Friday, August 19, 2005

It Came from the Libary! National Treasure

I doubt I have anything fresh to say about such a mainstream movie. That never stopped me before, though.

On release, National Treasure was compared by many to The Da Vinci Code. However, I didn’t read that book, so I’ll compare it to the long-running Rambaldi plot-line running through the various seasons of the TV show Alias. As in that program, National Treasure features a dose of (here benign) conspiracy theorizing involving none other than American’s Founding Fathers. A vast treasure has been hidden since the days of the Knights Templar, and down through the Masons, and Nicolas Cage continues his family’s generations long quest to follow a series of baroque clues to find it.

Of course, a Bad Guy (Sean Bean) is after the treasure too. After both he and Cage learn that there’s a clue to be found on the back of the Declaration of Independence (!!), Cage determines to steal the document before Bean does, both to protect the treasure and the Declaration itself.

Needless to say, this is all very Indiana Jones-esque, but the emphasis on American history is rather fun. Oddly, Jon Voight plays Cage’s father, just as he plays that of Lara Croft in that pair of films. (Which, I must admit, I have not seen.) Apparently he means to corner the market on siring updated Jones-influenced characters.

While the film is by no means a classic, I was surprised at how much I liked it. First, although there’s a lot of peril in the movie, I only remember one death. Bean and his crew are ruthless, but don't kill out of hand like so many modern film villains. Of course, it helps that his crew of crack mercenaries at all such bad shots in the numerous instances when they are trying to whack the good guys.

Given the track record of Jerry Bruckheimer/Nicolas Cage movies (including the execrable Con Air), the film is not only surprisingly low on carnage, but amazingly non-stupid. I’m sure you could pick it apart if you wanted to, but a good film carries you past the rough spots, and for me this one did the job. Meanwhile, the direction by John Turteltaub is lively without descending into that headache inducing MTV-style editing. For a film running over two hours, it carries its bulk well.

In all, it's a movie that actually uses the vast resources at hand to craft an intentionally lightweight but still well-put together picture. The budget allows the film to be big without being tiresomely mammoth like so many such pictures these days. Moreover, the director was able to assemble the sort of cast that only a studio film can field: Cage, Bean, Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer, etc. Not superstars, per se, but good actors who may be slumming just a bit (especially Keitel), but so what? Surely they deserve a lark now and then, too?

Most enjoyable, perhaps, was watching a film about people who think that history (especially American history!) is important and even fascinating. That Cage’s faith in the Founding Fathers proves well justified was a welcome outcome.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

It Came from Blockbuster! Shock Waves

In the ‘damning with faint praise’ department, calling Shock Waves the ‘Best Nazi Zombie Movie’ would certainly rank high. Being better than laughable dreck like Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies isn’t exactly a stellar cinematic achievement. So let’s leave it here: Shock Waves is a pretty decent horror movie, period.

Of course, tastes vary. Shock Waves falls into the classically spooky category, with nary a gush of blood, much less guts, in sight. This probably will consign it to the ‘oh, never mind then’ pile for many zombie fans, at least those raised since George Romero defined the genre. Still, if you’re the sort of fan who goes, “John Carradine and Peter Cushing?!…Cool!” then you’ll probably like this one.

The film opens with a classic horror premise: the lone survivor found drifting around the ocean. You’d think it would diminish the impact of what comes after, since it telegraphs who survives the zombie attacks. Instead, it adds a nice sense of doomed inevitability to the proceedings.

The story line is nothing fancy, either. A cheap little cruise boat, captained by old salt Carradine and manned by former Flipper kid star Luke Halpin, is sheparding a small number of passengers around when a bizarre solar event blankets the area. In less sure hands, this yellow filter might have just seemed dumb. Here it plays as satisfyingly ominous.

The boat is hit by what appears to be a ‘ghost ship,’ and the occupants seek refuge on a nearby island. There they find a once luxorious but now decrepit hotel, whose only occupant is a scarred old man (Cushing). He proves to be an ex-Nazi, and the leader of a group of supernaturally powered SS soldiers who went down with the nearby wrecked ship after WWII. And that weird solar event seems to have roused them from their sleep...

This is a neat little film, if not a classic than certainly well worth a look. Some fans have complained that Cushing and Carradine don’t share any screentime, but as director Ken Wiederhorn explains on the commentary track (where he is joined by Alan Ormsby and Fred Olen Ray!!), this was a strategy to maximize their use since he only had the services of each for four days apiece.

Ormsby mentions on the commentary that he had intended much more elaborate make-ups for the zombies, and his sketches to this effect are included in the DVD’s still galleries. In the end, everything worked out for the better. The peeling, albino pale, platinum blond soldiers move with silent menace, calling to mind the creepy kids from the original Village of the Damned. Any effort to be more elaborate would have probably diminished their sense of menace, and at worst just made them look silly. Do Nazi Zombies really need swasticas carved into their foreheads to look scary? Probably not.

Wiederhorn apparently doesn’t have much affection for his creation (while Ray must be wondering how the director could be so unsatisfied with a film that’s, objectively speaking, at least ten times better than anything Ray has every cranked out). He still seems bitter that the film didn’t advance his career much, and moreover mentions more than once his general dislike of horror movies. (Even so, he went on to work in the genre several more times.) Too bad, because I don’t think he gives himself, or his work, enough credit here.

It’s sad to say that you’re pleasantly surprised by films that are at least competent in acting, script, direction and general execution, but horror fans will know of what I speak. Shock Waves may not go on anybody’s greatest ever list, but it’s a little gem in its own right.

Half off plus on DVD TV season sets...

DeepdiscountDVD.com is apparently liquidating several TV season set holdings, and are offering them at 52% off. The list includes seasons of such fan favorites as Highlander, Xena, Hercules, The Commish, 21 Jump Street, Titus, Silk Stalkings (!), 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Greatest American Hero, Michael Mann's Crime Story, Hunter, Profit, Renegade (!!), Sledgehammer, Three's Company and others.

In the parlance, get them while they last.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

It Came From Netflix: The Glass Trap

You know you’re in trouble when you rent a movie that doesn’t live up to the expectations raised by the phrase, “A Fred Olen Ray Giant Ant movie.”

Why do I still watch these things? In Irish mythology, warriors were often bound by what was called a geis. This is was prohibition or injunction, which could not be violated without inviting misfortune or doom. For instance, a warrior may have a geis laid upon him that enjoins him to have a drink whenever he is invited to (and in Irish myths, a drink would usually be several gallons of some powerful mead or the like). Even if he were on an important mission or preparing for battle, if invited to have a drink, he would have to stop what he was doing and fulfill his geis.

My geis is to watch any killer insect or shark movies that present themselves, no matter how numerous and predictably awful.

In this case, the film’s fatal flaw was, as fellow bad movie maven Joe Bannerman noted (after dozing off through the latter half of the film), that it was “so boring.” Really, that’s about the worse thing you can say about a giant killer ant movie, you’d have to think.

Basically, it’s Die Hard with killer giant ants, as various ‘characters’ run around a mostly deserted office building while occasionally being ‘attacked’ by ‘ants’. There are stabs at humor (one federal agent reveals that she works for “a branch of the Agriculture Department so secret that even the President doesn’t know it exists”), but the overall film is so dreary that they just kind of sink without leaving a ripple.

Meanwhile, Ray’s usual cast of show biz has-beens—a starring C. Thomas Howell, Stella Stevens, Martin Kove, Richard Gabai (!), Chick Vennera (!!), Ron Harper, Brent Huff, etc.—either take the opportunity to overact outrageously (Kove especially; at least somebody had some fun in regards to this picture), or just blandly coast. Either way, nobody makes much of an impression.

The ants…wow. They’re awful. There are some truly lame CGI shots, but more often they are physical props. Now, I have often stated how I generally prefer physical effects to computer ones (although computer effects are getting better all the time), but yikes. These ants aren’t even puppets; they’re props. By this I mean, they don’t have any moving parts, and are generally just held tail-end by offscreen hands and thrust at the actors. One suspects they weren’t even fabricated for this movie, but instead bought during a post-holiday Halloween Warehouse sale.

There was a time in which you had an oddball respect for Ray’s in-your-face no budget filmmaking, but those days, I guess, are past. And believe me, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers is a classic work of cinema compared to this film. I’m sure Fred’s a great guy, and I certainly like the fact that he’s putting out stuff like Larry Buchanan movies via his Retromedia DVD company, but yeesh. At least Jim Wynorski generally provides hilarious commentary tracks for his horrible movies. Ray instead allows the film to speak for itself, and sadly, it has nothing even remotely interesting to say.

And finally…Glass Trap?! Lamest…title…ever.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

New on DVD this week (08/16/05)...

This weeks TV show sets include the third season of the Andy Griffith Show; I Love Lucy Season 5; the first season of the American version of The Office; Saved by the Bell: New Class, 4th Season (!!!); the well regarded college comedy Undeclared: The Complete Series; and Will & Grace Season 4.

The headliner TV set this week, though, is the 6th Simpsons Season set.

The disc of the week is Sin City, because it will look sensational on DVD, and becaues of Mickey Rourke's just awesome performance in the film.

Jabootuists will want to jump on their backs and spin themselves to stores for the Breakin' Collection, which includes Breakin' and, of course, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, the non-related but equally campy Beat Street, and a fourth disc of documentaries on break dancing and stuff. The set is available at a pretty sweet $20.

The Brown Bunny, the film that inspired one of Roger Ebert's most vitreal-spewing reviews in years, is out. You might want to save your money and just search out his review on the Web.

Creepies is a cheap DTV killer spider movie. Ron Jeremy (!) is in the cast. Paging the Foywonder.

Love Bites is a horror flick starring Asia Argento, which is probably enough right there to draw an audience. Warning, though: It's described as a "stylish and atmospheric French horror/comedy."

Off Season is another horror flick, and features Angus Scrimm. It sounds more like a psychological horror movie than a slasher flick or something.

Old movie buffs will want to check out another terrific Warners box set, this one the Astaire & Rogers Signature Collection of their musicals. The set includes Top Hat (1935), Swing Time (1936), Follow The Fleet (1936), Shall We Dance (1937) and The Barkleys Of Broadway (1949), and can be found on the Net for $40 and up. As usual there are cartoons and stuff on each disc, and at least three of the movies feature commentary tracks by film historians.

It's Glenn Strange's Birthday!

You were no Karloff, but you'll always be fondly remembered, Glenn.

DVD bargains of the Day (08/16/05)

Amazon has some good sales going. Remember, buy over $25 worth of stuff, and you get free shipping.

Jabootuites will be glad to pick up the two-disc Challenge of the Superfriends: Season 1 (the season I've been slowly working through at the main site), at $15/50% off.

Just as funny, only intentionally so, if the five-disc Blackadder: The Complete Collector's Set. It's $70/42% off.

Flintstone's Season 1 is $15/50% off.

The essential It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown DVD (which includes the nonessential You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown) is now $10/66% off.

And if you've never picked up the widescreen Spider-Man SE DVD, it's now $10.50/64% off.

Deepdiscountdvd.com, meanwhile, has a slew of TV show seasons sets for 52% off list. The list can be found in today's listings at DVDpricesearch.com.

Monday, August 15, 2005

She's not loving it...

Per the IMDB:

"Rachel McAdams [who?] has a lasting reminder of her life before Hollywood, in the shape of a painful scar. The Wedding Crashers actress [oh] worked for years at fast food giant McDonalds, and will never forget where she came from. She tells MTV, "I worked at McDonalds for three years, with my brother and sister. Frying was tough. It was five hours of frying. I still have a scar."

As faithful Jabootu correspondent Prankster has reminded us, the 'news' items on the IMDB should be taken with a grain of salt, and they are generally unsourced. Assuming this one is true, though...

Who works at McDonald's for three frikkin' years? Did her family own the store? I mean, millions of people get their first job at McDonald's (I did), but once there you generally pick up the most basic job skills (show up when you're supposed to--a massively overlooked but essential job skill; learn how not to piss off your manager, etc.) in the first couple of months and then looks for greener pastures, which is any place that doesn't stay open until midnight and then require you spend hours cleaning out grease traps before showing back up for a morning shift the next day.

And what, she spent three years with a regular five-hour shift at the flyer? And her 'scar' from being spattered with hot grease is still "painful"? Also, I'm not John Wayne or anything, but I don't remember fryer duty as being especially "tough." Just don't stick your hand in the cooking grease and you're generally OK.

Rachel Whoeversheis...movie star...McDonald's Survivor. We salute you.