Entries Tagged as 'Movie Reviews'

Skyline Gives Schlock Bad Name

Skyline - Don't BotherI had my hopes up. I really did. A good alien invasion or end-of-the-world movie messes with my head for a couple of days, but Skyline never got out of the chute.

Mysterious blue blobs of light rocket out of the night sky and impact in the streets of LA. Anyone who looks at the light becomes transfixed by it and gets sucked away. Six minutes into the action we’re dragged back in time for a “12 hours earlier” segment to slog through some character introductions. By the time we catch back up with the story, we’re now armed with just enough information about the players to not care what happens to any of them. They run up the stairs, they run down the stairs, they run back up again.

Skyline is a story -word used very loosely since it borrows from everything from Independence Day to Distrcit9 to Cloverfield- about a terrifying alien invasion, brain stealing monsters, and window blinds. They’re our only defense against the flying mechanical squid buzzing around outside.

Outside. Ah, to be outside where something is actually happening. Where Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff’s CG creatures rampage in the streets. But no. We’re trapped in an apartment with a small cast of characters whose tedious and confused hamster-wheeling tell the story of a screenplay mashed together as filler between wide shots of alien destruction SFX.

Skyline’s muddled characters and stagnant storyline are a stark contrast to this movie’s hype, and are ultimately just a vehicle for some stunning, cutting edge special effects. Wait for it to hit Netflix so you can fast forward through the boring parts (when anyone is talking). It is certainly not worth full price at the box office, especially over the chatter of bored, snickering tween-agers texting one another in the theater.

Review of “Knowing” – Nicolas Cage Owes Me Big-time

Knowing - Too many gravy stainsSpoilers ahead…

Alex Proyas, director of “The Crow”, and “Dark City”, had to have been swigging cold medicine from a jug while making his latest film “Knowing”.

John Koestler, widowed professor of astro-fizzy-mo-something, is played by Nicolas Cage. Or Marvin the depressed robot from “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I could never really tell which. Cage (It really is him, according to the credits) struggles with the meaning of life since the passing of his wife, drinks a lot, and is preoccupied with telling his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) to do his homework and go to bed.

Caleb swipes an artifact from a time capsule that was buried in 1959 because “it might mean something”. On it are scribbled apparently random numbers. Apparently random, that is, to everyone except Cage’s character who almost immediately deciphers the list which contains the dates of every major disaster for the last 50 years.

The audience is led laboriously along a meandering, but well rehearsed, path populated by dreary throw-away characters you care less about than the rubber-masked background extras in later “Planet of the Apes” movies. It’s an hour or more into the story and we’re in the home of the crazy woman who, as a child, wrote out all those numbers that were “whispered” to her. What does she use for wallpaper? Hundreds of newspaper articles about past disasters. Closeup of a date. And another. Another. Another. We get it already!

The final scene: After everyone you didn’t care about on earth gets vaporized by a super solar flare, extraterrestrial ice sculptures deposit the children they’ve saved on an obviously alien world (Make sure we see the extra moons in the sky, the alien wavy-worm grass, those extra moons again. Got it.) Who are they? Why, the “whisperers”.

But that’s not really my biggest complaint. Forget the odd but increasingly predictable mixture of UFOlogy and Christian iconography. I can even forgive the last minute introduction of Koestler’s parents so he can confess that he finally believes in an afterlife (I guess), and will have someone to die with.

Here’s my gripe. “Knowing” is like watching a biathlon. The athlete’s goal is to shoot as many targets as possible in the shortest time. Aim. Fire. Next target. In one scene, Cage’s character slogs through the fiery wreckage of a crashed airliner. 1) Man on fire stumbles by. 2) Look shocked. 3) Make bee-line for the blanket lying beside a second man on fire. 4) Douse flames. 5) Watch people engulfed in explosion. 6) Pull corpse from a shattered window.

Hit your mark, say your line, display emotion R7C4. Every action is programmatic, a method.

Proyas focuses on his characters more than action to move the plot, and I suppose that I’m being overly harsh. But, like the interviewer who is fixated by a gravy stain on the interviewee’s shirt, I’m distracted from the resume. I like sci-fi-end-of-the-world stories. I also respect a director who doesn’t rely on CGI to carry the band (cough .. George Lucas .. cough). Two of the three big “disaster” CGI scenes are brutally violent, and the final vaporization of earth’s surface is very well done. They add to the story without becoming characters themselves.

A few tears shed by Koestler as he hugs his son for the last time would have gone a long way toward washing away some of the gravy stains, but they weren’t in the script, weren’t rehearsed, so they didn’t make it into the final program. “Knowing” is a weekend rental at best, but follow it up with “Deep Impact”, or “When Worlds Collide”.

Death of a Blockbuster Store, and a Stealth Review of “The Mist”

A bell chimes as I enter the dingy, worn out Blockbuster store. The cloying odor of microwave popcorn makes me cough, my lungs trying instinctively to protect themselves from the DNA altering petrochemical aroma. Shadows loom in the corners and from the back of the store where the florescent lights don’t work. Overhead video monitors are all black, staring, silently shouting “The way is shut!”. Somewhere a muffled radio bleats, “-to repay Christ for dying on the cross by sending in your donation, friends!”

It is the only sound in what feels like a forgotten back room in a decaying thrift shop.

This is what death looks like to a video rental store. The red carpets are stained maroon, the shelves are dusty, the marquee behind the counter is missing a handful of lights, a forced smile with missing teeth.

Once these stores were bright places busy with roaming flocks of people, content in their Friday night ritual, drawn to the activity, the glad noise, the sparkle.

Technology and politics deadened the noise and tarnished the sparkle. Corporate colossi that outshined the small local stores and starved them out of business are themselves suffering the end of a long famine that will surely leave behind nothing but the brightly painted bones of closed store fronts.

I shake off these depressing thoughts and walk over to New Releases, intent on finding a copy of “The Mist”. I wouldn’t find out until a couple of hours later what a terrible choice this would be as an attempt to lift my spirits. Honestly, “The Mist” is cinema garbage. It is a boring retelling of an otherwise brilliant Stephen King short story. Plagued with haphazard casting and a shamefully exploitative finale, it should be avoided with extreme prejudice. Never trust a director that mistakes sickening shock value for irony.

Happy (oblivious) with my purchase, I walk next door to pick up supper from Domino’s Pizza and then head home where Mrs. Spookyblue is waiting. The depressing, gray snow feeling fades as I leave behind the battered shopping center with its dying Blockbuster store.

Unless the MPAA screws it up, you’ll soon be able to instantly download straight to your TV every movie ever made, every episode of The Odd Couple, Lost In Space, and Petticoat Junction. The paltry “On Demand” listings offered by your cable company will be replaced with anything and everything that anyone might possibly want to watch, and your viewing habits will be meticulously recorded, stamped, spindled, and mutilated.

And the Friday night ritual, though changed, will continue.

Three stealth movie reviews & first rant of 2008

National TreasureYour friendly neighborhood Spook has never really been much of a movie hound, but over the holiday season Mrs. Spookyblue and I filled a typical yearly quota by seeing three movies in one month. In order, they were Walk Hard, I am Legend, and National Treasure 2.

If you go to see the Will Smith movie, prepare to cry. Set aside no less than three days to hold onto something or someone you love and repeat to yourself that they were only actors. Only actors. Especially the puppy dogs.

It is unclear whether there are more jerks sitting in movie theaters now than in the past, or that my lifetime cinema attendance record is simply too small to be considered a valid sample. Whatever the case, I had always assumed that the stereoptypical annoyances I’d heard about were overblown and didn’t really happen often. However, one trip to the Great Escape on New Year’s Day dramatically changed all that.

Are you in line?
I left the lovely Mrs. Spookyblue to save our seats for National Treasure while I ventured back to the snackbar for $8.50 worth of popcorn and soda. Three clerks were all occupied, and one person was ahead of me. A man appeared behind me and asked, “are you in line?” I replied that I was. The person ahead of me was now being served and another clerk became available. “Who’s next, please?” This man walked around me and began to order.

In the best of circumstances I’m generally a happy guy, and I can usually keep it together when life zigs while I’m zagging. In other words, I’m not the kind who automatically wings a hammer through the wall when things go wrong. That’s not to say it’s never happened, but I at least work up to it first with a paint can or a tire jack. But there weren’t any of those handy.

The man must have seen the look on the clerk’s face as he stared, eyes wide, at me because his head began to withdraw slowly into his body like a turtle’s.

“Sssirrrr,” I growled, stepping close behind him. Late afternoon sun pouring through the big windows painted my shadow like Darth Vader’s. “That wasn’t an invitation for you to cut in front of me in line,” I said. But you could hear the menacing subvocalization, “your lack of manners disturbs me.”

His neckless head pivoted a quarter-turn and replied, “No. You were in that line.”

What?! What the flying #*!&@! The snack bar works like the bank. You queue up until you’re at the front and one of the clerks says, “can I help you?” Pretending otherwise is just a dangerous game.

I seethed like Ralphie’s father clutching the shattered remains of his major award. If the back of his neck was sweating now, you couldn’t tell because his shoulders were shrugged so high. Angry as I was, I didn’t want to melt little ears waiting to see Alvin and the Chipmunks (and get thrown out of the place), so the best I could manage without releasing the cuss monster was, “what you just did is called being a jerk.”

The roar in my ears subsided a little as I replayed the previous second back for analysis. I scored myself a 6 out of 10.

By all means ignore the screaming infant
Thirty minutes later Mrs. Spookyblue and I were watching Nicolas Cage go to incredible (and I mean not-credible) lengths to find the Lost City of Gold – in the exact same way he found the lost treasure of the Stone Cutters back in Ep. 1. They were the exact same movie just mail-merged with a different data source.

What was that noise? It sounded like a car alarm for a full 10 seconds before I identified it as a screaming infant. Somewhere below us and to the left wailed either a devil child or a coyote intent on a tasty defenseless bunny. Nicolas Cage held his screen-dad’s shoulders and told him earnestly that he loved him, and the baby howled. Diane Kruger collected a paycheck for showing up to the set looking hot and not doing much else, and the baby screeched.

Honestly, the movie wasn’t that bad.

After three or four of these episodes throughout the course of the movie during which the mother did nothing, the child finally passed out or was carried off by wolves.

Hey, guy! We just landed!
If you don’t know who Kenny Tarmac is, then I’ll try and describe the next piece of human debris who had no idea how close he came to being part of a headline that would have read, “Local man jailed for force feeding annoying cell-phone-talking jerk his own phone.”

— Transcript —
(Annoying ringtone)
“oom sst oom sst oom sst oom sst
(Readneck behind us in a loud voice)
“Hello? Hello! Hell-? Yeah! Well, I’m sitting here watchin’ a movie!”
(Mrs. Spookyblue)
“You have got to be kidding me!”
(Redneck) “Yeah. Awright. Yeah. … … … Yeah. I dunno. … … Yeah. I’ll call ya later. Okay. Yeah. … … Yeah. Baw.”

Then the redneck muttered in our direction, “better just mind yer own f***ing business.”

It wasn’t until much later, long after I came back from that same foggy place where Michael Douglas said in the movie Falling Down, “I think we have a critic here! I don’t think she likes the special sauce, Rick,” that I registered my surroundings again.

My wife has to, from time to time, get our sheepdog to stop chewing on, chomping, or otherwise bothering some things. It might be a sock, a cat, or even a screwdriver, but the command and tone is always the same. “Leave it!” Evidently this works on husbands too.

The redneck and his son disappeared into the crowd filing out after the movie while Mrs. Spookyblue and I discussed how long it would take for National Treasure 3 to come out. (It’s coming. Bet on it.) In truth, I’m a little surprised the redneck wasn’t in the next theater over watching Walk Hard. He seemed to have more in common with the Dewey Cox story. Slow. Mostly annoying with a few amusing bits. Count on seeing both at Walmart real soon.

Looking forward to Cloverfield.
Welcome to 2008!