Wednesday, June 27, 2012

John Carter (2012)

Am I the only person who found it impossible to not say John Carter's name like Arnold Schwarzenegger? You know, cause it's really close to "John Conner?" Didn't you ever look at the poster and think "John Conna! Cum wit me if you vant to live!" Or maybe you actually saw the movie and when John Carter gets transported you maybe thought to yourself "Nygaah! Git you ass to Mah's!"

Nobody? Ok then. Disregard that last paragraph.

"John Carter" is of course famous for failing. Along with "Battleship," this film was the first of two huge financial disasters for Disney in 2012. Both of these films had budgets that could have fed a small country for a few months, and both of them tanked like a horse in Skyrim. (/nerdjoke) It's pretty clear why "Battleship" went under, even though I thought it wasn't that bad. I think the main problem was that people couldn't get past the fact that the genesis of it was a board game. It wasn't great, but it wasn't as awful as people made it out to be.

With "John Carter" it was the advertising. This has been a note of record, and I'm pretty sure plenty of people in that department got fired. And rightly so. The trailer for "John Carter" was a big, jumbled mess that didn't tell us anything about the movie we were supposed to be excited about. I thought it looked like it was trying to tackle too many ideas, and I had no idea what anything was or what was going on at all. It was a terrible trailer and advertising campaign. And it was so quietly shuffled out of theaters, head hung low, that I never got a chance to see it.

So I finally got to see "John Carter" and I have to say, I'm really glad I didn't blow $9.50 on it. Had I seen this in theaters I would have been ticked off. Or maybe not ticked off but tired and bored. I didn't give two craps about this movie. And it's not because it was overly bad, which it wasn't, but because it just was so bland and unmemorable. That's a weird thing to say about a movie as admittedly visually stunning as "John Carter" is, but it's true. "Bland" is the only word to describe it, not because there is any notable lack of tradecraft, but because it's just so unbelievably stock.

It's really sad when you can see stuff like this in a movie and say "It's been done."

The story concerns an American Civil War soldier who, through some technology never really explained, is transported to Mars (Oh, I'm sorry. Barsoom. More on THAT later, because THAT didn't get old). Thrust into the middle of a conflict between two countries on the planet, he leads an uprising to stop the war. Or something like that. I know it involves these 4-armed bug type creatures for some reason, and there are these pale dudes who are kind of like gods but not. Oh, and there's a princess.

See, this is what I'm talking about. I saw this movie yesterday and I've already forgotten nearly everything about it. I can't even remember a single character's name besides John Carter, and I only remember him because his name is on the freaking box art. I had no clue what was going on, but at the same time, I knew everything that was about to happen, because the story is so paint-by-numbers.

I know that "A Princess of Mars" by Edgar Rice Burroughs is a classic sci-fi story that has been the inspiration for a lot of films. I've never read it, and nobody I know has ever read it, true, but I'm aware that it exists. The fact that it is a story that other films have lifted heavily from does give it a pass on being derivative. After all, we can't blame an old story for being influential. But that doesn't mean that it will be fresh and exciting when we've seen this story a hundred times before. It will be boring. Like "John Carter" was.

It's a shame, but when a story has been mined so much that nearly everything about it has become a trope or cliche, that's going to be boring as hell and annoying to sit through despite how pretty you make it look. It's not the story's fault, but that's the way it is. Fortunately, Hollywood doesn't do that too much.


There were two other things that irked me about "John Carter." Or at least, these were the things in the movie that were memorable enough for me to remember that I didn't like.

The first was the cast. Taylor Kitsch as John Carter to put this nicely...bad. He was bad. Between this and "Battleship" (Headlining two earth-shattering bombs in a row. Ouch.) I'm not sure he's going to have much of a career. And based on his performance as John Carter, which essentially consisted of him squinting and grunting while seeming like he was distracted by the football game on the TV in the next room, I can't say that I'll be too sad to see him go. It's not a good thing when Channing Tatum has more charisma than you do, I'm just saying.

Lynn Collins as the token Princess was also quite irritating. It's not that she did a bad job necessarily (she was better than Taylor Kitsch, anyway) but I can't stand her character. It's that same "I'm a Princess who is tough and strong and totally a strong role model but ugggh I have to run away from everything and get somebody else to fight my battles for me" crap that you always see. Also, she's another one of those chicks with a "kind of" accent. It's kind of there. Enough to where she can't pronounce "John Carter" properly. It's "Jawn Cah-tah." I hate that accent. Oh, and she whispers a lot. Why does every Princess do that? She's like Liv Tyler in "Lord of The Rings." You just want to chapter skip through her scenes.

On the plus side Willem Dafoe is in this movie. That's cool.

Oh wait. You don't see him? That's crap.

The second thing was that the culture of Mars, oh sorry, BARSOOM, is shoved in our faces pretty hardcore. That's not a problem by itself necessarily, after all it lends credibility, but geez give us some time to adjust. You want to know why I don't remember anybody's name? It's because they are all these crazy alien names that are impossible to remember, and many of them sound the same. I swear there was one word that was used to address like 4 different people. It sounded like "Rejjick" or something, and it was really confusing for me because I was thinking that was the name of Willem Dafoe's character, and then all of a sudden that's what they're calling Ciarán Hinds! About halfway though the movie I realized that it must mean "king" or "leader" or "Your Majesty" or something. Could have used that info earlier, guys. Or here's a thought: "Don't do that."

I think that maybe if "John Carter" was a TV series this alien culture could have been more gracefully introduced as to not be so jarring and disorientating, but we are thrown on Mars (oh sorry, BARSOOM) at about the 15 minute mark, and are there until about the last 10 minutes. That's about an hour and a forty five minutes that we are dunked headfirst into this culture with all the subtlety of a freight train. That's not nearly enough time to adjust to the amount of stuff they throw at us.

 For reference, as the credits roll on "John Carter," Gandalf hadn't even fought the Balrog yet in the Director's Cut. And there's two movies left. #doingitright

You know, I just realized something. I can perfectly sum up how confusing "John Carter" is: I don't even know if the people on Mars were originally from Earth. I don't even know if the aliens are aliens. That's pretty bad.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "John Carter" isn't a bad film, but I just didn't care. It was a stupendously boring and confusing cluster of stuff being thrown at me in front of a bunch of pretty CGI. Don't waste your time. Skip it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Red Tails (2012)

Remember when Cuba Gooding Jr. was relevant? Take your time, it's been a while. Well, to give you a little reminder, it was around 15 years ago. That's the last time anyone cared about Cuba Gooding Jr. And while at first it was hard to understand why that was, considering the man won an Oscar for saying "Show me the money," it became clear after a while: Cuba Gooding Jr. makes horrible movies.

I think "Radio" was the final nail in his "take me seriously" coffin, but Cuba Gooding Jr. used to be in decent films. "Jerry McGuire," "As Good As It Gets," even stupid stuff like "Outbreak" was far better fare than what he started doing in the 2000's, but I think it was right around "Pearl Harbor" when he lost his dignity. Leave it to Michael Bay to make someone's career tank.

The point I'm getting to is that there is a bit of irony going on with today's movie, "Red Tails." The irony is that this is a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen, who were a group of black fighter pilots that held one of the most prestigious records in World War II. Cuba Gooding Jr. is in this film along with Terrence Howard, another actor far past the point of being cared about. But their washed up status isn't what is ironic. What is ironic is that for Cuba, this is familiar territory.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a good movie.

"The Tuskegee Airmen" is a great flick. It was a 1995 made for TV movie starring Cuba and pre-"Matrix" Laurence Fishburne. I remember watching the crap out of it when I was a kid going through my "fighter planes are awesome" phase, which to be fair I've never completely grown out of. I love fighter planes, and a good movie featuring fighter pilots doing their thing is a guaranteed great time for me. So "Red Tails" is looking promising!

Too bad comparing "The Tuskegee Airmen" to "Red Tails" is like comparing having a nice Jack Daniels and Coke on the rocks on a warm spring night to having a dog turd floating in a dixie cup shoved down your throat with a funnel whilst being chained to the ground in the desert in the middle of July.

This movie was abysmal.

"Red Tails" is like a perfect storm of bad. It is cast with middling to bad actors, the script is a mess, the action, for a pretty as it is, is boring, and for a movie that is two hours long, it feels like about 70% of the film was cut with the spastic, whiplash inducing edits and abrupt endings of scenes. But more than anything else that is infuriating about "Red Tails," and there's a lot, this has got to be the worst example I've ever seen of unforgivably bad dialogue.

There is no scene during the entirety of "Red Tails" that doesn't feature some corny, overly scripted, exposition heavy, completely unrealistic, soul crushing, over-the-top, horribly delivered terrible line that would be the stuff of legendary mockery in any other film. And it's like every single line with these mugging jackasses. If you're having trouble contemplating the horrors of what I'm talking about, think back on some of the worst lines you've ever heard. I'll get you started:

"A barrel roll. That's a good trick!"

"Are you an angel?"

"Hold me like you did by that lake on Naboo."

"I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth."

"Anakin, you're breaking my heart!"


(Huh. Was there a pattern going on there?)

It's a showstopper like that every other line. It's really astounding how utterly, completely, shockingly BAD the words spewing from these actor's mouths are. And I realize looking back on it that the dialogue is the kind of stuff you'd hear in a video game. It's not hard to imagine having a controller in your hand, frantically pressing the "A" button in an attempt to skip a cutscene when lines like "The sky is blue, and my guns are hot!" are spewing from the actor's mouths.

There was a point in this film that I was trying to give credit to the actors and say that it wasn't their fault, and nobody could have delivered those lines well...but I lost hope before the end. I'm just going to come out and say it - These actors are terrible. All of them. And I was really trying to cut them some slack. But it was nails on a chalkboard BAD all around.

The final indignity came during the climax of the movie, during the biggest mission of the pilot's careers, deep into Germany. In what was at first shaping up to be a heartbreaking moment (had the rest of the movie been an effective lead in, anyways), Lightning, the main character Easy's best friend, is shot up as he saves Easy's life and takes out the anonymous German ace who functions as a kind of villain in the lamest way possible. As he spirals out of control, dying as he says goodbye to his friend and wife, the beginnings of an emotional payoff seem to be occurring.

Then he crashes into a fiery ball as Easy, flying overhead, in his anguish over his best friend's death exclaims "DAMN you, Lightning!" with the same kind of intensity he would have had if Lightning had borrowed a pair of Easy's underwear and not washed them before giving them back.

Now, it's a stretch, a REAL stretch, but I could actually see that line working if a more talented actor had attempted it. Maybe Morgan Freeman. MAYBE. Even he might have had trouble with that one. But I can also imagine Morgan saying "Now, isn't that kind of a silly line? Why would I curse him? That makes no sense in context. Wouldn't I save the anger till later? I would imagine Easy would just be sad at that moment."

"Meh. I'm bummed. I guess."

Oh and by the way - that important mission deep into Germany which would basically validate the black pilots and help turn the tide of war? Dropped after Lightning's death. Apparently stuff like the mission (see also: what he died for) isn't really important. "Red Tails" just jumps straight from that to them landing saying "Gee, good thing the mission was successful. But Lightning didn't make it!"

Not like seeing the successful outcome of the mission would be any kind of emotional catharsis at all.

That brings us to the rest of the problems. On top of everything else, the editing and pacing in this film is a joke. There's not a single scene that flows into the next one organically. Scenes just abruptly end with the grace of a sledgehammer to the balls. Not only that, but this film desperately needed another pass in the editing room to trim about 20 minutes off, mostly by eliminating two exceedingly stupid and useless subplots.

The first is a romance between Lightning and an Italian girl that basically has Lightning come off as a stalker, and the other is a prison break with another character that plays out like if you condensed "The Great Escape" into 2 minutes. Because it's totally viable to build up effective tension in that amount of time. It's so laughably stupid and out of place that it stuns me that anyone thought it was a good idea. These plot threads go absolutely nowhere, but keep popping up to throw an anchor down on any momentum the plot may have gathered by a fluke accident.

I can't really say much more than that. It's unbelievable how badly a good story like this was botched, especially when it's been done before to much greater effect. "Red Tails" is a joke, and George Lucas should once again be ashamed of himself.

Did I mention he produced it? You know, I hate to jump on bandwagons...but George is really making it hard to not hate him. Between him and Spielberg I'm not going to have any childhood favorites left to be a fan of soon.

Look at him. He knows he should be ashamed.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Red Tails" is making my list of Worst of 2012. There's no possible way that it's not. I pray it's not. If I have to watch 10 worse movies this year, I might kill myself. "Red Tails" is pain to the point of unwatchability. And it had the gall to feature the awesome Bryan Cranston. For shame.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Prometheus (2012)

Sometimes writing this blog sucks. When a movie reaches a certain level of quality it quickly becomes really hard to write anything about it out of fear of sounding redundant. Or sometimes there's just so much to talk about that you either write a novel or nothing at all. Here's one of those moments.

I'll own up to something right off the bat here, so everyone knows where I'm coming from with this. I am a HUGE "Alien" fan. The "Alien" franchise is one of my favorites of all time, right up there with "Star Wars." And while I didn't see them as a child, the "Alien" movies helped define my taste in both the science fiction and horror genres, and was a big part of my adolescence.

I'm such a big fan I even like "Alien Resurrection." Now, don't get me wrong, that is a terrible movie, but I still inexplicably have fun with it despite how terrible it is. "Alien Resurrection" is a glorious wreck of two trains, one carrying Joss Whedon writing a story about cloning while not knowing how cloning works and the other carrying 5,000 gallons of KY jelly. And he had the gall to come out and say that the reason it sucked was because all the actors said their lines wrong. Did he read his script? What an asshole.

Yup. Totally Sygourney Weaver's fault right there...

I'd been keeping on and off again tabs on "Prometheus" for years, ever since it was called "Alien 5." Then Ridley Scott changed the name, it became a prequel, then it wasn't a prequel, then it was, and it just kept going back and forth until I stopped listening. It was too painful to hear every time they made a big change. Eventually I walled myself off from it and kept in the dark. The only thing I allowed myself to see was the trailer when it was first released. And it looked so good that out of all the movies coming out in 2012, the only one that I was more excited about was "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Needless to say, the expectations were sky high.

I ended up seeing "Prometheus" twice, in actuality. I saw it on opening day, but I realized I couldn't write a review of it at that point, because I didn't really know what I thought. I knew that I didn't hate it. I knew that I enjoyed myself, but I didn't know if that was because of my "fan-goggles" or not. Perhaps the fact that I was practically wetting myself with joy every time I saw something familiar was tainting my opinion of it.

So I went back and watched it again a few days later. And I'm happy to say that "Prometheus" improves drastically on a second viewing, and it confirmed my original thoughts on the film: "Prometheus" is really, really good.

Whoa! They made a "Mass Effect" movie? Sweet!

The thing about "Prometheus" is that there's a lot of ideas going on in it. Any movie that asks the question: "Who are we and where did we come from?" and attempts to give some answers is biting off a big mouthful to chew. Aside from that, there are recurring themes of evolution, rebirth, and parricide that really give "Prometheus" what I have to be snobby and call "an intellectual edge" that makes it a much smarter film than any film in the "Alien" franchise to date. Not to say that "Prometheus" is better, or that the others weren't "smart," but they were horror/action films. "Prometheus" is a before anything else a sci-fi film.

Not really knowing where to begin, I'll just start by saying that the cast was phenomenal. I was happy to see that Noomi Rapace confirmed my suspicions that her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" series was simply the result of a horrible character, and that she is actually a very good actress. I enjoyed her greatly in "Prometheus," although it is inevitable that comparisons to Sygourney Weaver will occur, since she is the Ripley character of this one.

Is she as good as Sygourney? That's impossible to say since Ripley and Beth are two completely different characters. I'd say that overall Beth isn't as emotionally (or physically) strong as Ripley is, but the way Noomi plays Beth, she never comes off as weak - just realistic. In fact you could argue that Beth is far more logical and intelligent than Ripley since she thinks about things instead of acting out of blind emotion (re: running back into the alien hive to save Newt). Perhaps that evens things out. Ripley is a badass, Beth is smart.

Noomi is also looking a HELL of a lot like Kari Byron in this. Ridley Scott must have been reading my "wish list."

 Oh baby. You can bust my myth any day. Awww yeah... #needsgirlfriendbadly

And of course, adding to the lovely factor is Charlize Theron, playing the corporate jerk who doesn't really care about any of the crew, kind of like Paul Reiser's character Burke in "Aliens." Between this and "Snow White and The Huntsman," she really can play wicked quite well. The real star here, though, is Michael Fassbender, who seems to be on a mission to completely dominate every single movie he is in. His portrayal of David, the ship's synthetic (robot) is, in a word, stunning. He had a lot to live up to, filling the shoes of Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen, but Fassebender is a mack-daddy, so of course he pulls it off.

And if you squint really hard and huff a lot of paint, Fassbender kind of looks like the love child of Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen.

I know there has been some division among fans, however. Honestly, I don't get it, but if someone wasn't paying attention, they might come away with misconceptions since this is not really like the other "Alien" films, at least at first glance. There really isn't any horror element to it, at least not in terms of what we've come to expect. Whereas the other movies were essentially slasher movies in space, "Prometheus" is more of a suspense/drama. The gore, for the most part, isn't really there like in the others, there is less emphasis on action, and there is more of a sense of mystery and discovery than tension and dread, although those do make themselves known on occasion.

But at the same time, there are a lot of similarities, particularly in the pacing department. It begins slow and it takes it's time until a nasty discovery is unveiled which threatens the crew. Slowly they begin to get picked off, just in this case not by a monster in the conventional sense. There is the equivalent of the chestburster scene, and although it is much later in the film, I would say that it's far more intense since the scene in the original was much quicker. A corporate betrayal is uncovered, and the ending is actually quite similar in a lot of ways. There's also a "fourth act" confrontation, which "Alien" basically invented. Hell, even the android's severed head starts talking.

And for being not as action-oriented, there are some legitimate squirming-in-your-seat nail biting moments that I imagine would be especially rough for anybody who has ever given birth. C-Section nightmares all around, kiddos.

 Nobody can watch this scene and tell me later it wasn't intense as all hell.

So I guess I don't understand where the split comes in. It may anger some to hear this, but take it from a person who is quite protective of the series: This is not a betrayal. This is "Alien" with an intellectual spin on it, and there's a lot to talk about in it.

When I talk about an intellectual spin and "big" ideas, dig on this:


According to "Prometheus," a race of aliens ("The Engineers") created human life on Earth by sacrificing one of their own into the primordial waters. In fact, that is presumably what's going on in the very first scene. The very first scene of the film is the beginning of life, and "The Engineers" are for all intents and purposes, God.

When the crew find the alien ship on the distant planet, it was on a course for Earth. It's reason was to wipe out all life in order to start again. It had been sitting there for around 2,000 years. Now, "Prometheus" takes place less than 100 years from now. Can you think of something possibly God-related that happened about 2,000 years ago that might make the creator of human-kind upset? Something that might make them say, "Ok, you've all had your fun, but you all suck, and it's time to start from scratch" perhaps?

That's right. "Prometheus" drops the hint of the idea that Jesus was an alien. That's a big idea.


"Prometheus" may be upsetting for someone looking for a movie just like what the rest of the movies were, but was that really all you wanted? Getting the same thing over and over again can get boring, and I personally didn't want to see Ridley Scott get back in the directors chair only to do his best James Cameron impression. James Cameron is the guy doing the best impression of James Cameron, anyways.

I guess what I mean is that if all you wanted was to see "Aliens" again, throw in the DVD of "Aliens." After all, there really was no improving on that one anyways. When I get Ridley Scott, I expect a high level of quality, and hopefully some interesting intellectual angles. And that's exactly what I got.

Well, that and a whole lot of creepy H.R. Giger looking architecture.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Prometheus" was not what I was expecting, but that didn't stop it from being very good. It's a fine entry into the "Alien" franchise which gets better with repeat viewings, since there's a lot to take in, and I dare say it's objectively the best of the series since "Aliens." If it doesn't make my Top 10 of 2012, I will be shocked. Its biggest problem is that it will feel very hollow if it's not followed up on. This NEEDS a sequel, or even better to be made into a trilogy to be linked into the events of "Alien." Highly Recommended.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012)

Oh goodness. Is it Asylum time again? So soon? At this rate you people will start to think I'll watch anything! And while that is usually true, I do have standards. As awfully entertaining as these movies can be, or at least the thought of these movies can be, I have to be in the mood for The Asylum. About 97% of the time I'm watching a movie by myself, which can get lonely after a while. And most of the time I just don't want to watch these things alone. Otherwise I just feel...kind of dirty and wonder what it is exactly I'm doing with my life.

I mean, it's not a very confidence building occasion to answer the question "What did you do last night?" with the answer "I watched a low budget, SciFi Channel caliber movie you've never heard of starring nobody you've ever seen which was itself a knockoff of a movie that isn't even out yet. No, I didn't have a date. What kind of stupid question is that? I was busy watching Abraham Lincoln kill zombies with a scythe."

If I had one, my eHarmony profile would be as deserted as a Kris Kross reunion concert.

Fortunately, this time I was not alone. I brought friends along for the ride on this one. It was a good call, because "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" is a movie that increases in enjoyment the more people you have watching it with you.

I was made aware of "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" from Brad Jones of The Cinema Snob. Well, not personally of course. I don't know the gentleman, much to my sorrow. He gave it a glowing endorsement which I held in fairly high regard, and it seemed like a great time. While there's been plenty of occasions where I've strongly disagreed with Brad on movies, he knows what he's talking about, and usually puts up a fairly strong case for any opinion he has.

But in this case, it seems to me that "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" can speak for itself. I mean, just look at this majesty. This...this is awesome.

"Four score and 7 headshots ago..."

And in a case of a bit of serendipitous luck, "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" was thankfully nearly as awesome as it seemed. Nearly. While overall it is still a low budget Asylum flick, it still possesses some obscenely over the top weirdness that tends to leave the viewer in a state of perpetual "Are they seriously going there?" And it is pretty glorious thing which is a key element of enjoying "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies," which is to really just sit back and enjoy the absurdity.

The setup for "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" is that when he was a child, Lincoln was forced to kill his parents during a zombie outbreak, leaving him as the only survivor of his town. Then, during the Civil War, strange stories of southern troops eating the flesh of people in a fort off the Mississippi River start to emerge. Everyone thinks it's bogus, but of course Lincoln knows exactly what's going on. So armed with his trusty scythe and his Secret Service, the President himself goes to the fort to settle things before it's too late. The President is going out to kick some zombie ass.

One, please.

In all honesty, the whole zombie thing is probably the least interesting part of the movie, shocking as that is to say. The brutally honest truth is that the zombies are overall only partly convincing. This is mostly to do with the fact that the zombies all move absurdly slow, even for "Night of The Living Dead" style zombies. They also have this cosmically stupid thing where it appears that they sleep. I really have no answer for it, I'm pretty sure Lincoln said they were sleeping at one point, but it's really confusing. They sleep standing up, just kind of frozen where they were, but the crazy part is that the zombies in this movie move so slowly that it's hard to tell if they were supposed to be asleep or not.

So yeah, the action...not so great. Although it was considerate of the zombies to all just stand there and not do anything while the heroes ran through their ranks obliterating them time and time again.

That's not to say that "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" isn't worth seeing, because it is, and the reason is threefold. The first is that the guy playing Lincoln, Bill Oberst Jr., is actually an incredibly convincing 16th President of the United States. Seriously, he could be Lincoln in an actual legitimate drama and do a great job, which isn't hard to imagine because out of everyone in the cast, Obert Jr. is playing it the straightest out of anyone there.

More American Presidents need a personal bladed weapon of choice.

This is a role which could have been hammed up to shreds. He's got one liners, he's quoting from his historical speeches except in this ridiculous scenario, he's shooting infected people in the head while his staff incredulously exclaim "Mister PRESIDENT!" and he's beheading zombies while grunting "Emancipate THIS!" It's all very surreal. The amazing thing is that there's not a single point in the entire film where Oberst Jr. does not maintain a firm grasp on his dignity. And the end of the film has him face his destiny with what can almost be called a heartbreaking emotional scene. It really is an amazing performance, especially for an Asylum movie.

The second reason is Jason Vail playing one of Lincoln's Secret Service, John Wilkinson. There's a twist going on with him that observant viewers will probably spot not too far into the film, but despite that he is a blast to watch. Wilkinson has some of the funniest moments in the film, including a "that's so racist that it is hysterical" line which brought me and my friends close to tears, and hams it all up to an outstanding degree. Whereas Oberst Jr. always played it straight, Vail has moments of pure scene-chewing madness that come off like Snidely Whiplash doing Hamlet.

Oh, by the way, they totally steal a scene from Hamlet. You ready for the crazy part? It 100% works in context.

Mind = blown

And finally, somewhat fitting in with Vail's character is the third reason to see "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies," which is the inclusion of historical figures. Now, this is something the movie does that will either be some of the most fun you get out of it, or this will completely annihilate it. I'm reluctant to spoil anything about it, because when the people and names fly at you, it's a wonderful experience sitting back saying "Wait...what? Did they say that's...seriously? They're going there? That...that...that's so dumb. Buh...wha...huh?"

And then you start laughing. It's great. Just be on the lookout for some pretty outlandish historical cameos and dubious origins for famous quotations.

I have to hand it to the Asylum. I think this may be one of the best movies they've ever done. Probably in the top 3.

THE BOTTOM LINE - This movie could almost be recommended to people who didn't know about The Asylum. Almost. It's still low budget, it starts to drag a bit by the end, and the action isn't great. That being said, it's a hell of a lot of fun. Get friends together and have a blast. Recommended.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Rant: "Dressing Women In Armor"

You know what bugs me? When movies put women in medieval armor. Now, I don't mean that a women can't ever wear it, but something about that image is usually quite off putting to me. And it's not just because it's a woman wearing it, it's that there is usually nothing done to justify or lead into it.

It seems like a symbol which has to be touted out in the attempt to get more women to buy movie tickets. A trailer for a film showcasing the lead actress rocking a full set of shining plate mail, with perfectly tousled hair flowing in the wind as she raises her longsword above her head and gives a mighty yell as she and the host at her back charge into battle almost seems like a big sign splashed across the screen saying "SEE OUR MOVIE, LADIES, IT HAS A STRONG FEMALE PROTAGONIST."

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Not at all. By all means, let the lady wreck the bad guys with a sword and carve them up like a lumberjack. Let her go all Red Sonja on them. But only if that makes sense.

Here's my problem: Rarely do the women in these movies have the justification to not only hurl themselves into the thick of battle, but to even wear the armor in the first place.

I'm going to show you some pictures. Tell me if you can spot a problem.

Alice, "Alice in Wonderland"

Briene, The Maid of Tarth, "A Song of Ice and Fire" / "Game of Thrones"

One of these things is not like the other.

Which one of these women looks more like they belong in armor? Alice from the Tim Burton embarrassment of "Alice In Wonderland," is a normal girl who just throws on a suit of armor at the end of the film and battles the Jabberwock. Because, you know, she's fought in battles before. Or not.

Briene of Tarth from "A Song of Ice and Fire" (now "Game of Thrones" on HBO) has been training as a knight since she was a little girl. She's a towering hulk of a tomboy to the point of almost preferring to be identified as a male, and is so brutish strong that she is one of the most formidable fighters in a series containing dozens and dozens of powerful warriors. (And she's my second favorite character in the story.)

Briene gets to wear armor, because that makes sense. She's a warrior. She knows how to fight. Alice has no business being on a battlefield besides the story saying that she's the one who will defeat the bad guy. But what sense does that make when Alice hasn't ever picked up a sword to fight in her life? They didn't even have her taking fencing lessons, which I actually would have given the movie a lot of credit for had they done that. Alice is just a pretty face in armor. Briene is not pretty, true, but she belongs in it.

Perhaps that's too harsh of a contrast. I'll do you one a bit less extreme, which perhaps makes my point better.

Marian, "Robin Hood"

Eowyn, "The Lord of The Rings"

In Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," the Marian character, all 95 lbs of her, charges into battle alongside Robin at the climax of the film, standing toe to toe with professional soldiers and winning, despite us never seeing her fight beforehand or even hearing it mentioned if she even knows which end of the sword to hold. It's just something that happens, and it's very nonsensical. She's just a pretty face in armor.

What that does is highlight the fact that up to that point in the film, Marian was pretty much a subjugated servant who really didn't do much of anything besides do what her father and Russell Crowe tell her to do. That fact that she was snarky to him is I guess is supposed to make it all OK. The sudden donning of armor to do battle out of the blue is a splash of cold water on the face that makes it clear that the writers had nothing for this character besides that role, but they wanted to put butts in seats, so suit up, Marian, you're going in.

On the other hand, "Lord of The Rings" has Eowyn, daughter of King Theoden. She charges into battle too, but although she is not a professional soldier either, we see her training with a sword. We hear her mention that the women of her lands are taught to weld weapons at a young age. It makes sense when she charges into battle with the men. She's a pretty face in armor, too, but she's not just a face.

Eowyn also took a much more active role in the story. She was out doing things and pursuing her goals, and even if she was in a similar situation as Marion in the sense that she was second-banana of sorts, she still had a will of her own, and acted on what she felt was right instead of just bitching about having to go along with plans.

Marian does not get to wear armor. Eowyn does.

When we have the former example, it seems like a rather lazy method to superficially make a female character a more proactive force, even when as a character, they really aren't that special. I'd also guess that the makers of these movies probably know that, at least on some subconscious level, and this is their way of getting around that sticky wicket.

The portrayal of a strong women (in the physical sense) needs to be earned through action and their active involvement in moving the plot forward. Having them take a more active part in the story is a far more effective method than dumping them in plate mail to do battle at the climax of the film, all in an effort to show the main actress looking hot in armor. Otherwise it's just as sexist as if the movie had them good for nothing other than cleaning the castle.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Snow White and The Huntsman (2012)

Can one single aspect of a film ruin the entire experience? Is it possible to have one thing, one element of a movie be so bad, so truly retched, and so foul that nothing you can think of can justify its disregard?

I mean, Jar Jar Binks was bad, but can you in all honesty tell me that "Star Wars: Episode I" would have been any better without his inclusion? Well, the answer is "yes," but that doesn't mean that by excluding him, the movie would have suddenly become good as opposed to horrifying me to the very core of my soul. Would "Highlander 2" really have been saved after they took out "Zeist?" The Renegade Cut of the film showed us, "Of course not, you dolt." And Skids and Mudflap weren't in "Transformers 3," and that movie still sucked like a puncture wound to the lung. So it would seem that there's usually a bit more to it than just one thing.

But what insanity could possibly afflict a piece of cinema so completely, so fully, and in such an all-encompassing fashion as to be without hope?

 Oh. Oh god.

You know, I don't even know if I should even start with this. The fact that Kristen Stewart is a bad actress is fairly well done to death, and there's little that can be added to the argument. She's like moldy bread in that aspect. Everyone is pretty much in agreement that it sucks, and is something that should be promptly thrown away. However, there is a inexplicably large fan base of moldy bread enthusiasts who say that it's delicious and totally awesome and underrated.

I don't know why these people like moldy bread, but I have two theories that I'm working on. The first is that they were told by the writers of their favorite baked goods style fiction that moldy bread is totally awesome, and since they are such big fans of baked goods style fiction, they eat up whatever is given to them and say "yum." The second theory I have is that they are stupid.

However, there is a third possibility that there is some kind of benefit to moldy bread I have not discovered yet. I have a plan to test this theory, however. I think we should lock Kristen Stewart in a warm, moist cabinet somewhere until her desiccated remains produce penicillin.

This. This expression is the one she wears every. single. frame. of this film.

Upon seeing the trailer, "Snow White & The Huntsman" looked interesting to me at first. Although I'm a little tired of everything getting a "gritty" makeover lately, it seemed like a cool take on the classic fairy tale. And then Kristen Stewart's vacant, baggy-eyed, blank slate of a face showed up on screen to make me groan and instantly fear seeing it. But, the rest of the cast was made up of some pretty intense talent, so I figured that it was worth giving a shot.

What I ended up getting was an interesting conundrum that was pretty much exactly was I figured was going to happen. The movie was actually pretty good. In fact, everything about it was enjoyable, so much so that I would call it kind of awesome...

That is, everything except the main character.

This is the most egregious example I've seen of a movie with a lead character so wretched that they nearly bring the whole production down around them like a ruptured dam. Kristen Stewart gives a performance so wooden, so lifeless, and so uninterested that it becomes almost unwatchable any time she is on screen. She is a thumbtack in the tasty soup that is "Snow White & The Huntsman." She is the rat poison topping on the films otherwise delectable pizza. She is really is the worst actress in recent memory that I can think of, at least in mainstream Hollywood.

She just threw up in her mouth. She'll use that to convey emotion. She's not sure which one though, so she'll use it to convey ALL OF THEM.

But it wasn't only Stewart's terrible performance that I took issue with. My big issue was the character of Snow White herself, whom I will get to later.

"Snow White & The Huntsman" follows the classic story in a very loose fashion. Many of the basic ideas are still there, with an evil queen taking over the kingdom, and the princess Snow White is the only person who can stop her (more on THAT later). She escapes into exile and is helped by the 7 dwarfs, who join her in her fight to overthrow the queen. The Huntsman is a guy sent by the Queen to bring Snow White to her, but of course he betrays the Queen instantly because he can tell she's probably not the most scrupulous of people. Being an evil overlord of a country tends to lower the chances that people will trust you, after all.

The Queen is played by Charlize Theron, and my goodness, she is amazing. True, she acts hammier than a pig wrapped in bacon performing a Nicolas Cage monologue from "Deadfall," but there is something so intensely scary about her in this movie that she is probably the thing that people are going to remember most about it. One scene in particular that will serve for me as the quintessential moment for her character is the prerequisite monologue she gives during the final confrontation. As she is reviling in her own wickedness, she walks through a fire which begins burning her flesh, only to have it heal as she steps out again, like she's freaking Wolverine or something. It's an awesome effect in a movie with a lot of really good effects.

And mixed with the very well done backstory for the Queen, I had more emotional connection with her than I did for the blank slate that was Snow White.

Speaking of scary, Ian McShane, who is one of my favorite actors is also in "Snow White & The Huntsman," playing one of the dwarfs. I suppose he would be "Doc," although none of them have their old names. I honestly couldn't tell what any of their names were, however, since all of them were speaking in nearly undecipherable Scottish accents. There is a huge amount of talent among them, though. Aside from Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and the great Bob Hoskins, another one of my favorites, Nick Frost make up the cast of the dwarfs.

The effects used to make the dwarfs seem smaller also deserves mentioning as it was well done. I don't know if they used actually small people as stand ins or used CG to put the actor's faces over top of them, but it was all quite convincing. I was on the fence about the 7 dwarfs when I heard they were in this, but they ended up being the most enjoyable part of them film aside from Charlize Theron.

That is, until they gave Nick Frost and Ray Winstone a poop joke. Because that's dignified, especially during the climatic final battle scene. Nice timing there, movie.

Chris Hemsworth is also pretty sweet as the Huntsman, doing his best to channel his inner Colin Farrell. So overall the main cast is all quite good, of course with the exception of Stewart, and one other guy who deserves mentioning: Sam Spruell as Finn, the Queen's brother. Now, it's not that Spruell is necessarily bad, so to speak, it's just that...well, there's really no gentle way to say this so I guess I'm just going to have to come out and say it. He looks like Gary Busey dressed up as the Berries 'n Cream Lad.

Seriously, this is distracting.

With the cast being as overall strong as it is, the effects being quite well done, and the story being interesting and generally exciting, "Snow White & The Huntsman" is a pretty fun time, and it's really worth seeing just to see how much the movie does right. But that being said, now is the time I once again talk about the main character, and for once, I'm not going to talk about Kristen Stewart. This is talking about Snow White, and why I couldn't stand her as a character.

The problem with Snow White is that she is only exceptional because the story says she is exceptional. In this story, she is The Chosen One. She is the Kwisatz Haderach. She is Neo. She is any kind of messiah character you want to name. But the thing is, there is nothing exceptional about her besides that fact. And it's quite telling in the fact that she doesn't do one single solitary thing that any normal person couldn't have done (with one rather meaningless exception).

Most of the movie is simply Snow White being dragged around like a cardboard cutout or any kind of trophy you can name, while people struggle and fight and die around her, just so that she can make it. Her ascent to power is done on the backs of other people, without her doing much of anything besides showing up and going along for the ride.

And it's not like the movie didn't give them opportunity. I mentioned earlier the pointless scene were she does something special. It involves her going all Crocodile Dundee on a troll, because for some reason, possibly because it was in the Disney version, she has this spooky connection with animals. Now, do they actually do anything useful with that? Well, for that scene, yes, because she saves Chris Hemsworth's life, but at no point does that come back later. Why couldn't she have called on her animal friends to help in the final battle? A troll would have been a nice addition to their forces. But they don't do anything with the animals, which essentially makes that whole animal thing pointless.

 Hey, maybe you could use one of these things to fight for you. Just saying...

A perfect example of what I'm talking about is a scene early in the movie where a common peasant is captured and brought before the Queen. He manages to stab her in the stomach with a dagger, which she pulls out with no blood spilling from her wound. She is unharmed. Now spoiler alert here, but guess how Snow White kills the Queen? Take a guess.

She stabs her in the stomach with a dagger. Only this time, it works and she dies, simply because of the fact that it was Snow White that did it. This literally is the most significant thing that Snow White does in the entirety of the film, and some muddy backwoods hick did it an hour and a half earlier in the film. Only I guess he wasn't good enough for the movie.

This whole fatalistic view of the characters really rubs me the wrong way. It's so boring, and it's such a cop-out unless there is a character produced that is worthy of that predetermined destiny of "savior." It would be one thing if you told me that John McClane was destined to defeat Hans Gruber at Nakatomi Tower. It would be one thing if you told me that Conan was blessed by Crom to avenge himself against Tulsa Doom. Paul Atreides, Luke Skywalker, and even Harry Potter had a prophecy attached to them. And they all DID SOMETHING TO FULFILL IT.

Snow White just goes along for the ride and takes what everyone else says she should have. Just because the movie says she deserves it. What a crock of exceptionalist crap.


THE BOTTOM LINE - "Snow White & The Huntsman" is not a bad movie, despite my complains about protagonists being worthy of the title of "main character." There is a lot in here to enjoy, and what it does well, it does very well. But be warned, if you can't stand Kristen Stewart, and recognize her for the blight on acting that she is, this will do nothing to change your mind about her. She nearly ruins the entire film. Nearly. It just goes to show how good the rest of it is when it manages to save itself from her awfulness. Recommended.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Woman In Black (2012)

I have always been of the opinion that Daniel Radcliffe was going to have the hardest time having a career post-"Harry Potter" than the rest of the cast. It's not that he was the worst actor of the bunch, it's just that he has such a distinctive look that it's difficult to picture him as anything but Harry Potter. He can't do intimidating, he's not good looking enough to pull of "dashing," and he just doesn't have that presence that makes people radiate off the screen. Perhaps it's that he's never really had much energy in his performances, he's always kind of slummed it if you ask me. The dude needs a cup of coffee or something.

You know what I'm saying with that? It's not that he's a bad actor, I just can't see him taking on a role that required him to raise his voice or be even mildly animated. He always has to be gloomy and dour. Imagine if they remade "Interview With The Vampire" and cast Daniel Radcliffe in it. There's no way he'd be cast as LeStat. He'd be Louis. You can't imagine him being a character that was "fun." Just try and picture a Daniel Radcliffe character possessing even a dark sense of humor. Try and see him spouting off a one-liner. I just don't think he could do it.

You know, they'd probably cast Johnny Depp as LeStat nowadays, wouldn't they? And he'd still be playing Jack Sparrow.

Anyways, with Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, it's a little easier to see them having a successful career. Rupert has a sense of comedic timing that Daniel never seemed to possess, plus he looks goofy so *bam* put him in an English comedy.

Which he's already done, and was quite good in.

And of course, Emma Watson is hot now, so there you go. Instant career, although out of all the main cast I'd say she may have been the weakest link (especially in the earlier films). But hey, she got better as the series went on, and she's certainly better fare than most other teenage actresses. When people like Kristan Stewart and Miley Cyrus are running around in far too many films, at least we have people like Emma who can emote. True, she's no Chloë Grace Moretz, but nobody else is.

"The Woman In Black" is the first post-Potter outing for Radcliffe on the big screen, and you can tell that they really wanted to announce his christening as A REAL ACTOR (tm) with this one. As dark as the Potter series got, they never got "horror movie" dark, and aside from a gritty drama with a lot of swearing and nudity, a horror film is a pretty safe way to distance oneself from a prolific childhood role. Why do you think Radcliffe appeared naked on stage? He's A REAL ACTOR (tm) now.

So needless to say, I approached "The Woman In Black" from the standpoint of "Ok, Radcliffe, let's see what you've got." While I wasn't expecting an instant classic, the generally positive buzz I had heard lead me to believe I was going to get a fairly enjoyable film, and the fact that it was a Hammer Film lead some pedigree as well.

Then again, it was a horror movie released in the post-Oscar contender dumping ground that is the beginning of the year. The first three months of the year are always rife with lousy horror flicks because they have no competition since most of the big movies have already gone through most of the ticket sales they're going to have. Horror films seldom do gangbusters in the box office, so it's best to release when there isn't anything else to see. "The Woman In Black" was released on February 3rd. Oh my.

Yeah, this was no different than the others. It wasn't very good.

Nice scenery, though. True story - this is the English version of New York's Central Park.

Maybe if you're not really into horror movies it might fool you into thinking that it's scary, but it's not. And there are really two big things holding it back. The first is a mishandling of a very simple but almost always overlooked concept in horror, and the second thing is the fact that the villain didn't really DO anything.

First Thing. "The Woman In Black" isn't scary. It's startling. There is a HUGE difference that seems to be an almost alien concept now. Listen to me very closely, because I'm about to drop some science on you.


Pictured above - Not Pat.
LESSON #47 - "Loud =/= scary"

Fear comes from our natural "fight or flight" instincts. It's the reason people freak out when they see a big-ass spider or get punched in the face. You don't want this to happen, so your body goes into overdrive to help you get away from the offending big-ass spider or fist embedding itself in your nasal cavity. It's a big shot of adrenaline, and yes, it can be quite the jolt. That's why something flying out of the darkness out you going "HWWAAARRRGGGHHH!!!!" is going to put you on edge.

This is all well and good, but using loud sounds to replicate this fear in something that by itself is not scary doesn't work. You can't make a kitten jumping out of a closet scary, no matter how loud you make that stupid orchestra sting. It's still a kitten. All that's going to happen is that my heart is going to momentarily beat faster, my adrenaline will kick in despite the lie, and I'm going to be pissed off because I saw the jump coming a mile away anyways.

That's not scary. That's lying very loudly.

/science drop.

This is "The Woman In Black." A far too big percentage of the scares are false ones, and all but two scares feature the orchestra sting. What that is telling me, movie, is that you don't think too highly of me or yourself. You don't think you're scary, do you, movie? You don't think the scary images can stand on their own, so you have to add that 147 decibel jump scare to try and make nasty water coming out of a pipe scary, am I right? Because that's what you're doing. You're trying to make me afraid of a nasty, clogged up sink.

You don't hold me in a high regard, do you? Trying to make me scared of kitchen appliances? What is this, a Stephen King story?

"My god, I'm wistful."

Speaking of which, The Second Thing. It would be one thing if the orchestra stings were for something that was actually terrifying. I'm not talking about the sink now, I'm talking about the villain, the Woman In Black herself. True enough, she's a ghost that haunts the house that Daniel Radcliffe goes to, but there is a rather annoying issue that starts to make itself evident the further along the movie goes: She doesn't DO anything!

Oh, to be fair, she does make children kill themselves, which is truly horrifying, but that's after someone sees her. Then, at some short time later, after that person leaves the house, she makes a kid do something suicidal that ends in their death. Why she waits until the person she saw leaves is unknown to me, but that's besides the point. The point is that she doesn't lay a finger on Daniel Radcliffe's character, and actually seems totally incapable of doing so.

When it comes to Daniel Radcliffe, she poses no threat. She's not doing anything to him besides suddenly appearing next to him and screaming, or slowly...SLOWLY walking up on him from behind, stealthily making her way to him, as she gets closer and closer...until FINALLY...

She does nothing.

"Hello? Are you standing next to me again? Were you planning on attacking me? Pushing any heavy objects on my head? Scratching me with sharp nails? Anything? Shall I just go back to sleep, then? Would you be so kind as to not scream in my ear? It makes it difficult to nap."

So tell me, movie, why should I be afraid of her? She's doing nothing to him. I'll get nervous when he goes back to town, because I know a kid is about to die or something, but why do you keep a half hour long sequence going in the house when NOTHING BAD HAPPENS TO DANIEL RADCLIFFE? It's really quite annoying to have jump scare after jump scare with no payoff whatsoever. She doesn't even knock anything heavy on him or slam a door in his face. She just appears next to him and screams.

Pretty weak sauce there, ghost.

The best scene of the film is a truly terrifying image of the ghost/zombie/spirit of a child crawling up out of the mud. Daniel Radcliffe sees this through an upstairs window, and it's actually very creepy and well done. Soon after there's a pounding on the front door, and he goes down like an idiot to check it out.

It's a really well put together scene which gets pretty scary, until the muddy child shows up and...

does nothing except appear next to Daniel Radcliffe and scream.


Are you sensing a pattern here with this movie?

So in addition to breaking a whole heck of a lot of horror movie rules as far as "do and don't do's," I really didn't find "The Woman In Black" very effective in any form of genre you could name. The villain is lame, the characters are forgettable, and the scares are simply annoying and insulting. I would also like to give the makers of this movie a piece of free advice: If you want to make Daniel Radcliffe more masculine and more of a legitimate actor, don't have him call out the villain with a bunch of music boxes and children's toys. It tends to undermine any aura of macho.

Oh and the ending is balls, too.

THE BOTTOM LINE - There isn't enough to recommend "The Woman In Black" to anyone looking for a good horror movie. Fans of Daniel Radcliffe might find it an interesting curiosity, and he isn't terrible in it, but overall it's just not an effective experience, and you get the feeling that he deserves better than this. Watch the excellent "Insidious" for an example of how to do this kind of movie the right way. Skip this one, though.

American Warships (2012)

Crack open a sixer of cheap stuff, kids! It's time to once again enter The Asylum!

In case you were unaware of what The Asylum is, they produce what are called "mockbusters." They've been around for quite a while, producing such classics as "Paranormal Entity," "Transmorphers," "Snakes on a Train," and my favorite deceptive title, "The Day The Earth Stopped." This latest entry, "American Warships" is unsurprisingly a knockoff of "Battleship," but where this story gets interesting is that Universal actually threatened The Asylum with a lawsuit unless they changed the title from its original moniker, "American Battleship."

You know, I hate to come down on the side of The Asylum on this one, but seriously, Universal can choke on a spatula. The Asylum's original title is actually far more accurate than the big expensive flop "Battleship." After all, in "Battleship," the majority of the movie takes place on a destroyer. It isn't until the last act of the movie they get their hands on an actual battleship. "American Battleship" is totally accurate. The whole movie takes place on a battleship. From America. Seems legit.

But no, they had to change the name, which now make it make just as little sense as the title of "Battleship." In fact, it makes less sense, because there is only ONE ship in "American Warships" that does anything. The rest get blown out of the water instantly. We are following just ONE ship the whole time, so where does the damn plurality fit in here?

Oh and by the way, I don't care if "American Warships" is direct to video. Considering the difference in budget, I guarantee you that The Asylum made way more money off every dollar invested in their movie in rentals than Universal did domestically, considering "Battleship" only made back about 25% of its $200+ million budget in the states. So who's laughing now, Universal? Thunder Levin, that's who.

Awesome name off the port bow.

Did I mention the director of "American Warships" is named Thunder Levin? That's not a pseudonym. That's his real name. And that makes this movie, at least in part, hardcore. But there is one more thing about "American Warships" which makes it even more hardcore than a director with a name worthy of porn. I am of course referring to the fact that The Master of Disaster, The Count of Monte Fisto himself, Carl Weathers is staring in this movie.

So without further ado, on this very special occasion when we celebrate big box-office bombs by watching a movie filmed for roughly what craft services spent for one day on "Battleship," I would like to introduce to you a new game we're playing. It's called:


(By the way, craft services on "Battleship" had everything you needed to get a stew going.)


So "American Warships" is, on the surface at least, pretty similar in plot to "Battleship." An alien invasion via sea based alien vessels threatens humanity, and a lone American ship is the only one in a position to stop it. They also do a similar thing to the force field that was in "Battleship," only in this film, it's not a force field, but a total frying of any kind of integrated electrical circuits that enters into range of the alien craft. That means that essentially, anything possessing technology post-1950 is kind of going to crash and burn. So cue the WWII battleship being sailed back to the States that happens to be in the exact right place at the right time. Lucky seems not powerful enough of a word.

Another big difference is that the alien ships are invisible. So Mario Van Peebles, playing the captain of the battleship USS Iowa, has to follow the ship's wake, which I guess the aliens are too stupid to realize that they leave behind them. Intergalactic travel is one thing, but mastering the concepts of water displacement is quite another. And you know, the wake almost looks like it was made by a giant alligator. Fortunately, nobody loses a hand.


Most of "American Warships" is spent with Mario Van Peebles following this wake, and every once in a while firing off some of the guns in an attempt to hit something. And while this may sound boring, there is something of a pressing time crunch that does manage to give the movie some tension.

In a very "Crimson Tide"/"Hunt for Red October" style of plot, the world assumes that the ship is North Korean, since it attacked South Korea. And if it's not North Korean, it's probably Chinese. Anyways, the last conclusion anyone is jumping to is "alien." And since it also wiped out an entire American fleet in the first scene of the movie, this thing has got everyone running scared, and talks quickly move to nuking EVERYONE. America sends bombers to take out North Korea, and it's up to Mario Van Peebles to prove that it is an alien ship before they do, otherwise there is no tomorrow. THERE IS NO TOMORROW!!!


Carl Weathers shows up whenever the movie occasionally cuts back to the war room as an army general, and in what I have to admit is a bit of script writing I really appreciated, the Secretary of Defense is NOT a total douchebag who has been pushing too many pencils.


In movies like this, that character or their equivalent is always portrayed as a jerk who just refuses to EVER listen to reason or consider the possibility that the heroes will succeed. They always just sit there, finger on the button, sweating and growling through their clenched teeth that they have to report back to the President in an hour, so they BETTER have some GOD DAMN ANSWERS for him!!!

And the entire time you're just wondering what happened to them? They used to be one of the good guys.


In "American Warships," when the SoD busts in the room, adjusts his suit, gives Carl Weathers an annoyed, overly stern look and says "General, what the HELL is going on?!" I rolled my eyes and prepared for the worst. My fears were pretty much unwarranted, thankfully, because not too long after that introduction, the SoD is actually portrayed as a reasonable, even-keeled guy who is actually working WITH Carl Weathers instead of just yelling and being a tool. So props to "American Warships" for nixing that cliche. Otherwise, a fight between them could have broken out, and Carl would be looking at maybe $10,000 in hospital bills.


I have to say that while there is not exactly "riveting" action going on, and it's still really low budget, I was admittedly invested in this plot for the most part. The Asylum used to have this nasty habit of being obscenely boring to the point of being unwatchable, but they've gotten better over the years. There is a coherent storyline going on here, something that was actually lacking in a lot of their other films, and while the budget does make the action scenes kind of harsh to get through, I've seen a lot worse from The Asylum. But it was lacking something, what was it? Excitement? Enthusiasm? Esprit de corps?



What the film really lacks in however is the special effects. When the aliens are finally seen, it's...not pleasant. And by that I mean it's a really bad effect. The look almost as bad as the aliens from "The Darkest Hour." Maybe worse, I couldn't really tell you. At least the aliens from "The Darkest Hour" looked like an enemy from "Doom 2" or something. These just looked like something made in a late night drunken game of "Spore."

But did the really bad looking aliens ruin "American Warships?" Nah. It was just a cheesy footnote. You don't see them a lot, although the "shock" at the end which I guess is supposed to be the obligatory "4th act" in a horror film is pretty lackluster because of the lameness of the CG. Other than that, it was just one of those "Oh, well of course they look terrible" moments.

So what did I end up with? Seven references? I feel like I'm missing one. about: Aliens using cloaking devices? That's original.



THE BOTTOM LINE - "American Warships" is for people already familiar with The Asylum. If you're not, it's going to hurt bad. If you are, it's actually a pretty fun time with a cheesy D-grade movie that manages to be reasonably entertaining. Recommended for fans of The Asylum. It's one of their better films.