"Pot Shots"—Film reviews by Phillip Brugalette, the Son of Celluloid

10,000 BC

Roland Emererich (The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Independence Day, Stargate) takes us on an imaginary journey back in time that combines early man, prehistoric beasts, and an Egyptian-like culture enslaving all the others. D'leh (Steven Strait) is a member of a hunter-gatherer group living off the Wooly Mammoths when their peaceful existence is disturbed by mysterious raiders (Affif Ben Badra as The Warlord) who make off with many of D'leh's tribe, whom they plan to sell as slave labor. Among the kidnapped is D'leh's woman, Evolet (Camilla Belle.) D'leh, along with the tribe best hunter Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis), set off to follow and rescue their brethren. And so they march and march, follow and follow, walk and walk, rest and eat, eat and rest until I couldn't stand it anymore. Boring! The other problem I had is that, along the way, the raiders attack more villages and kidnap more native people, but the ones that survive outnumbered the raiders (I counted about ten or twelve raiders in all.) Therefore, it made no sense that these raiders were able to defeat anyone. Finally, after about an hour of this illogic, my 10 year old started twitching in his seat. I told him it should be over soon. When it wasn't, we decided we'd had enough and couldn't wait any longer. We'd seen the previews and knew how it would end. We walked out. When asked how I liked the film, the only thing I could think to say was "torture." Try it yourself if you must, but be warned. Make sure you have a soft pillow for your ass.

13 Ghosts

Some really pissed off poltergeists prove that what you can't see can hurt you in this "re-imagined" version of the William Castle 3D classic. In spite of some plot inconsistencies that could have used more guts and gore, I found myself wanting to see more of the ghosts and thinking "how neat" when gasping at some of the ghastly ghouls.

1408

Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (2005's Derailed, plus a long list of Swedish films) brings Stephen King's short story to the screen and leaves us with a gem. Mike Enslin (John Cusack) turned cynic after the death (we assume from an incurable disease) of his young daughter, Katie (Jasmine Anthony), has separated from his wife, Lily (Mary McCormack). Enslin has moved to the West Coast to write books about haunted places—motels, B&Bs, graveyards, farms, and hotels—mostly to debunk the idea that ghosts exist. Then one day he receives an anonymous postcard telling him not to stay in Room 1408 in Manhattan's Dolphin Hotel. So off to Manhattan he goes, where he meets the Dolphin's manager, Gerald Olin (Samual L. Jackson), who pleads with Enslin not to stay in the room. There have been over 50 deaths over the years, mostly suicides, and no one lasts more than one hour, he warns. But Enslin has to see for himself and after some humorous first moments in the room, the radio turns on by itself, blasting the Carpenter's "We've Only Just Begun." Then the radio's digital numbers spin and stop at 60 minutes to begin the countdown as all hell breaks loose. 1408 is Stephen King at his best. The screenplay is tight and non-stop with the film going into real time when the clock begins the countdown, creating even more tension. The ghosts made me jump, the bizarre happenings gave me the creeps, and the tongue-in-cheek humor made me laugh out loud. Cusack and Jackson are perfect in their roles and Hafstrom's direction holds it all together to give us a great Twilight Zone-style film. 1408 should satisfy fans of all genres.

15 Minutes

Two films in one. The first hour is a slow paced crime-drama held together by DeNiro. The second hour, launched by a surprise plot twist, spun the film into a frenzied social satire bordering on camp.

2001 Maniacs

This 2005 straight-to-DVD rental starts out familiar enough. Two carloads of college students and a couple on a motorcycle heading for spring break in Florida come upon a detour in Georgia that takes them to the sleepy town of Pleasant Valley. Strangely enough, the town appears to be awaiting their arrival so the town can start its centennial barbeque. After greetings by Mayor Buckman (Robert Englund—the only familiar face in the cast—who does a great over-the-top job), the gang decides to stay and have some fun with these backwoods yahoos. Little do they know that these yahoos plan on having some fun of their own. Bring on the blood! This film is a hoot as it soon becomes obvious that the college students are to be the main course at the barbeque. And, as with all films in this genre, its how they meet their end that makes the film worth watching and again I was surprised to find there are always innovative ways to kill snotty college students. Of course, you'll have to watch the film to find out what they are, but if you enjoy this sick kind of humor, as I do, you'll be as entertained as the producers who throw in plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor and obvious salutes to other films like 2002's Cabin Fever. Also of note is that, although the deaths are gruesome at times, scenes are handled rather well without any over-the-top gore. There is even an ending that gives this one a Twilight Zone spin, but that is only frosting on the cake. Rent 2001 Maniacs for a group get-together and enjoy yourself at the expense of the poor bastards who took the wrong turn. You'll be glad you did.

28 Days Later

After a chimpanzee infected with the man-made "rage" virus infects a would-be British animal rights rescuer, the virus spreads unbridled . . . 28 days later we join Jim (Cilia Murphy) awakening in a hospital to find his world void of people, except for the raving maniacs trying to kill him. He soon joins up with Selena (Naomie Harris) and a few other plague survivors journeying for the protection of a military outpost where the plot takes an interesting, unexpected turn. This film is gorgeous. Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 1996) handles each scene with loving care, bringing a sense of art to the zombie film. I really enjoyed watching Boyle design each scene with oblique angles and unique lighting taking me back to the days of Universal's Frankenstein and Dracula, when each scene was a work of art. Watch the top and lower corners of some scenes as the next scene peeks through until unfolding. Also note how Boyle uses window reflections. Don't get caught watching the character, watch what he's looking at in the reflections. Even his depiction of the disease is unique and horrifying. Of course, fans of George Romero's "Living Dead" series will see some similarities, but there's no rip and tear gore here, and that's fine because you will still jump out of your seat on more than one occasion because Boyle's timing is perfect. If you want style with your zombies, don't miss this beautiful, scary film.

28 Weeks Later

Spanish director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (with limited credits to his name), took on the directing and shared the writing credits with Rowan Joffe (also with limited credits) to bring us a follow-up to the popular 2002 28 Days Later. As you may recall, in 28 Days, the people of England are succumbing to the "rage virus," which immediately turns the infected into biting, tearing, raving lunatics. Unlike zombies, who need a shot to the head, these creatures can be killed more easily, except for the fact that there are so many and the virus spreads so quickly. Anyway, it's 28 weeks after the initial outbreak and the virus appears to be under control now that the infected have all starved to death. The military has deemed an island section of London ready for repopulation and begins moving in survivors. Of course, one woman survivor is discovered to be a carrier, but before doctors have a chance to examine her for a possible cure, the virus spreads again within the compound and the military declares code red—kill everyone. So who are the protagonists? There is another plot about a father/husband (Robert Carlyle) who abandons his wife (Emily Beecham) to the infected in a country cottage to escape to London where he is reunited with his children (Amanda Walker, Shahid Admed). It turns out that the carrier spread the disease to the father who spread the virus in the London compound leaving the two children (who now must be saved by a doctor, played by Catherine McCormick) as the only source for a cure. I loved 28 Days Later and have made it part of my DVD collection. (See review above.) So I was really looking forward to 28 Weeks Later. Unfortunately, except for one of the best, tension-filled, frenetic first ten minutes since 2007's Day of the Dead, I came away totally...

30 Days of Night

Director David Slade makes the transition well from a lackluster background in videos and 2005's comedy Hard Candy to this eye-popping vampire flick based on Steve Niles' graphic novel. As the northernmost Alaskan town of Barrow prepares for thirty days of night, a lone stranger (Ben Foster) wanders into town from a ship to cut the residents off from the outside world in preparation for a vampire invasion. When the vampires arrive, they systematically go house to house feasting on the residents in a bloody frenzy. Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and his ex-wife, Stella (Melissa George), along with Eben's younger brother and a few other townspeople try to stay a step ahead of the bloodthirsty ghouls as they wait for the sun to return. 30 Days of Night does a great job building suspense and creating terror. We share the frightening experience through the eyes of the townspeople; and the camera work only heightens that experience, especially with some great aerial views of the rampage. Ben Foster does a great job as the vampire leader's familiar, reminding me of the kind of creepy, mysterious, stranger you might find in a Stephen King story. The plot moves along well with plenty of action and a few well-placed surprises to keep you guessing. These vampires are not pretty to look at, adding to the scare value, and they don't speak English, which gives them more authenticity, as is the intention. 30 Days of Night is one of the best vampire films to come along in a while—imagine a "gang" of Nosferatus. If you want your vampires with a cutting edge, see 30 Days of Night.

300

If you enjoy Frank Miller's work, you'll enjoy seeing his graphic novel 300 brought to the screen. The story is based on a fantasy version of the Battle of Thermopylae, when in 480 B.C.E., 300 Spartan soldiers, along with a handful of Greeks, held back King Xerxes' entire 100,000+ Persian army for three days. In true fantasy style, expect giant rhinos, giant elephants, and even a few giant mutant soldiers. On the plus side, this film is true to Frank Miller's graphic novel with its sweeping comic book style panoramas. Only here, they are moving. In other words, the visuals are as stunning as they could be and they alone make this film worth seeing. On the negative side, the characters are two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs moved from location to location where they scream their lines over a melodramatic orchestral score. Think 1960's Spartacus or 1995's Braveheart without the characterization that made us care. Why the producers went with director/writer Zack Snyder (2004's Dawn of the Dead and a few videos) and writer Kurt Johnstad (a 1997 True Vengeance video) to handle the writing and directing is beyond me.

9

Shane Acker wrote and directed an original 11-minute version of 9 in 2005 that was nominated for an Oscar in 2006. This time he extended it to 79 minutes with the help of writer Pamela Pettler (Monster House, Corpse Bride) dragging it out and removing the guts of the very creatures he created. In this extended version of 9, we discover that self-aware machines, unintentionally unleashed by a Nazi-like regime, have destroyed the world of men. All humanity is gone. All that is left is a group of nine tiny handmade burlap rag doll creatures created by the same scientist who created "the machines." It is up to these nine to fight the remaining machines if they are to live in peace and rebuild the world. I will admit I had high expectations going into this film after seeing the previews. The graphics looked wonderful and the creatures, especially the machines, looked unimaginable—definitely two qualifications for a good fantasy, sci-fi movie. Unfortunately, that’s about all we get. The film was lifeless and downright boring at times, failing to draw me in. Characters, at least the burlap heroes, were shallow and lifeless, or at the least—stereotypical for this kind of action film. And while the graphics were imaginative, the plot wasn’t—again falling back on stereotypes. The most exciting part was seeing and hearing about the past via old newsreels—about the creation of the machines to help humanity, but who instead turn on their human creators. The war that followed reminded me of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. It was exciting. If only the main story had tied itself closer to that one. Maybe by having the burlap dolls help the humans fight and defeat the machines. Even the voices of Christopher Plummer, Martin...

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