Tuesday, July 29, 2008

REVIEW: Fracture

Dude on the right's in trouble. He's up against a 9-foot-tall, well-tanned Udo Kier.

I was actually kind of psyched for this movie. It’s a legal battle of wits between Evil Sir Anthony Hopkins and… some guy named Gosling. Okay, so those of us who don’t watch quirky independent movies might not have gotten too excited about the second half of that matchup, but Jodie Foster wasn’t a huge star when she played Evil Sir Anthony’s foil in Silence of the Lambs, and Ryan Gosling is actually a very good actor with a strong resume, even if this was the first movie I‘d seen him in, which is probably a point in his favor, considering the movies I usually watch. As for this movie, the Silence of the Lambs formula is in full effect. Evil Sir Anthony chews up the scenery while some young legal/law enforcement hotshot tries to keep up. And even better, Sir Anthony isn’t just the young hotshot’s mentor, the Obi-Wan Kenobi from Hell, but the adversary. Nothing wrong with that. He might be Hannibal Lite in this movie, but at least Sir Anthony isn’t playing the ‘shoe shine guy from Police Squad' role.
Martial Arts Choreography by Ryan Gos Ling.

Sir Anthony in this movie is less of a psychopath than just an arrogant sooper-genius prick who happens to have murdered his wife. He’s Garry Kasparov except that… well, I presume Kasparov hasn’t killed anyone. Sir Anthony plays a ridiculously wealthy engineer who loves his complex little rolling marble doohickey (and yes, I know it would help if I knew the word for it), so you KNOW he’s got an equally complex and well-engineered fiendish plot. The subject of his criminal attentions is his wife, who’s sleeping around. Unfortunately, even though she’s played by the love interest from Army of Darkness, we’re not building up to a Hannibal Lecter vs. Ash apocalyptic showdown, which would have made for a vastly better movie.
"Oh, and one more thing..."

He kills her in the most diabolical way possible: he shoots her! With a pistol! I checked the DVD, and there’s no deleted scene where Jigsaw swings by to give him some coaching in the execution arts. But here’s where the real trick comes in. When the cops show up at his mansion, and send in a hostage negotiator, unaware that the wife is already dead, the negotiator realizes that Sir Anthony has just shot his girlfriend! Yeah, isn’t it just the teensiest bit convenient that Sir Anthony’s wife opted to sleep with the very guy they’d send in to his house at this point? While Loverboy is shocked to see that his gal pal is the victim, Sir Anthony is switching his own gun with the one, of an identical model, that Loverboy had agreed to lay down on a table before coming in.
Damn Doom 3! It's the 22nd century! Why can't they put flashlights on their guns?!?

Now, you’re not supposed to actually know that he switched the guns at this point, but I figured that out right away, and I’m not even very good at solving mystery movies ahead of time. But that’s okay, because switching the guns is just a part of Sir Anthony’s fiendish, multi-layered plot to escape justice, right? Right? Well, no it isn’t. What I’ve just explained in the previous paragraph is it. When he goes to court (representing himself, of course), he’s going to spring it on the prosecutor and jury that the hostage negotiator was Loverboy, which he uses to get his after-the-fact confession rendered inadmissible. And they’re not going to find a gun that matches the bullet in his wife’s brain because the one Sir Anthony used was taken home by Loverboy without his knowing.
Wrinkly Old Welshman. A new fragrance from Calvin Klein.

Congratulations, you and I have just solved the mystery. Sir Anthony has exactly one secret (the gun switch) and one piece of info he keeps from the prosecution prior to the trial (hostage negotiator=Loverboy). Wow, that’s not enough of a mystery to pad out an Encyclopedia Brown story, let alone a Law & Order episode, let alone a theatrical film. Sir Anthony’s plan to “fracture” the DA’s case boils down to taking advantage of a coincidence that would be hard to swallow in a Spider-Man movie and a sleight-of-hand trick that GOB Bluth or the guy in Johnny Got His Gun could have pulled off.
Come on down to Bob's Venetian Blind Warehouse! Instantly classify your movie as Film Noir for only $49.95 this Memorial Day!

The only problem for Sir Anthony is that his wife turns out to be comatose, not dead, which adds urgency to the assistant DA’s (Gosling) case. If Sir Anthony gets acquitted, he’ll have the right, as the husband, to pull the plug on her life support and put away the one person who can identify him as the killer. This winds up being the emotional hook that keeps Gosling working on the trial, even as the case falls apart. This was supposed to be his last case for the DA before taking a sweet job at a major law firm, represented by Rosamund Pike (of Die Another Day fame, which we’ll get to soon enough…).
Synchronized Cross-Examination. Even the Olympics rejected it.

Gosling’s determination to stick through the case, at the expense of his own legal career, is the real focus of the movie. You’ve seen this story before, maybe in A Civil Action (class action lawsuit) or Amazing Grace (outlawing the slave trade), and probably quite a bit better. To be fair, Gosling’s likable in the role, as is David Straithairn, who plays both the District Attorney and tricks with my spellcheck. But as brilliant a prosecutor as his character’s supposed to be, from the time that Sir Anthony unleashes his shocker about Loverboy until the end of the movie when he figures out the trick, there’s not much for Gosling to do. Aside from a conspiracy to plant evidence that everyone knows Gosling’s going to turn down at the last minute, this is a courtroom drama with absolutely NOTHING happening in the courtroom for the longest time.
This isn't over, Wabbit.

Gosling’s own trick is at the end, when he figures out after the acquittal what Sir Anthony did. Normally, Sir Anthony would be protected under double jeopardy laws, so he’s free to confess his guilt. He’s been outwitted, though, because he was only acquitted on attempted murder, and has since taken his wife off life support, which makes him now guilty of murder murder. You know, I’m pretty sure that’s not even remotely plausible, even in our train wreck of a legal system. And even if it is plausible, I’m certain I remember the prosecution pulling the same trick in an old Law & Order. If anyone out there would like to peruse the 40,000 episodes of that show to date to tell me which one, be my guest.
Sam Waterston Begins. To be followed by the blockbuster sequel, The Drunk Knight.

Fracture is just freaking lazy. They come up with dozens of clever criminal schemes every year for shows like Monk, Columbo, Dragnet… Okay, I’ll stop there, as I’m really dating myself (Damn you, Nick at Nite). The point is that I wanted to see Sir Anthony do something clever, and then see the kid do the whole Rocky thing and rise from the ashes to out-clever him. But after Sir Anthony deploys his one surprise at the beginning of the trial, all he has to do is smile and be pithy the rest of the way, and we’re supposed to be impressed by his devilish cockiness.

Effective product placement. I'm suddenly thirsty for a Cup O' Noodles.

But let’s not just beat up on the screenwriters. Give Sir Anthony some credit for this disaster. Yes, he’s a great, great actor, one with far more range, self-awareness, and judgment in choosing roles than a lot of other actors considered great. Here, though, he’s on autopilot all the way, playing a character less suited to giving people nightmares than he is to hosting a DVD board game. Everybody remember how creepy Hannibal’s incessant pronunciation of “Clarisse” was? Here, Hopkins’ character (fiendishly named Ted Crawford) keeps disrespectfully calling Gosling’s character “Willie” and “old sport.” Man, that guy must be the devil in the flesh: he dares to mock the guy who’s trying to put him in prison! I think Sir Anthony’s finally gone senile, and thought this movie was about a bratty high schooler sent to an uptight summer school.

"Dammit, Jim. I'm a lawyer, not a cell phone operator."

This movie might think it’s classy and clever, but it’s bad. Heck, I’ll go so far as to say it’s no better than Alien vs. Predator. Want me to prove it? Game on, counselor. Let’s see which movie wins the hearts and minds of the jury in each of the following completely random, but all-important categories.

Nothing like a nice, relaxing game of Myst... DAMMIT, WHERE'S THE *#$%ING LEVER?!?

  • Has clever twist at the end (No qualifiers, but leaning toward AvP)
  • Has Sir Anthony Hopkins (Fracture)
  • Has Lance Henriksen (AvP)
  • Has David Straithairn (Fracture)
  • Has Aliens (AvP)
  • Has Bub Gunton (Fracture)
  • Has Predators (AvP)
  • Has the respect of Entertainment Weakly… er, Weekly (Fracture)
  • Has the respect of Mrs. Paul WS Anderson, Milla Jovovich (AvP)
  • Has a character who calls everyone “old sport” as an homage to The Great Gatsby (Fracture)
  • Has a character who calls the Alien an “ugly motherf***er” as an homage to Predator (AvP)
  • Has an attractive female who isn’t an insufferably dull actress (No qualifiers)
  • Has a running time that mercifully ends at the 100-minute mark (AvP)

"I don't CARE what other people will think."

There you go: AvP wins 6-5. Sorry, Sir Anthony. Maybe if you want to resurrect your career, you should be more picky about your acting projects. Give those Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 people a call back. Consider finally working with George Takei on Heroes like I know you’ve always wanted to. And I just know that you drinking tea with the GEICO gecko would be comic gold. Think about it, old sport. Because as humiliating as those jobs might be, it would be better than watching you pull off a piece-of-crap Hannibal Lecter impression in a 2-hour Matlock episode.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


The poster actually has the audacity to use the tagline, "A super intelligent thriller."

Wile E. Coyote refers to himself as a "super genius."

That PR representative sure gets around.

Monday, July 21, 2008

REVIEW: First Knight

Clinical psychologists are working night and day to determine what emotion Sean Connery is conveying in this image.

Even though it’s only about 13 years old, I think of First Knight as belonging to a very different era of Hollywood fantasy epics than what we have now. It came prior to computer effects and expert stuntwork, which now let us depict anything a director can possibly imagine. However, coming before the age of ultra-stylized epics doesn’t make First Knight a film that relies more on story or substance. It relies on pure star power, casting trendy Hollywood A-list actors in a King Arthur story and focusing squarely on them to the expense of action or any faithfulness to the Arthurian legend. Actually, it’s supposed to be more faithful to some of the French Arthurian stories, which explains a lot. Damn Gallic snobs.

We open… and what the hell is this? Why are they speaking in French, with Spanish subtitles? Is this DVD some kind of Transatlantic bootleg? Never mind. One trip to the languages menu, and we’re ready to start again.

Oh, yes. Let's skip past the wars and focus on the marrying.

We open with a text crawl that goes on for several paragraphs, explaining that Arthur is leading the great kingdom of Camelot, but that times are hard for everyone, and that Arthur’s traitorous knight Malagant has his own cadre of knights and is competing for power. No mention of Merlin or Morganna here or in the rest of the film, and not even of the Sword in the Stone. They might not even call the sword Excalibur, although I don’t really care enough to go back and check. And a good thing they dumped all of this Arthurian lore too, because we don’t want to distract from the real reason people go to King Arthur movies: Richard Gere! He’s Lancelot, but he’s not a knight yet. He’s just some idiot going from town to town making money by winning bets on his own dueling contests. Gere plays Lancelot a fair amount like he plays Richard Gere. He smirks, he grins, he fights with gloriously minimal effort, he condescends to anyone who would dare think they could challenge him, and he always wins. He estimates his English accent in an interesting way: he speaks kind of softly and somewhat slowly in his regular voice. Way to go, Rich! I think he studied for the role by staring at himself in the mirror and admiring the raw sexiness of his giant horsey face and ruggedly curly hair.

"Repeat after me: 'One of us is Richard Gere. One of us is not. Let's keep this brief."

As soon as he leaves, the village is attacked by Malagant’s knights, who slash people and burn huts in a scene that could have been lifted straight out of a hundred other movies. As his pretext for the attack, Malagant (Ben Cross, the alias of the assembly-line robot that plays the latest ruthless movie tyrant) makes up some crap about the village being lawless and having murdered a few of his knights. In an odd reference to fellow 1995 miscast blockbuster Judge Dredd, he bellows, “I am the law!” The line comes out even goofier than another famous King Arthur opponent’s declaration of, “I’m invincible!”

Guinevere (Julia Ormond) is fearful of Malagant’s obvious intentions to conquer her country, Lyonesse, and so she agrees to marry King Arthur so that Camelot will help protect it. While traveling to Camelot, escorted by some of Arthur’s knights, her caravan gets ambushed by Malagant’s forces, and she is nearly captured until Lancelot intervenes and chops up a few baddies for her. She admires his bravery, but he describes his thought process quite accurately: “Hey beeyatch, I’m Richard Gere! It’s impossible for me to be brave, because it’s impossible for something bad to happen to me. I was just stretching, and a sword just happened to be in my hand, and some baddies just happened to die while I was doing Tai-Chi. So let’s get jiggy with it here in the grass.”

Why did I neglect to mention that Sir John Gielgud is in this movie? Respect.

This turns her on, but she denies it, and he lets her go back to her escort to continue to Camelot, which is probably an amazing city to look at, except that it’s primarily depicted as a matte painting/postcard on the distant horizon. It's also very, very, very blue. Here, she meets King Arthur (Sean Connery), the most celebrated English hero in all of history, who shpeaksh witsh a thhhick Schcottisch accschent for schome reashon. But heck, it’s a movie made for Americans, so all Euro-weenies are the same to us anyway. Guinevere would probably be more compatible with Malagant, since they’re the only two English people in England, but she’s satisfied with marrying a craggy old Scotsman, given that he lives in a city that’s not a pile of straw upon a mud field, and he’s got a bunch of supposedly-proficient knights guarding him.

And let’s talk about those knights for a moment. No Gawain, no Percival, no Galahad. And for good reason, because they couldn’t get Bruce Willis, Tim Robbins, and Brad Pitt to play them. We get only a couple of named knights from the Arthurian legend, most notably Agravaine and Kay (I checked the credits), and they’re pretty much non-factors compared to Sir Geresalot. My guess is that if this film had warranted sequels (which would have been odd, since Arthur dies at the end; SPOILER ALERT!), more recognizable knights played by random expensive actors would have showed up. But in any event, it probably would have been inappropriate to have famous knights in this film, since non-Gere knights have the tactical expertise and survival instinct of Enterprise ensigns and CTU security guards. They also dress up in blue tunics with rectangular metal studs/magnets on the upper chest, making them look less like shining knights, and more like Romulans.

Oh... um. Heh heh heh. Wrong movie. I'll just... erm... pop this one back in the library, and uhhh....

Lancelot wanders into Camelot and gets his chance to hook up with Guinevere again when Arthur, in pimp mode, offers a kiss from the Queen to anyone who can make it through the “Gauntlet,” an obstacle course with rotating medicine balls and jabbing swords (powered by no apparent apparatus) that was likely history’s first Japanese game show. Lancelot first tries to putt a golf ball through it, but upon hearing that he’s supposed to go through himself, he channels his inner Richard Gere to slip on through with Richard Gere ease. Wow! Let’s check the MXC instant replay! This impressive show of X-treme sports prowess impresses Arthur, but makes Guinevere uncomfortable, since she‘s trying to pretend that her heart is with her crusty old speech-slurring fart of a fiancee.

Guinevere is quickly abducted by Malagant’s men, a band of anonymous malcontents who like to use mini-crossbows as their primary weapons. Actually, with their clear technological savvy and boundless ingenuity, I’m not sure why we’re not rooting for them. They take Guinevere back to Malagant’s run-down castle, but they forgot one thing: Richard Gere is Lancelot, and Richard Gere will not be denied. He busts some heads and rescues Guinevere, who’s ultra-sexy now that her thick gown has been torn off, and all she has left is a summer dress. She and Lancelot have a romantic moment when they stop to rest. As it’s raining, Lancelot brilliantly devises a series of big leaves on a tree to trickle water into a tiny stream that Guinevere can drink from. If she had forgotten that he was Richard Gere, she might have said, “Oh thanks, Lance, but I’m not such an IDIOT that I can’t stick my head up and open my mouth if I want to drink rainwater. Where’d you learn that trick, Modern Marvels?”

6:27 already? I've got to get ready to tape Seinfeld!

Upon getting Guinevere back, Arthur is so grateful to and impressed by Lancelot that he offers him knighthood. For motives vaguely implied, Lance agrees, and thus marks the turning point in Gere’s performance. He goes from walking around with a perpetual God-I’m-awesome smirk to a perpetual God-I’m-uncomfortable long face (excuse me, longer face) that he keeps to the end of the movie.

The first mission is to protect Lyonesse from Malagant’s army. When Arthur’s party makes camp, Malagant pulls off the goofiest, most ridiculous scheme outside an Aesop fable or a James Fennimore Cooper novel, and attacks the camp at night with soldiers disguised as sheep. Fortunately, great minds think alike, and Arthur’s already prepared an equally goofy scheme: setting a fake campsite, complete with scarecrow knights, so that he can trap Malagant’s men in the open and blast them from the treeline with burning arrows. He then sends in the knights in a pretty godawful action scene, the type you expect from a director best known for The Naked Gun, which is not exactly known for its sweeping drama. Lancelot leads the charge, of course, mowing through foot soldiers that apparently decided leather armor was more than enough for heated battle. Arthur takes the field, letting Malagant escape for no explicable reason, and there is much rejoicing.

"Oh, Lancelot, your face is so oblong!"

When they return to Camelot, Lancelot decides he’s put up with this noble life of service crap for long enough, and makes moves on the queen again. They have another heart-wrenching romantic scene alone in her bedchamber, arguing about whether they should uphold their loyalties or give in to their passions, and this time around, the latter wins, and the two kiss… at exactly the minute that Arthur walks in. Wow, the king walking into the queen’s bedchamber -- how could they have guessed? And boy, Arthur walking in on them kissing is sure a dramatic reveal. I know this is a PG-13 movie, and I don’t think this scene needs to be quite as… R-rated as the equivalent scene in the John Boorman movie, but this is a MOVIE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Do something interesting!

Needless to say, Arthur is pissed. He wrestles with his emotions in that big, gray, Vodka Martini-softened brain of his, and decides that Lance and Guin need to face the law. Camelot law, even though Malagant needs to remind us, “I am the law!” every 15 minutes.

Harold and Kumar and 5,000 Other People Go to White Castle

They hold a public trial in the castle courtyard and… Holy crap, even the peasants are all decked out in blue! All of them! I thought colorful dye was kind of expensive in medieval times. I guess Camelot’s working class is either very well cared for, contradicting the “hard times” line in the opening text crawl, or they invited the inhabitants of Minas Tirith to the trial.

Unfortunately, Arthur and his people are complete freaking idiots, and leave the castle wide open for Malagant and his remaining troops, so they pour into the castle and put mini-crossbow men all over the ramparts. Malagant reminds us, “I am the law!” and demands that Arthur kneel to him and yield Camelot. Since Arthur’s got some minor confidence issues, wondering how he can ever bed Catherine Zeta-Jones if Julia Ormond is cheating on him with Curly McHorseface, it appears that he’s going to give up. But NO! He raises Excalibur and commands his knights and peasants to fight! And as Arthur is struck down by mini-crossbows and mini-trebuchets and mini-MOABs, his people--including those who are supposed to be on trial, dammit--start duking it out with Malagant’s men.

"I will destroy you and your puny little onion-reeking hamburgers!"

The music screams “Battle of Helm's Deep,” but the actual action is more reminiscent of the time a Klingon called the Enterprise a garbage scow to Scotty‘s face, with lots of random brawling all over the place, and lots of people running around for some reason, despite there being no shortage of enemies in the nearby vicinity. Of course, Lance and Malagant find each other in the middle of the fight, and none of the peasants or bad guys bother to disturb one of them by stabbing them in the back or something. Because you NEVER interrupt the hero and the lead bad guy when they fight in the middle of a big battle. Naturally, Lancelot gets kicked down, but Malagant takes his time finishing him off, giving Lance the opportunity to stretch juuuust far enough to grab another sword and get up again. He hacks into Malagant in a very PG-13 way, and the battle’s over.

In his final moments, King Arthur’s now cool with the whole trusted knight-and-queen cheating on him thing. Boy, I’m glad they cut down that bittersweet story of redemption that covered the last third of Boorman’s Excalibur, reducing it to five minutes of Lancelot cutting up mini-crossbow guys. Arthur entrusts Camelot to Lancelot, and I guess the rest of the knights are okay with it. Sure, he’s been a knight for about three days, and sure he betrayed the king, but at least he didn’t side with Malagant in the fight. And since Gawain, Galahad, Ector, Gareth, Percival, and Tristan are all off doing a junket in Paris or something, Lancelot’s probably good enough. And thank God. Arthur gets his funeral, Lancelot gets to boink Guinevere, and we get to eject the DVD so fast that it flies out and cuts the Green Knight’s head off.

THIS. MOVIE. SUCKS. It’s got the directorial flair of a Sci-Fi Channel original movie, the deft casting of a Schumacher Batman movie, and the originality of a bacon cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant. It doesn’t make even the slightest attempt to capture the feel of Medieval England, evidently terrified of putting its stars in less-than-pristine surroundings, and doesn’t really try for an idealized beauty, either. It’s just there. It ejects all sense of mystery and irony from the Arthurian legend, and give us a half-ass scowling traitor as the lead villain. What a waste. Whatever you think of the earlier Excalibur, or the later King Arthur, both those films recognized that there’s a bit more to the Arthurian legend than a bunch of longing glances between Lancelot and Guinevere.

It would be nice if the king could stay awake for one damn board meeting.

I’d recommend either of the two aforementioned movies, overwrought as they might be, if you want a pretty good King Arthur story. Hell, before you stoop to this mess, rent The Sword in the Bleedin’ Stone. Double-hell, Monty Python and the Holy Grail seems to care more about its source material than this movie, and it‘s galaxies more entertaining. I seem to recall a beat-‘em-up arcade game called Knights of the Round Table that was kind of fun, and it even had Percival in it for God’s sake. Maybe if you want to see Richard Gere and Ben Cross battle it out for the title of “Man With the Biggest Chin in Christendom,” you’ll find a reason to like this movie, but otherwise, avert thine eyes, Patsy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

COMING SOON: First Knight

What happens when a hoaried old English king with a thick Scottish accent finds out his cocky chief knight is gettin' it on with his wife? Wackiness ensues!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

REVIEW: Alien(s) vs. Predator Double Feature

Either the Predator is 12 feet tall or the Alien is 4 feet tall.

Okay, so these movies are kind of low-hanging fruit after I snapped at a couple of movies most people actually respect. But let’s dedicate this review to Hollywood’s never-ending capacity to foul up can’t-miss concepts. The Alien and Predator franchises should have made a great team-up for those of us who enjoy a well-done, if low-brow monster movie. Aliens and Predators are natural enemies, despite never having, as of 2003, been on-screen together (aside from the best moment in Predator 2 apart from the Robert Davi sighting, when an eagle-eyed viewer can spot a Xenomorph skull in the Predator’s trophy room). One of these monsters is a gadget-packed intergalactic big-game hunter, and one’s the most deadly wild animal in the galaxy. Both are owned by 20th Century Fox, both live in science-fiction universes (one in the future, one in the present), and both have killed Bill Paxton. One keeps getting its ass kicked by a girl, and one got its ass kicked by Danny Glover years after he declared he was “Too old for this s**t.”

Until 2004, AvP had only existed in comic books (about ten trillion of them, according to Wikipedia), novels, and video games (one of which scared the bejeezus out of me). But in that year, Paul W.S. Anderson finally put them back in their natural environment, the silver screen. After going through a horde of well-respected action movie directors--Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, John McTiernan, that French guy who did Alien Resurrection--giving both franchises to the guy whose best movie was Event Horizon might have sounded a bit ominous. However, Anderson said a lot of the right things during interviews. And while he doesn’t exactly have experience making many good movies, he’s at least familiar with the “team of specialists in a building with eccentric architecture getting picked off by monsters” sub-genre. He‘s the Dick Clark of crappy barely-theatrical sci-fi. So I was optimistic that I‘d have fun. Then, I saw the movie.
Well, you can tell us!

First, the title comes up: Alien vs. Predator. I guess it was unavoidable that they call it this, rather than Xenomorph vs. Yautja (the latter of which Wikipedia claims is the canon name for the ones with dreadlocks), but I could point out that both monsters are aliens, and both are predators. And no character in either franchise has ever consistently called one an Alien and the other a Predator. Moving on…

A satellite detects a sudden surge of heat deep under the ice in Antarctica, revealing an ancient pyramid via thermal scans, and before you can say “eccentric team of scientists with diverse specialties,” away we go! The guy leading the trip is Lance Henriksen, playing billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland. Alien fans should now go, whaaaa? As in the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, which is destined to become a bunch of Paul Reiser-led jerks about 300 years into the future, and Bishop the android? Yes, the Weyland-Yutani-built android, beloved character from Aliens, was apparently modeled after the company’s founder from hundreds of years prior. The Weyland-Yutani CEO of the future must be a pretty humble and down-to-earth guy to keep the ages-dead former CEO’s endless narcissism alive. Proto-Bishop even does the same knife-between-the-fingers gag, which is a connection that makes even less sense. Thank God Anderson resisted the urge to include the characters of Gertrude Ripley and Franklin W. Hicks.

Weyland’s team: Sanaa Lathan, a woman who’s essentially Survivorman without a camera crew or a sliver of personality. Raoul Bova, love interest and archaeologist whose uncanny ability to read hieroglyphs he should have no business understanding will provide an awkward source of exposition/flashback narration later on, since Aliens and Predators aren’t very talkative. Ewan Bremner, who plays the role he was born to play: a Scotsman. The awesomely-voiced Colin Salmon, who pretty much just reprises his role from Anderson’s Resident Evil, even to the point of once again getting sliced to death by a grid-like weapon. The rest of the characters are so generic that Wikipedia, a source written by people who actually watched the movie closely, refers to them all with their names and a description of either “a member of the exploration team” (scientists) or “a mercenary member of the exploration team” (machine gun guys). Not that the characters I named are very well-written, since despite quite a lot of time spent before the Aliens and Predators even appear, those characters are best described as Tough Girl, Hunky Euro Guy, Chipper European with Kids Who Might as Well Just Shoot Himself Now, and Company Tough Guy. Lance Henriksen is most convincing, as Tired Old Guy.


They arrive at the site expecting to spend several days digging into the ice, but hold on! There’s already a tunnel carved into the ice, leading straight down to the source of the heat! How mysterious! Or it would be, if we hadn’t already been shown a cut-away scene with the Predator ship firing a laser beam from orbit. Weyland’s team makes less of this tunnel than it really should, and proceeds down into the ice, and into the pyramid.

At this point, it would be better to describe the resultant scenario than describe how we get there. In a scheme so unnecessarily prone to randomness that it would make a 24 terrorist laugh, a trio of Predators have activated the pyramid so that the humans would find it and venture down there. There, the humans will be used to breed Aliens so that the young Predators have some game to hunt and prove themselves. Why did the Predators opt to draw the attention of a multinational corporation rather than kidnap some random villagers from Southeast Asia and use them to breed Aliens? That wouldn’t be much of a movie now, would it? However, because Raoul Bova is so damn good at deciphering alien puzzle boxes, he accidentally seals up the pyramid earlier than the Predators had expected and isolates them from their shoulder cannons, their most powerful weapons. So as the pyramid starts to reshape itself like a giant Rubik‘s Cube, the humans are on the run, the Predators are stuck without their favorite weapons, and the Aliens threaten to reach the surface and (somehow) get back to civilization, which they‘ll inevitably wipe out. When we get down to one surviving Predator and one surviving human, Sanaa, they team up. Good thing Sanaa has no hard feelings about the Predators slaughtering all these people. And thank God the movie ends when it does, because it was about 15 minutes away from the world’s first Predator/Human sex scene. The Predator even gives her a present, a hand-crafted spear-and-shield set made from an Alien tail and an Alien head. Having her fight 300-style with these things would have elevated the film to high camp, but unfortunately, Anderson didn’t want to break his well-earned suspension of disbelief.

You BASTARD! I knew you weren't working late!

Now, let’s just pause to say that this movie really could have been pretty good. The Arctic (or Antarctic, whichever) is a great setting for monster movies like The Thing, and the idea of an ancient pyramid under the ice is pretty interesting, reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft. The idea of humans being used as fodder by the Predators for an initiation ritual in which they fight Aliens is even better.

There’s one problem, though: the movie isn’t very good. It’s just not made well, and if I weren‘t to start off with such a blanket statement, you‘d get the sense that the aspects of this movie that suck are limited to those which I can put into words. Anderson isn’t bad at making good-looking movies on modest budgets, and the special effects are okay (aside from some fireball effects that could have been lifted straight from the last level of a Sonic the Hedgehog video game). He also deserves credit for using actors in Alien and Predator suits more often than not, which look far more realistic than when he resorts to computer effects, even if the Predators tend to lurch around like Frankenstein‘s monster rather than crawl up and down trees like they did in previous movies.

I must break you.

But the story sucks hard. Fans of the Predator franchise won’t like that their favorite monsters are pussies without their guns, that they’ve been turned from stealthy hunters into clunky tanks, that they wrestle with Aliens Godzilla vs. Megalon-style, or that their well-established fondness for hot environments has been forgotten so that they can comfortably fight in Antarctica. Fans of the Alien franchise won’t like the fact that their favorite monster’s birth cycle has been cut from a few days to a few minutes, or that when the Predators get their guns back, they slaughter the Aliens at will. I guess Alien fans could whine that their monster should get shoulder cannons too. But its fans of Humans (remember them?) that really should be angry, because there's no one in here who's recognizable as one. God, I miss Danny Glover, swearing up a storm and runing around town in his suspenders chasing the Predator.

On the other hand, the movies does have two of the funniest lines in film history: Raoul having the gall to say, “It’s all starting to make sense now,” and Sanna interpreting her Predator buddy’s gesture of opening his fist as, “Oh, it’s a bomb,” speaking in a tone of voice as if she’d just figured out a crossword puzzle clue while waiting at the bus stop.

Just as in Predator 2, the movie ends with a bunch of Predators showing up to haul off their honored dead comrade and give the surviving human a cute little Predator keepsake from the Predator gift shop, this time a collapsing spear. But as the beginning of 2007’s pretentiously-titled Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (which even uses the ridiculous marketing abbreviation of AVPR on the title card) reminds us, there was a little alien stowed away in the dead Predator’s body. So before the ship can even get out of orbit, all hell breaks loose and the ship crashes into the forest outside an idyllic Colorado town, spreading Aliens left and right and prompting another Predator to arrive and try to clean up the mess by hunting down all the Aliens. I guess he doesn‘t want the human race to go extinct, since the Predators still need to find some way to make up for getting bitch-slapped by Danny Glover, so he goes around killing aliens and melting them with some kind of quick-dissolve acid, but his effort to keep the alien infestation under wraps has a real “I Love Lucy/factory conveyor belt“ feel to it. The US army is much better at the cover-up game, deciding to simply nuke the whole town at the end of the movie to contain the outbreak, although the movie otherwise can’t decide if the government is helpless, amoral, or compassionate.

This man has a long and fruitful life ahead of him.

I’m not going to describe the plot, because there is none. It’s Aliens vs. Predator vs. Dawson’s Creek (vs. Kramer, vs. Wade, vs. Topeka Board of Education). The Aliens go around and kill people. One Predator shows up and kills people when he’s not killing Aliens (further supporting the notion that the Aliens get their asses kicked by well-prepared Predators). A few attractive 20-somethings survive, but the overwhelming majority do not. It’s really no more complicated than that. Monsters come, generic characters die, other generic characters live and escape in a helicopter. You’re herded into the theater, watch 80 minutes of violence, and are herded out. The one “story” that kind of goes on other than random teenage angst is the sheriff’s investigation into what’s going on in his town, prior to all hell (say it with me) breaking loose. This is the narrative hook you chose, movie? To have us follow the detective who’s trying to understand the monsters we‘ve had seven prior movies to understand ourselves? At least the first AvP was adding something new to the Alien/Predator mythos with its Chariots of the Gods angle. I think the average Doom deathmatch has a more diverse narrative than this movie.

Most of these town-under-siege movies suck in part because the characters are too wrapped up in their own obnoxious character stereotypes (the pissed-off white collar guy, the cowardly teenage girl, the horny teenage boy, the crazy priest, the distraught mother) to make us believe they care about surviving. Here, we have the exact opposite problem. Everyone’s so businesslike and to-the-point once the monsters show up that we wonder if the directors (both of them) and screenwriters realized they were making an actual film, or just a film template. You know, they were just going to film the damn thing, then sell it to another studio that could digitally insert Bill Paxton to add wisecracks, Jeff Goldblum to play a scientist who says something ominous and thematic, Morgan Freeman to play a general who agonizes over what to do. And maybe some other actor to play a character with a motivation other than to just race to the helicopter and end the damn movie. There are board games with more complex storylines than this. The final helicopter escape/nuclear blast/crash into the woods scene even retreads a scene in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, a movie so horrible it would make Linda Blair in The Exorcist go silent in hushed awe.

Wowwwwww... It's 5 after 10 already.

Oh, but at least it’s bloody. Whereas AvP 1 was the first Alien or Predator movie to duck below the R rating and earn a PG-13, AvP: Requiem, in the interest of attracting the “after-church family outing at the movies” crowd, sports an R rating and makes significant use of it. Blood and guts fly freely, and the body count includes nearly EVERYONE in the town, including a young boy (who first watches his father die gruesomely before suffering the same fate), a sweet diner waitress who had just lost her husband, a pregnant woman whose belly explodes with chestbursters that had eaten her baby from the inside, and (off-screen) more newborn infants at a hospital. Nice. You know, there’s a difference between being making a horror movie and making a gore porn movie that happens to star Aliens and a Predator. It makes The Day After look positively… Nah, The Day After is still more depressing. As for AvP: R, rather than building a story that has acts or climaxes or plot points, the movie has 70 minutes of people dying in town and 10 minutes of people dying while attempting to escape from town. The one “dilemma” comes when people have to decide whether to trust that the military will airlift them out, or try to escape on their own. Gee, what do you think this movie is going to decide is the right course of action? I was actually impressed by the first film’s creativity and plotting after this hunk of junk.

So what lessons does the Alien vs. Predator film franchise impart to us? First of all, a Hollywood producer can take a franchise that has hundreds of diverse storylines across comic series and novels, and wind up using a pair of completely generic scripts without a decent character between them. Second, video games have somehow eclipsed movies for their ability to pay proper tribute to other movies. The Alien vs. Predator video game I remember playing many years ago on the PC perfectly captured the feel of both the Alien and Predator movies. It’s unforgivable that studios can spend tens of millions of dollars on these movies and wind up with stories that wouldn’t pass muster on a fan fiction forum.

I had a hard time finding a shot of the monsters in the 2nd movie that wouldn't come out too dark. I hope you like this one.

In ten years, YouTube mash-up videos will have gotten so advanced that some kid will make a truly appropriate movie with Aliens and Predators going at it. Until then, say NO to Paul W.S. Anderson, NO to iconic movie monsters attacking Smallville, and NO to Aliens and Predators on film unless they come thoroughly separate from one another.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

COMING SOON: Alien vs. Predator Double Feature

It was a terrible movie, but if you turn it in again, I'll average the scores to raise your grade.
Um, I think we're going to need to find you a tutor.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I think they meant to just put the quotes around the word "film."

Where do I begin with Babel? Good question, as the movie doesn’t really know where to begin either. This is one of those movies where a bunch of barely-related stories are spread throughout a two-hour running time, all of them loosely connected by a theme, and even more loosely by plot. In this case, the theme is communication struggles. Yes, communication struggles. Not so much in the “Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra” sense, but as in cultural insensitivity. Damn right, it’s a 143-minute, dramatized cultural sensitivity video, the kind you see at work after your company narrowly averts a lawsuit. All the misery in this movie comes about because people don’t understand other people, and it’s all your fault, you ignorant fat slob son of a bitch with your Doritos and your Halo 3 and your pickup truck.

"One more milk bottle, son, and you'll win the Spider-Man doll!"

Here’s the stories, in descending levels of excitement (the first one has a gun, which counts as excitement in this movie):

Morocco: Some ultra-poor guy in a mud hut in the desert buys a hunting rifle so his family can protect its goat herd from jackals. His two little boys take it and go for some target practice. In their infinite wisdom, they decide no harm can come from taking a shot at the tour bus passing by. But whoops! The bullet lands in the shoulder of…

That's okay, Babel, you can go ahead without me. I'll watch this movie for a while.

Morocco (about a hundred yards away): …Cate Blanchett! She’s vacationing with her husband, Brad Pitt (“Oh Brad, the poverty and repression are lovely this time of year!”). Naturally, their marriage is insufferable, but there’s nothing like an international incident to bring them back together. While soldiers go after the kids for no other crime than willfully sniping an innocent woman, Brad cares for her while they try to get the embassy to call in a helicopter for medivac. Unfortunately, the embassy keeps asking her for her Medicare card and to sign a Consent for Direly Needed Surgery form (just kidding). While the kind locals give Brad and Cate shelter while they wait (there’s going to be a lot of “whiles” in this review), their kids…

San Diego, California: …are being taken care of by the couple’s Mexican nanny, Amelia (whom I‘ll decide to call by her character name since she‘s not played by a famous actress), back home. The shooting forces her to hold onto the kids longer than expected, but she’s got her son’s wedding in Tijuana to get to! What to do? She gets her nephew to give her and the kids a ride across the border. At the wedding, we see that these are absolutely perfect people, basking in life and love, unlike the cold fish corporate Americans Brad and Cate. Which explains why so many Mexicans want to head north… I… think…
Effective product placement. This movie's making me thirsty for a refreshing %*#@ Cola.

Returning across the border that night, they get stopped, for no other reason than the driver being drunk and Amelia not having a letter of consent to transport the kids. I could swear this happened in an episode of Frasier, but it was a bit funnier. And boy, those evil American border agents! Clearly, they should just take them at their word and assume they’re transporting other people’s children across the border for a good reason!

Nephew bolts, cops chase, and the nephew performs the greatest heroic act since Sam fought Shelob in Return of the King by dumping Amelia and the kids in the desert before driving off himself. Amelia and the kids re-enact the desert scene in Spaceballs for a while before Amelia devises her most brilliant tactical maneuver yet: leaving the kids behind in the desert, telling them to stay put, and walking off to find help on her own. Brilliant! Anyway, she finds help, eventually finds the kids again, and everyone should be happy. Unfortunately, the evil INS notices that Amelia’s an illegal immigrant, and while she’s clearly done nothing over the course of this film to warrant the slightest criticism, she’s deported. Dammit! And this is all because Cate Blanchett was shot by a rifle purchased from…

Now, I COULD make a really tasteless joke here about this guy showing the kids his cock. So I will.

Tokyo, Japan: …a rich Japanese businessman (Is there any other kind?). But we’re not too interested in him. We’re interested in his deaf teenage daughter, played by Rinko Kikuchi, who scored an Oscar nomination by playing an insecure Japanese schoolgirl so realistically that she at no point teamed up with a magical elf and brandished a 12-foot-long broadsword to fight gigantic, sexually ravenous aliens from another dimension. Instead, she finds out the boy she’s interested in is more into another girl, so she pathetically (in the true sense of the word) comes on to the detective investigating her father’s hunting trip to Morocco for some reason. She’s turned down again, her father lightens up, hugs her, and everyone’s happy. Oh, wait a minute; they’re not.

So there you have it! All the world’s problems are caused by the free market, gun ownership, border enforcement, insensitivity to the disabled, and US foreign policy! Because if only we had communicated and been culturally sensitive, well… err… those kids wouldn’t have shot Cate Blanchett. I think.


Look, it’s fine if you want to make a movie with a political agenda, even if it’s one that I think is a bit simplistic. One of my favorite movies, the George Romero classic Dawn of the Dead that pit apocalypse survivors fortified in a mall against endless zombie hordes, had a pretty radical anti-capitalist attitude. It worked, though, because the movie was entertaining, and you could watch the whole damn thing without reading any message into it at all if you tend not to view things in film school mode. It was a zombie movie with people trapped in a mall filled with cool stuff, and that’s all it had to mean. Beyond that, even though I’d probably disagree with George Romero on a host of other issues (such as his somewhat despicable caricatures of American soldiers in Day of the Dead and sheer hatred of the upper class--to which he definitely belongs--in Land of the Dead), he made a good movie.

Am I getting off track? Forgive me, but I was enjoying the opportunity to talk about zombie movies and NOT Babel.

Babel was well-reviewed for two reasons: it has the kind of political axe to grind that film critics tend to agree with, and it is very skillfully shot and acted. The fact that it’s tedious as hell and uses completely ludicrous examples to make its political points doesn’t enter into it for these people. Some of them will tell you they liked it, but the truth is that this is the equivalent of training for the Boston Marathon for them. It’s hard to get through, it’s not remotely fun, you’d really rather be doing other things, but after you endure it, you get to brag about it to your friends and claim that you LIKED IT, MAGGOT! And then they’ll say, “Wow, that guy liked Babel. He must be really sensitive and cerebral, because I thought it was frakking pointless.”
You think Babel was a great accomplishment? I’ll write its sequel. Right here, right now.

Babel 2: The Quickening (And It’s About Time, Too)

Salt Lake City, Utah: An upper-class Mormon Republican Catholic priest who molests little boys goes to the voting booth to help elect George W. Bush to his fifth term in office. Strolling down the street with a giant cigar in his mouth, he passes a pregnant girl, writhing in pain on the street because she lacks health insurance and can’t afford an abortion at a free clinic. He steps on her fingers, wearing shoes that were made by…

Darfur, Sudan: …a penniless Sudanese guy who works at a Nike factory and is paid in kicks to the groin. Desperate for money to feed his family, and feeling horribly guilty about his enormous carbon footprint, he decides to become a terrorist with a heart of gold, planning to kill…

Vinny says you need to pay up.

Caracas, Venezuela: …a wealthy industrialist using his trillions in oil revenues to steal the election from man-of-the-people Hugo Chavez. His company is burning coal and chopping down rain forests to accelerate global warming, raise the ocean levels, and turn his scores of cheaply-purchased inland real estate into primo beachfront property. What he didn’t count on was…

London, England: …James Bond, 00-agent working for MI6, whose only clue is the codeword “Prometheus” from a dead informant.


Wait, sorry, this story just got interesting, so it won’t work. And I’ll retract one of my earlier points: if you like Babel, you are not necessarily lying. You could be quasi-intelligent. You’re smart enough to realize that the movie is preaching to you, and you’re smart enough to know what the message is, so you feel proud for figuring it out. However, you’re too dumb to realize that the movie actually has all the worldliness and moral complexity of a 5th grade assembly, and that its characters do things so stupid that they need to form a support group with Ron Burgundy and a Koopa Troopa. If that middle ground of intelligence describes you, there’s no need to feel shame. There is a place for you in this world. From Japan to California to Morocco, there will always be a need for telemarketers, DMV agents, and those people who stamp your hand when you leave an amusement park. Everyone just needs to learn to live together, and listen to each other. All we are sayyy-ing...

Saturday, July 5, 2008


You might think you like it. You might think it's a good movie. I'm going to tell you why you're very, very, very wrong.