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August 26, 2010

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

coverBirdemic: Shock and Terror Is Really An Inconvenient Cinematic Catastrophe (In A Good Way)
When I first heard about Birdemic: Shock and Terror on CBS Sunday Morning a few months ago, I thought it was great: a Vietnamese immigrant utilizes his own money to make a movie. A bad movie.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror is so incredibly poorly created, it is awesome!

First a side note: I myself am a fairly “wooden” actor who is grateful beyond words that people cast me, even for projects in which I don't receive financial rewards. In my humble opinion, if you're in the independent film “business” on any level and haven't see this movie: shame on you.

James Nguyen's project is one of sincerity, passion and conviction. On the outset, it's too bad for him he doesn't know anything about making a film, but that is nearly all of the charm and there are dividends in the end.

Much like another “worst movie of all time” candidate, Manos: Hands of Fate, the flick starts with a long drive down a road as credits (some of which are misspelled) roll. Much of the initial filming is done with half of the Ford Mustang dashboard obstructing your view. Some of the trip has the camera pointed directly at the guard rail whizzing by at the side of the road. This endears you immediately to the filmmaker, and makes you laugh uproariously.

To say that the audio tracking is haphazard is an understatement in every sense of the word. It is patchwork in just about every recorded discussion.

Lead Alan Bagh is Rod, a blue Mustang-driving, crisp white shirt-wearing stud. In the opening moments of the movie, Rod boldly skips out on his restaurant tab to ham-fistedly approach Victoria Secret in-waiting model Nathalie (a photogenic Whitney Moore), who also seemed to skip out on her breakfast bill. Rod recognizes Victoria from English class in high school (she failed to make the connection but quickly agreed to exchange business cards anyway). Their dialog would later suggest that neither paid attention in school.

On the job, Rod makes a “million dollar sale” with the same intensity as you see any magazine salesman on late-night infomercials. Meanwhile, successful Nathalie is making bedroom eyes to a camera while inside, YES, a one-hour photo store. These kids have it going on!

Undertones of doom are foreshadowed as a nondescript TV news anchor in a Toho-inspired newsroom talks about disappearing polar bears. Oooh.

After much courting, we catch a first glimpse of Nguyen's CGI lovebirds in a tree. It reminds sharp-eyed viewers of the winged creatures in Disney's “Song of the South.”

We meet Rod's obnoxious friend and Nathalie's creepy girlfriend who interestingly enough are dating. They dig each other despite the fact that the girl's entire wardrobe consists of white T-shirts that read “Imagine Peace.” They will both “get it in the neck” from the birds. Spoiler Alert!

Arguably my favorite scenes in this “cinemagic” masterpiece are when the couple are on day-long dates. They visit Nathalie's enormous mother (unquestionably the best actor in the cast) and dance in a restaurant to Damien Carter's “Just Hanging With My Family,” a snappy soul-tune about waiting for a Big Mama-prepared “favorite dish.” Nathalie's dance-moves are Travolta-esque in this instant classic.

The young lovers finally decide to rent a hotel room even though it doesn't appear as if they've wandered too far from either one's home. Beside a Tippi Hedren peek on the motel TV (Hedren gets a top five billing at the end for this faux cameo) stands a bra-and-panties' vamping Nathalie. Black wife-beater T-shirt clad Rod is impressed. They get down to smooching that sounds like water dripping and the camera pans down to reveal that their bare feet are pitch-black-dirty! Nice attention to detail.

After a JAWS-inspired first hour without a single evil bird sighting, the CGI harbingers of death violently wreck havoc, with kamikaze-sounding dive-bombs. When the birds aren't crashing and burning into gas stations, they are merely hanging in mid-air, screeching like there is no tomorrow.

Frantic Rod and Nathalie happen upon another young couple, Ramsey and Kelly, who go on an adventure that defies explanation. They save two kids whose families are massacred by the birds (one child is hiding under an SUV and unbeknown to anyone, another pops out of a car trunk), all the while, your average Southern Californian is clearly going about their daily business. Next time, Nguyen may want to crop out oblivious rush-hour traffic as horror is going down.

When the motley crew of adventurers stops who help a Dusty Rhodes/Bo Svenson/Charlie Daniels look-alike, he abruptly pulls a pistol and steals the gasoline that a mumble-mouth storekeeper price-gouged them for mere moments beforehand. Big Dust/Bo/Charlie also gets his in the neck from a flying Eagle and tumbles into a hillside with tremendous gusto. Crime doesn't pay. Our heroes leave the $1,000 tank of gas and his unused firearm roadside. About six people in the audience at my viewing each pointed toward the gas and loudly tried to get Rod's attention. It was an “in the moment” slice of life I will never forget.

The unintentional laughs are everywhere. When a tree-hugger makes a break for it after a long-winded sermon on the junk science that is Global Warming, he does so because he hears a Mountain Lion in the distance. Never mind trying to help the “grief stricken” kids that are tagging along with our heroes.

The Clip Art Eagles are without soul. They have no leader, but they despise the specter of Capitalism. Conversely, their puppetmaster Nguyen has inked a “million dollar developmental deal” as a result of this Inconvenient Catastrophe.

Birdemic is an American Dream come true. It will never be duplicated and Nguyen should simply ride this film into the sunset like the birds at the end of the movie. Harper Lee never wrote again and Nguyen should never try another movie.

August 25, 2010

"Trapper" Tom Leturgey

"Trapper" Tom Leturgey has been a fan of Sci-Fi movies since he first saw Godzilla on a Saturday morning matinee in the 1970's. Since then, he has been a sports broadcaster, morning show host, entertainment columnist and news reporter. At last count, his work has appeared in more than two dozen publications. For the past five years, he is the Ring Announcer for the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance in Pittsburgh and a freelance scribe.

August 18, 2010

True Blood, Season Two

CoverAs a DVD watcher, I'm always seeing programs a bit "after the fact." Usually this delay has little to no effect on my watching or expectations, because most of the shows I watch are not watched by every single one of my Facebook friends. True Blood, however, usually garners a random assortment of status commentary the night or morning after a new episode airs. 

As a result, I went into Season Two wondering about all the fleeting items I saw on the internet or heard in person during its first run season. I also went into Season Two having recently finished reading Living Dead in Dallas, the second book of Charlaine Harris's series upon which the show is based (I've read the books hideously out of order due to library and audiobook availability). 

One of the things I like about the True Blood series and how it uses the books as a fundamental substance is how they keep Sookie's story lines generally true to the course of events in the books (the books being first person narrative), while taking creative liberties even to the extent of making up completely new story lines for the characters who do not get viewpoint attention in the books. It gives fans of the books a grounding in the familiar, while letting the viewer still be surprised by twists and turns when they invent new plots or shake up old ones.

I felt dubiously at first when I heard, before watching this season, that the Jason character would be joining the Fellowship of the Sun. As it turned out, though, I actually liked what this subplot did for the arch of the season. Jason never really turns against vampires and subscribes wholeheartedly to Fellowship doctrine; viewers never lose the sense that he's just looking for a place to belong. I also like the fact that this plot line introduces viewers to the Newlins and other Fellowship of the Sun characters before Sookie's fateful encounter with them later in the season. While they aren't terribly likable characters, they also aren't one-dimensional villains by virtue of this extra screen time.

The other big difference in Season 2 from Book 2 is the maenad/Maryann storyline. One of my Facebook friends complained that it seemed like there was an orgy in every episode. Hearing this critique, I wondered how gratuitously the show makers had distorted the book, as there was only one orgy I could recall in the original text. While the maenad/Maryann storyline wasn't particularly interesting for me, I didn't find it, or the orgies, off-putting. Far from a gratuitous grab for ratings, the orgies feature many of the un-sexiest characters in the series and are not dwelt upon with very much screen time at all. The conclusion was clever, and I enjoyed that it gave the series an excuse for an early introduction to Sophie Ann, the Queen of Louisiana. The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way about this story line was the fact that it became the grand climax of the story while it mostly didn't have much to do with Sookie until the end. In the book, the climactic orgy scene has everything to do with Sookie finding the killer of her friend Lafayette (who is saved from death by the series in a storyline with Eric that generally fizzles).

Finally, one storyline that I'm rather on the fence about is that of Jessica, the vampire created by Bill at the end of Season One. She is a character that was created entirely for the show and has never been a part of the books. She ends up in the show dating Hoyt, who is indeed a character from the books, but a fairly minor character. Their storyline isn't uninteresting, but it seems so detached from the core stories and characters, that I often find myself wondering "Why am I watching this?"

Overall, my impression upon watching this season is that it's much better than the rumors made it out to be. In general, True Blood is consistently entertaining and it's one of the DVD sets I most look forward to getting.    

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