Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I grew up in the 1960’s watching every sci-fi and horror movie that they would run on Television. One of my favorite scary sci-fi movies was 1951’s The Thing from Another World. This film felt very real to my young mind and more frightening because of it. Still, I loved John Carpenter’s The Thing when it came out at the theaters in June of 1982. This was clearly the best horror-sci-fi hybrid film since Ridley Scott’s Alien. I have watched it a few times over the years and unfortunately it has not aged as well as Alien. Yet, I’d still put 1982’s The Thing on my top twenty lists of sci-fi or horror films.
I do have to wonder after nearly thirty years since the release of Carpenter's The Thing why they would make a prequel to it. I’d actually understand a remake more; perhaps going back to the source material – John W. Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?” Because Carpenter had to rely on animatronic technology exclusively for the alien, it would seem logical that Hollywood would consider The Thing perfect for a CGI-3D remake. I’m not saying I think that is a good idea, but it would make sense from a Hollywood perspective. Instead, it appears that director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. has attempted to emulate the look of Carpenter’s film, shooting on 35 mm film and using practical creature effects as much as possible. While this may please the die-hard fanboys of the 1982 film (are there really that many of them?), will a general science fiction/horror film fan base support such a traditionally produced genre film?
I honestly am not excited to see The Thing, but I may go to it out of curiosity and my general need to support science fiction theatrically released films. I do like the lead actress: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has been mostly underutilized in her genre film appearances such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Death Proof, Black Christmas and Final Destination 3. However, most of the cast are minor actors whose work I am at best marginally familiar with. The director, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., is even more of a mystery, as this is his feature film debut. The trailer looks promising, so lets hope The Thing is a prequel worthy to the film it is trying so hard to emulate. The Thing will be released in theaters October 14, 2011.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Underworld: Awakening is the fourth film in the series about a war between the vampire and werewolf races.  Rise of the Lycans, the previous film, was a prequel to the first film Underworld and Underworld: Evolution. Underworld Awakening appears to be a direct sequel to Underworld: Evolution.
Kate Beckinsale, the star of the first two films, returns in her lead role as the vampire Selene, who escapes imprisonment to find herself in a world where humans have discovered the existence of both Vampire and Lycan clans, and are conducting an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species.
Although I enjoyed Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and thought Rhona Mitra was fine in the lead role as Sonja, I much prefer the modern setting and Kate Beckinsale as Selene from the previous two films. The trailer tells us that Selene has been held captive (presumably by humans) for twelve years. Selene escapes and is caught in the war between Humans, Vampires and Lycans. The trailer also hints that the half-breed child of Selene and Michael is alive and mixed up in the war – but on whose side? Underworld: Awakening is set for release on January 20, 2012 and I for one can hardly wait! Enjoy the trailer!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Conan the Barbarian is coming to theaters this Friday, August 19. I have mixed feelings about seeing this film. I'm sure that if I go to it expecting to see Conan as written by Robert E. Howard I will be disappointed. If I go to it hoping that it is more like the original Conan than the 1982 Conan film, I will probably feel ambivalent about it. Finally, if I go to it expecting a grand action Swords & Sorcery film, I'll most likely enjoy it. I always try to see any film with as few preconceived expectations as possible, but with a film based on a literary character that I am extremely familiar with, it will be very difficult.
I was first exposed to the world of Conan and Howard's Hyborian Age in the form of Marvel Comics, as written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John Buscema. I was given several of the Lancer Paperbacks for Christmas and once I read the Howard originals I was a Howard fan for life. I've since read all of Howard's original Conan stories and the pastiches finished by Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp, as well as some of the better Conan original novels by Karl Edward Wagner, Andrew J. Offutt and Steve Perry. I've read most of Marvel's Conan comics as well as their Savage Sword of Conan black & white comics magazine. I have even been reading Dark Horse Comics' more recent adaptations of Howard's Conan stories. As far as the film versions of Conan go, I was enough of a fan back in the day to stand in a long line in 1982 to see John Milius' Conan film. I liked Arnold Schwarzenegger well enough as Conan, but Milius' and Stone's script was almost nothing like Howard's Conan and I was disappointed by it. The 1984 Conan the Destroyer had a story treatment by Conan comics scribes Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway pieced together from various Howard short stories, but the finished script by Stanely Mann made Conan a supporting character in his own film.
I remain hopeful that some of Howard’s noble barbarian will shine through in the new Conan the Barbarian film. If not, I think I'll still appreciate Jason Momoa as Conan; an actor whose TV work I'm familiar with from HBO's Game of Thrones and SY FY's Stargate: Atlantis. Director Marcus Nispal did a decent job on Parthfinder, which had a similar theme to Conan, so that has me fairly optimistic as well. Check out the trailer for Conan the Barbarian!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Grimm is a new genre show coming this fall to NBC! Here is the official show description on its web site:

Remember the fairy tales your parents used to tell you before bedtime? Well, those weren't stories, they were warnings.

Detective Nick Burkhardt thought he was ready for the grim reality of working homicide in Portland, Oregon. That is, until he started to see things... things he couldn't quite explain. Like a gorgeous woman suddenly transforming into a hideous hag, or an average Joe turning into a vicious troll. Then, after a panicked visit from his only living relative, Nick discovers the truth about his visions: he's not like everyone else, he's a descendant of an elite group of hunters known as "Grimms" who are charged with stopping the proliferation of supernatural creatures in the world. And so begins his new life journey - albeit a reluctant one at first - as he solves crimes with his partner who knows something about Nick has radically changed but can't quite put his finger on it. Along the way, Nick finds himself unexpectedly getting help on some of the more difficult cases from Monroe, a guy who seems normal at first but is soon revealed to be what you might call a "big bad wolf." Literally!

While the Brothers Grimm wrote fairy tales that children have adored for generations, imagine if the villains were real, and Nick was the only one who could stop them.

From executive producers David Greenwalt (Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Jim Kouf (Angel, National Treasure) comes a new world of police work where all cases have a storybook connection... but not always happily ever after.

The reason I am excited by this show, other than the premise with its promise of weekly monsters, is the involvement of David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf. They are the creators, producers and writers of the pilot episode and they were deeply involved in two of my favorite genre shows Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both men not only produced Angel, but wrote many of the episodes as well.

I have one major complaint about NBC's handling of Grimm. They are airing it on Friday nights at 9 pm, opposite two other established genre shows: Supernatural on CW and Fringe on FOX. I watch both these shows and even with my DVR that can record two programs simultaneously, I'll still have to watch one of these shows on a repeat showing or OnDemand on Comcast. Would it be too much to ask for NBC to air Grimm on a different day or at lest a different time? I'll be watching Grimm "live" and recording the other two shows, at least for the premier on October 21.

Check out the cool extended sneak preview trailer!

Monday, August 8, 2011


Cowboys & Aliens the movie is as much a western as it is a first contact alien invasion story. Its dedication to creating both a realistic historical setting and an advanced alien technologies and species are its strengths; but to those who dislike one genre or the other, it could be the film’s greatest weakness.
It is widely unpublicized that this film was based on the Platinum Studios comic book series Cowboys & Aliens published in 2006. Knowing that the film was due later in the year, I bought the trade collection of the comic book this past spring. The story is co-written by Andrew Foley and Fred Van Lente, with the majority of the artwork by Luciano Lima. The writing style is dialogue driven and lacks any real depth or nuance of character. The artwork is slightly cartoony, but clear, if slightly unimaginative. If I had read this not knowing it was going to be made into a film, I wouldn’t have thought it would make a very good one. Fortunately, the film Cowboys & Aliens uses the title and the basic premise, but little else. I can see why Hollywood would be interested in the idea of extraterrestrials in the old west, but why they would buy this property instead of just creating their own original film is beyond me.

The film opens with Jake Lonergan waking up in the middle of nowhere, with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He makes his way to the town Absolution, where the son of a wealthy cattle baron is causing trouble and is arrested along with Jake. Woodrow Dolarhyde, the owner of the cattle ranch and the former mining town’s only source of income, is attempting to free his son from captivity, when the town is attacked by several alien spaceships. Jake escapes and fires a weapon of alien origin that is attached to his arm destroying one of the ships. The rest of the ships leave, but take many of the townspeople hostage; including Dolarhyde’s son. Jake, who begins to regain some of his memory, joins a group of the townspeople in forming a pose to track down the aliens and find out where they have taken their human captives. Along the way, they encounter outlaws and Native Americans, some of whom hinder them and some who end up helping them in their mission to rescue the humans captured by the aliens.
Combining two dissimilar genres like the western and science fiction is a risky and demanding venture. Westerns are generally character driven dramas that use the historical setting to explore the human condition and perhaps as an allegory to dramatize modern world problems in a simpler time. Science fiction, on the other hand, is used primarily to extrapolate on ideas or settings and how they are affected by futuristic technologies or advanced ideologies. By combining the two, it can either weaken or strengthen them both. Cowboys & Aliens uses the idea of alien beings that have a superior technology and are forced to use inferior human labor to repair their spaceship, which untimely leads to their destruction. Stories about primitive societies overcoming more advanced ones are fairly common in fiction. What makes Cowboys & Aliens good science fiction is that it creates a believable alien species and technology, while maintaining a solid foundation in the reality of the setting – in this case the 1800’s American west.
The characters are what make the implausible situation of aliens interacting with cowboys believable. Harrison Ford takes the character of Woodrow Dolarhyde and imbues him with multiple layers of personality. At the outset of Cowboys & Aliens, Ford plays Woodrow as a fiercely determined father, who is unlikeable because of his superior bearing and demanding nature. As the film develops, Ford allows more subtle aspects of his character to come out and as a result our opinion of the character becomes slightly different. The veteran actor takes a character that could have been two-dimensional and makes him into a truly multifaceted personality. This is important, because the main character, as played by Daniel Craig, starts off the film as a man with no memory of his past or persona. It doesn’t allow Craig much in the way of creating empathy for his character and when we do find out more about him later in the film, much of his character’s personality is not particularly likeable. The supporting cast are all fine actors, but not as much is required of them. The only other pivotal character to the story is Ella Swenson, who is one of the few townspeople that does not appear to be afraid of Woodrow Dolarhyde or his son. Olivia Wilde is a fine actress, but it is her nearly too perfect facial features that help create Ella’s unique extra dimensional persona.
I really liked the fact that director John Favreau takes the time to establish both the setting and character in the first thirty minutes of Cowboys & Aliens, before introducing the aliens into the story. Because we really believe in the world that Favreau has created, we are better able to adapt to the intrusion of the aliens to the story. Of course, because of the film’s title, we are expecting the aliens – in fact, I’m sure the sci-fi fans were waiting somewhat impatiently for their appearance. Still, I think the film succeeds because of the gradual buildup to the science fictional element. When the final act of the film arrives, Cowboys & Aliens does not disappoint. The smaller ships that we see at the beginning of the film are just a hint of the grander alien technology that we see at the end of the film. The action is packed with many thrills during the attack of the townspeople and Native Americans when they join together in attacking the alien ship to rescue their captured friends and family. It is both an emotionally and logically satisfying conclusion to all the various plot threads that are woven together in Cowboys & Aliens.
If you are a fan of either the western or science fiction genres, I think you can find plenty to enjoy with this film. Don’t let the ingenuous title dissuade you: Cowboys & Aliens is a realistic action drama that will satisfy fans of any genre!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I saw this trailer for The Three Musketeers before seeing Cowboys & Aliens at the theater this weekend. Yes, I know I promised a review of the western-sci-fi hybred and I am working on it

In the meantime, check out this trailer for The Three Musketeers! It is directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, who is best known as the diretor of Resident Evil and Resident Evil: Afterlife. I love all the Redident Evil movies (Mr. Anderson wrote the screenplays for the two other Resident Evil movies that he didn't direct) and I also liked two other Anderson helmed movies: Death Race and Alien vs. Predator. Another treat for Resident Evil fans is that Three Musketters will feature Milla Jovovich as (the evil?) M'Lady DeWinter. The Three Musketeers is being realeased to theaters on October 21, 2011.