Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Addendum to previous post

Quick update to the update.  I think I'll just be revisiting 1995-1999 with additional reviews from those years as I initially intended to do.  Really don't want to get bogged down in lists again. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

A quick programming update

Since I've been going over some films from the latter half of the 90's, I've decided to re-do the lists from 1995-1999 I did last year as I'm honestly not that happy with them as they are right now.  Probably won't do the same for the 2000-2014 range, though.

Stay tuned!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Runaway Train (1985)

Cannon Films didn't always produce grade B exploitation fare and lower.  Sometimes they had loftier goals.  Sometimes, they actually managed to get something truly good.  This is one of those times.

Based on an screenplay by Akira Kurosawa (see what I mean by loftier goals?), this is actually a pretty decent thriller starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts as a pair of hardened criminals, Manny and Buck respectively, who escape an Alaskan prison and end up on an out of control train manned only by a young woman played by Rebecca DeMornay.  Hot on the trail is the nasty warden, played by Cannon regular John P. Ryan who turns in a fairly sedate performance that is honestly a nice change from his usual scenery chewing.

Voight and Roberts get the majority of that duty and they acquit themselves admirably.  Kenneth McMillan also chews some scenery as a railway operator trying to avert disaster.  Kyle T. Heffner and T.K. Carter are his underlings and while Carter is okay, Heffner is just grating with his thoroughly unlikable tech whiz character.  It's generally not a good sign when the evil warden slams a guy's head into a toilet he's been peeing in and the audience can sort of dig where he's coming from.

Runaway Train benefits largely from the solid lead performances (Roberts is good as Buck and Jon Voight is solid as Manny, though he's an actor I generally don't enjoy that much); some nicely staged action scenes in and on the train and some amazing Alaskan scenery.  Director Andrei Konchalovsky does a good job of keeping things moving, though the film does descend into some murky, somewhat pretentious symbolism regarding the nature of man that probably would have been done better if Akira Kurosawa had gotten to direct it (he was planning to in the 70's but couldn't get the funding).

It only really mars the ending which goes for something a little more lyrical then the train crashing and while it works for the story, by the end of the movie you do sort of want to see it get smashed up real good.  There are also a few annoying side characters as I noted above working to stop the train, but they don't hurt the overall effectiveness of the movie that much and you do get to see the most annoying one be on the receiving end of a toilet dunking.

The film is an intelligent, effective thriller that works about as well as one can hope a thriller could work.  Cannon didn't always succeed when they aimed for respectability, but this is one of the rare instances where they hit the mark just fine.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Esoterica X

Time for a tenth round of various odd and ends.

We begin with this gem, the book that honestly made a horror fan out of me at an early age, along with the next item below.  This is a rather cheesy guidebook to monsters that really benefits mainly from the good photos within and the "What to do if you meet" entry for reach subject.  Not often you hear advice on avoiding the aliens from War of the Worlds given out simply as "sneeze on them".  To be fair, that would totally work... Provided you don't get zapped by the death ray.

This is another book that set me on my path, focusing mainly on British horror films.  Lots of great photos from most of the major UK studios: Hammer, Amicus, etc.

I get a real kick out of the 1989-1994 She-Hulk comic, especially the issues done by John Byrne.  In this run, the heroine has a tendency to compulsively break the fourth wall and the overall tone is light and energetic,.  Great art, some delightfully odd bits (there's a guest spot for the cast of an obscure comic called US-1 that Marvel tried and failed with) and in general, its just a fun read.  Sadly, the first eight issues of the five year run are the only ones currently available in trade paperback, but one can always hope.

 I absolutely love this bizarre comedy from Alex Winter.  Winter stars as a spoiled former child star who ends up being roped into promoting for a sleazy corporation, only to be turned into a hideous freak by redneck mad scientist Randy Quaid.  An eclectic cast (Keanu Reeves as a dog boy; Mr. T as a bearded lady and Bobcat Goldthwaite as a guy with a sock for a head?), great special effects and a warped sense of humor make this one a fun treat if you're willing to go along with a stupid comedy.

Not sure who the hell came up with a scream queen exercise video, but that person is a warped genius.  It starts off like any normal exercise tape only with the lovely Linnea Quigley taking the place of Jane Fonda (a step up already) and gradually, it just turns into a pseudo-horror film as our hostess encounters zombies and a slasher during a slumber party who turns out to be Ms. Quigley herself.  Essentially just an excuse to ogle a 5'2 scream queen as she does various stretching exercises and such, this is one of the weirder things I've seen.  It's, well, it's one of the few things she's in where she doesn't die... so there's that.

I have no way to top that at the moment so that will be all for now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Dirty Harry Chronicles: Dirty Harry (1971)

Like his Man with No Name character from the Dollars Trilogy, Clint Eastwood's performance as Dirty Harry has become iconic.  Starting off as a rather brutal take on the police procedural, the character eventually was morphed into another tool for Clint to have fun with his persona.  We'll get to that in the other movies, for now let's get right into pure, raw, unadulterated Dirty Harry Callahan.

  • Opening scene with Scorpio (Andrew Robinson) gunning down a random lady at a swimming pool is nicely done.  The opening credits (and the rest of the score) by Lalo Schifrin are also pretty nice.  Good 70's action music.  I think it may also be the most regular police work we see Dirty Harry do in the series.
  • Right from the start, this is Clint Eastwood's movie.  He's spot on in just about every scene and he manages the task of making a fairly brutal cop into someone we can root for and to an extent, sympathize with.  Giving him a scene where he talks about his dead wife helps greatly, a plot point that would become a cliche rather quickly when it wasn't being simply tossed to the side in order to have a borderline sociopath as a hero (some of the Italian cash-ins that followed)
  • The first aspect of Eastwood's performance I want to touch on is the humor.  Clint's best roles generally have at least a faint strain of dark, subtle humor to them and this one is no exception.  Like The Man with No Name, Harry isn't one for small talk Clint gets some entertaining facial reactions here and in the rest of the series whenever someone around him is being a general pain in the ass.
  • The iconic bank robbery scene comes about ten minutes in and is just a wonderfully staged bit of business by director Don Siegel.  In terms of sheer character building, you get pretty much everything you need to know about our lead (the scene preceding it in the mayor's office does this too) as he orders lunch, notices a robbery in progress and reluctantly foils it in typical brusque fashion.  In general, Clint is just a total badass in this film.  Cool, funny and tough as one would expect from the man.
  • The film more or less establishes the tropes future action movies would use with an independent-minded cop who goes by his own rules; the unwanted partner who eventually comes through in the end, the angry chief (in this case, it's an angry mayor played nicely by John Vernon, Harry's actual boss is a little more mellow) and of course, the rather conservative viewpoint on stopping crime any way one can. The difference here is that Clint helps make and keep things palatable just by being likable.
  • On the other side of the law, we have Andrew Robinson in a role that both made and broke his career.  Scorpio is a splendidly nasty piece of work: cold and ruthless but also violently psychotic.  The film doesn't get too much into why he's doing what he's doing which in most cases would be a flaw but here, it makes him even creepier.
  • Action is pretty solid as well with some nice stunts including a leap onto a moving bus that Eastwood did himself.  The final showdown with Scorpio is also a nice, more tense callback to the robbery scene in the beginning.
  • The film is not without flaws, some aspects of the film are rather badly dated (though its forgivable) and to be honest, the scene where Harry tortures information on a kidnapping victim from Scorpio is probably a bit much but apart from that, the film is simply a fun, smash mouth 70's action film.
  • I also really don't want to get too much into the politics of the film as frankly, I sort of feel the film doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as the critics took it when it came out.   It certainly is nowhere near the level of the Death Wish films which seemed to seriously feel vigilante behavior was okay.  Dirty Harry tends to take matters in his own hands when doing the job the right way doesn't cut it but there's always a sort of wink to the audience which I will go more into as we continue to the sequels.
Clint Eastwood really hit it big with Dirty Harry and in the ensuing sequels, the character would morph slightly, as would the amount of creative input from Clint.  It's an iconic film, though not the best of the series.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Matrix (1999)

For better or for worse, The Matrix was probably the most influential action movie of the 90's.  While things like Terminator 2 early in the decade made big breakthroughs in special effects, The Matrix took things to an entirely new level.  In the years since the film was released the action genre has sort of been depleted a little by overuse of CGI, erratic editing and just a general sense of "been there, done that" to things.

That's not to say there haven't been good action movies, it's just that most of the really good ones I've dug have decided to go against the style that our feature today made so prevalent.  With that in mind, I thought I'd take another look at The Matrix to see how it holds up.  Not bothering with the sequels (because I like myself too much to watch them again) so let's get in the wayback machine and travel back to 1999.
  • Quick rundown of the plot for those who haven't seen it: Keanu Reeves is destined to be the chosen one in a battle to free humanity from the grip of a bunch of computers that have enslaved the planet.  Laurence Fishburne is on hand in the mentor role and there are stacks of inventive f/x sequences amidst an interesting cyberpunk storyline.
  • Fantastic opening sequence with Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) escaping from some cops along with a few villainous Agents led by Smith (Hugo Weaving).  Weaving is terrific as the bad guy and I gotta say that even after it's been done to death by parodies and cash-ins, the way the Wachowskis shoot the action sequences is still fantastic.
  • Unlike a lot of the stuff that followed, there is a clear sense of geography to the sequences in that you can tell where the hell the people are and what the hell is going on while still maintaining the kinetic pace the film relies on.  Good thing too since the story, while entertaining, isn't exactly original.
  • Keanu Reeves was actually a rather brilliant casting choice.  Neo is supposed to be a rather bland programmer by day-hacker by night type and if there is one thing Reeves can knock out of the park, it's coming off as ordinary.  He's also a rather good action star when given the right material and directors (or directors in the case of this film).  It also helps that he spends most of the movie observing and learning, not really doing any true action stuff until the last thirty minutes.
  • The rest of the cast is solid with Fishburne doing a good impression of Yoda is he were as huge bald guy with cool shades and Joe Pantoliano having fun as a traitorous slimebag.
  • Interesting philosophical stuff in the script though to be honest, I think the film is a little too obtuse for its own good.  There are some interesting things, mainly from the Oracle character played by the late Gloria Foster but the payoff is rather muted, though that could just be that when it comes time for the payoff, the film suddenly remembers its a Joel Silver production and it ends to up the action quota.  Not complaining at all really, as the action scenes are really well done.
Outside of some pacing issues (the relative lack of humor sort of hurts it as well), the film still holds up pretty well today.  It's a relatively smart science fiction/action movie and it can be watched quite easily without one feeling the need to slog through the sequels.  The stylized filmmaking, complete with wire work-assisted action scenes and some decent enough CGI makes it certainly one of the more energetic action films of the late 90's.

More importantly, The Matrix changed the way blockbuster filmmaking was carried out with more of an emphasis on special effects wizardry (which is saying something considering what has been going on since the late 70's) and a more stylized feel to everything.  The Matrix had a decidedly huge impact on the action movie that is still felt today to an extent.  The sequels may be forgettable, but the original is still a damn fine piece of movie magic.

Monday, January 26, 2015

2010: The Year we Make Contact (1984)/The Kindred (1987)

Starting things off this week with an 80's double feature.

 Not a huge fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the film looks amazing but the pacing is truly bad) but the 1984 sequel from Peter Hyams is surprisingly good.  Roy Scheider stars, playing a character from the first movie who is investigating the events of the previous film as well as a new monolith that has been discovered.  Hyams keeps things moving at a nice, brisk pace and the special effects work is nicely low key and effective.  I also get a kick out of the cast as we get not only Scheider (who I always liked) but also a nicely understated turn from John Lithgow and Helen Mirren as a Russian cosmonaut also heading an investigation.  2010 is not a perfect movie by any means but it's about as good a sequel to the first film as anyone could ask for.

And we finish things off with something I've been wanting to review for a long, long time.  The amount of crap I've had to go through just to view this cheesy little nugget is just incredible.  From defective video tapes (to give an idea of how long I've been trying to see this one) to bad timing on my part, the road to me seeing The Kindred is... Well, probably more interesting a tale than the one the film tells but not as much fun.  Regardless,we're deep into the low budget 80's monster movie jungle here with this tale of genetic experiments, gooey monsters, family secrets and Rod Steiger doing what he does best.  Making you wonder how the hell he got a rep as a good actor.  Actually to be fair, he's pretty fun in this one as a mad scientist but he did have his fair share of terrible performances.

A genetic scientist, on her death bed, implores her son to destroy all the files pertaining to her work, particularly one involving his "brother" Anthony.  Anthony turns out to be this big, slimy tentacle laden monster created from his brother's living tissue and that's just the tip of the iceberg in this fun monster movie.  We get gooey mutants, Amanda "Leviathan" Pays turning into a fish creature, Rod Steiger with a bad toupee, some decent gore splashed around and enough slime to fill the Grand Canyon.  If you can find it online, check it out.  It's well worth the effort.

About Me

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