The Colony (2013) a (mildly) belated review

I first heard of The Colony via a trailer presented when it was available on pay-per-view.  The trailer hit a few buttons within me.  Post-apocalypse?  Check.  Snowy setting?  Check.  Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton sharing screen time!?  Check and check!

My curiosity was piqued.

But not without some hesitancy.  After all, what we had here was a direct to video feature with almost no early (good) word.  Further, a quick intenet investigation revealed mostly negative comments about the feature.  Nonetheless, those elements listed above, plus this IMHO effective trailer, had me interested…

So…is The Colony worth your time?

Sadly, the answer is resounding no.

Before getting into the negative, let me offer the few positives: For a low budget film, this one features some pretty good effects.  Not great, not always, but pretty good.  The film also presents a decent attempt at creating a colony “world”.  Plus, you have the already mentioned Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton.

That, sadly, pretty much ends the positives.

The film’s premise is this: Because of global warming, society created machines to “cool” the world down.  But the machines either malfunctioned or worked too well and Earth entered a new ice age.  Survivors huddled together in colonies, buildings that were mostly underground, and eeked out a bleak daily existence.  When the film opens, we find that a powerful “flu” is going around in the colony, and that people who have it and do not show signs of improvement are condemned to death rather than risk spreading it.

Into this already bleak existence our colony receives an SOS from another nearby colony.  The leader of our colony (Mr. Fishburne), gathers a pair of volunteers which includes Sam (Kevin Zegers, displaying very little charisma for the film’s protagonist), and they head off to the other colony to investigate.

What they find there is a bloody mess (I won’t give away more than that) and the troubles wind up following them back to their colony.

I have no big issues with either the plot or concept of the film.  Indeed, quite the contrary, I think there are ideas here that could have made for a potentially good little “B” film.  However, the movie disappoints as it moves along, alternately giving us too much plot and focusing too much on silly things.

For instance, the whole “flu” thing at the beginning of the film winds up being little more than a plot device intended to show us that Bill Paxton’s character is just a few steps away from being out of control.  It is very annoying that as a viewer Paxton’s character’s story arc is so clearly obvious to you while NO ONE around him, including the colony’s leader, realize this will be a problem.  Indeed, while Mr. Fisburne’s character notes that “changes will be made” regarding Paxton’s character, he nonetheless leaves the colony without taking him along, which of course allows the deranged character to gain control over things while the boss is away.

The danger presented in the other colony, too, had me a little confused.  Were the antagonists outsiders?  Were they the colonists gone bad?  A little bit of explanation might have helped.  Also, by the time we reach the movie’s climax, it winds up being little more than your typical siege event, with the bad guys rushing the good guys and…you can pretty much figure the rest.

Another element I found very annoying was the fact that the movie makers appear to be people who have no idea what it is like to be out in wintry/snowy cold.  To begin, why would you trek snowy territory without snow shoes or skis?  Understand, when the three head out to the other colony, they pass right through the heart of a city.  Surely at some point they could have found some snow shoes or skis there, right?  And assuming the colony is located in an area that used to be tropical (like Florida, though it is never mentioned where the colony originally was) and stores didn’t carry such items, then surely they could have made some?

On a crumbling bridge they find a van and three people, a father, a mother, and their child dead.  They have committed suicide.  Given the amount of snow around them, how exactly did they drive that van around?  Clearly the van and the victims are something new as later on, when our protagonists reach a crashed helicopter and camp out inside it, they mention already knowing about this way point.  Again, where did this van come from and how did it manage to drive along the snow?!

Further, when the characters are outside, they have no visible breath.  At all.  Yet we see them out there and they talk to each other and mention how cold it is and…no breath.  Not once.  When they reach the other colony and find a way into it, Laurence Fishburne’s character grabs a metal ladder with his bare hands before climbing down and into the structure.  Why he didn’t also stick his tongue on the ladder to complete the effect I’ll never know.

And finally, every outside shot features constant snowing.  Yet somehow our protagonist’s footprints manage to stick around long enough to allow the bad guys a chance to track them.


After the humdrum climax, our heroes are left in such a precarious situation that I don’t see how in the hell they’ll survive it.  Again, without giving too much away, they find that there might be a place where they can escape to, yet it is never revealed how far away this place is (we have to assume it is quite far as they know their immediate surroundings, certainly as far as to the other colony) and the survivors have no food on them for the trip and are dressed in what they wore within the colony itself…dress I have to assume is lighter than what they need on the outside!

In sum, a pass.  Too bad.  If a little more thought have been put into this film, I think it would have been far better than what it wound up being.

35 Last Second Casting Changes…

…That Altered Movie History.  A fun list from

A few of them I already knew (the casting of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, and the alternate choices considered are a favorite of mine).  However, some were genuinely surprising, including the #1 entry and Johnny Depp, especially the reasons he stated for why he turned down the role offered (it became probably the biggest, most memorable role for the actor who took it on…I’ll say no more!).

But perhaps the most bizarre of all the “could’a” been roles has to be #9.  Again, I was aware disgraced football player O. J. Simpson was considered for this particular role that ultimately went to…ah…I shouldn’t spoil it, should I?  If you don’t want to flip through the entire list, just click here:

Its hard to imagine how different movie history would be had Mr. Simpson taken on this role rather than the person who got it.  After all, it was the incredible success of this role that enabled the actor playing it to parlay that success into the very robust series of films that followed…certainly no guarantee had Mr. Simpson been in the movie instead!

The Mean Season (1985) a (very) belated review

Back in 1985 Kurt Russell starred in The Mean Season, a crime drama/thriller set in Miami.  Mr. Russell was coming off quite a string of successful (if not always financially!) films, including at least three I consider among his best ever, 1980’s Used Cars, 1981’s Escape From New York, and 1982’s The Thing.

In The Mean Season Mr. Russell is Malcolm Anderson, a “burned out” reported for the fictional newspaper The Miami Journal who has just flown in from a small town in Colorado.  He likes it there and intends to quit his job in Miami and move to the quieter Colorado locale, but is convinced to look into the fresh case of a murdered teen whose body was found on the beach.  Anderson writes the story and tells his girlfriend Christene (Mariel Hemingway) this will be his last work for the Journal and they’ll be on their way very soon.

It proves a promise he cannot keep.

For the teen’s killer contacts Anderson and informs him that this is only the first of five murders he intends to commit. With the police leaning hard on him and the murderer making Anderson a celebrity, a game of cat and mouse between the principles ensues…Will Anderson help the police capture this sadistic and very clever killer, or will he become the killer’s target?

I had good, but vague, memories of The Mean Season from having watched it once or twice -or perhaps fragments of it- many years before.  When I noticed it was being played on cable, uncut, I set the DVR to record and it didn’t take me too long to give it the movie a look.  Why the eagerness?  In 1985 I started living in Miami full time, so I have a strong sense of nostalgia for that time and the area and I was hoping the film would offer some good memories.

Unfortunately The Mean Season, unlike the TV show Miami Vice, doesn’t dwell heavily on the sights and sounds of Miami of that time.  Sure, we’re given glimpses of places here and there (including Joe’s Stone Crabs and a view of the Miami skyline, much less busy than it is today), but the film tends to spend most of its time within various rooms and offices, which is a real shame.  In the end, one wonders why the producers bothered to set the film in Miami…it could have easily taken place in just about any big city.

The story is interesting, but the execution was rather…mediocre.  While almost every actor involved in the film does well in their roles, I felt they were playing characters rather than actual people.  The killer is evil and cunning, but we never really get a sense of what makes him tick.  Kurt Russell’s Anderson is a milquetoast reporter and it is not easy to root for someone who basically lets the prevailing winds blow him around.  Mariel Hemingway is the girlfriend who, predictably, sees that this story is leading her boyfriend down some very dark paths and of course it is only a matter of time before she became a target.  Finally, the detectives on the case (including a very young Andy Garcia) are also presented as characters rather than people, your typical “dedicated cops” who have seen the dark side of the world and will blow up at Anderson for his at times foolish ways.

The Mean Season proved a decent enough film that, unfortunately, you’ve seen many times before and since with varying degrees of skill (for example, while far more grisly, this film shares many of the elements found in Se7en).  The Mean Season falls right in the middle, neither terribly good nor terribly bad.  In fact, it winds up being so middle of the road that it could easily have been a TV movie featuring far less known actors if not for some salty language, one completely gratuitous -and very brief- nude scene involving Mariel Hemingway, and a small bit of gore that for 1985 audiences was probably strong but today could be shown on TV without much of a problem.

In the end, The Mean Season turned out to be a case where nostalgia was best left alone.

Machete Kills (2013) a (mildly) belated review

Back in 2007 director/writers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up to make a “loving” tribute to the grindhouse cinema of their youth and released the appropriately titled double-feature Grindhouse.  While not without its charms, the film tanked at the box office.  And yet a curious thing happened on the way to failure: The “fake” commercials inserted before and in between the two movies become popular in a cultish way, and by far the most popular of the trailers was for a fictitious film called “Machete”.

As many know by now, the fake trailer proved so popular that a very real 2010 Machete film (you can read my review of it here) was made.  That film wound up doing enough business to justify a sequel, 2013’s Machete Kills.  While I felt the first film had its moments, as crazy a work as it was, I didn’t think it was nearly funny enough.  Would the sequel prove better?

Unfortunately, not really.

Machete Kills aims to be a broader, bigger, indeed crazier work than its predecessor.  Taking the plot of the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker (a little more on that after the review and trailer) as a launching point, we find Machete (the very game Danny Trejo) involved in the machinations of powerful industralist/genius Voz (Mel Gibson, looking like he’s having fun playing a crazed villain), who has a missile aimed at Washington and plans, not unlike Moonraker’s Hugo Drax, to rid the world of all its peoples while he and his group watch the apocalypse from outer space.  Once humanity is wiped out, they plan to head back down to Earth to repopulate it.

But wait, there’s more!

Into this broth we get the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen), Machete’s beauty queen contact on the border between Mexico and the U.S. (Amber Heard), the return of Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a cameo by Vanessa Hudgens, a longer, crazier cameo by Sofia Vergara, and appearances by Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., and, why the hell not, Lady Gaga.

Given the circus-like atmosphere director/co-writer Robert Rodriguez was going for, its no small wonder that the first twenty or so minutes of the film are pretty fun, especially the “phony” trailer for Machete Kills Again…In Space, the movie that Mr. Rodriguez clearly intends to follow this one with.  Unfortunately, and like the first Machete film, craziness doesn’t always equal humor and while the film has the former in spades, like the first it lacks the later.

Still, Machete Kills is a fun enough experience even if it is never as funny as it intends to be.  While there was certainly enough craziness around to sustain a viewing, this is the type of film I doubt I’ll bother to see again, despite all the shenanigans.  If you enjoyed the first Machete film, you’ll probably like the second.  If you didn’t, then steer very clear.  And, if you were like me and found the first film enjoyable enough though not terribly great, you may wind up feeling just about the same after watching Machete Kills.

Now, getting back to Moonraker

Sometimes it seems like creative thoughts are up in the air not unlike radio-waves, just waiting for people to pick up the tunes and make something of them.  How else to explain creative coincidences?

Back in 2010 and soon after seeing the Moonraker BluRay (the first time I saw that film from start to end since 1979), I realized there was an interesting enough plot in the film despite its terrible, IMHO, execution.  While Moonraker remains one of my absolutely least favorite James Bond films, in my mind I started to think about ways its story could be reworked into something better.

In the end, these musings proved an inspiration in the writing of the fourth novel in my Corrosive Knights series, Nox, released in August of 2012.

Cover to the novel NoxHaving said that, and for those who read the book and are scratching their heads wondering just where the Moonraker stuff is in it, don’t feel all that bad.  It’s there, but, unlike Machete Kills which took the entire concept and proudly used/ripped it off, in my book the inspiration winds up being a very tiny part.  Think about the goal of the villain and you’ll see the light.

Again, creative thoughts are fascinating things.  The wild coincidence of Mr. Rodriguez and me using Moonraker to some degree as inspiration in creating our own works is one of those head-scratchers that seem to happen to me very frequently.

To be clear, however, I do NOT believe Mr. Rodriguez read my book -which was released a full year before Machete Kills– and somehow gleamed the tiny Moonraker reference and had an “ah, ha!” moment before making his film.

More likely is that he, like me, happened to pop Moonraker into his BluRay player at about the same time I did and…well, you know the rest.

Creative coincidences?  Perhaps.  Nonetheless, fascinating stuff.

Corrosive Knights 3/14/14 Update

Corrosive MACN & Coming Soon

I’m getting closer and closer to being done.

When I woke up today, I was in a really good mood as I was down to the last few pages of my latest -fifth- book in the Corrosive Knights saga to revise.  As of this moment, I’m done with the book’s 6th draft and this evening will print her out and begin the 7th draft.

In my opinion, the book “reads” far better than ever before.  The word count, which was somewhere north of 105,000 words, has been tightened to a leaner 99,700.  In general, the word count of my in progress novels tends to go up as I’m figuring out plot points and adding things that need to be put in.  When I reach the point where the word count starts to go down, it means that the book’s story/plot is pretty much locked down and my focus turns to making the book as razor sharp as I can get her.  A second factor indicating my book is nearly ready is that it takes far less time between drafts.

Between the fifth draft and this one, it took me a little less than two months to read and fix her up.  Between the fourth and fifth draft, the time it took to revise it was four months, nearly double the time.

The bottom line is that the book is getting real near completion. I think another two drafts should do it.

Looking forward to getting it done!

Thor: The Dark World (2013) a (mildly) belated review

Of all the movie genres out there, the one I have the hardest time getting into are musicals.  On an intellectual level, their appeal is obvious, combining song and dance and creating something that, when it works, can be sheer exuberance.

But they just don’t work for me.

Similarly, there are films I’ve seen that I’ve enjoyed quite a bit yet after the fact couldn’t help but feel that as good as they were, I have a hard time going out there and unhesitatingly recommending them to others.

Which brings us to last year’s Thor: The Dark World.  A sequel to (duh) 2011’s Thor, a film I quite enjoyed (though many others felt was a weaker Marvel Comics Movie event), Thor: The Dark World features more of the same and if you liked the original film but were underwhelmed by the spectacle (it was a lower budget film) might get your fill of spectacle here.

Chris Hemsworth returns as the God of Thunder and Natalie Portman reprises her role of Jane Alexander, Thor’s Earthly love interest.  Also returning are Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo as Thor’s parents Odin and Frigga and, of course, Tom Hiddleston in the cult favorite role of Loki, half-brother of Thor and resident scheming villain.

The plot this time around focuses on “Dark Elves” who have access to some kind of very powerful weapon known as Aether.  It is capable of destroying the entire universe and, in the past, they tried to do just that but were defeated at the hands of Odin’s father and his army.  Anyway, in the “present” Loki is imprisoned for what he did in The Avengers while Jane Alexander somehow gets teleported to where the Aether was hidden all those years before (this is one of the film’s biggest plot contrivances and, if looked at in any logical way, makes absolutely no sense).  She accidentally merges with the gloppy weapon which in turn resurrects the Dark Elves.  They pursue Jane all the way to Asgard, the home of the Norse Gods, while Thor tries to keep her safe.

After a tragedy hits very close to home and with the fate of the universe in the balance, can the unlikely teaming of Thor and Loki save the universe from the return of the Dark Elves?

As I said before, if you liked the first Thor film chances are you’ll enjoy the second, although this film overall isn’t, in my opinion, quite as good.  Luckily, what I found most enjoyable about that first film was replicated well in the second, and that is the way Chris Hemsworth’s Thor reacts/interacts with “our” world.  Whenever the story shifts to Earth and we get to see Thor among us lowly humans, I couldn’t help but smile.  If nothing else, Chris Hemsworth has an incredible ability to mine gold from these interactions (check out what he does with his hammer upon entering Jane’s apartment or get a big laugh -the biggest one of the film- from something as simple as seeking directions).

What’s not quite as good, unfortunately, is a lot of the rest.  The scenes in Asgard are grand but, to me, not terribly involving.  The villain(s) are pretty flat and underwritten.  They’re bad and want to do bad things…aaaannnnd…that’s about all there is to them.

Of more concern is the romance between Thor and Jane, which worked in the original film but this time around felt unlikely, if not forced.  As much as I find Natalie Portman to be a very, very good actress, her work here was off.  It’s like this time around she never had a good handle on her character and as a result whatever “spark” there was between her character and Thor’s is virtually non-existent here.  In fact, there was a far stronger romantic spark present in the one (one!) brief scene between Jamie Alexander’s Sif and Thor, where they talk privately and it is obvious Sif longs for the God of Thunder.  The spark was so intense and their chemistry so much better that as a viewer I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly Thor saw in this Jane Alexander person.

Despite all this, Thor: The Dark World is nonetheless a perfectly good, if not great, superhero film.  The flaws are there but none of them are fatal.  The movie delivers a fun experience and is rarely dull.

Which brings us back to this whole “musical” thing I was talking about before.  As much as I may like the original film and feel the sequel is certainly worthy, there’s something about the character of Thor and the whole Norse mythology thing that has never appealed to me all that much.  It’s a real baffling thing as I’m a great fan of the comic book works of Jack Kirby (who created the Thor character along with Stan Lee) and absolutely love his pseudo-sequel to the whole Norse Gods concept in The New Gods.

Yet the character of Thor, Loki, and his “universe” within the Marvel Universe just never did all that much for me.

Still, the film is certainly worth a look.

5 Movies That Were One Flaw Away From Being Classics…

…at least according to Bobby Roberts for

Boy, do I agree with #4 on the list, that True Romance and Natural Born Killers might have been absolute classics had Quentin Tarantino, the screenwriter of both, also been the one to direct them.  At the time, of course, Mr. Tarantino wasn’t yet well enough known as a “director”, and thus Tony Scott and Oliver Stone, respectively, were behind the cameras for each instead of Tarantino himself.  While both films have their fans, I suspect that had Mr. Tarantino been given the opportunity to direct either at the early stages of his career, his reputation today might be even greater than it is.

Thinking about the great “what ifs?” with regard to films invariably leads me to my greatest one: The for the most part forgotten 1978 film The Driver.  Written and directed by Walter Hill, the movie’s lead role was originally intended for actor Steve McQueen.  However, he ultimately didn’t take the job and the role went to…Ryan O’Neal.

With all due respect to Mr. O’Neal…I would have killed to see McQueen in the role…especially going up against Bruce Dern’s demented police detective!

Even so, The Driver is still a great work.  Its story and central character were obviously inspired by author Donald E. Westlake’s Parker books and could easily fit into that universe/series.

But, again…I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Steve McQueen played that title role.  If he had, I’m certain The Driver would be considered a classic film instead of being for the most part -and sadly- forgotten.

3 Days to Kill (2014) a (right on time!) review

It’s rare to get the chance to actually go to the theater and see a film, and when the opportunity arises, often the films available aren’t terribly appealing.  In the case of 3 Days to Kill, I can’t say I was dying to see it, but of the films currently screening, it was the one that most appealed, if I can use such a strong word.

OK, so I went into this expecting at best a mediocre and at worse a terrible film.  In that respect, I was pleasantly surprised.

3 Days to Kill’s story goes like this: Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner, exuding cool charisma and graceful ageing) is a CIA hitman who, after his most recent job and a collapse at its end, goes to a doctor who informs him he is dying of cancer and has at best three months left to live.

Renner decides to spend the short time he has left in the company of his estranged daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and wife (Connie Nielsen), but a CIA handler (Amber Heard) has other plans and needs him to finish the job he started at the beginning of the movie and take out a dangerous terrorist.  Her incentive to get him to do the job despite his grim prognosis?  An experimental drug that may allow him to live a longer life.

3 Days to Kill is a hybrid action/comedy with a surprisingly big heart.  When we first meet Renner, he’s presented as a hard-ass killer but during the course of the film not only does he have to deal with a teenage daughter -and issues relating to being a teen- but also with a large family of squatters who have taken over his apartment along with his target’s aids…two of whom he handles in surprisingly funny ways.

While 3 Days to Kill is not a “superb” film and may well be forgotten as soon as it leaves the theaters, I found it enjoyable and liked the way it transitioned from action to comedy and back again.  The film’s success lies for the most part on the shoulders of Mr. Costner who, after seemingly disappearing from films, delivers a warm and weathered turn.


Escape Plan (2013) a (mildly) belated review

After all these years, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger finally team up and co-star in a film.

Yes, they shared screen time in the first two Expendables movies, but the first one featured not all that much more than a minute or so of them sharing screen time while the second featured a more extended cameo from Mr. Schwarzenegger -and a whole host of other 1980’s action stars!- but a cameo nonetheless.

Was the team up worth the wait?


Escape Plan involves Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone), whose profession can only exist in the fantasy world of movies: He’s hired to break out of jails to test their integrity.  Right off the bat, you have to swallow this little bit of craziness.  Let’s face it, you don’t hire someone to check out your prison’s security after spending many millions of dollars building the damn place, right?  You hire the guy/gal to check the security before you commit all those millions of dollars and…

…it’s just a movie…it’s just a movie…

Anyway, that quibble aside, Breslin is hired to check out a CIA backed fortress/prison that houses prisoners meant to never be released.  Breslin is betrayed and realizes that the warden of this prison, Hobbes (Jim Caviezel, essentially playing a bad guy version of his John Reese character from Person of Interest) has it in for him and is determined to keep him locked up.  Thus Breslin, with the help of fellow inmate Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), must find a way out…or be imprisoned forever.

I find it interesting how many “prison escape” films Mr. Stallone has appeared in through his career.  Just off the top of my head I can think of at least three of them, from 1981’s Victory (Allied POWs escape from their Nazi captors via Soccer) to 1989’s Lockup (Stallone is locked up (duh!) and must deal with a sadistic new warden just as he’s about to be freed) to 1989’s Tango and Cash (Stallone and Kurt Russell team up as a pair of salt and pepper cops who are framed and sent to jail, where they escape).  And that’s not including films with tangential prisoner related themes such as the Rambo films.

How does Escape Plan measure with the others?  Frankly, of the three I mentioned (excluding the Rambo films), Tango and Cash probably remains my favorite, if only because of how balls-to-the-wall crazy it is.  Having said that, of Mr. Stallone’s more recent action films, Escape Plan winds up being a pleasant enough time killer that is far more coherent than some of his other works, even if it isn’t quite as exhilarating.