Movie Review: STAR GAMES

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star games
Multicom Entertainment Group
1998
NR

  • Hunted by an alien tyrant intent on inter-planetary domination, the young prince of a far away space kingdom seeks refuge on Earth. There, he meets Brian, a troubled boy who is more in touch with science fiction than reality. The two of them form a fast friendship and fight for the freedom of the galaxy — together.

I have to tell you, it was a real pain in the tuchus trying to find a decent image for the cover for the movie Star Games. So far, I’ve only found this title as one included as part of the streaming on Amazon Prime, and they don’t use the cover art prominently. A Google search revealed that, for whatever reason, this movie doesn’t seem to have had a release, either on VHS or DVD. Or, maybe it has, and someone has taken it upon themselves to wipe out every copy in existence, and erasing any trace of it online. If only they were successful in doing so with Amazon Prime, I would have been spared watching this abomination of a science fiction movie.

Star Games (or Stargames, depending on where you want to search for this online) was written and directed by one Greydon Clark. Normally, I don’t really focus too much on who wrote and/or directed a movie too much; in this case, while researching some of his past work, it looks like he’s rather prolific in the Bad Movie department, stretching all the way back to the early 1970s. As it turns out, it looks like I’ve already seen at least two of his movies before: 1985’s Final Justice, and 1987’s Uninvited. You better believe there will be reviews for this one some time in the near future. But, back to the topic at hand.

It looks like Star Games/Stargames was the last movie that Clark made. Such is
the pity, as this is not the movie to go out on top with. There has to be a much better bad movie inside him to retire on.

So, here we have the story of a young alien prince who escapes the violent coup rising up against the king of whatever planet it is he is in charge of (I’ve ceased caring about that kind of details by now, so don’t expect it here) by stealing one of the royal spaceships whose AI default avatar is one of those nightmare inducing clowns. It’s really a rare thing for me to include screen shots from the movies that I review, but this is something you need to see to believe:

star games clown ai

“AAAAAAH! KILL IT WITH VIOLENCE!!” – Pennywise

Anyway, the alien kid high-tails it to Earth, pursued by the henchmen of the evil overthrower alien guy, and crash-lands in a forest. Meanwhile, a diabetic video game enthusiast middleschool-aged boy is taken by his parents out to the same set of woods for some outdoorsy family things. Yeah, I point out that the kid’s diabetic, because the movie kinda goes out of its way to establish that he is, in fact, diabetic with an exciting blood glucose check right when we meet his character. Riveting. Once they reach the campsite, the kid heads out for a hike in the woods by himself while his parents set to grillin’, and finds himself accosted by the most disinterested-looking bear I’ve seen on screen since Day Of The Animals. This leads him to stumble upon the hiding place of the alien prince kid, and after spending the night hiding away from both the bear and the alien hunters, they set off to find the human boy’s parents. They bond over video games, the alien hunters chase after them, then the bear shows up again, they find the kid’s family, they get beamed up in the evil alien guy’s ship, the good guys show up, yada-yada-yada, evil defeated, and the earth boy is cured of his ‘betus due to ALIEN MAGIC!

As badly made sci-fi flicks go, Star Games (or Stargames) is a disinterested mess. The effects alone are of the quality of a Sega CD game, which kind of makes sense, as there are a few scenes where Earth boy is playing Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s also playing Doom at one point, but whatever. The effects aren’t up to snuff to 1998 standards, is what I’m saying here. The acting is what you would expect, which is to say early 80s Saturday morning syndicated kids’ show level. As a matter of fact, come to think of it, just swap out the terrible ship AI with a floating robot buddy, and the Earth kid with a lovable doggie, and you’ve basically got the plot for Benji, ZAX & The Alien Prince. The big difference being, I would much rather look up old episodes of that show on YouTube, rather than having to sit through this one again.

Movie Review: DREAMCATCHER

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dreamcatcher
Warner Bros.
2003
R

“Henry, if we die before you get back, promise you’ll tell everybody she wasn’t my date.”

  • As adults, Jonesy, Henry, Beaver, and Pete reunite every winter at a cabin deep in the Maine woods to hunt,d rink, and celebrate the bond they have with Duddits, a mentally challenged man they aided and befriended when they were children, and each other. However, this year their wilderness reunion is marred by disturbing incidents which begin with the discovery of a lost, sick hunter and a frozen figure in the middle of a remote road. As events escalate and horrific creatures emerge from unsightly spaces, heavily armed government operatives, led by the imposing Colonel Curtis arrive in the area, and soon the situation becomes an all-out battle for the fade of humanity.

Right off the bat, I’m going to just let everyone know that I haven’t read the Stephen King novel Dreamcatcher is based on. Not as of this writing, anyway. Which is to say, I might read it at one point…or I might not. I haven’t decided yet. Mainly because I haven’t been that enthusiastic about King’s work from the mid-1990s on to about most of the Aughts. And judging from the movie adaptation from 2003, reading the novel may be on par with when I had to slog through The Tommyknockers back when I was 15.

Also, as kind of a side note, I remain ever impressed at the turnaround time between when King publishes a novel and when it gets made into a movie. Or at least optioned for one. Here with Dreamcatcher, the book was published in 2001, and the movie adaptation was released in 2003. Just thought I’d throw that out there. You’re welcome.

Anyway, I did happen to watch Dreamcatcher in the theaters when it was first released back in 2003. I can’t recall if this turned out to be one of those movies that I initially wrote and published a review about on one of my previous blogs (this predates the Blogspot blog, and was during my LiveJournal days, if that gives you any idea about the time setting, here) and got lost in the shuffle, or if I began writing the review in one of my spiral notebooks at the late and lamented Coffee Pot Cafe during one of my many Coffee+Writing sessions there, and never got around to finishing it, and then that notebook getting lost in the shuffle. Either, way, I might as well purge this particular movie out of my head with the review here. The year of 2020 seems to have started off a big one concerning those.

So, what we have with Dreamcatcher is a movie that takes a goodly amount of our favorite Stephen King story tropes: boyhood friends, unexplained psychic abilities, overcoming childhood bullies, stands against unknown horrors that turn out to be alien in nature, and a third act that really goes off the rails and has trouble sticking the landing. All of this is mixed with a sci-fi premise that seems recycled from the movie Night Of The Creeps, and features Jason Lee before he blew up with the series My Name Is Earl as one of the friends, former 80s boy band heartthrob Donnie Walburg playing a mentally handicapped man with a secret, and Morgan Freeman playing a military Colonel giving some legit gravitas to dialogue that, handled by a lesser talented individual, would have made things much worse than it did. That is, Dreamcatcher is a hot mess of a movie, but at least it’s an entertaining hot mess.

The aliens that happen to be invading Earth in this movie have a life cycle that would make the xenomorph life cycle seem preferable in comparison, the main alien heading up this invasion goes by the name “Mr. Grey” (might be a fan of Reservoir Dogs or something) and speaks with a British accent for some reason, there’s a particularly graphic scene that redefines the phrase “wrestling with a butt weasel”, and the big climactic twist kinda falls a bit flat, as your standard sci-fi/horror/Stephen King fan saw it coming pretty much as soon as we were introduced to the character. Also, Scoobie-Doo is referenced a lot.

Dreamcatcher is, as I said before, a hot mess. It doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to be, shifting from period drama, to supernatural potboiler, to body horror, to sci-fi thriller during the course of its run time, finally throwing up its arms in defeat and ending up going over the waterfall with the ending. This may have something to do with the fact that this was technically director Lawrence Kasdan’s first sci-fi horror movie. Sure, he had writing credits on The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of the Jedi, but his directing credits are mainly dramas like The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, and Grand Canyon. And again, I don’t know how this movie differs from the novel, as it may just be a case of trying to film something that is essentially unfilmable.

Overall: while it’s nowhere near the massive dumpster fire that were the Tommyknockers and Langoliers adaptations, Dreamcatcher is still one of the less memorable adaptations of a Stephen King novel. It’s worth a rental some night, when there’s nothing better to watch. You won’t be bored, that’s for certain.

Movie Review: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

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invasion of the body snatchers
Allied Artists Pictures
1956
NR

“I don’t want to live in a world without love or grief or beauty, I’d rather die.”

  • A dark, evil panic is sweeping over the town of Santa Mira, California. “My father isn’t my father.” “My sister isn’t my sister.” People are questioning the identities of their closest friends and family, as one by one they begin acting cold, distant and vacant…almost as if they aren’t human at all. Because they’re not. When Dr. Miles Bennell investigates the mystery plaguing the town, he stumbles onto a secret so bizarre even he is unable to believe it. A strange farm of plant life from outer space is spawning giant pods–pods which produce alien life forms that are systematically assuming the identities of the townspeople and taking their lives while they sleep. Realizing he is probably the last survivor, Bennell tries desperately to get out of town and warn the world of the invasion–but it may already be too late.

Here we have the original 1956 classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, one of the titles that appears on many of those Essential Sci-Fi Movies You Must Watch Before You Die lists. It’s easy to see why, judging by the fact that there are four remakes of this movie already, along with the term “pod people” firmly ensconced in pop culture culture lexicon to denote someone acting out of the ordinary.

Up until now, I had only seen the 1993 remake, Body Snatchers. I’ve been meaning to rectify this, starting with watching the original film that started it all in 1956. Fortunately, Amazon had it available for streaming, so during that several month stretch where I was down with medical crap, I finally made good on that promise to check out the original.

By now even if you have never seen the movie, you know the premise: Alien spores fall to earth, which grow into giant plant pods that reproduce a duplicate replacement copy of whatever human it happens to be near while they’re asleep, threatening to take over the world. Much has been written about the film being a big ol’ metaphor about the threat of a Communist takeover during the height of the Cold War paranoia. Divorced of that underlying commentary, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is still an effective slow-creeping science fiction chiller in and of itself. The atmosphere, the cinematography, the acting, everything still holds up even when viewed now.

Overall: It always helps to check out the original. I’m glad I finally got around to doing so m’self. So far, this has been my favorite version (I haven’t watched the 1978 version yet, as of this writing); if you haven’t seen any of the versions of the movie, at least check out this original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: FREAKS OF NATURE

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freaks of natureColumbia Pictures
2015
R

“I think I’m having brain withdrawals.”

In Freaks of Nature, we welcome you to Dillford, where three days ago, everything was peaceful and business as usual: the vampires were at the top of the social order, the zombies were at the bottom, and the humans were getting along in the middle. But this delicate balance was ripped apart when the alien apocalypse arrived in Dillford and put an end to all the harmony. Now it’s humans vs. vampires vs. zombies in all-out, blood-sucking, brain-eating, vamp-staking mortal combat – and all of them are on the run from the aliens. It is up to three teenagers – one human, one vampire, and one zombie – to team up, figure out how to get rid of the interplanetary visitors, and try to restore order to this “normal” little town.

Freaks Of Nature was apparently released to theaters on the same day that another so-called “horror comedy” going by the name of Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse was released. Only, Freaks Of Nature was only in 100 or so theaters on October 30th, 2015. I don’t remember seeing this in any of the local Omaha theaters at the time; each one, though, had a showing of the Scout’s Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse. Which I still haven’t watched. For reasons.

The original script to Freaks Of Nature started life under the title “Kitchen Sink”, something I vaguely remember being reported on back in 2011. It was evidently so memorable I promptly forgot about it until I was doing the usual background investigation on this for the review purposes. Huh. It was filmed in 2013, but was held back by Sony until it was just dumped with little to no fanfare on the previously mentioned date, then slipping into DVD/VOD relative obscurity. Which isn’t necessarily a death sentence, but the question remains: is Freaks Of Nature worth checking out?

Since I’m big on using food-related analogies, I would compare Freaks Of Nature to a good plate of goulash. And in case you were wondering (or aren’t very familiar with the concept of “goulash”), I’m talking about the American Midwest version that really only has the name and maybe the inclusion of beef as the only connection to the original Hungarian dish. It consists mainly of ground beef and macaroni in tomato sauce, and depending on the recipe can include corn, onions and garlic, diced stewed tomatoes, with the option of cheese to be added for taste.

And like goulash, Freaks Of Nature turned out to be a hot mess, but a surprisingly tasty hot mess that was made better with cheese. And if you go back to the original script’s title, you kind of get the idea that the creators of this were in on that fact. The base of this movie feels more like a John Hughes coming-of-age rom com that also features vampires and zombies dwelling together because…reasons. Then aliens invade, and a human, a vampire and a zombie from the local high school have to set aside their prejudices and band together to figure out what the aliens want. Which turns out to be a chemical compound found in the town’s Riblet factory.

For the most part, Freaks Of Nature was enjoyable on a certain level. It’s a movie that’s in desperate need of a focus, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. It’s certainly way better than Vampires Suck. Worth a look-see.

Movie Review: EDGE OF TOMORROW

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Movie Review EDGE OF TOMORROWWarner Bros. Pictures
2014
PG-13

“Now listen carefully. This is a very important rule. This is the only rule. You get injured on the field, you better make sure you die.”

When Earth falls under attack from invincible aliens, no military unit in the world is able to beat them. Major William Cage, an officer who has never seen combat, is assigned to a suicide mission. Killed within moments, Cage finds himself thrown into a time loop, in which he relives the same brutal fight–and his death–over and over again. However, Cage’s fighting skills improve with each encore, bringing him and a comrade ever closer to defeating the aliens.

Edge Of Tomorrow is a science fiction movie that I remember seeing the teaser trailer for once while waiting for another movie to begin. It consisted of Tom Cruise in a mech suit of some kind, wondering around a battlefield with things blowing up around him…and that’s about all I remember before my brain began drifting to other, much more interesting things, like wondering if there was time to go get a package of Reese’s Pieces to mix in with my popcorn (I opted not to go). I wasn’t really planning on ever watching Edge Of Tomorrow, more out of disinterest in yet another gritty science fiction war movie, let alone one that features Tom Cruise in there. But, yet again the great ogre that is boredom reared its ugly head one weekend afternoon, and spying this on the streaming decided to kill off a couple of hours. The resulting reaction was…mixed, at best.

It’s the near future of…2015, and in a totally ironic reversal, Germany has been invaded…by a horde of intergalactic aliens called the Mimics, sort of a hive-minded Lovecraftian horror that managed to kill all the humans in their way. Five years later, the world’s combined military forces have finally managed their one victory, led by a sergeant in a mech suit that was dubbed the Angel of Verdun. This provides a much-needed boost of moral for the humans, and before you know it a major offensive in France is planned, with public affairs officer Major Tom Cruise William Cage being recruited to cover the day of the assault. Major Cage has a slight disagreement with this idea, and so he’s busted down to Private, labelled a deserter, and assigned to the J Squad for the battle. Of course, the battle itself doesn’t go well, and Private Cage dies taking out a rather large Mimic, getting covered in its blood with his dying breath. The End. Oh, wait, no…Cage wakes up again, reliving the last 24 hours leading up to the battle, with the memories of the previous attempt fresh in his head. Realizing he’s stuck in his own personal Groundhog Day hell, he proceeds to spend maybe hundreds of the reiteration of the same day trying to figure out a way to stop the Mimics once and for all. And this involves hundreds of times trying to convince the Angel of Verdun that he’s not nuts and help him do so. Of course, the standard time loop wackiness ensues, leading to finding the Big Alien Brain behind all this, which might involve Cage having to make the final assault without his timey-wimey powers.

As I was watching this, I kept asking myself, who was it that decided that Tom Cruise, of all people, needed to be an action star? This seems to be his modus operandi with movies since the end of the 20th Century. You would expect him to maybe be in a parody of an action movie, like with Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots) and his brother Emilio Estevez (Loaded Weapon 1). I don’t watch a lot of Tom Cruise movies, but going over the filmography page on IMDB, it seems that after doing Eyes Wide Shut, there’s been a lot of action movies on his list. And okay, he was in the action movie comedy Tropic Thunder, which is an awesome movie and everyone should go see it. But still, Tom Cruise still seems…off as a choice for action hero material. But, I digress.

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise when I say that I’m unfamiliar with the Japanese novel this movie is based on, All You Need Is Kill. Which is a very Japanese sounding name, there. And from what I’ve gleaned on the interwebs, there was a lot of plot streamlining for the movie, so one could say that Edge Of Tomorrow is loosely based on the novel. That said, my impression of Edge Of Tomorrow is essentially Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. That’s the movie in a nutshell, minus the having to travel to distant planets to battle the alien horde. Mind you, I happen to dig the whole “stuck in a time loope” trope, when it’s done well, and here it’s done pretty good. Also, you get kickass mech suits and the late, great Bill Paxton as the Master Sergeant, with a whole lotta stuff blowing up. In other words, it’s an sci-fi action movie that tries to be smarter than what it really is, and the result is a rather enjoyable popcorn flick that you don’t have to think too hard about, as all the technical stuff is spelled out for you. You can just sit back, munch on some popcorn, and enjoy the show.

Overall, I did enjoy Edge Of Tomorrow the same way I enjoyed the original Independence Day, right down to the “hooray human endurance” happy ending. Mind you, I don’t understand why Warner Bros. decided to play up the movie’s tag line–“Live. Die. Repeat.”–upon the home video release. To many, that’s the actual title of the movie. I had a co-worker refer to it as that, asking “Have you seen Live Die Repeat?”, which took him describing the plot to make me realize he was talking about this movie. Regardless, you should check this out some time as a rental if you haven’t done so.

Movie Review: INDEPENDENCE DAY Resurgence

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independence-day-resurgence20th Century Fox
2016
PG-13

We always knew they were coming back. After ‘Independence Day’ redefined the event movie genre, the next epic chapter delivers global spectacle on an unimaginable scale. Using recovered alien technology, the nations of Earth have collaborated on an immense defense program to protect the planet. But nothing can prepare us for the aliens’ advanced and unprecedented force. Only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can bring our world back from the brink of extinction.

Independence Day is one of my Top 10 Favorite Sci-Fi B Movies. When it came out back in 1996, I watched it at least three times in the theater. I’ve owned it both on VHS and DVD, and if it’s playing on a television channel while I’m bored surfing channels, there it will stay until the end, no matter at what part of the movie it’s at. It’s one of those blockbusters that benefited from a rare combination of a simple yet engaging story, a dynamic cast, and some impressive blow-em-up effects. In short, I absolutely adore Independence Day. Or, ID4, if you will.

That said, I also will not hesitate to say that a sequel was really unnecessary. Given the success of the original movie, a sequel was pretty much expected, but for a while it just didn’t seem to happen. And I wouldn’t have complained. Really, the story for the first movie was self-contained and satisfying in and of itself. No need to continue on, as this was a one-and-done situation. But then, here we are, twenty years after the fact, and a sequel comes out of nowhere, invading the unsuspecting populace who have been lax in our vigilance and attacking.

There’s a metaphor in here, somewhere.

But, I’m not here to philosophize about possible hidden metaphors inside a sequel to a Sci-Fi B Movie from the mid-1990s. It’ll give me a migraine headache using all them big college-soundin’ words and all. No, I’m here to give my long-awaited thoughts on a movie that was released at the beginning of the summer blockbuster season of 2016. And here it is:

Independence Day: Resurgence was definitely a movie. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. It continue twenty years after the events in the first Independence Day (that, too, was a movie), where the entire planet has been more-or-less united and have some kick-butt backward engineered alien fightin’ weapons just in case the aliens come back because of last time. Which, they do, but not before an intergalactic Siri shows up in the moon to be greeted by one of our super laser cannons. Then the bigger-than-the-last-ship mothership shows up, with a pissed off Queen alien, and wastes no time smacking down our own defenses and clamps down onto the Atlantic Ocean to begin laser drilling to get to the chewy nugat center of our planet. And since Will Smith’s character died before this movie, the only hope lies in Will Smith’s character’s son, what’s-his-face, and a bunch of ruff-n-ready fighter pilots whose names I don’t remember and I don’t care enough to look them up. Then Jeff Goldblum is brought in to make it all worth watching (it works), then the wacky scientist who looks like Data from Star Trek TNG wakes up from the coma he was in from mind-melding with the alien (totally not dying, which would have made much more sense), wanders around with his butt hanging out, his legs completely fine and not at all problematic having been IN A COMA FOR TWENTY YEARS, and wastes no time trying to figure out the mysteries of Intergalactic Siri; then the former president from the first film does something noble and heroic, the band of forgettable young fighter pilots reenact the best part of the first movie, things go boom, then Wacky Scientist says something that made me groan loudly, setting up another sequel. The End.

As you could probably surmise by my little exorcise in run-on sentence writing, I didn’t exactly think of Independence Day: Resurgence to be a mind-blowingly entertaining big budget Sci-Fi spectacle. It was entertaining, yes, but mind-blowing? No. Not like I found the first movie. Independence Day: Resurgence is what you would call a glorified rehash of the first movie, only several years in the future and shiny new gadgets and stuff. Okay, sure, the world is mostly united (the small African country being a holdout), but that aside, we all know things are about to go boom. And boom, they go indeed.

Is this an entertaining movie? Yes. Greatly so. Is it a good movie? Yes, in that it is what it is. Meaning, it’s a Sci-Fi B Movie. Does it up the ante? Yeah, yeah it does. Is it as good as or better than the original Independence Day? No. It’s not. But, I will recommend watching Resurgence at least once. However, unlike the original ID4, which I will drop everything and rewatch whenever it comes on, I really don’t see watching ID4:R again on my own volition.

Movie Review: V/H/S/2

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1-27 - Movie Review: VHS2Magnolia Home Entertainment
2013
R

Inside a darkened house looms a column of TVs littered with VHS tapes, a pagan shrine to forgotten analog gods. The screens crackle and pop endlessly with monochrome vistas of static-white noise permeating the brain and fogging concentration. But you must fight the urge to relax: this is no mere movie night. Those obsolete spools contain more than just magnetic tape. They are imprinted with the very soul of evil. From the demented minds that brought you last year’s V/H/S comes V/H/S/2, an all-new anthology of dread, madness, and gore. This follow-up ventures even further down the demented path blazed by its predecessor, discovering new and terrifying territory in the genre. This is modern horror at its most inventive, shrewdly subverting our expectations about viral videos in ways that are just as satisfying as they are sadistic. The result is the rarest of all tapes–a second generation with no loss of quality.

The second anthology film of found footage style horror shorts after the surprisingly good first one, continues on in the style of wrap-around story while watching original shorts that the first movie did. Why mess with a proven formula? Here, it works just as well, if not a bit better. Let me give you the run-down:

With a wrap-around story called “Tape 49”, involving a couple of private investigators checking out the disappearance of a college kid, who seems to have a rather odd videotape producing obsession; one goes to find the kid, while the other checks out the video tapes. It doesn’t end well by the end of things, as you may have surmised by now. In between the wackiness, we’re treated to four short films in the kid’s collection…

“Phase I Clinical Trials”
A young man receives an experimental cybernetic implant to replace his right eye that he damaged after a car accident. That night, he notices one of the “glitches” the doctor warned him about: he can now see dead people in his apartment. The next day, a red-haired lady shows up, claiming that she had the same kind of experimental implant for her ear to restore her hearing, and that she can hear dead people. And the dead don’t like the idea of being noticed by living people. Wackiness ensues.

“A Ride In The Park”
A cycling enthusiast is riding his bike one lovely day through a state park, when he’s attacked and bitten by a zombie. He reanimates and begins a delightful romp through the suburbs, all the while capturing everything on his Go Pro. Wackiness ensues.

“Safe Haven”
Four members of a news crew are filming a documentary with a mysterious Indonesian cult, when the “time of reckoning” arrives. Wackiness ensues.

“Slumber Party Alien Abduction”
Um, a bunch of kids having a slumber party are abducted by aliens. It’s there in the title.

Overall, I think between the first one and this one, they run neck-and-neck to how much I enjoyed them, but I would have to concede that as far as stick-in-your-brain quality, V/H/S/2 has the slightly better collection. “Safe Haven” is hands-down the best one on the list, followed closely by “Phase I Clinical Trials” for a good effective supernatural ghost story. “A Ride In The Park” is a fun take on the somewhat-exhausted zombie genre. And “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”…well, it didn’t falsly advertise. It didn’t suck, it’s just kinda…eh, whatever. Regardless, I would definitely recommend checking this one out, along with the others in the series.

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