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B Movie Heaven
Q (a.k.a. The Winged Serpent here in the UK) is a note perfect B movie, perhaps the blueprint that all low budget creature-features should work from. The film, from writer/ director Larry Cohen, is the best horror/ comedy/ exploitation hybrid this side of the '70's (pic was made in 1982). Everything works a treat. The film has many things going for it, not least an intelligent screenplay that is hysterically funny in parts. The cast are superb: in particular Moriarty's nervous hood and Carradine's no-nonsense, sarcastic detective. The film zips along at a cracking pace, like Lewis Teague's equally brilliant 'Alligator' (1980), not a frame of the film is wasted. Witty, gory, well-paced and populated by believable characters, Q works on almost every level. As unpretentious B Movies go, this one is a masterclass on how to get it right. Highly recomended.
Excellent film adaptation
I had high expectation for Daredevil. I hoped it would be a good film, and more than that I wanted it to be a good film. I was disappointed by Spider-Man, a film that felt childish and insincere. I hoped Daredevil would be gutsier, darker and more heart felt. The film surpassed all expectation. This is a comic book film for adults, probably the finest since 'The Crow'. Daredevil is terrific entertainment, but it is also a film of some depth (it is unafraid of emotion, without ever over doing it). The film's main plus is in it's straight faced delivery. This is sombre, haunting material; all pain and sadness. The action is lean and well handled, fantastic without becoming far-fetched (for the most part, anyhow). The cast are credible and deliver great performances. Affleck is subtle and convincing as Murdoch/ DD. This is one of his finest performances, he has created a real character here, as opposed to relying on his film star persona. Much of the film's success must go to Affleck. Garner is beautiful and suitably athletic. Farrell chews the scenery with a colourful, growling relish. David Keith makes the most of his screen time as Jack 'The Devil' Murdoch, it's good to see him back on the big screen. Credit to director Johnson for creating a realistic, downbeat film that will somehow pass for popcorn entertainment. This is brilliant big-screen fare; Marvel should be proud.
Vanilla Sky (2001)
Pretentious, unbelievably self-indulgent film that crawls at a snail's pace whilst going absolutely nowhere. A depressing, glossy, superficial waste of everybody's time and energy. Any film that wastes the talent of Jason Lee, Timothy Spall, Noah Taylor and Kurt Russell should be condemned to life in the bargain basket. Avoid.
Sorcerer is a unique, brutal, brilliant film burdened underneath a terrible, wholly unappropriate title. Watching this film, it is not only easy to see why the film was both a huge financial and commercial disaster, it is downright obvious. This is the most un-american/ hollywood/ commercial film backed by a major studio I have ever seen. It is a tough, gruelling 126 minutes that goes nowhere fast, yet holds you firm in its tight grip and beats you senseless throughout. I was exhausted when the film finally arrived at it's rather downbeat ending. The multi-national cast is faultless. Scheider is magnificent. This is an exceptionally demanding, difficult role and he hits it head on, creating an anti-hero who is very, very real: desperate, frightened and desructable. Taking this role, at the height of his fame, was either very brave or very stupid. I'm going with brave. His performance here is a million miles away from his work on Jaws and Jaws 2, yet equally compelling. The photography is in a league of it's own (I only wish the DVD came with an original 2:35:1 print, assuming there is one, as the current disc is presented in a 4:3 full frame), and the music from Tangerine Dream complements the vision perfectly. This is a brilliant piece of film making from the most daring decade of cinema, made by one of cinema's true unpredictable's. Tense, dazzling, dark and fresh, this is an underated film that deserves to be re-evaluated.
The Velocity of Gary (1998)
Moving and involving
Dan Ireland's film The Velocity of Gary* (*Not his real name)is both moving and involving, painting a honest depiction of unconventional love in an almost abstract, fantastical way. I tracked this film down (not an easy task here in the UK) as a loyal follower of the great Thomas Jane and was not disappointed when I finally got to watch it. Jane plays Gary, a hustler in New York who falls under the loving wing of Valentino, an adult film actor played by Vincent D' Onofrio. Both have an immediate attraction to one another (sexual? paternal, in Valentino's case?) but things are complicated by the presence of Valentino's shrieking girlfriend Mary Carmen (Salma Hayek). A brutal yet genuinely loving emotional triangle is formed, then tragedy strikes as Valentino is diagnosed with AIDS. Adapted by James Still from his own one man play, this is raw, passionate stuff, and not to everyone's taste. But to those who want to taste something a little different, I highly recommend the picture. Two factors keep the interest throughout: 1) Jane. His performance is honest, brave and utterly believable. He has to be the best working young actor in American film at this point in time. 2) The films original score by Peitor Angell is as moving as its source material. The films theme (though it only appears during the opening credits and during a festival some time later) is a beautiful piece of film composition. This is an intimate little flick which, whilst never exactly 'feel-good', highlights the gift of life and making the most of it.
Strong, atmostpheric film
I was one of the few people to see this film upon its (very short) UK theatrical release. I had followed the films troubled history and numerous title changes with great interest, being a loyal admirer of Stallone and this type of thriller. D-Tox (which I think is a great name for a movie, I was relieved to see the back of the alternative title- 'Eye See You') is far from perfect and has many flaws, but it is a damn sight better than a) it's two year hold up would suggest and b) the majority of films that recieve a wide theatrical release. It is tense, atmospheric, grim and has a look and feel all of its own. The first section of the film is a patchwork of other cop films, but once the film shifts location to the remote outpost clinic, things begin to get very nasty. The tone of the film is dark and claustrophobic, it reminded me very much of Alien 3 in both production design and feel. There is a strong sense of isolation and foreboding throughout the picture. The film has the feel of a dirty, unpolished thriller, yet it is marked by a series of graphic, disturbing death scenes that have the feel of an early seventies, low budget horror picture. To call it a slasher film would be a little glib, but it certainly has that set up (an adult slasher film?). The cast is strong: Robert Patrick, Tom Berenger, Polly Walker, Geoffrey Wright and Kris Kristofferson all provide solid contributions at various points but it is Stallone who holds the picture (and proceedings) together. How much longer will this talented actor be maligned by lazy hacks, his often solid body of work overlooked in favour of easy ridicule? Stallone is ageing, make no mistake. Dare I say it, here he looks almost old. But with age comes experience, and recently Stallone has begun to deliver more controlled, layered performances. Indeed, I think his best work is yet to come, hopefully over the next couple of years. In D-Tox he gives a mournful, stoic performance that matches the tone of the material he is working from. D-Tox is a good, gripping thriller that recieved bad press from people who have in all probability never even seen it. NOTE: The UK DVD contains deleted scenes. I only mention this as the final cut of the film has many loose ends; many characters fates are left undisclosed. Admirers of the film may want to check them out.
Tepid, Baby, Oh so very Tepid
I had read nothing but good reviews for this cable film. Digging deeper, I learned it was the first in a series of monster movies from a new production house, collectively known as 'Creature Features'. So far, so good. Throw into the mix effects guru Stan Winston (helmer of the brilliant 'Pumpkinhead' ) and the company's aim to pay affectionate homage to the great monster movies of the 1950's, and I was getting very excited. Oh dear. She-Creature was dire. I can't recall being so disappointed by a film in a long, long time. The film makers have confused a film being dark and foreboding with a film being dull and badly paced. This is a wet, crushingly boring film with little to recomend it. It has put me off watching the rest of the series in one single blow. The creature itself is the biggest disappointment, Winston's shoddiest since Leviathan (1989). This is a boring piece of film, make no mistake. The makers seem to have forgotten that the Sci-Fright films of the 50's were fun as well as atmospheric. This is a humourless affair all round, with no hero or likeable characters. The final insult is the DVD on which it comes: dreadful, 2 minute featurette, an inept trailer and one of the dullest commentary's I have ever heard. Avoid.
The greatest movie never released...
This is nothing short of brilliant. Mike Abbott plays Rex, top drug lord and business partner of another highly dangerous drug baron, Bill (played by Mark Watson). When Rex double crosses Bill during a deal at an airport, Bill vows revenge. Meanwhile, across town, Jack Barlow finds his family and friends being murdered one by one after his younger brother witnesses a raid on a liquor store. Bill offers Jack help, knowing that Rex is behind the carnage. At first Jack refuses, but as the corpses begin to pile up, he strikes a reluctant deal with Bill. Both men vow to bring Rex's empire down, although both for very different reasons...
Joseph Lai's production is a masterpiece of late 80's ninja fodder. The cast are nothing short of dynamic. Mike Abbott, as the charasmatic Rex, steals the show. Mean, tough yet handsome and seductive in his blue boiler suit and conditioned hair, Rex is the ultimate screen villian. This is a complex character, we as the audience know he is the villain of the piece and yet we can't help but cheer for him, such is the skill of Abbott as a performer. Mark Watson, too, portrays a man on the edge of good and evil, struggling to make the right decision. With his Sean Penn looks and his subtle line delivery, he is a perfect anti-hero. Ninja Knight Brothers of Blood also has a better than average screenplay for this sort of thing. When Rex tells his henchman Milo that "I've gotta protect my reputation" you believe him. Some of the scenes between Jack Barlow and his family are truly touching, also. But this is an action film, and on that front it delivers with a series of high concept set pieces. These include: a high-speed car chase with Jack Barlow clinging to a car for life, a punch out in a crowded market, a beach fight and a highly charged finale between Rex and Bill. The choreography is above-par and the voice work is spot on. Available on video in the UK on the Cine Ninja lable (sometimes under the title 'Platoon Warriors') this is rousing, engrossing stuff for the serious action fan. Enjoy.
Pure Cinematic Gold
Them! is, quite simply, dynamite. It is the finest of the 50's monster movies, and one of the finest sci-fi films ever. The films biggest asset is the realism. Director Douglas has somehow managed to make a film about giant, killer ants believable. Everything about this movie scores high. James Whitmore is terrific in the lead role, well supported by some great character acting. Priceless and very, VERY frightening.
Jaws 2 (1978)
Terrific Stand Alone Picture
Jaws 2 has many detractors. Usually it is hardcore fans of the original, sulking that their milestone picture has been ruined by a number of inferior sequels. Well, I am the hardest, biggest and most loyal of hardcore Jaws followers. And yes, Joe Alves' 3-D was bad, and Joseph Sargent's 1987 installment (The Revenge) is perhaps one of the worst films ever committed to celluloid. But Jaws 2, made in 1978, is a damn good film. Make that a great film. Ignored by most people who have never really watched it, Jeannot Schwartz's film is technically superb and has moments of real tension. This is a lot darker than Spielberg's original and for my money a little more frightening. The shark itself is not as realistic than 'Bruce', but still has more visual kick than a 1000 CGI shots could accomplish. The film has a dour, downbeat feel to it (almost depressing) and yes, the ending is a little hard to swallow. But as both a sequel and a stand alone film, Jaws 2 more than delivers. Scheider is back, the key to the whole film, and is magnificent. Brody is now more confident, more stoic, and still THE greatest everyman hero in cinema. The rest of the cast are terrific (Hamilton, Gary, Mascolo and a youthful Keith Gordon in particular), Williams delivers a more complex musical score and Schwartz does a great job of giving the film a fresh feel. Filming a sequel to any film is difficult. Filming a sequel to the greatest motion pictury ever is impossible. Shwartz pulls it off, and has never had any real credit for doing so. Jaws 2 is a satisfying thriller, and the second greatest shark movie ever.
This is better. Much, much better. A striking piece of science-fiction, a dazzling piece of cinema. A vast improvement on Episode one both in tone and in quality, Episode II is a far meatier prospect and more than meets (almost unrealistic) expectation. For all the (excellent) CGI, this is dark, tough, grim storytelling, full of deceit and betrayal. Along with Empire, Clones is the most adult chapter of the saga. The odd clunker of dialogue and stale delivery aside, this is strong, satisfying stuff. Jango Fett was underused (as always, Lucas seems uninterested with his most complex character), but that is not a big complaint. The force is very, very strong with this one. Watch it and see a master visual artist unfold an interesting chapter in his epic saga.
Phantoms rocks. Anyone who states otherwise is a celluloid snob. Yes, I have read the novel. Yes,I loved it. Yes, director ChapPelle takes certain liberties in his novel to screen adaptation. And yes, the film has the odd moment of incoherence. But what the hell, for the most part this is classic B-movie heaven. The book worked and, judged on it's own merit, the film is a guilty little pleasure all of its own. The screenplay (adapted by Koontz himself) is quick and to the point, Chappelle gives the film an intimate, moody atmosphere and the cast are all game. O' Toole is at his fruitiest, Schreiber makes for a grade-A scum bag, Going is beautiful and appealing, Nicky Katt is brief and the man Affleck is the stoic sheriff at the centre of it all. The build up is suspenseful and well handled, the finale is fast and deadly. This is cracking stuff that stands up to repeated viewing. One of Dimension Films better offerings, and sadly underrated.
Epic, beautiful, brutal cinema
The Fellowship Of The Ring is a masterpiece, make no mistake. A masterpiece of both spectacle and film making. Director Peter Jackson delivers a sprawling epic that succeeds on every single level. It has a handful of minor, minor flaws but those minor, minor flaws are nothing when compared to the power and achievment of the piece as a whole. This three hour film holds your attention and engages your emotion from the moment the New Line logo falls into shot to the time that very same logo fades to black some 178 minutes later. No mean feat.
The film is a concoction of everything film should be, and every single ingredient works a treat. The casting is inspired and role-perfect, the script adaptation is lean and streamlined, the direction faultless. What impresses most is the conviction the film carries. Here we are, surrounded by Elves, Dwarves and Orcs, and yet the film somehow manages to be a hundred times more realistic than many so-called historically accurate films. You believe. Boy, do you believe. You swallow everything Jackson spoon feeds you, never questioning anything. This is fantasy played out as fact. The world within the film is very real: dark and dangerous, drenched in atmosphere.
One of the many ways in which the film succeeds is in its sense of real fear. For the first time in many a moon, here is a picture with a real sense of dread. Without resorting to unpleasant gore (and Jackson is a master if requested) the film is very, very frightening. We want the fellowship to succeed. We are desperate for them to survive. We root for them. But chasing them is pure evil incarnate, and that is a very unsettling feeling. If ever there was a story of the age-old battle between Good and Evil, this is it.
The film is not all doom and gloom, though. Jackson's picture is a beautiful, breathless, energetic sight that zips along at such a pace that as a viewer you are left bloodied and beaten. As with all great cinema, The Fellowship Of The Ring is as much an experience as a piece of film.
The films greatest asset, though, is one that most film makers fail to pull off, especially in a piece of film this big in budget and scope. Emotional involvment. Jackson has succeeded, however, for here we actually care about the characters. The cast are, quite simply, incredible. Each player gives it all they have got, and in return we get a fabulous ensemble piece worthy of any high-brow drama. Elijah Wood makes for a wonderful hero, McKellen delivers a vivid, head strong Gandalf and Sean Astin turns in an honest, heart-felt performance as Samwise, Frodo's loyal gardener.
It is the two 'men' of the Fellowship who shine, though.
Viggo Mortensen finally gets a chance to take centre stage after stealing every film he has appeared in over the past fifteen years. He does not waste the opportunity, blazing across the screen as the rugged ranger Strider with a toughness and charisma all his own. Mortensen was born to play Strider/ Aragorn. He gives the film a grounded centre that is hard to shake. The star of the show, however, is Sean Bean. Bean has the toughest role of the film as the warrior Boromir. Boromir represents everything that is human. With that baggage comes a whole spectrum of emotion. Boromir is the most dimensional character of the piece: he is a noble, honourable man at heart who wants what is best for both his kingdom and his people. He joins the Fellowship and wants to complete his mission, wants to protect Frodo and the other members. But Boromir has a fatal flaw: his humanity is his weakness, and his actions bring with them a terrible consequence. Bean is terrific in the role. In the drama scenes his performance is full of depth and intensity, in the action scenes he storms through the carnage, snarling and laying waste to whatever gets in his path. It is an angry, honest performance and for me the finest of the film. Indeed, some of the best scenes in the film were the quiet ones involving dialogue between Boromir and Aragorn.
Everything else about this film is masterful, from Howard Shore's beautiful, haunting score to the gorgeous landscapes and set design. Jackson should be proud of this towering achievment. It is entertaining, frightening, involving, exciting and very moving. One of the greatest films ever made? I would have to say yes, it is. Time will tell. A classic.
The Forsaken (2001)
Good, dark sub-genre flick
The Forsaken opened here (the UK) yesterday with very little fanfare or publicity. Not being a big vampire movie fan, I went to see the film more out of curiosity than anything else. I was pleasantly surprised. The picture, written and directed by J S Cardone, attempts to drag the vampire film kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. Of course, this in itself is nothing new. Over the past few years we have endured a number of films that mix the standard bloodsucking fare with the more modern way of life, so much so the collective movies have spawned their own sub-genre. Cardone's film stands out, though. More subtle than 'From Dusk Till Dawn' and a hell of a lot more convincing than last year's 'Dracula 2000', The Forsaken unfolds with a po-faced seriousness often lacking in the modern horror film. So much so that Cardone's film emerges as a dirty, dark, grubby little feature which mercifully eschews ironic, post-modern banter and throw-away comedy lines in favor of a sustained and bleak atmosphere. The film has many strong points. Despite both leading men coming from successful teen-oriantated television shows (Kerr Smith from 'Dawson's Creek' and Brendan Fehr from 'Roswell'), The Forsaken never feels like a teen horror movie. It is rough and unpolished, dark and mean.The cast are solid. Smith makes for a sympathetic hero and Fehr convinces as a man with a mission. Schaech steals the picture, though, as the head honcho. Looking a lot older than I suspect he actually is, complete with a grey wisp in his hair, Schaech wanders through the film with an air of quiet menace that serves the picture well. His jagged, sculptured face tells a thousand stories and he restrains himself from overplaying. One interesting fact about the movie is that, as far as I am aware, there are no shots of glaring fangs in the movie, no sharp teeth. The only 'vampirism' I can recall seeing were Schaech's elongated finger nails. Fresh.
Of course the film is not perfect. It is littered with sudden outbursts of loud, obnoxious songs obviously placed to market the soundtrack album. Which is a shame, because the score, when heard, is really rather good. Schaech is under-used, and the gimmick editing employed to signify his murderous rampaging is confusing and redundant. The film will not be to everyone's taste. Too off-the-beaten-track for mainstream audiences and not enough splatter for the gore-hounds, the film is left stuck somewhere in between. The film also contains a number of misjudged scenes that border on being needlessly nasty and vile. The killing of a state trooper is particularly grim. But these are minor gripes.
The Forsaken is a good film that, I suspect, will be loved or loathed by anyone who takes the time to watch it. I loved it.
Kicks like a mule
Thursday is a stunning little film with a kick like a mule. Sadistic, bleak, ugly and very, very funny. It will be interesting to see in what direction writer/ director Skip Woods goes with his subsequent career, as on this evidence, he could very well turn into something rather special. Thursday received a limited theatrical release here in the United Kingdom, but those who saw it have not forgotten it. The excellent Thomas Jane plays our protagonist, Casey Wells, a reformed drug peddler/ murderer/ all round piece of trash now living the normal life. He has a lovely young Wife (Paula Marshall), who remains oblivious to his sleazy past. They have a nice house, friendly neighbors, a white picket fence and they are both about to become parents through adoption. Things couldn't be better. Casey is now an architect, and his wayward past nothing more than a mere memory. Until now. On Thursday, Casey is visited by a ghost from the past, his old friend Nick (Aaron Eckhart). Nick brings with him a whole host of problems for poor Casey, and before the day is out, Casey has been raped, beaten, tied up and tortured. Jane handles all this brilliantly. He is one of the most promising and brave young actors in modern cinema (see The Velocity of Gary and The Last Time I Committed Suicide). The supporting cast are also game: James Le Gros contributes a nasty cameo as Billy, an unhinged cohort of Nick, who is determined to squeeze information from Casey any way he can. The great Michael Jeter fumbles his way through Casey's adoption screening, suspicious of every missing detail. Entering the film late in the day is Mickey Rourke, hulking and mannered as the crooked cop out to retrieve money that Nick has stolen from the police. It's great to see Rourke back on form in something so spicey, oozing understated menace as he swaps the liquor of Bar Fly for nothing stronger than a glass of soya milk. The music (by Luna) suits the films tone perfectly, and the cinematography is both vivid and colorful. Ultimately, Thursday is an acquired taste, and a rather strong one at that. But Woods and Jane make the whole thing worthwhile, and, if you can stomach it, it's a terrific little ride.
Cop Land (1997)
Powerful little piece
Cop land is a powerful, simmering police drama that was virtually ignored by the public upon it's 1997 theatrical release. James Mangold's picture is a moody, slow burning film about corruption and loyalty within the small police community of Garrison N.J. What little attention the film did evoke came from Mangold's heavyweight cast and Stallone's gained girth, which is a shame, as the film itself is terrific. The film has the dour look and feel of a 70's thriller, and the photography is complimented by a beautiful, haunting musical score from Howard Shore. Mangold's script is tight and his direction assured. The acting, of course, is the real draw here. Keitel and De Niro give us their usual no-nonsense authority, supported here by a faultless cast of eclectic actors in minor roles (including Peter Berg, Robert Patrick, Janeane Garofolo and Annabella Sciorra). But it is Sylvester Stallone and Ray Liotta who carry the picture. Stallone (humbled, inarticulate and conflicted) is deeply affecting in his role, whilst Liotta returns to blistering form, stomping through the film with an energy and conviction all of his own. Their scenes together crackle. Cop Land is a classic western in all but name, an involving film that will find it's audience in years to come. It deserves to.
Chasing Amy (1997)
Warm, funny and poignant
The third chapter in Kevin Smith's New Jersey trilogy (following Clerks and the underrated Mallrats) sees the young writer/ director come of age. The dialogue is still laugh-out-loud funny and the content often crude but here Smith gives us a little something more. Chasing Amy is as surprising as it is touching, as funny as it is convincing. It is all of those and much, much more. The big plus the picture has going for it is that the whole thing feels so truthful (i.e. love does hurt). The performances are perfectly judged, in particular the lead trio: Ben Affleck, Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams are all faultless. The return to low budget is also a great help, it gives the film the realism that makes it all so believable. Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith himself) return (albeit briefly) in a surprisingly touching scene, and the ending is smart and honest. A fine film.
Albino Alligator (1996)
Tense little drama
Albo Gator (to quote Bill Fichtner) is a tense little drama, superbly acted. The film is so small in scale and so tightly staged that it feels very personal to watch. The film, written by Christian Forte, tells the story of three small time hoods (Matt Dillon, William Fichtner and Gary Sinise) on the run who take shelter (and hostages) in a small down-town bar. As the tension escalates within the bar, so does the chaos outside, as the police surround the building and begin negotiations. The film feels very much like a stage production, which is not a bad thing. In fact, it feels like a very good stage production. The performances are nothing short of dynamite, the bar itself being filled with the who's who of modern character actors and supporting players. The great M. Emmett Walsh is the owner of the establishment and on this particular night his unfortunate customers includes trucker John Spencer, tough-cookie Faye Dunaway, pool player Skeet Ulrich and enigmatic stranger Viggo Mortensen, who may or may not be hiding something. They are all great in their respective roles. Dillon, Fichtner and Sinise shine as the conflicted criminals. The jazzy score from Michael Brooke is the icing on the cake. Albino Alligator, small but perfectly formed.
The greatest of them all
The greatest motion picture ever made. The grand daddy of them all. The most frightening, funniest, most thrilling feature ever committed to celluloid. This 1975 masterpiece is the one by which all other pictures must be judged. There is nothing else to say.