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Movie Reviews

Alien Vs Predator (AVP)

RATING: PG-13
STARRING: Lance Hendriksen (Charles Bishop Weyland)
DIRECTOR: Paul W.S. Anderson
PRODUCTION: Twentieth Century Fox
REVEIWER: Gevera Bert Piedmont

I am biased. Any plot containing alien monsters in an Aztec pyramid is going to automatically get my vote. When I first saw this trailer, and saw the pyramid, I vowed to go see the movie no matter what it turned out to be: and it was Alien Versus Predator.

The movie has to be taken outside of the canons of the Alien and Predator movies. The Predators did not like cold; here they're in the arctic. The Aliens were found far in the future, far in space, and here they are in 2004 (and 1904 and before that) right here on Earth.

Lance Hendriksen (Bishop from the old Alien movies) plays Charles Bishop Weyland, a mega-business mogul. His satellites discover an anomly 2000 feet under the ice in Antarctica: a pyramid which is a curious blend of Aztec, Egyptian, and Cambodian architecture: apparently the first pyramid ever built and the possible cradle of those three civilizations. He uses his vast fortune to assemble a team of geologists, archeologists and other professionals to explore the pyramid and document the find.

What they don't expect, of course, is to find it inhabited.

The scientists, and Weyland, end up caught between two equally hideous alien races. The Predators are large humanoids with amazing technology. The Aliens are disgusting bug-dinosaur amalgamations with acid blood and a nasty habit of popping out of people's chests. The fights seem evenly matched--a Predator gets the better of an Alien, only to have another Alien take him out, and then the reverse.

Actually, the pyramid turns out to be a giant maze, or trap, which shifts every ten minutes (one of the mistakes of the film is the statement that Aztecs had a decimal calendar: It was actually vigesimal, or base-20), forcing those trapped inside into dead end corridors and pits, just waiting to be killed. At its heart, deep under the pyramid's base, a screaming Alien queen in chains lays hundreds of eggs, which somehow find their way throughout the pyramid to pop open and dispense their face-sucking inhabitants at the worse possible moments.

The Predators attack the humans first, but the Aliens do their share of damage too. The movie is so dark it could have been shot in black and white: only the occasional flash of red lightens the screen (or the views through the Predator's various infra-red and other sensors). Some of the Alien-Predator fight scenes are so dark and so fast it's unclear who has struck who. The classic Alien shots of the mouth-in-mouth extending, and the profile of an Alien and a human looking at each other, are used repeatedly, maybe too much. But then again, this movie was meant to be a homage and montage of the other films.

One of the scientists is able to read the mixed Aztec/Cambodian/Egyptian hieroglyphs (nice talent) and decipher the story of how the pyramid was built and why this war between Aliens and Predators is happening. Although both creatures are attacking the humans indiscriminately, the humans decide, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" and choose a side.

The ending should satisfy all movie-goers, whether you voted for the Aliens, the Predators, the humans or the total destruction of Earth. 4/5


The Village

RATING: PG 13
CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Howard, Adrien Brody, William Hunt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleason, Cherry Jones, Jane Atkinson, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Michael Pitt, Celia Weston, John Jones, Frank Collison, Jesse Eisenberg
TOUCHSTONE PICTURES

The Village left me with more questions than it answered. The twisted ending only served to make large parts of the movie ridiculous (much like the ending of Fight Club), instead of clarifying things. I loved M. Night Shyamalan' The Sixth Sense, hated Unbreakable and was lukewarm about Signs (too much God, not enough aliens). I was hopeful that this movie would be as good as The Sixth Sense.

In fact, if not for the trick ending, it might have been. In fact, there are two big twists at the end; I only disliked one of them. But in the spirit of keeping the secret, I won't tell--because if I did, you wouldn't bother going. Yeah, that bad.

Here's the premise: A small town exists in the middle of Covington Woods. Apparently they have zero contact with any other villages or outsiders. (It is supposed to imply, I supposed, that they are completely self-sufficient, but raises too many questions--eventually they will run out of raw materials and need to contact someone, somewhere.) The time is established as 1879 by the headstone of a child, whose funeral opens the movie, with the oft-repeated phrase "We are grateful for the time we have been given."

As in The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan uses red as a flag. It is "the bad color" which attracts those they "do not speak of." Red flowers are torn from the ground and buried, red berries in the hands of the village idiot leads the people to suspect he has left the safety of the town.

Shyamalan copies himself again with those they do not speak of. Seen first as swift red-cloaked shadows which are genuinely spooky (echoing the videotaped alien of Signs), when fully revealed the creatures are more silly than scary.

An outbreak of what is apparently dead sheep (they don't appear to have dogs or cats), skinned and left about the town, frightens the townsfolk. (At first it is blamed on coyotes.) The creatures manage to pass by the sentries and paint red streaks on the doors as some kind of warning, and a wedding is interrupted by their intrusion into the village.

The elders tell stories of their families, all killed by violence in the towns outside the village. This, combined with the irregular forays of the creatures, serves to keep the entire town living in fear.

Shyamalan chose to write rather stilted, simple dialog without contractions. Most characters speak slowly or very little.

The actors all do a fine job. Sigourney Weaver (Alice Hunt) could have had a bigger or better role, and I'll give one bit away: she does not kick any creature butt in this film. Joaquin Phoenix, as Lucius Hunt, Sigourney's son, plays one of his usual semi-creepy roles; he rarely speaks through the beginning of the film, except for one long impassioned talk with Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), his blind love. William Hurt plays the head village elder Edward Walker and Adrien Brody is Noah Percy, the village idiot.

The whole premise, once the two trick endings are known, is just so utterly implausible that the film is ruined. There are some pretty good moments of suspense, and at least twice the audience jumped, but in the end it all falls apart.

3/5 and that's being generous.


Farenheit 9/11

REVIEWERS: Gevera Bert Piedmont & Will Piedmont

I had no plans to review this movie. I took no notes. I went to see it because of the controversy. I admit to not liking or voting for Bush and I had a preconceived notion that #1 he is a moron and #2 he cheated his way into the White House with the whole Florida recount thing.

In fact, the whole Florida re-count catastrophe is how Fahrenheit 9/11 begins. A sobering parade of (female and minority) Representatives challenges the recount, but none of their petitions have the signature of a Congressperson, so every one of them is basically told "sit down and shut up." Bush's first procession to the White House is marred as the crowd mobs his limo in protest, pelting the car with eggs.

Moore's decision to not show any of the horrific 9/11 footage makes the event more poignant. The screen is black with sound effects only, and then shots of paper and ash blowing in the smoke-filled air, with people looking up and covering their mouths or crying. This is contrasted by the President sitting lamely for SEVEN MINUTES in a Florida classroom, reading a book about a goat, after he was informed of the terrorist attack on the U.S.

The film details the Bush family's long-term business relationships with the Saudi Arabian royal family and the Bin Laden family, and how the lines between George Sr's visits to the Middle East are blurred: does he represent business interests, or does he represent the United States? It seems that George W's decisions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 were motivated solely by his business ties and NOT by what was best for his country. A retired FBI agent explains that the family of Bin Laden and the Saudi royals who were given free flights back home on 9/13 should have been detained and subpoenaed, since so many of the terrorists were Saudi Arabian and the plot was masterminded by Bin Laden.

Moore also depicts the underside of the war. He shows how the military recruiters prey on the underprivileged, poor and minorities, and depicts the horrors of wha's going on in Iraq--including dead U.S. soldiers being displayed and dragged through the streets. He also shows the reactions of civilian Iraqi citizens who have been bombed and killed, contrasted with military briefings talking about "surgical strikes" on only non-civilian targets.

The movie has its funny moments as well, including Moore trying to get Congressman to sign their children up for duty in Iraq, but they are overshadowed by the other emotional moments. In the theater I attended, people laughed, cried, applauded and sat still in shock at various times. When the lights came up, many people were just sitting in their seats, obviously numb and in disbelief.

Unfortunately, the people who support Bush will never go see this movie. Yes, it's biased and perhaps some sound bites were taken out of context, but overall it has the ring of truth. I did not see this as an anti-Republican film or a pro-Democrat or even pro-Kerry film. Bush has been ridiculed by the media for his stupidity since he took office--several web sites document all his idiotic public speaking mistakes. This film shows what happens when the person in the White House is a corporate controlled puppet.

This film is rated R for the scenes of wounded and dead soldiers (on both sides) and a black and white beheading. It is not for children.

5 out 5 SWORDS


Chronicles of Riddick

DIRECTOR: David Twohy
STARRING: Vin Diesel(Riddick), Colm Feore (Lord Marshal), Judi Dench (Aereon), Karl Urban (Vaako), Alexa Davalos (Kyra), Keith David (Imam)

First thing: I am NOT in the target audience for this film: 20-something testosterone-filled males.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a sequel to Pitch Black (2000), which was a spooky, creepy, dark sci-fi/horror film. (If you haven't seen it, you won't feel confused watching Chronicles. But it is worth seeing.) Chronicles begins five years later. Riddick is living alone on a remote planet, hiding from bounty hunters. From the bounty hunters, he discovers that the price on his head was set by Iman, one of the people he saved in Pitch Black. Iman's world is threatened by the Necromongers, a group of people who assimilate worlds rather like the Star Trek Borg (except that the assimilated people don't lose their identities; they are just re-programmed/brainwashed to go along with the Necromonger religious beliefs). According to the elemental Aereon, a 30-year-old prophecy predicts that a Furian will kill the Lord Marshall. Accordingly (and rather Biblically) all the Furian males were killed. But somehow, one survived. Guess who?

As in Pitch Black, Riddick's personal brand of evil is pitted against a larger evil. The Necromongers are a composite religious race started by the first Lord Marshall, who traveled into the Underverse and was changed into something half alive and half dead. The Necromongers take over worlds and brain-wash all the inhabitants into becoming Necromongers before destroying the planet. The Lord Marshall demonstrates his prowess by ripping out a random person's soul before the assembled people and saying "Join him or join me." It seems that when the population of Necromongers reaches critical mass, all Necromongers will be able to go to Underverse (which they talk about as if it's Heaven). Their technology is impressive, but stupid. It's much too ornate, and the multiple faces on everything are overkill. Meanwhile, inside the Necromonger ship, all is not well. One of the Lord Marshall's captains, Vaako, is plotting to overthrow him--because if you're a Necromonger, you get to keep what you kill.

The bounty hunters cast Riddick into a prison world which is 700 degrees in the sunlight and minus 300 on the dark side. Inside this prison dwells Jack, the child from Pitch Black who turned out to be a girl. Jack, now called Kyra for unexplained reasons, is in prison because she killed several people while trying to find Riddick, after he left her with Iman. The Necromongers follow the bounty hunters' trail to this forbidding planet because they know Riddick is a Furian. Riddick must save his friend Kyra, escape the prison world while hiding from the the Necro-Mongers, and save Iman's planet.

Many of the fight scenes are confusing, edited so fast and tight that the viewer can't tell who is fighting who, who is winning, and do you even care? The Necromongers wear metal armor, which is absurd considering their technological expertise, and fight with knives and pole-arms (a few do have energy weapons). There's a particularly stupid bounty hunter ship which is capable of light speeds, yet the gunners hang outside the ship on harnesses and fire weapons by hand. One unbelievable chase occurs when characters run over irregular ground just at the edge of twilight (in other words, running as fast as the planet rotates). Riddick's tolerance of light is inconsistent. He wears goggles, but takes them off in bright light with no seeming side effects. At one point, he looks into the sun as it's rising, sans glasses.

The special effects are excellent. Lots of explosions, space travel, and alien planets. But Chronicles of Riddick is not the same type of movie as Pitch Black. Chronicles is action/sci-fi with not a trace of the horror, suspense and mystery which made Pitch Black such a good film.

The funniest (and most original) scene is "Death by Teacup." You gotta see that one to believe it.

4/5


The Day After Tomorrow

DIRECTOR: ROLAND EMMERICH
CAST: DENNIS QUAID, JAKE GYLLENHAAL, IAN HOLM, EMMY ROSSUM, SELA WARD
STUDIO: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

(This review contains a spoiler.) If you really, really like special effects, and you don't care too much about plot or original characters, AND your secret desire is to kill off most of humanity, then The Day After Tomorrow is the movie for you--especially if you also hate New York City. This film takes many end-of-the-world-via-weather scenarios and mashes them all together, regardless of scientific validity or logic. I'm just surprised they didn't find a way to put a pole shift in there--which is usually what the doom sayers say would cause this sort of instant cataclysm. They're only missing a meteor, a volcano and some space aliens. Oh, that's right, those films were already done.

The series of weather disasters is only loosely tied together by a very weak plot. Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), a paleo-climatologist Indiana Jones-style, tries to warn the government of an impeding ice age, but (of course) the government doesn't listen. The Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica shears off ("a piece as big as Rhode Island"), it snows in New Delhi, India, there's giant hail in Tokyo, record-breaking hurricanes and thunder storms across the U.S., massive tornados in L.A., and freak sub-zero blizzards in Great Britain, just to name a few disasters. These happen in a very short span of time which isn't clearly specified (maybe a week, certainly less than a month). These storms are caused by global warming, which melts the ice caps and releases so much fresh water into the oceans that all the currents are changed. There is so much computer-generated disaster on the screen that it's numbing.

Jack Hall's teenage son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and two friends are in New York City at a high school trivia bowl during these disasters. Their plane ride from Washington DC to NYC is fraught by turbulence, lightning, thunder and rain. Once in New York, they are trapped when all planes are grounded in the US, and then Grand Central Station floods. And then there's the massively unscientific tidal wave which sweeps through the city, leaving it flooded. A large ship, maybe an oil tanker, becomes grounded in the city. The snow begins, the flood freezes, and Sam and his friends, along with some others, take up residence in the Public Library, burning books to stay alive. Oh, and there are hungry wolves. Enjoy that part.

Three super blizzards form over the Northern Hemisphere, causing temperature drops to minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit. People caught outside by the storms die instantly. Helicopters fall from the sky, their fuel lines frozen solid. Despite this, characters are shown outside with their facial skin exposed and no breath clouds.

The Southern half of America is evacuated to Mexico and the Northern half left to freeze to death as glaciers cover the Northern Hemisphere completely in ten days. Jack Hall, after briefing the President again (now that he's willing to listen), heads north with arctic camping gear to rescue his son. What exactly he's going to do once he gets there, or how he plans on getting the boy and his friends to Mexico is never specified. It's just pointless action disguised as plot.

The ending speech, which addresses the audience and warns of global warming, is sheer propaganda. A government official talks about how humans cause ice ages, and how we can all learn from our mistakes. Humans may have contributed to the (improbable) ice age in the film, but all the past ice ages had nothing to do with humanity.

2/5


Van Helsing

RATING: PG-13
DIRECTOR: Stephen Sommers
CAST: Hugh Jackman, Kate Meckingsale, Rishard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Silvia Colloca, Josie Maran, David Wenham, Kevin O'Connor, and Will Kemp
DISTRIBUTOR: Universal

This montage/homage all-purpose horror movie could have been a disaster. Combining and updating elements of Dracula, the Wolf-Man, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, could have ruined them all. But somehow, it didn't.

In the prologue of the movie, Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) has teamed up with Dr. Frankenstein, who has just created his famous monster. As the mob storms the castle, the monster flees, clutching his dead creator, into the windmill, which is burned by the angry villagers. Dracula, irate, inherits Igor and the laboratory, but cannot replicate the late doctor's experiments.

We are introduced to Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) one year later, as he hunts down Mr. Hyde in Paris (under the shadow of the half-built Eiffel Tower). The sarcastic Mr. Hyde has the world's largest case of plumber's crack, but that doesn't save him from death. Van Helsing is called "murderer" as he flees back to the Vatican to report to his superiors, part of a secret society that "doesn't exist" who send him out as a vigilante to hunt the real monsters and evil of the world. The amnesiac Van Helsing cannot have his past restored to him until he makes restitution for some unknown act. Perhaps that is what causes him to say a prayer and make the sign of the cross whenever he destroys an evil being.

The secret society has a laboratory full of mad monk-scientists, who make weapons worthy of James Bond. Their Q is a friar ("not a monk yet") called Karl (David Wenham, who played Faramir in The Lord Of the Rings films) who offers comic relief as he is sent with Van Helsing on his next adventure: to journey to Transylvania and hunt down Dracula himself.

But Van Helsing's brand of justice is not wanted in Transylvania any more than Paris. Gypsy Princess Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale, who played Selene in Underworld), the last of a line sworn to hunt down Dracula (until they do, none of their family can enter the gates of Heaven), has no interest in Van Helsing's assistance, until he kills one of Dracula's Brides. Anna's sexy costume is ridiculous and inappropriate: skin tight leather pants, spike heeled boots and a corset over a white shirt that would be indecent in several scenes if not for some strategically placed embroidery. No woman, knowing she is going to spend the rest of her life hunting vampires and being hunted by them, would choose to be hampered by high-heeled boots and a leather corset during the chase.

Dracula's Brides have two forms: almost angelic-looking winged white shapes and their human forms as beautiful woman. Dracula and his women are trying to breed, but like couples everywhere, are having some fertility problems. The baby Draculas are kind of cute: a short-lived horde of flying imps. Despite the help of Igor and his assisting horde of evil munchkin zombie dwergie, they cannot recreate the late Dr Frankenstein's creation of life. Dracula also uses werewolves as spies, assassins and life-force donors in his quest to destroy Anna's family line.

I found Dracula to be distracting and not very scary, as his long hair is held back with an ordinary clear plastic hair clip, the kind with long teeth--it reminded me of Gordie on Star Trek: Enterprise with his metallic banana comb across his eyes. The absurd hair clip was only partially mitigated by some very cool scenes where Dracula walks up walls and across ceilings.

Anna and Van Helsing befriend and team up with Frankenstein's monster, who, true to type, is a gentle tormented soul. The movie designers made him into a kind of robot, with all sorts of glowing fluids showing through his layer of corpse-flesh, but still looking somewhat like a traditional flat-headed monster, albeit one who reads the Bible and recites Psalms. They go after Dracula, and find out that Van Helsing shares a mysterious past with the vampire.

Your mission, if you should accept it: find these three improbable things in this movie: a Mad magazine fold-up, Stonehenge, and a flaming car wreck.

4 SWORDS/5


Hellboy

RATING; PG-13
DIRECTOR: GUILLERMO DEL TORO
STARRING: RON PERLMAN, JOHN HURT, SELMA BLAIR, JEFFREY TAMBOR, KAREL RODEN, RUPERT EVANS

Hellboy (based on the series by Mike Mignola) joins the host of other comic-book adaptation films as one of the good guys. I am not a fan of comic books and therefore I look at comic-book movies on their own merits: will each movie sink or swim without knowing the vast comic-book background?

The prologue provides some decent back story, telling how Professor Broom (John Hurt) of the Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense led a team of U.S. Military men to a remote Scottish island toward the close of WWII, to foil a fiendish Nazi plan. At a place where two ley lines cross, the Nazis (with the help of the mad Russian monk Rasputin, played by Karel Roden) planned to open up a portal to Hell and invite in some demons to lay waste to the world. The portal is only open momentarily before being destroyed by the intrepid U.S. military men, but it's long enough to allow something to get through: a baby demon. Broom adopts the baby, who they've named Hellboy, and brings him to live at the BPRD to be raised as a good guy.

Sixty years later, Broom is old, frail, and dying of cancer--and the Nazis are back, with a new plan to destroy the world. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is now a gigantic muscle-bound red man, with an enormous stone crab claw as one hand, sawed-off forehead horns and an incongruous neatly arranged samurai queue. Another otherworldly creature (his origins are only briefly discussed) living with Hellboy at the BPRD is Abraham Sapiens (Doug Jones), an aquatic alien who reads four books a day and possesses amazing powers of telemetry.

The viewer is dropped in media res of the story once the prologue ends. Hellboy is pining for his lost love, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a pyrokinetic ex-BPRD dweller, and keeps "escaping" to visit her in a mental hospital. These escapes provoke a flurry of Weekly World News headlines ("Hellboy Exists!") and blurry photos even as the US government denies the existence of the facility (disguised as a waste management plant in New Jersey) and Hellboy.

The rest of the movie is a combination of Ghost Busters, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and The Matrix with a strong dose of HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos thrown in. Derivative, yes, but still fun (and in places, funny). Three types of monsters are shown/fought, all tentacled Cthulhoid beasts of various sizes and shapes. The last fight was over too quickly (and too easily)--I kept waiting for the beast (or its pieces) to resurrect and attack--instead, after a nauseous and mushy love scene, the credits appeared instead of the return of the beast.

As a comic book movie, this is nearly as good as X-Men, and better than Spider-Man.

GRADE: 4 SWORDS/5


Secret Window

RATING: PG-13
SONY PICTURES

Secret Window is the movie version of Stephen King's novella "Secret Window, Secret Garden" from the anthology Four Past Midnight. For reasons unknown, the advertising distanced the movie from Stephen King. The original trailer I saw made no mention of King (I recognized the characters and plot) and later ones had only a tiny "based on the story by Stephen King" blurb buried in the small print. This is surprising, because most things with King's name on them make money even if they are terrible, because his fan base is so huge. This did worry me a bit (what if the movie sucked so bad that Stephen King didn't want his name on it?) but I intrepidly went to see it anyway.

The fabulous Johnny Depp stars as Mort Rainey, a writer in the midst of an ugly divorce. Rainey has retreated to his remote lakeside cabin, leaving his wife with their large home (and her new lover). The depressed writer spends most of his days napping on the couch in an old bathrobe, writing "crap" as he calls it, and talking to his elderly, blind dog. One of his naps is interrupted by John Shooter (John Turturro), a stereotypical (slow talkin') Southerner with a big beef: Seems Mr. Rainey done took hisself down ta Miss'sippi and stole Shooter's storay. The extremely over-the-top Shooter may seem offensively characterized, but there is sound reasoning behind it (but I don't want to give away the ending). The two stories are similar enough to worry Rainey, and allusions are made to the distant past when he really did plagiarize another's work.

Shooter stalks the rumpled Rainey, even killing his old dog as a warning. Rainey maintains he wrote the story first, and attempts to get a copy of the magazine where it was originally published as proof. However, the house he shared with his soon-to-be ex-wife Amy (Maria Bello) just happens to burn to the ground that night, victim of a Molotov cocktail made out of a champagne bottle. His agent forwards another copy of the magazine, but when it arrives, Shooter manages to intercept the package and tear out the pages containing the story. Shooter also kills several people (they were "in the way"), framing Rainey for their murders.

Depp (with his two-toned hair almost as scary as Edward Scissorhands') seems confused for much of the movie. The flashbacks to Mort Rainey's anger at finding his wife with her lover Ted (played by Timothy Hutton) and the escalating flare-ups between Rainey and Shooter (and between Rainey and Ted) contrast nicely with his bewilderment, as Rainey (in between naps) becomes more panicked, talking to himself and desperately trying to find someone else who's seen Shooter and can vouch for his existence. Shooter demands only one thing from the famous writer: to re-write and fix the ending to the story.

This is not the worst or best movie ever adapted from Stephen King's work. (For example, "The Langoliers", also from Four Past Midnight, was made into a terrible TV movie a few years ago.) In some ways the movie has major deviations from the story (including the ending) but for the most part, the changes work, and the spirit is true to King's creation. Johnny Depp owns the movie, appearing in most, if not all, of the scenes, playing the depressed Mort and the manic Mort with the same intensity. The cinematography is beautiful in parts, with the camera skimming over the lake and through the "secret window" of Mort's cabin, and other shots involving mirrors and deception are skillfully done as well.

Secret Window is more of a creepy psychological thriller than a horror movie, with constantly escalating tension as the Shooter-besieged Rainey is repeatedly begged by Amy and Ted to sign the divorce papers, even as the one person who saw Rainey with Shooter changes his story and Rainey cannot provide the proof Shooter demands. Of course, Shooter will extract payment in another way...stalkers always do.

3/5 swords


Underworld

Rating: R - strong violence/gore and some language
Running Time: 2 hr. 1 min.
Genre: Action, Suspense
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly
Director: Len Wiseman
SONY PICTURES

When I first saw the commercials for this, I thought it was based on Laurel K Hamilton's world. The actual movie is not--the trailers were perhaps edited to bring in that audience.

The basic plot synopsis: A war between vampires and werewolves (called lycan) has been going on for 600 years. It escalates when the lycans come up with a bullet containing UV light (sunlight) which destroys the vampires. They retaliate with a bullet filled with silver nitrate (liquid silver). The setting is an unnamed European city, the time is the near future (better computers, better weapons). Humans are almost non-existent in the plot.

The werewolves are poorly organized, dirty and ugly, with one central ruler. They live in tunnels. The vampires are elegant and refined and live in a mansion full of electronic gear. Their society is organized around 3 Elders who are around 2000 years old. One Elder is awake while 2 sleep. Every 100 years they rotate. The time of rotation is at hand-the female elder is about to go to sleep and Marcus is about to wake up.

Selene is a vampire who hunts and kills lycan. She sees the lycan following a human and kidnaps that human to find out why they want him. This human, Michael, is the descendent of the same ancient bloodline as the Elder Marcus and has some rare component to his blood which the lycans want. They want to breed half-vampire/half-lycans, which the vampire elders think are abominations. The true cause of the vampire-werewolf war is revealed, Selene gets in trouble for awakening Victor (the wrong elder) without ceremony--he made her and she misses him and needs his help--and any more would be spoiling the plot.

The movie itself is so dark it might as well be shot in black and white. Some of the cinematography is pretty cool. There's one shot of Selene's face outlined in shadow and moonlight that's really beautiful. However, because of the darkness of the shots, I think it will work better on the big screen--I think if you wait to rent it, some of the beauty of the movie might be lost.

The only plot issue I had was, why make Michael a doctor? It added nothing to the plot--his doctor friend who appears only briefly could have been any friend from any where. My husband had an issue with the mechanics of a certain person being decapitated with a sword--after you all have seen the movie we can discuss it. I REALLY liked the ending, but it was extremely subtle and I just KNOW hardly anyone "got it." My husband didn't get it until I explained it.

All in all, I give it four out of a possible five daggers. Probably not destined to be a classic, but definitely worth seeing.

GRADE: 4 SWORDS/5


Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

RELEASE DATE: 12-17-03
RATING: PG-13
DIRECTOR: PETER JACKSON
CAST:Bernard Hill, Hugo Wesving, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monoghan, John Noble, Karl Urban, John Rhys-Davies, Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Virgo Mortensen, Liv Tyler
MMIII New Line Productions

First of all, don't bother seeing this movie if you haven't seen The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, preferably the extended DVD versions. Like in the beginning of Two Towers, there's no transition, no reminders of who anyone is or what they've done or are doing. The three films truly are one enormous movie, and to review Return Of The King by itself is rather ludicrous. But here goes.

This movie contains the same beautiful set and costume work as the previous two, as well as the fabulous special effects. Even as your mind is saying, "that had to be a miniature" or "that had to be digitally created" your heart doesn't want to believe it. The ghosts are probably the cheesiest effect, but how can animated ghosts not be cheesy?

The movie starts with a vignette showing how Smeagol obtained the One Ring and become Gollum, with Andy Serkis (Gollum's voice and motion-capture movement) as Smeagol the river hobbit. It moves right back into the narrative flow, picking up just after the Helm's Deep battle and showing more of the destruction of Isengard. (However, Saruman and Worm Tongue are sadly absent from the movie. Perhaps they'll make it onto the extended DVD next year.)

One of the biggest flaws in Return Of The King is how it cheapens the amazing Helm's Deep battle from Two Towers. In Two Towers, Helm's Deep is set up to be the ultimate fight of men against orc--win this one, and it's all over but for Frodo's task of destroying the ring. The battles in Return Of The King are even bigger, with even worse odds, making Helm's Deep look like boys fighting in a sand box. I don't want to spoil any of the battles of Return Of The King, but one must wonder why all the fabulous engines of war and enormous monsters were held back in the Helm's Deep battle.

The second flaw is the ending--or endings. As the last of three films, it does have a lot of ground to cover, but does it have to go so slowly? The ending would have been better served mirroring the beginning, with Galadriel doing a voice-over summary. Instead, too many endings remove the drama. The screen goes briefly black--the audience stirs, prepares to clap at the end and another ending starts. Yes, just about every loose thread is tied up, but at a great cost to the movie's momentum. And the final ending is completely unnecessary. The movie is over three hours long and I'm sad to say, most of the cutting should have been done at the end. All of the end scenes are good, but not important and most should have been included on the extended DVD only.

In this three-part film, Peter Jackson has created something absolutely magical, a stunning body of work unlike anything ever seen before. Yes, it deviates from the books, but the movies are so good, it doesn't matter. In fact, it makes one wonder, "why didn't Tolkien write it like that?"

GRADE: 5 SWORDS /5


Timeline

Release Date: 11-26-03
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Science Fiction
Cast: Paul Walker, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler, Billy Connolly, Neal McDonough, Ethan Embry, Anna Friel
Director: Richard Donner
Paramont Pictures And Mutual Film Company

I have been waiting for this movie for MONTHS. I enjoyed the book and even as reading it, thought it would make a good film. I'm going to try not to descend into "the book is better than the movie" whining, but it's absolutely true.

The (hole-filled) plot is that the head archeologist (Professor Johnson) on a dig in France goes to visit his American backers ITC, because he is suspicious about the information they are feeding him on where to dig. (Plot hole #1: I can't believe that while being chased by both the English and French armies, those sent back have time to check for good future archeological spots--considering that they appear to be mercenaries, and not archeologists.) While he is gone, his students make an amazing discovery in a sealed chamber: a lens from the Professor's glasses and a note in his handwriting, carbon-dated to 1357. The students immediately wonder how the professor got sent back in time, not the most usual conclusion a bunch of scientists would assume. Just as immediately, ITC sends a plane for the students and whisks them to corporate headquarters.

Apparently ITC was attempting to make a 3-D fax machine (somewhat plausible, there are 3-D printers) which seems like more of a teleporter. When a document is faxed, there are two documents: the original and the copy which comes out of the other machine. When ITC "faxes" things, the original is broken up into streams of electrons or some other nonsense and reassembled at the other end--often with errors. (Plot hole #2-a smoking gun which doesn't go off at the end.) ITC tried to "fax" some objects to New York but the objects didn't arrive. After an unspecified length of time, they reappeared at their origin. (Plot hole #3 why do the people not automatically return? Why do they need special pendants?) After more bad science, ITC determined that they were "faxing" items to the past, to April 1357, in France, during the Hundred Year War.

ITC confesses the whole evil plot to the students and sends them back to "rescue" their professor, giving them pendants which enable them to return within six hours, or be trapped in the past. The amount of things the students do in those six hours isn' believable--not exactly a plot hole, but definitely a weakness. The group is separated repeatedly, and when together never seem to be able to find the forty-foot clearance needed to return. (Plot hole #4: Why do they need forty feet when all the students are crammed into one machine, which is less than forty feet across?) The students foolishly wear the critical pendants outside their clothing and one by one (predictably) they lose the pendants in battle, while falling down, or they are taken by one of IT's people (trapped in the past due to transcription errors). Of course, they can't return anyway, because the time machine was blown up by a grenade. As the ITC people frantically try to repair a room made of mirrors in less than six hours, why doesn't it occur to them to get spare parts from the facility in New York?

I've skipped much of the plot deliberately, as it's ridiculously unbelievable, bad science, bad history or a combination. All in all, this movie was EXTREMELY disappointing. I know part of it was comparing the nighttime battle scene (including a blown-up wall and lots of archers) in Timeline with the incomparable Helm's Deep battle in The Two Towers, but most of it was just bad plot. The actors did a decent job with what they had to work with: a bunch of two-dimensional characters, only one of whom changes as a result of the experience.

Grade: 2 SWORDS/5


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