"Alien Trespass" *** (93 minutes)

Wednesday March 18, 2009

I first fell in love with the cinema while growing up in the 50's watching a ton of those Grade B (and most of the time, C & D) sci-fi flicks that later became standard fare on TV in the 60's and beyond. Bad acting, bad special effects, bad production values, bad . . . well-it really didn't matter how good or bad they were back then because when you are soooo young & impressionable and are sitting there in the dark, all it did was fuel my dreams and nightmares for years to come. I vividly remember my very first film, 1953's "Invaders From Mars", when, at age 5, I walked to The Pikes Theater to see it with my older brother. (I can still see that slopping walk path lined with the picket fence as if it was yesterday-which opened up and devoured anyone who was on it.) Then, as a teenager, came those Saturday matinees at The Forest Theater, where, for 25 cents, you could watch that weekend's horror/sci fi double feature (remember those?!)-along with the running serials such as the "Rocket Man" or "Flash Gordon" series. Double features have gone the way of baseball's double headers.

Well, it has taken most of my life, but, finally, along comes "Alien Trespass" to fuel these long ago memories. And, I can honestly say that director R.W. Goodwin gets it! He gets the look, feel, and sounds of these "classic" movies by lovingly creating an homage to this bygone era with "Alien Trespass". Not just a send-up but a send-off for anyone who has nostalgic memories of this period of film making.

R.W.'s first foray into film (after receiving 3 Golden Globes and 5 Emmy nominations for producing/directing episodes of TV's "X-Files) is a total hoot! It's 1957 in The Mohave Desert when several of the local towns folks see a "meteor" streak across the skies. Local astronomer Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack), who is cooking dinner for his seductive wife Lana (Jody Thompson), sees it as they are about to celebrate their anniversary. Local waitress Tammy (Jenni Baird), who dreams of some day opening an art store in Salsalito, sees it. And Dick and Penny (Andrew Dunbar & Sarah Smythe) see the "meteor" crash nearby while making out at the local lover's lane.

Except, of course, it isn't a meteor, but a spaceship housing the silver space-suited Urp and his cargo: the monstrous one-eyed (rubber) creature, Ghota, who escapes. You see, Ghota has quite the appetite (he reduces all its victims to a messy brown blob in seconds) and, unless it is caught in time, will destroy our civilization by eating and multiplying it's way across the planet. The only real recognizable face in the cast is Robert Patrick of "Terminator 2" fame. He plays Officer Vernon- a dude who lusts after just about anything that moves.

Adding to the fun is a wonderful satiric script by Stephen Fisher (from a story by he and producer James Swift), plus a spot-on score by composer Louis Febre-replete with the requisite theremin which seemed to populate almost every sci-fi film score in the 50's. Oh, and did I mention the "special effects"? "Plan B From Outer Space" has nothing on this film, folks.

I had the pleasure of attending the screening with the Director (see above) who imparted these interesting tidbits: It was shot in 15 days; R.W. had in mind the 1953 Barbara Rush classic "It Came From Outer Space" while creating the film; when someone suggested they used CGI, D.W. shot back "no way"-the creatures had to be hand made: just like they were back in the 50's.

I'm not sure how this will do in the theaters. After all, I would think the target baby boomer audience will get it, but today's youth, schooled on today's elaborate CGI effects, might not. However, for me, it's been awhile since I went though an entire film with a continuous smile on my face!

"Alien Trespass" opens it's limited nationwide run on April 3.

"The Watchmen" **1/2 (162 minutes)

Monday March 2, 2009

One of my favorite films of 2005 was Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez's tour de force film based on Miller's own graphic novels, "Sin City". Starring Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, and Rosario Dawson, this amazing noir movie, for me, set the standard for the genre.

I am not a fan/reader of comic books/graphic novels and went into "The Watchmen" absolutely stone cold-not reading one iota about the plot or background. Other than seeing a short trailer last week on TV, I proceeded to hunker down for the nearly 3 hours of running time for a trip into Brit Allan Moore's ("The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" & "V for Vendetta) alternate universe.

For the purposes of this review, I did a little research: First conceived as a 12 chapter series, "The Watchmen" is the only graphic novel to win the Hugo Award and to appear on Time's 2005 list of "the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present". Once considered unfilmable, director Zack Snyder ("300"), so personally inspired by the series, has undertaken the daunting task of bringing it to the silver screen-a feat highly anticipated by its fan base.

Has his conversion succeeded? That's a question I can't answer, having never read the originals. However, I can comment on the overall experience. On certain levels, it's a dazzling noir-chock full of special effects and glorious set pieces. On other levels, there is just too much going on that if you aren't familiar with plot lines and characters, you might be a bit overwhelmed.

Quite briefly, the film is set mainly in 1985 where Richard Nixon has won a 3rd term (!) mainly because a group of flawed superheros, known as "The Masks", have altered history as we know it. Such alterations, some of which are shown in one of the film's best sequences during the opening credits, include having a hand in The Kennedy Assassination (yes, one of The Masks was present on the grassy knoll), taking care of Woodward & Bernstein, and helping the U.S. win the Vietnam war. Now, amidst the country's rampant paranoia, the Doomsday Clock is ticking down close to the apocalyptic end as the cold war is about to turn into a nuclear war for the entire planet.

The film begins with the murder of one of "The Masks" known as The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who appears throughout the film in flashbacks. Investigating is another mask, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), who believes that each of the superheros are also in danger. You see, The Masks, over the years, have tried to shed their persona and to anonymously mingle into society (especially since The Keene Act specifically outlawed costumed heroes).

With Philip Marlow-like voice over, Rorschach narrates his diary (sounding Clint Eastwood-like) throughout. One by one we are introduced to the history of the other masks which include Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino), and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) who was turned into a nuclear "God" as a result of a laboratory accident. Crudup, starkly bathed in a blue hue, is probably the most interesting character of the lot as he has the capability of replicating himself, as well as instantaneously transporting himself (and others) to Mars.

How the mystery plays out against the larger backdrop of the planet's demise, is going to take a lot of patience and attention. In fact, multiple viewings may be necessary for the unfamiliar novice-if you really want to understand it all.

Word of caution: don't take the kiddies to see this one. The violence, although comic book-like, is extremely graphic. Those, as well as several sex scenes, have generously earned it's "R" rating. Although this all sounds grim, there is humor scattered throughout by screenwriters David Hayter & Alex Tse.

Ultimately, I feel this will appeal more to those who are familiar with the source material than the general viewing public. It is an admirable ambitious achievement, though, that does succeed to elevate this genre to an art form. However, the film is crammed with too much detail and technology to warrant a higher rating.

"The Watchmen" opens on Friday, March 6th in wide release.

Post AA Rambling Thoughts

Sunday February 22, 2009

THE SHOW ***1/2
They FINALLY got it right-or close to right. After the least watched Oscars telecast a year ago, producers Larry Mark and Bill Condon certainly had their work cut out for them. What they pulled off was to virtually reinvent the show and, as a result, they produced the most entertaining & refreshing Oscar show these eyes have ever seen! I had my doubts going in when it was announced that Australian Hugh Jackman was going to host. Not that he was incapable. It was just we have been so used to stand-up comedians and talk show hosts emceeing that it was hard to fathom a song and dance dude carrying off the (still too long) close to 4 hour extravaganza. But pull it off he did-in spades. He joked, sang, & danced, so perfectly and effortlessly that I can't imagine him not being asked to return again and again. He was that good.

O.K., it wasn't perfect. Again, the show is waaay too long. And you could quibble about things like the occasional overwhelming mishmash of graphics on the back wall, or several musical production numbers which just didn't work, or the occasional questionable camera angles and placement. However, on the plus side were Jackman, the hilarious bit by presenters Steve Martin & Tina Fey, and the ingenious manner in which the major nominees were presented: past winners saying touching (and sometimes humorous) tributes directly to the nominees seated in front of them.

Well, so much for my usual 80% success rate! How about 72.7% (8 right out of 11) for the major categories. I missed on Best Actor, thinking the Academy would bypass the best acting job this year (Sean Penn) for the popular comeback story of the year (Mickey Rourke). Well, to their credit, The Academy voters got it right and my analysis got it wrong. As I previously pointed out, the best supporting actress could have been won by any of the 5. So, I had a 1 in 5 chance and missed it as the early odds-on favorite (Penelope Cruz) ended up with the Oscar after all. And the Best Foreign Film was somewhat of a shocker (The Japanese flick, "Departure"), only because I hadn't read anything about it. So, not seeing any of the nominees, my selection here was strictly a guess.

As for my overall score, I had 13 right out of 24, down one from last year.

Sean Penn. I didn't think the voters would pass up Rourke's amazing comeback story. Maybe Mickey burned a few too many bridges over the years.

Heath Ledger

"Slumdog Millionaire" winning the top prize. A great success story totally embraced by Hollywood and the viewing public.

Mickey not winning-if only because we were robbed of what probably would have been one colorful acceptance speech. If you didn't see it, check out his lively6 minute acceptance speech that he gave the night before at The Independent Spirit Awards. Classic!

How about tightening this baby up considerably by chiming in under 3 hours! I mean, it's only 24 awards. Can't you get in 8 awards per hour, instead of 6?? That's only 2 more per hour, guys, with ample time to have more than enough filler in between.

"Revolutionary Road" *** 1/2 (119 minutes)

Saturday February 21, 2009

In 1999, English stage director Sam Mendes exploded onto the cinematic scene directing the brilliant "American Beauty", taking home 5 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. Was it a fluke? Hardly. He has since gone on to direct and/or produce 7 winning films (his Rotten Tomatoes critic rating is a perfect 100%!) including this latest gem-reuniting Leonardo and wife Kate 11 years after their co-starring "Titanic" gig.

Screenwriter Justin Haythe has undertaken the difficult task of adapting Richard Yates' first novel, written in 1961, about a 50's couple struggling to make their marital relationship work, that unflinchingly zeros in on suburban life and marriage during the Eisenhower years. We witness the entire arc of the marriage from meeting until . . . well, no spoiler here. However, in between we are voyeurs to a disintegrating marriage that allow the main characters to expertly practice their craft. The chemistry that DiCaprio and Winslet first exhibited together in "Titanic" has matured and carried over here as the joys and tribulations they encounter together over the 2 hours of running time totally engages the audience.

The superb cast includes the always reliable Kathy Bates as their realtor, and an Oscar nominated performance by Michael Shannon ("8 Mile", "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead", & William Friedken's "Bug) , who plays her mentally unstable son recently released from a psychiatric hospital. It seems that Kathy wants her son to meet Frank and April to try and establish some normalcy to his life. The delicious irony is that he appears to be closer to normality than all the principals combined! (His standout performance might have won an AA in most years-but not this one.)

Thomas Newman, as he did in "American Beauty", has added an unforgettable, beautiful haunting score to effectively back up the action. Finally, special kudos to the extraordinary production design by Kristi Zea ("Goodfellas") in which she has lovingly recreated suburban America in the 1950's as well as any film in memory.

A superb effort from all those in front of and behind the cameras.