Friday, May 8, 2015

Worth Mentioning - All Roads Lead to This

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Horror in space, a star's goodbye, and talk of crococondas.

CRITTERS 4 (1992)

Sometimes a horror franchise will unexpectedly have an installment with a futuristic space setting. I doubt anyone ever anticipated someday seeing Jason Voorhees, the Hellraiser Cenobites, or the Leprechaun stalking the halls of a space ship. But it happened.

Critters 4 is set in space, but is one of the rare instances in which this development wasn't out of left field. Space travel had always been an element in these movies, the Crites are aliens and the first movie begins with them escaping from an asteroid prison. So it makes sense the series would eventually go to the final frontier. The unfortunate thing is that they also paint the franchise into a corner in the process.

The movie begins with the same scene that was shown during the end credits of Critters 3 - Charlie McFadden (Don Opper) finding two Crite eggs in the basement of the Kansas City apartment building the third movie was set in. Charlie is about to blast the eggs to bits when he's stopped by an alert from the Intergalactic Council and his alien bounty hunter friend Ug (Terrence Mann). These are the last two Crite eggs in existence and Charlie is forbidden from making the species extinct, no matter how dangerous they are.

The Council sends a specimen collection pod, which Charlie has to climb into so he can put the eggs in containers. As soon as the eggs are in place, the pod door seals shut, trapping Charlie inside as the pod blasts off into space.

Text on the screen tells us that the rest of the film takes place in 2045, so producers Rupert Harvey (who also directed this movie) and Barry Opper and screenwriters David J. Schow and Joseph Lyle obviously planned for this entry to be the last in the series, because if a Critters movie in continuity with the others were to get made any time between 1992 and 2045, it would have to retcon part 4.

After decades lost in space, the pod is picked up by a salvage ship operated by a skeleton crew of blue collar workers, as in Alien. Looking to get cash for the pod, they seek a reward from its rightful owners: the Intergalactic Council is long gone, having been replaced by a company called Terracorp, which is represented by Ug, who has barely aged since 1992. The crew contacts Ug, who has them take the pod to a space station.

The crew arrives to find the station has been decommissioned and deserted, is controlled by a malfunctioning computer system called Angela, and its nuclear core is nearing meltdown.

Upset over the situation, the salvage ship's captain busts the pod open. Charlie springs out, awakened from the cryogenic stasis he's been in since '92. Immediately after, those Crite eggs hatch, and the two killer, carnivorous Crites escape into the space station to terrorize and attempt to devour Charlie and the salvage crew. Apparently Crites have instinctual tech skills, because these first two newborns (who are a couple and are soon laying more eggs around the station) also plan to steal the salvage ship and fly it to Earth.

While fighting for survival, the crew discovers that the Crites aren't the only danger they have to worry about. TerraCorp is a very corrupt corporation, and when Ug arrives on the space station he is revealed to have undergone a very disappointing character change. He is no longer Charlie's friend, there is nothing nice about him at all. He's a violent, homicidal, heartless company man. This TerraCorp station housed unethical gene-splicing experiments seeking to create monstrous creatures that could clear "target properties" of lifeforms. Obviously the company would love to get their hands on some Crites... The Crites seem willing, they even start using the lab to experiment on themselves.

Critters 4 has a very different tone than its predecessors. The fun and humor is largely absent. This is a dark, dirty movie with some sleazy characters and an oddly unsettling feel to it.

It's not a great movie, but it does have a great cast. The salvage ship crew includes Anders Hove of the Subspecies series, Angela Bassett, and Brad Dourif. Twin Peaks' Eric DaRe portrays a crew member who is like a kid in a candy store with the station's pharmaceutical supply. Paul Whitthorne didn't do much else, and was in no movies after this, but makes an impression as Ethan, a young man who has never been to Earth but is nostalgic for the planet, so much so that he wears cowboy boots and watches black & white Westerns. There's also two-time Bond girl Martine Beswick (From Russia with Love, Thunderball) in there, providing the voice of the computer system.

Critters 4 is an odd movie for the series to go out on, there were questionable choices made, but it's not bad. Just sort of a letdown.

The apparent attempt to end the franchise was successful for quite a while, but it was recently announced that Warner Bros. might be reviving Critters as a web series.

FURIOUS 7 (2015)

Last month, the seventh film in the Fast & Furious franchise reached theatre screens nine months later than originally intended, a delay that was caused by the tragic death of series co-star Paul Walker. Walker was eulogized on Life Between Frames in an article I wrote with my Remake Comparison Project collaborator Priscilla, and coincidentally I was in Brazil hanging out with her when Furious 7 came out. I've always enjoyed the Fast & Furious movies, I've seen all of them in the theatre, but Priscilla is even more of a fan of them than I am, so we decided to go see this one while I was there. A chance to see a movie in a theatre in Brazil... a cool event for me, not so special for her. Interestingly, the movie was showing in 3D there, but I don't think there were 3D screenings in the states.

My Brazilian entourage, including Pri's parents and an S-10, escorted me to the theatre, and wearing 3D glasses, with Portuguese subtitles at the bottom of the screen, I saw this troubled but against-all-odds awesome movie.

Furious 7 was directed by James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring), and it's definitely not the movie I was envisioning when he took the job. Since the plot features Jason Statham as the brother of the previous film's villain, out to get revenge on the series' group of heroes, and Wan said he was aiming to make the movie like a '70s revenge thriller, I expected a dark and grounded entry about Statham tracking the good guys through the streets of Los Angeles. Instead, what Wan actually delivered is Mission: Impossible on Wheels.

With each new installment, these movies get bigger and bigger and break the rules of reality more and more, and that has reached a pinnacle with part 7. Here we have a globetrotting adventure that has the line "Cars don't fly" early on and then proves that idea wrong at every opportunity.

I was hyped to see Statham take on Furious regulars like Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but was kind of disappointed by how his character turned out. He gets overshadowed by a spy movie plot initiated by a government agent played by Kurt Russell, in which the characters are sent to locations around the world seeking a hi-tech surveillance MacGuffin that they could then use to find out where Statham is, but they don't really need it because where Statham always is is exactly where they are. It doesn't make total sense... but it's a whole lot of fun.

As everyone knows, Walker died mid-production, when only around 50% of his scenes were completed. They managed to salvage the film and complete his story arc through the use of stand-ins (including his brothers Cody and Caleb) and digital face replacement. Knowing that this had to be done, some of these moments stand out, and you can make assumptions about how the story was changed, but it's handled very well. His character is given a fitting, emotional send-off.

Everyone involved had to deal with devastating circumstances on this one, but in the end they delivered a great popcorn movie with heart. "For Paul."


Each of the Worth Mentioning articles published throughout the month of April featured write-ups on movies in the Lake Placid and Anaconda franchises, and the existence of this movie is why. It's all been building up to this, a crossover which made its premiere as a Syfy Original on April 25th.

The directorial debut of A.B. Stone, who was working from a screenplay by Robocroc/Jarhead 2 writer Berkeley Anderson, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda uses a plot device from the killer snake movies as a to kick off more trouble in the land of mutant crocodiles.

The pharmaceutical big wig played by John Rhys-Davies in the third and fourth Anaconda movies has passed away, but his daughter Sarah (Annabel Wright) has been promoted to head of Wexel Pharmaceuticals and is continuing the quest to turn chemicals from the Blood Orchid flower into a fountain of youth drug, a concept first introduced in the second Anaconda movie. So far the chemical has been toxic to all living creatures except for anacondas, but now the greedy corporation may have new hope, as Sarah is convinced that the key to de-toxifying the drug will somehow be achieved by splicing the genes of anacondas and those mutant crocodiles that live in Aroostook County, Maine's Black Lake.

As seen in the fourth Lake Placid, those crocs have been deemed a protected species and a fence has been put up around Black Lake, but Robert Englund's unscrupulous character Bickerman, returning from that movie even though he appeared to be reduced to nothing but a splash of CG blood (he is missing some body parts), has no problem taking some cash to lead some Wexel lackeys over the fence so they can capture a crocodile and try to make some crococondas.

Things go as disastrously as you'd expect, and crocodiles and anacondas both escape into the Maine countryside to wreak some havoc.

Returning from the third and fourth Lake Placids is Yancy Butler as hunter Reba, who is now the sheriff of Aroostook County, keeping with the trend that there is a different sheriff in each movie. This crossover also sticks to the Lake Placid formula in that there is an authority figure with a child in peril, this time it's Corin Nemec as Fish & Wildlife officer Tull, whose daughter Bethany (Skye Lourie) is trying to get into a sorority headed up by a character who was clearly inspired by that "deranged sorority girl" letter that went viral a couple years ago. The sorority girls take a weekend trip to Clear Lake, which isn't far from Black Lake and turns out to be exactly where the escaped creatures are heading.

As sorority girls and mercenaries brought to the area by Sarah get gruesomely munched, the creatures who really dominate the running time are the crocodiles. The anacondas don't get a lot to do, only showing up a few times. There's really not much in the way of fighting in this "vs." movie, but then again, how much of a battle can one expect these animals to have?

Overall, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda is basically on the same level of quality as the previous Syfy installments in these series, so if you enjoyed the other movies, you'll probably be entertained by this one... And will likely be pleased to see that the door is left wide open for another.

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