Four Movies, Four Days, For No Good Reason

Reviews by Chris French

Previous: Letter | Picofarad #12 contents | Next: Orycon 29

There's some company or other out there which uses as its ad slogan "Life Comes At You Fast". The same can be said for American cinema, where I'm concerned-I can go months without seeing anything in a theatre, then find myself having to decide in what order to see four or five things, usually with the consideration that one or more of them will be exiting the theatres like Han Solo from a Stormtrooper training facility.

Such a situation descended upon me a few months ago-no less than four movies I was interested in seeing, and no way to make up my mind about which to see now and which to leave for later. So, since I had the money for it, I decided to go on a cinematic surge--see all four movies on four consecutive days at the same multiplex. If nothing else, it would be interesting to see if anyone there recognized me (and called the police).

Movie #1: National Treasure: Book of Secrets

In hindsight, I probably should have left this one for last, as it was the best of the bunch. For those unfamiliar with the series (if it can be called that after only two films), Nicholas Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, who you can tell by his name has a deep-seated love for American History; he's the sort they would never allow on Are You Smarter than A Fifth Grader? because he'd leave a trail of fifth-grade suicides in his wake. This time around, he's confronted with the idea that one of his ancestors may have been working with John Wilkes Booth on his one successful non-Shakespeare project, The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In much the same way as folks with the last name Hitler could not get themselves to the local registrar's office for a change-of-name form in 1941, Gates and his father (Jon Voight) hie themselves off to various places of historic interest, in the process violating security at Buckingham Palace, having to deal with snotty Parisian traffic cops, kidnapping in as non-criminal a way as possible the President of the United States, hiking all over Mount Rushmore. oh, yeah, and occasionally getting shot at by minions of the villain (Ed Harris). Hey, it's a Disney flick-violence to a minimum, thanks.

This is quite possibly the only movie which could tie together the Knights of the Golden Circle, the three Statues of Liberty, the matched desks in the White House and Buckingham Palace, Confederate General Albert Pike, and the City of Gold, and have it all make sense at the end. It's also nice that the makers could have gone in a particularly obvious direction with the villain, but didn't. And it comes off with only one fatality, and that by misadventure rather than the .45-calibre sendoff so common in films these days. If you're in the mood for something which isn't going to give the kids screaming nightmares, while at the same time isn't going to send adults into full-out Zombie Mode, this is your flick; it rates a definite Watch. (The unexpected appearance of Peter Woodward was a definite plus for me.)

Movie #2: I Am Legend

At some point, I will have to break down and read Richard Matheson's best-known work, if for no other reason than to see exactly how far off the reservation the film-makers who have tried to make it have gone.

In this case, we don't even make it off the trailer before the makers are changing things-the original is set in San Francisco, but this film rendition is set in New York City, because God knows no one has ever destroyed New York City in a movie before. (The archetype of "desolate NYC as symbol of destroyed USA" has existed since the American Civil War, when Confederates would speak of "grass growing in the streets of New York" as a symbol of the utter collapse of the Northern economy; perhaps if they'd imagined Richmond, Atlanta, and a bunch of other Southern cities in flames, they'd have performed a bit better than they did.) Will Smith plays the title character, Robert Neville, who this time around is portrayed as a military scientist trying to create a cure for a cancer-cure-gone-horribly-wrong-never mind that everyone around him who isn't dead is now a hairless zombie-vampire crossover. Neville has set himself up a house/fort/laboratory with his dog; by day, he scavenges the city for supplies and pretends that there are other people to talk to (the video store scenes are particularly pathetic), while by night, he hides in his bathtub and has conveniently explanatory flashbacks as to who the woman and kid in the pictures on the walls are (complete with the least-convincing family death I have ever seen on screen).

This movie fails on so many levels. Smith isn't effectively directed in the scenes where he's supposed to communicate emotion. The demise of the dog is not so much telegraphed as it is tattooed onto the face of the moon's nearside with nuclear weapons. Then we get some other characters who appear and rattle on about a Survivor Colony in Vermont, who are even less convincing than Smith is. And if you think my telling you that Neville Finds A Cure, But then Is Killed Before He Can Get Away is a spoiler, then you have not been inside a movie theatre in thirty bloody YEARS. Hey, Hollywood--the Dead Hero thing got old back in the '70s, when you first started clubbing viewers over their heads with it; how about letting one live once in a while?

This movie is a definite Avoid.

Movie #3: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

An open letter to the makers of this movie:


First: Apparently you misread the Merriam-Webster dictionary entry for "requiem": the definition is "a mass for the dead", not "a mass of dead". Running up a body count was cool when Schwarzenegger was an actor; now he's Governor, it isn't. (Not to mention you'll never be able to top Hot Shots Part Deux.)

Second: When a pop-up-target-sorry, character-in your film is nailed to a wall and some clown behind me says "Nine dollars well-spent", YOU HAVE FAILED TO PROVIDE ACTUAL CHARACTERS.

Third: Including a line like "the Government never lies to people" wasn't funny or cool back in the '60s; it is even less so nowadays, when any hack with a computer and access to LiveJournal can spew anti-authority gibberish at the drop of a hat, and drop it himself.

Fourth: When you name a character after a character from the one of the two series you are shamelessly ripping off which takes place in the Distant Future, the audience knows that: A: those who follow that character will live, and B: those who don't couldn't be more dead if they were narcs at a biker rally. This torpedoes any notion of surprising the audience with his survival-you want to mess with the audience, then kill that character; if anyone asks how the future version of that character could exist, tell them "It was a different [character name]."

Fifth: I know people who are fanatical fans of the Alien series. I know people who are fanatical fans of the Predator series. I know people who are fanatical fans of both series. All of these people have something in common: they are heavily armed, good at finding out where people live, and not fond of having their favorite movies treated like the urinal cakes in the bathrooms of a beer-drinking convention. Annoying these people is NOT a Good Idea. Start making Good AvP Movies, or it will be you whose skeletons adorn the walls of someone's trophy room.

PS for readers: In case you haven't guessed, this movie is to be Avoided.

Movie #4: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

It may seem unusual to include a movie like this in a periodical like this, but remember-it's "Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror". And this one has plenty of the last (and I'm not referring to the fact, that, despite what the ads may suggest, this is in fact a musical). Johnny Depp plays the title role, a one-time barber wrongfully accused of a crime, and shipped off to Durance Vile by the man who covets his wife (played with due menace by Alan Rickman). By the time the barber makes his way back home, his wife is missing and presumed dead (and if you watch movies at all, You Know What that Means.), and his daughter is being held captive by Rickman's character until such time as she's old enough to marry him. There are soap operas less messed-up than this.

And speaking of messed-up, not surprisingly Todd's mental motor has dropped a valve along the way-he hooks up with a pie-shop owner (Helena Bonham Carter), and conceives a plan to avenge himself on the man who put him away; when the plan goes awry, he expands his plans to compass the whole of London high society. Any rich man who enters Todd's shop expecting his hair to be cut has missed the intended target by a head-span; the razor is applied to his throat. Disposal of the bodies-well, there's a restaurant involved, so I think you guess where the bodies end up. (I suppose it says something about me that I could watch this movie while eating hot dogs and never even bat an eyelash.) there is a side plot involving a young man Todd returns to London with who intends to marry Todd's daughter; his is possibly the only bright spot in this flick, so his plot is dispatched as soon as possible, so the makers can get on with the business of illustrating (with blood) why Revenge Is Not Always Such A Good Idea. (Hint: See preceding paragraph.)

This is a slightly-above-average slasher flick, with two points which allow me to rate it a Watch:

So, there it is--four days, four movies. And what did I learn from all this? Well:

  1. Blockbusters aren't all they're cracked up to be anymore.
  2. Bloodshed and violence are not strictly necessary any more.
  3. Just because it has a pedigree doesn't mean it's actually any good.
  4. I've seen the trailer for Cloverfield four times--AND IT KEEPS GETTING FUNNIER, EVERY SINGLE TIME I SEE IT! (Sorry, sorry...)
  5. Movie-theatre employees do not pay attention to faces.
  6. Caramel popcorn and cherry soda do not mix. (Urp.)

Thank you for reading, and until next issue, the seats in back of the wheelchair-parking area are taken--hey, I need the legroom.

Previous: Letter | Picofarad #12 contents | Next: Orycon 29

Picofarad home