Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

Currently Showing at Cinema Steve

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A better-than-expected film from The Asylum

Age of the Hobbits (aka "Lord of the Elves" and "Clash of the Empires") (2012)
Starring: Christopher Judge, Bai Ling, Srogn, Khom Lyly, and Sun Korng
Director: Joseph J. Lawson
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

In Indonesia, 12,000 years ago a final battle between civilizations erupts when Tek Tek  (Srogn) of the peaceful, dimuniative  Tree People finds aid among the honorable human hunters (Ling and Judge) in his quest to rescue his people from the bloodthirsty, dinosaur-riding Rock Men.

The low-budget exploitation outfit The Asylum has been a source of amusement for me for the past 10-15 years. Invariably, when there's a big budget film about to come out, they have a direct-to-DVD low budget film with a similar title in the hopes of capitalizing on the bigger effort. More often than not, the films from The Asylum barely have a thematic similarity to the ones their titles copycat... and if they do, those themes are found within a fun-house mirror distortion of the themes and subject matter. With "Age of the Hobbits", The Asylum not only tries to evoke "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", but the DVD case proudly proclaims that it's an "epic adventure in the tradition of 'Clash of the Titans' and '300'." The truth, however, is that the film has more in common with "Fire Monsters vs. the Son of Hercules" and "Hercules Conquers Atlantis" than any of the films The Asylum is trying to sop reputation and sales figures off.

With that in mind, the only true statement in the quote from the DVD cover is that the film is an epic. Moreso than most low-budget fantasy films, the writers and director on this picture paid very close attention to the story structure and pacing that gives epic tales their epic feel. The heroes must not only fight their way through hoards of bad guys and monsters, but they go through emotional and spiritual growth, and by the end of the story the veiwer is left with the sense that we have just experienced a tale that was transformative on every level. Although the low budget and two-week shooting schedule is evident in many ways--some of the fight scenes feel under-rehearsed and the lack of full-sized prop dinosaurs mean that when live actors are supposedly riding or touching them, all we get are close-ups of their  heads and shoulders--the skill with which the film was shot and the performances of the actors almost makes up for those shortcomings.

The film's "name" leads, Christopher Judge and Bai Ling, are both excellent. Judge in particular shows that he deserves to be far better known than he is, as he repeatedly demonstrates talent that's been honed over 20 years of television acting that he knows how to say more with a softening or hardening of a facial expression than ten lines of dialogue could ever convey. And Ling is like a "Frazetta Girl" that has been brought to life--not only does she have the facial structure for it, but she strikes Frazetta-like poses repeatedly, even while beating and stabbing at enemies with a spear.
Also noteworthy are some of the dwarves who are playing the hobbits, with Srong (or Choeung, depending on the source) being particularly excellent. Like Judge, he repeatedly conveys more with small changes in facial expressions or posture than dialogue could do, and he's almost as charismatic as the big-name stars. It's a shame that whoever put together the IMDB listings for the film couldn't be bothered mentioning him or any other of the Cambodian actors.

Basically, if you like the old-style fantasy films or cavemen vs. dinosaur flicks (like "One Million Years B.C.", "Hercules in the Underworld" or the two previously mentioned sword-and-sandal epics), I think you'll have fun with this picture. But if you're expecting "300", you're going to be disappointed. Me, I was pleasantly surprised.

Note: The producers of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" sued The Asylum over the use of "hobbit" in the film's title. A judge issued an injunction against distributing the film, and a court hearing is scheduled for early January. A friend of mine has a copy of the DVD as it was originally intended to be distributed (with the "Age of the Hobbits" cover art. He kindly lent me his copy so I could write this review. The link above presently goes to a streamed, view-on-demand version of the film. It remains to be seen what the film will ultimately be widely released as on DVD.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Jack Klugman dead at 90

I loved him in "Quincy,M.E.", the pre-cursor to  "CSI" and all the other science-based crime-dramas. Click to read more at the L.A. Times.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas is Coming: Santa is a Gangsta!

Nice Peter with a Christmas rap that will amuse Christmas haters... and quite possibly Christmas lovers, too!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why the world didn't end yesterday....

It's possible the Doctor saved us.

It's more likely the Mayan calendar--supposed foreteller of doooooom--is basically no different than the one you have hanging in your kitchen.

Here are some really smart people explaining why we're all still here. (Although as I lost this, it's still 12/21/2012 on some parts of the planet, so I may be joining the NASA scoff-fest too soon.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas is Coming: He's Santa and He Knows It!

Here's a little spoof that should appeal equally to Christmas lovers and Christmas haters.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas is Coming: In Dulci Jublio

Let's add a little Metal to your Christmas with this Christmas homage to Mike Oldfield and the spectacular version he did of "In Dulci Jublio."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas is Coming: Jack Black and Jason Segal

Did you see the video from yesterday? Well, here's a modern version.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas is Coming: Bing Crosby and David Bowie

A couple of great singers, performing "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Peace on Earth" in this clip from a 1977 Christmas TV special.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas is Coming: What Child Is This?

This version of "What Child Is This" is performed by popular Christian rock band MercyMe, and the visuals consist of famous paintings of the Nativity Scene.

I first encountered the goofier side of MercyMe and had no idea that they were a Christian band. Click here to see some of their very funny "unplugged" covers of famous pop and rock songs over at the NUELOW Games blog.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas is Coming: Nice Peter's Holiday Song

Nice Peter is one of the most consistently funny YouTube music video makers. Here's one of his holiday offerings.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas is Coming: The Little Drummer Boy

"The Little Drummer Boy" gets the metal ballad treatment from Whiteheart, with little drummer boy pictures and Bible quotes as the visuals.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas is Coming: In Dulci Jublio

A brilliant video for a brilliant tune arranged by and featuring the brilliant Mike Oldfield!

It would not be Christmas without this song... so here it is on 12/12/12 (posted at 12:12)!

(This might also be one of the days where the world is supposed to end according to the Wise Ancient Mayans, or at least according to the morons who think they understand calendars, both as made by the Wise Ancient Mayas and modern-day printers. But... in case they're right: Merry Almost Christmas! Aren't you glad you're going out humming at great tune?)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Very James Bond Christmas

If the ever made a James Bond Christmas film, it would probably open something like this....

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas is Coming: Rucka Rucka Ali

Here's a little something from Rucka Rucka Ali for all those out there who hate Christmas. (BTW, if you with no sense of irony or understanding of sarcasm, you don't want to hear this song or watch the clip.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas is Coming: The Little Drummer Boy

An edgy version of my most favorite Christmas song of all, "The Little Drummer Boy", by Sean Quigley. There really isn't a genre of music that Christmas songs don't work for.

"The Little Drummer Boy" (originally known as "Carol of the Drum") is a popular Christmas song written by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941. Click here to read more on the history of this song at Wikipedia.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas is Coming: What Child Is This?

A very cool, intense rock version of "What Child Is This" sung by Elle Zamudio, with Mario Vasquez on guitars.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas is Coming: Silent Night and More!

The great Mike Oldfield starts off a Christmas medley that features wonderful renditions of "Silent Night," "The Little Drummer Boy," and more... all played on guitars and bagpipes (with a few keyboards and drums thrown in for good measure).

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas is Coming: O Holy Night

"O Holy Night" sung by Josh Groben with clips from "The Nativity" serving as the visuals.

Enjoy the season, everyone. May it be a happy one for you!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Self Control: A Pop Song of Horror

We all probably have several songs that bring to mind our childhood and/or teenage years. For me, one of those songs is "Self Control." It is a great pop song from the mid-1980s that fed my imagination. It's even done so as recently as 12 or so years ago, as it helped spark the idea for a major alien race in my "Star Wars" RPG campaign, as well as shaping the personalities of a couple of key NPCs that belong to it.

When I was a kid, I thought this song was spooky. As an adult, I still find it so... why it's never been used as the theme in a horror movie, I'll never know.

Laura Branigan

And the video for the Laura Branigan version is like a little horror movie, so it's a perfect match to the song.

Here's a less creepy modern (from 2011) cover by the Danish outfit, ironically, named Infernal. However, as the video progresses, the horror aspect of the song fully asserts itself. It's nice to see that even though they took a dance tune with spooky undertones and made it even more up-tempo, they paid attention to the details. That's a rate thing, I think.

And here's the version recorded by Raf, the song's co-writer. It was a hit all across Europe in 1984, at the same time that Branigan's version was enjoying an even greater level of popularity. If memory serves, this was actually the first version I encountered. It's not as atmospheric as Branigan's version--and it feels more like the "creatures of the night" in the song are just party-goers and clubbers rather than mysterious monsters--but it was certainly deserving of the hit status it enjoyed.

Here's a version by Sunday Girl. It tries to take the horror aspects of the song and bring them to the forefront. The video succeeds. The song itself? Not so much.

'The Fourth Kind' is kind of a waste

The Fourth Kind (2009)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas and Will Patton
Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

After the strange death of her husband, Nome-based psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler (Jovovich) vows to carry on his work, investigating sleep disorders. She discovers that the root cause is alien abductions, only to be targeted by the aliens herself. Or is she being targeted?

"The Fourth Kind" is a different sort of hoax movie than "The Blair Witch Project" or "Paranormal Activity." While it lays claim to being just as real, it takes a "America's Most Wanted" or "Unsolved Mysteries" approach, mixing re-actments with supposedly real video footage and audio tapes. They also decide to use a split-screen approach in many cases, trying to bolster their claim of reality by placing the reenactments side-by-side and even merged with the "documentary footage and recordings."

Of course, it's all a bunch of hooey. Just like no student filmmakers vanished in the forest and there is no demon-possessed Katie wandering the streets of San Diego, there is no Abigail Tyler and the people of Nome aren't disappearing because of alien abductions; they're disappearing because drunkenness and harsh winters don't mix (or so says the FBI).

But that doesn't mean the notion of space aliens preying on Alaskans isn't a good idea for a hoax movie. If it is, though, it didn't translate into this film. Writer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi spends too much time showing off his cleverness with split-screens and sharing his apparent love with areal shots of Alaska and overlong establishing shots to make the movie scary or even interesting. It moves too slowly to ever be truly exciting, and the characters are too drab for it to be scary, because we never really get invested in them. The one truly scary moment in the film is a BOO-Gatcha! moment that doesn't come close to making up for the boring build-up. Not even the secret surrounding the death of Tyler's husband turns out to be all that interesting. (Although it does make you wonder why stronger action wasn't taken against Tyler sooner.)

Ultimately, this is a forgettable film that is badly put together. The most remarkable thing about it is Jovovich's greener-than-green eyes.

Christmas is Coming: What Child is This... Hava Nagila?

Christmas is fast approaching. From now, until the 25th, I'll be posting music videos featuring nice Christmas song to help you get in the proper spirit! (I'll even throw in a clip or two for those out there who hate Christmas... it is the season for giving after all. Even to misanthropes, fanatical atheists, and the closted homos of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.)

I'm kicking things off with a little something that combines things everyone should love--Christmas, kittens, and cute dogs!

This is also the first of several renditions of "What Child Is This?" that will be appearing here this month.

"What Child Is This?" is a Christmas carol written in 1865. At the age of twenty-nine, English writer William Chatterton Dix was struck with a sudden near-fatal illness and confined to bedrest for several months, during which he went into a deep depression. Yet out of his near-death experience, Dix wrote many hymns, including "What Child is This?", later set to the traditional English tune "Greensleeves." (For more information, visit Wikipedia by clicking here.)