Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: April 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival 4/29 - Dennis Hopper Makes Surprise Appearance at Premiere of Restored Night Tide

by Tony Dayoub

Day 1 - 1:17 pm - I arrived into LaGuardia half an hour late, picked up my bags at baggage claim, where a locust-like group of hustlers start trying to convince me why I should skip the taxi line and pay more to share their cab with another passenger. SCAMMERS!!! Welcome to New York... I MISSED YOU SO MUCH!!!

1:24 pm - My much cooler cab driver, Fariq, drove me into the city through scenic Spanish Harlem. I'm staying in the Upper East side, at lovely Amy Coward's apartment (thank you so much), with a nice view of Roosevelt Island. I order a Ham sandwich from Hot and Crusty (1201 Second Ave, 212-753-2614), which is delivered to my door (did I tell you how much I miss this place?), and off to work it is.

3:46 pm - Right about the time I finished sending a lot of you readers my promotional email, I realized I hadn't showered, and I was going to have to take the 4 train down to Tribeca to catch the first film, Curtis Harrington's restored Night Tide (1961), which starts at 5pm. Did I tell you how much I hate New York?

4:33 pm -Made it to the platform, just as the train arrived, so I hop in. I have a few minutes to relax and get my bearings, except... I'm on the wrong train, the W headed towards Whitehall.

4:56 pm - Jumped off at Canal St. and walked through Chinatown for 45 minutes (now I know what my wife must have felt like the first time she was in Little Havana) trying to find the small screening room at Pace University.

5:41 pm - Boy, am I late. Luckily, I only missed the short film preceding the feature (or unluckily, some would say, as this was Harrington's little seen early experimental film, Picnic). But what a wonderful surprise. Last minute arrangements were made to have a Q&A with Night Tide's lead actor, Dennis Hopper. 72 years old, and the man still emanates cool as he assuredly strolls down to the podium to speak.

Night Tide is about a young sailor (Hopper) on liberty in Venice Beach, California. He meets a young lady named Mora who works as an amusement park "mermaid," sitting in a tank that appears to be full of water, wearing a fish tail. But with two former boyfriends now dead, she may actually be a mythological siren, luring men to their demise with her beauty and feminine wiles. The surreal film is interesting in its collision of the film noir genre with a touch of the horror genre. Hopper's performance appears improvised, and demonstrates some of the ability to carry a movie that allowed him to go on to a legendary career. The Academy-restored print was bright and clean, and apparently had just been brought over from the lab.

As if the movie wasn't odd enough, someone had accidentally transposed the second and third reels, leading to some unintended surreal, and humorous, moments.

Some interesting points Hopper spoke of:

  • This was Harrington's first feature film, and it was a non-union film, preventing it from being shown in theaters for close to 3 years.
  • Hopper had been released from his contract with Warner Bros. where he had already been in movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, and Gunfight at the OK Corral.
  • This was Dennis Hopper's first lead role.
  • Hopper was and is a strong supporter of nascent filmmakers, having supported not only Harrington, but notable underground filmmakers Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger.
  • Luana Anders, who costars, was later cast by Hopper as Peter Fonda's girlfriend in his own directorial debut, Easy Rider. She also wrote some things for Francis Coppola and appeared in his first studio film, The Rain People.
  • Among Hopper's performing influences were Marlon Brando and James Dean, but this performance was influenced greatly by Montgomery Clift's acting.

7:36 pm - Stopped by Nobu Tribeca (105 Hudson St, 212-219-0500) where I ate some of the best and freshest sushi I had in a long time (Atlanta being quite a ways inland, it is not really known for its fresh fish). I highly recommend the Tiraditos, delicate thinly-sliced whitefish with a pinhead-size drop of spicy red chile sauce and cilantro leaves. There is also the Yellowtail sashimi with a slice of jalapeño on top. If raw food is not your thing, try the miso-glazed black cod, or the beef tenderloin in teriyaki sauce, which was prepared perfectly at the medium temperature I asked for, and served with a variety of mushrooms on the side. The service was excellent too, as I was in a hurry to catch my next film, and made it out in less than an hour.

9:00 pm - Four short films, directed by Isabella Rossellini for the Sundance Channel, showing the mating habits of insects, are shown before the feature, Toby Dammit. The films, called Green Porno, were meant to be shown on cell phones, but I can't see how they'll be tossed away like that. They are educational, strange, and some of the funniest viral video out there. All 8 videos will be available at and on all Helio mobile devices on May 5th.

Toby Dammit is a short film that was originally part of a troika of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations released as Spirits of the Dead. This one, based on Poe's Never Bet the Devil Your Head, was directed by Federico Fellini, and stars Terence Stamp. It was just restored by the film's original cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno in conjunction with the Cineteca Nazionale de Italia for the Ornella Muti Network. Ornella Muti is an Italian actress best known stateside for playing Princess Aura in Flash Gordon (1980). But she is also one of the leading contributors to film restoration in Italy. What we saw last night was essentially a sneak preview, as Toby Dammit is actually the opening film of the 2008 Taormina Film Fest in Sicily.

The film was Rotunno's first with Fellini, but he went on to become the cinematographer on all of his subsequent films. It's easy to see why, with the restoration finished. The film's color and contrast is brilliant, and well-defined. This is one of my favorite movies, and I owned the original DVD by Image, which was atrocious, just because I liked it so much. When Janus Films (the people behind the Criterion Collection) released a much improved version, I quickly ran out to purchase it. But it looks like I may have to do it one more time (no plans for a DVD yet) because this restoration borders on the revelatory. And what a movie to choose to restore.

Terence Stamp, a powerful British actor in the 1960's (now know primarily for his campy General Zod in Superman and Superman II), plays an alcoholic actor on a downward spiral. He keeps encountering the devil as he declines further and further, personified as a strange white-haired little girl bouncing a ball. The movie captures an uncomfortable feeling of suspension in time that I've never seen done to such great effect as I have here. If you have the opportunity, seek this one out once it becomes available, or just rent the current version on Netflix.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

DVD Review: The Great Debaters - Stirring Film Transcends the Usual Cliches of Uplifting Cinema

by Tony Dayoub

Inpired by a true story, The Great Debaters, Denzel Washington’s assured directorial follow-up to Antwone Fisher, is a fascinating look at a group of 1930s-era African-American college students, and how their professor, Melvin Tolson (Washington), shaped them into one of the strongest college debate teams in the U. S. while struggling to overcome the obstacles they faced in the Jim-Crow South.

Washington has successfully executed one of the first directives of a novice director, surround yourself with talented collaborators. The story is told through the eyes of young James Farmer, Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), a gifted 14-year-old who harbors a crush for one of his teammates. She is Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), the first female to make it into Wiley College’s debate team. But she has a crush of her own, the haunted Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), whose escapes into seedy juke-joints dull the rage he feels at his inability to retaliate for the era’s injustices towards blacks. The young Whitaker communicates the odd contradiction of his character, both lacking maturity in his disdain for Samantha’s attraction to their teammate, yet wise beyond his years in the way he nurtures the couple, and therefore the team, through their highs and lows. Smollett is all fiery indignation when arguing a topic at the podium, but this belies her character’s kind and sensitive nature. Parker portrays Lowe with an eerie intensity reminiscent of director Washington’s own performances. Strong supporting players, including Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), John Heard (The Pelican Brief), Kimberly Elise (Diary of a Mad Black Woman), and Gina Ravera (The Closer), round out the cast.

Not limited to his cast, Washington’s top-notch crew also help to deliver a winning motion picture. Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (Henry & June) captures the tangerine tones of hot Marshall, Texas without descending into the cliched, golden, nostalgia-drenched photography of other films of this type, like Dead Poets Society. All the better to contrast the optimistic world of Wiley College with the gritty harshness of the dark southern nightlife, a world replete with juke-joints, lynchings, and secretive labor union meetings. James Newton Howard and Peter Golub’s score is subtle for most of the movie, but appropriately rousing as the team heads toward prestige in the academic world.

Robert Eisele’s screenplay is smart in that its protagonists are allowed to be flawed individuals. It is only together as a team that they, and even their leader, Professor Tolson, succeed in achieving their ambitions. Great care is taken to demonstrate this as each time one of the members is not present, failure inevitably follows. The key example is midway through the film, when Lowe’s nighttime tryst with a woman he picks up, is observed by Samantha. Lowe was the first to walk out on the team to go rabble-rousing. Samantha, second, after her pride is hurt by his philandering. Farmer, preoccupied with the team’s crumbling dynamic, may be there physically, but loses focus as their upcoming debate with prestigious Howard University approaches. The lion’s share of the blame goes to Tolson, who is distracted by his attempts to organize a union for Southern sharecroppers – an extraneous subplot that ultimately leads nowhere - instead of keeping the team in line. Tolson has been oblivious to the love triangle within his own team, risking their chance to reach their ultimate goal, debating a white college.

Denzel Washington’s direction of his actors is bold, while maintaining restraint with the visuals. He does not try to impress with flashy angles until necessary. He wisely chooses to have his excellent actors carry the story. But the debates, which could easily have been the slowest parts of the film, are enlivened by Rousselot’s constantly moving camera, and the composers' judicious use of music.

The DVD has a great amount of interesting extras. If you get the single disc, you'll get deleted scenes, a documentary with the real-life debaters, and a couple of music videos. The two-disc includes all that and a couple of documentaries on the film's music, a couple of documentaries focusing on the young actors, the poetry of Melvin B. Tolson, and much more.

It is rare to find an uplifting movie that does not preach or devolve into a cliched "inspirational" tearjerker. This is an excellent one to watch, and I hope to see another of Washington's directorial efforts soon.

The Great Debaters will be available on single and two-disc standard DVD on 5/13.

Still provided courtesy of Genius Products and The Weinstein Company.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

DVD Review: Eyes Wide Shut - Revisiting Kubrick's Last Film Nine Years Later

by Tony Dayoub

Nine years after Stanley Kubrick left us with his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, I am surprised by my view on it. Where most of Kubrick's films are hard to appreciate upon their initial release, this one wasn't, at least for me. A decade later, the esteem lavished on any of his films usually grows. But, in my opinion, this one's hasn't. As anyone familiar with Kubrick's work knows, his films were (and still are) more often ahead, not behind the times, in their themes and state of the art of cinema. And while I initially blamed the publicity angle used to promote it, and the censorship inflicted on it, for most of its denigration, I now wonder why almost a decade later, with those problems now non-existent, the film seems out-of-step.

The VHS age had arrived in the mid to late eighties, so by the time the nineties were just about over, it was no surprise that the erotic film genre had benefited the most during that period. Americans no longer needed to be ashamed of enjoying sexually-charged cinema. They could just rent a movie and watch it at home. That movie came in many forms depending on your proclivities. The most obvious was pornography, but if you were too timid to try that out, you could rent a direct-to-video softcore film such as the ones seen on late-night Cinemax channels. For more intellectual value you could obtain an NC17-rated film, like Henry and June. More mainstream viewers could rent a movie that used to be rated R in theaters, but would have added sex scenes in a newly released unrated version, like Basic Instinct. The possibilities were limitless, and the market followed suit to a degree where it became oversaturated with such films: Wild Orchid, Showgirls, Zandalee, etc.

Back in 1999, as the hype was building regarding Stanley Kubrick's collaboration with then-husband-and-wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Eyes Wide Shut's marketing contributed to all kinds of notions being thrown around, some correct and some not. The ultimate gladiator film is Spartacus, a Kubrick film. The ultimate sci-fi film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, a Kubrick film. As we go forward it becomes a little more arguable. The ultimate horror movie is regarded by many to be Kubrick's The Shining. And Full Metal Jacket has just as much right to be regarded as the ultimate Vietnam movie as Platoon. So when the trailer is released for Kubrick's latest film, and it features the hottest celebrity couple in the planet nude in front of a mirror, about to engage in lovemaking... was it any surprise that people were going to misconstrue this as Kubrick's take on the erotic film. Rumors circulated. Cruise and Kidman's relationship was straining under Kubrick's pressure to make Eyes Wide Shut the ultimate sex movie. The scenes were so pornographic the movie would have to be gutted to make it work for American cinema.

At the time, having already been a student of Kubrick's films, I wasn't surprised at the final result. Eyes Wide Shut is essentially a detached examination of jealousy and the dangers inherent in giving in to your sexual impulses in modern society. It is examined through the eyes of an upper-class WASP couple, Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) and his wife, Alice (Kidman). Her name is a clue that much of the movie takes place in a languid dreamlike wonderland after Dr. Bill falls through the jealousy rabbit-hole. The world is one in which Dr. Bill can ask for a beer at a bar, and doesn't have to specify the brand. He can show his medical license and get instant access to some of the most exclusive information. Dr. Bill learns valuable lessons as he is repeatedly confronted with moral tests in this realm: Don't get involved with your patients (Marie Richardson) or you might end up with an unstable stalker. Don't have sex with a hooker (Vinessa Shaw) or you might fall prey to AIDS. Don't get involved with a minor (Leelee Sobieski) or you might be taken advantage of by her pimp (Rade Serbedzija). Don't visit a strange ritualistic costume party or you endanger the life of a call girl (Julienne Davis) trying to save your life.

In the theatrical release, there was plenty of nudity, not much sex, and the sex that did appear in the film was conveniently blocked by digital images of onlookers to preserve the story and allow the film to play in American theaters. The music in the film is beautiful and foreboding. The cinematography is impeccable. Sydney Pollack's performance as Dr. Bill's friend, Victor, is exemplary, especially considering the film was originally shot with Harvey Keitel in the role, before being replaced after he couldn't return for reshoots. And Nicole Kidman is stunning as the coy Alice who, consciously or not, uses jealousy to manipulate her husband.

The DVD has been improved by the fact that it is the first release of the film in widescreen. The images are presented beautifully as Kubrick intended. The DVD does contain a few interesting documentaries on Kubrick, and how this was to be his final film. You gain great insight into the family man he was. And theirs an interesting survey of his unproduced film ideas. Interviews with Cruise, Kidman, and Steven Spielberg are holdovers from the last DVD version of the film. While reverential, these interviews do capture the filmmaker's sensibility.

Most importantly, nine years later, the DVD allows for a fresh viewing. There is no marketing to mislead one into thinking this is a sex romp. The digital images used to censor the film have been eliminated to display Kubrick's intended shots. And the film now seems almost quaint. The lesson that Dr. Bill learns that marriage may be less exciting but at least it is safe, seems trite. The sexual peccadilloes he gets involved in seem naive, especially considering the setpieces are being proposed by a reclusive, happily-married, and elderly film director who lives on an estate in England.

What was once one of the film's selling points has now become one of its liabilities. Tom Cruise's performance seems flat and false. His line readings feel fake. Much of this may be attributed to the backlash he is now contending with in his career and personal life. It is hard to accept the couple in the film will work things out when we know that in life they broke up. The image of Cruise as a doctor is ironic given his outlandish medical claims in regards to the pitfalls of pharmaceuticals and psychological treatment he has discussed in the press recently.

This film should be revisited in the future to see if this assessment of Cruise still holds up if the spotlight on the actor's personal life ever dims.

This entry first appeared on Blogcritics on 4/23/2008.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Movie Trailer: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

by Tony Dayoub

Click on the picture above for the newest trailer for this sequel. The first Hellboy was directed by Guillermo Del Toro before his big art-house hit, Pan's Labyrinth.

Now, with the contract being all but final for him to direct The Hobbit, it will be interesting to see if this sequel becomes a sleeper hit.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Movie Trailer: The Spirit

by Tony Dayoub

Click on the picture above for the trailer to the latest comics-to-film adaptation, this one based on Will Eisner's classic landmark hero, and directed by comics great Frank Miller (Sin City, 300).

It's so hot right now, the best I could do was link to this YouTube capture, but I'll update it when I can get a direct link to the official one.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

UPDATED: The picture now links directly to the trailer on the official website. Enjoy.

Friday, April 18, 2008

An Apology, an Announcement and Something Pretty Funny...

by Tony Dayoub

I apologize for a relatively slow week here at the site. I've been working on a myspace page to promote the site. We'll hopefully be on Facebook soon. Here's what I've got so far. Go check it out, and leave any comments on any improvements you'd like to see.

Secondly, I've been working overtime to get ready for my trip to New York where I'll be covering the Tribeca Film Festival.I'll be there from 4/29 - 5/3 covering an interesting mix of films which include restorations, documentaries, Latino-themed films, and the World Premiere of a summer blockbuster. Here's the list:

Night Tide
Toby Dammit
Once Upon a Time in the West
Idiots and Angels
Celia the Queen
Paraíso Travel
Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon
President to Remember: In the Company of John F. Kennedy
Lou Reed's Berlin
Ball Don't Lie
Speed Racer

The coverage will probably take the form of dispatches with some more in-depth reviews, and more surprises. My aim is to give you as much of a festival experience as I can. Keep up to date on the festival with the Tribeca/Cadillac widget on this page's sidebar. And keep up to date on my coverage here!

Lastly, the great guys at The Digital Bits have a great post up today. It's about director Uwe Boll, and I'll quote them:

First, a little set-up: Doogan sent me this statement to post the other day, and for some reason it just didn't register on my radar screen. I don't know, my head just wasn't in the game or something. But here's what he sent: "So, our good buddy Lance over at Filmdrunk is known the world over for his velvety smooth writing style, and he's quite possibly the single most badass film critic director Uwe Boll considered way too badass to fight when Boll was challenging film critics to box him a while back. Well, today Lance posted a video comment from the good Dr. Boll himself about the Anti-Boll petition going around the Internet tubes of late. Boll’s apparently not a fan of one-sided fist fights and calls for a Pro-Boll petition. Much like Lance, we wholeheartedly endorse this PRO-BOLL Petition and urge you all to sign your name with ours. Yeah, Boll may be a hack, but he deserves the right to make movies for stoners, drop outs and the elderly – just like everyone else. So click here and join the fight. And tell your friends – we need a million names!"

Okay, so that's what Doogan sends me, right? And I'm all like... WTF?! "Yeah, I'll get it up in the next day or so." And he's thinking it's just gonna get recycle binned and that's that. Now... Doogan is no particular fan of Uwe Boll that I know of. And I think Jahnke's actually laid his life on the line in a review of two of Boll's films on DVD. I can't say I've been much of a fan of the guy either... at least, that is, until I saw the following. It seems that in response to the Anti-Boll petition, which at this point has something like 200,000 signatures, Uwe has posted another video in which he claims to have investigated the petition and discovered that most of the people who signed it are really just Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay, signing it repeatedly under different false identities. Seriously, I'm not kidding. It's priceless. Boll then proceeds to critique a short film made by some of the people who started the Anti-Boll petition ("Internet nerds"), and... well, you just need to see his comments for yourself. Suffice it to say, after having enjoyed a few good giggles over it all, I am now firmly an Uwe fan. This is just self-promotion at its finest. Did we mention Boll has a movie debuting in a few weeks on the same day as Indy 4? He does. So everybody go watch his first video, then his second one, and after you stop laughing go sign the Pro-Boll petition. Doogan, what can I say? When you're right, you're right. Priceless.

Gotta love these guys. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Depp and Burton's Finest Collaboration Yet

by Tony Dayoub

Johnny Depp stars in his sixth movie for director Tim Burton, as the titular Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. His other films with Burton include Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When surveying Burton's work it is evident that his collaborations with Depp are often his most artistically successful ventures. Sweeney Todd, a musical, is no different. It is a fine addition to Burton's oeuvre. And there is no doubt that Depp gets the childlike sensibility that his director is seeking.

In Todd , Benjamin Barker, once a promising young barber with a wife and daughter, was sent to prison unjustly by evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Though he was an innocent, Turpin had designs on stealing Barker's family for his own. Apparently, Barker's wife died while he was away. Now, the insidious Turpin seeks to make Barker's daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) his young bride. Returning from prison in the guise of Sweeney Todd, he seeks revenge on Turpin - and London society, for their complicity in sending him to prison. Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a local pie-maker, conspires with Todd in his quest for revenge, selling pies made out of all the victims of Todd's chair.

Sweeney Todd is a master barber, of course... the better to lure his prey into the chair. Like Todd, Depp's characters in Burton's films are frequently childlike outcasts with some distinctive talent. The eponymous Ed Wood is a second-rate film director that nonetheless has the ability to bring all sorts of freaks and misfits together to turn his vision into a film. Willy Wonka is adept at his work as a chocolatier. Edward Scissorhands can style hair AND shrubbery with ease. It is easy to see why the odd-looking Burton may identify with his protagonists as portrayed by Depp.

Perhaps the most obvious component of Depp's characters that resemble Burton is their appearance. Burton's sullen demeanor, wild hair, pallor, and dark-pitted eyes are depicted in most of Depp's personifications. Sleepy Hollow's Ichabod Crane is pale, while Willy Wonka is so white he's blue. Edward Scissorhands has an exaggerated reimagination of all of the director's physical characteristics. And Sweeney Todd, his shock of gray hair notwithstanding, is an idealized version of Burton himself... gothically handsome, but still wild-haired, pale, and sullen with sunken eyes.

Each of Depp's performances bear a resemblance to Burton in a much more important way than in their physical traits. Each is a stunted man-child delineated much more clearly by Depp than any of Burton's other alter egos. Ewan McGregor in Big Fish is obviously immature, but we don't get the tilted Burton sensibility in his portrayal. His performance has more in common with those of any number of film characters nostalgically reliving their pasts through tall tales like Terry Gilliam's Baron Munchausen. Michael Keaton, who has played Beetlejuice and Batman for Burton, has a darker more cynical take on Burton's protagonists. His performances eliminate Depp's capacity for childlike expressiveness so evident in Depp's eyes. Keaton's Beetlejuice is a hard-living (or unliving, as the case may be) wisecracker. Keaton's Batman is about stoic non-expressiveness. His Bruce Wayne died when he was a child leaving only the vigilante Batman. Even Depp's murderous Todd still uses the bitterness only to mask the wounded child within. We finally get a glimpse of that child at the end of the film, when he realizes the futility of his revenge, and let's his defenses down in defeat.

Sweeney Todd is a high point in Depp and Burton's collaboration. The DVD has a wealth of special features about the film, Stephen Sondheim's stage musical, and even the urban myth from which Todd is historically derived. I highly recommend it.

Still provided courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

DVD Review: Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem - Once Interesting Franchises Lose Steam in Flawed Misfire

by Tony Dayoub

Both the Alien and Predator franchises had a reputation for spotlighting the work of some of cinema's most promising directors. Here's the list:

Alien - Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner)
Aliens - James Cameron (Titanic, The Terminator)
Alien³ - David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en)
Alien: Resurrection - Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, The City of Lost Children)

Predator - John McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October)
Predator 2 - Stephen Hopkins (24 Season 1, The Ghost and the Darkness)

Predator 2 showed us an Alien skull in the Predator's trophy room. This led to a series of graphic novels that combined the mythos of both characters. They were popular and demonstrated how viable the idea was. So I was hoping that combining these two franchises on film (still a good idea) wouldn't necessarily end the trend. The first Aliens vs. Predator directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil) was not great, but it had some interesting ideas to build on. But the newest flick Aliens vs Predator - Requiem proves to be beyond the capabilities of the Brothers Strause in their feature film debut.

As set up in the last feature, the Predators, intelligent space-hunters, use Earth to hunt the Aliens. In that film, it's discovered that the Predators set up our civilizations by introducing their technology, in return leading to pyramids built in their honor. Humans would sacrifice themselves to breed Aliens that would provide the intergalactic hunters with their prey. However, if the Aliens proved to be too much to handle, the Predators would nuke the area to prevent infestation. Nifty idea for explaining how some of these civilizations just seemed to disappear, right?

As Requiem begins, an Alien chestburster pops out of a Predator from the last film. It grows up to be a Predalien. This one ends up in a small town in Colorado, killing the townspeople as it uses them as breeding stock, with a Predator not too far behind to clean up the mess. We get to know some of the townspeople, but not well enough for them to make a lasting impression. And that's a big problem, because if you don't identify with these victims, how can you truly be scared?

The Brothers Strause, owners of a famous visual effects house called Hydraulx, have got the blood and gore part down well. But I go to horror movies to be scared, not disgusted. When you have the disgusted part without the scared... well, what's the point? The directors fall into the trap that most novices from the vfx and gaming world fall into when making the transition to cinema. They feel they must take on the challenge of topping the last film by concentrating on the effects and gore, and not the story. For example, is it really necessary to show an alien burst through the chest of an 8-year-old boy? Or how about the Predalien (a creature which, in and of itself, is a bit over the top) stalking through the maternity ward in a hospital as babies cry in the foreground? Had enough yet? No? How about the Predalien impregnating an already pregnant woman in said maternity ward with baby Aliens? These cheap scares provide the filmmakers with some challenging visuals, but they are stomach-turning more than frightening.

And it's too bad, because they had the elements to make this one a little more relevant than previous ones. Setting it up in a small town was a winning idea. But it would be more effective if one actually got involved with the characters, like in Frank Darabont's recent The Mist. They have the beginnings of some nice subplots involving a couple of very good actors. Reiko Aylesworth (24) as a soldier returning from Iraq has some nice interaction with her young daughter (Ariel Gade), now distant because of their time apart. And the great John Ortiz (Carlito's Way) plays the town sheriff, so eager to overcome the stigma of his juvenile delinquency that he will lead his people into oblivion for fear of doing the wrong thing. Sounds great, but the Strauses spend about as much time exploring these avenues as it took you to read those sentences.

I'm sure we'll see a sequel to this film at some point. It's too valuable a pair of franchises for Fox to leave languishing on the shelf. But hopefully they will go back to using these films as a training ground for strong directors, rather than as a reward to a successful visual effects house and their founders.

Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem, is available today on single disc (rated and unrated) and two-disc (unrated) standard DVD, and Blu-ray.

Still provided courtesy of Fox Home Entertainment.