Friday, March 03, 2006

It Came from Netflix! DinoCroc

I watched DinoCroc about two nights ago, and it’s already fading from memory. I guess that about sums things up. If I’m grading on a scale, comparing the film to stuff from Nu Image and UFO, it was a three star movie. Not grading on a scale, it maybe earns two stars. Sadly, that still makes it better than most DTV monster flicks.

There’s a corporation lab doing extraordinarily advanced experiments with about two staff members and the most ridiculously ill-secured Genetically-Manipulated Whatzit Chamber I can remember right off the top of my head. The junior scientist is killed by said Whatzit, a cloned “DinoCroc,” a freshly discovered prehistoric beastie. The animal itself escapes, blah blah blah.

I actually enjoyed parts of DinoCroc, although many other aspects had me rolling my eyes. The special effects, all CGI stuff (sigh), are as bad as anything I can remember seeing since, hmm, Glass Trap or Beneath Loch Ness. OK, maybe not quite as bad as Glass Trap, but that leaves a lot of sucking room. There are definitely some scenes where a prop head or other body part would have definitely been better, but I guess they just don’t think that way anymore. Seriously, though, some of the effects work here is wincingly bad, even none of it goods very good.

At times the film surprised me by being a little hard nosed, in a good way. Horror movies are films (or rather, should be films) in which the effect of making mistakes is magnified. Nobody should be exempt from this rule, except through pure dumb luck, and that should be true for characters both good and bad.

At one point DinoCroc’s romantic leads make a mistake (and at this point they don’t even know they’re in a horror movie yet), and the results are refreshingly grim. However, later in the movie the script falls back to that tired old “It Depends on Whether The Character is Good or Bad” sort of plotting. The heroes act like idiots, and everything turns out OK. A villain acts like an idiot, and pays the price. That’s not how you write a good movie.

The Eee-vil Corporation Boss who stops at nothing to make a buck had me rolling my eyes, as always. I know a lot of people think I’m mostly annoyed by the lame anti-business politics, but the real problem is that this sort of thing is such a complete, fucking cliché. I mean, damn, how many frickin’ times do me have to see these completely stock characters rolled out?

Come on, people, damn, put a twist in there or something. How about introducing a company lawyer who immediately informs the authorities about what’s going on because he has a duty to do so as an officer of the court. What if the parent company is laying out enough money to do things right, but the person on the scene is embezzling funds, thus explaining why the security is so shoddy? Something? Anything? I mean, those ideas took me like five seconds to come up with.

Meanwhile, the heroine, an animal control officer who can’t bring herself to gas the animals in her charge, gave me gas. As I said, the film was pleasingly hard-edged as to consequences up to a point. Then at the end, when dogs are used to lure the DinoCroc into a trap, there’s a big retarded action sequence where she and her beau run around freeing the pooches just ahead of the ravenous beast. (Who is moving noticeably slower here than at any other point in the film.)

The DinoCroc by this time had killed at least a dozen people, and at that point, I’m sorry, but if you’re worried about some stray dogs to the point that you risk the lives of additional people (including your father!) to save them, then you’re just an idiot. Of course, the film doesn’t play it that way.

There are better aspects, though. The film doesn’t wear out its welcome (by that much, anyway; but still, it could have been ten minutes shorter—ah, for the return of the 70 or 80-minute B-movie). The photography is good, and the outdoor stuff in particularly makes it occasionally look like an actual film. Best of all, they spent some money on some actual actors. Not Joanna Pacula (the eee-vil capitalist), or Costas Mandylor*, so much, since they appear in a lot of junk like this, but Bruce “Hill Street Blues” Weitz and particularly the always dependable Charles Napier really lend the film a touch of professionalism.

[*I’m not even sure how this is possible, but while Costas Mandylor is the Poor Man’s Michael Paré, Michael Paré is at the same time the Poor Man’s Costas Mandylor. Science hasn’t explained this yet.]

DinoCroc was produced by Roger Corman, whose named is prominently displayed, and in isolated spots it does come close to recalling his salad days as a producer back in the ‘70s, when people like Joe Dante and Jack Hill and a zillion others made extremely cheap but often very good films for him. Indeed, this one often seems to go out of its way to recall Dante’s Piranha, although the comparison doesn’t work to its benefit. Still, for a rental, you could do a lot worse. Still, if the second half of the film had been as good as the first part--which really wouldn't have been that ambitious of a goal--they might have really had a neat little movie here.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964)

(This covers the initial disc of the first season set of the TV series.)

To the extent that Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is remembered, since I don’t think it has played much on TV over the last decade or two, it is in probably in its color, monster-of-the-week incarnation, when the show was a goofy toss-in-the-kitchen-sink sci-fi campfest.

Created by producer Irwin Allen, and adapted from his feature film of the same name, the program followed the same path as Allen’s Lost in Space: It started as a black and white, and comparatively ‘realistic’ series (at least compared to the complete craziness that was to come), before going to color and outright insanity in the second season. In Lost in Space it was Carrot Men, in Voyage it was scientists turning into giant underwater monster, whose cardigan sweaters conveniently grew along with them.

In the first season, though, Voyage was more typically a Cold War espionage show, reflecting the then giant vogue for spy series. There are sci-fi elements found, but they tend to be of the advanced drone plane, underwater city sort of thing. No mummies loose on the boat, as we saw later. In fact, with action taking place in foreign ports and given the emphasis on intrigue, the first shows often reminded me of nothing more than (very) dumbed down versions of the superior Patrick McGoohan show Danger Man, a.k.a. Secret Agent Man.

The setting of the show was the Seaview, the damn coolest movie submarine ever. Designed by Admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart), the Seaview was publicly a non-military research vessel, but (at least in the early episodes of the show) in actuality a weapon against the shadowy enemies of Freedom. This included an unnamed organization featured in the first episode, which was presumably meant to be an on-running adversary, although I don’t think things much turned out that way.

These baddies clearly were Communist in nature, although the show never explicitly spelled this out, so I guess the bad guys could be viewed more as a generic SPECTOR kind of operation. However, I kind of couldn’t help noticing that one senior henchman looked a lot like Lenin.

The first episode, Eleven Days to Zero, is basically a pared down redo of the theatrical movie. A series of colossal earthquakes threatens to destroy much of mankind. Nelson proposed to explode a nuclear device at a fault line at the North Pole, which should dissipate the quakes. (And remember, this is by far the more ‘realistic’ science you’re apt to see in an Irwin Allen show.) Against him are the baddies, led by a literally kept-in-shadows Blofeld knock-off, who wants the destruction to occur because, uh, bad stuff is good for bad guys.

The bad guys ambush some of the crew, and kill off the Seaview’s captain. With the clock running, manly Captain Lee Crane (David Hedison, the doomed scientist from the original The Fly) assumes the post. Also on hand is the guy who will be in charge of the nuke, played—and pretty well-by guest star Eddie Albert. He has a history with Crane, for the obligatory dramatic tension. Various action stuff occurs, including a drone plane dropping depth charges on the Seaview, a shark attack, and a fight with a giant rubber inflatable squid. I don’t want to blow the ending, but the Earth is saved.

In the second episode, The City Beneath the Sea (a title Allen recycled for an unrelated TV pilot a few years later), Crane goes undercover in a Greek fishing village to discover what happened to several destroyed ships. It turns out to be the work of a madman who’s built the titular community.

The Fear Makers involves two scientists (Edgar Bergen [!!] and TV perennial guest star Lloyd Bochner) conducting stress tests on the Seaview crew as the latter attempt dangerous deep sea experiments, duplicating ones that destroyed an earlier advanced sub and crew. Bochner, meanwhile, is actually a spy, and uses a “fear gas” on the crew to make sure the experiments fail.

The last episode on the disc is The Mist of Silence, which refers to a new, albeit non-lethal, chemical weapon. The Seaview remains parked off the shore of a South American country, as Crane tries to extricate a popular democratic political figure held captive by a Commie dictator. He is aided by revolutionary Alejandro Rey (the male star of TV’s The Flying Nun), who secretly considers the prisoner a traitor and who actually plans to murder the guy, not save him.

Of the four shows, the sci-fi elements are nominal (for instance, the Flying Sub has not been introduced yet), and the Seaview itself often takes a backseat to land bound espionage stuff. The boat itself is spectacular, and while the footage of it is mostly recycled from the movie, it still looks great. Seriously, I’ve always loved this boat.

One evident problem, though, is that many shots (or the same one or two, used over and over) show the Seaview from underwater as it glides along right under the surface—presumably because the prop boat—the primary one was six feet long—was by moved by an unseen, over-the-water rod—when according to the script the boat should be in deep water. This happens quite a lot. Second, it’s hard not to notice, especially when watching the shows back to back, that the Seaview always seems to be going past the same rock formations when it dives, no matter where in the world it’s supposed to be.

While the first episodes are atypical for what the show eventually became, it seems like the second disc (which I haven’t rented yet) will feature a lot more of the monster action that the program is known for. Still, the first disc isn’t bad time-wasting stuff, assuming you don’t mind the more spy-oriented action.

By the way, the show had some great theme music, too.

Chuckles, I hardly knew ye...

I've lived either in the northwestern Chicago suburb ("Chicagoland") of Des Plaines, or an adjascent suburb, all my life. Even so, I never knew the city was home to a Farley & Sathers Candy plant, and that thus Chuckles, JujyFruits and Gummi Bears were made in my home town...until today, when I read the news that the plant was closing down and relocating to Iowa. Basically, Des Plaines is too built up to allow the plant to expand, so they are moving to Iowa (which is presumably cheaper, as well). The Des Plaines plant has been manufacturing nearly 2,000,000 lbs. of candy a week.

I'm actually not a huge candy guy...well, I'm huge, but not because of candy. I eat the stuff, but it's not anywhere near my main vice, food-wise. And I probably haven't had a Chuckle in ten or fifteen years.

Still, I have fond memories of them, and thought they were pretty decent for a jellied candy. It's strange what gets you feeling nostalgic, and this story did it for me. Sometimes you just don't know what you had until you lose it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


They were repeat running a commercial for Without a Trace (I think) last night during the two-hour premiere of the new Amazing Race. The crawl read something like "A tiny victim...and a cop on a combination for disaster."

Is that correct? A "combination for disaster"? I mean, a recipe for disaster makes sense, but I don't think a "combination for disaster" is even proper English. They pay professionals umpteen millions of dollars to make these commercials, and they can't even proofread them?

And hey, what's the deal with Date Movie? From the commercials, it looks like all the gags involved visual references to not just other movies, but other comedies: Napoleon Dynamite, Shallow Hal, Hitch, Wedding Crashers, etc. I mean, when you make a reference to a dramatic movie in a comedy setting (as they do with Kill Bill!, as tired as such a jape already is), I can see from where you expect to have humor derive. However, what's funny about just seeing somebody who looks like Owen Wilson from Wedding Crashers? Ha, it's a reference to another movie! Is that inherently funny, for some reason? Don't you need more than that?

The Scary Movie series does the same, of course, but then again, at least they are taking scenes and characters from (mostly) horror movies and playing them comically. Still, they too often descend into a sort of, "ha, ha, I saw that"--or even, "ha, ha, I didn't see that, but I still get the reference"--as when they cut in a long parody scene of the rap battle from Eight Miles.

These films are still compared to Airplane!, but while that film had such references, too, as in the Saturday Night Fever dance scene, it had many other sorts of gags in it too. These films just seem lazy, somehow, both on the part of the people who make them and, frankly, the audience, too. Are we really willing to settle for this sort of thing?

From the "Really?!" Department: In the March 3rd issue of Entertainment Weekly, the DVD release of The Ice Harvest is given an A-, while that of Kind Hearts and Coronets, a truly classic comedy, is given a B+. And it's not because of the extras, from what I can tell. The Ice Harvest boasts one outtake, and apparently a roundtable chat of some sort by the filmmakers. Kind Hearts, meanwhile, is a Criterion release, includes an old BBC interview with Alec Guinness (who legendarily played eight parts in the movie), and an "informative" 1986 TV documentary on the film. So extras are at best a draw, meaning that the magazine is assigning a higher grade for Ice Harvest as a movie.

I don't think so. Which isn't a knock on Ice Harvest, but please.

They're doubles, identical doubles...

Man, they just keep doing stuff like this:

Per "Touchstone Pictures has signed Dominic Purcell to star in PRIMEVAL. He will play a producer.

The story centers on a news producer, reporter and cameraman who are dispatched to South Africa to track down and bring home alive a legendary 25-foot crocodile known as Gustave. However, their quarry proves far more elusive and deadly than they anticipated, and their situation turns even more perilous when a feared warlord targets them for death.

Purcell joins a cast that already includes Orlando Jones. Michael Katleman will direct. John Brancato and Michael Ferris wrote the script

Cool. Killer crocodile movie. My kind of deal.

However, for the last several months, the director of the recent horror flick Wolf Creek has been working on a movie called Rogue. Per the IMDB:

"An American journalist on assignment in the Australian outback encounters a man-eating crocodile."

Of course, the stories are set on two completely different continents, so I guess they aren't really that similar.

Rogue is set to come out around Christmas.

Abra, Abra Cadabra...

It’s always kind of interesting--to me at least--to see when little stock companies seem to form. Director Christopher Nolan’s next movie is the highly interesting (not a phrase I use in relation to many movies these days) The Prestige. Per the IMDB: “Based on Christopher Priest's 1996 novel, [Christian] Bale and [Hugh] Jackman play rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London who battle each other for trade secrets. The rivalry is so intense that it turns them into murderers.”

Aside from Bale, who starred in Nolan’s recent Batman Begins, that film’s costar Michael Caine is also appearing in the film. Since those three are sure to make another Batman movie together, and maybe a couple, they must presumably all enjoy collaborating. The cast also boasts several other name actors in supporting roles, including David Bowie (as Nikola Tesla!!), the ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson, Piper Perabo and Andy Serkis.

This is a good match for Jackman, I think, who I really always thought should be doing historicals ala Russell Crowe. The match of twin comic book movie stars is sure to attract the geek crowd, while Nolan’s presence indicates the movie won’t be stupid. That’s sadly a mark of some distinction.

The film is due out in October, and I have to say, is about the first movie of 2006 that I’m actually really interested in seeing. (There might be something else, but it doesn’t come to mind.)

Monday, February 27, 2006

Yes, I'm insane...

This is historically the best time of year for the Cub’s fan: Before they actually start playing. Last year I attended, at great expense, a large number of games, and saw just a crapload of horrible, horrible baseball.

Even so, and while entirely broke, I took the chance to pick up a great ticket package on eBay. This guy was selling night game packages, with a starting bid below what they would cost at face value with the normal ticket fees , and I got the group I wanted: 4 tickets each for 6 Tuesday night games, May through September. For some reason none of that guy’s other packages sold, which is dumb. Hell, you could have bought a batch of night game tickets and easily resold them at twice face value at Which I might have done if I weren’t so cash poor right now.

So anyway, I’m set for the season, with pretty good seats for six night games, and bleacher seats for two other night games, one in June, the other the last game of the season, in September. It would be nice to think that last game will feature 40,000 plus people celebrating an upcoming post-season run. Hey, (slightly) weirder things have happened.

Actually, of course, I don’t except a play-off berth, but I do have solid hopes of seeing decent baseball, which I most definitely did not see last year. Here’s why:

We greatly solidified our horrible bullpen from last year by adding two good set-up men.

LaTroy Hawkins is gone, and Ryan Dempster, who was a great closer for the last part of the season last year, has the job from the beginning this year.

The worst player I’ve ever seen, Corey Patterson, is gone, baby. Gone. Enjoy your last year or two in the majors, Corey, and save your money. You’ll be surprised how little you make at Office Depot.

We have a lead-off hitter, and one who steals tons of bases. Our lead-off hit last year was Corey Patterson, who provided the single worst batting average (for someone with over 425 at bats) in team history last season. And the Cubs have been around since like 1870.

We still have Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano on our team.

Of course, there are still a lot of holes, and I’ll be surprised if we get mostly full years from Kerry Wood and Mark Prior (although Prior has more been the victim of freak injuries). If either is down, again, for an extended period, we’re screwed.

Still and all, that still (on paper) adds up to much better ball. We’ll see.

On the other hand, we still have Dusty Baker as our coach. Here’s a real life story from yesterday’s Baltimore Sun: ”Baker: O's should stay open to idea of Hawkins as closer”.

That’s O’s as in Orioles, who aside from Hawkins (whose career Baker basically trashed by trying over and over and over again to force him to be a closer, a role he completely sucked at), have picked up Patterson. Watch for that team to make a World Series run this year.

Anyway, can this headline be far behind: “Baker: O’s should stay open to the idea of Patterson as lead-off hitter.”

The good news, should we suck again this year, is that it will make sure Baker isn’t extended. So I must admit, I’m kind of conflicted.

Anyway…Play ball!!