Thursday, May 11, 2017

1995 Deep Dive: March and April

The first two months of 1995 yielded a few solid flicks (with one unheralded classic with In the Mouth of Madness) and the following two months would do the same. Sort of.

March

Not a promising start, mind you, but The Mangler might be the most enjoyably bad Stephen King adaptation, right up there with Graveyard Shift. Ted Levine plays a cop investigating a gruesome accident at an industrial laundry service run by Robert Englund. Naturally, given that this is a horror film based on a Stephen King short story, said accident isn't quite that as it turns out the gigantic laundry folding machine (the titular Mangler) is possessed by a demon and Englund evidently has some sort of deal with it. I think.

The Mangler is one of Tobe Hooper's better films, though given his track record that really isn't much of a compliment. The gore is plentiful and Englund is hilariously over the top as the human antagonist but the plot is simply ridiculous with the Englund subplot coming off as just bizarre. With good reason too as this is just filler to pad out the movie which is a common issue one runs into when adapting a short story for the big screen. In spite of the film's badness, it is still quite watchable. The production design is nice and the gore f/x are top notch. The CGI used for the end is dodgy but even that has a certain charm to it. The Mangler is a fine film to watch late at night with a cold beer and leftover pizza.

The first big hit of 1995, Outbreak is a well made, entertaining, but predictable thriller from director Wolfgang Petersen about a viral outbreak that Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo have to try and contain. While the film sort of falls into the standard thriller tropes (military conspiracy, estranged couple working together, races against time), the cast and overall pacing make it a fun ride. The cast is solid as one would expect with names like Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland (though his status as human antagonist can be seen from the other side of the galaxy) on hand. What really helps the film, along is the pacing as Petersen, always a good guy when it comes to thrillers, grabs the audience by the throat from the start and plows them through the narrative fast enough to keep you in suspense but not so much that you stop giving a crap. Granted, the cliches come in fast and hard but the film is just enjoyable enough for one to overlook that.

Based on an English comic series, Tank Girl is a quirky, interesting sci-fi action comedy that stars Lori Petty as our hero, Malcolm McDowell as the bad guy and rapper Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo.

Yeah.

The story takes place in a desolate future almost entirely without water. What little there is is controlled by Water and Power, led by McDowell in his usual over the top bad guy role. The film has an energetic, infectiously eclectic style to it, mixing in animated bits here and there along with a pretty nice soundtrack and a funky sense of humor though the effect is somewhat muted due to the predictable path the story takes. Has there ever been a post-apocalyptic action film that makes a point to mention it hasn't rained for a long time that didn't end with it finally raining? That aside, Rachel Talalay does a nice job directing here, she also helmed the sixth Nightmare on Elm Street film.

Petty and McDowell are solid in their roles and Naomi Watts is decent in an early role and while the film runs a little too long, it's still a fun excursion if you want something a little different. Which is sort of a given when you have mutant kangaroos in your movie.

April

As tends to be the case in the world of film, there often are films released in a calendar year with similar themes or stories. Here we have the first of two films dealing with historical Scottish warriors fighting for justice in films that take the usual liberties with the real story one generally should expect. Rob Roy stars Liam Neeson in the title role, a landowner who gets in debt to some English noblemen and after his property is destroyed and his wife raped, goes off looking for vengeance. In other words, it's a Liam Neeson action movie fifteen years before he became known for doing them. Unlike the film we will be covering in the next installment, Rob Roy goes for a more intimate epic feel with more of an emphasis on character than spectacle. Good acting is the main course for this particular cinematic meal and while Neeson is good, as are John Hurt and Jessica Lange as evil nobleman and love interest respectively, the real star turn comes from Tim Roth as a foppish yet utterly deadly swordsman who sets off the feud with Rob Roy. Overall, a perfectly solid epic.

A great turn from Nicolas Cage as the psychotic bad guy is the best (and probably only) reason to watch this thriller from director Barbet Schroeder. David Caruso stars (he quite NYPD Blue for films which wasn't the best life decision ever made) as an ex-con who gets drawn into a sting operation on a deranged criminal after said criminal kills his cousin. Caruso is okay but as noted, the real star of the show is Nicolas Cage as the amusingly named Little Junior Brown. Cage goes for the gusto as usual, giving us a sometimes funny, sometimes frightening but always interesting (if not quite believable) bad guy who handily walks off with the whole damn movie. Samuel L. Jackson is also good as the cop in charge of the case and while the plot is probably a little too complex for its own good, Cage's performance still resonates quite nicely.

While Ice-T was playing a mutant kangaroo in Tank Girl, fellow rapper Ice Cube was co-writing and starring in this amiable comedy about a young man trying to keep his friend from getting beaten up or worse by the neighborhood drug dealer as well as contending with the neighborhood bully. Friday is a basic, low key stoner comedy with some very funny moments (mainly from John Witherspoon as the main character's father) and a nice, laid back energy. Ice Cube is a likable protagonist and Chris Tucker is funny as his friend. "Tiny" Lister is also solid as the bully. It's a good comedy, not much else I can say really.

John Carpenter's second film of 1995 is not as good as his first. His second remake (The Thing is still his best overall flick for me), Village of the Damned, sadly marks the beginning of the downturn for him in my view. While he made less than enthralling films before this (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, this sees him on auto-pilot as he gives us a very nice bit of location shooting (a nicely spooky northern California small town)and some interesting casting (Kirstie Alley as a government type and Christopher Reeve in his last role before his tragic accident) but apart from that he just tells the same story again. Contrast this with The Thing where he chose to adapt the novel rather than simply rehashing the 1951 version. I think he wasn't really into this one and it shows.

March and April continued the trend of solid but not overwhelmingly great movies in 1995. There was some good stuff (Friday, mainly) but there was also a lot of stuff that was just sort of there.

Coming soon: The summer kicks off for 1995!

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About Me

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