Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ 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)

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.

@jonnyabomb

MANKEY

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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…

@jonnyabomb

Pacific Rim Elysium (2013) Anchorman 2

There are some potentially great movies coming out this year. Go anywhere else on the internet and you will read about movies like PACIFIC RIM and ANCHORMAN 2 and THE WORLD’S END and ELYSIUM. I’m excited about those too. There’s also all the obvious nerd bait like STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and HUNGER GAMES 2 and THOR THE DARK WORLD. Not really my thing, but it’s certainly understandable if those are the kind of titles that make your heart do a happy dance.

But step off the beaten path with me. Let’s take a moment to give some attention to the real weirdos out there. Let’s look at some of the movies of 2013 which no one in their right mind is looking forward to. I’m not talking about intentional cult items like MACHETE KILLS or ESCAPE PLAN. Those movies are that guy or girl at the party who’s trying too hard to be sexy and therefore failing big for exactly that reason. I’m talking about the ugly guys or girls who just don’t give a fuck what you think they look like. They just wandered in off the street because they got a whiff of the guacamole dip.

This isn’t about schadenfreude.  Well, not really. I mean, I’m no saint. There are a couple movies I wouldn’t mind watching crash and burn. In that category are ENDER’S GAME — written by a bigot, directed by the guy who made X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE; sure, no way that pairing could go wrong — and a pair of Vince Vaughn movies, one where he hangs out at Google for an entire movie and another movie where he plays a sperm donor, because no one learned anything from THE SWITCH and holy Lord do I ever not want to see or ever be asked to think about Vince Vaughn donating sperm.

But generally, my natural good nature wins out and I am a sweetheart who only wishes the best for everyone. Still, there are some movies coming up in 2013 whose very existence perplexes me. And that in turn makes me curious. Call me a a jerk, a creep, a kook, a contrarian, a nihilist, an anarchist — I’ve been called all of those things before and that was only this morning at the nunnery — but I like really bizarre movies that make no rational sense, and I like it even better when those movies turn out to be entertaining.  So the following bunch is a group I’ve got my eye on in 2013 (some are getting real close now!):

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Assault on Wall Street (2013)

ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

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Java Heat (2013)

JAVA HEAT (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s the caveman version of HEAT!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Mickey Rourke may actually be an Al Pacino, but Kellan Lutz is no Robert De Niro. I mean, maybe he is. I’ve only seen him in ARENA. He did not come off too brightly there. Also, his name is Kellan Lutz.

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Robosapien

CODY THE ROBOSAPIEN (May 28)


Why It Could Be Cool: “From the producer of SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, and IRON MAN…”

Why It Probably Won’t Be: …And the director of SOUL SURFER!

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Sinbad The Fifth Voyage (2010)

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (May 31)

Why It Could Be Cool:

Pseudo-stop-motion-animated skeletons!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Skeletons aside, this looks impressively bad. Like ten dollars worth of stolen garbage. I bet you Sinbad doesn’t even do his MacDonald’s milkshake routine!

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After Earth (2013)

AFTER EARTH (May 31)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Will Smith! A clone of Will Smith! Space! Volcanoes! Monkeys!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: M. Night Shyamalan.

But that also means it could be as funny as THE HAPPENING. At this point, Shammy is probably done for as a serious director. But as a director of hilariously-solemn unintentional-comedies, he’s got a better shot than most.

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Axe Giant

AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN (On DVD June 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Well, it’s a horror movie about the legendary giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan.  Ain’t a thing I can say I’ve ever seen before, and brother, I’ve seen plenty.  Also, while there are no signs from the trailer or the official site, there’s still a better-than-average chance of a cameo from Babe The Blue Ox.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Actually, I have no reason to expect it won’t be amazing.

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Hammer of the Gods (2013)

HAMMER OF THE GODS (July 5)

Why It Could Be Cool: It’s a movie about Vikings!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Vikings that say “Kiss my axe.”

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R.I.P.D. (2013)

R.I.P.D. (July 31)

Why It Could Be Cool: I’ll never not have hope for a movie that has Jeff Bridges and James Hong in it, and unlike most of the huge movies this summer, this one seems to have a sense of humor about itself.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: It’s trying way, way hard to be both GHOSTBUSTERS and MEN IN BLACK at the same time. See if you can spot the big, gaping difference.

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The Frozen Ground (2013)

THE FROZEN GROUND (August)

(No trailer yet.)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Cage versus Cusack. Hate to paraphrase myself so quickly, but: It’s like HEAT for weirdos.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  This comes to us from 50 Cent’s production company, Cheetah Vision, and yes, 50 Cent co-stars in the film.  50 Cent’s movies are becoming an obsession of mine — not because they’re particularly awful, but because they aren’t particularly good, despite often tremendous casts.  Also, NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM.  He’s so famous yet his movies are so under-the-radar.  But that’s a much longer conversation.  THE FROZEN GROUND is based on a true story.  John Cusack plays Robert Hansen, the notorious serial killer, and Nicolas Cage plays the Alaskan cop who hunts him down.  It’s no secret that Cage, once (and still) a tremendously gifted and unconventional actor, took a severe detour into mostly silly movies.  It’s less commented-upon that John Cusack has kind of done the same thing.  There’s an outside chance that a movie teaming the two of them could end up being great, but even if it doesn’t, it can still be colossally entertaining.

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Don Jon

DON JON (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the smartest actors around and this is the first movie he wrote and directed.  He seems to have brought his old accent from LOOPER along, and that was surely a fine movie.  Scarlett Johannsson, who is also great, is his co-star, and she looks particularly phenomenal in this trailer.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  Well it still could be.  There’s a ton of major talent involved. But I have to admit, and you probably should also, that if it were anyone other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt making this movie, there’d be plenty of cause for agita.  It’s hard to escape the suspicion that JGL came up with this movie back when Jersey Shore was hot.  It’s tough not to notice that Scarlett is using one of her SNL accents.  It impossible not to consider that porn addiction is pretty difficult to make charming on film. And on top of all that, Tony Danza.

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The Butler (2013) The Butler (2013)

THE BUTLER (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool: There are a lot of good actors in this movie.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Watch the trailer. Listen to and look at all the shit those good actors are made to do, say, and wear. Listen to that music. Have you done all three? Great! Now your incontinence is cured!

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Gallowwalkers

GALLOWWALKER(S) (release date unknown, may actually have already been out for two years)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s exactly BLADE, but then also a Western!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

I mean let’s be reasonable with our expectations here.

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Bookmark this page because I will be updating it as I discover more beautiful treasures!

@jonnyabomb

Hardware (1990)

Richard Stanley is a drastically-underrated director and Sergio Leone enthusiast from South Africa whose work is ripe for rediscovery.  I’d seen his 1992 film DUST DEVIL before, but not his debut feature, HARDWARE, which I happened to finally get around to during the same weekend I saw the new DREDD movie.

Hardware (1990)

From where I’m sitting, there aren’t many movies as true to the post-punk 2000 AD aesthetic as these two movies, DREDD and HARDWARE, although my friends in the UK will definitely have more trustworthy opinions on the matter.  HARDWARE is based on a short strip from 2000 AD, the same series from whence Judge Dredd arrived.  It actually is derived from a Judge Dredd storyline!

Hardware (1990)

Hardware (1990)

This is the basic pitch:  A trenchcoat-rocking soldier named Moses (Dylan McDermott) purchases the wreckage of a robot found in a post-apocalyptic desert, and brings it back to his sculptor/artist girlfriend Jill (Stacy Travis). While Mo is out, the robot activates and attempts to murder Jill in her apartment.  It may visually call to mind the Terminator of 1984, but this guy’s got some even nastier moves than that cyber-Arnold had.

Hardware (1990)

The deceptively-cheap movie — it’s stylish and relentless and looks like plenty more than a million bucks — is almost entirely about this battle, although it makes time for awesomely bizarre and/or disturbing performances by John Lynch (BLACK DEATH), Mark Northover (WILLOW!), and most unshakably, William Hootkins (STAR WARS, BATMAN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) as maybe the grossest movie pervert ever.  Iggy Pop and Lemmy also briefly contribute their talents, but with all that craziness surrounding, it all comes down to Jill and her fight to stay alive under attack by that freaky, ferocious robot.  It plays out, under Stanley’s direction, as an intensely tangible experience, despite springing out of a totally bonkers sci-fi set-up.

HARDWARE is available for purchase from Severin Films.

Hardware (1990)

This piece originally appeared on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

@jonnyabomb

 

After Night Of The Creeps, Night Of The Comet is the best “Night Of The” movie of the 1980s.  (There were many of ’em.)  These are the kind of movies you hope for, every time you venture off the mainstream path looking for something out of the ordinary.  These are the kind of movie there just plain aren’t enough of, although if there were, I suppose coming across them wouldn’t feel quite as special.

Night Of The Comet is about two sisters, Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart, from The Apple) and Sam (Kelli Maroney, later of Chopping Mall fame).  Regina works at a movie theater where she sometimes hooks up with the dickhead projectionist (Michael Bowen, eventually of Magnolia and Kill Bill).

Meanwhile, Sam is younger, so she’s stuck at home with their shitty stepmother on the night when parties are gathering to watch the approach of a rare comet.  Sam is sent to her room, and Regina is holed up in the projection booth, so they’re not outside with everyone else when the comet turns whole cities to zombies and dust.

Let me clarify:  The comet mostly turns everyone to red dust, with a red haze coating the already-considerable haze of L.A. smog.  Those who aren’t turned to dust are turned into zombies, which Regina discovers when her dickhead boyfriend ventures outside in the morning and is immediately killed by one.  The zombie chases Regina out into the alley, where this exchange transpires:

ZOMBIE IN ALLEY: Come here!

REGINA: Come here your ass!

Two things:  Talking zombies, which is something I’ve always wanted to see in a movie like this, and also, what a great female protagonist!  Smart-ass, super-pretty, and unafraid of any back-talking red-dust zombie.

So Regina escapes and finds Sam, hiding out.  They discover, with a reaction somewhat more in stride than horrified, that everyone they know is dead.  Apparently if you were inside during the comet’s approach, you lived.  If you were outside, as most people were, you’re dust.  If you got caught in between, you’re zombified — but not for long; dust is in your future.  Of course, it strains credulity that Regina and Sam would be the only ones who managed to stay inside, but if you go with it, the movie works.  It’s really Dawn Of The Dead, with a much lighter tone and an uber-sarcastic lead girl.

The cool thing about Night Of The Comet is that it isn’t a standard zombie-apocalypse movie.  Where you might expect the typical zombie hordes, here the zombies are very rare.  This movie is even more sparsely-populated than any of the I Am Legend iterations.  Eventually, Sam and Regina meet another survivor, Hector (Robert Beltran), a likable enough guy who helps them arm up before heading out for a while.  Sam and Regina go foraging at the local mall — after Dawn Of The Dead, it was hard to escape that mall — where they encounter another group of zombies and are then captured by a brigade of scientists.

The scientists, led by cult fixture Mary Woronov and Eastwood mainstay Geoffrey Lewis, are fixated on “the burden of civilization.”   Their nominal goal is repopulating the earth, but like any grown-ups in a 1980s teen movie, apocalypse or no, they can’t be trusted.

For me, the movie falls apart, or at least lags, in this final third, as Regina and Sam have to escape the evil scientists.  It would be hard for any movie to maintain the camp energy, eerie setting, and arch dialogue that Night Of The Comet initially established so well, and while some fans will disagree, I don’t feel that the last half hour or so stacks up to what came before it.  However, I don’t want to dwell on any criticisms for long, because there’s so much to enjoy with this movie.  It’s fun, silly, highly quotable, and surprisingly convincing, and I have to suspect that it was a partial inspiration for Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  It certainly helped set the precedent for smart, self-aware teen heroines.

 

Night Of The Comet is an underrated, under-remembered cult movie, and a neat accomplishment by its creator, Thom Eberhardt.  It’s a fun genre mash-up with an influential tone.  It has its flaws, but it’s way more fun than many so-called perfect movies.  You’re gonna dig it, if you haven’t already dug it.  So go dig it.

And follow me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

NIGHT OF THE COMET plays in Brooklyn this evening at BAMcinématek as part of their Apocalypse Soon film series, celebrating the fact that according to the Mayan calendar, we’ve only got two months left.

 

 

 
 
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: 

POST-SCRIPT:

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

 

 

 

 

Drokk is not the soundtrack to the new DREDD movie.  Well, it could’ve been.

As you can surmise from the subtitle, Music Inspired By Mega-City One, this collection of music is very much Dredd-affiliated.  Geoff Barrow, instrumentalist for the English trip-hop band Portishead, collaborated with composer Ben Salisbury on this collection of orchestral music that at one point was intended to be the score for the new DREDD movie.  For whatever reasons, that didn’t pan out, and the score to DREDD was provided by Paul Leonard-Morgan.  The actual DREDD score is still very good, the general difference being that it’s heavier on the tangible instruments, such as guitar and drums.

Barrow and Salisbury primarily used 1975-model Oberheim 2 Voice Synthesizers for their compositions, the result of which being that Drokk has less in common with the bombastic Zimmer-influenced action soundtracks of today, and falls more in line with the more measured, eerier likes of Fabio Frizzi and Goblin, and also with the pseudo-futuristic shimmer of Vangelis (BLADE RUNNER).  Oh, and John Carpenter.  Very much John Carpenter.  Listen to Track #4, “301-305” — sound familiar?  It will if you’ve seen ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

Drokk is the most fun kind of homage.  It’s all the action movies and sci-fi movies you grew up on, but the only place it’s happening is inside your head when you listen to it.  Maybe it’s ultimately not a huge tragedy that it was separated from DREDD — I like the idea of this rogue soundcloud travelling adrift from the context within which it may or may not have originally been created.  It doesn’t have to accompany a story made up by someone else — you can have it soundtrack the story you imagine yourself.

If you’re into that kind of thing, that is.  (I am!)

You can listen to the entire thing here, but it’s well worth a buy:  http://drokk.bandcamp.com/

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Me more here always:  @jonnyabomb