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Lethal Affairs (1996)
Shame on you VIvid-Wave! (DVD & digital versions are partially censored)
**** THIS OPINION MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! ***
Shame on you Vivid.
For years I boycotted your products due to lack of proper heat and a tendancy for doing too much "couples-friendly" adult films, not catering to the "raincoater" audience. But over the years I started getting into your products, mostly more "recent" (i.e. Y2K) releases as well as your 4-hour compilations (often the only way to find specific scenes since most of your pre-DVD catalogue is discontinued).
Lethal Affairs is a "classic" (of sorts) of the mid-90s condom-clad couples-friendly shot-on-film product very typical of Vivid for the time. It has a great cast, a decent enough script (although the plot gets easily confused throughout the film) and very competent production values.
Normally I would have rated this film a few more stars but Vivid decided to omit / censor completely the final/last scene between Monique DeMoan and Jon Dough. I recall seeing the film on VHS and this final scene was what saved the film in my opinion, the rest of the sex scenes being either lesbian girl-on-girl (for I would say about 40% of the total sex actually seen on-screen) or rather tepid, considering that gonzo was already well established at the time.
When Vivid decided to re-release the film on DVD and digital platforms (streaming, pay-for-play, download, etc), the cut out the final scene betwen Jon and Monique, rendering their involvement in this film strictly "non-sex". And it's a damn shame too because Monique is absolutely stunning, and she even manages to coax a bit of life out of the usually "sleep through my scenes" Dough.
Alas, for no apparent reason and no warning whatsoever, Vivid decided to cut this scene from the DVD re-release, filling out the remainder of the disc with, quite honestly, forgettable and useless "bonus features".
Shame on you Vivid!
More of the same (why change a formulae?)
*** WARNING, THIS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! ***
The John Wick series is a bit of a guilty pleasure; when you want a slightly "grudgy" revenge film with lots of violence, then this is one of those alternatives to drama-heavy films.
Chapter three however seems to be running out of steam, even though there is Nothing really wrong with it per se - it is by all means a very well produced product, appears almost flawless in it's execution, and delivers the goods properly. However, now in it's third outing, it seems to be somewhat lacking the frenetic/frantic nature of the first one, and a good portion of the sequel.
However the film does have it's fair share of great moments worthy of watching, if violence and such is of course your forte. The first one-on-one fight in the library ends in a shocking way (at least for me), and parts of stable sequence have great momentum. The John Wick versus two "ninjas" in a weapons depot is also quite memorable and also ends in a way which may be too graphic for some viewers.
I also give praise to have actor Mark Dacascos in the cast: now here's an actor we really don't see nearly enough of, even if he hams it up pretty thick in this film (probably not by his own volition, but a script requirement).
Of course I could not write my opinion on this film without mentionning the guard dogs in the middle section alongside Halle Berry's character. It is fascinating to witness these dogs in action, and equally so thinking about the actors and stunt people who were met with the brunt/blunt force of these dogs. Easily one of the film's high points, and even though I am not a dog person at all, I can appreciate the effort put in this whole sequence / sub-chapter of the film's story.
Performers are also quite equal to what we have come to expect of them from previous entries in the series. This isn't high art nor character studies and so most of the characters are there to move the story along, offer bumps along the way, and bring John Wick's character to the ending point... Which of course, like all "good" (...) Hollywood product again leaves the door open for possible sequels...
There is nothing wrong with John Wick part 3. It is reminicent of the "Fast And Furious" franchise in the sense that these films are made for a target audience and are in effect produced in such a way to appeal to that audience as best it can, without taking too many chances to deviate from the established formulae as to not antagonize those who don't want deviation from the standard.
However, as I mentioned earlier, at this point it seems to be becoming very repetitive and almost like an excuse to execute more stunts, gun work, and violence. Which is fine for those who enjoy this kind of movie, but in the end, it feels like we have already seen all this before in one shape or another in previously released films throughout the years.
I gave it a 7 out of ten for the dogs and stunt people, for some quite frankly shocking moments in the violence/fight scènes, and of course for having Mark Dacascos and Angelica Houston in the cast.
The Bag Man (2014)
It's rather confusing rhythm and delivery is it,s saving grace...
*** WARNING THIS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS! ***
Ever since Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" became a major commercial hit, we have seen countless of slightly similarly-influenced "genre" films based on situations and dialogues pop up both in theaters, but also in home video, and now streaming platforms.
This has allowed lesser-known writers and directors the chance to get their "film d'auteur" produced and released. Sometimes it works well, other times it just falls flat, like a big pile of forgetful "whatever".
"The Bag Man" is obviously not for everyone, even though with main stars John Cusack and Robert DeNiro, it almost seems like a garanteed success, like a film which should be quite obviously more "publicly appreciated" due to star appeal. I mean how many times have star vehicles been over-hyped when in fact, if said stars were replaced by, say, indie or D-listers, the film in question wouldn't be on anyone's radar.
But enough about that. The premise of the film is that presumed "gangster criminal" DeNiro hires Cusack to fetch and bring him a duffel bag, specifically instructed never to look in said bag. The bulk of the film is the overnight stay of Cusack's character in a shady motel awaiting the arrival of DeNiro to get paid. The ending feels a bit anti-climactic but resolves the main issues of the story while also dotting the "i" 's and crossing the "T" 's.
What works best for this film is the strange and unusual rhythm and pacing. Quite unlike most of what we have grown accustomed to by Hollowood standards, the film's tone is a mix between tension, action, subdued isolationism, and a bit of semi-subliminal surrealism.
Also of note are the performances. Granted you can get DeNiro to talk at a blank chalkboard and you would still pay attention, and Cusack's own presence is something which inspires a certain trust, or at least a sense of reliability (could this be what really happened to the character Martin Blank after the events of the film "Grosse Point Blank"?).
Rebecca Da Costa is also quite noteworthy, especially considering what she has to work with, her wardrobe (which strangely keeps changing throughout the movie and yet there is never any mention of extra clothes of hers whatsoever) constrictions, and the highly sexualized nature of what her character inspires from, and to, others. In fact she holds her own quite well that by the 1/2 or 2/3 mark, I found myself more invested in her character than anyone else's.
Crispin Glover is of course a talented actor as is, and when they hire him to portray odd and unconventional characters always adds depth to said characters. There are times you forget the actor and focus on the character portrayed on the screen, and while Mr Glover is impossible to mix up with anyone else, his presence and delivery is simply unique. It's interesting that when you Watch him play this charcater, "Ned", you can't help but keep wondering what,s his darn back story?
Often overlooked Dominic Purcell is also quite a surprise as he delivers what I consider one of his better performances, again given the role he has to play and working with what he's got. All too often he becomes a blur behind main stars (or "A" listers, if you will) or just keeps a film Rolling along when he is given the lead (no offense whatsoever to his acting talents, by the why), but as sheriff "Larson", he truly gives a great screen presence.
Also Worth mentioning is Martin Klebba who is truly gives off a menacing vibe in this film. From the moment he appears, one simply has a distrusting feel/vibe about him.
What also works for the film is the fact that you, the viewer, don't really know where the plot is going... for the most part. As the story slowly unfolds with a series of "events" and "sequences", with the players slowly revealing (or dying only to be later revealed that...) their motivations, the viewer is being eclipsed to the clues scattered throughout about the outcome.
... However this also prooved to be part of it's own outdoing in the process. One could almost see the final act coming a mile away even though the film is designed to keep our eyes and ears away from the usual clues and such. And yes, one could also claim that the characters are rather stereotypical in their portrayal on screen. But let us not forget that these characters barely have 90 minutes to be fleshed out, and that their main goal is essentially to allow the story to unfold.
Anyway, all of my rambling here just to say that's it's a decent effort, not necessarly for everyone and maybe not a film worthy of multiple viewings, but in the end, it is the subjectivity of the viewer who decides the value of the film.
Carne bollente (1987)
The End Was Nigh (a cross-oceanic production)
**** WARNING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****
It's no secret that this is an adult production, and so anyone expecting cable softness (unless a censored version exists for hotel safe viewing, shudder the thought!) will be exposed to a variety of sexual acts in all their spendor.
I had rented this one in the late 80s at a local video store because I had never seen a Cicciolina feature, but was well aware of her notoriety - getting non-Dorcel XXX back in those days way like playing roulette: you couldn't garantee specific performers nor titles (but I digress). In any case, as it turned out the feature also had american performers such as Amber Lynn, Tracey Adams, and of course the legendary John Holmes.
Read anything about this production, and watch any documentary about "The King" (that's how some labelled Mr Holmes in the day) and you will know that John was already infected with AIDS, and kept his health issues a secret to continue working in the buisness. When you think about it, it's a sheer miracle that performers like Amber or Cicciolina actually survived unscathed by having unprotected sex with Mr Holmes during the shooting of this film.
Yes, it's a film: it was shot on 35mm (or at least 16mm, blown up to 35mm), and unfortunately like many film productions of the X variety of the day, the entire audio is over-dubbed by different voice actors, which makes it sound rather odd especially if you are falimiar with the original voices of Homes, Lynn, and Adams... And even Christoph Clark, who went on to have a decent career as a stud as well as director of numerous european-american productions for the Evil Angel studio, has a small role in this film.
In terms of actual sex scènes, it is obvious that compared to the post Y2K era of smut, things are not only rather "standard" but could almost feel "tame" in comparison. Even a DP by Cicciolina may barely raise an eyebrow from today's jaded viewers, but back in the day, not everyone performed the act, and so was still a "novelty".
In terms of legacy, this is one of those 80s-90s productions which should be re-released on digital and DVD formats strictly for it's historical reference. It may have already benefited a DVD release but if so, it has long since been discontinued and next to impossible to track down. Although nowhere near the "classic" status of some other X film prints much more deserving of the title of "classic", "Rise of the Roman Empress" was centainly to be one of Cicciolina's introductions to the american markets, and while she did have other cross-over (US-Europe) releases subsequent to this one (the sequel, "Rise of the Roman Empress II" was a much better smut flick), her american career never truly launched the way her then protégée Moana Pozzi did (Ms Pozzi went on to do a few 100% US video productions before her return to Italy and rumoured "fake-her-own" death).
I am not attempting to downplay the horrible choice John Holmes did by continuing to shoot adult features while knowing he was infected. In fact, this was one of the first times I recall of a bonafide AIDS scare in the adult buisness, and sadly not the last. Darren James had no clue when he unfortunately transmitted the disease to a handful of female performers, and has since been an advocate to sensitize people to the problem. Long time X stud Marc Wallice wasn't such a gent when he faked his tests to continue working even though we was infected... Worst part? He is STILL part of the industry, however I heard he was doing editing now... but that's no excuse.
No, the real notoriety of this film is the fact that it was one of Holmes' final on-screen performances while knowing fully he was infecting other people in the process. It is a video document of a dead man walking, apparently attempting to bring down as many others along with him in the process.
Rated 6 out of 10 due to the bad dubbing, the sometimes odd camera angle choices and choppy editing, and of course because of Mr Holmes' "murder-suicide" presence.
Poltergeist III (1988)
Not as bad the 2nd time around
*** WARNING - MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
So back in the late 80s I was approaching adulthood/my 20s and I couldn't fathom why sequels to horror movies would even dare try something different. Of course one need only look a few years earlier at Halloween III Season Of The Witch to witness a film-maker's desire to branch out within the brand name and to have the effort fail due to the majority of critics, film-goers, and fans waiting "more of the same".
In 1988 I actually saw Poltergeist 3 in theaters, principally because I was older than when the first two came out, and this third outing was rated "14+" (I guess that's like PG-13 in modern lingo) so I needn't wait to see it croped and chopped in home video VHS. Keep in mind however that I don't think I actually even saw the second one at that time, and that seeing the 3rd here was probably due to the company I kept at the time (i.e. let's just go see any and all horror movies that we can!).
So being younger and stupider meant that I wasn't really open all that much to new ideas, especially in the realm of horror sequels. I mean it seemed pretty obvious that if you did anything with a #2, #3, #4 and so forth after the title, that the film would essentially be a repeat of the previous one, save for maybe less budget and story limitations.
I re-watched Poltergeist 3 in late 2019 because I had read that it was a film which was mostly a missed opportunity but had some elements worth noticing. So the first think to get off the bat is the budget constraints and the forced reshoots, something which seems to be a mainstay in modern Hollywood culture, but any true script writer and director will tell you is just a bad idea meant to allow producers and board members to meddle with the product, and tweak it into Something they hope will bring in more revenue. So essentially, when a film fails due to the final act not being up to par with the earlier parts of the film, it's a sure bet the Execs hired a 2nd unit to re-shoot then ending to fit their own préférences, and screw the film-makers' original intentions.
That aside, Poltergeist 3 is also a somewhat brave film, as it does try to branch out from the previous two instalments, while keeping a foot firmly into the lore which was developped in part 2. I mean the character of Kane is the main antagonist-spirit in the third outing, and he was introduced in the sequel.
However the story shifts more towards the character of Carol-Anne herself and her abilities with the "after life / other side" rather than the strictly vengeful spirits introduced in the first instalment. With this in mind, changing the setting from a (pardon my lack of proper expression here) "haunted house" to a modern mega-plex building with underground garage, swimming pool, an indoor mall, officies, at least one luxury restorant in the upper levels, and of course hundreds of living quarters, is something that perhaps "purists" will be put off by right the get-go. Understandibly so as this by itself means that location is unimportant, only the person who seems to be connected to the "antagonist force" is, and in this case, Carol-Anne can basically be anywhere, the spirits, or rather Kane, will find her reguardless.
Poltergeist 3 isn't without it's flaws but also has redeaming value. The first act has some nice subtle elements thrown in to add realism to the location of the protagonists. The script itself isn't clunky (at least before the re-shoots were involved) and in fact some of the dialogue seems both foreshadowing (in a blink and you'll miss fashion) as well as smart enough to be coming out of the mouths of the characters themselves.
Production Wise, one must commend all involved, from production design to visual effects, as my own eyes never spotted a hint of CGI whatsoever, even if in 1988 CGI was just beginning to make it's way proper in modern movies. All effects seem practical and slight-of-hand style, which makes the whole feel more "real" and a true menace to our protagonists. Even my wife commented at how "real" the teenaged characters looked in their clothes and fashion, as both she and I were there during this era (as opposed to modern productions attempting to re-create the 80s - in this case the late 80s).
Our key actors aren't slouches either. Tom Skeritt manages to be somewhat commanding without being too mysogenist (these were the days when "please" and "thank you" were optional) and turns a very good performance throughout the picture. Nancy Allen is also to be commended, given what she had to work with (and wear!), as sometimes horror film scripts tend not to be of a familiar "language" to the so-called "ordinary" people to which these situations happen (whoa, does that even make sense?). Lara Flynn Boyle in her screen debut here also gives what I can only describe as a flawless performance, again considering what she had to work with of course. I won't talk too much about Heather O'Rourke who was Nothing short but a great Young talent who gave quite a performance in this, her swan song.
All in all you just can not go into Poltergeist 3 expecting it to be of "equal" stature as the first one, especially considering it is a rather very different film. While the first two instalments were very firmly the horror genre, the 3rd one seems to want to be a supernatural thriller rather than just a scary ghost story. Maybe that is one of the reasons this film is so hated; people didn't want the brand to alter the formulae all that much, and maybe the horror fans wanted more scares, more gore, and less strange and unexplanable visions and phenomenas. In any case, Poltergeist 3 as the product it is, is a fun little under-2-hours thiller with some sillyness but never quite over-the-top goofy as the trend was in horror back in that era. I think it is worthy of a watching if you keep an open mind and a forgiving eye.
After the Sunset (2004)
Enjoyable little romp, albeit formulaic
*** WARNING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Here is an enjoyable little "big budget" heist film with a semi-ensemble cast which works great playing to and against each other. Granted director Brett Ratner isn't remembered as being a visionary film maker but at the very least he is a competent one, and does the job quite well. I imagine it must have been a breeze to shoot this one, especially in comparison to his previous "Rush Hour" films which could have been clunky based on the choice of leads but ended up rather entertaining.
"After The Sunset" may not be a grand film with incredible photography and lighting and fram composition, but is has many great things going for it, which make up when considering that this film is quite hollywoodesque formulaic... for the most part.
As always, Pierce is a joy to Watch; the man seems to ooze screen presence even if he is just walking about. He is a great lead and in top form, and doesn't appear to be snoozing through the delivery of his lines, Something he could have done but luckily for us, hasn't.
Woody Harrelson is one of those unsung performers who seems to never get the proper recognition he deserves. Still he always delivers and is always in great form, and his performance in this film is Something rather fun to Watch, to say the least. He's a reliable actor and does it quite well and should be recognized for his talent.
Don Cheadle doesn't require to be re-mentioned as his body of work (pre-Avengers Disney of course) speaks for itself. A consumate profesional who is believable in absolutely everything he portrays, he is also Something noteworthy as he brings a certain sophistication to his "mob boss" character. Perhaps any other actor would have left "Henri Mooré" the two dimentional baddie of the script but Cheadle manages to breathe air into the character.
Playing aside all of these fine and established performers is Naomie Harris who is quite remarkable in her own right. I am sure it must have been anything but easy to bulge through the canoply of A-listers but her feistiness and driven characterization make her stand out amidst the others reguardless.
And of course Salma Hayek. Put Salma Hayek in just about anything and I will watch it. I am in fact still waiting for that sci-fi film with Hayek. Which one? Ask her. Anyway she's quite the lead for this film as well and I am sure Mr Ratner used all the possibilities of filming her in all her glorious glory thanks to the locations/setting of the film's script. I am not saying Salma isn't an actress; check out some of her films like "Frida", "54" and "La Grande Vida" for a taste of her acting chops, but she also never looked as exquisite as in this film, and Mr Ratner took full advantage of this.
Also of note, and another reason why the rating was elevated beyond a "5" (Salma deffinately made this one go to "6") is the soundtrack of legend Lalo Schifrin. Not a most remorable soundtrack but Lalo is also a consumate pro, and has made enough scores throughout his career to know what works best to complement any scene. Ratner's decision to bring Mr Schifrin on board once again was a stroke of genius, almost ensuring that people would take this film seriously if a real composer was behind the soundtrack.
Anyway I have rambled on for quite enough already, so let me just finish off by saying that if you enjoy heist films, cat and mouse games and some twists and turns along the way, you may find this film quite enjoyable. Sure it is by the numbers, but it delivers the goods without any real drama to make this one an emotionally tedious watch. And Salma Hayek, of course...
Drive Angry (2011)
Fun little romp, saved by Fichtner and Lussier
*** MAY CONTAINE SPOILERS (read at your own peril) ***
I don't think anyone who both made this film and who went to see it actually set out to bear witness to a "great" film. It is however a fun little romp of a ride, with a simple story to tell, and an effective way to get the point(s) across.
By this point writer/director Patrick Lussier has nothing more to proove: he is quite a competent director who knows how to stage a scene and how to play to the actors/actresses' strengths, and is obviously capable of handling the Hollywood machine. His unique perspective allows him to be able to tackle on even the most mundane of ideas and turns it into Something watcheable that is far from a "churning in the seat" experience. Somehow I do think that many other directors may not have accomplished what he was able to, with this film.
The story is rather simple, and is by no means overly complicated by the modern need for Hollywood to boggle down stories with a myriad of subplots which now creates motion pictures way too lengthy in time and contrived in storylines to be enjoyable. "Drive Angry" stay simple without becoming too simplistic, and never attempts to over-glorify itself with useless twists and turns which are, in most cases, excuses for special effects, CGI, and drama. Thank you for not going down this route, "Drive Angry"!
The score is quite effective for what it is (and no, it is not my own musical preference, but I can appreciate what soundtracks do when they are given the chance) and is quite a pleasant change from the overly orchestrated and megamastered of your typical string-heavy soundtrack. In fact, my wife often asked me if what she was hearing was an actual song or if it was score (and as of writing this review, the score is indeed unavailable).
Special effects can get clunky at times, as numerous obvious devices were used to cash in on the 3-D craze. Granted, many people and Hollywood believe that if a film is 3-D then stuff should be flying into the screen (towards the audience), but with the over-exagerated over-saturation of 3-D since the Y2K, the gimmicks are just that: cheap gimmicks. Also, some of the CGI work is a bit flawed, and again as previously stated, with the over saturation of CGI, the audience can now easily see what is obviously faked and done in post versus actual practical effects. However this also prooves effective as "Drive Angry" is quite violent and very graphic; the opening chase scene between Nic Cage's character against the three thugs in the pick-up truck does come to a nasty conslusion, and sets the tone for the rest of the movie: violent, somewhat gory at times, and quite goofy too (this is, of course, based on a comic book or some sort).
I was quite surprised by Amber Heard. She is obviously a pretty blonde piece of Hollywood youth and could have went in playing just that, but the girl plays her character with gusto and spunk, and she doesn't let anyone take advantage of her, punching, kicking, scratching, fighting, you name it. Although I am sure many people will criticize her acting, she was quite a surprise for me, and I found myself enjoying her character quite a bit.
Nic Cage is Nic Cage. While he is a competent actor, his career choices can be a bit questionable. This, however, is a good role for him, as it does play to his "Elvis"/"Johnny Blaze" sensibilities quite well (one wonders just how much lobbying he might have done to get the role...). However his acting can be a bit wooden at times, perhaps required for the character played, or perhaps by a lack of script development. Essentially Nic is sometimes good, sometimes bad...
The real shining star of this feature is of course William Fichtner. Although we have seen him in countless unforgetable roles throughout the years, it was in this film that I found him particularly enjoyable. It is both in his subtlety and almost exhuberance (or "semi-flamboyantly"?) portrayal of "The Accountant" that his acting chops shine through, and you can actually see (and hear) his character evolving as he spends more time on the mortal coil. Although many may chalk up his performance as "hammy" or even "caricatural", I found him to be quite charismatic and unique, and I doubt any other actor could have played him with such a unique flair. Mr Fichtner, you are the principal reason why we kept the film on DVD and re-watched it!
And a special bonus shout out going ouot to having Tom Atkins in a small role. Granted it is but a bit part, but it always appreciated to see Mr Atkins working, no matter what he is being given to work with.
Oh and Billy Burke is also noteworthy for his own potrayal of "the bad guy". After being somewhat typecasted as the gentle "guy-next-door" partner/dad in other movies and TV shows, he gives us here a character worthy of wanting to see die a horrible death on-screen. I do hope Mr Burke had fun during production!
In any case, don't go in the film expecting a grandiose piece of cinematic spectacle. This is just pure popcorn fun, a film with a simple story to tell, and it delivers all the fun you would expect from such a film. It's no Shakespeare in the park but it's a fun ride...
Tomb Raider (2018)
Alas, another useless "remake"/"reboot"/"prequel"/"whatever" from Hollywood
*** WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS ***
It's un-necessary to say that the Angelina Jolie driven originals weren't great films. Yes, they were campy, unrealistic, but they were fun, and they had a bit of heart behind them. I can see why they would have wanted these to be a series of ongoing adventures, as well as why after the second one, it was "enough". But with Hollywood, "enough" just never is and there is always another way to over-milk the golden cow...
Essentially, I thought the Tomb Raider sequel / prequel / remake / reboot / whatever to be utterly useless. Meaning of course it serves no purpose but to cash in on the namesake, and to attempt to generate enough revenue to enrich the board exécutives who pushed this into being in order to pay for their own mansions and Bentleys.
Sure, it has all the "pitfalls" (get it?) of such a genre product: it is action-packed, has a lot of CGI to attempt to create danger, it is entertaining, and does go through all the motions and hits all the beats. To say otherwise would be to claim that the film attempts to be something than what it is: a product for mass Entertainment, Nothing more. And so on that the film succeeds, and if that is all you require out of film-going, then it settles it.
But once again, Hollywood just prooves that it lacks a heartbeat and a soul, and just continues to churn out disposeable and forgettable products such as this. Oh no, is not a failure per se, the film is competently made through and through, and you can tell a lot of effort and "man power" (i.e. human workforce) went into this mega production.
The acting is quite good and one must commend the hiring of such great performers as Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Dominic West, and Walton Goggins. They are however criminally underused, but that is what the script wanted, save for Goggins who always does what he can with what he's being given, which is unfortunately not much in this film; a character he desperatly tries to flesh out as best he can (and quite the consumate professional he is), even if on page he remains but 2-dimentional.
Alicia Vikander is also a competant Young actress in her own right, and she has quite a lot to carry on in a role such as this. Physically some of the stunts she performs are this side of unrealistic, strictly based by her muscle/body mass, or rather the lack thereof to make some of her stunts believable in a real world situation. However Tomb Raider began as a video game with unrealistic proportions to begin with, and thus one can easily allow such "artistic" freedoms to pass in a film which is obviously not based in our reality. However she does have a few annoying quirks which may have been "forced" during post-production in order to give the illusion of this Lara Croft to be more "human". Whether it is a personality trait or a production insistance will remain unknown until the inevitable sequel...
Special mention to a small appearance(s) by Nick Frost, whom like most of his fellow UK thespians is alas underused beyond that of a selling point. A good little suprise which adds little meat to the proceedings, but enjoyable nonetheless.
In the end, this rebooted Tomb Raider may be very competent and entertaining, but lacks the heart and soul required for any movie patron to invest in any of the characters depicted on-screen. To be enjoyed, digested, flushed and then move on to the next snack available...
Brick Mansions (2014)
It's another American remake of a great french film
*** WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS ****
There is no denying the fact that Pierre Morel's original "Banlieu 13" (or "District 13" depending on where you are located; different titles for different régions) was quite a feat of a film: prior to that little gem, parkour was just another mixed/mashed up version of chase sequences and martial arts sensibilities. Brought forth onto the screen with both a rawness and a finesse coupled with true european flair (and french sensibilities), not counting some brilliant soundtrack work from Da.Octopusss, the original was both a breath of fresh air and an adrenaline rush.
"Brick Mansions" of course wished to bring some of that bacon (i.e. $$$) onto US soil and so it was only natural they'd remake it in full post Y2K americanized fashion. To say the film is bad or incompetent would not be true; if anything the film works and is well made - production, design, acting, cinematography, lighting, and choreography are all what you'd expect from an american production. However like most, of not all remakes, the result is rather "useless"; it is just another generic american film with some instances of good from, obviously lifted and inspired by the original.
One great thing about this remake is the fact that they hired David Belle who reprises his role from the original Morel film. To be honest I doubt anyone else could have done his character, as so much of his physicality is Belle's own athleticism. So having Mr Belle transfered into the US remake does help the film feel more real and less of a microwaved TV dinner.
Although Paul Walker does another decent job at playing another version of other characters we have seen portrayed before, he is no Cyril Raffaelli replacement; Walker may be (or rather was) a good Hollywood cash-in name face, his own athleticism required for the role is quite lacking, although maybe that is how this american version of the role was written as. Do check out the original and Watch just how much Raffaelli can easily hold Belle's candle, although both are different martial art forms.
All in all, "Brick Mansions" ends up being just another Hollywood remake. Touches of hints of a more textured origin can be felt at times, thanks to the obvious euro-flavours dashed into the mix (and a screenplay by Luc Besson), but in the end it feels more like a poor cousin twice removed trying to be Jermain to Michael.
Now I need to re-watch "B13 2: Ultimatum" (yes, the original also spawned a french sequel) and figure out which of the two (sequel versus remake) is a better film...
Prototype for the most competent entertainment of the 90s?
I had seen this little fun film back when it came out in the theaters, and if anyone thinks I am a jaded and disgruntled film goer now, I was far less leniant back in those days. Still, I thought it was a very highly entertaining film back then which was impressively solid in terms of cohesion, rhythm/pacing and on-screen delivery.
After having re-watched it in 2019 I couldn't help but realize just how much it was a technical feat to acheive all the shots in the film, and these were the days before film-makers resorted to use CGI to fake a simple car chase. Just the opening shots of the helicopter flying atop the "amazonian" forest-scape was incredible, considering how carefully planned it must have been to co-ordinate back in those days, whereas today they'd just CGI the whole backdrop and chopper and call it a day.
Most impressivle still is the spider action itself. Again, aside from a few puppets and animatronics here and there to get specific near-impossible shots altogether, most of the spiders were real and on set. This is particlarly impressive considering how difficult it is to work with children and animals on any film production, and so working with dozens (if not hundreds) of arachnids on set must have required an incalculable amount of patience and skilled spider-wranglers to say the least!
Granted in the end it is another silly scary movie made to bank on most people's unconscious fear of creepy crawlies and anything moving amound on more than 4 legs. It is also quite scientifically inacurate and a sign of the times, as scientists would attempt to collect spécimens in the "rain forests" alive, and not fumigate them to collect hundreds of dead critters.
But aside from a few nit-picking bits and pièces, the film achieves what it sets-out to do and quite impressively so, never with a lull nor dull moment, the characterizations just enough to give us, the viewer, the main basics to get the story moving along, and a great ensemble mood and feels throughout which makes this nothing short but a fun romp which keeps you glued to your armchair and be quite weary of the creepy crawlies indeed!
I rate it 8 out of 10 for sheer entertainment and technical prowess. This film can only be described as the almost perfect formulae for such a story.
Competent but prodictable and "upgraded" (not always good)
One of the only reasons I was conned into watching this movie which by it's very existance (like the previously re-re-made into "live" action film "Beauty And The Beast") is essentially a total cash cow, was because once respectable film director Guy Ritchie was attached to it.
Like many hyper-over-budgeted Hollywood mega productions, the level of the director's creative vision is always questionable, especially when balancing so many producers, exécutives, and other A-listers who, along with other boardroom "alumnis", have too many hands in the "creative" process.
They could have added something apparently "missing "from the 90s animated version, but aside from two new rather uninspired songs (and that's a shame because one of them has potent lyrics) and a myriad of goofy-looking CGI effects, the film's only raison-d'etre appears to fulfill this post Y2K craze of constantly remaking and rebooting stuff ad nausium.
What first ruined the suspension of disbelief was the rather clunky genie effect: aside from when Will Smith performs as a "human" and one scene where, as a genie, you basically only see his head, the whole CGI-ed enhanced blue Will Smith effect feels rather odd, like a very well make CGI model but there is still somethingg "off" about the motion and how Smith's performance is "blended" into said 3D model. This is by no means a critique of either Smith's acting abilities nor what can only be an incalculable amount of hours spent programming, rendering, layering, and texturizing the genie, but in the end is still looks like something out of a computer, and whatever real Will Smith was left in there appears to be almost "doll"-like in appearance. Maybe most people won't notice this (like the Young Flynn CGI face over Jeff Bridges' in the modern Tron film - how could some have not noticed that?) seeing as how since The Matrix, all big budget films feel the need to oversaturate us with CGI as if attempting to subdue us into believing it to be mistakened for real action/characters.
There is also a few odd moments where the film (or rather digital photography) appears to be "sped up" - an effect more commonly used these days but in some instances, such as the first chase through the market early in the film, it feels artificial, almost like those old film reels which were shot at a smaller rate of frames per second but projected at 24FPS. Maybe this was an intentional effect that they decided to keep in, to remind us that this is, after all, a fairie tale musical and therefore should not be mistaken with reality in any way.
Anyway, the film isn't a total disaster, as for the most part is it competent and entertaining, but like all too many big Hollywood mega budgets, and especially Disney remakes of remakes, it comes off as un-necessary.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Endgame - the end you have come to expect
I honestly think that I should not make a review of the final film in what has become perhaps the most profitable movie franchise of modern history, more so seeing at how much the series of films culminating to this point, as well as this film particularly, is being cherished and loved by so many across the globe. In fact, trying to rain on the parade not only seems an exercise in futility, but also seems pointless and even, to a degree, beating a dead dog down.
In short, saying anything negative about "Endgame" or the entire Marvel Movies franchise could perhaps, and quite possibly, only serve to attract hatred and retribution.
So instead, please read this "review", or rather a very personal opinion without any real weight, strictly as such: an opinion. It isn't meant to drag anyone down nor point fingers or soil the viewpoints or reputations of anyone involved directly or indirectly in any way. With the internet, everyone and their opinions have a platform to express their thoughts and I just thought I'd lay my own down strictly in order to make sense of what I have just witnessed (yes, late in the game compared to real "fans", but I myself stopped being a "fan" many years ago, many movies ago).
First of all, I wonder if anyone else remembers the time when on-screen visuals were something to be "wow"-ed by. I mean with the constantly evolving technical prowess of CGI in itself, it seems as though a film with amazing visuals achieved by CGI is something of a "given", if not a "standard". Ever since the 90s when CGI started creeping into most if not all of action sci-fi blockbusters, it seems that films are becoming more of a computer-generated moving animatic rather than carefully crafted and choreographed sequences performed by, well, real people. So much so that it has become quite the standardized fare in such big set features to include a few bigger and louder than ever before seen CGI action scenes, probably pre-prepared/visualized long before casting and principal photography has begun on these productions.
This rather recent "pet-peeve" of mine was perfectly displayed in "Endgame"'s final huge showdown between all the Marvel shared universes characters and their recruits agains Thanos and his own resurrected forces of annihilation. Just as the first giant metallic floating eels started screeching across the screen heading towards the "battlefield", I consciously heard my brain saying "well, here we go again for a big 15-25 minute exercise in screams, explosions, typical cinematic scoring and CGI melting pot which I could easily fast forward through". I mean, again, I know that it took hundreds of people countless computer power and long hours to achieve this flawless sequence, a sheer feat of dedication and talent obviously, but to me, it had already been done countless times in this cinematic universe alone. And yes, going into a huge Avengers film does mean such sequences will be intersped across the run-time(s), but I just found myself quite bored, almost like I was subjecting myself to a beautiful work of art that is essentially both meaningless and repetitive - like another easily replaceable and disposeable set piece that is required for the formulae to work, or else the target audience will feel cheated. This is something I myself found out quite a few films prior, as I also discovered I not only was feeling increasingly disconnected with the franchise, but also subjected with an increasingly less intellectually stimulating series of characters, some of which seemed to have gotten dumber with each new instalment of these films.
But as I said, the over-abundance of CGI set pieces is a pet peeve, and I am by no means a hater of all things CGI; quite the opposite as I find that many shots or sequences could simply never be achieved otherwise. I just find myself absolutely un-stimulated by these super-hero specific CGI set pieces, one reason why I pretty much stopped investing my time and money in these long ago (*)
(*) So how come did I find myself watching this one if I "hate" superhero films so badly? Well I knew I had to watch it eventually seeing as how my wife wouldn't, watch it without me! Hey, I got her to watch The Thing (1982), the Mad max films (yes, all of them!) and most of John Carpenter's films, so it's all about compromise!
Another pet peeve of mine is the run-time. Why do big budget blockbuster films feel the need to go above and beyond the 2-hour mark? Could it be because they wish to increase stock value in those "OOops I crapped my pants" diapers that people with over-active bladders need to use to sit through these 3-hours epics? Or could it be because the producers and board council members feel that they need to give more run-time to blockbusters because if a feature is only 90-105 minutes long, people will stay at home and binge-watch TV serials on Netflix and other streaming platforms? When a film's story and premise requires a longer run-time in order to properly develop a storyline without having jump cuts or feeling like they are rushing the plot along, I completely understand, but when a 3-hour film's essential storyline could easily have been made into a half or 2/3-sized version without the over-played CGI battle set-pieces, then it becomes a peeve of mine, especially since so many of these blockbusters (cough cough "Bruckheimer" cough cough) seem to overstay their welcome even before we hit the third act. In the case of "Endgame", there is a definite need to drive all the nails through the coffin(s) once and for all, and even the final post-climax "goodbye" sequences are nowhere near the sadistically elongated finales of the "Lord Of The Rings - Return Of The King", but I do feel as though the film would have benefitted if either cut down to a less lengthy one-piece, or even just separated as two regular-sized films. Again, this is just a general peeve of mine as I knew full-on, long before diving into this experience, that the film would require the better part of a day to watch to completion. Another peeve I have is more towards a recent forced political perspective being carefully marketed and promoted in recent Disney productions, but is by no means fueled by any type of deep-rooted misogenistic preferences whatsoever, as I am all for (and pro) feminism and have been ever since I was able to comprehend just how women have been treated and are labelled and still to this day subjected from centuries upon centuries of propaganda and thought control methods into positions "underneath" that of the male of the species. Of course, just as it is difficult to justify the "civilization" of man based on centuries of "civilization" after thousands of years of pure savagery, such it difficult to break away from the pre-established decades-old (nay, centuries) repression of the female. For too many still, it is hard to break away from sexism after it has been engraved in our modern lifestyles and history lessons in the most subconscious of ways. However, I am somewhat insulted by Disney's recent ploy to target and "empower" the female target audience it is trying to gain through these franchises, after being (quite unfortunately) mostly predominantly very male-oriented. I mean don't get me wrong, female super heroes have as much right to be as ever-present and strong, super-powered, and self-abled as any other superhero (non-gendered extra terrestials included of course), but Disney should have included the strong female image from the start instead of seemingly forcing it in a rather non-natural fashion in the latter instalments of the films. I mean if anything, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk, Wasp, and Black Widow should have been members of The Avengers from the very first "creation" in the cinematic universe, but perhaps by that time, Disney could nor foresee that having female heroes front and center from the get-go would be a better option instead of attempting to rally them all up in the last 2 or 3 final films of the franchise... Which may be why they are re-rebooting the entire series after "Endgame", in order to re-restart from "scratch" with female heroes "8 o'clock, day one" in the hopes to erase all previous movies and pre-established lore from then on?
Again, I am really all for the female presence in any and all aspects of super-hero lore, but I personally just don't particularly enjoy the way Disney has chosen to promote this post-post feminism (which, according to old school feminists, isn't feminism nor female power at all, but that's a different discussion altogether). Like other socio-political agendas, it is being promoted quite unsubtlely and clanky, and feels like something being added in post rather than being an intergral part of a whole. But then again, this is strictly a personal observation and opinion, nothing more.
I also mentioned this earlier on in my already way too lengthy ranting of an opinion here, but like all too many modern (i.e. post-Y2K of sorts) media entertainment, it feels as though the characters are being dumbed-down for the sake of an easy laugh. I mean I can understand not taking things too seriously, especially in works of fiction and even more so when it comes to stories involving ridiculous costume-wearing super-powered super-beings, but I sometimes feel I am the only one noticing that recurring characters who appear regularly in these Marvel franchise films seem to be losing IQ points with each minute added to these films' run-times. The fact that once in a while a joke is well played with perfect timing or having meta-references doesn't exclude what appears to be a more slacker-ish un-refined movement towards cheap and easy stabs at "comedy". At times it feels not only out of character but also out of place (depending on the circumstances) and made even more insulting is how everyone else in the scene seems to be gladly accepting and going along with what at times can only be described as "out of order". Is it because the
Killing Zoe (1993)
Intriguing and engulfing - not for everyone of course
Not so much a review as an opinion (of sorts) so I shall attempt at keeping things brief but apologies if I get into the windbag territory...
Possibly fresh off his role in "Pulp Fiction", Eric Stoltz travels to France to meet up with a childhood buddy (Jean-Hugues Anglade) for an apparently foolproof bank heist. Obviously many situational happenstances and unforeseen complications come into play to flesh out this rather medium paced french film...
Make no mistake, the film may have been shot principally in English (with subtitles whenever the french speak amongst themselves) but it remains undeniably a french film, from it's rather open and frank drug use (which there is plenty) and light but justified nudity. The violence also is un-american; instead of glamorizing and stylizing the violent acts and death scènes, they are presented in raw, matter-of-fact bloody affairs.
Due to the film's rather simple and basic story/premise, we are treated to a slight character study (of sorts) and stylistic exercise in cinematography and pacing. For example, it takes a while before we are allowed to know why Zed (Stoltz) speaks no french but just got off a plane in Paris, before he meets up with "lady of the night" (escort) Zoe (Julie Delpy). It is only after childhood friend Eric (Anglade) arrives and treats Zoe like a 2-pence prostitute (throwing her out of the hotel room without her clothes and such) that the plot begins to unfold, and it is only after some drug use, alcohol intake, and the exposition/explanation of the plan (robbing a bank on the Bastille Holiday) that we are treated to more drug abuse, frolicking around town driving until the influence, and finally an undergroud pub/club scene which only serves to cement just how depraved the main bank robbers are, intoxicating Zed with different types of drugs of unknown origin.
It is in this bar/club scene that we get bits of surrealistic film-making, filtering imagery effects, and just how it is important to understand french in french films, for the subtitles do offer a decent job at conveying the general ideas (most of the time), but the flavour and subtlelties of the language is indeed lost in translation.
After that whole first act which lasts a good third of the movie, we get to the bank job proper but not before a hungover breakfast. As soon as our masked band of thieves arrive at the bank, Ron Jeremy in a cameo as the bank's concierge get shot in the gut, and crowd control is attempted before Zed is sent to the basement to work on the vault(s), not noticing that Zoe happens to be an employee at this bank. What a small world indeed.
Things rapidly get out of hand, more murder ensues, people's true motives and loyalties are exposed until of course a bloody finale which doesn't spell out the future outcome of our surviving protaginists, presented in a way which can be either lost by those who haven't paid attention to some of the smaller détails throughout the film.
"Killing Zoe" may not be a masterpiece of french cinema but it is a rather honest and capable stand-alone tale. In a (then - in the time it was made and released) world still trying to do the "Pulp Fiction" type of movies, "Killing Zoe" is a good attempt at blending both some american sensibilities with the euro-flair of french film-making. The acting is very competent as no one seems miscast or out of place, and even when things start to seemingly veer towards the over-the-top, characters are never really hammed or ramped up beyond the believable. The soundtrack score is also noteworthy (although will seem to be a staple of the era of it's release) as is the production design, and the aforementioned cinematography and lighting. If anything, one could be left to imagine that maybe director Roger Avary was trying to do a european "Pulp Fiction" with some american material to break out internationally. In any case, it is an enjoyable film, but far for anyone as it does have strong moments and elements which may not be suitable for everyone.
I had originally rented it back when it came out on VHS (yes, VHS!) and later bought it on DVD and watched once in the early Y2K. It took me about 15 years to come back to it a third time in order to decide if it should remain in my DVD collection.
Fun and quite smart for 80s sci-fi-cop thriller
I will admit I have always had a little "something" for the Michael Crichton written and directed 10984 film "Runaway". I will try to keep it brief, but apologies in advance if I go into windbag territory.
I recall seeing TV spots (i.e. trailers) back in the 80s for this film but can not recall ever seeing it actually playing in the theaters upon release. However, the film was released for local rental (VHS, video shops) as well as "pay per view" TV after it's supposed original 1984 theatrical run, and that's how I came to see the film for the first time: recorded on a VHS tape off of a then movie-channel playing flicks usually uncut (or at the very least, in their local theatrical versions) but chopped off in pan & scan 4x3 format. I also think that the first few minutes of the film were missing from my VHS tape, probably recorded on the fly when the film was starting, because *** SPOILERS ! ! ! **** when I re-watched it on DVD (in full 2:35 aspect ratio!) I did not recall the first "cornfield" scene at all... But then again it has been about 30 years (if not more) since I last saw this film!
Yes, the film is quite dated: everything from the police uniforms to the hairstyles to the makeup screams horrible eighties, but maybe that's what the film was supposed to be: an alternate version of the reality of 1984. Still, if you grew up in the 70s and 80s, then you can allow such fashion crimes a hall pass since they were the real thing and not the post Y2K 80s glamorification of today...
Anyway, the film is supprisingly well structured as there is not dull moment or useless scènes which either don't help the story to go forward at a reasonable pace, or offer up a wee bit of characterization and empathy between the characters, except of course for the *** SPOILER ! ! ! *** overly played-out final kiss which finishes the film and has the end crédits start as the two leads keep rubbing lips for a few minutes. But again, this happens at the end of the film, so it doesn't really hinder the story.
Although quite simple and straightforward, the film is remarkably smart. People seem to talk, act, react quite naturally, again considering this was 1984 and "equality between the sexes" wasn't yet part of the daily decorum (ahem!) - meaning of course that one can not shake off the feeling that there is a bit of what was considered "normal" at the time condecendance towards women. It isn't as bad as previous décades, but still...
Anyway, everyone does a great job, from the lead actors (including also some of the bit players) to the special effects (although, again, dated by today's standards but very effective for the time), to the cinematography (the rear-projection isn't as horrible as other films of the time), to the production design, and even the ADR looping is quite noteworthy. Perhaps the weakest point is the rather "standard" 80s synthesizer score which doesn't seem to fully mesh with the rest of the production, although it does manage to be serviceable for what it is supposed to do. Again remember that this is just my personnal tastes talking here...
Anyway, it's not a masterpiece and shouldn't be considered as such, but it is a very fun little romp, well paced and well executed on (most) all fronts and should be enjoyed without being taken too seriously. Like many films, it has it's fair share of flaws, but it is a very nice little film.
Nuit blanche (2011)
Obviously better than the USA remake!
I will try to keep this so-called "review" as brief as possible, as it is more of an expression of an opinion more than anything else.
After my wife and I had watched the USA remake with Jamie Fox, a film I reviewed not long ago and which essentially fell flat due to it's very generic and formulaic production (maybe due to studio/Producer interférences, who knows), we decided to hunt down the french original as we were curious to witness the original which unfortunately spawned such a forgettable american remake.
"Night Blanche" doesn't break new grounds in either storytelling, editing, pacing, cinematography or such, but it does offer up that euro feel which no american/north american production can duplicate. By standing on it's own and quickly presenting characters who are set-up and defined quite rapidly, the story can then advance at a good pace and the tension / suspence can develop without much hesitation. SPOILER HERE: contrary to the US "Sleepless" remake, the baddies are all very well established quite early on, and we don't go through characterization hoops just to keep the audience guessing for sheer guessing's sake.
Although there is no frenetic suspence which get unbearable, the fact remains that bad goes to worse and then some, the so-called "good" guys forced to do less-than-nice actions, and the lines between good and bad are blurred, although the good and evil still remains quite established.
Characters may be under-developped but they are explored enough to get the story going, and no one really feels as though they've been pushed onto the screen for eye candy or a generic plot-servicing device. It is also interesting that some characters take quite a long time to be brought center stage or even utter a single word, as the visual narrative seems to take care of of the how and where things happen in the sequence they do.
All in all this is far from an american guns blazing production but has it's fair share of guns and violence, which rivals any US product without the over-use of CGI or car chases, although folks not used to the french / euro cinema may find the rhythm of the movie, as well as how characters are developped, a bit unsatisfactory, even if this remains a very solid action thriller in the purest sense.
I would recommend it any day over the US remake for sure - it's worth it!
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Nothing can be said that hasn't already been said...
As the title of this "review" (more of a comment, really) suggests, there isn't much more anyone can say now (in 2019) about this true classic of the horror genre, which hasn't been already more properly discussed.
I thing that there are many reasons why this film is reguarded by some as "the" quintessential zombie/living dead movie, and why it also seems to be a question of "hype" to those who grew up in the post-Y2K age of zombie revival.
Granted, the movie has aged, and some of the makeup and effects did not photograph well on film. Yes, in some instances, I can actually understand why younger viewers who grew up with the "Resident Evil" video games and the 2004 remake of "Dawn Of The Dead" would view this as a low-budget cheap/fake boring action-less "talkie", instead of the zombie "classic" it has come to be viewed by some. Yes, the zombies can be unconvincing, and yes, the blood may look way too fake, but that's the way the cookie crumbles at times, especially when ressources and budgetary limitation play a large part of how a film's overall "tonal look", especially concerning special effects (pre-CGI of course).
I am also quite sure that today's younger audience may also view the commentary / satire about consumerism to be either heavy-handed, or just not that much of a big deal. After all, compared to how media and over commercialism was "present" in our daily lives versus how it is today, it's no Wonder that the "satire" may proove inneficient to some, who have gotten used to being over-exposed by LED-lit animated billboards at every step, ads on every webpage, and algorythm autobots automatically re-sorting their F4cebo0k feeds and custom-selected advertisements. Compared to how we are quite literally drowned in ads in today's world, the late 70s must have seemed like a "dead zone", and thus could make it seem as though the social commentary in "Dawn" isn't justified.
However, much like I read somewhere that "(Orwell)'s 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual", Romero's "Dawn" also served not so much as a warning but a "current" viewpoint at where our north american society(ies) were heading towards. By the time "Dawn" hit the theaters, shopping malls weren't uncommon anymore and therefore the film also served as a sort of real-life/real-time almost mirror image of what the pre-80s consumerism was beginning to be. Interestingly enough, I first saw the poster for "Dawn" at a shopping mall's cinema, in the days long before the mega super multiplexes, and having a theater with two screens was quite a feat!
Anyway as I said, there really is Nothing new I could add on the subject, save for my own opinion that I may do believe that "Dawn" is my favorite of all the "Living Dead" films, because of numerous reasons, such as, but not limited to, the very believable acting and dialogue, the humour which breaks the bleak and serious tone of such an apocalypse, the Goblin soundtrack which adds an air of strange, uncomfortable surrealism, and of course the evolution / arcs of the characters, how they deal with these circumstances.
I remember seeing a TV advert for the film way back in the late 70s (so I was just Under the age of 8 or 9 or so) which literally traumatized me, but my conscious mind had repressed where these images came from, so it wasn't until I was slightly older and rented a VHS copy of the film for home viewing (back then, a rating of 18+ meant no one under 18 would be admitted reguardless) that I realized these images which had plagued me were from "Dawn Of The Dead", and to this day, some of these still haunt me.
To trully appreciate this film I would recommend you hunt down the 4-DVD box set which features various cuts of the film as well as a wealth of bonus and behind the scènes features, and then immerse yourself in the world that Romero created, like a snapshot of the late 70s coming to close, envisioning what our future was possibly hinting at, at the time.
... Then after that, if you hunger for more, be sure to Watch the 1985 follow-up, "Day Of The Dead", a film equally strong although with darker themes and maybe with less "in your face" social commentary and humor...
Day of the Dead (1985)
Not so much a review as an afterthought...
"Day Of The Dead" performed poorly at the box office during it's initial run back in the mid-80s, due to many elements, be it poor marketing, high expectations from both critics and Romero fans, and let us not forget the growing trend of mixing humour (and subsequently cheezy one-liners) into horror, something that the Dan O'Bannon's previously released "Return Of The Living Dead" seemed to have mixed remarkably well (intentionally or not).
"Day Of The Dead" always was a more serious-toned film, both gritty, claustrophic, pre-nihilistic post-apocalyptic as well as viceral and depression-fueled anger. While it certainly managed to express it's own frustrations on-screen, it may also have been one of the final horror films of the 80s not attempting to be either teen-friendly nor have humour put in strictly for it's own sake. Like all of Romero's "Dead" films, "Day" is also rich in parallels to some of our real world's "values" and "fears" at the time.
Speaking of such, this may also have been another reason why it underperformed initially - while the previous instalment "Dawn Of The Dead" had it's main themes quite unsubtely represented on-screen, something which was essentially more quickly and easily caught by the major audience, "Day" 's more subtle (of sorts) and not so clear-cut depths may have been lost to the audience at the time, maybe even over-shadowed by other aspects within the film itself, such as (but not limited to) the almost charicatural portrayal of archétypes (when approached strictly on a first level), and the brilliant special effects.
No, I am not saying the acting is sub-par: quite the contrary. Every lead performer in this ensemble cast not only gives it their best, but manages to quickly establish each of their own personalities and values quite quickly, leaving very little in terms of under-development of characterization. Lori Cardille's performance manages to grab the viewer, never obscuring anyone else's part, and in fact is the audience's perspective of this world.Terry Alexander and Jarlath Conroy bring a somewhat light-hearted but deeply subversive existential approach to the otherwise nightmarish scenario, providing both a breath of fresh air as well as a much-needed less tense atmosphere. Anthony Dileo Jr's own performance is also incredibly noteworthy, as he perhaps represents the most fragile but realistic human approach to the situation, providing an inspired and brilliant on-screen presence.
Of course, one could not praise the casting without mentioning the absolutely incredible performances by Richard Liberty (as Dr Logan "Frankenstein") and Sherman Howard (as Bub). The synergy between the two performers works incredibly well, as both seem at polar opposites of the acting spectrum, but never bumping into each other. Liberty's absolutely, almost frenetic turn as a "mad scientist" is actually one of inspiration, as his performance manages to elevate such a role into that of a relatable, albeit slightly off centered over-optimistic dreamer. On the other hand, Howard's performance as the slow-moving Bub is filled and rich in texture, subtelty, and curiosity. Like most of the other characters in the film, at first we the viewer are perhaps put "off" by a "learning" living dead, but Howard manages to both grab our attentions and make us sympathize with the character, almost humanizing the flesh eater.
And of course, who could not be mesmerized by the absolutely incredible and unforgetable performance from the late but greatJoseph Pilato as Rhodes. While most will obviously point out to his "over-acting" in the role, he still manages to make it seem completely realistic in the circumstances of the film's world. Granted, his "first officers" (Gary Howard Klar as Steel and Ralph Marrero as Rickles) are also of note, bringing both a levity with their own brand of military swagger as well as a sense of impending doom like both a pack of wasps always ready to sting, or that of a pendulum luring over everyone's heads. These guys also seem to flesh out their characters quite well up until the very end. But Pilato's performance is that of both genius and inspired insanity, one worthy of being re-examined under different sets of light with every viewing, keeping in mind the whole scenario of the situation everyone is in.
Of course, all the mechanical and makeup special effects are absolutely astounding, to say the least. The sheer amount of inventfulness (originality) and flawlessly executed perfection seemed to have never been matched since, as Tom Savini and crew pulled off an incredible amount of unforgetable moments, each singular one absolutely stunning and shocking in it's own right. If it isn't a decapitated half-head still capable of semi-mobility, then it's the painful amputation of limbs to avoid infection, up until the all-out grand finales of the "real" bad guys getting their upcomance. These effects not only stood the test of time but are still, in my own personal opinion (as is this whole "review" for that matter), unbeaten in terms of realism and sheer shock effect. If the work of Rob Bottin (and Stan Winston) in Carpenter's "THE THING" are "the" example of the pinultimate in terms of practical effects, then Savini's "Day Of The Dead" surely must be close second.
The film is rife with détails about the (then) current political and social climates of our north american society(ies) as well as what was mostly unspoken (the under current if you will, unless I am not using the proper terms, which is highly likely!). Obviously the first uninterupted viewing of "Day Of The Dead" may have the initial effects of seeing it strictly as a horror splatter gore fest, with too much dialogue /interactions between barely 2-dimentional characters, and of course the comparisson to "Dawn Of The Dead", but upon multiple viewing, if you can stomach (pun intended) the rather gruesome gore, more depth can be perceived, elevating the film beyond that of what it was originally perceived as.
I would rate it between a 7 and a 7.5 our of 10, but seeing it with a closer inspection of what is "between the lines" as well as the brilliant peformances by all, given what they worked with, I have elevated my rating to an 8.
Decent but generic ("user friendly")
I guess from the title of my (ahem) "review", there is little left to be said about this film, a remake of the french original "Nuit Blanche".
On a technical standpoint, the film is pretty much flawless. Well positioned camera angles, great lighting, shots in focus, etc... The story flows seemingless effortlessly as though this was an entirely realistic "denouement" of events. At times some of dialogue feels garbbled, thanks to some mumbling and fast-paced talking during moments when détails are being explained (perhaps not entirely necessary to the general story, but it would have been fun have been able to have heard some of the détails discussed).
Acting wise, everyone is quite "equal". Jamie Foxx is of course Jamie Foxx which means he delivers a very convincing role. Michelle Monaghan plays her part with a sense of urgency and "obsessiveness" which makes us believe she could be on the verge of crossing the lines. Gabrielle Union is always a delight to watch even if she wasn't given much to work with in this role. Dermot Mulroney looks as though he was supposed to be in the "Ocean's 12-13-14" series, and the consumate true Professional he is, continues to make the craft look easy and effortless. Scoot McNairy stands out as he truly gives off a menacing and creepy vibe, aided by henchmen including Sala Baker who deserves a speaking role. *** SPOILERS! *** David Harbour plays his role extremely well as he keeps the true motives of his character well under wraps until almost the last moment when he has no choice but to reveal, to us the audience, his true alligeance. Tip "T.I." Harris is also noteworthy due to another realistic portrayal.
Action wise the film delivers, starting things off with a bang before quick character introductions and basic plot lines are revealed, and some of the fight sequences are very impressive without falling too much into that post-Matrix "everyone knows kung-fu" stereotype.
Even though the film is technically flawless (except for a couple of CGI shots, but that's modern film-making, folks!), the result feels very generic and the film unfortunately doesn't elevate itself beyond that. It is very entertaining for the "brainless" (i.e. no need to invest too much of your interpretational skills here, just your narrative one) type of action thriller, but it just doesn't offer up anything unique to the fold.
One good thing about this is that it made me want to seek out the original version.
From excellent to avoid at all costs: a matter of perspective
*** THIS MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Joe D'amato's forray into X-rated features during the 90s is well know to adult film fans as well as those who recall the film-maker's numerous ventures into various different motion picture territories. To the fans of the horror and exploitation genre, D'amato's XXX selection may seem more like a side track, or a distraction/diversion more than the continued exploration of... ahem... well, who knows why for certain, but for those who were introduced to D'amato's "art" via his more hardcore explicit filmography, "Tarzan", or "Jungle Heat" as it was called upon it's original release in Canada on VHS, is also a very divisive work, as is most of his repertoire.
For some, his style of mixing medium shots and slow motion, fading into different positions without showcasing the actual change, and the rather very formulaic format of his scènes (you can almost time your watch to them) is a definite "turn off". His style, if you will, seems more akin to the "couples-friendly" demographic rather than the strictly "raincoater" crowd, although some of the action depicted in his explicit scènes may proove to be too "typical p0rn" rather than being accessible to those who are simply curious.
"Jungle Heat" was edited into different versions for distribution to different markets. The Canadian CHS version, now long discontinued as well as the DVD re-release, does come off as the standard fare of D'amato's shot-on-film smut (which offered quite a diversion to the now post-gonzo introduction shot on video only P.O.V. styles which were starting to flood the american market), which features an attention to detail such as location, costumes, lighting, and an abundance of sex scènes.
Where "Jungle Heat" succeeds is probably also where it failes, depending on who you ask. Fans of later-day Rocco material (i.e. when he started producing and directing his own lines for distribution via Evil Angel in the american continent) found his earlier (sic) D'amato collaborations to being too "soft" and rather contrived. I do recall one guy in particular who claimed this was one of the worst sex flicks he had ever seen, whereas myself found it to be extremelly effective - as I mentioned, the careful eye and attention to detail coupled with the shot-on-film quality and the attractive cast are a definite change of pace to what most US-based productions were doing at the time,
Ah yes, the cast... Many discovered Rocco's real life wife Rosa Caracciolo (who worked exclusively with her hubby during her all-too-short stint in smut) in this film, and yes she is "all that": gorgeous simply doesn't cut it, and her ease and ability to take on Rocco's brute force should be commended. Together they share no less than 3, of not 4 scènes in this film, and Rocco easily provides 2 or 3 additional scènes with other performers. In fact, Rocco appears in ALL the scènes in this movie save for the very first one, which features a yet-not-seen-in-the-USA Nikita Gross in one of her first on-screen appearances.
All in all, like my review of the D'Amato "Marquis De Sade", this is not a film for everyone and may quite possibly be disapointing to some, especially considering all the "hype" it has received. But if you are a fan of Rosa, you owe it to yourself to see this film... if you can find ot of course!
The Mist (2007)
Easily one of the best King adaptations
I am certain the numerous reviews on this site have all explored and expanded on the various elements of this film, both narratively and thematically, and so I will not waste anyone's time re-hashing words of praise or views of criticisms.
Darabont's third forray into adapting a King story (in this case, a novella) also seems to hit a home run. With his own screenwriting adaptation of the source material as well as the abilityu to have kept the original ending he wanted without succumbing to production and studio pressures to make it more "Hollywoodesque" and thus appeal to a larger demographic of common moviegoers, Darabont has indeed created a tale which I myself can only describe as true horror.
Yes, horror has all too many faces, from constantly re-booting teen slashers to marathon speed running zombies, all the way to the mutant killer fish shark dinosaur hybrids and everything under the sun (and the moon!), horror has been established as a garanteed cash-in for producers, quick to send into production the next carbon-copy of a remake of a plageirzsed idea in order to get a quick profit during slow blockbuster weekend gross profits.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD - READ ONWARDS AT YOUR OWN, well, spoilers!
While the majority of the film obviously plays in the horror vein of "killer monsters" lurking outside in the mist, it also explores another thematic often favored in horror, and that is the concept of isolationism. Humans trapped in a confined area are bound to turn on one another, as as one character ever says in the film itself "put more than 2 people in a room and sides are being taken". This added threat is also an added layer of terror as now the protagonists are struggling for survival not only from the external menace, but the one created within their own confinment.
However the true horror is revealed during the final moments of the film, the final moments of the last act, and the infamous ending no one wanted to be filmed, but which is perhaps both the only real solution in a scenario which has played out the way it did during the course of the film, and one which truly changes this film from a very, very good horror film into a "real" horror film. I will admit I both weeped and clapped while sitting in the comfort of our living room.
END OF POSSIBLE SPOILERS------------------you are sfae now!
My rating is literally between an 8 and a 9 out of 10. Since there can only ever really be one true "10" out of "10" (i.e. a total masterpiece), and this film has very little noticeable flawsit really cranks up there amongst the best of the best for sheer audacity.
I do advise that this film is not for everyone. I am almost willing to claim that this film will alienate someone, somewhere, as numerous questions about self survival, sacrifice, and self preservation from a variety of perspectives will not be pleasing for every/any one to watch.
Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)
Great ideas - only suffers from budgetary constraints
I must proclaim first that I am by no means a "real" HELLRAISER franchise fan. Although I find the source material and the general (at least in earlier instalments) themes behind the stories highly interesting and intriguing, at least some of the movies made under the HELLRAISER banner are unfortunately mostly somewhat costly messes. We won't even start the mentionning of recycling other film scripts into "Hellraisers" by inserting Lament Confirgurations and Cenobitical elements.
"Hellraiser: Judgment" is, at least on the negative side of things, a film that "could have been". Lacking a decent production budget and severe time constraints, the luxuries most viewers take for granted when watching the big Hollywood blockbusters, the film does come off slightly as almost a "fan"-based, "kickstarter" project. However, once one gets past the unfortunate shortcomings of low-budget film-making, there is a lot to sink your teeth into this film.
I found this a wonderful take on the mythos surrounding the basic elements of the franchise, as well as having a very interesting set of ideas which add to the richness of the lore, which in turn opens up a lot of possibilities from this point forth, should the franchise decide to continue further instead of opting for the obvious and predictable "re-make" route all too many films have "suffered" over the past few décades.
Yes, I do realize some die-core fans will be boycotting this entry for yet again not featuring Doug Bradley in the titular role of Lead "Pinhead" Cenobite, but Paul T. Taylor's actor shouldn't automatically be categorized/shunned/"judged" (pun intentional) as he turns a mighty fine performance. If you are to boycott the "Hellraiser" franchises strictly because of Mr Bradley,s non-involvement, then perhaps I should remind folks that (prior to the 1997 re-duxed versions) it wasn't the same actor who played Emperor Palpatine in Return Of The Jedi than in Empire Strikes back. But this is irrelevant in this case here, so let's just move on.
"Hellraiser: Judgment" is far from the so-called "crap-fest" some folks have been making it out to be. Yes, there are issues in the film (as in every film ever made for that matter, and it's all very subjective anyway), but myself having been involved in zero-to-micro budget DIY independant films has given me the opportunity to see films as what they "could" have been if they would have had the budget and ressources (and time!) to be fleshed out properly. I think director Gary Tunnicliffe has managed to craft a tale which should be a good starting point for further explorations in the HELLRAISER universe.
Try to watch with an open mind.
Doom Patrol: Therapy Patrol (2019)
Season one - to add character depth (part 1)
As I said numerous times in the past, any show's first season is bound to have mixed reactions, as it is necessary to jump through hoops and follow procedural formulaes when attempting to flesh out the characters in the "first season".
This episode was slower-paced than the usual we've come to expect so far, but with an entire episode dedicated to flashbacks, self-exploration, and as the title suggests, "therapy", one surely must go in not expecting big explosions with fire rising up in the sky at every other turn.
One of the slightly regular but not often explored (if you can catch what I am trying to say as the exact words/expression escapes me at the moment) thematic in the Grant Morrison run of the comic book was Cliff Steele's "questionable" grasp on reality, seeing as how his link(s) to the tangeable reality as we have come to believe it is through our limited senses, something poor Cliff has to learn he no longer has due to essentially being an organic "computer" encased in a crude metal container.
The comics would sometimes remind us that what Cliff sees and hears may be either faulty memories and hallicinations, as the tehnology (remember: this was the mid-end 80s!) was limited in terms of allowing his brain/mind to be able to fully "absorb" what his outer metal shell allowed in, in terms of outside stimuli.
In essence, I was quite intrigued by this episode's ever-increasing manic behaviour of Cliff, as it seemed quite in tune with the aforementionned themes conveyed in the Morrison comics. Alas, the episode's let down was the reveal of this being caused by an external act of sabotage - although said act in itself was quite absurd and derailed off the usually beaten paths, fitting therefore perfectly with the overall weirdness of the Doom Patrol.
Doom Patrol: Paw Patrol (2019)
Great and quirky episode!
I was a fan of the "original" Grant Morrison run of the comics just before DC started their "Vertigo" sub-line, and I have already made an extensive review of the show in general, strictly based on the pilot episode, before I knew one could write reviews of individual épisodes.
Unless you are not already versed in either the comic book version or the preview épisodes of the TV re-creation, watching this episode out of the blue may seem confusing (to say the least) and may offer more questions than answers, so I strongly sugest you go through the previous épisodes before getting to this one. It is not one which should be considered a "good starting point" to join in on the series.
What does make this episode both as enjoyable as those which came before it as well as in it's own right is that they are allowing the character of Kay ("Crazy Jane") a little more room to evolve past her previously quite stereotypically developped personnaes. Using her, or at least one of her multiple personalities as ***** SPOILER ALERT ***** a "weapon" (of sorts) against the de-Creator allows the actress to sink her teeth a little bit more into one side of said character.
Also of note is more of the quirkiness and, as I myself loved the comics and love how they kept part of that in the TV series, truly absurd moments of just pure "abstract"-like humor. **** SPOILER ALERT **** The whole idea of dancing during this brand of the apocalypse because you are being watched, couple with the choice of song, feels like madness allowed by the studios who opted to "go with it" instead of asking the writer(s) and story consultants to "make something less goofy for a broader audience".
All in all, this show is not displeasing at all so far, and does offer a little bit for (most) everyone, including us fans of the Morrison/Case era of the comics.
Piranha 3D (2010)
Not for everyone (target audience is obvious)
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Although I could go into much detail about how this film works on some levels but fails at others, perhaps it is best to simply boil it down to the "Piranha 3D" remake as film not for everyone, and it's target audience is quite obvious from within the first few minutes (post-first scene of course).
I will say that I did not like this film much since I have already seen more than my fair share (and against my own volition) of horror-esque films featuring post-teens on spring-break with lots of co-eds in bikinis and slow-motion bouncing ta-tas. In my opinion, enough is enough, and at this point such cash-grabbing gimicks seem out-dated and un-needed, save of course for the aforementionned target audience.
The sheer shame of this is that maybe there was a decently good film somewhere in there, at some point (maybe the Weinsteins edited this film in this shape and form in their secret editing room, somewhere) . Actors and actresses such as Dinah Meyer for example, are indeed criminally underused and seem to have been cast strictly to have "name" actors attached to the film. Elisabeth Shue, being quite a talented actress (and looking incredibly beautiful in this film) surely is capable of better productions than this, and I do hope she was well compensated for her time on this production.
Normally I try not to bother reviewing "bad" films which have very little redeaming value but in this case, there was both potential and some moments/elements which were appreciated, but in the end the film does come off as just another generic teens in peril during Spring Break horror schlock-fest.
Note-worthy are some of the gore effects which, aside from quite a number of obvious CGI effects and enhancements, do offer quite shocking moments which probably could only have come from the imagination of director Alexandre Aja.
In any case, if you don't mind a ton of bare-breasted and bikini-clad co-eds prancing around and drinking booze/snorting coke, all shown for nothing else but gratuity, alongside stereotypical characters and some gore, you may find yourself enjoying this remake.
Special props go out to hiring Gianna Michaels for a small cameo, of course!
Great debut for Dante - very entertainning!
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Joe Dante has been a very consistent director over the years, save maybe for one or two bumps in the road (most probably due to studio and Producer interférences), and his unique style of mixing humor with action and horror goes all the way back to his first official feature-length debut.
"Piranha" is one of those post-"JAWS" films done to cash in on the success of an underwater threat in the form of a fish. Much like the aforementionned Speilberg masterpiece, Dante's offering put the little toothy critters on everyone's everyday radar, and have since become part of popular culture as a fish to keep an eye out for.
Yes, the film is low-budget, and that means that some of the practical effects may seem a bit cheap and cheezy at times, but Dante and his crew have managed to craft a very respectable film which oddly enough features almost no slow moments except when the scene(s) demands it.
Acting-wise, pretty much everyone is decent to highly competent, save for a couple of moments where maybe additional takes should have been shot, but that's low-budget film-making for you.
All-in-all this is a very enjoyable film, if you put yourself in the right frame of mind and realize that this is a late 70s production, and films of the era had a certain "flavor" and "style" which people are early as the mid-80s found rather boring and "dépassé". But for what it's worth, "Piranha" does have it's charm and it's own fair share of moments, and good characterizations by the actors who, for the most part, look like they are having a lot of fun with the material they are being given. Don't expect a lot of drama, as the overall mood remains for the most part "fun" and "light-hearted", and very Dante-esque (if you are familiar with his unique style). Special props of course to Dick Miller having a larger-than-usual role in this one (he is usually cast as a once-scene-only character in most flicks).
Note: I was dupped and unfortunately bought a full frame (4x3) version of the DVD, Something which is incomprehensible when showcasing it as a "collector's edition" from the post-Y2K era, but the film is good enough for me to hunt down a widecreeen copy of it.
Oh and can someone explain what were those stop-motion creatures in those blink-and-you-miss moments during our protagonists' investigation of the secret experiement lab? It seemed like a set-up for Something to happen at a later moment in the film, but these were never references to by anyone...?