Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Favorite Era: Aliens (1986)

The sequel to Alien does the remarkable and ends up being just as fantastic, only in a completely different way.  Whereas Ridley Scott went for drawn out suspense, James Cameron delivers the suspense with gut-wrenching intensity and speed. It's got a great cast, great f/x and a great soundtrack.  Let's take a closer look.
  • As with the first film, the title of the film is gradually revealed as the opening credits roll.  It's a pretty neat visual.
  • Love the nightmare sequence that re-introduces us to Ripley.  Sigourney Weaver is great as usual (hell, she scored a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars for this), giving Ripley not only a great badass attitude, but also a soft maternal side, both of which get a damn good workout.  It's a real good piece of physical and emotional acting.
  • Also good is Paul Reiser as Burke, the slimy rep from The Company who ends up joining Ripley as she goes after the aliens when a colony is lost and turns out to be just as deplorable as the monsters themselves.  Reiser, who is generally a pretty likable and funny guy does a fantastic job of playing a huge, colossal scumbag.  It's actually pretty impressive given that all of his other work is mainly comedy.
  • The group of Colonial Marines Ripley hooks up with is fantastic, James Cameron's script gives most of them enough personality so that you actually sort of care when they become alien chow and there is not a bad performance in the entire batch.
  • My personal favorites are Hicks (Michael Biehn), Bishop (Lance Henriksen), Hudson (Bill Paxton) and Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein).
  • Biehn delivers a nicely laid back performance, though given what I know about his acting technique I'm sure his intensity level was through the damn roof.  Henriksen is his usual reliable self and Goldstein is fun as a badass soldier but the real fun comes from Paxton.  Hudson starts off as your typical cocky jerk but as the situation gets worse he slowly begins to go nuts.  And believe me, when Bill Paxton is told to go crazy in a scene, the dude abides.  The dude abides.
  • The last cast member I want to mention is Carrie Henn as Newt, the lone survivor of the colony.  She manages to be one of the few child performers in film history to not turn in a shrill, annoying performance.  
  • Cameron does a fantastic job keeping things moving, this might be the most relentlessly paced 137 minute long movie I have ever seen.  Like Ridley Scott, he puts an emphasis on suspense only in this case, he abandons Scott's subtle approach in favor of grabbing the audience by the throat about forty five minutes in and not letting go until the end credits roll.  It's a hell of a thrill ride with frantic shootouts, huge explosions and general mayhem.  Hell, I still jump at one or two of the scare moments (alien facehugger in a jar suddenly moving, gets me every time).
  • The last twenty minutes or so are awesome as Ripley goes Rambo on the aliens, it's a real stand-up-and-cheer sequence.  the finale with the alien queen and Ripley in a power loader is a great way to end the flick.
  • Stan Winston delivers maybe his crowning cinematic achievement with his aliens, especially the alien queen.  Just fantastic work all around.
  • Also good is the score from James Horner, hell every facet of the film's production works perfectly.
  • The extended 154 minute cut is equally strong, though a good deal of it is not entirely essential as one of the things that makes the film work is just how relentless it is.
Aliens is one of the few sequels that manages to be just as good as the original in an entirely different way.  While Lethal Weapon 2 was just as good as the first, it was still pretty much the same film.  In the case of Aliens, it excels at sledgehammer suspense and terror in much the same way that the original excelled at a slow build.  If The Terminator got James Cameron noticed, Aliens really got him noticed as he does a great job (even with his massive social ineptness at the time) and gives the audience one hell of a roller coaster.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Random Bits of Bond and 80's Movie Stuff

Just some random 007-centric stuff I get a chuckle out of plus some videos.

I've always gotten a kick out of comic adaptations of films.  This one is pretty damn good as the film itself is essentially a live action comic book.

I became a fan of the franchise in the late 80's and the first batch of books I snagged came from Berkley Books.  I like the silhouette design, very striking.

 The first ten Fleming books were released along with the John Gardner continuation novels.

Movie tie-in magazines are also quite fun to look back at, Starlog Press tended to do one or two for every major release in the 80's and 90's.

Before we get to the main event, I'd like to share a little gem I found.  It's a rare TV spot for the 16th Bond epic, Licence to Kill.

Ah, gotta love nostalgia.

And now, the real reason I wanted to do this article.  When I was a kid, ABC had the rights to show the James Bond films, usually chopped up like a victim in a slasher movie.  Here are a few TV spots for them.

I think this was the first one on TV I ever saw, and for years it was the only version I saw period.  Then I got it on VHS...That was a bit of an eye opener.

There was also good stuff to be found on NBC.

God, I can only imagine what really little kids must have thought when suddenly Darth Vader starts talking at them through the TV.

And of course, what would a post on 80's TV from me be without a little KTLA?

To finish off, here's a neat little ad for the VHS release of Lethal Weapon 2.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Favorite Era: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

John Carpenter has made many great horror and sci-fi films (granted since 1988 he's only had one good film but anyway) but this may be his most entertaining overall.  A wild blend of martial arts, comedy and special effects, Big Trouble in Little China was a film probably a few years ahead of its time.

Kurt Russell stars as Jack Burton, a macho trucker who is not quite as awesome as he thinks he is.  He ends up being drawn into supernatural events whilst giving his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) some help and much chaos and hilarity ensues as lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) and bus driver Egg Shen (Victor Wong join the two to fight the evil Lo Pan (James Hong).

Yes, this is a John Carpenter comedy.  Generally one doesn't think of him and humor but surprisingly, he has a pretty deft touch when it comes to fast paced, almost screwball comedy.  The dialogue scenes whiz by quickly (good thing too since there is quite a bit of exposition to get through) and the performers deliver it in their own unique way,  Russell goes for blustery bravado (it helps that he's the guy the others are explaining stuff to for the entire film), Kim Cattrall has the breathless energy of a forties starlet and Victor Wong and Dennis Dun bring a certain conviction to their lines that works fantastically.

Adding to the humor is how Jack, who would usually be the big hero, ends up being the sidekick though he doesn't realize it.  This leads to some pretty funny bits as Kurt Russell ends up being a hero by accident while Dennis Dun ends up being damn near unstoppable.

The rest of the cast is good too with James Hong coming off best with his fantastically evil Lo Pan.  He brings it all to the table with some nice bad guy speeches and one or two funny bits.  Generally this is what happens when an immortal supernatural force employs regular mortals.  I also get a laugh out of him posing as a regular human by just adding "David" to his name.

I also enjoy Victor Wong who always was good at playing crusty but brilliant badasses.   Kim Cattrall and Dennis Dun are also good.

The supernatural aspect leads to some nicely wild moments as we get wire work enhanced sword fights, some pretty neat monsters and lots of special effects from Richard Edlund.  Hell, we even get Al Leong in a small role as one of the bad guys.  It's a real great thrill ride that would have made a fortune at the box office if it had been released ten years later than it was.

Big Trouble in Little China is a fast-paced, funny, terrific action comedy with a nice supernatural angle that gives the film a nicely gonzo feel to it.  Kurt Russell is fantastic in one of his best roles, Carpenter directs things with his usual expert touch, the San Francisco locations are good and the end result is an awesome film.

Equally awesome is the Blu-ray which has all the extras from the 2001 special edition: a great commentary track from Carpenter and Russell; a gloriously cheesy music video and tons of extended scenes and outtakes plus more goodies.  It, like the movie is simply stunning.

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Favorite Era: Predator 2 (1990)

While not as good as the first one, Predator 2 is still a fun bit of gory ultra-violence with a great cast, good f/x from Stan Winston and an awesome finale.  The only problem is what comes before it, though there is some good stuff to be found.  Let's take a closer look.
  • The main issue here is that the film is essentially a remake of the original.  They pay a little lip service to the first one, setting it ten years after it and noting the events but for the most part it's the same damn film.  This leads to a rather annoying bit of frustration for the viewer since anyone who has seen the first one (as in most of the people watching the second) know exactly what the characters are dealing with and it comes off as very repetitive.  The only difference is that it's louder, bloodier and even more violent.  Not necessarily a deal breaker for me, though.  To be fair, this is Joel Silver excess at its finest.
  • Love the opening with the of Predator POV shots leading into a huge shootout between the cops and two drug gangs.  Hell, this even manages to make the then-popular Morton Downey Jr. (no relation to Robert, look him up if you want the full scoop on this drip) somewhat palatable simply because his entire role in the film consists of him getting abused by a very angry Danny Glover.
  • Speaking of Glover, he's surprisingly good as the typical hard ass cop hero, Harrigan.  Generally, one pictures him as the down to earth Roger Murtaugh from the Lethal Weapon films but he does quite nicely as the borderline Section 8 type.  I also like that he's not wild about heights.  It's not deep or anything but it's something.
  •  I dig Harrigan's team.  Ruben Blades is always a solid actor and Maria Conchita Alonso also turns in a solid performance.  Her character is basically Vasquez from Aliens with a badge but she still has a few fun bits.  Also good is Bill Paxton who joins them later.  As usual, Bill is hilarious.  Even funnier is having Robert Davi as the deputy chief of the LAPD.  Not often you get this guy as the obligatory pissed off chief.
  • But even better is Gary Busey as federal officer Keyes.  Busey is his usual hilarious redneck self.  The man may be certifiable but he sure as hell is fun to watch.
  • While the film slogs its way down a road already traveled, Stan Winston does deliver the goods with some more great work.  The Predator this time out is younger, leaner and meaner and some cool new weapons.  The subway rampage he goes on is pretty good too.
  • Stephen Hopkins also does a pretty solid job of directing, doing his best to keep things moving.
  • The film really picks up after an hour when Harrigan goes off after the beast on his own.  Keyes intercepts him and of course it's all about getting the predator's technology.  Busey is good here, though.  He gets a great death scene later on.
  • The showdown between Harrigan and the Predator is good, though not quite as iconic as the one from the first film.  It goes all through a building, down into the sewer and finally on the alien ship.  Good stuff, though the in-joke with the Alien head did unintentionally lead to Alien vs. Predator and its sequel.  Can't win them all.
I like this one, in spite of its flaws.  It's well made, has a good cast and the last forty five minutes are actually quite good.  It's not as good as the first (or 2010's Predators for that matter) but it's a damn sight better than those two Alien vs. Predator turds.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

No Mercy (1986)

I've always felt that a movie can be as cliched as it likes, as long as it does something interesting with those cliches.  The 1986 flick No Mercy is a prime example of what can happen when someone follows that credo as it takes a rather formulaic plot and gives it a nice spark thanks to two appealing leads, some nicely done action and a real slimy villain.

Richard Gere is Eddie Jillette, a tough Chicago cop whose partner is killed by slimy vice lord Losado (Jeroen Krabbe) during an impromptu undercover job.  He tracks down Losado by way of Michele (Kim Basinger), a witness to the killing who Losado has control over and of course, the cop and girl end up together while the bad guys track them down.

There are a few things that makes the script work in spite of its predictability:
  1. Richard Gere and Kim Basinger are both likable performers and they give their roles a little more depth than one would expect.  Gere is an unconventional choice for an action role but he makes it work by giving Eddie a humorously cynical outlook along with an understated toughness that works.  As for Basinger, she is quite sexy of course but she also brings a nice dose of reality to her illiterate kept woman character.  
  2. You can't go wrong with New Orleans as a primary location.  Tons of atmosphere, dark corners and grimy swamps, a thriller fan's paradise.  The action is pretty good too with a nice fiery finale.
  3. A good thriller requires a good villain and Krabbe is not too bad as Losado.  He's fairly low key for the most part (save for the end when he starts busting through walls) and William Atherton is pretty good in his typical 80's role of a complete prick.  This time, he's a lawyer.
 No Mercy is a typical 80's cop film with cliches out the ass but thanks to some good casting and nice atmosphere, it manages to work.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (1965)

Godzilla stomps again in a rough remake of the previous film (Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster), going up against aliens from Planet X who have conspired to use him and giant Pteranadon Rodan, along with returning Ghidorah in order to subjugate our planet.

This goes about as well as one would expect it to (Godzilla isn't really the order-taking sort), and the end result is an agreeably cheesy, decently paced monster mash.  As tends to be the case, the film works best when the monstres are on screen wehacking the hell out of each other.  Also par for the course is the rather dull and somewhat annoying human drama we have tio get through in order to get to the monster fights.

The stuff with the aliens is okay (it helps that the costume designer decided to give them all giant neck braces) and Nick Adams is decent enough as the token American but we also have to slog through a romantic subplot between the sister of one of the astronauts who first visits the alien world and an annoying inventor.  Really, if MST3K had tackled this one they would have been making Jerry Lewis jokes about this schmuck the entire time.  Happily, he does prove to be useful as his invention proves to be key to saving the planet.  On the downside, it's a machine that makes the most annoying sound imaginable.  Can't win 'em all.

We also have the usual pacing issues that come with this series as most of the monster action is restricted to the last few minutes.   That stuff aside, the monster action is pretty damn good (though the Rodan stuff is mainly stock footage from his debut film) with Godzilla doing a silly victory dance at one point.

I especially like the bit where the aliens are blown up, freeing all three monsters and the first thing Godzilla does is get pissed and start beating the hell out of Ghidorah, pounding Rodan too to get him to help out.

The Godzilla suit is a little iffy though, this was his first film as an out-and-out good guy and the decision to make him look a little more friendly was not the best possible one.

Godzilla vs. Monster Zero is a fairly decent entry in the series, though it drags here and there and to be frank, it's more of an alien invasion movie with Godzilla than a Godzilla movie with an alien invasion (in fact, the current English title is Invasion of Astro-Monster which fits quite well).

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Favorite Era: Robocop (1987)

Robocop is a movie that by all rights should never have worked as well as it does.  It takes a fundamentally ridiculous idea and manages to make it believable by way of some clever satire and ludicrously over the top violence.  In essence, it is a live action comic book.

Peter Weller is Alex J.  Murphy, a cop in futuristic Detroit (which somehow looks even worse than present day Detroit) who is brutally murdered by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his gang only to be reborn as Robocop. Weller is pretty good, oddly enough his rather stuff demeanor makes him ideal for playing a guy who is turned into a robot.  He had a hell of a rough time with the suit and the fact that he came back for the sequel is a miracle.  And that, folks, is the only nice thing you will ever see me write about that godawful piece of cow poop.

On the side of evil, we have two great villains in Clarence and Dick Jones (Ronny Cox).  Kurtwood Smith gives us one of the slimiest, nastiest villains in 80's action and Cox is solid as always, playing a corrupt executive for the company that has taken over the police department.

The rest of the supporting cast is solid with Nancy Allen turning a likable turn as Murphy's partner Lewis and Miguel Ferrer as a rival to Jones.

The f/x work from Phil Tippett and Rob Bottin is quite impressive even today with the ED-209 enforcement droid (which makes a gruesomely hilarious debut ion the film) being a standout.  As for Bottin, he really delivers the goods with some nasty gore.  The highlight is the death of Emil (Paul McCrane), one of Clarence's goons.  It's a real impressive, gross death as Emil crashes a truck into a vat of toxic waste, emerging with his flesh horribly melting off.  Needless to say, I saw this at a very young age and was duly impressed.

All this would be simple bells and whistles of not for the expert direction of Paul Verhoeven and the rest of the crew.  The film is slickly directed and tightly edited with good action, a nice score from Basil Poledouris and a nice, gritty production design that doesn't overdo the futuristic stuff.  The film also has a wicked, dark sense of humor that permeates the film and allows the audience to accept some of the gaudier acts of violence on display.

Robocop overcomes the essential silliness of its premise and ends up being a fantastic action film.

About Me

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