You can outrun cold, earthquakes AND volcanos

Roland Emmerich keeps making Independence Day over and over, shittier every time like a badly replicated clone. 2012 is his latest poopturd, which posits that the Mayan calendar predicted a 640,000 year cycle of destruction caused by solar flares which overheat the Earth’s core and make the crust slosh around like the flaky top of your chicken pot pie after you’ve mashed it with a fork.

“I’m Roland Emmerich. I make poop.”

What annoyed me about 2012 was the utter lack of empathy for the billions of dead. Emmerich’s CG set pieces have gotten crueler than when huge attack ships roasted entire cities; now 400 foot tsunami aren’t bad enough, they have to heave aircraft carriers onto the White House lawn. People praying in Vatican City get steamrolled by the dome of the St. Peter’s basilica. All rendered in slow motion, so we can see it all. The earthquakes are hilarious, with cracks in the asphalt that seem to chase people and split couples apart neatly. The big ones cause fissures a mile deep, but are sure to leave recognizable wreckage so we know what city was just leveled. It’s rather like watching a Final Destination film, except you get hapless gaggles of humanity dying at Fate’s cruel hand instead of annoying teenagers who were asking for it by starring in a horror movie.
This one might as well have been called The Year After the Day After Tomorrow, because essentially it’s that same nutless disaster porn with a vague message rehashed. This time it’s bleakly cynical. Our hero is John Cusack playing a science fiction writer, who is of course divorced and has two kids who don’t like him, even though he seems to love them more than anything in the world; he’s just sort of an unsuccessful doofus whose wife left him for a plastic surgeon with a Porsche. Of course they love him by the end of the movie, because he saves 1/3 of humanity, despite having put them in the predicament in the first place. Anyway, he’s John Cusack playing a grown up Lloyd Dobbler that is hard to dislike. Rather than re-hash the plot, let’s just say he takes his kids camping, makes them walk on Old Faithful’s little bro, and instead of them all being boiled alive, they are captured by sneaky government types led by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Back off man, he’s a scientist.
He’s a pretty naive scientist. Having warned the President of the Earth’s impending doom, he just sort of assumes everyone will be warned, and we’ll have a fair lottery to see who gets on the stupendous arks they hired the Chinese to make. Of course not, the tickets cost a billion dollars, so next to the pairs of elephants, giraffes, and rhinos we get to see extras dressed as Paris Hiltons, the Queen of England, and a bunch of sheiks. A few leaders choose to perish with their people, and oddly enough you don’t see Olympic athletes, engineers and Nobel prize winners getting envelopes in the mail saying “come to the ass end of China to receive an award, and be quiet about it.” When it comes down to it, only Chewie and Cusack seem to have any morals, and Ejiofor only gets it after an unlikely phone call from his Indian scientist pal who didn’t get a golden ticket, and is staring at a 1500 meter tsunami heading his way.
Now I know you don’t go to a blockbuster like this for the cerebral involvement. This makes Avatar look like 2001. But wouldn’t it have been a lot cooler, and more plausible- or at least less bullshitastic- if scientists and athletes and other genetic lottery winners started disappearing, while the Earth begins spiraling into disaster? I know I’m asking for subtlety from a guy who names a kid Noah in a movie with a flood and arks in it. I’m not saying it should be like the masterful apocalypse film Last Night (full review) and really confront us with what we’d do on our last night on earth, but when faced with the extinction of humanity, should you really make me care whether some rich twat’s lap dog survives? It was too easy to forget the billions who were dying in the background, and too much excitement was generated for the arks, and the joy of mankind starting anew without the fetters of all those hungry mouths to feed. Like the craziest of the eco-terrorists who secretly wish the Earth would shake off 99% of humanity like so many fleas so they could live in a hunter-gatherer paradise, 2012 wants me to think like Stalin- a single death (like the Porsche dude porking Cusack’s wife) is a tragedy, but billions are a summer blockbuster. I think it appeals to our basest nature, because we all think we’d be on the ark. It’s sort of like assuming that that Jesus is going to return in your lifetime. What makes you so special?
I liked Woody Harrelson playing a conspiracy blogger so wacky that he was daring Emmerich to keep him in the film. I thought the CG rendition of the eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera was amazing to watch. I liked that while New York is shown, we’re spared seeing its destruction for the umpteenth time. I liked Chiwetel Ejiofor (Redbelt, Serenity) on board as the voice of reason and humanity, Thandie Newton in a rather wasted role as the First daughter. The bad guy in the film is named Anheuser, which is kind of cute. Thanks to Mr. Ebert for pointing me at that one. John Cusack did a good job and I hope the cash helps him fund more personal projects like High Fidelity. Roland Emmerich said this will be his last disaster film; let’s hope it’s the last one that is a disaster. Get it?

1.5 out of 5 Mayan poopquakes

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

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

Independence Day rocks despite Roland Emmerich sucking

For one, I’d like to complain to the TV people that not one channel is playing Independence Day. However, Turner Classic Movies is playing 1776 and Yankee Doodle Dandy tonight. Also a short subject from 1938 called Declaration of Independence about the deciding vote cast to give King George the finger, which won an Oscar for best short subject. So that will have to do.

I hated “ID4” as it was called, when it first came out, but it has grown on me. Roland Emmerich is probably the most god-awful blockbuster director working today, but this is his best and most enjoyable movie; it’s also one of Will Smith’s best action movies. My co-worker The Mouth from the South says Jeff Goldblum ruins any movie he’s in and used this as an example; he was a little annoying, playing his Ian Malcolm science douche from Jurassic Park again, but he doesn’t ruin the movie any more than anyone else does. Roland Emmerich is just incapable of subtlety, and it pained me to look at his IMDb page and see that he’s directing 2012, in which the Mayan calendar ending must signify the coming of androgynous alien Egyptian leaders to tell us global warming is bad. And also a remake of Fantastic Voyage, in which androgynous aliens and ignorance of global warming is causing someone heart disease, so we have to shrink ourselves down and preach about it from inside their left ventricle.

But Independence Day is pretty good. It’s essentially a remake of The War of the Worlds– the great George Pal one from 1953, which is still great cheesy fun today, with delightfully garish colors. Even Spielberg’s boring remake is inferior except for the special effects. ID4 just updates the plot and uses huge saucers instead of tripods, and instead of bacteria killing them, it’s a virus of another kind, a computer virus. Sure, you could be a nitpicking nerd and complain about how a Mac could connect to some alien computer network and disable it, but who cares? It was a cute update.

Professor Frink come to life, mm-hey.

Sure it was full of feel-good stuff like Randy Quaid giving the aliens a rectal probe missile up the mothership’s ying-yang, Vivica Fox and her dog that can outrun explosions, and how blowing up the First Lady makes the President stop being such a pussy. Jeff Goldblum is hardly annoying compared to Judd Hirsch and Harvey Fierstein, and thankfully at least one of them dies at the hands of alien death rays. At least Judd Hirsch gets a few moments where he’s funny, reminding me of his days on “Taxi.” It was better than every Star Trek nerd in the theater cooing when Brent Spiner showed up.

It’s frightening to realize that it’s already 12 years since it came out, and the effects are beginning to look dated. They hold up just enough, but they were smart to use latex critters for the aliens, instead of CG. For example in Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, the CG wolves were the worst part. No, wait a minute, everything about that steaming turd was the worst part. I can’t wait to see 10,000 B.C. on cable so I can see how much better Caveman and Quest for Fire are.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Kickin’ Yo’ Ass.

Independence Day is good popcorn fun- it’s not really preachy, it’s a little on the long side, and it requires a hell of a lot of suspension of disbelief, but compared to Emmerich’s other insulting films it’s the cream of the crop. Sure, unlike stuff like the John Adams mini-series, it has nothing to do with what July 4th is about celebrating- the balls it took to break away from the world’s greatest power at the time. The war took seven years, our longest war until Vietnam, or Iraq if you’re John McCain.

And now we celebrate it by seeing who can stuff the most hotdogs in their face. The current reigning champion is Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who can eat 66 in 12 minutes.

The greatest American hero.

Quest for Fire vs. Caveman

Is it possible to love both these movies? I know I do. Quest for Fire is an intellectual movie about early mankind, with no understandable dialogue and then unknown actors. Caveman has Ringo Starr throwing a dwarf into a giant pool of dinosaur ca-ca. They both came out in 1981, the same year that Mel Brooks made fun of cavemen in History of the World Part I. It was a good year to be a caveman, probably the best until Geico came along.
Quest for Fire is by Jean-Jacques Annaud, who also directed The Bear; he’s really good at films with little or no dialogue, and crafting a story without it. This story begins with a happy tribe of early man lazing around a fire after a feast, when they are attacked by a rival tribe of cannibalistic, and more primitive Neanderthals. They fight viciously, at one point driving a spear through the mouth of one of the marauders, but they lose and have to flee.
They take their fire with them but lose it, which can spell disaster, because they can’t make fire; they can only keep it and tend it. If you’ve ever tried to make a fire in the woods, you can sympathize with their plight.

Naoh, the leader, blows on an ember.

Three men are chosen to seek fire in the wilderness, whether to steal it from another tribe or find it naturally, and their adventure is the meat of the story. Ron Perlman is one of these nomads, and he’d appear later in Annaud’s adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, before he rose to stardom as that cat dude in Beauty and the Beast, and of course Hellboy. The movie is an intelligent version of 10,000 B.C.– there are sabretooth tigers, mammoths, tribes that are more advanced and tribes that are more brutish, rituals and discoveries, and Roland Emmerich isn’t there to make it stupid.

Sabre-tooth Ron Perlman

When they run into a pride of sabretooths, they climb a tree where they are stuck for days. The effects are really good for the time- they’re just lions with long teeth attached, but they sure look scary enough.
Later, when they are caught between a grazing mammoth herd and a tribe of Neanderthals, the leader crawls up and offers a mammoth a handful of grass, befriending it, so they are defended. That sounds really silly, but it works when you watch it. It’s a hell of a lot more likely than befriending a sabretooth.
They also come upon two mud-painted people tied to stakes by the Neanderthals- one of whom is missing an arm. I guess that’s the best way to keep meat fresh back in those days. They rescue them, and get a friend for life in Rae Dawn Chong, in an early role. The leader gets wounded in the crotch killing a Neanderthal, and she helpfully applies salve. She’s probably what those of us who were 12 when it came out remember best- she’s topless or nude for the entirety of the film, except for her tribal make-up. She’s also more advanced culturally than our caveman pals, speaking a language that neither they or we understand, but is definitely more familiar than the grunts they speak (Desmond Morris helped craft the languages).

Ancient refrigerator

There are more run-ins with cave bears, Neanderthals and other tribes who want to steal their fire; they also meet Rae Dawn’s tribe, who live on the mud flats around a swampland and seem to have a fertility cult going on. A big laugh for us at age twelve was when they cage our protagonist with one of their fertile Rubenesque maidens, and when he’s done he looks out and sees 4 more lined up. The film is full of funny little touches that usually make some sort of sense. Her tribe is all gangly and he is strong, so they want him for their string children. She escapes with him, since she has other plans for her man.
She introduces them to advances like spear-throwers (atlatls, actually), laughter, and the missionary position, in a very funny scene. Our leader finds himself growing attached to his new mate, instead of humping whatever ass popped up at the water hole. She decides to stay with him, as they bring fire back to his tribe. After nearly 2 hours of no talking, you find yourself riveted to the screen. There’s a fine mix of humor and action, and nothing breaks the spell- it’s a dirty, brutish life, and while a complete fantasy, it becomes utterly believable. In the tiny genre of movies set in prehistory, it’s got to be the most authentic and enjoyable. It’s certainly different, but I consider it a minor classic. I suppose I ought to compare it to Clan of the Cave Bear someday, but I try to only review good bad movies.

How I adore 80’s tagline humor.

And then you have Caveman with Ringo Starr, in his first major role since Help!. He plays Atouk, a lowly caveman in his tribe, a lone thinker in a group run by Tonda, a big goon. He pines for Lana, played by Barbara Bach, and who wouldn’t? She’s spilling out of a fur bikini the whole film. They also have their own language, but all I can remember is that Atouk wants to zug-zug Lana, so you can figure out what it means. The humor is mostly of the idiotic pee-pee poo-poo variety, but it’s still hilarious in an extremely campy way.

I’d zug-zug her too.

Atouk gets banished by Tonda after trying to zug-zug Lana, along with his pal Lar (Dennis Quaid, who gets to demonstrate the difficulties of peeing during the Ice Age, at one point) and the rest of the outcasts. These include a blind old man with a cane, a dwarf, a gay couple, an Asian dude, and a flat-chested cavewoman unfit for breeding (Shelley Long). The Asian guy speaks English, to explain the caveman words to the audience, proving that the Geico cavemen are more advanced than the average moviegoer.

They have many humorous adventures along the way. They topple a giant pterodactyl’s egg into a volcanic geyser and make a giant poached egg. They think they lose the dwarf in a giant pool of dinosaur shit, and dig through it looking for him. When he comes from behind a boulder after taking a piss, they throw him into it, and give us the immortal quote “Doo-doo! Ca-ca. Shit.”

They run into an abominable snowman in an ice cave who chases them around. My favorite is when the blind man stumbles on a huge dinosaur, and thinks it’s a tree. He does the usual blind man pantomime of feeling around for what he bumped into, and the dinosaur likes it quite a bit… get it, he’s rubbing dino dong! Then he whacks it with his cane in the dino-nuts, causing it to attack our little band of cave-dorks.

Blind man vs. T.Rex balls.
They also have a giant iguana after them. Atouk shows his brains, by feeding the beast some goofy berries that make you high. Previously he proved his superiority by cracking his back and standing upright, inventing music, and using fire to burn the asses of his enemies. Including one who runs away farting, which is especially funny when you’re 12.

Lighting farts came soon after the use of fire.
I may sound condescending, but it’s actually pretty hilarious to watch. The cast is really good and get into the act, defiling their every shred of dignity for our entertainment. By the end, when Atouk defeats Tonda and gets Lana, you’re actually rooting for Shelley Long when she pushes the busty babe into bronto bull-caca. There’s something wrong with that. Even Ringo married Lana and he’s still giving her the zug-zug, as far as I know.
With both these fine movies out there to entertain us, who needs Emmerich? It’s just a rehash of Stargate anyway, with pyramids and an ambiguously sexed tyrant. He hasn’t made a good movie since Independence Day, and that was just a remake of War of the Worlds. If you didn’t get enough disasterage in The Day After the Day Before Yesterday, he’s making a movie about the end of the Mayan calendar that includes volcanoes and such, because it ends in 2012. I wonder if he gets terrified when he finds out his Date Planner only goes to January 2009.

For the record, Rae Dawn Chong can apply salve to me anytime.