Zoo — a review

C'mon, Boo Boo, the ranger's coming...hey, wait, you're not Boo Boo! Where's Boo Boo?!

C’mon, Boo Boo, the ranger’s coming…hey, wait, you’re not Boo Boo! Where’s Boo Boo?!

Zoo is a “CBS Event Series” that’s taken from the novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. When violent animal attacks begin happening all over the world (lions escape a zoo and kill people in Los Angeles as well as on a safari trip in Africa) Jackson Oz (James Wolk) decides to do some investigating on an international level. It turns out that his deceased father (Ken Olin) was a crackpot scientist who ranted and raved about the animal kingdom eventually rising up to bite the human race on their collective behinds. He made a series of babbling lectures on video, some of which can only be found at his abandoned research facility off the coast of Japan.

While this nascent investigation begins, more and more animal attacks occur, with wolves overrunning a prison and killing everybody inside (which was really a little hard to believe, but ok, whatever….) and birds dive-bombing people at a park (and no, Tipi Hendren was nowhere to be seen here). Jackson’s father rants in his videos about something called a ‘defiant pupil,’ but instead of a surly kid in class, this actually refers to an animal having one eye where the pupil looks melted. This is a clear sign of an animal–lion, house cat, bird–that’s been turned. Eventually Jackson joins forces with a special team that’s been set up to look into stopping this animal apocalypse–as well as get chased by the bad guys. Because you know them frisky bad guys, they love messing shit up.

The animals took over this whole apartment complex...and gave it a great paint job! Wow!

The animals took over this whole apartment complex…and gave it a great paint job! Wow!

If you’re looking for one of these deep, angst-driven dramas, the Emmy bait show with the anti-hero who’s trying to figure out what went wrong with his life, then keep looking, because Zoo isn’t that series, not by a long shot. It’s a big gaudy adventure that’s more like a Irwin Allen disaster film meets Food Of The Gods (only the nasty critters here are normal sized). It’s a globe-trotting story with the team winding up in a new locale every week, and when they’re not dodging killer cats and rats, they’re dodging the henchmen of an evil corporation that may be behind the whole thing.

Who knew penguins knew how to tie such good knots?

Who knew penguins knew how to tie such good knots?

And while it’s enjoyable in a popcorn movie kind of way, just don’t think too hard about the twisty plot, which oftentimes veers off into the silliness territory of a Michael Bay film (only without the exploding stuff). Still, its goofiness is part of Zoo’s charm (the early episode with the killer house cats lying in wait for schoolchildren is good, corny fun), and I found myself hooked just waiting to see what latest outlandish situation the writers thought up for their hapless characters. In spite of its campiness played straight and elephant-sized plot holes, I still enjoyed this one. –SF

Creatures The World Forgot — a review

Dude, that's some pretty sick styling. Is this a Remington, or a Smith & Wesson?

Dude, that’s some pretty sick styling. Is this a Remington, or a Smith & Wesson?

For the longest time, I had mistakenly thought that Creatures The World Forgot was part of the cinematic saga known as The Land That Time Forgot and its sequel, The People That Time Forgot. Both of these films were released in 1975 and 1977, and starred Doug McClure. They were based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the creator of Tarzan and John Carter: Warlord of Mars) and dealt with a World War One era German submarine coming across a lost world of dinosaurs. I had never seen Creatures, and it wasn’t until very recently that I had discovered that not only didn’t it have anything to do with the Time Forgot films, but that Creatures was released earlier than them, in 1971.

When I finally received my made on demand copy of Creatures The World Forgot (apparently the studio didn’t think this film had enough fans to sell it in their regular DVD catalog) I saw that there were no closed captions for the hearing impaired. This has been a problem with many of the MOD discs; they don’t have CC. But once I started watching Creatures, I saw that I didn’t need the CC, because it’s a movie that takes place back in prehistoric times where everybody speaks ’caveman’. Director Don Chaffey wisely relies on telling his story visually, and it works very nicely. There’s not as much grunting as you would expect from the actors, seeing how they express themselves through hand gestures, with the most prominently used one being the pointing gesture, which equates to: ’look at that!’.

I'm glad I've been accepted into the tribe. Now could you please tell me what the hell is this that I'm wearing?

I’m glad I’ve been accepted into the tribe. Now could you please tell me what the hell is this that I’m wearing?

Creatures is the third film in the caveman saga produced by Hammer Films that started with One Million Years B.C. Also directed by Chaffey, B.C. starred Raquel Welch, still fresh from being squeezed by antibodies in Fantastic Voyage. Next up is When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970), the second in the unofficial caveman trilogy produced by Hammer, with Creatures being the third and final film. Creatures ditched the dinosaurs, which were produced by Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth in BC and Dinosaurs, respectively. Instead of dinos we are treated to the story of a power struggle over a tribe between two brothers (Tony Bonner and Robert John), with a beautiful and scantily clad (is there any other kind of cave girl?) Julie Ege caught in the middle.

Hey, does this make me the very first damsel in distress? That's gotta count for something, right?

Hey, does this make me the very first damsel in distress? That’s gotta count for something, right?

All in all, Creatures The World Forgot is a lesser entry in this caveman genre, but it was still enjoyable to watch. The widescreen print used for the DVD was clear and clean, with bright colors reflecting the stunning natural landscapes used here (as well as the natural landscapes of Miss Ege). Written and produced by Michael Carreras, the film does keep falling flat on its face in some scenes, like the customary fight to the death between two characters (which always conveniently takes place on sandy soil to lessen injury to the half naked actors); the goofy use of dummies in some shots, and they obviously look like dummies; and the hysterically funny looking “bear” that’s just a guy in a really bad costume. This just makes the movie enjoyable on a cheesy level, and I’m glad I sought it out. –SF

Kumiko The Treasure Hunter — a review

Wait, didn't Indiana Jones always say that 'X' never marks the spot?

Wait, didn’t Indiana Jones always say that ‘X’ never marks the spot?

Fargo is one of the best–if not the best–films made by the Coen Brothers. It’s a black comedy about murder and greed that takes place in Minnesota, a place known for its cheerful people and savage winters. It’s inspired a TV show based on the film on the FX Channel, as well as numerous other TV crime series and movies. Despite the solemn pre-credits explanation that Fargo was based on a true story, it was a work of fiction. In 2001, a young Japanese woman, thinking that Fargo was a true story, set out to find the suitcase loaded with money that Steve Busemi’s character buried in the snow by a fence at one point in the film (he did such a haphazard job in burying the cash that it would most likely have been discovered the next spring when the snow melted).

Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) stars here as a fictionalized version of the real life woman, whose name in the film is Kumiko, and she’s superb. Kikuchi plays her character as a young woman with a very tenuous grasp on reality who is slowly falling through the cracks. She works as an office girl in Tokyo for a lout of a boss who uses her to get his dry cleaning and other chores done. When he’s not using her as his personal slave, he ridicules Kumiko for being too old (she’s only twenty nine!), and introduces a new, younger assistant who will clearly take over Kumiko’s job. But the main thing that keeps Kumiko going is her obsession over finding the money that was buried somewhere in the snow laden fields of the U.S.

Hello? Can you two hear me down there? Just wave!

Hello? Can you two hear me down there? Just wave!

When her boss gives her a company credit card to buy his wife a gift with, Kumiko sees her chance to finally go to America and start her search. Kumiko The Treasure Hunter almost feels like a black comedy in tone, but the mood becomes somber when it’s made clear that Kumiko is a woman who is in serious need of help. Still, the filmmakers manage to take advantage of every comedic moment, and the result is a thoroughly fascinating film that’s anchored by a wonderful performance from Kikuchi. Despite her strange behavior, you can’t help but feel sympathetic for Kumiko, and that’s thanks to Kikuchi’s powerhouse acting. While Kumiko The Treasure Hunter makes for a great double bill with Fargo, it also stands on its own as a gripping look at the sometimes deadly consequence of obsession.

Fantastic Four (2015) — a review

Looks like the barbecue got a little out of hand.

Looks like the barbecue got a little out of hand.

Oh, the horror of the Fantastic Four! A movie that was reportedly so bad that its director, Josh Trank, famously sent (and then deleted) a tweet stating how stinky he thought his own film was. He blamed executives at 20th Century Fox for stifling his vision while it was still in the crib, while said executives stifled Trank’s directing career by losing him a gig directing a Star Wars movie. The F4 film, widely viewed as a rush job to secure the rights for Fox to the Marvel superhero team for another several years (thus keeping them out of Marvel studio’s hands), quickly bombed at the theaters. I saw this travesty, this…this…cinematic terror, and what did I think of it?

Well, um…actually, I kind of liked it.

No, seriously. I’m not being snarky or cute here. When the movie started in the cheap matinee at which I saw it (in 2-D too, I was really slumming it here, kids), I braced myself for a fantastically bad superhero movie that was supposed to make that god-awful Green Lantern flick look like Citizen Kane in comparison. And while it takes its sweet time getting started, introducing us to Reed Richards and Ben Grimm as elementary school kids building a teleporter out of parts from Ben’s family’s junkyard, things pick up when, at a science fair years later, Dr. Franklyn Storm (the always good Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (the always equally good Kate Mara) spot Reed’s invention and see the potential in it.

Invisible girl my ass...once I'm done hacking these bastards, they're gonna remember me forever!

Invisible girl my ass…once I’m done hacking these bastards, they’re gonna remember me forever!

They invite Reed to improve upon the teleporting project at a super special school for super special youngsters that’s overseen by an evil branch of the government led by Tim Blake Nelson (who’s making a career at playing these type of oily guys). When Reed, Sue and the gang make the project work, opening a portal to a new world, Nelson wants them to shut it down while they go converse with NASA about sending a team of explorers through. But the boys, in a drunken spree, all decide to do their best impersonation of Neil Armstrong by taking an unauthorized trip, which goes bad in the worst way, giving them all (and Sue, who didn’t go, but still got zapped in the lab) their superpowers.

I have no mouth and I must give a speech...what to do, what to do....

I have no mouth and I must give a speech…what to do, what to do….

Is the new F4 right up there with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I consider to be the best Marvel film yet made? Oh hell no; the new F4 still has some clearly visible problems, like a lack of characterization, as well as a pretty bland looking production design (and it would also be really nice if the Thing wore pants). But I dig their take on Doctor Doom, and how the foursome slowly became a real team at the end. It’s not a faithful reproduction of the comic, but taken on its own terms as a science fiction film that slowly turns into a superhero movie, the new Fantastic Four really isn’t that terrible. It may be nowhere in the same league as The Winter Soldier, but F4 is still actually better than Green Lantern (Jeez, now that movie really blew). –SF

Survivor — a review

The name is (not ) Bond, (not) James Bond....

The name is (not ) Bond, (not) James Bond….

Survivor is an action film starring one of the hardest working women in show business, Mila Jovovich. Jovovich stars as Kate Abbott, a security expert for the U.S. embassy in London, who survives a bomb explosion in a restaurant that kills all of her co-workers. If she hadn’t went out to get a birthday gift for a colleague, Kate probably would have wound up being just as pressed as the pressed duck they ordered. But when the assassin, played by former Bond Pierce Brosnan, sees that she’s still alive and comes after her, the unarmed Kate has no choice but to run. And when she’s been framed for the bombing, Kate can only keep running.

Directed by James McTeigue, who worked as an assistant director for the Wachowski Siblings before directing V is for Vendetta and other films, Survivor is a serviceable b-movie action flick with a likable female lead in Jovovich. Dylan McDermott co-stars as her comrade in arms at the embassy, who helps Kate to fight off their boss, an overly screechy ambassador played by the always good Angela Bassett. Brosnan goes for a more subdued villain, preferring to lay back and assess the situation before diving in; yet his bomb maker is appropriately menacing, using whatever it takes to get his target, and his sights are now set on Kate.

Zombies, assassins, whatever...I'm ready for ya!

Zombies, assassins, whatever…I’m ready for ya!

Having a beautiful woman being chased around London sounds like a good recipe for a successful movie. However, the longer Survivor runs, the more sillier it gets–to the point where it almost rivals Airplane for sheer dopiness (in Survivor’s case the dopiness is unintentional). Case in point is Bassett’s ambassador, who gives the order to the British police to kill Kate as they see fit–an order which, if I’m not mistaken, would be way out of her jurisdiction to give to local British cops. Later, in a scene that almost imitates Robert Stack’s runway lights scene in Airplane word for word, Bassett scorns looking up information that Kate sends them because “that’s exactly what she wants!”

And then Survivor takes a really weird turn by having Kate take a plane over to New York City to stop the same terrorists who killed her friends and tried to kill her. This is the same woman who’s running from the police, but she manages to get through Heathrow Airport and then make it through customs in NYC. Yeah, OK…whatever. The thing is, despite how silly Survivor gets, it has this goofy charm that made me enjoy it all the way through. It’s got a great cast (Sonya Cassidy, from Olympus, has a small role as a detective and this is the late Roger Rees’ last credit) and the action sequences are good enough to carry your interest. If you’re a fan of Mila Jovovich and are looking for something different than her usual zombie movie fare, you might want to give this a shot. –SF

Fear The Walking Dead — a review of the first episode

Grrrr...wait, this isn't Georgia! Where did I wind up this time? Grrrrr.....

Grrrr…wait, this isn’t Georgia! Where did I wind up this time? Grrrrr…..

My father passed away a few years ago and one of the effects his death had on me was I stopped watching The Walking Dead. I haven’t seen the Rick and Daryl show since the beginning of the third season, and don’t really care to. I tried at one point to catch up with the series, but shut it off in disgust. It has nothing to do with the quality, or anything like that. You can probably understand that, under the circumstances, the very last thing any newly grieving person needs to see is a zombie show while they’re dealing with the body of their loved one at the funeral home.

While I can watch zombie movies and other horror stuff now with ease, I still have no desire to watch The Walking Dead again to this day. Maybe this will change in time, who knows? But when AMC announced they were bringing out Fear The Walking Dead (!!!), I was planning on ignoring this as well. But then they announced something else, that the star of Fear was going to be none other than Kim Dickens.

What's up? Zombies? Better them than Terminators; I hear those guys are really annoying!

What’s up? Zombies? Better them than Terminators; I hear those guys are really annoying!

Kim Dickens! Let me tell you about Kim. Among the many all-time great TV shows (Breaking Bad, the 2003 Battlestar Galactica) was a western on HBO called Deadwood. And one of the best things about that magnificent series (and there were many) was Dickens, who played Joanie Stubbs, a former hooker trying to make it on her own in the cutthroat (literally) town of Deadwood in 1876. Dickens has popped up here and there in recent years (LOST, Sons of Anarchy, House of Cards), and when I heard that one of my favorite actresses from one of my all-time favorite series was starring on the latest zombie gore-fest, well, I had to at least watch the first episode.

Fear The Walking Dead, which could do with a better title than that, is a prequel, starting just before the zombie onslaught. Remember when Rick was in the coma during the first episode of TWD? RTWD basically fills in the blanks of what happened during Rick’s coma time, showing the slow decline of our civilization as zombies begin to show up here and there. The first zombie is seen by Nick Clarke (Frank Dillane), a heroin addict who witnesses his undead girlfriend eating a corpse in an abandoned church that’s being used as a “shooting gallery” for their habits.

Yummy! More brains!

Yummy! More brains!

The problem is Nick was drug-addled when he saw this zombie (and right afterwards was hit by a car) so his mother, Madison, (Dickens) is understandably skeptical about his rantings over what he saw. The regular human world is still plugging along, despite one teenage boy’s paranoia over news items he’s seen online about a strange virus that has appeared in several states that appears to be unstoppable. I like how–despite the opening scene–the zombie menace takes its sweet time in a slow burn build up. Madison and her beau, Travis (the always good Cliff Curtis), get caught in traffic with emergency vehicles surrounding them. They have no idea what’s going on until a series of gunshots shatter the night, forcing Travis to frantically pull back onto the highway.

Zombie fans can see all of the signs, even while the main characters remain in the dark: the undead are slowly rising and attacking, and the authorities’ efforts to contain the situation is rapidly falling apart. We see everything happening only through the eyes of the Clarke family (at least in the first episode), and it’s a pretty effective way of conveying the drama, because real fear is created by the unknown. Things finally heat up when a video of a roadside arrest goes viral; the video shows cops beating and then shooting a man who simply won’t die in a dark twist on real life events.

Ermigerd, does the zombie apocalypse have to start right now?! Amber's party is, like tomorrow night!

Ermigerd, does the zombie apocalypse have to start right now?! Amber’s party is, like, tomorrow night!

Eventually, Madison and her extended clan have their own encounter with the undead, and by this time, I was hooked on this series. I wanted to see more. I still despise the Rick and Daryl show, and despite the knowledge that my hatred of TWD stems from my father’s death, in the end, who cares? My life isn’t made lesser by the absence of the first Walking Dead series anyway, and it looks like I’ve got a new zombie show to watch. Of course, if Fear gets to be just as stupid and soap opera-like as the Rick and Daryl show (especially if they start playing the inane musical chairs game of “who’s going to die this season?”) then I’m out of here.

If nothing else, my dad’s death taught me that life is too frigging short to put up with inane bullshit like a TV show. –SF