Christmas Icetastrophe (2014)

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What a great name! Despite the two words not really fitting together, SyFy went ahead anyway and the “icetastrophe” was born. The difference between this and yesterday’s “Flying Monkeys” is night and day – while they both had some of the same beats and were obviously SyFy movies, “Flying Monkeys” was dull and dragged on. “Christmas Icetastrophe” is way more fun to watch, the effects feel better and it’s overall one of the strongest SyFy efforts yet. It’s also got perhaps the highest level of “That Guy” recognition of anything we’ve seen in a long time.

 

A meteor is the equilibrium-spoiler of choice here. Hot scientist Alex Novak (Jennifer Spence, “Continuum”) is tracking a meteor, bound for Earth, and this journey takes her to a small town in Montana. That small town is home to Hunky McMancop himself, Victor Webster (also “Continuum”) as Charlie Ratchet, who knows about dynamite and works for town wealthy guy Ben Crooge (Mike Dopud, “Continuum” again). Charlie has a son, Tim (Richard Harmon, “Continuum”) who’s dating Ben’s daughter Marley (Tiera Skovbye, who amazingly hasn’t ever been in “Continuum”), and they’re all there in the town square to celebrate something Christmassy when the meteor strikes.

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So, everything starts turning to ice, and the meteor forms massive crystals around it which kill anyone who touches it and causes them to shatter like the T-1000 in “Terminator 2”, and the town is in deep trouble. Charlie’s got the classic SyFy trope – the estranged wife – and she’s in the next town over, so there’s all sorts of shenanigans with evacuating the people to the unspecified building she works in, and them burning every bit of wood and all the books there. Charlie rescues Alex from the side of the road, and it’s the first of a number of “we need to outrun the encroaching ice” that the movie is dotted with. Pretty exciting too – they do a good job of shooting the scene where they have to get into a boat to go across a lake, as it’s freezing behind them. Don’t look too close or you’ll see the pleasant spring afternoon off in the distance, but for SyFy this stuff is strong.

 

When a rescue helicopter finds a mysterious patch of mountain which is untouched by the ice-storm which is sweeping the area, it’s on for an attempt to save the day and use good old fashioned heroism combined with puzzling leaps of logic only used by scientists in movies. Alex and Charlie make a great team, with an easy camaraderie and deferment to each others’ area of expertise, and it’s also refreshing to see no unnecessary sexual tension subplot – a bit surprising as Victor Webster and Jennifer Spence are both gorgeous (we don’t call him Hunky McMancop for nothing). Then Tim has to go and rescue Marley…it’s standard stuff, but it works.

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It’s tough to say why this one works completely whereas so many others fail. It’s not the director, Jonathan Winfrey, who was an undistinguished TV guy for many years. It’s probably not writer David Sanderson, a SyFy employee who’s worked on many of their movies, both good and bad. I think it might be a cast full of people who’d worked with each other before, and it might just be that “The Day After Tomorrow” was ripe for a cheap ripoff with a bunch of TV actors in it. Who knows?

 

Perhaps it’s the well-timed gags. When a redneck stuck on a bridge tells a teen couple to “chill”, then half a second later gets vaporised by a huge block of ice landing on him, that’s a lot of fun (I hope this isn’t just me being some demented monster, getting enjoyment from scenes like that). Webster and Spence are more dryly amusing than laugh-out-loud, but it’s all good.

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It’s not perfect, though. The estranged wife subplot was dull as hell, as they didn’t bother giving her much of a personality or anything to do; and there was a whole rich kid hates the poor kid thing that went nowhere. Oh, and the science was absolutely terrible, being about two parts of a meteor, one of which creates heat, the other cold (heck of a coincidence, I’d have thought), and attributing simple fire an almost supernatural ability to repel ice.

 

I’d put it solidly in the top quarter of SyFy’s output, and if you get the chance, it comes highly recommended.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

CHRISTMAS ICETASTROPHE -- Pictured: (l-r) Victor Webster as Charlie Ratchet, Jennifer Spence as Alex Novak, Mike Dopud as Ben Crooge -- (Photo by: Cinetel Films)

CHRISTMAS ICETASTROPHE — Pictured: (l-r) Victor Webster as Charlie Ratchet, Jennifer Spence as Alex Novak, Mike Dopud as Ben Crooge — (Photo by: Cinetel Films)

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Sands of Oblivion (2007)

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You don’t get many SyFy Channel movies that accurately predict the future (in fact, I’m pretty sure this is the only one). In 1923, Cecil B DeMille filmed “The Ten Commandments” in the sand dunes of Guadalupe, California – afterwards, so the popular myth goes, he blew up the fantastically elaborate sets for reasons unknown. This film shows an archaeological dig at the site; in 2012, there was an actual dig there which recovered, among other things, one of the Sphynxes DeMille had built, showing it hadn’t been destroyed at all, just covered by the endlessly shifting dunes.

This film tweaks the real history a little and makes a story out of it, and it’s a minor work of genius – DeMille was actually an expert on Egypt, and used a large number of real “Middle Kingdom” artefacts in the movie. One of them housed the soul of Im-La-Ra, evil god Seth’s right hand man, but he didn’t know which one, so when Im-La-Ra started killing people, DeMille created a burial chamber for the items, covered the walls with real Egyptian magic spells, and left the lot under the sand.

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After brief segments in ancient Egypt and 1923, we’re back in the present day, where two groups of people are trying to dig up the set – one, John and his grandson Mark (George Kennedy and Victor Webster); the other, a huge dig supervised by Dr Alice Carter (Morena Baccarin). John was a kid on the set of the movie and wants to retrieve the amulet he buried in a time capsule; and Alice…well, she’s presumably there for the same reason the real people excavated it in 2012 (in other words, I have no idea and the movie doesn’t tell us). Alice’s estranged husband Jesse, a famous archaeologist, then shows up to try and win her back or something. Jesse is human garbage Adam Baldwin, the Tea Party-supporting, “Obama is a socialist terrorist” believing, Gamergate initiating moron. I’ll see if I can think up any more insults for him as we go along.

Naturally, Im-La-Ra is freed via the amulet that John buried all those years ago, people start dying and they need to excavate quickly, as the entire area will be under water in a few days (I didn’t quite grasp that bit either). John dies and Mark, a former Army logistics guy, goes to work for Alice helping her dismantle and move the set.

Shoot him!

Shoot him!

From that, director David Flores (who also did “Invasion Roswell“, which we liked) spins a really exciting story! It’s full of strong performances, especially Baccarin and Webster; but even the man who thinks women who get threatened with rape on the internet should stop crying about it, Adam Baldwin, plays his part well. The bit-part characters do a great job – Jennifer Aniston’s dad pops up to brain Mark with the real Maltese falcon; but our favourite is Buford, a redneck friend of Mark’s from the army, who they go to for military supplies. He’s funny, and has a whole believable home life sketched out in about 20 seconds. And we’ve not even talked about the Sheriff’s amazing haircut.

Most importantly, the idea of the movie is clever, at least partly because any problems with their sets can be explained away by them being old, sand-worn, and from the 1920s, and because it’s a really interesting spin on a bit of old Hollywood legend. In fact, the whole 1923 segment is great, with Dan Castellaneta as DeMille and Richard Kind as his main investor, both clearly having fun. The monster looks good, all bits of rotting flesh and cloth, there’s plenty of incident and…I’ll give this one to you, SyFy Channel. An absolute unqualified success, right up there with the best movies you’ve ever done.

Rating: thumbs up

Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators (2013)

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The SyFy Channel keeps making em, and I’m a pretty lazy reviewer, so this relationship between us could continue for ever. They’re weirdly schizophrenic, these films – are we supposed to accept them as low-budget action / thriller films, or as wink-wink comedies where we’re all laughing along together? They tend to fall somewhere between the two stools, but how did “Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators” fare?

First and foremost, the accents in this film suck. It’s set somewhere in the Louisiana bayou, so there’s lots of that Cajun accent (it’s not just a clever title). But there’s also a lot of “stereotypical redneck” and a few big-city accents too. If I can spot your bad accents, then you know they’re bad. Two of the people who don’t even really try accents are Jordan Hinson (the daughter from SyFy show “Eureka”), playing returning-from-college Avery Doucette, and Victor Webster (the star of “Mutant X” and Hunky McMancop from “Continuum”) although, to be fair, he does have the excuse of playing a Steve Irwin type in this film and not being from the area.

This film is about two feuding families, the Doucettes and the Robichauds. Avery, despite having been away at college for four years and never popping home for a visit, immediately resumes her relationship with Dathan Robichaud, and this causes all sorts of shenanigans. The Robichauds are making moonshine, which, because of a new chemical they’re using in the process, is blue (a bit of a reference to the amazing “Breaking Bad” and its blue meth, I think). They also really suck at making it, because they’re forever tipping their spoiled batches into the bayou, and wouldn’t you just know it? The moonshine is causing the alligators to mutate.

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As well as literally having red necks, they can fire one of the “quills” from their tail and are bigger than the average. Their bite also has an unusual effect on anyone who survives it…

Too many of the characters just don’t seem like remotely real people, they seem like employees of the “Redneck Theme Park”. The patriarch of the Doucette clan talks entirely in old-timey sayings; one of the Robichaud boys is a toothless grinning moron who carries a banjo (!); and the rest of them aren’t much better. It’s not so much lazy stereotyping, as lazy, pointless, moderately offensive stereotyping.

The female sheriff puts gender equality back a few decades when she panics in absolutely ludicrous fashion when confronted by a redneck gator – even if it’s really big, you’d have to assume she’d have seen big alligators before, and one of the people we’re sort-of supposed to be cheering on throws a dog to a gator to give them the chance to run away (this was the moment my wife went from indifference to hatred of this film).

The only moderately worthwhile bit of the film is Victor Webster’s introduction as “The Gator Whisperer”. He’s part Steve Irwin, part every character who’s ever been on “Duck Dynasty” or one of the other bayou-based reality shows that are all over US TV at the moment. I’ve never thought of him as an amazing actor, but he shows everyone else in the cast up comfortably, and makes his character’s relatively brief screen time count.

The computer programme the filmmakers used clearly only had one template for gator, as every single one of them in this film looked exactly identical. I didn’t come into the film expecting mega-CGI, but even so, they could have tried a bit harder. Towards the end, one of the characters goes “When I wake up, I want none of this to be true” to which I replied sadly, “me too, mate, me too”.

Anyway, this film commits the cardinal sin of cheap monster movies – it’s boring. Twists are signposted a mile away, the ending is pathetic, the acting is mostly garbage and the central romance is unbelievable, goes nowhere and just drags the film out.

There’s no reason why films like this have to be boring, though. SyFy Channel clearly have a business model that works, where you have a wacky title, and the advertisers buy enough space for them to make a bit of a profit (plus DVD sales for any hits like “Sharknado”). They could be operating a system like Roger Corman did in the 60s and 70s, where he gave all sorts of new directors and writers the chance to do pretty much whatever they wanted, budget notwithstanding. The people funding these films clearly don’t give two hoots whether the films are any good or not, so why not give the filmmakers the chance to make something genuinely interesting? Instead, we get instalment 735 in the “boring SyFy Channel movie” series, slow, dull, barely worth my effort to review and absolutely not worth your effort to watch.

LIterally the only reason this film got made

LIterally the only reason this film got made