Scarecrow (2013)

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Or, as I like to call it, “Selective Deafness: The Movie”. Even when they establish there’s a killer scarecrow-thing after them, characters seem completely unable to answer someone desperately shouting their name, in some cases jeopardising their own lives. Hey dum-dums! The scarecrow knows where you are anyway! You’re not fooling him by keeping quiet! You’re only doing it because it’s a stupid gimmick to generate suspense!

 

The ISCFC has a number of projects in various stages of completion. Our trip through the movies of The Asylum is done with forever, thanks to them being scum (and making absolutely terrible movies). We’ve got baseball and wrestling movie threads ongoing. We’ll be returning to ski-based comedies come the wintertime, and our “Endless Bummer” T&A comedy season will be coming back as soon as I can find another good one. But our grand project, the one we’ll never ever finish because there’s too damn many of them, is SyFy Channel original movies. Hats off to them for churning them out, and for occasionally hitting gold (“Dark Haul”, for example, is a genuinely brilliant film with an amazing central performance), and we’ll stick with em as long as they keep doing em.

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“Scarecrow” gives us two reasons to celebrate, right at the beginning. First up is the strong cast – ISCFC favourite Robin Dunne is the schoolteacher; his ex-girlfriend and local farm owner is Lacey Chabert, ex of “Party of Five”; and the kids in Dunne’s charge are all solid TV regulars (including Nicole Munoz from SyFy’s “Defiance”). And second is the fantastic scarecrow special effect! Credit where credit’s due, it’s one creepy looking thing, all made from tree roots – give that CGI guy a raise, SyFy.

 

The plot, unfortunately, isn’t so strong. For school detention, 6 kids get taken on a school bus to a “local” farm (although, too far away for anything like a phone signal) to dismantle a large scarecrow from last year’s local Scarecrow Festival to take to the middle of town, and re-assemble. They’re your average gang – the quiet one, the horny couple, the ticking time bomb (Beth, played by Brittney Wilson, top drawer stuff) – but no sense getting too attached to any of them, if you know what I mean. I mean, they’re all going to get slaughtered! At the same time, a couple who are friends with some of the detention kids go to the farm, and thanks to them falling through the floor of the barn, awake the scarecrow, buried there over a hundred years ago or something. Just putting it in the cellar of your barn seems like a pretty sucky way to do it, but what do I know?

 

Farm owner Kristen (Chabert) has come back to town to both sell the farm and try and rekindle her relationship with Aaron (Dunne) – but she’s also invited her other ex, Eddie, for reasons completely unknown. I mean, they explained it, but the explanation was so dumb that I immediately forgot it. It’s a fun idea to have the adults be in the cheesy love triangle with the kids around, but this movie isn’t for developing fun ideas – it’s about death!

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So the scarecrow stirs, and immediately goes after the humans, although it’s sort of hinted at that he really just wants Kristen, for some sort of family curse reason. Their vehicles are either parked unfortunately (seriously) or their engines won’t start, so they’re stranded, plus there’s a giant ship graveyard nearby. Kudos to whoever found that, because it’s an amazing place to film, even if it makes no sense to have it where it is. Anyway, at one point some of the characters walk all night and still don’t get to any other civilization – how far out of town is this farm?

 

As well as the previously mentioned selective deafness, which dooms more than one person, they’ve got the “let’s split up” disease. I’ve rarely wanted to reach through the screen and slap a set of characters more – if you have to resort to such cheap tactics to generate suspense, movie, you’re doing something wrong.

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It’s very much a film of two halves. All the technical stuff is strong as hell – great locations and special effects. The acting is good too, and the opening scene in the cornfield is a lot of fun. But that writing! I’m far from the smartest movie fan out there, and I could pick holes in this all day. A shame for sure. I’ll leave you with one last scene – they do, at one point, find another local farm and ask the farmer for help. He provides the backstory about the history of the scarecrow, but if you think about it for more than a second…how the hell does he know? And why is he living down the road from a place that has a supernatural scarecrow buried in its cellar? Move, you fool!

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Beyond Sherwood Forest (2009)

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I live about 25 miles from Sherwood Forest, and have visited the mythical “Major Oak” plenty of times. The only real benefit to me is being able to identify when they’re filming in some Eastern European fern-filled wood rather than Sherwood itself; but it’s fun to see what is, to me, a local legend, being told and re-told all over the world.

It’s also fun to see a SyFy Channel movie that is genuinely entertaining! I’m not sure of its provenance, as it was made by Starz Media (the boobs-and-swearing US cable channel), but it seems to have been made for SyFy. It’s got a cast that, for this channel, is like that of Ocean’s Eleven, and at least has a reason to spend most of its time filming in the woods unlike every other damn movie they show.

I don’t remember any origin stories for Robin Hood. He really just appears fully formed in the woods with his band of merry men, but “Beyond Sherwood Forest” puts an interesting twist on it , with Robin’s father being one of the old Sheriff of Nottingham’s deputies, killed by the other deputy (who becomes the villain we know and hate), as they find a mysterious woman in the woods who is seemingly immortal and invulnerable. The new Sheriff wants to kill Robin to tie up the loose ends, so he runs away, leaving his sort-of girlfriend (they’re pretty young) and as he wakes up from dreaming about all this, we see a few decades have passed and that kid is now the adult Robin Dunne.

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Dunne, or Replacement Pacey as we know him (thanks to him replacing Joshua “Pacey” Jackson in two different film franchises, as well as being in Dawson’s Creek too, way back), is an ISCFC favourite thanks to his roles in “Supercollider” and “Space Milkshake”; he is but one of the “big” names we see in this movie. Okay, none of them are likely to win an Oscar any time soon, but they’re overqualified for stuff like this – Erica Durance (Lois Lane in “Smallville”); Julian Sands; Katharine Isabelle; David Richmond-Peck (from “Orphan Black”); and Richard De Klerk (from the fascinating “Repeaters”), among other unnecessarily good actors.

Isabelle is Alina, and if you need a clue, she’s on the front cover of the DVD case at the top of the page. As well as getting a bit of the traditional Robin Hood story, where he and his friends rob from the rich and give to the poor, there’s a mysterious dark portal in the woods, and that leads to the other side of the story, which is certainly an original spin on the legend. Sands chews scenery with great pleasure, Dunne shows a gift for comedy he’d also use on TV show “Sanctuary” and is a great swashbuckling-type (he’s been working out, too, as he displays his ripped chest in one scene) and while the CGI is definitely ropey as hell, the cast looks like they’re having a good time swinging and firing arrows at things.

I want to point to one scene as an example of something that other films of this type just don’t do. Alina, betrayed by the Sheriff and captured, is sat tied up next to Marian (Durance). They don’t talk about how Robin will save them, or romance. While staying fully clothed throughout, they talk about their roles as women in the society of the time. It’s just a little bit, but it’s around the same time as a rather clever scene of two different characters in different locations giving the same backstory from different perspectives so it really elevates the movie.

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I think you’re going to enjoy this, should it be on the SyFy Channel one evening. This is definitely among the very best of their “original” movies, and while, okay, it’s got some flaws (the portal is never explained, and the CGI isn’t great), it’s also a genuinely entertaining story. The characters feel at least a bit realised (taking their dialogue and putting it in the mouth of another character wouldn’t really work, unlike so many other SyFy movies). In “huh, really?” news, this was directed by Peter DeLuise, who you may remember from “21 Jump Street” (and his brief appearance in the recent remake), “Stargate SG-1” and probably being a relation of the great Dom.

Rating: thumbs up

PS – Several of the negative reviews of this have focused on its messing with the legend. Hey, other reviewers! You know none of it’s true, right? He didn’t really exist (almost certainly) so whether they make a story with dragons (which also didn’t exist) or a very faintly based on fact Sheriff of Nottingham makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever.

Supercollider (2013)

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“Panic” films have been with us as long as people have seen a quick buck in convincing people that a normal upcoming event is something to be feared and protected against (at a cost). Every big event – moon landing, Y2K, that ridiculous Mayan Calendar nonsense – has been surrounded by entertainments that imagine what would happen if it all went wrong. And so it goes with “Supercollider”, which ties into the final activation of the Large Hadron Collider.

It’s Robin Dunne! We think he’s great (although we didnt much care for “Space Milkshake” either), and call him “the Replacement Pacey”, because since actually having a recurring role in “Dawson’s Creek”, he’s subbed in for Joshua Jackson in two different sequels – “The Skulls 2” and “Cruel Intentions 2” (whichy, okay, was a prequel, and he’s not playing a similar character, so sue us). He’s Victor Susskind, and he’s ready to flip the switch on his supercollider, funded by billionaire Leo Tarsky (Enzo Cilenti, a welcome return to English-people-are-villains). His wife and daughter arrange to meet him later at a pee-wee football match; and he also gets an email from a colleague with an ominous warning in it.

Now, I need to break away from the review almost immediately. The friend of Susskind’s is killed in a large plaza by a mystery assailant with a poison-tipped umbrella. He’s standing on his own, so the guy prods him and walks away – as he does so, the scientist starts stumbling around and then drops. If I was walking away from someone as they very obviously were in serious medical need, I’d think it would be pretty suspicious if I just kept on walking – plus, all it would take would be for one person to film me on their phone, and my perfect plan would be screwed. If they cared so little about being found out, why not just shoot him?

Anyway, back to the action. There’s a mysterious problem with the collider, which explodes, and we see everyone within a few miles of the place die. Odd beginning for a film, you might think, until Susskind wakes up in a filthy apartment with his friend outside offering him a ride to work…there’s some alternate-universe shenanigans going on here.

Breaking away again, the Joshua Jackson-starring “Fringe” (which Dunne’s own TV series “Sanctuary” could be seen as the poor man’s version of – another link!) dealt with the man in an alternate universe problem brilliantly, by having him keep his mouth shut and try to work things out. Dunne wanders about, all “what’s going on? Where am I? What’s this?” which lands him a lot of suspicious looks and a trip to the local therapist. In this reality, his wife is an alcoholic, his daughter is dead and the world has gone to the dogs, so it’s not surprising he’d a bit confused (I suppose), but he really ought to play it cool a little.

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When he finds his iPhone, and it appears to be from the other universe, to the extent of getting phone calls from his dead daughter on it, things get even more interesting, and the film then becomes him trying to dodge Leo Tarsky’s goons, figure out why there was a problem with the collider in the first place, save his wife, and hopefully restore the “real” universe. He mentions his own as the place where “at least the economy works”, which indicates either an extremely naive or fairly right-wing scriptwriter.

The first thing to say is, despite it not being an Asylum or SyFy Channel movie, it might as well be – there’s a small number of sets, Dunne is the only real name actor in the cast, and it’s safe to say they didn’t have tons of money to make this with. But they try and do interesting things with what they have – the dystopian alternate timeline looks suitably bleak, there’s a decent chase scene buried in there, and just the idea of it seems interesting in a sea of clones which would just stick in the one universe and have the father and daughter on opposite sides of the city, or something.

Without wanting to give this movie too much credit, it’s an interesting idea, and while there’ve been similar ideas before, this one feels like a fresh spin. The villain’s motivation seems a trifle over-the-top, but it’s not all that important in the grand scheme of things. If you can have a motivation be a MacGuffin, then that’s what this is. Dunne is excellent, as per usual, despite having to work with some pretty rough writing, and there’s not really any weak links in the acting stakes either. So, thumbs up for originality and cast, thumbs down for execution.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Space Milkshake (2012)

Ducked! Ahahahahahahaha

Ducked! Ahahahahahahaha

Sci-fi comedies have a long and glorious history, starting (to all intents and purposes) with “Dark Star” in 1973. With its crew of slackers and oddballs, it showed that space wasn’t all clean corridors and humanoid aliens, but dirty underwear, things breaking down and weird beachball-with-feet aliens. We fans of both genres are living in its debt, and the makers of this film are definitely doing so too.

Robin Dunne, Billy Boyd, Kristin Kreuk, and Amanda Tapping are our heroes, the crew of an orbiting sanitation station, sort of a rubbish bin / recycling centre for all the junk left in space. They keep the space lanes clear but they’re seen as no better than the garbage men of earth. Bog-standard incompetence and petty jobsworth-ness on their part leads to an unscheduled transport getting blown up, and it contains two things – a rubber duck and a blue glowing time cube (the deadliest machine in the universe, so we’re told). One quick beaming to an alternate universe later, the duck starts mutating, while still retaining the personality of Tapping’s ex-boyfriend (and the voice of George Takei), and a robot double of Kreuk’s beams on board, kills her and starts behaving very oddly.

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There’s little in life worse than an unfunny comedy, and sadly for way too much of its running time that’s what this is. These people are all awful to each other, with the exception of Dunne as he’s the new guy on the station, and that snark and unpleasantness is used in the place of jokes and funny situations. You can tell where the jokes are supposed to be, but unless you think unnecessary rudeness is hilarious then you’re not going to get a great deal.

There’s also a lack of care over the finer points of the film, which worries nerds such as I. People making monstrously large words in Scrabble is a pet peeve of mine (you only have seven tiles, dammit!) and when they make a big point of the computer voice having changed, there’s a scene where it’s changed back and no-one seems to notice. Still, in the history of movies very few people have ever said “I would have loved that hilarious film, except for a lack of verisimilitude when it comes to Scrabble” so ultimately it didn’t matter.

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Gives an unrealistic expectation of how much fun this film was

The acting is absolutely top-notch, as you’d expect from a cast such as this, full of TV and film veterans. Boyd pokes a little fun at his Lord of the Rings role, while suffering from a mild case of Small Man Syndrome; Kreuk does well with her two roles; and clearly Tapping and Dunne must have had fun working on TV show “Sanctuary” together for four years, as they’re both producers on this. All four of them are clearly capable of comedy, but I feel the problem isn’t them so much as the writing. And now I feel bad because it’s a low budget movie made with several Canadian tax benefit packages, and was filmed in a little over two weeks…but then “Dark Star” had a tenth the budget of this and was a classic.

I love that people are making more sci-fi movies now, and they’re trying to do different things with them. And this certainly isn’t a bad movie, but it’s just not quite good enough. I presume there’s a hilarious story behind the title, too, but I don’t care enough to find out what it is. Still, I’d be happy to watch this cast do something else together, and given it’s the director’s first movie, he may improve too.

Rating: thumbs down (sorry)

EXTRA: The film’s website is remarkably similar to the film, having lots of little games to play which look fun but are in fact sort of boring and pointless.