For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
You asked for it, you got it. And you have no one to blame but yourself. Birdemic 2 is every bit as incompetent as its big bro, and then some: blurred images, sound dropouts, repeated establishing shots, public high-fives and leaden dialogue (“I don’t know about the movie business, but I know how to read”).
The difference is that this time, self-delusional writer/director James Nguyen seems to be in on the joke, if only a little.
Available now on demand and download through Chill.com, this continuing chapter brings back the zero-chemistry couple of Rod (Alan Bagh) and Nathalie (Whitney Moore), but pairs them with another dense twosome, Bill (Thomas Favaloro) and Gloria (Chelsea Turnbo). Bill is an indie filmmaker looking to get his next project off the ground — Sunset Dreams; do not take a drink each time you hear it, lest you die of alcohol poisoning — and Rod has just the software riches to put up the $1 million needed.
Then the killer birds, crudely animated as ever, suddenly show up to swoop down and slaughter, this time accompanied by red rain; warns a sullen newscaster, “Have umbrellas handy.” In one scene, the birds invade the shooting of a movie with three topless women, so that’s new.
There’s also a “giant jumbo jellyfish” attack for no discernible reason, which is now Nguyen’s modus operandi. That accounts for the (adequately) unexplained rise of zombies in the back half, not to mention the abrupt ending that resolves nothing, thus paving the way for Birdemic 3D, one assumes. Should you watch this sequel as recommended — with a group of friends, preferably drinking — you’ll want that trilogy to come to fruition.
What keeps Birdemic 2 from reaching the first film’s level of fun is Nguyen’s penchant for treating this go-round like a greatest-hits reel. He’s forever calling back to the midnight-movie sensation with cameos from all the characters you laughed at the first time and whom they shouldn't logically come across this time: the steely eyed, oddly bewigged Tree Hugger (Stephen Gustavson), now with a wife (former Playboy Playmate Carrie Stevens); the scientist who specializes in meaningless exposition (Rick Camp); and — brace yourself — nightclub singer Damien Carter, still hangin’ out and havin’ himself a party with wretched dance tunes.
Moore seems barely able to keep her smirk in check at the craziness of it all, while her three co-stars appear clueless as ever. You’ll be right along with her. —Rod Lott