2002 – After finding the mutilated bodies of the crew of a downed plane in a forest, a rescue party realizes there’s something deadly in the woods with them.*
2011 – A wildlife researcher, his teenage daughter, and a local Mountie will have to draw on all their resources if they hope to defeat a bloodthirsty beast.
Do yourself a favor, people: see Snow Beast. You will either thank me or want to kill me for telling you so. The first clue that this is a must-see film is found in the description above: no “local Mountie” appears at all. Let’s meet our principal cast:
This is Jim, a.k.a. single-dad-who-struggles-with-his-rebellious-teenage-daughter-after-his-wife-left-him-prior-to-the-events-of-the-movie. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Jim is a sneering, condescending asshole whose every word almost visibly drips with sarcasm. He talks down to his daughter, sasses his colleagues, and openly sneers when one of them suggests they’re dealing with a Yeti after he sees the monster in person. When one character falls into the Snow Beast’s lair, which is full of blood, bones and frozen corpses, Jim laughs at him. He’s basically the least sympathetic hero you’ll ever meet.
Jim’s daughter Emily (a.k.a. Emmy) knows that accompanying her father on his research trip to Canada will be “so lame”:
In Canada, Jim and Emmy meet Rob and Marcy, who Jim introduces as “two very important members” of their nature research team. Marcy has a reputation for being a terrible cook, and Rob knows a lot of interesting and obscure facts about things. Their characters are therefore “established.”
Rob is our comic relief – he is awkward and trips over things (but, oddly, he’s the only character who doesn’t fall down when fleeing from the Beast). Marcy is a bit of a bitch: when Jim suggests they leave the area, pointing out that they just found a frozen corpse in the Beast’s lair, she snaps, “You’re overreacting.” She’s also Jim’s love interest, which is awkward because there’s not even a hint of chemistry between the two characters. Halfway through the movie Emmy asks out of the blue, “Are you guys dating?” “Not yet,” Marcy replies. It never amounts to anything.
Speaking of pointless sub-plots, let me introduce you to Ranger Barry and Ranger Gibbons. Ambitious rookie Barry is hot on the trail of a missing snowboarder, making a map and putting push-pins into it. Fat veteran Gibbons complains that his partner is “trying to save the world” (note: saving the world consists of hanging up one missing person sign).
Noting that there have been several disappearances at the nearby ski slope, Barry complains that “the places they’re searching barely intersect where they were last seen.” If this doesn’t make sense to you, it’s okay – it has nothing to do with anything else.
*One of Utah-area actor Dale Thomas’ daughters contacted me and asked me to give proper credit for this role. Gibbons is, in fact, played by Dale Thomas and NOT filmmaker and political activist Michael Moore.
Rounding out the cast is the Snow Beast itself. It’s a menace of the big-guy-in-a-suit variety (which, despite its intrinsic cheese factor, is still vastly superior to some CGI hack-job):
It’s certainly a formidable antagonist, dispatching at least nine people over the course of the film and playing psychological games with its targets, like growling eerily and then popping up after they turn away. It enjoys running quickly across the foreground and background before revealing itself.
The creature’s hunting style is inconsistent: in some cases it will pop up several feet away from its victims and growl, giving them ample time to flee. In others it sweeps in at super speed and take them out in the blink of an eye. There’s an unpleasant scene where the Beast batters one of its female victims before finishing her off – all its other kills are extremely quick. It also makes the strategic blunder of capturing one of the main heroes alive – again, an exception it makes for no one else.
We can tell that the Beast is in the area when the movie employs Beast Vision:
Midway through the film there’s a big speech that Rob gives Emmy about how predators hunt: they get so close that their prey “doesn’t realize it until it’s too late.” He says a predator is “completely silent”: “No warning,” Rob intones… except the Beast is anything but silent, bellowing and rumbling anywhere it goes.
One puzzling sub-plot is why the park rangers are involved at all. They interact with the rest of the cast on exactly two occasions: once when Barry recognizes Rob (“Hey, you’re with that research team, right?”), and again when Marcy tells the rangers about the Beast lurking around their cabin. Accompanied by ominous music, Barry puts another push-pin into his board. You’d think this was building up to the Beast having a pattern of attack or some other important clue, but no. It’s almost as though the script got re-written at the last minute.
Some plot threads are left to dangle awkwardly – for instance, the ski slope (and its hundreds of skiers) vanishes halfway through the film. Why does everyone the Beast chases trip and fall at least once? Why are people constantly wandering into the woods by themselves? Why does no one show any concern when their friends get brutally killed? These are questions we’ll never be able to answer…
… at least, not until Snow Beast 2…
I won’t deny it – my viewing selections have not exactly been stellar of late. In fact, there was one to which my only written reaction was: “???” But here are a few remarks about some of the startlingly jejune features I’ve seen recently.
COTTAGE COUNTRY (2013)
A sort-of-spineless, down-on-his-luck fat guy (usually played by Kevin James, but here played by Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’s Tyler Labine) accidentally murders his annoying brother at their family cabin. He and his fiancée (Malin Akerman, who has one of the most finely sculpted posteriors I’ve ever seen on film) conspire to cover it up.
It’s not nearly as entertaining as it sounds or as funny as it wants to be, but it really put something in perspective for me – I probably won’t get married until I find a girl who’d be willing to cover up a gruesome murder with me. Think about that. Is there any greater test of devotion in a relationship? And I’m not talking about a “somebody’s kid runs in front of your car and you can’t brake in time” scenario – I’m talking a full-on “I grabbed the letter opener and severed someone’s jugular” thing.
ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008)
Is it safe to say that Kevin Smith “is over”? I’ve only viewed a couple of his movies, but I’m reasonably confident that he hasn’t made a good one in 14 years. This is the most painfully unsuccessful attempt at Judd Apatow-ing I’ve seen.
For a guy who is regarded as such a witty, incisive writer, Smith employs some of the most tired comedy cliches you can imagine: the hot girl who is inexplicably seen as undesirable by most men (Elizabeth Banks); the annoying overweight loser who somehow ends up with said girl (Seth Rogen); the race-sensitive angry black guy (Craig Robinson); the black guy’s intimidating, ball-breaking wife; the high-strung Indian store owner. Oh, and it’s set in Pittsburgh, the New Jersey of Pennsylvania.
One last note: it struck me that much of Seth Rogen’s “comedy” (in this and most of his other films) consists mainly of stating, loudly, what is happening. Honestly, watch any Seth Rogen movie and count how many times he just describes what is happening or says what he’s doing. It’s astounding. I don’t seen why he gets dumped on for making The Green Hornet when he was also involved in this lackluster affair.
THE CROODS (2013)
Nicolas Cage plays the father of a caveman family. Emma Stone plays his daughter. Ryan Reynolds plays… a somewhat more advanced caveman, I guess. None of these people make the slightest attempt to sound like the role they are playing. The movie was alright, but forgettable.
This is one of those movies that is “written by and starring,” which is never a good sign. I don’t know why I watched it. A janitor gets trapped in a women’s restroom and encounters an all-out attack by a horde of zombies. How do you “encounter” an attack? It didn’t even sound good. I like movies that challenge themselves with a limited setting, but spending an hour and a half with a guy trapped in a bathroom stall? That’s pushing it.
Stalled can’t figure out whether it’s funny or scary or angst-y. There are odd inconsistencies – sometimes we can’t even hear the dozen or so zombies that are milling around literally inches away. My biggest complaint is the ending, which is unnecessarily mean-spirited on a couple fronts.
I loved Firefly, the TV series to which Serenity is a sequel – but, like everyone else, I only discovered it after it was canceled. I had put off watching the movie because I had heard it was something of a downer. It was that, but it was also exciting, creative, witty, fast-paced, touching, and ultimately optimistic. Obviously it helps if you’ve seen the TV series, but the movie does a good job of introducing you to the characters and their backgrounds on its own. The concept that drew me to it in the first place – a “Western in space” – probably limited its appeal with the general public, which is a shame: what could be more uniquely American?
This is the kind of film that people should be making more of – original, inventive, and not afraid to push unexpected buttons. It cares about it’s characters, it doesn’t condescend to the viewer, and it tells its story without wasting your time. It’s hard for me to believe that the man who made such an enjoyable, breezy, spirited movie also made a plodding, soulless ordeal like The Avengers.
2014 – Action/Sci-Fi movie
I’ve been saving this little treasure for myself for weeks now. Temporarily a “displaced worker” (the new, feel-good term for being laid off) and feeling a a trifle down on my luck, I decided to reward myself with a (hopefully) genuinely corny, low-budget movie. As with Grabbers, I’ll be recording my reactions in real-time.
- We start out in the port of Alexandria, Egypt. Two guys on a ship (and they’re literally the ONLY two guys on the ship) are in the process of towing a huge iceberg. Why? We never find out.
- Chunks of the ice start to break off. One of the guys yells, “It’s shifting!” Ya think? The titular Mega Shark emerges from its hibernation within the ice (we must assume) and swats the entire ship into the air, where it flies all the way to the pyramids and decapitates the Sphinx! This is the most amazing opening I have ever seen.
- A news montage announces “the re-appearance of another megalodon shark.” Does that make sense? How can “another” shark “re-appear”? They also state that the ship was thrown “all the way across the Sahara desert.” I’m pretty sure that’s not geographically accurate.
- We meet our main characters – submarine pilot Rosie, her husband/tech guy Jack, and KIT-style AI Nero. Rosie is making a test run of a shark-shaped submarine – and we note that, in every such scene, she wears a sort of Google Glass-esque eyepiece for no discernible reason. The CGI is bad – worse than you’d see on a basic video game. They are then summoned by Admiral Engleberg, who informs them that their REAL shark-shaped submarine is ready. Wait… why are they testing a tiny shark sub when the military was building a completely different one the whole time?
- “The Admiral is riveted with your fascination of the obvious.” Great writing, here.
- “We’ve lost too many lives already! Including my brother. And I don’t like to lose.” – The Admiral, in the most nonsensical-yet-bad-ass boast I’ve heard. They start to prep the Mecha Shark for action.
- An Australian fishing boat (aboard which nobody sounds remotely Australian) gets destroyed, and a reporter interviews a man whose son got killed on the boat.
- Jack says that Rosie is such an amazing pilot that she could “pilot a Rubix cube.” Huh? Jack then indicates that she is seeking revenge for somebody SHE knew that died. Is everybody going to have a personal grudge against the Mega Shark?
- Aboard a submarine tracking the Mega, we hear an announcement: “Megalodon contact, fifty meters” (really bad sonar on that sub, apparently). “The shark?” demands the Captain. Seems like it…
- We cut to Rosie, preparing for action in a bathroom that is supposedly aboard a battleship… but the walls are tile and there’s a soap dispenser mounted on the mirror.
- Meanwhile the Mega rams an oil rig, then jumps out of the water and crushes it! I guess it got outside the fifty-meter range of that sub?
- There’s a running gag where Jack starts to say, “You know, my Daddy used to say…” and then gets cut off. Hilarious. He also keeps trying to smoke, and everyone tells him not to.
- Rosie finally takes the Mecha to battle the shark, but the shark swats her torpedo into the other submarine we saw before. Whoops! Then she tries again and hits an oil pipeline. Whoops! The crisis then becomes having to cap the leaking oil pipe to prevent environmental damage. This is not the most efficient military operation in our nation’s history.
- Nero, the computer, is extremely annoying. He ends every sentence with the name of the person to whom he’s speaking: “Right, Rosie.” “Chum levels are at 100%, Jack.”
- In one of the best scenes in the movie, a 727 flies above the shark… so the shark launches itself into the air to attack it, presumably ABOVE cloud level… and the Mecha follows it! They both plunge back to the water completely unharmed. How did the shark even know the plane was up there?
- Rosie often can’t see the shark itself when the creature is right in front of her, but she CAN see a tiny GSP tracking chip falling off its fin. The shark deflects another torpedo toward a nearby ship. “Oh, no no NO!” the Admiral whines. Rosie then follows the shark into a trench. Nero says he doesn’t have a torpedo lock on it, but Rosie replies, “I do.” She misses, torpedoes a wall… and the falling rubble pins the Mecha. Do they really not have any better pilots?
- The Admiral says “Talk to me,” which is dialog right out of The Avengers! Jack gets frustrated and exclaims, “Piece of CRAP!”
- The shark attacks an aircraft carrier. It sinks, and we’re told that all 5,000 souls aboard were lost! Things are really ratcheting up, here.
- With Rosie recovering from her earlier bungle, Nero says he can pilot the sub himself… but he can’t tell the wreckage of the aircraft carrier from the shark! This technology is atrocious. The shark beats the hell out of the Nero-piloted Mecha.
- Dr. Emma MacNeil, an authority on the megalodon, calls up the Admiral and speaks in an awkward lisp. “Thith trackths exthactly with reported sthitingths.” She has found a “Megalodon sthpawning ground” that she thinks the shark is heading to, right in Sydney Harbor.
- There is panic in Sydney as the authorities try to evacuate the population. A woman begs Rosie to help her find her daughter – “She has blonde hair, about 4’7″, and she looks just like me. And she’s six years old,” the mom says. Wow, that helps. This kicks off a useless search for the little girl that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Meanwhile, the shark tosses the battered Mecha into the Sydney Opera House.
- “Get me the President,” the Admiral says grimly. Then, a moment later, he changes his mind and yells, “The President can have my resignation in the morning! But right now we’ve got a job to do.” The Mecha activates “amphibious mode” and goes on a rampage in the city, running over the reporter from earlier in the movie. Jack and Rosie plan to lure it back into the water so the shark can kill it. Wait, who are we supposed to be rooting for now? This is really going off the rails.
- The Admiral yells to “bury the son of a bitch out of the water” with depth charges. What? Then he runs to the side of the ship, pulls a gun, and starts shooting at the shark! “You didn’t win!” he yells. “I’m still here!” Then he gets knocked into the water and the shark eats him.
- Jack tries to signal to jets flying overhead by waving his arms and yelling, “Hey! Hey! Don’t shoot!” The jets blow the Mecha back into the ocean. Rosie activates some kind of high-frequency signal, causing the shark to attack the Mecha. Its remaining torpedoes go off, destroying both mega and Mecha. There’s a sad moment when they think Nero’s dead, but Jack saved him… on a thumb drive (!!!).
- In a post-credit “bonus” scene, we see Jack finally lighting up a cig and Rosie catching him in the act. Haw haw haw!
This was wonderful. The acting was bad (ranging from the aggressively under-acted reporter to the wildly over-acted Admiral), the script was ludicrous, the plot was ridiculous, and the production value was low. But at the same time, it was amazingly fun to watch. It was the kind of movie that sincerely believes in itself as a piece of entertainment. If you have the opportunity, I’d recommend a viewing.