Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lord of Illusions (1995)

Clive Barker has always had a way with interesting ideas and his 1995 film Lord of Illusions is a fine example of him at his best.  Scott Bakula plays Harry D'Amour, a private investigator who goes to Los Angeles to investigate possible insurance fraud and ends up getting involved with a stage magician who uses real magic and his beautiful wife.  Said magician is Swann, played by Kevin J. O'Connor and his Famke (Goldeneye, X-Men) Janssen plays his wife Dorothea.

Swann used to be part of a death cult run by a nutter named Nix (Daniel von Bargen) who has legit magical powers and saw Swann as his protege.  In the opening fifteen minutes, we see Swann return to Nix's compound after leaving for a brief period and rescuing a young girl Nix was planning to sacrifice for more power before killing Nix and burying him in the desert.  Dorothea turns out to be the young girl Swann rescued and, as tends to be the case in this sort of movie, Nix isn't exactly 100% dead.

Lord of Illusions is an interesting, entertaining horror film with some nice film noir elements thrown in for flavor.  Actually, it might be the other way around but either way, Clive Barker made something pretty damn good here, for the most part  Scott Bakula is good as Harry; Famke Janssen and Kevin J. O'Connor are solid in their roles and Daniel von Bargen is a nicely creepy, low key villain.

The first two thirds of the movie are quite good, bordering on great though the film does falter during the last act when Nix is resurrected.  For starters, as soon as Nix is brought back he promptly kills his followers which is fine and the way he does it is nicely unpleasant (turning the floor into quicksand after making it rain indoors is pretty damn evil) but it is undercut somewhat with one of the followers rather hammily flipping him off as he dies.  It's a bad laugh and sort of takes one out of the moment.

Following that is the showdown with Swann, Nix and Harry which one would expect to be a real showstopper based on how Nix has been built up.  Sadly, it comes off as sort of lame as Nix simply gets into Harry's head briefly, menaces Dorothea and kills Swann.  His death is decent enough but for a guy who was built up as a potential world killer, it's a swing and a miss.

That aside, Lord of Illusions is worth a look for the first two thirds which nicely blend noir detective stories with horror.  Clive Barker is a talented writer and director and it would be nice to see another directorial effort from the man.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

1985: The Best

The last post of this series, the top ten for 1985.  It's been a fun ride that took a little over two years to complete.  Hope all enjoyed it.

10. Return of the Living Dead

Terrific zombie movie with a clever plot revolving around the original Night of the Living Dead turning out to be based in truth and a chemical spill which wakes the dead.  Dan O'Bannon made one hell of a movie here with a fun cast, some great gore and load of laughs.  It's a real classic, plus you get Linnea Quigley nude... Which is nice to have if you can get it.

9. Mask

Very moving, well acted drama about a young man with a heavily disfigured face and his fight to just live a normal life.  Eric Stoltz is very good as the kid, as is Cher as his mother.  The film is based on a true story and Peter Bogdanovich directs things with a nice, laid back skill that simply lets the characters exist.  Just a really good film.

8. Real Genius

I really love this fun college comedy about a bunch of uber smart kids engaging in the usual 80's comedy stuff, only with a wining Val Kilmer performance and William Atherton as a jerky professor.  The overall plot revolves around the building of a chemical laser but that sort of gets shoved aside in favor of some really funny scenes and performances.  Real Genius is a fantastic comedy.

7. Rambo: First Blood Part II

Set aside the politics and the second Rambo movie is just one hell of a run ride.  Stallone's second run with the character is a perfect brainless summer action movie with tons of action, some cheese and a fun Steven Berkoff performance as the bad guy.  This is pretty much the only possible year this movie would have made the top ten.  1985 was pure 80's in general, and so is this movie.

6. Fletch

Great comedy mystery based on the novel of the same name by Gregory McDonald.  Chevy Chase plays the title character, a smartass investigative journalist with a taste for disguises who stumbles upon a drug dealing police chief in cahoots with a rich jerk trying to make a killing.  Chevy is funny as hell in this, lots of laughs and overall just a solid, fun movie.

5. Lifeforce

Any other year, this would probably be on the guilty pleasures list but Lifeforce is so awesomely over the top that it deserves a spot on the top ten.  Tobe Hooper directs this fantastic movie about nude space vampires and a zombie outbreak that is endearingly overblown with great f/x and fun acting from Steve Railsback, Patrick Stewart and the rest of the cast.  It's quite good, provided you like over the top B movies.

4. Fright Night

Great vampire movie with William Ragsdale as a young man who becomes convinced his neighbor is a vampire.  Chris Sarandon is terrific as the ghoul and Roddy McDowall as a TV horror host who helps Ragsdale.  Good acting, some terrific f/x and an awesome finale help make this one of the best horror films of the year.

3. Commando

Arnold Schwarzenegger is at his best here in this nonstop, cheesy action classic.  Arnold is a former Special Ops expert who is basically a one man army, especially when his daughter is kidnapped.  Aided by the cute Rae Dawn Chong, he embarks on an absolute slaughter of every bad guy he finds including Bill Duke, Dan Hedaya and Vernon Wells as the most over the top bad guy Arnold has ever faced.  Tons of action, tons of laughs, classic Arnold all the way!

2. Re-Animator

The best horror film of the year is Stuart Gordon's gory adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story.  Jeffrey Combs is fantastic as the mad scientist, as is David Gale as his nemesis and the special effects are wonderfully hideous.  The humor also works with lots of deadpan lines from Combs and the rest of the cast.  It's a real classic.

1. Back to the Future

Robert Zemeckis really hit the jackpot with this fantastic comedy.  The story is fairly well known: Michael J. Fox uses mad scientist friend Christopher Lloyd's time machine to travel back thirty years and ends up having to make sure his parents fall in love.  Fox and Lloyd are fantastic, as are Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson as Fox's parents.  Thomas F. Wilson is also classically funny as Biff.  Back to the Future is the best movie of 1985: It's funny, smart and chock full of great moments.  It doesn't get much better than this.

1985 wasn't the best year, but it certainly was one of the most enjoyable.

1985: Guilty Pleasures

Lots to see here as this was a very good year for fun crap.

It's not really that great, but Roger Moore's swan song as 007 is just entertaining enough (having Christopher Walken as the bad guy helps lot) to make me enjoy it... Though it has a lot to do with nostalgia.  Lot's of nostalgia.

My favorite of the series, Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment is really, really stupid as the recruits (the ones they could get to appear at least) are given their first assignment (clever title, eh?) which is to clean up a rotten neighborhood being terrorized by Bobcat Goldthwaite and his gang.  The usual gags ensue and against my better judgment, I find it pretty damn funny.

I enjoy this rather cheesy Stephen King adaptation produced by Dino DeLaurentiis.  Based on his novella Cycle of the Werewolf, Silver Bullet is an agreeably silly werewolf movie with some nice f/x (though the werewolf looks more like a bear than a wolf) and a fun turn from Gary Busey who for once is the voice of reason in a movie.

The most enjoyably sleazy of  the Friday the 13th films, this fifth entry has more cheese than you can stand with a dumb Jason impersonator plot; a scene where a cute chick does the robot dance before getting skewered, the loosest definition of mental illness I've ever seen (stuttering counts now?  damn!), a massive body count and an oddly washed out look that seems to be prevalent in some other lower budgeted films from this year.  It's quite the crap fest.

The most gloriously cheesy of the Rocky films, this has Sylvester Stallone single handedly winning the Cold War by winning a boxing match against Dolph Lundgren.  Stallone is cheesy as ever, the training montage is awesome (Sly carries a tree yup a snowy hill) and Dolph makes for a nicely intimidating villain.  It's not as good as the third movie, but it's one of the most hilarious Stallone movies out there.

 And to finish, a quartet of Cannon goodies.  As I said, 1985 was the best year for the company, though more than likely not in the way they intended.

First off is the wonderfully insane second Hercules movie from Luigi Cozzi.  Herc must retrieve Zeus' lightning bolts in order to save the world along with battling an old rival.  That';s about as coherent as I can make it as the movie is 85 minutes of sheer weirdness.

Charles Bronson is back again in the third Death Wish film which is the cheesiest and probably most entertaining, along with the fourth one.  Paul Kersey is back in New York after his Los Angeles detour in the second movie and now he's fighting the most over the top street gang imaginable in order to save a neighborhood.  Tons of cheese and violence along with some really bad acting.  What more could you want from a Death Wish sequel?

Speaking of really bad, King Solomon's Mines.  Loosely based on the H. Rider Haggard novel, it stars Richard Chamberlain as hero Allan Quatermain, Sharon Stone as the love interest and John Rhys Davies in a nicely hammy villainous role.  Herbert Lom is also on hand as a bad guy and the entire film is chock full of bad f/x, bad acting, cheese and stupidity.  It's the sort of thing you kind of have to see for yourself.

And last but not least, the ultimate Chuck Norris movie!  Invasion U.S.A. is a simple tale of one man fighting off a Russian invasion of Florida, led by Richard Lynch.  While Lone Wolf McQuade is the better movie, this one is Chuck's most memorable with tons of cheesy action scenes and Chuck strutting his stuff.  It's quite bad in a very good way, though the reporter character grates on the nerves like nobody's business.

Coming soon: The Best of 1985

1985: Leftovers

No worst of 1985 post as most of the bad stuff goes to the guilty pleasure section.  Also, this post will be a little shorter as I decided to save a few films from this year for regular reviews.  In light of that, let's get moving onto the middle of the road...

Entertaining, fairly minor action film from Cannon about a trucker and his grandson trying to transport some plutonium to Arizona.  It takes about twenty minutes or so to get warmed but once it does, it's a fun action film with some amazing stunt work.  Good work from Forrest Tucker in his last role as the hero and Alan Rachins as the bad guy.

Mediocre, somewhat overrated Chuck Norris film that is essentially a formula cop film that tries to be a little more serious and misses the mark a little too often.  Norris is fine when he's in action and the finale is nice but the film just doesn't quite do it for me.

The sequel to Romancing the Stone isn't nearly as good, but still fun as Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner end up on an adventure in Africa with Danny DeVito tagging along as well.  Some fun action and a few funny bits make this one worth the effort.

Apart from the nice action scene in the middle and at the end plus a good performance from Angelo Rossitto, there isn't a hell of a lot to recommend in this third Mad Max movie.  Max finds himself in a town run by Tina Turner (in an okay performance, though the song she sings over the end credits is better than anything else she does) and after being exiled into the desert, he teams up with a bunch of kids to get some payback.  The stuff in the town is fine but after the exile, the film just dies on the vine until the last stunt sequence.  It's a real disappointment as the first two films are some of the best action films of all times.

Some scattered fun bits and Geena Davis' costume are the only things keeping this film from the worst of the year list.  A drab, not really that inspired or funny take on the Universal monster movies, this has a talented cast (and Michael Richards) wasted in a limp, routine comedy.  Pity.

 Coming soon: The Guilty Pleasures of 1985

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

1985: Honorable Mentions

And we come to the last year in this series: 1985.  It's not as jam-packed as 1987, not as over the top as 1984 or 1990, but it is just simply a solid year of fantastic cinema, lots of fun.  Probably the most "80's" year of the decade as we will see.  Let's get started with the honorable mentions.

Fun adventure from Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner that takes a cast of future stars and puts them in a search for lost pirate treasure.  Lots of great lines and moments with a fun cast and a nice pace.  Not a classic, but still a fun ride.

Harrison Ford is terrific in this thriller about a cop who goes undercover in Amish country in order to find a killer and protect the young Amish boy who can finger him.  Ford is good, as is the rest of the cast and it's fun to see Danny Glover in a rare villainous role.

Martin Scorsese's pitch black comedy is a grueling experience starring Griffin Dunne as a man who meets a nice girl and goes deep into New York to pick her up for a date.  A series of misadventures keep him from his evening and the film becomes almost Kafka-esque in the way it torments its hero.  Good performances make this one a winner.

Clint Eastwood returned to the western in this fun reworking of Shane that also touches on some of the themes High Plains Drifter hit.  Clint plays a nameless stranger dressed as a preacher who helps out a bunch of poor miners against nasty piece of work Richard Dysart and his gunmen.  While the story is rather predictable, the fun comes from Clint's character who may or may not be a supernatural force.  He has some decidedly fatal bullet wounds on his back and rides a pale horse but the film is smart to never explain.  It is content to let you decide for yourself and the end result is a solid mid-range Eastwood flick.

The debut for the Coen Brothers, Blood Simple is a nicely dark film noir thriller with John Getz and Frances McDormand as lovers who want to get rid of abusive husband Dan Hedaya.  The film is impeccably and inventively shot, well written and acted and in general is just a fantastic film.

An all-star cast headlines this entertaining, sort of old fashioned western directed by screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.  A big, sprawling epic with gunfights, punch-ups and general entertainment, Silverado is a really terrific western for the 80's.

George Romero's third zombie movie has terrific f/x from Tom Savini and really, that helps the film more than anything else as the script is sort of overdone and heavy handed.  Still, performances are pretty good and like I said, the f/x are fantastic which makes this good enough for the list.

While not as awesomely cheesy as the second one, the first American Ninja movie is a fun, action packed ride as Michael Dudikoff and Steve James take down a weapons smuggling ring in the Philippines.  1985 was Cannon's best year with great films throughout, as we will see in this series.  American Ninja is an 80's cheese classic.

Who the hell would have guessed one of the best comedies of the year would be based on a frigging board game?  A great cast more or less acts out the game in a very funny murder mystery, highlighted by nice comic turns from Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and Martin Mull.

I've come to sort of love this underrated sequel.  It's not the greatest, but it's still an entertaining enough entry in the series with a typically good Robert Englund performance, some nice (though sometimes hard to see) f/x and to be honest, the undercurrent of sexuality makes the film a hell of a lot more interesting to watch.

Just the idea of soldiers in World War II being helped by aliens is a delightful enough concept on its own but the way Zone Troopers executes it makes it even better.  Essentially an old fashioned war picture with a group of American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines being aided by aliens, it has two B-movie greats in Tim Thomerson and Art La Fleur as hard ass soldiers and some nice John Carl Buechler alien effects.  Empire Pictures released this and I gotta say it's truly refreshing to see something with Charles Band's name on it that's actually good.  Zone Troopers is a fun, entertaining romp that makes good use of its low budget and endlessly entertaining.

Coming soon: The Leftovers of 1985

1990: The Best

An over the top year gets a fitting top ten...

10. Tremors

Fun creature feature starring Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward as handymen in a small desert town that is besieged by underground worms... Big ones.  The film is just plain fun with some terrific f/x, nice performances (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire are also fun as a gun loving couple) and nice pace.

9. Jacob's Ladder

It takes quite a bit to scare me but Jacob's Ladder gets the job done quite well.  A creepy psychological horror movie, this stars Tim Robbins as a Vietnam war vet who is experiencing terrifying hallucinations, apparently due to his experiences during the war.  As his life falls apart, the truth is gradually revealed in a nice twist that is both moving and a little creepy.  Robbins is good, as is the rest of the cast and the film's visual style goes a long way in making it work as well as it does.

8. Die Hard 2: Die Harder

While many sequels more or less cover the same bases as the original, Die Hard 2 makes up for this by excelling in the action department.  Bruce Willis goes through the meat grinder in this one with tons of fights, shootouts and explosions.  If you're going to more or less do the same movie, Die Hard 2 is a prime example of doing it right.

7. Reversal of Fortune

Fascinating comedy/drama about the attempted murder case where Claus von Bulow was accused of trying to kill his wife Sunny (she ended up in an irreversible coma and died quite recently in 2008) and got the conviction overturned thanks to law professor Alan Dershowitz.  Jeremy Irons is magnetic as Claus, giving a uniquely eccentric performance and Glenn Close is equally good as Sunny.  She not only does fine work in flashback scenes but also narrates the story fro her bed... while still in a coma.  Ron Silver is also good as Dershowitz and really, while Irons got the accolades it's Silver who really drives the plot.  All in all, this is a fascinating movie.

6. The Exorcist III

Probably the biggest surprise of the year, the third Exorcist movie is a surprisingly good, creepy horror flick with a terrific performance from George C. Scott and an equally good one from Brad Dourif.  After the second film, it took some serious cojones to make a third one but the end result is a nicely creepy murder mystery with only the tacked on exorcism scene dragging it down a little.  Still, a very good film.

5. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Joe Dante got some good stuff before making this wild, over the top sequel to the 1984 hit.  This time, Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates have to contend with the monsters in state of the art shopping mall owned by John Glover in a hilarious performance.  The entire is funny, in fact, with gags galore, Christopher Lee as a mad scientist and some spectacular Rick Baker f/x work.  Gremlins 2 is over the top in the extreme and it is all the better for it.

4. Marked for Death

Chock full of action and cheese, Marked for Death is Steven Seagal's best movie.  Seagal plays former DEA agent John Hatcher who gets tired of the job and retires, only to be drawn in when a friend of his is having problems with a Jamaican drug gang.  The leader of the gang is Screwface, played by Basil Wallace in an amusingly hammy performance and the film is more or less wall to wall action with a minimum of messing around.  Seagal is at his best here, looking great in the many fight scenes and his final showdown with the villain is quite fun.  Marked for Death won't win any awards for originality but it does well in accentuating Seagal's strengths and minimizing his flaws nicely.

3. Goodfellas

And now we get to the really good stuff with Martin Scorsese's masterpiece Goodfellas.  Scorsese does a fine job balancing the entertainment with the serious drama and the end result is a brilliantly fun, funny and sometimes frightening portrayal of mob life.  Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci are tremendous, the soundtrack is great and the only reason this isn't number one on my list is that the top two entertain me just a smidge more.  It's actually pretty damn close between the three of them.

2. Total Recall

Arnold Schwarzenegger turns in his best performance in this awesome science fiction action thriller that is not only a great action movie, but also a sneakily smart psychological thriller as you're not 100 percent certain what is happening is really happening.  I've written about this one fairly recently so I won't belabor anything.  Let's just say that it's an awesome film and move on.

1. Miller's Crossing

As much as I love Goodfellas, I love Miller's Crossing even more.  While the Scorsese film is a masterpiece, Miller's Crossing adds a touch of film noir to the proceedings that just makes it even better.  Gabriel Byrne is an advisor for mobster Albert Finney and he gets tangled up in a complex scheme to take down a rival gangster played by Jon Polito.  John Turturro is great as the weaselly brother of Byrne's love interest (who is also Finney's love interest) and the Coen Brothers weave their tale with effortless skill and style.  It's a real showstopper of a movie with great set pieces, dialogue and fun characters.

1990 was, as I said, the last big burst of 80's style.  The year was full of stylish movies, some good and some bad with a lot of stuff in between.  Hell of a year.

1990: Guilty Pleasures

Let's wash the taste of the bad films out with some guilty pleasures...

Dolph Lundgren stars in this delicious hunk of action movie cheese.  He plays a a Houston cop going up against a huge alien drug dealer while also dealing with an unwanted FBI partner played by Brian Benben.  Tons of action, some great laughs and of course, enough cheese to make a mouse die from happiness.

Not often you get an Oscar winning director in this section but The Godfather Part III is such an interesting misfire that I can't help it.  Al Pacino is good as usual as Michael Corleone and he manages to make the film work in spite of too many subplots (including the rather icky romance between Andy Garcia and Sofia Coppola) and a rather confusing overall plot.  The rest of cast is fine for the most part (even Sofia isn't that terrible) and if you can lower your expectations enough, it's well worth your time.

Of all the buddy cop films released in 1990, this one is probably my favorite simply because when Clint Eastwood delivers a bomb, he does it with class.  Clint plays his bog standard hardass cop character and he is paired up with rookie cop Charlie Sheen.  They go up against a car theft ring led by German criminals played by... and this is what launches the film onto this list, Raul Julia and Sonia Braga.  Now for those of you who are unfamiliar with these two performers, they're about as German as a plate of chicken chow mein.  Watching these two try like hell to put on German accents is just amazingly funny, though the overall plot is predictable in the extreme.  Still, this one is worth seeing for the villains and the action which Clint directs with his usual skill.

And finally, this utterly silly, entertaining piece of schlock from the mind of Stephen King.  Based on his short story from the Night Shift collection, this tells the grisly tale of a drifter who finds work at a run down mill in Maine where there is a serious rat infestation.  On top of that, his boss is an sadistic sleaze with an odd accent (I can't help but chuckle every time the guy talks and instead of a Maine accent, some weird sort of South African voice comes out) and workers are being eaten by a giant bat/rat creature that is the highlight of the film.  Well, that and the looney Brad Dourif performance as an exterminator with a serious grudge against rodents.  Graveyard Shift is by no matter of means a good movie, but it is quite a blast if you like bad Stephen King adaptations.

Coming soon: The Best of 1990

About Me

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