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

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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Subscribe NOW!

We've had some publication problems - among other things, the Reptile-in-Chief had severe molting issues and staffers spent several months getting high from the old mimeograph machines used to create this magazine - but, at long last, here's the second issue of Iguana Monthly.

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

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review: Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes is a staple of filmed entertainment. A quick look at shows that in the 2000s alone there have been nearly 20 productions for TV and the movies featuring Arthur Conan Doyle's venerable detective (including at least one animated appearance).

Now some boob in movieland had the "brilliant" idea to turn Sherlock Holmes into a superhero or, more to the point, a slovenly James Bond. (I hope you read the sarcasm in between the quotation marks on brilliant.)

Here we get director Guy Ritchie's bloated big-screen mess. This is one slow slog of a movie, one where you either constantly check your watch or, in this case, the DVD counter. Robert Downey Jr. dons the English accent he first used in Chaplin as Holmes, but I didn't care much for his characterization. For today's PG-13 audiences, they removed Holmes' heroin addiction for the more palatable alcoholism and just general bad hygiene. Downey's eyes are normally full of life - check out the first Iron Man film, or The Soloist - but here they seem dead. At least they match the bleak cinematography and set design of the rest of the movie.

Instead of a real personality, the movie turns Holmes into either Batman or Daredevil, both comic book superheroes who have no superhuman powers but are masters of hand-to-hand combat. Downey's Holmes likes to go down to the docks and have a go at smelly greasers who are much bigger than he is. Like Fast Eddie Felson he comes in as an underdog, bets on himself, gets knocked around a bit, then kicks it into high gear to win at the end.

Jude Law plays Dr. John Watson, Holmes friend, sidekick, flatmate, and sometime chronicler. I'm just going to say it: Law is simply too pretty to play the sidekick. He was Gigalo Joe after all. The filmmakers were definitely shooting for that "old married couple" vibe, but the script largely falls short of that. There's no memorable dialogue to speak of. For such a clever man, Holmes doesn't have many clever things to say. Perhaps they should have had David Mamet, Quentin Tarantino or, heck, Kevin Smith take a pass at Holmes' dialogue. If you're going to "reinvent" a 113 year old character, do more than make him a MMA stud. When you think about it, the best interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in the last ten years has been Hugh Laurie's turn as Dr. House on TV's House, M.D. There they left the drug addiction in, and kept the brilliant detective skills, but House is surly and acerbic as hell, by turns insightful, abrasive and funny.

One thing that bothered me is that almost every wide establishing shot looks like it has a CGI matte painting, which means that even though they filmed on the streets of England, the obvious computer work makes it look phony. The average episode of Dr. Who, with a fraction of the budget, feels more authentic! The other thing they did in this reinvention is make Holmes an action hero, and that means action set pieces that are largely augmented by CGI as most of today's action "spectaculars" are wont. It also means the action is largely forgettable. There is a major sequence set at a shipyards with a ship in drydock. Holmes is being attacked by a giant thug who keeps swinging a big hammer that dislodges the beams that are holding a ship in place. Of course enough are knocked out that the ship starts to slowly roll into the water, with Holmes pinned at a precarious spot. While watching this I kept thinking about the great scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark with Indy fighting off the giant Nazi under the flying wing airplane. Not only did Indy have to dodge the man's massive fists, but he had to avoid getting run over by the plane's wheels, and, even worse, getting chopped up by the plane's propellers. It was a master work of choreography and editing, punctuated by John Williams' fantastic score. In Sherlock Holmes, we just got to see the big CGI ship slide on by, and Downey and Watson duck to avoid the CGI anchor that whipped by at the end. Big freakin' deal.

There is nothing to recommend in this movie. The casting is all wrong. Aside from Downey and Law, Rachel McAdams makes no impression as Irene Adler, the only woman to make Holmes go weak in the knees. Emily Blunt would have been a better choice. Mark Strong as the Big Bad named Lord Blackwood makes about as much impression as one of the lesser James Bond villains. They gave him some funky dental work and I guess they figured that was a far as they needed to go; he really doesn't register on screen. In fact, the most lively characters are Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) and Constable Clark (William Houston). Hey, there's an idea: do a Sherlock Holmes story told entirely from Lestrade's point of view.

There have been some great interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, including Nicholas Meyer's The Seven Percent Solution and Jeremy Brett's arguably definitive turn in 1980s and 90s TV series. Guy Ritchie's re-imagination take doesn't hold a candle to these interpretations and won't be fondly remembered in the character's long history.