Tom Jolliffe leaves a double bill up to the hands of fate…
Having survived my last double bill which I left to the will of the cinema Gods, I decided to go back for more. I lucked out first time with an enjoyable and engaging selection with Dating Amber and Circle. I do enjoy the mystery of not knowing what you might be watching. Some I will have a passing knowledge of, and others absolutely no clue what I’m getting myself into. So what did fate have in store for me this week?
A little bit of apocalyptic action to begin. I suppose that’s prescient. We’re only just over half way through the shitberg that is 2020, so bring on the meteor storms. This however, was made in 2010, for the SyFy channel which will tell you almost everything you need to know. If you’ve seen any of these TV disaster movies, you can expect the same formula. In fact they tend to play out in more or less the same kind of way as any one of Roland Emmerich’s big budget disaster films. Every cliche, every arc, every character is more or less interchangeable, whether it’s the SyFy movie, or the Emmerich epic. The big difference comes in the visual spectacle.
Meteor Storm ticks every box you expect from these films as far as script content. We have our expert, an Astronomer played by Kari Matchett, who becomes the one ahead of the curve and often overlooked. There’s her ex, dashingly handsome, heroic, but unreliable in day to day things (like looking after their kids…who happen to be way too old to need looking after), played by Michael Trucco. As the public await a meteor shower, no one is expecting quite what comes next, a full blown and devastating storm of meteors that seem to be zoning in on specific areas of San Francisco. The film does is least try to offer a differential to the standard natural disaster formula, as ludicrous as it might become.
One point of interest for me came in the form of the films director, Tibor Takacs. Takacs is something of a cult film director for his earlier horror work. His most iconic films came in the 80’s, with the likes of The Gate and I, Madman. I’d become more aware of him during a run of straight to video action films in the 90’s, where he’d become pretty prolific. Takacs has always had a certain style and vision about what he does, certainly when given action or horror sequences to toy with (and more substantial budgets). I’d always enjoyed a Mark Dacascos triple he did, Sabotage (a way above average, stellar and intelligent action thriller), Sanctuary (espionage and action with some thought) and Armageddon (An odd future set sci-fi starring Rutger Hauer that’s bizarre but watchable). He also made one of the better Lorenzo Lamas efforts, a straight up action film called Viper (or Bad Blood). Throughout this century he’s shifted into TV movies, predominantly in the creature or disaster genres. He’s a sure hand, even if not quite as creatively vivacious as his peak years in the 80’s and 90’s.
The visual effects look like a Sega Genesis cut scene, which kind of adds a charm to it, and also means that the film tends to ration its visual effects shots, whereas in an Emmerich film, though often spectacular, there’s a tendency to have lengthy, indulgent and almost ludicrously overblown sequences of destruction. In the end, whilst the CGI is better in 2012 for example, that film is 70% CGI carnage and now looks dated. It looks better than a film that had outdated CGI when it came out, sure, but now both films are dated visually. I feel there’s also an assured feeling about TV actors in these TV movies, whereas the megastar casts in the big budget epics, delivering TV styled, melodrama, seem uncomfortable. Trucco seems more at home than John Cusack did in 2012, likewise Matchett is good here. She’s been great in everything I’ve seen her in. This may not be great, but if you like disaster movies, it hits every beat you expect with some sincerity.
Next up is The Joneses, a film that feels prescient for very different reasons. In the wake of an ever more bizarre turd flinging case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, here we have Heard in an early role. There’s also director Derrick Borte, about to deliver Unhinged with Russell Crowe. The Joneses, a somewhat forgotten comedy drama from 2009, was greeted with solid reviews but never stuck with much of a following. The film opens with a seemingly affluent family moving into a lavish neighbourhood of wealthy residents. There’s David Duchovny and Demi Moore as ma and pa, with Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth as their college age kids.
Neighbours are immediately enamoured with the family and the fact they seem to be ahead of the curve on just about every trend from cars, to makeup, to food, to tech, to video games and more. When Jenn Jones (Heard) tries to bed Steve (Duchovny) something is clearly not as it seems. As it turns out the Joneses aren’t a real family, they’re a team of marketeers tasked with selling their neighbours and townsfolk as many different products as possible. Kate (Moore) is the supervisor in charge, trying to stay in control and professional. As expected she and Steve develop real feelings and their interactions with the neighbourhood bring about individual complications.
The Joneses is a decent film, even if the concept itself never delves quite enough into black comedy territory. There’s a little but it feels like it pulled back from some sly dark humour, in place of trite drama and it never quite works on that level. The cast are good. Putting all Heard’s personal dramas aside, and an unfair notion that she can’t act, she’s good here. For one it’s a film suited to her (whereas she felt woefully miscast in Aquaman), and she can play on a little of the edge she has. Duchovny gets by on his easy going charm, but isn’t as complex as his role in Californication. Steve ends up as something of a simple character, though inevitably feels guilt about their lying. Moore, like Heard has taken her share of critical savaging as an actress, is good when she’s on it, and she’s good here. Nice support comes from Gary Cole and the late Glenne Headly.
Another double bill survived. Not as strong as the first, but engaging enough. Have you watched a film at random lately? What was the result? Let us know in the comments below or on our Twitter page @flickeringmyth.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil and the star studded action film, Renegades. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.