7.22.2014

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Image courtesy of nightmareonelmstreetfilms.com

1994
Directed by: Wes Craven
Category: Horror

If you 're a horror fan, then you've seen some, if not all, of the Elm St. films, even if you're not particularly a fan of the series in general. And as with the Friday the 13th films, each and every one of them vary in quality from one to the next. After Part 4: The Dream Master, it's safe to say the franchise went downhill rather quick. After the terrible returns of Part 5: The Dream Child (the lowest in the series), they decided to end the franchise with Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. As is with anything in Hollywood though, nothing is ever really final and New Line head honcho Robert Shaye decided to reach out to Nightmare on Elm St. creator Wes Craven for one last film, after having not been in touch for many years due to issues with Craven not getting royalties for his character. Burying the hatchet, Craven set out to write and direct one final Elm St. film to end the series on a high note, with his intent on bringing the fledgling series back to life and back to it's horror roots. Does he succeed?

Wes Craven's New Nightmare, while refreshing in that it takes a fresh stab at the original characters and storyline, ultimately fails to leave much of an overall impact. It's a shame too, because it has just as many positive attributes as it does negative ones. For instance, it's got great production value. New Nightmare looks and feels like a true-blue big budget horror spectacle. The practical effects work, while standard, is pretty good. And with this new film, Craven wanted to go with a much darker, bigger and more sinister take on Freddy. While it is a rather drastic change to the character, I actually like it. He looks intimidating as fuck. Along with Freddy's trademark makeup and look, gone also are the Freddy quips and one-liners that while cheesy, made the character more of a household name in the late 80's to early 90's. With the last 3 films in particular, you just sort of expected some comedy along with some creative kills in this franchise. I actually found the fact that he excised this concept from this new film a breath of fresh air. I think the jokes wore out there welcome long ago. I also kind of dug the storyline, where Craven has taken himself and some of the actors and production crew from the first film to play themselves in the real world in which Heather Langenkamp begins suspecting that Freddy, though just a fictional character from a series of popular horror films, is somehow materializing in the real world. So it ends up being a movie within a movie sort of deal. It's a ballsy concept, and to his credit, Craven tries awfully hard to make it interesting. It's just that he only marginally succeeds.

As much as New Nightmare has to admire in this latest attempt, there are also things that seemed lacking or uninspired. One of the things you'll notice during the first half of the film is that Freddy never makes an appearance until the halfway point. And while Craven does his best to build up the tension and sense of dread for a good 45 minutes, by the time Freddy finally shows up, you've been somewhat bored up until that point so you're only semi-excited to see him. On the plus, the insane and ridiculous fantasy of the last 3 Nightmare's (Part 4: The Dream Master, Part 5: The Dream Child, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare) is gone and the film looks good as an old school horror film. But it seems that visually impressive and storyline/emotionally impressive are two different things in this case - the production and actors are fine, but the film itself was rather dull. Then things finally kick into gear in the second half once Freddy shows up and it's surprisingly fun. It does delve into fantasy unfortunately, and the CGI effects work in this second half are embarrassing to say the least, even by 1994 standards. Unfortunately, while the fantasy aspect isn't anywhere near the level of absurd or silly as the earlier films, It's never really all that interesting either, and coupled with the really bad CGI work, I feel Craven should have probably grounded the film more in reality in the real world rather than create another mythical dream world where a lot of this concept still does't make sense.

So now that I'm done bitching a bit, I'll give Craven and company some well-deserved props; their attempt at going back to the franchise's horror roots and trying to deliver a solid adult horror film, one that doesn't cater to the MTV generation, succeeds from a technical, visual and artistic standpoint. The structure is solid, and the returning cast and practical effects team do outstanding work. It's just that it feels like it's almost too serious for it's own good and self aware of the franchise's past mistakes. Had they infused the film with a little of the fun factor or just kept things interesting instead of 100% gloom and doom by way of a slow build-up, maybe it would have left a more lasting impression. As it stands now though, while not nearly as great as his original film exactly 20 years before, it's probably the strongest film in the series next to the original. Robert Englund once again proved he could be scary and not a ham, and Craven displays some of his best work, helping us forget, albeit briefly, some of his misfires of the last 20 years.

7.18.2014

Robocop 3


1993
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Category: Action/Sci-fi

The Robocop franchise is a touchy subject with a lot of die-hard action/sci-fi fans. I think that pretty much the majority of the world just flat out loves the original one. Even by today's standards, it's exceptionally well done and hasn't aged a bit. In fact, I personally feel the Robocop remake was completely unnecessary. And the more I discuss Robocop 2 with fans and friends, I'm realizing that it's pretty much split right down the middle. To date, with everyone I've discussed this with, it doesn't seem to sway farther in either direction as far as those who love it and those who hate it. Right now, it's about 50/50. But then we get to Robocop 3 and it's pretty unanimous; it sucks. I have yet to meet anyone who actually likes it, and for good reason.

If you do any digging, you know getting the film from page to screen was not easy. Filmed a year after Robocop 2 was released in 1990, it sat on the shelf until it's eventual 1993 theatrical release due to Orion's bankruptcy. Legendary comic book and graphic novelist Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, Ronin, The Dark Knight Returns), who had written the screenplay for Robocop 2, had again worked on the screenplay for 3, hoping that a lot of his crazy ideas that were removed from Part 2 would make their way into this film. However, as with most films, his original vision was severely altered and cut down, resulting in Miller turning his back on Hollywood until 2005's Sin City, and a lazy, watered-down Robocop film that bares more of a resemblance to the Canadian television show than it's two predecessors. It's pretty sad really, and almost comical how silly this film is in comparison. The constant thought that kept repeating in my head over and over as I watched this was that more than anything, it looked and felt like a Made-for-TV movie.

Robocop 3 had a lot of odds stacked against it before it was ever made. In a few interviews years after it was released, years in which co-writer/director Fred Dekker was pretty much ostracized from Hollywood for his sins, he's been pretty honest about what made Robocop 3 fail. But all in all, they are things were had already assumed anyway. Like the fact that he was under orders to deliver a PG-13 Robocop by the studio. And how he himself had made the decision to try and deliver a more "heartfelt" story rather than relying on insane action to movie the film along, and that ultimately it was the wrong one. He also mentions that while Frank Miller's script was ambitious, he felt it needed "more heart and less cynicism", which was ultimately the film's failure, among other things. When it did come down to the action, which he watered-down considerably to begin with, he envisioned Hong Kong style action since he was a huge fan of John Woo and Tsui Hark. Lack of budget and tenacity prevented him from accomplishing this and he admits also that the ending was pretty "lame". He realized afterwards that despite his best intentions, the franchise and the character itself was never meant to appeal to kids. The two previous films were both rated a hard "R", and filled to the brim with insane violence, language, drug use, and a healthy amount of gore, and did considerably well at the box office. So for the studio to insist on a PG-13 rating, which is just downright preposterous logically, was the first step in this franchise's epic downfall. Dekker also admits that if he had the chance to do it all over again, he'd make it completely different. He'd make it less funny for starters, which clearly didn't work to begin with, and make it a much darker and more violent film, which is what the franchise was always meant to be. He wouldn't settle for a smaller budget, and insist on having the money to be able to deliver the bigger picture that everyone had hoped for.

Peter Weller seemed destined for the role, and tailor made for it. So to have someone else fill the shoes because of a scheduling conflict was a dumb move, especially a guy nobody had ever heard of before. Sure he's a recognizable face now if you watch shows like Law & Order, but back then you didn't know who the hell he was. Just that it sure as hell wasn't Peter Weller. And while Nancy Allen did return to reprise her role as Lewis, albeit briefly, it was bittersweet. Bringing a kid into the picture rather than having his trusty sidekick along for the ride was another poor decision on both the studio and writers. There is just so much wrong with Robocop 3 that there honestly isn't time to list them all here because we'd be here forever and you'd be bored to death. But needless to say, major studio interference, and Fred Dekker's own bad choices made for a tremendously mediocre and highly unimaginative film. A film that was the complete opposite of what fans of the first two were expecting, and the results are clearly evident in it's embarrassingly low box office tally; $10 million on a $23 million budget.

As I watched Robocop 3 for the very first time just a few days ago, yes it took me 21 years to bring myself to brave this atrocity, I remember thinking that while it was clearly evident that we were in for a "tame" Robocop film right from the beginning, I kept hoping that maybe the second half would somehow make up for the first, especially after the character of Otomo is introduced. You see Otomo is a japanese ninja cyborg. Needless to say, that was not the case. The second half only frustrates you even more because, among other things, this character is severely wasted and barely used in the film. And when the action finally does roll in at a snails pace, it's very tame and uninspired. And I'll admit, the concept of Robocop using a jetpack is pretty cool, but the execution was terrible, almost laughable.



The cast is littered with a lot of noticeable faces who may not have been household names then, but surely have become well known since. Action movie God screenwriter Shane Black even has a small role in this one. And as I mentioned before, Nancy Allen does return as officer Lewis again, but it's a short-lived excitement as her character is only in about a quarter of the film. The real letdown unfortunately is Robert John Burke in the role of Murphy/Robocop. While he's not terrible per say, he's definitely not memorable or even likable either. While he does slightly resemble Peter Weller in the slightest bit - not sure if that was on purpose - he's more robotic in nature than Weller and comes off as completely forgettable. I would think that if they were going to cast someone other than Weller in the iconic role, a bad move to begin with, you'd think that they would either try to find someone who can resemble him wholeheartedly in the hopes that most people wouldn't care or notice, or just go a completely different route and cast someone totally unexpected to shake things up.

Robocop 3's failures lie solely on both Orion and Fred Dekker's shoulders. What should easily have been a slam-dunk of entertainment, albeit PG-13, which could still very well have been fun had they infused the damn thing with more integrity and most importantly action, unfortunately turned into a terrible film that easily ranks as one of the top ways "not to make a sequel" in Hollywood. Obviously the majority of the problems come straight from Orion's decision to make a kid-friendly film, but most of the blunders come straight from Dekker's inability to handle the material and some really bad decision-making. As much as I admire him as a filmmaker, he seems completely out of his element in this genre, which makes me incredibly worried knowing he will be directing the next Predator film. Yes, he'll be co-writing it with the always awesome Shane Black, but with Dekker back in the directors chair with another popular sci-fi/action franchise, well I'm hesitant to get excited anytime soon. I think Black would be a much better fit directing that one. He's more than proven that despite having an incredible knack for writing hardcore action films, he's also a pretty damn good director as well as evident with his two directing efforts Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Band and Iron Man 3. But who knows, maybe in the 21 years since his last film, Dekker has learned a thing or two and I'm worried over nothing because in all fairness, while the same can't be said about Robo 3, he offered some really nice visuals in The Monster Squad.

A lot of this Robo film also just doesn't make sense. For example, when we are first introduced to Robo in the middle of a big shootout, he literally drives his car off of a building landing in the middle of the action. Instead of just stepping out and shooting, he shoots a circle out of the roof of his car so he can stand up and shoot the bad guys. Then he steps out of the car and continues through the car door. Why didn't he just step out of the car that way to begin with instead of shooting a hole in his roof? Theatrics maybe? And how does the cyborg Otomo know really anything about America like where to find a map at a gas station and whatnot if he was a full blown cyborg from Japan created from scratch and not a human that was turned into a robot?

I've been a fan of comic writer Frank Miller for as long as I can remember. Considered a God in the comic
book world after revitalizing the Daredevil comics in the 80's and blowing us away with The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, 300, Ronin, Elektra, Wolverine, and yes, even Robocop, Miller just doesn't seem to be able to transition to film as easily as we would assume. After turning out an interesting, yet deeply flawed and lacking script for Robocop 2, his turn in part 3 only fared worse. In 2005 after a long hiatus from film due to his disheartening experience working on the two Robocop sequels, he came back to co-direct Sin City with Robert Rodriguez, based on his own graphic novels. With the directing bug in place, he next set out to write and direct The Spirit on his own in 2008, which resulted in a jumbled, weird, unapologetic mess that is easily one of the worst comic book adaptations ever made. I think it's safe to say that while he's considered one of the top creators/writers/artists working in comics in the last 40 years, his talents just don't transition well into film.

Robocop 3 is a prime example of how "not" to make a sequel to a popular franchise. Lame in almost every regard - hell, even the poster is terrible - this film is probably one of the worst sequels I've ever seen. I'm talking Superman IV: The Quest for Peace kind of bad. My 11 year old son summed it up rather perfectly when it was over. "Wow, for a Robocop movie there was hardly any action and no blood!". See, even the kid gets it.

Frank Miller eventually turned all his crazy ideas for Robocop 2 and 3 into a 12 issue mini-series in comic book form in 2003 later published into a trade paperback. This right here is one of the best, most insane comics I've ever read and one that's perfectly in line with the vibe the franchise was trying to go for with the first film, only much more balls-to-the-walls. It's gory, violent, nasty and crazy as hell and if you want to check out Miller's true Robocop vision, skip the sequels and just get your hands on this book.

7.16.2014

Odd Thomas


2013
Directed by: Stephen Sommers
Category: Horror/Thriller/Drama/Fantasy

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that this oddly titled little film, which you've probably passed or seen repeatedly at your local video store or at the Redbox, was a paint-by-numbers low-budget direct-to-video affair. Well yes and no. "Yes" in the fact that it is a DTV release, "no", in the fact that it's anything but paint-by-numbers or low-budget. I think what will surprise almost everyone is the fact that while it's a film that sort of flew under pretty much everyone's radar, this little gem is just about the most entertaining horror/thriller/fantasy film to come out of the market in quite some time.

Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) is a small town fry cook who lives the simple life with his spunky girlfriend and who also just so happens to see dead people, everywhere. Having been born with this gift, he uses it for good in fighting evil and bringing murderers and whatnot to justice. Only a handful of people know his secret, his girlfriend and the town sheriff (Willem Dafoe), whom he helps regularly with cases. When a stranger shows up with an army of ghosts, Thomas sees it as a sign of something really bad about to happen in his usually quiet All-American town. Together with his girlfriend and trusting sheriff, he knows time is running out to figure out what that is and how to stop it.

Let's get some specifics out of the way. First of all, it's based on a book by Dean Koontz (whaaat?) And it's written and directed by Stephen Sommers (G.I. Joe, The Mummy, Van Helsing). It's eclectic little cast includes Anton Yelchin (Fright Night, Terminator: Salvation), Willem Dafoe, and a rather talented bunch of character actors to round things out. It's an effects heavy and often upbeat film about a young fella who has the ability to see dead people and chooses to help them cross over or to seek justice to those that were callously murdered before their time and catch the perpetrators.

Now that's out of the way, let's get down to brass taxes. So since it's a Stephen Sommers film, that means lots of CGI, for better or worse, because it's a Stephen Sommers film after all. I wonder if he'll ever be able to make a film without CGI ever again? Is it just part of his DNA? But it's also a film about ghosts, demons and spirits, and in this day and age, that's really the only way you're going to get that amount of heavy effects quickly. Now I'm not saying I support it, because I don't. Heavy CGI have their time and place. But Odd Thomas is a particular type of fantasy film that seems to warrant the use of it in this case. And thankfully we have someone like Sommers, someone who's built a career out of effects-heavy CGI films, who handles it really well.

Odd Thomas is a fun film. At times, thrilling, exciting, sad, funny and scary; and at it's heart (which it wears proudly on it's sleeve), it maintains a constant fun vibe that packs a punch of entertainment. I'll admit, even I was skeptical. I'd come across this numerous times, but never gave too much thought into it what with it's over-photoshopped cover and unusual title. But when you're trying to find a film to watch with a kid that's "kid-appropriate", your options are extremely limited these days and I'm glad to say, Odd Thomas saved the day. After the "Is this what Stephen Sommers has been relegated to?" shock wore off, I was pleasantly surprised and treated to a rather unique film that never takes itself too seriously, and when it does, seems to pull all of these different genre's together to create a unique viewing experience that will undoubtedly surprise even the most stoic or jaded moviegoer.

Odd Thomas, I think, will only grow in reputation as time passes. Even recently, I'd heard a few people on Facebook mention how much they liked it and that it was in fact, really good. So when it became available recently on Netflix to stream, I thought I'd jump on the chance and I'm so glad I did. It's kind of a funny story too. On a Sunday afternoon, 3 of us were browsing Netflix, Amazon and Hulu trying to find something we could all watch and enjoy. Having spent over an hour searching and we still hadn't decided on anything because we all just couldn't agree, in frustration I suggested at least starting Odd Thomas and giving it 20 minutes because I'd heard good things about it. If it sucked, we could move onto something else. The moment this film begins it's fast paced structure keeps things moving really quickly at break-neck speed and it really is just a helluva fun movie.

If you're looking for a "family friendly" film, but one that packs a wallop of entertainment in it's rather short hour and a half running time, and one that also isn't afraid to get a little dark from time to time, Odd Thomas will certainly fit the bill.

7.15.2014

Quick Shot: Cold Prey

2006
Directed by: Roar Uthaug
Category: Horror

I first came upon learning about Cold Prey and it's sequels on a "Best Norwegian Horror Films You've Never Seen" type of list recently and I must say, it was a rather impressive list. Some I'd heard about already, but most of them I have not, including the Cold Prey franchise, of which there are 3 of them. Described by the author of the list as pretty stellar and a much better horror film than you're expecting, it's safe to say that I went into this with rather high expectations, especially since it seems that horror films that come out of Norway are in fact pretty damn good.

Slight Spoilers Ahead:
I'm not gonna lie, Cold Prey, while a solid thriller, just didn't impress me the way I was hoping it would. And let me repeat that, it's a "thriller", not a "horror" film, a fact that was kind of shocking when it was all said and done. You see, they market this as a straight up horror film, with the trailers even implying that there's a "monster" or "supernatural" aspect to it. I'm not going to ruin it by saying whether it is or isn't, but the fact of the matter is that the trailers slightly mislead you, and while it could very well be considered a great Norwegian horror film by many in the horror community (there are 2 sequels after all), I personally just didn't think it was all that clever, original or entertaining. In fact, more often than not, I found it quite dull.

On the positive side though, it's got a nice clean stylish look to it, and the ensemble cast is pretty solid overall. At it's best moments, it carries the "slasher" aspect pretty well, an angle I wish they stuck more with and dedicated more energy into, rather than making it more like a suspense/thriller whodunit. Even then, the big reveal at the end isn't as exciting as it should have been, nor really all that surprising if you really take the time to think about it and try to figure it out.

I watched this with a group of people, and the consensus was that as a horror film, it was just alright, nothing we'd highly recommend to friends in an increasingly flooded market with other more enjoyable horror films worth checking out.

7.12.2014

Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is finally here!!

Okay, so if you love horror movies, then you love Clive Barker's 1990 "almost" masterpiece of monster horror Nightbreed. I say almost because as you all know by now, it was severely cut down and edited when released, much to Barker's dismay, and what we ultimately got was just a fraction of Clive Barker's planned vision of his world of monsters. Nightbreed was intended to be a trilogy of films, the Star Wars of the horror/fantasy world. But the studios, after severely cutting the film down and making drastic changes, completely mis-marketed the damn thing and made it look like an ordinary slasher film in trailers and promotional material, so naturally the film wasn't seen by hardly anyone and didn't do well enough to warrant any of the planned sequels. There were always talk and whispers of this supposedly "lost footage" making the rounds in conventions and whatnot - which did in fact exist in the form of telecine tapes and badly worn out VHS copies - and well, after a petition and years of hard work, these missing elements have been found and the mythical Cabal Cut (as it's been referred to) of Clive Barker's Nightbreed is finally going to see the light of day via Scream Factory in both a 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu ray and a 2-Disc DVD/Blu ray Combo Pack.

Here are the details from Scream Factory's website:

The 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray
For the first time on home video, you can experience Clive Barker’s original director’s cut of Nightbreed with over 40 minutes of new footage, all mastered in high definition from the original camera negative!

This Limited Edition, 3-Disc Set includes the theatrical cut, on Blu-Ray for the first time, and a bonus disc of additional extras (see below)!

Boone (Craig Sheffer) may be a troubled young man, but his troubles are just beginning. Set up as the fall guy in a string of slasher murders, he decides he'll hide by crossing the threshold that separates “us” from “them” and sneak into the forbidden subterranean realm of Midian. Boone will live among the monsters.

Hellraiser creator Clive Barker writes (adapting his novel Cabal) and directs this vivid leap into horror that asks: in the battle of man vs. monster, who's really the monster? The answer supplies flesh-crawling suspense, sudden fear, a colorful Danny Elfman score and a creepy array of shape-shifting beings. They are the Nightbreed, denizens of a world beyond death, beyond the imagination, perhaps beyond anything you've seen.

LIMITED EDITION SET INCLUDES:
- Only 5,000 numbered sets produced (first 1,000 numbered available from ShoutFactory.com)
- Disc 1: Unrated Director’s Cut of the film on Blu-ray
- Disc 2: The 1990 R-Rated theatrical version of the film on Blu-ray (through a special licensing agreement through Warner Bros.)
- Disc 3: EXCLUSIVE-TO-THIS-SET Bonus Blu-ray disc packed with extras (details forthcoming)
- Includes Collector’s Book with an essay and rare photos
- Slipcase includes newly designed artwork by Les Edwards and approved by Clive Barker

The 2-Disc DVD/Blu ray Combo
THIS SET INCLUDES:
- Disc 1: Unrated Director’s Cut of the film on Blu-ray plus bonus features (details forthcoming)
- Disc 2: Unrated Director’s Cut of the film on DVD (details forthcoming)
- Slipcase includes artwork approved by Clive Barker

As of this date, this news is about a week old, and though the Limited Edition Blu ray is rather pricey, it seems to be selling like hotcakes, having already sold the first 1,000 units in it's first night. Sorry guys, the newly commissioned Limited edition Poster Print is no longer available as only 1,000 were made for the Limited Edition Blu ray, which sold out overnight. Better hurry, because realistically you only have a small window of time to take advantage of grabbing one as it's a limited run of only 5,000 and will surely run out, grabbing ridiculous prices on eBay and Amazon. The DVD/Blu ray 2-Disc combo will be a lot easier to get as there is no limit on that particular release.

You can order the 2-Disc DVD/Blu ray Combo Pack HERE directly from Scream Factory and HERE to order THE 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu ray.

I don't think I need to say how important this release is and how valuable petitions are in situations like this. This never would have seen the light of day had it not been because of the thousands of signature's Occupy Midian received with their petition to make this a reality. Hell, Morgan Creek flat out stated several times that they had no desire to re-release Nightbreed, let alone dig up any of the missing footage supposedly locked away in their vaults, because they didn't think there was enough interest in it. The fact that we were able to make this a reality is a miracle in itself. "The Tribes of the Moon Embrace You".

7.11.2014

Enemy


2013

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Category: Thriller

Watching Enemy is an exercise in patience. If you have a lot of it, you'll be able to sit through this and enjoy a fascinating, bleak and stark film by one of the most talented directors working today. If you do not possess even the smallest amount, you'll more than likely be either bored or frustrated to tears.

Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve blew me away last year with his first U.S. film, the drama/thriller Prisoners, a film that seemed to come out of nowhere and proceed to knock the socks off of anyone who took the time to watch it. Seriously people, about as dark, brooding and gut-wrenching as a thriller could possibly be, but one made with so much style and substance that combined with Hugh Jackman's searing performance of a father desperate for answers and who will stop at nothing to get them, will punch you in the gut. That same year, director Denis Villeneuve and star Jake Gyllenhaal made another film together, the mind-bending and intimate film Enemy. These two films couldn't be anymore different from one another.

A professor (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers, after watching a romantic comedy, that he has a doppelganger in the form of a bit actor. His attempt to track this lookalike down out of curiosity takes him to places psychologically that he never anticipated.  

Enemy is a much smaller film in scale than Prisoners. Where Prisoners benefited from Jackman's Oscar-worthy performance and an exceptionally strong supporting stellar cast, Enemy mainly consists of just 4 actors with extremely limited dialogue. Most of what happens in Enemy takes place in long sequences with rarely a word spoken, where director Villeneuve prefers to tell the story through strong visual stimulation, body language and playing on the strengths of his main small cast. But the surprising thing is that while minimal in scale, it all works really well. So much so that because the film is so gorgeous to look at, and the fact that Gyllenhaal (playing dual roles) and the 3 women supporting him are such strong actors, it barely registers until it's over that when you think back on it, they barely spoke a word for an hour and a half. That right there is a true testament to the strength of this cast and it's immensely talented director.

What Enemy also differs from compared to their previous film Prisoners is scale. Prisoners is a big budget Hollywood thriller, complete with all the bells and whistles, while Enemy could almost be considered an "experimental" film in nature and execution. There are scenes and sequences in here that don't make sense, at least not immediately, and the film often makes small gestures that make you question everything. So as I stated before, you will need to have some patience, or at least an open mind to be able to sit through and enjoy this brooding, grim and surreal decent into the darkest part of two men's psyche.

Jake Gyllenhaal confronting Jake Gyllenhaal
My thoughts:
I rather enjoyed it to be honest. It was a completely different film that I was expecting and the surreal/experimental aspect of it all took me by surprise. I'm not against those types of films mind you, but when you're not expecting a film to be like that, it can throw you off enough to where you just don't enjoy it. Thankfully it's all anchored by a brilliant and almost mime-like type of performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve's strong visual strengths to keep you invested. I actually knew very little about it going in, never even having seen the trailer beforehand. So as the film plays out for the first 30 minutes or so I remember I kept wondering "what type of film is this supposed to be?" "When is anything going to happen?". Things do happen you impatient bastard, albeit rather slowly. You just have to give it time.

SLIGHT SPOILERS!!
I will warn you though, this is one of those "Open to your own interpretation" type of films, the kind that give no clear answer or definition to what anything means. And trust me, with this particular film, no 2 interpretations will be alike. Films like this can drive people crazy, especially those that need closure. And I'll admit, even I probably uttered "WTF?" after that last scene before the credits rolled up, but as I processed and let the film simmer for a while, I began to appreciate it more and more. I don't think I fully agree with how it ultimately ended with that last sequence, because I don't feel the film is smart enough to deserve an ending like. It's also hard to grasp what Villeneuve as a director was thinking when he included that scene because it plays with your head and will more than likely turn a lot of people off. Like, you think one thing and then Bam!, the entire film has just been turned upside down. Again, with no clear answer or logic.
END SPOILERS.

By all accounts, Enemy is a fascinating film by an extremely talented director and an equally talented cast. It's a slow-burn experience, yet completely engrossing if you can throw your preconceived notion's out the window. It's a visually stunning piece; stark and bleak - reminiscent of the work of David Fincher, complete with little details that most people will more than likely not notice and miss. But it's got substance, something a lot of other films these days sorely lack.

Take the trip, enjoy the ride, and be prepared to ask questions afterwards.

7.09.2014

Starman


1984
Directed by: John Carpenter
Category: Drama/Sci-fi

Starman is a fascinating film. Take a rather plain and simple script, give it to one of the most talented directors in his prime, and watch what he accomplishes with bare minimum resources to create extaordinary results.

As big a fan of director John Carpenter as I've always been, I never put much stock or thought into this dramatic effort sandwiched between the amazing but poorly received Christine and the equally amazing and dramatically more dismissed cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. Starman is a big departure for Carpenter as a filmmaker. Known mostly for horror and sci-fi, this ended up being a minor blurb in his vast filmography of iconic films and one that most people don't really discuss for one reason or another. More than anything, it's probably because Starman would be considered a dramatic love story, with only slight touches of sci-fi. I myself am guilty of that. Even back when I was a teenager devouring Carpenter's films like crazy, I think I only saw this one maybe once or twice as a young filmgeek. Though still a Carpenter film through and through, it never grabbed me the way his other films did........or so I thought.

This past year or so I've been revisiting all of his films, even the ones I didn't necessarily care for the first time around, like Memoirs of an Invisible Man; which I love by the way, and Body Bags; which I didn't. Starman, to my surprise, became available recently for streaming on Netflix, and so one Monday afternoon when I was off and took a break from chores, I sat down to revisit this during my lunch and systematically had my mind blown. How in the fucking hell had I never given this film another shot in all these years? Why does it not have the reputation it so richly deserves? How is it not ever mentioned on Carpenter's "Best" list? As the end credits rolled up, and I was left humming that impossibly beautiful and catchy theme song in my head, these are the questions I kept asking myself because ladies and gentlemen, Starman represents probably the best of what Carpenter has to offer as a visual filmmaker. Sure it was a job-for-hire kinda gig since his two previous films flopped and he wanted to keep working in Hollywood, but holy shit is this an "almost" masterpiece of dramatic/science fiction filmmaking. Let me put it this way, since this initial viewing a few months back, I've probably re-watched it at least a good half dozen times.

From a technical standpoint alone, Starman is brilliant; visually one of the most stunning and original films I've ever seen in this particular genre. Carpenter shoots each frame with such precision that you just can't help but be in awe of his talent as a visual filmmaker. Add into the equation his ability to edit it all together rather effectively so as to never really have a dull moment and you've got a recipe for awesome. This film is oozing with so much style that it's easy to overlook the lack of substance. But here's the thing, while the film isn't terribly original; an alien (Jeff Bridges) crash lands on Earth, taking the form of Jenny's (Karen Allen) deceased husband and kidnaps her so she can take him to his rendezvous so he can be picked up by another ship and return to where he came from, it's thoroughly engrossing driven by some very strong performances by it's three leads, Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen and Charles Martin Smith. And Jack Nitzsche's insanely catchy score will stay in your head for days.

One of the things this film has going for it is it's time period; the early 1980's. Had this been made now, it could very well have ended up being rather dull. But because this was made in the beginning of such an iconic decade, it adds that special flavor that easily could have made this forgetful had it been made 10 or 20 years later and in the hands of a bland director. Everything from the clothing, decor, cars, electronics and even it's limited special and practical effects work puts a time stamp on it that gives this film a good chunk of it's visual charm.

Speaking of it's time stamp, this film was actually made years earlier - the same time as E.T. specifically, but since that film was reigning supreme at the box office, the studio felt they needed to hold off on releasing it for a few years until the E.T. craze died down a bit. Last thing the producers wanted was to have another "stranded alien on Earth" film competing with one of the biggest box office hits of all time which just so happened to have a similar storyline.

As great as this film is, it's an incredibly sad reality that this particular film has never received a proper DVD or Blu-ray release here in the U.S.. It's been part of several combo packages throughout the years, but Sony's 1998 DVD release is a joke. It comes in both full frame and widescreen (thankfully), but no supplemental material. All these years later, still not better release or even a Blu-ray. So if you're looking to purchase this amazing film, there's no real great release to get excited about. I would suggest streaming it, which you can do currently on Netflix Instant or you can purchase it digitally in HD on Amazon.

Starman is without a doubt a film that needs to be seen again. If you haven't done so in a long while or if you've just never given it a chance, do yourself a favor and get on that pronto. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how great it is. It's a prime example of the power of John Carpenter's storytelling and visual talent. In my heart of hearts, I honestly feel Starman is impossible not to love.

7.08.2014

Samurai Cop star Alive and Well

If you're aware of the "awesome" that is Samurai Cop, or have done any kind of research on that particular film or it's enigmatic star Matt Hannon, then you're aware that he'd been thought to be dead for quite some time now. This is made all the more evident in the fact that he's never starred in another film. Well, guess what? He's not dead. He's just apparently dropped out of the film business for the last 25 years and has used pseudonyms ever since, making it rather difficult to track the guy down. Well, he's recently uploaded 2 videos where he discusses all this and titillates us with some "secret" news. 

If you haven't yet had the chance to experience Samurai Cop, then you are surely missing out on one of the greatest cinematic experiences of your life time. Samurai Cop is not a film, it's an experience. The kind of experience that needs to be enjoyed with a group of friends for full effect. Easily one of the best Bad Movies ever made, Samurai Cop is the cream of the crop of So Bad, It's Good film experiences. It's really beyond words. I hadn't laughed out loud so hard since then or had as good a time watching a bad film. The Visitor and Hard Ticket to Hawaii are a close second, but nothing beats Samurai Cop........so far.


To purchase your very own copy of the amazing Samurai Cop Special Edition from Amazon, click HERE

7.05.2014

Freddy vs Jason


2003
Directed by: Ronny Yu
Category: Horror

As I recently delved head-on into both Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories, nostalgia set in. These past few years I've been revisiting every film from both of these franchises, albeit rather slowly. As much as I love them, you can only take so much Freddy or Jason. I never wanted it to be overkill. But after finally finishing the awesome Crystal Lake Memories a few weeks back, I was in the mood again for a revisit to another slasher, but this time why not tackle them both with Freddy vs Jason? Especially after the documentary made it look like so much fun. Yes, I have seen it before, but as with most films that don't leave much of an impression on me, I remember very little about it. Also, I was just informed that FvsJ was the last time England donned the Freddy makeup, so there you go. More incentive to give this another shot.

If you're a fan of either of these series and remember growing up with them in the 80's and 90's, then I'm sure you're well aware of how long it took for this film to hit the big screen. At times, it never seemed like it would ever come to fruition, mainly because of legal issues since Freddy belonged to New Line and Jason belonged to Paramount. Years in development hell, the film finally got the green-light and after many, many drafts and screenwriters, ultimately they chose a script by writing partners Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, who would also write the Friday the 13th reboot years later in 2009. A film, by the way, that doesn't get the credit it deserves as being a straight-up badass slasher flick. Changes were ultimately made to their FvsJ script, but the majority of it stayed in tact into what eventually translated onto the screen. 

So it's 11 years later and time to revisit this slasher mash-up, a film that many hoped would be the ultimate monster mash-up. Was it any good? Overall I will say that it's entertaining, with a fun vibe. It's really the final third act where things come to life, so unfortunately there's not as much "VS." as you hope there is for the majority of the film. And logic, apparently, has been thrown out the window. But you don't go to see these films for logic do you? No you don't. You go to see them for 2 things; nudity and badass kills, of which this film delivers only partially. Yea, sadly though there's a nice nude sequence right smack in the beginning to wet your appetite, but I don't recall any other scenes in the rest of the film. And while there's plenty of killing to be had throughout the film, with the exception of a few decent kills here and there, the majority of them are just either silly or rather forgetful. What helps moves things along smoothly is the cast, which is solid. And before the film comes to it's pretty kick-ass conclusion, there are indeed a few stellar sequences to be found, most notably when Jason suddenly appears at a party out in the middle of a corn field, where he's lit on fire and walking around hacking kids left and right. Visually, that was pretty cool and hard as fuck to pull off. 

Something just always feels off about the whole thing though, like it's missing something. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it could be just the pacing, or just the lack of thrills or any real "wow" factor. I think some of that falls on director Ronny Yu, who gave us the Hong Kong fantasy film The Bride with White Hair, and also his first U.S. horror film with Bride of Chucky in 1998. While a very visually stimulating director at times, I found a lot of that lacking in this film, save for a couple of memorable scenes. The overall vibe just didn't gel very well for me. It's a good thing though that the film really ends on a high note, with one seriously epic battle between two unstoppable titans. But it's still hard to shake the feeling that it could have, or "should" have rather, been better, considering how long it took to get the damn thing made. And while the guy who donned Jason's hockey mask was pretty good, the biggest Jason to date FYI, Jason lacked a lot of what made him work when he was portrayed by Kane Hodder, the majority of the Friday series favorite Jason. Hodder may very well have added that little something the film was missing, but then again maybe he couldn't. I guess we'll never really know. 

The cast is really solid, Englund is hamming it up again, though not nearly as bad as he was in Nightmare 5 or Freddy's Dead, and Ken Kirzinger as the biggest Jason to date added to the film's over-the-top vibe nicely. Regrettably, FvsJ doesn't know if it's trying to be camp or satire, and treads that line rather closely, never swaying too far in either direction, like it can't make up it's mind. If only the film we had waited decades to see had been slightly better executed with a sharper script, then I think FvsJ would have ended both of the franchises on a high note, instead of just another entry in the slasher film genre.