Monday, March 27, 2017

1995 Deep Dive: Intro and January/February

From 2012 to 2014, I had a series called My Favorite Era that was a true labor of love for me. It covered films from 1975 to 1994 and as far as projects go, it was a tiring experience in the best possible way. I've done a few other large scale things for the site recently (my looks at dead film companies) but with this new series, I'm looking to cover some years from the second half of the 90's as well as take a somewhat deeper dive into some years I have already covered (1991 for example). Now I did some top ten posts for those years and the following fourteen or so, but to be frank those pieces suck. Badly.

For this series, my plan is to take each year one or two months at a time, depending on the number of releases that catch my interest (as usual, not reviewing everything, just the stuff that catches my eye). I'll examine a few films per post and at the end of each year, I'll post some totals and summarize my thoughts and maybe throw in some extra goodies along the way.

Let's begin with 1995 and the first two dump months (fittingly enough, we are about to discuss some crap), January and February. I've always felt 1995 was a rather mediocre year for films (part of my point in doing these is to revisit things to see just how full of it I may or may not be). It lacks the sheer quality of 1990, the consistency of 1992 to 1994 and the eccentric strangeness that was 1991 (seriously, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare might have ended up on my top ten if not for that documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now). But enough prelude, let's get to the flicks!

January

 Fittingly enough, we begin with what I consider to be one of the best films of the year... Which should give you an idea of the journey we will be going on here. I absolutely love the Tales From the Crypt TV show and Demon Knight does a pretty damn great job of replicating the overall feel of the series. William Sadler plays a mysterious stranger trying to keep a mystical key out of the hands of a demon played wonderfully by Billy Zane. He ends up at a dilapidated hotel out in the middle of nowhere with some future victims/heroes and the ensuing demon siege is just one enthusiastically gory set piece after another. Ernest Dickerson does a fine job of directing things and keeps the pace fast and brutal (this is seriously one of the goriest horror films of the decade) while also throwing in some truly funny moments (Thomas Haden Church is funny as the obligatory guy who is disagreeable just for the sake of being a prick). Damn shame the sequel isn't anywhere near as good but what can you do?

Ellen Barkin is the seductive second in command at a shadowy firm called The Toolshed that specializes in blackmail and other dirty tricks and Laurence Fishburne is an ex CIA operative who ends up working and falling for her in a plot to killer her boss, played by Frank Langella whilst at the same time, trying to buy off a State Supreme Court judge in order to get a favorable ruling in a case one of their clients is embroiled in. It's at that point that things get... Well, complicated.

I know, from that first sentence you would think it was straightforward as hell. Right?

I love a good, twisty thriller and Bad Company is a solid enough effort with a quietly fantastic cast (everybody plays it cool except for the sex scenes); some really nice production design and an intriguing story that essentially takes a stack of despicable people and sets them against one another at random. Performances, as I said, are quite good with Fishburne and Barkin giving us two really, really slimy baddies, Langella putting in his usual professional job and Gia Carides doing pretty well as the mistress of the aforementioned judge who comes up with a rather improbable but ultimately successful plan for revenge.

The film isn't perfect though, there are probably one or two more twists than the plot really needs and the road to the climax sort of drags a bit before the grimly satisfying conclusion. The involvement of the CIA is a key part of the story but it ends up being sort of a red herring as the real issue ends up being Fishburne vs. Barkin which to be fair, is far more interesting.

Bad Company wasn't given much of a chance and it got mostly poor reviews (though Roger Ebert liked it), but I think it's worth a look for fans of film noir. On an amusing side note, Touchstone Pictures released this in January of 1995 and seven years later released an action movie with the same title starring Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins. This one is way better.

Amazingly enough, after the colossal cluster gang bang that was Highlander II: The Quickening, there managed to be a third film (to say nothing of the fourth and fifth films plus the syndicated TV series which had been airing since 1992 and its spin-off and the anime sequel), Highlander III: The Final Dimension. It's also been called Highlander III: The Sorcerer, Highlander III: The Final Conflict, Highlander III: The Magician and just plain old Highlander III. Personally, I'd go for Highlander III: What the Hell For? but that's just me.

Christopher Lambert is back (I could easily call this post "Chris and Larry Get Paid" given how often Mr. Lambert and Mr. Fishburne show up here) as the immortal Connor Macleod, going up against an evil sorcerer named Kane, played with hammy (though not really good) relish by Mario van Peebles. If you've seen the first movie, you've pretty much seen this one with the only difference being there is no Sean Connery on-hand to make the exposition mildly plausible. It's also not dull and boring like this one is as even the hammy villain that van Peebles gives us seems uninspired, though the bit where he tries to eat a condom, not knowing what it's for (he's been entombed for 400 years after the fifteen minute prologue) is mildly amusing.

Does the film do anything right? Well, it isn't quite as amazingly bad as the second film, though it's also not as hilarious to watch. In fact it outright ignores the second film which was good but going the loose remake route wasn't the right choice to make either. Mako is okay in his small cameo in the beginning, but then again he's always good so that's sort of a meaningless statement to make. About the nicest thing I can say in its favor is that it fits the profile for a dump month release just fine.

Highlander III is a needless, cheap looking, lazy rehash of a sequel with no reason to exist.

February

I've already reviewed this one pretty thoroughly but it's one of those films I never really get sick of talking about. John Carpenter really hit it out of the ballpark with this one, creating a creepy, moody bit of mind-screw cinema with an impressive cast (Sam Neill and Jurgen Prochnow are great and even Charlton Heston makes an impact in his two scenes); a nice score and some really neat f/x from KNB. It's a damn shame this didn't strike box office gold. Maybe making its original September, 1994 release date would have helped.

Not quite as good though still not bad) is this Sam Raimi western that stars Sharon Stone as the nameless loner with a troubled past and Gene Hackman as the bad guy she's gunning for. You could say she's in an unforgiving mood when it comes to him... Hey, I'm not the one who cast the guy as another western villain after Unforgiven!

Stone enters a quick draw tournament in the town Hackman rules with an iron fist and really, that's about as complex as the plot gets (though that doesn't stop it from throwing in a few twists here and there) as Stone duels against a variety of colorful characters, along with an old member of Hackman's gang who's become a priest played by Russell Crowe and a cocky young man played by Leonardo DiCaprio who turns out to be Hackman's son. While the cast is good enough, it can be said that most coast by on just sheer talent as the script is pretty predictable and paint-by-numbers, at least just from a writing standpoint.

When the film is focusing on the duels, it's actually pretty solid as Raimi was still in his flashy showoff mode that made the Evil Dead films such a hoot. Hackman is solid as usual (though I would have preferred Lance Henriksen in the role as opposed to the smaller part he has), Crowe and DiCaprio are decent enough and even Stone does well for herself. The only cast member I'm not big on is Pat Hingle but that's more annoyance at his other work I've seen (he tends to ham it up rather badly at times and his Commissioner Gordon is just depressing to watch these days) than anything else.

The stuff between the gunfighting is sort of just there but fortunately, it's mostly action and Raimi does a great job of making each fight different. The Quick and The Dead isn't a perfect movie, but it is a fun way to kill 105 minutes.

Proving once again that there is no profession he can't make cool, Sean Connery stars as an anti-death penalty Harvard professor who gets drawn into a murder case down in Florida in this rather mediocre legal thriller. Connery plays Paul Armstrong who is asked to try and help stop the execution of a Cornell University graduate for rape and murder. Based on a novel, it has the usual twists and turns one expects from a film like this. Connery's family ends up in peril, things aren't quite what they appear to be at first, just about every cliche that can be ticked off gets its due ticking. We even get a Hannibal Lecter-esque prisoner on death row played by Ed Harris (the actor, not me of course) who plays a role in the story and really it's generally not a good sign when the character who is way out in left field in terms of the actor's performance (Harris leaves no piece of scenery unchewed) and detracts from the story is also the best part. Even Laurence Fishburne as a no-nonsense cop isn't enough to make this one really engaging. The twists seem poorly thought out (how Connery's wife fits into the plot is quite stupid) and  haphazardly executed. That's just the kiss of death for a thriller.

Finally, we have another Christopher Lambert vehicle as Chris (don't think he ever had a cool nickname like The Muscles from Brussells, he was just sort of there) plays a businessman who ends up pissing off a bunch of ninjas when he witness the murder of a prostitute he's met, played by Joan Chen. He is nursed back to health (takes most of the film, actually) by a samurai who has a grudge against the main ninja and it all gets very bloody before the end.

Lambert is okay (the film goes the smart route and just says he's an American businessman as opposed to how most Jean-Claude van Damme films go through convulsions trying to explain the accent) and Joan Chen is wasted but John Lone is solid as the main ninja. The action is good too but the film is generally too long (110 minutes is a bit much for a film like this) and honestly if this were done by Cannon in the mid-80's, it probably would be at least cheesy "so bad it's good" fun. A lack of humor really hurts this one.

1995 got off to a surprisingly solid start with a few decent flicks released. In the Mouth of Madness and The Quick and The Dead are solid, as is Demon Knight and Bad Company is probably worth checking out at least once. The bad stuff is mostly forgettable with nothing standing out as particularly egregious.

Next up, March and April.

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About Me

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