A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Deep Blue Sea

August 3, 2011

Deep Blue Sea

Fair warning: this review will contain spoilers for the movie. I try hard not to include spoilers in my reviews but most of what I liked about this movie that I loved so much the first time I watched it cannot be explained without resorting to them.

I first saw this when it was released on DVD way back in 1999 and at the time it astonished me with the way it flaunted the conventions of this sort of horror movie. As with Sharktopus this is a movie very aware of itself and its roots. Sharktopus, however, revels in its cheese and fulfills every expectation of the genre. As we watched that movie yesterday Amanda and I were easily able to predict exactly who was going to die because the characters fit so perfectly to the stereotypes you expect from a movie like this. Of course the evil scientist is doomed. Of course the pushy reporter is. Sadly so is the third wheel friend. This movie, on the other hand, revels in defying such expectations.

The moment in this film that I completely fell in love with it is when Samuel L Jackson’s character Russel Franklin, the charismatic CEO of the unfortunately named Chimera Corporation, is eaten by a shark when he is in the middle of a rousing speech. That single moment convinced me that this movie was something special and unexpected. This movie doesn’t just kill its only big-name leading actor – it does it in the middle of a “Here’s what we’re going to do” speech. Then there’s L.L. Cool J as the chef Preacher who complains that the brother always dies in this kind of movie.

What I did not remember when I watched this last time was the atrocious video quality. I suspect that part of the problem is the television we’re watching it on – Amanda’s parent’s TV on the Cape where we’re spending the night – which has a degree of latency that makes the picture ghost and look washed out during faster camera moves. That can’t account for all of the flat and ugly look of the film though. I don’t know if it’s just poor lighting or low quality film stock – but the whole film, despite being a big budget theatrical release, has a distinctly direct to video or made for TV look to it. It’s only a small step up from Megaladon with its all-digital sets. Still – I enjoy this movie. I stand by my assessment that this is better than your average shark attack movie. Although, I have to admit, the plot is fairly standard.

A research team on an isolated rig in the middle of the ocean has developed a cure for Alzheimer’s from a serum they extract from shark brains. In their hurry to generate as much of the serum as possible they genetically manipulate the sharks to give them bigger brains. For some reason the sharks use their bigger brains to wreak all kind of havoc, killing everybody they can reach and tearing apart the facility. The crew trapped inside are being picked off one by one as they try to find a way out of the flooded facility. It’s pretty standard “they tampered in God’s domain” stuff, really, which makes it that much more impressive that I enjoyed it so much.

I’ve watched a lot more cheesy shark movies in the decade or so since I last watched this one, but I still stand by my opinion that this is one of the better ones. Not as purely enjoyable as Sharktopus or as wonderfully awful as Sharks in Venice, but a worthy addition to the genre nonetheless. I like how it defies my expectations while at the same time being so typical a monster movie. I love Samuel L Jackson – because he’s awesome in everything he does. I even enjoy Thomas Jane, who was a no-name actor as far as I was concerned when I watched this and delivered a fun performance as the rebel-with-a-troubled-past and hero of the movie.

We’ve got three more movies to go in our self imposed Shark Week, and I’m afraid none of them are quite this good. Wish us luck getting through them!

August 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 520 – Sharktopus

Sharktopus – August 2nd, 2011

After last year’s Sharks in Venice I suspected that no terrible shark movie would ever be able to remotely compare. And I’m not saying that this movie is as horribly great as that one was, but it is magical in its own special way. It was definitely the perfect movie for us to watch on our anniversary. If any shark movie was to be watched today, this was it. This is a thoroughly ridiculous movie with a thoroughly ridiculous plot and premise and it knows it. It is completely and totally aware of just how laughable and horrible it is and it barrels its way forward anyhow, as if daring anyone not to find it hilarious.

I do apologize about this review. It’s several days late because I was so completely wiped after we watched it and then we watched Deep Blue Sea, which actually made me resent Shark Week and only now am I getting back to it. Which is just plain silly because I thoroughly enjoyed every cheesy minute of it. Oh, it’s not a good movie. But it is a magical movie. It’s one of those movies I think we need new terminology for because while it’s bad, it’s also wonderful. What do you call that? How do you describe that? Because there are bad movies that are just plain bad. There are cheesy movies that are cheesy without being fun. This movie? Is at the same time terrible and awesome because it is so terrible. It’s got a level of self-awareness that makes everything amazing. I don’t think I have enough superlatives for this movie.

First of all, let’s talk plot. This is a “we tampered in god’s domain” type plot here. Near the end of the movie one character actually describes the sharktopus as a crime against nature, and she’s one of its creators! A bioengineering firm has created a shark/octopus hybrid with a brain implant as a new weapon for the military. Supposedly it will allow the military access to areas they can’t send mechanical vehicles or regular soldiers into. So when a member of the military comes to see how they’re doing he of course tampers with a system the scientists warn him not to tamper with and the sharktopus casts off its control device and heads off to terrorize Puerto Vallarta. Since it’s a military funded monster, obviously the head of the project wants it captured intact, but since it’s a giant killer shark with tentacles, that’s obviously highly unlikely.

Really, the sharktopus is the point of this whole thing. It attacks bunches of people and it’s introduced by way of a different shark attacking a woman and then being eaten by the sharktopus instead. It pops out of the water to snack on a bungee jumper and it crawls over rocks to join in a folk dance celebration. By eating people. It yoinks a couple of painters down off their perch on the side of a ship’s hull and it drags a scantily clad beachcomber into the water just after she’s found a gold doubloon (which is then snagged by Roger Corman in a cameo). And no, this monster is not the most realistically animated monster I’ve ever seen. It’s almost painfully obvious how computer generated it is. But that is the point. While I have no doubt in my mind that there wasn’t a huge budget for this movie, I also highly doubt that anyone ever thought that the monster should be realistic.

But completely aside from the monster in the movie, there are the people. No one in this movie is out of the ordinary and the whole cast seems to know that perfectly well. There’s the head of the bioengineering company, played by Eric Roberts. He chews scenery and is nicely morally gray. His daughter, Nicole, is his star employee and has overseen the vast majority of the project. When it gets loose they call in Andy Flynn, a former employee who doesn’t get along with the head of the company and was fired some time back. He demands big bucks to come back and help them track the sharktopus down. And then there’s the brassy reporter from a trashy network and her skeptical but along for the ride cameraman. I think you can probably figure out who out of that group is doomed to be sharktopus food, right? Flynn and Nicole start out sniping at each other, so of course they’ll end up together and no one else really matters in the end.

The movie spends a lot of time following its monster around as it eats people. I mean, that’s what this movie is for and it delivers. It even gets a few shots in at our beefy hero, Flynn, and offs his best pal. Every time we meet a new unnamed character it’s pretty certain that they’re going to die. I suspect most of them are locals or tourists who were nearby when the movie was being filmed because the level of “acting” is laughably low. High school drama class low. But really the best marks of this low budget flick are the extras reactions to the shark attack. Clearly there were no practical props used to represent the shark and the tentacles were all added in post. It’s incredibly obvious. Which means it’s also incredibly obvious that these people had to writhe and spin and wave their arms and scream with absolutely nothing wrapped around them or stuck through them or anything. It’s fantastic.

In the end you know the sharktopus is as doomed as its victims were and you know that the survivors will be the burgeoning couple. There’s nothing innovative here, but there doesn’t need to be. This is a movie that has fully embraced its nature and run with it at full speed. It’s got a great balance of shark attacks to plot and the plot doesn’t try anything complicated or serious. And it’s very clear on its status as a cheesy movie. It even jokes about how of course the shark won’t come back to life! That only happens in the movies! It’s ridiculous, but it knows it. It’s cheesy but hilarious. It’s a slightly different creature from Sharks in Venice, but I think I’ve got to rank them side by side. Definitely, they are two shark movies for all others to live up to.

August 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharktopus

August 2, 2011

Sharktopus

It is the anniversary of my wedding to Amanda today. Last year on our anniversary we watched the spectacularly bad Sharks in Venice. This year we’re reviewing Sharktopus. This must say something about us. I have been looking forward to this movie for months. Ever since I heard the title I’ve been in love with this movie. It’s like Snakes on a Plane – the title really says it all. Then I saw the preview and I became even more convinced that this was the perfect ultimate cheesefest for today, and boy was I right.

This movie has EVERYTHING. It has a secret military project to build a perfect biological weapon (which goes horribly wrong of course.) It has beautiful women in bikinis getting eaten by a mutated shark-octopus monster. It has the sexy but smart daughter of the man in charge of the S-11 project who is out trying to re-capture the beast before it can kill again. It has the rogue war veteran who only cares about the money being offered by Sands to capture the Sharktopus. It has the hard-nosed female reporter determined to break the story and the alcoholic sea captain who is her only witness. It is frighteningly self aware – with characters actually making fun of the plot of the movie because it is so very predictable. It has the obligatory Wilhelm scream. It even features a cameo by producer Roger Corman (although his role is far smaller than in Dinoshark, which we reviewed a couple days ago.)

Sharks in Venice may have been the most hilariously badly made shark movie we own, but this movie is the absolutely best digital shark monster movie ever. It fulfilled my every expectation from its Mortal Kombat style digital dismemberings to its delightfully predictable plot. A number of the extras that the shark eats are clearly not professional actors and their line reads are hilarious – as is their flailing as the digital creature attacks them.

I was delighted with every aspect of this movie. Eric Roberts, the only big name actor in the movie, portrays the villain Nathan Sands with scenery chewing relish. The rest of the cast, non actors included, are completely invested in the film and bring it to wonderful life. A couple of the establishing shots are of strangely low quality with clear artifacing on the DVD we were watching, but balancing that out on the other hand there are these incongruously artistic segments of the film where director Declan O’Brien presents phone conversations between Sands and his daughter Nicole as a sort of dynamic split screen.

As an added bonus this movie works as a sort of companion piece to Dinoshark, which was also produced in the same year by Roger Corman. Both digital shark monsters for some reason end up menacing the same Mexican resort town. I guess Corman just got a bulk deal for filming there – and he’s always been one to save a buck in every way possible with his movie making. I’d say that Dinoshark is superior, just in that it has such a laughably silly monster, but both are fantastic examples of the genre of digital shark monster attacks. If you’re the kind of person who gets delight from watching a digital shark monster eating helpless tourists I can’t possibly recommend this movie enough.

August 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 519 – Hammerhead

Hammerhead – August 1st, 2011

Shark Week 2011 continues with yet another incredibly cheesy shark movie we bought because I saw a few minutes of it while flipping channels. Unfortunately, the third one I spotted isn’t available yet, but even if we’re not still doing the full project by next summer (we’ve only got about 100 movies left so we’d have to come into a windfall of cheese to make it another year) I promise we will buy Malibu Shark Attack and review it. But before we go thinking about a year from now we’ve got this. And oh, it is some impressive drek.

All I’d seen of this movie prior to buying it was a short snippet of some people stumbling through the jungle, pursued by a hybrid half shark/half man. Obviously I had to have it. And I stand by this decision even if this movie did feel like it was about a million years long. Mostly I stand by it because the concept is definitely a throw back to mad scientist movies of the past. Within the first few minutes there’s even an Igor. We have our mad scientist, Dr. King, and he’s doing something with sharks and people and he’s obviously going to be the bad guy doing horrible evil experiments. And we have his assistant, whose name I don’t recall because as soon as the movie’s monster bit his hand and he started walking around all hunched he became Igor to me. It is so clearly an intentional reference that he couldn’t be anything else.

Unfortunately, the stuff with the mad scientist and his creepy experiments in creating shark people just doesn’t make up the majority of the movie. It’s certainly a key part of the plot, but most of the movie is spent following a group of people as they run around the uncharted island King’s lab is on. We get the plot laid out for us early on and then it’s run run run stumble fall nom nom nom. Lather, nom, repeat. Most of the shark bait in the movie are employees of a struggling pharmaceutical company (seriously?) and its CEO. They’ve come to the island to talk to Dr. King about a new treatment he’s developed involving stem cells. Turns out he’s managed to use shark stem cells to cure his own son’s cancer, but said shark cells also turned his son into a shark man and the shark man is now not much more than a shark with arms and legs, feasting on whoever he can grab.

In the long run, the plot involves the son’s former fiancee, Amelia, being strung up so Dr. King can try and get her pregnant with little shark babies, which is so very wrong on so many levels, but while I saw that coming a mile away, the movie didn’t seem to. King seems surprised to see her when she arrives with the group from the pharmaceutical company (she’s the head of R&D there) and as he explains to the CEO and other employees that he blames them for his ouster from said company, he apologizes to her because he knows she loved his son and he never planned for her to be a part of this. Okay, fine. I mean, the woman who gives birth to a shark baby and is then killed made it pretty obvious to me, but the movie treats the plot like it’s an accident that Amelia’s even there. Dr. King invited the rest of the group because he intended to kill them for revenge. Okay, that’s standard mad scientist stuff. But you’d think he’d have planned to lure Amelia there. Nope. But hey, he doesn’t pass up the opportunity to use her when it comes his way.

Fortunately for Amelia, her current boyfriend turns out to be a super badass and saves the day. Not that he saves anyone else. There’s a whole crew of disposable characters here who might as well walk into the movie with shirts that say “Shark special: All you can eat ME” on them. And boyfriend Tom does his best to shoot lots of guns and make lots of stuff explode in order to save them, but they all end up eaten anyhow. Tom, by the way, is the IT guy for the company. I suspect that his whole guns a’blazin’ routine was some techie’s wish fulfillment. He’s the computer geek with the hot girlfriend and he gets to shoot guns and stuff! Whatever. I don’t really care about him.

I only really care about Amelia, and mostly because the movie goes out of its way to make it clear just how horrible her situation is. I mean, let’s be frank here: King is strapping her down so his shark monster can rape her. Isn’t that a lovely thought? Clearly it’s the plan of an evil and terrible man and to the movie’s credit, there’s nothing remotely sexy about it. At no point do Amelia and the shark man share a tender look where Amelia questions her reticence towards human/shark intercourse because he used to be the man she loved. Which I wouldn’t have put past the movie. I was curious to note that despite the fact that Amelia wears pants through the whole movie, when she’s been stripped down for the shark she is wearing a slip. A bra and a slip. I know it’s an odd and petty thing to pick on in a movie like this, but it just seemed so clearly done for modesty so this could be shown on television.

Anyhow, I was disappointed that we didn’t see more of the shark man. We catch little glimpses of him every so often, and there are lots of frenzied shots of his mouth chomping on people. But for the most part there’s just an effect used on some first person POV shots so they don’t have to actually show him since he’s the one looking around. If it had kept with the whole mad scientist thing, or kept with the whole shark man chasing people through the jungle thing, then I’d have been a lot more interested. But it ends up messy, and I’m not just talking about the blood. I don’t expect a lot from a movie like this, but I did expect more than I got here.

August 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hammerhead

August 1, 2011

Hammerhead

This was another movie that Amanda recommended for the project. She had seen parts of it, or maybe just a preview, on SciFi and it looked to her like just the kind of cheese that we needed for our new Shark Week. It does have that flair to it, I have to admit, but I’m not sure this movie knows exactly what sort of movie it is. When it gives in to its b-movie roots it’s pretty fun, but then there are long stretches of the film where it’s trying to be a Rambo style action movie – and it just doesn’t work for me.

At its heart this is a mad scientist movie. The insane Doctor King, living in exile on an uncharted tropical island, has tampered in God’s domain. He (with the help of his hunched Igor-like sidekick and a crazy German woman with horn-rimmed glasses) has saved his son’s life from terminal cancer by blending his DND with that of a hammerhead shark. I think that’s what any loving mad scientist father would have done. But he doesn’t stop there. Dr. King is obsessed with the notion that his hybrid shark/man son is evolutionarily superior to humankind, and he has been trying desperately to have the Hammerhead monster mate with a human woman to start spawning a new race.

All that is some classic mad scientist stuff. The whole “sacrificing women to the monster” thing is very creepy – especially all the mostly naked women in tubes throughout King’s lair. I did wonder what his apparently never ending source of victims is – but then again he also has this big compound and a private army – I guess being a mad scientist in exile just pays well.

Doctor King has lured to his island domain a businessman in the pharmaceutical industry that he blames for his exile. He intends to feed his rival, Mr. Whitney Feder to his shark monster son. Mr. Feder brings along his post-divorce arm-candy girlfriend, his head of research and her boyfriend the head of IT for Whitney’s corporation and a couple bits of shark food so forgettable that I never learned their names. By odd coincidence the head of research, Amelia Lockhart, turns out to have been engaged to King’s son back before he became a mutated beast-man.

It starts out fine with King trapping them in a conference room then flooding it so that he can sick his shark-son on the whole group, but they quickly escape and the movie veers off the rails. Now I’m usually completely in favor of nerds being the heroes of movies (since I’m a nerd myself I kind of enjoy that dynamic.) The nerd in this case, however, IT director Tom Reed, doesn’t use his brains to save the day – he somehow transforms into Rambo instead. He wrestles armed guards, he blows up motorboats by shooting them with a rifle, he actually explodes a giant helicopter with a pistol and like Rambo he seems never to get shot no matter how many squibs are going off all around him.

I’m frankly puzzled by this whole aspect of the movie. It feels so out of place in a cheesy monster horror movie. I kept waiting for the firefights and the stunts and the explosions to end so that we could get back to a hilarious rubber monster eating people, which is what I had really signed on for. It also doesn’t help that William Forsythe as Tom and Hunter Tylo as Amelia have less than zero chemistry. He keeps calling her “sweetie” and “darling” and telling her how much he respects her and all, but not a single word of it rings true. Maybe if I actually wanted to see these people living happily ever after it would be easier to watch the interminable action chase scene that their part of the movie becomes.

I feel betrayed by this cheesy shark movie. I expected low budget cheese, and although I hadn’t been expecting quite so much mad scientist stuff thrown in I’m willing to accept that in my rubber monster movies. It’s all very Creature from the Black Lagoon. But then the movie is co-opted by all this shooty explosiony stuff which doesn’t fit at all. Oh, I’m a fan of ludicrous explosion filled action too – see my review of Action Jackson – but it feels so out of place in a monster horror movie. It messed with the pacing of the film and made an hour and a half feel like it was about three hours long. I kept waiting for the film to end, and it just kept going on. Never a good sign.

It’s too bad, too, because the actual shark man himself looked so completely hilarious. I am disappoint. With luck tomorrow’s movie will live up to the promise displayed in its absolutely marvelous trailer.

August 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 518 – Dinoshark

Dinoshark – July 31st, 2011

Last year for Shark Week we bought a bunch of horrible shark movies and had a grand time watching them and laughing our asses off. And we were surprised by at least one – Spring Break Shark Attack – and got just what we expected from another – Sharks in Venice. This year we thought we’d do it again with a new batch of shark movies. After all, Sharktopus wasn’t available when we did the last Shark Week and how could we pass that up? So tonight we embark on a new week of sharky goodness. We’ve got made for tv cheese like tonight’s movie. We’ve got a movie that terrified me as a kid. We’ve got a major theatrical release. And we’ve got Sharktopus. So we know we’re in for a good time.

Sadly, I don’t know if anything can ever top Sharks in Venice. It’s sort of a golden standard for us now. There was something so unapologetic about its ridiculousness. Granted, this movie comes close. I first saw it while flipping channels and I knew at once that we had to own it. Like several other monster movies we own, the concept is that a prehistoric monster got trapped in some ice and was released when the ice broke off a glacier or ice berg and melted in the ocean. Here we have a bunch of little baby dinosharks. Three years after the itty baby dinosharks go swimming off into the ocean we rejoin the movie to find that at least one has grown up big and strong enough to take out a small sailing vessel off the coast of Alaska and chow down on the sailor who was sailing it. Obviously a lone sailor isn’t going to be enough and it’s no fun setting a shark attack movie in Alaska. So the dinoshark heads for warmer waters, ending up off the coast of Mexico.

Let me be frank, here: I do not give a damn about any character in this movie. I’m pretty sure I’m at least supposed to care about the two leads, but I don’t. I barely remember their names an hour after the movie ended. Back when we watched Spring Break Shark Attack we figured we’d be getting a lot of people in bathing suits getting chomped on. That movie ended up having a whole message and plot and there were characters to care about at least a little and we were shocked. This movie? This movie delivers what we expected: People in bathing suits getting chomped. That right there is the movie’s purpose. Introduce monster, let monster loose on vacationers, blood in the water. The trick is coming up with a conceit for it that distinguishes it a tiny bit from any other movie that uses the same formula. Here, we’ve got the dinoshark.

And let’s talk about the dinoshark! Because it is hilariously awful. Like, imagine something hilariously bad, then assume it’s even more ridiculous. At work I have this great book called Paleosharks and there’s some pretty bizarre stuff in there. But none of them are like this. Through the latter half of the movie the characters seem to be referring to the creature as a pleiosaur. Which is funny, since that’s not a real thing. Then again, neither is the creature in the movie, which is basically a shark with crocodile skin and the head of a t-rex pasted onto its body. To its credit, it was the sight of the dinoshark itself that convinced me that this was a movie we needed to buy. So, mission accomplished there, I suppose. It’s just a good indication of what you’re getting into with this movie: Do not take it seriously or you will be so very disappointed.

The main characters – what I can remember of them – are Trace and Carol. Trace is from the area but only just returned to run a scuba diving boat for tourists while the friend who owns the boat is away. Carol teaches marine science at a local marine center but isn’t from the area. Together they hunt dinosharks! Sure, there’s some attempts at character development: There’s Carol’s creepy suitor who tries to get her to give up her science career to run the social activities at his resort. Trace talks about his father being in the military and how he couldn’t do it himself. But ultimately these things don’t matter in the least to the movie. These people aren’t so much characters as stick figures. The acting isn’t great, but I’ve seen worse. The thing is, there’s just no acting to be done here. Trace yells at the local cops, with whom he has some history, but then the dinoshark shows up to prove he’s not lying about it and the whole background there is a moot point. His father’s military background? Matters not one bit since another character entirely ends up going and getting a bazooka from his friends at a local army base. You’d think that would be a good chance to have something from Trace’s past matter, but nah. Who cares?

It’s similar for Carol through the rest of the movie. She maunders on about how she had no friends when she came to the area and all, but it doesn’t figure into anything. The only thing that matters at all is that in addition to her science background she also coaches a ladies’ water polo team. Who will of course get attacked. Like I said, the character backgrounds do not matter in the least. Carol’s only a scientist so they can have an excuse for someone to ID the thing that’s eating people left and right. That someone ends up being none other than Roger Corman himself, whom Andy IDed right away. I love it. It’s hilarious to see him on screen doing pseudoscience.

Really, the movie isn’t about the characters. And it’s not about what the monster is. Dinoshark, crocoshark, sharkosaurus, who cares? It’s a huge shark that leaps out of the water to snatch parasailers out of their harnesses. It lies in wait under floating hats from previous victims, apparently using the hat as a lure to catch another meal. It eats half of one victim, leaving her face recognizable just to mess with the rest of the humans. Cause it’s all about upping the terror quotient in a movie like this. And every computer generated moment of the dinoshark made me laugh in delight. This is not a big budget blockbuster. This is a made for television shark attack movie. And it is precisely the way I wanted to start my Shark Week.

July 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Dinoshark

July 312011

Dinoshark

Last year when the Discovery Channel did their annual Shark Week Amanda and I thought it would be amusing to collect a bunch of shark movies and watch them all in a week. It was an awful lot of fun and we saw some really hilariously bad movies, but there were movies that we didn’t have at the time and movies that have come out since which we felt we needed to add to our collection. Indeed SciFi seems to be specializing in low budget horror movies – many of which involve sharks in some way. So this year we’re delighted to host another week of cheesy shark movies. We seem to have inadvertently become connoisseurs of the cheesy shark genre. After the delightfully bad Sharks in Venice and the surprisingly good Spring Break Shark Attack we realized that there’s just an appeal to this low-budget sub-genre that speaks to us for some reason. So here we go again!

We start out this year with a movie that Amanda insisted we buy after seeing it advertised on SciFi. She simply fell in love with the monster – which is a shark’s body with a T-Rex head stuck on it. You can’t deny the appeal of that as a concept for a movie monster, but you have to have a special kind of love for cheese for that to be reason enough to actually buy a movie.

This film is a strictly by the numbers shark attack movie that never deviates from the tropes that make up the genre. It has a amiable and well meaning lug who works ferrying tourists out to dive spots in a boat he rents from a friend. He has a buddy on the police force and a rival who is now the local captain of police. When Trace gets into town he looks up another pal of his who owns a bar with his sister and a hot biologist with a masters degree who now coaches an all girls water polo team. A local business maven and slimeball has been trying to convince Carol to have her team participate in a game as part of a festival and regatta of some kind. A game that is to be held in an estuary just off the open ocean – and we all know just what that means.

I’ll be honest – I stopped caring about the characters in this movie almost immediately. I just wanted to see some people eaten by a dinoshark. Thankfully, the movie feels much the same way. Any time it begins to get bogged down with talk about the characters and their relationships with each other it cuts away to some random innocent person who you just know is about to get chomped. For a made-for-TV movie I will also say that I was impressed by the gore on display. The actual attacks are all filmed in extreme close up through clouds of blood, but we get to see the after effects a couple times. Dismembered corpses and floating limbs.

I had a lot of fun simply enjoying the pure cheese of this movie. The digital sharks. The many bikinied victims. And then along came my favorite thing in the entire movie. A scientist friend of Carol’s looked awfully familiar to me and darned if it wasn’t Roger Corman himself! I was already enjoying the cheesy fun of this movie, but to have the schlockmaster himself in a major supporting role raised it to an altogether greater level of fun for me.

Don’t look to this movie for originality. It’s a film about a prehistoric shark thing freed from a glacier that swims down to Mexico to eat tourists, after all. Don’t expect great acting or character drama. Don’t expect cutting edge special effects. Instead go into this movie expecting a hilarious shark thing with the face of a T-Rex that destroys a helicopter and eats a parasailor right out of his harness. That’s the kind of movie this is, and it’s exactly the movie Amanda and I had been looking forward to.

July 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 457 – Punisher: War Zone

Punisher: War Zone – May 31st, 2011

After last night’s depressing and tiresome gore-fest I was a little leery of putting this in. I mean, we had to according to the project rules and all, but I wasn’t sure I could handle another movie like last night’s. Thankfully, this movie has very little in common with last night’s! Okay, it’s still got Frank Castle, vigilante who takes down mobs. And it’s all gritty and urban and Castle’s got a skull on his chest and a whole lot of guns. But it’s definitely embraced its over-the-top nature and gone storming in with said guns blazing.

The cheese factor here is high enough that it makes things a heck of a lot more fun. Also making things more fun? No brutal backstory lead-up to the action. We get it all in a couple of vague flashbacks from Castle and a bit of exposition from a secondary character. In this one he and his family apparently witnessed a mob hit while having a picnic in a park, so the mob gunned them down too and Castle’s made it his mission to take down as many mobsters as he can. Nice and quick and simple and not at all part of the movie’s plot so we don’t have to care about it aside from motivation! That does a lot to keep the tone of the movie from being so painfully dour as the other one was. This is just pure action cheese, no sympathy for the main character necessary. He’s just a badass with a bunch of weapons and some body armor.

In fact, the main character doesn’t talk for like, twenty minutes. I hadn’t twigged to it but Andy did and it is pretty impressive. He’s just not much of a character and the movie knows that and seems to be a-ok with it. His character development consists of the backstory, two or three moments where he seems conflicted about continuing his bloody mission and some interactions he has with the widow and child of an undercover agent he killed by accident. And as character development for a cheesy action movie goes, that’s pretty good. It’s not too complicated. It’s not too deep. It doesn’t take us anywhere unexpected or more unpleasant than the movie already was. And that’s a good thing. A very good thing.

Really, this is a pretty mindless movie. You don’t have to think too hard to follow it. Castle goes after a mobster and accidentally kills an undercover agent in the process. Mobster gets all cut up in a bin full of broken glass and renames himself Jigsaw when he gets out. Mobster goes after the family of the downed agent, seeking revenge for losing money, being set up, whatever. Castle, having a soft spot for families and all, tries to protect them even though the widow is justifiably pissed off that he killed her husband. It’s a simple plot really. There’s some stuff with the mobster’s brother, who’s been in an asylum locked in a pretty ridiculous version of four point restraints. He’s a cannibal, it seems, so as one might expect there’s some chewing, and not just of scenery. And then Jigsaw gives a big speech to like, every gang in New York (I seriously expected the Baseball Furies to show up) in front of a projected image of the American flag, inspiring them all to join him to take Castle down.

Yes, I am totally serious. I mean, that’s the sort of movie this is. It’s sort of serious? Except it’s really not. It’s crossed that fine line into cheese and it’s a lot more enjoyable to watch because of it. Ray Stevenson isn’t a bundle of personality as Castle, but he doesn’t need to be. He needs to glower and shoot people. Dominic West isn’t playing a truly tragic villain as Jigsaw and Doug Hutchinson isn’t playing Hannibal Lecter as Jigsaw’s brother, Loony Bin Jim. I mean, look at those names right there. This? This is a comic book movie. No mistake about it. It’s even got a sidekick for the hero. A couple, actually, if you count both his intel and gun provider, Microchip (played by Wayne Knight, who does not get eaten by a dinosaur here but still doesn’t make it out alive) and the cop who’s sort of the Punisher version of Fox Mulder, keeping files on him in the basement of the police station.

It’s all just so silly. There’s a whole lot that seems to have been tossed in just to look cool and give Castle someone to kill, like the three meth junkies who go vaulting off rooftops after making deals with Jigsaw. There’s the ex-banger who works for Microchip, buying back guns from gangs and passing them on to Castle. There’s the army of various gangs who are way too easily dispatched by Castle once the Russians show up and start gunning people down. Oh, they have a reason but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it’s all done big. There’s not nearly the same amount of chunks slamming each other into walls as last night’s movie had. The action is quick and varied and it moves the movie at a good clip. Which is the way it ought to be.

I can’t say that this is a cinematic masterpiece or anything so fancy. It was never going to win any awards. It’s got some decent eye candy and it’s not horribly acted, if one accepts that it’s meant to be cheesy. But it’s nothing brilliant. The thing is, it’s not trying to be brilliant. It’s taking some comic book characters and a comic book plot and tossing them onto the screen with plenty of guns and ammo and just enough backstory and plot to keep things going. And that’s all it needs to be. Sure, I could have done without some of the so-called comic relief, but it’s not as grating as it could be and given the overall tone of the movie it doesn’t feel completely out of place. It’s a movie that knows its niche and works well inside of it. It’s unrealistic and it knows it and it doesn’t care and that’s fine with me.

May 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Punisher: War Zone

May 31, 2011

The Punisher: Warzone

I didn’t watch this movie before buying it (if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you probably know this is a weakness of mine.) As we put it in tonight I was hoping this would not be as painful as yesterday’s film, and do you know what? It’s not. It’s glorious.

I spent a lot of time in yesterday’s review talking about how unrelentingly violent it was. Well this movie is proof that unrelenting violence and gore can actually be pretty damned awesome. From the very beginning when a big lumbering Frank Castle beheads an elderly Mafia don with a bowie knife and proceeds to stab, slice, dismember and shoot every member of the dinner party you know exactly what kind of movie this is. He hangs from a chandelier and spins around shooting everything. He kills a guy with a chair leg to the face. This is a wonderful, ridiculous gorefest and I loved every stupid minute of it.

Ray Stevenson is our Punisher tonight and he’s a treat. That opening scene at the Mafia dinner party really well sets the stage. This Punisher is a great hulking mountain of doom who spreads cartoon carnage everywhere he goes. I was really impressed by the fact that for the first twenty five minutes of the film he doesn’t have a single line. He just kills bad guys. Lots of them. Gruesomely.

It’s while he’s on one of his deadly rampages that he inadvertently starts the primary plot of the movie going. While indiscriminately wiping out some mob guys he accidentally kills an undercover FBI agent. This causes him considerable anguish. He’s not supposed to kill the good guys. All of this is demonstrated nicely by a still mute Castle as he watches the agent’s funeral from afar and then visits his own grave. It’s a strange contradiction that this big dumb action romp is better put together and better written than yesterday’s movie with its big name actor villain and gritty realistic feel.

In the same fracas Castle drops the nasty traitor from the 300 into a bottle recycling hopper where his face gets mutilated. “Pretty Boy” Billy Russoti doesn’t die though – he survives and becomes The Jigsaw. Jigsaw has two objectives in his new life. Get the money that the undercover FBI agent was supposed to be laundering for him (he assumes that the agent’s widow has it hidden in her house for some reason) and kill the Punisher. He springs his psychopathic brother “Loony Bin” Jim from the asylum and together they set about achieving these goals.

Meanwhile there’s another FBI agent, the ex-partner of the one Castle killed, who is bent on bringing the Punisher to justice (something that the NYPD don’t seem too concerned about getting done.) It’s not hard to guess that Agent Budiansky’s character arc is going to involve him learning to stop worrying and love the Punisher. Still, it’s fun to watch it happen.

There’s nothing particularly surprising or Earth shattering about the plot of this movie. That’s part of its charm, really. It’s a comfortable sort of familiar action film. The Jigsaw ultimately kidnaps the widow and her daughter and holds them, as well as the Punisher’s sidekick Micro, hostage in an abandoned hotel. He goes out and in a hilarious montage that spoofs the opening of Patton he gives a rousing speech to many of the local gangs that the Punisher has terrorised over the years and invites them all to the hotel to trap and kill the man himself. Of course the Punisher slaughters them to a man – it’s just that kind of movie.

There’s so much to enjoy about this film. The spewing blood and exploding skulls for example. (I actually cackled with delight at one point when the Punisher punched a bad guy in the face and crushed his skull like an egg – it’s not something you see coming and it’s hilarious.) Then there are the fantastic accents affected by Jigsaw, Loony Bin Jim and the parkour loving dreadlocked black Irish goon Maginty. (Hell, the very existence of Maginty in the first place makes me grin just thinking of it.) The accents are heavy, broad, liberally applied and hilarious.

This whole movie is a hilarious treat. It takes everything that made yesterday’s movie nasty and unbearable to watch and turns it on its head. Do I like this one better or the Dolph Lundgren one better? It’s so hard to say. One is a low budget eighties cheese fest, the other a gory over the top action movie romp. I will say that after watching this tonight I wanted more – I don’t know if anybody will care to get director Lexi Alexander (I want more of her movies now!) and Ray Stevenson back for a second go, but I’d be delighted if they did.

May 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Equilibrium

May 29, 2011

Equilibrium

It’s funny how one’s perception of a movie can change. My recollection from the last time I watched this, shortly after I bought it on the recommendation of customers who really enjoyed the shooty action of it, was that it was a dark and gritty film with some cool gun fights. That was eight or nine years ago. As I watched it tonight I found myself somewhat startled by how flimsy the plot is, how brutally heavy handed the message, and how ultimately silly the whole movie is from start to finish.

If you were to go by my more impressionable Blockbuster patrons this movie would be the be all and end all of gunfight movies, and I can’t deny that it has a certain charm. Part of the premise of this movie is that the highly trained clerics that act as the secret police for the fascist regime that rules the world (or at least the one city we see) in this dystopian future have mastered a kind of gun-fu. They call it the “gun-kata” and there’s some mumbo jumbo about how their training allows them to fire into areas that have been statistically shown to be the more probable locations for their targets to be. The end result is that the clerics have a super-human ability to walk out into a gunfight and wave their arms around magically hitting every hapless person around them. It looks very cool, but it’s hardly realistic.

Indeed I think that could be my summation of this entire movie. It’s a cool, cheesy, meticulously produced action movie with not much plot to speak of and more holes in it than Albert Hall. It also clearly thinks it’s a movie with something important to say. It’s exceptionally pretentious and heavy handed in its attempts to appear to be something more than simply a movie with some cool fight scenes.

Right from the start it is a movie that would rather tell us in no uncertain terms what it is about than bother to try and show it to us. The opening monologue explains how after World War Three humanity decided that the only way to end all conflict was to outlaw the one thing that caused all hatred, andger and violence: emotions. To that end everybody is prescribed a daily dose of a powerful mood altering drug that must have made the lawyers for Prozac itch to claim libel. All art, music, perfume, prose or anything else that might elicit an emotional response is contraband, and the police, led by the clerics, hunt it all down and burn it. Think Fahrenheit 451 with a broader net than simply books. The most efficient and emotionless of the elite clerics is John Preston, played by Cristian Bale.

Right from the beginning it is established how powerfully emotionless John is. His own wife was incinerated for sense crimes at some point in the past. He kills his partner when he discovers that he has been rescuing books from incineration. His children are well dressed automatons with slicked back hair and are trained to rat out any classmates they see showing emotion. Then one day he accidentally misses a dose of not-Prozac and everything comes crashing down.

This is not really a movie with many twists or turns. There are a couple attempts at misdirection near the end and some machinations on the part of “The Father”, the talking head that runs the whole society, but for the most part this is a straight forward tale of a man deciding to overthrow the system that created him. The ultimate warrior.

If I were to level any complaint at this movie it would be that it tries so darned hard. It’s okay, movie, you don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s alright just to be a very slick and cool looking action film. My biggest complaint would be that the action scenes, cool as they are, are too few and over too quickly. There’s a lot of style and class to this movie, and the shootouts have a look to them that is pretty much unique. (The closest I can think of to compare it to are the bullet-curving firefights in Wanted.) The aesthetic of the emotionless society is great. Full of blacks and greys with the evil troops all decked out like Nazi SS troopers with their long black leather jackets. When the movie reaches its inevitable conclusion however it feels, well, insubstantial. It is implied that the great revolution is begun, but I didn’t really feel that the short action sequences right at the end brought any closure to the film.

I don’t know. This is not a great movie, but it seems to think that it should be considered one. In the end it’s a little disappointing to me in spite of the style and the swagger and the very cool performance of Christina Bale (who does emotionally confused and tortured so very well.) I would have to say that for pure cheese and action fun I somewhat prefer writer/director Kurt Wimmer’s more recent film about a lone warrior taking on the religious demagogue of a dystopian future society – Ultraviolet. That movie at least knew just how silly it was and reveled in it somewhat.

May 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment