June 15th, 2012

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Movie Time: Chernobyl Diaries, Priest, and Prometheus

Originally published at Cassie Alexander. You can comment here or there.

Where I see bad movies so you don’t have to — and talk smack about them late at night on a weekend so no one will see to care.

I’m gonna go ahead and spoil Chernobyl Diaries for you. Just don’t see it. I’m an experienced viewer of crappy horror films. I only talk about one fourth of the ones I see here. A girlfriend of mine and I make a point to go see them, so we go pretty often, and we’ll put up with quite a lot.

But OMG Chernobyl Diaries was bad.

I think it, like Prometheus (which we’ll get to) were more disappointing in that they didn’t have to suck. It had a tremendous premise. Kids go on international tour, get talked into going on an “extreme” tour of the old Chernobyl site — there were a lot of things right about the set up. It was prime. And for awhile, maybe the first fourth of the film, things stacked up like they should. The actors were genuine and the choices they made weren’t stupid. There was some actual creep on their tour. But shortly after the car broke down — but OF COURSE — was where the director and I parted ways.

I would have loooooved to see more of a Stalker thing here. (Stalker is an amazing 1970′s Russian film. Even if you don’t see it, you should read the wiki on it, it is crazy as shit. The man who made the film had to shoot it twice because the film was destroyed, and half the actors who acted in it died because they were filming over the grounds of an old chemical factory. It had Poltergeist beat for bad-cast-things, hands down, and the film itself is a masterpiece. Go watch it.)

Even though I know that Stalker is more metaphorical than Chernobyl Diaries could ever hope to be — Chernobyl Diaries had me as long as the menace was off screen. But then they couldn’t hold back, and had to show us crazy mutants. Ooookay.

There’s this thing that I’ve noted when i crit people’s stories. Generally, the more questions I have, the worse shape the story is in. I’m too busy coming up with my own answers for all the weird stuff going on, because the author isn’t in control of their work. Had the director had held his hand — and I know he effing does subtle well, because I genuinely liked the Paranormal Activity movies — this movie would have been so very much better. But the second the mutants came on the screen, i started wondering things like, “Why are they all wearing pants? Where did they get pants from?” There’s a little girl mutant, so I’m all, “Hey, how did that happen? Do they have sex? Who got her her dress to wear?” Etc. What do they eat? Where do they sleep? Etc etc etc.

And then the characters start making crappy choices, which is the dearth of any horror film. They go back when they ought not to, they say they should go right to retrace their steps when we in the audience clearly saw them going left. They’re actually worried about radiation,when in reality if you’re being chased by mutants, I don’t think you’d give a flying fuck.

The mutants seem obsessed with capturing this one female character, which I’m displeased by, but hey, they wouldn’t be the first mutant populace to have some ill-conceived rape cult. But then they kill this other female character out right, and I’m confused again.

Finally at the end, after the characters take far too long to die — by then I’m feeling the lightness in my wallet where my $6.50 used to be. There’s a slow-mo sad scene where one of the characters dies and his girlfriend is wreaked by his loss, highlighted by requiem for a dream music that really only serves to make me realize how little I care. Then there’s a silly radiation poisoning tweak at the end, and oh yeah, Russians are bad or did you forget? where one of the protags is given over to the mutant menace. So heavyhanded it made me squirm.

This was a great premise which could have been a slow psychological build to something magnificent. Alas.

Which brings me to Priest, which we watched last night.

How do you mess up a film which is essentially cowboys versus vampires? Because really. Reealllllly.

My husband and i could tell it was going to sink the moment it began the expositiony prologue. It’s one thing to set the stage or a mood — but if you have to explain that which has come before in such depth, your writing isn’t holding enough weight, or you’re beginning in the wrong spot.

This film, while sexier due to the inclusion of Paul Bettany (who doesn’t take his shirt off like he did in Legion, FYI), and with a much much much larger budget, was pretty much just as bad as Chernobyl Diaries, only for the wrong reasons. If they’d given this film to Timur Bekmambetov it mayyyyyybbbbeeee could have been something. Maaayyyyybbbbeee. (Can I tell you how badly I can’t wait to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, pretty much because Timur Bekmambetov is an action film god? SO BADLY.)

But really, the parts in the beginning that establish our protag are really lame. He’s very unemotional, which I get he’s supposed to be, he’s a vampire-killing-jesuit or somesuch. But there’s not enough angst or character depth to make me care about all his reasons to fight. And the first third of the movie is people telling him, “You can’t fight!” and “No, really, you can’t fight!” Which isn’t sexy, because he’s not really torn enough about fighting or not fighting for me to credibly believe he has any angst.

It also made me wonder, why are we in an entirely Catholic-centric world, why does no one believe him when he says that the vampires are regrouping (it’s one thing to disbelieve, it’s another to discredit a credible threat), and why do they hold back the whole “wait, the kidnapped girl isn’t your niece — she’s really your daughter!” until the end?

Sometimes you gotta spend emotion up front for it to count. If he’d said something like that earlier, even to himself, it would have been so much more powerful for him to go out there after her. If you told me in a world where jesuits are vampire hunters, and vampires are almost forgotten, a jesuit who foresook his vow of chastity once has to go and save his bastard daughter from the vampires who’ve kidnapped her to lure him out for one last fight…. that has so much more resonance and juice than what was really on the screen. So much more.

Surprises aren’t good for very much on the page, or on the screen. Anticipation of things that you know that are coming will win you more eyeballs every time.

Last, but not least, Prometheus. (Which I saved for last because this will be spoiler central. SPOILERS AHOY.)

Speaking of anticipation. I so so so wanted this to be good. So. Soooooooooooooooooooo.

But it was awful. Gorgeous, but awful. A hot hot mess.

I’m not even sure where to begin. Too many characters, most of them wasted. How do you waste Idris Elba? Oh, I know, cast him as Ernie Hudson. What the fuck is wrong with people? Anyone could have played the captain of the ship. Idris effing Elba should have had an actual role with actual things to do.

But seriously, too many characters. There’s a lame set up where two characters, neither of which you see again really, are making a bet on alien life existing. And then at the end of the movie where they nobly sacrifice themselves (without quarrel or fear, completely unrealistically) they reference their bet again, and the viewer is supposed to find that…touching? Humane? Not when I’d completely forgotten who they were. Not when I never knew what any of them had back at home to lose. There was a scene where redshirts were getting tossed around and immolated. All i could think of during that was, “Who were all these people? Where have they been all this time?”

The only ones selling it in Prometheus were Nooma Rapace as the main scientist, and Michael Fassbender as the android. Everyone else was phoning it in through a tincan and string. And this is largely because of the plot…the disjointed disjointed plot.

I really liked the idea of it, crazy rich old man who wants to be immortal funds expedition into space to find super-human aliens but doesn’t like what he finds. I loved the fact that he had a conniving android on board, and that he’d traveled with them out there to get immortal in person, that was a nice bend. But most of the other characters on the ship were awful. Charlize Theron as Capt. Vickers (and how do you mess up Charlize Theron in a body suit for two hours?) was too dry and self-serving. She wound up having a right to be (turns out she’s old guy’s heir) but her character is written too broadly. She’s not selfish enough, nor caring enough, to serve the plot, such as it is. And when she does have it out with dear old dad and has to call him “Father!” so stupid people in the audience will know what just happened, it was sad for us, that we couldn’t be trusted with putting two and two together.

The android throws a ton of characters under the bus. Gets them infected, and tries to saddle them with unwanted alien offspring. It’s so clear to the audience that the aliens are bad news that it feels foolish for him to keep trying by killing his coworkers. There’s this lovely set up at the beginning where he’s watching a film and imitating lines from it, one in particular about not letting yourself feel pain….and then there’s never a callback to that moment. I suspect it’s on the cutting room floor, but it’s sad, because that would have really given us some insight into him instead of watching him be increasingly thoughtlessly cruel.

The other characters that get alienized first don’t have any telling traits other than a hoodie and/or tattoos. Tattoo guy and hoodie guy die miserably. Only all I really know about them, all the character development they’ve received, has been in their costume choices. So i could give a fuck when they get aliened up. It’s scary, because they’re being attacked, but other than that, I don’t really care.

And again and again, people do unbelievable things in the movie. Like take their helmets off because it’s breathable air. Or have nicely appointed rooms with hanging plants that have somehow survived their frozen two-year journey.

There’s a confusing thing where we’re supposed to believe that the Engineers have created the aliens as some sort of weapon of mass destruction…that then got out of hand and killed them off. I do like this angle, because I was wondering who the heck carved all those creepy faces, since the aliens themselves don’t seem to be interested in interior decorating. But then after being reawakened the Engineer decides to…what, go home? Or take a ship that’s not full of bioweapons — ones that, as we find out, will also want to kill him too — perhaps, back to their own people? Nope. He mans his current ship — one chock full of alien egg vases — and apparently starts to head to Earth.

This movie has about three endings after that. There’s the ship-blowy-uppy ending (alas, Idris Elba, we hardly knew ye), and then the main scientist and Vickers try to escape the crashing ship ending, and then the main scientist who tricks the engineer into getting aliened ending, and lastly, the ending that sets us up for a sequel. Where instead of warning the Earth, our protagonist and what’s left of the android decide to take yet another ship full of aliens out into space…to go back to the Engineer homeworld. Why? Because of her…faith? In God, or in humanity? Something like that.

But none of the rest of the film has any heart. And so for them to ask me as the viewer to believe that she is out there, following her heart, when everyone else in the film has been awful to her and to each other — when everyone else she knows back home is dead, and all her hopes and dreams have died — it doesn’t fly. It can’t fly. It won’t. Which is sad, because I really love this franchise, and want it to go on.

And with that (this post, and the last long one) I realize that I really need to get writing on my own stuff to stay sane, ha. I’ll go open up Deadshifted now that my husband is asleep.

May all the movies you watch be good ones,





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New Interviews and Appearences

Originally published at Cassie Alexander. You can comment here or there.

Hey all! Just some updatery:

I’m not going to Worldcon this year. I love Worldcon, but I’ve been traveling doubletime recently, and so has my husband. It’ll be nice to have the fall off for sanity’s sake, and to use my off weekends to see relatives and friends.

However, I will be at Borderlands Bookstore‘s Clarion West reading on July 21st at 5 PM, and I’ll be signing at Inklings Bookstore in Capitola, CA on August 5th at 2 PM :D — and I’m still doing the RWA national conference, in Anaheim at the end of July :D.

If you want to see my office, there’s a blog with pics over at Book Chick City right now. (You will notice my Disney obsession, and that I ought to dust ;)) — and there’s an interview up with me over at Open Book Society, as well as a really nice Nightshifted review :D.

The Clarion West Write-a-thon starts at midnight tomorrow night! It’s still not to late to sign up! :D