Archive for the Animals Attack Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets the CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Posted in 1940s Films, 2013, Animals Attack, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Carnival Chills, Classic Films, Mad Doctors!, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on May 9, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943)

Capposter

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Universal Studios was THE place to go for great horror movies in the early days of cinema.  From DRACULA (1931) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931) to THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) to THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), Universal spent money on their horror films, creating atmospheric, beautifully made monster pictures that still hold up to viewings today.  In between their A-Pictures, however, they churned out lots of fun B-movies as well.  These movies didn’t have the best directors in the canon; nor did they employ the top box-office actors.  They utilized lots of money-saving stock footage and re-used sets from the big movies.  This doesn’t mean the films weren’t often very entertaining.  Many of them exude a certain second-tier charm that makes them more than bearable.  Often, they are as much fun as the big productions.  Some examples of these B’s were MAN MADE MONSTER (1941), NIGHT MONSTER (1942), and our feature presentation, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943). 

While circus animals are being unloaded from a ship, Fred Mason (Milburn Stone, Doc Adams from GUNSMOKE, also in INVADERS FROM MARS – 1953) meets his fiancé and secretary, Beth (Evelyn Ankers from THE WOLF MAN, 1941 and THE PEARL OF DEATH, 1944), who is dressed in great clothes.  She kind of resembles Auntie Mame in every scene of this movie; the costumes are that fabulous!  After playing kissy-face, he tells her about all the big game he has brought back for his circus, including Cheela, a huge female gorilla (okay, a man in a pretty decent gorilla suit).  He introduces Beth to the gorilla as a crate holding a tiger bursts open and the wild beast escapes.  Fred grabs a chair and tames the snarling tiger (more on this footage later).  It’s actually a hell of an exciting opening! 

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Milburn Stone and Evelyn Ankers in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Beth tells Fred all about her little sister, Dorothy (played by Martha Vickers as Martha MacVicar) —from THE BIG SLEEP (1946) and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944)) —who has developed a glandular problem and was taken to the Crestview Sanatorium.  Dr. Sigmund Walters is a well-known doctor who specializes in the glandular issues between races.  The good doctor has changed several people who were deformed, making them normal by messing with their pituitary gland.  His nurse assistant helps him with his experiments with sex hormones, where he wants to take human hormones and transplant them into animal subjects. 

In his very first starring role, John Carradine (STAGECOACH, 1939 and THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, 1968, and over three hundred other shows and films) plays Dr. Walters, a mad scientist (is there any other kind, especially with Carradine on hand?).  Walters is obsessed with glandular disorders and charming young women.  He joins Beth and Fred to have a look at the circus, where they are all waiting on famous lion-tamer Clyde Beatty to answer them about his new act.  We get to see these beautiful animals, lions and tigers especially, caged, fed, and trained. 

Cheela, the gorilla (of my dreams —sorry, couldn’t resist) attacks one of the handlers.  Carradine is instantly smitten by the looks and talent of the gorilla.  He wants to buy her, but the circus says no.  So, he pays a thief to steal the animal.  “It’s a deal, mister.  You got yourself a monkey!”  Instead of paying the thief, Dr. Walters pushes the man into the cage, where Cheela kills him!

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

The legendary John Carradine as Dr. Sigmund Walters.

Once in the lab, Walters begins his nefarious experiments, and Dorothy is included in this mysterious research with Cheela.  Why does he want to turn a gorilla into a hot woman?  Who knows?  Maybe he can’t get a date any other way.  Dorothy starts to die on the operating table, but the gorilla changes through the magic of stop motion photography (like in THE WOLF MAN, 1941) into a sexy young woman, played by Acquanetta (who only had one name, much like Cher or Madonna and was known as the Venezuelan Volcano in press releases and also played in JUNGLE WOMAN, 1944 and DEAD MAN’S EYES, 1944).  Using his nurse’s glands, Walters finishes the experiment.  He saves Dorothy for future surgeries.  He renames the ape-woman Paula Dupree.  Acquanetta plays her as a mute, acting pretty much with only her eyebrows, although she looks stunning doing so.

Meanwhile, back at the circus, Fred gets to try out his new act, mixing lions and tigers in the same cage with himself.  Once again, the animal footage is terrific, exciting and scary and realistic.  The two big cats actually get into a fight, which was supposedly staged and filmed in a single take.  They really look like they’re tearing into each other.  This is not a film for PETA!

Walters brings Paula Dupree (aka Cheela) to the circus, where the animals go crazy, sensing her unnaturalness.  She steps into the lion cage, and the big cat is so afraid of her it backs away.  Fred believes she may be the best lion-tamer of all time.  He hires her, and she becomes a part of the act.  She also falls in love with Fred.  Rut-ro!

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

Paula Dupree hides a sinister secret in CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN.

When Paula/Cheela sees Fred kissing Beth, she gets angry and starts to change back into a gorilla.  Her teeth grow to gigantic form, her skin turns darker, and hair begins sprouting all over her body, her brow becomes huge.  The transformation is primitive and crude, but it works in context.  It’s created by the great Jack P. Pierce, who also created all the classic make-ups for the Universal monsters like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. 

She immediately goes after Beth in her home, determined to kill off her romantic competition, but she’s interrupted by a landlady.  The poor older woman is jumped and chewed to death.  Paula escapes, but Dr. Walters knows he needs to perform more operations to get her hormones back to normal.  Things aren’t looking good for Dorothy, who’s still at the sanatorium!

Will Dr. Walters get Paula’s glands back in order?  Will Fred be able to control all those big cats without the help of Paula, and with a big thunderstorm on the way?  Will Paula kill Beth and get the love of the man she adores?  How the hell does Beth afford those terrific glamorous outfits on a circus secretary’s salary? 

Tune in to find out, but it all ends in a spectacular circus finale with crazed big cats, a huge storm, and a lovelorn gorilla.  Watching the stunt footage, I can’t believe somebody didn’t get killed during the filming of these scenes. 

A credit at the beginning of the picture reads “We hereby make grateful acknowledgement to Mr. Clyde Beatty for his cooperation and inimitable talent in staging the thrilling animal sequences in this picture.”  In other words, thanks to Clyde (a world famous lion-tamer) for letting us borrow all your scenes from THE BIG CAGE (1933), a jungle adventure in which Beatty performed the thrilling lion-taming acts.  In fact, it’s rumored that Milburn Stone, a rather bland leading man, was only hired onto CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN because of his diminutive stature and resemblance to Clyde Beatty.

Other than Stone, however, the acting is quite good for this sort of picture.  Evelyn Keyes looks gorgeous in her beautiful outfits and is completely natural, even when spouting dubious dialogue.  Acquanetta is also unbelievably beautiful, and she does a good job, working the whole movie in short, sequined dresses and pantomiming everything she does.  She’s like an animal in a lot of ways, the way her eyes follow things, the way her lips curl when disappointed or angry, and the way she stomps more than walks.  Also impressive is John Carradine in a low-key role.  I love me some John Carradine, and in this film he could’ve turned into the later Carradine, mugging for the camera and camping it up as a mad doctor.  Instead, he reigns his performance inwards, and we can easily see how he could charm women.  He also exudes an innate intelligence.  The man was a terrific actor, and it’s too bad he was relegated to high-camp roles so often in his later years.  A lot of people should watch his earlier work to see how good he truly was. 

As noted before, the gowns in this movie are pretty spectacular for a B-picture.  This is due to Vera West’s costume design.  West was the gown designer behind most of the Sherlock Holmes movies of the 1940s, as well as THE GOOD FAIRY (1935), GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1934), MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935) and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), as well as ALL the major Universal horror films of the thirties and forties.  She designed the gowns for 342 movies, almost all at Universal. 

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN was directed by stalwart Edward Dmytryk, who also helmed such classics as THE CAINE MUTINY (1954), CROSSFIRE (1947), BACK TO BATAAN (1945), and HITLER’S CHILDREN (1943).  The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Dmytryk started working at Universal as a messenger boy at the age of fifteen.  Later in life, he was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate with HUAC and Joseph McCarthy.  He refused to name names as communists, and he ended up in prison.  After a few months, he testified again, informing on several “communists.”  He always believed he had done the right thing, but he was never forgiven by the rest of Hollywood, and his career stalled out in the 1970s. 

Overall, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN is a bit predictable, but that doesn’t lessen its entertainment value.  This is a fun movie, and it moves amazingly swiftly.  That’s a lot of plot and action for 61 minutes!  The acting is generally very good, the make-up is cool, and the big cat action (thanks again Clyde) is truly jaw-dropping.

I give CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN three glands out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

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Suburban Grindhouse Memories: CROCODILE (1981)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Animals Attack, Bad Acting, Giant Monsters, Grindhouse, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , on April 4, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 61:
Godfather of the SyFy Channel Movies…
By Nick Cato

CrocPosterWhile anyone can turn to the SyFy channel on any given Saturday to see an endless list of horrible, made-for-cable killer shark/alligator/piranha/octopus films, back in the late 70s/early 80s, JAWS-inspired rip-offs had to be seen in your local theatre. 1981’s CROCODILE is one of the more memorable of this hokey sub-genre.

I hit the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema one chilly afternoon in late November of said year for a solo-viewing, and while films like GRIZZLY (1976) and PIRANHA (1978) were better made JAWS rip-offs, CROCODILE has that certain low budget charm that makes it more memorable … at least if you’re a trash film junkie.

A hurricane destroys a small island somewhere off the coast of Thailand. As houses become rubble, we see crocodiles scampering around trying to survive the chaos. Then the quick opening credits feature a couple of naked women being eaten by the crocodiles, causing applause from the small daytime crowd who chomped popcorn around me. A doctor and his family are then seen eating dinner, wondering if the hurricane had been caused by an atomic explosion (and just why they think this is anyone’s guess).

They use this as an excuse to travel to a resort beach-side hotel where the doctor’s wife and two daughters are eaten by an over-sized croc. Pissed, the doctor, along with the fiancé of one of his daughters, vows revenge. You can almost hear JAWS’ famous theme music kick in at this point.

The men visit a crocodile expert who says the only way a crocodile could have survived in the sea would be due to radiation, which caused much deserved laughs among my Saturday afternoon creature feature brethren. The film then goes into a few badly edited sequences of the croc wiping out some waterfront towns and eating a bunch of people, and in the film’s most memorable scene, the sucker consumes an entire water buffalo! Good thing PETA members were unaware of this or the film would’ve probably been picketed.

THIS is when the JAWS rip-off-ness kicks into high gear: our two heroes employ the help of a local fisherman who agrees to use his boat to hunt the croc down. Meanwhile, my fellow suburban grindhouse mates laughed for a good ten minutes when the local police set a trap for the croc underwater in a river: a king-sized bear trap stuffed with a huge chunk of meat. Of course it doesn’t work, so our trio heads out to sea along with an irritating news reporter (a.k.a. LUNCH) to track the monster croc.

Most of the scenes of the croc attacking the villages are quite phony, and there are times you can’t tell if the close-ups are cheap stock footage of a real croc or a sad attempt to make a latex croc head. Another PETA moment features someone stabbing a regular sized croc in the head, making me wonder if the director had some kind of real-life vendetta against aquatic animals.

The JAWS rip-off goes so far as our makeshift seamen using brightly-colored barrels to attempt to lure the croc to their boat! The only thing missing was the fisherman telling the boys a spooky night time story about his experiences with a croc swarm during World War II.

The continuity in this flick is ridiculous, especially when you have the croc, in some scenes, almost as big as Godzilla, then in others, maybe a few feet larger than the people it’s eating (one poor guy has his legs chomped off and tries to swim with stumps in a particularly cruel, but effective, scene). And speaking of Godzilla, this Thailand import features atrocious overdubbing and acting that’s better left forgotten.

With an abrupt ending that leaves the audience wondering if the croc and the main hero are dead or alive, most people at this particular screening booed and tossed the rest of their popcorn at the screen. Me? I loved every second of this terrible croc-caper despite all its shortcomings.

Who knew three decades later films like this would be big money makers (such as LAKE PLACID (1999) and regular fare on cable TV stations such as the SyFy network.

If you want a killer croc film that works, try ROGUE (2007). If you want a JAWS rip-off that’s insanely entertaining, is so-bad-it’s-good, and will actually make you cheer for the monster, CROCODILE is your film.

Remember to watch your step next time you visit Thailand…

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Great original poster for CROCODILE from its 1980 Thailand release.

Great original poster for CROCODILE from its 1980 Thailand release.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou visits THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, Animals Attack, Bigfoot!, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Drive-in Movies, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on February 28, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976)bbbcreature

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

Howco International Pictures was a small, independent film production company that was established in 1951 by Joy Newton Houck, Sr.  Based out of New Orleans, they produced little movies for the Southern Drive-In circuits, usually double features like Lash Larue Westerns or the John Agar wonder THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957).  After releasing everything from Roger Corman to Ed Wood to Ron Ormand movies, they really hit the big time with a giant hit, THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972), which effectively combined documentary footage with the story of a Bigfoot-like creature called the skunk-ape.  The movie made millions and was a hit world-wide.  Hoping to play on the success of that film, Joy Houck, Jr. directed a script by his pal Jim McCullough, Jr. entitled THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) and created the creepiest Bigfoot movie ever made.

The film begins with Joe Canton and a fellow trapper tranquilly boating through the swamps around Black Lake, checking their traps.  Suddenly, a hairy arm emerges from the water and snatches the buddy from the boat, leaving Joe Canton (played by stalwart Western veteran Jack Elam—ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, 1968 and RIO LOBO, 1970) screaming for help.  Nobody believes the old drunk except for two cryptozoology students in Chicago who read about the experience in the papers.  The two men take off in their van for Louisiana on a hunt for the monster.  Pahoo (what the hell kind of name is that for a Yankee?) is a Vietnam Vet who jokes about everything, hates chicken with a passion usually reserved for despots, and is played by Dennis Fimple (KING KONG, 1976, the MATT HOUSTON TV series, 1982, and he was Grampa Hugo in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2003).  Rives is more serious and good-looking and a draft dodger, and he is played by ex-model John David Carson, who appeared in such diverse movies as EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), PRETTY WOMAN (1990), and THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973).  Together, they encounter a hostile sheriff, who warns them to get out of town, locals who proclaim the creature a myth, a practical joke-playing waitress, and more yokel southern-fired, hee-haw stereotypes than you can shake a Confederate Flag at.

Jack Elam swears he wasn't drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Joe Canton (Jack Elam) swears he wasn’t drunk when he saw THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE,

Pahoo accidentally finds Joe Canton, but he loses him, but not before Rives encounters a young man named Orville Bridges, played by hawk-nosed screenwriter Jim McCullough, Jr. (the multi-talented guy also wrote and sang the songs for the movie).  Orville informs them he saw the creature when he was a toddler in a car crash that killed his parents.  Now he lives with his grandparents, and he’ll show them around if they don’t talk about Bigfoot.  They go home to a big country dinner.  Grandpa is played by Dub Taylor, from THE WILD BUNCH (1969), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and BACK TO THE FUTURE III (1990).  The old man is a walking advertisement for hick Southern trash, wheezing and making jokes nobody finds amusing.  During dinner, a mule brays loudly, and Pahoo shouts out, “Is that him?  Is that the creature?”  Grandma goes into a PTSD inspired sobbing fit, and Grandpa kicks the two Yankees (who, by the way, both possess southern twangs) to the barn for the evening.  While getting ready for bed, they hear the howling, haunting cry of Bigfoot closer than is comfortable.  They are terrified, but not so much that they don’t pick up two pretty southern belles in the local hamburger joint and invite them to their camp for the evening.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

Dennis Fimple, Jim McCullough and John David Carson commiserate in THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE.

The girls show up, and they all party a bit, playing over the recording of the Bigfoot cry.  Soon, they discover one of the girls has a father who is the sheriff – the same one who warned the boys out of town on the first day.  He hauls them into jail, where they stay the night with stinky Joe Canton, who is in the tank for getting drunk and chasing the creature with a shotgun.  Instead of heeding the sheriff’s warning, the two boys head for the woods to track the beast, which leads to a night of harrowing horror as the Bigfoot stalks them, separates them, and brutally attacks them.  These scenes are incredibly intense for a PG-rated film, never gory, but always scary and suspenseful.

The acting is good enough – nothing to shout over, but tolerable for this sort of yee-haw Southern horror tale.  Jack Elam chews the scenery with gusto, camping his drunken role up to the tenth degree.  Dennis Fimple and John David Carson make for likable heroes, and their interactions are natural and believable.  The extras and small roles are filled with people who obviously live in the town where this was filmed.  Their non-acting abilities actually lend an air of documentary-like verisimilitude to the proceedings, and the accents are to die for!

THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE benefits most, however, from the wonderful cinematography of Dean Cundy.  Cundy started his career with the exploitation circuit, lensing such films as BLACK SHAMPOO (1976), the amazing THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and ROCK N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979).  He moved on to larger pictures like THE THING (1982), WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (1988), JURASSIC PARK (1993), APOLLO 13 (1995), and THE HOLIDAY (2006).  THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is filmed in a gritty, sun-fried style, much like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), and this lends a feeling of you-are-there realness to the action.  The scenery is beautiful, but never intrusive, and the Bigfoot creature is wisely kept mostly in the shadows, so the movie is about suspense and the threat of violence more than the actual acts of violence.  This may be what makes that final fifteen minutes so disturbing and exciting.  We do care about these two men by this point, and it appears as if we are watching documentary footage of their stalking and possible killing by his monster.  The suspension of disbelief is suspended way up in the sky somewhere, never interfering with our nerve-wracking enjoyment of the movie.

One of the CREATURE's victims floats to the surface.

One of the CREATURE’s victims floats to the surface.

The movie isn’t perfect.  There’s a bit too much of the folksy humor, especially around Dub Taylor’s character, who seems like he should be plucking a banjo and attacking Ned Beatty any second.  It slows down the momentum of suspense in the film and the characters strains credibility as much as he strains his overalls.  Plus, the epilogue of the movie seems tacked on in order to pacify an audience that wanted a happy ending.  After the sheer terror of the previous night, the sun is shining and everything is just hunky-dory.  In the real world, this would have ended very differently.

But why quibble?  On the whole, THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE is a wonderfully spooky Bigfoot movie, possibly the best one out there.  The scares at the end are earned, and the photography is fantastic.

I give THE CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE three trespassing Yankees out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

DON’T FEED THE……SHARKS in BAIT (2012)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 3-D, Animals Attack, Australian Horror, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bad Situations, Daniel I. Russell Columns, DON'T FEED THE..., Guest Columnists, Shark Attacks, Sharks with tags , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2013 by knifefighter

DON’T FEED THE….SHARKS

BAIT (2012)
Movie Review by Daniel I. Russell
(Special Overseas Correspondent)

bait

I have always had a crippling shark phobia. I used to have a toy boat in the bath with a hole in the deck, and for some reason, I imagined sharks inside it, gliding through the dark waters. If you put your eye up to the hole you could… almost…see them…

So yes. Sharks. Terrifying things.

As I grew older, my thoughts matured, and I knew that the odds of being eaten by a shark in England are slim to none. I would never be eaten by a shark. Preposterous! I don’t live anywhere near them!

I sit and write this by the beach in Western Australia, the very same beach where, just this week and the day before Australia Day, great whites were spotted just 30 metres out. On Saturday, the water was thick with boats, surfers, swimmers, pets and children playing. It was my own Amity Island, and I was vigilant.

So what better time to spend the evening watching the latest in a long line of shark movies: BAIT. Plus it’s Australian (well, half-Australian. It’s a joint venture with Singapore).

BAIT puts a spin on a traditional formula. You won’t find survivors on a boat (JAWS, JAWS 2), stranded in the ocean (DEEP WATER, THE REEF) or any other completely ludicrous set up (2011’s SHARK NIGHT). During a robbery at a supermarket, a tsunami hits, flooding the shopping area and underground car park. Most shoppers drown or are pulverised by shelves and the like, leaving a band of merry survivors trapped in cars or perched atop the supermarket shelves.

Oh, and there’s a 12-foot great white shark in there doing its Friday big shop.

Without spoiling much, and this has been mentioned in plenty of other reviews so I’m guilt free here, there are actually two sharks. This isn’t done as a twist or anything, it’s just like, hey, there’s two sharks: one for the supermarket, one for the car park.

How terribly convenient.

So plenty of carnage with twice the shark then, eh?

Let’s sink our teeth into this and say that straight off the bat, you know what you’re in for. The first half an hour introduces the viewer to our soon-to-be survivors. In any survival movie, you must want the survivors to…well, survive. Or is that cliché? Oh, how this might have been achieved with some fleshed out characters and good acting. Despite the numerous signs that this is an Australian movie (Look! The hero eats Milo! The villain drives a Ute! I was expecting a kangaroo in a corked hat riding on the back of a shark to be honest…) accents are mixed, which ruins the set up a little. Dialogue is flat and lazy, as are the stock characters. The haunted hero is boring, his love interest does nothing throughout the movie, as does the stereotypical cop. Out of the dozen or so characters, more than half could have been dropped from the movie with the slightest of impacts. Perhaps this freeing up of screen time might make us care about the few survivors, giving them the room to breathe and be more rounded out. As it stands, I had as much empathy for the characters as I do for Idol contestants.

And let’s get this out there. One of the bad guys is played by Julian McMahon (aka, Dr. Doom in the FANTASTIC FOUR movies). I’ve had people complain that as a villain, he isn’t menacing enough and is as bland as beige wallpaper. After ruining one of Marvel’s greatest super villains (for some), here  he is with his brush and paste, beiging it up once more. Plus, isn’t he Australian? An Australian in an Australian movie…that doesn’t sound Australian. Hmm.

But the sharks, yeah! The sharks!

Remember DEEP BLUE SEA? I actually quite like that movie. But that came out in…1999? One of the first uses of CGI for shark effects in a major movie. I can also remember Casper Van Dien appearing in a straight-to-DVD feature called SHARK ATTACK. The cover for the sequel contained a shark that looked like it has been made out of a washing-up bottle on a kids’ TV show.

We’re now in 2013, and from this movie, it appears shark special effects have gone nowhere in the last 15 or so years.

The CGI is horrific, evening cartoonish at times. This was obviously designed with the 3D at the forefront of their designs (I watched it in 2D) but even then, the makers seemed to have this in mind for the first five minutes and then forget about the 3D until the finale. It’s as obvious as rewatching JAWS 3-D (1983).

But none of these issues can compete with the sloppy writing. Bad, bad dialogue. Twists that are so obvious they don’t actually qualify as twists. Shotguns that sit in water for hours and still work. And then can shoot underwater. I’m no gun expert, but this feels a tad off.

(Actually, after writing this I went and did some research. Shotguns can fire underwater—so that’s today’s something new learned out of the way. Thanks BAIT! —but lose momentum almost instantly by the drag of the water. You can shoot a paddling pool through the water and it won’t pop. YouTube it.)

In summary, BAIT is a bad, bad movie, and this is from someone who loves shark movies.

A movie like this isn’t supposed to be an Oscar winner, but if you want some good old fashioned shark-munching fun, there’s better out there. There’s also worse. Let’s separate the great whites from the cookie cutters.

SOME OF THE BEST (AND WORST)  SHARK ATTACK MOVIES

JAWS_Movie_poster

JAWS (1975)
My own greatest movie ever made that stands up to repeated viewings. Forever. The shark is out of sight for the most part, jump scenes are textbook and wonders are done with the score. An immortal movie that will never truly go away. Plus, characterisation is second to none with our favourite three men and a boat. That’s some bad hat, Harry.

220px-Jaws2_poster

JAWS 2 (1978)
I also like JAWS 2 very much. Things get straight into it in comparison with the first as the mystery was given away with the first movie. Great performances all round. I can remember watching this one over and over as a kid.

deepblueseaDEEP BLUE SEA (1999)
Was it makos here instead of great whites? I can’t remember. Been that long since I’ve seen this one. Sharks are genetically modified to give them bigger brains so scientists can extract more of the ick that can cure Alzheimer’s. What can go wrong? More action than horror (think DEEP RISING and ALIEN RESURECTION from around the same time), this still has some great moments. And Samuel L. Jackson. How can you forget the woman who is bitten in half and still keeps swimming for a few more seconds? Lovely. I’ll have to watch this again to see how it’s aged.

thereefTHE REEF (2010)
A fairly recent Australian movie in the lines of DEEP WATER (2006), based on a true story and an absolute corker. A fella who delivers boats for a living takes a few friends and family out, but the boat hits a reef and starts to sink. The solution? Swim for an island a few kilometres away. The problem? A shark takes a liking to the group of swimmers. Fantastically shot and heart wrenchingly realistic, this has one of the most upsetting scenes (for me) I’ve seen in a horror movie in a good few years. Surprisingly, the movie doesn’t have much in the way of blood and guts. It doesn’t need it.

The creature from "Peter Benchley's CREATURE"

The creature from “Peter Benchley’s CREATURE”

PETER BENCHLEY’S CREATURE (1998)
Benchley! The master! The brain behind JAWS! The man behind…this piece of crap? What could be worse than a shark eating people? How about a man-shark that looks like something the Power Rangers forgot to fight? A mess.

redwaterRED WATER  (2003)
Rapper Coolio (remember him?) was nominated for an Academy Award in this big budget thriller about a bull shark terrorising a river community. Actually, he wasn’t. He was poop in this, and everything about the movie is poop. I would go into more constructive feedback, but I already spent 90 minutes watching this that I’m not getting back and don’t want to waste any more.

SharkAttack_Cover-265x393SHARK ATTACK (1999)
Title needs an exclamation mark, in my opinion. Casper Van Dien was in STARSHIP TROOPERS and nothing good since. Poor bloke. He’d make a great John Sheppard in the MASS EFFECT movie. Anyhoo, here he stars with GHOSTBUSTERS’ Ernie Hudson (why Ernie? Why?). I won’t sum up the plot, or acting, or effects. Just watch the trailer. It basically shows the complete movie in about three minutes.

sharkattack2SHARK ATTACK 2 (2000)
Better? I think this is better than the first one despite the aforementioned atrocious DVD cover. This one scores points for having a very well done non-CGI man bitten in half. I think he waves to some kids on his way down. Nice. Title definitely needs an exclamation mark.

megsharkMEGA SHARK VS GIANT OCTOPUS (2009)
The movie that started so many pub-based arguments. Not the discussion over which hideous CGI creature would win (and to be honest, who gives a toss?) but the immortal question: can a shark jump out of the sea high enough to eat a plane? The answer, it appears, is hell yes. Discovery Channel: pull your socks up. I want less ecological studies and more plane-munching.

A film that is so unbelievably bad…it’s worth a watch. Get some friends, get some drinks, and prepare to experience a master class in floating turdology. Ladies and gentlemen, MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS.

© Copyright 2013 by David I. Russell

(For more ruminations by Mr. Russell, you can check out his blog here).

Me and Lil’ Stevie work the GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Animals Attack, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Monsters, Peter Dudar Reviews, Rats, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE

Sweat It Out On The

GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)

Graveyard Shift

(Interior/Night)  Establishing shot of the basement of a textile mill, where a hundred years of old furniture, debris, and other miscellany have been carelessly scattered about, forsaken and forgotten.  In the dank dinginess of the basement, we can hear the drip, drip, drip of water, and the hair-raising squealing of rats as they scamper about in the dark.  Somewhere in the distance, in the blackened heart of the basement, we begin to hear the snarl of something monstrous and menacing, and the camera begins to zoom in, trying to find the source of the sound.  There’s a light up ahead, and in the light we see the silhouette of a figure hunting our unseen monster.  The figure turns toward the camera, and we see that it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.

Lil’ Stevie:  Rats!

Peter:  Yeah, they’re everywhere.  Pretty creepy, huh?

Lil’ Stevie:  No, I meant “Rats, I just broke a fingernail!”

Peter:  (Sighing) Good evening, Constant Viewer.  Me and Lil’ Pansy, here, are going to be discussing Ralph S. Singleton’s 1990 adaptation of King’s GRAVEYARD SHIFT.  Now, this was Singleton’s film directorial debut, but he HAS worked extensively in the motion picture industry as a unit production manager and assistant director, so he does have some knowledge and credibility in the field.  Choosing to adapt a King story for filming seems like a logical choice in terms of career building and turning a quick buck.

Lil’ Stevie:  Nothing packs ‘em in like a good monster movie!

Peter:  Well, that remains to be seen.  The story itself was originally published in Cavalier magazine, and then republished in…you know, it seems like you published a lot of stories in spank magazines.  What’s up with that?

Lil’ Stevie:  You do what you have to do to keep food on the table, ya know?  Besides, GRAVEYARD SHIFT isn’t the most literary work I ever put out.  It’s pretty elementary.  It’s the classic “submarine story,” where the protagonist and antagonist are compressed into an escapeless microcosm together.  It’s also a nifty little campfire tale, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s THE RATS IN THE WALLS (1923).

Peter:  Maybe, but screenwriter John Esposito (THE WALKING DEAD) deftly follows the trend of previous screenwriters by taking your elementary little story and expanding on it to fill 90 minutes of celluloid.  And based on previous films we’ve reviewed, that isn’t always a winning formula.

Lil’ Stevie:  (Rolling his eyes comically) Alas.  I hate it when they do that.  They always have to add a love story or a coming-of-age angle that muddies and detracts from the story’s original impact.  My original story was strictly protagonist, antagonist, and monster rats and bats.  There weren’t any female characters in it whatsoever!

Peter:  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?  The story begins inside this very building we’re standing in, just a few floors above us, where a hapless worker falls into a giant metal-toothed cotton separating machine after being bullied by a horde of rats.

Lil’ Stevie:  Didja notice the name of the mill?  It’s the Bachman Mill, named after my alter-ego.

Peter:  Quit interrupting!  Naturally, after the fiasco, there is a job vacancy to be filled.  Enter our protagonist, John Hall (David Andrews, HANNIBAL, 2001), a drifter who somehow has made his way up to Gates Falls, Maine after bumming around the country for a while.  Of course, the townies don’t really care too much for the new guy in town, and they don’t mind showing it as he shows up at the local café (just when their graveyard shift is ending) for a bite to eat.

Lil’ Stevie:  I really wanted to point something out here.  The town of Gates Falls, Maine is fictional, but it IS based on Lisbon Falls, Maine…the very town where WE live!  And right down the street from us is the Worumbo Mill, where I used to work when I was younger.  It’s where I got the idea for the story!

Peter:  You mean, where the REAL Stephen King used to work.  And that’s a huge bit of information to throw out there.  Got any proof?

Lil’ Stevie:  As a matter of fact, I do!  On page 23 of George Beahm’s biography, STEPHEN KING: America’s Best-Loved Boogeyman, it tells all about his experiences there during his high school years, and how he used to spend his downtime throwing cans at the rats that would watch him working.

Peter:  (Picking up the book and leafing through it) I’ll be darned.  It DOES say that.

Lil’ Stevie:  Why would I lie about ME?

Peter:  You’re NOT you.  Er…You know what I mean.  You’re just a puppet.  Anyway, Hall goes and talks to the foreman, Mr. Warwick (Stephen Macht, THE MONSTER SQUAD, 1987) about a job.  Warwick is obviously a sleazebag, with his anti-union bullying of the employees and “fishing off the company pier” with his secretary (Ilona Margolis, FLATLINERS, 1990).  Warwick has his hands full with the Bachman Mill, with goals and demands to meet from the mill owners, the misbehavior of the surly employees, and the growing rat problem.  Warwick has already employed an exterminator (Brad Dourif, CHILD’S PLAY, 1988) to flush out the varmints, a job that he seems to love and obsess over, but there’s just way too many for one man to deal with.

Lil’ Stevie:  Of course, there was no exterminator in my original story.

Peter:  Granted.  And Dourif’s character does seem a bit over-the-top.  He appears in several scenes where he goes off on his little soliloquies, but they seem contrived and unnecessary and do nothing to make his character remotely likeable.  As the story unfolds, and the Workplace Safety Inspector arrives at the mill threatening to close it down, Warwick HAS to do something to keep the mill operational.  So he pays off the inspector to come back in a few weeks, promising he’ll get the mill up to code and the basement cleaned out over the Fourth of July holiday.  More mysterious deaths ensue (led by the monstrous thing lurking in the basement), and when Warwick puts his cleanup team together, Hall and company have no idea what they’re in for.

Lil’ Stevie:  In the meantime, Hall starts getting a bit comfy with coworker Jane Wisconsky (Kelly Wolf, LESS THAN ZERO, 1987).  Jane regales him with her woe-is-me story about being a hometown girl stuck in her going-nowhere job after her divorce, and blah-blah-blah, yadda-yadda-yadda.  In my story, Wisconsky was a dude who whined a lot.  Why they turned her into a hot chick for the movie, I have no idea.

Peter:  Story building.  Plus, it adds the whole “date movie” element.

Lil’ Stevie:  Well, I don’t like it!  Nosiree Bob, this is supposed to be a horror story, not a cuddle-fest!

Peter:  Look at the size of that rat over there…

Lil’ Stevie:  (Gasping) Hold me close.  I’m scared!

Peter:  (Chuckling) You big sissy.  Well, Warwick manages to bribe some of the non-union workers into the cleanup detail with double pay.  Other workers get bullied into it.  And come evening of the Fourth of July, the crew meets at the mill and proceeds down into the basement to begin cleanup detail.  It goes smoothly at first, with most of the conflict shifting between pain-in-the-ass coworkers who get into a scuffle as debris is removed and the intruding horde of rats get blown away by a high-pressure fire hose.

Lil’ Stevie:  Again, most of these shenanigans never even happen in the story.  No love interests, no employee brawls, just workers who go down into the basement to clean it out.  But there IS one conflict that transitions from my story to the movie, and that’s the conflict that occurs between Hall and Warwick.  There is enormous mistrust between these two characters, stemming from a notion of right and just authority.  Warwick is clearly a villainous tool.  Hall counters this with a kind of stand-off of wills and wits, pushing his antagonist deeper down into the basement to find the source of the rats’ nest.

Peter:  That’s good stuff.  Back to our movie…The cleanup crew does proceed deeper into the basement, and when the nimrod with the fire hose accidentally blasts debris off a trap door, they discover a sub-basement that leads them down deeper into the darkness, into a world that seems almost ancient and long abandoned.  And here we feel that sense of Lovecraft’s ghost playing in.  By this point of the film, we’ve already been introduced to the weird giant bat that has been roosting in the bowels of the mill (and feasting on hapless victims), and here is its domain.

Lil’ Stevie:  In my story, we don’t meet the monster until we get to its lair.  What I DO treat the Constant Reader to is rats the size of puppies and mutant bats, which are plenty disturbing if you ask my opinion.

Peter:  The conflict between Hall and Warwick escalates the further they go into this sub-basement.  One of the hired hands will fall through the floor into ANOTHER sub-basement where the river flows.  Other workers are attacked and killed by the monster bat.  And ultimately, Warwick will turn on Hall and Wisconsky in order to try and save himself.  I don’t want to give too much more of what happens away, in case you were planning on seeing the movie, but I can tell you this much, the monster bat is cool as hell to look at.  He’s a show-stealer!

The monster bat in GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a scene stealer.

The monster bat in GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a show stealer.

Lil’ Stevie:  (Sighing) And, of course, the ending is NOTHING like the ending of my story.  My tale is a dread-inducing denouement that puts this ending to shame.

Peter:  I think that’s a matter of opinion.  This ending works for the treatment they rewrote in the screenplay.  Overall, though, this movie is a bit of a throwaway.  In more capable hands, this could have been infinitely more unsettling than just a “date-movie” horror flick.  From the starting gate, I disliked Dourif’s exterminator character immensely, I found Macht’s Mainer accent to be absolutely ridiculous (for a much better Maine accent, see Fred Gwynne’s Jud Crandall in PET SEMETERY, 1989), and most of the other characters involved seemed cartoonish and stereotypical.  But giving Singleton his due, the scenery is authentic (it was filmed in Harmony, Maine), and the mill with its labyrinth of tunnels and caverns is brilliantly designed and filmed.

Lil’ Stevie:  And rats are always creepy.  Especially in big hordes like in this film.

Peter:  Agreed.  The monster-bat is just gorgeous.  As a fan of horror, I would die to have this thing perched outside my house on Halloween night.  It reminded me of the monster from ALIEN (1979), and had that “submarine-movie” concept you brought up earlier.  The horror of this tale doesn’t happen in OUR world as much as it does in the world of the Monster-Bat, in the labyrinth under the mill.  And sadly, that horror is muddied by supplying the film with characters we care very little about.  Aboard the Nostromo, we see a crew that is fairly unified and happen to need and rely upon each other.  In the Bachman Mill, we see a group of macho idiots who  hardly get along, and almost deserve it whenever one of them bites the dust.  Which group would YOU be rooting for?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’d be rooting for the RATS!

Peter:  This story would have been much better suited for adaptation as a segment for CREEPSHOW.   The King short story has the same ambiance as the old E.C. Comics stories.  That would have been a much better vehicle to capture the same dread and creepiness.  I’d have loved to see how Romero would have treated this one.

Lil’ Stevie:  He’d have turned the victims into zombies.  You’d have hated it.

Peter:  RATFOODSAYSWHAT!

Lil’ Stevie:  What?

(Peter tosses Lil’ Stevie onto the ground and a horde of rats race over to begin feasting on him.)

Lil’ Stevie:  Arrrgghhh!  I’ll get you for this!

Peter:  (Laughing) Be sure and let me know when you get passed!  Goodbye, folks.  See you next month.

-THE END-

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

graveyard_shift_ver3

For Rats’ Eyes Only: THE RATS (2002)

Posted in 2012, Animals Attack, Disease!, For Rats' Eyes Only, LL Soares Reviews, Rats, TV-Movies with tags , , , , on January 24, 2013 by knifefighter

FOR RATS’ EYES ONLY: Reviews of Movies About Rats


Presents:

THE RATS (2002)

Review by L.L. Soares

TheRats_2002_PosterJust when you thought it was safe to sit on the toilet! Up come the rats from the sewer!

That’s the thing about these pesky rodents. Once they start popping up, they seem to be everywhere, as Madchen Amick finds out in THE RATS (2002), which plays on the fears people who live in big cities have about rat infestations. It all begins simply enough in a Manhattan department store called Garsons, where a customer in a dressing room is bitten by something under a pile of clothes. The store manager, Susan Costello (Madchen Amick, probably best known as Shelly Johnson on TWIN PEAKS from 1990 -1991, although she’s been in a ton of television shows and movies since), tells the girl that she must have cut her finger on a floor tack, but she should have it checked out. Not long afterwards, Susan gets a call from the hospital, and when she goes to visit the woman, she finds out that it’s clear that it’s a bite and the woman is dying from a disease that is spread by rats.

Susan’s boss, Ms. Page (Sheila Mccarthy), is in a panic when she thinks about how such publicity could affect their department store. She tells Susan to fire the store’s exterminators and hire the best in the city, and in comes Jack Carver (Vincent Spano), a handsome rat specialist who knows how to play the game with the Health Department (he’s friends with the guy in charge) and is well-versed in keeping things discreet. Except, the rat problem turns out to be much bigger than anyone expected.

Meanwhile, Susan and her daughter Amy (Daveigh Chase) see a rat outside their apartment window, and soon afterwards, the local swimming pool where Amy goes to swim has a rat attack (they come out of the air vents), revealing that the problem extends to several city blocks.

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

As Susan and Jack find themselves getting increasingly attracted to each other, they also team up to investigate how bad the infestation is. This involves such interesting scenes as Jack and his partner Ty (Shawn Michael Howard) using ultra-violet light to uncover where rat droppings are throughout the store after hours, when the lights are out. As they discover false walls and secret passageways that were long covered up, the three of them eventually end up in the basement, which is a breeding ground for the vicious vermin, who have started attacking people (just ask the superintendent of Susan’s apartment building, who gets gobbled up by the rats). And there’s also the use of a cool bomb-defusing robot that is used to explore the subterranean lair of the rats, and uses it camera eyes to send back visuals to the people above.

We learn lots of interesting things, like rats are constantly chewing hard things to keep their teeth from growing too big for their mouths (their “chew toys” include metal and concrete) and that they’re constantly incontinent (thus the droppings everywhere). By the time Jack, Ty and Susan have tracked the rats’ origins down to a deserted lab that was doing medical experiments on them (that made them stronger and more aggressive), it looks like the entire city might be in danger.

If rats make you squeamish, you might not like the scene where a rat tries to push its way up out of a toilet while Amy gets ready for her bath. Or thousands of rats plummeting onto a subway train, bringing it to a stop and pouring inside the open windows. Or the big finale that involves a huge, drained swimming pool full of what looks like millions of rodents.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

THE RATS was originally a TV-movie, but there’s some nudity early on that was obviously added for the European market, which isn’t as uptight as America is. The acting is decent for this kind of throwaway movie, and the rats look scary enough (it’s a mix of real rats and CGI effects, with enough real ones to make it convincing). The script is simple enough— rats are discovered and exterminator tracks them down, with a love story added— but it works. Director John Lafia keeps things suspenseful, and there are some good moments toward the end when you might feel a shiver or two as the rats pile up.

Not a great rat movie, or a great movie in general, but above-average for what started as a TV-movie. I liked it for what it was, and I’ve always liked Madchen Amick, so it was good to see her in a lead role here.

I give it two and a half out of five rats.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

THE LIFE OF PI (2012)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Animals Attack, Art Movies, Based on a bestselling book, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, CGI, Fantasy, International Cast, Man vs. Nature, Visually Stunning Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on January 11, 2013 by knifefighter

LIFE OF PI (2012)
Movie Review by William D. Carl

lifeofpi_poster

Ang Lee’s film version of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, Life of Pi, is nothing short of miraculous.  The director who introduced most Americans to the beauty and grace of martial arts films in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) and took on gay cowboys in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005) has achieved a nearly impossible task in filming Martel’s masterpiece.  The novel is a gorgeous rumination on storytelling, truth, God, and our place within God’s universe,  hidden within the guise of an adventure novel.  Lee has managed to film this adventure story without losing any of the beauty or depth of Martel’s musings.  It’s a tricky move, and it could be Ang Lee’s best film.

A young writer visits a middle-aged Indian man, Pi (Irrfan Khan of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, 2005 and  THE AMAZING SPIDER MAN, 2012), after hearing he has a story that will make him ‘believe in God.’  Pi fixes him dinner, walks with him, and relates his tale…the story of how he came to Canada and how he became the man he is today.

Piscine (pronounced pissing) Patel (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma) changed his name at an early age to Pi, for obvious reasons.  Growing up in India within his father’s zoo, he communes with the animals while learning about God.  Throughout his youth, he becomes a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim, never understanding how the various religions contradict each other; he only sees the ways they work in conjunction.  Through this process, his idea of God becomes very real and very different from most people’s concept of a higher being.  He falls in love with a young dancer at the same time his father decides to move the family to Canada.  They will transport the animals from the zoo on a steamer ship and sell them to start a new life.

Pi and "Richard Parker" circle one another in LIFE OF PI.

Pi and “Richard Parker” circle one another in LIFE OF PI.

During the crossing, a horrific storm destroys the ship, killing everyone and leaving Pi alone on a 26 foot lifeboat with a crippled zebra, an orangutan, and a 400 pound Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker (the same name as a cannibalized character in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Case of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, “who survived a shipwreck only to be eaten by the men on a raft).  Richard Parker makes short work of the other animals and turns his hungry eyes upon our hero, Pi.  Most of the film involves the grudging respect each of these characters form for each other, with a brief detour on a deadly carnivorous island in the shape of the Lying Vishnu, the Destroyer.  Pi  raves against God, accepts the world as it is, becomes disappointed, marvels at the world’s wonders (including a stunning scene where a whale breaches above his boat after chasing bioluminescent plankton), and eventually survives the ordeal (obviously, since he is relating it to the writer.)

The ship sinks.

The ship sinks.

But here’s where everything gets truly interesting.  How much of Pi’s story is true and how much is created in his brain?  Does the truth make it a better story, or is the story good on its own terms?  These are questions not easily answered, and the ending is challenging, especially to modern viewers who like everything spelled out for them in twenty foot letters.  But it retains the amorphous truth of the novel beautifully, and we are left to form our own opinions about truth and the beauty of a story.

Speaking of beauty, LIFE OF PI is the most beautiful film I have seen since THE LAST EMPEROR (1987).   Every single frame sparkles as if encrusted with jewels.  The colors are so vibrant, they create a 3D effect, and the depth of vision in the 3D version is astonishing.  This isn’t used for shock effect, but for a clear depth of vision that really puts you into a life boat on that sea that seems to stretch out forever.  The cinematography by Claudio Miranda (CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, 2008 and TRON: LEGACY, 2010) is never short of dazzling.  In India, the world appears as though a memory, an impossibly beautiful world.  The carnivorous island is a relief after so much ocean, but the danger is always there beneath the surface.  In the scenes where Pi  speaks with the writer, the photography is flat, normal, dull, reinforcing the theme of storytelling as an art, as an act of beauty and creation.

A whale dives overhead.

A whale dives overhead.

As for the much-discussed special effects, they are certainly special in every way.  At no point does the viewer wonder if Richard Parker or the other animals are CGI.  They are as real as Pi himself.  Every hair, every nostril flare, every drop of water is so real as to be hyper-realistic.  It’s an amazing feat, and I believe it will win the Oscar for special effects.  Rarely do special effects blend so realistically into the rest of the film as to become unnoticeable.

Another beautiful image from LIFE OF PI.

Another beautiful image from LIFE OF PI.

LIFE OF PI can be a heady brew for some with all of its references to various religions, deities, works of literature etc.  It is also a grand adventure in the old fashioned Robert Louis Stevenson vein, suspenseful and often terrifying.  How Ang Lee intertwines these two facets of the story make for one of the most brilliant and astonishing films of the year.  It’s a nearly perfect jewel of a movie.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl