TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)

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GHOSTS OF MARS (2001)

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Ghosts of Mars was John Carpenter’s last film before he took an almost decade long break from filmmaking. The movie takes place in the future where Earth is terraforming and colonizing Mars. A squad of police officers, including Lt. Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge), Sgt. Jericho Butler (Jason Statham) and Cmd. Helena Braddock (Pam Grier), are sent to a small mining outpost to collect career criminal James “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube), who is suspected of robbing a payroll delivery and brutally murdering six people. What they find, aside from a jailed Williams, is that an ancient evil has been released by the miners and has taken over the colonists and turned them into savage killers. Now trapped and outnumbered, they have to join forces with Williams, his criminal posse, and the other inmates, to survive.

Film is directed by Carpenter from a script by he and Larry Sulkis. Carpenter’s appreciation for British writer Nigel Kneale is evident here as Ghosts has elements of Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit (also known as Five Million Years to Earth) and Carpenter’s own Assault on Precinct 13. We have the spirit forms of an ancient Martian race of savage warriors released from their tomb and possessing individuals, turning them into savage blood-thirsty killers, who are determined to oust the human invaders. This forces cop and criminal alike to team up to survive, as the Martians lay siege to the outpost prison. The film was not a success back in the day, but looking back it’s not as bad as it’s reputation suggests, though still one of Carpenter’s lesser efforts. There is plenty of action, abundant bloodletting and gore and the SPFX are charmingly old school on GOM’s modest budget. Carpenter had a little fun with telling certain scenes from different POVs and it has some spooky moments when dealing with it’s Martian specters, who can move from one host to another when a previous host is felled. The Martians themselves are creepy with bizarre face paint and gory body piercings. It’s only when their leader (Richard Cetrone) speaks that the scenes loose their potency as he seems to be uttering gibberish and not an actual structured language, like say, Klingon or any of the Star Wars aliens. It’s a bit distracting, but thankfully those scenes are brief and few. Overall, the film is derivative, but Carpenter still crafts a fun, action/horror with a good cast and some entertaining character interaction. One of Carpenter’s strong points has always been memorable characters and it’s no different here.

As for the cast playing those characters, Natasha Henstridge makes a strong lead in what Carpenter’s intro describes as a matriarchal society. Ballard is a fighter with her own issues and she and Ice Cube work well together. As Williams, Ice Cube is solid as the criminal with a bit of a code of honor. Sure, someone with a bit stronger screen presence, like Wesley Snipes, could have taken Williams into Snake Plissken territory, but Cube is more than efficient. Statham is good as the cocky and horny Jericho Butler and it’s interesting seeing him in a supporting role, before he became a top action star. Pam Grier is every bit the legend she is as the tough Cmd. Braddock and Joanna Cassidy is good as a scientist responsible for the Martians’ release. She supplies a lot of the exposition we need, as does a clever sequence of a stoned and possessed Ballard that fills in the backstory. Supporting cast include Clea DuVall (The Faculty), an imposing Richard Cetrone as the Martian war chief and small roles from Carpenter regular Peter Jason and Robert Carradine as train operators.

Maybe it’s the nostalgia, but all these years later this flick doesn’t seem quite as disappointing as it first did on opening day in 2001. GOM is still not Carpenter’s strongest work, or most original flick, but it’s also not his worst flick either. Carpenter crafts an entertaining action flick, with some spooky sci-fi/horror elements and has a good cast. It’s not perfect, but he does add some inventive touches and moments to a derivative story and it moves quickly at just under an hour and 40 minutes. Gary B. Kibbe provides some nice cinematography for Carpenter’s shots and Carpenter himself provides a rock heavy score with some famous names guesting on it, like Steve Vai, Anthrax and Buckethead*. GOM does show signs of a filmmaker getting tired of the whole process, but also one who can still make good use out of a familiar story and on a modest budget.

*Complete track listing with guest artists listed below trailer!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) angry red planets.

 

 

 

 

 

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GHOSTS OF MARS TRACK LISTING w/guest artists (list originally posted on Wikipedia)

  1. “Ghosts of Mars” (3:42) – Steve Vai, Bucket Baker & John Carpenter
  2. “Love Siege” (4:37) – Buckethead, Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax (Scott Ian, Paul Crook, Frank Bello & Charlie Benante)
  3. “Fighty Train” (3:16) – Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  4. “Visions of Earth” (4:08) – Elliot Easton & John Carpenter
  5. “Slashing Gash” (2:46) – Elliot Easton & John Carpenter
  6. “Kick Ass” (6:06) – Buckethead, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  7. “Power Station” (4:37) – Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  8. “Can’t Let You Go” (2:18) – Stone (J.J. Garcia, Brian James & Brad Wilson), John Carpenter, Bruce Robb & Joe Robb
  9. “Dismemberment Blues” (2:53) – Elliot Easton, John Carpenter & Stone
  10. “Fighting Mad” (2:41) – Buckethead & John Carpenter
  11. “Pam Grier’s Head” (2:35) – Elliot Easton, John Carpenter & Anthrax
  12. “Ghost Popping” (3:20) – Steve Vai, Robin Finck, John Carpenter & Anthrax

 

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BARE BONES: KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, ALIEN OUTPOST and INFINI

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KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014)

Mildly amusing spy spoof is based on a comic book by Mark Millar and directed by Matthew Vaughn, as was the cult favorite Kick-Ass. The film follows a group of British Secret Service operatives known as the Kingman and one agent, Galahad’s (Colin Firth) efforts to thwart the evil plot of megalomaniac villain Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), with the help of new recruit, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). There are some fun over-the-top action sequences and playful nods and jabs at spy films and Britain’s most famous agent in particular, but the film never really takes off as a comedy and never really grabs with it’s hyper violent, CGI enhanced action scenes. Sometimes the film just doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be…spoof, or actual spy film. The graphic violence also clashes with it’s more playful tone, giving the film a schizophrenic quality. The cast are charming enough, though Jackson’s Valentine does get annoying after a while, as played as an overzealous man-child. The FX are top notch and the plot would fit any of the lower tier Bond films. It’s just that the humor isn’t quite funny enough, in paying homage it doesn’t give us anything new and, overall, it winds up being exactly the type of mid-level spy movie it’s supposed to be playfully poking fun at. A harmless enough watch, but almost as forgettable as some of the lesser efforts it spoofs…save a certain show-stopping church set action sequence played-out to “Freebird”. Also stars Mark Strong and Michael Caine.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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ALIEN OUTPOST (2014)

Faux documentary from Jabbar Raisani is never for one moment successful at feeling like anything, but a staged, scripted film. The story takes place in the near future where an alien invasion of Earth has been repelled and now outposts have been set up around the world to clean up the left behind alien soldiers, known as “Heavies”. The film focuses…through the eyes of two cameramen…on the troops in one of the last outposts on the Pakistan/Afganistan border, who are under fire by aliens and locals alike. The flick grows tiresome quickly, as it is filled with and overplays every war movie cliché it can muster. The characters are all blandly acted stereotypes, who give the same gung-ho speeches and mournful soliliquies we have heard in every war movie since the 40s. Adding aliens to the mix adds nothing new. There are also numerous and huge plot holes such as, if the alien’s have mind-control abilities, why didn’t they use them in the initial conflict and why would the world’s governments make such a half-assed effort to clean out the remaining aliens, who are clearly still a threat…other than to add drama to this movie. There are some nice FX and the aliens are portrayed effectively, but aliens aside, this is nothing we haven’t seen before and much better.

2 star rating

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INFINI (2015)

Australian Sci-Fi thriller may have some very familiar elements, but is an entertaining enough flick. Story has an incident occurring on a far-off mining colony and a search and rescue group going there to collect a sole survivor (Daniel MacPherson) and stop the plant from further processing. What they find is an alien life form capable of taking over other lifeforms in order to evolve…and with gruesome and violent results. Sure Shane Abbess’ chiller plays a lot like a combination of both John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ghosts Of Mars but, it’s fairly entertaining despite the similarities and does take it’s familiar story in an interesting direction by the time the credits roll. The film is rather moderately paced and has a few tedious spots, but the FX are top notch and the acting is pretty good for this type of flick. Avoids some of the cliché and does give us something to think about once it concludes. Also stars Luke Hemsworth and Grace Huang.

3 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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