10,000 B.C.

One of the most boring movies ever made.
“We coulda been cool, like Beastmaster. How’d they make us boring?”

I love movies about cavemen, or pre-history. I don’t care how accurate they are- part of the fun is that there are things we still don’t know or understand, though I’m pretty sure 10,000 B.C. doesn’t contain a scintilla of historical accuracy other than that in that year, humans inhabited the earth, had spears, and hunted mammoths. Another numerical movie, 300, took huge liberties with history from its comic book source material, but made it work. Here everything sticks out like a sore thumb due to hamfisted directing, languid pacing, and idiotic plotting.
Meet D’elh, a nomadic hunter prophesied to be the John Connor of his hipster tribe, who sport goatees and dreadlocks. They hunt mammoths with nets, after making them stampede by jumping up and screaming at them. One day a tribe of “four-legged demons”- horsemen- kidnap half their tribe, including Del’s woman. He’s the only one who wants to give chase, so he heads out with 5 ethnically diverse and suspiciously clean buddies. We feel every minute as they chase the slavers from northern Europe to Egypt, picking up African tribesmen and a sabretooth kitty along the way. Then his ragtag band wages war on the pyramid-building empire using pointy sticks.
Now, this could all be a blast. I love stupid premises like “what if stone age nomads fought an empire in Egypt, who have swords and mammoths?” I loved Outlander (full review), which was essentially Vikings vs. Alien vs. Predator. That movie was actually longer than this one, with a smaller budget, by a fledgling director, and felt tightly paced, exciting, and new. 10,000 B.C. makes us follow Dell thousands of miles, set to horrible narration explaining stuff that we’re actually watching, to give us a 5 minute battle where a few handily thrown spears take down an immense empire. The writing is so terrible that we see Evolet, the woman the whole journey is based on, die and then revive, just to give us a happy ending.

Baaawkk! This one’s a toikey!

To use that metaphor, watching this movie is like being asleep during the good part of a “Happy Ending,” and waking up the next morning with your belly-mess cemented in your happy trail. The best parts are in the trailer- a fight with feathered velociraptors, a sabretooth deus ex machina, and some CG of mammoths building the pyramids. It doesn’t help that the CG movement is terrible- the mammoths don’t move like any elephant I’ve ever seen, the killer dodos remind us of Jurassic Park, and the sabretooth is gone faster than you can say “we blew our CG budget on the raptor fight.” Roland Emmerich is known for making polished turds, but now he’s managed to top The Day After Tomorrow– which while inane, was at least fun to look at- and that movie’s monster was cold air that you could escape by shutting a door. Don’t even waste space on the Tivo for this one. It’s a stinker.

Rating: Stinky

Cable Quickies: Black Sheep

The New Zealand one, not the Chris Farley one. Black Sheep is silly good fun horror- killer mutant sheep on a farm doing genetic experiments. It knows how silly it is, and I think the dry New Zealander sense of humor helps. It’s no Flight of the Conchords, but it’s more subtle than American goof horror usually is. The effects are excellent, the gore is plenty, and the movie is plain good fun for horror fans. Don’t expect scares. They’re sheep, stupid. I liked it.
The basic premise is genetic experimentation on a sheep factory farm gone awry- the sheep go carnivorous, and their bites turn you into a werelamb of New Zealand (baa-whooo!). There are the obvious jokes of the farmer who’s a it too friendly with his herd, hippies vs. scientists, and for its short 90 minutes this is more fun than it ought to be. Good horror with lots of snickers.

Rating: Worthy

Cable Quickies: Anaconda

Sometimes movies are so knowingly stupid that they are great fun. Snakes on a Plane is the most recent example, it knows it’s stupid- or at least Samuel L. Jackson does- and it manages to be predictably entertaining. Before that there was another killer snake movie, and I will daresay a better one: Anaconda. Sure we only get one snake, on a boat, but at one point this snake will be on fire and still trying to kill people, out of pure malice. That’s one bad motherfuckin’ snake.
Plus we get the first realization that Jon Voight will act in anything, long before he became Michael Bay’s go-to guy for “we need some old dude to make this shit believable.” Here he plays a Brazilian snake hunter, who a boat full of scientists- including J.Lo and Ice Cube, cough- run into on their travels on the Amazon. He wants to capture one of the river’s anacondas, and for the movie, they are a hundred feet long and capable of swallowing a man whole, spitting him out half-digested, and eating him again for good measure. This movie is supremely stupid, but it knows it, and manages to be decent fun throughout. It’s up there with Deep Rising– good gross-out action fare, but nothing you’d want to pay for.

Rating: “Enh”


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Now that’s a mouthful; Brad Pitt stars as the famous outlaw, and IMDb says his contract stipulated that the title not be changed. It was a good move, because the unwieldy moniker does not befit a traditional gunslinging picture, and this is most definitely not one. It’s a period piece, a character study, a biopic, and a meditation on fame and infamy. If you go in expecting 3:10 to Yuma, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is The Thin Red Line, not Saving Private Ryan.
A bit overlong epic about the origins of infamous celebrity in America. It begins as a revisionist Western in the style of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, with Brad Pitt as Jesse in his later years, when putting together heists is often more trouble than its worth, and he seems to go through the motions of the planning, without every consummating the deed. Robert Ford’s obsession with him is explained, and Casey Affleck is fantastic in the role, as he was in Gone Baby Gone; he’s more talented, if less charismatic, than his brother. If you went in wanting 3:10 to Yuma you’ll be sorely disappointed; this wants to be The Thin Red Line to 3:10‘s Saving Private Ryan, and it succeeds somewhat. It has a documentary feel with the voiceovers that appear in the third act, and I found my mind drifting as it introduced us to everyone in the middle. Maybe the voice overs should have been used throughout, and less time given to Jesse. I’m not sure. It’s an enjoyable movie, but at nearly 3 hours (with the original cut topping 4) I’m not sure it’s somber mood is compelling enough. It says a lot about the nature of infamy and the desire for fame, and looks beautiful doing it. A fine epic from the director of Chopper.

Rating: Worthy

The Last Legion

Happy birthday Firecracker… here’s some hot Colin Firth for ya. And swashbucklin’ babes for me.
This sword and sandal epic released in the shadow of 300 took a serious beating from the critics and those who saw it in theaters. I decided to give it a try anyway when it was on cable in HD, thinking that like other berated B-level action films such as Eragon and Doomsday it might serve as good viewing from the comfort of my couch, rather than taking $12 out of my pocket.
The story echoes The 13th Warrior, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and better movies like Gladiator and Excalibur. It begins in Rome, 460 A.D., when the city’s might has fallen and it must deal with Goths to the north and Constantinople, the new seat of the empire. Young Romulus is the last of the line and is about to be crowned Caesar, when the Goths break treaty and invade. Aurelius (Colin Firth) is the young boy’s commander of the guard, and when the boy and his greybearded teacher Ambrosinus are exiled to Capri, he must rescue them. Luckily he still has a few good men and an ambassador from Constantinople with a kick-ass lady warrior bodyguard to help.
Ambrosinus is played by Ben Kingsley in his best impression of what he’d have done if Ian McKellen was too busy to play Gandalf, with parlor tricks, platitudes and a crooked staff for ass-whuppin’ when all else fails. It was touch keeping the supernatural ambiguous. The Goths are led by the conqueror Odoacer with his over-ambitious and bloodthirsty henchman Wulfila, a scenery-chewing villain sent to guard the boy. Colin Firth is decent as the Roman commander- he may be Mr. Darcy, but he’s still convincing as a warrior a bit long in the tooth, much like the empire he represents. If anything rings untrue, it’s his dispassion when faced with swordswoman Mira, played by Bollywood hottie Aishwarya Rai.

After an exciting rescue from the island fortress, with plenty of weaponry for us history and RPG nerds like proper gladiuses, falcatas, huge fuck-off Viking axes, a spring-bladed push dagger that Aishwarya must have brought from India, foot-pulled crossbows for launching grappling spikes, and siege engines I think were meant to be scorpions, or multiple-firing crossbows. Our heroes are a motley band- the young guy, the big black guy (Nonso Anonzie from Atonement, RockNRolla), the woman warrior, the old man, and the kid. Unfortunately it loses steam shortly after the rescue, when the backstory emerges.
The young Caesar, egged on by Ambrosinus, searches the fortress of his exile and finds a room enshrining a bejewelled sword, inscribed with prophecies. And if we’re unsure as to what it is, all mystery is removed when he chops a bed in half with it. This is an Excalibur story, and for that to work they must travel to Britannia. They do so with a few Lord of the Rings-inspired walks over mountain passes, with Wulfila not far behind. In Britain they hope to find the legendary Ninth Legion, believed lost. Of course they find them, now farmers, and the land is under siege by another tyrant named Vortgyn, whom they must fight. He wears a gold mask like Mordred in Excalibur, and tried to the sword from Ambrosinus decades ago, and wants it back. Confusing? Yes.

Directed by a veteran of the Hercules and Xena series, it certainly lacks that certain finish necessary for the big screen, but on TV it looks like a great made for TV movie. The fight choreography looks great for fifteen years ago, but we’ve seen it so many times before. It’s obviously not the director’s forte, but he manages to keep the movie flowing at a good pace and it never takes itself too seriously. The score is a little too bombastic at times, and Kingsley’s Gandalfesque “wizard” does spout wisdom that isn’t as wise as he thinks it is. The battle scenes have been criticized but they were decent- I really liked how they made Ambrosinus look like a wizard hurling fireballs, when he was just standing on the parapet in front of the catapults. It was a neat trick to pull on the invading Goths.

My biggest complaint is that it was cut to be PG-13 for U.S. audiences, and painfully obvious about it. Every time a spear hits someone, we cut away, and then see their death scene. In one of my favorite fights, Wulfila gets a scar from Aurelius using his own axe on him, but we cut away. A leader cuts off a disobedient soldier’s finger, and in the uncut version Ambrosinus’s pet crow makes a snack of it. But all that is cut. I’m tempted to throw it in my Netflix queue and see if the deleted scenes are available. The other failing is the CG- when used, it is used badly. The fireballs look fake, and what should be a spectacle at the end looks like a videogame cutscene. But this is not bad viewing if you want a light adventure movie. It’s a cute origin story for King Arthur’s Dad Uther Pendragon, and fun to watch.