Dark Skies 2013 Oh Look It’s Aliens…Again

Dark Skies Oh Look It's an Alien...Again

Despite the mendacity of the trailers, Dark Skies is not a bad film. In another case where the marketing let the film down before it even opened, it isn’t too surprising that audiences did not get too carried away with a film that has been done before. It is almost a case of “Oh look! It’s aliens…again.” And that is the real problem with Dark Skies, it has all been done before and in most cases it was done better.

The film opened to mixed/negative reviews. If we stop and just look at the trailer, it makes sense that folks were not too happy with what they watched after the trailer incorrectly built it up as more of a scary film than it actually was. Suspenseful, yes. Slow, most certainly. Scary…only once, really.

So Dark Skies, apart from being a look it’s an alien…again type of film, was good, just not great and it’s marketing really let it down before anyone actually watched it. Expectations from the trailer gave it a much creepier feel than the film, upon viewing it, did.

Written and directed by Scott Stewart and starring Keri RussellJosh Hamilton and Dakota Goyo, with a marvellous cameo by J.K. Simmons  the film delivers a not too unique look at a family plagued with what appear at first to be a sort of poltergeist activity in their home. The activity shifts gears and direction and becomes an amalgamation of odd behaviour, strange dreams, missing time and disturbing reactions from friends and neighbours.

The family’s eventual acceptance of the cause of all these disturbing occurrences is annoying. Can there really be a family in the world, even the US, who have not heard of alien visitation? Regardless of whether they believe in the reality of such things is a moot point. It defies logic to expect an audience to believe that such a family exists, especially one who uses laptop computers and has a television in most rooms of the house.

That “ignorance” combined with the misleading marketing campaign is what lets the movie down.

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Stewart does an excellent job building up the suspense and he should be given a lot of credit for that. In a sub-genre that has definitely been done better and scarier, the fact that he could effectively build suspense is noteworthy.  But there was not one moment in the film that had me threatening to lose popcorn (because of a jump scare) or slightly averting my gaze because things were getting too scary.

The devices used in the film’s plot, were nothing new, and the obligatory “eye-opening” sequence was just that, obligatory. Someone had to figure out what was going on, hence the “let’s look this up on the internet” scene. Which, to be honest, would have been done far earlier if the events had really occurred.

But I do have to hold my hand up and admit that I did, despite all the negative things I’ve pointed out, like the film.

I liked the family, and I liked the direction the film took. It just did not scare me and, as I said above, it has been done before. Alien visitation is in the same class as “found film” horror movies. Each one has been done before and, in most cases, only one or two from each sub-genre is really noteworthy. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them. If you like chocolate ice cream, it doesn’t really matter what brand of ice cream you eat. You still enjoy it, just not as much if it is not your favourite brand.

So Dark Skies or as I like to call it, Oh Look It’s Aliens…Again, is an entertaining film. But not one that I would rush out and buy for my Blu Ray collection, and it definitely isn’t a film I would want to watch again. The movie did not “freak” me out as much as The Fourth Kind, which I don’t watch repeatedly for a different reason, but it was better than average. I give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Welcome to the Jungle (2007): Warning this Film Can Cause Drowsiness

We stopped by Blockbuster’s today as they are having a “going out of business” sale of all their existing stock. Oddly enough they are also still renting movies. Also in the odd category is the fact that a lot of their “second-hand” games were more expensive than the same game new on the internet.

Still, some of their deals on Blu-ray pre-owned films were pretty hard to ignore and I picked up three. The most expensive of the lot was £3.85, not bad for a Blu-ray. One of the cheaper ones (£2.80) was Welcome to the Jungle, a horror film that sounded tantalizingly familiar.

I thought at first it was because the name of the film was the same as the comedy film with the Rock and Christopher Walken; a vastly superior film to the one I purchased today as it was at least funny.

Welcome to the Jungle was written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh who may be a bit more familiar to folks as a writer than director. Hensleigh wrote Jumanji and Die Hard with a Vengance as well as Armageddon. Unfortunately Welcome to the Jungle is not his finest work. In fact watching the film (for the second time) I devoutly wished that he’d left his pen at home instead of scripting this abysmal mess.

As I watched this slow-moving (treacle dripping from a cold bun moves faster than this film) story, I kept thinking that it seemed familiar but I really could not understand why. About halfway through the film, Meg tweeted me that she was pretty sure that we’d seen it before. She mentioned “white-painted” people who were stalking a couple on a river. I was at that point exactly in the film.

The second I read her tweet and saw the couple drifting down the river while being “menaced” by tribal cannibals who were painted white, it hit me with all the power of a wet slimy noodle; I had seen the bloody thing before. I can also tell you quite honestly that I was just as unimpressed then as I was with today’s second viewing.

The story centres around two young couples; two all American boys and two Australian girls. One couple, Colby and Mandi have been a couple for a while. Mandi invites an old friend from the land of Oz to come visit her on Fiji. Her mate, the oddly named Bijou, is not pleased to see what she’d planned as a “girlie” adventure turn her into a third wheel.

Colby hooks Bijou up with an American bartender named Mikey and as both of them are pretty much shallow carbon copies of each other, they hit it off. Mikey tells the others about a helicopter pilot who saw an old white guy in Papua New Guinea who he thinks might be Michael Rockefeller.

Michael Rockefeller went missing in that area in 1961. Rumours of his being adopted by one of the cannibal tribes in the area have been around for years. Colby decides they should find Michael and interview him, selling his story to the highest bidder. With an estimate of a million dollars as their starting point the couples go off in search of the missing Rockefeller.

This is another of those “found film” movies that has glutted the market since Blair Witch. I would go on record as saying that this is one of the worst found films to date. The first 55 minutes of the film are dull beyond belief. We get to see a lot of the group’s interaction with each other and very occasionally the locals.

The interaction with the locals is kept to a minimum mainly, it seems, because the company could not afford to pay the local extras enough money to talk. Only when the group of explorers attempt to cross the border do the local’s speak, but it is without the aid of subtitles. On one hand, not translating increases the unease of the group and us when one of the border guards yank Mikey out of the van and shoot an AK-47 over his head. On the other hand we don’t really care about Mikey or any of the others really so they could have translated anyway.

We get to see the disintegration of the social ties within this little group. As time and distance goes by, the two couples divide into a pushy couple and an anarchic couple. Presumably we are meant to side with the pushy group but again; we don’t care as neither couple consist of fully developed characters.

This film runs for 79 minutes and it is only in the last 24 minutes that anything really happens. It’s only after the two couples split up, Bijou and Mikey go off on their own with all the food and the map, that things start to pick up. Unfortunately even the “exciting” part of the film is pretty low-key and leisurely.

The case of the Blu-ray had the quote GUT WRENCHING and the phrase DON’T GET EATEN on it. It should have had a warning on the front that said, “Caution watching this film may cause drowsiness.” Definitely don’t pay one red cent for this film, either to purchase or rent it. Wait until it comes on Netflix or on HBO or some other film channel.

Even at the knock down price of £2.85 the cost is too high for the entertainment it does not deliver. In fact I think that people should be paid to watch this dross and the pay should be a lot more than what I spent on it.

It’s okay dear, it’s almost over…

Predators 2010: Get to the Spaceship…

Okay, so I decided to ring in the changes of the New Year by having a mini-movie-marathon. It all started with catching the still amazing Jurassic Park on television. That put me in the mood for movies I had not seen in a while. So I popped in Predators and the Blu-ray special edition of Battle Royale (Game ober). On a side note, I was on Battle Royale when the clock struck twelve so I paused it (a pretty painful thing to do, because I love that film) and watched my neighbour’s fireworks for about an hour.

Waking up today I wanted to talk about Predators and why, as a sequel, it disappointed me a little. I also wanted to say how I felt  about the film and the fact that nobody says, “Get to the spaceship!”

*just kidding about the spaceship part, although that would have been cool*

According to Wikipedia, Robert Rodriguez wrote the screenplay for Predators way back when he was doing Desperado. The article goes on to say that the studio was not impressed with the possible big budget that the film would require and passed. Fast forward to a time when Rodriguez is now damn near a “brand name” in Tinsel Town and he gets the green light.

Unfortunately, Rob decides not to direct the film (which in my opinion kills the movie right off the bat) and instead opts to produce it and hires Nimród Antal to direct the film.

Nimrod Antal, director.

Now it’s probably just me, but, I cannot for one minute take anyone seriously who has the name, “Nimrod.” Just cannot do it. When I was a teen, a nimrod was slang for an idiot. Phrases like: “Way to go, ya nimrod!” or “Jeeze, what a nimrod!” springs to mind every time I hear this guy’s name. Not an overly auspicious start there Robert.

I mean don’t get me wrong, Antal has proven himself to be a more than capable director. He helmed the very respectable (and damned good) Vacancy but one great little film does not a great director make. Now take into consideration that he’s only directed one other film since Predators and you’ll see that I am not alone in my feelings about Nimrod (and oh boy the urge to pun right there is killing me).

Still, let us take a look at the film over all. Starting with the cast, courtesy of IMDb:

Adrien Brody

Royce
Topher Grace

Edwin
Alice Braga

Isabelle
Walton Goggins

Stans
Oleg Taktarov

Nikolai
Laurence Fishburne

Noland
Danny Trejo

Cuchillo
Louis Ozawa Changchien

Hanzo
Mahershala Ali

Mombasa (as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali)

The first three names in the cast list are good solid actors who usually bring a lot to a role. Then further down the list you have the one, the only, Laurence Fishburne (in arguably the best role in the film) and good old Danny Trejo (a Rodriguez favourite). Everyone else on the cast list might not be in the same calibre as the first three actors and Mr Fishburne but they are pretty well-known and more than capable at their chosen craft.

On a side note, hasn’t Mahershala Ali bulked up a lot since his The 4400 days. The man has been putting in some serious overtime at his gym.

The shooting locations were in Hawaii, brilliant choice if I might be allowed to give my humble opinion, with the interiors shot in Rodriguez’s Texas studios (for tax reasons) so the film looked great in terms of location. *I do have to mention that some exterior scenes were shot in Texas as well, so apart from generating the rather alien Bush family, the state can produce some great “alien” looking scenery.*

The story is…functional. In a nutshell the plot is, people are air dropped into a jungle. The people, except for one unfortunate whose chute doesn’t open, are all killers who band together to find out where they are, why they are there, and how to get out. One of them (like the old Sesame Street Shtick, “One of these things is not like the other…”) does not apparently fit into to the little group of murderous professionals, Topher Grace is a doctor and, amazingly, no one questions why he is there. Just goes to show, you do not have to be deep to be a professional killer.

Brody’s character seems to be quite a few jumps ahead of his new colleagues and he figures out very quickly that they are on a “game preserve” and they are the “game.” And therein lies the problem with Predators, the applicable part of the prior statement is “very quickly.”

It’s all too “very quickly” in terms of everything. It is just too fast. Admittedly this makes a better sequel to the Schwarzenegger original than Predator 2, but only just. And only because the action takes place in the jungle with a lot of muscular men (and one woman) with loads of ammo and weapons. But the speed at which the film moves is almost dizzying and it definitely doesn’t allow any time at all for character development.

“Character development?” I hear you cry, it’s an action adventure science fiction film! What character development? I will almost accept that as a trade-off, of course the action and adventure and the science fiction should be first in a film like this, but not at the detriment to the characters portrayed. The original Predator had Schwarzenegger and a load of body building pals in it and they just managed to not be cardboard cut-outs in their roles, so why can’t Predators do the same.

It all revolves around the plot and the “feel” of the film. The original was a movie that started out as a straight forward action feature that suddenly and sharply took a left turn into science fiction land. It worked brilliantly and the pacing was spot on.

Predators never starts out as anything but a science fiction film. From the second that the parachute release mechanism on Brody’s chest starts to flash lights and make beeping noises, we know…it is the future; instant “sci fi” and no mistake about it. But hey, that’s not a problem. It’s still salvageable; they can still make that left turn up ahead, the one that will make this movie great instead of merely good.

Larry Fishburne, saviour as fruit-loop…

But they missed the turn off and instead of veering off into a fascinating new direction, we are given a crazy survivor scene with a plot twist of the predators actually being two species instead of one and they don’t get along. So now we have Larry Fishburne knocking it out of the park as the nutty-as-a-fruitcake survivor who talks to folks who aren’t there and is as deadly as the predators and a great plot device to help our “heroes” get out of Dodge alive.

This all leads into a “twist” to the story that was not a twist at all. It also leads into a “touching moment” and an almost Schwarzenegger ending.

There are a few nods and winks to the original, there is a Hispanic female character, a mini-gun and a “boar like” creature (or more) and it’s set in a jungle. Pretty cool, but it just doesn’t have the panache to make it fun.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like this film. So much so that I own a DVD of it and still drag it out occasionally to watch. But I don’t love it. If I did, I would own a Blu-ray copy of the film and watch it a lot. Each time I put the film on and watch it, I think the same two things; what if Rodriguez had directed it and I really want someone to say, “Get to the spaceship!”

Some of the main cast plus director and producer.