Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 Lists: 2009

2009 was a good year for smaller films (by that I mean the really big blockbusters went over like a fart in church for me) resulting in what is an eclectic list by my standards.

10. Paranormal Activity

 A bit over-hyped but this neat little chiller makes it just by sheer virtue of how well made it is.  One of the few found footage films I like, it has some nicely creepy moments like the female lead just standing over her bed, watching her boyfriend sleep for several hours.  To be fair though, watching anyone you didn't give birth to sleep for more than a few minutes is a little creepy, demonic possession or not so it does lose a point there.  Still, a very well made horror movie.

9. Sherlock Holmes

I'm a sucker for mysteries and Robert Downey Jr. so this one ended up being right up my alley.  Good direction by Guy Ritchie, a nice pair of performances from Downey and Jude Law and one or two nice action set-pieces make this one a pleasant surprise.

8. My Bloody Valentine 3D

Speaking of nice surprises, I found this cheesy remake of a quite good 80's slasher to be a hell of a good time.  It really says something that this was able to be a much better Friday the 13th film tone-wise than the actual reboot that was put out about a month after this one was released.  This has some great gore, a nice Tom Atkins role and a refreshing sense of humor.  It's not the second coming of cinema or anything, but I had fun with it.

7. The Hurt Locker

Not sure it was really Best Picture material but overall, Kathryn Bigelow's action drama is a nicely tense, engaging thriller with some decent acting.  Plus, I just love the fact that the director of frigging Point Break has an Oscar!

6. Moon

Sam Rockwell is the reason to see this moody, fascinating bit of science fiction that has a lone man on a moon base slowly coming to terms with his reality.  It's a really, really good little movie.

5. Inglourious Basterds

Nor my favorite Tarantino film (the fact that it was marketed as an action film is really stupid) but nevertheless it is a wonderfully written and acted film that uses the simple notion of language as a means of creating suspense.  Christophe Waltz is mesmerizing as the bad guy and the ending is maybe one of the great cathartic moments in recent film history.

4. District 9

This is just a fun, though slightly heavy-handed throwback to those great mid-80's science fiction films that gave you not only some great visuals but also a thing or two to think about.  Well acted and directed with some great creature designs, this is one of my favorites.

3. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Once again, Nicolas Cage proves that two hours of an actor being told to do whatever the hell he likes can sometimes pay off.  Having nothing at all to do with the 1992 Harvey Keitel film, this is a great, long Cage freakout from Werner Herzog that manages to be both a funny dark comedy and an interesting police procedural.

2. Crank 2: High Voltage

Jason Statham no-sells death in this berserk movie that equals and in some ways surpasses the original film in terms of sheer nutty, politically incorrect madness.  With something to offend everybody, this is cinematic insanity at its most unique.

1. Black Dynamite

This fun, affectionate parody of 70's action movies outdoes 1988's I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka! by simply playing as a goofy but straightforward movie from the time period.  Michael Jai White is great as the title hero, the film has some amazingly funny moments and any film that ends with a kung fu battle between the hero and Richard Nixon is a winner in my book.

Honorable Mentions

Not exactly great, but this admittedly dumb movie is an acceptable enough bit of entertainment.  It's not that much better than some of the lesser films that came before, really.

This is an entertaining zombie flick with some good acting, including a hilarious turn from Bill Murray.  Good stuff.

Up until the last fifteen minutes, this is one of Sam Raimi's best movies.  Good gross-out gags, a great seance sequence and a nice 80's style make it worth watching, just be prepared to be annoyed by the way the ending comes about.  I don't have an issue with the outcome, just the road taken to get there.

James Cameron's first film since Titanic is pretty good entertainment with great f/x bolstering a rather weak, predictable plot.

Ti West's low key chiller is a nice throwback to 70's horror movies but it's probably a little too slow for its own good.  Still, the violent climax more than makes up for it.  Solid little horror flick.

I like this agreeably daffy comedy with a fun cast, a biting sense of humor and a clever script.  It's not great, but acceptable.

The ninja film made a comeback with this enthusiastically violent revenge flick.  Good action throughout as well as a nice role for legend Sho Kosugi.

A pretty damn good adaptation of the graphic novel (the only time I will ever use that rather pretentious term since it does fit), this has style to spare and in general is a entertaining watch.  No pun intended.

Guilty Pleasures

The two films in this section I was fully expecting to not like but they ended up being fun in spite of themselves.

Stephen Sommers' big screen version of the toy franchise is better than it has any right to be.  Chock full of cheesy action and hammy acting, it's actually a fairly nice throwback to 80's action films.  It's not good, but it's entertaining enough for me.  Hell, if nothing else, it's better than the Transformers films.

This one falls into the category of "Sometimes you just want to watch a stupid action movie with lots of action and special effects".  I really have no other excuse for it.

2009 was sort of an underrated year in my opinion with some really, really good films coming out of nowhere to make for a varied, eclectic year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Favorite Era: Maximum Overdrive (1986)/Future Hunters (1986)

This series wouldn't be complete if I didn't include at least a few of those sort of films you would rent on a weekend and end up watching at about two in the afternoon (or morning if you were a night owl) and just find yourself wondering "What the hell am I watching?"

With that in mind, here is a double dose of WTF for your reading pleasure.

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Stephen King's one and only directorial effort is a monumental bit of over the top garbage movie filmmaking. Taken from his short story "Trucks", it tells the gruesome tale of a diner in Wilmington,  North Carolina that finds itself under siege when, after Earth passes through the tail of a rogue comet, all the vehicles and mechanical devices in the area begin to go murderously haywire and menace the folks in said diner.  Yep, it's essentially the stereotypical 80's King novel done in widescreen, with all the things that entails.

Maximum Overdrive is loud, violent and obnoxious with abrasive acting from most of the cast (Pat Hingle and Yeardley Smith are especially egregious), some disappointing MPAA mandated cuts to the gore that sort of makes the film toothless and while I do like AC/DC, having them do the entire soundtrack was probably more than a little overboard.

In spite of these flaws, I do find myself enjoying parts of the film (mostly the bits where not a damn person is talking).  King does a serviceable job behind the camera (considering he was coked out of his gourd at the time this is a minor miracle) giving us some legit creepy bits with trucks moving without a driver; I tend to enjoy Emilio Estevez (he's the lead here and does well enough) and I readily admit I'm a sucker for anything produced by Dino De Laurentiis, even if he is uncredited as he is here.  I think this was the last King project he had anything to do with.  The others were The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Cat's Eye, Silver Bullet plus the TV movie Sometimes they Come Back.

Really the best part of the film is the main antagonist, a gigantic truck from a toy company that sports the head of Spiderman villain The Green Goblin on its front grille.  It's visually striking and King does a good job of making it the centerpiece of the film.  Outside of that, there are a few nicely gruesome moments when annoying characters are offed (not to mention the little league game that sees a guy get killed by a soda machine and a kid get flattened by a steamroller) but for the most part, the Green Goblin truck is the thing to really see the film for.  I think I like it because it's the only main character that doesn't talk.

Maximum Overdrive is a trashy relic of the 80's and if you like bad movies, you can do a hell of a lot worse than this one.  Bad script, a stupid plot, bad acting, annoying characters, hell if it was a little more gory it would be more worth watching.  As it stands, it's just sort of okay providing you have a thing for unintentional comedy and lowbrow humor.  Having King announce at the beginning of the trailer "I'm gonna scare the hell out of you!" was probably a bad move.

Future Hunters (1986)

The second half of our double bill is this wild, bonkers flick from Cirio Santiago I found on a 50 movie pack (sometimes they really pay off in the best way).  Richard Norton plays a post-apocalyptic hero trying to get his hands on the spear that pierced Jesus when he was on the cross and somehow caused a nuclear war that leveled the planet.

He manages to find it, only to be mortally wounded and in the process of recovering said spear, is transported to 1986 where he gives it to Slade (Robert Patrick giving off a strong Emilio Estevez only less of a smartass vibe, oddly enough) and his girlfriend Michelle played by Linda Carol.  Because lord knows it's always a good idea to put the future of humanity in the hands of a whiny schmuck and his infinitely more badass girlfriend*.

*We're talking a matter of degree here, really.  It's not like she's Pam Grier or anything.  It's just that she doesn't whine nearly as much as Slade and has a pretty decent fight with an amazon at the end.

To be fair, Slade does have a few moments but for the most part, he doesn't really earn such a bad ass name.  He's a former Marine mechanic and based on what we see, no wonder one of the Marine mantras is "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome."  Hell, once they get to the jungle island and the Nazi villains show up, he's downright competent!  Oh yes, the bad guys are a bunch of Nazis led by an overacting fellow who might as well have a big neon sign reading "I'm evil!" over his head the first time he appears.  Yep, the fate of the world lies in the hands of the future T-1000 and his girlfriend as they fight against a bunch of cheesy, deranged Nazis.

That is really all the plot we get as the rest of the film is a bewildering, wonderfully bad melange of genres with time travel, amazons, Nazis, a Mongol horde, big guns, the prerequisite bunch of little people (with some kids thrown in) you have to get in any film shot in The Philippines during this time period and even an out of nowhere appearance from Bruce Lee impersonator Bruce Le.  One of these days I'll have to get to that particular genre, long story.

Future Hunters is one of those films that is sort of hard to talk about since in order to describe what happens, you have to be comfortable with coming across like a drunken lunatic. Part Road Warrior riff, part time travel adventure, part jungle adventure film, about the only genre this doesn't cover is horror.  And even then, if really cheesy films horrify you... Well, like the MST3K song says, you should really just relax.

Santiago doesn't keep the pace as tight as it should be (the thing runs 100 minutes but would have been fine at about 85 nor so) but he makes up for that with tons of action.  Not always the best thought out action but still, lots of people get shot and lots of things get blown up real good.

It's the sort of movie that seems like it would work if you broke it up into ten minute chunks and watched it that way.  But trust me, it wouldn't.  With Future Hunters you either muscle your way through or don't bother at all.  If you do get through it, you will more than likely be entertained and at the end of the day, that's all a film like this has to do.  There is always something interesting happening, while the film runs a little long it still has a decent pace once it gets going and regardless of what you might think of it you have to admit there aren't many other films like it.  I sort of love it, actually.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Favorite Era: Die Hard 2

Die Hard 2 (1990)

Die Hard 2 is a worthy (though somewhat repetitious) follow-up to the first film.  Bruce Willis returns as John McClane and this time he's dealing with terrorists at Dulles International Airport.  Needless to say, if this one wasn't making the rounds on airplanes when it was relatively new, it damn sure isn't now.

Renny Harlin directs with a decent amount of skill (his movies aren't always great but for the most part he does his job well), keeping the pace nice and tight.  Since this is a Harlin film, the blood hits during action scenes are rather large which makes for a nicely over the top feel to each bit of violence which there is a ton of.

The action is pretty damn great itself with some nice shootouts, a wonderfully over the top snowmobile chase scene and a finale on the wing of an escaping 747 that is quite fun.  I especially get a kick out of Willis narrowly escaping death from a series of grenades with the longest fuses I have ever seen in my life.  You can always count on a Joel Silver production from this era to deliver the goods.

The performances are solid for the most part with Willis of course turning in his usual funny man of action routine.  William Sadler and Franco Nero are adequate villains and Dennis Franz is fun as a bombastic airport police captain.  I also get a kick out of the brief appearance of Robert Patrick as one of the terrorists and Fred Dalton Thompson as the chief of airport operations.  About the only problem, I can find is with William Atherton making a return from the first film.  I'm okay with Bonnie Bedelia in danger as her plane can't land but having Atherton on board the same flight (as funny as he can be is a little too contrived for me.

Outside of that, the film is a little bit on the predictable side (anyone shocked that the John Amos character is in with the bad guys needs to watch more movies) and it does fall into the category of "sequel that is a re-dressed version of the original" but it's still a fun action movie.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Top 10 Lists: 1996

1996 was a really fun year for films.  Tons of solid popcorn films and some decent serious films made for one of the better cinematic years in the 90's.

10. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

I'm a fan of the TV show and this truncated feature version of it is a funny, entertaining extension of the concept.  The choice of This Island Earth makes for some pretty funny riffs and all in all, it's worth watching if you're a fan of the show or if you're just getting into it.

9. Star Trek: First Contact

The eighth Star Trek movie is also the last really good one as Picard and the crew of the Enterprise D go up against their dreaded enemies The Borg.  Jonathan Frakes does well in the director's chair, giving the scenes with the bad guys a really great, creepy horror vibe (as they should have) and while the rest of the film is a little hit or miss, it still comes together as a solid effort.

8. Ransom

Mel Gibson is pretty damn good in this enjoyable thriller from Ron Howard that sees Mel as a father desperately trying to get his kidnapped son back from bad guy Gary Sinise.  Howard keeps things moving at a brisk pace and keeps the tension fairly well.  Good stuff.

7. Tin Cup

I'm not the biggest fan of post-Dances with Wolves Kevin Costner but this sports comedy is an entertaining, funny piece of work with a good soundtrack and fun supporting performances from Cheech Marin and Don Johnson.  It is the second best movie about golf behind Caddyshack.

6. When We Were Kings

I'm a bit of a documentary buff and this is a really, really good look at the Ali/Foreman fight from 1974.  Fascinating stuff to watch.

5. The Rock

The best movie Michael Bay ever made, this one is just a blast with tons of action, good work from Connery and Cage and for what it's worth, one of my favorite trailers of all time.  If Bay could have made more movies as entertaining as this, his reputation would be a hell of a lot better than it is.

4. Scream

Don't much care for the sequels and as I noted elsewhere, the writer is a bit of a one-trick pony but Wes Craven's affectionate slasher satire is still a worthy bit of horror filmmaking.

3. Looking for Richard

Another fun documentary, this is more or less Al Pacino and a bunch of other fairly big names putting on a production of  and analyzing Shakespeare's Richard III.  The 90's were a bit of a Renaissance for the guy with Kenneth Branagh doing a bunch of adaptations as well as the 1991 version of Hamlet and this piece.  It's quite engrossing to watch.

2. Eraser

The forgotten gem in Arnold's filmography, this is just plain fun with some great action, a nice turn from James Caan as the bad guy and a great over the top sensibility.  It's basically an 80's action movie with a 90's sensibility.  Just a fun ride.

1. From Dusk Till Dawn

I've written about this elsewhere on the blog but in short, it's about ten times better than it has any right to be with a great cast, f/x and a fun script from Tarantino plus Robert Rodriguez doing what he does best..  Another film on the list that is just plain fun.

Honorable Mentions:

I'm a fan of David Mamet and Dennis Franz and this neat little flick is a solid, interesting drama.

Tom Cruise brings us him in action hero mode, in all its eye-bulging glory.  A fun film that is marred by a few things but to be honest, I can't bring myself to hate a film that has Jon Voight brutally crushed by a helicopter.

Jackie Chan finally found some stateside success with the American release of this fun kung fu flick.  It has some great action and if ever there was a movie to start off his success here with, this film was as good a choice as any.

Not a bad thriller with Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal trying to save a plane from hijackers.  It's a little pacy in parts but Russell is good and you get to see Seagal sucked out of a plane in flight.

This is one I really get a kick out of, even though it's not really all that great.  Chalk it up to me being a sucker for a hammy John Travolta performance (as long as the rest of the film works too) and the unintentional humor of Christian Slater as an action hero.  John Woo directs with his usual flair and the action more than makes up for the plot deficiencies.

The first 45 minutes of this period horror film based on real events are pretty damn good but the film sort of dips once Michael Douglas enters the picture.  He's good and so is Val Kilmer but the film sort of loses focus along the way.  Still, it's a solid horror film with good work from the trained lions they had and some impressive shots here and there that are actually quite creepy.

Guilty Pleasures:

A notoriously troubled shoot, this sports two really bad performances from Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando and some great f/x.  It's not a good movie by any means, but watching it is quite fascinating if you like to see good actors struggle against more than just a bad script.

Not exactly a worthy follow-up to the first film to be kind, it's still an enjoyable enough bit of bad horror and the fact that in 1996 there were two movies about vampires and scantily clad women amuses me to no end.

1996, as I noted earlier, was a really fun year for movies with a lot of good, some bad and some in between.  Hell, there were films I had to leave off just for the sake of brevity!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Top 10 Lists: 1998

1998 was interesting in that for the most part, the real big blockbusters I tend to gravitate towards came up short while smaller projects really stood out.

10. Lethal Weapon 4

This just barely makes my top 10 by sheer virtue of it being a miracle that it even ended up being sort of good.  A rushed schedule, a script so unfinished I'm not even certain it can be called one and it still manages to be entertaining as hell.  Great car chase midway through too.

9. Ronin

 Speaking of great car chases, this one has several.  The rest of the movie is pretty good too as Robert DeNiro and an all-star cast tool around Europe in this fun thriller from the late John Frankenheimer.  I'm a sucker for a good spy movie with a great cast and great action and this fits the bill just fine,.  It's not perfect, but it's definitely worth the effort.

8. Blade

 As tends to be the case, I drift more towards the b-list superheroes and this great little flick is one of the reasons why.  Good work from Wesley Snipes, some great f/x from Greg Cannom and some nice action scenes make this one of the better superhero movies from Marvel.  The sequels aren't nearly as good though.

7. Black Dog

 I've written about this one before but it;s just an amazingly fun movie with some great truck stuns and a wonderfully gonzo performance from Meat Loaf as a lotto obsessed, coupon clipping Jesus freak who is the main villain.  How the hell can you not at least sort of like that?

6. The Spanish Prisoner

 This is a brilliant little flick from David Mamet that has all of his usual trademarks: great dialogue, an intricate plot laden with cons upon cons and good performances from the entire cast.  The great thing about this one is how low key it is.  No cursing, no violence, really just a gradually unfolding series of plot developments but you end up being sucked into the narrative.  A really good film.

5. Wild Things

 This is a brilliant little mind-screw of a thriller with a fun cast, a quick pace and a final twenty minutes that is just hilariously audacious.  It's essentially an 80's erotic thriller with a fine gloss and the twists and turns you expect from a mid to late 90's flick.  Hell, you even get a brilliantly funny Bill Murray performance for no extra charge.  It's sleazy as hell, but that's part of the fun.

4. The Big Lebowski

 I'm a pretty big Coen Brothers fan and this is one of their better, more entertaining flicks.  Like Wild Things, it takes the tropes of film noir and turns them to their own devices to an extent as we get a hilarious Jeff Bridges performance as maybe the most reluctant reluctant hero I have ever seen.  Typically great cast, great script and an off the wall sensibility make this a real fun one to watch.

3. Saving Private Ryan

The first 40 minutes alone make this one of the best war movies of time and the 110 that follow are equally good, though not quite as impactful.  Tom Hanks is solid as usual and Spielberg directs the action with his usual flair.  Overall, just a damn fine movie.

2. Dark City

A really terrific sci-fi feature with a brilliant script, some great visuals and a solid cast.  It's one of the best noir pictures of the last twenty years or so too.

1. Out of Sight

Once again, an Elmore Leonard adaptation makes the top of my list with the fantastic Out of Sight.  Starring George Clooney, and Jennifer Lopez, it's a fast paced, funny and endlessly entertaining crime/romance/comedy with a great cast, fun direction from Steven Soderbergh and a great soundtrack.  Words cannot express how much I love this film.

Honorable Mentions:

I get a kick out of this decent thriller that features two great performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey.  It's predictable as hell but I've always felt that it's not whether or not your film resorts to cliches, it's how it presents the cliches.  In this case, the end product is a nicely entertaining movie.

Robert Rodriguez's take on alien invasion films suffers a bit from an overly cute script (Kevin Williamson really is a one trick pony) but thanks to a good cast and some nice KNB f/x work, it manages to be quite a fun ride.

This one is a little funny for me because I remember reading about a sequel to The Fugitive and thinking to myself "Huh?"  Then I saw the movie and thought "Okay, that was sort of amusing."  It probably says something  rather bad about the slate of 1998 action movies that this was one of the better ones put out.  Still, some nice action and Tommy Lee Jones is always fun to watch.

Guilty Pleasures:

 I like to call this one "The Iguana that Ate New York", pretty much the only way I can justify it.  To be fair, the film does have one or two minor moments of quality.  You gotta squint hard to see them but still!

For some ungodly reason, I sort of get a chuckle out of this one.  Maybe it's the unintentional comedy that comes from casting Christian Slater as an action hero, maybe it's watching Morgan Freeman manfully slogging through the bad lines he's given.  Hell, it could just be that Betty White cursing like a sailor makes me chuckle.  I don't know.  I do know that the film is bad in a rather enjoyable way.

If the last 80 minutes were as good as the first 15, this would have made the top 10.  As it stands, this Brian DePalma thriller has a great opening sequence, good work from Gary Sinise and a bonkers Nicolas Cage performance.  It also has a plot so obtuse that after about the halfway mark I was just looking at Carla Gugino (the female lead).  Bad ending too.

I'm a sucker for Carpenter and that is the only reason I enjoy this film.  Well, that and the great James Woods performance but apart from that it's really not that great.

 Sometimes you just get fascinated with a really, really awful movie.  This one is just wretched with a bare bones plot (which will tend to happen when nearly 45 minutes are taken from the final cut)
and just general strangeness.  I never thought I'd ever see Sean Connery in a giant teddy bear costume.  Now I have.

1998 was an odd year for film, sort of like 1991 (Oh, we;ll get to mind-screw of a year.  Believe me) but there were many worthy efforts (including a few I cut for pacing and time constraints.  It was solid in spite of itself, let's put it that way.

About Me

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