Friday, January 19, 2007

The House Between: When Astrid Met Arlo

Well, it's Friday again, and that means it's time for another sneak peek at my independent dramatic series, The House Between.

Let me set up the short clip below:

It's a scene from the premiere episode of the series, "Arrived." Our series lead, a singer/songwriter named Astrid (Kim Breeding) has awakened to mysteriously find herself in an unfamiliar - and empty - old house. She has walked downstairs to the kitchen....and encountered a bizarre stranger who is living in that room, Arlo (Jim Blanton). Arlo has claimed the kitchen as "his," (or as a later episode notes, he has an unhealthy attachment to the kitchen...).

This clip shows the tail end of their first meeting as Astrid begins to gather information suggesting that her abduction and captivity is a lot stranger - and much more menacing - than she initially realized.

I call this clip "When Astrid Met Arlo."


Thursday, January 18, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Doom (2006)

Back in 1993 or thereabouts, the video game called Doom popularized a brand of game-play I relish to this day, the first-person-shooter. However, this 2006 movie adaptation of the computer game harkens back to earlier, cinematic sources. First and foremost, the 1986 James Cameron epic, Aliens.

So here's my succinct review of Doom: Sir. I've seen Aliens. I've reviewed and analyzed Aliens. You...are no Aliens.

Snark aside, Doom is an amalgamation of at least a half-dozen "space monster" movies from the 1980s (all of which were likely inspired by Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien. Which in turn was likely derived from Planet of Vampires. Which may have been inspired by It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Which might have been inspired by...).

Whew! Anyway, the opener in Doom, featuring doomed scientists on the run in darkly-lit corridors, reminded me of the prologue to Roger Corman's cheap-jack Galaxy of Terror (1981). The central setting, an archaeological dig on an alien world, was highly reminiscent of Inseminoid (1982), known in some circles as Horror Planet. The gung-ho military types on display here will remind you of Hudson, Hicks, Vasquez and the other characters you loved in Aliens (but will hate here...) Why, there's even "one tough hombre" here who makes bad "pussy" jokes while riding in helicopters...a not-so-subtle homage to Predator (1987), I guess. Although Klaus Kinski - sadly - is not in Doom, the knowledgeable viewer may also detect resonances of Creature (1985) in the screenplay...particularly in the way the dead return to life here, with a new and evil agenda.

And did I mention the similarities to Warning Sign (1985)?

All right, all right, stop it! Man, a movie doesn't have to be original to be good, right?.And truth be told, the "send in the marines" alien warfare movie-type is one of my all time favorites in the genre anyway. Lots of hardware. Lots of drool. Lots of gun muzzle flares. What's not to love? There's esprit-de-corp, and you feel like you've run the gauntlet with the characters who survive. Shucks, I can groove on this as much as the next guy. I can dig Deep Star Six, Leviathan or any other film of this type (though not, sadly, AVP...).

But in the case of Doom, the problem is - simply - that you've seen and heard every piece of this cliched tale before. If it were handled exceptionally well this time, or the film felt exceptionally tense and frightening, we could forgive the hackneyed story instead of laughing at the predictable chestnuts that get dropped in.

Doom's plot involves a search and destroy mission on Mars in the year 2046. A research laboratory working on "archaeology," "genetics," and "weapons research" issues a quarantine after some weird monsters break loose and kill off a lot of white coated scientists. The space marines - an outfit called RRTS (or is it S.T.A.R.S.?) - led by Sarge (The Rock) are thus assigned to head to Mars via an alien stargate called "The Ark" and keep the monsters from coming through and thus invading Earth.

The characters have names like Kid, Destroyer, Reaper and Goat, and wear "killcams," etc. As this kind of plot requires, they are differentiated only in the most rudimentary terms. Portman, for instance, is an asshole. He's the group idiot/betrayer (think Ash in Alien, Burke in Aliens, Kinski in Creature, etc.) All the soldiers also get hysterical a little too easily once faced with monsters, as though the writers have forgotten that these fellas are professional soldiers. Where's the level-headed Ripley when you need her? Despite the cardboard cut-outs on hand in the film, I must admit I did enjoy the impressive scene in which Destroyer fights a monster in a holding cell - in hand-to-hand combat! Particularly fun is the moment in which he uses a computer monitor like a bola and whacks the drooling beast with it.

There's little genuine suspense in Doom; less plot development, and the cinematographer seems to know precisely one move: the lunge! Whenever The Rock and the other macho men get in each other's faces about how bad things are going, the camera lunges forward approximately three steps; so as to make the confrontation seem more powerful. This dance step gets old after about the twentieth time...

Doom's dialogue is atrocious too. "I guess you gotta face your demons some time" is the kind of wisdom offered up. Worse, the film's idea of romance is to have The Rock stare lovingly (eyes bulging...) at an over sized machine gun ("a big fucking gun," as the script calls it), while the camera circles them. Have we been reduced to this in our science fiction films?

Of course, let's face it, nobody sees a movie like Doom for dialogue or romance. Just some good old fashioned monster killing! Accomplish that modest task with a modicum of cleverness and action, and I'm pretty much satisfied. Yet in Doom the monsters look really rubbery and stupid. They inspire no fear and have no menace. And the film suffers from poor pacing. Most of the fights aren't exciting..

An inordinate amount of Doom 's running time is spent with the camera (and characters...) navigating dark corridors. The sounds of heavy breathing, creature snarls and guns cocking dominate the soundtrack. Then...nothing happens. The game was never this dull...

But if any of this sounds like your idea of a good movie, by all means see this one.

Still, I recommend you rent Aliens again.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Pulse (2006)

What if all those devices of modern convenience -- cell phones, I-Pods, laptop computers with broadband Internet -- machines designed to "connect" us to one another... are actually the gateway to evil? That's the premise of the horror film titled Pulse (2006), another remake of another popular Japanese genre film (Think of The Grudge, The Ring, etc.).

Like those other examples of the form, the idea dominating Pulse is that Evil can spread to millions of innocent folk quickly, and that there need be no reason or rhyme to the pattern of widespread infection. This is a different paradigm from the one featured in old school horrors, like Friday the 13th, for instance, wherein vice (illicit sex, illegal drug use...) always precedes an occasion of slice-and-dice. In the new brand of Japanese horror and their Americanized remakes, just being there - just being present - is enough of a motive to get horribly murdered.

Watch a videotape and die in The Ring. Walk into a nice house in Japan and die of a curse in The Grudge. In Pulse, it's a variation on the same theme. Anyone with Internet access, a cellular phone or digital cable could bite the
dust. This new breed of horror film is all about one thing: the mass, global media and the widespread broadcast of pain, misery and tragedy. Think, if you'll forgive me for bringing it up, of the terror attacks of September 11, and how almost instantly the images of the Twin Towers coming down were broadcast everywhere. It was nearly instantaneous, and it was utterly horrifying. And it replayed on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CBS, etc...endlessly. People in Europe, in England and France said, on that day, that they were New Yorkers too. Why? Because they experienced the horror with their own eyes. They felt like they were right there, in Manhattan.

Another example: today, we talk about viral videos. Videos that spread like a virus from person-to-person. Is this a good thing? Sure (and by the way, did I mention that you should check my teaser trailer for The House Between at Youtube?) Anyhoo, Saddam Hussein's hanging was recently captured by a cell phone camera and transmitted to the world. The American government itself released videos of his son's bullet-ridden corpses to play on CNN and Fox. These horrors are free to all (even children...) and hanging out there in the ether to be watched, experienced, re-lived and seen again and again. Could there be a karmic or supernatural price for the existence of such widely seen horrors? What do such things do to the "global" human psyche?

So back to Pulse. It's the story of a smart college student, Mattie, played by Veronica Mars' star, the fetching Kristen Bell. She begins to notice an epidemic of lassitude amongst her college buddies. People are disappearing. People are not themselves. Her boyfriend, Josh seems to drop off the face of the planet. Then, she sees him commit suicide. Before long, the cities are deserted, and the End of Days is nigh.


What happened? Well, a telecommunications expert named Zeigler developed a new frequency to transmit huge torrents of information, a super wide band frequency. Unfortunately, the ghoulish spirits of the Dead can piggyback on this revolutionary carrier wave and squeeze back into our world. Where they promptly suck the life out of the living (much like a day spent watching nothing but MTV).
.
"Do you know what death tastes like?," Mattie is asked by one of the walking zombies? "Metal." That's a pretty creepy thought, but I must say that I found it highly ironic and disconcerting to see Bell playing the lead role in this film. Why? Well, as I've written before, her alter ego on Veronica Mars is a film noir-type detective updated to the 21st century, meaning that she avails herself of all the tools of today's detective trade: GPS trackers, digital cameras, Internet Search Engines and the like. If Veronica were in this film, she'd be in real trouble...because she'd be among the first to die! Funny that one actress should be involved in two productions that look at the yin and yang of modern technology. Someone needs to write a dissertation on Kristen Bell and cell phones.



Anyway, after the opening credits in Pulse, we get frequent insert shots of students walking on campus playing with laptops, talking on cell phones, snapping digital pics, - etc., and the idea made explicit by this imagery is that this stuff, this technology, is ubiquitous, and therefore the perfect avenue for an invasion. Much of the film's visual palette also seems to exist in the half-world of flickering fluorescent lights, which makes a kind of sense...it's like we're looking at a computer screen in the dark half the time. The form echoes the content nicely.

Pulse is a little boring, but also a little atmospheric. Anyone who's seen the other Japanese remakes (or the Japanese originals for that matter...) will be ahead of Pulse's gloomy narrative, and that's a problem. This is a variation on a theme, I wrote above, and it doesn't feel particularly fresh or innovative. It reeks of modern 'teen"-type horror movies in spots, and is less shocking and scary than it should be. But it adheres to its theme nicely. It will leave you feeling uneasy about the tools we take for granted.

Despite numerous flaws - mainly cardboard WB-age characters - the film goes for broke during an apocalyptic and surprisingly effective conclusion. There's a spectacular shot of a jet airliner crashing into a building as it is overcome by ghosts, and this is a beautiful and unexpected vista for a small budget horror. And then the end of the world comes. It isn't averted by a hoary ending, and the film doesn't cop out with a cheap way of stopping the invasion. Oh, the main characters attempt to upload an anti-invasion virus into a server mainframe at the college computer center, but the Dead - apparently having seen Jeff Goldblum already accomplish that task and save the world in Independence Day - circumvent the plan. The "survivors" are left with no choice but to flee to America's "dead zones," those few places out in the wilderness that don't get cell phone signals. It's the end of cities; the end of urban American.

Pulse
didn't perform well in theaters, and I can enumerate the reasons why. It's dull and a little depressing in parts. There's an overfamiliarity of structure and in narrative content. But damn if the imagery isn't effective at points too, and the climax is damn scary. And uncompromising.

Monday, January 15, 2007

More House Between Goodness


Well, I hope y'all checked out The House Between teaser trailer this weekend. I know some folks did, because my stats on the blog went through the roof. Thanks to the numbers I just saw on Saturday and Sunday, the blog actually had it's biggest week ever (since I started up in Spring '05). Nice!

Anyway, there's all kind of goodness and support on the net for this first glimpse of our independent production, and I humbly thank everyone for watching (and commenting), and supporting the effort. A new clip goes up here this Friday, (and every Friday leading up to the premiere of "Arrived" in February...), so if you like what you saw, plan on return visits.

Over at his outstanding blog, our Svengali-esque producer, author Joseph Maddrey penned a beautiful post that I think aptly (and poetically...) describes the process of creating the show. He's such a great guy, and the admiration society is definitely mutual! We couldn't have accomplished what we did without him, that's for bloody sure.

Anyway, here's a clip from Joe's blog. (And by all means, go read the rest at
Maddrey Misc):

A six-member cast and an eight-member crew converged on Charlotte, North Carolina, in June 2006. For the next week, we would be trapped in an empty house with blacked-out windows, completely oblivious to the “real” world. It was like being thrown into a dream reality, with a very sobering mission: We had seven days to shoot seven (dialogue-heavy) episodes. No easy task. I appointed myself task-master.

From day one, I was amazed by the talent and dedication of everyone involved. It was as if every single person there had been waiting for an opportunity to like this, and when the cameras started rolling, they all became consummate – and passionate – professionals. Somehow, John must have known that it would happen like this. The actors learned their lines on the spot. The crew knew exactly how to get around any problem that presented itself. As on any good production, the team simply gelled.

The project quickly became a collaborative effort that relied on everyone there for its continued success. There were times when the production seemed like a house of cards. If any single member of the team hadn’t been fully engaged, the whole thing would have come crashing down. But everyone we needed was there, and giving 110%. By the second day, we were moving forward at full speed. By the fourth day, we were circumventing production problems with relative ease. (Many of the problems stemmed from our lighting equipment, which didn’t weather the 16-hour shoot days quite as well as the actors and crew). By the fifth day, everyone was comfortable enough for wild improvisation – making for a great episode that renewed everyone’s energy for the home stretch. (Truth be told: The lack of sleep was starting to make us all a little loopy.) By the seventh day, our nerves were frayed… but everyone maintained an air of professionalism, and we managed to get the last show in the can just before a summer storm swept into Charlotte, and provided us with some great moody exterior shots.

Afterwards, we all went to John’s house for a late dinner, and sat around talking into the early hours of the morning. It had been an absolutely grueling week, but nobody wanted it to end..."


At his blog, Notes on Culture, Kevin Flanagan (one of our lighting gurus and my frequent writing collaborator...), also comments about the show. And my friend (and fellow Space:1999 aficionado), Phil Merkel, has the teaser trailer posted up at his great site too, Captphil Online, so you can see it there.

And of course, you can watch it again, just by scrolling down on this page!

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Ark II: "The Balloon"

This week on Ark II, the Ark is on "automatic pilot," (*ahem*), as Jonah and the others explore Sector 14, Area 12. Jonah describes (in Log Entry # 51), the new mission. They are trying to open communication with people "who refuse to communicate with the outside world."

North Korea..

No, just kidding. There's another isolated village in the California desert, this one fearful of an epidemic that is claiming lives left and right. The Ark runs across several message balloons which describe the situation, and the crew meets up with young Ben and his grandfather, who are trying to save the village from extermination.

But then Jonah gets sick. And no, it's not because Adam the chimpanzee is again fixing lunch for the Ark II crew. (Would you let the monkey handle food? Even a talking monkey...). Anyway, in this episode, Adam fixes Samuel lunch, using a device to turn a pill into a plate of bacon and eggs.

Back to the main story: Ruth is able to fix a vaccine for the epidemic in - literally - seconds, and then inoculate all the villages. Message: "To block progress only stops growth."

Also, the myth that Ark II carries no offensive weaponry is quashed this week when the Ark fires a front-mounted laser to demolish several boulders blocking the path to the village. Oopsy.