7/22/2014

REVIEW OF THE PURGE: ANARCHY

year: 2014 rating: **1/2
In a ridiculous yet intriguing premise… of a future America where, once a year in a twenty-four hour time span, looting and murder are legal in order to cut down the crime rate… the potential for bloody mayhem is limitless...

In the first movie, all taking place within the confides of one family's residence, sporadic news reels show the bedlam outside… So welcome to the streetwise sequel where the real stuff occurs. But after a twenty-minute setup, we never get to know the characters well enough to really care about them...

Consisting of a mother and daughter left alone inside an apartment building, and a young couple whose car broke down in the middle of a bridge, the would-be victims are merely peripheral to Frank Grillo’s Sergeant, an action hero so swarthy and dynamic the movie could have been named after him alone – at which point the titular premise doesn't even matter... Anarchy wouldn't hinder Rambo or The Terminator one bit.

Much like the 1979 cult film THE WARRIORS, the hunted prey go from location to location avoiding masked gangs ranging from cutthroat street scum to a violent militia stocked with heavy ammunition… And yet the real villains, sought after by contrived revolutionaries, might not be so hungry and desperate... Sound familiar?

Frank Grillo makes a terrific leader of the pack but perhaps he’s too good a thing... While his group and the audience feel completely safe while he's around, there lacks the necessary suspense and vulnerability of not  knowing what lurks around each corner... It's all pretty much taken care of. 

7/20/2014

SIDEWAYS AND LOW: A BRIEF TRIBUTE TO JAMES GARNER AS JIM ROCKFORD

James Garner
“You see, his gun is deadly, mine’s in a cookie jar,” Jim Rockford tells his dad, Rocky, who might finally understand his son’s profession as Private Investigator while reading a page-turning dime novel...

Not really. Because Rockford, played by James Garner, is far from your typical steely hero as depicted in old movies and books. He’s a down-to-earth guy who constantly lands in hot water… And that water made up six seasons of the classic crime series starring the legendary James Garner, who recently passed away.

THE ROCKFORD FILES episode WHITE ON WHITE AND NEARLY PERFECT begins like it’s already halfway through. Within the first couple minutes we learn that Stuart Margolin’s con artist Angel Martinez is in jail, where Jim also spent the night after – something went wrong, as usual.

But when Rockford's reluctantly partnered up with Tom Selleck’s Lance White, his kinks are more noticeable than ever.

Selleck & Garner
Throughout the entire series, Jim Rockford, an ex con turned P.I., is both slick and spontaneous, trudging through the necessary steps to find a shabby means to an end. Which is the polar opposite of Selleck’s unscathed investigator, who glides from one location to the next with everything handed him.

“You’re naïve, Lance, you really are... You have to be cynical… You have to question things… You can’t take someone named ‘Belle LaBelle’ on face value… What’s her angle? Whose payroll was she on…

"You find out the answers to those things, and then you start moving fast and crooked… You go through doorways, sideways and low, at odd angles… You look for the big lie… Question everything!”

And while Lance shrugged off this advice, it summarized everything that made THE ROCKFORD FILES a sublime 180 degree turn for James Garner, who could always play an imperfect character with sheer perfection. 
James Garner with Noah Beery Jr, and below is a pic from another episode... With a quote from a fellow actor!
 "James Garner was a class act. Made everybody feel like we all belonged. Thanks for sharing your love of life." Pepe Serna
James Garner with Pepe Serna on THE ROCKFORD FILES

7/17/2014

STOMPING THROUGH THE ORIGINAL KONG ISLAND TRILOGY

Original Kong Tribute
A few years back, when Warner Brothers finally made KING KONG available on DVD, rabid fans of the classic 1933 blockbuster went bananas... 

The box set threesome consisted of the original, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and also includes the lightweight sequel SON OF KONG co-directed by Schoedsack, produced by Cooper and starring KONG lead Robert Armstrong...

And there's MIGHTY JOE YOUNG that, with a stop-motion African ape overseen by the original special effects wizard Willis O’Brien but really brought to life by protegee and future icon Ray Harryhausen, had the same producers, directors, writers, composer, and once again Armstrong played the rich manipulator (a nightclub promoter this time) knee-deep in a barrelful of monkey business…

But this particular bagful doesn’t include JOE at all, which is an afterthought and not part of the bonafide Kong Island Trilogy, which centers on the ape and  the Island: Beginning with THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, known as the “sister production” to KING KONG for reasons briefly described in our first review…

1932 rating: ****
THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME: Based a short story written by Richard Connell, this story  been used many times over the years, but the best adaptation is the Cooper/Schoedsack production that proceeded the groundbreaking KING KONG, filmed mostly in the same island location and starring several familiar faces.

We spend the first few minutes on a boat where a group of high class, cigar puffing gentleman talk about their favorite sport, highlighting their special guest Bob, played by Joel McCrea, a lanky chap famous for hunting wild tigers and never backing down…

Right when Bob mentions how he’s glad to be the hunter and not the hunted, the boat hits a reef, goes down into shark-infested waters, and everyone dies except our hero, who winds up on a beach, making his way into a giant spooky castle inhabited by an obviously nefarious white man Zaroff, played by Leslie Banks. And there are guests left over by the last shipwreck… In the roles of brother and sister Eve and Martin is none other than Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong…

While Wray is the co-lead ingénue, Armstrong is given a filler role and spends most of the time drunkenly slurring in that old school fashion, annoying Zaroff until the plot unravels… And with only the dashing Bob and the beautiful Eve left, we’ve learned Zaroff’s master plan: he hunts human beings, not animals… These are considered the most dangerous game!

Leslie Banks provides all the delicious, expository venom of your classic film heavy – going over the top in such a perfect way you’ll want to hear him rant and rave forever within his cozy confides…

As the vamping Zaroff stalks his own stairwell like a phantom ruling his immense bachelor pad purgatory, the camera pans to his face while Max Steiner’s melodramatic score blares with sinister premonition. The famous KONG starlet Wray, meanwhile, provides damsel in distress moments, and yet what she holds back, not wanting to be heard by her surreptitious captor, is the most important element of her subdued performance. 

Soon enough it's dawn, aka hunting season, and we venture from the lush Gothic interior to the formidably foggy outdoors, where KING KONG was being filmed at the same time (Fay was a busy actress, serving as a wish-bone between two productions). Bob and Eve run throughout the island as a gun-wielding Zaroff keeps on their trail, eventually using his henchman (KONG's "Native Chief" Noble Johnson) and guard dogs for backup…

GAME provides two movies for the price of one: the first being a dialogue driven philosophy on life and death, the second a fast paced action film that, like KING KONG once we hit the island, never lets up...

1933 rating: *****
KING KONG: If you discovered prehistoric dinosaurs roaming an uncharted island, would a giant ape really matter?

Well in this case it’s personal, because the legendary simian is no legend at all… He’s all brutal fists and razor-sharp teeth... definitely not a leaf-eating vegetarian... and he’s captured Ann Darrow, the street girl turned makeshift actress hired by maverick cinema auteur Carl Denham to star in his next picture shot entirely at Skull Island, a location that doesn’t even appear on the map and, shrouded by a wall of thick, ominous fog, it's place you don’t want to spend your vacation…

A bevy of chanting natives dot the shoreline and reside mostly behind a giant fortress protected from the unseen god they live to fear… And King Kong is only too real…

Created by special effects/stop animation guru Willis O’Brien, Kong might not be impressively aesthetic to today’s standards. His hair moves noticeably with each specific movement, but we can suspend cinema disbelief by saying the wind is causing that effect. In reality, O’Brien and his techs moved Kong by hand, and those are their very own imprints.

The shark in JAWS looked paper mache up close. That didn’t matter and either does a model-clay gorilla... There's enough build-up to get to know the characters, beginning with a middleman telling Robert Armstrong’s headstrong director no studio will allow an actress to risk such a venture: So Denhman hits the New York Depression-era streets and finds his dame in the form of Faye Wray’s Darrow…

With pale skin, longing eyes and windswept countenance, Wray, no stranger to horror film roles, was given her big break – she's the perfectly suited scream queen and boy can she holler… After the forty-five minute mark, when she’s kidnapped by the natives and sacrificed to a giddy Kong, her wailing never really ceases.

Unlike the two remakes, the human ingénue doesn’t fall in subliminal love with her giant captor… It’s an unrequited, one-sided obsession, and that makes the titular ape even more formidable and sinister. 

As Kong battles a giant snake, a menacing pterodactyl and a  romping and raging, tail-wagging T-Rex to protect his new discovery, he becomes a savior/bodyguard, but most likely for territorial reasons...

Although, Bruce Cabot’s John Driscoll is perpetually shadowing Kong to get his lady back... One great camera-gliding visual has Driscoll and a weary Darrow running for safety as an unseen Kong approaches... And although Cabot is the heroic lead, Armstrong’s Denham is the main male character...

In the modern era, never would a man responsible for capturing and exploiting an extremely rare species be considered a hero of any kind… In fact, Charles Grodin and Jack Black, basically playing the same guy in both sequels, were villains and/or jerks. Either way, “It was beauty that killed the beast" lends more cruel irony than anything else. But perhaps this line can be explained when, on the Island, Kong breaks down the native's wall that, most likely, couldn't be penetrated under normal circumstances: it took Darrow to give him the extra strength to fulfill his tragic destiny. And despite ravaging the native village and following the Americans to shore with loathsome vengeance, Kong is no match against gas bombs being hurled at his feet...

Cutting quickly from Skull Island back to New York, where Kong’s on display for a theater of impatient sophisticates, resulting in a barrage of the city leading to the famous Empire State Building standoff where Kong battles airplanes with machine guns... An unfair fight as the true hero dies at the end: An iconic creature beloved by audiences, still, even though, in the original movie and in his original form, KING KONG was a lethal monster to both respect and fear.

1933 rating: ***1/2
SON OF KONG: Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Skull Island… But wait a second… Why  return to an island full of carnivorous monstrosities? And you thought forced sequels were a new concept…

SON is actually not that bad, and Carl Denham, once again played by Meriem Cooper stock actor and personal doppelganger Robert Armstrong, has had quite a lousy year… His gigantic furry attraction got loose and did plenty of damage to New York…

From tossing a woman out a building to stepping on residents to damaging a subway car and… pretty much everything… the once great filmmaker is facing lawsuits that will put him in debt for centuries…

Luckily he has a second chance in the form of the original charter Captain Englehorn (along with Victor, the Chinese Cook) to hitch a ride and become partners… Denham sets out on the same boat to a far off location to seek new customers, and just happens to catch a low-rent stage show including an adorable Helen Mack (who co-starred with Armstrong in Cooper's 1931 programmer, BLIND ADVENTURE) as Hilda.

SON OF KONG takes a while to roll yet even the fluff is interesting… Like all sequels, a new pivotal character is introduced, conveniently related to the original: the guy who had given Denhman the map of Skull Island in the first place…

Helstrum is a lush and a liar, and here we have a bonafide human antagonist: he winds up burning down Hilda’s home, along with her boozing dad. And so, now homeless, jobless, and fatherless, she becomes a stowaway on Denham and Englehorn’s charter, which is quickly taken over by a gaggle of angry, disgruntled sailors. At this point, the main characters are put on a life boat headed right for, you got it... Skull Island!

Here’s where, forty minutes in, the movies really starts, consisting of our new beastly hero, Kong's son, a white-haired, jovial yet tough and resilient ape that, after Denham helps him out of a tarpit, becomes bodyguard to the frightened humans, who at this point merely witness bouts between Son of Kong verses a giant bear and a few angry dinosaurs, including a ramming-speed triceratops…

These battles are as great as things get – and unlike the original which had so many things going for it, SON OF KONG is entirely special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien’s show… Too bad the pulpy adventure winds up with a cop-out climax involving a ravaging storm, an immense flood and a tragic finale that should have turned out much differently… Enough room on the life boat for a big baby gorilla… Or perhaps a gigantic floaty... He deserved at least  that much!

7/12/2014

CHOMPING ON THE PHENOM OF SHARKNADO WITH ROBBIE RIST

year: 2013 camp value: ***1/2
“Like an adorable puppy with really huge feet,” actor Robbie Rist describes SHARKNADO, the 2013 SyFy Channel cult thriller about, well, a tornado full of sharks attacking Los Angeles from the sky. “It doesn't know that it is supposed to fade into the background, so it will probably be in your face for the next decade or so.”

Well thanks to the RiffTrax team of Mystery Science Theater 3000 veterans Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, the glorious SHARKNADO is back in the spotlight...

As a deliberate, schlocky venture inviting a bevy of jokes and hilarious insults to be hurled its way, the movie is, like any camp classic worth poking fun at, something of a phenomenon, and actually holds up as a terribly entertaining motion picture in its own wonderful right.

With melodramatic one-liners coinciding with a tongue in cheek, or in this case, tooth in flesh underline, SHARKNADO stars BEVERLY HILLS 90210 bad boy Ian Ziering as Fin Hunter, a former surf champion who, when not hitting the waves with his Australian sidekick Baz Hogan (BAYWATCH alumni Jason Simmons), runs a tavern on the pier that peaks out at the bikini-clad beach. And here’s where the madness begins… Well, not exactly…

The pulpy prologue takes place on a fishing boat far out at the storm-drenched sea, where a below-deck conversation between a spooky, lantern jawed sailor and an Asian businessman provides a literal snack before the meal: When the desperate, gun-toting suit grabs the briefcase of cash, and tries escaping on the boat’s thunderous deck (where he plans to go is the real mystery), the first of many sharks appear, leaping from the water and eventually dusting off both rudimentary characters, who made little sense to begin with…

It’s when our important and relatively likable heroes Fin, Baz, John Heard’s local drunk, George, and the movie’s Robert Shaw in the form of a young barmaid with her very own Quintesque backstory monolog, Cassandra Scerbo’s Nova Clarke, witness the thunderous hurricane outside... causing one shark to torpedo through the window and land chomping inside the bar... that the story really begins.

The best scenes have the characters battling and/or escaping from the killer fish in various locations throughout Los Angeles. The 90's style CGI Effects actually compliment various insert shots where the budget seems so abysmal, the graphics look straight out of, as one RiffTrax member pointed out, something from a used car advertisement.

In-between the action, as the cast drives Fin’s car from one location to the next, witnessing Los Angeles in flooded ruins while various sharks gobble freeway pedestrians, the conversations drag: An obvious attempt to flesh out characters that are merely flesh to begin with – especially compared to the headlining sharks, either riding the roving tornado or swimming throughout the swamped city streets. 

And as happens in the horrendous Matthew Broderick GODZILLA (which is the next RiffTrax Live victim), you’ll be surprised at how soon the characters forget the impending peril around them. Like complaining about a toothache during the Apocalypse, human nature never fully surrenders to its own banal narcissism. 

Yet all the superfluous chum makes the shark battling scenes that much more important, and downright bad ass. Especially after the introduction of Tara Reid as April, Fin’s ex wife, his pouty daughter and eventually their intrepid pilot son, the literally explosive third act plays out at an airport connected to an old folk’s home: an extremely bizarre OK Corral for a monstrous climactic showdown. 

But hey, wait a minute... We’re missing one important scene earlier on!

Reminiscent of the kind of suspenseful setup by Irwin Allen in the 1970’s, when the gang happens upon a busload of kids stranded beneath a bridge – sharks circling the vehicle with formidable rancor – it’s a do or die effort on our lead hero’s part to save everyone on board…

That includes not only the children but also their longhaired hippie bus driver, Robbie, played by Robbie Rist, who you’ll recall as Cousin Oliver from the last half of the final season of THE BRADY BUNCH as well as Michelangelo in the original TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURLES flicks, child genius Dr. Zee on GALACTICA 1980, and many other cinematic and television appearances and voice-overs...

How did your part as the Bus Driver come about in SHARKNADO?

I had worked with the director, Anthony C. Ferrante, doing music for his films for gosh... maybe 20 years, or something like that. 

As we were wrapping music for The Asylum's Hansel and Gretel movie, Anthony told me he was offered the directing gig on SHARKNADO. I knew the film was going into production as I had talked to another huge genre fan friend I have, and we had lost our minds over the title alone when we saw it at AFM (American Film Market).

So, Anthony tells me he is being offered the job and I LEAPT out of my chair, grabbed him by the lapels and said, “Look... Two things. First off, you HAVE to direct this movie. I don't know why. I just... have a feeling about it… And also, if you DO direct this movie, I want to be in it!"

He wrote me the part, I mostly improvised my lines and.... how nutty I end up being in yet ANOTHER pop culture smash to go along with my TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES run and THE BRADY BUNCH…

By the way, want to up the odds of your project becoming culturally significant? Put me in it!

Your scene with Ian being lifted up to the bridge – what kind of physicality was involved on your part? 

Well, they pulled me up about 20 feet and, being the professional I am, I said, "Thank you. That's high enough!" Then a stunt person took over… I’m terrified of heights!

Your  death scene is great, especially the backstory leading to the inevitable Hollywood Sign demise...

It was my first death onscreen! I think we shot a couple of takes of me trying out different lines. The Hollywood one apparently struck a chord!

And so, after the fate of poor Robbie, and many other unlucky L.A. residents, at the climax of SHARKNADO, as two characters fly a helicopter to drop homemade bombs into the formidable, swirling menace... And down below, as Ian Ziering intrepidly slices approaching sharks with a chainsaw... The theater was so immersed in the action, cheering wildly at the incredibly taut hilarity of the proceedings, the RiffTrax guys were, along with everyone else, simply an audience reveling in a cult phenomenon that will only get better (as in, awesomely worse) with time…

Especially thanks to the actors and actresses delivering campy lines so seriously, the very special effects ultimately seem peripheral to the characters that make SHARKNADO such a wonderfully guilty pleasure.

Do you think the movie meant to be bad from the very conception?

Well, look at the title! I think it came front-loaded with a sense of humor. It knew that it wasn't re-writing THE BARD’S CANON... 

What actually amazes me about it (well there are lots of things, actually, but this is big) is that The Asylum gave Anthony basically nine dollars to make what really could have been a hundred million dollar budgeted movie (I mean, it's got something like 300 visual effects in it... That is madness for the budget they had).

I really hope the industry wises up and sees what an asset Ferrante is to any project he attaches himself to. The guy is a frigging wizard... 

The dude has serious skills and I would love to see what he could do with an actual budget... not to mention the appropriate payday for the guy who does all of his music!

What do you personally think of the growing cult status of SHARKNADO?

When Anthony and I started doing the music (we wrote all of the pop songs that appear in the movie, with Anthony singing and playing guitar and keys and even singing… That's him singing on the theme song), we made a joke about it being like The Little Engine That Could, and started joking that SHARKNADO is the movie that didn't know there were things it wasn't supposed to do.

It looked bigger than most films done at the same budget level. And it turned out he had a great leading man in Ian Ziering, the FX were looking way better than imagined... So yeah, that is my take on SHARKNADO and its cult status.

In three syllables, SHARKNADO tells you everything you need to know and what you are in for… A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL doesn't do that, does it?
And along with sporadic JAWS references, Steven Spielberg's 1941 unhinged ferris wheel evokes bonus homage
GOOGLE RIFFTRAX LIVE AND MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU

7/11/2014

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

year: 2014 rating: ***
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES begins after mankind has been partially wiped out by the virus caused from the first movie, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES…

And while this DAWN is a predecessor, it’s also a chance to begin in a much better, action-packed fashion than RISE. In a literal sense, the dawn has the sun rising... Thus, so far, we’ve twice been catapulted into an APES franchise reboot – and now they finally got it right, somewhat.

At the end of the first movie, Cornelius led his furry legion into the wilderness just outside San Francisco – here’s where they now live comfortably, using Sign Language to communicate what the audience reads with subtitles. Although every now and then the apes screech out a few human words...

But it’s Cornelius, with an expression of a punished kid just daring to get spanked one more time, or a method actor purposely holding back disgruntled rancor, who wields the true gift of gab with various commands, threats, or both at the same time. 

On the human side, James Franco’s scientist, the original owner of the trained baby Cornelius, is gone, replaced by a group of ragged survivors led by Jason Clarke’s Malcolm. In this pivotal role, Clarke does a great job, combining the perfect balance of pathos with intrepid urgency.

The logical member of a group of ragtag city survivalists, it’s through Malcolm where the real suspense occurs. He visualizes the spooky depths of the gorilla-laden forest, and eventually barters with Cornelius to get use of a dam on the ape’s (damn dirty) territory, giving his people enough power to call for possible backup. Some of the humans don't trust the apes, and vice versa... That’s the plot in a nutshell.

While Gary Oldman's military-minded Dreyfuss serves as a potential lead villain for upcoming installments, the main heavy is a vicious warrior named Koba, instigating war in a sneaky manner that causes the apes, sans Cornelius, to invade the humans in an all-out battle with guns and horses.

In-between bursts of noisy action are tedious moments of downtime, mostly involving Cornelius torn between man and beast. Yet even these melodramatic sequences lead to some kind of adventurous turmoil. And while lacking the addictive science-fiction creativity of the original series, replaced with a computerized Nature Gone Awry template, this DAWN makes up for what didn’t RISE initially.

year: 2011 rating: **
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: Imagine if DEEP BLUE SEA were called JAWS 5... Although the basic premise of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is mirrored here, this has nothing to do with THE PLANET OF THE APES franchise, instead centering on a bunch of abused monkeys who deserve a better place to climb.

Too much attention is focused on the dream drug that, while being used on experimental chimps, might erase the effects of Alzheimer’s in humans, and is what Hitchcock called a McGuffin: the device driving the plot that the audience doesn’t care about. It’s too bad the writers, and characters herein, cared about nothing else.

The eventual breakout of the apelike Alcatraz… led by James Franco’s research chimp, Caesar, born with the effects of the wonder drug… takes way too long to happen. After which the group of angry brutes stomp across a bridge and… well let’s just say, mankind has nothing to worry about thereafter.

Roddy McDowall's Caesar, after taking over the world in CONQUEST, gives a powerful speech that – if Award shows didn’t take themselves so seriously back then – should have warranted a nomination. Here we have a bunch of neat looking computerized simians, but none merit enough humanity for the audience to really care about (anymore than a dog or cat).

So while the original franchise earned an uprising after three previous films, in this big budget computer-driven reboot, right when things pick up... it’s all over.

7/08/2014

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY & MARK RUFFALO BEGIN AGAIN

year: 2014 rating: ***
In a film centering on the music industry, the actor or actress playing a musician needs to have legitimate talent to make it believable...

Fortunately, there’s some grey matter involved when the story deals with a singer/songwriter who has potential but isn’t yet famous, and may never be. 

In BEGIN AGAIN, our featured artist is a beautiful, down-to-earth and excruciatingly humble Keira Knightly as Greta… She sings an acoustic number to a crowd of restless, conversing club patrons – but the old saying, that if you reach just one person… is pretty much everything here…

That one person is Mark Ruffalo's Dan, a thrift store wardrobe come to life, quirky and optimistic enough to make even his dire situation… of being canned from an indie record company that he founded… something to embrace.

When he discovers a hopeful comeback in Greta, and after both polar opposites converse about a possible future record deal on the chilly streets of New York, we go back in time to learn more about Greta and her boyfriend Dave, played by MAROON 5 singer Adam Levine. While natural enough in the acting department (fake beard aside), he has the perfect voice to legitimize the carbonated R&B, making his superficial fame completely believable, thus allowing Greta to seem more artistic in comparison. 

Back to the present: After some convincing, Dan produces Greta’s demo in various places around New York City… from the foot of the Empire State building to subways to botanical gardens. Shown in montage sequences, it's an entertaining and fun process, but the entire concept gets a bit corny, and her tunes sound like background music in a coffee shop.

While Ruffalo plays it cool with shabby wisdom and askew charm, Knightley often seems aware of just how adorable she can be. Meanwhile, the possible romance between singer and producer is omnipresent...

Especially during one scene, as the duo wander around listening to the same pair of headphones: Ruffalo's Dan points out how music can make even the most depressed situations seem beautiful... Which is exactly what BEGIN AGAIN strives for, and partially succeeds. 

7/06/2014

REVIEW OF EARTH TO ECHO

year: 2014 rating: *
There's the R rating... PG, PG-13, G and NC-17... So how about an HH rating to warn anyone sick of the Hand Held camera narrative...

A simple wish, and yet in horror movies, the device fits alright, being that the characters will most likely wind up dead… But it’s way out of place in EARTH TO ECHO, a cross between E.T: THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, GOONIES, BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED, SUPER 8 (a homage to E.T. and GOONIES), and CHRONICLE, which, like ECHO, is a story told entirely through a teenager recording the entire experience…

In this case, the novice auteur is an upper-middle-class African American suburban kid who talks like a streetwise rapper… His name’s Tuck, and for some reason he needs to capture everything during the last week before all local homes are replaced by a newly constructed freeway… And he's got a lens to fit just about anywhere, including his bicycle and sunglasses.

The cookie cutter neighborhood, reminiscent of the fancy yet rural tract in POLTERGEIST, borders a vast array of hilly fields and a grungy small town, providing an endless potential for the kids to get lost in, and best yet, to land themselves in exciting trouble... But because of the limitations of that vapid little camera, there’s hardly an adventure at all.

After Tuck and his two pals: Alex, a mellow diamond in the rough, and the token fat geek Munch (a wannabe Chunk), discover a map on their cell phones, the result is an alien resembling Ray Harryhausen's metallic owl from CLASH OF THE TITANS… Yet when all these pivotal ingredients pile on, there’s absolutely no sense of wonderment or suspense…

Even after being captured by surreptitious government agents, it's a lot of shaky confusion… Not even a pretty young drama queen can make these banal dullards shine past their one-dimensional stereotypes…

So while that roving cam might work to entertain high schoolers on You Tube, the titular alien deserved a more resilient outlet to plug into. The sporadic tremors and 11th hour CGI aside, if Echo were an injured raccoon it wouldn't have made much difference.

7/04/2014

ERIC BANA IN DELIVER US FROM EVIL

2014 rating: **
Things that go bump in the night… And bark, roar, hoot, hiss… And they're all humans, pretty much…

DELIVER US FROM EVIL has a lot in common with THE EXORCIST including the discovery of a malevolent spirit in Iraq. A possessed chick foaming at the mouth back in America. A chain-smoking priest conversing with an investigating cop. And a human neck with bendable capabilities…

But we’ll leave all other EXORCIST similarities behind in this so-called true story of New York Detective Sarchie, played by Eric Bana, and a young priest teaming up against... very bad things.

On God’s side is Edgar Ramirez as Father Mendoza, looking a cross between Javier Bardem and Val Kilmer playing Jim Morrison… Speaking of whom, the possessed are hardcore Doors fans. One lady, literally tossing her child to zoo lions, can’t get Break On Through out of her head. And a reluctantly gifted Officer Sarchie not only hears other Doors tracks when no one else does, but hallucinates violent images. These sudden flashes provide cheap thrill jolts for anyone expecting a bonafide horror flick.

RIDERS sounds great in this
For the most part, DELIVER is a standard cop thriller including a tattooed villain, edgy street lingo, urban slums, cryptic clues and a sarcastic partner who throws in a few one-liners to alleviate tension...

Alas, Fans of Joel McHale will be disappointed – he’s been funnier and doesn’t have very much input. Most of the dialogue occurs between the doubtful cop and the young priest. Although important to the story and characters, their scenes go on way too long.

And after a lot of snooping around, we eventually take part in a full blown exorcism witin a police interrogation room. Not only does the possessed quote a spoken-word Morrison poem (“Is everybody in? The ceremony’s about to begin”), but there’s an overload of last minute pandemonium: as if, for the past two hours, we’d been watching a boxer and his trainer preparing for an inevitable thunderous smackdown. Too bad there wasn't any good exhibition bouts along the way. Ultimately, this particular EVIL fails to deliver the bads.

7/01/2014

MELISSA McCARTHY & SUSAN SARANDON IN TAMMY

year: 2014 rating: **
A movie with the title of the main character usually means that person is kind of… you know… unique and, um... special...

Well in a matter of speaking, the latter fits TAMMY since it’s a "labor of love" by star Melissa McCarthy, serving as a producer and co-writer along with her husband and the film's director, Ben Falcone.

We begin with Tammy hitting a deer, the first similarity to Chris Farley’s TOMMY BOY, and not the last… Also centering on a self-evasive, overweight slacker with a heart of gold, our husky heroine revels in her problems, including a wrecked car, lost job, cheating husband and alcoholic grandmother…

Enter Susan Sarandon, the reason TAMMY is being compared to the iconic feminist cult flick, THELMA & LOUISE... But be warned: this is not  a road movie.

After a quick highway montage, promising themselves an adventure full of cathartic mileage, Tammy and Sarandon's bluntly honest Pearl hit a snag after one night of drinking. At this point the movie repeats itself with saucy conversations about how Tammy needs a point in life, and Pearl needs less men, pills and alcohol.

As a loose cannon, Sarandon doesn't provide very much input or purpose. Then again, either does McCarthy, who has written a story so self-absorbed, it hardly seems catered to an audience at all.

6/30/2014

GUY PEARCE STARRING IN THE ROVER

year: 2014 rating: **
It’s been ten years since “The Collapse,” turning the Outback into something resembling the MAD MAX post apocalyptic future, only there's no nuclear fallout and the vehicles are mundane cars you'd see in any public parking lot… 

And in this desperate purgatory, there's only one long and tedious road where we first see Guy Pearce's slowburn, Spaghetti Western style loner, Eric, till he stops at a dilapidated joint where we get a glimpse of a future where gas, food, animals and women are scarce.

The setup is melancholy and hypnotic, and the gears begin grinding as we cut to a group of eclectic convicts who, long story short, steals Eric’s ride: from here on, THE ROVER has Eric on a metronomic odyssey to, quite simply, get his car back.

He meets up with the abandoned little brother of the main thief. Enter Robert Pattison’s Rey, a somewhat mysterious character until Eric points out his mental instability... then it becomes clear Rey's not playing with a full deck. The young TWILIGHT actor tries too hard and doesn’t try hard enough. During bouts of overlong diatribes, his muddled accent, reaching for white trash, sounds like a hybrid of SLINGBLADE and FORREST GUMP. Worse yet, he’s simply not an interesting human being, and hardly evokes the needed vulnerability to make the older Eric a legitimate world-weary mentor.

On his own, Pearce creates a worthy anti-hero, always on the verge of either breaking down or busting heads, and the mysterious element of his stolen car’s importance is the peripheral hook to follow through a brooding mainline. But the ominous futureworld he’s stuck in gets extremely bland, despite sporadic extra-loud gunfights and a twist ending that, while summing up Eric’s morose motivation throughout, leaves a story that relied on mellow suspense to end with a banal whimper. 

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