Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus

First, a word about The Asylum, a movie studio/distributor that produces low-budget, direct-to-video movies. The Asylum was organized in 1997 by three cinema executives. It took the trio a while to discover their niche: knockoff films that hit the rental shelves at the same time as the knockoffees from which they are knocked off. For example, The Asylum released “De Vinci’s Treasure” at the same time as Columbia Pictures’ “The Da Vinci Code.”  “Almighty Thor” arrived  with “Thor.” The Asylum is responsible for the excellent “Snakes on a Train.” An Asylum movie budget is low, well under a million dollars; the movie is produced in less than four months. No Asylum movie has ever lost money.

Wrt the creature-vs-creature movies, what is the relationship of The Asylum movies to the Roger Corman movies? Can you knock off a knockoff? Or do the creature movies of these two Hollywood low-budget production moneymakers represent some sort of evolutionary sybiosis? Please find out and report back.

So anyway, Mega Shark is back. Meggie is a favorite around here after he or she ate a 707 and the Golden Gate Bridge in Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. In that movie, Meggie might have been supposed to have perished in the end, at the tentacles of the giant octopus. Yet here he or she is, overacting for us once again, as directed by Christopher Ray, who is 34 and has been working in the business for a long time already, now with four titles under his belt as director; son of Fred Olen Ray, who himself has directed many a classic, including “Bikini Jones and the Temple of Eros,” “Housewives from Another World,” and “Bikini Time Machine.” Fred is an officer at Retromedia, Synthetic Film Works, and Firebird International in North Hollywood. Point me to a directory, with dirt, that summarizes the activity of these various great B-movie companies. But no. Exploitation films come in so many flavors and have such a glorious history that I’ll settle for one comforting fact: drive-in movies and grind houses are gone, but the DVD player, streaming video, digital video equipment, and cinema software make exploitation more alive, vibrant, and pervasive than ever.

Warning. Warning. Warning. The DVD, or mine at least, contains no commentary track. You’ve got to sit there and watch the movie qua movie, like it or not.

Is The Asylum going soft? Crocosaurus merely steps on her first victim, doesn’t eat him. But wait. She is definitely grinning. The first hint that this is a feel-good movie, a possible monster love fest.

Note to self: I’m not here to rag on MSVC. For example, that hat on the Indiana Jones wannabe? To me it looks new. Still has its brown fuzz. That’s the sort of detail I’m not going to go on about.

And welcome back Meggie! You’ve learned to do barrel rolls, like a dolphin at Marine Park. Reader, before you scoff at the notion of a shark doing a barrel roll, check this out… Aww, nevermind, it’s not there anymore. Anyway, I think that Meggie is just frolicking, happy to find a Navy destroyer to play with. Sure, they’re firing anti-aircraft shells off his dorsal fin, but that’s just a tickle. Watch out, Meggie, or you’ll accidentally sink your new friends, killing off a good-looking babe in the process!  (Don’t worry. The boat doesn’t really sink. It’s the Lane Victory, tied up at Pier 94 in San Pedro. Available for weddings, reunions, summer cruises, and making cheap movies.)

Another light-spirited actor in the movie: Jaleel White. He’s made a career of being a good-natured  guy, on TV shows such as  Full House (1987), Family Matters (1989), Step by Step (1991) and Meego (1997). Here he is Dr. SomebodyOrOther, a scientist who can repel or attract sharks by making the sound of a “dying fish.” Whatever you do, don’t make that sound at home if you live by the beach; it’s a little like the moaning during orgasm, which might explain some of those cases of coitus interruptus selachimorphaus reported in coastside cities. <- Writing something like this is what happens to you when you watch low-budget movies.

Sure, at one point it looks like shark and croc are fighting, but there’s fighting and then there’s love-tussling. Riddle me this: why are they always biting each other’s tail? Why, with all the biting, does neither creature get hurt? Why do I have bite marks all over my buttocks, which cost me $400 plus the hotel room for a night?

Before I forget: congratulations to the Bronson Caves in Griffith Park. This is the 5,000th movie to use them, here standing in for a coal mine in the Congo, where ten extras or so shovel and pick till Crocie shows up and sends them running off to Palm Avenue in Burbank to collect their paychecks for the day. Or down to the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Palos Verdes (take the 110), for a couple of pick-up shots while not bumping into all the other crews there already.

Note: Meggie jumped the shark multiple times in Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. Will he do so again? Let’s find out. Sinking the Lane Victory doesn’t count. I’m convinced that was an accident. Swallowing a sub, though, perhaps that was a little thoughtless of him, or her.

My favorite line in the movie: “They’ve got to stop hitting the shark! He’s got a nuclear submarine inside him.”

If you’re wondering about star Gary Stretch’s nose, he used to be a prizefighter. He obviously got poked in the snoot more than once. He also dated Raquel Welch when he was younger than her two kids. She was 57 at the time. He goes through the movie with something wrong with his face. Makeup? A skin condition? He has also been in some decent movies, but such is Hollywood. Joan Crawford played Dr. Brockton in Trog.

One of the fun things about watching B-minus movies is listening to the line readings in them. The young woman at the beginning of MSVC commits some real head-scratchers before she gets eaten.Perhaps she has a speech impediment; ditto Gary Stretch. If they’re doing it on purpose, it proves that a little acting training can be a dangerous thing.

Sonje mentions the moment when the doctor is running through the ship being attacked by Meggie and passing bodies lying dead for no reason. I liked the moment when he stepped into a room, picked up a wet suit to put on, and, as the shark destroys the boat, delicately pushes the room’s door shut, to change in privacy.

A few movie facts:

– There are saltwater crocs, so it’s ok for Crocie to spend all that time in the ocean.

– For an excellent croc movie, I recommend Rogue (2007).

– While the crew was shooting on the beach at Leo Carrillo State Park, some pelicans flew by. Production value!

– The babe-osaurus  in the movie is Sarah Lieving. She doesn’t do the I’m-worried Anna Torv thing or the goofy Anna Paquin thing. She’s real serious, but without the burn of Lena Headey or the brains of Angelina Jolie. She’s got by-God white teeth, though, and she worked in one movie as a stunt driver. And she’s living the dream.

– I can’t remember if Meggie is a boy or a girl, or if we even know. He/she is referred to variously as “he” and “she” in the script.

– Something I’d like to check: budget and box office for this Asylum effort vs the same for Corman’s Dinocroc vs Supergator.

– There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of CGI helicopters, no doubt checked out of The Asylum helicopter locker.

– A lot of time and thought and budget is spent on croc eggs. Shark wanting to eat the eggs; croc wanting to protect the eggs. I’m thinking that there is a pro-life or pro-choice message hidden here, but I’m not sure what it is.

– No animals were hurt during the making of this movie, not counting whatever happened to Gary Stretch’s face.

Right at Your Door (2006)

Right at Your Door (2006) – I thought this was a recent release, but I guess not… My theory is that it was funded by one of the major big-box stores, to get us to go out and stock up on emergency supplies: a series of dirty, virus-infested bombs are detonated in L.A (I had to look up “series is” vs “series are”). The only hope for the locals is to duct-tape their houses to a fare-thee-well. Some time is spent on tape acquisition at the outset. Meanwhile, my spousal unit, during the initial scenes, kept remarking on how unsympathetic the main character was. Made me wonder whether the writer/director planned it that way or not. See, the whole point of the movie  is that the guy tapes himself inside, but his wife is outside, downtown, probably infected with the toxic virus. She makes it home and wants to come in, naturally, virus or no virus; he says no, please curl up out back. So my question is, did the writer/director intend for the guy to be sympathetic at that point or not? Does it matter? He’s running around concerned about his wife in the beginning, so he cares, but it’s tough to make him the nice guy when his wife is outside the door pleading and he goes, Baby, I’m sorry, but… The movie continues. Stuff happens. It’s a movie for our time, a cautionary tale, a horror story, operating on multiple levels, a nice little, have-a-nice-day-but-oh-by-the-way-you’re-totally-screwed movie, fiendish in the end, sort of like the daily news. Kudos to Chris Gorak, writer/director. May he prosper.

Infestation (2009)

Writer/director Kyle Rankin describes Infestation (2009) as a zombie movie using bugs. If you take your lesser zombie and/or bug movies seriously, note that this review contains SPOILERS. For example, the following sentences might spoil your sense of location in the movie: Rankin wanted to set the movie in Anywhere, U.S.A. However, at one point he was required to specify which state the license plates in the movie should represent. He chose Colorado because the office park they were using for the shoot reminded him of Colorado Springs. However, the movie was shot, start to finish, in Sofia, Bulgaria. If you know this going in, perhaps you will find yourself thinking, hmm, Americans in Bulgaria – hope they’re enjoying the foreign experience. Or your eye might stray from the foreground to the landscape, as your inner tourist takes control during some moment of overlong exposition. Someone told Rankin in advance that there would be bad food but beautiful women, which seemed like an ok tradeoff to him (he hooked up with a woman but also focused on the local gustatory delicacies, such as they were). He then checked Wikipedia to ascertain where Sofia, and in fact, Bulgaria, was. I myself know two Bulgarian women, offhand. One beautiful, the other a good mother.

Making movies in Bulgaria to save money may be tapering off, but I haven’t checked to confirm. Bulgaria joined the European Union at the start of 2007, but the Lev won’t be replaced by the Euro sooner than 2013, so the favorable Lev/Dollar exchange rate remains. As someone observed, however, your movie-making in Bulgaria should feature cheap, because everything in the country is cheap. I heard somewhere that many production teams are moving to South Africa now, another inexpensive place to film.

I know these things about Bulgaria and Rankin in Bulgaria because I elected to watch Infestation with his commentary turned on (which also means, with the dialog 99% inaudible). This is the first time, if my memory serves, that I’ve watched a movie with the commentary track turned on first, from the beginning. It’s a strange experience. You see but don’t hear the movie. Conflict between bug and human is manifest; the more important conflict between human and human is absent. Also, this is a horror comedy, with most of the humor in the dialog (assuming that it’s there at all). Thus, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW UNLESS I GO BACK AND LISTEN TO INFESTATION. Will I do that? Don’t know yet. First must finish watching the commentary. Rankin recorded it in 2008, so it’s not exactly au courant (the movie was shot summer of 2007 and went on the festival road). I’ve got to take this review thing a little seriously here, because more than one list maker has included Infestation as one of their top 10 horror films of 2009.

One bit of plot explanation, if you plan to watch the movie. The bugs wrap up the humans and then inject something into their jugulars. (How the bugs see through the cocoon to do that accurately, I don’t know.) But in the hero’s case, the bug is distracted at the crucial moment and injects the whatever through the hero’s cheek into his mouth instead of into the vein. Therefore the hero can bust out of the cocoon and run around busting others out. How come they can wake up too, if they’ve been jugulared? Wait… You can’t think about stuff like that in a  B- or C-level bug movie. Listening to the commentary, you realize how much of what you’re watching depends upon how the film was cut, how much time the crew had while shooting any given scene, the impact that a moose head falling off the wall accidentally can have, so forth. The movie is loaded with ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement or Additional Dialogue Recording, also known as dubbing or looping).

Movie notes:

– If you’re going to put boobs… nah, I’m not going to go there. Except to say that the one terrible mistake, for me, in the masterpiece that is Mulholland Drive (2001), is the bad boob job. Please don’t take me out of the movie just because Dr. Plastic Hollywood over there in Woodland Hills couldn’t do his job right.

– Linda Park is not Grace Park.

– Small bugs are scary, as in Splinter (2008). Big bugs are goofy.

– Rankin was the casting director for Reindeer Games. Since then, he has made eight movies (long and short), this one in association with Icon, which is Mel Gibson’s company. Do what you want with the bugs, but don’t bug Mel!

– It took them 7 weeks to build the bug nest. They blew up a miniature of it in Topanga, behind Rankin’s house.

– Screenplay called for a box of animal cookies on the shelf. The hero opens the cupboard and there they are, provided by the Bulgarian crew, biscuits for a cat.

Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea, listening to the commentary first. But no, it was fun.

I did watch the movie, finally. It was pretty good. Lively.  The bugs were ok, excepting the usual amount of pure nonsense so often present in these movies. Sure, it was Bulgaria, but a bug’s a bug. There were some excellent action effects. Rankin writes pretty good – writes better comic dialog than I ever could. Chris Marquette is a funny guy. I smiled a lot. Most importantly, I cared about the characters.

Creature of Darkness (2009)

Why did I bring home this particular movie, of all the Blockbuster horror flicks on the shelf? I brought this movie home because a critic watched it and liked it and wrote about it. I assume now that the critic had a close personal connection with someone in Creature of Darkness (2009). Perhaps one of the actors owed him money.

Having said that, I  will not waste my time or yours ragging on this film. Some guy took the trouble to write a screenplay and direct it. Eleven actors got a payday out of it, as well as a new line in their resumes.  Somebody invested money in the movie. Why should I be a churl about it?

This is one of those indies wherein the director transports his script and actors up to Santa Clarita for a week-long shoot in the hills, including nights in the cold (actually 23 days and 23 nights; I underestimated the work that went into this flick), lines up an effects guy for some undergraduate work on a Mac when they get back, and boom, press the disk and ship it! It’s sort of like watching your frat and sorority friends making a movie. Story makes no sense whatever (even though the hero tells us “it’s just like Einstein said”). No hint, no morsel, no single moment, no nanosecond of humor onscreen. 2010 and this the 9,999th movie of its kind and Mark Stouffer wouldn’t or couldn’t crack a smile.

I was hoping for a commentary track, but no. Why did Stouffer make this movie? He’s done some good National Geographic work, won two Emmys and a bunch of other stuff, made some real movies, and…wha?… Mark, where’s your Wiki page? This can’t be right! Marty gets a page and you don’t? To read about you, I’ve gotta go to Linked In? Jesus, you work all your life, you sacrifice, you slave, you bleed, you rack up the honors, and then when you try to put up your page, or your wife tries to put up your page, or your kids try to put up your page, those idiots at Wikipedia keep taking it down, and you put it up again, and they take it down again, the bastards… Fine. Who needs it? I could care less. To hell with them. Don’t ever, I mean EVER, DON’T EVER EVER EVER PUT UP MY WIKI PAGE AGAIN GODDAMMIT!!

There being five young men and five young women in the film, I thought I’d try and guess in advance the order in which the monster kills them off. I got the first one right. A guy  asks his girlfriend to flash him – which she does with the camera modestly focused above her collarbones – hey, the movie’s already got an R, what’s the problem here? Stouffer is an old prude? Hoisting up the tank top was  integral to the plot! Don’t let her hoist in vain. So anyway, counting that behavior as sex, the guy is immediately doomed and dispatched forthwith. As I recall, the script did not even demand a scream from him. Some of these guys hate to scream! That’s what the girls are for. The angry Latino guy went next. I didn’t see that coming. Surprising, as his IMDB resume seems one of the most solid. Maybe he was being paid by the hour, or would only sign up for one day’s work. And by the way, this movie would have been improved by just losing the monster and concentrating on the existing interpersonal conflicts between the young men and women provided as victims. I guessed the third one to buy it, the gay guy. Not to stereotype but yes, he was made to scream. At this point, I began to wonder if only the guys were going to get killed. With no gratuitous bosom shots, perhaps Stouffer was going for some kind of Caged Heat on us. But no, the second-most spunky woman went down next. With a shriek more than a scream.

After that the director threw me a  curve. Turns out that the monster is not killing and eating, he’s collecting and, for example, the gay guy was “a perfect redhead with freckles.” (I hadn’t noticed.) So, speculate the survivors, two of them now are in especial danger because they are “perfect blacks,” or “perfect African Americans,” or “perfect Negroes,” I forget which. Definitely not “perfect N-words.” Santa Clarita is not Gropple, Alabama, after all.  Although “perfect” in this case seems to mean “almost able to pass.” Up to their realization that the monster wanted a matched pair of people of color, I hadn’t noticed the couple’s ethnicity at all. Couldn’t tell by looking. The woman’s hair was straighter than any process could produce.  Going forward, the director threw in some Ebonic dialog, just to keep the monster clear on his targets. The dude goes street, but maybe he’s just some white dude with a tan, black curly hair, and a jones for acting hip. You dig?  Though he does refer to himself at one point as an ebony meatloaf. And whatever my thoughts, the monster didn’t seem to have any doubts!

The monster takes over in the second half of the movie. Guy in black coat (to protect against UV, though it’s nighttime). Then guy in monster latex after the coat burns off. Then animatronic. (I was wrong about the effort and $$ spent on effects; more than I thought. A couple of guys labored over this thing.) Then animatronic monster parts that had been hacked off the main monster. Then digital animated monster. Then monster shadows on the cave wall. Bobblehead monster. I tried the shadows myself, using a hanky draped over my flatscreen. VP of Sales held the flashlight. Spooky.

Movie notes:

– Five guys in the group, and the biggest shlub, Devon Sawa, is supposed to be the Alpha dog (sorry, Devon).

– This is a group of 30s playing 20 with one female 40 playing 30 playing 20. You go, Girl!

– At least 3 Johnny Dramas here. Provides context for Entourage.

– Men’s gel still helps.

– Hey. No cell phone reception.

– “Courage doesn’t need explaining.”

– Hard to describe but there’s some stock music at one point in the movie that means a fire is going to start and then stuff is going to start blowing up. The track is instantly recognizable on a gut level: boinggg…boinggg… ding ding…ding… fwoosh!

– At the start of the movie, a guy shoots a ground squirrel with a rifle. What was that all about?

– Stouffer throws the gore fans a bone, literally – in this case, a complete, articulated spine.

– All that nature footage he shot in the past, seems like he could have gone natural here a little more, if you know what I mean.

– Stouffer. Any connection with the frozen dinners?

Final thoughts: Mark, you are no spring chicken. Use your time more wisely. Do not waste the remaining years before you go senile on something like this, even if you want to involve family in the project like you did here. Mark, you made this movie sixty years too late. Take all that money you spent on the monster (sorry, monster-fabrication guys, you seem nice in the Making Of feature) and next time give it to refugees, or for research into some horrible disease,  or even to the guy who asked me for change at the gas station this morning.

2001

I notice that 2001 is #22 on the AFI list. Various blog posters have it on their top-five sci fi lists. Just a quick post here to ask why.

Disclaimer: I write here only of my subjective reactions to the movie. No absolutes. No measure of Kubrick as visionary or master filmmaker. If 2001 is your favorite sci fi flick, I’m down with that. I don’t expect everyone to respect my favorite movie as the #1 of all time, not if they aren’t into horses and the young girls who ride and feed and groom them like I am. Because one day that girl grows a little older and loses interest and then you’re stuck with half a ton of knickering, piebald… but I digress.

I haven’t watched 2001 in several years, but I’ve seen it more than once and I do have my lasting impressions. Perhaps, given the adulation enjoyed by the film, I’m forgetting something important. I saw the film in Boston in 1968 when it came out. Played at the Cinerama. Might have been the first movie shown there. Prices jacked up, I remember that. We sat in the balcony. Course, we didn’t know that we would be watching THE #22 MOVIE OF ALL TIME when we went. There was more interest in the whole Cinerama thing, which as I recall turned out to be no big deal.

Anyway, the movie… Did I use the word “visionary”? I’m just remembering here that it’s 2010, as I write. In 2001 I was still driving my ’67 VW with the sunroof. But the trip to Jupiter required that we find the black thingee on the moon and, well, we didn’t go back to the moon. In fact, x percent of Americans don’t think we ever went to the moon in the first place; twas all a hoax. So instead of the Jupiter trip and HAL, we get Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush, Clinton, and Bush (“Let’s go to Mars, right after we finish with Iraq.”). And a head of NASA who thinks that it’s presumptuous of us to consider our current climate as the best of all possible climates. But whoa. I’m going to pretend that the movie’s title is 2101, just to give myself a little room here. And 2010 can be 2110, for those who dug the sequel.

Anyway, I settle back in my seat and we get the cavemen and the black thingee, and then the bone tossed in the air and it turns into a spaceship, and right there I’m annoyed. I wanted more ape. This is it? A little ape and black thingee and we’re done? And btw, what happened to that black thingee? It’s buried out there somewhere? What would that thing bring on Ebay? Did I mention that I read Arthur Clarke in paperback (Ballantine Books) back in the 50s? He was ok, more than ok, but a little staid. Childhood’s End, as I recall, had a great cover. The covers were almost as important as the books, back in the day (my fave companies: Bantam, Ace, and Ballantine). Anyway, we don’t just leave the apes, we get the Strauss waltz music and flight attendents (in 60s stewardess mode). The reality: 2007, Southwest Airlines, a tiny bag of greaseless peanuts.

Then another black thingee but nothing really happens. The Cinerama has worn off. Did I mention we were up in the balcony? My girlfriend at the time… jeez, by now she’s a grandmother. I don’t think she cared that much for the movie either, but who knows? I was too self-centered to care what she was thinking about it anyway.

Ok. HAL. Finally. A gay voice like that was totally unusual in the 60s. A breakthough of sorts, except that his breakup with Keir was a little heavy. Holy Cow! Keir played a senator in The Good Shepherd. Still working. But anyway, lbgt was all code back then. Pulling those circuits out, one by one. Homophobia at its worst.

Don’t get me started on that light-show thing. Went on forever. Checking my watch. Those colors wouldn’t have passed muster in The Wizard of Oz.

And then the ending, which Clarke hated, and still hates (in heaven).

Warriors of Terra

Warriors of Terra is the name of a group of young eco-activists who have invaded, and freed the caged critters from, the research facilities of twelve of those large, evil companies that mistreat animals in the service of developing drugs that will make the stockholders (and the immoral CEOs, always beautifully decked out in navy blue suits in these movies) richer than we can hope to imagine. The film is several cuts above average for a low-budget effort. It should satisfy undemanding horror geeks and some of the rest of us who were misled by the title into watching it.

Edward Furlong gets top billing. After Pecker, American History X, and Animal Factory, I thought Furlong was a star, but perhaps not. If the list of films he’s done in the past few years represents quality work, then I’m out of touch, since I haven’t heard of any of them. He doesn’t look good; the sweet bird of youth has flown.

[Mild spoilers]

Think Alien and then replace the female bug with a female human with ebola DNA patched into her cells. Result? She’s faster than the eye can follow. The more she is injured, the more she needs to eat and like Ebola, she likes to eat flesh – the flesh of B-movie actors. Replace the crew in Alien with the Warriors of Terra stuck in the basement of a big building, and then sit back and try to guess who makes it out alive. One of the warriors, Andrea Liu, we’ll be looking for in future films. In this one, being of Asian extraction, she is named “Jade,” in case we hadn’t noticed.

The movie uses sound well. Quiet, understated techno backgound. Rather than graphic killing and feeding, we get a blackout and sound of crunching as each victim meets his/her fate.

The film is unrated, but sadly, only for language and a little gore. Since some of the gore moved, something I don’t remember seeing before, I suppose it’s CGI.

No commentary, which you’ve really got to have to get through some of these things.