Month: January 2012

Altitude

2010

Darclight Films

Directed by Kaare Andrews

Produced by Ian Birkett

Written by Paul A. Birkett

 For the longest time I have believed that “Cursed” the werewolf movie starring Christina Ricci and Joshua Jackson was the worst movie I have ever seen.  Prior to that, the champ was “The Blue Lagoon “starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins.

Well, not that I was looking for it but I’ve found one worse than the both of them. All hail the new champion: ALTITUDE.

Five friends board a light aircraft, looking forward to a weekend of partying.  The pilot is Sara (Jessica Lowndes) who has recently got her license.  Within five minutes we know that she’s The Level Headed One.  Her boyfriend Bruce should have a sign on him that reads The Character With The Big Secret That Explains Everything since he’s so twitchy right from the first minute we see him that there’s no surprise later on when he does turn out to have The Big Secret That Explains Everything.  Mel (Julianna Guill) is an aspiring filmmaker who has the annoying habit of sticking her camera in everybody’s face.  Since Sara has claimed The Level Headed One title, this means that Mel is designated The One Who Comes Unglued When Things Go Wrong by default.  Sal (Jake Weary) is The Obligatory Dickhead while Cory (Ryan Donowho) is The Rock Steady Heroic Type.

Due to a freak accident, the plane flies into a storm, climbing higher and higher because the elevator mechanism that controls altitude is jammed.  What’s even worse is that Sara stupidly took off with the gas tank half full and the plane will run out of fuel in an hour.  First thing Sara suggests is that they throw everything out of the plane to lighten it and thus make the gas last longer and the second thing she suggests is that somebody climb out on the outside of the plane while they’re flying at top speed through a storm at twenty-four thousand feet to manually unjam the elevator mechanism.

I did tell you that Sara was The Level Headed One, right?  Right.  On we go.

It’s Cory who goes outside as he argues that his free rock climbing experience makes him the logical choice.  Beats the hell out of me how weekend rock climbing qualifies him to even attempt such a thing but hey, I didn’t write this brain dead mess.  The expected happens and Cory is lost.  But not before the others see what looks to be a huge, tentacled monster in the storm, following them.

Now here’s my beef with ALTITUDE: I dig the idea of a Lovecraftian monster living in the storm and terrorizing the plane.  But I also dig the idea of these four remaining people trapped in the plane turning on each other, becoming more paranoid and freaked out.  The problem with ALTITUDE is that it can’t make up its mind which movie it wants to be.  So it tries to be both and as a result, ends up being neither as it resorts to a final “surprise ending” to explain everything that even M. Night Shyamalan wouldn’t have dared try pulling off.

What can I say good about the movie?  I did actually like how inventive the cinematographer was in filming the actors inside such a confined space as 90% of ALTITUDE takes place inside a small passenger plane.  Even though there’s not much space to work with, I never felt as if I were looking at the same shot over and over again.  I did like Jessica Lowndes and admired her ability to sell her character and quite frankly, she’s the reason I hung in there with the movie until the end.  An ending that quite honestly left me sitting there with my mouth open as I could not believe what happened in the last fifteen minutes of the movie.

If you’re at all curious to see ALTITUDE, it’s on you.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

90 minutes

Rated R

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol

2011

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

Produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk

Written by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum

Based on the television series “Mission: Impossible” created by Bruce Geller

Unlike a lot of people I really don’t have anything against the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film series.  The major argument people always throw at me is that it’s not the TV series.  Well, of course it’s not.  The only way to make it faithful to the TV series would be to get together a group of little known, semi-retired or B/C list actors in an ensemble piece.  Once I heard that Tom Cruise was going to be starring in the first one, I knew it was going to be his movie all the way.

And to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that.  America needs her own world-saving superspy and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has been doing a respectable job in the four movies to date.  I liked “Mission: Impossible” directed by Brian DePalma even though I think it deplorable what they did to the Jim Phelps character.   The second one was a let-down.  If it had been any other director, it would have been a home run but I was expecting more from John Woo.  Not that “Mission: Impossible II” was a bad movie.  It was my own fault for having such high expectations.  “Mission: Impossible III” was just okay.  Again, not that it was a bad movie and I enjoyed seeing Seymour Philip Hoffman play a bad guy as much as he appeared to be enjoying it.  But ten minutes after seeing that movie, I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was about.

But I’m glad to be able to say that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL knocks it out of the park.  For me it’s the most satisfying and exciting of the four.  Wonderful globetrotting locations, great action, phenomenal stunts and engaging characters tied into a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cold War era James Bond movie adds up to an entertaining package.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is broken out of a Moscow prison by IMF agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) who need him to infiltrate The Kremlin.  Carter, Dunn and another agent, Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) were working a mission involving the interception of a courier working for a shadow agent codenamed Cobalt.  Hanaway was killed during the mission and now Jane and Benji need Ethan as a replacement to complete the mission.

The mission turns out to be a colossal set-up.  The Kremlin is blown up with Ethan and his team implicated.  The President of The United States invokes The Ghost Protocol which disavows the entire Impossible Mission Force.  Ethan and his team, along with intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are considered to be rogue agents.  Despite their having no backup at all, the four elect to pursue Cobalt and clear the IMF force.  It’s during their investigation they learn that Cobalt actually is Kurt Hendricks, a nuclear strategist who believes that nuclear war is necessary for human evolution.  He used the Kremlin bombing as a cover for his theft of a nuclear launch code device and framed the IMF so that he’d be in the clear.  From then on it’s a race against time as Ethan and his team has to stop Cobalt starting World War III.

I really enjoyed how the team aspect of the Mission: Impossible concept was used in this one.  It comes the closest to being faithful to the teamwork in the TV show as everybody on Ethan’s team is essential to the success of the mission and has their role to play.  If one person drops the ball, the mission is screwed.  Add to that the fact that Ethan has never worked with them before.  He’s in a situation where he has to trust them and get them to mesh together as a smoothly functioning machine.  In the previous three movies we’re constantly told what a great team leader Ethan Hunt is but this is the first time that we actually see him working at it.

The movie also has something the previous three didn’t have: some much needed humor thanks to Simon Pegg.  Thankfully, he doesn’t overdo the comedy relief.  He does just enough to enable us to laugh and relax a bit.  Especially during some of the exhilarating and truly harrowing action sequences such as the climbing of the Burj Khalifa tower.  If you have any kind of fear of heights at all, this scene will definitely leave you with no fingernails as I can guarantee you’ll chew them all off while watching.

The story takes some really clever twists and turns and there are resolutions to the sub-plots I honestly didn’t see coming, most notably the sub-plot involving the Jeremy Renner character.  And I loved the opening credits which pays homage to the opening credits of the TV show.

So should you see MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL?  If you’ve seen the first three then you probably already have.  If you’ve never seen any the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films then this is a good one to start with.  You don’t have to worry about not having seen the first three to understand this as the writers and director get you up to speed on everything you need to know.  And with this movie, Brad Bird, who has done animated features such as “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” shows that he’s an action director to watch.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL is a terrific action picture.  Go watch and enjoy.

133 minutes

PG-13

Ganja & Hess

GANJA & HESS

1973

Kelly/Jordan Enterprises

Directed and Written by Bill Gunn

Produced by Chiz Schultz

If you’ve been reading my reviews here at The Ferguson Theater or listening to me pontificate over at Better In The Dark then you know full well that one of my particular bugaboos is how African-Americans are so poorly represented in horror movies.  Despite its reputation as a ground breaking horror movie that has a black man as the lead character, I can’t get behind the original “Night of The Living Dead” on that basis.  Oh, it’s a superior horror movie, I don’t dispute that.  But every decision Ben (Duane Jones) makes gets somebody killed.  Ironically, he survives the night by doing exactly what another character suggested at the beginning of the movie: he goes into the basement and stays quiet.  Earlier on, Ben had rejected that plan and insisted everybody stay upstairs while he nails all the windows and doors shut, keeping every light in the joint burning like its New Year’s Eve.  Naturally, every zombie for miles is attracted to the light and noise.  You know the rest.

When it comes to blacks in horror movies I always point to “The People Under The Stairs” and “Anaconda” in which not only does the brother (Ice Cube) live to see the end of the movie but a Latina as well (Jennifer Lopez).  Those two movies are superior examples of black leading characters in horror movies.  I’d also add the two “Blacula” movies, “The Omega Man” “The Beast Must Die” “Sugar Hill” (which is actually more of a superhero movie than horror) “J.D.’s Revenge”and “Candyman”

And then there’s GANJA & HESS.  It’s a vampire movie unlike any other vampire movie I’ve ever seen.  I’ve heard about this movie for years but it has been notoriously hard to find.  Once again I have to bow in respect to Turner Classic Movies and their Saturday night “Underground” as they have repeatedly come through in airing long forgotten movies I had given up all hope of seeing.  But hey, they aired “The Apple” and for that alone, they had me. They regularly show GANJA & HESS so keep an eye out for it there.

Duane Jones from “Night of The Living Dead” is starring in this one  He’s Dr. Hess Green, an archaeologist and geologist whose particular field of expertise is the ancient and long dead African civilization of Myrthia.  He’s breaking in a new assistant, George (Bill Gunn) who seems to be borderline manic depressive as he’s given to these long rambling stream-of-consciousness conversations that really aren’t conversations as he’s the only one talking.  Hess mainly smokes and listens to him in silence.  No doubt wondering if he shoulda checked out this cat a little more in depth before hiring him.  The camel that breaks the straw back is the night when Hess finds George sitting up in a tree, drinking wine and contemplating suicide.

That same night, George attacks Hess, stabbing him with a bone knife from Myrthia.  George kills himself afterwards but Hess amazingly has not died.  The bone knife has infected him with the curse of vampirism.  But it’s not the type of vampirism we’ve come to know from other movies.  Hess can be seen in mirrors.  He walks around quite comfortably in daylight and rather than shunning churches and the cross, he keeps crosses in his house, employs a minister as his chauffeur and actively professes his Christian beliefs.  But the bloodlust is there and to satisfy it, Hess is forced to steal from blood banks and prey on lower class street people.

The situation is complicated by the unexpected arrival of George’s wife, Ganja (Marlene Clark) who is broke and demands that Hess produce her husband so that he can give her the money he promised.  Instead, Hess offers her George’s accommodations in his palatial mansion.  It’s not long after that they begin a sexual relationship that develops into love and marriage.  It’s then that Hess decides to turn Ganja into a vampire like himself.  And that’s when things really start to get strange…

What sets GANJA & HESS apart from any other vampire movie for me is the clash of African blood rituals and American Christianity depicted.  Hess is plagued by visions of a Myrthian queen (Mabel King) but at the same time he is drawn toward Christianity as a means of curing himself or at least of saving his soul.  Ganja’s influence drives him in a new directly as she is motivated solely by material possessions.  It’s an amusing scene when she first meets Hess and assumes he’s a servant.  If and when you see the movie, observe how fast her attitude changes when she realizes that Hess is wealthy.  For her, wealth covers a whole lot of multitude of sins.  Even murder and vampirism.

But be advised that this is a movie shot on the cheap.  There obviously wasn’t much money to spend on this.  But that works in the movie’s favor as if has a gritty, realistic feel that adds to the horror, especially during one of the movie’s more powerful scenes where Hess kills and feeds on a whore and her pimp.

Marlene Clark walks off with the acting honors and well she should.  By the time she did GANJA & HESS she had already racked up numerous roles in blaxplotation films and TV shows.  What I like about her in this one is her naked lust for material wealth that in itself a form of vampirism.

So should you see GANJA & HESS?  Now that’s it’s also available on DVD I certainly think you should.  It is slow moving in spots and almost blatantly surrealistic at times.  But it’s a powerful exploration of the vampire that I found engaging and highly interesting and I’m betting you will, too.  Enjoy.

110 minutes

Rated R