Archive for the ‘Giant Snakes’ Category

AGE OF THE DRAGONS (2011)

I can’t speak for every dude who writes about movies on the internet, but as for me, it’s not like I don’t have any options at all as to how to spend my free time. Sure, I fit the stereotype of single and brainy, but I also bring plenty to the dating pool. I’m generally considered to be sweet, thoughtful, loyal, and giving. Most people find me funny. I’m certainly presentable, even considered outright attractive from some angles. I’m currently regularly-employed and employable. I’m terrific with kids and I’ll make a great father one day. Animals also love me (though not always cats). The ladies reading this may be asking, What’s the downside?

Well ladies, the answer may be that I’m addicted to movies. Addicted. Big-time. I don’t know why, but I can’t go more than a day without one. And there’s only so many times you can watch GOODFELLAS or PULP FICTION or BOOGIE NIGHTS or whatever finite number of acceptable classics that normal guys my age watch, before you start sniffing around the outskirts of what’s out there in the great beyond, movie-wise. Sometimes that search can result in a great discovery, and most other times it doesn’t.

When I saw a preview somewhere for AGE OF THE DRAGONS, I knew I was in trouble. Somebody made a version of MOBY DICK starring PREDATOR 2‘s Danny Glover as Melville’s Captain Ahab, in the relentless and dangerous pursuit, not of a great white whale, no, but instead, of a great white dragon.

Aw hell.

I’m gonna have to watch that.

RIGGS!

MOBY DICK is often cited as The Great American Novel. Every author is out there trying to write one, but Herman Melville did it almost two hundred years ago. The book is its own Great White Whale. It has influenced countless writers and their works, been adapted to film multiple times, and has many obvious and less obvious descendents in movies such as JAWS and ALIENS. MOBY DICK is so many things — a historical document detailing the whaling industry of its era, a lierary allegory, a character study of obsession and madness, a rousing adventure tale… It’s really good! You should read it.

For a book of more than six hundred pages, the main plot of MOBY DICK is perfectly simple: A young sailor named Ishmael and his friend Queequeg, an intimidating foreigner, get a job on a whaling ship called the Pequod. They meet the first, second, and third mates on the ship — Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, respectively — but it’s a while before they meet the ship’s captain. When he arrives, he basically takes over the book. Ahab is a vengeful Quaker (which is an oxymoron, for the record) out to destroy the white whale who, in an earlier encounter, scarred him and took his leg. The only question is how many of the crew members will survive his deranged quest.

I love this story — it kind of has an elemental appeal to me at my center. It’s based on a true story! I love stories about sea monsters. As a kid my family took summer vacations to some of the areas described in the book. I grew up obsessed with the whale at the Museum Of Natural History in New York. And technically I’m half Quaker, so I even get that part of it. All of this is a run-up to say that I have more than a passing familiarity with the source material for AGE OF THE DRAGONS, which is why I found it to be even more of a bizarre anomaly than I figured it was going to be.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS is so remarkably bizarre precisely because of its fidelity to MOBY DICK. There is no question that the people who made AGE OF THE DRAGONS have read MOBY DICK, which is both what makes it strangely admirable and what makes it so weird. Let’s look at some of the similarities and the differences.

Well, besides, the obvious.

MOBY DICK.

MOBY DICK is about a large angry whale.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS is about a fire-breathing dragon.

In AGE OF THE DRAGONS, the action is shifted from sea to land. The dragons can fly, but the men who hunt for them travel on land. (Sky-boats would have been a little too crazy. Duh.) Still, their choice of vehicle is in fact a boat.

Boat.

The boat does have wheels, so I guess that makes sense, and the terrain they cover is generally coated with blankets of snow, so technically the boat is travelling over expanses of water, but again, let’s not mince words here: This is fucking weird. I mean, if you want to get all film school on it, you could possibly attribute the snow boat to being an extended reference both obliquely and literally to Werner Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO, another story of mad obsession, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fucking snow boat in a dragon-hunting movie.

Not only that, but the winter is apparently one of the utmost extremes, so you know what that means….

Ahab Snow Ninja

!!!SNOW NINJAS!!!

Snow Ninjas.

At every moment where I got anywhere near taking this movie seriously, somebody would show up dressed like a snow ninja and I’d have to chuckle. Which is totally fine. There isn’t anything at all wrong, from where I’m sitting, with a movie about dragon-fighting snow ninjas. But if you’re going to make a movie like that, you ought to have a sense of humor, and AGE OF THE DRAGONS is played for straights. It’s pretty dour and grim, missing the fact that Herman Melville had a satirical eye, having penned lines for MOBY DICK like “Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”

But I guess the makers of AGE OF THE DRAGONS figured, if they were going to take the sense of humor out of MOBY DICK, they’d better put something else in, and what they settled on was — you guessed it — a pretty girl. Her name is Rachel, which, despite there being no character like her in MOBY DICK, actually does mean something in reference to the novel. (I think the Rachel is the name of one of the boats.) Here the character is Ahab’s daughter, who he took in after her family was killed by dragons. Ishmael takes a shine to her, I guess because she’s a better bunkmate than Queequeg, which Ahab doesn’t like but what did he think was gonna happen, really. The actress doesn’t resemble Danny Glover much, which I guess is a virtue because let’s face it, she’s only really in the movie for stuff like this:

Girl.

Outside of Danny Glover, there’s no one in this movie you’ve heard of before, except for Vinnie Jones. My British friends know Vinnie Jones from his soccer — sorry: football — career, and my American friends know him from SMOKIN’ ACES 2, X-MEN 3, and GARFIELD: A TALE OF TWO KITTIES. He plays Stubb in this movie, but not for long. A dragon breathes on him and he turns into a pile of dust. Sorry if that’s a spoiler. I don’t think anything like that happened in the Melville text, but I guess they only had Vinnie Jones budgeted for a couple days on this shoot. It doesn’t feel like an organic storytelling decision, is what I’m implying.

Vinnie.

Anyway the main reason I wanted to see this movie was to see Danny Glover acting weird and talking a lot about dragons, and in this respect I did not walk away disappointed. Basically Danny Glover hates dragons because when he was a young Danny Glover, he and his sister were walking through the woods and a dragon showed up. The dragon turned his sister into a pile of ashes like it did to Vinnie Jones, and it also burned Danny Glover up pretty bad, to the point where he can’t go out in direct sunlight. On one hand that’s a bummer, but on the other hand….

Danny Glover in Snow Ninja outfit.

Danny Glover in Snow Ninja outfit.

As I was watching this movie, which has a lot of dull parts — really too many, for a movie that has dragons and Danny Glover dressed like a G.I. Joe character — I gave a lot of thought to Danny Glover, who is an actor I have a ton of affection for, but who has been really under-served by the movies, I think. He’s definitely a guy who has “important actor” status, but who hasn’t been in as many great things as he should or maybe could be.

Danny Glover High Points:

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (Clint)

WITNESS (a rare villainous turn)

THE COLOR PURPLE (probably, I haven’t seen it)

LETHAL WEAPON (obviously)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN (Bill Duke version)

LONESOME DOVE

TO SLEEP WITH ANGER

THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS (funniest part of the movie)

DREAMGIRLS

Personally, I liked SILVERADO, PREDATOR 2, PURE LUCK, and BE KIND REWIND also, but I don’t know if those roles necessarily go on the highlight reel. (PURE LUCK is pretty bad, actually, but it’s a Martin Short movie, so.)

I guess the point I’m making is, for such a prestigious actor, there sure are a ton of movies like OPERATION DUMBO DROP, GONE FISHIN’, LETHAL WEAPON 4, and SAW, on that resume, which also includes an unfair amount of shitty TV shows. Of course Danny Glover has been in some great stuff, but not enough. He needs some Fincher or Mann or Spike or Spielberg in his future. I mean, of course I enjoyed seeing him like this —

Riggs!

— but there aren’t too many of me. I’m a guy who will spend this much time thinking about a version of MOBY DICK that has dragons: Through me does not necessarily pass the road towards Oscars and widespread critical acclaim. And even with that said, I’d probably rather see a sincere version of MOBY DICK than a silly one which I can only watch in the middle of the night when there’s no female presence around to stop me. There’s no reason why Danny Glover couldn’t be given a movie where he can play Captain Ahab for real. He shouldn’t be stuck playing some weird groaning Gollum-esque character lurching around in a cave in Utah at computer-animated dragons.

Seriously, you should see the part when he fights the great white dragon at the end and gets his leg caught in the harpoon — if only for a textbook definition of anti-climax. I mean, I haven’t said much about the effects of the movie: The production value is actually rather good — I liked the sets and the costumes and even a couple of the scenes of the dragons. The actors all take it as seriously as they’re asked to, and the music by J Bateman (either Jason or Justine, I’m not sure which) is better than average for a movie of this type.

But the movie’s pace is slack and all the good dragon bits all happen early on — it’s like the production blew their dragon wad early, and like a bad lover with no follow-through, skimped on the effects in the final scenes. Even Danny Glover turns into computer animation, a cluster of pixels being dragged away on the tail of a fake monster. If it wasn’t enough that he was asked to overact through the entire movie, he doesn’t even get to leave it with any dignity.

So AGE OF THE DRAGONS, sadly, probably not a thing I can recommend. But at least I learned a thing or two about myself.

I learned that all you have to do is say the word “dragons” and I will watch your movie. It’s a foolproof method of advertising. Everyone and their grandma use more common sales pitches such as “boobs” “monkeys” and “explosions” to lure me in, but not everyone promises “dragons” and that brings my eyes over, every time.

The other thing I learned is that if I had any brains at all, I would have just watched JAWS for the 57th time. So maybe strike “brainy” from that list of datable qualities I listed up top in reference to myself.

@jonnyabomb

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Wanted to clue everyone in to a guest post I did for the terrific movie blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks, which has been inviting all kinds of well-travelled movie writers to contribute their lists of favorite quote-unquote “bad” movies.  (It’s all subjective, right?) 

I think you’ll enjoy this one.  I had a lot of fun putting it together.  I’m very proud to be featured on another site I enjoy, amongst some fun people.  You’ll have to click through to get to the meat of what I wrote, but I wanted to share some posters, still frames, and YouTube clips also, so scroll down for those.

>>>Read my list HERE!!!<<<

If you know me or have stopped by my site before, you know that this is hardly the end of my voyage into tremendous cinematic badness.  It’s only the beginning.

The journey continues! 

Find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb.

 

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“My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun.” – Sir Mix-A-Lot.

In 1997, Hollywood heard that challenge, and served up Jennifer Lopez.  Spoiler warning:  The anaconda wanted some.

Anaconda is the kind of movie that has become commonplace today through venues such as DTV and the SyFy network – a cheap, tongue-in-cheek production where the title is the premise.  More recently, these schlocky giant-reptile flicks have become the domain of the C- and the D-list, but originally they were true B-movies, with a long Hollywood history that included highlights such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon (which Anaconda bites off of heavily), and by the time of Anaconda’s release in the mid-‘90s, there was less competition than there might have been before or after.  So in a year best remembered for its flagship movie, Titanic, it was a nice change of pace to take a seedier, sillier boat trip.

The script, credited to Hans Bauer and the writing team of Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr. (best known for Top Gun and Turner & Hooch), is excellently direct:  An expedition carrying a crew of documentarians doing a story about an Amazonian Indian tribe for National Geographic charters a boat to travel deep into the rainforest.  Along the way, they encounter a shifty character of vague ethnic origins who eventually commandeers the expedition in order to track down a really, really big snake.  Things fall apart.

Director Luis Llosa does a solid enough job with the premise, and throws in some awesomely kooky Raimi-esque camera shots from the swift-moving snake’s point of view (courtesy of Jaws cameraman Bill Butler), but really, this is a fairly average movie at best – at least until you factor in its cast, who are what make this movie most worth watching and who, taken together, turn out to be something like the ’86 Mets, in their way.

Start with ‘80s heartthrob Eric Stoltz, best known to fans of this kind of movie as Rocky Dennis from Mask.  Here he’s playing the standard heroic lead, but in a fun narrative rope-a-dope, he gets sidelined early on through an amazingly dumb plot twist.

There’s also a role for Kari Wuhrer, who is well known to guys who grew up on the pre-Real World/ Jersey Shore MTV.  She became a late-night cable staple and still appears on TV, though after this and the similar-spirited Eight-Legged Freaks I don’t think I’ve ever seen her on the big screen again.  But she’s pretty so it’s good to have her here.  Arguably better is her love interest in the movie, a post-Bottle Rocket but pre-superfamous Owen Wilson.  If you’re not a huge Owen Wilson fan, I can’t help you.  It’s kind of amazing how he appeared in movies around this time with such a distinct persona right out of the gate:  Even early in his career, playing stock doomed characters and sixth leads, he was successfully bringing his own laconic comedic rhythm into crowded movies like Anaconda, The Cable Guy, Armageddon, and the far shittier The Haunting and still making an unforgettable impression every time.  Wilson has one of Anaconda’s most memorably stupid lines and he knows exactly what to do with it:  “Is it just me, or does the jungle make you really horny?”

Then there’s Australian actor Jonathan Hyde, who not only distinguishes himself with the second-best death scene in Anaconda, but also with being the only member of the cast who appeared in both this and the aforementioned Titanic.

There’s also a small role for the ubiquitous Danny Trejo, appearing as a routine bad guy long before his modern sex-symbol status.

But as good as the rest may be, the movie belongs to three actors in particular – Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube, as the expedition’s director and cameraman (respectively), and Jon Voight as the big-game hunter who’s nearly as dangerous for them as the hungry giant reptile is.

Lopez is really the lead character of the movie – aside from the snake, obviously – and it’s probably faint praise to say it, but I really liked this Jennifer Lopez.  This was right before Out Of Sight, which is by far the best movie she was ever in, and before all of the lame music and romantic comedies.  She was like a sexier Michelle Rodriguez – no quite a tough chick, but a convincing survivor.  In Anaconda, the role doesn’t call for her to do much more than look concerned all the time while also looking pretty in a constantly-wet tank top, but she gets the job done perfectly.  Sadly, her brief window of excellence was not to last, and now of course it is closed forever.

Ice Cube is another performer whose career has had a dramatic arc – nowadays we’re used to seeing him in PG-13 fare, but in 1997 we weren’t.  Back then, we were still close enough to the N.W.A. days that there could be some curiosity as to how Ice Cube could be contained by a PG-13 rating (which Anaconda weirdly carries).  There are certain words that a reasonable fan of the man and his music might expect Ice Cube to use when he’s being chased by a giant snake, and he’s not allowed to use them.  That adds an extra layer of suspense to the movie.  If you’re a fan of drinking games, try taking a shot every time Ice Cube looks like he’s about to swear, thinks of the MPAA, and dutifully bites his lower lip, holding back the obvious.

Last, you have Jon Voight.  This essay has already said more about Anaconda than needs be said, but it seems perverse to cut things short once the topic of the movie’s most bizarrely entertaining performance arises.  Nonetheless, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.  Voight plays this movie as close to outright comedy as it can be played while still pretending to be a monster movie.  His accent is vague and mysterious, his character’s vague and mysterious nature is obvious, his demeanor is ridiculous, and his final scenes are tremendous.  In a long and distinguished acting career, it’s unlikely that Anaconda goes on Jon Voight’s highlight reel, but it kinda should.

In the realm of B-list giant-reptile thrillers, Anaconda is no Alligator, and you’ll find better evil snake scenes in Conan The Barbarian, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and King Kong, but as Judd Apatow said recently in defense of Tim Allen, “We all look like a piece of shit, standing next to Tom Hanks.”  Tim Allen may usually suck, but he was really good in Galaxy Quest, and when I say that, maybe you’ll know what I mean when I recommend Anaconda to you.

Find me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

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Anaconda is screening this weekend as the IFC Center’s midnight movie on Friday (2/4) and Saturday (2/5) nights. Great movie to watch with a crowd.