Tuesday, April 30, 2013

VHS Memories XXXIV: Embassy Home Video

Been a long time since I did one of these but I really wanted to highlight one last VHS distributor.  Embassy was one of my favorites, from the catalog of titles to the logo itself, it just oozed coolness to me.  They released titles from 1981 to 1986 after which they were bought by Nelson Entertainment who kept the releases going for another few years.  Here's a nice cross section of stuff from Embassy, Nelson and sublabel Charter Entertainment which went the way of the dodo after the sale.  There are a few things here I've talked about before and some things I will into in the future, enjoy.

 The classic Mel Brooks comedy was one of their early releases.  Dig the sparse design too, though there are variations I prefer more.  As for the movie, it speaks for itself really, one of the funniest things ever with a hilarious Gene Wilder performance and tons of other great stuff.

 Not a lot to say, I just always dug those highlight reel tapes.  Good stuff.

 Chuck's first real movie, this is a dubbed Hong Kong action flick from the early 70's with Chuck as the main bade guy.  Embassy would also release Breaker!, Breaker! and An Eye for an Eye.

 This is the last film from the late William Girdler, one of the more interesting 70's b-movie directors.  He also made the Jaws rip-off Grizzly.

 John Stamos: Action Hero!  Yeah, not really.  Having the front man for KISS as the main bad guy wasn't a good move either.

 They also put out  a stack of Roger Corman productions, such as these women in prison flicks from The Philippines.

There are some good releases from Corman's New World pictures I've written about before.

 Gotta love this cheesy ghost story/devil movie.  Good stuff.

 One of the last great exploitation films Corman produced...

 And here might be the absolute last great one.

Since the company was big in the 80's, they naturally put out their fair share of slasher flicks.

 A great sleaze classic with an amazingly over the top Wing Hauser performance.

 I saw this at last on Blu-ray (thank god for Shout Factory) and it's a fun, cheesy, surprisingly dark at times little horror flick.  Not exactly good, but still pretty neat.  Awesome cover as well.

To round things off, the titles that I always went for whenever I wanted to go on a rental binge (thanks to Amazon Instant Video, this tendency lives on).

 One of my all-time favorites.

 I actually prefer the more lurid Embassy cover but alas, I can't find it anywhere.  Fantastic film too.

And that's Embassy in a nutshell.  Until next time...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

My Favorite Era: Caddyshack (1980)

Caddyshack is one of the great 80's comedies.  A typical "slobs vs snobs" type story, it nevertheless has become one of the most quotable movies ever.  The directorial debut of Harold Ramis, it is ostensibly about young caddy Danny Noonan (Michael O'Keefe) and his search for a good role model and a win in a golf tournament that will help pay for college.  What it's really about, however, is putting Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight in the same movie and telling them to have a good time.  It's the quintessential 80's slobs vs. snobs comedy, let's take a closer look at my ten favorite bits (in no particular order), seeing as it's been pretty much reviewed to death.

  1. Chevy Chase is hilarious through the entire film (ah, the days before he stopped giving a damn) but his best stuff comes when he's sharing scenes with Ted Knight.  Both guys are funny and the way Chase just insults Knight is just great.  Chase was really in his prime at this point, a prime that would last until the end of the 80's.  Literally.  Christmas Vacation is the last thing he's done even remotely good.
  2. Ted Knight was a terrific comic actor (his blustering rage is always good for a chuckle) and his portrayal of Judge Smails is a masterpiece of arrogant snobbery.
  3. Bill Murray is a force of nature here, coming in and out of the film with just the most hilarious bits of business imaginable.  Cleaning golf balls in a suggestive manner, tossing off oddball speeches, his war with the gopher, I think I actually like him here more than Dangerfield.
  4. A small note, I love all the side characters at the country club.  The various caddies are funny; the club members are just wonderfully snobbish, Smails' nephew is just amazingly funny and I even get a kick out of Danny's girlfriend Maggie (Sarah Holcomb).  Though to be fair, it's just the hideous fake Scottish accent.  As far as her part in the film, it's pretty dire.
  5. Rodney Dangerfield is, as many others have noted, a force of nature in this movie.  He pretty much just does his act and that's more than enough as he's hysterical.  Hell, even his golf bag is funny!
  6. O'Keefe is pretty good as Danny, he has a few funny moments with the various characters and he's an okay anchor for the ostensible plot of the film.
  7. Cindy Morgan is sexy and funny as Lacy, her stuff with Chevy is quite entertaining.
  8. I love Kenny Loggins' 80's output and the main song he contributes for this one (I'm Alright) is a great one.
  9. The lone scene with Chase and Murray is a marvel of improvisational comedy as two really awesome comics go back and forth.  It's just a fantastic scene.
  10. Apart from the laughs and the numerous great moments, I think what I like most about the film is its willingness to just tell a story by existing, rather than going from Point A to Point B.  This usually doesn't work, and to be frank it's a pretty stupid idea to try regularly but if you get the right folks together at the right time and place, it can work.
 Caddyshack is a comedy classic that happened at just the right time and place.  It's just hilarious.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Post 200: 10 Of the Worst Films I've Ever Bought

Wow, post #200!  While some folks would take an opportunity like this to sing their own praises and make themselves look good, I am made of different stuff.  As one might have gathered from reading this blog, I'm a movie buff.  I've seen tons of films and have bought tons.  As with all things, some of those purchases are...less than wise, to put it gently.

Therefore, here are ten of the worst movies I have ever purchased.  One or two of these I've written about elsewhere, some of them I can actually justify but all of them would (and should) make anybody of a sane and rational mind raise a quizzical eyebrow.  Also, there are a few I'm leaving off for space purposes.  These are just ten of the more egregious choices.  I won't be reviewing the films necessarily but rather why the hell I bothered to buy them in the first place.  Yes, rather than taking the piss out of the films, I'll be taking the piss out of the dummy who bought them.  Me.

10. Batman & Robin (1997)

In all fairness, this one really shouldn't count seeing as I bought it as a box set with the other three Burton Schumacher entries.  That being said, Batman and Robin is a genuinely excruciating experience that is both unpleasant visually and aurally.  George Clooney is actually sort of okay as Batman (though he pretty much head-bobs his way through the entire movie which is his go-to signal for "Screw this, time to phone it in") and it is sort of fun to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger ham it up as Mr. Freeze (though he should never be allowed to cry on screen ever again) but everything else is just noise and neon with rubber nipples and molded groins.  Just terrible.

9. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Now this one I can sort of justify as it's one of the funniest unintentional comedies of all time and I was thinking of writing an article about it for The Agony Booth at one point (the list of stalled projects I have for that place is immense.  More on that later).  Michael Caine earns money for a new house; shark f/x in 1987 somehow look more primitive than those from 1975, a shark follows Lorraine Gary all the way from New England to the Bahamas in order to avenge its death, a franchise dies and the only reason it's this low on the list is because it's just so damn funny.

8. Hudson Hawk (1991)

Most folks (most being a rather large understatement) hate this Bruce Willis comedy and I freely admit it's not very good but for some ungodly reason, I dig it.  It's tonally confused, way too goofy for its own good and every single frame screams out vanity project but somehow it works for me.  Having said that, there is no sane excuse for me buying the special edition.  Not even writing an article on it for Agony Booth can justify that.

7. The Avengers (1998)

 Equally bizarre is the fact that I paid money for this muddled, confused, utter bore of a movie that tries for the whimsical strangeness of the TV series and misses by a huge margin.  Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman look bored, Sean Connery is in "I got a house payment" mode and the whole thing is so confusing that I couldn't even manage to make it into an Agony Booth article.  And I once devoted 12,000 words to Howling II, folks.  I can take confusion!

6. John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (2001)

I don't have too many bad habits but one of them is definitely an intensely impulsive nature when it comes to buying movies (I know, from a guy who purchased The Avengers and Hudson Hawk that's a shock), especially when the film is from a director I genuinely admire.  John Carpenter is maybe my favorite director of all time (at least if you count his output up to 1988 plus In the Mouth of Madness) and I was dying to catch his 2001 sci-fi horror epic Ghost of Mars.  The premise sounded cool, the cast was cool...sort of, and I damn near drove the poor bastard at Blockbuster crazy trying to find it.  I should have let it be and caught it on TNT.  God, is that film a stinker!  I almost feel sorry for having driven the clerk nuts, but then again he was a bit of an ass anyhow and the service at that particular store was sub-par at best.  Customer service is vital folks, vital.

5. Casino Royale (1967)

Now being the huge James Bond fan that I am, owning this terrible spoof is somewhat understandable.  It's loud, it's stupid and there are maybe only one or two real laughs in the entire 130 minute running time but still, it's Bond so I can justify it on that level.  What's a little shaky is that I not only own the first version that was released, but also the 2007 collector's edition.  I don't know, I just don't know.

And now, we really get to the part where my sanity/intelligence/worth as a member of the species comes into question.

4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

I sort of planned on doing something on the franchise as a whole but that never panned out but what really makes this an unconscionable purchase is that I watched this non cable one bleary eyed Friday night in college...And I hated it.  Every single stupid, annoying, shrill, nonsensical moment.  Like the other sequels, it's essentially a loose remake of the original but here Leatherface turns out to be a cross-dresser, Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger find a reason to fire their agents and the big twist has something to do with the Illuminati and a fear experiment.  And for some reason, even though I have no plans on doing that article (since I'd have to cover the recent reboots as well which is another story altogether), I own this piece of crap.

3. The Haunting

This may be the most inexcusable entry since I saw this in the theater and loathed it.  I can't even tell you why I bought the VHS, it's just...I can't explain it.  The film is, as anyone who has seen it can attest, is awful with no scares, too much CGI and no reason for existing.  The only reason this is not #1 is that the last two are worse quality wise, and the stories behind my owning them are more amusing.

2. Leonard Part 6

Yes, I, a man who likes to consider himself rather picky when it comes to comedy, owns a movie so awful that even the star told people not to go see it when it came out in theaters.  Bill Cosby was right, as this is maybe the worst comedy I've ever tried to sit through.  It's so un-funny that the only way to wring a single laugh from it is to tell you how I came to own it.

The market I work at carries DVDs.  Some new releases, but for the most part we have a smattering of catalog titles that the studio could only pawn off on a supermarket.  One evening, it was a bit on the quiet side and I saw that this monstrosity was stocked, for the very low price of $3.33.  Seeing that I was the closer that evening, I decided to purchase the film after my shift, as it is much easier to justify a purchase like that after midnight than before.  Needless to say, my co-workers were perplexed and to honest, I am too.  Not sure what the hell I was thinking, I just had to see it for myself.

1. Mad Dog Time

 Just having to see it for myself is also the reason I paid for this, an incomprehensibly bad crime comedy from 1996 that ended up on Siskel & Ebert's worst of the year show.  I can't even describe the plot as I'm fairly certain there is none to be found.  It's just long stretches of pointless dialogue punctuated by someone getting shot.  Odd as it may seem, having two noted film critics take a film out behind a barn and beat it senseless makes me want to see the damned thing...And I did.  The video store I used to frequent had it on clearance, discounted to $2.50 from $5.00.  I often wonder what that money could have gone to if I hadn't spent it on an abysmal Tarantino knock-off made by Richard Dreyfuss and a bunch of other talented actors who should have known better, as should I.  Maybe I am crazy.


Thanks for reading, more to come soon.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Terminator (1984)/Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

A double feature today as we examine not only the film that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star, but also the film that made him a mega-star.  Yes, gentle reader.  It's time to check out the Terminator films.  No room for the third one here folks.  And the fourth one?  What fourth one?  It never happened, you hear me!  Never!

Ahem, sorry.  Let's move on, shall we?

No need to get into plot specifics as I think everybody has seen the first two films (and lord knows they're readily available) so let's get into the good stuff.

The Terminator (1984)

In 1984, ambitious filmmaker James Cameron bestowed upon us the gift of The Terminator.  A dark sci-fi thriller, it follows Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, a young waitress destined to be the mother of the man who will save the world when the machines take over the planet.  She is aided by Reese (Michael Biehn, a resistance fighter from the future and together they struggle to fend off a horrifically determined cyborg, The Terminator (Arnie himself).
  • First off, you gotta love how Cameron took what is essentially a b-movie plot and gave it a fresh coat of paint by being his usual control freak self.  The cast is great, Stan Winston does some of his best f/x work and the production design is fantastic.  With that out of the way, let's get to some of my specific favorite bits.
  • Love Arnold's entrance here as he is simply intimidating not just due to his physicality but by his creepy demeanor.  Brilliant idea to have a guy who is not at his best when spouting dialogue or genuinely trying to act, simply be a cold and emotionless robot.  Also cool to see Bill Paxton in an early role as one of the punks he kills.
  • Michael Biehn is also fantastic as Reese.  He just brings a natural intensity to the part that sells the man's fear and desperation almost perfectly.  It definitely helps sell the exposition he has to deliver.
  • As good as the male leads are, the film would simply fall to pieces if Sarah didn't work.  Happily, Hamilton is up to the challenge, giving us a perfectly ordinary young woman thrown into extraordinary circumstances.
  • The gun store scene is still fantastic, it's always nice to see Dick Miller.
  • Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen make for a fun duo as the cops who get drawn into things.  Both guys are accomplished character actors and are quite good.
  • Schwarzenegger is actually quite scary in his role.  There's something about a killer who just doesn't give a damn that's chilling.  The fact that he's not human actually serves as a bit of comfort, really.
  • The slow motion in the nightclub scene is very well used as Sarah is first worried Reese is the guy after her, only for Arnold to turn up.  The ensuing action scene is classic Cameron: expertly shot and tightly edited with a keen sense of geography, something any good action scene should have.
  • I also love the dark humor in Arnold driving a cop car, especially since in one shot the "To protect and serve" motto is seen first as he rolls into view.  Ah, the benefits of setting your movie in Los Angeles!
  • The Terminator's self-surgery scene is still pretty effective, even with the rather obvious puppet head used in some shots.  What can I say?  It impressed me when I was a kid and it still looks pretty decent today.
  • I get a chuckle out of Earl Boen as the skeptical shrink.  He's just a fantastic prick in his scenes, though understandably so if you look at things from his perspective.
  • Naturally, the police station shootout is classic Arnold, just an iconic sequence.  I've always liked how it serves as just an opportunity for Arnold to go wild while Reese and Sarah escape.  The character building stuff that follows between Reese and Sarah is also good.
  • The final act is a fantastic barrage of action with a motorcycle, an eighteen-wheeler and a massive explosion that is a great false ending for the movie.
  • The actual climax in the factory is very good, though after the awesome reveal of the Terminator skeleton is sort of has a steep mountain to climb.  Fortunately, it's very satisfying when Sarah grits her teeth and destroys the machine in a hydraulic press.
The first Terminator movie was one of the surprise hits of 1984, it still holds up today as does the first sequel.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

The Terminator is back and this time, he's trying to protect the future as he teams with Sarah to protect her son John (Edward Furlong) while trying to avoid the lethal T-1000 (Robert Patrick).  All the superlatives I threw the first film's way apply to the second film so let;s just get to the good stuff.
  • Of course, we're talking the theatrical cut here but the extended edition is also good.
  • I was a total geek for this movie.  I had the VHS, video games, books, you name it.
  •  Another great Arnold intro here as he beats the hell out of a bunch of bikers and ends up with a new leather wardrobe, a nice bike and a cool pair of shades.  As before, he does a very good job as The Terminator, this time showing us the learning process without having access to things like facial expressions and emotion.  Pretty good for a guy whose acting skills at their best are surprisingly good...which isn't really that much of a compliment when you think about it.
  • Love the touch of "Bad to the Bone" playing as Arnold exits the bar.
  • Robert Patrick is creepy as hell as the T-1000.  Making it even more effective is the fact that he poses as a cop for the majority of the film.
  • The one weak link-through no fault of his own really since he was a kid at the time-is Furlong as John.  He's cocky and funny in parts but there are times where his pretty grating.  The dialogue doesn't do him any favors either.    He doesn't hurt the film at any point though, which is more than can be said for many child actors.
  • Linda Hamilton gets to change things up a bit this time out, playing Sarah as darker and more disturbed (which tends to happen when one is locked up in the looney bin), but also a formidable ass kicker.  She's pretty good, giving a fairly uncompromising performance considering she's in a summer action movie.
  • I also like her chemistry with the returning Earl Boen.  He comes off as even more of a prick here which is always fun to see.
  • Joe Morton is good too as Dyson, a scientist who will play a role in the machines taking over.  He's solid and you really feel for the guy.
  • The film's first action scene doesn't come until nearly a half hour in but it's a damn good one with the mall chase leading to the fantastic truck vs. bike sequence.  There is just too much cool stuff to mention here: the amazing for the time (and still pretty good today) morphing f/x for the T-1000; the glorious chaos that ensues when two Terminators get into a fist fight, it's just a perfect action sequence.
  • The stuff with Furlong and Arnold bonding is decent enough, though there are one or two cringe-inducing moments.  A cyborg learning 1991 slang...not the best thing in the world, even if it does lead to a funny bit later on.
  • I get a laugh out of John making the Terminator promise not to kill anybody.  Maiming people horribly?  No problemo.
  • The entire hospital sequence from the moment the T-1000 arrives to the end where the good guys finally escape is another masterfully done blend of action, editing, special effects and stunt work.
  • I love that Cameron has the balls to have thirty three minutes go by without the T-1000 showing up.  It works great and lets the three heroes really come together as characters.  For all the grief I give Cameron for his personality (he's mellowed, but he's still a bit of an ass), he certainly knows how to tell a compelling story with solid characters.
  • Sarah stalking and nearly killing Dyson is a nice bit of drama.
  • The last forty five minutes of the movie are an absolute blast as the heroes decided to blow up Dyson's office building in order to keep the future from occurring.  Sure, there are a ton of plot holes brought up by this and other elements in the film but with time travel plots you have to write carefully so the audience doesn't give a damn about this sort of thing.  T2 is one of the films that gets this, thankfully.
  • The action beats are great with Arnold doing his impression of every action scene from The A-Team (tons of bullets, no casualties); another truck chase and some helicopter stuff that is also great.
  • The steel mill finale is also nicely tense as Arnold takes a beating which gives Stan Winston a another chance to shine and Robert Patrick is just plain evil.  It's a really great finale to a fantastic movie.
T2 roared onto screens in the summer of 1991 and was a massive hit to say nothing of an instant classic of action cinema.  Terrific action; awesome f/x that still look good today, it's just a classic.  Along with the first film, it makes up one of the most compelling, thrilling stories in modern cinema.

My Favorite Era: The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

There's something quite joyous about hearing about a movie and wanting more than anything else to see it, and when you finally do it turns out to be a blast.  Our subject today is just such a film, the utterly whacked out Ken Russell horror flick Lair of the White Worm.

Based on a Bram Stoker novel written towards the end of his life when he was stricken with syphilis, it's a genuine head trip of a movie that features Hugh Grant as a heroic (more or less) noble, Amanda Donohoe as a freaky vampire chick, the lovely Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis as the Trent sisters (Eve and  Mary respectively) who end up being menaced and a ginormous white worm living in a cave.

Let's take a closer look.
  • Before we start, a bit of background.  The story (both the Stoker book and the film) is partially based on the Northeast England folk tale about the Lambton Worm, a huge monstrous worm that terrorizes a small village until it is slain by a knight.  The film changes the name to d'Ampton but the background stays the same.  There is also an 1867 song based on the legend that is spruced up in a rather neat way we'll get to later.
  • The film proper concerns Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi), a Scottish Archaeology student who discovers a gigantic skull near the bed and breakfast he's staying at.  The artifact is shrouded by mystery but it has something to do with Lady Sylvia Marsh (Donohoe), the disappearance of Eve and Mary's parents and an ancestor of Lord James d'Ampton (Grant).  A nice setup, really.  It does what most good British horror films do, build things slowly and let the audience immerse themselves in the story.  In a way, this plays like a modern (for 1988 standards at least) Hammer film.
  • It's not often the legend behind the monster in a movie is told by way of a catchy almost-rock song complete with dancing.  It is here though, one of the many quirks that makes this such a fun movie.
  • Hugh Grant is pretty good here as Lord James, he balances the usual rich English guy (I'm feeling generous, so the upper-class twit jokes will have to wait till another day) stuff with a little bit of heroism decently.  On a side note, is it a bad sign that the best thing I've ever seen Hugh Grant in involves naked vampire chicks and a giant worm?  Probably not.
  • The acting highlight is Amanda Donohoe as Lady Sylvia, however.  Needless to say, being the naked vampire chick will tend to make you stand out but she really takes it up to eleven while also underplaying a little (it's a British thing).  She's not just a snake-like vampire in terms of appearance when she vamps out, she also sleeps in a huge wicker basket and moves in a distinctly serpentine manner.
  • The other three main actors are also pretty good with Peter Capaldi turning in a nice performance as a Scottish Indiana Jones essentially.  As for Davis and Oxenberg?  Well, they're very charming and very attractive.  In a horror movie, there's not a damn thing more I need.  Well, okay, they could be a bit smarter but really that's just nitpicking on my part.
  • I also get a kick out of Paul Brooke as Ernie, the lone cop in the village as far as I can tell.  Well, the only one with a working vehicle at any rate.  Never seen a guy with two lazy eyes before either.  That's gotta make the morning commute interesting.
  • The film has some really nice scenery as the filmmakers managed to catch the middle part of England in between rainy periods.  There's plenty of spooky atmosphere during the nighttime scenes and even the stuff in broad daylight has a creepy feel to it.
  • It just wouldn't be a Ken Russell film without some freaky visuals, which we get here in the form of some hallucinations brought on by Lady Sylvia spitting venom on a cross hanging on the wall of the bed and breakfast whilst in the process of stealing the giant skull.  I just report what I see, folks.  We also get a truly bizarre dream sequence with Hugh Grant on a plane with the three female leads and the missing parents.  Sylvia is there as well, trying to infect James and she ends up in a wrestling match with Eve. 
  • There is also a ton of sexual imagery, as one would expect from a horror movie involving snakes and most of it comes from Lady Sylvia who makes more references to snakes than most herpetologists probably do.
  • It's also not every day where a vampire chick bites a boy scout's junk in a hot tub after playing a game of Snakes & Ladders.  This is one seriously messed up movie in many ways.  Here, the vampires don't bite you on the neck, they go a little further south.
  • I also get a chuckle out of Donohoe going into a rapturous speech about the pagan god she serves...only to be interrupted by the doorbell.
  • If the film does have a fault, it's that the characters do tend to lapse into the usual stupidity horror film characters tend to.  It's not a huge thing but the time it takes for the connection between the father's watch being found in the cave and the cave's past with the legendary work comes off as padding.
  • Still, we do get to see maybe the first villainous monologue ever delivered while laying naked on a tanning bed as Sylvia tells Eve, who she's taken captive, that she will be a virgin sacrifice.
  • I've gotta say, Hugh Grant is probably the last guy I would believe swinging a sword around, bisecting possessed snake-vampires.  Not sure I really buy him here doing it but it is pretty entertaining nonetheless.
  • Angus and Mary sneaking around Sylvia's place is a nicely creepy scene, the fact that they have to fight off her undead mother is a nice touch as well.
  • I love Angus suiting up to take on Sylvia.  Not often your hero storms the villain's lair to rescue the damsels in distress while wearing a kilt and blaring away on a set of bagpipes.  I don't really want to know where he was keeping the mongoose he brings along though.  His showdown with Ernie is something to behold.  Let's just say Ernie won't have to worry about that lazy eye issue anymore.
  • The finale is pretty good as well with Angus racing to save Eve before Sylvia feeds her to a giant worm living in the cave.  During this Sylvia is wearing, well there;s no delicate way to pout this.  She's wearing a codpiece with a snake-like dildo attached to it.  I'd rather not talk about it anymore, if you don't mind.  James chips in by...Well, spelunking around the cave hoping to draw the beast out while Angus does all the heavy lifting, blowing the snake up with a hand grenade after Sylvia is dropped into its bloody maw.
  • As a fan of cheesy monster movies, I do have to say the snake puppet is pretty damn spiffy, especially considering what the budget must have been.
  • The ending is a bit of a downer though as the hospital Angus got some snake anti-venom from screwed up the order and now Angus and Eve are infected, as James finds out right before we go to the end credits.  It's a bit of a daft ending but given how bizarre the rest of the move is, I suppose it fits.  Still, we get to hear the song again so it's all good.
 The Lair of the White Worm is a trippy, endlessly entertaining piece of 80's cheese that's worth checking out.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Favorite Era: Hard Target (1993)

John Woo is one of the most respected directors of action films.  First achieving fame in Hong Kong, he brought a fresh, intense energy to the genre with tons of style and blood squibs.  In the early 90's, he was starting to get noticed stateside as his fantastic 1989 thriller The Killer was released.  In 1993, he made his first American movie, a reworking of The Most Dangerous Game starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Hard Target revolves around drifter Chance Boudreaux (our muscular lead) as he is drawn into a fight against rich mercenary Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) who likes to organize hunting parties where rich guys hunt homeless war veterans.  Chance hooks up with the daughter of one of these unfortunate vets (Yancy Butler) and much gunplay and chaos ensues.  Let's take a closer look.
  •  First off, you gotta love a film executive produced by Sam Raimi and directed by John Woo, two of the great directors of the 80's and 90's.  Sure, it's watered down John Woo but even then, it's still pretty cool.
  • The story setup is pretty good as we see how the mercenaries carry out one of their hunting parties.  An amusing tidbit is that the guy they are chasing is the film's screenwriter, Chuck Pfarrer.
  • I also love the fact that one of the hunters has a rocket launcher.
  • Not sure what's funnier: Jean-Claude Van Damme's thick accent being explained as "Cajun" or the horrid hairstyle he's sporting.  It's like a mullet that he decided to get half-permed but then said "Never mind, I'll just pour some motor oil on it and call it a day".
  • This may be one of the few action films I've ever seen where the lack of much law enforcement to get in the way of the mayhem can be chalked up to a police strike.  And no, Robocop 2 doesn't  count.  It never happened and neither did the third one.
  • The unquestionable highlight of the film is Lance Henriksen as the bad guy.  Henriksen is always good but here he puts on a full-blown aria of arrogant sleaze and malice.  Refreshingly for a movie villain, he's not overly hammy though he does have one or two moments where he begins to lose it.
  • I also have to give the man extra credit for doing a fire gag.  Granted it wasn't intentional but damn!  Now that's commitment to one's craft!
  • Arnold Vosloo is also good as Van Cleaf, Fouchon's main henchman.  He's just as nasty a piece of work as Fouchon plus you get an entertaining accent to boot.
  • The other performance I have to mention is the great Wilford Brimley as Boudreaux's uncle.  I can't honestly say it's good, but it sure as hell is entertaining.
  • The thing I really find amusing about this film is how John Woo's signature style is sort of mashed together with the standards of the typical action movie.  Whereas his films usually come off as a little artistic in terms of composition than most action movies, here the artistic flourishes seem somewhat forced and silly.  For instance, Woo tends to use doves as recurring motif.  They turn up here, in his much better Face/Off and Mission Impossible II...And of those three, only Face/Off manages to not make it goofy.
  • The slow-motion at random intervals also turns up and it works okay for the most part.
  • As for the action, it's pretty damn good (though not quite as good as Woo is capable of.  There's a gleefully stupid bike stunt and a fantastic, extended shootout at the end that's quite entertaining.
  • I also get a kick out of the mercenaries Fouchon brings together for the finale.  Not often you see Arnold Schwarzenegger's buddy Sven-Ole Thorsen in maybe the ugliest shirt ever made being kicked in the face by Jean-Claude Van Damme.
  • As entertaining as the film is, the most readily available cut is pretty heavily compromised.  Van Damme (no stranger to egomania) did a cut that had more of him in it and the MPAA required a ton of cuts in order for the movie to score an R rating.  Most of the cuts were made in the action scenes and I'd be dishonest if I said they didn't hurt the film's impact.
  • To end things on an up note, I love having Born on the Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival playing over the end credits.  Very cool.
As it stands, Hard Target is an acceptable, fun action movie that is both a middle of the road Jon Woo movie but also Van Damme's best.  Well, maybe not his best but it's in the top five at least.  It's got a great extended finale and a fantastic performance from Lance Henriksen and for me, that's good enough.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fangoria 2010-2013: The Dawning of a New Age, and The Future

Fangoria 2010-2013

This is the final installment of the series for now.  2010 saw the end of Tony Timpone's 24 year reign as editor, replaced by Chris Alexander a few months into the year.  The magazine had slowly but surely improved.  I'll take a brief look and then wrap things up.


The first two issues of 2010 were less than promising as they had essentially the same cover only with a different monster.

 Mr. Timpone's last issue was a pretty decent one as it covered the fantastic Survival of the Dead.  A pretty big shakeup came with the next issue as Chris Alexander from the pretty good Rue Morgue magazine took over the editorial reigns.

 This was a good start as the film strip came back...sort of.  This would get even better with issue 300 though...


 Now that is what I'm talking about!  By this point, I was back on the team fully and excited as hell for the new era of Fangoria.  Not only was the film strip back (in the 1982 style no less!) but the old logo made a nice return.  It would make a return again later in the year and stick around.

 One of the things I really like about the new style the magazine has adopted is shorter stories (all the better to cover the glut of films that come out these days); more retrospective stuff (always the magazine's forte) and some amusing sidebar stuff.  For instance, every now and then they'll have a filmmaker go through his or her resume.  Neat.

 We've also gotten a welcome return to painted covers now and then.  There is some quite stunning artwork on display nowadays.

 Hell, they've even done two covers for one issue!


Last year brought essentially more of the same but with a greater focus on quality.

 The magazine has become a pleasing blend of old school and new stuff.  It's not all perfect (the glut of articles can sometimes be trying if there's not much worth seeing) but it's got the enthusiasm to keep the reader happy.

 They're also willing to take chances again, something I always appreciate.


 This year so far has given us three issues, though I can sort of see one or two possible issues.  There isn't a hell of a lot coming out right now and I'm not sure there's much retrospective stuff that hasn't been covered.

 The film strip is also gone again, not sure why.

The latest issue is somewhat disappointing but not horrendously so.  While the genre may stagnate, I feel confident that Fangoria will keep on striving to be as good as humanly possible.  That's what it started out as and was for a very long time.  It may not ever be as it once was, but it can still be damn good.  It's an icon of the genre.

I'll go back to the magazine again at some point, probably the best of the issues I missed or something like that.  Until then, this was a fun, exhausting series to do.

About Me

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