Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Da Vinci Treasure (2006)

The Asylum is a name that any bad movie fan will recognize.  They’re one of the biggest forces in the bad movie business, churning out bad movie after bad movie to some form of success.  In case you don’t know The Asylum, which you should if you’re reading this blog post, let me list off a few of their movies.  They’ve been the people behind all of the Sharknado movies.  You know, the movies about tornadoes that picked up sharks and led to the destruction of many a landmark?  That was The Asylum.  They’ve also found success in mockbusters, movies that rip off mainstream movies in order to build confusion and capture some of the profit.  The Asylum was behind such great films as Android Cop, Snakes on a Train, and this week’s movie, The Da Vinci Treasure.

In 2003, Dan Brown released a novel called The Da Vinci Code.  It was the second book in the Robert Langdon series, and was a much bigger hit than its predecessor, Angels & Demons, had been.  The novel took the world by storm.  Of course, it would be made into a movie.  That movie was the 2006 Ron Howard film The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks.  There would be two sequels to the movie, as well as five novels in the book series (Origin, the fifth, was released in 2017).  We’re not here to discuss the series as wholes, though.  Let’s get back to The Da Vinci Code.

To cash in on the success that The Da Vinci Code was likely to be, the people at The Asylum decided to make their own version of the story.  The Da Vinci Treasure was released direct-to-video four days after the theatrical release of The Da Vinci Code.  C. Thomas Howell starred as Michael Archer, a forensic anthropologist on a quest to find treasure.  His clues to the hidden treasure were within the works of Leonardo Da Vinci.  He teamed up with Giulia Pedina (Nicole Sherwin) to solve the mystery, while Dr. John Coven (Lance Henriksen) and Samantha West (Alexis Zibolis) chased him around the globe to steal the treasure from him.
The Da Vinci Treasure was one of the earliest mockbusters that The Asylum produced.  It wasn’t the first, though.  Snakes on a Train, H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, and King of the Lost World were released before it.  It wasn’t even the first by Peter Mervis, who had directed Snakes on a Train.  It was part of what made The Asylum into the force that it was, though.

Early in the Sunday “Bad” Movies, the idea of a set of rules that The Asylum movies followed was formed.  The Da Vinci Treasure fit those rules pretty well.  Rule number one was the whole mockbuster conceit.  The Da Vinci Treasure was a riff on The Da Vinci Code, which meant it played right into that rule.  The second rule was that there had to be recognizable faces who weren’t as popular as they had been in the past.  C. Thomas Howell and Lance Henrikson both fit in there.  Rule three was that there had to be bad effects.  Explosions, gunfire, and all kinds of bad effects were in the action of The Da Vinci Treasure.  The fourth rule was that there had to be a female scientist, doctor, or stripper.  The archaeologist characters were most definitely holding PhDs.  Finally, the fifth rule was that, if a mockbuster, it had to be more ridiculous that what it was ripping off.  The Da Vinci Code had an evil monk, though, so maybe this one didn’t fit that rule.

The rules don’t dictate whether a movie from The Asylum was good or bad, though.  They simply tell someone how much influence The Asylum had upon the movie.  The quality still comes down to the filmmakers and what they produce.  The Da Vinci Treasure, though a fitting example of a movie by The Asylum, did not stand up in terms of quality.  It was a mess.
As The Da Vinci Treasure began, the biggest problem made its appearance clear.  The editing was atrocious, and would last the entire runtime that way.  What should have been simple cuts were turned into an ugly, technological jump cut dumpster fire.  Their idea of showing how engrained in technology the movie was (though the story didn’t rely on modern technology that much) was to have random computer sounds over the colours of the image being quickly blown out, before jump cutting to the same image but zoomed in a little bit, then doing the same thing to zoom jump back out.  It happened a lot.  A lot.  The choice might have been made as a sneaky way to boost up the runtime.  That doesn’t matter.  What did matter was how bothersome it was.  The movie wasn’t about computers, which made the whole editing style unrelated to the story being told.  It was unnecessary and irritating.

The action in The Da Vinci Treasure was a little bit better.  For a movie that had a fairly low budget, they made the action entertaining enough to service the story.  There was a chase scene through a city street that was decently done.  The heist of a brick from a museum was, aside from the ridiculously small size of the museum, believable.  The explosions might have looked cheap and fake, but they worked well for the story, giving the little action staccatos that kept attention to what was happening.  All in all, the action kept The Da Vinci Treasure together, even if it wasn’t the greatest action ever put to screen.
There’s not much to outright dislike about The Da Vinci Treasure beyond the editing and sometimes poor acting.  Some of the acting felt like cardboard cut-outs could have done the same job.  It was your standard early mockbuster.  Enough care was put into it to make it watchable, but not enough was put into it to actually clean it up.  It was a messy cash grab based on people getting confused with its title.  They surely got some money because of it.

The Asylum has been churning out mockbusters for over ten years now.  They’ve dipped their toes into other kinds of movies, including monster/animal attack movies and sex comedies, but they still go back to mockbusters all the time.  This year, they have a sequel to their mockbuster Atlantic Rim coming out because the sequel to Pacific Rim is coming out.  They’re still going strong with their mockbusters.  The quality has risen, as well.  Perhaps The Asylum knows that they can’t sustain their company by making movies for the simple sake of ripping off something else.  They need to provide fun, too.  They need to bring the audience back.  The audience was built through the original mockbusters but will remain for the future ones.  There needs to be fun to keep the audience.  The Asylum has made their movies fun.
These notes might not be fun, but they’re here:

  • Other movies from The Asylum that I’ve watched for the Sunday “Bad” Movies are 2-Headed Shark Attack, 3-Headed Shark Attack, Rise of the Zombies, Snakes on a Train, the Paranormal Entity movies, Nazis at the Center of the Earth, Bermuda Tentacles, the Transmorphers movies, The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, the Sharknado movies, Grimm’s Snow White, The Beast of Bray Road, and Little Dead Rotting Hood.
  • The Da Vinci Treasure was directed by Peter Mervis, who directed Snakes on a Train.
  • One of the actors in The Da Vinci Treasure was Jason S. Gray, who was also in Snakes on a Train and Transmorphers.
  • Lance Henriksen made a third appearance in the Sunday “Bad” Movies this week after previously appearing in Monster Brawl and Super Mario Bros.
  • A.J. Castro and Reza Riazi were both in Snakes on a Train before being featured in The Da Vinci Treasure.
  • Finally, The Da Vinci Treasure had a performance by Kurt Altschwager, who was in The Beast of Bray Road.
  • Have you seen The Da Vinci Treasure, or any other movies by The Asylum?  What are your thoughts on the company?  Let me know in the comments.
  • If there are any movies that you think I should watch for the Sunday “Bad” Movies, both Twitter and the comments section are good places to let me know.  I’m always up for a movie I might not have known about.
  • Sometimes, while I’m watching bad movies, I share clips through my snapchat (jurassicgriffin).  If you want to see this kind of thing, feel free to add me.
  • Next week, I’ll be going into the world of clowns as I sit down to watch Vulgar.  It’s a movie made by a friend of Kevin Smith way back in 2000.  I’ve never seen it before and have no idea what I should expect from it.  See you in seven days with my thoughts.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Nothing But Trouble (1991) and How Music is Used in Movies

Movies are both a visual and aural medium.  You watch a movie, but at the same time, you listen to it.  There are a multitude of sounds to be heard.  Foley work, like footsteps, help to make a scene feel more realistic.  Ambiance, such as the basic room sound, can make a space better realized.  One of the most important aspects, however, is the music used in a movie.

Music is one of the biggest influencers in a movie.  It can change the tone and energy in a way that sends things in a completely different direction.  It can build tension in a horror film or add to the loving feelings of romance.  Music can change a character.  It can even affect the plot in serious ways.  If it weren’t for music, movies wouldn’t be half as entertaining or moving as they are.

There are many different ways that music can be added to a movie.  Each method of inclusion makes for a different effect.  It could be a background mood setter, of it could be something that the characters know about.  Overall, there are six primary ways that music can be brought into a movie, and they will be separated into two categories.
The thing about background music is that it’s in the background.  Only the audience hears the music.  This background music can manipulate a person’s feelings.  It brings that ominous feeling that lets you know that something bad is around the corner.  It gives you the stings that help bring the laughs.  Or it can punch up the excitement by bringing an upbeat tempo that accentuates the action.  The first two of the six primary methods of using music in movies fall under the background category.

First off, there are scores.  People specifically write and perform instrumental music as a mood setter.  These are the more subtle uses of music in the background.  The instrumentals fade in and out as characters interact with what’s around them.  The beats could match up with the action, or they could be ambiance like a background noise, that simply provides a vibe.

An example of a Sunday “Bad” Movie that had used a score to great effect was Flash Gordon.  The band Queen came in to create a score that would push the movie forward.  They made an 80s kind of synth rock vibe that fit the action/adventure/sci-fi film pretty well.  The Halloween movies had pretty solid scores that lasted the entire franchise in various forms.  The score in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers might not have been quite as iconic as the original, but it still used a variation on the original’s theme to great, horror effect.
The other type of background music in films is the soundtrack of songs.  It’s not quite the score (which is also a bunch of songs that could be the soundtrack), but a collection of various pieces of music.  They don’t all originate from one artist or group working specifically on that movie.  The songs could be songs that were already produced beforehand, or they could be songs commissioned for the movie.  Either way, they’re not the instrumental score.

A bunch of movies in the Sunday “Bad” Movies have examples of this kind of music use.  Die Another Day featured an opening theme song by Madonna that played through imagery of James Bond being tortured by the North Korean military.  Mortal Kombat and its sequel featured the iconic Mortal Kombat song.  Gigli featured the song Love the One You’re With, which I keep forgetting is in Gigli until I hear it and think “What movie is this song in,” then get disappointed when I rediscover Gigli.  One of the biggest, though, was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, which featured a few covers of popular songs such as Free Ride and Higher Ground.  Those two songs were used in early scenes featuring the teens performing different sports, setting up their athletics for their later fighting moments.

Background music can be essential in pushing a mood as well as keeping silence from bogging down a movie.  Montages use music to make a series of events more exciting as they play out in quick succession.  Background music is key to many instances of storytelling.  Other uses of music are important too, which brings us to the other section.
Music that plays in the foreground of movies is music that plays in the universe of the movie.  Both the characters and the audience are able to hear the music and be affected by it.  The characters could be listening to it, or it could be in their background while they are doing something else.  There are many ways in which the music could be presented.

Going off of the soundtracks I was talking about in the background section, there are instances of interactive soundtracks that get used in movies.  Friday the 13th: A New Beginning had a scene where a character turned on music in her bedroom and danced before being killed.  She was interacting with the soundtrack of the movie.  Fred Claus featured an important scene where Fred approached a North Pole DJ and changed his music selection from Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Rubberneckin’ before dancing to the new music choice with the elves in Santa’s workshop.  Again, the music was important to both how the scene flowed and what the characters were doing.  He was interacting with it, but it was also atmospheric music for the audience.

The rest of the foreground music involves different ways in which characters perform the music.  Performances are a big part of the music world.  Concerts are a major source of income for musicians.  They must perform to record an album.  Movies can take advantage of this performance aspect and add it into the way an actor performs.  Sometimes the opposite can happen as well, where a musician performs with the added task of giving an acting performance.

One of the original ways that this was done, and a way that still survives, was through the musical genre.  Musicals involve the stories being broken up with music that the characters sing.  The characters aren’t necessarily musicians.  They simply break into song while doing what they would have otherwise been doing without song. 

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead had characters trying to survive a zombie outbreak in a fast food restaurant.  They sang songs about fast food, love, and slow fast food love.  They weren’t musicians.  Their stories didn’t need music.  But it was there and they sang.  The same could be said about Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.  He didn’t need to sing to team up with a lucha libre wrestler to fight lesbian vampires.  Yet he did sing.
Sometimes to alleviate the random singing of it all, the characters become musicians.  They end up performing their music in concert settings.  Or they perform to show their musical talents.  The songs could have something to do with their story, or they could be songs performed as songs only.  The better quality musicals of this type will make the songs relevant to the story being told in order to have the songs push the movie forward outside of the character having another performance.

One example of this was in the film The Apple.  The songs built out the characters, from the BIM song that showed how controlling the company was of the world’s people to the love song played at the beginning that showed that love could conquer all.  The songs were important to the story.  Road House, on the other hand, was more of a music for music’s sake movie.  The bar had a band that performed music.  The music didn’t push anything forward in itself.  It was background music for the bar while Dalton did his thing of getting rid of the bad.
Reversing the characters being musicians thing, there’s also a tendency in movies for musicians to be characters that are themselves.  These cameo performances might be seen as stunt casting in movies.  “Hey, let’s bring in that popular musician to play themselves and perform.  That could get more people in seats.”  It can work in some cases.  In others, it doesn’t work at all.

Musicians playing themselves and performing in movies began early with the inclusion of April Fools in the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  That brought a performance by someone named Lil’ Flip at a party.  Who is Lil’ Flip?  I’m not sure.  Later on in the Sunday “Bad” Movies, the two God’s Not Dead movies were featured.  They both had appearances by Newsboys, a religious band.  The first movie even had all of the main characters coming together for a Newsboys concert.  The movie that inspired this post fits into this kind of music usage.

Nothing But Trouble was a weird little 1991 film written and directed by Dan Aykroyd.  He played the judge in a small, nothing industrial town who liked to bring the full extent of the law down on wrongdoers.  Some of the lawbreakers that were brought into his court were musicians of the band Digital Underground.  He wanted them to prove that they were musicians, which they did by performing Same Song.  They then performed at a wedding ceremony a few minutes later in the movie.  These couple moments were the best part of the entire movie.

As you can see, there are many ways in which music can be used in a movie.  It could be used to set a mood, to push the story forward, or to accentuate something that is already happening.  The most important thing that music does is provide an aural experience while watching something.  It would be pretty boring to watch a movie on mute.  Sound is half of watching a movie and music is one of the most important parts of sound.  Without music, things would be dull.  Don’t you think?
You might think my notes are dull, but they’re here anyway: