Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Oh great..snakes on crack!

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The nature strikes back/airline disaster flick Snakes on a Plane opened nationwide this past Friday, and, like Superman Returns and Peter Jackson's King Kong, it has already been accused of being a "box-office disappointment" and a "flop", even after occupying the #1 spot at $15.2 million. Now, the way I feel about people who measure a film's worth soley by it's opening weekend gross is a different story altogether, but I really can't help thinking that critics and number-watchers have overestimated the "massive online fanbase" of this so-called "most anticipated movie of the summer."

The fact of the matter is, most of the people who have been making such a hoopla online are message board dweebs who thought the title was hilarious and loved the idea of Jules Winnifield running around shouting "I want these muthafuckin' snakes off this muthafuckin' plane!" But I'm willing to bet that less than half of them actually planned to leave their houses to go and see the thing. It's the same as the "Chuck Norris Facts" which have been plaguing the internet - how many people who claim that Chuck Norris gave Baby Jesus the gift of "beard" have actually seen Walker Texas Ranger, Lone Wolf McQuade, or Top Dog? Participating an internet fad is effortless, but actually going to a movie requires leaving one's house and parting with a hard-earned $8.00. Two-thirds of this film's online fanbase are probably using their preferred medium to just download it.

That said, I was lucky enough to catch the the film last night at a drive-in theater with Jessica, Andrew and Doug, and I had a freakin' blast. This is a near-perfect modern exploitation film - it knows exactly how ridiculous its premise is (which, for those of you who've been living away from computers for the past few months, involves an FBI agent played by Samuel L. Jackson who is transporting a mob murder witness on a Honolulu to L.A. flight, only to discover that the mobsters have released a crate of drugged and pissed-off snakes upon the passengers) but it doesn't wink constantly at the screen. It plays it straight, but not too straight - it knows that nobody's watching it for character drama, we're watching it to see passengers get attacked by snakes. I think we get a solid 35 minutes througout of snake-induced mayhem, and that includes snakes jumping out of the overhead compartments, snakes taking out the pilots leaving nobody to fly the plane, snakes attacking breasts, boa constrictors swallowing chihuahuas and human beings, and Samuel L. Jackson running around electrocuting snakes with a taser. It's quite amazing to see.

As ludicrous as the premise is, the screenwriters wisely decided not to make it even more ridiculous by camping it up. They could very well have given the snakes individual personalities to try and humanize them, but they wisely opted to just make them all act like mindless killing machines, which is pretty much how I'd expect a bunch of doped-up snakes to behave if they were in a closed environment with people. The scenario never gets tiresome due to the human characters, including Jackson's badass but very likeable FBI agent, as well as the mysogenistic pilot (David Koechner), the nerdy snake expert (Todd Louiso), the resorceful flight attendants, the germaphobic rap star, the snotty Englishman, the cell-phone wielding yuppie woman, and the two kids traveling on their own. And they aren't always flailing around and getting bitten, they're all given a lot to do when they have to barricade the first-class section from the snakes, climbing through the bowels of the plane when the snakes knock out the power, and figuring out how to work together with each other (hargh!) in the heat of peril.

Make no mistake, this is a movie which contains nothing to say about Life, the Universe and Everything, nor will it make you a better person, but as far as pure stupid fun goes, you'd be hard pressed to beat its B-movie charm. It's free of all the angst and pretension of other disappointments (The Descent, I'm looking at you) and delivers the goods. Intentionally cheesy, but never deliberately camp, chaotic without being malicious or melodramatic, an utterly simple concept that never gets repetitive or dull. In essence, it's the stuff that the very best of check-your-brain summer popcorn entertainment is made of.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Snakes on a Plane? No - Chicks in a Cave!

The following was started as what was intended to be a short, messy schpeil over at my Myspace account, but quickly blossomed into a full-length movie review. So I thought I'd post it here, to save you respectable folk from having to brave the murky depths of the Myspaceiverse... it's a little bit like going into a cave filled with flesh-gobbling troglyodites. Which brings me to my review of The Descent.

Should have been called The Decent...But Not As Scary As Everyone Says

The biggest inherent flaw is that there are, what, six or seven gals in this movie, and save for the one single Burt Reynoldsesque survivalist chick, they were all completely and utterly interchangable. The Teen Girl Squad of Homestar Runner fame has got more characterization than this bunch. I couldn't tell any of them from a hole in the ground (no pun intended) so I didn't really care when they started getting ate up by the cannibalistic Gollumy things. The reason I didn't use a quote from the film as a subject line is because I couldn't even remember anything that any of 'em said. I really would have liked the women to be a little more interesting, or at the very least a little more bubbly and sexy like I'm used to seeing horror scream queens. This is, after all, a b-movie about cute babes vs. the Mole People in an underground cave... I'm not really sure why the director told his actresses to play it so rigidly straight-faced.

In the plus column, the cinematography and editing were very good. I can imagine how tough it must be to light and frame shots inside a cave where there is supposed to be no natural light coming in, and they did a swell job of that. There were a lot of "booga!" moments that made me jump real good, however, making the audience jump is not the same thing (and not as skillful as) building the tension and making the terror snowball and snowball until the audience is scared crapless (think of Alien, Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, etc)

What's kind of depressing is that as half-cocked as this film was, it still looked ten thousand times better than all of the horror trailers we were shown before it. I guess the reason that critics and web-geeks are falling over themselve to revere this thing as a masterpiece is that nobody has any recollection of any scare flicks that came out in the past. And when I saw "the past", I'm not just talking about the 70's, I'm talking about this past spring. Hostel was much better than this, and so was the Hills Have Eyes remake.

If you're a big, big horror fan, and you've got $9 worth of disposable income that you're not going to miss, and you're bored, you might as well to check out The Descent. I'm not goint to say you should stay away from this film; as a matter of fact, it actually should be seen on the big screen rather than on DVD when it comes out, as I really can't imagine it having the same effect (or any effect at all). It's nothing groundbreaking, but you might have fun if you can put the hype out of your head and go into it with lowered expectations.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

If they move, kill 'em!

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A few assorted jabberings...

Went to see The Wild Bunch at BAM Rose Cinemas last night, and all I can say is, fuckin' wow. What a great film. I think it has edged out Once Upon a Time in the West as my favorite western ever. The cast is absolutely terrific, it's got more testosterone than The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen and Raging Bull all put together, and the whimsical chaos and violence of Peckinpah's style still puts most modern action movies to shame. Ya two-bit redneck peckerwood!

As far as upcoming movies go, there's also a lot to look forward to... Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, a not-to-distant future story where all women are infertile, Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, a turn-of-the century thriller about duelling magicians, and TMNT (!), there is also Martin Scorsese's feature film swan song The Departed, an Irish Mob/Police thriller which not only stars Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Ray Winstone, but also my close friend Mr. Andrew Bemis! I can't wait to see this at the movies with you and Jess, man. The rest of ya's can read some more about Andrew's movie extra adventures on his blog. As far as the trailer goes, it looks terrific. Apart from that rather iffy cover of Comfortably Numb, it looks like we're in for a great big helping of Martin Scorsese Movie Magic. I can't wait.

Another shoutout goes to my pal and fellow filmmaker Jules Carrozza, whose cultish, Shaw Brothers-ified adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood is reported to be coming along beautifully. He's put up a blog detailing the filmmaking process complete with a teaser trailer. I don't think anything else I've seen this week made me guffaw as hard as the Wolf's line delivery of "THAT'S A LIE!"

Oh, and this just in... New Hampshirites rejoice at the title of upcoming Die Hard sequel.