Sunday, October 19, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Desperado (1995)

Desperado is a genuinely entertaining, though not entirely perfect reworking of/sequel to the Robert Rodriguez low budget action blast El Mariachi.  Antonio Banderas plays the lead role this time out and he's given an epic build-up by Steve Buscemi in an eight and half minute prologue that turns the mariachi into a mythic, Clint Eastwood sort of guy along the lines of the Sergio Leone films from the 60's.  Granted with a guitar case full of guns it's an easier road to get him to that level but still.

Banderas is on the hunt, looking for a man called Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida in a solid villainous turn) who is the last of the drug dealers he has to kill before achieving his full revenge from the previous film.

Banderas teams with a sexy bookstore owner played by Salma Hayek and the ensuing blast of action is just awesome.  The performances are pretty solid with Banderas making for a fine action hero; Salma Hayek doesn't have much to do really but she's just sexy as hell and the cast is littered with fun supporting turns from Buscemi. Danny Trejo as an assassin, Cheech Marin as a bartender and Quentin Tarantino in a fun cameo.

Rodriguez directs and edits with his usual energetic flair, giving the action beats (of which there are a ton) a nice kinetic energy that really makes the film flow smoothly.  The best action scene sees Banderas leveling a bar in a massive gunfight.  The film has an overall smoother feel to it than the original which does detract a little.  Part of the first movie's charm was the rather rough, gritty feel it had and the sleeker feel of the sequel doesn't work quite as well.  Still, it's a damn fine action movie.  Perfect for a lazy afternoon.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Alien: Resurrection (1997)

The fourth entry in the Alien franchise is both interesting and quite disappointing.  Directed by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it has a decent enough script by Joss Whedon (though not great, mind you), fantastic production design and a nice batch of character actors who manage a few nice moments here and there when they're not being ripped apart by horrible monsters.

Set 200 years after the third movie, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been cloned by a bunch of scientists including the always amusing Brad Dourif on a military spaceship commanded by General Perez, played hammily by Dan Hedaya.  A bunch of mercenaries including Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman deliver a shipment to the General who is trying to breed the aliens for research purposes and of course, they get loose and a butt load of people are bloodily killed.

Weaver is good as Ripley, this time she delivers a more colder, alien version of the character.  Fitting, since in the beginning we see the chestburster she was infected with in the third movie removed and it turns out she now has an empathic bond with the beasts as a result as well as enhanced physical abilities...

Yeah.

The rest of the cast is okay, though not as good as one would hope.  Ryder is bland, the revelation that she's an android isn't much of a shock seeing as she's sort of mechanical in her acting anyway.  Ron Perlman is sorely underused and Dan Hedaya turns in a rather dreadful performance, hamming it up in a manner that is almost as repulsive as the sight of him in a tank top.  Seriously, I like the guy as an actor but the amount of body hair he has pretty much proves Darwin's theory of evolution.  He's got a funny death scene though, not too often you see a guy take out part of his brain and look at it after having his head cracked open by an alien.

On the other hand, Brad Dourif is nicely odd as the mad scientist who brought Ripley back.  There is a fun bit where he's trying to train some aliens, which he does and the facial expressions he makes are so bizarre that they end up working in spite of themselves.

Even with the bad acting and somewhat dodgy script, the film manages to entertain on a basic level.  Like the third film, it has a great look and some nice scenes (the underwater sequence is fun and Weaver has a nice scene where she finds the failed clones of her and the alien/human hybrid at the end is an interesting failure) but on a fundamental level, it just doesn't quite cut it.  It's fun, but not really essential.  A fun bad movie if you're in the right frame of mind.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Blasts From the Past: End of Days (1999)

End of Days gets by simply with its premise which is simply Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Satan.  That alone is a hilariously awesome/stupid concept and impressively enough, the film manages to be good... Sort of.

A gleefully over the top mixture of horror, action and end of the millennium paranoia (good lord, that was a fun time), this stars Arnold as a burnt out, suicidal former New York cop named Jericho Cane (snicker) who ends up having to protect a young woman named Christine York (Robin Tunney) from Satan (Gabriel Byrne) who wants to impregnate her and cause the titular end of days.

Everything in this one is overblown to the extreme from the character names (any more on the nose with naming those two leads and the script would be able to smell how silly it is) to the acting (Arnie and Gabriel have a nice ham to ham combat scene about an hour in which I have to say Arnie wins by screaming "You're nothing but a choir boy compared to me!  A choir boy!" at the top of his vocal range) to the rather impressive amount of darkness director and DP Peter Hyams is able to bathe every scene in.  Even the daytime stuff is kind of dark.

 This was Arnold's first film since the wet, smelly fart that was Batman and Robin and to be fair, it a marked improvement over the former.  It's well put together, the action and horror blend together rather nicely and the novelty of seeing the big guy vs. evil incarnate is used to its fullest advantage.  It is also blessed with one of the dumbest scripts I have ever had the pleasure of seeing played out in front of me.

We got a cadre of fanatical Catholic priests sent to kill Christine before Old Scratch can get to her; Rod Steiger as a more helpful member of the diocese who informs our brawny hero that the whole 666 thing is actually 999 by way of an explanation so dumb even the worst math student would question it, Kevin Pollak providing some fairly nice comic relief (doesn't bust out the Christopher Walken impression though, sadly), Arnold trying with every fiber in his being to play an emotionally troubled man grieving for his murdered family (which boils down to not shaving for a few days and drinking more than usual), subsequently being out acted by everyone else including the Stan Winston designed CGI demon that appears at the end and Gabriel Byrne walking off with the whole damn thing in the most casual manner imaginable.

And Robin Tunney?  Well, uh, she's cute.  Really more of a plot device than anything else but still, cute nonetheless.

End of Days is a big, loud, utterly stupid and yet utterly entertaining piece of crap.  It's a true guilty pleasure of the highest order.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Stephen King's Sleepwalkers (1992)

The first original screenplay from Stephen King yields one of the more bizarre, sort of funny films with his name in the credits.  Sleepwalkers concerns two nomadic energy draining vampires named Mary (Alice Krige) and Charles Brady (Brian Krause) who are ostensibly mother and son but their relationship is decidedly... icky.  They look like normal humans for the most part but when they vamp out, they take on a horrific humanoid/feline appearance and can only be killed by the scratch of a real cat.  In other words, they can die from cat scratch fever.

They arrive in a small town for their latest feeding session and Charles fixates on Tanya (Madchen Amick), a local teenager who also happens to be a virgin, the preferred target of these particular ghouls.

The majority of the film focuses on Brian and Tanya while also delving into the occasional scene of Mary looking worried as an army of cats gathers around her house.  This film may have the most cat related jump scares of any horror film in the last twenty five years.  Mick Garris directs the two younger actors well enough (truth be told, the stuff with them is sort of dull unless it involves any effects work) but Alice Krige walks off with the film, as she usually does in cases like this.  She puts on quite the show in the last act, offing a bunch of cops (one of whom is played by Ron Perlman) by biting fingers, impaling on picket fences and at one point stabbing one through the back with an ear of corn.  Outlandish bits like this are what save the film from being just another dull riff on the vampire movie.  I also like the Stephen King cameo that also features Tobe Hooper and Clive Barker.

Special effects are decent enough with some nice gore, cool cat creatures and some endearingly early 90's morphing effects.  This film came out the year after Terminator 2 and the f/x team was eager to play with their new toys as much as possible.  Really, besides Alice Krige, the gore and f/x are the only reason to really see this.

Sleepwalkers is an endearingly stupid way to spend 89 minutes.  The film benefits from some nice f/x and one or two good performances but in the end, it's a cheesy horror film that has an offbeat sort of vampire and an army of cats in the Van Helsing role.

King's script is cheesy as hell with dumb bits of humor but honestly, even a bad Stephen King film can be worth the effort if you're in the right frame of mind.  What can I say?  I'm sucker for early 90's horror and Stephen King in general.  Plus, it's funny to think that while he was legit coked out of his gourd while making Maximum Overdrive, he was sober by the time he wrote this one.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Hannibal (2001)

Released ten years after the fantastic Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal manages the rather impressive feat of sort of failing to live up to the first film and work as a sequel, but also sort of succeed as a different sort of horror film.

Taking place ten years after the first film, it sees FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) in a lousy position with her job on the line after a botched bust, no respect from her peers (one of whom is Ray Liotta at his slimy best) and in general, one thoroughly screwed individual.  She gets pulled into a scheme by one of Hannibal Lecter's victims, a gruesomely disfigured rich guy named Mason Verger (Gary Oldman in an uncredited performance) who wants revenge on the good doctor and then... Well, things get sort of convoluted.

Honestly, the film is a bit of a bore whenever Anthony Hopkins isn't on screen.  Julianne Moore is a good actress and she's a fine replacement for Jodie Foster but the stuff they have her do and go through could have been done by any actress.  As with the first one, she is constantly second guessed and doubted by her male superiors but unlike the first one film where it was sort of subtle and worked, here it just feels played out and obvious.  The bizarre romantic undertones between her and Lecter from the first film are also revisited here, they work okay but slow down things a little too much for my liking.

Fortunately, large swathes of the movie are given to Anthony Hopkins and his demented character.  While he was creepy as hell as a supporting character in the first film, his lead role here turns the movie at times into an extremely gruesome take on every Vincent Price movie from the early seventies.  Hopkins is good in this more over the top version of Lecter and he has some wonderful exchanges with Italian cop named Pazzi (Lecter is hiding out in Italy, posing as an art expert) played by Giancarlo Giannini who is suspicious of him.  Pazzi is eventually bribed by Verger to arrange for Lecter to be captured and the scene where Hannibal gets his revenge on the cop is a lovely bit of grand guignol as Hopkins channels his inner Vincent Price while killing the man in a nicely disgusting manner.

He tops this later during the finale where he captures the Ray Liotta character after abducting Clarice after saving her life and forcing her to watch as he feeds Liotta bits of his own brain.  It's a hell of a showstopper, honestly one of the grossest things I've ever seen in a movie and makes the more emotional psychological showdown between Lecter and Clarice almost an afterthought.

Overall though, the film has to be considered a failure as a sequel to the original.  It substitutes subtle eerie moments for more over the top theatrics (Hopkins and Oldman chew so much scenery that there is literally nothing left for the other actors to dig into) and in the end it is just as unsatisfying as the book it was based on... Though not as weird.  It's too long, the pacing is off and at the end of the day it's not a great sequel to the original.

It is, however, modestly entertaining if you look at it as the greatest movie Vincent Price never made.  I don't know, maybe I'm just a sucker for Dino DeLaurentiis productions.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Madman (1982)

Figured I'd kick off the Halloween season with a good old fashioned backwoods slasher movie.  Madman is a reasonably efficient effort written and directed by Joe Giannone that concerns a bunch of kids who awake the urban legend that is Madman Marz, a backwoods loon who killed his family some time ago.  The usual slasher antics ensue with some bloody deaths, stupid behavior and of course, an unstoppable killer.

Apart from Paul Ehlers giving a nicely intimidating turn as the killer, the cast isn't much to write home about with Gaylen Ross from Dawn of the Dead as the Final Girl being the main standout, and even then she doesn't really do a lot.  The most interesting thing about her in this film is that she works under a different name, probably due to the film being a non-union production.  Everybody else is pretty dreadful.

What the film does have in its favor is a decent sense of energy and the killer.  Madman Marz is an impressively gruesome, formidable slasher villain with inhuman strength and apparent invincibility.  He sort of reminds me a little of the killer from the Hatchet films, Victor Crowley.  Both are relentless and rack up a pretty respectable body count.  And by respectable, I mean it gets to double digits.  Sure it's only ten here, but all ten are, for the most part, pretty damned impressive with two decapitations: one by axe and the other with the hood of a car, a gory impaling and some other nasty bits.

I also like the general setting and atmosphere as the entire film takes place at night in a small section of the forest where the camp is.  No stuff in the nearby town, no police presence, the guy in charge of the camp heads into town twenty minutes in and isn't seen until the last minute.  It gives the film a nice claustrophobic feel that most slasher films lack.

Madman is a solid meat and potatoes slasher movie that doesn't try to be much more than what it is.  The killer is cool, there are some neat deaths and there is a nice aura of ruthlessness in the way the film casually offs pretty much the entire cast including the Final Girl.  It's brutal but not in a mean-spirited way.  You can do a hell of a lot worse than this one if you're looking for a cheesy 80's slasher movie.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blasts From the Past: John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. (1996)

Starting with this post, I will be examining a selection of films from 1995 to 1999 that I either haven't seen in a while, really enjoyed or just feel like taking another look at.  Kicking this little unofficial project off will be Escape From L.A., the sequel to the 1981 classic Escape From New York and a film I really wish I had seen in theaters instead of Independence Day.  Not because it's that much better than the biggest hit of 1996 (in terms of overall quality they're about even), but I just never got a chance to see a John Carpenter movie first run on the big screen.

Set 16 years after the original, 2013 to be precise, Escape From L.A. follows the first film's beats more or less exactly with a few exceptions.  Snake (Kurt Russell) is once again sent into a futuristic prison city, this time under orders from the ultra right wing President, played by Cliff Robertson.  The mission is to stop a mad rebel named Cuervo Jones (George Corraface) who has brainwashed the President's daughter and gotten her to steal a super weapon that can effectively wipe out civilization as we know it with a press of a button.  The daughter is also marked for death by her dear old dad, which doesn't sit well with Snake (but then what does?) and there are tons of action scenes, character actors and shootouts.

Everything is beefed up for the most part from the theme song which now sounds like its on the juice to the action which is peppered with some dodgy CGI work.  The cast is solid enough with Steve Buscemi in a fun role, Robertson and Stacy Keach in decent turns and fun parts for Bruce Campbell as a gruesome plastic surgeon, Peter Fonda as a surfer and Pam Grier as a guy Snake once knew who had a sex change but the real star of the show is Kurt Russell.  Russell has always loved the role of Snake and you can tell by just how hard he works to make every scene he's in as cool as possible.  He nearly single handedly makes this a really, really good movie.

It falls short, sadly, simply because it tries too damn hard to echo the first movie.  I can sort of see where Carpenter was going with it, some of the echoes are amusing (Snake is constantly told he shorter than expected whereas he was mistaken for dead in the first one all the time) but the overall effect is that it makes you not really need to see the movie since Escape From New York has been consistently available for purchase or rental since 1984.

There is good stuff to be found, however.  Carpenter and Russell inject the film with a wickedly dark streak of humor, taking shots at political correctness the whole way through, there's a fun showdown quick draw scene and coming up with a grimly hilarious, audacious finale as Snake shuts down the entire planet.  It's a hell of a nice ending, though it would be even more effective if the movie were better.  This is right around the time Carpenter stopped giving a damn and it kind of shows, sadly.

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.