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Fallen Ones, The (2005)

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Starring Casper Van Dien, Kristen Miller, Tom Bosley, Robert Wagner, Navid Negahban, Geoffrey Lewis, Irwin Keyes

Directed by Kevin VanHook


I swear if Cannon Films was still around today The Fallen Ones could have easily been their discount answer to the bloated Mummy franchise. Believe it or not, I mean that as a compliment.

Heck, if The Fallen Ones had been set in the 1930s, replaced the male and female leads with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, had a megabudget allowing for masturbatory overuse of shoddy computer effects, and went out of its way to sacrifice the tone of nearly every single scene just to work in a cheap laugh then this could very well have been Stephen Sommers’ newest Mummy sequel. But instead The Fallen Ones is a B-movie in the grandest sense. It has B-actors involved in a B-plot brought to life with a B-budget and I personally found it to be far more charming than either of those overblown moron movies.

The Fallen Ones kicks off in Sumeria thousands of years ago where Ammon the Destroyer, an angel of death of truly Biblical proportions, meets with his high priest and 42-foot giant of a son to discuss how they’re going to work around this little flood God is getting ready to unleash upon the world. The solution is simple: kill his son and mummify his corpse so that he can be resurrected at a later date while Ammon himself seeks political asylum in Hell for the next 3,000 years. Unfortunately for the forces of pure evil, something appears to go wrong during the mummification process and Ammon’s gigantic warrior son ends up becoming a gigantic mentally retarded mummy. I’m not sure what baring that particular plot point has on anything to come other than I suppose it explains why the giant mummy is only capable of growling and roaring upon its resurrection. Stephen Sommers never even bothered trying to give any possible explanation as to why the mummies in his films roared so The Fallen Ones is already one up on them even if it didn’t intend to be. And everything about this pre-title sequence from the effects to the dialogue feels like it came straight out of an episode of “Hercules” or “Xena”. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s off to present day Arizona where the incomparable Casper Van Dien is an archaeologist working on an excavation in the desert for development magnet Robert Wagner, who plans to develop the land in order to build a fancy resort hotel. Just as a pretty blonde is brought in to micromanage things and simultaneously annoy and arouse his Van Dieness, the place is rocked by a sudden earthquake that unearths an underground chamber containing the remains of what appears to be a 42-foot tall human being. Making things all the more bizarre, the corpse appears to have been mummified in the Egyptian style and his body is surrounded with ancient Sumerian markings.

This mysterious discovery leads Van Dien to bring in his old mentor, Rabbi Eli, to translate the Sumerian text. Tom Bosley, best remembered as Mr. Cunningham on “Happy Days”, plays the Rabbi Eli character in very much the way I’d expect him to play a stereotypical Jewish character on an episode of “The Love Boat”, and doing so makes this character so patently campy that you’d really have to be a hardened cynic not to get a kick out of it. I swear listening to Bosley milk that fake Jewish accent for all it’s worth I could envision the Fonz walking in at any moment and going, “Oy Vaeeeyyyhhh, Mr. C”.

So in between discussions about the very nature of their discovery and some very lame romancing between our impossibly bland leads, the site is attacked by a gaggle of purple-shirted goons that proceed to kidnap workers to be fed to the soon to be awakened mummy. Their attempts to kidnap Van Dien and company results in the sort of fistfight you’d have seen on the old “Batman” TV series.

Van Dien complains afterwards to the Robert Wagner character about several missing men and the fashion victim henchmen but Wagner doesn’t want to call the police because they would just shut them down and he can’t have that. Instead, he decides to bring in a top-notch private security firm to guard the site. The head of this armed band of personal security guards, you guessed it, it’s Ammon.

The surprising thing about Ammon is that he’s actually a compelling villain played with sinister zeal by Navid Negabahn, fresh from his stint as a terrorist on this season’s “24” proving yet again that if you’re an actor in Hollywood with Arab features you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up either playing terrorists or cast in mummy movies. His best moment comes during a confrontation with Rabbi Eli that manages to explain his origin and agenda in a way that doesn’t just bring the movie to a halt for an extended flashback sequence as Stephen Sommers has done before. It also features a nice exchange where Eli reminds Ammon that the Book of Revelations already makes it perfectly clear that his plan is going to fail to which Ammon casually replies that he at least has to try. You got to admire an apocalyptic destroyer with a “can do” attitude. I’ve seen so many movies with demonic entities hatching apocalyptic schemes but very few ever feature a scene where someone brings up the fact that the very thing they’re setting out to do is preordained to fail.

The biggest negative regarding the Ammon character is the revelation that the pretty blonde lead just happens to be the reincarnation of sorts of the mortal female he spawned with originally to give life to his immortal giant sons which of course means that he wants to procreate with her to bring about more. I’ve always hated when movies pull out that lame reincarnation cliché as it smacks of plot convenience and desperation. Although frankly I’d be far more concerned with her character mating with Van Dien’s since melding of their nearly flawless Aryan features could conceivably spawn Hitler’s master race. But I digress. On the plus side, this subplot does lead to one of the film’s goofiest lines of dialogue. When shaking Ammon’s hand upon meeting she becomes overcome and nearly faints. An annoyed Van Dien apologizes on her behalf and explains that she was probably just dehydrated from having been horseback riding that morning. Say what?

It seemed at times as if the objective was to make Van Dien’s character a blithering idiot without letting him in on it. He gives a speech early on attributing the giant’s size on Acromeglia, a disease that causes giantism in people such as legendary pro wrestler Andre the Giant, who was still only around seven feet in height. Van Dien’s character actually believes that disease could have caused someone to grow to King Kong size. Yep, he’s a blithering idiot all right.

The Fallen Ones also boasts the single greatest “what the f***?!” moment of any film I’ve seen in quite sometime. Ammon’s disciples somehow manage to build a giant mechanical effigy to the giant mummy they worship. By that, imagine the giant mechanical spider from Wild Wild West only built in humanoid form, covered with corpses, and piloted by a guy that repeatedly chants Ammon’s name non-stop. All of this comes from completely out of nowhere with no hint as to how or why they built such a thing, which is all for the best because the effigy is toppled just as quickly as it appeared.

Now mind you I am reviewing the Sci-Fi Channel version of The Fallen Ones and part of me can’t help but to wonder if they butchered this movie in order to squeeze it into a two hour time slot with their usual 35 minutes worth of commercial breaks. Almost every single time they came back from a commercial it seemed as if the movie had jumped ahead from where it left off and I got the feeling there were other little bits missing too. For example, the dig’s foreman played by veteran character actor (and Juliette Lewis’ dad) Geoffrey Lewis, just up and vanishes from the film with no explanation as to what became of him. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a scene that got cut out explaining the mechanical mummy. I definitely plan to check this one out again when it hits DVD just to see what I may have missed.

Now I’m sure by this point most of you want to know about the giant mummy since that is the whole point of the movie. It turns out that giant mummies when brought back to life pretty much behave like giant apes do in the movies. He roars, hurls huge boulders, chases after moving vehicles, and snatches helicopters from the sky. The sight of a giant mummy doing all of this makes things that much more entertaining. My only beef with the mummy other than his all to brief appearance is pretty much the same beef I had with all the villains in the movie; that being that they’re all too easily defeated.

And how did Ammon know to go to the dam at the end anyway?

Probably the most amazing thing about The Fallen Ones is that it was written and directed by Kevin VanHook, whose only other filmmaking credit was Frost: Portrait of a Vampire, a film so boring and pointless that I consider it to be one of the single worst movie-watching experiences I’ve ever had. Talk about a complete turnaround. It even looks and feels like a more professional, almost theatrical quality production than the typical Sci-Fi Channel movie fare. While The Fallen Ones might be goofy and more than a little nonsensical at times, it’s a lively romp that brings to mind memories of the old fashioned Saturday matinees.

Oh, for those of you that are dying to know how a giant Egyptian mummy ends up buried in the American Southwest, well, it seems Ammon had several giant sons (SEQUEL ALERT!) that he had buried all throughout the world in secret places where even God himself could not find them. I guess that means that while God is all knowing and all seeing he really sucks at scavenger hunts.


3 out of 5

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Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

Directed by Jeff Houkal


Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

  • Film
3.5

Summary

Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video

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Starring Death, Destruction, Famine, Unimaginable Suffering

Directed by Mick Jackson

Distributed by Severin Films


Although not quite reaching the tense heights felt during the Cold War, talk of nuclear annihilation has nonetheless been on the tips of tongues following a recent public spat between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. The difference being that unlike the decades-long stalemate between America and Russia, this kerfuffle feels more like two boys breaking out the ruler to measure package size. Regardless, the truth remains that as long as nuclear weapons are held by any country the risk of a catastrophic event is always on the table – and their use should never be used as a casual threat. The world has seen firsthand the level of devastation that can be wrought with their use; a reminder none want to endure again. This seems as fitting a time as any for Severin Films to breathe new life on home video into Threads (1984), a frightening portrayal of what could happen in the U.K. following nuclear war. Similar in concept to America’s The Day After (1983), Threads is a chilling, bleak vision that showcases the breakdown of society prior to, and after, the detonation of nuclear weaponry. Nothing is glamorized; there are no heroics. By the time the credits roll viewers will be left chilled to the core, having witnessed so much destruction that should never be allowed to occur in a modern society.

The action is centered in Sheffield, U.K. where we follow the lives of a few distinct families and citizens who represent different sectors of the populace. The events leading up to nuclear war are depicted via television and radio broadcasts, with anchors reporting on increasing tensions in Iran following a coup allegedly backed by the U.S. In response, the Soviet Union moves troops into northern Iran to protect their own interests. The standoff becomes increasingly strained when the U.S. reports the submarine USS Los Angeles has gone missing in the Persian Gulf. Soon after, a collision between Soviet and American battle cruisers forces the U.S. President to issue a warning to the Soviets that any further action may lead to armed confrontation.

As all of this is occurring the citizens of Sheffield are attempting to go about their normal lives… until a melee involving nuclear-tipped weaponry prompts the government to assemble emergency operations groups. With the U.K. now completely gripped by fear, the threads of society begin to rapidly unspool, with citizens divided over local government response while runs on grocery stores and looting become widespread. Finally, in the early morning a few weeks after this skirmish began air raid sirens are sounded and within minutes a nuclear warhead is detonated over the North Sea, emitting an EMP and knocking out all communication in the country. The attack wreaks havoc, decimating the country and wiping out millions of lives in one swift blow. Those are the lucky ones.

Those who survive the initial blast are met with highly-radioactive fallout, disease, famine, radiation sickness, crumbling infrastructure and streets littered with rotting corpses. Society has suffered a complete breakdown. Money no longer holds any value. Nuclear winter brings about a dearth of crops and a massive drop in temperatures. Food is the only commodity with any value – and it is long before any can be produced. Population levels reach those of the medieval times. Even a decade after the blast, the areas devastated by nuclear war have only rebuilt to a level on par with the Industrial Revolution. Children are still born. Language is limited, due to the lack of proper schooling. Little hope looms on the horizon as those left alive scrounge and scavenge, eking out a miserable existence.

Director Mick Jackson made a smart decision by shooting Threads using a neorealist lens, employing unknowns in place of familiar faces. This gives the picture a documentarian feel while also scuttling the notion of seeing famous faces either survive the catastrophe or become heroes. There is no silver lining to be found. The initial blast rocks the U.K. on a grand scale, brought to visceral life by Jackson’s use of miniatures and montage to convey a massive scale of destruction. Fires rage, Sheffield is in ruins, charred corpses line the streets, and radiation poisoning leaves survivors roiling in pain and vomiting endlessly. The brutal verisimilitude is gut-wrenching; Jackson ensures every bit of pain and perseverance is palpable.

Threads should be mandatory viewing, serving as a warning of the very real potential outcome should civilized nations resort to using nuclear weaponry on a global scale. No good can come of mutually assured destruction. All of the posturing and battling between the U.S. and Russia pales in comparison to the annihilation of millions of lives and decades of industry, all wiped out in the blink of an eye. This is true horror.

Given its low budget and television roots, it should come as no surprise that Threads looks on a rougher side of HD. Severin touts the 1.33:1 1080p image as being a “new 2K remaster”, though the provenance of the elements used is not mentioned. Truthfully, the grainy, rough-hewn picture is a perfect complement to the gritty imagery seen throughout and anything more polished might have lessened the impact. The film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm; again, a smart aesthetic decision given the documentarian feel Jackson wanted. The cinematography reminded me of Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), an American documentary on coal workers. Damage can be seen throughout, as well as plenty of flecks and debris but, again, none of this was particularly irksome because it feels organic to this decaying world.

Audio comes in the form of a simple English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. First off, I highly recommend turning on the subtitles because the English accents are thick and plenty of U.K.-specific colloquialisms are used; it helps – a lot. This is a thin track without much direction, employing a workmanlike sound design to get the point across. Explosions have a bit of roar and oomph, but the biggest impact is made by a scene of total silence post-attack. Dialogue is clean and well set within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

An audio commentary track is included, featuring director Mick Jackson, moderated by film writer Kier La Janisse & Severin Films’ David Gregory.

“Audition for the Apocalypse” is an interview with actress Karen Meagher.

“Shooting the Annihilation” is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn.

“Destruction Designer” is an interview with production designer Christopher Robilliard.

“Stephen Thrower on THREADS” finds the author and film historian discussing the production history and impact of the film.

A “U.S. trailer” as well as a “Re-release trailer” are included.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the film prepared for this release
  • Audio Commentary with Director Mick Jackson, Moderated by Film Writer Kier–La Janisse and Severin Films’ David Gregory
  • Audition For the Apocalypse: Interview with Actress, Karen Meagher
  • Shooting the Annihilation: Interview with Director of Photography, Andrew Dunn
  • Destruction Designer: Interview with Production Designer, Christopher Robilliard
  • Interview with Film Writer, Stephen Thrower
  • U.S. Trailer
  • Threads
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Brutal and unflinching in its desire to convey a story true to reality, Threads is a difficult and necessary viewing experience that shows firsthand the level of terror wrought by man’s hand.

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Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror

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Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

Written and directed by Alex Garland


Have you ever walked out of a theater and thought to yourself, “That was more than just a movie. That was an experience!“? It’s only happened to me a handful of times, the last one I remember being Mad Max: Fury Road. Last night that sensation washed over me as the credits for Annihilation began their crawl after a near two-hour runtime. I remained in my seat until every name slipped by before I found it within myself to stand up and leave the theater. All I could think was, “I’ve just witnessed something incredible.

An adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in his The Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation follows Lena (Portman), an ex-soldier-turned-biologist professor at Johns Hopkins whose husband, Kane (Isaac), has been missing for a year after leaving on a covert mission about which Lena has been able to get zero information. When Kane mysteriously returns and almost immediately falls gravely ill, Lena finds herself in a secret government facility that is monitoring a strange and potentially cataclysmic phenomenon: a strange shimmering dome that appeared in a remote region after a meteorite landing, a dome that grows larger with each passing day. Realizing that the answer to her husband’s malady may very well lie within that area, Lena joins four other women as they embark on an expedition into what is called “Area X.” However, it’s quickly realized that nothing is quite what it seems to be and that the laws of nature no longer apply.

The majesty of Annihilation is the time it takes to build the story and to ramp up the tension. While it has no problem with frenetic scenes, the film moves at an almost poetic pace, every moment adding something to the overarching narrative. From showing the relationship between Lena and Kane to the interactions among the five women who venture into “Area X” to the action sequences, every part of the movie feels necessary. This is even seen in the climax of the film, which is a 10-minute scene that features almost zero dialogue and yet feels fraught with danger.

Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The jungle that takes up most of Area X is lush and beautiful. Crepuscular rays break through the leaves and tease a rainbow iridescence thanks to the “shimmer.” A wide variety of flowers impossibly blossom from the same source, a result of the genetic mutations occurring within the dome. Strange fungal patterns explode across the walls of abandoned buildings, their patterns a tumorous cornucopia of colors and textures. Even when the movie brings gore into the equation, it does so with an artist’s gaze. Without ruining the moment, there is a scene where the team comes across the body of a man from a previous expedition. For as macabre as the visual was, it was equally entrancing, calling to mind the strangely beautiful designs of the “clickers” from The Last of Us.

Each setting in the story has a visual style that sets it apart from one another but still feels connected. The governmental facility feels cold and sterile while the jungles of Area X are warm and verdant. As the team ventures further into the contaminated zone, we are taken to the beach next to the lighthouse that acts as “ground zero” for the mysterious event. Here we see trees made of crystal and bone-white roots clinging to the nautical beacon. In this third act, we’re taken into the basement of the lighthouse, which can only be described as Giger-esque, with strange ribbed walls that feel like they pulsate with a life of their own.

The characters of Annihilation feel real, and the exposition given doesn’t feel forced. When Lena is rowing a boat with Cass, the sharing of information feels like camaraderie, not awkward plot reveals. Additionally, no character is without his/her flaws. Even Lena has her own issues that burden her with guilt, making her journey into Area X all the more understandable. As the stress of the mission wears on these women, the seeds of distrust begin germinating into deadly situations that have very real consequences, including the appearance of a bear that would be right at home in the Silent Hill universe. Also, kudos to Garland for writing the film in such a way where the gender roles not only feel natural but are never focused on in a disingenuous manner.

Musically, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who scored Garland’s previous film Ex Machina, create a soundtrack that is atmospheric, haunting, and hypnotizing. The music elevates the dreamy phantasmagoria of the film without overpowering any scene. Meanwhile, cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also worked on Ex Machina, helps create a film where nearly every frame is a work of art.

Those entering Annihilation expecting a clearly defined sci-fi/horror offering will be disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of both to be had, but the movie doesn’t want to offer something fleeting. Instead, it uses those genres as a foundation to create a film that will stay with viewers long after they leave the theater. When you get to the core of Annihilation, it’s a body horror film that pays homage to the work of David Cronenberg while carving an entirely new path of its own. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand and answer all of its mysteries. Some questions are left for you to see through on your own.

I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that Alex Garland has offered audiences one of the best genre films in recent years.

  • Annihilation
5.0

Summary

Annihilation is a bold, gorgeous, and stunning melting pot of horror, sci-fi, and drama, culminating in one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this decade.

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