now be forced to navigate.
To Lars, Bianca is not a doll. She is alive. She has a story and a personality. Their relationship is not based on sex (phew!), but rather on companionship. Lars knows nearly everything about Bianca, and his descriptors give us an idea of who he imagines her to be. Here are a few facts about Bianca (according to Lars):
She’s half Brazilian and half Danish
She used to be a missionary
She doesn’t speak much English
She is in a wheelchair
She is very religious
She’s not superficial
She cannot bear children
She loves kids
After recovering from the moment of shock, Karin and Gus immediately start strategizing what to do next. In an ingenious move, Karin suggests taking Bianca to the doctor to make sure she’s “in good health” after her long trip. Unaware that the general practitioner is also a psychologist, Lars agrees to go and hear what the doctor has to say. The savvy psychologist gradually gains Lars’ trust as he returns each week to bring Bianca for “special treatments”.
The doctor explains to Karin and Gus that Lars is experiencing a delusion. To help him, they will need to play along. Karin and Gus take her advice but worry how the town will react and how they personally will get through it. They meet with the counsel of the local church for additional support.
This is where the film really becomes charming.
The entire town bands together for Lars, with each person generously playing into his delusion and including Bianca in their activities and social functions.
Through Bianca’s social engagements, Lars’ relationship with everyone else grows and he starts learning to interact with the people he’s been trying so desperately to avoid. But the closer he edges away from his social anxiety, the more Lars and Bianca drift apart. They start to fight and Lars becomes jealous that Bianca’s regimented social schedule is interfering with their alone time. Slowly but surely, we see a glimmer of change in Lars, and we start to learn about the issues from his past that are making him feel so secluded.
Lars and the Real Girl is a poignant, clever, and whimsical dramedy that reminds us what being human is truly about. Watch the film to discover how Lars evolves and what ultimately happens between him and Bianca.
It’s 1996 Los Angeles and everything is on fire. Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is an apparent “maniac” who’s holding hostages in an old building. Sylvester Stallone (Sergeant John Spartan) enters from the sky to take down all the bad guys and outsmart Phoenix, alone.
Bang bang, karate chop, punch in the spleen – he’s in.
Now Spartan and Phoenix are face to face and ready to engage in an awkward bout of hero vs. villain banter. Cringe-forward to when Pheonix reveals the whole floor is covered in gasoline and explosive barrels — that’s right, he’s about to blow this place, cartoon style.
Spartan gets both men out in time, but the hostages are lost. Now of course, the only logical thing that could happen would be for Simon Phoenix to be arrested and John Spartan to get the Medal of Honor. Well, this movie isn’t based on logic, so the COMPLETE OPPOSITE happens.
Because the hostages died, John Spartan is convicted of involuntary manslaughter with a sentence of 70 years, which he’ll serve in a cryogenic prison that I guess our 1996 technology was capable of? They stick him in some gooey gelatin and don’t even bother putting him to sleep before they fill the tank, so he has to unpleasantly drown in goo until they freeze him. On the upside, at least his arch nemesis, Phoenix, is also getting gooed.
Now it’s 2032 and Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) is a young police woman obsessed with the violence of 20th century culture and longing for a real crime to happen in her utopian city of San Angeles – the San Diego, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles hybrid city.
But it’s not a utopia for everyone. Edgar Friendly (played by Denis Leary) and his small posse of WaterWorld people are living off the grid and trying to feed their starving families from beneath the streets. Edgar and his sewer friends become an important piece of the story later.
Aside from the starving people, San Angeles also features:
No spicy food
No physical contact
“Alternative” sex only
Back at the prison, the warden awakens inmates from their cryogenic sleep for parole hearings. This day is like any other, except the criminal being awakened is none other than the notorious Simon Phoenix. Clever Phoenix magically releases himself from captivity and, instead of trying to start fresh, he begins wreaking havoc. Something is different about him though, and as the story unfolds we learn what it is, and why.
Anyway, Huxley and her police crew are dumbfounded by Simon’s crimes, and after a truly pathetic attempt to apprehend him, they decide they need another 20th century barbarian to do it for them. Cue John Spartan. Fresh from the freezer, Spartan’s a stone cold fox in Huxley’s eyes, but he’s too busy realizing his entire family is dead to notice her admiration. How rude.
Let me pause here a moment and ask a valid question: Who thought Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone would have chemistry together? What casting team honestly got together and said, “You know what duo would really turn up the heat in this film? Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock. Yes…I definitely see that being an actual thing that should happen.” I’m just not feeling it. But the combination is painfully delightful, so it fits in well with how I’d describe the rest of this film.
The casting team really took it next-level with their supporting actor choices as well: Rob Schneider, Glenn Shadix (Otho in Beetlejuice), and Benjamin Bratt, to name a few. Benjamin Bratt: the costar Sandra Bullock actually had chemistry with seven years later in Miss Congeniality.
Throughout the rest of the movie, Spartan works to defy modern society and help the incapable police track down Phoenix. Along the way, we discover the true story of the underground people, learn why Simon Phoenix is on a killing spree, and watch John Spartan grapple for personal redemption.
Demolition Man is a fun, futuristic action film filled with great one liners, rat burgers, Frida Kahlo lookalikes, sea shells, overalls, and many other random and concerning wonders.
The last scene is a TREASURE.
Even though I spent most of my time writing about how awkward and weird this film is, it is that very ridiculousness that makes Demolition Man a must-see.
The Swan Princess is a Sony Pictures film, so if you haven’t seen it, that’s probably why. Don’t be a Disney racist — give this movie a chance. It’s not perfect, but it is entertaining.
As you might imagine, it’s about a princess (Odette) who gets turned into a swan. Basically, her Dad (the King) pisses off a sorcerer named Lord Rothbart, who is portrayed by Mr. Ghoul himself, Jack Palance.
Lord Rothbart is banished for black magic when Princess Odette is a baby. Meanwhile, the King (who is widowed) and a widowed Queen from another village decide they’re going to bring their children together every summer until they fall in love. It’s a little pushy, but it all seems to work out once teenage hormones are in full rage.
Just when it seems Prince Derek might seal the deal, he somehow manages to fuck it up with a misogynistic comment. In full #MeToo mode, Odette tells him to shove it and heads back to her kingdom with her King Dad.
Shit gets dark real fast.
Lord Rothbart returns with some voodoo sorcery, kidnaps Odette, and murders her Dad and his knights. Then, to really rub salt in the wound, he keeps Odette at his shanty-ass castle and puts a spell on her that turns her into a swan. Each night, when the moon hits the lake, she turns back into a woman. But each morning when the sun rises, she returns to swan form. Odette will remain trapped at Lord Rothbart’s until she agrees to marry him, or until she kisses her true love and he makes a “vow of everlasting love” in front of the world.
In the tradition of most animated children’s films, Odette befriends some animals along the way — a chill turtle named Speed, a clever bird named Puffin, and a combative frog named Jean-Bob. Jean-Bob is voiced by the legendary John Cleese and is therefore the funniest character in the film.
Derek isn’t convinced Odette is dead, so he starts training Rocky-style to get her back. As far as animated princes go, Prince Derek doesn’t rank too far down the totem pole. His mullet-esque hair could use some help, but he makes up for it with a pair of exceptional thigh-high boots and a great singing voice.
The musical numbers in this animated film are quite nice. The songs No More Mr. Nice Guy, For Longer than Forever, and This is My Idea stand out as particular favorites.
In between these delightful musical numbers, the clever Prince Derek forges his way through the forest and eventually finds Odette.
No, this is not the end of the movie.
Odette is still under her swan spell, and she explains the predicament to Derek. They decide to meet the next night at Derek’s castle so he can make the vow of everlasting love to break the spell.
Sounds easy, right? WELL IT’S NOT. Watch the film to find out how their simple plan gets sidetracked, with a race against time to save the lovers’ relationship, and their lives.
If you haven’t seen the original 1990 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’m not sure how you’ve made it this far. Even worse, if you haven’t seen the original but HAVE seen the unacceptable 2014 Megan Fox version, I am undoubtedly judging you.
Jim Henson puppeteered the pants off this movie. Other names associated with the film include Elias Koteas (bad guy in Shooter and cop on Chicago PD) as the ever-epic Casey Jones, and Sam Rockwell as a degenerate teenager. Perhaps the strangest casting choice for this film was Splinter, the wise, radioactive rat/father raising the turtles. He is played by none other than Kevin Clash, the man behind the iconic voice of Elmo. Splinter’s voice is not even close to Elmo, so, congratulations to that guy on his vocal range.
And — I didn’t know this until I looked it up — the guy who voices Shredder (hilariously over-the-top villain) was a random voiceover in several children’s films including Oliver and Company, The Lion King, Nightmare Before Christmas, and something called Casual Sex?, which is not a children’s film, but I just really want to know about that question mark.
The Story: April O’Neil is a feisty New York reporter asking the tough questions about crime. But one night while leaving the TV station, not even her hard-hitting eyebrows can save her. A team of teenage criminals attacks her, prompting the ever-vigilant Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to karate chop those bad guys into submission. Unfortunately, one of the turtles, Rafael, loses his sai (a giant fighting fork) in the process. This is April’s first clue to the existence of the Ninja Turtles.
Shredder may be a bad guy, but he’s a well-informed bad guy. When he turns on the news and hears April asking too many questions about recent crimes, he orders she be silenced. His hit on April’s life brings the turtles back into her world, giving her a chance to learn about their past.
April and her new turtle posse work to uncover the crime ring destroying their city, finding a few friends along the way.
Casey Jones, a fellow vigilante and 100% non-turtle, comes into the picture as a smart-mouth adversary who eventually joins the crew to deliver JUSTICE.
If you have absolutely zero idea about this film, I suppose I should take a moment to describe each of the turtles. The four turtle brothers were named by Splinter. As a deep mind and spiritual rat-soul, Splinter named each of the turtles after a revered Renaissance thinker or artist:
Rafael – Rafael wears red. He’s the angriest, most aggressive of the turtles. Rafael has some rage issues but he genuinely cares about his family. His weapon of choice is the Sai, a pronged pair of Asian weapons/forks.
Leonardo – Leonardo is the ying to Rafael’s yang. Instead of being reactionary and hot blooded, Leonardo is calm and logical. Leonardo wears blue, because he’s chill. He rocks two long sticks for his weapon, which he keeps crossed over his back so he can look like a badass when he pulls them from his shell-holster.
Michelangelo – Michelangelo is every teenage boy you ever met. All he wants to do is eat pizza and make wisecracks. Michelangelo wears orange because he’s INTENSE. His weaponry is all about the nunchucks. A fun weapon for a fun guy!
Donatello – Donatello is a balance between the personalities of the other three Turtles. While he is sensitive like Leonardo, he’s a bit more practical. He shares the wit and humor of Michelangelo, but is more understated. He speaks his mind, but with controlled intensity, unlike Rafael. Donatello wears purple, the color of royalty, and he uses one stick as his weapon, because he doesn’t NEED more than one, ok!
I know I shouldn’t pick favorites, because I do love them all, but if I had to pick ONE turtle, I’d say Donatello is my choice. I appreciate his level-headed but passionate and charismatic nature.
There’s an underground hangout in TMNT where all the rowdy teenagers go to kick it. Every time I watch it, even as an adult, I wish the place was real. Even the song playing over the loudspeaker is gangster. Of course, I would never have been edgy enough to hang out in such an establishment as a high schooler, but I can pretend. It has an indoor skate park, a bunch of video games, blaring music, and all the children are smoking cigars. It’s amazing.
Shredder has a very Darth Vader vibe going on, even saying at one point “I am your father” to the misfit boys who follow him. It makes sense that his secret hangout is so fancy because he clearly understands style. He wears a sparkly, red onesie with a full-on metal face mask and spiked metal shoulder pads that makes Prince look like an amateur.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was made early enough in the 90s that is still rides the coattails of the 80s — oversized hair, questionable adult innuendos, lack of technology making life 5,000% harder, and hip hop music. This is not just a mutant-turtle kids movie, it’s a family classic. You need to stop what you’re doing and watch this movie or you’ll be dead in seven days. I’m just kidding, you’ll be fine, but seriously, see this.
As the title blatantly states, Death Race is about a race…to the death. The movie is set in a hypothetical 2012 where a spike in unemployment and rise in crime result in an overflow of the prison system. So, naturally, the powers-that-be decide to go “America” on it by privatizing the prisons to run them for profit. The director (Paul W. S. Anderson) shot the film as a prequel to the 1975 film Death Race 2000 starring Sylvester Stallone.
So, how do these for-profit prisons make the profit?
At first, they use throwback Gladiator fights. But, when the desensitized population grows weary of the archaic sport, the talking heads realize they need to change things up. Hence, they initiate paid Web streams of the inmates racing each other in jacked-up, armor-clad, explosive cars. They call it DEATH RACE.
Why would the inmates risk their lives for this? Well, you can only drink so much toilet-water-vodka before your liver bleeds. But, the other reason is probably because any driver who wins five races earns his freedom.
Jason Statham plays Jensen Ames, a hardworking welder with a wife and baby who’s just trying to live his life. One fateful day, Jensen gets laid off and returns home to tell his wife the news. While he washes up in the other room, an intruder murders his wife, steals his baby, and renders him unconscious. Jensen wakes to a bloody knife in his hands and a team of police above him. He is now part of the prison system, and if he ever wants to see his baby daughter again, he’ll have to drive his way out.
It isn’t long before Jensen realizes who framed him for his wife’s murder. It’s Hennessey, the warden, slash president, slash pancake-faced witch of the prison. Her race ratings, which were dependent on a fan-favorite driver named Frankenstein, are in jeopardy. “Frank” recently died in a fiery crash, but luckily for Hennessey, he was so disfigured from OTHER fiery crashes, that he always wore a mask to cover his hideous face. This makes him easy to replace. Not wanting to lose her main money maker, Hennessey blackmails Jensen to pose as Frank in the upcoming race. Frank was one race away from his freedom, so if Jensen can complete one race for her, she’ll let him go free and give him his baby daughter back. But, in typical villain fashion, the game is secretly rigged against Jensen.
Apparently, Jensen has some background in car racing, which they casually breeze over to give at least some context to why Hennessey chose him, but we never really get the full story on that.
Jensen now finds himself deep in the underground world of prison racing. He and his pit crew must make sure “Frank’s” car is supercharged with as much smoke, oil, machine guns, steel shields, bullet proof glass, and napalm to barrel through all the other drivers. Yes, napalm. This movie is not messing around with the explosives. Meanwhile, the prison ships in some female inmates to serve as the eye candy co-pilots.
I’m not going to try to convince you that Death Race is some sort of Academy Award nominee. Especially by today’s standards, the sexist and homophobic undertones are a little much, but I’ll be damned if it’s not entertaining. It has all the major components of a great action film:
Aggressive rock and rap music
Male co-stars with masculinity issues
Objectification of every woman
Overly exaggerated explosions
Machine guns that are way too large NOT to be compensating for something
Death Race is a delightfully virile thrill ride with a couple of surprises along the way. Jason Statham’s dry humor and fierce staredowns are at it again, maintaining his persona of a likeable, sarcastic, muscle tower.
I’m pretty sure they made a plethora of sequels to this movie, but I never saw them. Once you’ve seen the Death Race, no other race will do.
There are certain films that just bring people together. This one was an unlikely surprise.
One cool Autumn evening, I sat in my childhood bedroom watching the ultimate dystopian dragon movie: Reign of Fire. The first person to join me was my younger sister, Danielle. In some ways, Danielle and I have very similar tastes, but when it came to dragons, I wasn’t sure of her stance. She stood there momentarily, absorbing the visual story in front of her, and then sat down silently to continue watching.
Not long after, my older sister, Dana, entered. Dana and I have different tastes. She loves cooking shows, comedies, and quirky RomCom films — none of which are my go-to entertainment choices. So, when she saw screeching dragons and giant tanks pummeling across a grayish, fiery landscape, she was skeptical. “What….is this?” she inquired, amused.
I explained the premise of the movie and said, “Just watch.” She did, and after a little while, she too became engrossed. Both sisters ended up watching the whole film and found it to be very entertaining. While I would like to believe my adoration of ridiculous sci-fi and action films had finally passed on to my sisters, the more probable answer for their intrigue was that the movie stars Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, and Gerard Butler.
Reign of Fire is the story of Quinn (Christian Bale) an English man holed up in an old castle, trying to protect the remaining human refugees after an apocalyptic influx of dragons destroyed the world. Quinn is a serious man. He is practical, intelligent, and a pseudo-adoptive father figure to many of the children in the small community. His character is reluctantly brave, but mostly afraid.
As viewers, we sympathize with his fears because A.) I think we all can say with relative confidence that if we saw fire breathing dragons we’d probably poop ourselves and B.) we learn at the beginning of the film how the dragons first came to be and how they changed Quinn’s entire life: It’s a classic tale of a single mother, working hard as a project engineer on a railway tunnel in London, who accidentally drills into an ancient dragon cave while her young son, Quinn, is down there with her. The inaugural dragon burns his way out, leaving Quinn as the sole survivor.
Meanwhile, incredulous humans waste a bunch of time not believing the dragons are real. When they finally realize dragons are “a thing” and also happen to be multiplying, it’s too little too late for the feeble homosapiens.
Gerard Butler plays Creedy, Christian Bale’s BFF and fellow Dad-figure to the plethora of kiddies in the community. He and Quinn run a tight ship, making sure the castle is on lock down any time a dragon approaches. During this first half of the movie, we get a sense of what life is like for these people, but mostly, we get to watch Christian Bale sweaty and shirtless swinging a hammer…or an axe…I really don’t know which it was because I was too distracted by his glistening, bronzed chest.
But anywho, at some point, Denton Van Zan (ridiculous name) enters the scene. Van Zan is Matthew McConaughey’s character. He’s an American soldier with an elite team of dragon killers at his back. Van Zan embodies the quintessential American rogue – he’s abrasive, loud, overly aggressive, bullish, super judgey, and his intimidation is turned up to a solid 14. He’s constantly chewing on ¼ of a gnarly looking cigar and whipping his shiny, bald head around to stare down anyone who crosses him. Van Zan’s one redeeming quality is his sensitivity when he loses someone to the dragons.
So, Van Zan and his ragtag military team come barreling onto Quinn’s turf demanding sanctuary for the evening. Quinn initially tells them to piss off, but reconsiders after a riveting story from Van Zan about his mad dragon killing skills. According to Van Zan, he and his team just need a night of rest and refueling before heading on their way to kill more beasts, but Quinn quickly learns that he expects much more (It’s not sexual if that’s what you’re thinking!).
The two men are suspended in perpetual tension and dick measuring competitions as they attempt cohabitation. Both want to be the alpha, but Van Zan seems to conquer the pack nine times out of 10.
Inevitably, Quinn and Van Zan must learn to work together to have a chance at killing the dragons descending upon them. They realize the only way to TRULY get rid of their fiery adversary is to kill the king, the alpha dragon going around spreading his seed to all the ladies. It’s Alphaville (not the band) as the two men combine forces to do the impossible.
Have you ever wondered what Patrick Swayze would look like in drag? No? Me either, but if you watch this movie you will never be able to unsee him. You also won’t be able to unsee his co-stars, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo, who incidentally make pretty decent looking females. Wesley Snipes has legs FOR DAYS and John Leguizamo’s silky skin would put Maybelline models to shame. These three actors were an incredible choice for these roles. Initially, seeing the usually sexy and macho male actors as drag queens is emotionally confusing, but once you start to watch their character portrayals, you become mesmerized.
The story is of three drag queens traveling across the country on their way to a national drag show. Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) and Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) have just tied for winner of the New York Drag Queen pageant, and as such, received round-trip airfare to California to compete in the Hollywood Drag Queen of America pageant. As the two ladies gab excitedly about their drag futures, they run into a young drag queen crying on the stairs. Chi-Chi (John Leguizamo) is new to the drag scene, and losing the New York competition is making her doubt herself.
Vida, who has a decidedly tender heart, empathizes with the child and devises a plan — they will sell their plane tickets, rent a car, and take Chi-Chi with them to Hollywood to teach her what being a real drag queen is all about. Noxeema — the sassy and skeptical one of the group — vehemently opposes this idea, but eventually bends to Vida’s will.
The three Queens embark on their adventure in a bomb-ass, blue convertible. Despite a few minor mishaps, everything seems to be going well. That is, until their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Desperate and alone, the Queens are picked up by a local teen out for an evening drive. He takes them back to his podunk town so they can have their car repaired. When they learn the repairs will take the weekend, Vida and her friends must settle for a sleepover in small town America.
Although it’s a mostly funny and light-hearted film, To Wong Foo does address some darker themes. Most predictably, the film tackles sexual prejudice. Small towns haven’t exactly been known for open-minded and progressive populations, so it’s a prime location for three drag queens to face animosity. The townspeople have mixed reactions to the women: some don’t seem to realize they are drag queens, others whisper quietly amongst themselves, but a few — including the innkeeper, Carol Ann (Stockard Channing) — are perfectly aware of the womens’ differences and don’t judge them for it.
Vida is the strong leader of the crew, encouraging the other ladies to show kindness and tolerance to their unwitting hosts. At the same time, however, she makes it known that she will not be a victim. Noxeema’s confidence and sass also command respect, albeit a bit more aggressively than gentle-giant Vida.
To Wong Foo dips into issues of domestic violence, too. Carol Ann is the scapegoat to an abusive husband. The longer the women stay at her inn, the more they are witness to the conditions Carol Ann must bear. Vida and her Queens spend much of their time in the town helping Carol Ann and her repressed female cohorts emerge from their shells, learn to be proud of who they are, and actually have fun for a change. Even Robin Williams makes a cameo in this unsuspecting little film. And what’s the significance of Julie Newmar, you ask? Julie, an actress-dancer-singer-sex-symbol-superstar of the fifties, is the inspiration for it all. Watch the movie to find out how!
This charismatic film is playful, humorous, and a surprising gem. You’ll start watching it for the sheer hilarity of seeing Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, and Wesley Snipes in drag, but you’ll finish watching it feeling FABULOUS and with a renewed respect for the people in this world who aren’t afraid to be themselves. You’re welcome.