DVD Review: Legion (2010)

Hi again!

When Legion hit theaters in January 2010, I understood from the trailers what the movie was about. The angel Michael (Paul Bettany) has come to Earth to countermand an order from God to kill all of humankind, including the child that might bring about its salvation. Still in the womb, the child’s mother – a girl named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) – is working as a waitress at a diner in Paradise Falls, a speck in the middle of nowhere. Michael must save the kid from an army of angels and God’s wrath, or mankind is doomed.

Ah yes, our extermination. We, like the cockroaches we abhor, have spread across the Earth devouring resources and abusing our gift of free will. As Michael says in one scene, “The first time God lost faith in Man he sent a flood. The second time… he sent what you see outside.” Like our world is a giant Etch-a-Sketch and God wants to shake things up to erase us from the planet.

And, like cockroaches, we’re not such an easy race to erase off the map.

Though largely panned by reviewers far and wide, I liked Legion. It doesn’t have the philosophy of The Prophecy from back in the mid-90’s. But it takes a simple premise (The Apocalypse), a chance of redemption (an unwanted child), an interesting battleground (a diner in the middle of nowhere), and shows us angels like we haven’t quite seen them before.

Plus, if you add in the interesting cast of characters – Michael (Bettany, Iron Man 2, The Da Vinci Code), simple mechanic/protector Jeep Hanson (Lucas Black, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), inner-city tough guy Kyle (Tyrese Gibson, Death Race, 2 Fast 2 Furious), unlikely mother-to-be Charlie (Palicki, TV’s Supernatural), Dad simply trying to get to Christmas Howard Anderson (Jon Tenney, TV’s Brothers & Sisters and The Closer), bitchy wife Sandra (Kate Walsh, TV’s Private Practice), bratty wild child Audrey (Willa Holland, TV’s Gossip Girl and The O.C.), ex-military fry cook Percy (Charles S. Dutton, TV’s Roc, Alien 3), diner owner Bob Hanson (Dennis Quaid, Pandorum, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra)… and one ticked off angel Gabriel (Kevin Durand, Robin Hood (2010), X-Men Origins: Wolverine)…

Honestly there were so many different demographics represented by the population of the diner and its visitors that it was the perfect place to stage a heavenly battle. Anybody who thinks America isn’t diverse hasn’t been watching our movies I guess!

Now I know there are those people who didn’t like this film. I get it. It’s certainly not perfect. And it does get a little preachy and take itself too seriously from time to time. But this is an extremely visual film co-written and directed by a visual effects guy – Scott Stewart. Stewart has been involved at The Orphanage and ILM doing visual effects since the mid-1990s on such movies as Mars Attacks!, Sin City, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Superman Returns, and others. So it came as no surprise to me that this would be an effects-heavy film.

What did surprise me was how old school many of the effects were. Yes, we had scenes where peoples’ faces were vibrating as they were possessed by angels and where characters like the Ice Cream Man (played beautifully and far too short by Doug Jones – Hellboy, Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Pan’s Labyrinth and many others) transformed into grotesque beings attacking the diner. But then you had more subtle scenes with lightning and fog where you’d catch brief glimpses of the hordes of possessed beings in the dark and simple explosions as gunfire, gasoline, and vehicles met briefly to light the night.

Is this a film for you to think deeply about your own mortality? No. Definitely not. Is it a film to enjoy as you learn bits and pieces about the battle and watch as cool effects grace the screen? Yes. Definitely. If you’re looking for deeper spiritual or philosophical discussions, I recommend you check out The Prophecy and its sequels.

Included with the DVD are three short extras – “Creating the Apocalypse,” “Humanity’s Last Line of Defense,” and “From Pixels to Picture.”

“Creating the Apocalypse” provided a great segment about how they made Jones into the Ice Cream Man. What a process… With four prostheses, Jones ran from the ice cream truck towards the diner and jumped into the air. How he was able to pull that off is beyond me. Hearing Jones talk about the preparation alone was worth watching. The cast and crew seemed to appreciate his efforts even though he was just in that one scene. I have to admit to being more freaked out by the mechanical baby that was built for the film than the Ice Cream Man. At a bit more than 23 minutes, this is a very detailed look behind the scenes at how they did some of the movie magic.

Where the last feature dealt with the effects, “Humanity’s Last Line of Defense” focuses on the ensemble of actors. It’s quite obvious that the director and crew wanted to have the best group of actors they could get for these roles. It’s kind of fun to think that Bettany really wanted to be in an action film and fire machine guns. The mutual respect and admiration between the cast and crew was obvious as you hear Quaid, Bettany, Gibson, and others talk on set.

And in “From Pixels to Picture” you get a better understanding of the amazing efforts that went into the visual effects not only in post-production, but during the production on set. These visual engineers had some serious challenges integrating live action stunts with computer generated effects to create a number of seamless scenes. Between Gladys, the crazy possessed old lady on the ceiling, and the swarm of flies as they try to drive a character to the hospital, they did a great job in merging old school matte paintings, light, and shadow, with CG for the film.

Legion is definitely not for everybody. It’s rated R for bloody violence and language. But I found it to be an entertaining mix of religion, horror, and story. Be sure to check it out on DVD and VOD today!

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Fame (2009) Soundtrack

Hi there!

Way back when the original Fame (1980) movie was released, I was really too young to appreciate the deeper social issues intertwined with the story. But when the Fame television show aired in the early 1980s, that didn’t stop me and my family from tuning in. The combination of dancing, singing, and performing tapped into my subconscious from an early age. And to this day, I probably still have a crush on Irene Cara and would be intimidated by Debbie Allen if she happened to be in a room.

So when the new Fame (2009) movie was announced, I was enthusiastic. It once again included the indomitable Debbie Allen, plus the gorgeous and talented Kherington Payne from So You Think You Can Dance season 5 – two figures from the world of dance I knew were talented in the field. Add to that an all-star cast of Megan Mullally (Will & Grace), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers), Charles S. Dutton, Kelsey Grammer, and a whole new generation of talented singers, dancers, and performers, and you should have a great film.

I was disappointed to hear that the film opened to mixed reviews and somehow I never had a chance to catch it in the theater. I do however want to take a look when it comes out on DVD in a few months.

But how was the soundtrack, you ask? Well, it has some high points. I’m not much of a fan of hip-hop or the new R&B music, but the two voices that really stood out to me were those of Asher Book and Naturi Naughton, both relative newcomers.

The only two songs that survived between from the 1980 soundtrack to the new one were “Fame” and “Out Here on My Own.” The 2009 version of “Fame” is just ok for me – the bass is a bit much. But “Out Here on My Own” from Naughton worked for me. She has a pure, emotive voice and the simple arrangement with voice and piano really brought that out.

Asher Book however was the standout for me. I’m not sure if he played piano on the tunes on which he sang, but his voice lent itself to the pop/bluesy feel of most of these tracks extremely well. The arrangements of “Try” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” were especially potent. I hope this isn’t the last we’ll hear from him.

Lastly, I knew that Megan Mulally could sing. I had heard her belt out showtunes on television at some point. But I was pleasantly surprised to find “You Took Advantage of Me” where she was given the spotlight amidst the rest of the young talent of the film. She’s a brilliant comedic actress with an amazing voice and her character was quite apparent as she sang, providing yet one more reason to watch the movie when it’s released on DVD.

Overall this was a good soundtrack with some solid performances by Naughton, Book, and Mulally. I hope to see how the soundtrack works in the context of the film in a few months. If you liked Fame (2009) or are merely interested to hear what they’ve done with the music this time around, be sure to check out the soundtrack at your favorite retailer!

–Fitz

p.s. Check out both soundtracks at Amazon below!

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Will Fame Fly?

Hey there…

I’m amused and interested in what the new Fame movie coming out September 25, 2009 has to offer. They just released a new trailer for the film this past week. It has a heck of a cast as teachers and students. But can it compete with the original? How does it compare with the series that ran in the 1980s?

Fame (film)
Image via Wikipedia

Both of my parents were involved in the theater in college, so from their passion for the stage – musicals, plays, and so on – I gained an appreciation for theater as well. I fondly recall seeing high school productions of shows like Camelot and Guys and Dolls as well as performing in The Music Man while growing up. And we of course watched the TV series for Fame. I didn’t see the actual movie until much later (it was deemed too adult for me at the time), but found it to be filled with amazing talent and great stories as well, even though it included some more mature elements than the television series did.

So when I heard that Fame was being remade, I have to admit I groaned a bit. Remake fever has hit Hollywood with a vengeance and nothing is sacred.

But I think, at least from early glimpses in the teaser and the trailer, I have hope. The cast has a ton of potential – Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles S. Dutton, and Debbie Allen to name a few. But in addition, as we are fans of the show So You think You Can Dance on FOX, I was encouraged to hear that dancer Kherington Payne was cast in a role.

In this era of High School Musical (I, II, and III) and the Disney machine, I have to wonder what changes will be made to modernize the story of the music and theater high school in New York. Can they make what’s old seem new again? I hope so.

If they can capture even half of the talent of the original movie or series, I’ll be surprised. There was a spark there that managed to inspire an entire generation of people to focus on the performance arts. Can we expect lightning to strike twice?

What do you think?
–Fitz

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