Showing posts with label aliens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label aliens. Show all posts

Mar 30, 2020

ANNIHILATION (2018)


By now, Annihilation is well known for having made an inauspicious debut on Netflix after Paramount, the studio behind its production, declined to send it to theaters. While it’s a shame that this route was chosen, as its visuals alone demand a theatrical experience, I can understand why, because Annihilation is a challenging work. Alex Garland, writer/director of the similarly challenging Ex Machina, and screenwriter of the 28 Days Later series and Dredd, has concocted a wild hybrid of B-movie monstrousness married to a Kubrick-esque mind-fuck a la 2001: A Space Odyssey. Take that, and add Annihilation's unsettling ending, which can sometimes be a death knell on box office, as audiences like their conclusions both happy and easy to comprehend, and its home on Netflix makes more and more sense.

Another reason Annihilation may be so well known: it’s all-female cast, led by Natalie Portman but supported by the likes of Tessa Thompson and the always wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh. In fact, the presence of men figure rarely into the plot, except in the form of Oscar Isaac, whose reappearance after being thought dead is the direct catalyst for Portman’s Lena stepping directly into the mysterious world the film calls The Shimmer. If there’s a specific reason for the all-female cast, Garland doesn’t use Annihilation to present it in any broad manner, but of course the viewer can determine the implications of this choice on their own. One thing is for sure: in this particular world, it’s the women who are getting shit done.


Annihilation’s visuals are its biggest selling points, from its use of CGI to create mutants animals to the production design featuring the design of flowers arranged in humanoid shapes, like living statues existing within a botanical garden. But the visuals don’t just start and stop at wonder — especially during the ending, as Lena gets closer to solving the mystery of The Shimmer, the sights she sees maintain the wonder but up the creep factor significantly.

Annihilation requires more than one viewing to fully appreciate its scope, to begin unearthing the true mystery of The Shimmer, and to catch all the subtleties Garlan hid throughout, especially within the confines of the framing device used to propel the story forward. It’s daring, well acted, visually aweing, and again, challenging. You should be absolutely ready for something beyond a simple sci-fi romp should you take your own trip into The Shimmer.

Mar 27, 2020

MAC AND ME (1988)


(Sung to the tune of Mack the Knife)*

Mac and Me, babe, has such balls, dear
And it slams them on E.T.’s face
Just a rip-off with more McDonalds
And it whores it without shame
Ya know that Mac dance, in his bear suit
The creepy creeps start to rash
Coca-Cola, oh, and that McD’s, babe
Mac and Me just wants to sell you trash
Now in his wheelchair, huh, huh, whoo, Eric rolls down a hill
Splash goes his body into the lake
And some movie thought this was a good idea
Could that movie be Mac and Me?

There’s a dance scene, huh, huh, down at McDonalds, don’tcha know
Where life is senseless, just a-chaos on down
This movie has an Eric cuz E.T. had an Elliot
Whereas E.T. smiled, Mac only fucking frowns
Now d’ja hear that awful soundtrack? Songs about friends, babe
“Take Me, I’ll…Follow You,” ha-ha
And like E.T., Eric loves Mac
Mac eats Skittles – this feels against the law

Now Macky’s family, ho, ho, yeah, they scare me
Ooh, huge cheeks and eyes, and their boily skin
Oh they’re searching for their dumb son
Now that Mac is lost in town
Once reunited (spoiler), whoa, they become citizens(?)
It makes sense if you don’t think about it, and go about your day
For many years, we were safe, babe
But now Macky’s back in town
Look out, old Macky is back!


*My apologies to the estate of Bobby Darin.

Mar 23, 2020

ZONE TROOPERS (1985)


If you've never seen Zone Troopers, but you also like your war films served with a dash of alien silliness, than this '40s-set, Italian-shot production has been eluding you ever since you began developing your weird, weird proclivities.

Starring Lord of the B-Movies Tim Thomerson, as well as Hitler, Zone Troopers is an homage to so many things: the war film, the sci-fi film, Hogan's Heroes, and more. Not carnage-ridden enough to capture the essence of war, not horrific enough to fully exploit the visuals of invading aliens, but entirely silly and spoofy enough to lovingly capture that Hogan's Heroes absurdity, Zone Troopers is a film made to honor bygone eras of cinema where it was okay to slap a half-dozen men in ludicrous space costumes and film them as they stumble through the brush of an Italian wood. That Zone Troopers somehow not only exists in the world in general, but now exists in high-definition, continues to prove that the world is just one big, ol' mystery.


It's hard to critique such a quirky construction as Zone Troopers, considering every tongue was in every cheek during the genesis of the script. Van Patten and LaFleur's performance are Vaudevillian perfect, at times overdoing it as if they were starring in a stage production instead of a film, and this would be fine except that their takes don't quite mesh well with Thomerson's more reserved and gruff take on Sarge. The script itself manages to be amusing at times, but even at a scant running time of 86 minutes, the film still somehow feels like it's stretching this oddball concept - U.S. Military and Aliens vs. Nazis - to the breaking point.

Its obvious golden-age cinema inspirations aside, if Zone Troopers were attempting to serve as an allegory for anything at all, that remains to be seen. However, one aspect of the film remains interesting: when the soldiers meet the alien crew for the first time, only one of them sports the fly-head, crab-mouth creation which receives the most prominence during the film. Because of the film's very low budget, creating additional masks was out of the question, so instead they tweaked the remaining alien designs by spreading silver paint across their unmasked faces. The interesting thing earlier mentioned: these aliens are given blonde hair and blue eyes. What's too obviously a parallel to the "master race" the Nazis were trying to create is never fully realized, so whether or not this was a happy/unhappy accident committed during production, or if such a parallel was purposely included but fully lost within the cheesy confines of a cheesy film, only those who made the film know for sure.

Zone Troopers is about American soldiers teaming up with aliens to fight Nazis. You either know you want to see that or you don't. 


Mar 21, 2020

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)


Alien clowns from space are packing “deadly popcorn guns and cotton candy cocoons.” It’s right there in the synopsis, people. If you don’t want to watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space based on that line alone — either again or for the first time — then no one can help you.

Lots of horror films are a huge part of my childhood. Killer Klowns from Outer Space was one of them. For a period during my late tens (that’s tens, not teens), it was almost inescapable. It played on television constantly, and the very first time I caught it, I was home from school with a fever and enjoying the rare chance to absorb daytime television. (I also saw Innerspace and The Shining under similar circumstances. If you’ve never watched The Shining while you’ve had a fever, you  haven't lived.)

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a gas — a slice of ‘80s horror/comedy filled with bad examples of both, but still a fun title and, I’d even argue, a staple of the genre. Written and directed by the Chiodo brothers, known for their practical effects work and monstrous Hollywood creations, it should be no surprise that the most engaging aspect of Killer Klowns are the clowny creations themselves — them, their weapons, their abilities, and eventually, their spacecraft. Whatever you may think of Killer Klowns from Outer Space as a horror film or a comedy, it never fails to impress as a visual delight of imaginative and well constructed practical effects.


Killer Klowns from Outer Space was for years a video store staple and then following that a cable staple (hence my first interaction with it), and its reputation has only grown over the years. It’s very silly, almost too much at times, but goddamn if it’s not exactly as its makers intended. It’s a sly cartoon masquerading as a horror film, and the joy of seeing John Vernon (Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick), of all people, interacting with those delightful clowns from space makes it all worth it. Not hurting is the presence of Suzanne Snyder, who appeared in enough ‘80s fare (Weird Science, Return of the Living Dead 2, Night of the Creeps, Retribution) that my crush on her during a young age lasted at least through the ‘90s.

For years, the Chiodo brothers have been teasing a sequel, and it’s truly a bummer that they haven’t gotten one to materialize. ‘80s nostalgia is huge at the moment and shows no signs of going away; it’s a perfect opportunity for them to resurrect our favorite galaxial clowns for another round of greasepaint mayhem and very broad humor — before someone remakes it.

Mar 2, 2020

THE 'SPECIES' SERIES (1995-2005)


Of all the films to have ever been financially successful, Species is not the first title that comes to mind. Essentially a film akin to cheeseball directors Fred Olen Ray (Bad Girls from Mars) or Jim Wynorski (Not of This Earth), but with an A-list cast and released by a major studio, Species was that film back in 1995 that made the female demographic roll their eyes and say, "That's that movie where that girl walks around topless the whole time," leaving their male counterparts to chuckle their best Beavis & Butthead chuckle and say, "That's why I want to see it!" Whether you like it or not, Species made bank while also inexplicably starring Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, and Forrest Whitaker. Normally I'd also throw in Michael Madsen to bolster my point, but then you'd think of the current Michael Madsen and go "So?" instead of the Michael Madsen of 1994, who was pretty respectable.

Species was a box office doozy in 1995, and it's actually kind of surprising it would take three years for Species II to rear its alien head. What isn't surprising is how bad it is, and by now I believe that's achieved common-knowledge status. Amusingly, there is exactly one critic's pull-quote on the current home video release:

"Great special effects!" – Boxoffice

And even that's a lie.

Maybe they were great special effects in 1998, but in 2016, sorry—today's soda commercials, literally, have better effects. It's tempting to believe that it's H.R. Giger's alien designs being celebrated, not the jokey MS Dos visual effects, but being that his creations receive roughly four minutes of screen time in the finale, what's likely being celebrated are the shameless close-ups of blown-off heads being digitally reformed by alien magic.


Species II was somehow directed by Peter Medak, a cult director perhaps best known for The Changeling and Zorro: The Gay Blade (and The Ruling Class, a personal favorite). His sly sense of humor is evident throughout, which is pretty much the only thing that makes it watchable. (The film opens with our astronauts floating around space in their vessel covered in sponsor logos [Miller Lite! Pepsi-Cola!], as if suggesting NASA had to sell out and go elsewhere for funding.) Medak might not have been the only person involved in the production who knew how stupid the film was, but he makes his near-disdain for it the most obvious. (Spoiler alert: in the film's finale, the bad alien literally mouth-fucks the good alien to death. You know, for kids!)

Film Fact! In Species II, James Cromwell plays Senator Judson Ross and father to a man who will soon became an alien. He tells him, "You're a Ross. Act like it." In Oliver Stone's W., James Cromwell plays Congressman George H.W. Bush and father to a man who was probably an alien to begin with. He tells him, "You're a Bush. Act like one." Ergo, we are forced to conclude that W. is a big budget remake of Species II—and like most other remakes, ain't as good.


For the first entry in the Species saga to go direct-to-video, gone are the established directors, reasonable budgets, the alien designs by H.R. Giger, and except for the opening five minutes, Natasha Henstridge. Instead what we receive is a silly plot recycled from—of all things—Re-Animator, a handful of tepid performances, and a plot that, somewhere—perhaps on paper—makes sense, but doesn't within the course of the film. Also sadly gone is former director Peter Medak's wry sense of humor, while newcomer Brad Turner instead makes the error of trying to take all this sexy alien nonsense way too seriously. He shouldn't have, as I can assure him, no one else is.

Our lead alien-dealer-wither, Dean, is played by Robin Dunne, who seems to have built himself a tidy career in the direct-to-video sequel world, having also starred in Cruel Intentions 2, The Skulls 2, and American Psycho 2. They are all bad, just like Species III is bad. And he is bad in them.


Considering the Species franchise is built on one very silly and shaky premise—hot alien babes trying to get knocked up—it was inevitable that an installment finally go full gonzo to create a majestic train wreck. Species IV: The Awakening is that installment. At first appearing to be the most serious of all the Species films, that soon devolves into alien babe nuns, mutant taxi drivers and hotel concierges, and apparently the most dangerous and alien-slimed town in all of Mexico. The acting talent pool sees a series-low, and for a film that looks to have had the lowest budget yet, the constant insistence on utilizing visual effects it can't afford soon becomes a thing of amusement. There are exactly two reasons to ever sit through Species IV: The Awakening—the astoundingly gorgeous Helena Mattson as the new alien babe, and the ludicrous and awkwardly choreographed fight scene between the two alien costumes during the finale. Picture the early Toho Godzilla films, which saw two mid-sized dummies flailing their lifeless plastic limbs at each other, and you're nearly there. The performers ensnared in these suits can barely move, let alone have a convincing fight, and it will give you a serious joy-joy feeling to see it unfold.

This might be a point I've made before, but I'll make it again because it's still relevant: We live in a world where all of the Species films are now on Blu-ray, but not all of William Friedkin's films are on DVD. Think about that as you watch sexy alien girls tearing off men's flesh and walking around in slime, or nothing, or slime/nothing, and wonder if it's really worthy of the newest home entertainment medium.

Jan 31, 2020

EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1985)


Let me set the scene for you.

It’s night. It’s summertime (I guess). The moon is full and high in the sky. Cicadas sing their songs, unseen in the tall wheatgrass.

A handsome young couple begins to softly nuzzle in the woods near a calm lake. They’ll be getting married soon. They’re in love. A big wedding is planned. She wants the big affair. He doesn’t; he wants to elope. Their disagreement threatens to ruin their calm romantic night out.

“Let’s not fight,” says the boy. “I’ve got a better idea: two lips…gathered as one.” A soft Billy Joel-ish ballad begins to play as the camera moves in close on his hand unzipping her pants. In slow motion.

It was during this moment when I realized: Evils of the Night is just the greatest.


Boy, there’s nothing like the perfect bad movie — especially when it’s horror. Blood Rage — a new favorite — comes instantly to mind. There’s also Vampire’s Kiss, Squirm, The House Where Evil Dwells, Troll 2, along with —

I’ve wasted my life.

Evils of the Night is rather simply plotted: teens at a lake become victims one-by-one to a pair of auto repair guys being paid in gold coins by humanoid aliens to kidnap people for their blood. Evils of the Night features a lot of teens. A lot. If you can keep up with all the young people who are introduced, I applaud you. And because we’ve all seen horror movies, we all know what teenagers like to do: kiss, pet, get high, and be naked. Evils of the Night, itself wanting to be different from its ilk, sets off for daring new territory. Now the teenagers, in their throes pf passion, lick each other. Constantly. They lick every part: the neck, the chest, the Adam’s apple, or nipple (man or woman’s). Sometimes they like to lick all around each other’s mouths while kissing; like an eager child learning to ride a bike for the first time, the enthusiasm is there, but the skill is yet to be honed.


This makes Evils of the Night supreme, along with sample dialogue amusingly taken out of context:
  • “Alright! Now we can get high!”
  • “You gonna tease me all night, or can I get a little action this time?”
  • “Where’s my surprise?” “First, let me clean the sand off.”
  • “I’ve got to go see a man about a dog!” “What?” “I’ve gotta go to the john!”
  • “No tongue, it makes me laugh.”
  • “Why are you touching my nipples like that?” (asks a dude.)
  • “Calm down — I’ll definitely call the police! Come on in.” ::a scream::
Even completely innocent lines of dialogue somehow become hilarious within the confines of this utter cinematic insanity:
  • “Do we have any Pepsi left, Eddie?”
If you were to tell your mother that you were about to watch a film starring Aldo Ray, Julie Newmar, Tina Louise, John Carradine, and Neville Brand, she would probably say, “Ooh, can I watch it with you?”

Don’t let her.


Because amidst all the scenes of blood theft, murders, and John Carradine expositing to the other aliens exactly what it is the aliens are doing, even though you’d think they should know by now, since they’re aliens (“Just think, Cora: without these platelets, your bones will eventually grow fragile and break within a hundred years, but WITH them, you could live 200 years or more”), Evils of the Night also features: hilarious doggy style, unwitting necrophilia, teenagers running around in their underwear, hospitals inexplicably taken over by an alien race that no one seems to notice, sexy alien orderlies threatening to seduce each other in the hallway because they’re in between utilitarian alien tasks, suggestive and unsubtle banana consumption, duel lesbian suntan-lotion-rubbing, and finally, a crop of dry blonde hair swirling about in the gentle surface of the lake as she services her man underwater.

But above all of this madness, and all the things that make Evils of the Night so deliciously and ironically transcendent — the budget Cyndee Lauper knockoff soundtrack that goes ♬ “Boys will be boys, they will always be that way, boys will be boys, they just wanna play!” ♬; and the multiple scenes of aliens firing alien lasers from their special alien rings directly into the writhing bodies of underwear-clad teens — there lies the glue that holds all of Evils of the Night together. She is the heart and soul. For every wide-eyed look of shock and surprise levied directly into the camera, or every line of dialogue intended for her cast-mates, but aimed at space itself, you will know you are witnessing something unique, rare, and defining.

She is beautiful. She is blonde. She is…Connie.


Essayed by professional actress G.T. Taylor, Connie is the horror heroine the genre had been looking for since 1978’s Laurie Strode. Someone cunning, intelligent, forthright, and brave. Someone willing to believe that mud and seaweed applied by two horny boys is great for the skin. Someone who daydreams about making love to Prince Andrew. Someone eager to host a hand-burning contest. Someone who shies at the mere idea of a penis.

The performance — one seemingly laden with lithium, helium, and delirium all at once — is one that went on to define the genre. This cinematic portrayal of good, fighting against all this evil, was a butterfly effect with neutron bomb-sized ramifications which would transform the genre, the medium, even the world from thence on, elevating it into the next plateau of awakening. You see, Connie is us; we are Connie. She embodies us all at our most vulnerable, but also at our most resilient. She’s taught us everything we’ll ever need to know about each other, and ourselves. She’s taught us never to give in, never to surrender. We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Tonight we celebrate…Connie.

Please, before we go, let us take a brief detour to IMDB for actress G.T. Taylor’s official filmography:


Very impressive.
  
The day I saw Evils of the Night, my life changed forever.

Because I’d met Connie, the blond-haired, pin-striped, kewpie-doll-voiced angel who proved she’d fight to the death with a power drill to save her friends, all while fantasizing about wanting…you know…an O.

Evils of the Night is not just a gift from the bad movie gods, but it’s one of the nicest times I’ve ever had.

Dec 9, 2019

TEN CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)



As disciples of J.J. Abrams know by now, he is a filmmaker who enjoys shrouding his films in mystery. Ideally, all filmmakers should, as the advent of social media and entertainment websites who cover every new development, right down to the design of Batman's new utility belt, are kind of ruining the magic of seeing everything unfold--even the smallest details--on the silver screen. This was what made 2008's Cloverfield, about a group of friends in New York experiencing their city being destroyed by a Godzilla-like monster, so startling. It wasn't just that the film was effectively crafted, draping what was essentially a ground-zero re-imagination of the sudden shock, horror, and immediate aftereffects of 9/11 with good, old fashioned monster movie mayhem, but the extremely subtle and vague ad campaign heightened the sense of mystique of what on earth Cloverfield was all about. The trailer featured people pooling in the streets hearing loud noises from afar before a large object is spotted hurtling from the sky and bouncing down their street, revealing itself to be the decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty, set to an unseen someone screaming their own head off. This coupled with some clever internet viral marketing helped usher Cloverfield into both box office success and cinema history.

For years, Abrams, director Matt Reeves, and writer Drew Goddard fielded inquiries about when Cloverfield 2 would be made, and they all fell back on the typical response of being open to it, but only if they were confident they'd cracked a concept worth exploring. Six years later, that sequel/not-really-sequel revealed itself to the world as not only being in the planning stages, but already having been shot, assembled, and ready for its big premiere. What has arrived is an experience that's clever, thrilling, sadly realistic, but conflicting and at odds with its lineage, all at once.


If Cloverfield was an attempt to appropriate 9/11 in an effort to make audiences experience a version of it for themselves, then 10 Cloverfield Lane takes the logical next step in showing what that kind of experience does to the human psyche, while borrowing elements from Night of the Living Dead, Misery, and an eerie scene from Spielberg's adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Doomsdayers are real people. They, too, have underground bunkers stocked with non-perishable foods, drinking water, and a cache of firearms. While these people have always existed among us, their numbers saw an increase following 9/11, and another following the election of Barack Obama. Entire "reality" television series have been created to cast a light on both these people and their mindsets. And 10 Cloverfield Lane does a pretty fantastic job of looking at one of these doomsdayers.

John Goodman as Howard, said doomsdayer, has never before played a character like this, not to mention it's been a while since he's enjoyed such a prominent role. He plays simmering instability rather well, but is also, effortlessly, able to fall back on vulnerable, sympathetic, and even caring. Who starts off the film as "the villain" transitions into something less clear and defined, as in his heart he believes he's doing the right thing, and his performance reflects that. It's only when he becomes the more typical movie monster when the celebrated actor has a less firm grasp on the role and starts to fall back on what we've seen countless times before.


Uneasy alliances between characters have always been a fascinating dynamic to explore, in that people who start off as foes become friends, and even grow to depend on each other, and for the most part, 10 Cloverfield Lane really nails that dynamic down, but while also leaving just the tiniest shadow of a doubt so that the audience never fully relaxes into their seats. The bond Howard shares with his "roommates," Michelle and Emmett, exists either as a formality or as a genuine human connection. With Howard, it's hard to tell, but it's our need as human beings to emotionally insist on the latter.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has struggled to find strong, action-oriented characters in genre films worth a damn, finds a believable heroine in Michelle, who transitions from someone fleeing a broken relationship with her boyfriend, Ben (played by an off-screen Bradley Cooper) to a full-blown heroine. Between this and a pivotal scene during which she shares one of her greatest regrets, it becomes clear that Michelle doesn't just want but needs to be a stronger person. Winstead easily enables this transition for her, as she deals with conflicts both at eye-level as well as above her--very, very above her.

John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett is on hand to provide some of the usual comedy relief on which the Cloverfield series apparently depends. Not quite as rapid-fire ridiculous as T.J. Miller in the first film, Emmett's presence is more equally balanced between poignancy and neutrality with the usual tension-lightening oddball comment. The use of this kind of character is better rendered this time out, offering more than just off-screen wryness, and it's through Gallagher's easy likability that this is possible.


10 Cloverfield Lane's only failing, but it's a significant one, is with its condensed final act, in which the exterior threat which has made the outside world so uninhabitable is finally revealed. Ironically, it's Abrams' insistence on utter secrecy that takes all the impact out of the reveal. For all of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the audience is waiting to see the monster (or its mini-monsters) from Cloverfield, being that the title confirms the former exists in the latter's universe. Even as we settle into the underground bunker story and allow ourselves to invest in this conflict, we can't shake already knowing what the larger conflict above them is, so when Michelle faces that conflict head-on, it doesn't come as a surprise but an inevitability. For someone as smart and insistent on surprise as J.J. Abrams, the best thing he could have done was call 10 Cloverfield Lane anything else--10 Howard Lane, 10 Paranoia Lane--to keep the invading threat a secret. Not only would this have added a new layer to Goodman's mysterious Howard, being that he repeatedly claimed the outside threat were "martians" (which was eagerly dismissed by his fellow occupants), but Abrams still could have tied this new film to the previous, kept his mailbox reveal, and packed an ever bigger surprise wallop to his faithful audience who weren't necessarily expecting "martians."

10 Cloverfield Lane's biggest issue is its title. With the word "Cloverfield" comes a certain expectation, and by proxy, takes away the impact of the big reveal. But everything leading up to that is expertly executed, especially when taking into consideration that this was director Dan Trachtenberg's directorial debut. Cleverly, and admittedly very ballsy, the filmmakers have placed a very intimate and very different kind of universe it into a very broad and very specifically genred universe. Unfortunately, it's this outside-the-box thinking that somewhat handicaps the film, causing it to end in a way that feels foreign and somewhat inappropriate. Having said that, 10 Cloverfield Lane still gets an easy recommendation.


Sep 21, 2019

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995)


It goes without saying that John Carpenter gave the world the absolute greatest horror remake with The Thing. I highly doubt you could find many individuals willing to contest that. Fourteen years later, he gave the world another remake of a classic from the golden age. Utterly reviled upon its release (much like The Thing), Village of the Damned enjoyed a fine opening weekend at the box office and made enough money to be considered a success. But unlike The Thing, most critics and fans have not done a 180 as far as Village is concerned. They hated it then and they hate it now. Their reasoning for their distaste runs rampant: miscasting, a severe lack of character development, a thinly-plotted and inconsistent script.

I can’t say I disagree with any of that. But more on that in a minute.

A quick rundown of the plot for those who have never seen it (and you should be warned, spoilers abound from here till the end): the town of Midwich falls victim to a mysterious black-out of sorts that causes everything with a pulse to pass out. For hours, all lay crumpled on the floor, or the ground (or yikes...the roaring grill). They eventually awake, unsure of what’s happened, but try to get on with their lives...until it’s revealed that all of the women in town are now mysteriously pregnant, including the virgin, or the biologically barren. The government catches wind, shows up to see what’s the what, and once there, never actually leaves again. The children are born with blonde hair and a very special skill set: they have the power to control your mind and make you do things you would never normally do - to others as well as yourself. Carnage, as always, ensues.


Even the most ardent Carpenter fan (and I certainly count myself as one) has to admit that he peaked with The Thing, and after They Live, never quite reached the same heights of quality again. (In the Mouth of Madness is the only exception.) And Village of the Damned is nestled somewhere in his run of entertaining-but-maudlin offerings of the 1990s.

Nothing against Christopher Reeve, but he doesn’t quite bring his A-game to this production, and I doubt it was an indifference to the material, considering (and not to speak ill of the dead) that he wasn’t really one of the more celebrated thespians of his generations for a reason. Still, he’s perfectly satisfying as Dr. Alan Chaffee, and from time to time even feels more at home playing the father of an evil alien leader than he ever did as Superman. Given their working relationship and lasting friendship, it’s way too easy to picture Kurt Russell in the Chaffee role - that kind of simple fan-casting has the power to make you look back on the film with incredibly different, what-could-have-been eyes. Linda Kozlowski (mostly known for the Crocodile Dundee franchise) also provides a perfectly serviceable performance as Jill McGowan, but spends most of the film looking dour and downtrodden. The only one apparently having any fun is Kirstie Alley as Dr. Vurner, the cigarette-smoking, fed-clothes wearing bitch who seems to know from the very beginning just what is happening to the town of Midwich... but doesn't feel the need to clue in anyone else until it’s basically too late. (Oh, let's not forget Mark Hamill, cheesing it up as Reverend George, just pleased as punch to be part of a major studio production again.)

The problem is there is barely any interaction between characters in this film. Reeve has scenes with everyone, but the other supporting characters barely speak to each other. Though they both have major roles, Kozlowski and Alley don’t exchange a single word to each other. Perhaps it was a purposeful choice to limit Dr. Vurner’s interaction with other members of the town, but there doesn't seem to be an endgame to support it. Much more information could have been fed to the audience; more opportunities for human drama were missed. For instance, Vurner wants to dissect the kids, knowing that they're evil. Yet, Jill's blond son seems decent and good. Right there could have been an interesting conflict worth pursuing.


The biggest flaw with the script by David Himmelstein (including an uncredited rewrite by occasional Carpenter writing partner Larry Sulkis [Ghosts of Mars] and Steven Siebert) is that it feels like whole sections were removed - either in the writing stage or the editing stage. Obviously there have to be leaps through time in order for the newborns to age, from infant to toddler to elementary-school age, but often time it feels as if important developments are also being left behind. For instance, at a town hall meeting, Dr. Vurner confirms that every fertile female in town has become mysteriously pregnant, and therefore has attracted government attention. She presents them with a choice: Have an abortion and the government will pay for it, or carry the children to term and the government will pay for that, too - along with a monthly allowance of three thousand dollars. (The catch for this second choice is that Dr. Vurner or her team of scientists would like access to the children on a weekly basis for research purposes.) After the pregnant women have dreams featuring some really bad ‘80s music-video-inspired set dressing, they all decide to keep their kids. This really fucks up Vurner’s plan to cut open one of the aborted fetuses to see what they’re made of. Long preamble aside, this is the point: All the women in town are pregnant. Earlier I described them as “fertile” women, but that’s really just an assumption. It’s never stated if it really is every woman (the young? the elderly?) or just the ones biologically capable of carrying to term. Vurner confirms that “all [the women] have decided to keep their babies.” When the time comes, dozens (dozens!) of women go into labor. There is only one confirmed miscarriage. But yet, we jump through time, and there are only nine of the special children. So what happened to the rest? Were there more? Did the others die? Were the other children born normally? If so, where are they? And why wasn’t this ever mentioned?

Speaking of the one woman who miscarried, why is so she so upset about it? At this point it’s well-established that there is something off about the kids - and that they’re kinda jerks. So why wait five or six or seven years to blow her head off? One would think she’d be relieved she didn’t squeeze out one of the little blond turds.

But hey, we’re here to defend Village of the Damned, right?


It’s no surprise that, muddied screenplay aside, Carpenter’s direction and choices manage to shine through and make some of the more absurd aspects of the film interesting. For someone who questioned his ability as an "actor's director" in the beginning of his career, his ease with successfully utilizing children - nine, in fact - is cause for celebration.

First, it's rare when the performances by a child outshine those of their adult counterparts. Lindsey Haun as Mara, the children's ringleader, is quite good. Her role is atypical, and her task is memorizing large chunks of somewhat complicated and technical dialogue while removing any semblance of emotion from her voice. She very much manages to be eerie and intimidating, and as far as evil kids go, is far more effective than the kid from The Omen

Playing the thorn in Mara's side is the young Thomas Dekker as David, the only of the children seemingly born with humanity. His role is actually surprisingly complex in a philosophical aspect. He questions himself constantly, confused by these "emotions" he sometimes feels. He questions why he mourns for someone he's never met - that of the baby which miscarried, which would have been his "partner." From the very beginning he seems different from the rest, and his mother recognizes this. Dekker is quite good as well, and would go on to have a rather successful career for a young actor, his most high profile role as that of John Connor in television's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." (Although, to me, he'll always be the hospital-bound Bobby in the episode of "Seinfeld" who demands that Kramer tell Yankee Paul O'Neill he needs to hit two home runs.)

(As an aside, I'll mention that one of the other children is played by Shawna Waldron, best known as having played Icebox in Little Giants. She has one line of dialogue - it's not bad. The end.)

There's an especially well-constructed montage which takes place at the funeral of the young woman who opted to remove herself from earth following her miscarriage. Reverend George gives an impassioned eulogy for the departed, all the while (and it would seem, for the first time), acknowledging the evil that has plagued their small town.
God said, "Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” But image does not mean outer image, or every statue or photograph would be man. It means the inner image—the spirit, the soul. But what of those in our midst who do not have individual souls? Or spirits? They have one mind that they share between them—one spirit. They have the look of man, but not the nature of mankind…
It's the first and perhaps only time in the film a parent attempts to reach out to the other parents and ask them, basically, "Our kids are the fucking devil. Is there anything we can do?" Juxtaposed against this scene are the children out and about, doing some single-file marching. It sounds stupid, and Hammil's monologue borders on the cheesy, but with Carpenter's eye and music, it works quite well.

The visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is impressive. What was a somewhat hokey effect in the original Village has been re-imagined, utilizing the full color spectrum that changes in accordance to the children's level of intensity they are exhibiting, and sometimes even revealing the children's interior physical structure at key moments. Granted, what looked impressive in 1995, compared to the CGI extravaganzas of today in which entire countries are eviscerated, might seem somewhat simple, but ILM, who worked with Carpenter previously on Starman and Memoirs of an Invisible Man, does nice work here.


Ohhh...and the finale. How I love this finale. Once again, the use of Carpenter’s superior musical skills (sharing duty with Dave Davies) makes the finale incredibly affecting. From the first shotgun shell to the final explosion, the music, the quick (and quickening) cuts, and the jumping back and forth among the carnage outside - it’s all immensely suspenseful and satisfying. It gets your blood pumping and works on a very simplistic level - it appeals to what Carpenter calls “the lizard brain” the human race still possesses from our very early genetic roots; our need for destruction and domination. The finale is quite literally a race against time, permeated by the ticking clock counting down to the detonation of the explosives hidden inside Chaffee’s briefcase. And the brick wall he envisions in his head to block the children from seeing his motivations for keeping them in the old barn begins to slowly chip away. The music builds and builds and - in one of my favorite moments of any Carpenter film - finally ceases, a small choir on the soundtrack lets out a single sigh, all goes quiet, the kids look at the clock realizing this has been his plan all along...and quite literally, the roof is blown off the place. It's the stuff of film boners.

I remember reading at one point that Wes Craven was attached to this remake, a stipulation of his current contract with Universal Studios, and John Carpenter offered to Craven that he would take it on instead. This knowledge, coupled with his own comments on the original movie calling it "hilarious," would make one think that Village of the Damned wasn't exactly a passion project. But the aforementioned finale on which I heaped all my praise was evidently enough for the filmmaker to take on the assignment.

He said:
"The reason I wanted to remake The Thing was because of the blood test [scene]. The reason I wanted to remake this one [Village] was because of the brick wall scene."
When I was a wee one, I remember sitting down at the dinner table with my family and listening to my parents discuss the winners and losers at that year's Academy Awards, which had aired a night or two before. (Braveheart took home best picture.) I remember asking, in all of my naivety, if Village of the Damned had won any awards (as I had just seen it on video that week). My father gave me a funny look and asked, "For what? Worst movie of the year?" Also during this time, I had known someone personally who had gone to see Village in theaters, and had become so terrified that she began having a panic attack and an ambulance had to be called. This was kind of a defining moment for me as a film fan. At this young age I realized there was a real chasm between films that critics liked and films that general moviegoers liked - and an additional chasm strictly between moviegoers, who have never and will never agree on the quality of any one film.


I would never call Village of the Damned a great film, because, to be honest, it's not. But there are enough good things about it to justify its own existence. 

Apr 10, 2019

BLU-RAY REVIEW: SHOCKING DARK (1989)


Italian horror director Bruno Mattei, who died in 2007, once said, “I don’t think any of my movies are good.” Having seen just a handful of them, I’m…starting to believe him. If he were being fair, however, he should have added, “but they’re entertaining as hell.”

My introduction to Mattei was thanks to a little ditty called Cruel Jaws, a killer shark flick that was actually released in some foreign territories as Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws. Not only is it a beat-for-beat rip-off of Jaws (with some mobsters thrown in for good measure), it also brazenly lifts footage from the entire Jaws series, mostly shots of explosions, sharks, and exploding sharks. The degree of plagiarism going on was so absurd that Universal, rights holders of the Jaws series, issued a cease and desist the minute producers began testing the waters for a U.S. release. (A few years ago, Shout Factory very prematurely announced they would be releasing the title on Blu-ray, but anyone aware of Cruel Jaws’ litigation history predicted the distributor would inevitably walk back that announcement. They did.) For the freakishly curious, Cruel Jaws can be watched in its entirety on Youtube. (Bring your laughing face.)

Then came Rats: Nights of Terror, in which a group of punks surviving in a post-apocalyptic world fell victim to…rats. It was quite the night(s) of terror.

Finally, Mattei put his mark on the zombie sub-genre with Hell of the Living Dead, which I did see at one point and remember absolutely nothing about. It was probably pretty good!

Shocking Dark, my latest immersion in the world of Bruno Mattei…might be a new favorite. As its synopsis suggests, and which isn’t an exaggeration, Shocking Dark honestly looks like a $50 remake of Aliens, right down to the lifting of different characters and their very different traits.

Naturally there’s a Ripley (though she’s called Sarah — as in The Terminator’s Sarah Connor), along with a Newt, who recites a bit of Aliens dialogue with, “My mom told me monsters weren’t real – she was wrong.”


There’s a Hicks and a Hudson. There’s also a Vasquez:


Most importantly (spoiler), there’s a hybrid of Burke, Bishop…and the T-800 from The Terminator:


Sadly, however, there is no Jonesy:


Shocking Dark was even marketed as "Terminator 2" (this would be three years before Terminator 2: Judgment Day actually existed), going as far as to use this poster:


There’s shameless, and then there’s shameless, and then there’s that.

Shocking Dark is hysterical right off the bat, and once the hysteria dwindles a bit as the viewer becomes acclimated to its histrionics, the more and more familiar beats of the plot solidify and offer a different kind of enjoyment. Your mileage will vary, but your reaction will likely transition from “I can’t believe how stupid this is!” to “I can’t believe how shameless this is!”

The budget on this thing was probably less than half a Maserati. Most of the action takes place in a “tunnel below the canals of Rome” which looks suspiciously like the basement of a power plant, with a brief finale that unfolds on the city's streets where the film finally goes full-on Terminator. It should come as no surprise that the special effects are also terrible, with the alien looking nowhere near like the Xenomorph from the Alien series. By now it should be assumed that the acting in films of this caliber are quite poor, but for Shocking Dark it bears repeating. Yeesh.

If I were to offer any kind of accolades, it would be the decision to take the Bishop-inspired android and turn him into a carbon copy Terminator. Granted, this is all predicated on the understanding that a couple of screenwriters were forced to rip off two of the biggest sci-fi/action flicks of all time, but let’s be honest: if Shocking Dark were a piece of fan fiction on an Alien message board, it would be commended for its cleverness in tying another popular James Cameron character into the conflict. Yes, Shocking Dark steals, but it steals cleverly.

Severin's spiffy Blu-ray includes the following special features: "Terminator in Venice – An Interview with Co-Director / Co-Screenwriters Claudio Fragasso and Co-Screenwriter Rossella Drudi," "Once Upon A Time in Italy – An Interview With Actress Geretta Geretta," and Alternate Italian Titles.

Look, Shocking Dark is a terrible movie and actually kind of racist, but I can’t deny it was a hell of a good time. A prerequisite for enjoyment of Shocking Dark is an appreciation for trash cinema. You should know this before getting yourself into trouble. And if you’re constantly bored and sad like I am, here’s a fun double-feature idea for you: Aliens, and Shocking Dark. Back to back, their similarities will be far more prevalent, and hence, far more entertaining (though Aliens will be suddenly severely lacking “Arnold Schwarzenegger”).


Sep 18, 2014

SHITTY FLICKS: SAVAGE PLANET

Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant, camp-girl penis. 

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.


I've seen a lot of dreck. I've seen dreck from low-rent filmmakers, and I've seen dreck made by so-called real, established directors. I've seeked dreck and gotten quality; and, in turn, I've seeked quality, and boy oh boy, did I get dreck. It happens. It's unavoidable. And all during this, Savage Planet comes along - a cinematic equivalent of a really really bad liar - comes up right behind us all, and says, "Oh, sorry I'm late. Did you save any bean dip?"

Savage Planet is pretty special. Not because it's "ha ha" bad, and not because it was made by the Sci-Fi Channel back when their original television movies were bad by accident instead of kitschy bad-on-purpose nonsense like Sharknado (although one can still appreciate Savage Planet for those things), but for a very different and special reason. We'll get to that reason in a bit. I suppose it should be considered a spoiler - not because it will ruin the "plot," but because it would ruin the moment during this film that you would be struck by the sheer stupidity of its "villain" and be so utterly taken aback in joy that I kind of don't want to let the air out of your tires.

But, if you choose to keep reading, that's on you.

The film opens with a group of scientists on another "planet" and machetteing their way through a thick wood. The leader takes readings with a gizmo and mentions how the levels of whatever are better than on Earth. It's really important that the film establish right away that these guys are most def NOT on earth, because what are clearly very plain woodsy areas of Canada should at NO point be mistaken for Planet Earth.

References To Being On Alien Planet And Definitely Not Earth: 1

Lead guy gets his hand hacked off by a machete completely by accident and falls into a hole, where he burns his hand stump in a puddle of radioactive green goo. His hand grows back (kind of), and he is then viciously attacked by a space alien. This poor man's fear is paramount. Never, back on Planet Earth, had he ever encountered such an otherworldly monster, but yet here he is, facing something harvested from his nightmares - something so indescribable and beyond comprehension that H.P. Lovecraft would have needed nearly two volumes and limitless cognac to properly describe every minute detail. 

On a planet that savage, aliens look like this:


Okay, you got me. The "aliens" in Savage Planet are bears. And not just plain old bears, but "mutant" alien bears. This is also something they will say over and over to force you into believing you're seeing, like, gigantic mutant bears. But, you're not.

Even the DVD packaging goes very far out of the way to not drop the "b" word. The front cover is a picture of a mossy-looking planet, on the back is nary a photo of a bear, and the summary reads as follows:
Earth is declared uninhabitable from years of toxic pollution and ecological damage. A team of scientists are sent to visit an unknown planet in hopes of finding a new, safe, world. But within the lush and verdant landscape of the new planet they find a mutated species that turns their expedition deadly. They expected and needed utopia but instead found something more deadly than what they d left behind.  
Yep. They found bears.

Just go with it.

Sean Patrick Flannery plays Randall Cain, a sad earthling man with a haunted past who has a giant scar across his chest that actually looks like an even gianter Cronenbergian sex bug. It's...off-putting to look at, and even more off-putting to pet. He lives in a "Dystopian" future, which means everything looks exactly the same as it does now, except for the first establishing shot of the city, which is a 3D generation of smoothed-over metallic building blocks probably designed by the guys who made Candy Crush while they were each on their own toilet. From what is immediately apparent by this future, The News is dominated by one bored-sounding voice, everything is really white, and Mexico seems to have become a breeding ground for violence and depravity. 

So, it's pretty much like now, only really cheap looking.

Cain's vacation of looking sad and lying in a future cot with that weird bug-looking scar thing across his person is interrupted by his superiors and is brought on to be briefed on a very important mission that he apparently has no choice but to endure. There, he is told that a planet nearly identical to Earth (let's just get that established as soon as possible) has been discovered and I guess some dudes and dudettes need to go there and do some science stuff to determine if the people of Earth can go live there. The planet is called Planet Oxygen, which is just as imaginative as the person whosever idea it was to film a movie set on an alien planet in the not-so-alien looking woods of Ontario. (See, because there's a whole bunch more vegetation on this planet, and hence, a whole bunch more oxygen.)

Cain and his rag-tag group of colleagues, including Not Stephen Moyer, Guy Who Looks Like A Grown-Up Baby, Token Black Guy, and Almost Lisa Kudrow are beamed directly onto Planet Oxygen using an invention called DST (standing for distance travel). 

Each time someone is beamed onto the planet, the director is quick to use split screen, so we can see everyone's understandably amazed faces while the person disappears right before their eyes!

If they think that's amazing, wait till they see how LARGE these bears are!

Alien Bear steps on a lego.

One of the last people to beam through - and also the guy in charge of security - dies during transference. He hilariously makes pain sounds identical to that of a monkey's, his bones disappear, and he crumbles into a pile of thin, blankety, wet man. Carlson says, "We all agree this is a tragedy," without looking all that bothered by it, and then he--

Oh, shit!

References To Being On Alien Planet And Definitely Not Earth: 2

Where were we? 

Oh, right.

So, these scientists, I guess, are about to--

References To Being On Alien Planet And Definitely Not Earth: 3

Jeeze. 

So, the scientists begin their expedition--

References To Being On Alien Planet And Definitely Not Earth: 4

Right.

During their recon, they locate the body of a dead bear.

"What the hell is it?" asks one of the many people claiming to be a scientist.

After an autopsy of sorts, this amazing exchange takes place:

"It's a prehistoric cave bear; been extinct on Earth for over ten thousand years...The most formidable predator in its day." 

"How does an extinct bear come to get on this planet?"

"Somehow its DNA sequence regressed. No modern bear, even full-grown, has claws this big, or a hide this dense...Their only known enemy was man."

Later, everyone has a philosophical conversation about whether or not the lives of those already lost are worth whatever discoveries they might find on Planet Oxygen. If this were real life, of course the lives lost would be deemed irrelevant, but since this is television - brainless brainless television - these scientists have hearts and decide it's not worth it and everyone wants to go home. Not Carlson, though, because he's the movie's resident money/fame-driven penis head.

"For a scientist, you know a lot about death, but nothing about life," someone says to Carlson, and god damn does he look SHUT DOWN.

(No he doesn't.)

Also:

References To Being On Alien Planet And Definitely Not Earth: 5

One of the scientists decides it would be best to go off on her own. I think her name was Bird Seed(?)

Weird, right?

Then this happens:


It was quite a sight to see!

Cain attempts to take control of the mission, since the whole science part of it seems to have gone out the window and now it's more about survival, which means Carlson can be 100% dick. Bears come and Cain asks Carlson to shoot some of them, but Carlson says "fuck that" and him and his eyebrows peace out of the scene. Cain promptly falls and hits his head on a gigantic rock.

I don't blame him.

Maybe he accidentally watched a little bit of his own movie and it all just got to be too much.

As everyone makes plans to spelunk down a cave wall, let's all pause for a moment of out-of-context dialog:

"Okay, here's the plan: I'm gonna go down first, followed by the two girls." 

Day dims, night comes, and it's almost too easy to take out these attacking bears with a shot gun. A perfect juxtaposition of: stock footage of roaring bear, man with shot gun, stock footage of roaring bear calmly lowering from two feet down to all four = man successfully killed bear with a shotgun. 

Movie magic.

After one of the dudes' girlfriends gets dragged from her tent and eaten perfectly in half, the other scientists begin to really doubt their own faith in science. Talk about horror!

- "You know, I was actually offered 'The Walking Dead' first."
- "Is that true?"
- "Oh, lord, no."

The bears continue to take out our scientist characters one by one, and shockingly, Token Black Guy is still hanging in. Even Harold Perrineau was bear meat at this point in The Edge

Have you seen The Edge

It's great.

Anyway, this shit has gotten far too complicated for a killer alien film where the aliens are played by bears. There's something happening now about "life serums" and Planet Oxygen's habitat becoming "increasingly unstable." All I know is: more bears, please. Token Black Guy is still breathing, as is Guy Who Looks Like A Grown-Up Baby.

Whoop. Never mind.

As the bear viciously attacks Token Black Guy and begins tearing apart his innards and ripping off one limb after another, he screams for Cain to shoot him and put him out of his misery. Count how long Cain stands there holding his shot gun with a stupid look on his face before he actually does anything to alleviate Token Black Guy's suffering, and then convert that to Bear Time. Your final figure should be somewhere around, "Cain's a dick."

Rest in peace, Token Black Guy!


Dear god, I've never seen a more boring film where bears play aliens and aliens rip apart really terrible dummies filled with gooey balloons that play the people. My time would've been better spent digging a hole in my backyard and shitting directly into it, and when my one neighbor called the cops and the cops came and asked, "Just what on Earth were you thinking?" I would say, "Well, it was either that or watch Savage Planet," and they would be like, "Say no more, we totally get it. Please shit some more into that hole you dug," and I would say "Thanks, officer," and I might even buy a couple tickets to their Policeman's Ball, even though I'd have no one to go with, because who's gonna go to a ball with someone who shits in the backyard?

No one. :(

Carlson gets his head beared off and things begin to look really dire for our remaining heroes. Almost Lisa Kudrow manages to beam herself back to earth while Cain falls down for something like the hundredth time in this fucking piece of shit, and then a large mutant alien bear with regressed DNA, bigger claws, and a denser hide (read: a normal bear) attacks Cain before he can beam back to Earth.

The scene cuts to several days (weeks? months?) into the future at a press conference where it's revealed that Cain somehow survived his attack even though I'm pretty sure he was within the snares of a bear and unable to get back to his beamer. Jump-cuts save more lives on the Sci-Fi Channel then firefighters save people from fire. That's a real stat - I just looked it up. I couldn't even tell you what happened during this scene because I was already ejecting the disc and dreaming of the fifty cents I'd get for it at MovieStop.

Production is underway on Savage Planet 2: Beary Scary, and it will star Norman Reedus from "The Walking Dead," which is both a stupid joke I just made up and also an excuse to put the words "Norman Reedus" and "The Walking Dead" into this review, just so a bunch of pre-teen girls and sad moms can find it by accident when Googling the phrases "Norman Reedus no shirt" and "Norman Reedus kiss me" and "Norman Reedus friend bear movie."

Sean Patrick Flannery was in the movie Powder. He played 'Powder.'

Good night.

Jul 4, 2013

WELCOME TO EARF

In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. "Mankind." That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive!" Today we celebrate our Independence Day!




Haha.

But seriously, read more about the 1952 Washington D.C. UFO incident

May 10, 2013

REVIEW: BATTLE EARTH


Once upon a time, in February of 1942, aliens came and hovered over Los Angeles. They hung around a bit, didn't too much, and then left. Or so UFO conspiracy theorists like to claim. I can't say for sure what happened because I wasn't there. But this incident, much like the alleged crash landing of another UFO in Roswell, New Mexico, has kept the idea of aliens and alien visitation alive for decades.

In 2005, it inspired a pretty okay movie called Battle: Los Angeles, starring Aaron Eckhart and directed by Jonathan Liebsman. 

Battle Earth writer/director Aaron Kurmey kinda hopes you don't remember that, or else his film about the US (er, sorry, Canadian) military fighting off a ground invasion by alien forces might seem more than a little familiar, as will its news footage declaring "EARTH UNDER ATTACK!!" and the streaming bright-white meteors hurtling toward our planet. Even the handheld "right up in there" way of filming the action is ever in place. But as I've often said, while concepts can become exhausted, a filmmaker with a bit of know-how can overcome this over-saturation so long as they offer something new and/or intelligent. (I also don't blame the filmmakers for the title, as research indicates the film was originally called The Medic.)


It is six months into the initial invasion. The Canadian military is actively trying to quell and neutralize the attack with the use of helicopter and ground troops. Among one of these troops is Greg Baker (Kevin Johnson), who enlists in the fight after seeing the invasion unfold on his television. After their helicopter is shot down, Baker and his platoon find themselves in enemy territory and in possession of a mysterious package covered in bio-hazard symbols. As time goes on, it becomes more and more evident there's something pretty important inside that package...and it's going to change Baker's entire perception of who is the real enemy.

Battle Earth, and movies like it, are perfectly destined for Red Box or digital download. It is a satisfying way to spend 90 minutes without ever feeling like your time has ultimately been wasted. But you'll never feel compelled to watch it ever again. The acting is just fine, though it varies in quality; luckily our lead is more than competent. Johnson isn't your typical generic and handsome lead; he's just an everyman who saw the carnage on his television and did the right thing in volunteering for the fight. He's got some domestic baggage weighing him down, and it causes him to have nightmares in which he stumbles across his wife/girlfriend, Tracy, fucking some random dude in the middle of the same wilderness where the soldiers are engaging the enemy.

Speaking of the enemy...oh boy, these aliens. They don't look great. And I suppose that's why the filmmakers don't really go out of their way to show them off. If you've seen the great District 9, picture if you can those aliens having been dudes in costumes as opposed to CGI. (I'll certainly give them points for trying it old school, however; I'll take crummy costumes over crummy CGI any day of the week.) That's the enemy we're dealing with in Battle Earth...and they also wear clothes. Except for E.T., that might just be a first in this subgenre. Also a first: Canadians saying things like "fuck" and "sucking dicks." I had no idea Canadians cursed! It's weird!


Refreshingly, the visual effects present here are pretty competent and effective, and Kurmey's skill behind the camera works well in tandem alongside them - one notable sequence has a still night invaded by flashing lights across the far mountainous horizon, and the glare of this light show reflects across the soldiers' awed faces. Small moments like this - and the very unusual opening utilizing a recreated relaxation tape meshed with a soldier dispatching enemy combatants - help elevate Battle Earth above the usual direct to video level.

Unfortunately, the film falls victim in the same way other films containing groups of soldiers: characterization falls by the wayside, and instead the men are given differing personalities (the funny guy! the somber guy! the foreigner!) to help the audience discern who is who. Not helping is the single location in which the film takes place, which after a while makes the film a little stagnate. Odd, seeing as how the majority of this film has soldiers shooting assault weapons at the enemy.

You have seen better films than Battle Earth, but you have seen way worse, too. It won't be your new favorite film, but it might make you say, "that was worth the $1.20, but we have to return this by 9:00 or they'll charge us for another night."

Battle Earth hits DVD on May 28. Buy it here.