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“In Time”

I watched the 2011 movie, In Time the other night on TV. I wasn’t expecting anything great, mostly because the movie’s reviews weren’t all that impressive. But, I gotta tell you, reviewers aren’t always right. In Time is pretty damned good.

In Time is a futuristic tale about how capitalism and society’s concept of money, through advances in technology and science, has been replaced by the trading of seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, centuries of immortality, bought and sold as banking transfers from your own life’s time line. When your personal clock reaches 00:00:00, poof! — you fall dead on the street no different than roadkill struck by lightning, a stark reality that epitomizes both the gap and the similarities between the rich and poor, the haves and have nots.

More than a bit disconcerting.

New Zealand Writer/Director, Andrew Niccol, whose movies include, among others, The Host and Gattaca (one of my all-time favorite movies), infused In Time with an unshakable Orwellian darkness in which lurks sparks of hope and flames of despair. Roll over Big Brother; the Timekeepers are much worse.

Watch this movie if you get the chance.

Oh, almost forgot. Amanda Seyfried (Les Misérables) has the most amazing eyes…

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I always get the jitters when a main actor/actress (in this case, Mark Harmon of N.C.I.S. fame as “Certain Prey’s” protagonist, Lucas Davenport) is also one of the movie’s “Executive Producers”. Executive Producers are usually money-people, financial backers, because they have a lot of it, and more often than not — if they happen to be actors or actresses — land big parts in the movie. Sometimes, that can be a good thing. But don’t count on it. Right from the opening scenes, it is terribly obvious “Certain Prey” Minneapolis Deputy Police Chief, Lucas Davenport was not going to be the author, John Sanford’s in-depth Lucas Davenport characterization we are all familiar with at all. Nope. Instead, this movie’s Lucas Davenport/Executive Producer is, uh — Mark Harmon, famous N.C.I.S. team leader turned character-actor in the flesh, fresh off the N.C.I.S. set. I swear, I kept waiting for the rest of the goofy N.C.I.S. cast to burst onto the screen.

“Certain Prey” is one of the most poorly-cast movies I’ve ever seen*. Period. The only character with even a smidgeon of the novel series’ authentic flavor is actress Athena Karkanis, who played the novels’ sultry sidekick cop, “Marcy Sherrill” character.

“Certain Prey” is a stinker. A real letdown. Here’s an online movie comment I fully agree with: “It sucked and then some…” Yep. It did that.

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Tim says: *Perhaps only to be eclipsed by an upcoming (author Lee Child) “Jack Reacher” novel movie, wherein the super bad-ass 6′ 5″ Jack Reacher charcter/protaganist is portrayed — amid a flurry of negative moviegoer criticism — by a wimpy 5′ 7″ Tom Cruise. More than likely, it will suck “and then some”, too.

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I like author John Sanford’s “Prey” novels. You know, the ones that have the word “prey” in all the titles. The ones that are so difficult to remember if you’ve read or not. I like Sanford’s protagonist, Lucas Davenport. A lot. I like actor Mark Harmon, wizened team leader of N.C.I.S. fame. And I like movies.

Guess what I’m going to be recording tonight (May 2, 1012) at 2 AM, EST on the USA Channel? John Sanford’s Certain Prey. That’s what.

I’ll let you know what I think, later.

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(gleaned from the preview guide)

Tim says: it’s time once again to flush out wacky preview guide snippets. Based purely on these plot lines, it’d be fun to have been a fly on the wall during the hype and subsequent pitch to whichever movie producers finally decided these screenplays were destined for box office greatness. Or not.

VALERIE FLAKE 1999
“A nice guy with an ill-tempered mother pursues an embittered widow who drinks, bed-hops, and demeans sympathizers.”

I particularly like the “demeans sympathizers” phrase. Not sure, though, what it means.

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RETURN OF THE SWAMP THING 1989
“A mad scientist’s vegetarian stepdaughter falls in love with one of his leafy failures.”

I watched this movie for about twenty minutes just because I wanted to see Heather Locklear eating salad.

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RATZ 2000

“A woman from Indiana uses a magic ring to turn two rats into dates for her teen friends.”

Why pick on Indiana? Why not a woman from Iowa, or Kansas, or – - just “A woman uses a magic ring to turn two rats into dates for her teen friends.” Never mind. I still wouldn’t have watched it.

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BLOOD AND DONUTS 1995

“Stuck in an all night doughnut shop, a vampire hunts a rat, saves a cab driver from things, and deals with an ex-girlfriend.”

I used to dive a cab. My things were never saved. Not even by vampires. Of course, maybe the rat was in the cab while the vampire was being driven to the doughnut shop. Naw. More importantly — how come “donuts” can also be spelled “doughnuts”?

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Wild, Wild Planet

MOVIE SHOTS

Preview writers and the folks who create newspaper headlines have always fascinated me. So much to say and so few characters in which to say it. With this in mind, one of my pastimes is reading on-screen television movie guide synopses on the preview channel. Here’s a recent one for the 1965 movie, “Wild, Wild Planet”, starring Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, and Massimo Serato that really cracked me up:

“A space cowboy saves planetary leaders from an alien shrinker’s army of inflatable females.”

How could anyone pass up a come-on like that?

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Effect # 1

Most special effects in many of today’s movies have become so commonplace that they have ceased to be special at all. I mean, seriously—how many explosions with flailing bodies launched into the foreground, how many cars overturning from half-concealed ramps, how many running folks catching fire, how many helicopters crashing into mountain sides, how many gush-popping bullet wounds and bullet holes whose ricochets throw sparks even while striking trees (or other organic matter) can an audience possibly digest?

I suspect that contemporary movie producers, screen writers, directors, and stunt people are so familiar with every canned special effect that they refer to them universally by numbers.

Director: “Okay, listen up. First off we’ll pan down from effect #33 into effect #12. Makeup: go light on the blood until effect #27 has had time to register.”

Producer: “Hang on there for a minute. If we substitute effect #88 and effect #50 for effect #33 instead, we can throw in an extra effect #41 or possibly two back-to-back effect # 6s and save investors a little money.”

Writer: “Yeah, but I was saving those two number 6s for the scene where the jealous boyfriend, having just survived effect #73 (minus his ear, or course) was falling over the cliff right after effect #9 catapulted him right off the edge.”

Sigh. If the Movie Guild would simply publish this Official Special Effects List shorthand and distribute it at the theater, think of the money they could save in production by just plugging the effect number text right into the blank movie scene.

Last week I re-watched the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Psycho”. It was chillingly refreshing not to have witnessed the famous shower scene the way it most certainly would have been graphically depicted today. More and more I find myself turning to the older cinemas of yesteryear. You remember them — the movies where special effect #1 was a bold pioneering force called CREATIVITY.

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Just another burned-out cinder.

I watched “The Day the Earth Stood Still” 2008 movie remake on pay-for-view the other night and was so disappointed I almost deleted it halfway through the viewing. The movie was filled with (spectacular) special effects and little else, not the least of which was any semblance whatsoever to the original movie’s storyline plot, to which I attribute a true “Classic” rating. I gotta tell you I have a real problem when arrogant Hollywood producers, directors, and money managers decide to remake any movie classic: Hell, let them earn their own movie classic status the old fashioned way!

Having said that, a lot of folks I know didn’t care for the original movie, either. What I liked about the original 1951 movie was its simplicity, a straight forwardness ultimately delivered to an uneasy, Cold-War-era nuclear-paranoid audience in the closing scene: “It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”

The original 1951 “The Day the Earth Stood Still” movie was based on a short story, Farewell to the Master“, by mostly unknown writer Harry Bates, published in the October 1940 issue of Astounding Magazine.

I must point out that although the storylines in both of the two movie versions of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are different than the “Farewell to the Master” short story, I did not like the recent 2008 “The Day the Earth Stood Still” remake one iota. It was a pompous and arrogant production from the get go, crammed with special effects designed to be overbearing in an attempt to make up for an otherwise terrible movie plot. I usually enjoy watching lead actor, Keanu Reeves, but his lackluster performance in this classic 1951 movie remake did little to enhance the movie.

It was not worth the $4.99 Pay-for-View fee, popcorn or not.

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“Open Water”

A movie review. (circa 2004)

Against my better judgment, I purchased the movie “Open Water” on Pay-per-View. Although the movie had received several good reviews, I regretted spending $3.95 from the very first frame. “Based on true events”, is how the movie is plugged. That’s rarely a good sign: most often than not, the true events get diluted with so much fiction and fantasy it’s hard separating which is which. According to the Open Water website, a Newsweek review describes the movie as “… a 79 minute triple-dog-dare”. Which is true, I suppose, if you remove the words triple and dare. . .

While vacationing on a Caribbean island, a stressed-out, marriage-challenged, yuppie couple signs up for a half-day dive-boat excursion. Somehow or another an inattentive crew member miscounts the number of divers exiting the water at the conclusion of the dive, and — bingo! The boat weighs anchor, the propeller goes ‘round and ‘round, and sure enough, our submerged yuppies get left behind in vast, shark-infested open water. One of the few positive notes about this movie are what’s missing: gory shark bites, blood trailing in the water, gnashing teeth,  a daring rescue. There were even a few moments of brilliant editing. But mostly, scenes were designed to keep us guessing in a murky psychological haze, forcing our minds to tread water while filling in events that were perhaps too costly to film.

Open Water is one of those movies where the credits — unlike the sharks — suddenly appear on the screen and bite you. I replayed the last Open Water scene several times.  “Was that the ending?” I wondered.  “What just happened? Did I miss something?”

Unfortunately, the only thing I had missed was 79 minutes of my time and a triple-dog-dare.

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Tim says: A couple years ago I tried watching this movie a second time, but I ended up switching channels about a quarter-way through.

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and based on a William Mastrosimone play entitled “Nanawatai”. Also known as “The Beast of War”.

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Last month while flipping through TV channels late at night, I decided to watch an older movie that turned out to be pretty darned good. It’s called “The Beast”, made in 1988. (Do not confuse this movie with a similar title made-for-TV featuring a rampaging squid that terrorizes a New England fishing community!)  THIS version of “The Beast” (also know as “The Beast of War”) is about a Russian tank and its crew who — after decimating an Afghan village in a rather gruesome attack during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — escape into the surrounding dessert. The tank makes a wrong turn however, ultimately trapping the crew in a rambling dead-end canyon.

Hold on to your hats. The tale unfolds quickly as a band of vengeful Afghan rebels begin to play a deadly mongoose-and-cobra game with the wayward tank and its dwindling crew.

The tank’s psychotic commander is played by George Dzungza (TV’s 1990-1991 overweight “Detective Sergeant Max Greevey” in the first season of “Law & Order”). Dzungza’s performance goes beyond outstanding.

As I chomped popcorn and watched the tale develop, I could not help drawing wonderfully classical parallels to Hermann Melville’s infamous Captain Ahab character in “Moby Dick”, as well as the Philip Francis Queeg character played by Humphrey Bogart in “The Caine Mutiny”.

A must-see for serious movie enthusiasts. “The Beast” is not for children! Watch or rent this one if you get the chance.

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The last thing I expected to see in the 2006 Sci-Fi Channel movie, “Savage Planet” was the Bear with the Rubbery Lips“Terror strikes a group of explorers who have stepped through a portal to a distant planet.” And then it happened. Ten minutes into the movie, the Bear with the Rubbery Lips made his appearance. You know the bear I’m talking about, the same bear that has appeared in almost every bad action-adventure movie ever made; the trained Kodiak bear who rears up on his hind feet, flails the air with his massive, Godzilla-like paws, and — as the camera moves in for the trademark tight head shot — screws up his huge, slather-coated mouth into incredible rubbery shapes that are meant to be mortally terrifying but have since become so overused they are slapstick and comical.

So it was on the Savage portal Planet in a galaxy far, far away, VERY far away, indeed, from the rubber-mouthed Gentle Ben look-alike and his quick-take-the-money-to-the-bank trainer. CLICK went my TV remote.

It was time for a good book.

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