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22 Mar

Title: Sanctum
Alister Grierson
Writers: John Garvin and Andrew Wight, based on a story by Andrew Wight
Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Alice Parkinson, Dan Wyllie, Ioan Gruffudd
MPAA Rating:
R, language, some violence and disturbing images
108 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:


Sanctum was that new 3D film that had James Cameron’s name attached as an executive producer, and even though the use it makes of the three-dimensional technology is pretty good-looking, and the whole thing has a beautiful cinematography going on, it really has pretty much nothing else going on for it. The script is pretty stale and the cast, though not given much to work with in the first place, looks just as bland trying to churn it all out in ways the director really should have told them weren’t the right ones.

But I actually didn’t go into Sanctum expecting a good plot, I went into it expecting a visual feast, and on that account it delivered. But I can’t judge a book just by its cover, and this film pretty much just stuck a high-tech camera into an underwater cave and tied it all up with a plot that came very close to undoing itself throughout the film. That I found quite a bit of fault with, and prevented me from really losing myself in the visual grandeur of it all, the underwater photography was amazing and the stunts were pretty nifty, but the stuff they were being employed for was terribly subpar.

And thus, I’m not entirely sure how to feel about Sanctum. As gorgeously shot as it was it wasn’t as thrilling as it could have been had it been granted a better, or at least somewhat competent script, which sucks even more when you consider that the basic plot outline suggested a pretty damn slick adventure that, if written the right way, would have been awesome to watch if aided by this outstanding technical wizardry.

We have a diving expedition into the largest cave system in the world, in Papua New Guinea. And in that expedition we’ll go along for the ride and see the characters in a few situations of peril. Climbing, diving, there are a lot of cool stunts going on in Sanctum, even if the story supporting them is pretty damn thin, and as cool as they are they can’t carry the film by themselves. There is a huge lack of logic in Sanctum, you see a helluva lot of stuff going on, but you can’t always really explain why it’s happening or, more frustratingly, where exactly it’s happening.

The legendary Roger Ebert, my favorite film critic for countless reasons, had this problem as well, as he noted in his review for it that the film suffered from a lack of continuity and that it failed to really orient us within the cave, which is definitely true. And that really does this movie in, I mean, as cool as things may look (though Mr. Ebert, a big detractor of the 3D technology, disagrees on that), visually stunning views in a film get to a point in which they don’t amount to much if they have absolutely no substance to them.

Now, as I have said, I praise the 3D effects here. They’re not the flashiest the technology has ever been, but on a film with a reported $30 million budget I think they look as good as they could have looked. I mean, the big thing I have against the technology, which I have in the past liked but I usually don’t and certainly don’t think is the future of film (at least not yet), is the fact that it always makes things much much dimmer on screen. And that was obviously going to be a major problem in this one, a film that was going to be in quite a bit of darkness even if it didn’t have the 3D, and while it does look pretty dark, it looked much much better than I expected it to.

James Cameron’s name thrown into a film’s ad campaign, especially one done in 3D, does get one’s expectations up a bit. And while the 3D here is pretty good, you expected it to be better considering Mr. Cameron’s involvement, and that’s not to touch on how much better the overall film should have been, but alas, executive producer doesn’t mean director or even producer, and I guess we’ll have to wait til 2014 for the first of the planned Avatar sequels to get to see the 3D pioneer playing and blowing our brains off yet again.

I won’t go ahead and do a rundown of all the characters we’ll get to meet in our deep-sea adventure in Sanctum, the plot doesn’t warrant enough connection to them for you to even care, plus a few of them quickly become dispensable to get a few more cool stunts into place. And, really, when the best writing in display in a film is the one that goes on to entail how a certain death will take place you know the story really isn’t that amazing. But yeah, if you can bear the bad dialogue and just want to watch a pretty cool 3D flick, no matter how crappy the story it’s telling is, then go check out Sanctum, if not, then you’re definitely better off just skipping it.

Grade: C+


Oscar Predictions: Makeup, Costume Design, Art Direction, Visual Effects

23 Feb

Now, in my third Oscar Predictions post I will tackle the four more artistic categories the Academy Awards offer, those for Best Makeup, Costume Design, Art Direction and, in the technological artistry field, Visual Effects.



  • Barney’s Version (Adrien Morot)
  • The Way Back (Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng)
  • The Wolfman (Rick Baker and Dave Elsey)

I’m still baffled by the fact that Alice in Wonderland, which I considered pretty much as the guaranteed winner of this category, didn’t even earn a nomination. So, with that film not even in the running, I would think this would be an easy win for The Wolfman, considering it’s the strongest of the bunch and it has Rick Baker as part of its two-man team, and that man is a legend in the field, already having 6 Oscars to his name.

Should Win: The Wolfman
Will Win: The Wolfman



  • Alice in Wonderland (Colleen Atwood)
  • Io Sono l’Amore (Antonella Cannarozzi)
  • The King’s Speech (Jenny Beavan)
  • The Tempest (Sandy Powell)
  • True Grit (Mary Zophres)

This is a really solid bunch of nominees we got here, but it will most likely become a two-film race between Alice in Wonderland and The King’s Speech. If Sunday becomes a sweep by the latter then Jenny Beavan will most likely get her second Oscar here (she got her first for A Room With a View).

But I would think Alice in Wonderland, which got shut-out of the Makeup category above, will eventually get this one, with Colleen Atwood, a past winner for Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago, getting her third Oscar. The work she did here was awesome, having to work with a lot of body ratios from Alice shrinking and growing and the Red Queen’s gigantic head. She’s the most deserving, and even though a big part of me thinks the Academy will want to go back to their love affair with prestige pics this year, I will still pick her as my winner.

Should Win: Alice in Wonderland
Will Win: Alice in Wonderland



  • Alice in Wonderland (Robert Stromberg (Production Design); Karen O’Hara (Set Decoration))
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (Stuart Craig (Production Design); Stephenie McMillan (Set Decoration))
  • Inception (Guy Hendrix Dyas (Production Design); Larry Dias and Doug Mowat (Set Decoration))
  • The King’s Speech (Eve Stewart (Production Design); Judy Farr (Set Decoration))
  • True Grit (Jess  Gonchor (Production Design); Nancy Haigh (Set Decoration))

I love this category, and this year I think it’s a pretty tough one to call. Common sense would have one think The King’s Speech will sweep and will get one of their trophies for this category, for creating such a wonderful set and achieving amazing production values on such a tight schedule and even tighter budget.

But, if the night does not turn into a sweep by the monarch’s biopic, then I think Alice in Wonderland may prevail here. The marvelous sets decorated by Karen O’Hara were a big part of what gave the film it’s unique feel that resonated with audiences worldwide and got the film to gross over a billion dollars, and the production design headed by Robert Stromberg, who actually won this award last year for his work on another huge-grosser, Avatar, was seriously sublime.

However, my personal pick would actually be the three-man team behind the art direction of Inception, just the scale of the stuff they worked with, not to mention the very specific capacities they had to achieve for one of the world’s most inventive and detail-oriented directors was just mind-blowing.

Should Win: Inception
Will Win: The King’s Speech



  • Alice in Wonderland (Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi)
  • Hereafter (Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky and Joe Farrell)
  • Inception(Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb)
  • Iron Man 2 (Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick)

Do we expect any other film not named Inception to have the tiniest bit of a chance of winning this award? The effects in Inception were just top of their class, and this is one of the surest awards of the night.

The four-man team who were in charge of flipping a city on its sides, and which includes two of guys who were nominated for this award for their previous collaboration with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight, gave us a seriously stunning amount of detail and raised the bar of their craft.

Should Win: Inception
Will Win: Inception


19 Nov

Title: Skyline
Brothers Strause
Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell
Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Donald Faison, Brittany Daniel, David Zayas
MPAA Rating:
PG-13, sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some language, and brief sexual content
92 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:


I’m a huge sci-fi fan, and here I was watching Skyline, the new movie from the Brothers Strause which came with a low budget of something like $10 million or so. With low-budget sci-fi films you expect not-so-stunning visuals but a great story that will get you through it all. Just look at this year’s Monsters, which had a really low budget but that delivered a very solid result thanks to a cool story, that’s what these films should be.

Skyline however, went the other way round, the story sucked, the dialogue was completely stale, but the special effects it had were pretty damn sweet, especially when you consider the budget they were working on. That should come as no surprise though, considering this was directed by the the Brothers Strause, who are special effects wizards and have worked on such visually stunning projects as Avatar, 2012 and 300. So yes, their resumé will show you just how great these guys can be with Hydraulx, their visual effects company, they can create some very stimulating sights. But as they have shown now with Skyline and back in 2007 with their only other feature film directorial effort, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, when they are also given the directing duties the results always include their visual gifts, but they also include a very sucky story, and the end result is always being horribly uninspired.

The poster for the film will tell you pretty much all you need to know about it, some really freakish lights descend upon Los Angeles which obviously comes from an alien force that pretty much wants to swallow all the humans that comes near it. So yeah, the whole film will then follow its stars, none of whom does even a decent job at their dumb roles, as they bunk up in one place, and sometimes risk running outside where the aliens will wreak havoc.

It’s all seriously dumb, Skyline has pretty much no plot to go along with the cool visuals. And yes, I guess you could say people won’t go into this film looking for a good human story, and that at a $10 million budget this one’s already made over $13 million since it was released a week ago so at least it’ll turn a profit, but seriously, in a world in which we saw the masterful District 9 last year, and the very decent Monsters this year, this just doesn’t cut it.

And to finalize my review I’ll go ahead and say one thing. In March of next year Battle: Los Angeles will be released, that one has its effects also handled by Hydraulx, and has a huge budget of $100 million and actually looks seriously amazing. Which is to say, go ahead and skip Skyline, it’s not worth it, it’s not horrible because the effects are well done, but you only have to wait some 4 months or so to see even better effects handled by the same company on a film that actually has a much better story and a cooler cast and that just overall looks seriously awesome. That’s my two cents, you better take ’em.

Grade: C-