Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: Outlander

Outlander (2008)

Outlander is the “Vikings versus alien monster” flick that pretty much no one asked for (except that one guy in Oslo). Screenwriters Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain (the latter also directed) were happy to oblige that narrow demographic.

The Passion of the Christ's Jim Caviezel plays Kainan, a humanoid alien whose spaceship crash-lands in Norway in the 8th century. Not only does he land in the middle of a feud between two Viking villages, but Kainan also brought with him the Moorwen, a sort of glow-in-the-dark steroidal panther-monster-thing that’s about the size of a dump truck. The Moorwen starts hacking, slashing and eating the villagers on both sides, so they band together and with Kainan’s help attempt to vanquish this dragon come to life.

To say this is a goofy movie is a bit of an understatement. Caviezel is extremely stoic as Kainan, and that works. He makes a convincing action hero, haunted by his personal loss and the horror that he’s unleashed on the Vikes. However, the Vikings are the least Nordic ever assembled on screen; I don’t think I saw one blond warrior in the scruffy, dirty bunch (the little feral kid doesn't count). This was a relatively low-budget effort (at $50 million) but the costume design didn’t seem to reflect the Norse setting at all. Everyone looked like they wore almost generic early-Middle Ages garb; the costumes looked better than a Xena episode, but I just wish they reflected that Nordic verisimilitude more.

Sophia Myles plays Freya, daughter of King Rothgar (John Hurt) and the girl with her eyes on Kainan. We first meet her as she’s doing sword training with her pops. I have to say I’m now Officially Sick of the revisionist bent of movies like this where they have the plucky woman who can wield a sword as well as a man. Unless it’s a race of Amazons I don’t want to see this anymore. There was no reason to have her be a champion sword fighter, except for the one scene where she defends herself during the rival village’s attack. Filmmakers often say they strive for realism, especially with the look and costuming of a movie, but then they turn around and put in T2’s Sarah Conner in a medieval tunic. Enough I say.

The Moorwen, designed by Patrick Tatopoulis, looks exactly like what it is: a CGI creation. It often seems pasted onto scenes rather than being truly integrated with the surroundings. The filmmakers appear to have taken a page from the Id monster in Forbidden Planet; the Moorwen isn’t invisible, but it slowly appears in the darkness when it lights up various parts of itself with its luminescent abilities. Like 99.9% of CGI creatures it moves much too fast and doesn't appear to be affected by gravity, which is a major problem with many CGI creations. Hey, animators, watch footage of a cheetah or cobra in action and use that as reference. Then again, Ridley Scott's Alien didn't move as fast as the Moorwen (it was a skinny guy in a rubber suit) and it is one of the most memorable movie monsters of all time, while the more complex Moorwen with its CGI bells and glow in the dark whistles will simply fade from memory. Something to think about filmmakers!

Director McCain does the de rigueur thing of overcutting his action scenes. A simple punch to the face will have at least FOUR cuts: 1. the guy pulls back his fist, 2. the guy’s fist is launched at the other dude, 3. the guy’s fist connects with the dude’s face, and we 4. see the full impact to the face from the opposite angle. Watch the opening of the first Blade movie – the fight scene at the vampire rave is one of the BEST fight scenes ever committed to celluloid. Not only is the fight choreography well done, but it wasn’t shot with a multitude of tight close-ups, which meant you could SEE the fight stances (imagine a Fred Astaire movie where you could only see him dance from the waist up!), and it was edited in such a way as you could FOLLOW the action (the fight scenes weren’t comprised of ¼ second clips, as in so much of today’s video games-as-action movies).

I’ll give Outlander this, they tried. They assembled a good group of actors who played their parts well. I liked that they gave time to Kainan and the Vikings to get to know each other and bond. It was by no means a character-based movie, but it wasn’t just mindless action either. The production also makes good use of stunning locations in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with several of the aerial shots of mountains and rivers rivaling the best locations in New Zealand seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One rather big nit to pick is that they really didn't do anything with the fact that Kainan is an alien. It didn't matter to the story that he fell from the stars. He wasn't viewed as a god by anyone; he could easily have been a member of a far off village which had been decimated by the Moorwen, and has been tracking the beast ever since. At the very least they could have had him wear his alien armor for much of the movie, but in the climactic battle change into Viking garb to signal his full allegiance with his Norse family. Also the movie couldn't seem to make up its mind whether the Moorwen was just a beast, like a lion, or an intelligent creature with a grudge against Kainan (and he it). I mean why else would Kainan yell out, "Moorwen!" whenever he saw the thing. Big game hunters don't scream out "Lion!" when they see their prey. Does the Moorwen KNOW it's a Moorwen?

I wasn’t bored during Outlander, which is the cardinal sin of movie-watching, but with another draft or two of the script, and some memorable dialogue and scenes, I might have cared more.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Happy Memorial Day Weekend

Star Trek (C) 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. Weber Grill (C) 2010 Weber-Stephen Products Co. No infringement of these rights is intended. Screencap from

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On the Matter of Iron Man Sequels

Video Hound's Movie has a new post about what it wants to see in Iron Man 3.

Even though IM2 opened strong it hasn't equaled, let alone surpassed, the domestic gross of the original film. I believe audiences caught on that IM2 had too many problems: too many villains (WHEN will comic book movies LEARN!? Most of the filmmakers are comic book fans and have SEEN the good movies, and the BAD ones too!), too many unnecessary characters, the most flaccid love story of any comic book movie (WHAT were they thinking), and dull action scenes. Robert Downey Jr.'s considerable talents, charm and charisma carried the movie.

I agree with everything that VHMR's post brings up. There's nothing you can debate there that isn't a correct way to go.

I just hope IM2's filmmakers and studio are aware of the franchise's failings, and make the necessary course corrections.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Adventures in the Other Side of the Mirror - Fringe

Fringe – “Over There” - Parts 1 & 2


Peter Bishop has crossed over into the alternate universe, brought there by his real father (labeled “Walternate” by our Walter) who is the Secretary of Defense in a world fraught with nasty and destructive “science gone wrong” events which puts to shame “the Pattern” of our universe. Walternate seeks Peter’s help with a special device. Olivia Dunham and Dr. Walter Bishop also cross over and attempt to bring Peter back home to his adoptive universe.

For a season finale, this two-parter felt incomplete; it seemed more interested in setting up events for season three than with giving viewers a satisfying coda to this season’s storylines. Just a few episodes ago, Peter (Joshua Jackson) learned his true origins: he was kidnapped as a child from the alternate dimension, Walter is not his true father and his real mother on the other side is still alive, and not a suicide victim as in our universe. We get a few glimpses of Peter as he meets with his real father and mother, but we don’t get to know what he’s feeling. Has he seen so much weirdness while part of Fringe Division that he just takes all this in stride? He never seems overwhelmed or at least confused a little by it all. Shouldn’t he be?

We do see Walter’s reaction to losing his son to his own misguided actions, and actor John Noble once again gives an award-winning performance, so that side of the equation is handled well. I believe Joshua Jackson could deliver the goods if the writers and director Akiva Goldsman gave him the opportunity.

We see a lot of the alternate universe and for all its technological wonders and advancements over our world it’s a sad place (the neighborhood encased in amber is amazing and scary and sad). Their Fringe Division seems more a paramilitary organization than our world’s unit of the FBI. To tell the truth though, when we’re first introduced to Alt-Fringe Division early in part one, they were a little too gung ho – it reminded me of Special Unit 2 or some goofy other X-Files knock off – strutting around in their dark commando jumpsuits. I wanted to dub in the “hut-hut-hut-hut” from the cop scenes in The Blues Brothers movie.

Olivia meets up with William Bell (Leonard Nimoy, not aging as gracefully as buddy Bill Shatner) who helps her and Walter find Peter and get back to our universe. The scenes between Bell and Walter were alternately fun (the KFC scene) and moving (“(Bell) cut out pieces of my brain!”). I wish Nimoy wasn’t in such a rush to retire from acting again. If William Bell is truly his last acting gig then he could have gone out on a high note in a memorable role, instead of just an inflated cameo.


Olivia gets to meet Alt-Oliva (who’s a brunette) and the two have a great scene where they compare their lives: Olivia’s mom died but she has her sister Rachel and niece Ella, while Alt-Olivia still has her mom, but her sister died in childbirth. Anna Torv showed she’s a very capable actress in this scene, with extremely expressive eyes. The Olivias have a nice knockdown, dragout fight with our Olivia emerging victorious (just barely).

She impersonates her alt-self, and with Alt-Charlie’s (Kirk Acevedo) help locates Peter. Olivia convinces Peter to come back to our universe because "you belong with me," and she kisses him. I don’t know how I feel about this angle. The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully definitely had a romantic chemistry, which the show ultimately followed, but I never got that vibe from Olivia and Peter (not even from Peter and Liv’s sister Rachel). They're partners and friends, but lovers?, that spark was never there.

It all ends with Bell apparently sacrificing himself as a “door stop” (since he’s crossed universes so many times his atoms are all wonky and supercharged) to aid Olivia as she uses her cortixiphan abilities to open the door between worlds to allow the gang to go home. Peter and Walter begin a new phase of their relationship, with Peter seeming to forgive Walter’s extra-dimensional kidnapping. But we see that it’s not our Olivia but Alt-Olivia who made the crossover, as she uses the old typewriter with the mirror to contact the alternate universe: “Infiltration complete. Awaiting orders.” Our Olivia has been taken hostage by Walternate and is held in a lightless cell (she’s extremely unhappy with that, so perhaps Olivia is afraid of the dark?).

But that brings up a major question: we know our Olivia was tested and treated with the drug cortexiphan by Bell and Bishop, that’s how she’s able to open the doorway between universes. Has Alt-Olivia also been given the same drug treatments, which allowed her to easily open the doorway?

The Olivia switch was obvious to even a blind man. It wasn’t even presented as a shocker. They didn't have the obligatory scene of Alt-Olivia bluffing her way through interactions with her fellow Fringe mates before we find out a switcheroo has been made.

Not as frustrating a last couple episodes as the series Lost has been having, but a not wholly satisfying season-ender either. Still, Fringe has great out of this world (universe) sci-fi concepts and ideas and an amazing cast of actors and characters. I look forward to season three this fall.

1950s Empire Strikes Back

This month marks the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest sci-fi movies (and sequels) of all time: The Empire Strikes Back. has this awesome vid posted that answers the question, What Would The Empire Strikes Back Look Like If It Were Done In The 1950s?

I don't know how many movies they had to sift through to assemble all these clips, but they look like a lot of fun on their own (and certainly more fun than the Prequel Trilogy).

Now I've got a hankering to watch some old Flash Gordon serials, which, as all you Star Wars fans know, were a huge inspiration on the SW Saga. Perhaps that's what today's filmmakers need to do, go BACK to the roots of classic sci-fi for inspiration instead of just looking to video games. It worked pretty well for George Lucas.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Looks at Lost

There's a post at TV Squad that is sort of a nexus for various links regarding Lost.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have not been digging this final season much. Every episode seems inconsequential and barely moves the story forward (also, they take forever to keep walking back and forth and back and forth between the same points on the island. IT'S. AN. ISLAND! It's not that big). We had two episodes that centered on characters that are not part of the original ensemble (one focused on Richard, who was ignominiously killed in the latest episode, and one focused on Jacob and his Nameless Brother (the Man in Black).

On Sunday the series wraps up with a 2-1/2 hour last episode. I hope it gets more than the shrug that most episodes this season have generated.

And people thought Heroes went into the toilet after its first season.....

Monday, May 10, 2010

Frank Frazetta Passes Away

I just read on that legendary fantasy/sci-fi illustrator Frank Frazetta passed away today. He was 82.

Mr. Frazetta's work is instantly recognizable, whether it be barbarians, beasts, or spacemen. "Death Dealer" is just one such work. He painted book covers for such Edgar Rice Burroughs works as Tarzan and the John Carter of Mars series. He also did work for the influential and beloved magazines Creepy and Eerie in the 1960s and 70s; his work was also featured in comic books, posters and album covers. In 1983, he teamed with famed animation director Ralph Bakshi for the feature film Fire and Ice, which became a cult classic and was finally released on DVD in 2005.

Mr. Frazetta was one of the last of the classic painters and illustrators - no Photoshop used on his work. Even though Fire and Ice didn't set the box office ablaze, I hope today's filmmakers and studios continue to look at his work for inspiration. And with today's CGI technology it would be possible to make an animated movie in Mr. Frazetta's distinctive style and color palette.

Imagine the possibilities! Mr. Frazetta always did.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tarnished Armor - Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 (2010)


Tony Stark has a lot of problems. The United States Government wants him to turn over his Iron Man technology to it. A rival, Justin Hammer, wants to take over Stark Industries’ slot as America’s top arms supplier. And a Russian ex-con has his sights, and electronic whips, set on removing Stark’s head from his body to avenge his father’s honor. All this and Tony still has the hots for his Number One, Pepper Potts, even as his eyes pop out of his head over his company’s newest notary public. Oh, and he’s dying too.

As you can see there’s a lot going on in Iron Man 2, but here’s the problem (and it’s a big one): it’s not very interesting. All the pieces are there, but you never really care. Gary Shandling is goofy U.S. Senator Stern who demands that Stark turn over his tech to the government, but you never see the government try and take it from him. Stern’s not even shaking a fist, more like wagging a finger; it feels like an empty threat, so what’s the point?

Sam Rockwell plays Hammer with a sort of fast-talking Luke Wilson meets Gary Oldman vibe. He even seems to channel game show host Chuck Barris, whom he played in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, when he presents his wares at an arms expo by dancing and strutting around the stage. He’s more impressive than the last few James Bond villains, but that’s damning him with faint praise. The problem is that Robert Downey Jr. is so commanding on screen, and his Tony Stark is such a larger-than-life character (especially in this sequel), that you need an actor and a character that can go toe-to-toe with him. Rockwell is an impressive actor, but he’s just not believable as someone who would stand a chance against Stark, as Jeff Bridges did in the first film. Rockwell looks slight of build on screen compared to Downey who shows off his buff physique in “wife-beater” t-shirts.

Mickey Rourke fairs a little better, but, lets face it, Rourke is a bit of a goofball. He was good in Sin City and fantastic in The Wrestler, but he often looks like a boob in this movie, especially when he pins up his long, greasy, streaked hair. Also American actors always sound silly when they do Russian accents; they all sound like Dracula, and Rourke is no exception. Rourke, a big dude in real life who likes little Chihuahua dogs, is given a little cockatiel bird in this movie for no real good reason, other than Rourke, a Method actor, probably asked for it because someone told him Russian ex-cons love cockatiels. I’m just speculating here.

The best part of the first Iron Man was the character interaction, especially between Tony and Pepper, who in this outing is abruptly promoted to company CEO and Chairperson by Stark. Tony does this because the nuclear-powered device which keeps him alive and powers his Iron Man armor is also giving him radiation poisoning; it's slowly killing him, so he promotes Pepper to keep his company going. He, of course, doesn’t tell Pepper that he’s dying. She finds out later but the movie simply plays it for laughs. Instead of creating scenes for Tony and Pepper to play off their mutual attraction and affection for each other – you know, giving them a real relationship - the movie wastes Gwyneth Paltrow’s time by showing her dealing with running the company. That’s the worst kind of story filler. This is a very bad decision, as it makes the kiss they share at the end less eventful and meaningful. In the first film, Tony told Pepper that he has no one close to him that he trusts with his life, save her, and THIS is how they choose to further that relationship? Imagine in Superman: The Movie if they downplayed all the scenes with Superman/Clark Kent and Lois, and all she did was chase after news stories about bank robbers and such, then at the end suddenly Superman and Lois kiss, or if Spider-Man 2 simply had Mary Jane dealing with her acting career and not with Peter and their mutual attraction. If those two movies had done that, they'd have exactly what Iron Man 2 has, which is a poorly written and filmed - and very unsatisfying - love story.

There is also a major problem with the action scenes. Iron Man and War Machine (Stark’s BFF, “Rhodey,” played this time by Don Cheadle) go up against Hammer’s Iron Man drone knockoffs. They’re simply silly robots with no personalities. In the James Bond movies Bond doesn’t merely fend off nameless guards with no personalites, but the top henchmen of the villain - colorful people like Odd Job, Rosa Kleb and Jaws (who worked for equally colorful bosses like Goldfinger, Blofeld, and Carl Stromberg/Hugo Drax, respectively). In IM2, fighting these bots is like fighting a remote controlled car or a toaster. Why should we give a crap?

The tv show Lost had an episode this season where an assassin was hired to kill one of the characters. The actor, Kevin Durand, had a great air about him and a sense of flair as Martin Keamy. He didn’t like it when an associate needlessly roughed up Jin, the intended target; he apologized for the mistreatment and even used his handkerchief to tend to Jin’s head wound. All this care for a man he intends to kill. Keamy was hired to do a certain job, not to muck about before doing it. THAT is what’s missing in opponents for Iron Man. Tony Stark is FULL of character, even when in the Iron Man suit. He needs to fight a foe with just as much character.

They need to get this right for Iron Man 3 - and for the Avengers movie, too - or they will be just run of the mill superhero flicks, another one on the pile, and who needs that?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Traveling to Hyboria - no passport needed, but bring a sword

There's finally a NEW Conan the Barbarian movie in production, and by Crom it better be good!

I read the Marvel Comics adaptation of the Conan tales while a wee spaceman (I never read the actual Robert E. Howard pulp novels, but someday....) and I loved the first Arnold Schwarzenegger movie directed with gusto by John Milius (and co-scripted by future-Oscar winner Oliver Stone!). Arnold eclipsed all other strongmen before him in tackling the role of the Cimmerian. He LOOKED like a John Buscema-drawn muscle-bound barbarian.

Production designer Ron Cobb also did a wonderful job in creating the fantasy world of Hyboria. Hyboria like the more well known Tolkien Middle Earth is set in our pre-historic past, and Cobb and his team brought a myriad of influences to the table in setting up Conan's world (and shooting in Spain helped too, as the Spanish landscape hadn't been photographed to death). And it worked.

Now we have a new movie in production with a new Conan, Stargate Atlantis' Jason Momoa (an inspired choice). Here's a few set pics from Bulgaria courtesy of

Let's hope director Marcus Nispel - a veteran of music vids and commercials and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake - is fully immersed in the amazing world of Conan, and delivers a rowdy, bawdy, muscular action adventure movie. Conan the Barbarian deserves no less, by Crom!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Skate Punks of the Desert

Solarbabies (1986)

You don’t review a movie like Solarbabies, you simply tolerate it until the end credits roll.

“A Brooksfilm Production” -- Mel Brooks produced this dreck!

This movie wastes no time in assaulting its audience with a lousy Maurice Jarre Casio score (it truly sounds like the theme was done on one of those cheap keyboards you can buy at Target).

We get one of those lame voiceover prologues that explain the “year is 41…Earth is dried up…kids are raised in “orphanages” run by the State…and some say Bodhi will come from the stars* to save us…maybe not.” Charles Durning, our prologue provider, actually says “maybe not.” Way to inspire the audience, movie!

* In this movie, Jesus is a glowing ball. Ooooo.

I had forgotten Solarbabies involved rollerskating. Did Mel Brooks watch the brutal Rollerball one night and think, “We should do a new version of this idea, but using the young kids today.” Rollerskating movies should be outlawed, especially sci-fi rollerskating movies. Rollerskating movies should only be set in the 1970s and made with hot chicks wearing tight t-shirts and short shorts. They should not be made with Jason Patric and Lukas Haas (and Jami Gertz doesn’t even wear short shorts).

I bring up the rollerskating thing because this stupid movie launches into one right away. Jason Patric (WHY does he have a career?) leads his intrepid band of goofballs in a very dull rollerskating skirmish against a Darth Vader-esque team lead by a dude who looks like James Van der Beek from Dawson’s Creek. This very boring “match” is interrupted by laser bolts and Richard Jordan who is strutting around in a thick-plastic blue SS-type uniform (Nazi fashions are always in style in water-desperate times). He’s behind the Dawson’s Creek team and he sics the Mad Max Brigade on the kids to break up these good times.

Lukas Haas and his ears find a glowing melon-sized ball in a mine cave and it magically cures his deafness. This is Bodhi (Bo-die). Despite its magic powers, it doesn’t make you want to straggle Haas any less (Lukas was great in Witness but he’s just TOO cute here).

Lukas has as much junk and shit on his shelves as WALL-E did.

Richard Jordan has jodhpurs AND a riding crop AND a long white scarf. Good grief.

All the young dudes in this movie have the same MASSIVE chin. Was there a sale or something?

Bodhi just magically caused it to rain…INDOORS. Now the hangar doors open and all the kids do an “all skate” for recreation. All that missing is the disco ball and a corner arcade with Pong and the one older dude selling pot. James Van der Mullet is a huge asshole, picking on little Lukas and licking on Jamie Gertz. Even in the future, mulleted dudes are creeps.

Bodhi seems to be a combination of Yoda, all wise and knowing, AND Jar Jar Binks, all cutesy and goofy. George Lucas is green with envy.

WHY is one guy named METRON? Aside from the fact one of the screenwriters must be a fan of Jack Kirby’s The New Gods. Now they’re playing rollerhockey or whatever, using Bodhi as the ball. The thing LIKES being smacked around and dunked. It’s into S&M.

Meanwhile Owlboy is watching….AND HE’S AN ORB THIEF!

Lukas has run away to find Bodhi and the gang votes to go after him (the scene where they write their votes on paper was CRUCIAL to the movie’s story). Good thing the desert is so well-paved for rollerskating. Jamie Gertz has legs as skinny as a Barbie doll’s. This is not a good thing, but it does not make her any less hot.

The crappy generic 80s song over the skating in the desert montage was mercifully brief. I’m sorry but they COULD NOT jump over that huge gap in the road. Not on roller skates, movie, and not without a huge ramp.

Suddenly, the fashions look more like Beastmaster than Mad Max.

Owlboy calls himself “Darkstar.” What a turd. But he has my favorite line of the movie. When asked, “Is that owl yours” he replies, “As much as an owl is anyone’s.” Heavy.

They just lasered Beastmaster tribe leader Bob Geldof! James Van der Chin just shot Darkstar’s owl with a laser. Big brother Woodsy Owl will avenge the shit out of him now.

Now Richard Jordan’s caravan is rolling up on Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s place. Holy crap, Bob Geldof is being tortured by psychic fire ants! OMG, but that was needlessly graphic (Van der Chin was made to imagine his hand being eaten away by the fire ants. VERY convincing effect.)

This must have been one expensive movie, with all the massive interior sets and places like Tire Town (which looks like it’s just down the way from Aunty Entity’s Bartertown), Richard Edlund’s visual effects and all the special vehicles. Too bad it’s all in service to such a stupid story.

Roll yourself down the hill in a dump truck tire to escape Richard Jordan! What a great idea!

Dear lord, there’s another 40 minutes to go on this bad boy. Even skipping the commercials that leaves a lot of dull, dull crap to sit through.

Sarah Douglas does not look as hot as she did as Ursa in Superman: The Movie or even as the evil whatsitz in Conan the Destroyer. Here she just looks a touch too matronly. Also the GIANT shoulder pads don’t work for her.

Uh oh, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s nabbed Jason Patric and the rollerboiz! And Jami Gertz is now sporting the Lawrence of Arabia look from Eddie Bauer.

Jami Gertz’s pops is named Greentree? And he looks like Jesus if Jesus were a country/western singer? Weird.

Sarah Douglas and Richard Jordan are shootin’ lasers at poor Bodhi. It’s making sad noises, which sound like Frank Welker making cutesy sound effects.

All these skinny-ass kids rollerskating up to the bad guys’ lair is not inspiring, it’s stupid. What the hell – Sarah D’s got something called Terminak: it’s a weird multi-armed robot thing. It’s like Dr. Octopus meets 2-IB. It looks more stupid that cool.

The Doberman guard dogs have little lights on their heads. So cute.

Darkstar was in a cell…with his skates on? How convenient.


Now Terminak’s got a “crush” on Richard Jordan’s arm.

Bodhi just transformed from a ball into a sparkly animated stream of unicorns and rainbows. Is there NOTHINg this cute ball of awesome can’t do?


Great Richard Edlund dam breaking effects. Gotta love miniatures. And cloud tank effects. Too bad it’s all backed by a Casio-score.

Bodhi transformed himself into midichlorians, danced around the kids, brought on some thunder clouds, and is now rocketing OUT of the earth’s atmosphere. Thank you strange orb from another planet!

E.T told Elliot that he’d always be “right here” and so this movie just decided to rip that line off too because it has no shame.

Wait a sec, Bodhi can turn into magic dust but he can't get away from Owlboy? And if it can make it rain, why didn't it just do that right at the beginning of the movie? Why does he wait to get orb-napped and tortured first, if all it needs is Lukas' "lurve" - which he had at the start - to make him shed a rainy tear or two million?

Magic schmagic, this is the WORST kind of fantasy writing.

End movie with Smokey Robinson tune, because, why not.

Here's something that occurred to me, but obviously NONE of the filmmakers: you have a bunch of rollerskating kids, and you even started your movie with those kids in a rollerhockey battle with other skate punks, you would assume that the final skirmish in the last act of the movie would involve a rollerskating match, face-off or something. NOPE. True, the kids roll on up to the bad guys' lair, but that it. Your stupid movie is all about rollerskating kids and rollerskating doesn't even figure into their winning the day (Bodhi does that all for them), so why make a rollerskating movie at all. That's like having a boxing movie and the boxers face off at the end over a leisurely game of backgammon!

What a great big freaking crock of roller-shit.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

La Habitacion de Fermat (Fermat’s Room) – 2007

Four seeming disparate people – all capable mathematicians - are invited to a meeting far out in the Spanish countryside under the premise of solving a problem that has plagued mathematicians for centuries. But the invitation and the guests are not as they appear to be on the surface.

This is a fun little thriller written and directed by Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopena, and seen on the Sundance Channel. Once our group of four – Santi Milan as “Pascal,” Lluis Homar as “Hilbert,” Alejo Sauras as “Galois,” and Elena Ballesteros as “Oliva” (all given fake names after famous mathematicians) – gathers in a room at their destination, they find themselves having to solve various mathematical story problems - they call them “enigmas” – and they have some major incentive to do so: the four walls of the room all have been rigged with giant industrial presses which cause the walls to move in on the foursome, certain to crush them to death unless they can band together and figure out why the mysterious “Fermat” is doing this to them, and, more importantly, find a way out to freedom.

Fermat’s Room plays like a tight episode of the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series or the classic Twilight Zone, combined with a bit of Cube, the low budget sci-fi gem that was also shot primarily on one major set. The "enigmas" they are given to solve are very tricky; they are more problems of logic than simple (or even complex) math, but that doesn't detract from the movie one bit. (I'm still trying to figure out the one involving three boxes with anise seeds and mint seeds!)

It has strong performances across the board. Sauras, as the hip young mathematics poster boy, looks like an older Jonas Brother. Ballesteros has a bit of an Audrey Hepburn air about her, and an understated sexiness that combines with her intelligence to make her very desirable. The premise is intriguing (between this movie and Pi, never say math isn't sexy enough to sell tickets), solid production design on a lower budget (pay attention to the wall paper in the room!), and even some neat digital effects work in one sequence.

I’ve seen two great Spanish films on Sundance Channel now – this one and Before the Fall (aka Tres Dias) - and I hope they continue this tradition of showcasing interesting foreign indie movies, as well as American indies.

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Parallel Universe - Fringe review

Fringe – “Brown Betty”

Fringe does a musical episode. Sorta.

In the previous episode, Peter (Joshua Jackson) found out that he is not Walter’s (John Noble) son. Well, at least not the Walter of this universe. Now Peter has gone missing. So Walter copes the only way he knows how. By getting lit (he crosses a couple of different pot plants, including some Afghan Kush, to come up with something he calls "Brown Betty").

Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) asks Astrid (Jasika Nicole) to babysit her niece Ella while she runs down a lead on Peter, and “Uncle” Walter ends up telling the little girl a story to pass the time. The yarn Walter spins is a trippy noir-esque tale with 1950s trappings, which puts the main cast into different but familiar roles, for example SA Broyles is Lt. Broyles who also happens to sing and play piano and Olivia is a former cop turned, what else, but private eye.

Dunham the P.I. is hired by a wheelchair-bound Walter to find a special glass heart. It turns out the Walter in this tale created rainbows and bubble gum and this glass heart is his most prized creation, but it was stolen by his assistant Peter Bishop (no relation in this tale). Dunham runs up against Massive Dynamic, Nina Sharp and her Watchers, as the Observers are called here (and a more clear nod to the Watchers of Marvel Comics who inspired the Observers).

It all has a happy ending, more thanks to little Ella than Walter. Except that in the real world, Peter is still missing, leaving Walter to grieve a while longer.

This episode really didn’t work for me. It was advertised and discussed on the web as “the musical episode” but it really wasn’t a musical. A few characters sang a couple of lines from some songs and that’s it. They never sang a complete song, nor were there any big Glee-like production numbers. Full-blown musical episodes have been done on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess and Scrubs (with the creators of Avenue Q working on the latter). Buffy’s is especially noteworthy in that creator Joss Whedon wrote and composed original songs for the episode, and the songs directly reflected and commented on the character’s states of mind and then-current arcs. The Buffy musical episode, called “Once More, With Feeling,” was exceptional television; Fringe’s “Brown Betty” was not. I didn’t care for the 1950s milieu (it seemed like warmed over Dixon Hill, P.I. leftovers from Star Trek: The Next Generation), the songs were all over the place and not very interesting or memorable (several were culled from Walter’s selections that he was playing on his turntable).

All in all this Brown Betty was a huge downer. Puff, puff…major PASS.