25 November 2005

Film Review: Phantoms (1998)

Saw this last night on the television, and was very pleasantly surprised. I was flicking through the channels and I saw Rose McGowan get out of a car and figured I could watch for a few minutes.

The film was just starting, and I noticed Dean Koontz wrote it, so I decided to stay with it to see what kind of a screenplay he would put together, if nothing else. Turns out this was really a rather good film, certainly for one I don’t recall being released.

The film itself was nothing we haven’t seen before for a ‘scary film’; lone party of young, attractive people against some unnameable, unseen, malevolent force. Members of the party get picked off, and eventually there’s a point when they figure out their would-be nemesis and vanquish it. Along the way, we have deserted places, hallucinations and quiet to LOUD surprises, which are signposted by carefully-moving characters and swells in the soundtrack.

However, this was carried out with aplomb for the most part. The characters were, by and large, sympathetic (even that played by Ben Affleck, which caught me by surprise), and the one who really wasn’t sympathetic was both not long for this world, and became an avatar of the malevolence.

This latter character, Deputy Stuart Wargle, was slightly odd in his seeming sexual preference for… everything. The women he was supposed to be protecting, corpses – this and his odd way of talking were never really explained. Then he got eaten by a giant moth.

Besides that, the basic premise was that this malevolent entity, or ‘Ancient Evil’ (which for the purposes of conciseness I shall call ‘Nigel’) killed off a town-full of people. It turns out that Nigel was responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs, as well as ancient Mayans, and it was about to kill the human race.

Nigel does this by absorbing and assimilating living things. So when it has absorbed a person, Nigel takes on all their knowledge and memory – even dreams. The more Nigel absorbs, the more it learns, and gets more powerful. Like a really big tapeworm, according to Dr. Timothy Flyte, played by Peter O'Toole.

There seem to be one or two issues arising from this. Early on, for example, Affleck’s character sees the phantom of a boy in a wardrobe, holding a gun. It transpires that his big secret is that he killed a young boy who he thought was holding a gun, but it turned out to be a toy.

This is all well and good as a reason for being demoted from the FBI to a small town called Snowfield. However, Nigel never absorbed our man Affleck, so how would it know this? It doesn’t seem to make sense in the internal logic of the film.

Another issue is the special effects of the film. When Nigel finally made himself visible for the final showdown, it is very obviously computer-generated, which hurts my suspension of disbelief. The ending is also rather the anti-climax.

It’s very nice that Affleck can confront his demons and move on, but the fact that it seemingly took so little to kill Nigel after all their earlier attempts is questionable. Koontz takes the easy way out by reintroducing Wargle (now an avatar for Nigel) in a new town, suggesting that Nigel never dies. This is a bit of a cop-out if you ask me.

Still, what is there works. The suspense is built well, with some delayed pay-off forcing the viewer out of complacency. The cheap shocks are as well-worked as one would expect from someone as experienced in the arts as Koontz.

Apart from the above issues, the film works, in terms of the setting and the sense that our protagonists are, for the most part, powerless against Nigel. Until they start making plans for him, at any rate…

This is recommended to fans of the horror genre, as it plays well on a lot of fears, such as the unknown, abandonment and, err, decapitation. The scares are varied from slow-build to noisy, frenzied attacks and at no point does it drag. Probably not one to watch more than once though.

17 November 2005

Rest in Peace, Eddy Guerrero

So, Eddy’s dead. Being a wrestling fan for years, I had grown not really ‘used’, but slightly desensitised to the passing on of professional wrestlers. With few exceptions, though, it had been either really old stars or the worryingly increasing trend of wrestlers I watched as a kid about fifteen years ago.

They would be people like ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Hennig, the ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith, Michael Hegstrand (Hawk from Legion of Doom), or the Big Boss Man, Ray Traylor. These were all people I grew up with, people I was watching when I was ten years old. When they died, I was very saddened, as it’s like a part of your childhood is scarred.

This was different.

Eddy was (and the past tense still seems weird) a current star. He was WWE champion last year, and has consistently been the best performer in the company for the past few years. Mention had been made in the past twelve months of his need to get time off, as his body and mind were under strain to the extent that he was ailing. So he was pulled from the main event scene, but continued to perform.

Truth be told, I haven’t been watching the wrestling this year. A combination of poor writing and generally mediocre performers had turned me off, but I always paid attention to what Eddy was doing. He could be relied upon to bring the goods.

With experience in many different styles of pro-wrestling, from the Mexican Lucha heritage of his youth, through the realistic Japanese style to the more exaggerated, storytelling American method. By the end of his career, he was at a stage where he could incorporate all manner of influences into his performance. Not only did he excel in the ring, but the portrayal of his character outside the ring was also brilliant. He had a way of drawing audiences into his character with his mic. Work, and his interviews and promos were always either as entertaining or affecting as he intended.

Whether it was the 2002 ‘heel’ Eddy recounting how he regained his once lost ‘Latino-ism’, blasting The Rock in an incredibly venomous encounter, or his sympathetic ‘baby-face’ work (which encompassed anything from comedy work with his nephew Chavo to emotive monologues about overcoming the demons of drugs), Eddy was invariably the highlight of any given show.

It was these ‘demons’ which haunted Eddy throughout his life. As with most professional wrestlers, life on the road was hard for Eddy and he sought solace in drink and various other substances. His addictive personality meant these substances became more than merely recreational. His issues were so severe that he was released from his contract with the then World Wrestling Federation.

Over time, he managed to deal with these issues, became a religious man and, now clean, was allowed back into the WWF fold. I only started really appreciating him when he returned to the company in 2002. I remember he entered the arena during a Rob Van Dam match and I instinctively cheered for him. My friend who was new to wrestling and had only seen Eddy’s storylines with the infamous Chyna wondered what the fuss was about, and then following their ensuing matches he knew precisely why I popped. Eddy was just bloody brilliant.

I loved that heel Eddy of spring-summer 2002. He was so cold-blooded and entertaining. I especially loved when he teamed up with long-time friend Chris Benoit, who was returning from a neck injury.

Once they united I knew I was in for a treat on my TV that year. That, to me, was what wrestling was all about. They did numbers on people on Raw (like the 45-second match with Bubba in July), and the peak of that ‘evil’ persona was a challenge of then-WWE Undisputed Champion, The Rock.

Rock was doing one of his usual promos, and Eddy interrupted him. It was this interruption that showed me Eddy was now a force on the mic., and the ensuing promo was even immortalised in a SmackDown game. Eddy described how he was tucking his kids into bed, and noticed that along with a picture of their hero (Eddy Guerrero) was a 'poster! Of the Rock!'. So, with increasing anger and insanity, Eddy recounted how he took that poster down, ripped it up, 'AND I BURNED IT~!'.

Rock took umbrage to that, and they had a non-title match, which ruled about as much as a 10-minuter can. The stipulation was that if Eddy won, he would get a title shot. As Eddy lost, I was disappointed I wouldn't get a 20-minute main event match. That disappointment wasn't to last long, as Eddy was destined for even better things. I went crazy when he and Benoit turned up on SmackDown the next week. As that was the same time as Lesnar and Rey debuting on the show, I was stoked.

The angle they had at that time, running interference for Steph was gold. I shall never forget the show when they kept battering people randomly. I think Lesnar called out Rock, and they attacked him on the aisle. Another time that show, the cameras cut to the traditional 'superstar enters the building', and it was Edge. Fair enough, I thought, but then Eddy and Benoit blitzed him. That, of course, set up the brilliant tag match, and Eddy would later carry Edge to the best matches of his career.

Following these matches, Eddy started teaming with his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr. as a team they were great, as they were not only extremely proficient wrestlers, but their characters complemented each other perfectly, and they had an engaging ‘Lie, cheat and steal’ gimmick. While they were ostensibly bad guys, or ‘heels’, they were starting to garner audience support, and this trend was due to continue for the rest of his life.

When the team was curtailed due to an injury to Chavo, Eddy teamed with Tajiri, another excellent wrestler. At one point, Eddy turned on Tajiri, ‘injuring’ him on the low rider car they drove to the ring. However, rather than boo, the people cheered.

Eddy gave a sarcastic apology for his actions the following week, and the audience lapped it up – finally the masses were realising what the ‘hardcore’ fans had known for years. Eddy could do no wrong.

Even when feuding with hot young stars such as John Cena, Eddy was always the fan favourite. And it was in this context that he was also having great matches - with everyone. He was having classics with wrestlers who were good anyway, like Rey Misterio. In fact, they had a very emotional feud for months.

Another big feud was his 2004 programme with John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield. Layfield was a wrestler who had never main evented before, and few saw that potential in him. But it was Eddy who suggested John be given a shot, and so they worked with each other for months. The feud resulted in some of the greatest matches in company history (specifically a bloodbath at May’s Judgement Day), but also showed the fans that Layfield was a main event-calibre performer. And it took Eddy for all of that to happen.

So, to think that Eddy has been cut down at his very prime is the heartbreaker. He had turned his life around for his wife and children. He had kicked the substance abuse to the kerb, and reached the pinnacle of his powers. He was touching people the world over, from his family to his legions of fans, and even changed the lives of those wrestlers around him.

While it is often the case for people to wax nostalgic about a fallen peer, and to wear those rose-tinted spectacles, it was literally the case that everyone liked Eddy. And the fact that he was found lifeless in his hotel room, just when it seemed life was on course for him, is utterly tragic.

However, while the physical Eduardo Guerrero is at an end, his soul and memory will live on for generations. Those who knew him, and those who were just fans will look back on Eddy with love, for he was one of the very best performers of his time.
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