Devil’s Gate (2017)


Bridget Regan is having a bad hair day.

(2017) Horror (IFC) Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Schull, Shawn Ashmore, Bridget Regan, Jonathan Frakes, Javier Botet, Spencer Drever, Adam Hurtig, Will Woytowich, Scott Johnson, Sarah Constible, Beverly Ndukwu, Jean-François Ferland, Jan Skene. Directed by Clay Staub

 

There’s something about creepy old farms that just seem to lend themselves to horror movies Old time farm implements like pitchforks, scythes and rakes become all the more sinister hanging in a barn when someone is being stalked by a creature or a serial killer. American Gothic has more than one subtext, after all.

A local farmer’s wife, Maria Pritchard (Regan) and her son Jonah (Drever) have disappeared and suspect number one is the husband, abusive but devout Jackson Pritchard (Ventimiglia). They’ve owned their piece of land in Devil’s Gate, North Dakota for generations and while Jackson awaits the arrival of angels to make his barren soil fertile the FBI in the person of Special Agent Daria Francis (Schull) to investigate the disappearance.

One wonders who called her in; it certainly wasn’t good ol’ boy Sheriff Gruenwell (Frakes) who not-so-subtly warns her to stay away from Pritchard; reluctantly, he allows Deputy Colt Salter (Ashmore) to accompany her. The Deputy warns the Special Agent that Jackson, whom he went to high school with, is a little bit twitchy and is known for his explosive temper. Still, nobody is prepared for the police cruiser they arrive on the farm in to be struck by numerous bolts of lightning. I mean, lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, right?

Well, it does in Devil’s Lake and more to the point on the Pritchard place. Soon it becomes apparent that Jackson may not be as crazy as everyone thinks he is; there are most definitely some things lurking in his basement. There are also beings coming from the sky but they might not be the angels Jackson thinks they are.

The cast is pretty strong with some TV veterans as well as Ashmore who cut his teeth on the X-Men movies. Surprisingly, Ventimiglia chews the scenery more than I’ve ever seen him do before. He was such a compelling figure in Heroes but here he truly embraces the crazy. A fairly high percentage of his dialogue is shrieked rather than stated and when he’s quiet, it’s because he’s giving a menacing mumble. Beyond that, it’s great to see Frakes in a role that isn’t named Will Riker although it is a bit disturbing to realize that 31 years has passed since he originated that role in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the years are definitely taking their toll.

The actors for the most part do their jobs well but they aren’t given a whole lot to work with; the characters really aren’t developed much as writer-director Staub and his co-writer Peter Aperlo don’t give them much in the way of character development to hang their hats on. There are other compensations however; the creature effects are pretty damn good and reminiscent of the work of Guillermo del Toro. There’s also some nifty storm effects although they don’t really break any new ground there.

It’s not an entirely well-filmed movie though. The cinematography ranges from outdoor shots that are so overlit that they look like the sun’s exploding, or indoor shots that look like they were lit by candlelight. Less extremes on both ends would have been sincerely appreciated.

For the most part this is a fairly entertaining sci-fi/horror creature feature, set on a desolate farm in the middle of nowhere a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre loaded with traps a la Saw and some slimy monsters a la Pan’s Labyrinth. This isn’t a rocket science kind of movie but it is a decent enough thrill ride nonetheless.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the special effects are pretty impressive. It is good to see Jonathan Frakes in a non-Star Trek role.
REASONS TO STAY: Ventimiglia is more than a little bit over-the-top. The cinematography is either virtually washed out or just  about too dark to see.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of violence and gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The town itself is fictional but there is a town in North Dakota called Devil’s Lake.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/13/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 36% positive reviews. Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Last Exorcism
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
For the Love of George

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Galaxy Quest


GalaxyQuest

Whatever you do, just don't order the lobster!

(1999) Science Fiction (DreamWorks) Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell, Enrico Colantoni, Robin Sachs, Patrick Breen, Missi Pyle, Jed Rees, Justin Long, Jeremy Howard, Caitlin Cullum, Corbin Bleu, Rainn Wilson. Directed by Dean Parisot

 

Heroes aren’t what they used to be. These days they shoot first and ask questions later (assuming they ask any questions at all) and would kick your patootie just as soon as look at you. As a matter of fact, they’ll kick you in the rear before they even look at you – anti-social is the new sociable. The people we admire are, for the most part, thugs with attitudes. They just don’t make ’em like Commander Peter Quincy Taggert (Jason Nesmith) anymore.

OK, “Galaxy Quest” wasn’t the best-made TV show ever. And yes, the writing was frequently downright ludicrous, substituting jargon and technobabble in place of actual dialogue. And yes, for the most part, the fans are pimply dweebs who substitute endless discussions of minutiae from the canceled TV series in place of appreciable lives.

And it’s true that the new age mantras uttered by Dr. Lazarus (Sir Alexander Dane) tend to inspire hysterical laughter rather than rational self-examination. But for my part, Lt. Tawny Madison (Gwen DeMarco) can burn my thrusters anytime.

It must be said that historical documents never lie; when actual aliens recruit the long-in-the-tooth and out-of-work actors to get them out of a jam, it’s quite a hoot. That this alien race had built their ENTIRE CULTURE on broadcast transmissions of a mostly-forgotten TV show is mind-boggling. You’d think they’d have had the sense to use “Babylon 5” instead; all I can say is, it’s good they didn’t use “The Brady Bunch.”

I will grant you that the true-life video of the cast’s adventures on far-off planets is far niftier than the low-tech five-and-dime special effects of the TV show. However, it’s a negative that the events somewhat suspiciously parallel the plot of episode 28, “The Conquering Lobster.” That’s the one where Taggart is kidnapped by Tyrosians to command their Battle Cruiser against Sartog, the Crustacean-like alien general. How life imitates art.

Okay okay, I know that the whole “TV show” thing was part of the movie and that Nesmith (Allen), Dane (Lazarus) and Madison (Weaver) don’t exist, but oh man they should have. This is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, a movie I have watched over and over again over the past decade. While it parallels a Star Trek fan fiction story I read ages ago (in which the actors playing the crew of the Enterprise were in a freak accident beamed aboard the actual starship and had to figure out how to get home), the movie is Saturday Afternoon matinee fun. The cast seems to be having an enormously good time (particularly Rickman who gets to lampoon some of his more serious colleagues) and Allen makes for a likably heroic captain…and I would watch Sigourney Weaver standing at a bus stop for two hours, let alone a movie like this.

This was also one of Rockwell’s early rolls and shows his comic versatility which has served him well since. The world of GalaxyQuest is a simple one and a sweet one, a world of geeky kids who have to interrupt their mission to save the valiant crew from certain death to take out the trash, a world of comic book conventions, store openings and personal appearances.  I like this world and return to it whenever I can.

WHY RENT THIS: Fun in a Saturday Afternoon vein. Spoofs 80s sci-fi TV with respect and love. Cast seems to be having a great time.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might be a bit too geeky for you.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is some violence (mostly of a cartoon variety), a few bad words here and there and a bit of sexuality, some of it interspecies.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: General Sarris is named for film critic Andrew Sarris who once savaged one of producer Mark Johnson’s films; the NSEA Protector‘s serial number is NTE 3120 – the NTE standing for “Not the Enterprise.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There was a second DVD release in 2009; missing from it is the Omega-13 DVD feature and the Thermian language track (which you won’t be able to listen to for very long). However, there is a rap video Sigourney Weaver did that is hysterical and the video is considerably cleaned up from the 2009 release.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $90.7M on a $45M production budget; the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Vincere

Delgo


Delgo

A Lockni village on Jhamora...no I don't understand what it means either.

(2008) Animated Fantasy (Freestyle) Starring the voices of Freddie Prinze Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, Val Kilmer, Chris Kattan, Kelly Ripa, Michael Clarke Duncan, Eric Idle, Malcolm McDowell, Burt Reynolds, Lou Gossett Jr., Anne Bancroft, Sally Kellerman, Armin Shimerman, John Vernon. Directed by Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer

Delgo is one of those movies that was on the radar for a very long time (it took more than six years to complete), and when it finally came it was kind of an anti-climax. Not a fitting final credit for the legendary Anne Bancroft.

The movie takes place in the world called Jhamora, where the winged Nohrin rule the skies and the reptilian Lockni live on the ground, utilizing the magic of the earth.  The peaceful Lockni once took the Nohrin in when their home country had been rendered uninhabitable but the Nohrin had betrayed them and tried to take what wasn’t theirs by force. Sedessa (Bancroft), who spurred on the massacre, is exiled by the Nohrin by their King Zahn (Gossett) and an uneasy peace is reached, both sides hating the other.

Delgo (Prinze), a young Lockni is tired of trying to learn the discipline of the magic stones and yearns to be a leader for his people. His friend Filo (Kattan) accompanies him everywhere like a puppy dog, his clumsiness usually getting Delgo in trouble as when they encounter a feisty Nohrin princess named Kyla (Hewitt).

Now I can go on and on about evil plots, wise sages, bizarre magic and heroic lizards but it mostly will just confuse you and get you angry. It’s a mishmash of stuff borrowed from Tolkien, Star Wars and The Dark Crystal among many others. There is a very elaborate backstory here but quite frankly, it kind of gets lost in the pretty pictures. Worse yet, it’s awfully confusing, which is not how you want to start off your animated epic.

Delgo and his Lockni look a lot like a cross between the aliens of Enemy Mine and the lizards of Dinotopia. The Nohrin add a touch of Shrek‘s ogres to the mix. I will say that the world that the filmmakers created for both races is imaginative and wondrous. This is a very good looking movie in a lot of ways.

What disappoints is the story (as mentioned above) and the characters, which are mostly cookie-cutter characters taken from epic fantasies of all sorts. There are generals and wizards and heroic young men and comely princesses, but nobody stands out in a good way. They all kind of blend together, other than Bancroft’s Sedessa and to a lesser extent, Duncan’s High Priest. Kattan’s Filo is particularly insufferable, clueless beyond endurance. I don’t mind comedy relief, I don’t even mind simpletons providing it, but there has to be at least a porch light on somewhere on the premises, if you get my drift.

This is clearly meant for kids but is also clearly meant to appeal to adults and fanboys as well. In the end it tries to be all things to all people and ends up not really appealing to anybody. There were some interesting concepts here, but quite frankly the backstory and mythology was a little too overwhelming.

It’s a shame that this didn’t end up better than it did. Some of the concepts worked rather nicely and the animation is pretty decent. However, it turned out to be too many ideas, not enough story and definitely not enough memorable characters to really make this the movie the filmmakers hoped it would be.

WHY RENT THIS: Beautiful to look at. Bancroft makes a terrific villain in her last movie. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is kind of bland and doesn’t go anywhere this genre hasn’t been before. Kattan’s character is immensely annoying, sort of Jar Jar Binks without the intellect.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some fantasy cartoon violence, nothing too over-the-top for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anne Bancroft passed away during the six year production phase of the film and a voice double (Melissa Suzanne McBride) was hired to complete some of her dialogue.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an animated short from the same production studio called “Chroma Chameleon” which is quite fun to watch.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $694,782 on a $40M production budget; the movie was a major bomb financially.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Rite

Unstoppable


Unstoppable

Frank Barnes got lost on the way to the dining car.

(2010) Action Thriller (20th Century Fox) Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Chapman, Kevin Dunn, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Corrigan, Jessy Schram, Lew Temple, T.J. Miller, David Warshofsky, Elizabeth Mathis, Meagan Tandy, Andy Umberger. Directed by Tony Scott

Director Tony Scott and actor Denzel Washington have made five films together thus far, of which this is the most recent to date. They have run the gamut from action classics to just-cash-the-paycheck-and-run. Where does this one fall in?

Frank Barnes (Washington) is a veteran locomotive engineer who after 28 years on the job is being forced to retire in a few weeks. He is breaking in Will Colson (Pine), a wet-behind-the-ears conductor who has family that are high muckety mucks in the union. They are headed out on a freight run that will take them out of Will’s hometown of Stanton, Pennsylvania where his estranged wife Darcy (Schram) and young daughter are sleeping.

Meanwhile, over in a different part of Pennsylvania, Dewey (Suplee), a foul-up of an engineer, does the unthinkable; he leaves his cab while his train is under power to flip a switch. While he’s out, the trains’ throttle slips and begins to pick up speed while the gaping-mouthed Dewey watches. He makes a run to try to get into the cab but falls flat on his tush, much to the amusement of other workers in the yard. That will be the last anyone will be amused by the situation.

The train begins to pick up speed on a deadly course for Stanton. It is also carrying six tanker cars full of molten phenol, an extremely toxic chemical. As yard master Connie Hooper (Dawson) puts it, “it’s not just a train; it’s a missile the size of the Chrysler Building.” She neglects to add “and it’s heading straight for town!” With an antiquated curve that someone inconveniently put fuel depot tanks next to, a derailment in Stanton would be the biggest catastrophe that Pennsylvania has ever had – since the Eagles choked in the Super Bowl anyway. Cue the music of impending doom.

With corporate stooge Oscar Galvin (Dunn) putting the company’s profits ahead of the human toll that would surely result of a derailment in Stanton next to those fuel tanks, things look grim for the citizens of Stanton. Attempts to get an engineer on board via helicopter fail miserably, as do attempts to derail the train. However, after Barnes narrowly avoids being ploughed into by the runaway, he decides that the only way to avert disaster is to chase after the train backwards, hook it up to his own engine and try to wrest control of the train from the unmanned engine but can he make it in time?

Scott is a very competent director when he is in his element and this one fits perfectly in his comfort zone. He knows how to jack up the tension effectively, and while some of his methods are a bit cliché (A trainload of school children are approaching in the opposite direction on the same track? Horrors!) he at least doesn’t try to call attention to his own directing skills.

Washington has aged gracefully (which not all movie stars do) and has played this kind of working class hero many a time. He brings the right mix of gravitas and humor to the role, and reminds us once again just why he is one of the top stars in Hollywood. That Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek reboot) not only holds his own with Washington but actually makes his own mark leads me to believe that Pine is no one-trick-pony and could have a career in Hollywood comparable to Washington’s.

Dawson is one of those actresses who always seems to put on a good performance no matter what genre she’s doing or what kind of character. Here she’s a frustrated manager who knows that the people above her are corrupt and/or ignorant; eventually she just throws her hands up and allows Frank and Will to access their inner hero.

The movie contains very little CGI, which is rather refreshing. The trains look like trains and not like those created by CGI. Often, modern directors over-rely on computer graphics, confusing realism with real. Obviously, not a problem here. The action sequences of the train demolishing cars and derailers are pretty impressive, and again are mostly done with real trains.

This is the kind of movie that makes for a pleasant 90 plus minutes of entertainment. You don’t have to think too much and you don’t have to do much more than munch your popcorn and slurp your soda. Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Perhaps that was a bad choice of words…

REASONS TO GO: Scott and Washington are old hands at this kind of action thriller. Pine holds his own with Washington which is no easy feat.

REASONS TO STAY: There are a few action clichés here which will remind audiences uncomfortably of The Taking of Pelham 123.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little coarse language and some action violence. This is perfectly fine for most older kids and teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The “Stanton Curve” depicted in the film actually exists as a rail line in Belaire, Ohio where the line runs on a historic elevated viaduct just after crossing the Ohio River. However, the fuel storage tanks shown in the film had to be added optically; nobody in real life is irresponsible enough to put fuel tanks in a location where a derailing train could impact into them and cause a devastating explosion – at least, I hope so.

HOME OR THEATER: This is a big bad action movie; to get its full effect you should see this in a darkened multiplex, preferably stuffing your face with popcorn, candy and soda. Hey, they’re all bad for you – why start feeling guilty now?

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

The Other Guys


The Other Guys

Ferrell, Coogan and Wahlberg finally figure out they should have read the script before signing to do the movie.

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Derek Jeter, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Ray Stevenson, Bobby Cannavale, Natalie Zea, Brett Gelman, Anne Heche, Ice-T (voice). Directed by Adam McKay

There are heroes, men who put themselves on the line for justice and to protect those that they serve. Then again there are the other guys.

Christopher Danson (Johnson) and P.K. Highsmith (Jackson) are the former; Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) are the latter. Danson and Highsmith chase through the city after bad guys, taking them down in a blaze of glory; Gamble and Hoitz do the paperwork.

For Gamble, that’s perfectly acceptable. He lives to do paperwork and began his career in Forensic Accounting, the guys who chase the paper trail. Hoitz is a different matter. He was exiled to this team after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter during the 2003 World Series, leading to a Yankee loss. New Yorkers still hate him for that.

When Danson and Highsmith are taken out of the equation, some other team has to step in to fill the void. The initial favorites are Martin (Riggle) and Fosse (Wayans), a pair of less-than-sweet-natured rivals who delight in putting down Gamble and Hoitz. Hoitz sees this as their chance to escape the doldrums of the station – Gamble refuses to leave the station to do field work until Hoitz puts a gun to his head, quite literally.

Gamble thinks he’s found the case to break the team out; a series of building permit violations linked to a smarmy Wall Street financier named Ershon (Coogan). However, their attempted arrest of the financier brings out an Australian special forces turned Security detail chief (Stevenson) who sets off Hoitz’ cop spider sense.

The two become embroiled in a financial scheme that threatens to bring down New York City; the trouble is, nobody believes these perpetual screw-ups. So it is up to them to prove their case and save the day.

Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have combined on two of Ferrell’s best movies – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Perhaps this one needed a subtitle like The Other Guys: The Station Pop of Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz or some such. That might have brought needed luck to this movie.

Quite frankly, this is one of those movies that set my teeth on edge. It’s the type of humor that thinks it’s funny to re-do the same non-sequitir over and over again; the more you repeat it, the funnier it is. In point of fact, the more you repeat it, the more obnoxious it is. For example, Michael Keaton’s long-suffering Captain Mauch has a tendency to recite lines from TLC songs and then deny that he’s doing it. It wasn’t funny the first time guys…by the fifth or sixth time they do it, I’m ready to take a chainsaw to the midsection of the writers.

There are some funny moments to be sure – Ferrell and Wahlberg are far too talented to make this irredeemable. I do like the bits where Ferrell keeps on referring to his wife Sheila (Mendes) as “plain.” Everyone who’s ever seen the woman knows she’s anything but, so that’s a non-sequitir that actually works. There’s also a scene involving Highsmith and Danson – you’ll know which one it is because it takes place at the conclusion of a jewelry robbery – that comes out of left field and actually had me roaring with laughter (ghoulish as it may have been). More stuff like this and I’d have this movie up there with The Hangover.

Unfortunately, most of the best moments are in the trailer. For reasons I cannot fathom, critics really like this movie, comparing it favorably to Kevin Smith’s similarly-themed Cop Out from earlier this year. I haven’t seen that one yet so I can’t comment on the validity of the comparisons, but I think it’s just that there has been such a dearth of genuinely good comedies this summer that critics are seizing on what is patently a mediocre movie at best and latching onto it like a life preserver during the Perfect Storm.

In a weird twist, the end credits run over a series of graphics illustrating economic facts about CEOs, ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff and 401Ks, which looks like a very different movie – and one I probably would have liked better. It leads into an extra scene at the film’s conclusion, which shows a valiant attempt by Wahlberg to tell a joke. Outtakes can be fun after all.

I suppose it’s possible that I’m a mutant that just doesn’t get this movie, but it left me completely flat and that wasn’t the case in the movies I mentioned earlier, which I thought were some of the funniest movies of the past ten years. Surrealism isn’t necessarily comedy, a truism that even Salvador Dali understood. Apparently, McKay, Ferrell and Wahlberg don’t.

REASONS TO GO: There are some funny moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Most of the funny moments are in the trailer. The movie tends to ram its jokes down your throat over and over again.  

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of action movie violence, sexual situations and salty language so younger kids are out.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Michael Keaton character Gene Mauch was named for the manager of the California Angels back in the 1980s; Ferrell is apparently a huge Angels fan.

HOME OR THEATER: If you must see it, see it at home.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: The Oh in Ohio