Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Lords of the Deep (1989, Mary Ann Fisher)

Lords of the Deep exists for reasons. Some of them seem interesting enough I’m disappointed the trivia section on IMDb doesn’t offer any explanations. But just going on what it’s like watching the film and what it’s good for? You hate top-billed Bradford Dillman and want to simultaneously be reminded why you don’t like him and watch him humiliate himself in scene after scene. He’s godawful, impossible to take seriously as authoritative—he’s the boss—partly because the script’s so bad, like how he uses “because I say so” for shutting down autopsies, but also because Dillman’s so absurd when acting opposite anyone else. He kind of struts. You want to know if he was nice to his coworkers on set. Like, it’s something to be curious about. And just like everything else to be curious about involving Lords, none of it has to do with the film’s story.

For example, co-writer and third-billed Daryl Haney. He’s terrible—as an actor, but clearly new at it; Dillman’s terrible but experienced at it. So why did they cast Haney; some of the other supporting parts are sort of okay (Eb Lottimer, Richard Young, and Stephen Davies are downright professionally respectable with their terribly written parts), so they could’ve gotten someone better for the part. Did Haney want the part? Was it a condition of the deal? If so, couldn’t producer Roger Corman have just gotten someone else to write it. It’s not like Lords of the Deep’s script has much distinct about its badness. Unless you count the telepathic communication—sadly uncredited—between space aliens living on the ocean floor (but it came out before The Abyss, months before The Abyss, actually) and sympathetic scientist Priscilla Barnes. Barnes is also dating Haney.

Why is she dating Haney? Who signed first. Is there some story about Barnes being Haney’s favorite “Three’s Company” blonde? It’d be so much more interesting than the movie. So much more interesting.

Barnes is terrible but not unlikable. Lords of the Deep is cheap. Cheap enough you feel bad for the actors. So even though she’s never good, Barnes isn’t unlikable. Not like Dillman. You get sick of seeing Dillman. Similarly second-in-command Gregory Sobeck. He’s a fine weasel. But you get sick of him. Barnes you don’t. And not just because it’s hilarious watching her to try act off Haney. Also when Barnes makes scientific discoveries she gets this “far out, man” expression on her face and it’s at least amusing to watch. Lords of the Deep would probably have been a lot better if everyone were dropping acid or at least incredibly stoned.

Mel Ryane is the only woman besides Barnes. Crap part, but Ryane’s okay considering. She’s not annoying. Even people who aren’t bad in Lords tend to get annoying sooner or later; the script’s against them scene after scene. Ryane not so much; she’s an actual asset.

Some of the special effects are all right. Lots aren’t, but every once in a while they’ll be solid. Director Fisher is enthusiastic but bad. She doesn’t seem to be directing the actors, which doesn’t do the film any favors. There’s also something weird about Nina M. Gilberti’s editing. It seems like it’s sometimes unintentionally effective. Like Gilberti’s cuts kind of save some of the bad composition, some of the time. Most of the time not though.

Jim Berenholtz’s music… isn’t bad. Not great, but consistently decent plus.

It’s a bad movie and there’s probably not any good reason to watch it. Unless, like I said, you really want to hate watch an awful Bradford Dillman performance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mary Ann Fisher; written by Howard R. Cohen and Daryl Haney; director of photography, Austin McKinney; edited by Nina M. Gilberti; music by Jim Berenholtz; production designer, Kathleen B. Cooper; produced by Roger Corman; released by Concorde Pictures.

Starring Bradford Dillman (Dobler), Priscilla Barnes (McDowell), Daryl Haney (O’Neill), Mel Ryane (Stottelmyre), Eb Lottimer (Seaver), Gregory Sobeck (Engel), Richard Young (Chadwick), and Stephen Davies (Fernandez).


Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, J.J. Abrams)

It is a dark time for the Star Wars franchise. Although the second highest grossing film franchise of all time, white men really weren’t okay with Kelly Marie Tran getting a lot to do in the last “trilogy” movie, not to mention women telling ostensible alpha Oscar Isaac what to do, and nobody wanted to go see the Harrison Ford spin-off not starring Harrison Ford, so there was a lot of damage control on Rise of Skywalker. Not to mention Carrie Fisher died and instead of letting her rest, the Rise filmmakers instead decided to resurrect her with unused footage and CGI compositing. Suffice to say, none of it works—with Daisy Ridley not believable acting “opposite” the artificial Fisher—seriously, they couldn’t keep doing takes until they got a better one; despite costing a fifth of a billion dollars, Rise often feels like they went way too cheap on things… especially with the rebel base stuff (meaning “Fisher,” Ridley, Tran—who’s demoted to cameo level support staff because Disney, at least the Lucasfilm division, are cowards—Isaac, and John Boyega). There’s one sequence where they really need to make the base shine and the movie can’t gin up any enthusiasm for it. Partly because it can’t gin up any enthusiasm for anything, partly because the sets appear to be way too small.

Rise of Skywalker, despite being really long, feels really reductive. Director Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio would really rather not get too far into anything in the script, which has one actual big reveal but ought to have two. It turns out Ian McDiarmid’s back (hey, wasn’t Luke originally supposed to defeat the Emperor in Episode IX in Gary Kurtz’s Empire-era series outline), but Abrams and Terrio stick that reveal in the opening crawl. Rise’s opening crawl is so bad, so defeated—where’d all of Abrams’s enthusiasm for this franchise go—it makes you wish they’d brought back George Lucas to cameo write it; he couldn’t do worse. Speaking of cameos, let’s just get the John Williams thing out of the way now.

There’s barely any original music and it’s at best mediocre. But it’s barely there. On one hand, John Williams is 87 years old and he gets some slack. On the other hand, Rise of Skywalker is supposed to be the end of a storied, beloved franchise. You’d think they’d want the best score possible. But they don’t. They want a John Williams score. They want a Carrie Fisher credit. It’s not a question of Abrams and company playing it safe; it’s not like Disney Star Wars has ever taken any real chances because it’s Disney, but Rise is like a capitulation. Even when Abrams is able to hit some good nostalgia moments, it’s because old John Williams music really does work well, it’s because his actors are still taking their jobs seriously, even with the crap script. Ridley’s big reveal, teased since the first Disney Star Wars, somehow manages to result in negative character development. It’s incredible how good Abrams and Terrio are at coping out of narrative decisions. They’re not just inert with it, they actually manage to toggle the tide in reverse. The wind in Rise of Skywalker doesn’t blow, it sucks.

Very low okay direction from Abrams. He’s in way too much of a hurry, especially for almost two and a half hours, though he doesn’t get much help from editors Maryann Brandon and Stefan Grube. Everyone seems to have a different pace for the film—Abrams, both as director and screenwriter, the actors, the editors, the music. Rise of Skywalker feels slapped together, like the bad opening crawl is to compensate for the addition of McDiarmid after they started shooting but didn’t have enough time to get any real scenes with him and Adam Driver, who ping pong balls around the film, showing up whenever needed to give Ridley some conflict, sometimes with lightsabers.

What’s maybe strangest about Rise of Skywalker is how well Driver and Ridley make out, performance-wise. Ridley’s got a shit part. Like, she plays second fiddle to Driver even when she’s running a scene—and, ostensibly, the entire plot (buds Isaac and Boyega accompany her on her mission because they’re a family and she needs boys to make sure she’s all right)—but she still manages to turn in an okay performance. She acts better than the script gives ever, implying some kind of character development… within reason. Abrams, as writer and as director, works against her. He doesn’t work against Driver, however, who ends up with a great part. I mean, as great a part as you can have in Rise of Skywalker, but a good showcase anyway. Lots of range. And some of the character development Ridley should’ve gotten.

Though Ridley does get friends. Driver doesn’t not just get friends, the movie sets him up having sidekicks and then he never interacts with them. And he’s barely got any time with fellow Imperial baddies Domhnall Gleeson and Richard E. Grant. Grant has the closest thing to fun in Rise. Gleeson’s got what should be a fun part (finally) and he manages to screw it up. Whatever. At least he’s not an E.T. or something.

Isaac and Boyega get to continue their bromance, albeit neutered and straight-coded thanks to romantic interests (name cameo Keri Russell who might only actually be in one shot and the rest a voice performance for Isaac and more… mainstream appropriate Naomi Ackie for Boyega). Now, funny thing about Boyega—who gets no time with previous movie love interest Tran—and Ackie… while the script plays it like they have chemistry, they don’t have any chemistry. And they don’t play for it either. Boyega’s interested in Ackie as a comrade with shared history, but there’s no attempt at sparking. Isaac and Russell’s disembodied voice are at least cute together.

Isaac’s effortlessly charming and not much else. Boyega’s a lot of forced smiles and enthusiasm. Though even his enthusiasm runs out.

What else….

Billy Dee Williams is back for a glorified cameo—seriously, if Carrie Fisher hadn’t died he wasn’t going to be in the movie, was he—and it’s nice to have him around. He’s really not in it enough.

Anthony Daniels has a story arc, but it gets dropped in the third act. So much for the droids being the Saga constants.

All production problems aside, the film relies way too heavily on the scale CGI can provide. Rise of Skywalker tries to supersize its threats and just makes them more and more absurd, which isn’t a bad thing because it covers a lot of what would otherwise just be plain stupid.

Rise of Skywalker is a disappointing conclusion to a forty-two year-old story. But it’s a far less disappointing conclusion to that story than the one Disney Star Wars started for Ridley, Driver, Boyega, and Isaac four years ago. Though it still manages to be a more disappointing sequel to the previous entry two years ago. Abrams succeeded faster at failing Star Wars than even George Lucas. It took Lucas sixteen years to chooch the franchise with the first prequel. Abrams did it in two.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by J.J. Abrams; screenplay by Chris Terrio and Abrams, based on a story by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Terrio, and Abrams and characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon and Stefan Grube; music by John Williams; production designers, Rick Carter and Kevin Jenkins; costume designer, Michael Kaplan; produced by Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and Michelle Rejwan; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Daisy Ridley (Rey), Adam Driver (Kylo), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Keri Russell (Zorii), Naomi Ackie (Jannah), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose), Billy Dee Williams (Lando), Domhnall Gleeson (Hux), Richard E. Grant (Pryde), and Ian McDiarmid (Sheev).


Lockout (2012, Steve Saint Leger and James Mather), the unrated version

The funny thing about Luc Besson getting sued over lockout and losing—to John Carpenter, who sued based on the film’s similarities to Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.—is, yes, the film rips off Carpenter’s Snake Plissken duet, but it also rips off Die Hard and Die Hard 2 while seemingly reusing dialogue from Besson’s own Fifth Element. Every time action hero Guy Pearce drops a one-liner, you can tell they wish it could’ve been Bruce Willis, which just would’ve been creepier given the age difference with damsel in distress Maggie Grace. Pearce and Grace have a sixteen year age difference and zero chemistry and Pearce’s teasing never really comes across as flirting. Often because Grace responds with some flat rant about Pearce being sexist, even though you can tell he doesn’t mean it any more than he means anything else in his one dimensional performance. So she comes off like she’s exaggerating, which serves to de-power her. It’d be a lot more gross if Grace weren’t terrible. Since she’s terrible, it’s hard to take any of her performance seriously. She’s not bad at the terrified bit, but directors Saint Leger and Mather don’t utilize it, which is probably better anyway given she’s mostly just terrified of Joseph Gilgun’s rape threats.

Lockout is nothing if not efficient in its cheapness.

Grace is the president’s daughter, on a fact-finding mission to an orbital prison where all the inmates are cryogenically frozen. Lockout is a future movie, set almost a hundred years in the future but things mostly look the same because then the CGI animators can just reuse existing models. Lockout looks like an exceedingly competent sci-fi TV show, one where they cut corners by speeding through establishing shots instead of emphasizing the visuals. It’s not even until the end the significant cheapness catches up, when there’s a shot of a city skyline and it’s a static image more appropriate for computer wallpaper than trying to suspend disbelief.

But the technical competence works against—oh, right, they also rip off the Death Star run from Star Wars—the technical competence works against the film because then it never quite gets to be campy. And Pearce isn’t trying anything with his performance so he’s never amusing. Grace doesn’t even seem to be aware trying is a possibility, though maybe it’s not given the character. Again, she’s at least good at being terrified. Pearce isn’t good at anything. He doesn’t even fall right. Lockout has got some terrible stunt work and fight choreography. Saint Leger and Mather are real bad at their jobs. So bad. Watching them work makes you sympathetic not for Grace or Pearce, but the other actors who their managers represent because clearly they’re in need of better representation. No one should have done Lockout. Definitely not Peter Stormare, who’s the government heavy out to railroad Pearce. Lennie James is actually good as the fed who knows Pearce and defends him but he shouldn’t have done the movie. If you can be good in Lockout, you can be better in something else.

Further examples being Vincent Regan and Gilgun as the prisoners who take over when the opportunity presents itself. Gilgun’s good… enough you might want to see him in something else. Regan’s better in Lockout but less encouraging of other projects. He’s resigned to the role. He’s got more life in him than any of the good guys, but he’s still pretty resigned.

Peter Hudson’s not great as the President. Not sure how they didn’t think to get a name cameo for that part. Stormare, who’s terrible, would have at least given the casting some personality instead of generic Hudson.

I should probably just cut my loses and take it as a win the film didn’t continue identifying each location every third shot, which is always an establishing shot of a different location. Lockout’s very silly and very inept.

And plagiarism. It’s plagiarism. Lockout is pointlessly plagiarized from better source material.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Saint Leger and James Mather; screenplay by Mather, Saint Leger, and Luc Besson, based on a story by Besson; director of photography, Mather; edited by Camille Delamarre and Eamonn Power; music by Alexandre Azaria; production designer, Romek Delmata; costume designer, Olivier Bériot; produced by Marc Libert and Leila Smith; released by FilmDistrict.

Starring Starring Guy Pearce (Snow), Maggie Grace (Emilie), Lennie James (Shaw), Peter Stormare (Langral), Vincent Regan (Alex), Joseph Gilgun (Hydell), Jacky Ido (Hock), Tim Plester (Mace), and Peter Hudson (The President).


Deep Blue Sea (1999, Renny Harlin)

Deep Blue Sea is ten years too late. I knew the movie was about genetically modified sharks gone wild but the people are also stranded at the bottom of the ocean in a habitat thing. Deep Blue Sea isn’t just an amped-up Jaws movie with terrible CGI and a lousy cast, it’s a postscript in the great Leviathan, The Abyss, DeepStar Six sea monster cohort—wait, I just read there are actually even more 1989 sea monster movies. Three more. Wow.

I wonder if any of them are better than Deep Blue Sea, which lacks distinction and is rather predictably bad. The lousy shark attacks necking Abercrombie models opener sets the stage. It even establishes there are going to be composition issues throughout, as director Harlin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon went Super 35 (which just means the shots are cropped from 4:3 to 2.35:1); I’m not sure if every single close-up in the movie is a bad shot but at least–on the conservative side… ninety-two percent of them are bad shots. Harlin doesn’t do a lot of close-ups, just like when it seems like Jaws would use a close-up. Deep Blue Sea is very much a poorly written, low budgeted Jaws and Jurassic Park mash-up not directed by Steven Spielberg but a very Spielberg-influenced Harlin. To give Harlin some benefit of the doubt. Because besides the sound design, which is awesome and significantly better than the lousy CGI explosions it accompanies, and maybe how impressively Trevor Rabin mimics John Williams and Danny Elfman, there’s nothing good about Deep Blue Sea. There are more worse things and less worse things. There are also sad things. Lots and lots of sad, bad things. And like one good practical shark model. Deep Blue Sea is a failing postscript to that 1989 sea monster club too; it doesn’t even try with its sharks. It’s always CGI. Deep Blue Sea is from that era of CGI where everyone thought it’d be cool to have a crappy CGI helicopter flying around. Usually the same CGI helicopter model too.

All the CGI-assisted shark attacks and structural disasters aside, the movie’s a fail simply because it’s not camp. First act lead, Saffron Burrows approaches the part like an audition for a daytime soap bitchy British lady part, which has some camp potential but no one goes for it. Burrows can’t because she’s godawful, but Harlin either doesn’t see it or wants to avoid it. The script avoids camp too, it wouldn’t work well with the Crichton-sized self-delusion. Burrows eventually just becomes a prop—there’s a really creepy Ripley underwear homage, which kind of sums up the film perfectly—as she’s revealed to have violated the “Harvard Compact,” which doesn’t even sound real in the movie, to genetically modify the sharks, something none of her colleagues know about but is utterly obvious because anytime Burrows talks about her father dying from Alzheimer’s and shark brains being the only solution, she’s really intense and really, really bad. Harlin tends to go to close-up, which is too bad because it’s kind of funny seeing the actors standing around perplexed as they shift from side to side during someone else’s exposition dump. Samuel L. Jackson does it best. Him or Stellan Skarsgård. Jackson’s not good because he’s like two caricatures put together; one’s the intrusive rich investor guy, the other’s the mountaineer who killed people who didn’t follow his orders. But he’s the most likable character in the movie because he’s not giving a peculiarly terrible performance. Jackson’s just not good because the part’s terrible, ditto Skarsgård. Burrows, Thomas Jane, Michael Rapaport, Jacqueline McKenzie, on the other hand… they’re not good because of their parts, sure, but they’re also each bad in some specific ways, as I mentioned above and will not repeat with Burrows.

Jane.

Thomas Jane is the Harrison Ford-type shark wrangler. He’s got a literal swimming with the sharks scene; you can tell some of the casting is because other actors said no to being in the water so much. Jane’s in the water a lot; underwater a lot. His performance is unformed clay. With very blond hair. He’s bad but you don’t get exasperated with him like some of the other cast. Well, actually everyone else except Jackson, Skarsgård, and Aida Turturro (as the sassy radio operator topside). Michael Rapaport gets tiring fast not because he’s so bad but because he’s trying so hard; he’s really enthusiastic about playing a smart engineer guy here. It’s awkward to watch. Harlin’s really bad at directing the actors. He wants to focus on the explosions—not even the sharks—and the script wants to focus on the characters in dramatic situations, which Harlin’s got no interest in or apparent ability to direct.

And then Jacqueline McKenzie; the whole reason I’ve wanted to see the movie. She’s got such a bland Americanized accent (she’s Australian) it has lost all affect.

Oh, and LL Cool J. He’s not bad. He’s not good, it’s not a good showcase of his acting, even though he’s got all these actorly moments in his part, an ex-preacher turned undersea chef. His solo adventure through the crisis pads the movie, which doesn’t have anywhere near enough story for a hundred and five minutes.

But then the end credits are like eight blissful minutes you get back.

Returned to life.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Renny Harlin; written by Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers, and Wayne Powers; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Derek Brechin, Dallas Puett, and Frank J. Urioste; music by Trevor Rabin; production designers, Joseph Bennett and William Sandell; costume designer, Mark Bridges; produced by Akiva Goldsman, Tony Ludwig, Don MacBain, and Alan Riche; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Thomas Jane (Carter Blake), Saffron Burrows (Dr. Susan McAlester), Samuel L. Jackson (Russell Franklin), Jacqueline McKenzie (Janice Higgins), Michael Rapaport (Tom Scoggins), Stellan Skarsgård (Jim Whitlock), LL Cool J (Preacher), Aida Turturro (Brenda Kerns), and Ronny Cox (The Old Man).