Archive for the ‘Aliens’ Category

Lady In The Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan, the kinda-sorta auteurist filmmaker who rocketed to above-the-title fame with a couple movies only to struggle critically over the tail end of the past decade, has a new movie coming out this summer.  It’s called AFTER EARTH and it stars Will Smith, one of the last dependable movie stars, and his son Jaden.  The movie is a sci-fi epic about a father and son who return to Earth in the deep future, long after the planet has been abandoned by humanity.  I included AFTER EARTH on my list of 2013’s potentially strangest movies, which is totally a dick move on my part.  I mean, how much have I done with MY life to be sitting here taking cheap shots?  At least this guy is out there making movies, and making them with some of the world’s hugest stars.  In my heart, I’m really not a so-called hater.

Quite the contrary in this case, in fact.  I think there’s a particular angst for movie lovers when we start following a talented filmmaker who then makes a severe right turn down the off-roads of unfulfilled or squandered promise.  It happened to me with Kevin Smith, for example, a witty, bold, and perceptive writer who I always hoped would take an interest in learning what to do with a camera, but it turned out he’d rather pursue other interests besides visual storytelling.  By contrast, Shyamalan never had a problem being cinematic, but he certainly grew overly enamored of certain tics that precluded concise and coherent films.  I would have liked to remain a fan, but at a certain point I had to decide that I didn’t want to follow these guys up their own asses.

So here’s a chronicle of me falling in love with another man’s talent, and then rapidly falling out of it.  I wrote most of this piece back in 2008 but unfortunately my mind hasn’t much changed since then.

NOTE: This will not include anything Shyamalan did before THE SIXTH SENSE, because I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I’m most interested in the Shyamalan of self-created myth & legend, the Shyamalan we have come to know in the past decade, the one who – like a young Bruce Wayne in his study who looked up at a bat and gained an instant career direction – looked up at the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster in his office and asked himself why he wasn’t making those kind of movies. That is the filmography I will be talking about here.

I also won’t be talking about anything after THE HAPPENING, for reasons that may soon enough become apparent.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – This one came out of nowhere in the summer of 1999 and blew most people’s minds.  It was a ghost story with the emphasis on story.  The dramatic twist near the end actually deepens the experience, and it doesn’t hurt that it makes you want to re-watch the movie with the twist now in mind.  This is an extremely solid movie about faith and the after-life and how those intersect and overlap. Is it maybe even good enough to one day sit on a shelf alongside another one of the director’s inspirations, THE EXORCIST? That may be going a little far. But it does serve as an answer to the most vehement haters, the ones who, burned by his later films, have rechristened him F. Night Shyamalan:

Anybody wondering why they still allow this guy to make movies should re-watch THE SIXTH SENSE. It was a massive financial success achieved with an actually good movie. The people who make the decisions are no doubt optimistic that one day, this guy will do that again. (So am I, for the record.)

But the movie itself does indeed hold up to revisiting. To prospective screenwriters like myself, I also recommend reading it in script form, if you can track that down, because it’s still just as affecting on the page. This movie is so solid that it has a good performance by Donnie Wahlberg.  That’s directing, son.

The truth is that Shyamalan’s filmmaking talent is very real. Every movie he has made since THE SIXTH SENSE has contained varying degrees of that copious cinematic talent. Key word: “varying.” It’s why his filmography is so frustrating. He wouldn’t be so widely discussed if he wasn’t so capable.


UNBREAKABLE (2000) – I loved this one when it was first released. Saw it twice theatrically and a couple more times on DVD. So I hope that earns me enough leeway to suggest that it does not really hold up viscerally eight years later. It’s slow as a turtle attempting to moonwalk. Okay, hang on–

Here’s a rule: You can’t make a movie that’s more boring than real life. You just can’t. It’s why — to take a random and unrelated example — BROKEN FLOWERS was so disappointing to me. No matter how much Bill Murray you pour into a movie, you can’t slow a story down so much that you leave out the space for narrative.

Anyway, that’s why Shyamalan’s “deliberate” pacing falls so often flat. It also plays into the cardinal mistake Shyamalan likes to make of turning lighthearted subject matter — in this case superheroes — into a somber and ponderous suite of melancholy. It’s true that comic books themselves have been doing this for years, and now comic book movies are doing it too, so Shyamalan can’t be entirely faulted there.  In a way, he was ahead of the curve.

On an intellectual level, UNBREAKABLE still works. It’s an interesting approach to the standard superhero/supervillain origin story. I just don’t want to rewatch it ever again. Unless…

You know what would solve all its problems? If the once-rumored sequel were to actually happen. Because as it stands now, UNBREAKABLE feels like the longest first act ever.  I would definitely be curious as to what happens in the second UNBREAKABLE movie if it ever happened, especially since the second act is traditionally where the majority of the actual story takes place.  UNBREAKABLE doesn’t add up to much without its MR. GLASS STRIKES BACK.

Signs (2002)

SIGNS (2002) – Forget the fact that it’s kind of impossible to look at Mel Gibson anymore without off-the-screen baggage.  He’s fine in the movie, really.  It’s the movie itself that’s the problem.  This is where the storytelling problems infecting Shyamalan’s arsenal start to rear up violently. Shyamalan’s technical skill is still crazy-impressive – every scene where those aliens appear (or don’t) is freaky and great.

It’s the other stuff that just plain doesn’t add up in a coherent way — first and foremost that ending — and there’s been enough cyber-ink spilled on the subject for me to not bother to add to it. But the movie still made tons of money, and enough people still inexplicably say they like it, which is no doubt precisely how the first out-and-out blunder came to pass.

The Village (2004)

THE VILLAGE (2004) – Or as I call it affectionately: Cinematic blue-balls.

There’s nothing wrong with the original premise – colonial village is surrounded on all sides by a thick forest and maintaining an uneasy truce with the horrible monsters who live there – in fact that’s a great goddamn premise! And the way those red-cloaked spiny creatures are set up is chilling. Even knowing how things turned out, I still get chills thinking of their first couple appearances in the movie, and trust me, I don’t scare easy at movies. The first half of THE VILLAGE does the tough part and brings the fear.

So why completely subvert it for a corny twist ending? I’ll tell you how I figured out the twist after the first five minutes of the movie: “Okay, colonial village, bunch of musty old white people, how are they going to work in a role for the director, a modern-sounding East Indian guy, AHA! – it’s actually set in the present day!” And sure enough, there he was, and so it was. Sorry to ruin the movie, but you’d be a lot happier if you turned it off at the hour-mark anyway.

Lady in the Water (2006)

LADY IN THE WATER (2006) – Even worse, somehow.  Massive folly. Near-unbelievable, but I didn’t see it alone, so I know for a fact it really happened.

Reading Shyamalan print interviews is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m just fascinated by how someone so smart and talented can so often be so misguided. I may risk sounding like an asshole to say so, but I truly find it illuminating. For a while there, Shyamalan was fond of defending his work by questioning why so many people criticize him and not his movies. Seems to me that one way to avoid that is to take a break from casting yourself in your movies. Right? Kind of hard to separate the two when, in this case, you’re playing the pivotal role of the man who will write the book that will change the world, even though it will mean he will die a martyr. And you can’t be so naive as to think that notebook-toting, detail-oriented professional film critics won’t pick up on the fact that the only character to meet a gruesome death, in an entire movie about the act of storytelling itself, is the cranky film critic.

The same way that you can’t complain about the way that people are always trying to figure out the twist endings of your movies when you keep putting twist endings in your movies. Right?

I particularly liked how the title character spent very close to the entire running time curled up in the shower. That was exciting.

And Paul Giamatti had the speech impediment coming and going, and that Latino dude with the fucked-up arm… (Now I’m getting confused again.) The wolf made of grass was pretty cool though. (Was I high?)  Wikipedia tells me there was in fact a grass-wolf. It was called a “scrunt,” which really isn’t a great word to have in what was intended as a children’s movie.

The Happening (2008)

THE HAPPENING (2008) – Okay. Okay.

It’s starting to become apparent that the director may no longer be interested in suspenseful stories about the supernatural, and has in fact now evolved into the maker of really, really weird comedies.

If you go into THE HAPPENING in this spirit, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a creepy edge-of-the-seater, you surely will. Without giving anything important away (I want to leave the half-hearted yet still insane ultimate revelation to the bravest among you), here are some reasons why I enjoyed THE HAPPENING:

  • “Filbert.”  Let me explain: The main characters are fleeing Philadelphia on a railroad train, which inexplicably stops. Someone ducks their head away from the window, and the name of the town in which they are now stranded is revealed: Filbert. FILBERT! Duh-duh-duhhhhh! No, God, please, no, not…      Filbert! Filbert! Dooooom! I don’t even care whether or not I’m the only one who laughed at that, because it’s still funny to me. Fucking Filbert, man.
  • I was NOT, however, the only one who laughed when the construction workers started walking off the building. Everyone in my theater laughed at that.  It’s mostly because the plummeting crazies are played by dummies. And if we learned anything from The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, it’s that dummies are the greatest of all comedy props.
  • I don’t know who in all of Hollywood I would cast as a science teacher and a math teacher, respectively, but Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are not they. Likable and down-to-earth actors both, but far better casting for, say, the cranky gym coach and the wisecracking AV teacher. They do their best, but the dialogue they are given does them no favors.
  • I swear a couple times Shyamalan cuts away from the action to a reaction shot of Zooey Deschanel and it looks like she’s trying to suppress a crack-up. Shyamalan may not have noticed, but I’m sure I did.
  • Intentional laughs are in the movie for sure, to the point where it’s almost confusing when it happens – stay tuned for the scene where Wahlberg tries to relate on a personal level to a plastic plant. Expertly written and played, and I’m not being sarcastic at all.
  • Far and away Shyamalan’s best and most hilarious cameo in all of his movies to date happens in THE HAPPENING. If you end up going, please stay for the credits to see what role he played. It’s just got to be a joke. But one of those jokes that only the one making it gets; you know that kind.
  • The Lion Scene! Oh man, the lion scene. The lion scene is a horror-comedy classic of which an EVIL DEAD 2-era Sam Raimi would be chainsaw-wieldingly envious. Soon to be a YouTube staple, guaranteed.

So if you’re looking for scary, this is not your territory. Watch the news instead. But if you’re a certain kind of moviegoer in a certain kind of mood, grab a couple like-minded buddies and Mystery-Science-Theater away.

Now, I skipped Shyamalan’s 2010 movie, THE LAST AIRBENDER, because I didn’t think my brain could handle all the fart jokes I was destined to make about that title.  By every last account (except probably Shyamalan’s), I made the correct decision.  But I’m curious about AFTER EARTH.  Did the nasty thrashing he got over his last couple flicks make Shyamalan reconsider some of his more over-used quirks?  Does the presence of Will Smith, one of the most infallible choosers of successful projects of the last decade-and-a-half, suggest that Shammy has reclaimed his earlier mojo?  The AFTER EARTH trailer does not look overtly comical.  It’s somewhat well paced, and more importantly, it has hordes of monkeys in it.  That’s not any guarantee I’ll be able to stay away.



Cloud Atlas (2012)


If you didn’t see this movie on the big screen, you missed out.  If you missed it entirely, you fucked up.  And if you were one of those who called it “the worst movie of the year” (whoever Mary Pols at Time magazine is; stupid stupid Peter Travers) – God help you.  When this movie comes to be seen as a lost classic in a few years, you may wish you weren’t so nasty.

I won’t be gloating though.  I choose the avenue of love.  This movie encouraged me to be that way.  This movie is about a lot of things I may or may not believe in – fate, true love, reincarnation of sorts – and it made me believe – strongly – in them all.  That’s the power of love, son.  That’s the power of cinema.  And I was skeptical too.  I’ve always liked the Wachowskis but I’m not as high on THE MATRIX as so many are (although, weirdly, I liked the sequels better than most), and I haven’t seen a Tom Tykwer move that really resonated with me since RUN LOLA RUN.  Most of all, without having read David Mitchell’s original novel it was hard to tell in advance what the hell this movie was going to be about.  Answer:  It’s kinda about everything.

It’s a 19th-century nautical drama involving slavery and other human cruelties.

It’s a period piece about the creation of classical music and an impossible romance.

It’s a 1970s political thriller about an intrepid reporter (co-starring THE THING‘s Keith David as SHAFT‘s Shaft!).

It’s a whimsical farce about an attempted escape from a nursing home.

It’s a science-fiction anime action-movie love-story.

It’s a post-apocalyptic future-tropical tribal-warfare-slash-horror-movie that turns into a campfire fable.

It’s like no other movie I’ve ever seen before, which for the record is exactly why I go to the movies:  To see things I haven’t seen before.  The performances are surprising and exhilarating, the score is clever and moving, the cinematography is colorful and absorbing, the scope is bold and ambitious.  Does it matter too much that some of the storylines are more affecting than others?  You think I care about anybody’s stupid little quibbles over some of the makeup effects?  This is a movie that shoots for the moon and more than once hits the stars.  This movie didn’t just surprise me with what it is – it surprised me about ME.  It’s sad that more people haven’t embraced it yet, but believe me, I’m happier loving this movie than you are disregarding or ignoring it.  Feel free to come over to this side anytime!

I wrote this for Daily Grindhouse and reposted it here because CLOUD ATLAS is out on DVD & Blu-Ray today. Now’s your chance to remedy the mistakes of the past…


The Blob is the Rodney Dangerfield of horror characters.  It may seem odd to you and me that a gigantic neon space-booger isn’t as sexy to kids as vampires are, but that does seem to be the case.  No respect.  No love.  No romantic TWILIGHT-style franchise for this guy.  Can you imagine?  I can, but then I’m deranged.  Still, you don’t have to be crazy to appreciate the frequently-underconsidered cinematic adventures of The Blob.
When I bring up THE BLOB, I’m really referring to the 1988 remake written by Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell, not the 1958 original – which, even though it stars Steve McQueen, is not exactly as memorable as the newer version.  All due respect to the original THE BLOB for lighting the way – it may just be that slime technology advanced so much in the intervening thirty years.It’s not that the idea of a killer pink mess from space is necessarily refreshing, but then again the horror landscape has been dominated by vampires and zombies for a long, long time, and a guy can’t help but get the wandering eye.   The Blob is one of the most overlooked horror creatures; even werewolves, so often neglected, get more attention.  I haven’t revisited The Blob in a while, but I’m always pleasantly surprised by how fun it is.  I guess most people just don’t remember the modest greatness of this movie, if they were ever aware of it in the first place.

As I mentioned two paragraphs back, the 1988 remake of THE BLOB was written by Frank Darabont, who is most famous for adapting and directing THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and c0-scripter Chuck Russell, who also directed, and on his own is probably most famous for directing Jim Carrey in THE MASK.  These guys never seemed happier than when unleashing their vision of THE BLOB upon the world (a suspicion given credence by Darabont’s terrific return to horror with 2007’s THE MIST and 2010’s TV pilot for THE WALKING DEAD) – THE BLOB ’88 is funny, unpredictable, exciting, suspenseful, and occasionally genuinely spooky.

THE BLOB opens with a trio of main characters that are pretty much your basic BREAKFAST CLUB archetypes – the jock, the princess, and the criminal – minus an Anthony Michael Hall or an Ally Sheedy.  You’ve got the all-American high school football hero (Donovan Leitch), working up the nerve to ask out the cutest cheerleader (Shawnee Smith), while the rebellious motorcycle punk (Kevin Dillon) sneers in the background.  Okay, hang on —


Can we just have a moment of appreciation for Kevin Dillon’s macro-mullet in this movie?  No, that’s no mullet – that’s a mane.  Kevin Dillon’s hairstylist on this movie must have taken inspiration from that mightiest of jungle beasts, the lion.  Truly magnificent.

Meanwhile, back in the film:  An asteroid falls out of the sky and spits out some pink sludge that looks not unlike strawberry Jell-O.  It’s the title character!  A surprisingly stereotypical (even for 1988) old hobo is the first to stumble upon The Blob, which promptly attaches itself to his hand and starts nibbling.  The hobo frantically runs around trying to get it off, and runs right into the path of the jock and the princess on their date.  The teenagers try to get him help, but things just keep getting worse for everyone from there.

The movie descends into chaos from there, and it’s joyous.  The great thing about this movie is that, as jaded as one may be from watching tons of similar movies, you just can never tell exactly where it’s going next.  Characters who you were sure were the movie’s main character might be swallowed up early.  The authorities, normally an obstacle to heroes because they never believe the threat until it’s too late, here believe the threat fairly quickly — because they’re getting swallowed up by them.  No one has movie immunity here – the very young and the very old alike get eaten by The Blob.  The kill scenes are original and unusual; they play out as thrilling for gore hounds, and as effectively disturbing to the more well-adjusted.  The characters are almost universally likable, particularly Kevin Dillon, the super-cute Shawnee Smith, and Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn – and you’re always rooting for them to get out alive, although unfortunately not all of them do.

I won’t say any more than that, but I will provide a brief “Where Are They Now?” update in case you’re curious about what becae of THE BLOB‘s promising young cast: 


After filming, the stars of THE BLOB went their separate ways…

Kevin Dillon was shorn of his mighty locks.  He wandered steadily through character roles until earlier last decade, where his odd charisma was rediscovered and he went on to entertain millions of douchebags as [arguably] the only remotely likable character on HBO’s Entourage.

Shawnee Smith, as cute and lovable as ever, apparently ran afoul of the Devil and was sentenced to appear in every single SAW movie to date.  It gets worse.  See her now on FX’s Anger Management.  That’s right, the Charlie Sheen show.  She deserves better, but that’s not how Satan works. 

Jeffrey DeMunn discovered incriminating photographs of Frank Darabont and parlayed that into featured character roles in every movie Darabont has made since.

Del Close, who played the deranged Reverend in The Blob, remained most famous for being a teacher at Second City and having taught just about every great sketch comedian of the past thirty years.  He is also credited with having uttered the greatest last words ever.

The Blob has had a roller-coaster of a show business career since its impressive screen debut in 1988. 

One year later, it had the highest-profile role of its career as “Pink Mood Slime,” the fearsome adversary of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and company in GHOSTBUSTERS 2.  After over-extending itself in that film by attempting to swallow an entire museum, The Blob became addicted to painkillers and was forced to take supporting roles in increasingly shoddy science-fiction films for cash before, in 1997, turning to porn. 

That was a dark, dark time. 

In 2004, The Blob found Jesus (in a nice callback to the final scene of THE BLOB ’88) and moved to Pasadena. 

Today, The Blob hopes to return to mainstream movies, and is now lobbying for roles in both Rob Zombie’s scheduled re-remake of THE BLOB, and in the forthcoming sequel to JULIE & JULIA, against the Blob’s acting idol, the great Meryl Streep.


More up-to-the-minute showbiz info on Twitter!:  @jonnyabomb





Talib Kweli has for a long time been my favorite MC, certainly the one I’ve seen most often in concert.  Few in any genre of music can match him for consistency and substance, and none have better balanced witty wordplay with words actually worth saying.  Matching Kweli with DJ Z-Trip is inspired, since Z-Trip is one of the most inventive and playful of the mash-up artists to have appeared in the hip-hop underground over the past decade.  Kweli brings a sophistication, sincerity, and sardonic humor to everything he does, and Z-Trip brings the wild sonic inspiration.

Their Attack The Block mixtape is a riff on my favorite movie of last year (and apparently Kweli’s als0), with contributions from all-stars like Black Thought, Styles P, and 9th Wonder (among others) and musical nods to Dead Prez, Public Enemy, Eric B., and REM (!!!!!!).

In my opinion this is pretty much the best thing to happen on computer speakers all year.

Download Attack The Block FOR FREE here:


Here are a couple samples to wet your whistle:

Attack The Block” [Title Track]


NY Shining”  [my favorite track at the moment]


Follow TK on Twitter:  @TalibKweli

Follow Z-Trip on Twitter:  @ztrip

Follow me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

Predator was released 25 years ago, on July 12th, 1987.  The movie was written by Jim and John Thomas (with possible on-set contributions from Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black, who also played the Sgt. Rock comic-loving Hawkins) and it was directed by John McTiernan (whose very next film was Die Hard) .  It’s one of my favorite movies, so I watched it last night to mark the occasion.

The following is what happens when you deprive me of sleep for a couple weeks and then mix me and an internet connection with a movie I’ve been known to say I love like a brother.


It’s the 25th anniversary of the original release of Predator.  If you doubt this is a thing I’d actually celebrate, get to know me better!

Here’s to 25 more years of love and friendship! #PREDATOR

“Goodbye” by Alan Silvestri, off the score from Predator. #gonnahavemesomefun

Old Painless. #namestocallmyprivates

The #PREDATOR platoon includes three future lawmakers, the director of Iron Man 3, the director of Sister Act 2, and Carl Weathers. #victory

No one ever remembers poor Poncho. #PREDATOR

“If these guys are Central Americans, I’m a goddamn Chinaman.” (Mac does not appear to possess Asian lineage.) #PREDATOR

Arnold actually never sounds more awkward than when he’s saying swear words.  #PREDATOR

It’s so silly that Arnold is the star of this movie.  Or any movie, really.  It gets weirder the more you think about it.  #PREDATOR

“Hey Billy, get me a way out of this hole.”  #thingsArnoldmightalsosayatanorgy

Fun fact: Carl Weathers and Elpidia Carrillo later reteamed for Dangerous Passion, the insane movie I watched the other night.  #PREDATOR

Fun fact:  The guy in the Predator suit also played Harry in Harry & The Hendersons, which also was released in 1987! #silveranniversary

#PREDATOR has moments of magic that none of the sequels or remakes have been able to approximate. I’m serious!

A partial list would include:

Sonny Landham’s laugh. #PREDATOR

Mac and Blaine’s friendship. #PREDATOR

“We’re all gonna die.”

Billy admitting he’s scared. #PREDATOR

Mac’s moonlight soliloquy. And then the surprise pig attack. #PREDATOR

The razor snapping off against Mac’s cheek. (Mac is kind of the most watchable character for me on this go-round.) #PREDATOR

Carl Weathers’ disembodied arm refusing to lay down and die. #PREDATOR

That splash in the lake the very moment after Arnold collapses in the mud. #PREDATOR

Food for thought: #PREDATOR shows a friendship in irrevocable decline (Dutch & Dillon) against one that will never die (Mac & Blaine).

Or maybe the fact that Dutch tosses Dillon the gun when they split up means there’s [briefly] hope for their friendship after all. #PREDATOR

Dutch tells Anna “he didn’t kill you because you weren’t armed”, yet when Dillon is disarmed (literally) the Predator axes him anyway. #notfair #badpun

The Predator is a total dick, for the record. The won’t-shoot-if-you-don’t-have-a-weapon thing does not at all level the playing field WHEN YOU CAN TURN INVISIBLE.

They love because they are so alike.

It’s worth noting that #PREDATOR is structured a whole lot like a slasher film, with Arnold in the Jamie Lee Curtis role. #genderstudies

I’d love to get Dick Cheney’s take, considering that the Predator is a recreational hunter who royally screws over the American military.

Now realizing that I ranked #PREDATOR too low on my all-time top-50. Gonna be time soon for an update.

But that’s it for now.  Good night, #PREDATOR.  Good night, @Twitter-platoon.  Cuidado a “el cazador trofeo de los hombres.” It’s the hot season.


See also:  Predators (2010)



Now go ahead.  Mess with me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb


When STARSHIP TROOPERS was released, the TV spots went heavy on the use of Blur’s “Song #2” (Woo-hoo!) and explosions and the Melrose Place prettiness of its cast.   I remember seeing those ads.  I remember how the marketing went overboard to make STARSHIP TROOPERS look like, for example, INDEPENDENCE DAY, from the year before, the kind of hooting-and-hollering us-versus-them supermovie that raked in cash like dead leaves throughout the 1990s.

This is normally the part where I go, “This movie is SO not that.”

Only this movie is so totally, absolutely, completely that.

It’s also a whole lout more than that, as an ingenious satire of the big dumb ugly-American blockbusters that were popular at the time (and are even moreso now — how YOU doing, TRANSFORMERS franchise?)  STARSHIP TROOPERS was written by Ed Neumeier and directed by Paul Verhoeven, the devilish tandem previously responsible for ROBOCOP, one of the great satires of the 1980s or any decade, really.  These guys have the tools  — state-of-the-art special effects, smooth cinematography by Jost Vacano, crisp editing by Mark Goldblatt and Caroline Ross (TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY), a triumphant score by the late Basil Poledouris (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) — to produce a thoroughly rousing action epic, and the brilliant perversion of STARSHIP TROOPERS is that they totally did.

STARSHIP TROOPERS is as well-made, visceral, and stirring as any other action film of the 1990s, even predicting the disturbing carnage of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN by a year, but while it’s played straight, its soul is anything but earnest.  STARSHIP TROOPERS was originally a novel by Robert Heinlein, which I haven’t read, but by every account it’s not a very faithful adaptation.  The basic premise is that in the distant future, humanity is colonizing planets and facing competition/resistance from literal giant “bugs” whose home planet is excellently named Klendathu.


As the story opens, this war against the bugs has been going on for years, and human teens are recruited right out of high school to enlist and see combat.  Military service is expected of them, and also generally desired by them.  Most of the kids in the movie are totally enthusiastic to sign up and suit up.  One reason is that the armed forces are co-ed, which, because this is a Paul Verhoeven movie, means shower scenes.  The other reason is that these bugs are nasty — gigantic, spiky, slimy beetle things — which of course stands in counterpoint to the almost-comical prettiness of the movie’s heroes (including a pre-Charlie-Sheen Denise Richards, and not counting Jake Busey).


STARSHIP TROOPERS confused mainstream audiences and humorless critics as much as it delighted those with sensibilities more finely attuned to skepticism, cynicism, and irony.  The original release is often classified as a “flop”, which isn’t technically true — it made money, but only a little, which isn’t viewed as a success because of how much it cost.  What is true is that many of the “straights” were turned off to STARSHIP TROOPERS.  Here in America we seem to like our blockbusters the same way we like our wars:  Unambiguous, neatly resolved, with as little consideration as to the thoughts of the enemy as possible.  Verhoeven uses conspicuous facist imagery straight out of Leni Riefenstahl in his depictions of the surging Space Marines, and unsurprisingly many critics of the movie missed the point.  The masses don’t much enjoy these sorts of dangerous ideas either.  We want to see our armed forces as Captain America, and everyone they battle as The Red Skull.  I’m not necessarily criticizing that instinct.  I’m the same way.

But I also happen to believe that the point Neumeier and Verhoeven are making is a viable one:  That war is violence, and engaging in violence makes monsters of all of us.  If you disagree with me, I invite you to see how you feel after reading this news article which I read just this morning.  If we really love our troops, we can show it by not sending them away to face (and occasionally to become) monsters if it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Or we can just keep on squashing the bugs and enjoy watching those green guts ooze out.  There’s plenty of fun in that too.

STARSHIP TROOPERS is playing at 7pm tonight at the 92Y Tribeca screening room.

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb











I probably should be doing about 50 other things at this very moment, but I saw this great top-50 list today and was inspired it to immediately answer it.  I made my list very, very quickly, so in plenty of ways it’s the most honest form a list like this could ever arrive in.  While the numbering is fairly arbitrary (until the top five, where shit gets definite) and while the contents could easily change as soon as five minutes from now, this is still a fairly good representation of what a top fifty movies list from me should look like.  Anyway, let’s hit it.  Links where they fit.  I eagerly await any and all comments you might make!

50. Watermelon Man (1970).

49. Fletch (1985).

48. The Great Silence (1968).

47. Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954).

46. The Hit (1984).

45. Knightriders (1981).

44. The Night Of The Hunter (1955).

43. Of Unknown Origin (1983).

42. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973).

41. Prime Cut (1972).

40. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997).

39. Coffy (1973).

38. Trainspotting (1996).

37. In Bruges (2008).

36. Quick Change (1990).

35. Collateral (2004).

34. Out Of Sight (1998).

33. Halloween (1978).

32. Magnolia (1999).

31. Raising Arizona (1987).

30. Escape From New York (1981).

29. Shogun Assassin (1980).

28. Goodfellas (1990).

27. Purple Rain (1984).

26. True Grit (2010).

25. The Unholy Three (1925).

24. My Darling Clementine (1946).

23. The Insider (1999).

22. Alligator (1980).

21. Animal House (1978).

20. High Plains Drifter (1973).

19. Freaks (1932).

18. Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

17. An American Werewolf In London (1981).


16. Predator (1987).


15. Jaws (1975).

14. Shaft (1971).

13. Evil Dead 2 (1987).


12. The Wild Bunch (1969).

11. Manhunter (1986).

10. Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976).

9. Heat (1995).

8. King Kong (1933).

7. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

6. Big Trouble In Little China (1986).

5. Unforgiven (1992).

4. Dawn Of The Dead (1978).

3. Ghostbusters (1984).

2. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968).


1. The Good The Bad & The Ugly (1966).


Originally published elsewhere.


The other day, I found a stack of my old artwork from my high school years. I didn’t remember myself as being the little metalhead that the evidence suggests that I was, but the proof is in the paper. Rock on, little fella! What metalheads and teenaged cartoonists and the producers of Outlander all have in common is a love of monsters and irrationally pretty girls and violence without consequence and bygone eras where hairy armored badasses swung swords at each other.
Outlander is a movie I would have loved in high school. Hell, given a $50 million budget, Outlander is a movie I might have MADE in high school.
Outlander stars Jim Caviezel (otherwise known as “The Christ”, not to be confused withThe Jesus”) as a space traveler whose ship crash-lands on Earth during the time of the Vikings. His character’s name is Kainan. Kainan’s people are involved in a species war with a breed of aliens known as the Moorwen. One of those aliens is somehow on board Kainan’s ship, and when they arrive in Viking times the alien goes on a murderous rampage. Kainan has to team up with a more primitive society in order to destroy the monster.
The movie has, at best, a teenager’s grasp of history – again, this is exactly what my friends and I would have come up with after scanning a few pages of the Viking chapter of our European history textbook. All of the supporting characters are named accordingly (Rothgar, Freya, Wulfric, Gunnar, etc.) and there’s even a character named Boromir, which indicates that someone’s been reading Lord Of The Rings when they were supposed to be catching up on their Norsemen. Also, considering that this is supposed to be Norway, there sure are a lot of different accents on hand – the movietakes pains to explain how Kainan comes to speak the same language as the Vikings, and British accents are par for the course, but no one bothers to explain what the hell the Scottish guy is doing there.
The supporting cast features the usual casting archetypes, such as the respected thespian slumming (John Hurt as an aging king), the ingénue who’d clearly rather be doing other movies (Sophia Myles as Princess Leia – I mean, Freya), and a convention favorite doing the rounds (Ron Perlman – you know, that huge low-voiced growly dude who looks like Will Ferrell, if Will Ferrell was a badass.) Both of those guys are good as usual, and Caviezel is good casting too. Sure, I like The Christ. Who doesn’t? The Christ is kind of a badass.
While this genre mash-up is one of the most derivative movies I’ve ever seen (the plot is the pitch: Vikings vs. aliens!), at least it makes sure to steal from the best. In the first ten minutes alone, I counted four separate, um, homages to Predator, but since Predator is one of my top ten movies of all time, I can hardly complain. Outlander does manage to have a couple neat ideas and doesn’t always go exactly where you expect it will, although mostly it does.
Probably the thing I liked best about the movie was the alien. Once you finally see it up close, it’s a good design, with a couple interesting concepts about it. For someone like me, that’s enough to recommend it. I was entertained, take that as you will. It’s not crap. I’ve certainly seen much worse movies become much more popular. Anybody who likes Viking movies and/or alien movies knows exactly what to do with this thing.
Also, not to introduce a big idea at the end of thearticle, but upon reflection, I’m starting to wonder what the casting of the lead character is supposed to mean. Jim Caviezel, best known for starring in The Passion Of The Christ, plays a character who arrives from the heavens to bring light and civilization unto a besieged, skeptical world that needs him. 
Is the whole movie supposed to be some kind of allegory for the spread of Christianity?


Review originally filed to

Been thinking about the 3-D format lately, due to Hugo.  Seems a good reason to review some thoughts from two years back. 

Avatar is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, even though you’ve absolutely seen this story many times before.  Is that a coy contradiction?  Is it a negative statement?  I hope not.  I think you can love something while still seeing and understanding its flaws.  Bottom line up top:  I loved watching Avatar and I entirely recommend the experience.  I saw Avatar on the IMAX screen in 3-D, and I can’t imagine wanting to see it any other way.  This movie is meant to play big.  It’s supposed to fill your peripheral vision and take you to places no one’s ever been.  It does that.  It takes you to an imaginary planet called Pandora, drops you directly into the atmosphere, and alongside lead character Jake Sully, forces you to experience a new world for the first time.  The world is convincingly detailed and absorbing.  If only for the thorough immersion in a foreign landscape it affords – hell, if only for the strange and intimidating animals that populate it – Avatar is a good movie, even a special one.  But is it a great movie?  I’m not sure.  What we ask our greatest movies to do is to make us believe in things that aren’t real and to care about characters who never were.  For the most part, Avatar made me believe.  I only wish it could’ve made me care more.  That didn’t stop me from loving the movie, but it does keep me from loving it unconditionally.

James Cameron has entertained and influenced a generation of film nerds.  I’m very much one of them.  His two Terminator films, in particular, are a model of how to balance explosive action filmmaking with relatable and sympathetic characters.  Aliens, his entry in the Alien franchise, remains my personal favorite of the four.  The Abyss is an underrated film, full of suspense and wonder and blessed with arguably Cameron’s best lead actor, Ed Harris. True Lies remains a pleasant diversion, a mix of old-school Hollywood playfulness and new-school Hollywood spectacle.  Titanic is not my favorite of his movies, but a serious filmmaker wouldn’t overlook Cameron’s ability to mix effects with story and to orient both characters and audience in a believable landscape.  If you’re interested in action cinema, it’s foolish to overlook Cameron.  He’s just plain a canon filmmaker when it comes to action and believable sci-fi environments.  One could convincingly argue that he’s not much of a writer of dialogue, as Titanic in particular suggests, and Avatar unfortunately corroborates, but Cameron can make the places seem real in a way that few other filmmakers can, to the point where it’s easy to forgive the frequent clichés of speech.

What makes Avatar a problematic movie is that the clichés extend beyond the dialogue to the story itself.  A corrupt, greedily imperialistic society sends a pale-faced emissary into harm’s way – the hero gets to know and fall in love with a native culture of differently-colored people who worship more earthly and simple spiritual things.  Because this is a Hollywood film, that love is personified in female form.  While the hero proves himself and wins over the family of his love interest, she has another suitor who becomes his fierce rival.  Eventually, the hero is faced with the decision to stand with his adopted culture or to return to the civilization he once knew.  A friend of mine described Avatar as “Dances With Wolves on mescaline.”  He’s right, and it’s unavoidable:  Dances With Wolves is certainly a movie that Avatar thematically resembles to a tee, but this kind of stuff goes all the way back to John Ford and Anthony Mann (see Broken Arrow), and has only continued and proliferated, in the Western genre particularly, as feelings of racial apology have increased over the years.  It’s not limited to Westerns and Native Americans – movies as diverse in content as Witness, The Fast And The Furious, and The Karate Kid Part 2 all traffic in similar scenarios – but Avatar so specifically evokes the Native American situation that it just has to be discussed in any serious discussion of the movie.  The Na’vi, the nine-foot-tall blue-skinned alien race who are at the center of Avatar, ride horse-like creatures barebacked, wear their hair in ponytails and their loincloths in thongs, and pray gently to creatures they’ve killed for food.  Their leader is played by Wes Studi, Hollywood’s go-to Native American actor, who really deserves to work more often in more varied parts.  (His wife is played by CCH Pounder and his chosen successor played by Laz Alonzo, both great African-American actors whose casting adds another layer of racial confusion to the film.)

My issue is this:  The treatment of the Native American people by the United States is something that this country has never properly addressed.  It involves crimes of race and history that there may never be any atoning for, even if atonement were possible.   It’s not an escapist topic.  You can’t disappear into a movie if you’re thinking of the mistreatment of the Native American people throughout the entire movie.  If Cameron wanted to probe these questions with Avatar, he should have acknowledged the complexity of the issue.  Unfortunately, when it comes to matters of race and history, Avatar’s conclusions are disappointingly simplistic.  I don’t want to spoil any of the plot details here, so if you disagree with me, please feel free to let me know in the comments or at the provided addresses where we can continue the discussion.  But when I started thinking about the politics of Avatar, I started to think that it makes District 9 look like all the more of an impressive achievement.  If you feel the need to slip real-world subtext into your escapist science-fiction film, you ought to make sure it’s subtext worth stating (or re-stating) in the first place.

The other, possibly greater, problem for me in unreservedly adoring Avatar is that its lead characters didn’t resonate within me as deeply as the protagonists of earlier Cameron films did.  Since there is a love story at the heart of Avatar, this is a problem.  Think of the tragic one-night-only true love of Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor in The Terminator, the fierce maternal instinct that bonds Ripley to Newt in Aliens, Virgil Brigman pleading with Lindsey Brigman to return to life in The Abyss, young John Connor pleading with the T-800 not to leave in Terminator 2, even Jack risking everything for Rose in Titanic.  Some writers believe that an audience must fall in love with the two participants in a movie love story in order to truly buy into it.  I suppose that’s true, but for me, all I ask is that when I watch the movie, I believe that the two people love each other.  I’m no Kate Winslet fan, but DiCaprio makes me believe that he loves her in Titanic, so I cared.  I certainly believed in and related to all of the other examples I’ve just quoted.  I really can’t say the same for Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).

She’s nine feet tall, blue, and as much like a cat as a person.  He’s confined to a wheelchair and quintessentially human.  The one moment where they appear in frame together, a dramatic moment late in the game, is unavoidably humorous.  I was taking the movie pretty seriously by then and I still couldn’t suppress a chuckle.  A Woody Allen/Diane Keaton moment at best.  Short guy/tall chick is just internally received as comedy by modern filmgoers; that’s just how it is.  Believe me, as a vertically challenged man myself, I wish it weren’t.

Here now, some words from James Cameron himself, in the pages of this month’s Maxim, when asked about how much effort was put into making Neytiri look hot:

“…We figured the story wouldn’t work if you didn’t want to do her.”

 That’s a somewhat telling statement.  I will admit that I spent about an hour searching for a glimpse of blue nipple, but to me, the most exciting moment of the movie in that regard was when Michelle Rodriguez showed up in that tank top.  And I’m not much of a Michelle Rodriguez guy.  In other words, when it comes to the giant blue cat lady, I don’t want to “do her.” At all.  So I guess the story doesn’t really work.  As talented and convincing as the voice actors are and as brilliantly believable as the movements of the Na’vi are, there are still moments where you break free of the illusion and remember that you are watching a computer-aided performance.  For me personally, that moment was the sex scene.  Again, I chuckled ever so briefly – I felt for a moment like the entire packed theater was watching that weird Japanese anime porn.  The thought of that scene scored to the end-credits Leona Lewis love ballad just seemed comical to me.  As much as I liked everything else about the movie, I just wasn’t hot for the cat lady.  I didn’t take her seriously enough.  Ultimately, nothing beats the real un-animated Zoe Saldana.  And so on.


All of that constructive criticism out of the way, there is so much about Avatar that I loved.  The magnitude of imagination on display from Cameron and his technical crew is astoundingly thorough.  I loved the meticulous design of the various spaceships, equipment, and weapons.  Predictably, I loved the creatures the most.  At its most transcendent moments, Avatar feels like an Animal Planet documentary filmed in your wildest dreams.  I loved the dragon birds and the snake panthers and the rhino dinosaurs and the jellyfish spirits.  The human cast is uniformly good, despite my earlier stated reservations about how some of them were used.  In particular, I loved seeing Sigourney Weaver in a movie like this again – there are few actors who can be so firm and sympathetic and genuine amidst such unbelievable backgrounds.  And those backgrounds, particularly in the IMAX/3-D format, are breath-taking.  You truly feel the depth and scope of the world created.  As dangerous as the jungles and skies of Pandora prove to be, you still feel like diving right in.  That’s not just a case of me loving the format – the craft gone into the movie is what achieves that; the format only accentuates the effect.  Cameron has done something special here.

Avatar is a movie that demands to be seen by everyone who truly loves movies.  It’s one transitional moment in a probable string of many future transitional moments for this mode of mass entertainment.  The writer in me sees the flaws, small controversies, and problem areas, but the rest of me is damned if any of that stops me from enjoying what was otherwise such a great trip to the movies.

[December 20, 2009]

Speaking of Attack The Block, here’s one of its spiritual ancestors.  Night Of The Creeps is one of those everything movies.  It’s a monster drink, a mix of everything kids and grown-ups alike love so much about genre movies.  This is a movie  that seems to answer that question: “If you got your chance to make your first movie, why wouldn’t you put in every single awesome thing that you could?”  For his first big-studio feature film, writer-director Fred Dekker tossed in aliens, zombies, pretty girls, psycho-killers, cars, boobs, zombie animals, and one of the most lovable hard-drinking, trenchcoat-wearing, one-liner-saying badass detectives that ever patrolled the 1980s.  The result is a movie that deserves even more love than its already-considerable cult following provides.

Night Of The Creeps begins with a nearly insane prologue, on board an alien spaceship.  Aliens (complete with alien subtitles!) run through their ship, trying to stop something from escaping, but it does.  That escaped alien experiment lands on Earth, in 1959 (complete with black & white cinematography), where an axe-wielding maniac murders a female college student, and at the same time, her date is attacked by an alien slug from space, which plunges itself down his throat, possessing him like a zombie.

Thirty years later, Chris Romero (Jason Lively, Blake’s older brother) and his buddy J.C. are having a hard time fitting in on campus.  Chris falls for a girl named Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow, adorable) who is dating a comically-’80s blond frat guy.  Chris tries to pledge the frat to get closer to Cynthia, and he and J.C. are dispatched to steal a corpse from the campus lab.  They lose their nerve and run away, after starting to thaw one of the corpses.  The corpse they end up disturbing is the slug-infested college student from 1959, who gets up and kills the lab attendant (a pre-teen-idol David Paymer) and then starts spewing slugs all over the place.  Soon enough, bodies are piling up and Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins, awesome as all hell), who has personal ties to the case, has to shake off a whiskey-drenched stupor to stop a campus-wide outbreak.

Does that sound like a mess?  It sure doesn’t play that way.  Night Of The Creeps runs like a well-planned party.  It’s a movie punch-drunk with the love of movies.  You may have noticed something familiar about some of those names — Romero, Cronenberg, Cameron, J.C. (as in John Carpenter) —  pretty much every character in the movie is named for some genre-film luminary.  Normally that stuff seems gratuitous and distracting, but here it’s just another kitchen-sink element underlining Fred Dekker’s obvious enthusiasm in putting this movie together.  It’s a sci-fi movie meets a 1950s period piece meets a film noir meets a college comedy meets a teen romance meets an action movie meets a zombie invasion.  It’s the kind of high-concept which shorted out the high-concept generator, and made it start raining Nesquik.

The whole movie is a sugar high.  Some of the tonal shifts are a tiny bit rocky, but it moves so quick that nearly everything works.  All of the young characters are well-cast: one-time Griswold family member Jason Lively grows on you as the movie goes on, love interest Jill Whitlow is totally cute, and even the endlessly-talkative comedy sidekick is likable.  The fact that he’s handicapped automatically generates sympathy, which could be shameless but doesn’t feel that way here.  He’s genuinely heroic in his loyalty to his friends.  Really though, this movie belongs to Tom Atkins as the cranky, sarcastic detective.  As written, he’s a literal mix of the tough 1950s gumshoe with the bantering 1980s buddy-cop (old white guy edition).  He’s the guy who gets — and nails — the movie’s most famous exchange.  Holing up in a sorority house, he turns to a roomful of college lovelies and makes this announcement:

“I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here.”

“What’s the bad news?”

“They’re dead.”

It’s a hell of a great man who can take a great line like that and turn it into legend.  Tom Atkins is best known for his genre work, with John Carpenter in The Fog and Escape From New York, and then later in Creepshow, Lethal Weapon, and Maniac Cop.  Recently he’s appeared in My Bloody Valentine and Drive Angry, and both times he’s been a sight for sore eyes.  The movies never seem to have enough Tom Atkins.  Movies could also use more of Fred Dekker, who made at least one more prized cult item with his tribute to the Universal monsters: The Monster Squad.   He provided scripts and ideas for several other films since his initial pair of mid-’80s cult classics, but it’s hard from where I’m sitting to get a firm handle on what he’s done since.  (IMDb doesn’t always tell the entire story.)  I’m only harping on this question because after Night Of The Creeps, I want to see many more movies from Fred Dekker.  He’s my kind of filmmaker — funny, enthusiastic, thoroughly memorable.

If you haven’t seen Night Of The Creeps, see it — you’re going to wish that more movies would be like this one.  If you haven’t seen it lately, watch it again — it really is as great a time as you remembered.