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He Said, She Said: House On Haunted Hill

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on October 29, 1999*.

Here are some updated thoughts:  The tagline “Evil Loves to Party” should have been enough to warn us away from this piece of shit movie.  But it didn’t.  Horror movies really have become a joke in the past couple of decades.  Maybe it’s that many of us have become desensitized to things that would normally scare, terrify, or horrify us, so our view of the horror genre is strangely twisted.  Today if you want a good horror story just turn on the world news and you can get your fix.  People being slaughtered, murdered, tortured, beheaded, burned alive . . . anything.  Less to inform and more to fulfill society’s sick fantasies while being gladly delivered by main stream media behind the veil of false concern.  That mini-diatribe aside, this movie sucks.  Yes, that’s a blunt, but true, assessment.

And of course it somehow spawned a sequel, with the original title of . . . Return to House on Haunted Hill.  Yeah, that seems like a great idea.  Let’s go BACK to the haunted insane asylum!

 


 

He Said, She Said

Neal Says

I was in such a festive mood Amy.  I carried home a mini-pumpkin from work (the perks of working for a billion dollar company, woohoo!), it was a dark and rainy Friday night, and it was close to Halloween.  I really wanted to be scared!  But alas, today’s movie makers have lost all touch with all that is scary and creepy.  Blood isn’t scary, a body without a head isn’t scary, and loud noises aren’t scary.  All faux frights!  I knew this movie has a paper-thin plot going it, but thought maybe, just maybe, the creepy-crawlies could at least make it entertaining.  Well guess what?  This plot is the weakest I’ve seen this year, almost to the point of being laughable.  It is beyond paper-thin . . . it is on the molecular level!  Five people stuck in a haunted house during the night.  Those who survive split $5 million!  Weak.

The underlying murder plot between the Prices does nothing to save this lame duck.  The acting is campy at best, with the only good performance being put in by Saturday Night Live regular Chris Kattan who plays the part of comic relief.  There were a few things in the movie that did creep me out.  The blurry, shaking people kinda give me the willies . . . don’t know why, they just do. The rest of the movie was straight up dumb.  And what’s the deal with Geoffrey Rush?  He goes from winning an Academy Award for Shine, to making two pieces of crap like Mystery Men and House on Haunted Hill.  His career is going down the toilet and he’s leaving skidmarks the whole way!  Save this puppy for a rental . . . a cheap rental.
15stars

Amy Says

Wow . . . I didn’t think I could hate a movie much more than I hated Event Horizon after the whole “it’s pure Evil” thing, but I guess I can, and do!  I had a feeling that this movie was simply going to be special effects eye candy, but it wasn’t even that.  In fact, I was pissed off from the very beginning with the shaking camera and scratchy film of the opening credits.  I should have just fallen asleep then and there and at least gotten in a good nap.  At least Event Horizon started out good with an interesting story . . . it didn’t suck until near the end.  House on Haunted Hill on the other hand went far beyond sucking . . . with an ending that was so incredibly pathetic that the screenwriters need to host their own little party at the house on Haunted Hill to put me out of my misery.

So, why am I even giving this bomb one star instead of the zero it deserves?  Well, I did like a few things about it.  I agree with you that Chris Kattan’s character was entertaining (minus the cheesy ending . . . give me a break!).  I also liked the roller coaster scene in the beginning of the film — I dig roller coasters.  Finally, as much as you find this completely disgusting, Neal, I like Marilyn Manson’s remake of the Eurythmic’s Sweet Dreams.  You can take the girl out of the ’80s, but you can’t take the ’80’s out of the girl!  So, my advice to all you Movie Fans is to find the mp3 of Sweet Dreams, visit your favorite amusement park for a thrill ride, take a nap for a couple of hours, and miss this movie at all cost (including the “cheap rental”)!  Now, I need to go hide in the closet so I can freak Neal out with that whole shaking thing.
10stars

 

 

*Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

He Said, She Said was a movie blog (before blogs were a thing) where Amy and I would go to movies and write short and easily accessible compare & contrast reviews.  Sometimes we agreed . . . and sometimes not.  Above all we never took the movies, or ourselves, too seriously.

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Review: In the Ocean of Night by Gregory Benford

I remember first trying to read In the Ocean of Night back in 1978-ish when I was just a wee lad still wide eyed from being exposed to the amazing and ground breaking Star Wars movie.  The wellspring of science fiction was washing over me at the time, and I had to have more.  Note that I said I tried to read In the Ocean of Night, because it never happened.  I might have made it through the first part, but I’m certain I dropped it like a bad habit after that.  And now that I’ve finally read it as an adult I can see that my former self, and a kid who was just smitten by Star Wars, never had a chance in hell of ever finishing this confusing and jumbled book.

 

But now I’m more wise, patient, and in tune with the Force . . . like Yoda.  Time for another shot.  I’ve been intrigued with the premise of Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center Series and have collected all six books over the years.  Now, despite my better judgement, and having now finished the first book, I’m still determined to  plow ahead and make an attempt to read them all in the near future.  But, if it continues to go south I may abandon the effort in lieu of greener literary pastures, much like that wee lad did decades before.  Because even Yoda’s patience can be tried.

 

On paper the series premise sounds promising.  Sentient machines trawl the galaxy looking for organic life to exterminate.  Their current target:  the vermin known as humanity.  The makings of an epic, galaxy spanning struggle, right?  You’d never know it from reading the first novel!  Just like the series premise, In the Ocean of Night starts out promising, but it’s “fix-up” structure quickly begins to crack through the interesting facade.  What starts as a mysterious and potentially threatening first contact scenario quickly turns into a political/neo-religious treadmill strewn with the land mines of inconsistent and broken science.

 

Nigel Walmsley is a NASA astronaut sent out to intercept and destroy an approaching asteroid on a collision course with Earth.  While placing the nuclear device on the surface of Icarus, as it’s named, Nigel investigates a deep crevasse as a location to place the bomb, theorizing that it will help break up the mass more efficiently.  Instead he finds strips of metal that are cearly artificial and alien made.  Further investigation reveals that the asteroid is hollow.  Since it’s hollow Nigel defies orders and spends a week exploring the interior knowing that he can wait longer to detonate the nuclear bomb since the mass of the asteroid is much less than originally thought.  Nigel inadvertently activates a beacon, which is eventually heard.

 

Who sent the empty Icarus to Earth?  Why did they send it to Earth?  Why is it empty?  Are they benevolent, extinct, made of green jello?  Will they come back?  All interesting questions, right?  That’s what I thought, then I continued reading and witnessed a story slowly drive off cliff into a boiling caldera of literary magma.

 

In the Ocean of Night by Gregory BenfordWe have entered an age of marvels and despair, technological wonders and social decay.  A day of lunar colonies, cybernetic miracles, fanatic cults, pollution deaths, famine.  A time of hardships — and visions.

Far beyond the shores of space there comes a mystery as vast  as the limitless sea of stars, as beckoning as the unending depths of space.

One man is about to touch that mystery.

In the Ocean of Night by Gregory Benford
Series:  Galactic Center #1
Genre:  Science Fiction

Awards:  None
Media:  Book, paperback, 448 pages
Cover Art:  Don Dixon
Year: 1977
2 out of 5 stars

 

For example, the main character, Nigel, has cybernetic implants in his brain that can allow an alien AI to take over his body.  Nigel lives in a world where the Moon has been colonized and cylinder cities reside at Lagrange points in space.  Yet, paradoxically and bizarrely, Benford places his character in a world that still uses pagers, fax machines, and typewriters.  He creates a world where secretaries obediently wheel carafes of coffee into board room, and neatly set out yellow legal pads and #2 pencils for everyone to take notes.  Which is what happened in the 1970s, NOT in the 21st century.  Eventually Benford just shoves the reader walks off that cliff and right into the boiling magma of terribleness when he links (you better sit down for this one) bigfoot to aliens who visited Earth in the past.  Yes, THAT bigfoot . . . sasquatch.  Benford even arms them with alien technology that spews deadly lasers.  Bigfoot . . . with “lasers.”  Cue Dr. Evil voice.

 

Benford takes Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods idea that aliens built pyramids and influenced early man by going one stupid step further and postulating that super intelligent aliens visited Earth in our past . . . and influenced bigfoot by giving them . . . lasers.  For what purpose?  I don’t care!  Tell me about the alien machines that are so interested in Earth.  Benford barely scratches that itch by introducing the “Snark,” which is a sentient ship that is in the galactic neighborhood and responds the the aforementioned beacon.  Nigel returns to space and has a brief conversation with the Snark before it figures out that humans, generally on the whole, are selfish, psychotic and want it destroyed.  It sends a signal home, so naturally whoever sent the Snark to cruise the galaxy knows about Earth.  Everything about In the Ocean of Night that doesn’t directly involve the investigation of Icarus or the Snark is just unnecessary, forgettable, and bad world building.  Perhaps it may come in to play later, but I just don’t see it being compelling enough to influence the future books.  I could be wrong.  Hopefully.

 

Here’s the main thing that shocked me about In the Ocean of Night.  This fix-up novel was nominated for a’77 Nebula and a ’78 Locus award for best novel.  I can’t fathom how this book could have been nominated.  It’s headache inducing just thinking about it.  Thankfully it lost to the deserving Gateway by Frederik Pohl.  Had I read this book knowing that it won . . . I might have lost my shit at the end, and would have certainly given it a 1 star rating just for spite.  But two star seems justified even thought this novel is a mess, structurally, thematically, and scientifically.  I’m hoping it’s a setup for better things to come.

 

I’m bound and determined to work my way through the Galactic Center Series despite this initial setback. I attribute the poor quality of this book to its fix-up nature (and possible drug use in the 70s) and hope the follow on books are much better, because the overall premise is of interest to me.

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Retro Review: Unbreakable

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on November 22nd, 2000*.

Here are some updated thoughts:  Wow, where to begin with this one.  First, the writing of the review is not prime time material.  I must have been in a hurry.  I cleaned it up a bit, but have no intention of re-writing all these retro reviews . . . they are what they are, a snapshot in time.  Second, at the time of this review M. Night Shyamalan was the new golden child of Hollywood.  The Sixth Sense blew away critics and fans with its revelatory and surprising ending.  Oh how times have changed.  Shyamalan’s career began to spiral out of control after Unbreakable.  Critics and fans became more and more judgmental of his storytelling and signature twist endings.  Myself, I became a bit tired of seeing his cameos.  He developed a narcissistic need to be seen in his own movies, and whenever he showed his face it completely threw me out of the story.  Shyamalan’s last critical and box office hit was 2002’s Signs.  And even then the critics were lukewarm on his alien invasion versus faith allegory.

I’ve liked all of his movies (to some degree or another) all the way through The Village.  His career really started coming off the rails with Lady in the Water, and was on life support by The Happening.  His golden child image is now tarnished to the point where critics and fans automatically label anything he does as inferior.  And apparently back in 2000 his name was associated with a new Indiana Jones script.  That would have been interesting to see . . . 

 


 

After last year’s success of The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan could have done any movie he wanted.  When a director creates a film that becomes that popular, they get a Hollywood wild card which permits them to more or less choose a project of their own.  I’m sure that Shyamalan could have had any kind of budget he wanted to make a huge blockbuster that was the total opposite of his smash hit.  Instead, he opted to create another small film that is more focused on mood and story than actual visuals.  And once again, the final product is a great mix of suspense and tone with a twist ending.

 

Unbreakable‘s beginning is concerned with two parallel story lines.  The first is about Elijah (a great performance by Samuel L. Jackson), a man who has a very rare disease.  Brittle bone disease.  His whole childhood was spent in and out of hospitals for broken bones or strange sicknesses.  His condition is so extreme that the neighborhood kids call him the “Glass Man.”  Instead of going out to play with other kids, Elijah found comfort in comic books.  And now, as an adult, Elijah spends his time collecting and selling classic comic books.

 

The second story line is about David Dunne (Bruce Willis in a performance that reminded me too much of the one he gave in The Sixth Sense), a man whose marriage is in limbo.  He is looking for new employment in New York.  Coming back from a job interview, he embarks a train.  His train derails and he’s the only survivor of the tragedy.  The amazing thing?  He doesn’t have a scratch on him.  This will have a huge impact on his life.  His wife (Robin Wright-Penn) will use this as an excuse to reconcile their marriage, but David has more complicated thoughts going through his head.

 

During the funeral service for everyone who died in the crash, David finds a note tucked under his car’s windshield wiper.  The note reads “How many days of your life have you been sick.”  The message comes from Elijah and it’s this very little note that will change David’s life forever.  This will make him think about his present life as well as his past.  Elijah wants to befriend David.  He thinks that they have a special connection.  He thinks that two men that could be at the far-ends of the life spectrum (one man being breakable, the other being unbreakable) makes them connected in some strange way.  What David doesn’t realize is that it is this very thing that connects them in more ways than one.

 

Giving away more of the plot would be spoiling a well written and a highly entertaining film.  Unbreakable is a lot like The Sixth Sense in that if you tell too much of the plot, you give the ending away.  What I can say is that the entire film revolves around the world of comic books.  In fact, the actual film itself looks a lot like a comic book.  That was deliberate.

 

Unbreakable PosterDavid Dunn (Bruce Willis) is an ordinary man who is soon confronted with an extraordinary concept when a train accident leaves 131 of his fellow passengers dead — and him unscathed.  Is he unbreakable?  The answer may lie with the mysterious Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who suffers from a disease that renders his bones as fragile as glass.  Unbreakable and breakable, two opposite sides of the spectrum.  Elijah approaches Dunn with a seemingly far fetched theory behind it all . . .

Unbreakable
Director:  M. Night Shyamalan
Starring:  Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright
Genre:  Science Fiction / Superhero
Media:  Film, 106 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Year: November 22, 2000
4 out of 5 stars

 

With this film, Shyamalan proves that he isn’t a mere one hit wonder.  I love the way he paces his films . . . he’s not afraid of giving great, long dialogue sequences.  He knows how to create compelling characters that feel real, and he knows how to shoot a movie.  Some of the scenes in this movie are just amazingly beautiful.  There’s one scene in particular, where Elijah has to walk down a long flight of stairs, that is so well shot and so suspenseful you find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat.  Shyamalan’s work reminds me a lot of the work of Alfred Hitchcock.  Like Hitchcock, Shyamalan’s films are story-driven and character driven.  They are greatly suspenseful and always enjoyable to watch.

 

In more ways then one, this film delivers. I loved Robin Wright-Penn’s character.  She was so well written that you found yourself caring for her immediately.  She is not the typical Hollywood wife.  Shyamalan knows how to create characters that look real and not like Hollywood creations.

 

But unlike is previous film, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable doesn’t rely on horror, but more on suspense.  This film was made to make you think.  It dwells with the age-old question about a humanity’s place on Earth.  It deals with the questions “Why were we put on this earth?  For what reason?  Do we have a purpose in life?” and so on.  This film has many different layered levels, and that’s what I found so wonderful about it.  The script is so precise that you never lose interest even if the film deals with very important questions.

 

The only problem with this film is its ending.  Like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable has a twist ending . . . a Shyamalan trademark.  And that twist in itself is great.  What throws some of the film’s credibility away is what comes right at the end of the film.  It’s as if Shyamalan didn’t know how to end it all.  Instead of giving us a satisfying finale, he displays a few lines on the screen to tell us what happened to the characters once the story is over.  This is not only cheesy, it goes against everything the film had fought to create.  But still, this little detail aside, Unbreakable is a very original work of suspense.  It is a well crafted and well layered story that will have an impact on its viewers. And that’s more than most Hollywood films are able to achieve.

 

A few things bothered me while watching Unbreakable.  First of all, the kid that plays Willis’s son looked too much like Haley Joel Osment for my taste.  And Willis’ performance is too similar to the one he gave in The Sixth Sense.  Besides its betraying ending, Unbreakable is an interesting look at human nature . . . and whether there are superheroes among us.  I highly recommended seeing this film.  It not only makes you think, it entertains and rarely disappoints.  Shyamalan is a very gifted filmmaker.  And I do hope that his new Indiana Jones script will revive the dead series.

 

 

*Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

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SciFi Concept Short: SUNDAYS

SUNDAYS is an ambitious philosophical science-fiction proof-of-concept short.  The end of the world seems like a nightmare to Ben. A memory of a past life that doesn’t belong to him. When Ben starts to remember Isabelle, the only love he’s ever known, he realizes she’s missing in his life. An existential descent into confusion and the desperate need to find out the truth begins. This reality depicts a stunning, surprising and dark world. A world that is clearly not his.

 

As a proof of concept, the short SUNDAYS represents not only a first step in realizing the feature film ambitions for this future-facing script but also sets PostPanic Pictures firmly on the map as a new brand of filmmakers to watch. Their determination to create not only evocative and beautifully crafted stories but produce them realistically using PostPanic’s pioneering business approach, is injecting new energy into Hollywood at a time when the film industry has begun looking for new methods of financing and producing.

 

By producing directly themselves both the live action and post production elements of SUNDAYS, PostPanic Pictures have shown that ambitious visual films can be made on much smaller and more efficient production budgets. In addition, the reduced financial risk allows PostPanic Pictures to not only closely guard the creative integrity of projects such as SUNDAYS but also ensure scripts remain closer to their original vision. Could this therefore mean the return of more intelligent, thoughtful (sci-fi) films which don’t always end up with a Hollywood shoot-out at the end? And could this open the door for more directors to shine in Hollywood? PostPanic Pictures certainly believe so.

 

More information:  http://sundaysmovie.com

 

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Retro Review: Titan A.E.

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on June 16th, 2000*.

Here are some updated thoughts:  I remember Titan A.E. fondly.  It’s still one of my favorite animated scifi movies.  It’s just so fun and escapist.  Despite the abysmal summer it had back in 2000, and the stigma associated with it supposedly causing the demise of Fox’s Animation Studio, it has gone on to have a comfortable cult following within science fiction fandom, as well as a healthy bit of respect.  The interesting thing about Titan A.E. is that it was co-written by Joss Whedon . . . a god among certain nerds for Buffy, Firefly, and now The Avengers.  You’d think that alone would be enough to bring this classic animated film back from the grave.

But alas, it’s not enough to overcome the apathy people feel for this escapist romp.  I wrote a review of the DVD back in 2000 as well.  It has some of the best video and audio for its time (obviously far surpassed by Blu-ray technology of today).  I popped the DVD into my Blu-ray player last week and was shocked to see how good it still looks on a 50+ inch HDTV.  And sadly this is the only format you can buy.  Titan A.E. doesn’t even get any respect from Blu-ray technology.

 


 

In a world . . . full of stale, limp Disney offerings featuring various fuzzy animals that can dance, sing, and carry out feats greater than any superhero, I fully admire Don Bluth making a movie like Titan A.E..  To me it is the savior of the animated science fiction genre that has been beaten and trampled, like a dog that has just wizzed on the carpet, by Hollywood suits who wouldn’t know a fun movie if it burst out of their chests like a scene from Alien!  I can already say that Titan A.E. will end up being one of the most entertaining and exciting films this year.

 

Titan A.E. harkens back to the more adventurous days of science fiction . . . comparable only to Star Wars in it’s shear fun, fast paced approach to storytelling.  In that respect Titan A.E. should actually be considered a space opera, but I’m not going to go into that for various reasons (most of which are bad).  Suffice it to say that this movie doesn’t rely on technobabble drivel, or peaceful resolutions, or getting all the science right.  Instead it relies on cool spaceships, loud explosions, badass aliens, laser guns, love, deceit, the destruction and creation of entire planets, and a melding of traditional 2D cel animation with 3D CGI!  What could be more cool about that?!  Don’t answer that.

 

Cale (voiced by Matt Damon) is a human who finds himself without a father very early in the story.  Later we find that he is a drifter in a galaxy full of aliens who don’t care too much for the last remnants of the dwindling, pesky, and annoying human race.  But there’s more to Cale than he thinks.  Hidden in his hand is a map that will guide him (and a new love, and a new found father figure, and some other aliens) on a search for his lost father’s ship . . . the Titan.  The ship holds the key to the hope of a quickly shrinking human population that is spread out among the stars.

 

In his search, Cale is joined by Korso (voiced by Bill Pullman) an old captain who was once a friend of Cale’s father, and Akima (voiced by Drew Barrymore), who is also a young rebel.  Akima is, of course, the love interest of the film.  But the romance between Akima and Cale is surprisingly well handled.  The romance never distracts us from the plot.  Instead, it adds a little something more to the plot.  Cale, Akima and Korso leave on a mission to find the Titan before the evil Drej find it first and destroy it.  In their mission, they are joined by several comic relief characters (voiced by talented artists like Janeane Garofalo, Nathan Lane, John Leguizamo, and . . . Tone Loc!?).  From this point on, their quest is a race for time.

 

Titan A.E. PosterA reluctant young hero holds the key to the future of mankind in the palm of his hand.  In the year 3028 the Drej, a vicious alien race, have destroyed Earth.

Fifteen years later a young man named Cale learns he possesses a genetically encoded map to the Titan, a spaceship that holds the secret to the salvation of the human race.  With the Drej in hot pursuit, Cale blasts off with the new crew of the Valkyrie in an attempt to find the Titan before the Drej destroy it . . . and with it mankind’s last chance for a home of their own.

Titan A.E.
Director:  Don Bluth & Gary Goldman
Starring:  Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman
Genre:  Science Fiction / Animated
Media:  Film, 94 minutes
Rating: PG
Year: June 16, 2000
4.5 out of 5 stars

 

Pursuing them are the Drej.  This is one of the coolest alien baddies I’ve seen in movies.  The Drej adhere to Einstein’s mass/energy equivalency equation in that they can change between states of energy and matter.  Need a Drej army?  Poof!  They materialize in formation.  Need a ship?  Bam!  No longer need that army?  Bzzzzzt!  They fade back into the floor and the collective absorbs the energy.  Yes, it’s scientifically possible.  Star Trek has been using this same idea for decades, but in a much more boring way (replicating tea, Earl Grey, hot).  Hell no it’s not scientifically plausible (yet)!  But that’s the beauty of science fiction:  extrapolating the scientifically possible and making it entertaining fiction.  It’s damn cool, and remember kids, this is supposed to be fun.  Good!  Oh, and watch for the amazing cat and mouse chase scenes within the ice ring towards the end.  It’s reminiscent of the nebula chase from Wrath of Khan, but actually a bit cooler.   Watch it on the big screen with booming surround sound shacking your seat was pretty amazing.

 

Well you can probably guess who wins the race to the Titan.  And you might be able to guess some of the plot twists.  And it does borrow many elements from classic science fiction sources.  But that doesn’t make it any less entertaining to me.  All the voice actors do a good job with their parts.  I have no complaints in that area.  But after watching it a few times I did notice that Cale looks a lot like Matt Damon . . . and that bugged me a little.  Then something blew up on screen, Drej began to materialize, ice blocks began crunching into each other, and it shook me out of my ridiculous musings.

 

One unfortunate thing happened after this movie was released.  It was a massive box office bomb.  Not surprising.  On one hand it was an animated movie without singing, dancing, and cute sidekicks, so it immediately lost the interest of the family demographic.  On the other it was an animated movie and wasn’t taken seriously by adults or science fiction fans.  As a result Fox shuttered their animation studio blaming Titan A.E. as the cause.  It did cost $80 million to make, but this is a great movie.  Forget about Disney, forget that this movie supposedly caused Fox to utterly obliterate an entire animation unit.  Forget that Don Bluth will probably be forever remembered as the man who killed Fox Animation.  Just enjoy it for what it is: a fun science fiction romp.

 

Seeing Titan A.E. is like seeing Star Wars for the first time.  It is engrossing and original.  There is not one moment in the film that bores you. Titan A.E. gets my vote for best science fiction film of 2000 even though it seems to be underrated and under appreciated by everyone else.  Forget that it’s an animated movie, and just look at it as a science fiction action/adventure that if made with live action sets probably would have cost twice as much and been half as good.

 

 

*Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

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Retro Review: X-Men

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on July 11th, 2000*.

Here are some updated thoughts:  I admit it, I’m not a comic fanboy.  I don’t scream like a little girl every time a comic book based movie rolls into the theater or into my Blu-ray queue.  I went into X-Men back in 2000 knowing next to nothing about it other than the character Wolverine.  My expectations were low, as was my excitement level.  To me this was just another movie to go to and review as part of my second job/hobby writing articles and reviews about movies for people to read on the growing interwebs.

Needless to say, I was very surprised walking out of X-Men.  I think it’s the first comic based movie that changed my view on the genre, erasing the goofy Superman, Judge Dredd, Spawn, et al movies that had come before and making the genre viable as a way to tell a superhero tale that could be both dramatic and fantastical.  Yes, even 1989’s Batman hadn’t convinced me.

Still, it hasn’t converted me to a comic fanboy.  I enjoy watching them, but the ubiquity of them has caused me once again to become jaded with the genre.

 


 

I don’t often come across a movie based on a comic book that’s worth a rental or even worth the time spent watching it on TV. And there are even fewer worth owning on tape, laserdisc, or DVD.  Then there’s that rare gem that gets nearly everything right:  the characterizations of the heroes and villains are dead on target with their comic counterparts; the plot is actually an interesting, believable story with emotion, growth, and limited predictability; the dialogue is sharp, believable to the character, and, at times, genuinely witty; and the viewer doesn’t have to be familiar with that particular comic’s universe in order to enjoy the movie. Superman II, Batman, and Batman Returns were, until very recently, the only comic-based movies (in my opinion) to satisfy these criteria.  However, it is my extreme pleasure to introduce X-Men into this very limited set of comic book movie achievements.

 

It’s the near future, and there are mutants living among “normal” humans.  A powerful U.S. senator, Robert Kelly, has drafted legislation that would require all mutants to register with the federal government.  His immense fear and hatred of mutants makes him the number one target of a band of rogue mutants led by Magneto (Ian McKellen), a mutant Holocaust survivor that has complete control over anything magnetic.  He believes mutants are the next logical step in human evolution, and since he holds the view that humans and mutants will never be looked at as equals, his goal is to place mutants in charge of the government, and, ultimately, the world.  Having the opposite of that belief is Professor Xavier, a powerful mutant that runs the Xavier School for Mutants, an educational center for mutant children who have been ousted by their families or have run away from home.  These children are encouraged to learn how to control and focus their powers to better mankind.  What is kept secret about the school is that it doubles as a home base for Xavier’s X-Men, who are mutants trained to stop wrongdoings of rogue groups (like Magneto’s) and to educate the world population about mutants.  When Magneto captures the senator and a new student of the Xavier School, Rogue, it is up to Xavier and his X-Men to learn what Magneto’s plan is and stop him from carrying it out.

 

X-Men PosterThey are genetically gifted mutants — the world’s newest, most persecuted minority group.  Amidst increasing fear and bigotry, Professor Charles Xavier provides a safe haven for powerful outcasts like Wolverine, Rogue, and Storm.  But can the X-Men triumph over Magneto and his band of antagonists who believe humans and mutants can never co-exist?

X-Men
Director:  Bryan Singer
Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellenn
Genre:  Science Fiction / Comic
Media:  Film, 104 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Year: July 14, 2000
4 out of 5 stars

 

The plot sounds simple, and it is, but what makes the movie fit is the way that the story is told. More importantly, the believability of all of the characters’ actions make the plot fit beautifully. It’s as much as a drama about the pain of being human (mutant or not), the strength it takes to overcome the pain, and the values we learn along the way as much as it is a superb action flick with some down right hilarious dialogue, eye-candyish special effects, and outstanding cinematography. Of course, characterizations by themselves don’t work unless the movie has actors that can pull it off.  And, partial thanks to outstanding casting, the ones in X-Men do a tremendous job.  If the X-Men were real people, then they would act and talk exactly as portrayed on the screen. They are that believable and stay true to their comic book personas. The comic book can come across as just angst, but the movie does not. You can actually sympathize with the pain and suffering that the characters, both ‘good’ and ‘evil’, go through, and on the flip side, most of the jokes in the movie (nearly all of which are hilarious) seem to fit seamlessly into the dialogue and situations that they occur in.

 

The movie runs by pretty fast. I was so totally engrossed into what was happening that I lost all track of time, and the movie actually seemed a lot shorter than it really is.  A lot of the fun, at least for my friends, was spotting cameo appearances by X-Men comic and cartoon characters. Watch for Jubilee, Shadowcat, and a few others.

 

To be honest, I enjoyed this movie just as much as Gladiator, and that’s saying a lot.  X-Men is an excellent movie worth waiting in line to see it on opening night in a big theater with loud speakers. I can only hope that the sequel (an inevitability) will be just as good.  Making it much better will be very difficult.

 

Excellent plot, believable characterizations, witty dialogue, outstanding acting, and amazing special effects earn X-Men a high rating and utmost recommendations.

 

 

*Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

leviathan_teaser

The Leviathan Teaser

Well, this is interesting, unexpected, and something that crept up on me out of the weeds.  Below is a video titled simply as The Leviathan – teaser.

 

“By the end of the 22nd century
mankind had colonized many worlds.

Faster than light travel was made possible
by harvesting exotic matter
from the eggs of the largest species
mankind has ever seen.

Those that take part in the hunt are mostly involuntary labor.”

 

Thus begins the intro.  But what is this teaser for?  Is it a sell for a project much like Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 teaser concept art?  Or is it just a bit of awesome self promotion for Ruairi Robinson who was once attached to a live action adaption of Akira?  On the surface, it reminds me of Moby Dick meets Dune.  But if I dig deeper the basic premise is almost exactly that of Dune.

 

Leviathan:  Eggs made by a giant worms is the key to faster than light travel.
Dune:  Spice made by giant worms is the key to faster than light travel.
In both cases mostly involuntary labor is used.

 

To go further this looks a lot like Philip José Farmer’s steampunkish The Wind Whales of Ishmael which takes place on a far future Earth colored by a blood red sun, where whalers harvest flying whales from the sky, not the sea.  This book is, of course, inspired by Moby Dick . . . so the circle is complete.

 

I’ll let you be the final judge.  Regardless it’s a pretty cool piece of science fiction visuals.  So check it out!

 

“Join the hunt.”

 

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He Said, She Said: Chappie Review

He Said, She Said

Neal Says

What’s this Amy?!  A new He Said, She Said for the first time in 15 years?  Wow.  Well, we don’t get out to movies as much as we used to for various reasons, mainly rude people, exorbitant ticket prices, and Blu-rays hitting retail only scant months after theatrical release.

That being said, I’m a fan of Neill Blomkamp, and have been since District 9 graced unsuspecting science fiction fans with its awesomeness back in 2009.  But Neill is starting to falter.  It’s not that Chappie is a bad movie, it’s just another signature Neill Blomkamp movie.  Robots, dystopian slums, violent gangs, slow motion action, and shots of our hero sitting on a hill looking over a city as the sun sets.  Alone they are fine, but strung together as three straight offerings from Blomkamp it seems to show he’s leveraging the the style developed in District 9 (and his shorts) to keep his career afloat.  This worries me greatly since he was just handed the keys to the first new Alien movie in almost 20 years, and no, that Alien vs Predator shit does . . . not . . . count.  Expunge it from history!  Now, if Neill had somehow made District 9, Elysium, and Chappie some kind of loosely interconnected trilogy taking place in the same setting I’d be completely bought into him continuing to recycle his style.  But they aren’t.

So, back to Chappie.  Watching it I saw elements of three things.  RoboCop.  Short Circuit.  Pinocchio.  Is this bad?  No.  It’s a new take on common themes: robotic police forces and an automaton who wants to fit in and become a real boy.  Chappie is based on Blomkamp’s short Tetra Vaal which is the name of the corporation who supplies robots to the government for policing.  Chappie has been billed as lighter fare compared to his previous movies.  Make no mistake, there are some funny moments in it, but Chappie is dark and violent.  The most interesting aspect of the film is that it shows even the lowest form of thugs can be revealed to have hearts when love is introduced into their lives.  It sounds corny that someone could love a sentient robot, but it seemed to work for me!  So who am I to criticize?
3 out of 5 stars

Amy Says

Okay, Neal, are you sure you want to use that analogy?  If you are a sentient robot, does that make me a thug with heart?  Not cool!

Anyway, I’m not remotely bothered by Blomkamp’s signature style as I’ve enjoyed each of his feature films.  I’m far more concerned about his casting decisions.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film and characters, but there was something I couldn’t pinpoint until the final credits started to roll . . . underscored by a really horrible song.  Turns out that the characters Ninja and Yolandi are members of a South African rap/rave group Die Antwoord and they were basically playing themselves.  I didn’t hate their performances; they simply didn’t share the degree of depth of the characters played by trained actors.  I get the whole fanboy mentality and wanting to put your favorite group in your movie, but not as two of the main characters!

The only reason I cared about their characters at all was because Chappie loved them.  Sharlto Copley, who also starred in District 9 and Elysium, brought the character to life and made me believe that this robot had feelings.  I particularly liked Chappie’s interactions with Amerika (played by Jose Pablo Cantillo who was also in Elysium . . . I’m sensing a trend here) and Deon (played by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame).

When Chappie was first “born,” he was thrust into the world of lowlife criminals who forced his “creator” (Deon) to wake him up.  They taught him the thug life, and Chappie took on some characteristics of Amerika that made the robot seem all the more human.  Deon risked his life every time he came back to visit Chappie, but he simply couldn’t let these scumbags negatively influence Chappie’s development.  He made Chappie promise that he wouldn’t break the law or kill people.  Unfortunately for Chappie, the criminals easily persuaded him that he wasn’t committing crimes.

Even though Chappie is littered with gangsters, they aren’t the real villains of the film . . . and this is where the movie turns into RoboCop.   It’s a good thing that I liked this movie or that unoriginal plot device would have annoyed me.
3.5 out of 5 stars

 

thunderbirds_are_go

Thunderbirds Are Go!

Look what just showed up on the interwebs.  A trailer for the Thunderbirds reboot, this time called Thunderbirds Are Go!  If you want to skip these rubbish words of nostalgia and see the trailer, just scroll to the very bottom.

 

If you aren’t familiar with the original Thunderbirds it was a British science fiction adventure series animated between 1964 and 1966 using large scale models, sets . . . and creepy marionettes.  In a time when film versions of James Bond were just becoming popular it developed into having a niche following with eccentric tastes in animation and storytelling.  Here’s what the original Thunderbirds looked like:

 

 

In early 2000 someone had the brilliant idea to take the concept of a marionette animated show for kids and turn it into a horrible, horrible live action version starring Bill Paxton.  This version of the Thunderbirds crashed and burned in theaters in 2004.  It failed to reboot anything, including a sense of nostalgia.  Ahhhhh, Hollywood.

 

 

I admit watching re-runs of the original when I was a kid.  I wasn’t really into it, but I do have memories of watching the bushy-browed puppets and their herky-jerky adventures.  Those memories rekindle mild feelings of nostalgia.  But the year is now 2015.  We now have the technology to rebuilt it, just like Steve Austin and Jamie Sommers.  Using CGI!  Probably the perfect filming medium to reboot a series like this and bring it to a new generation.  But are today’s kids interested in adventure, space, and intrigue that was born in the 1960s from the space program and shows like Thunderbirds, Star Trek, or Johnny Quest?  Unfortunately, probably not.  Kids these days are more interested in having their faces smashed against their phone screens and worrying about what faux celebrities are wearing this week.  Now get off my lawn!!!

 

All the major characters from the original will return for the, once again, British produced reboot.  There will be new additions and changes to make the cast more modern, culturally diverse, and politically correct.  Of course, as mentioned before, it is 2015.  The show will be broadcast in the U.K. and as of writing this I couldn’t dig up any information about North American broadcasts.  But those savvy on the internet who are fans or are interested will find a way to watch it . . . they always do.

 

Below is the trailer for Thunderbirds Are Go!.  Now get your geek on!

 

supernova_header

He Said, She Said: Supernova

The text below the break is part of a theatrical review originally published on January 15, 2000*.

Here are some updated thoughts:  Supernova was a film so bad at release that even the director and studio knew it.  Yet it was still pushed on unsuspecting consumers.  How bad was it?  The pseudonym of Thomas Lee was used on promotional material instead of the name of the movie’s true director, Walter Hill.  It’s a tactic employed when someone is too embarrassed to be associated with a project.  Not only was the project crippled by poor studio support, it was doomed by an extremely bad science fiction script . . . every part of which is laughable, unbelievable, inconsistent, and implausible.  The film cost $90 million to make, back in the late 90s, and made back next to nothing.  By comparison here are the budgets of other science fiction movies from the same year that either looked far better or actually made money:  Pitch Black $23 million, X-Men $75 million, Red Planet $80 million.

I’ve not seen the movie in 15 years.  I have a mild curiosity to watch it just for a good laugh.  But you’re asking:  There must be something good about Supernova?  There must be a glimpse of a silver lining?!

Nope.  Amy really didn’t have much to say back in 2000, and any self respecting science fiction fan who actually likes this movie should question their love of the genre.

 


 

He Said, She Said

Neal Says

Okay fellow moviegoers, I’m going to keep this short and sweet.  What we have here is one of the worst movies to come out of Hollywood in a long time.  This is my first F given since I started doing reviews for this site, and Supernova deserves it!  This plot is so pathetically asinine, that not even I could dream of something so stupid . . . and believe me, I’m good and conjuring stupidity from nothingness, but not this good!  Even if I had just been hit by a sleigh pulled by unicorns, was doped up on hallucinogens, was abducted by leprechauns and asked to tell the story of my adventure, it would not be as ridiculous as this movie!

Here’s how it goes: alien bombs are planted by some super alien race in hopes space faring civilizations will stumble over them and clean the galaxy of lower life form vermin.  Well, gee Mr. Scriptwriter, the super aliens just wouldn’t want to go and wipe out those civilizations instead of cruising around planting bombs on barren planets in hopes that space faring vermin just stumble across them.  Oh, and get this . . . the bombs are made of 9th dimension material . . . oooooh, how science fictiony . . . and it makes you horny when you touch it.  Yeah, you just read that, and it’s okay to laugh, I did.  Shoddy science?  Check!  The barren planet is a 3000 light year journey from Earth, but it would only take the shock wave 51 years to reach Earth.  Ummm, what?  If it traveled at the speed of light the shock wave would take 3000 years to reach Earth.  Now this is assuming that they started near Earth when they warped.  Let’s throw the scriptwriter 1000 light years leeway.  Hell, it would still take 2000 years minimum for a supernova shock wave to reach Earth!  I think a monkey wrote this script, because a monkey would know more about basic science than this script writer.  The acting was ho-hum (what did you expect), the special effects where a step above video game quality, and the ending . . . I can hear you begging me to stop the torture, and I will.  The ending makes watching that happy painter guy on PBS (Bob Ross) exciting . . . damn exciting.  Just a horrible, horrible movie.
10stars

Amy Says

Plot . . . was there a plot?  Hmm . . . you hated the movie and still got much more out of it than I did.  I didn’t fall asleep; I don’t know how, but I managed to stay awake through this tedious, yawner the mysterious “they” call a movie!  You know, I could have handled 9th dimensional material that emits sensual moans every time it’s seen if the stupid thing would have been more interesting than an alien bomb.  Wow . . . I wonder how long it took the scriptwriter to come up with that creative plot device.  And the ending . . . don’t get me started on the lame ending!  I honestly don’t think I can take another movie with such a stupid ending . . . it’s bad enough that I had to sit through House on Haunted Hill and now this.  Give me a break!
10stars

 

 

*Note:   I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant.  These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.

He Said, She Said was a movie blog (before blogs were a thing) where Amy and I would go to movies and write short and easily accessible compare & contrast reviews.  Sometimes we agreed . . . and sometimes not.  Above all we never took the movies, or ourselves, too seriously.