Friday, May 27, 2011

One A Week Reviews #21: Mongolian Death Worm

This week I curled up on dvdsnapshot's behalf with a little DVD called Mongolian Death Worm. While I eschew the obvious  "dick jokes," I make no promises that this is a good movie...

Official Synopsis:

When an American oil company sets up an experimental drilling plant out the vast deserts of Mongolia, they awaken a nest of deadly creatures that have been dormant for centuries - the Mongolian Death Worms. Their only hope is treasure hunter Daniel Upton (Sean Patrick Flanery), who has spent his life searching for the legendary tomb of Genghis Khan, which is fabled to be protected by the Worms. Daniel must do whatever he can to kill these creatures, but stopping these monsters may mean destroying his life's work... forever!

Our Take:

I'm personally willing to cut any movie involving giant, squishy monsters that originally ran of Syfy a lot of slack on the grounds that you know what you're in for. All they need do is entertain. This creature feature co-opts the mythical Mongolian Death Worm for it‘s nefarious B-movie purposes. Reminiscent of the sand worms in Dune, the Death Worm is a cohort of the Chupacabra, Bigfoot, and Loch Ness Monster.

To paraphrase a personal hero, the estimable Joe Bob Briggs, "there's a lotta plot getting in the way of this story." We've got an oil company cutting corners and triggering worm attacks. There's a hot blonde (Victoria Pratt) with a dorky sidekick who's part of a Doctors Without Borders knock-off heading in to treat a Cholera outbreak (one that's connected to the worms). Also, Sean Patrick Flanery headlines as a treasure hunter, who's more slacker that Lara Croft or Indiana Jones would ever allow, out looking for gold in the Mongolian plains. It sure looks like it could be anywhere, and the tidy, slapdash village sets sure don't add any local color. And how many law enforcement officials dress drive big SUVs with "Police" marked all over the side in Mongolia? I doubt there was even authentic Mongolian Beef for lunch.

Anyhow, none of that's important. If anything, points for an imaginative script. The oil company is aggravating the worms protecting the treasure Flanery's hunting. The bad acting by all the Americans pretending to be in Mongolia aggravates them. The contrived, though somewhat original, story threads aggravate, too. Can you blame these Death Worms for wanting to eat everyone? No. They’re not given any choice in this matter.

Our special friends make short work of some oil company employees and drug runners, but can't seem to quite catch up with our fearless (yet oddly screechy) heroes as they try and find a way to stop 'em. This is a SyFy-to-DVD creature feature: Formulaic, visually uninspired, and filled with more empty calories than the buttery popcorn best enjoyed on your couch while you watch this some rainy night. If you like this genre, Mongolian Death Worm gains some points for trying, but is mostly uninspired. If your tastes are more discerning, steer clear.

Special Features:
 Mongolian Death Worm is presented widescreen with English 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital audio options. There are English and Spanish subtitles. The only extras are some trailers.


Does it really matter in the end what I have to say about this movie? If you're a fan of cheesy creature features you can't resist the siren song of a title like Mongolian Death Worm, so don't even try and pretend otherwise.

Overall Picture:
Movie: C- 
Extras: C

Friday, May 20, 2011

One A Week Reviews #20: Turbulence III: Heavy Metal

Ooh, baby. I thought Turbulence II was a satisfying dish, so I had no choice but to have Netflix send over Turbulence III: Heavy Metal for my delectation. This go around, they trot out the stock footage of our intrepid TCA airlines jet for one last round. We have bad weather, bad acting, bad music and just a soupcon of satanism.

Right out of the gate it doesn't fail to satisfy. Slade Craven, a death metal icon (read: Marilyn Manson) has gotten approval to have his retirement concert on board a 747 flying from LA to Toronto... which is absolutely absurd to the point of painful. The faux MTV hostess Erica Black is excited to point out the plane, kitted out with cameras and a stage(!), will be streaming live and they want 10 million viewers (remember that number as it comes into play later). I find it surprising they'd gamble on a reliable video stream from an in-flight 747 in 2001, but that's the sort of logic that makes this is a straight to video feature.

The spoilsport in me rolls my eyes at the idea that anyone would sign off on this insurance nightmare - maybe this is a fantasy  picture? The audience, an in-flight cabal of goth-metal heads kitted out in chains and studded collars are a quaint reminder that this was definitely filmed before September of that year. I mean, no one even has to take off a metal-plated boot or belt buckle!

Our B-movie stars start rolling in to fill out our plot points. Rutger Hauer will be totally wasted as our dashing co-pilot for this hopefully ill-fated flight. His main purpose seems to be to quickly mention impending heavy weather, the de rigeur complication for any airplane-set flick, then later glower while listening to opera. Joe Mantegna and Gabrielle Anwar (barely hiding her British accent) are our good guys from the FBI, chasing a hacker named "Spectre" who'll be somehow tied in to the flight. "Spectre" is Craig Sheffer, playing a completely different character than he did in Turbulence II.

Sheffer's hacker is pretty harmless, seemingly wanting to just tap in and watch the video stream of this godawful concert and accidentally catching a murder. We're treated to a couple musical numbers, all awful - though they seems to be having a grand time channeling Marilyn Manson's greatest excesses. The musical numbers are bumpier than the weather - turbulence creating by camera moves and stock footage. Anwar winds up teaming up with Sheffer, but it's hard to get engaged in the off-plane parts of the story, especially when you quickly realize they'll be doing an "adversarial flirting" shtick. Her role seems to consist mostly of wearing eyeglasses and raising her hand to her face. Now that is characterization.

The big flaws in these kinds of movies are always the Ground Traffic Control scenes - changing those to two actors in a big apartment looking at computer monitors is even lamer... though not as lame as the other land-locked pair, the quasi-MTV office crew. The big problem here is bounce around from the plane, the apartment, the FBI, Air Traffic Control, and the TV control room. It's just too open. You're never asked to keep track of this many locations in Airport '77, by golly.

People start getting killed by a Slade Craven who seems to have started believing his own press. There's an attempt at commentary about people being willing to watch anything, but commentary is kind of wasted on an audience already willing to go along with the idea of a death metal concert happening on an in-flight 747. Absurdity follows absurdity with a blown-up control tower and some evil-twin action (save your spoiler complaints for a good movie, eh?) as the evil plan turns out to be a plot to use a death metal concert and crashed airplane in a pact to raise the devil. John Mann plays both Craven and his doppelganger and he seems to be having a fine time here. Looking for all the world like Peter Steele playing The Crow, flaring eyes and nostrils with equal aplomb, he's generally more dynamic than all of our "stars" turning in one or two day one-set cameos. "Gothy Rock Star as Unwilling Action Hero" is possibly this flick's best invention. He also gets to have fight scenes with himself (well, his body double), which is surprisingly charming.

Turbulence III is overall pretty bad. Slow starting, then seemingly quick to dispense with it's bad guys as it skips from trauma to trauma on it's checklist, it lacks the dynamic, overstuffed craziness its predecessor had. It also consigns Craig Sheffer -dragged up in a do-rag to look like David Foster Wallace- to an office chair and probably clock-watching while filming to claim his paycheck. Not even a remote control landing at the end can redeem it. There's some cheese pleasure here, and Mister Mann is worth watching, but in the end things are just... well, uninspired isn't the right word, and neither is boring. I'll settle on "absurd."

Friday, May 13, 2011

One A Week Reviews #19:Turbulence II: Fear of Flying

I know it's Friday the 13th, my lovelies, and I'm saving all my Jason Voorhees-centric reviews for October, since I'm one of those silly reviewers who plans to try his hand at "31 Horror Reviews for Halloween." Even if I hadn't done it two years ago it'd be unoriginal. Ah, well. Instead of the usual tricks, I thought you deserved a Friday the 13th treat instead. This is one of the best straight-to-DVD sequels I've ever had the pleasure of seeing. I hope you'll enjoy it too...

Woo-hoo, but I do love me a good trashy airplane thriller. Once you've seen Airport '77 with Miss Karen Black flying that plane, cross-eyed, in a desperate attempt to save Gloria Swanson and Linda Blair, you know you'll always have a soft spot in your heart for these stupid, star-packed thrillers that play on everyone's fear of flying. Be it Skyjacked or Murder on Flight 502, you know this is a genre close to my heart.

The fact that I generally require an Ativan and Bloody Mary for a simple two hour jaunt to Orlando has no bearing on this whatsoever, I swear...

My friend and occasional editor Dan over at Exploitation Retrospect has a great piece on how the Turbulence series actually improves on the original (which I only dimly remember but do recall liking), so I knew I had to check it out. It starts out in mid-air with a "fear of flying" therapy group on what looks to be a grossly undersold jetliner. When one passenger has a wig-out over a little bump or two, the group is revealed to actually be on a simulator.

The group, who also seem to be deeply agoraphobic, include Craig Sheffer, Jennifer Beals and Jeffrey Nordling, who's ominous British accent makes me immediately assume he's the bad guy. Sheffer's Martin seems to be a stat-spitting techie-nerd of some sort, as he owns a laptop in 1999, knows all the trivia necessary to keep the plot moving forward and whips out morbid crash stats. Jessica (Beals) hopes to become a flight attendant and has dated our Brit, Elliot. Meanwhile we cut away to someone making some kind of bomb and checking through to Flight 110.

In 2011, the ease and comfort of boarding the plane, with family who leads you to the gate, seems like a quaint memory. I, for one, miss being met at the gate. Getting picked up at the curb has never been as satisfying as finding family waiting for you to walk off the ramp. Our scaredy-cat passengers also get the walk the tarmac, seeing the luggage loaded and de-icing happen. This feels more like a fantasy than anything else. At this point a hijacking plot's also precious.

The flight gets held up with a few spare characters to fill out the set, some super-surly looking Eastern European thugs, and a substitute flight attendant in an ominously bad wig. A character with lots of jetliner technical knowledge who's been through a tragedy (yeah, the writers of Flight Plan saw this). All this and stews threatening a lousy, bumpy weather forecast? Bad airline thriller fans are ready for the fun to begin.

So, all the pieces are in place. The threat of a hijacking, some kind of weapon, a bunch of characters who're going to be miserable... is it satisfying? More satisfying than Elliot and Jessica's stab at joining the Mile High Club. Soon enough, we have a bomb, an incapacitated crew, murder, a nasty storm, and an overly serious Tom Berenger as the super-serious Air Traffic Controller (in one chintzy-ass tower) of the George Kennedy/Robert Stack school.

I love an overstuffed movie, and this one is jammed to the gills. The only thing missing is the "All-Star" cast it demands. By the time the extras are lighting up Camels from the stress I was absolutely hooked. This is one Class-A B-movie. Never mid the plot holes big enough to fly a Boeing through, this is still an amazing, stupid amount of fun. What it lacks in a campy cast is made up for in escalating lunacy. By the end, you're giddy from the overblown plot, dialogue ("Thank God for tobacco companies. This is one bad habit that's gonna save our lives.") and acting. Did I mention that there's about three more endings than a lesser movie would dare have? If you enjoy the pleasures of Nineties B-movies, I can't stress enough just how good this is.

Also, I have never had the pleasure of flying on a plane with aisles as wide as those on this set. How come these films never take place on a Southwest flight?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

One A Week Reviews #18: The Resident

No wonder I don't live in New York. In The Resident, Hilary Swank is renting a gorgeous apartment at $3800 a month and that price is represented as a steal. I live in Ohio. I can't wrap my brain around that.

The landlord is dreamy, the rent is (supposedly) great, and there's even a kindly-but-dotty old Christoper Lee downstairs. This apartment is so fine, so much like home, it even brings out the exhibitionist in Swank, who lets the camera zoom a little too close into her sheer panties. (I guess that's part of play the subject of a voyeur's gaze is great and all, but, honey, you got Oscars. Plural. I don't need to see your landing strip.)

The Resident is getting press for being the new film from Hammer studios, and it got lavished with production dollars. Sadly, it went straight to DVD because, even with a guaranteed "opener" like Swank, we live in a world where Christopher Lee isn't recognized as one of the biggest box office stars of the 2000s (by virtue of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars movies. He's a bigger action villain than anyone else over the last decade). This, however, is a decent weeknight-in thriller that I think both male and female audiences would enjoy.

Swank is a young, single doctor who winds up in a mostly empty apartment building with a few creepy neighbors and a few creepier events. "Dreamy Landlord" (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) starts out "meeting cute" and being charming, and winds up being creepy-dreamy. Her ex, Jack (Lee Pace) straddles "creepy-dreamy" as well. Meanwhile, she engages in all the "quirky movie girl" habits like drinking wine from balloon glasses that make you look more waifish. She also has the unusually quirky trait of sleeping deeply, allowing for the cheesiest "man lurking over sleeping woman" scenes in history. One with sucked fingers.

Much like Audition, what starts as almost a cute, Meg Ryan-worthy dating story resets into something more. At the half-hour mark, the film rolls back to the beginning and fills in the gaps that make the men in Juliet's life so creepy-dreamy... and we find out why her apartment has been so cheap: It's an aquarium.

This hearkens back more to the crime shockers and slasher thrillers Hammer put out than their more famous supernatural monsters. Hidden dangers of the male kind surround our damsel in distress as she falls into the grasp of a family with a dangerous dynamic. For starters, they might use your toothbrush... eww.

There's a lot technically perfect about it, though that sheen is also a shell to keep us from getting too invested in The Resident. It's a little bit of The Collector, and a little Single White Female; a cat and mouse game with a dark walnut lacquer.You admire The Resident more than you enjoy it, because it's a cool, distant. The slow but creepy middle leads to an exciting third act, especially because Swank can act. The scenes of her "putting it together" and last moment "hammering" are worth investing your time here. Not too shabby by far.