Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Addendum to previous post

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

A quick programming update

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

Stay tuned!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Runaway Train (1985)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Esoterica X

Time for a tenth round of various odd and ends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Dirty Harry Chronicles: Dirty Harry (1971)

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

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

About Me

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