Sunday, December 12, 2010

War of the Worst

Skyline (2010)

Many, if not most, artists get their start by copying the work of professionals. Cartoonists trace comic books and comic strips before trying their hand at creating their own characters and settings. Young filmmakers using Super 8 film or the family camcorder re-create scenes from their favorites movies in their backyards, i.e. the Raiders of the Lost Ark truck chase, but with Indy on a bike riding up to Dad’s old Toyota pick up.

Skyline, directed by visual effects supervisors “The Brothers Strauss,” is stuck squarely, and amateurishly, in the “recreate scenes from favorite movies” mode.

The story, if you want to call it that, concerns a group of Pretty (mostly) Young Things who are stuck in a fancy Marina Del Rey, California high-rise condo when aliens attack the earth over a three day period. Two of the young things - Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson)- are from out of town. They party one night with Jarrod’s bud, Turk from Scrubs (Donald Faison, playing Terry), and his shrill gf played by Brittany Daniel, and wake up the next morning to the alien invasion. And you thought YOUR hangovers were bad.

There are two huge problems with this movie. One, none of the characters is very likable, especially Balfour, who just comes across as distant the whole film, even when he should be intimate with his pregnant girlfriend. Seriously, there is no one in the cast we care about or root for. Two - and it’s a big one - there is no story here. None. Aliens attack and our cast spends most of the time in the condo opening and closing the blinds, wondering what to do. I kid you not, they do this so much that the blinds manufacturer should have received a co-producer credit.

In the Spielberg/Cruise War of the Worlds remake, Cruise’s character Ray is trying to reconcile with his kids when the aliens attack. They go on the run with Ray doing whatever it takes to protect his family. In Skyline, Jarrod and Terry have the bright idea to leave their girlfriends and the relative safety of the condo to explore the roof’s helipad. Why? There’s no rescue or escape via that route. They do this stupid move simply so that the movie can show the giant alien ships in the distance and, later, a giant alien monster thing clambering up to the top for a silly action beat. Characters do things so they can get to the next effects shot; nothing is ever done to advance any sort of story or plot point.

It’s like the whole movie was put together from a visual effects “sizzle reel” where there were a bunch of “cool” shots, but when they tried to shoehorn in those shots to make a logical story, the thing falls apart.

The movies that Skyline rips off are blatantly obvious, from Independence Day, to War of the Worlds, to The Matrix, without adding one single spin or fresh idea to any of them. The whole point of this movie was simply to set things up for a sequel at the end.

Skyline is so bad, so inept I predict it will sweep the annual Razzie Awards for Worst Movie next year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Put this dull beast out of our misery

Predators (2010)

Predators is the worst kind of sequel, one which simply regurgitates the first entry in the series and wants a generous pat on the back for doing so.

The original Predator (1987) concerned a group of Special Forces types led by Arnold Schwarzenegger with all his late 80s charisma in full effect, as they navigate a treacherous jungle on a mission. The tables are quickly turned as these mercenary predators find themselves the prey of a hunter - one from outer space. It was a Rumble in the Jungle like none other with larger than life figures like Arnold, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura, all machismo ("Ain't got time to bleed!"), rippling muscles, and cigars as big as loaves of French bread. Predator was directed by action maestro John McTiernan who went on to helm Die Hard (1 and 3) and The Hunt for Red October.

Predators is produced by Austinite Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimrod Antal, the script was written by Michael Finch and Alex Litvak, reportedly from an earlier story idea by Rodriguez. This “original” story concerns dropping (here, literally by parachute) Special Forces types, led by Adrien Brody, into a treacherous jungle where they find themselves the prey of alien hunters. Like Predator, the Predators cast is multi-racial. Like Predator, Predators has a lone female member. I can hear Rodriguez saying “homage” but I call bullshit.

The writers’ big idea was to make the soldiers multi-national, instead of from just one country’s army; they are pulled from hot spots all over our world (Russia, Sierra Leone, Israel, etc.). The problem is, not one member of this group "pops" or is memorable in any way (neither the actors, or the characters). They’re bland ciphers, just waiting to be killed off.

I believe a much better angle would have been to have the characters be from different time periods: a feudal-era samurai warrior, a Clint Eastwood-esque cowboy from the 1870s, a Viking, a Special Forces merc, and, at this stage in the sequel game, throw in at least one EXTRA-TERRERSTRIAL soldier to boot. Predators and Aliens have already clashed, so introducing time travel and other intelligent E.T.s into the mix is the next logical step. That would be a real motley crew, a dirty half-dozen of the best human (and non-human) warriors to go up against the Predators.

The major deviation from the original is that this story is set in the jungle of an alien planet, apparently the game preserve of the Predator species. McTiernan shot in Mexico, while Antal has to make due with Hawaiian locations. After Avatar, which created an alien world from the ground (and blades of grass) up, it seems pretty lazy for filmmakers to go to familiar locations like a tropical jungle and call them “alien.” The exotic swamp world of Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back was built on a soundstage, in the Star Wars prequels they created green screen CGI shots of exotic and bizarre worlds, which is what Avatar did. I’m sorry, but the jungles of Hawaii are not alien enough. To add insult to injury, at one point a character recognizes a particular poisonous plant. My question is, HOW COULD HE HAVE RECOGNIZED A POISONOUS EARTH PLANT ON AN ALIEN PLANET THOUSANDS OF LIGHT-YEARS AWAY? And do NOT say the Predators brought the plants with them. That would be beyond stupid.

This is the type of movie that really raises my ire: stupid, pointless, uninspired, and boring. It’s a sequel/remake similar to what Rodriguez did with his second film Desperado, which was a bigger-budgeted sequel that was essentially a remake of his first micro-budget film El Mariachi. But while Desperado improved on the original by casting Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek (professional actors with real charm and personality who "popped" from the screen) and ramping up the action and mayhem, Predators fails at every turn with a dull cast (seriously, you do NOT go from Schwarzenegger to Adrien Brody unless there is a real character to play - see Robert Patrick in T2 for how to play the strong/lean silent type), lifeless characters, and standard cookie cutter action scenes. Rent the original Predator instead.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Great Movie and a Movie That Grates

Toy Story 3 and The Last Airbender (both 2010)

I recently had the opportunity to sit through a double-bill of two blockbuster movies released in theaters this year. Both had large budgets, veteran film-making crews, and audiences familiar with the tales. But where one was a magical journey involving a makeshift family, the other was a loud, ugly mess. The movies I’m speaking of are The Last Airbender and Toy Story 3 (guess which was the ugly mess).

It was very informative to watch these two films back to back. Where Airbender got everything wrong, Toy Story 3 got it right. The Toy Story movies have always benefited from the lead voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, as Cowboy Sheriff Woody and spacey spaceman Buzz Lightyear, respectively. Unlike the casting decisions of other animated movies, Hanks and Allen were not cast simply for their marquee value, but because they were perfect for these characters. The voice actors for all the other toy characters are spot on as well. In Toy Story 3, I was surprised it was Ned Beatty breathing life into Lotso, the huggable bear with less than huggable intentions, but he was the right choice.

Airbender, which is based on a popular Nickolodeon cartoon series, is set in mystical countries with a heavy Asian bent, but all the main (child) characters are Caucasian. In the beginning, we see an Eskimo-like village where all the elderly people appear to be Inuit, but the adolescent lead actors – a pair of which come from this very same village – are all white kids who looked like they took a bus from the local galleria. The characters in the original cartoon are all Asian, but you can see the studio execs saying, “We don’t feel Asian actors would carry the movie in most major markets, so all the good kids need to be Caucasian, mmm-kay?” It’s at this point that writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan should have quickly removed himself from the movie.

Toy Story 3 tells a simple enough story: the little boy Andy is now grown up and heading off to college. What will happen to all his old toys? Will they be disposed of with the garbage, tossed in an old box in the family attic, or perhaps given away to a kid or kids who will play with them? Airbender tells us there are four nations who control the elements of fire, water, earth and air. We see each nation has helpfully color-coded itself so we can tell them apart from one another (the fire nation wears red, the water nation blue, etc). There is the mystical chosen one who can control all four elements, so everyone wants this dude. The trouble is they found a martial artist for the lead (Noah Ringer), instead of an actor. This kid is terrible (which shows you how good Haley Joel Osment was in The Sixth Sense under the guidance of the same filmmaker, Shyamalan).

I’m just going to say it: The Last Airbender is a stupid movie. If the lead kids were terribly interesting actors that might have helped to elevate the thing, but the fact is they were all flat and unappealing. They all looked like they would comfortably fit on any Disney Channel series. Jackson Rathbone, who played Sokka, the young Han Solo/Madmartigan-wannabe NEVER blinked his eyes. It was unnerving at first, then annoying, then just totally silly (it was suggested a drinking game be centered on his unblinking peepers). I never once believed in any of these characters. I was watching actors act (unlike, say, in the Harry Potter series where all the characters are so vividly brought to life).

The scenes of characters “bending” or manipulating the elements were laughable. Apparently to control the elements you have to do a ton of martial arts flourishes – basically a lot of shadow boxing. With all the different styles of martial arts out there, you’d think that perhaps each element would have its own style: something extremely fluid for water, short quick movements for fire, and something “heavy” (or at least less fluid) for earth. This was not the case as each bender seemed to be doing the same flourishes for their respective element.

Toy Story 3 showed us that by keeping the story and characters first and foremost on everyone’s mind, the third outing for a franchise need not be a dull retread. I liked that it was a simple story – apparently one idea for TS3 was that the toys go to China or Hong Kong to save a malfunctioning Buzz. That sounds like something any studio would do, but Pixar wisely jettisoned that idea and kept things close to home (literally and figuratively). They kept the main group of Andy’s toys, but added a few new key characters in Lotso and Ken (Michael Keaton, doing an outstanding job as the lone male action figure in a line of girl’s toys). They even managed toss in an homage to Cool Hand Luke's infamous "spends a night in the box" speech!

That’s not to say Toy Story is all talk and emotions. There are some great action sequences, including a conveyor belt scene that was top notch in terms of pacing, but it also packed an emotional punch.

The Last Airbender left me annoyed and angry that I’d wasted 2 hours watching another failed big budget studio fantasy effort. Toy Story 3 made me laugh and smile and even brought a tear to my eyes at the end, so this double bill wasn’t all bad.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks to All Our Readers

Disclaimer: Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dullest Ninja Movie EVER

Ninja Vengeance (1988)

A blond-haired "ninja" gets into trouble in Redneck Town, USA and quickly goes on the lam. (Someone explain to me how going on the run and not wanting to fight equals “vengeance?”)

How do we know this guy is a ninja? From the contents of his nap sack, of course, which includes throwing stars, some rope, a thing that looks like a flute, some more throwing stars, oh, and two books on ninjas and ninjutsu. The fact that they are two PAPERBACK books clues us in his training was first rate.

This movie could easily have been titled, “Ninja Pamphlet” as it constantly flashes back to our ninja Chris Mason’s (Craig Boyett, who looks more like John Tesh than Chuck Norris) training on the beach by some white bearded sensei (Stephen K. Hayes) who drones on about important martial arts messages such as the way of the ninja, the concept of yin and yang, and the best dim sum joints in town. He’s like a very mellow Tony Robbins.

The town locals are all KKK-carrying racist goofballs, who are often hilariously over-dubbed in crowd scenes (seriously, I've never heard "Git 'em!" so many times in one movie). Led by a corrupt sheriff and his son, Jesse the deputy (David Paul Lord), the rednecks kill a young black student Mike Washington (Frederick Phillips) who is friends with Sam (Janet Pawlak) the white idealistic town cutie who dreams of better things than being a KKK bride to Jesse. The triple Ks frame ninja Chris who tried to stop Mike's beatdown, so he dons his cross trainers and, with Sam in tow, goes running in the woods. And they run some more. And run a little more. And, yes, even some more. I think the woods put up the majority of funding for this flick.

I have to say this: Janet Pawlak, who is a cutie despite her nearly-up-to-her-armpits 80s jeans, runs with all the grace of a coked up orangutan. Seriously, it’s distracting. When she briefly clambers over a tree branch, it was one of the most graceless movements I have ever witnessed a human being perform. Maybe it's the jeans' fault.

The fight scenes are, without a doubt, some of the most inept I have ever witnessed. Lord and Boyett may have black belts but they have no idea of how to fight for the camera, and director Karl Armstrong doesn’t know the first thing about staging a movie fight. Also decent "chop socky" fight sound effects might have helped sell some of this mess, but those were also absent.

The judo flips in the old Charlie’s Angels series were much more convincing. Speaking of which, Boyett appears to have invented the shoulder roll (don't tell William Shatner or Robert Conrad -- two guys who had mastered that move -- about this) -- at least that's what you would think after watching him do that move eight or nine times in the movie, whether he is fighting or not. In fact, after he checks into his motel early in the movie, he goes out for a little exercise and meditation in the park and the first thing he does is a shoulder roll! For NO apparent reason!

Pretty much everyone in the cast is a non-actor. Boyett, here in his first and only movie credit, makes me long for the early days of Chuck Norris. Norris was never much of an actor either, but he at least had presence (and a cool beard). Boyett is beyond bland, and quite beardless.

"Bland" pretty much sums up this nutty ninja caper.

Now, the end credits had something I've never seen before. They credit the group of people at the KKK rally as "Ku Klux Klan members," which is fine, but a group of black people who show up to confront the Klan are credited under the heading, "Blacks." OMG, right?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

He's Coming For You!

Another Halloween treat on tap for you, the great undead funk band Here Come the Mummies performing "Attack of the Weiner Man" on the always awesome Bob and Tom Show.

Dig those mummified horns, man.

Trick and Treat

As the great orator Porky Pig once uttered, "Happy Halloween, you thing from another world, you!"

Here's a look at Star Trek's one and only - and thank goodness and Gorns for that - Halloween episode, "Catspaw." So load up on the candy corn, gummi worms and Snickers Bars and check out the Halloween shenanigans of Capt. Kirk and company as they go up against the goofiest pipe cleaner aliens you will ever see.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dig it.



Disclaimer: Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Warm up to this solid little thriller

Frozen (2010)

Alfred Hitchcock did it with Lifeboat and Vincenzo Natali with Cube. What these two directors did is set their stories in one very confined space (a lifeboat in the former and a cube-like prison in the latter). Now, writer/director Adam Green sets his story in the great snowy outdoors, but confines his main characters – a trio of college kids on a weekend getaway – to a ski lift chair 40 feet above the ground.

What could have been merely a “stunt” or "high concept" movie turns out to be a solid little thriller, thanks to the time spent at the beginning getting to know our heroes: Kevin Zegers as Dan, Emma Bell as his new girlfriend Parker, and Shawn (Iceman in the X-Men movies) Ashmore as Dan’s best bud Joe.

They not annoying jerks as is often the case with 20-somethings in horror/thrillers, but regular people, especially Joe, who meets a cute co-ed on the slopes and even gets her number, which he tries not to forget even when things go bad. Our trio wanted to make one last run down the slopes before it shuts down for the night, but through a series of believable mishaps, they get stuck halfway up the mountain. They don’t descend into Lord of the Flies territory, but the guys and girl start sniping at one another in a believable fashion; their attempts to extricate themselves from their harrowing predicament are also quiet plausible.

One thing the movie gets right is to increase the problems for the trio. The filmmakers don't simply confine them to the stuck chair lift; Green throws in frostbite scares, a storm, hungry wolves, steel cables which will shred your hands, and more; the tension increases as we go along, which is something the recent film Monsters desperately needed (that movie was simply "stuck in a chair lift").

For a lower budgeted movie, they made sure they got a decent camera/equipment package, including a crane to swoop around the chairlift (shot on a real mountainside), so if our characters cannot move, at least the camera can. The performances are mostly solid, with Ashmore being the standout of the three, and Bell being the weakest.

I have yet to see Adam Green’s other films, primarily Hatchet and the just-released Hatchet II, but if he brings the same creativity, fun and energy to those films as he did to Frozen, then they herald the arrival of a talented new filmmaker to the tired Hollywood scene.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Keep This Nightmare Off Your Street - and TV Screens

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Freddy Krueger (referred to as “Fred Krueger” in the movie) returns in a wasteful, useless remake. THANKS MICHAEL BAY!

This is the kind of production that gives remakes/reboots a bad name. As in the original 1984 Nightmare, Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) is not a wisecracking goofball (that came in the later sequels and TV series), but rather a more sinister figure. The make up looks more like a real burn victim’s than the plastic pizza face worn by original Freddy Robert Englund.

This movie features many of the original film’s more famous beats or set pieces: the bladed-glove in the tub, the girl being flung up the walls of her bedroom, and Freddy’s face peering out from the wallpaper. These nods only made me appreciate the low budget, pre-CGI-era original. For example, the wallpaper was made of latex in 1984, now it’s all just obvious digital effects. Since the characters use cell phones, they didn’t try to recreate the memorable scene where the phone’s mouthpiece becomes Freddy’s lecherous tongue.

The cast is uniformly unmemorable, with actors Rooney Mara (taking over for Heather Langenkamp), Kyle Gallner, Kellan Lutz (one of those high school kids who looks 30 yrs old), and Thomas Dekker turning in forgettable performances. Mara appears in The Social Network and the upcoming remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She has a presence that is not fully utilized here; she’s the best thing in the movie, but that’s damning it with faint praise. I blame writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, director Samuel Bayer (a music vid director making his feature film debut) and producer Bay (who has already crapped on/out the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and Hills Have Eyes reboot movies). Haley was an inspired choice for Krueger but since they do nothing new with the character or this story, what is the point?

Another thing that truly stuck out is the movie’s principal dream/nightmare location of a rusting industrial factory is spectacularly unimaginative, especially in the same year that saw the release of Inception, another movie dealing with dreams. The “steam and flame” (thanks, Roger Ebert) factory setting in the ’84 Nightmare could be forgiven as it was a low budget effort. But 26 years later, it’s pathetic to do a remake and set it in the same goofy setting, which every other low budget (and big budget) shoot ‘em up has used as a location (see Terminator 1 and 2, Cobra, Space Mutiny, and every other Golan-Globus cheapie action pic). The scenes of a hellish Los Angeles in the movie Constantine would seem to be more appropriate for a true nightmare. Oh, well, there’s always the obligatory Nightmare sequel…

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Non Event

Any of you been watching The Event, the much hyped (perhaps over hyped) new NBC series? I’ve watched the first three episodes and I am so far extremely not impressed.

After watching the pilot episodes of Lost, Heroes and FlashForward, I was instantly hooked on those shows. Those characters (except for Joseph Fiennes and his goofy Drinky the Crow FBI agent) and those particular stories had me glued to the tube (at least until Heroes seriously went bad in the second season onward, and Lost was spinning its wheels from the middle of season two to mid season three). The Event, which deals with non-terrestrial people (are they alien, or what?) and a conspiracy (or two) involving our government simply hasn’t popped for me.

None of the actors or characters seems to stand out. Lead Jason Ritter is like any other handsome young actor. His presence and his character have elicited a big “so what” shrug so far. His gf, played by Sarah Roehmer, is pretty but not much else (remember how you first felt about Evangeline Lilly in that first season of Lost?). Blair Underwood - who has honestly never impressed me - as the Prez doesn’t seem the least bit presidential (see Dennis Haysbert on 24 for someone with presidential presence).

I’m just waiting for something to happen. Even the big moment (I won’t spoil it here) at the end of the first episode wasn’t as cool as it should have been. Perhaps it is the characters, or perhaps the odd storytelling method of constantly flash-backing that left me cold. Sure I wanted to know what happened and how it happened but I wasn't pulled into the story.

With its flat cast and unengaging storyline, I don’t think The Event will last long enough for them to reveal what the Event is.

Here there be Monsters

Monsters (2010)

I recently watched through VOD (Video-On-Demand) the long-anticipated movie Monsters, from first time writer/director Gareth Edwards. The film is due in theaters on October 29, 2010.

Edwards set blogs ablaze the last several months with clips of his first feature film and the knowledge that he was doing it all for a budget around $15,000, making him the 21st century’s new Robert Rodriguez (Edwards also served as credited production designer, cinematographer and visual effects supervisor).

With fingers crossed we sat down to watch this film, the story of a man and a woman forced to trek across Central America and Mexico – an area infested with dangerous alien creatures - to make their way back home to the United States. Call it Planes, Trains and Automobiles Meets The Mist (By Way of Cloverfield).

A prologue tells us that we discovered life in our solar system, but when we sent a space probe to collect samples and return to Earth, it broke up over Central America and the alien life forms started to spread, not just outward, covering the area, but upward as well: they appear to be 200 feet tall fully grown.

The story follows a photographer, Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), who is still trying to get that one great shot of the creatures that will win him the cover of a major magazine and propel him to the big leagues. He’s forced by the owner of the magazine he works for to play chaperone for the boss’s daughter, Sam (Whitney Able). His new assignment: get her out of Central America and safely back to the U.S.

For $15,000 this is an outstanding film; it looks good, sounds good and the visual effects – apparently created with off the shelf software (Adobe AfterEffects, etc) on a standard pc – are amazing. But the story is flat and the characters not defined enough.

In Monsters, the adversities the couple faces always seem to be on the same level, perhaps due to the low budget. Instead of building to a boiling point the movie just keeps a slow simmer and never gets any hotter. When their plans for Sam to take a ferry boat home collapse, they are forced to travel by car through the infected zone. But this is where the movie trips up. They build up the zone as so dangerous nobody can make it through. However the movie goes out of its way to paint a “life goes on” picture – even though there are giant monsters lumbering about behind hundred foot tall fences and fighter jets and helicopters constantly streaking across the skies, people will be people, so you have to have a roof over your head, you gotta feed your kids, there are still festivals to put on and attend - you have to mourn the dead, but still celebrate life.

I come back to Planes, Trains and Automobiles: each calamity forced those characters to further bang their heads together and examine their lives. It wasn’t enough that they had to share a single bed in a motel room, but then that room was broken into and they had their cash and credit cards stolen (which figures into a later scene). And then of course, they wake up the next morning in each other’s arms (one of the most famous scenes in modern comedy history).

It’s not much of a spoiler but at the end Kaulder and Sam have feelings for each other, but this story didn’t justify how they got there. Kaulder never really stood up and did anything heroic – he didn’t grab a gun and start shooting the monsters when their mercenary guides were killed. He didn’t have any special knowledge or know how that got them out of a tight jam. They were just a passive couple on a somewhat dangerous journey together.

This is a movie that wannabe (and veteran) filmmakers should watch for the technical aspects. I absolutely applaud Gareth Edwards and his two-man crew on what they were able to accomplish (I imagine 15 grand doesn't even cover lunch for a day on a Michael Bay picture). But the simple fact of the matter is you would need to look elsewhere for a more compelling story.

Friday, October 8, 2010

TGIF!



Disclaimer: Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Prehistoric Fantasy At Its Worst

10,000 B.C. (2008)

Let me ask you a question – have you seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Patriot, Braveheart, and Hanna Barbera’s Dino Boy (scroll to 26 seconds if you want your eyes to melt)? If so, there’s pretty much no reason to waste your time with director Roland Emmerich’s latest empty-headed blockbuster, 10,000 B.C.

Emmerich is a master of visual effects (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow), but still a padawan learner as far as story and characters. Here he and co-writer Harald Kloser crib from so many obvious sources that a new Drinking Game should be made for this movie: you take a shot whenever you yell out whichever movie he is ripping off. At 35 minutes into this dreck, you’d need to call an ambulance to take you to a hospital to pump your stomach.

To begin, there is a bone-headed narration provided by Omar Shariff, that simply states EVERYTHING that is going on onscreen. Did Emmerich think this overly-lifted plot too complicated for his regular viewers?

The story follows a group of Stone Age mammoth hunters, centering on D’Leh (Steven Strait), whose father, a great hunter and leader, up and left one day and never returned. They should have known something was amiss when he said he was just going for “a pack of cave-smokes.” D’Leh has the hots for a blue-eyed girl, Evolet (Camilla Belle) who is the last survivor of her tribe and comes into the care of his people. The resident old lady shaman declares her to be the wife of whoever becomes the tribe’s new hunter/leader.

Evolet is captured by a tribe of horsemen from what appears to be hundreds of thousands of years of evolution ahead of the fur-wearing mammoth hunters. There must be a wormhole loose in the mountains as the story opens in the Stone Age, but then these goofballs – with obviously modulated voices that make them sound exactly like the dudes in Star Gate – ride in to the movie and they have clothing and metalwork which is from a much later period in history. Of course, to confuse things, the movie throws in a mention of Atlantis and even aliens, and ends in Ancient Egypt, pyramids and everything, so all of Emmerich’s favorite “motifs” are here (not only does he rip off other movies, but his own as well).

There is not one interesting or memorable lead character in this story. D’Leh could have been played by any hunky male actor from any show on The CW network. Camilla Belle is certainly no Raquel Welch. With such a fantasy setting shouldn’t you cast actors who pop off the screen and have personality? The heads of the tribes who band with D’Leh are much more interesting, but they are only minor characters.

Admittedly there is some beautiful scenery on display here, with amazing craggy mountain regions shot in New Zealand, Zambia and South Africa, but after The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all those aerial shots of our questing heroes running across said ranges – and there’s a lot - just brings to mind that better set of films. Many of the CGI creatures – especially the sabertooth tiger and the “terror birds” (raptors crossed with ostriches) – look extremely fake.

All the posters feature D'Leh staring down a sabertooth tiger. Here's an idea: since all this is just a bunch of comic book-flavored hooey, why not have the tiger "bond" with D'Leh (a la Marvel Comics Ka-Zar and his prehistoric tiger Zabu) after he saves its furry butt from a lethal trap and have ol' saber-face join D'Leh in his battle to save the girl and bring down the bad guy. It would have made the final battles much more fun.

There is also too much mumbo jumbo at work too. It’s one thing to have a cliched prophesy to fulfill in a story but to just introduce magical elements because you don’t know what else to do is just lame (I’m talking about the ending in particular). For a much more fun time overall, rent One Million Years B.C., a time when Raquel Welch knew how to fill out a fur bikini (and Ray Harryhausen knew how to put amazing and thrilling dinosaur special effects action on the screen).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Shear Advice


Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended with this parody. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Last One Out, Turn Off the Lights

Star Trek - "Turnabout Intruder"

Oh, how the mighty have (or had) fallen. This final episode of the Original Series "stinks on ice," to quote the great Mel Brooks.

Captain Kirk's bod is hijacked by a beyond-jealous ex-female friend named Janice Lester. She couldn't hack it at the Academy - perhaps it had something to do with her being bat-shit insane - and blamed all men, particularly Kirk for her predicament. So with the help of some kooky alien tech she finds on some planet, she swaps out the old katra (or whatever) with Kirk, leaving her in Kirk's BVDs and the captain wearing her Victoria's Secret collection.

Kirk starts acting...VERY strange: he starts filing his nails, issuing confusing orders (the Enterprise is apparently going all over the galaxy, proving "female" captains can't drive) and trying to get on Ellen. Why he didn't just put on a drag show is beyond me.

There's no place else to go with this goofy story than with a trial (I wonder if David E. Kelley of L.A. Law and The Practice/Boston Legal fame ever watched this episode - perhaps he saw it as a dry run for Denny Crane).

It's all unintentionally funny and a sad, sad way to end a series, any series. Shatner hams it up so much I imagine the entire sound stage smelled of bacon. Anyone who has ever done a Shatner impression has likely seen this episode. In fact, Shatner, as Lester, gesticulates so much that you could probably watch it with the sound off and still get what's going on.











Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended with this parody. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Vampire Movie With Dull Fangs

Daybreakers (2010)

Just because you have a new idea doesn’t mean you will have an interesting film.

Daybreakers posits that after a viral outbreak nearly everyone in the world has become a vampire. Humans – the vampires’ chief source of un-life sustaining blood – are on the verge of extinction.

Edward (not the sparkly ridiculously coiffed one from Twilight, here played by Ethan Hawke) is a blood specialist working for Bromley (Sam Neill). He has been working on a blood substitute to little success; meanwhile Bromley’s company runs a human “farm” which provides real blood to those who can pay (instead of Big Pharma, call it Big Blood). Edward is also a vampire with a conscience. He subsists on other-than-human blood, which is having a detrimental effect. Vampires who do not get real human blood on a regular basis “devolve” into what the movie calls “subsiders:” creatures with all the ugliest traits of the vampires but none of the charm (kind of like the post-Thanksgiving shoppers on Black Friday mixed with the monsters from The Descent).

Edward falls in with the beautiful Audrey (Claudia Karvan) and her band of human freedom fighters. He also hooks up with a man called Elvis (Willem Dafoe) who drives cool muscle cars and makes an interesting claim, which I won’t divulge.

The movie goes through great pains to integrate vampire sensibilities into our everyday culture: a homeless vampire’s cardboard sign reads “Will work for blood,” cars are designed for daytime driving with opaque windows and cameras and CCTVs, coffee stands sell coffee with “20% real blood,” TV ads tout the subwalk, an underground walkway/subway that enables the fanged to safely get around during the day. All this is basically meaningless as the movie never shows the “benefits” of being a vampire. The Lost Boys’s tagline was “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire.” Daybreakers show vampires as beat cops, baristas, research scientists, corporate CEOs, school kids, and members of the military. They’re all hard working citizens of Vampireville. They’re not cool-looking rock stars. They’re just regular folk. So what is the point? Why would you want to be a vampire and live “forever,” especially if your main source of food is nearly gone (Soylent Red, where are you)?

The movie is a modestly budgeted affair (approximately $20 million) from Australia’s Spierig Brothers, who helmed the ultra low budget Undead in 2003. There are a few “juicy” scenes where bodies and head and things go splat, which was a lot more fun than all the decapitations in The Wolfman. The movie looks slick enough, with photography by Ben Nott and production design by George Liddle, but the majority of the film is shot in a sickly grayish green hue. That look apparently started with The Matrix, and since that film is over ten years old, I call for an official moratorium on movies shot in that palate.

The story opens ten years after most of the world’s population grew fangs and lost their reflections, but as human beings have also steadily declined shouldn’t the world be more anarchic or post apocalyptic and less corporate-y – more Mad Max and less Gordon Gecko? Everything is too neat and tidy; it doesn’t feel real. I never once believed in the story, and if you don’t believe, just like the vamps have no reflection, you have no movie.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Woof. New Wolfman Movie is a Dog

The Wolfman (2010)

Even a filmmaker who is pure of heart
and calls his agent by night
may release a stinker
when the script is not right

This latest remake/reimagining/re-what-have-you, this time of the 1941 Universal Monsters classic The Wolf Man, is a long, bloated tired affair. It has terrific production design and photography - many scenes almost appear black and white - but I cared not one bit (or is that bite?) for the story and characters.

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) is an traveling stage actor estranged from his family, father Sir John (Anthony Hopkins, proving he will never get another Oscar nomination) and brother Ben (Simon Merrells). After Ben goes missing one foggy moonlit night, his fiancé Gwen (the luminous Emily Blunt) contacts Lawrence asking for his help. So Lawrence packs his tights and skull (he was playing Hamlet) and travels back to the old manse, with all its creepy vines, cobwebs and thousands of candles (Sir John must own a wax works factory).

Soon after he starts poking around the local Gypsy camp, Lawrence encounters the monster and is quickly bitten. Now he is—cursed! Hoooowwwwlllllll!

I wasn’t kidding that this is a very slow, deliberate movie. I wouldn’t have minded if that slowness was to build up toward the shocking moments, but that’s not the case. They pretty much show the werewolf in the first few minutes of the movie (way to build suspense). And then Wolfie keeps popping up in Larry’s dreams, so the director and his editor can splice in a split second image of the wolfman. After the third time this happened I gave up. There’s no real shocks or scares in the movie, so what’s the point of it all? The atmosphere is great, thanks to production designer Rick Heinrichs and some splendidly gothic English location work, and cinematographer Shelly Johnson, but if there is no story, I'd rather be looking at still pictures of all these amazing backdrops. One quibble is the constant ground level spotlights illuminating dark forests and such - where the frak is this light supposedly coming from? It's not from the full moon, and campfires don't cast beams like this. It simply draws attention to itself as an artificial means to create atmosphere; it's just silly.

The characters often stand around looking depressed, save for Hopkins and his occasional mad glint. The most interesting character is Singh (Art Malik), Sir John’s Sikh Indian servant. He comes across as a man who has seen a lot, perhaps too much, and is holding back on telling Lawrence something vitally important. The characters don't connect in this movie; they're all individuals living a solitary existence. Lawrence and Gwen eventually fall for each other, but the movie doesn’t convey their romance very well, which is a shame because the end of the movie kind of rests on that fact.

Joe Johnston, a veteran of George Lucas’ ILM visual effects company and director of such fun fare as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer and October Sky is an odd choice to direct a gothic monster movie, especially one with as much blood and decapitations as this one (I watched the unrated DVD). In a monster movie, the kills needs to be inventive, but that’s not the case here. I think any of the Friday the 13th movies had more creative whackings in them. I expect more from Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote Se7en, but perhaps co-writer David Self rewrote all the interesting murders leaving behind this dull stuff.

There is also a long chase across the London rooftops and it’s much ado about nothing, which is a pity coming from a director, who I believe, had a hand in storyboarding the legendary truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Computer Generated visual effects, especially involving the Wolfman, looked like CGI, which is a shame because when you hire a make up artist of Rick Baker’s caliber but you then go a route that has literally been trampled with pixels why hire Baker at all? He merely won an Oscar for one of the most memorable onscreen transformation sequences ever - and it was for An American Werewolf in London! Oh, irony. Who cares about another CGI morphing transformation sequence? When the CGI Wolfman figure starts running and leaping about it looks like an silly animated cartoon, which takes us out of the movie.

Watch the original Wolf Man or any of its sequels for a far better time.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Never Give Up, Never Surrender--Your Galaxy Quest Model Kits

Friend of the blog DC brought this to our attention: it's a model kit of the NSEA Protector from one of the greatest and funniest sci-fi films of all time, GALAXY QUEST.

Galaxy Quest is pretty much a perfect movie, with a terrific, even touching, story, amazing performances from the entire ensemble cast (Tim Allen! Sigourney Weaver! Alan Rickman! Missi Pyle! Sam Rockwell!), first-rate visual effects from ILM and make up from Stan Winston, and more quotable lines than any half dozen comedies.

It's obviously a gentle poke at Star Trek and its fans, but if you know nothing about Star Trek, the movie still works.

The Protector had to invoke the U.S.S. Enterprise, without simply ripping it off. (IMHO, they did a better homage than what ended up on-screen in the recent Star Trek reboot.) The horseshoe design holds up well.

And in addition to the Protector, they also have a sweet looking model kit of GQ's Nebulizer and Communicator. Perfect for that landing party mission with the miners. Or is it minors?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not Yet Famous Monsters

SlashFilm.com has a terrific look at a movie I am absolutely dying to see, called, simply enough, Monsters.

Former UK visual effects artist turned writer/director Gareth Edwards has made the movie on a budget that would make Robert Rodriguez proud: approximately $15,000. The movie is set a few years after giant monsters, mutated from life forms brought back from space, have set up shop across Central America, basically taking over much of Mexico. They're real, they're here, and the only way to deal with them so far is to quarantine the areas in which them lumber about and leave them alone. Two people, a journalist and a tourist, must make their way across this alien-infested forbidden zone to the safety of the United States border.

Edwards shows you what you can do with a "prosumer camera," Adobe AfterEffects on a home computer, and a lot of imagination and creativity (not to mention old-fashioned sweat).

Here's another link, again via SlashFilm.com, to a look at what Edwards was able to do for a one hour UK production on Attila the Hun. His visual effects work is first rate, and it makes you wonder where all the money goes in big budget effects-driven Hollywood movies like Clash of the Titans and Percy Jackson & the Olympians.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cuba Breaks Out A Zombie Comedy

First there was Dawn, then came Shaun, now there is Juan of the Dead!

Coming out of Cuba of all places, this movie looks like there is an actual story at work, and not simply a broad parody approach/rip off.

Horrorsquad.com
has the rundown and some video.

Cross your severed fingers that Juan of the Dead is a winner.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stick with The Third Kind

The Fourth Kind (2009)

“I’m actress Milla Jovovich. I play Dr. Abigail Tyler…”

With those words - heard at the start of the picture - I knew I was going to hate this movie. Instead of a simple card reading, “Based on a true story” or “Inspired by true events,” the filmmakers chose to play this goofy game by having its lead actress come out and say she’s an actress playing a character based on an actual person, but one whose name has been changed to protect her identity (you following this?).

The problem is it’s all a bald-faced lie. There is/was no Abigail Tyler, nor any of the other “real/pseudonymous” people “portrayed by actors” in this movie. It’s like the marketing department took over from the filmmakers. It’s a gimmick, and a badly thought out one at that. Moviegoers have seen enough footage on the news to know that shaky, videotaped scenes feel "real" or documentary-like, especially when compared to the the slick movie footage. But instead of clarifying things, all the onscreen titles and pronouncements merely come across as muddled and confusing, as if the filmmakers weren't sure of what they were telling.

It’s a simple enough tale of mysterious abductions in an Alaska town. Tyler, the town shrink, starts seeing similarities in the stories of disturbed patients, which leads her to believe – naturally for a trained, card carrying, diploma-on-the-wall psychologist – that aliens are abducting folks. I guess those anal probes go down better in cold climates?

The movie has tremendous fun with its audience by employing split screens showing the “actual” videotaped patient sessions with the movie’s “reenactments.” Also whenever a main cast member shows up in the movie, we get helpful titles like, “Will Patton: Actor, Portraying Sheriff Fred Gravy” or whomever. Egads. You just want to yell, "Stop it!" at the screen (which I did many times).

Someone tell me why the “actual videotape footage” of the “actual patients” always goes scrolling up into electronic gobbledygook just when things start to get interesting? I’m talking about patients levitating interesting. The aliens aren’t around. There are no implants we know of to interfere with the camera. The doctors all witnessed these levitations, but we’re denied the actual footage, even in the “fictionalized movie version,” not just the “actual videotape.”

It’s all just a big tease, leading to nothing. And who likes being teased in this manner?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You'd have to be crazy to watch Pandorum

Pandorum (2010)

In space no one can hear you yawn.

Pandorum is the latest riff on the “haunted house in space” theme, of which the movie Alien is still the finest example. Pandorum borrows that Ridley Scott movie’s dark, dirty, claustrophobic spaceship interiors, but not its sense of intelligence, pacing or creepy chills.

Right from the start, Pandorum throws a bunch of numbers at us (used to help confuse the viewer until the big “twist” at the end) that inform us that Earth’s population has grown over the decades, until it got so bad and over-crowded that humanity had to build a giant spaceship to send settlers to another world called Tanis.

It is on this ship, Elysium, where we find crewman Bower (Ben Foster) just awakening from hypersleep. In a goofy plot contrivance, Bower doesn’t remember details about their situation or mission – darn that extended hypersleep side effect! – and neither does Payton (Dennis Quaid), Bower’s c.o.

So Bower goes exploring, leaving Payton to monitor him from a computer terminal, and he soon runs into fast-moving, howling, shrieking creatures - that call to mind Mel Gibson whenever he's pulled over - and lucky for him, a couple of other human survivors, Nadia (Antje Traue) and Manh (Cung Le) who apparently learned kung fu ninja skills during the ship’s long voyage. They’ve been fighting off the creatures for some time now, which is hard to accept when in one scene the movie shows it takes all three of them to kill just one creature, which resists getting limbs chopped off and machete blows to the head that would have done Jason Vorhees proud.

Soon, Payton finds another crewman, Gallo (Cam Gigandet, from Twilight) and things get goofier from there. We have to figure out who is experiencing the Pandorum of the title, which is supposed to be a condition brought on by extended space travel, where a person goes bonkers, hallucinates, and tries to kill a bunch of space-folks.

I nodded off about half way through this sucker and had to continue watching it the next day. There is nothing new here really, and quite frankly, too many scenes recall Alien. At one point Bower is in a shaft and his position is represented on Payton’s console as a little pulsing light with a trails of dashes behind it, just like in the Dallas air shaft scene in Alien. You may say, “homage” but I say “boring rip off.”

The production design looks very industrial, but also not very interesting; everything looks like a grungy factory instead of the last spaceship "ark" humanity ever built. Once again, Alien did a far superior job with fantastic futuristic sets and grungy interiors. During several scenes in Pandorum I just kept thinking, “Why is this area of the ship SO HUGE; they’re wasting so much oxygen (especially if resources are so thin).”

Ben Foster was great in a supporting role in 3:10 to Yuma, and I liked him in X-Men 3, but he doesn’t impress me here as a leading man. Dennis Quaid seems a little looser than he did in G.I. Joe, which is a good thing. The other actors are fine, but the story is too thin and not scary at all, and like a bad M. Night Shyamalan film (which is his last three or four), the whole thing rests on the twist(s) at the end, which weren’t very interesting/plausible and the more you think about it the whole movie unravels even more.

And when you find out about the creatures running around on the ship, you don't go "Cool idea!" but "Come on, you're kidding, right?"

Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended with this parody. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Bark and No Bite


Twilight Saga – New Moon (2009)

Against my better judgment – which admittedly would fill the average thimble – I checked out the second installment of the “I Can’t Bear To Live My Life Without You” tween angst phenomenon that is Twilight: New Moon.

WHY DIDN’T ANYONE STOP ME?

I wonder if the filmmakers, or at least the studio honchos, ever said, “This will be OUR Empire Strikes Back” which might account for the bleak and depressing tone of this movie. But while Empire was a darker film in tone from the original Star Wars, it advanced the characters and story in every way possible. New Moon doesn’t do anything of the sort. And I kinda liked the original Twilight, as my review of that movie will attest. (I much preferred Buffy the Vampire Slayer's take on the teenage girl/vampire romance, but at least I wasn't bored watching Twi-1.)

In the sequel, we simply get scene after scene of Bella and Edward (Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson) glowering at each other. They don’t do much else. Their entire relationship is based on their obsession with each other. That’s it. I generally like Stewart, but she really annoyed me here with her non-personality. She appeared stunned through 90% of the movie, and I don't believe she ever really smiled either (come on, even Goth chicks smile once in a while).

In part two, we get Shirtless Boy Werewolf Boy (Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner, who HAD to have used steroids to get so big so fast). He’s the substitute obsession for Edward when our sparkly once-and-future bloodsucker racks up the frequent flier miles and ankles to Italy to hang with the vampire royal family. Or something. Lautner lets his muscles do all the acting, which is fine because he really cannot emote (but he can sure flex).

Edward’s absence leaves Bella to awake SCREAMING from nightmares for MONTHS ON END. You’d think after just a couple days of this, Bella’s pappy would have sent her to a therapist, but that is not the white man's way.

This movie is so dumb it hit the audience over the head with its Romeo y Juliet parallels BY HAVING THEM LEARNING ABOUT R & J IN SCHOOL, and even having Big Rob Pat recite some lines (by unbeating heart, natch).

The Empire Strikes Back upped the visual effects stakes of the first Star Wars. In New Moon, the bigger budget is used to make extremely fake looking CGI wolves the size of the average family sedan. The new CGI Yogi Bear looked more realistic.

This movie was simply way, way too long, with interminable stretches where NOTHING happens, except characters staring at each other (and often doing so in the rain - oooo, dramatic no? No.). I think Woody Allen should dub in a new dialogue track, as he did on What’s Up Tiger Lilly? This might be the only thing to save this movie from the scrapheap of history.


Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No Infringement of those rights is intended with this parody. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Come on in!

I just saw this new diorama from Sideshow Collectibles depicting Yoda's swanky (or is that swampy) pad on Dagobah.

I looks pretty neat, especially with the Luke and Yoda figures inside it (what, no R2-D2 peeking in).

The detail is amazing, with all the dishes, flatware, and odds and ends. But what really gets me is Yoda's FLOOR MAT at the entrance.

Although instead of "Welcome" it should read, "In you must come! Yes!"

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dis'n bombad deesgusting!

Jar Jar Binks Mega Mouth Candy.

It was an Episode I: The Phantom Menace tie-in from back in the day.

It was a very detailed Jar Jar Binks head, with his TONGUE thrusting out at you, and you sucked on that candy goodness.

It's all here in this Topless Robot article.

Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta go throw up. Lots.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hose me down

It's Friday, so that can only mean one thing: Slave Leia Car Wash!

You're welcome.


(Thanks to friend of the blog BW for pointing this one out.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Future's So Dim, Forget About Wearing Shades

Futureworld (1976)

SPOILERS (IN THE LAST PARAGRAPH)

I think I’ve found the dullest film in the world. It appears that someone simply took a documentary of Peter Fonda walking around various underground power plants (Wow, aren't these futuristic? Well, no.) and spliced that footage together with Blythe Danner to make Futureworld, a sequel of sorts to the far more fun and interesting Westworld (with Michael Crichton nowhere to be found).

Like Westworld, Futureworld takes place in the robot-filled “Disneyland for rich adults who want to bang/kill life-size human sex toys” called Delos, which is pronounced at least 12 different ways, included “De-loss,” “De-lows,” “Day-loss,” and “Woody.” (This reminded me of the Star Trek episode with Frank Gorshin as the half black/half white alien from the planet Charon, pronounced, “Cher-on,” Shu-ron,” and “Lois”.)

Peter Fonda stars as ace apparently drugged-out reporter Chuck. He appears to be on some serious downers as he has pretty much only one expression on his face throughout the whole movie. I think he thought he was going to be working with Yul Brynner the whole time, but that immediately fell through and Fonda became pissed the rest of the production. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Blythe Danner (yeah, Gwyneth Paltrow’s moms) is pretty and all, but she is a pretty terrible actress too; any number of other 1970s era actresses could have played her air-headed anchor woman character.

The movie is basically them stumbling around Delos for nearly two hours, like a couple of drunk college kids looking for their next kegger. Fonda doesn’t even know what he’s looking for, he just knows some dude who claimed to work for Delos was killed and his last words were, what else, “Delos.”

When our intrepid journos arrive at the resort, it looks like nothing so much as Logan’s Run: Part II, meaning it looks like the mall. There’s even a model city under plastic bubbles, like Logan’s Run. Come to think of it, Logan’s Run also had scenes set in underground power plants. Holy crap, this is almost a sequel-remake of Logan’s Run! Michael York would have been a much better choice to play Chuck the newshound, as he has more than one expression.

This is a very stupid movie, produced by the fine folks at cheapie-makers American International Pictures (MGM had made Westworld). Fonda and Danner do make it to Futureworld at one point; they do so by putting on spacesuits that look like giant quilted Snuggies. But unlike the first film, where much of the action centered on Westworld (with the two leads staying there as cowboys), as well as having Brynner's cowboy as a focus, Futureworld is not important to the story. In fact, they spend more time in Undergroundpowerplantworld than anywhere else. That's what they should have called the movie.

They showed some clips from Westworld, which must have been the most expensive single item of the production. Instead of dealing with the robots of Futureworld, Westworld, or any of the other worlds, the plot involves - SPOILERS AHEAD - making replicants of world leaders – “czars, generals, politicians and such” – that are controlled by the board of Delos to keep us from killing each other, blah, blah, blah.They would have been better served to simply make an original movie about replacing the world leaders with clone/replicant duplicates than to have all the Delos/Westworld baggage about the rampaging murderous robots from the first film. That is where the filmmakers went totally worng.

Model Mash Ups

We're big fans of Star Trek and Star Wars around the space station.

One thing we've always wondered about was what would the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek look like if it was detailed like one of the models - say, the Millennium Falcon - in Star Wars.

After about a half hour of doodling, here's what we came up with:


USS Enterprise is Copyright 2010 and a Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Whom Demi-gods Destroy

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)

Minor Spoilers

Greek mythology - with its lusty tales of warring gods, goddesses and demi-gods, the visions of oracles and undertaking of fantastic quests - has fired mankind’s imagination for over 2,500 years.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief would single-handedly extinguish that fire.

Based upon a series of books for ‘tween readers by Rick Riordan and adapted to the big screen by writers Craig Titley and Joe Stillman, the movie plays like a mega-budget episode of Wizards of Waverly Place or, worse, one of those SyFy channel Asylum-produced flicks they run late on Saturday nights.

Logan Lerman is our hero, Percy Jackson, seemingly ordinary high school teen, except that he can hold his breath for, like, 10 minutes while sitting at bottom of the school pool (and he doesn’t find this the least bit odd?). Percy is in reality a demi-god, the son of the god Poseidon (which explains the Aquaman riff) and a human woman. Zeus’s lightning bolt has been stolen and for reasons the movie never really makes clear, he believes Poseidon’s son Perce took it. If it’s not returned, Zeus will get very angry. And you wouldn’t like the king of the Greek gods when he’s angry.

Percy undertakes his beyond boring cross country quest to save his moms from Hades in the Underworld and recover the lightning bolt with the aid of fellow demi-god Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), whose absentee mother is the goddess Athena, and the movie’s Jar Jar Binks wannabe, Grover the Satyr (played by Tropic Thunder’s Brandon T. Jackson - that’s right Alpa Chino sports goat legs). Grover gets to utter such memorable, original and mythological lines as, “That’s what I’m talking about!”

Any movie featuring magic really needs to set some rules down, which Percy Jackson does not do. When Percy is in Camp Half-Blood, the training facility for demi-gods, he gets to play a game of Capture the Flag with real swords, the kind that can cut and slash. Being a normal American teen, Percy has never wielded a sword before except maybe in a Wii game, so when he gets into a clash of the teen titans with Annabeth, she hacks him up good. But, this being more a Canadian lake spa retreat than a more appropriate Greek hills setting, Percy stumbles over to a quaint little stream which not only heals his wounds BUT MAKES HIM INTO A MASTER SWORDSMAN. Come. the fuck. on. I can see water healing Percy, and I can even seem him “bending” (sorry Last Airbender fans) the agua, but the water magically making him LEARN swordsmanship? No fucking way. If just dipping a pinky into the water does all that for him, WHY does he need to go to camp to learn how to do anything? If it could impart that kind of knowledge and wisdom, then why not drink it, bath in it, gargle with it, learn who stole the lightning, and just magically make your mom appear, etc. (The filmmakers apparently didn’t read every page of their own script or they'd have pondered that question. )

Lerman is terrible, with a face that seems to be frozen from too many Botox shots. His mother is (as far as he knows) killed before his eyes while in the clutches of a minotaur (which as far as he know is a giant mythological creature)AND HE BARELY REGISTERS ANY EMOTION. Not surprise, nor anger, not wonder or fear. Nothing at all. Look out Sam Worthington, you’ve got some competition in the Bland Face Acting Department.

Daddario is just as bad, with giant wide blue eyes that rarely blink. She’s pretty, but there is no there there. Jackson is a horny goatboy; the less said about him the better. Uma Thurman resurrects her Poison Ivy routine from Batman and Robin for her turn as Medusa, she who needs some hair straightening product pronto (someone please call Chris Rock).

Sean Bean and Kevin McKidd, two British actors, play Mighty Zeus and Poseidon, respectively (Bean is just a little young to play the almighty god-father). In the original Clash of the Titans, Zeus was assayed by Sir Laurence Olivier, and in the recent remake, Liam Neeson put on the godly backlighting. Which begs the questions: why are Greek gods always played by British actors (Melina Kanakaredes from CSI: NY is Greek and plays Athena, but she even puts on a British accent)?

The books feature a 12 year old Percy Jackson and are aimed at that ‘tween audience, but something was seriously lost in the translation when they made the hero a 16 year old kid. The Harry Potter stories start with Harry as an 11 year old, but as he matures, so do the stories and the stakes. You can’t simply take a story with a 12 year old hero written for 12 year olds and make him 16 years old without updating the story, which they did not do here.

It’s a shame that director Chris Columbus is so ham-handed here. There is no trace of the grace, charm, and fun he brought to the first two Harry Potter films. Perhaps that is also an indication that J.K. Rowling told a much more interesting tale, but also that Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves did a masterful job adapting those stories compared to this movie's screenwriters. Food for thought, along with the lotus leaves and the olive oil.

Come for the review, stay for the snark: Bonus Star Trek Greek-themed fumetti! Pass the ouzo!








Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended with this parody. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Someone Needs A Tune Up

Star Trek: TNG is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended with this parody. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Time Traveling Hot Tub-Thumpers Trip Up


Hot Tub Time Machine
(2010)

SPOILERS AT THE END

What happens when three pseudo-BFFs get sent back in time to 1986 to – well - do something (it’s really not too clear)? You get the beyond lame Hot Tub Time Machine, which could easily be called Back to Bill & Ted’s Excellent (But Not in This Case) Future Adventure for how transparently it rips off Back to the Future and Bill & Ted.

The movie stars John Cusack, Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson as late 30-somethings totally unhappy with their adult lives, and Clark Duke as Cusack’s aimless basement-dwelling, Second Life-playing 20-something nephew. This Less-than-Fantastic Four gets sent back in time to a Colorado ski lodge for reasons the script by Josh Heald, Jared Paul and Sean Anders doesn’t make clear. They are all losers in the present day, so you think they’re magically transported back to 1986 to relive a pivotal weekend that set the tone for their adult lives, but that’s really not the case. Cusack broke up with a girlfriend in that time (in the future, his wife has just left him), Corddry is a loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed loser who got beat up that weekend (in the future, he’s a loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed loser who put himself in the hospital at the start of the story) and Robinson wussed out on an open mic night with his band (as a grown-ass man, he works at a dog grooming salon).

When they realize when they are they, at first, party it up, but are still mindful of the “butterfly effect” which might change their future if they trample over some seemingly trivial item, but soon they start to deviate from the details of that night, starting with Cusack whose girlfriend changes history and breaks up with him instead of him dumping her, and he quickly meets a magazine journalist (played by the always great and lovely Lizzy Caplan) in town to cover the band Poison that’s playing the ski lodge’s festival. The events they relive just aren’t major enough to justify where their adult lives end up, so the movie drops the ball there. In Back to the Future Marty's entire existence hinged on getting his parents together at the dance (and he had SEVERAL obstacles to overcome to ensure that outcome). The equivalent here for Cusack's Adam is after getting dumped by his pretty but vapid girlfriend he gets to hang out a little with Caplan and his life will automatically change for the better?

Here’s the major problem with this movie (aside from the fact it’s not that funny - there's only sporadic laughs throughout): I didn’t care about these guys. None of them is very likable. They also never act like true friends, until, of course, the end of the movie demands it. Cusack looked tired and confused through the entire movie (he was great in Grosse Point Blank, another movie featuring some serious 80s music, which was co-written by, among others, Steve Pink, who directed this film). Rob Corddry is NOT funny. Let me say that again, casting directors and filmmakers: ROB CORDDRY IS NOT FUNNY. He always comes across as an abrasive asshole, and that’s the limits of his acting ability. If he was a FUNNY abrasive asshole I might be able to tolerate him, but he is not (John Belushi in Animal House was a foul-mouthed, brain-addled alcoholic and Peeping Tom, but he was also charming and very funny). Craig Robinson is terrific…in The Office where he has a great character to play, but not here, where it seems like he’s just ad-libbing most of the time.

The movie really didn’t make use of its 1986 setting, which was mostly brought to life by the bright, multi-colored ski jackets of the resort goers. The story made no comment about those times versus now – not the music, the attitudes, the mores, nothing. It easily could have been set at their college graduation or ten years ago or last week.

The movie ends in a much undeserved way*, by basically forgetting everything that came before it and giving the guys something they simply did not deserve. If I had a hot tub time machine I’d go back in time and prevent them from making this pointless and not very funny movie.

(*SPOILER: Here's the ending - leave now - Corddry stays in the past and uses his knowledge of the future to set himself up as a multi-millionaire, which somehow gives him the solid family life he never had, and also all his friends are now super-successful. What a big fat cheat.)

Star Trek images (C) 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended with this parody. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

After the Bomb, Set Your Calendars to Year Zero

Panic in Year Zero! (1962)

Move over Mad Max. Make room for Mad Milland! As in Ray Milland (yes, you read that right: Ray Milland). When his family is endangered after a nuclear strike against the United States, Ray Milland will do anything to keep them safe.

On the surface Panic in Year Zero! appears to be just another cheapie sci-fi movie from American International Pictures made to capitalize on the Cold War fears of a nuclear attack against the U.S. But first time director Milland makes use of the small budget to focus on his family and the people they encounter as they search for a safe place to ride out the attack.

The movie starts innocently enough with the Baldwin family – father Harry (Milland), wife Ann (Jean Hagen), son Rick (Frankie Avalon), and daughter Karen (Mary Mitchell) – leaving Los Angeles for a camping trip in the mountains. Several miles into their journey they see a white flash of light from the direction they came. Soon after they see the unthinkable: a mushroom cloud. L.A.’s been nuked! The radio only has sporadic updates and every where they go the Baldwins see civilization start to unravel. At a gas station they encounter a man who had just lost his wife when a window shattered in their home cutting her to pieces. The man ran from his home in his pajamas and has no money to pay for the gas a mechanic just pumped into his car, so the man belts the hapless mechanic, jumps in his car and speeds off.

A short time later, when the Baldwins have stopped at a hardware store to pick up supplies, and, most importantly, firearms and ammo, Harry finds he’s a couple hundred dollars short. Naturally Johnson, the store owner, doesn't want to let Harry walk out with everything without paying in full, but Harry quickly loads a pistol and holds up the store owner, promising to pay him back the money he owes. Johnson surprises Harry and the two get into a fight, which Harry quickly loses, but Johnson’s victory is short-lived as Rick rushes to his father’s aid.

This is a movie short on visual effects but long on character. The writers, Jay Simms and John Moore (from novels by Ward Moore), put the burden of the Baldwin family’s survival squarely on Harry’s shoulders. Growing up, I pretty much knew Ray Milland only from his appearance on the original Battlestar Galactica as an aged colonial fat cat, more interested in stuffing his face and fulfilling his every desire. Milland is a much better actor than that (both in Panic... and in another AIP sci-fi cult classic, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes). Harry not only has to plan everything to be two steps ahead of the increasingly lawless people and crowds they encounter, but he has to quiet wife Ann’s doubts about his conduct and actions. She’s worried that if he crosses the line too many times that she may lose her husband, and likely her family.

Frankie Avalon doesn’t sing (thank goodness) but does turn in a decent supporting performance. In one scene, thugs get the drop on his father, and Rick ends up shooting one of them to save him. Harry discovers that Rick got a bit of a thrill from almost killing the man, and he quickly moves to dispel those feelings from his son. The world may be going to hell, but the Baldwin family will keep some semblance of civilization and decorum. In one scene, Harry decides that he and Rick will shave every morning, just one little civilized thing they can do to stave off their animal impulses.

The Baldwins face more threats as they try and ride out the end of the world. Mad Max would have been proud as Harry belts dudes, blasts rapists, and destroys bridges. Unlike many AIP movies, they managed to keep the current trends of the day mostly at bay, so there weren't any gangs with embarrassing slang to fight off (as in the Billy Jack movies [yes, I know those aren't AIP pics]). The filmmakers did a much better job of it than so many end of the world films made today. Carriers was one of the more recent low budget post-apocalyptic movies and its creators could have done a whole lot worse than to watch a little gem like Panic in Year Zero!, for inspiration, which shows that a solid story and characters will always win out in the end.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Oil Slick

Star Trek: TNG Copyright 2010 and Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended. The BP Oil Spill mess is their fault. Screencaps from Trekcore.com.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The G in "G-Force" Stands for Guano

G-Force (2009)

Ten minutes.

That's as far as I got through G-Force, the "Mission: Impossible with guinea pigs" movie from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney.

Those ten minutes were filled with the most banal dialogue and limp pop culture references, courtesy of writers Cormac and Marianne Wibberley (with an apparent, and uncredited, assist from Pirates of the Caribbean scribes Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio). Wow, it took four well-paid people to write shit for kids. And I mean shit. for. kids. Very little kids. Of the diaper-wearing variety. Jesus H., but the average episode of the old Mr. Ed series was funnier than this garbage.

Those ten minutes were also filled with the little rodents using their tiny James Bond-inspired gear to infiltrate some wanna-be world conqueror's palatial estate. Spy Kids did the same kind of thing, but with infinitely more cleverness and fun - in both the gadgets and the script! And of course, as is the case with CGI creations the camera is constantly whizzing and zooming around. Fucking enough already! That added absolutely NOTHING to the story or characterizations. When will Hollywood get it through their thick skulls that 99% of these CGI-filled movies, especially critter features like this one, will be instantly forgotten by the public. Toy Story, which I just watched again on Saturday, stuck with solid characterizations, spot on voice work, a good story and it didn't go overboard with the CGI camera-work. Now, it's a modern classic, while G-Force will forever be confined to the $2.99 or less bin, alongside colorized Mexican wrestling films and Jazzercise videos by Judi Sheppard Missett.

Stand-up comic/actor Zach Galifianakis is utterly wasted as the guinea pigs human handler. WHY cast someone like the brilliant and bizarre Galifianakis only to simply neuter him in the movie? Why give him the Ken Berry role?

The guinea pigs are all voiced by big stars, including Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Penelope Cruz and Tracy Morgan. None of them does anything exceptional in their roles, save perhaps a nearly unrecognizable Cage nasally voicing the thick-specs-wearing star-nosed mole, Speckles. Morgan does a "family safe" version of his outsized personality (in real life and from 30 Rock), but it's so watered down as to be unfunny. Anyone remember Richard Pryor in Superman III? Same crap here.

Let's face it, this thing smells like something that pooped itself, died, and needs to be flushed down the toilet. ASAP.