Sunday, December 14, 2008

Disaster Movie

I don't know why I'm even going to bother with this one, but here goes.

Disaster Movie is the latest in the long like of horrible genre parodies that have sprouted up over the past few years. You know the ones...Epic Movie, Date Movie, Superhero Move etc etc. Anyway, 2008's movie is supposed to be a jab at the disaster movie genre.

The basic story seems to be, the world is going to end on August 29, 2008. Honestly though, that's the furthest thing from this movie's mind. What the movie basically consists of is 90 minutes of disjointed pop culture references. I mean, seriously, how is Amy Winehouse checking Facebook in 10,001 BC supposed to be funny?

Anyway, after a nearly 10 minute long High School Musical type number (seriously), the house shakes for a second or two...that must have been the earthquake, and of course, it is centered on the apartment where this party is happening. Ah, now asteroids are falling and are destroying everything. So we cut to the streets, where people are running all over the place for no good reason, as nothing is falling down. Then an asteroid lands on "Hannah Montana" who does a completely unfunny 5 minute long death scene. Now it starts snowing, and our group of nameless heroes (I'm not kidding either...I can't remember any of these cliches getting a character name) run into an empty building, where they have a Zohan inspired fight between Juno and Sex and the City characters. Yeah.

I'm being fully honest when I say this is the most uninteresting and boring movie I have ever seen, and I'm not even halfway in yet. The references are all dull, they are 100% unfunny, and they are going to date this movie to the point where if you came back in 5 years to watch it...almost everything would be irrelevant. Unlike a movie parody like Airplane, made over 25 years ago, which has dated references, but holds up as a funny movie. This mess has nothing at all going for it, as a parody of the disaster movie genre, or as a comedy.

As I think about it (and I'm not trying to), they basically are stealing the story line from Cloverfield, they're just leaving out all the good parts.. A bunch of teens have a party, bad stuff happens, the two truly in love get separated after an argument at the party, and now that the world is ending...the heroic guy needs to get her back. But first...a break dancing competition. WHAT?!?!?! Thankfully, a tornado shows up and ends that mistake of a scene.

Finally, the best scene of the movie happens. Another earthquake hits, and the lights go out. Hooray! Now I don't have to watch this rats, they came back on. And our reward? An extended musical number and fight scene with a fake Alvin and the Chipmunks!!!

So, the reason why these disasters keep happening finally comes up. I guess it has something to do with this crystal skull (yeah, that Crystal Skull) not being on its proper pedestal. Yay! So, while half of our nameless crew go to return the skull (and have a conversation / fight with naked Beowulf...) the other half try to escape the museum...only to come across...Kung Fu Panda. And of course, a pointlessly long fight scene occurs.

So, the skull gets returned, the disasters stop, and our "heroes" get the Love Guru. Ok, note to the filmmakers. If you're going to use something as a parody, make sure people even know the character in the first place. Honestly, about 8 people saw that movie.

So, we're at the end of the movie, and the final scene is...a musical number themed around the Sarah Silverman "I'm f*&#ing Matt Damon" video...that includes every character in the movie. So, of course, it's a 5 second "joke" that lasts about 10 minutes. Thankfully, the credits roll, ending this disaster. Hey...maybe that's it. They weren't making a disaster movie parody; they just knew how Godawful this movie actually was and were warning people, yeah!

I seriously can't believe that movie was even made. There isn't a thing I can think of to say that is remotely positive about the experience. The thing is...this movie was popular! It made millions of dollars. WHY? I give this move an F, and that's being generous. It's an embarrassing mess. And I know...deep down in my soul...there will be another one next year. Next time, I may go back to a big dumb Hollywood disaster movie...I'm thinking Twister. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Disaster! The Movie

Parody. When you take something serious, and make something comedic out of it. In the disaster movie world, parodies have been done before (Airplane and Airplane 2), and especially with Airplane, even nearly 30 years later, it still holds up as a funny skewering of the Airport movies of the 1970s. Today, I look at a parody called "Disaster! The Movie." It calls itself "More thrilling than Armageddon, and raunchier than Team America." We shall see.

If you've ever seen the show on Cartoon Network "Robot Chicken" then you get the idea how this movie was made. Claymation is the order of the day. I give them definite points for choosing this very different method for making this movie. The models look nice, and are almost always animated well. It's an impressive effort on a purely technical level for what they do with simple clay figures. Unfortunately, the novelty of the claymation figures can't hide the fact that the script is sophomoric at best, although there are glimmers of a top notch parody buried in there.

The basic story is the same as that of "Armageddon": a big planetoid is heading to Earth so the Space Agency... ASSA (at this point, you have just seen the level of humor this movie goes with) needs to get the best disaster specialists together to (everyone say it with me) detonate a nuclear bomb to save the planet.

So, we meet our team of brave disaster specialists: Harry Bottoms (Bruce Willis type experienced soldier type), V.D. Johnson (cowboy), Major Sandy Mellons (Harry's daughter, V.D.s girl), and Donkey Dixon (who of course specializes in "deep drilling" if you haven't guessed the character's race by this point, I cannot help you). I did rather enjoy each character's "intro scene." They are each fighting their respective disaster specialties...and in all cases, the humans are completely wasted in order to save the cat, child, old lady...only to have said target save die messily anyway. Pretty funny stuff there. As you can see here, this isn't exactly deep comedy here. You can pretty much shut your brain off, and get most of the jokes.

So, the crew takes off, and almost immediately finds out they are out of rocket fuel, turns out Dr. Stephen Hawking (like-character) took the rocket for a ride to impress some chicks, and forgot to fill the tank. So, they have to dock with the French space ship (just work with me here) to refuel. Hey, did you know the French eat a lot of cheese? And guess what happens when you eat a lot of cheese? Oh yeah, high hilarity. 20 minutes of gas jokes. That's just the one scene. They bring the French guy with them, so every time he ends up on screen, there's going to be gas. If you can sit there, holding a whoopee cushion in your hands, and laugh every time you squeeze it. This is your Citizen Kane.

Finally, we make it to the planetoid. And the filmmakers again, show a flash of pure genius. We now see why these certain disaster specialists are truly needed. The planetoid has an atmosphere which contains a giant tornado, right next to a gigantic tidal wave which is blocking them from drilling the holes near the volcano so they can make it erupt violently enough to deflect it away from Earth. Of course, these aren't the only obstacles in the way...oh no. There's earthquakes! And big giant space apes! I really appreciated this section of the movie. They didn't just give us one disaster to deal with, they gave us all of them. They truly lived by the motto "Go big, or go home."

Now, pop quiz time, what else can go wrong at this point? If you guessed "They left the remote detonators on Earth, and have to leave someone behind to manually detonate the bomb," you win. Now, again, they get really clever. As soon as someone says "We have to decide who to leave behind" a clay Jeff Probst walks out, and a full Survivor vote off session starts. This is absolutely brilliant, and I had no idea this scene was coming. Sadly, the greatness of this scene just makes you realize how pedestrian the rest of the movie has been.

I would be completely remiss if I didn't describe the biggest "huh?" moment of the movie. Motley Crue. The real Motley Crue is in the movie. They have a 20 second scene near the beginning where they proclaim they are going to play the last concert on Earth, at the spot the planetoid is supposed to hit. The next time we catch up to this storyline is the 20 seconds near the end when they realize the Earth isn't going to be destroyed, and they play a song anyway. I just have to ask why? They could have been completely eliminated...and the movie would be unchanged. Their "story" went NOWHERE AT ALL. Oh, Kickstart My Heart plays during the credits...ooh ahh.

So, in total, it was a pretty unremarkable experience. Sure they referenced Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Right Stuff, Alien, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, Men in Black, and probably lots of other movies (they owe a large debt to 80's screwball comedies because of all the random female characters shirts coming off for no reason). but all those references were just that. References, not jokes skewering those movies...which is what I think you need for a successful parody. The last 20 minutes or so, however, are way better than anything in the previous hour.

As it was, Disaster! The Movie wasn't a horrible watch, just an ultimately forgettable one. C-.

Now, next time...I don't know why I'm doing this to myself...I'm going to watch "Disaster Movie" the 2008 "parody" movie. I've heard it's awful...and given the track record of movies like "Epic Movie" Superhero Movie" etc etc. I am not expecting very much at all. We shall see.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

10.5 Apocalypse (2005)

So, what's 4 and a half months among friends?

Anyway, last time, I talked about 10.5, a made for TV disaster movie from 2004. I believed it was a surprisingly good TV movie which didn't seem to leave much room for a sequel. I mean, they knocked off part of California, it can't get much better (worse?) than that can it? Well, in 2005, a sequel came, and sure enough, they figured out a way to make it better (worse?).

10.5 Apocalypse starts out as you may expect for a sequel to a TV movie, with a greatest hits compilation of the events from the first movie. But wait? What's this? I don't remember a tidal wave and an ocean liner. So, step one of this sequel is to show that we didn't get the full story last time. And that while all heck was breaking loose on the mainland, the Poseidon Adventure decides to remake itself in the ocean simultaneously. So, even though the movie comes about a year later, the movie itself happens at the same time, and in the few days soon after the events of the first movie.

And to be pseudo-timely (a year and a half late), the quake also causes a tsunami which obliterates Hawaii. And by obliterate, I mean a wave that crashes into the TOPS of the high rises. And Mount St. Helens erupts, just for good measure. This is a pretty action packed 7 minutes. And a LOT of ground to cover. Or so we think, because...the tsunami and destruction of Hawaii is not returned to at all. It's just like "Hey, this bad thing happened, we should mention it."

So, after the breakneck action of the first 10 minutes, we slow down to meet our characters. Fortunately, if you saw 10.5, you'll recognize the most major players such as Dr. Samantha Hill (Kim Delaney) and President Hollister (Beau Bridges: please God no sweaty basketball scenes please please). Then we meet some our presumed cannon fodder for disaster, the citizen rescue workers. While there are thousands of workers, we focus on two brothers who are sent to work on the relief effort. Pop quiz time: when you have two brothers, who are very close and don't like to always play by the rules, and you send them into danger together, what happens? Right. One will live, one will die...but which one? YOU MAKE THE CALL!

I can already tell, without even looking that we have the same director on this movie. How do I know? Stupid zooms on every character every time they say an important line. I think this one time they zoom so close, I can see the person's cerebellum. Oh, and after a few hundred zooms, we get scenes of mountain biking. This guy loves him some extreme sports.

Time for the next big disaster shot of the movie. And this time it's a dormant volcano erupting. The CG in this movie isn't as solid as the first 10.5 movie, but the eruption is passable. The two poor, unfortunate souls we meet here are two people riding a ski lift, sadly, their time in the movie is short. So there's no real connection to them, they're just fodder for the avalanche of ash and lava.

Plot time. The 10.5 earthquake in the first movie was just the opening salvo in an event deep under the Earth's surface that is much larger than anyone anticipated. I love this idea. We've all heard of Pangaea, the big "supercontinent." Well, what they believe is happening now, is that Pangaea is reforming...right now. I can't make this stuff up. After hundreds of millions of years of moving away from each other, the tectonic plates miss each other, and want a big group hug, today. Time for disaster movie scientist cliche #245: the theory that this idea is based off of comes from a scientist (no so coincidentally, Dr. Hill's retired father) that was seen as a bit of a crackpot in his day, and his later work is seen as foolish. So say it with me THAT MEANS HIS THEORY IS PROBABLY RIGHT.

I'm going to go ahead and say it now, about 45 minutes into this nearly two hour 40 minute movie...they don't have enough interesting material. How did I come up with this hypothesis? They spend nearly fifteen minutes showing two guys digging out someone trapped under a hotel. Riveting stuff there, 15 minutes of "You see him? You got him? You got him? He can't breathe!" Yeah, there's a whole lot of rather uninteresting filler here. That's one place where I can see this movie is not up to the quality of the first. Immediately after this long rescue scene, we have a five minute scene of Dr. Hill's father PLAYING POKER. And really, that's all it is, a poker scene. Sure it's probably setting something up later, but for now we're just waiting for something to happen.

Well, in lieu of more disasters, we are treated to the personal drama section of the movie. Watching FEMA guys yelling at a pair of rescue team brothers, and then watching them yell at each other makes me wonder, what the heck happened to the boat in the opening credits? They just forgot about it didn't they? Heartless, I tell ya.

Sacrificial main character time. Something weird isafoot at Lake Mead, Jordan (Dr. Hill's main assistant, and while not really mentioned - possible love interest, this whole time) decides he needs to check on the situation...alone. FORBODING!

And sure enough not more than 5 minutes later, as Jordan flies towards Hoover Dam, he notes that the water temperature is pushing 120 degrees, and that the water is overflowing the dam when suddenly: DAM BURST!!!!! And it just so happens they didn't have the foresight to, I don't know, FLY THE HELICOPTER ABOVE the water level?

Just as an aside, two people closely related to main characters are now in Las Vegas. Could this mean... FORBODING??? (Yes, I'm going to run it into the ground, because there's just not much going on otherwise in this movie).

Plot twist time: 60 million years ago, the central plains of North America were underwater. Well, all this seismic action is eventually going to mean this sea is going to come back too...cutting the continent in half. Store this away for now, it may not seem like a lot now, but it becomes a big deal.

But first...remember that forboding I mentioned about characters in Vegas? Yeah, well, it's time to see what happens to a miniature model of Las Vegas on a shaky table. As the credits for the first half of the movie roll, we see that the harder Las Vegas shakes; the slower gravity goes, and despite everything shaking side to side, the buildings all fall perfectly straight down.

Part Two:

Wow, what a shame, in the time that the credits rolled, and they caught us back up on what we just saw...Las Vegas fell down. I feel gypped, I wanted to see that. But, miracle of all miracles, our side characters both survived.

Ooh, ooh, now it's time to just knock stuff down. Las Vegas fell down, Mount Rushmore is crumbling, a 60 mile long fault line just shows up in South Dakota...making it the first important thing to ever come from South Dakota! Thanks folks, I'm here all week.

APING THE CLASSICS: In the Poseidon Adventure, there's a moment where our hardy band of survivors decide to split from the supposed know-it-alls on the boat. Well, we have this exact moment in this movie. The elder Dr. Hill takes the lead, and decides that the casino they are all stuck in is underground, so the best way to survive is to climb up to the top of the tower. While the rent-a-cop security guy thinks it's best to go out the doors of the casino...despite the fact that dirt is falling on them from above. One group lives, one group dies...YOU MAKE THE CALL!

While we're on the topic of the Poseidon Adventure, I remember noting when I watched both it, and the Poseidon remake that whenever characters show a strong religious conviction...they usually bite it. I don't know if that says anything about the mindset of the filmmakers, or is a coincidence, but we have this same scenario ready to play out. We discover that one of the rescue workers has family in Houston, but they are refusing to leave, because God will save them. FORBODING!

I know I tend to talk a lot, and go into detail about what happens during these movies, but this second half is basically "wow, that fault is moving fast" cutting back to "Hey, we are remaking the Poseidon Adventure in convenient Earthquake form over here!!" There's just not much else going on.

APING THE CLASSICS II: One of the characters says "I've got a bad feeling about this" 'nuff said there. We know what's going to happen to that guy.

5 minutes pass...

And boom goes the dynamite. Moving on...

Time for the winner of the most ridiculous scene of the movie award:

You remember our brothers? Well, they have an argument as to whether to follow the book, or to play by their own rules. Well, older brother (Dean Cain) wants to be the hero, and go off book, but is resisted by the little brother which boils up into a fistfight DURING AN AFTERSHOCK. Don't worry about saving your lives guys, or the lives of the people you are supposed to be finding, punching each other in the face is way more important!

Remember when the country splitting in half was the big event? Turns out it's not, not even close. It turns out this big fault line runs through the largest nuclear power plant in the country (whose bright idea was it to build a nuclear reactor on a fault line?), that could make Chernobyl look like a spilled glass of milk. So, what plan do they come up with? We need to look no further back than the first 10.5 except instead of nuking the place, they are going to blow up a bunch of natural gas wells, and hope it reroutes the fault around the nuclear plant.

Time to answer the first YOU MAKE THE CALL: question: Yep, surprise of surprises, they actually killed off Superman in this movie. Dean Cain's character is the brother that dies. Which wasn't what I was expecting, but I guess we hadn't had a big name actor die in this one yet...and that does seem to be disaster movie cliche least one big name dies dramatically and heroically. He died saving his brother, his brother's pregnant wife, and a random showgirl from a collapsing building.

While they Doctors are getting all the bombs set up to reroute the fault line. There's a lot of yelling, a lot of shaky cam, and appropriate amounts of tenson building. And then ooh ahhh EXPLOSION TIME, as the natural gas lines start blowing up. And, as you expect, it works. The plant is safe, and seemingly, Houston is as well, as the fault completely stops. Let the celebation begin!! No cross continent split! Hooray.

To quote the great Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. Read my review of 10.5 again, at least the last bit about the random turbo ending that breaks off a piece of California. Nothing ends the way it should in a 10.5 movie. As the Hill's are standing there, taking in the view, ruminating on the day. All of a sudden, and completely randomly, the fault line opens up again. Literally, with 5 minutes left in the film just like in 10.5 chaos happens again to take away our Hollywood happy ending, the fault makes a bee line for Houston. And the fate of the religious family I mentioned earlier (that I had figured the movie forgot like that boat in the ocean) comes to its ultimate, and tragic end.

We end this piece of TV movie, with the fault hitting the Gulf of Mexico...the worst CGI plume of smoke ever shoots up, and the fault line fills up with water. Flooding hundreds of miles, and making a couple new great coast lines for wonderful development opportunities. For some reason, this filling of the fault sends everyone into crying fits like I've never seen before. Very strange. The final scene, much like the final scene in the first 10.5, is a satellite shot of the planet, a look at our new country...and a hokey speech by President Bridges.

This movie is nowhere near as good as the first 10.5. The second half in particular is almost shameful in just how blantantly they steal not only the entire plot for one of the best disaster movies ever, but also steals several plot devices from the first movie made just the year before. The acting again, is pretty decent. Although Beau Bridges is even more wooden as the President. At the end when he started crying, I half expected him to start leaking maple syrup.

Overall, 10.5 Apocalypse rates a B-. It's still a decent watch, although if you want to watch it, you probably should watch 10.5 first. It's a much more memorable movie.

Well, that wasn't so bad. I might do this again sometime. Actually, I'm looking at writing about a DVD that parodies disaster movies using puppets, along the lines of Team America.

Oh, and oh yeah...they never found the other group that didn't climb out of the casino. If you chose that, you made the right call.

Friday, May 30, 2008

10.5 (2004)

After 9/11, it seemed a certainty that the disaster movie genre would go away. After all, who would want to see buildings being destroyed and all the death and destruction to go along with it? Well, it turns out plenty of people, because the disaster genre made a pretty convincing comeback in the mid 2000's. 10.5 was a made for TV movie, detailing a tremendous earthquake that starts in Washington, and threatens to rip California off the West Cost. Of course, it is up to the government, and a group of crack seismologists (pun not intended, but after further though, completely enjoyed) to stop it.

Right off the bat, we get the first big money shot. The quake starts in Seattle as a 7.9 magnitude quake, and after a few minutes of extreme bike riding (wha??) the Space Needle takes a topple, seemingly onto out bike riding friend. If you like action, this movie brings it early and fast.

We do get the most disturbing scene in the history of motion pictures. A sweaty Beau Bridges (as our President) playing basketball. I had no idea this was a horror movie in disguise.

Anyway, we get the obligatory character development phase of the movie, and it is strictly by the numbers stuff. We meet the government official with the troubled marriage, her staff with family problems, the all-caring President...willing to put off foreign matters to take care of his people (I can't tell if it's supposed to be a take off of Bush or not), the scientists more hung up on their job than their love life...all pretty common and frequently seen cliches in the disaster movie genre. The movie is nearly 3 hours long, so this as usual gets dragged out way too long and gets way too complicated for its own good, fortunately, the filmakers in this case care a little they give us more action.

In northern California, an AFERSHOCK of 8.4 hits a fault line, which just happens to run on a train track, which just happens to have a train on it right at this very moment. Aren't coincidences a pain?

Something in the cnematography of this movie really bugs me. Any time a character needs to say something important or reacts to something important, the camera zooms in a few inches. In small doses, this is effective. However, there is a scene between the President, and the head of FEMA, Roy Nolan, played by Fred Ward...where there are at least 6 of these zooms in a 30 second span. It's borderline dizzying, not to mention very annoying.

I think I forgot to mention John Schnider is in this movie. Yeah, Bo Duke. They threw in a completely superfluous scene of his driving his SUV off-road so he could hive that old Duke Woo-Hoo, and the line "I missed doing that" some nice fan service, though not really necessary.

Another wonderful disaster movie cliche rears its ugly head. Just like in Absolute Zero, we get the wild theory put forth by the scientist to the group of public officials. And they don't listen to her, at all...even though we all know by now, she's probably right.

Things get slow for a long time. Lots of science mumbo jumbo, a bunch of government double talk yadda yadda yadda. And then, we get to the scene where I give out the Dumbest People Alive Ever award. John Schnider's character, Clark, and his daughter are going camping when they get caught in some of the effects of the second quake. As Clark tries to drive his SUV through a damaged part of the road...the SUV starts to sink. It seems like a tense scene, until you see that they have a perfectly good sunroof in the car that would have been simple to open and escape out of. Instead they roll down a side window, allowing the girl out, and then Clark is buried alive...only to escape by breaking the front windshield with his flashlight, and climbing out a minute later. Truly a classic dumb scene.

An hour into the movie, we finally get to the ultimate plot of the movie. There's a big fault, getting ready to layeth the smackdown on San Francisco. Of course, as usual, the government doesn't buy the scientist's theory, but we all know SCIENCE IS NEVER WRONG! Oh wat, wrong movie. And sure enough just a few seconds later... here comes the quake. A 9.2 centered right under San Francisco! Highlighting this section is a scene of the Golden Gate bridge bucking like Galloping Gertie, before ultimately tumbling into the water. A helicopter pilot on the scene does his best recreation of the call of the Hindenburg disaster, sadly, he has the emotional range of tinfoil, so it comes off incredibly poor. They don't show any other parts of the city, but this scene was done very well. I'm rather impressed with the CGI in this movie, it is a TV movie...but it seems to have a decent enough budget to have spent money on good effects.

Now we have a problem, how do they solve it? That's right...disaster movie cliche time! They need to fuse this fault line shut so it doesn't react with the San Andreas Fault and the ultimate destruction of the entire west coast. How do you fuse a fault line? Of course. You use nuclear weapons! And you decide to evacuate the entire population of Los Angeles.

Yeah, that's right. They are going to drill holes into the Earth, and drop in nuclear warheads to fuse this "superfault" shut, and save the West Coast. As we move towards the great nuclear detonations, all our other storylines are wrapping themselves up into nice little bows. Mostly good, a couple not so good, but all fairly predictable. We are due for at least one big surprise...and boy howdy do they have a big one.

No, no, not the "we can't get this last hole drilled" thing...we knew that was going to happen. Something bigger. No, not the "Hey, isn't Barstow still a little too close to the coast for an evacuation center just in case this thing does go off?" Even bigger than that. The big surprise of the warheads gets stuck, broken away from it's remote control device, and has to be manually detonated. Boy howdy, that's going to hurt. And it's Roy Nolan, the head of FEMA himself, who decides to detonate the bomb himself. Of course, not even detonating a nuclear bomb by hand isn't a smooth process. Another quake hits, and Nolan falls down...and the bomb lands on top of him. Cue the "So you had a bad day" music. This leads to the most surreal father / son heart to heart. I don't think any other movie has had a father spill his guts to his estranged son with a nuclear warhead sitting on his chest.

So the plan goes off, and it works, the faults stabilize, and the West Coast is now saved! And there are parties and celebrations all around! Seems like a perfect time to end the movie right? Nah, there are still 20 minutes left. It ain''t that simple in TV movieland. A series of aftershocks near the last warhead suggest that LA is still not safe, so our seismologists head out to investigate. Remember the manual detonation of that last warhead? Yeah, it wasn't deep enough, and it actually opened up a fault line. So, remember when we questioned if Barstow was far enough away? Yeah, it wasn't, now it's right in the path of this potential geography changing quake.

The San Andreas fault opens up wide, and we get to see the utter obliteration of Los Angeles! The Hollywood sign goes down, all the buildings crumble as the Pacific Ocean begins to rip the city right in half. And Barstow? The evacuation camp is ripped in half by this 10.5 magnitude quake. Bunches of people are swallowed up, of course...they are but bit parts...our main characters all seem to manage to be ok. Charlton Heston wishes the Red Sea would have parted as easily as California does here. By the time the quake ends, a vast portion of California is gone, and what didn't get eaten up is now a brand new island floating in the Pacific. The movie ends with a pretty cringe worthy speech, and a satellite view of our new geography.

I really enjoy this movie. I have watched it several times, and I find the action good, the acting passable (obviously there's some cheesy dialogue, but nowhere near as bad as many other TV movies), the special effects are very good for a TV movie. I give this movie an A-. So you'd think that's all there is as far as 10.5 goes. Not so fast my friends. The very next year, there was a sequel. That's right. 10.5 Apocalypse, taking quakes to a whole new level. Next time.

"Up 'em full of morphine, and give 'em to God"

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Solar Crisis (1990)

In the near future... the sun is preparing to expel a solar flare so powerful it will cremate the Earth. Sounds like a good time to me! The DVD case for this movie really intrigued me. The movie has Charlton Heston, Peter Boyle, AND Jack Palance. Digging just a bit deeper onto the back of the DVD case gives me one, big, big concern.

Directed by: Alan Smithee


Basically, if a director has a movie taken away from him, and the studio recuts the movie in a way the director dislikes... that director can request that his or her name be removed from the film, and the pseudonym Alan Smithee be attached. Generally, when you see Alan Smithee (or any variation of that name) you are in for a bad BAD movie.

So, I am, as you can imagine...concerned.

At the start of the film, my fears are not lessened by one of the most bizarre opening sequences I've ever seen. We get the slow text crawl explaining the situation. No issues there, then we cut to...another slow text crawl. We see a quick scene about the anti-matter bomb "Freddy" whining about his suspension coils being too tight (yes, a whiny 5-ton anti-matter bomb). Soon followed by... another slow text crawl.

I am still concerned.

The main plot is simple. The sun has been getting hotter for several years now, threatening life as we know it. Scientists have discovered that a large area of sunspots is forming, and the expected solar flare could be so severe that it could reach the Earth...completely destroying life as we know it. Of course, there are complications. One, some members of a large corporation still on the almost desert-like Earth, IXL, seem bent on seeing that this solar flare actually DOES hit the Earth. Two, the navigation system on the 5 ton anti-matter bomb wasn't perfected, so someone has to pilot the bomb into the sun. This leads to my favorite edit in the movie. This fact, that one of the most important members of the ship will have to fly into the sun is completely glossed over by a quickly edited in "ok, it's time to go, let's move" line, and we jump to some sub-plots.

Sub-plot #1: Admiral Kelso (Heston) discovers his grandson, Mike, on Earth has gone AWOL from a military academy. Mike's dad, and captain of the ship Steve Kelso, seems to be way more concerned with trying to get inside the pants of the bioengineered "Magician" (meaning she can pretty much do anything) on the ship. Admiral Kelso decides to leave the ship, and return to Earth to try and find his grandson. Meanwhile Mike meets up with a crazy-eyed "Travis" (Jack there any other kind of Jack Palance?) to try and get to a space shuttle to get up into space to reunite with his family. Palance is just a nut in this movie. The best way I can describe Travis is an insane Mad Max. He runs around grunting and screaming, not making a whole lot of sense most of the time.

Sub-plot #2: Returning to the IXL group, one of their "hitmen" sneaks himself aboard the spaceship, somehow, and implants (?) some...thing? into Alex's eye or something. Talk about not explaining anything, whatever it was though...the bioengineered Alex is now under IXL's control. The plan to disrupt the mission is well on track.

Even though Alex is now unwittingly on the other side, it seems as though things are looking up for the Captain's chances on getting what he really wants out her. Soon after a shipmate dies trying to fix a radiation problem on the ship (possibly caused by Alex hmmmm???) you see the two getting very very close to each other.

Looking again at the back on the DVD, as there's a whole lot of nothing happening at this point during the movie, other than Travis' "Mad Max" posse learning about the plot to destroy the Earth, and doing very little about it... I notice one of the big selling points of the movie is that the visual effects were done by people who worked on Star Wars and 2010. And I'll admit, the special effects haven't been too bad, nothing too special, but better than I probably expected given everything I had thought coming into the movie.

You know what? Marvin, the Android from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy whined less than Freddy, the Anti-Matter bomb. Just sayin' he's really annoying.

A bit of a sidetrack here. A while back I reviewed "Sunshine"; a movie, again about the sun causing global disaster (albeit, in Sunshine the sun was dying, not getting super-powerful as is the case here). And in that movie, a character came back seemingly from the dead (and 7 years after his supposed death) in almost monster form as a figure that says we should not meddle in the ways of nature. We now have the exact same character in Solar Crisis, in the form of IXL's leader Arnold Teague (Peter Boyle). He's purposely sabotaging the mission to the sun because 1. he doersn't believe the solar flare is coming, and 2. if it be it. That's the way it's supposed to be. Another interesting comparison: both movies have a major oxygen incident which basically turns the mission into a suicide mission for all on board the ships. I just found these to be very interesting similarities between two rather different movies.

As we careen towards the movie's end. The Kelso family saga kind of fizzles out when Mikey escapes from the IXL baddies, and then just runs into his grandfather and is saved. Kind of a letdown, I think Heston was in this movie for all of 10 minutes...and his most memorable line was "You tell me you love me before you leave this room."

So we go back to the ship, and all heck is breaking out. Things are falling apart, stuff is exploding, FREDDY GETS PUT ON MANUAL DETONATION MODE and FINALLY someone suspects sabotage. You think? After bringing the crew 2 seconds away from certain death, Alex miraculously saves the day, and then is all things Freddy the be the traitor. Captain Kelso yells at her, but she, using her womanly charms, manages to knock the good captain unconscious and steal the anti-matter bomb and she flies it into the sun herself. That's right, even after finding out this crazy woman's brain has been possessed, and nearly killed the entirety of the human race...Captain Horndog here still lets Alex get a little too intimate, and again gets burned. What a doofus.

Here's where the entire movie throws up it's hands and goes "I dunno anymore." They show Alex flying into the sun, being surrounded by splashes of yellows and oranges, then...Captain Kelso says "Let's go home" and ROLL CREDITS! Talk about leaving absolutely everything open. Allow me to list what we don't know still:

1. Did Alex actually fly the bomb to the correct place?
2. Did the bomb deflect the flare as they hoped?
3. Does the crew make it back to their docking station (they did only have 31% oxygen which should have only gotten them 1/3 of the way)?
4. What happened to IXL?
5. What happens to EARTH?
6. Does the Kelso family reunite?
7. Why am I thinking this hard about this movie?

Surprisingly, despite more red flags going in than your average NASCAR race, I rather enjoyed this movie. The acting wasn't great, the effects were mostly decent (getting a little rushed at the end), and the story was passable until the very end. I was surprisingly entertained by this movie. The final conflict scene on the ship in particular was surprisingly tense. If I were to grade it, I'd probably give it a B-, definitely above average, but not a masterpiece.

Next time (much sooner than this one I promise), I'm going to review 10.5. A TV miniseries from the mid-90s.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Real life causes massive delay!

So yeah, I haven't abandoned this place. Just been too busy, and not in the right mindset to do this over the past couple weeks. BUT, no need to fear, things are evening out a bit, and I should have a new review up in the next few days. Thanks for your patience, and if anyone wants to see a review of a specific disaster movie, just let me know (I'll see if I can find it).

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Absolute Zero (2005)

A couple weeks ago, we had 20 inches of snow in the middle of March. So it seems appropriate to watch a movie about the Earth's weather going haywire. The reason for the rapid climate change may not what you might think it would be.

With a movie made in 2005, the obvious answer would be GLOBAL WARMING, and that's hinted at in the first few minutes of the movie, but our hero, David, played by the Lawnmower Man himself Jeff Fahey believes otherwise. The theory put forth is that the Earth's magnetic poles are shifting, and when the polarity hits "neutral", or directly over the equator, that the temperature plunges to...ABSOLUTE ZERO (clever huh?). And how does he know all this? Because *CATCHPHRASE ALERT* "Science is never wrong."

So David, and a crew of scientists in various fields are sent to Antarctica to study abnormal temperature spikes, and a mysterious cave that InterSCI, the big bad science group in it for the money, believes may hold some information. So, the big struggle clearly is the cliched fight between those who want to do the right thing for humanity, and those who want to do what it takes to make a buck. Even to the point of sacrificing their own scientists.

I have to be brutally honest here, this movie is a series of cliches, questionable (at best) science, and horrific overacting by Jeff Fahey. Seriously, Fahey couldn't deliver "Hi, how are you today?" in this movie without it sounding like the most dire thing that has ever come out of a person's mouth.

While down in Antarctica, the scientific crew gets attacked by a freak snow storm. Somehow, despite being the world's best and brightest scientific the face of a bad snow storm (including a weird snow spike that manages to kill two people by hitting their truck really really hard), only David manages to survive this storm. Amazing how that happens.

The focus of the rest of the movie shifts to sunny Miami, but even there things aren't what they are supposed to be. Things like fishermen pulling frozen crabs from the ocean, despite 90+ degree temperatures. Then, all of a sudden... a glacier shows up in sunny Miami! Yep, things are getting curious.

While InterSCI is trying to play the Military for unlimited funding...and assuring them that we have a couple hundred years left to "fix" this problem. David a couple lab techs and an old friend (Jeff) discover the truth...we have less than 4 hours before...ABSOLUTE ZERO!!! Because, science is never wrong.

Here we get to the disaster part of the movie...the epic snowstorm that's going to start freezing part of the Earth. What I find amazing: this storm freezes the oceanfront almost instantly...yet just a mile or so away where our heroes's still bright and sunny.

At this point, the laugh out loud death of the week (TM) happens when Jeff (the old friend of David) is trying to escape with his daughter, and gets hit by a spinning palm tree. Through the front windshield of his car. While Sophie (the daughter) makes it to safety, Jeff is apparantly pinned down by a couple leaves, and then is victimized by another snow spike. Amazing how these things only hit the people in vehicles.

Now, with less than 3 hours left, I'm not doing it again, ok I will ABSOLUTE ZERO!!! they decide that David's lab is the safest place to be...apparently his lab can withstand absolute zero temperatures. Only his lab...of course. The entire world is turning into a Popsicle , and his lab is safe from all harm. Even his windows to the outside world will be fine...because science is never wrong?

What follows is a whole bunch of what I like to call "Adventure for adventure's sake." There's lots of running around, and jumping down elevator shafts, and going out into the freezing cold...for not much reason at all. All this action does is raise the body count, and adds a little tension to an otherwise dull film.

Finally, we get to absolute zero time, and well, it kind of happens...and then it ends and the Earth is different, but ok. And that's pretty much it. There were a couple attempts at adding some romance, and extra emotion, but really it just lies there. It's just an attempt at dressing up a pretty lousy story.

Mediocre at best story, mediocre acting (with the noticable exception of Jeff Fahey's horrible overacting), bad CGI, and just some very shady science...despite it never being wrong leads this movie to get a D. Too bad, because I really liked the idea of this movie, but was sorely disappointed at its execution.

From extreme cold, to extreme time Solar Crisis. Charleton Heston and Jack Palance in the same can practically feel the testosterone dripping off this disc.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Aftermath: Population Zero (2008)

This was a National Geographic Channel special I learned about about 5 minutes ago, it's starting right now. So forgive the rushed nature of this post. Witness: a live review!

To start with, the concept of the show is: what would happen if all the people in the world vanished instantly. They don't say how everyone vanishes, although I suspect that would make some difference. They just disappear. Kind of like Rapture, without them actually saying it...and without the Blondie song. And oh yeah, the date we all go poof? Friday June 13. Could you turn down the hack chiche just a bit?

The show takes a "this is what happens x minutes after humans" approach. It's very fast paced so far...less than 8 minutes in, and we're already 6 hours after humans. Things of note so far. All the cars crash (that was a fun scene), all the planes crash (copped out on anything interesting there), and all the power is out around the world. Ok, there goes one plane...good enough. Now they're talking about all the toxic materials we've been using to supply power, and how that is now polluting the atmosphere...heck, even dead us humans can't catch a break for ruining the planet. Great, now chlorine gas is killing the cows...and then everything starts exploding because there are no checks to keep pressure from building up in the plants.

After the first break: we are now 3 days A.H. (After Humans)...and Big Ben rings for the last time. Now, the cats and dogs are getting restless...mass hysteria! This section largely talks about animals without humans, everything from housecats to animals in zoos. I question how likely zoo animals are going to be able to break free of their cages, but makes for good tiger vs. babboon battling around a playground scenes. Largely they talk about how dogs are able to revert back to a more ferocious mind state easily, but zoo lions will probably shy away from even the most tame house pet. And how animals that naturally live free (like camels and free range cattle) will probably adapt easily. To summarize: camels will be ok, poodles are screwed. As the second commercial looms...the worldwide nuclear meltdown is again teased.

And we're back, 10 days A.H. And we're also back to the nuclear meltdown...and boy howdy was it worth the wait. Fire, peeling steel, nice explosion...even shaky cam! So as we have the worldwide nuclear disaster... we find that basically most animals end up... ok? Seriously, they mention how half the mice will die that live in the wild, but the big animals will generally be ok because they'll move out of the radioactive area. Ummm...I get the feeling they are severely underestimating what this kind of global meltdown would actually release into the atmosphere, and its effects. The biggest thing they mention is how animals will move into the city and eat our leftover food. And then 3 months later...the radiation dissipates and the sky clears up. I'm no scientist (well, actually I do know my way around a periodic table), but I really doubt that most places in the world will be relatively ok in 3 months.

Ok, now they're talking about the first winter post human...and they are actually trying to make us care about the plight of the cockroach! And how they'll die off because there's no heat up north. Boo fraking hoo. Oh woe is the cockroach. Give me a break. Ah, here we 11 months A.H. we really get into the "look how bad we've polluted the atmosphere" section. We've screwed up the planet for 10,000 years...and now Mother Earth is taking it back! At this point, the time line really speeds up (going from 11 months A.H. to 15 years A.H. in seconds), talking about all the new plants and how they are undoing the greenhouse effect. This special is basically shaping up to be an Inconvenient Truth with more explosions. But lest ye be fooled, humans screw up of the earth ain't done yet. Next up: death from above.

Now, about 30 years after we get removed from Earth, all the satellites come crashing down to Earth. Not much really goes on in this section, other than talking about how houses start crumbling, and trees grow in their place. And how hurricanes wipe out the rotting homes, because global warming doesn't slow down...even 30 years later! So hurricanes are still insanely more powerful than they should be. The script gets noticeably more aggressive. Really talking about how it took 10,000 years for us to "impose our will on the planet" and how the planet is now taking itself back.

As hour two starts we're still 30 years A.H., they are showing how the cities are slowly getting engulfed by plants, and trees, and nature. Here comes the next obvious money shot of the special...the metal clips, and caulking used in large buildings is degrading...causing the world's skyscrapers to begin to weaken. There's a lovely CSI moment where they talk about carbon dioxide and moisture helps weaken rebar, making buildings get even weakerin a scant 100 years after THE EVENT the eventual collapse of all the major buildings really begins in earnest. After the breakneck speed they went through the beginning of this show. The buildup to the first major building collapse CGI event was painfully tedious and descriptive...only for the actual collapse to be underwhelming. The best is yet to come, they tease a whole lot of major monumental collapses before the next break. And for a disaster movie fan, it's all about the number of landmarks that go down on screen.

But we digress (I guess), and go back to how wolves, and the few dogs that weren't spayed and neutered) breed to make the world's next great predator, just 150 or so years after we're gone (honestly, I'm not watching the timeline too closely at this point because it's just changing so fast), they rule the wild. Side note: They sure do love to jump around...they go from attack wolves, to London turning into a swamp, to the desert getting hotter (thereby making the crops planted there now die away) all in about 85 seconds. I gotta say though, the scene of Las Vegas as a desolate desert town was pretty eerie, I would have liked more of that. The focus then careens to the Colorado River, and how it has been held back by the evil human scum...but now it's time for it to break free once again. But first, a commercial (which probably means we aren't going to see the river again for a while).

Wow, I'm wrong, they go right back to the Colorado River, and a lovely scene with good info about about the Hoover Dam. They intimate an issue with the Hoover Dam, but it's another dam...which has another problem from the nearby mountains blah blah blah. Finally, this second dam breaks! Sending 600 billion cubic feet of water right at the Hoover Dam, and...we get a bit of a CGI tidal wave...followed by some stock footage of random raging water, and how lush marshland reclaims our dirty dirty world. This is such a letdown...they spend 20 minutes hyping the destruction of the Hoover Dam, and we get stock footage of salmon spawning. But we're bored with that: Paris is a marshland, California is a desert, Manhattan is a jungle and BAM! Look at the ocean and how lush it is. The Transformers movie was less schizophrenic, and made more sense. Of course, not even the ocean several hundred years later is safe from our wrath...because we made whales go deaf! So now humpback whales are going insane, and their breeding like rabbits! I'm not even kidding folks.

20 minutes left...this looks like the last teaser: Which of our remaining monuments is going to collapse first? Here's the big money shot section...I hope.

230 years A.H. our footprint is almost gone...except for the most recognizable monuments...of course. Amazing how none of these monuments falls until virtually the exact same day.

First up? The Eiffel Tower. To be fair, they do give a nice little history lesson about the construction of the tower. Just like with the office tower scene earlier, they go into microscopic detail as to why the tower weakens. Finally, the top half of the tower slowly and violently crashes to the ground. A little bit about how the animals adapt to the changing land. Now, onto the State of Liberty. The Statue has lost an arm in the 230 years since we left, but the rest of her looks pretty good. But the iron inside is weakening, and lo, there goes the head. Just like in every disaster movie set in New York we've ever seen. Sigh. It looks like we're wrapping things up, talking about how some small vestiges of humans will still be around, but most of what we've build will be buried under fresh soil.

Whoops, that was not the last break. One more section: How will the world look 1000 years after humanity ceases to be?

The base of that Eiffel Tower is one tough mother...SHUT YOUR MOUTH I'm just talking about the Eiffel Tower! Amazingly it's still kicking! 25000 years after us, we are plunged into an Ice Age as...somehow... Earth gets knocked into a more distant orbit (don't explain anything! Just say it, and they'll buy it!). And almost all remnants of the human race are erased. EXCEPT for the stuff we left on the moon! So...note to future visitors from other galaxies. If you're on the Earth, looking for proof of life: You're doing it wrong! Go to the Moon! I don't even understand the point at this's all just random "facts" being thrown at the screen.

So, it's over...and I'm fairly disappointed. I was kind of expecting a little more chaos and craziness. But instead we get "the world will bounce back...we just need to leave." I think the nuclear fallout impact was far underestimated, the effect of global warming somewhat overrated, and I generally found the whole exercise rather pointless. Like I said earlier, this was teased as a disaster movie Armageddon-style film; instead we get An Inconvenient Truth with more CGI. A mostly forgettable special. A firm D.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Boardgame: The Downfall of Pompeii (2004)

Taking a short break from the disaster movies (truth be told, a huge glut of non-disaster movies I enjoy have come out on DVD recently, and I've been spending some time with them). I wanted to share a quick review of a disaster boardgame. The Downfall of Pompeii is a game, originally released in Germany in 2004, that allows players the chance to populate the city of Pompeii...and then try to escape the city when Mt. Vesuvius blows it's top.

Opening the box, you get a smallish, but well illustrated board. The volcano is a really nice plastic cone that rolls up, and fits into a space in the corner of the board. The cards are nothing special, but functional. The tiles of lava are very sturdy, and thick and will last quite a long time. My only quibble with the components are the villagers. They are abstractly represented by little barrels. I realize some folks may have issues with actually sacrificing mini-people (known in the boardgaming world as meeples) to a volcano, but I honestly feel like small people would enhance this game quite a bit.

The game is broken into two main sections. The first part of the game, the players have cards, and they are trying to get as many of their people into the city as they can. At first, it's a slow process, but after a couple rounds, it is possible to bring several people into play at a time. The volcano warns those in the city that trouble is coming, but they ignore the warning signs. Even when, on occasion, one of their loved ones is taken away because of an "Omen" card. So, the first part of the game is pretty easy, play cards and populate the city. In the deck are two volcano cards, once the second card hits...then the fun truly begins.

Once the second volcano card comes up, the volcano erupts. The rest of the game is a race for survival. On your turn, you first place a tile of lava onto the board...hopefully right on top of one (or more) of your opponents hapless souls. Then you get to move two of your own villagers, and try to escape from the city. The rules for this section are slightly more involved than the card section of the game, but for most people they should not be too hard to grasp. If, more properly...when, your villagers "encounter" lava, they are tossed into the volcano. There is something very satisfying about tossing an opponent's villager into the volcano...just don't be surprised the next time around when you see one of yours go in. Once either all the villagers are out of the city, or all the exits are blocked by lava; the game ends and whoever gets the most people out is declared the winner.

There is a little more in depth than that, but not a whole lot. I find this a great game to introduce non-boardgamers to one of my other hobbies. On average, the game takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to play, and the rules are easily grasped I feel by anyone 10 and up, so it is actually a good family game...if your family is the kind that finds glee in throwing people into a volcano. The biggest flaw I can find with the game is that it only plays up to 4 people. Maybe it is a sweet spot for the game, but I think a larger board, and up to 6 people could absolutely be a riot.

The Downfall of Pompeii is probably one of my top 5 favorite boardgames I have played in the past couple years. It has fast gameplay, a lot of "take that" (which is rather rare in most of the European-style games I enjoy), and is just a lot of fun to play. This game gets a very solid A from me this time. If you'd like more information, please check this link to BoardGameGeek.

Next time, I don't have a plan yet. I think I'm going to bring a list of disaster movies I own to my co-workers, and let popular vote decide what movie I'm going to review. I am crazy like that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Aftershock: Earthquake in New York (1999)

After being dormant for the 80s, and most of the 90s... the disaster movie genre came back with a vengeance. Yet, it came back in a slightly different format as before. Instead of big screen spectacles, the disaster movie returned as 2-night made-for-TV specials. This change in format brings about certain issues. 1) The movie has to be a lot longer (to fill a 4 hour time slot over 2 nights, this movie is almost 2 hours 50 minutes long). 2) There are going to be commercial breaks, not to mention the long break when the movie has to stop for the night, to be started again either the next night, or (worse yet) the next week. 3) The TV movie budget does not equal a major theatrical movie's budget. Aftershock brings an interesting premise to the table "What if New York City gets hit with the big one?" Sadly, the limitations of the made-for-TV format seem to keep this movie from rising to true disaster movie glory.

Take it step by step for does the movie being 3 hours long hurt it?

Quite simply, there's so much time to tell stories, they can't decide whose stories to focus on. So, they tell us everybody's story. Not literally, but there are at least EIGHT fully developed subplots in this movie. You have *AHEM* the mayor and his fight with the fire chief, the mayor and the fight with his trying to become independent daughter, the fire chief and the fight with his daughter and the broken marriage, the mayor's daughter and the sorta creepy defendant, the mayor's mother and the "semi-thug" in the church, the young unorganized independant woman who comes from money but wants to be a dancer even after her house blows up (nice scene, utterly ignored after it happens), the lost Russian taxi driver, AND FINALLY the random family from California who just moved to New York with the over-protective mother who blames herself for crippling her son while the father is always away on business trips so the marriage seems to be falling apart but not really. I think that about covers it.

When the city starts shaking nearly 40 minutes into the movie, you almost hope a few of those people bite it so the movie starts to congeal...sadly, it doesn't happen. So after the 8 minute long earthquake. You heard me. 8 minutes. You still have all the subplots (and they all stay very separate), plus everything the quake is going to add in to deal with. I was hoping the stories would somehow weave together (like everyone ended up in the same spot), and at times it appeared that might be happening, but it does not. So you still have to keep those eight stories straight.

So, how's the quake?

Lame. Really lame. Here's where the budget really hurts the movie. For one thing, I don't know much about architecture in New York, but I'm going to guess that the Guggenheim Museum and City Hall (at least I think it's City Hall) are both built well enough to handle the shaking that goes on, despite the fact they both fall within seconds of the start of the quake. A majority of the quake time is spent following our dancer (played by Jennifer Garner), and the Russian taxi driver (played by a guy who may have seen Russia on a map once if his accent is any indication). Sadly, the footage just isn't interesting, because it's all shaky cams and people falling over each other randomly. What's supposed to be the big money shot in this montage is the scene of the Statue of Liberty falling over. Yet, this scene lacks something, and it ends up not making much of a mark.

It literally seems every building in New York except the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the World Trade Center towers (remember kids, pre-9/11 movie here) are either completely leveled, or damaged beyond repair.

This scene does give 4 solid laughs. 1) Jennifer Garner, in the cab...being tossed around like a rag doll yells out "What's happening?" Ummmm...the ground is shaking, and everything is falling around you, could it be the St. Patrick's Day parade? Well, maybe. 2) A rock misses two people by at least 3 feet, yet both people are thrown through a plate glass window. 3) Someone is apparently killed by a 5-gallon bottle of water that falls near them. 4) A policeman drives a car straight into a building after the shaking stops.

What happens next?

Two hours of the most predictable storytelling you could ever imagine. The only subplot that remains interesting is the mayor's daughter rides the quake out in the subway with the creepy defendant guy (who has invited her to a celebratory lunch). When the subway derails, about 7 survivors make a small party who try and find their way out. This again, comes straight from the disaster movie play book, but is way more interesting than anything happening on the surface. Sadly, even as this story progresses, you can tell five miles away where it is going. If I were going to, say, re-cut this as a 90 minute movie...this is the story I would focus on, as it definitely has the most potential for drama. Heck, even the aftershocks don't really add a whole lot of drama, and they are what the movie was named after!

I do have to make mention of one really sore spot that stuck out to me. After a while of watching the New York infrastructure (such as it it at this time just after the quake) struggling to pull things together. Out of nowhere a FEMA truck shows up, and the FEMA workers come out of their vehicles and strike dramatic poses, set to dramatic music. You even see shots of New York cops looking up to these FEMA workers as knights in shining armor. Almost like superheroes there to save the day. I honestly expected to see the ground start to heal itself. Maybe I'm looking at the film too much with post-Katrina glasses on, but this depiction was almost comical.

Sounds like it's not really worth the effort.

Really, it isn't. The cast is good for a TV have Tom Skerritt (who seemingly becomes a fixture in these movies), Sharon Lawrence during the height of NYPD Blue, Jennifer Garner before Alias, Charles S. Dutton as the mayor, and Cicely Tyson as his mother. It's a pretty solid main cast that just doesn't have much to do but look frustrated / sad / lost for 3 hours. There's just not enough action for a disaster movie to keep you interested. The story is a cluttered pack of cliches that ends up tied in a nice little package. A very disappointing movie. I give it a D overall.

Next time, I'm going to step away from the movies a bit, and look at a board game I think people who like disaster movies would enjoy. The Downfall of Pompeii by Mayfair Games is about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. It's going to be a lot of fun.

Just to finish off this review with something a little different:

The top 3 dumbest things said in Aftershock: Earthquake in New York

3. "What's happening?" - Diane Agostini (Jennifer Garner) when the quake starts
2. "Maybe it was a nuclear attack!" - random person on the Subway. Don't you think if it were a nuke...yeah, I thought so.
1. "In Russia we have many crisis like this, only different." - Nicholai Karvovsky (Fred Weller) to Diane in the of the most mind-numbing lines of dialogue I have ever heard in a movie. Said with one of the worst Russian accents I have ever heard.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

The hype for this movie has been building steadily ever since the cryptic trailer premiered in front of The Transformers last summer. First all there was was the name J.J. Abrams, the guy behind the hit TV show Lost, and the date 1-18-08. Then some cryptic websites popped up, begging people to find answers... but not really giving any. Then in the past few weeks, a new trailer with a second or two of a monster leg just heaped buzz on top of the pile that had already formed. So today, the question is finally answered... was Cloverfield worth the build up?

Woah, woah, woah Nelly...set it up for us a bit...

Ok, as the movie starts, we see a bunch of weird Government Department of Defense screens, when some intro text flashes on the screen that the video we're about to see was found in the area that "used" to be known as Central Park. Wow. Ok, talk about setup. We know by just seeing the trailer that part of the Big Apple gets blowed up real good...but the area that USED TO BE CENTRAL PARK???? This movie now has my full, and undivided attention.

For the next hour and a half, every second of video we see is taken from the video found inside a home video camera. So we start out seeing people out shopping, getting ready for a going away party. Interspersed are some bits of the underlying video they are unwittingly recording over. This video shows a couple of people out on a couple dates from a couple months prior to the current night. Nothing that really seems too important to the story at this point (but rather poignant later), mostly just some background on the people we are obviously going to be following. Soon we are at the party itself, and the cameraman is going around getting going away messages from other party goers and other such merrymaking. Again, we're just getting to understand some personal dynamics between certain members of the party when the house began to twitch. The city began to pitch. Yes, what is believed to be an earthquake hits the City, and an oil tanker capsizes near the Statue of Liberty. So they decide to go up on the roof to try and get a look at what's going on.

That's when the fun really starts.

So, we get it's a monster movie...why is this one different than the rest?

Well, on the surface, it really isn't. The big monster comes in, destroys a lot of buildings, kills a lot of people, and the government comes in to fight the monster. But to dig a little bit deeper, you start to see subtle differences. First off is the way the movie is shot. The easiest way to explain it is the monster movie version of The Blair Witch Project. The next thing I noticed is how quickly the military is mobilized to take on the monster. I'll get back to why this really stuck out to me in a bit. I think the third thing that really struck me was just how powerful this monster was. Now, I've seen some Godzilla movies, I know they can mess up a city fairly quickly...but this one destroys all of lower Manhattan, and gets near Midtown within SECONDS of its move onto land. Not to mention how the Statue of Liberty's head gets used as a bowling ball. That's a level of destruction I have never seen before, and that's not even talking about the Alien / facehugger / velociraptor parasites this bad boy seems to carry around for fun. This is one bad mofo.

You said something about questions...what kinds of questions?

If you don't want anything spoiled, you may want to skip this bit...

Because of the perspective the movie is shot from, there are far more questions than answers in this movie. This may leave a bad taste in some people's mouth. Some of the questions that ran through my mind while watching the movie, and thinking about it soon afterwards:

Where did this monster come from?
Are there more?
Did they actually kill the thing?
Does any part of New York still exist?
Since when did stores carry cell phone batteries that were already charged?
Where the heck did they find a video camera battery that lasts that long?
It's pretty obvious that the government knew about this being before the attack...why didn't they do something about it?

Final thoughts

As a disaster movie, I would have enjoyed seeing more of the destruction, but I understand fully why it wasn't shown. You still get to see plenty of building explode, lots of crumbling walls... the Empire State Building coming down like a cheap tent during a stiff breeze was alarmingly subtle, but effective at showing the raw power of this beast, and you do get to see up close and personal just how fierce it is. As a monster movie, I believe this has to be one of the most ferocious and strongest monsters I have ever seen. I mean, this thing takes a stealth bomber strafing to the back, and it barely phases the thing...that's STRONG. I really wish we were able to learn more about this thing.

One thing I want to mention, is how well humor is used to break up the action. There is a scene that takes place in the subway, and the personalities of the characters really come out and there are some genuinely big laughs. Maybe it's just out of how unexpected it is for someone to crack a joke while trying to escape a monster that can take down the Brooklyn Bridge with one swipe, but for whatever reason, they had our audience laughing HARD for a good five-minute chunk of the film. That was a nice way to mix things up to make the audience lower their guard for just a few minutes before things get rolling again.

So there's Cloverfield. It didn't quite meet the hype I had built up, but I was not disappointed by the film, in fact I rather enjoyed it. I could definitely see two more movies coming out of this project. A prequel that explains the origins of the monster, and a sequel that gives closure to the whole insane experience. Because, let's face it, even though our story got closure...there's a whole lot more that happened once the camera shut off. I kind of hope those movies don't get made, because I think they may cheapen this experience. Of course, if they do make those movies...I will be there because I am so very intrigued by this monster right now. This movie gets a very solid B.

Next time, I don't have a planned movie to review. I'm thinking about digging into my stack of DVDs of made for TV disaster movies from the mid 1990s. Also, upcoming in a few weeks, we're going to take our first step outside the world of disaster movies, and into a disaster board game. Should be fun.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sunshine (2007)

Sometimes a movie comes along that just hits a sweet spot. Director Danny Boyle's (28 Days Later, Trainspotting) Sunshine was one of those movies for me. With it's recent DVD release, it is my hope that more people will take a chance on what I feel was one of the most underrated films of 2007. Because I want people to see this movie, I'm going to try and keep spoilers and in-depth descriptions to a minimum, but I will say that even while trying to be vague... spoilers will probably abound.

But isn't this a disaster movie blog? Where's the disaster and chaos and carnage?

The most valid argument against reviewing this movie here. It's true that Sunshine does not meet the criteria I set up just a few weeks ago when I decided to start writing these reviews, but I still believe it's worth discussing. For one thing, the story only exists because of an ongoing disaster which, if not dealt with, will end up with the Earth plunging into eternal darkness...and surely the imminent extinction of all life. Of course, you never see the Earth until the last minute of the film, but again if this disaster wasn't occurring, this adventure would not need to take place.

OK, we'll play along, so what's the disaster?

Basically, in the near future, the sun (a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees) is dying. It is turning into an inert material, and therefore is not producing much light / heat for the Earth. About 7 years prior to our entry into the story, a group of seven astronauts were sent to the sun with a giant nuclear warhead (disaster movie cliche #1) to attempt to reignite the sun. As far as anyone knew, they were not successful, so a new crew was sent out with all the remaining radioactive materials on Earth collected in a bomb that weighs as much as Manhattan Island. They are truly Earth's last hope.

So what's so special?

The main reason this movie has stuck with me so deeply is that it is one of the most visually stunning movies I have seen in a long time. There is one scene in particular fairly early in the movie where the special effects and the story and the AMAZING musical score combined to not only send chills down my spine...but took my breath away for a few seconds. It was easily the most amazing scene I have ever experienced in a movie theater. How's that for some hyperbole? The first 3/4 of the movie is a lovely piece of old-school science fiction; at times even feeling a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey. While there is action...there is a slow and deliberate pacing to a lot of the action scenes which really helps draw out the emotional content of the scenes.

And now... M. Night Shyamalan

Not literally, but it is impossible to discuss this movie without bringing up the twist about 20 minutes before the end of the movie. This twist has violently divided people who have seen the movie. Because, you see... how do I do this gently, a new "human" character joine the Icarus II's crew. Up to this point, every bit of conflict has been between the crew, or some crisis on the ship. But there is a larger debate that our new "friend" brings up. Should we be meddling with God's work? Maybe it's just His way of saying "Ok, you humans were a good experiment, but really, I'm done with you."

It's a fascinating question, and one I'd like to have spent some time exploring. Sadly, we don't get that exploration time, we have to settle for a shift in tone for the entire movie from sci-fi to horror. Because this new character we meet, believes that we shouldn't be trying to stop the inevitable, and he takes it upon himself to make sure the mission fails...violently. Having said that, I absolutely love the way the character is presented visually. You can tell he's severely burned, but you never get a good look at him. He's blurred out, shot from weird angles, even white noise is used to completely unnerve the is quite an interesting series of scenes. I for one find that the ending, while flawed, still works. I wish I could see the movie continue with the original tone...and see how the story would have unfolded that way.

All we are is dust in the (solar) wind

Sunshine was my third favorite movie I saw in a theater in 2007. I liked it that much. It's not perfect, but wow, what an experience it was. I was deeply saddened to see how this movie got buried. It never got any publicity, it never got a big theatrical release, and even its single DVD release with a few extras, but not a ton, got buried until after the holiday season. So I felt it was important to bring Sunshine some more well-deserved attention.

As another plug for a movie that got no love that needs to be seen by more people: Shoot 'Em Up, Shoot 'Em Up MY GOD SHOOT 'EM UP. Thank you.

Well, as I post this, it is just after 1:00 AM on 1-18-08. Which means one thing. In about 9 hours, I'm going to try and get into a showing of Cloverfield. And while it doesn't meet my usual criteria again (I don't think monster movies are true disaster movies)... the way the Statue of Liberty's head gets used as a bowling ball has got all my disaster-sense tingling. So look for my thoughts on Cloverfield here very soon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Poseidon (2006)

So, for no visibly particular reason, 2006 brought us a big-budget, big-screen remake of the classic Poseidon Adventure. With an all-star cast (Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfus), and an all-star director (Wolfgang Petersen); the stars seemed to be aligned for a spectacle that could possibly outshine the 1972 classic. Sadly, a nearly non-existent script and poor character development sink this remake.

If I were to nail down what bothers me about this movie most; it is that I don't care if any of these people live or die. In the brief time we get to meet them before the boat flips over, we meet a bunch of people being snarky to each other, and a gay man whose mate had found another man. He may be the only character that gets developed enough to really form any kind of emotional attachment with. And even then, just before the wave hits, he's getting ready to end his own life... apparently seeing a huge wave coming at you changes your outlook on life.

So, with barely any character development before the disaster, surely the script will remedy that with lots of sharp banter, and detail the rest of the journey right? Yeah, not so much. There's a lot of yelling and screaming, but nothing truly memorable. In the original, there were several great exchanges between Reverend Scott and Mr. Rogo in particular. Here there are a couple of sappy moments between boyfriend and girlfriend, and between boyfriend and girlfriend's father, but overall there's just nothing going on dialog wise to give us any depth to the people we are following.

The most notable scene where some dialog would have helped is near the end. In the original, Rev. Scott has a rather heated exchange with God, it's a very memorable and bittersweet scene I talked about last time. Here? Our hero (Josh Lucas' character...despite seeing the movie several times, I still can't remember any one's name) yells "I can't do it", grunts a couple times, and then saves the day. Wow. Stirring.

Now on to the stuff I did like, and I did like quite a bit. First of all, this movie is pretty unrelenting pace wise. There is one fairly long break nearer the end of the movie that gives you some time to breathe. Other than that, there is always something exploding, or something important just about ready to go underwater.

Second, the ballast tank scene may be one of the most tense I have ever experienced. As everyone is sitting, silent, waiting and hoping for this valve to open. You think all hope is lost, when suddenly it opens and everyone is thrown into the next tank...just to do it all again. It's a really well done scene.

Third, there are many nice moments that touch on scenes from the original (whether they were intentional or not). Most of them were small things, like tossing a sheet over a dead body with a horrified look. Others were more blatant such as the scene where the precocious young kid holds onto a bolted down item to survive the flip (changed from a table to a piano, but it's basically the same), and then has to jump into a sheet to join the rest of the people.

Overall though, this movie just seemed to miss the mark. It's not all bad, but it just pales in comparison to the original. I would be remiss if I didn't mention one thing Poseidon has that the original doesn't: Kevin Dillon and the worst acting job in the history of cinema as Lucky Larry. This over the top portrayal of a boorish, drunken, womanizer stuck in a 1970s that I don't think actually existed is so comically's actually worth the effort to see. Literally, the character is so bad, that when he dies about 10 minutes later, you actually feel better for the rest of the movie that they don't have to try and fit his shtick in anymore.

I give Poseidon a C-. It just does not have the magic that the original had.

Is there even more Poseidon? Why yes there is!

While there is a sequel to the original Poseidon Adventure, and a made for TV version of the movie as well (and possibly even more movies I don't even know about yet!). I'm going to come back to look at those at a later date.

Next time I'm going to answer the question of "When is a disaster movie not a disaster movie?" by looking at the recent DVD release of one of my top 5 favorite movies of 2007: Sunshine. Because, even though it does not fit my (or many other) definition of a true disaster movie...the movie wouldn't exist if the Earth wasn't in danger. Then of course, 1-18-08 is Cloverfield day. And when a movie trailer starts with a scene of New York City going up in a big ball of fire...THAT has my full and complete attention.