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AGE OF DINOSAURS

2013 – Think Jurassic Park, but with… um… Well, no. It’s basically Jurassic Park.

A blatant rip-off of a movie from 1993, and featuring a cast that would make 1983 green with envy, Age of Dinosaurs is a perfect way to kill a lazy Saturday afternoon. This, my friends, is a must-see bad movie. I wanted to do a scene-by-scene breakdown, but you really need to enjoy it for yourself. I’ll just hit the highlights.

CAST

Our hero is firefighter Gabe Jacobs, played by a haggard-AF-looking Treat Williams:

Damn.

Damn.

Gabe is a firefighter. In the universe of this movie, that means flashing his ID and declaring, “I’m LAFD” grants him instant access to the highest levels of city government. At the start of the day nobody has a clue who he is; by the afternoon, he’s on a first-name basis with the Chief of Police and cops are randomly tossing him shotguns. His daughter is Jade Jacobs (Jillian Rose Reed), who is of college age but doesn’t know what “Jurassic” means (she thinks it’s the name of a vegan restaurant). She’s the “always on her cell phone” type. Gabe and Jade do a lot of awkward father-daughter heckling: “Mom would have wanted you to go to college.” “Mom’s dead.”

Ronny Cox of RoboCop and Total Recall fame plays the head of the Geneti-Sharp company, Justin Juarisco. His wheelchair has weird “construction zone” stickers all over it and looks like a complete heap of shit:

Age of Dinosaurs Juarisco

I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say that Juarisco doesn’t survive the catastrophe of his dinosaurs escaping to run amok in Los Angeles. Can you guess whether or not he is killed by the very monsters he created? You’ve got at least a 50/50 shot at this. Juarisco’s chief lieutenant is the cowardly Doug Donovan (Jose Rosete). We know Donovan is evil because he talks about “schedules” and “budgets” and bears a striking resemblance to ex-Phillies General Manager Reuben Amaro, Jr:

Age of Dinosaurs Donovan

Donovan and his do-gooder assistant Dr. Craig Carson (Joshua Michael Allen) form a very effective cliche-exchanging duo. Carson provides warnings; Donovan ignores them. “The levels aren’t stabilized!” “I’m asking you one last time: don’t do this!” “We have to stop!” So just to review, we’ve got Gabe and Jade Jacobs, Justin Juarisco, Doug Donovan, and Craig Carson. Somebody got real creative on these names, obviously.

“Uncle” Leo, a Geneti-Sharp security guard and friend of Gabe, has “dead meat” written all over him. Police Chief Dawson is my personal favorite character, tossing out lines like, “How long ’til we can get a SWAT team in here?” “About ten minutes.” “MAKE IT FIVE.” And finally there’s the helicopter pilot, who rises from obscurity to become one of cinemas’ most bad-ass tertiary characters.

PLOT

Our story begins in Japan, where Donovan’s frequent flaunting of common sense leads to a dinosaur slaughtering his entire medical staff. To contain the beast, he orders the operating room locked down. One of the doors that “locks,” accompanied by a high-tech schwoosh sound effect, is this one:

TECHNOLOGY!

TECHNOLOGY!

In the good ol’ USA, Gabe takes Jade to a presentation at Geneti-Sharp headquarters. Juarisco reveals his genetically engineered dinosaurs to the underwhelmed audience, and outlines his plans to market them to sporting events, parades, and “children’s parties.” This seems like the world’s worst business model. He also remarks that they created meat-eaters first because they’re “the cool stuff.” When he pulls a Wonka and reveals he can walk, the audience stands and cheers (which they didn’t do for the dinosaurs).

The dinosaurs are controlled by a “sonic pulse,” but in about two seconds the system fails and we’re told that “the pulse is irritating the other dinosaurs.” Seems like they should have planned this out a little better. The creatures break out and run amok and Donovan locks the building down so no one can escape. Jade gets locked in a glass-front cabinet in the basement; Gabe finds Juarisco, Donovan, and Carson, who tell him that the cabinet can be unlocked with a key kept “one floor below.” Then they find a panic room with people trapped inside; this room, of course, can only be unlocked via a control in the basement. What the hell kind of building is this?

Eventually the dinosaurs escape from the building and begin a rampage through downtown Los Angeles – and by downtown Los Angeles, I mean a shopping mall located right next to a number of abandoned warehouses. People get massacred as the authorities exchange lines like, “One hell of a mess, sir,” and “Damn shame.” Conveniently, all of the dinosaurs converge on the warehouse where Gabe and Jade have holed up. The military bombards the place, almost all of the minor characters are killed, and Gabe has to rescue his daughter from a surprise Pteranodon attack. Safe at last (I guess), they share a nice family moment as they gaze out over the burning city. THE END.

SCRIPT

The dialogue in Age of Dinosaurs is always just a step to the left of coherent, and that’s what makes the movie such a joy. Jade greets Gabe with a casual “Hey,” and he responds with “JESUS!” like he’s shocked and horrified to find her in his own living room. In the midst of the crisis, Juarisco asks, “Dr. Carson, you’re a vet – can dinosaurs climb?” During one sequence, our heroes try to escape from a dinosaur in their car. “FASTER!” Gabe screams. “They didn’t teach me this in driving school!” Jade replies. “This IS driving school!” says Gabe. Huh?

In the end, the somewhat-crazy-somewhat-noble Juarisco sacrifices himself so our heroes can escape. As a dinosaur approaches he mutters, “And his final words were… final words… Heh… Of course. Rock and roll.” It doesn’t really make sense, but I guess it’s better than nothing. Then we cut upstairs to hear him pathetically wail, “Oh no, NOOOOO!” which is far less cool than what he said a second ago.

Juarisco’s helicopter pilot, who picks Gabe up from the warehouse roof, becomes a key hero out of nowhere and vanishes again just as quickly. “Your boss is dead! Follow that Pterosaur!” Gabe tells him, which may be the best line in movie history. “You’re good,” Gabe tells the pilot at one point. “I KNOW,” he replies. Then his chopper crashes and he presumably dies, so he couldn’t have been that good.

Characters love locking things down. Donovan locks down the operating room and, later, the Geneti-Sharp building. Jade gets locked in a cabinet. People are locked in a safe room. Chief Dawson locks down the entire city.

SPFX

Jurassic Park, made 20 years earlier, featured better computer animation than this.

REALISM.

REALISM.

90% of the time the dinosaurs are completely animated, but in a few scenes they use a dinosaur head puppet that looks like it was thrown away as being too fake-looking for Gremlins II: The New Batch. They apparently blew their entire budget on these effects, because they blatantly skimp on others. When characters fire their guns, for instance, they just wiggle them around with the barrels off-camera. It looks like a bunch of kids having a fake gunfight.

PRODUCTION

Age of Dinosaurs is way too ambitious for its obviously shoestring budget. The scenes in the Geneti-Sharp building look like they were filmed in a vacant office over the course of a single day. Ladders and old propane tanks litter the hallways. If you look at the exterior, you can see where it looks like they painted over the street number or unit name:

Age of Dinosaurs building

When the movie ups the chaos ante and the dinos start to overrun the city, there’s a brief montage of the chaos. In one shot, a dinosaur has somehow scaled a huge skyscraper and is roaring at a helicopter. It’s a particularly ludicrous moment – how’d it get up there? WHY would it go up there?

I find this somewhat unrealistic.

I find this somewhat unrealistic.

The only way that Age of Dinosaurs fails is that there is no post-credits shot of an egg hatching, a dinosaur emerging from the rubble, or anything that suggests a welcome sequel might be on the way. Because the world needs more of this. Much, much more.

MEGA SHARK vs. MECHA SHARK – 5/30/14

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.

GRABBERS – 4/3/14

2012 – Irish comedy/horror film

Almost every day, I mourn the deaths of the grand old video rental stores. In my high school and college years, my friends and I spent so many happy Saturdays searching for the lowest, most overlooked new releases. There were amazing gems buried there – movies like Mammoth (an alien re-animates a woolly mammoth found in a block of ice), Caw (killer crows attack people) and Beneath Loch Ness (pretty much what it sounds like). When Blockbuster opened in my home town, it killed off West Coast Video. Then Netflix and Redbox came along and killed Blockbuster. I had just gotten a new membership card, too. Damn shame.

So you’ll understand that I was almost drowned, Philippines villager-style, by a typhoon of nostalgia when I visited the Netflix Sci-Fi section and discovered this little treasure: “Residents of an Irish town must get very drunk to survive attacks by alien monsters.” Not just drunk – very drunk. This was a slam-dunk for an evening of entertainment, so I grabbed my old netbook and decided to record my live reactions to the oddly-named Grabbers (I thought the title was actually Crabbers until I squinted).

  • In the prologue, three fool Irishmen are out on a fishing boat. They see a green meteor crash into the sea and think it’s “a distress flair.”
  • “Do ye see anythin’?” “No… OH JAAAAAYSUS CHRIIIIII-” and we have our first victim.
  • We get another “Jaysus!” when the ship captain gets killed, making us two-for-two on sacrilegious death screams. The last remaining crewman yells, “Skipper! DAAAAD!” What? If the captain was really his dad, why did he yell “Skipper” first?
  • A cute young female cop meets a rough-around-the-edges drunk cop when she arrives for a brief stint of duty on Erin Island. He tells her to put her stuff “in the boot” of his car. If they call the trunk “the boot,” what do they call boots?
  • The Chief, who is leaving on a vacation, notes that most of the population is leaving for vacations of their own this weekend and that “the whole town will be dead.” Ha! Foreshadowing! The drunk cop asks the girl cop if she wants milk, and she asks what kind, and he replies, “Cow’s.” I can’t tell if he’s supposed to be funny or just an asshole.
  • Next we meet the town’s douche-y marine ecologist who just screams that he’s not going to survive the movie. He flirts with the girl cop as they examine the bodies of dead whales that washed up. Some idiot brings a monster that he caught in a crab cage back to his house and puts it in the bathtub.
  • A guy finds some kind of egg on the beach, then gets dragged into the ocean and killed. His friend goes to look for him and disappears. Body count is at 5 Irishmen (so, zero real people).
  • People in this movie say “feck” instead of “fuck.” Does it still count as a swear word?
  • A guy is watching Night of the Living Dead, and we see he’s at the scene where the brother says, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” I swear I’ve seen that in a movie before. There’s a knock at the door, and the monster dangles the body of the guy from the beach as a “lure” (this monster is incredibly clever). The guy goes outside to investigate and gets killed. His wife tries to close all the doors, but is afraid the monster will come down the chimney (???) so she struggles to close it and gets sucked up and killed. Body count: 7.
  • Drunk cop awkwardly hits on girl cop. Then the guy with the monster in his bathtub comes home and the monster (which looks like a big mass of blue tentacles) attacks him. He throws it onto the floor and stomps it, presumably to death. I have to say, I’m not blown away by this monster so far.
  • Bathtub guy brings the dead (?) monster to the douche-y marine ecologist and suggests they call it a “grabber.” Then he asks if they can “sell it on the e-Bay.” Please, kill this guy quickly. I also note that the dead (?) monster on the table is about one sixth the size it was in the bathroom scene.
  • Drunk cop says “I watch a lot of Columbo” to explain why he gets hunches. I love this.
  • We’re a half hour in and I can’t believe there’s still an hour more to go. Drunk obviously checks out Girl as she goes up a ladder.
  • OKAY. Get this: she climbs onto the roof of the house where the two people got killed. She finds something that looks like a tied-together string of bedsheets leading into the chimney. When she pulls on it, the head of the dead guy tumbles down and smacks Drunk in the face. Did the monster rig all that up just to scare them?
  • The gang (Drunk, Girl and Bathtub) try to find the monster’s lair and get attacked by an enormous one. They call the Irish Coast Guard, who won’t believe them because the Drunk is, well, a drunk.
  • Returning to the lab, the dead (?) monster comes back to life and attacks them. Douche grabs a chair, Girl grabs a knife, and Drunk, feeling inadequate, rolls up a newspaper. That’s kinda funny. The monster attacks the Drunk, but is weakened because he’s had a lot to drink and the monsters are, apparently, allergic to alcohol. So the Netflix summary gives away a key plot twist not revealed until 45 minutes into the movie. We get a monster POV shot of everyone stomping on it, which is lifted straight from Shaun of the Dead (2004).
  • I just managed to figure out that Girl’s name is Lisa and Drunk’s name is O’Shea. They talk about how she’s never been drunk before, but it kinda sounds like they’re talking about sex. Awkward.
  • “We’ll ‘ave to do shots. Probably tear the arse outta ye.” Best line in the movie. They go to the church and try to lure everybody to the pub to have a massive party. Nobody wants to come until they say it’ll be a free bar. Then even the priest decides to join! Typical Irish.
  • In another Shaun moment, it’s obvious that they’re going to be besieged in the pub by the monster(s). The main crew, consisting of Lisa, O’Shea, Douche, Bathtub, Barkeep and some other guy, assemble their weapons. Other Guy says he has “a nail gun… and a board, with a nail in it,” which is another good line.
  • “What are we gonna do with a pellet gun?” “Shoot pellets! …But. I don’t ‘ave any pellets.”
  • Lisa admits that she “fancies” O’Shea, but he turns her down because she’s really drunk, which is a classy moment. Other Guy goes outside to take a pee, which probably means he’s going to get killed. Dammit, I liked him. Kill Bathtub guy first!
  • There’s a touching moment where Lisa says, “I feel like I’ve known ye fer years.” We learn O’Shea drinks because his wife left him. Meanwhile, Other Guy is still pissing! He’s been pissing out there for four minutes! A bunch of tiny monster babies converge on him, but Lisa and O’Shea rescue him and we learn Other Guy’s name is “Jim.” But then the big monster turns up and eats Jim, spitting out his head to bring our “severed heads bounce around and hit the hero in the face” count to 2 and our body count to 8.
  • Bathtub’s actual name is Paddy, and Barkeep’s name is Brian. Douche, whose name is Smith, staggers outside drunkenly (the actor does a really bad job of acting drunk). Instead of eating him, the monster swats him into the ocean, where he presumably dies. Body count is at 9.
  • Since the monster needs blood and water to stay alive, they plan to somehow dry it out. However, they need “the drunkest person we’ve got” to try and lure it away. Of course it’s Lisa. She goes downstairs and fights a bunch of the little monsters – in another Shaun moment, the juke box turns on (this brings our Shaun of the Dead ripoffs to 3). She also sets the place on fire, which also happened in Shaun. Lisa and O’Shea drive off, and the monster follows them by rolling on its tentacles like a big tire.
  • The monster almost gets O’Shea at the construction site, but Lisa pins it with a bulldozer while calling it “the c-word,” which is sort of a jarring moment. They shoot a flare gun into some nearby oil barrels, incinerating the monster. Everyone else in the movie survives.
  • O’Shea and Lisa walk back to town, and she keeps offering him a celebratory drink, which seems odd because they just established that he’s an alcoholic. She decides to stay on the island and they kiss. I’m guessing one of the baby monsters survives, though, or there’s an egg left on the beach or something, leaving things open for a sequel. Lisa and O’Shea decide to adopt Jim’s dog. I don’t remember him having a dog earlier, or even being in the movie earlier, but if he was it was nice of the screenwriters to remember the dog.
  • Yep, sure enough, the incoming tide touches some hidden monster eggs and they start to hatch. Cue the credits.
  • According to the credits, O’Shea’s first name is “Ciaran.” Lisa’s last name is Nolan. Jim is actually “Dr. Gleeson.” Total Irish Body Count: 9. Severed Heads: 2. Shaun of the Dead Ripoff Moments: 4.

I was hoping this would be a “so bad it’s good” horror movie, but it’s actually a “comedy/horror” movie. It’s decently entertaining, but a tad long at an hour and a half. The acting is good (especially O’Shea and Lisa) and the effects are passable. All things considered, I’d rather watch this than The Pianist.