Friday Night Flix: Death Machine

Death Machine 1Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Each week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but every selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.

You guys! I’m back! Did you miss me? Given the high quality of my stand-ins, I don’t blame you if you didn’t. Huge thanks to Jay, VPH and the boss man for stepping up while I was making with the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Huger thanks to Jay for doing double, superhero-themed duty, while managing to avoid Griff the Lifeless Invisible. We have to have a talk about your hatred for big budget comic book adaptations though. I’m worried you may have a tumor or something.

Death Machine 3I’m delighted to finally post about Death Machine (Netflix), a movie I was thiiiiiis close to recommending in February until Netflix yanked it from the streaming menu. For reasons passing understanding, I adore this utterly generic, excruciatingly 90s, anti-corporate sci-fi/horror flick.

Death Machine is so much a product of its decade it makes me want to hacky sack. For example:

  • Punk environmentalists plot to take down an evil megacorporation from the back of a van while puffing comically huge doobies. Fighting for change with the power of jorts!
  • Villainous Brad Dourif threatens to employ the grandaddy of all lazy cyberpunk buzzwords: HACKING. Oh movie hackers, I’ve loved and laughed at your implausible antics since Lex magically navigated a 3D UNIX system in Jurassic Park.
  • The unstoppable, autonomous weapons platform is conveniently housed at Evil Corporate HQ where all the executives work and not, you know, in a secure test facility in the desert.

Death Machine 5And yet, Death Machine is a prime example of how a dash of well-designed tech makes up for a world of flaws. (So is Masters of the Universe. Now give me that key, Gwildor!) For most of the movie whatever escaped from Vault 10 is nothing more than frantic glimpses of slashing claws and chompers. I’m assuming the complete model would look something like a chrome-plated xenomorph but there isn’t ever a real money shot, which is a tsunami level tragedy. Even so, the mechanized monster feels tangible and ferocious. That may be a product of a wisely juxtaposed styrofoam Robocop knockoff who, well, yeah. 90s!

Death Machine 2Added bonus: characters bizarrely named Ridley Scott, John Carpenter, and Sam Raimi, plus the two hero dudes, Weyland and Yutani. Just in case anyone didn’t realize Death Machine shamelessly rips off every major sci-fi movie of the last 20 years. Awesomely, Yutani is an Asian character played by a bald white guy with a face tattoo. That is some Charlie Chan shit right there.

Peace Out, Tony Scott

While details are still coming in, it appears that 68-year-old director Tony Scott killed himself last night, August 19, 2012, by jumping off a bridge in San Pedro, California. I hope he was comfortable with his choice, and that it gave him the resolution he sought.

I never liked Scott as a director. His trademark super-saturated color palette, intentionally sloppy camera work and nausea-inducing cuts always struck me as terribly film school. He never really evolved beyond the style he found success with in movies like Days of Thunder in the 80s. But I can’t deny his much-imitated contribution to the action genre, even if it laid the foundation for an entire generation of movies that cater to the lowest common attention span. His films were consistently exciting and he always got the most out of whatever big name celeb happened to be headlining. Over the last few years, it was Denzel Washington who served as Scott’s muse, the actor’s declining physique an unintentional reminder of Scott’s aging artistic sensibilities.  Yet for all their gratuitous hyperkineticism and sappy sentimentality, movies like Man on Fire and Unstoppable remain adrenaline-soaked guilty pleasures.

While big brother Ridley will forever been seen as the more artistic and successful of the Scott brothers, one thing I always marveled at was how much of an impact Tony’s style had on Ridley’s as the latter moved into the pop phase of his career.  All you have to do is look at stuff like G.I. Jane and Blackhawk Down (and, yes, even the Best Picture-winning Gladiator) to see how much Ridley looked to his younger sibling to stay relevant to younger audiences.

For my money, Tony Scott’s finest effort was the gritty Kevin Costner starrer, Revenge. It was a flawed enterprise with a disjointed storyline and some head scratching moments (Was he seriously suggesting a character died of shame? Is that a thing?), but it was ambitious in ways his mainstream thrillers never approached. Tony Scott never won Oscars. His legacy can be reduced to a litany of movies people really enjoyed. He wasn’t afraid to be trite or trashy to put asses in the seats, and in that regard he was an unqualified success. In that spirit, I think it’s fitting to eulogize the man with something from his biggest early hit, a scene that, for better or worse, will live forever: