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

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

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 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, 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.