A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Jaws 3

August 5, 2011

Jaws 3

The version of this movie that we own is not in 3-D, as it was so clearly meant to be. I wanted to find a 3-D version because that was the way I first saw the movie, but there doesn’t seem to be one out there, or at least none I could find on short enough notice for it to be part of this year’s Shark Week.

The first time I saw this movie was as part of a 3-D evening of television on channel 38 back in the Eighties. They showed a whole bunch of stuff in anaglyph red/blue 3-D including a Three Stooges short and this movie and you had to get your glasses from the local paper. (I didn’t have 3-D glasses so I stuck red and blue see-through colorforms on my glasses, which worked just as well, but looked kind of nerdy.) Even way back then I was a fan of 3-D, and although I had no fondness for horror movies I couldn’t resist watching this. Really this movie needs to be seen in 3-D. It’s full of things that are obviously meant to be popping out of the screen at you from the opening credits to the grand finale. Besides that, the version we’re watching tonight on DVD has several bits where there process used to tint the film red and blue has not been completely reversed, leaving eye-watering edges on the characters and backgrounds.

Without stuff popping out of the screen this is only a mediocre cheesy shark movie with less than spectacular special effects. In this movie it is not Captain Martin Brody that is menaced by a giant shark – it is his sons. Mike is working as foreman doing construction on the new Seaworld undersea lagoon attraction in Florida and his brother Sean (who is deathly afraid of the water and has been going to college far from the ocean) is visiting. Of course on the eve of the opening of the new Seaworld a shark gets into the lagoon and terrorises the staff, until it is captured by Mike’s marine biologist girlfriend. It’s a relatively small ten-footer and all seems well until it becomes apparent that one of the staff members was in fact killed by a much larger shark. She’s about thirty-five feet long, she’s the mother of the shark they’ve captured (which died in captivity) and she’s pissed.

This movie is a sort of transition for the Jaws franchise from serious horror film to cheesy fantasy. The location alone is the stuff of seventies disaster movies like towering inferno. The undersea complex is an advanced technological marvel with a high-tech control room at its heart from which the park manager can monitor things all over and react to any situation. Of course when the big shark gets loose a bunch of people get trapped inside and so it’s a rush to get them out before they suffocate.

There are a couple things that puzzle me about this movie. One is how on Earth the film makers convinced the executives at Sea World to allow them to set their shark monster movie there. I suppose that Universal owns Sea World (and half of Orlando besides, with Disney owning the other half) but just because you CAN get the rights to set a monster movie in your theme park doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Did this movie work as some kind of strange promotion for the park? Would people who had seen a movie about tourists trapped in a park attraction actually be inclined to visit that park? I don’t know.

The other thing that puzzles me is the star power attached to this movie. Sure Lea Thompson wasn’t a big name at the time (this was her film debut I guess) and maybe Dennis Quaid hadn’t quite arrived, but they have Louis Gossett Jr., hot off of his Oscar from An Officer and a Gentleman, appearing as the street-talking big wheeling park owner Calvin Bouchard. I suppose there must have been an air of legitimacy to the Jaws franchise – or maybe he just wanted to appear in something campy and silly. Certainly his performance is a strange one. He’s the ever cool and in command corporate bigwig, but Gossett plays him with a hip sort of jive which seems strange for the character’s social standing. Maybe it’s an Eighties thing. Maybe it’s just that this entire movie is packed to the gills with accented stereotypes and Gossett preferred to fit in.

And oh, are the accents thick on the ground here. Most of the locals are played as down-south hicks such as I would expect to see in a seventies trucker movie. Then there’s the foppish British photographer and globetrotting adventurer Philip FitzRoyce and his Australian manservant. There is a sense that the people involved in this movie knew that it was turning the corner from serious film to camp. What else could a 3-D shark attack movie set in Sea World be? It is movies like this one, much more so than films like Jaws, that are the progenitors of that whole delightful genre of “Roger Corman Presents” cheesy monster movies. I didn’t mind watching it again. Amanda and I had fun laughing at the poorly processed special effects, the bits that were clearly meant to jump out at us, and the giant rubber shark. As long as you aren’t expecting a serious movie you can pretty much relax and enjoy this.

Tomorrow: The Revenge! I’m looking forward to that, I must say since I’ve only seen the very end of it before.

August 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 522 – Jaws 2

Jaws 2 – August 4th, 2011

After watching Jaws last year we decided we should perhaps buy the sequels for the next year’s Shark Week. And lo and behold, it’s the next year’s Shark Week now and so we’re watching the thoroughly pointless sequel to a movie that never really needed one (but ended up getting three). I admit, this is sort of my fault. I have some rather tame childhood memories of the third movie so we decided to get that but then it seemed silly not to get the second and fourth movies if we were getting the third. So now we’re watching this. And yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous.

I think my major issue with this movie isn’t really that it’s bad, it’s that it’s mediocre. There’s nothing revolutionary here. There’s no attempt to do anything different aside from have lots of teenagers involved. The plot is almost identical in shape to the first movie. Until the end, which is sadly lacking. You’ve got Chief Brody, again played by Roy Scheider, and you’ve got a great white shark snacking on people in the water just off the shores of Amity Island. You’ve got Brody warning the town’s authorities that there’s a shark and you’ve got the authorities deciding to err on the side of money and not warn the tourists. And you’ve got a climactic battle between man and shark. Without as much climax.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to say about this movie. The plot isn’t any more complicated than I just explained. Sure, there’s some drama because of the teens but ultimately the movie is a rehash. I don’t particularly mind the whole teenager subplot, it’s just not terribly engrossing. I’m certain it was added in order to try and attract a teenage audience. Whereas the first movie’s focus was on Chief Brody and Matt Hooper and the two of them being bound and determined to convince everyone of the danger, then to take out the shark. The people in danger weren’t the people we were paying attention to. So the introduction of Brody’s kids and the group of teens makes sense on two fronts. I just don’t think it did much in the end.

To make the movie’s shark attacks more personal, we spend a lot of time with elder son, Mike, who’s 17 and wants to go out sailing with his friends. When his father suspects there’s a shark in the area he grounds Mike, gets him a job and tells him to take his boat out of the water. Of course, being 17 and having a group of friends who’ve all grown up on an island, sailing and boating and whatnot, Mike eventually sneaks out, taking his little brother Sean with him. And it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen there, isn’t it? After several attacks on other people and all that ominous music, it’s just a matter of time before the shark goes after the group of teens out enjoying their summers.

There’s nothing really unpredictable about this movie. It’s going through the motions of the first one with a few nods to the timeline and no real innovation. Brody gets fired when he won’t back down from his convictions about the supposed shark attacks but he ends up taking the police boat out anyhow. It doesn’t end up mattering. Nothing that’s supposed to matter in this movie ends up having much effect on anything. There’s a scientist who shows up when a killer whale is beached with lots of injuries and Brody talks at her about great white shark bite radii and then she leaves and nothing ever comes of the conversation. He tries to reach his old pal but his old pal was busy filming another movie so nothing ever comes of him either. It’s a movie full of loose ends and aborted plot points.

It just feels like a nothing of a movie. I’m struggling to find more to say about it because this feels so short to me after several reviews of crappier movies were so much longer. But the crappier movies at least had things to talk about. Like I said, this is mediocre. It wasn’t trying to be as good as the first and it wasn’t trying to break free of it either. It was trying to cash in on the same market and pull in some teens at the same time. I will say that I rather like the teens in this movie. They’re a little rebellious, sure, but they’re not obnoxious or rude or mean. They’re teens. And they’re fairly savvy when it comes to how to handle themselves after they get attacked by the shark. I was pleased to see a few of them remaining relatively cool headed and getting the others to help lash their damaged boats and catamarans together for more stability. But that’s about all I have to say about them. A few of them are doomed, of course, because this is a shark attack movie. But there’s just no real terror here. The ending is distinctly anticlimactic and I found myself hoping that Chief Brody decided to retire somewhere inland where all he has to worry about is land sharks posing as Candygrams.

August 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Jaws 2

placeholderAugust 4, 2011

Jaws 2

“Just when you thought it was safe to do a shark week project for your movie blog…”

For the last three days of shark week Amanda and I are going to watch all three of the completely unnecessary sequels to the granddaddy of all shark attack movies: Jaws. I’ve seen Jaws 3 before, and I’ve seen the laughable end of Jaws: The Revenge before, but I’ve never seen this movie. I kind of think that most people haven’t. It’s an unnecessary sequel that was inevitable after the blockbuster success of the first movie.

I was amused because right at the very beginning of the movie I thought the girl playing Tina Wilcox – “Miss Amity Island” looked extremely familiar to me. I just couldn’t figure out where I knew her from. I thought it was something less than great – maybe a MST movie. I just couldn’t place it, so I checked IMDB, and damned if it wasn’t Ann Dusenberry – the star of Lies, which was a very cool psychological thriller my uncles made in the mid Eighties. It blows my mind that after all these years I recognised her even if I couldn’t place her.

This movie is mired in the seventies. Far more so than the first Jaws film. For some reason, even though the first film takes place in 1975 and features all of the fashions thereof during the segments that take place on land once the three lead characters take to the sea to hunt down the shark it becomes fairly timeless. This movie stays closer to shore – pretty much reprising the first half of Jaws but with more kids in peril. And oh, are the fashions displayed by this cast of teenage characters heavily dated, from hair to clothes. It’s impressive.

Amanda complained as we watched this, and I have to agree, that it brings nothing fresh to the Jaws world. Indeed this film is almost a re-make of the first movie except that it doesn’t feature the male bonding and adventure of the second half. Instead it concentrates on Police Chief Brodie and his attempts to convince the recalcitrant officials of Amity Island that there is a giant shark threatening the beaches. You may recall in the first movie the scene where Brodie’s son is riding a little boat in an estuary away from the beach and the shark threatens him? Well expand that single scene into a full length movie and you have this film.

Roy Scheider returns as Martin Brodie and his primary rival continues to be Murray Hamilton as Mayor Vaughn. When vacationers start to disappear and a killer whale with big chunks taken out of it washes up on a beach Brodie instantly knows what’s up: there’s another big shark out there. But there’s a big hotel development going up on the island and the pressure is on to show the place in the best possible light so naturally Mayor Vaughn resists any attempts to close the beaches. It ends up being a big show down and when Brodie causes a panic on the beach after thinking he’s spotted the shark (this scene was much cooler in the original Jaws with very cool cuts between Brodie’s POV and the dawning horror on his face – but what do you want with a lazy sequel like this) the local council fire Brodie for disturbing the peace.

Meanwhile all of the local teens are spending the summer taking day trips out in a variety of little boats and generally acting like teens (making out and stealing their fathers’ beer and such) so when everybody finally does become convinced that the new shark is real all the children are far away from the island and isolated on their little craft. Naturally it is up to Brodie, all alone with a little launch that somehow in the five years of being police chief for an isolated island town he has never learned how to drive, to defeat the monster and save any surviving children.

This was not directed by Stephen Spielberg, and it shows. Spielberg, in the first Jaws movie, very wisely gave as little screen time to the rubber shark as possible. This time around it is shown rather too much, and it is not at all convincing or horrifying. In an attempt (I assume) to make the monster more frightening or to give it character or something this shark becomes scarred and burned during one of its attacks, but the end result is that it looks even more fake than before. The “burned flesh” of the shark looks more rubbery and silly than ever before. It’s like people are being attacked by a poorly articulated singed muppet.

I said that this sequel was lazy and I meant it. It has nothing whatsoever new to contribute to the first film and re-treads the more tiresome parts of that movie. The first Jaws doesn’t really come to life until Quint, Brodie and Hooper set out to hunt the monster down – and this movie doesn’t seem to understand that at all. It’s more about the shark attacks than about the pitting of man against an unstoppable force of nature. Also, I have to say as a viewer jaded by years and years of monster attack movies the ending feels flimsy and unsatisfying. Perhaps in the day it worked, but now I am distinctly left wanting more.

August 4, 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

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 505 – The Deadly Mantis

The Deadly Mantis – July 18th, 2011

For a giant monster action scream-fest this movie sure starts slow. First we get some cartography, then a nice lengthy lesson on radar and how we’re apparently using it to keep an eye on those shifty Canadians up north. Seriously, the first ten minutes of this movie are spent showing us maps of places and talking about the “Pine Tree Radar Fence” on the “unfortified Canadian border.” Then people talk over radios and nothing happens. Not precisely the sort of thing that grabs you by your lapels and drags you forward in your seat. Unless you’re a radar/Canada conspiracy theorist (okay, okay, I know it was Russia we were so worried about, but they’re never mentioned and the movie focuses a lot on “The North”).

We bought this ages ago, back when we worked at the video store in Pennsylvania. At the time we grabbed it because it was a cheap used VHS cassette of a movie MST3K had done. And we were amused by the idea of owning un-MSTed versions of MST3K movies, which is why we own Danger: Diabolik and Overdrawn at the Memory Bank and of course, Warrior of the Lost World. I’d marked it down as something we’d seen, because I know we’ve watched the MST3K episode all the way through, but then watching it tonight I realized that perhaps I hadn’t paid much attention to it. Vast swaths of the movie were brand new to me. Far more than could be accounted for by the editing done for MST3K’s bumpers and commercials. Ah well, I’ve seen it all now!

Truth to be told, I don’t think I’d missed much. It’s not that this is a horrible movie. On the contrary, it has some fairly well done effects for a movie of its kind. The giant mantis is nicely done and really, I can’t fault a movie for having Action Paleontology. It’s fun, really, seeing the military guys sitting around debating what to do and being somewhat clueless about this mysterious threat that’s destroyed outposts and whatnot, and then calling in The Scientist. I love seeing scientists as the go-to heroes in movies like this. Modern movies like The Rock and Jurassic Park do it too, putting scientists in lead roles and making them the ones who know what’s going on, but in older movies, like this and This Island Earth the scientists don’t play second fiddle to anyone. They’re heroes, by virtue of being smart. So I give the movie credit there, though This Island Earth gets slightly more thanks to having female scientists as well as male. Still this movie also has a fairly strong female lead, even if it does undermine her at the end.

As I mentioned, the movie starts out slow. There’s a lot of explanation here to set up the whole concept of the giant pre-historic mantis stuck in the ice in the arctic and freed apparently by a volcanic eruption down near Antarctica. And then lots more explanation for how it would be detected and why we’ve got soldiers stationed up in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. And what’s frustrating about that is that it’s not necessary. Who cares why the ice floe that held the mantis broke off, freeing it? And the soldiers and radar net or whatever? That’s all explained in context later on in dialogue between the various characters as they puzzle over the broken off bit of bug that gets found after one of the attacks. Was that part of the movie just propaganda to inform people about how well we were protected from Commies coming over the North Pole? No clue.

Once everything is explained we get our hero, Dr. Ned Jackson, and his intrepid journalist pal, Marge Blaine up north to encounter the mantis for themselves. Ned and Marge both work at the Museum of Natural History, Ned as a paleontologist and Marge as the editor of the museum’s magazine. Now, this is where the movie lost some of the good will I had towards it for having a paleontologist as the hero. Because once they go up to the Army base to take a look at the giant mantis tracks Marge is reduced to being a walking pair of breasts. The Army guys are all agog at her very existence and she’s treated as if she’s incompetent for the rest of the movie. Of course one of the Army guys ends up romancing her after the mantis is dead, telling her to leave the photography to Ned. Haha! Now that she has a man she doesn’t have to do that silly career stuff!

All in all, I was enjoying the movie well enough as a 50s monster movie but it sort of washed over me at times. It didn’t hold my interest terribly well. I’d look up and realize something was happening. I cheered when klaxons sounded because it meant there were things going on. And then suddenly they were trapping the mantis in a tunnel and shooting it with lots of big weapons and then it was dead. And I hadn’t realized that much time had gone by. I think it was all the talking. I don’t mind that there’s a good deal of discussion here because a lot of it is science talk about drawing conclusions based on evidence and so on. But then there’s other talk that just seemed to pad the film out a bit. Like I said, it’s not really a horrible film, but it is slow. Much slower than a monster movie should be. It’s got its high points and there are parts of it I quite like. But it suffers from all the nothing that happens in between the parts where the mantis is destroying stuff.

July 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

July 12, 2011

X-Files: I Want to Believe

I mentioned in the review for yesterday’s movie that I felt like the movie was a lengthy episode of the TV series. That’s actually far more true of this movie. This film is all about catching up with Mulder and Scully to see what’s been up since the end of the show and enjoy one last X-Files adventure with them. Here comes the awkward confession though – I didn’t really watch the X-Files after the last movie. I watched some episodes as a casual fan up through about season five but not much after that. As a result I wasn’t really sure how much in this movie was moving the characters past what they were in the show and how much was just a continuation of themes from the later seasons.

So what have the two of them been up to since the show ended? Well Dana has retired from the FBI at last to follow her career as a doctor, and Fox has been growing a shaggy beard. What’s interesting is that the event that brings the two of them reluctantly out of retirement is not some kind of epic world changing conspiracy, it’s a little tale of abductions, strange medical procedures and psychic powers. Very much like any stand-alone episode of the show this isn’t about the over-arching plot – it’s just about these characters and the slightly supernatural world they inhabit.

An FBI agent has been abducted and the team hunting for her has for some reason turned to a scraggly haired ex priest who is plagued by visions that pertain to the case. See if you can follow this now: the agent in charge of the search for the missing girl wants to believe the visions of the priest, but isn’t completely sold. She decides, therefore, to seek out that famous investigator of the paranormal Fox Mulder. Fox has been living in hiding though because of something having to do with being discredited (I think) and hunted by the FBI. They want to offer him amnesty so they can pick his brain and get the movie going, but they have to find him first. Naturally, therefore, they seek out his old partner Dana Scully because they know she’ll know where to find him. He agrees to go check out this psychic priest but only if Dana agrees to come along to keep him grounded.

I see all kinds of hints of character traits that were played up extensively in the show here. Particularly Scully’s whole clash between her scientific scepticism and her Catholic faith. She’s working now for a hospital that is run by a gaunt priest. She is desperate to save the life of her (apparently) only patient, who is a boy with some degenerative brain disease and is willing to use controversial experimental therapies to do so. Then it turns out that Father Joe is not just a psychic ex-priest, he’s a convicted pedophile. It’s all tied together. The whole thrust of the episode movie is that people don’t know if they can trust this fundamentally flawed man. Either his visions are a genuine psychic phenomenon and a way for Father Joe to redeem himself somewhat or he’s a loathsome shyster trying to scam the FBI. Naturally Fox wants to believe him and Dana despises him from the moment she discovers his past.

Gillian Anderson has the most to work with here. Scully spends the entire movie being conflicted, which means she has a whole lot of scenes of soul searching – perhaps too many. I know that Amanda’s biggest problem with the movie is that Dana is not really part of the main plot, that her whole thing with the dying boy in the hospital has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie. It’s most confusing when you come to the fan service scenes. We get to see Dana and Fox in bed together acting like an old married couple (even though they never refer to each other using their first names.) Then Scully agonises because she doesn’t like the whole dark world of the FBI and she just wants to live her life without all that.

Meanwhile David Duchovny has a lot less to work with. Fox starts out as a recluse living in the woods with his beard and his newspaper clippings, and the movie is just him turning back into the character he was in the show. He re-discovers his passion for paranormal investigation, which is fun to watch and all, but it doesn’t really give him anything new to do.

I actually had more fun with this movie than I did with yesterday’s. It’s not really trying to be more than a fun episode of the show, and I enjoyed being brought back to those strange and creepy shows that made me enjoy the X-Files back in the late nineties. It reminded me what it was about the show that worked, and it proves that even when the ongoing unresolved sexual tension of the show is finally out of the way these characters are still fun to watch. Maybe it could do with a little less angst and a little more supernatural horror, but it works well enough for me and it left me wanting more.

July 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 495 – The Mist

The Mist – July 8th, 2011

Horror is not my genre-of-choice, usually. It tends to make me tense and it’s not really where my interests lie. But for some bizarre reason I do like a fair deal of Stephen King’s books. Not all of them, but enough. And top on my list of King works I enjoy are the Dark Tower books. Now, this may seem unrelated, but it’s not. Because when we meet out main character, David, here, he’s painting a poster for one of them, with an easily-identifiable Roland Deschain front and center. So right from the outset, this movie had way more of my attention than I had expected it would get when we put it in.

I only vaguely remembered this movie from ads when it came out. At the time I hadn’t realized it was based on a King novella and dismissed it as a gimmicky fright fest. But tonight, learning that it was based on King and adapted for the screen by Frank Darabont (also responsible for The Shawshank Redemption), well, that gave me pause. And watching it I found myself thinking about some other works I’m more familiar with. Given how King connected so many of his works together by the time he finished the Dark Tower books, I don’t find it hard to connect this one too. It instantly makes the movie more interesting to me as it becomes part of a much larger universe and makes the mist and the creatures within it more recognizable.

The story here follows David and his son, Billy, after a huge storm knocks out the power in their small town in Maine. Along with a neighbor, David and Billy head into town for supplies. Soon after they do an eerie bank of mist rolls into town, blanketing everything and making it impossible to see more than a couple of feet away. David, Billy, the neighbor (Brent – and I’ll come back to him) and a number of other assorted townspeople find themselves trapped inside the local grocery store, unable to even see their cars in the parking lot. Now, I live in the Northeast, on the coast and half of my drive home is on a road along a beach. I’ve driven in heavy fog and mist coming in off the water. So I instantly understood the townspeople’s reluctance to simply go find their cars and leave. Driving in that sort of visibility (or lack thereof) is terrifying anyhow. So they’re all reticent to leave, but the mist doesn’t lift or dissipate and eventually they decide they’ll just have to go. Until a man rushes in, warning them not to go out there because there are things in the mist and they’ll get you.

And thus we have the actual horror part of the movie. The people inside aren’t sure what to make of the whole monsters outside thing, and many of them don’t believe it. David hears a strange sound in the back room of the supermarket, then sees the loading bay door buckle, but no one believes him until a couple of other men come in to help work on the backup generator and one of them ends up yanked out of the building by spiked tentacles. This is our first real look at the monsters that provide the external threat to our heroes and we don’t even get to see the whole thing. And that, right there, is something this movie does right. The full extent of the infestation isn’t revealed right then and there, just tentacles. Which is a great way to build up the tension. I mean, soon enough we’ll see more, but for now the tension lies squarely on a few people knowing that something horrible is out there and not being able to convince the rest.

Really, there are two points of tension here. One is the threats outside of the market. The other is human nature. Because what the people inside the supermarket do is immediately fracture into groups. First they have the group of people who believe that going outside is dangerous, versus the group of people who think it’s ridiculous and David and the others are either delusional or lying. The leader of the latter group is Brent, David’s neighbor. And here is my first issue with the movie. There’s a fair deal of set-up for Brent and David being at odds and then seeming to overcome their issues enough to get along during this emergency. There’s talk of a lawsuit/property dispute between them in the past and it’s made out to be a big thing for the two of them. And then Brent takes his group out into the parking lot and we never see them again. A man who went with them to try and retrieve his shotgun from his truck ends up coming back as a torsoless set of legs, so it’s implied that they’re dead. Brent makes a lot of fuss about how clearly David and the other locals are having him on and how he’d thought that he and David were getting along now but apparently he was wrong and then… Nothing. He’s built up from the beginning to be an antagonist but he’s just a diversion. Which is incredibly frustrating. I’m also giving this movie’s casting director the side-eye for the unfortunate implications of having the only person of color with a major speaking role (Andre Braugher as Brent) as the antagonist and one who’s bumped off early on.

The real internal antagonist ends up being a religious fanatic named Mrs. Carmody. She’s played by Marcia Gay Harden and given what she’s got to work with I think she does a good job. The trouble here is that once monsters start smacking into the windows of the store and people start dying, she starts preaching. And in less than a day she manages to convert most of the people in the store to her rambling account of this being the end of days as described in the Bible. Now, I get that the point here is that people will panic in an emergency and in such a bizarre and terrifying situation as this they might well lose any sense of reason they had. Mrs. Carmody comes off as bitter and nasty and thoroughly delusional right from the start and it’s stated that she’s known for not being trustworthy. But soon she has everyone bent to her will but David and his couple of loyal friends. And it seems to happen really fast. My hands-down-favorite character, supermarket assistant manager Ollie, does get a good line about how if you put more than two people in a room together for too long they’ll look for ways to kill each other, which is why we created politics and religion. But here we only get the religion, and we get it in heavy doses right from the start.

Pretty soon Carmody is inciting her followers to form a mob and “sacrifice” people to appease the monsters and earn God’s favor (or something like that). She focuses on David’s son, Billy, and a schoolteacher named Amanda, telling her followers to grab them. If this had taken a couple more days I’d have found it slightly more realistic. Mobs form fast, but this wasn’t a mob and wouldn’t have been without Carmody and I just find it difficult to believe that this size group would all go in her direction so quickly. But they do, so our heroes have to escape. And this is why it had to happen so fast. To establish the danger from outside, the monsters have to be terrifying and pose a threat to anyone leaving. But if they’re that threatening, it won’t take long for them to get inside. Which means the threat from inside needs to form quickly as well to force the heroes out but keep them small and vulnerable. I get the structure, I just wish it was built a little bit sturdier.

Overall, really my biggest issue with this movie is that I don’t know if all the characters serve the movie well. We meet a number of different people, since it’s a fairly good-sized group in the market when the mist comes in, but we barely have time to learn their names (or not, in some cases) and maybe a factoid or two about their lives before they’re dead. The whole Brent storyline is indicative of this. There’s a bit with a cashier and her high school sweetheart, and couple of mechanics, and a biker and I feel like I’m supposed to care more about these people than I get any time to. I suspect this has to do with the original story being first person? I could be wrong, as I haven’t read the story, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was right. What I do like is the creatures out in the mist and how they remind me of the illustrations from the third Dark Tower book, The Waste Lands. That and the Dark Tower reference at the beginning make the whole movie feel like it’s a piece of that universe and even if I didn’t enjoy the movie anyhow, it would be that much more enjoyable to me on that merit.

July 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Mist

July 8, 2011

The Mist

This was one of those “what on Earth was I thinking” purchases I made while working at Blockbuster. I really had no intention of buying this movie. I’m not a fan of horror films, really. It’s never been my preferred genre. I enjoy the stories of Stephern King, but movies based on them are hit and miss. Of course this movie is from Frank Darabont, the director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, who has made a career out of doing spectacular adaptations of Stephen King. At the time that I bought this, though, I didn’t know that. I had read the story many years ago and it didn’t particularly make me want to watch a movie based on it. You know what finally made me decide to buy it (after being exposed to the preview for a couple months?) It was the tentacles. There was a shot in the preview that had Cthuloid tentacles descending from the clouds, and because I’m not quite right in the head this image made me want to own the entire movie. But I didn’t watch it until today.

I have to admit that I’m glad Darabont keeps going back to Stephen King, because he’s clearly got a knack for King’s work. King is all about putting regular people in dire circumstances and letting them be human. In this particular case the dire circumstances involve people trapped in a grocery store when an unnatural mist rolls down out of the mountains above Castle Rock after a thunder storm. Professional painter David Drayton goes to the store to stock up on supplies after the storm with his son and his litigious neighbour but while they’re there the mist rolls in. At first, of course, it looks like it’s just a strange weather pattern, but soon it becomes clear that there are “things” in the mist. Things that will grab people and tear them apart.

The film, like the story it’s based on, is more about the psychological tension of people trapped in close quarters with each other while something horrific is going on. At first there are skeptics, like David’s neighbour, who refuse to believe that there’s anything supernatural going on. They don’t last long. Then there is the crazy religious fanatic Mrs. Carmody who believes that the mist is the realization of the book of Revelations and that the beasts in it are God’s just vengeance for the hubris of humankind. Almost worse than the creatures outside are the evils brought forth in the simple humans trapped in the store. In some people the crisis brings out the best, such as with bag-boy Ollie Weeks who repeatedly proves himself to be an unexpected hero and our protagonist David who is the voice of reason and finds himself taking command when nobody else will. Many other people, however, become spiteful, frightened, useless or dangerous.

What I found myself especially enjoying about the movie was the deft way that Darabont built the tension and maintained it. The real terror in this movie comes mostly from the fact that we almost never see the beasts in the mist unobscured. They are terrifying nightmare fodder that capture and consume anyone foolhardy enough to venture outside, but we mostly see the results of their actions rather than the creatures themselves. This makes it all the more dreadful when eventually a small group do have to venture outside in search of medicine and possibly survivors at the pharmacy next door. We get to see some of the smaller beasts – giant flying scorpion bugs and four-winged lizard predators as well as terrifying spider things that spit acidic webs – but the most deadly things are just shapes in the fog, ill defined and all the more frightening because of it.

Once you’re done watching the movie you realize that everything is build up to the inevitable conclusion. Every dreadful night-time encounter or spate of in-fighting among the survivors is a part of a larger picture that’s being painted. I have to say that I think I’ve seen this ending done before in other horror films. I haven’t seen it done so well. Darabont spends the whole film creating a state of mind – an overwhelming sense of dread – so that he can sell the events of the conclusion, and he does it perfectly.

There is much that I enjoyed about this movie. I loved the creature design and the effects work. The things in the mist are fantastic nightmare fodder and the glimpses you get of them, particularly near the conclusion, make it clear that they are highly developed, almost majestic killing machines. The acting throughout the movie is superb. After the dreadful Punnisher movie he did I didn’t have high hopes for Thomas Jane as our protagonist David. As Mrs. Carmody Marcia Gay Hardon is almost as horrifying as the creatures outside – she completely sells this woman who has felt under appreciated and put upon for her entire life but who now sees these horrific events as her vindication. Every one of the characters presented is well fleshed out with understandable motivations for their actions, so even the people who are the most despicable are still terrifyingly human.

Again: I am not a fan of horror movies in general. I don’t necessarily think it’s a fun time to be terrified. This movie, though, has instantly leaped to near the top of my list of favorite horror films. I don’t know if it does anything original with the common tropes of people trapped during an apocalyptic event (which I associate mostly with zombie movies) but it does everything so very well that I don’t mind that I feel like I’ve seem most of this before. Indeed as bleak and unsettling as the movie is there are parts of it that I kind of want to watch again. It must be that same thing in me that loves seeing the aliens winning in the new War of the Worlds remake: I have a soft spot for supernatural Armageddon tales.

July 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment