Scorched Earth


Unlike Jesse Ventura, Gina Carano has time to bleed.

(2018) Sci-Fi Action (Cinedigm) Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins, Stephanie Bennett, Dean S. Jagger, Patrick Gilmore, Luvia Petersen, Patrick Sabongui, Nathan Mitchell, Alisha Newton, Daniel Bacon, Sarah Troyer, Bart Anderson, Kailey Spear. Directed by Peter Howitt

 

I’m all for B-movies, so long as they’re reasonably entertaining and have at least a scrap of originality or at least some imagination to them. Scorched Earth, a post-apocalyptic ecological action western (that’s a mouthful) probably doesn’t qualify for either and if it does only barely but I found myself giving it a fairly mixed review.

Bounty hunter Attica Gage (Carano) wanders the wasteland following a global ecological disaster (take that, climate change deniers!) after an event known as Cloudfall permanently polluted the planet with toxic chemicals leading a need for re-breathing devices that use powdered silver to work properly and tiny chemical pellets that purify the polluted water. In her era it’s a capital crime to drive a fossil fuel-burning vehicle and she collects bounties on offenders of that law, for instance Chavo (Petersen) who wears a cowboy hat with a couple of aces in the hatband. That’s what passes for eccentricity among the mass murdering set in the future.

Gage is one of those bounty hunters who always gets her man (in that case, woman) but she has a run-in with the sheriff of New Montana (population 24) whose sheriff (Gilmore) has misplaced her bounty until Gage “finds” it for him. Her only friend is Doc (Hannah), the town medic and a former bounty hunter himself until a knee injury did his bounty hunting days in. He tells her of the biggest bounty ever offered for Thomas Jackson (Robbins), the mayor of the town of Defiance – wait, wasn’t that the name of the town in a SyFy post-apocalyptic Western? – and warns her she won’t be able to collect it by herself as Jackson has a crew of ruthless killers. Of course she sets out on her own after him, confident she can impersonate Chavo by wearing her hat. Of course nobody really sees anybody’s face that often due to the re-breathers which are taken off regularly.

Anywho, it turns out that Gage has a personal connection to Jackson as well as his bar chanteuse and occasional plaything Melena (Bennett) who bears a passing resemblance to Gage’s dead sister Beatrice (Newton) who was kidnapped by Jackson years earlier. Jackson and his flunky Lear (Jagger) have plans to work an abandoned silver mine near Defiance but needs manpower to do it; what better way to get manpower than to kidnap slave labor from surrounding towns and caravans passing through? You know all this is going to lead to a reckoning between Gage and Jackson and let the best man – or woman – win.

It’s hard to believe that Howitt also directed the superb Sliding Doors but he did; this is definitely not his finest hour. The script is loaded with elements borrowed from other films and has little originality in that regard. That would be okay if the elements were handled in an original way but they’re not. You’ve seen this movie before kids, even if you haven’t seen it yet.

Carano was at one time thought to be a rising star in the action field in Haywire never really fulfilled the promise she displayed in that movie (which was not as good a movie as most people at the time thought) despite a couple of high-profile roles. Direct to home video seems the next step for her; I can’t imagine that this film will get her decent roles in future films. It’s not that she’s bad, she just has cringe-inducing dialogue to recite and most of her hand-to-hand combat is done with guns which is a failure to utilize her skills properly. At one point she tells Melena “Head to New Montana; it’s a better way of life” which sounds more like a slogan the Montana tourism board might utilize than something an actual human being might say.

For some reason Howitt has chosen to stop everything dead in its tracks by having Melena sing the blues in his saloon every so often. The music isn’t really all that scintillating and the tone is jarring enough that it takes the viewer out of the film. Worse still, the singer – who is obviously not Bennett – doesn’t lip-synch very well to the actress, or vice versa.

 However, Howitt does handle the action sequences with aplomb and they flow nicely. Also the deadly cloud effects with plenty of CGI swirlies and lightning are pretty cool in and of themselves. Those however don’t a great movie make and quite frankly watching Gage get up and walk away after being thrown over a cliff in a coffin that’s been nailed shut is the kind of taking-leave-of-their-senses logic that the screenwriters display all too often in this mildly entertaining but ultimately not really worth seeing film.

REASONS TO GO: The action sequences are handled pretty nicely. The cloud and storm effects are also pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: The musical interludes are jarring and disruptive. This film has a definite case of the indestructible heroes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, adult themes and profanity herein
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gage was initially written as a male character with Sean Bean being considered for the lead; when that fell through, the part was re-written for a female character and Carano was eventually cast for the role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/2/18: 13% positive reviews: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Book of Eli
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Above & Beyond Acoustic: Giving Up the Day Job

Advertisements

Presenting Princess Shaw


A pop Princess in the making.

A pop Princess in the making.

(2015) Documentary (Magnolia) Samantha Montgomery, Ophir Kutiel. Directed by Ido Haar

The American Experience

Dreams come in all shapes and sizes. Some are ephemeral things, ideas that we vaguely like but really don’t do anything about so they remain formless. Others are those we work actively towards and put our hearts and souls into. Those are the ones more likely to come true.

Samantha Montgomery, whose stage name is Princess Shaw, has a dream of being a singer. And not for nothing; she has a legitimate voice, beautiful and evocative. She’s also a crackerjack songwriter, her songs filled with longing and emotion so much so that they reach out and grab the listener, take hold of them by the scruff of the neck and don’t let go until they feel the same thing Princess is feeling.

Samantha works by day in a New Orleans elderly care facility. She is upbeat and cheerful and seems to love working with her patients and caring for them. Some nights, she goes to Open Mike shows at local bars, and once in awhile sings at nightclubs and parties. She uploads a capella versions of her songs onto YouTube where she has a channel that several hundred subscribers check out from time to time. She labors in obscurity but still hopes that one day, she’ll be discovered.

What she doesn’t know is that she already has been. Ophir Kutiel, who goes by the name of Kutiman, has made some Internet fame for himself as a remixer, taking elements from YouTube music videos, cutting and pasting them together to make a cohesive song – all without the knowledge of the participants until the new video is posted. He has, against all odds, discovered the work of Princess Shaw and has been captivated by it. He takes one of her songs, “Give It Up,” and layers percussion, guitars, brass and piano – and creates a song that has a timeless urban pop feel to it, taking elements of hip-hop, jazz, R&B and a little bit of rock and roll to make something really tasty. You can see the results of his efforts here.

&Israeli documentary filmmaker Ido Haar originally was going to look at all of the various components of the video but once he met Princess Shaw he knew he didn’t need any of the other musicians. Her story is compelling, with a background of being sexually abused as a young girl and continuing on into adulthood into an abusive romantic relationship, she has weathered some tough times. We find out most of this later on in the film; she’s really a blank slate as the film begins, which is a wise move. We only know the longing and loneliness she feels through her music.

We never find out what Samantha/Princess thinks is the reason she’s being followed by a camera crew. She was unaware of what Kutiman was up to although Haar was certainly in the know. I think that knowing what she thought was going on would have been beneficial to the film, but that’s really nit-picking. Then again, it would make some of what’s going on feel a little less staged.

Princess Shaw has an amazing voice but it is her heart that is at the center of this film. Not only is she upbeat despite the obstacles and difficulties she’s had to face, but she shows tenderness and appreciation for her patients, her family and those musicians she encounters around town (midway through the film, she moves to Atlanta to try and make her dream happen). One of the most special moments in the film is when Montgomery hears the Kutiman music video for the first time…and watches in absolute astonishment as the video approaches a million views.

The movie ends with Princess being flown to Tel Aviv to perform at a Kutiman concert there. She is absolutely delightful, hugging every musician like a long lost friend, taking delight in being somewhere she never thought she’d be. The concert is a bit anticlimactic, but it’s clear she’s a performer with a capital P. I don’t know what happened with her career after filming ended, but I’d like to think she’s getting representation and getting ready to record with musicians…and maybe touring. I’d pay to see her, and I don’t go to any concerts anymore.

It is stupid difficult making it in the music industry. People long to be stars but few are willing to put in the work to make it happen and fewer still have the talent to make it happen. Even if you have both of those qualities, that’s no guarantee you’ll make it in a business that’s as cutthroat and as insular as the music industry. As anyone who’s seen any episodes of shows like American Idol or The Voice can attest, the world is full of people with the dreams of pop stardom. It’s nice to see a movie about someone who actually deserves it.

REASONS TO GO: Truly this is cinema of the heart. Montgomery has an amazing effervescent personality and a tremendous talent.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally feels a bit staged.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult themes and a little bit of mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Haar’s 2007 documentary 9 Star Hotel previously appeared on the acclaimed PBS documentary series P.O.V. in 2008.
BEYOND THE THEATER:  Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, FandangoNow
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/2/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: American Idol
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The American Experience continues!

The Goonies


The Goonies ARE good enough!

The Goonies ARE good enough!

(1985) Adventure (Warner Brothers) Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, Ke Huy Quan, John Matuszak, Robert Davi, Joe Pantolliano, Anne Ramsey, Lupe Ontiveros, Mary Ellen Trainor, Keith Walker, Steve Antin. Directed by Richard Donner

Some movies capture a moment in our lives, one in which we were essentially happy or later convinced that we were. Perhaps we were children at the time, or just starting out as adults with our whole lives ahead of us. I was 25 when The Goonies came out. My father was still alive. I was single but at least I was (kinda) dating. I was working at my dream job as a rock and movie critic for a weekly paper. Life was good.

Life was good for a group of kids who called themselves the Goonies as well, but then it turned not-so-good. Greedy developers wanted to put in a high end golf course and housing development where their homes were. Most of their parents were struggling to get through but now their struggles appeared to be over and the battle was lost. Despite their best efforts they were all going to have to move and after this weekend they’d never be together again.

Mikey Walsh (Astin) is an asthmatic kid with big dreams. The rainy weather of Astoria, Oregon (where they live and where the movie was shot) doesn’t do a kid with his lungs too much good. His big brother Brand (Brolin) is tasked with watching over him while his mom (Trainor) takes the maid (Ontiveros) out to get some things they need to clean up the house before they leave.

In the meantime they are joined by Mikey’s friends Chunk (Cohen), an overweight klutz with a big ol’ heart, Data (Quan) who yearns to be the next James Bond and is constantly inventing new gadgets to make that come true and Mouth (Feldman) who talks a whole lot but only once in awhile has something to say.

Brand on the other hand has it bad for Andy (Green), a comely young cheerleader whose acerbic best friend Stef (Plimpton) keeps her head from getting too big; besides that she genuinely likes the people hovering around Andy with the exception of Troy (Antin), the son of the developer who is putting the Goonies out of their homes.

While looking about the attic where Mikey’s dad, the director for the tiny local museum has been storing some of the town’s artifacts, the klutzy Chunk knocks over a painting to which the glass shatters. Inside the painting there turns out to be a map. The map appeared to be the work of local legend One-Eyed Willie, a pirate who sailed the waters of the Pacific centuries ago and disappeared with whispers of a vast treasure hidden in the area – a treasure that’s never been found.

Mikey realizes this could be their ticket; their means of saving their homes. Of course, there’s another legend – that of Chester Copperpot, a treasure hunter who disappeared while looking for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Despite Brand’s strict orders to that he needs to stay inside, Mikey and his friends ambush Brand and tie him up, let out the air of his bike’s tires and pedal off madly for one last great adventure.

In the meantime, Jake Fratelli (Davi) has been broken out of jail by his mean ol’ Ma (Ramsey) and brother Francis (Pantolliano). They’ve holed up in an abandoned restaurant which as it turns out is where the entrance to the caves where One-Eyed Willie’s treasure is buried. They manage to elude the not too bright crime gang but there is a wild car – the brutish Sloth (Matuszak) whom they keep chained up. Now the Fratellis are hot on the trail of the Goonies with the treasure – and their very homes – at stake. Are the Goonies good enough to take the challenge?

This is perhaps one of the classic movies of the 80s. It’s got Cyndi Lauper on the soundtrack. It’s got Steven Spielberg producing it. It’s got references that put it square in that remarkable decade. It’s got young actors, most of whom went on to bigger and better things in later years. And those young actors do an amazing job. You never forget for a moment that you’re in a group of friends, the same kind you had at their age. The kids you biked all over the neighborhood with. The kids you played videogames with on rainy afternoons. The kids you shared all your deepest secrets with.

Of course, a lot of kids in their 20s and younger reading this won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Growing up was a whole lot different back then than it is now. You had a lot more face time with your friends who ALL lived in the neighborhood. You saw them in school, you hung out with them afterwards. That’s just the way it was.

The movie is perfectly cast and is fun from beginning to end. The caves of One-Eyed Willie are packed with fiendishly evil and clever traps. The pirate ship Inferno, the vessel of One-Eyed Willie, is magnificent in detail (the filmmakers actually built a working vessel; when you see it sailing near the end of the film, it actually is sailing.

This is perfect family entertainment; it’s got a little bit of everything and it’s never overbearing. Although Donner directed it, there are definite Spielbergian touches throughout and you never for an instance think that it’s anything but a Spielberg film. However, there are definitely things that are of Donner’s devising as well. It’s a theme park attraction waiting to happen (who wouldn’t want to ride a waterslide into a lagoon with a pirate ship floating at anchor?) and a great ride of a movie. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? And if you have kids, get them off their cell phones and iPads and into the living room for a family movie night. It’s something your whole family will remember for a very long time to come.

WHY RENT THIS: A classic adventure and family movie. Delightful and clever.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Spielberg, pirates, gadgets, spy movies, 80s movies or fun, you might not like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few mildly bad words, some rude humor, a bit of violence and peril and a couple of disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When Jake Fratelli sings to Sloth an excerpt from Madame Butterfly, that’s really actor Robert Davi singing; he is a trained opera singer as well as an actor.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Special Edition DVD includes music videos of both of Cyndi Lauper’s hit songs from the movie, outtakes and a video commentary track that periodically reduces the movie to a window in the corner; the commentators are Donner and all seven of the now-grown Goonies. The Blu-Ray edition has all of these plus a reprint of the official movie magazine from 1985, ten storyboard cards, a reprint of an Empire magazine article on the movie and a board game. That’s right, you heard me correctly – a board game. I’m gonna run right out and get this sucka for Christmas.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $61.4M on an unreported production budget; these are only the domestic box office numbers. The movie was a huge hit in its day and continues to generate income through home video, television and occasional theatrical showings.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Raiders of the Lost Ark

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Things We Lost in the Fire