9.17.2014

Sorcerer

There are moments when we watch a film and impact us on an emotional level. For lovers of cinema, that's what it's all about. We want to watch a film and to be blown away, or in the least affected in some way by it. This applies to all genre's, and while it's true that I have a fondness for action, sci-fi, horror and bad movies, I love them all and don't discriminate.

And then of course, we eventually find ourselves watching a bad film from time to time, which is never fun, unless you want to rip that film a new asshole in a review. But then there are moments when we watch a film and experience it. When you watch movies as often as I do, you find that these moments are all too brief, but they can and do happen and when it does, it's pretty amazing. Such was the case with my experiences watching 2001, The Visitor, The Exorcist III, Equilibrium and even Bad Movie Night staples like Samurai Cop to name a few. And I am all too eager to include William Friedkin's brilliant tour de force Sorcerer into that club.

Sorcerer is a film that has been on my radar for a very long time now, mostly due to the fact that it's one of my good friend Ingo's favorite films. He's always spoken very highly of it, yet other than through him, I really hadn't heard anything about it. I knew it existed, and I knew it was a bump in the road for director William Friedkin's (The Exorcist, The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A.) long hit or miss career, but other than that not much else. In case you're out of the loop, here's a quick rundown to get you caught up:

Released in 1977, Sorcerer is a remake of a french film called Wages of Fear, which is also the title of the story's original novel. This was Friedkin's first film after the wildly successful run of The French Connection in 1971 and The Exorcist in 1973. With a script by Walon Green (Robocop 2), the film centers around 4 individuals from different parts of the world with very different backgrounds who end up in the South American Jungle as day laborers. When an extremely dangerous job comes up, the promise of a very large paycheck seals the deal and they jump on board. But transporting gallons of nitroglycerin by truck through the dangerous South American jungle may very well cost them their lives. 

When the film was released, it was a huge box office disaster, mainly due to the fact that the title Sorcerer is very misleading (who wouldn't think it was about sword & sorcery?), along with having the unfortunate luck of being released the same time Star Wars hit theaters. Mainly considered a lost or forgotten gem, it never even got an official DVD release, only having been released on VHS and Laserdisc, and never in it's original widescreen aspect ratio. That is until Warner Brothers finally released this on Blu ray just this past year for the first time, nearly 40 years after it's original release, preserving it's original aspect ratio and supervised by William Friedkin himself, to much critical acclaim.

Sorcerer is without a doubt one of the most intense, thrilling and satisfying film experiences I've ever had. William Friedkin has easily crafted one of the best thriller/drama's ever made, utilizing anything and everything at his disposal to create a film that packs a punch both visually, and on an emotional level. When the end credits begin to roll, and the first words out of your mouth are "Wow", you then start to question how the hell did this film not make money, sweep the Oscars, or go down in history as one of the best films ever made? I can't explain it, but some have surely tried in the 40 years since it's premiere. While it's odd choice of title and going up against Star Wars surely had a lot to do with it, it seems also that the beginning may have turned a lot of people off as well, both in it's structure and the fact that large portions of the first act are utilizing subtitles, which if you're not expecting that, can throw some people off. But that's only the first 30 minutes or so, as the rest of the film is in English. Still, that creative decision seems to have resulted in confusion for the audience who apparently walked out of the film thinking they were watching some foreign film. I'll admit, the first act threw me off as well. I knew what the story was about going in, yet for a full hour we're introduced to 4 completely different stories that have nothing to do with each other, and even I was left wondering what, if anything, any of this had to do with anything. The best advice I can give is to be patience, because the payoff is simply amazing.

While Sorcerer has a slightly unorthodox structure, believe it or not, it works. And while it seems Friedkin used two cinematographers to complete the film (one quit midway due to Friedkin's demanding nature), the visual brilliance of this is overwhelming. Gritty when it needs to be, and visually poetic at other times, the overall aesthetic is mind-numbingly gorgeous. Thanks to Friedkin's supervision of this Blu ray release, the color pallet is insanely vibrant. Colors pop like you wouldn't believe, and coupled with the 1.77: 1 widescreen format, Sorcerer is a thing of technical beauty.

While all of this is what makes a lot of Sorcerer work so well, let's not forget the cast, all of whom deliver the goods. Starring a handful of international actors well known in their homelands, it's really Roy Scheider's show and he is fucking amazing. There is nothing that this guy can't do as an actor, and if there was ever any film that could drive that point home, it's his knockout performance of a man who's troubled past never seems to be far behind, and who's natural leadership shines when the situation calls for it. Even though he had just starred in Jaws the year before, Scheider was not yet a huge box office draw. Friedkin has stated in interviews that casting Scheider was the biggest mistake in his career because of his lack of star power, yet watching Sorcerer you'd think Friedkin was nuts. Roy Scheider shines in a powerhouse performance that's both physically demanding as it is powerful.

Tangerine Dream's (The Keep, Legend) moody score is another component of what makes Sorcerer work so well. Utilizing an impressive synth score, their hypnotic and atmospheric sound only compliment the impact this film delivers. Interestingly, a lot of the film has no score, only popping in from time to time. As a creative choice, I think it's brilliant. There are moments that are so intense and thrilling that even without music, they hit hard. It's as if Friedkin thought, wisely, that omitting a score during crucial sequences would only enhance them, and they do. But that's not to say that the moments when Tangerine Dream does come into the picture are not effective, because they are. There's just something about a synth score that just hits you hard. A long used tool for films back in the 80's (mainly horror), it's such a rarity now to ever hear one in a modern film that when you do come across a badass synth score, it's like running into a welcome old friend.

The bridge sequence. Holy shit. Nothing can prepare you for the punch to the gut that is the famous bridge sequence. No doubt a technical marvel for this sequence alone, this film lives and breathes by this scene's stunning use of old school practical effects work and it's ability to leave you breathless by the time this scene is over. Staged, shot and edited to perfection, the bridge sequence is arguably one of the most intensely satisfying sequences ever filmed. What's more, you know that they would never attempt to film that scene today purely because of safety issues. While some behind-the-scenes digging will tell you that it wasn't nearly as dangerous as it looks on screen, the fact that actual actors in the film were performing much of this sequence themselves is mindblowing. It's a flawless achievement of pure technical and visual genius and the highlight of the film.

Though it seems that I love or enjoy a lot of films I watch, that's not always true. As much as I love watching movies, even in my excitement I find myself let down quite often. Flipping that coin around, I sometimes go into others with low expectations, and end up being pleasantly surprised just because of it's sheer entertainment value. It might not be made well, but it was a helluva lot of fun and sometimes that's all I need. But then experiences like Sorcerer happen, and you're reminded why you love cinema in the first place. Sorcerer is a  tour de force experience that's equal parts thrilling, exciting, intense, dramatic, harrowing and most of all, deeply satisfying.


How to see it:
While you can surely stream it, I strongly urge you to pick up Warner Brother's stunning new Blu ray release. With a pristine and gorgeous new transfer supervised by William Friedkin himself, Sorcerer will just about be one of the best Blu ray purchases you ever make. Included is a 40 page book as well as a new forward by director William Friedkin.

9.11.2014

Samurai Cop 2 Needs Your Help!!!


Okay, so I'm not much of a fan of the whole Kickstarter thing in general. While I do believe it does some real good for certain projects, I think it's also been severely abused and overused for anyone wanting to get something done or made without having to find financing on their own. I know that's not always the case, but it happens way too often for even minor projects that could easily be financed or funded if the team behind them just put a little effort into it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing crowd-funding at all, just merely pointing out that the concept has worn itself pretty thin lately.

But every once in a while a project comes along that you just feel NEEDS your support, and as filmgeeks, movie buffs and cinema lovers, we owe it to ourselves to make these dream projects a reality. One of those projects is Samurai Cop 2, a sequel to the hilariously inept and terrible, yet insanely fun and entertaining Samurai Cop from way back in 1991 by low-budget filmmaker Amir Shervan. While the majority of the funding has been secured, they are in need of more to help get the film finished so they can deliver the kind of film that we've all been waiting 25 years for.



While I'm excited about all of this, I'm also a little cautious. For me, I think what made the original film so great was that the original writer/director, Amir Shervan, was just so bad at doing what he loved doing, which is making action films, that regardless of his lack of budget, he just couldn't do anything remotely decent in terms of well.....everything. That's what makes Samurai Cop so great. It's terrible in almost every way, yet so damn funny and entertaining because of it. So to have someone else come in and make a sequel, I'm worried that this new guy might actually know how to put a film together. Sounds weird right? But that was some of the beauty of the original. So with that in mind, if this new film's writer/director does in fact know how to film and/or edit a film decently, I think the only other option would be to just make it so batshit insane that in case it is in fact put together well, it at least will still have the whole "WTF?!" vibe that the original is so famous for. Those are my two cents.

For tons of promotional material, as well as information on how you can help make this a reality, follow the link to it's official Kickstarter page HERE.

Every little bit helps! But we need to hurry! Times running out!

9.10.2014

Equilibrium


2002
Directed by: Kurt Wimmer
Category: Sci-fi

If you follow me, and know my love of action and sci-fi, I'm sure the first thought running in your head is probably "He's never seen this until now?!". Yes, it's true. Why? Because I foolishly thought that it was just a low-budget version of The Matrix. Mind you, I am basing that purely on the poster art and maybe a quick scene I randomly saw somewhere, and nothing more. Wow, what a fool am I.

Equilibrium defied my expectations in more ways than one. First off, it didn't have nearly as much action - or fights for that matter - as I had anticipated, and that's not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Secondly, it has nothing to do with computers, the internet or technology. Rather, it's about a dystopian society where feelings are illegal, which results in the fascist government run by someone named "Father", forcing every single person to take a drug that leaves them emotionless, and unable to feel or think for themselves. Thirdly, I expected this to fall under a "missed opportunity", where it just couldn't live up to the cult status it's amassed over the years, that since it went straight to DVD here in the states, it must look cheap. That couldn't be further from the truth.

In the future, a dystopion society is run by a fascist government who forces them to take a drug that prevents them from feeling. Feeling is illegal in this society, and when one of their top clerics (enforcement officers) begins to stop taking his medication and begins to feel, he starts questioning everything. 

If you're not familiar with the name Kurt Wimmer, you most certainly have seen his work from time to time. While mostly a screenwriter, having written films like Salt, Total Recall (remake), Street Kings, Law Abiding Citizen, The Recruit and Sphere, he's also sat in the directors chair three times to date, which is quite frankly shocking when you look at how well this film is put together overall. The first was with One Man's Justice AKA One Tough Bastard, a low-budget actioner starring The Boz that I absolutely loved, and then this film, followed by Ultraviolet in 2006. I have yet to see Ultraviolet, which from what I've heard, doesn't have a very good rep, but just coming off of my recent experience watching One Tough Bastard, it's shocking to me that Wimmer is the same director because Equilibrium has a completely different, more polished and professional aesthetic to it. Every shot is designed, staged and executed with extreme precision, whereas his work in One Tough Bastard didn't really showcase any real visual talent; it was more of what you'd expect from any free for all low-budget DTV action film. But with Equilibrium, I'm left somewhat speechless in how brilliantly it was shot, while simultaneously wondering why he doesn't direct more often.

So much of Equilibrium works effectively well, with a lot of the artistic and technical choices being spot on and down right clever, starting with the action sequences. I had expected the film to be full of insane fights and action, but to my surprise, there really wasn't that much. But what action sequences there are, are just bloody brilliant and flawlessly executed. For the film, Wimmer invented a fight style called Gun-kata, and I don't want to spoil it for you, but it's just fucking awesome. While the film isn't filled to the brim with action, what is here is spectacular. Wimmer knows how to build up tension leading up to a scene, and while that's clearly evident in the film's major sequences, it also translates well in other's. For example, there's a scene where John Preston (Christian Bale) has been summoned to the office of Father's lead officer. On his way Preston assumes the jig is up, and just the way that whole sequence is shot, edited, along with the intense score by Klaus Badelt, is effective to the highest degree in it's presentation.

Equilibrium is a prime example of the right talent coming together for a project to deliver something with lasting effect. Making full use of the film's limited budget, Wimmer emphasizes everything to maximum effect. Every set, prop and location is utilized so well that it's hard believe that this would be considered low-budget. We only assume it is because here in the states, it never made it to the theater, which as you know, signals DTV territory. Yet when you watch it, you'd be hard-pressed to understand why because it doesn't look or feel like a low-budget film in the slightest, and that speaks volumes to the talents of everyone involved in making this film a reality. What they've done here is proven that despite a smaller budget than Hollywood demands, a badass futuristic film can be made and it can look fucking amazing.

Visually on par with anything any other slick sci-fi action film can deliver, Equilibrium benefits from a slightly unusual ensemble cast led by Bale (with an all-too-brief role by Sean Bean), some outstanding action sequences and flat out brilliant camera work and editing, only matched by it's skillful use of Klaus Badelt's riveting score. I was foolish to compare this to The Matrix, because in actuality, it's nothing like that film.  I eat my words and I'm not ashamed to admit that. My good buddy Ingo over in Germany has tried and tried to get me to watch this film, even going so far as to buy me the damn Blu ray and sending it to me. Did I jump on it immediately? No. Why? Because I'm stubborn, and like many others, assumed it was a pale version of the Wachowski's breakout cyberpunk hit from a few years before, and a low-budget one at that. I kept waiting for the right mood to strike, where I was in the right mindset to enjoy a DTV sci-fi flick. Except, a good 5 minutes in it was painfully evident that this was nothing like what I was expecting and once I realized that this was in fact, a badass dystopian action/thriller, I started to feel like shit for not heeding my good friends advice. To Ingo I say sorry, and next time you recommend a film to me, I'm all over it.

I think Kurt Wimmer still has some great stuff to deliver as a director, if Equilibrium and One Tough Bastard is any indication. Ultraviolet may have left a sour taste in most moviegoer's mouths, but everyone has a minor setback. I think if he can take a break from writing remakes, I'd love to see what he can deliver in the directors chair again.

9.09.2014

My Punisher (1989) VHS Collection thus far...

























I took a few days off from writing, which resulted in me getting behind on a few reviews. While I work to catch up on a few films I've seen this past week, here is an update on my Punisher VHS collection.

From left to right:
U.K., Italian, Australian, Turkish, Dutch, German, Japanese, French, French, U.S.

If you have a release not shown here, please let me know if you're willing to part with it. :)

.jason

9.06.2014

All Cheerleaders Die


2013
Directed by: Lucky McKee/Chris Sivertson
Category: Horror

"What a weird fuckin' movie.". Those were my exact words when this was over, because while you may have somewhat of an idea what to expect, I can guarantee you that it won't be at all what you expect, so throw away any pre-conceived notion as to how you think this film will play out, because more than likely, you'll be wrong.

I knew nothing of this film, other than it was co-written and co-directed by Lucky McKee (The Woman, May), who has a steadily growing fanbase in the low-budget horror community. I haven't seen a lot of what he's done, but based on my experience watching The Woman, I wasn't really all that impressed. On the flipside, I have yet to see his most popular film, May. But anyway, going into All Cheerleaders Die, our assessment comes off of the cover art, and absolutely nothing else.

5 minutes into the film and I have to admit, we were a little worried. You see, it begins with the found-footage aspect, which immediately turns me off. An annoying as fuck cheerleader is being filmed by a fellow classmate as she follows her daily school routine, and basically every word that comes out of her mouth is cringe-inducing. And if I remember correctly, I think I said something to the effect "I don't know if I can watch an entire movie of this", But just as I'm ready to give up out of annoyance, the film shifts gears, which it often does, and ultimately plays out as kind of a free-for-all, where pretty much anything and everything happens. For that alone, All Cheerleaders Die was a surprisingly refreshing and thoroughly entertaining little horror gem.

I think one of the things that worried me a bit was that it's classified under comedy "and" horror, and I think my expectations were somewhat skewed. So it was a huge relief to ultimately find out that it's not at all a comedy, rather it's got some light-hearted tongue-in-cheek moments and more than anything, knows not to take itself too seriously. But then out of nowhere, it dives head-on into some dark and serious territory and totally takes you by surprise, and then out of left field, reverses track and sidelines into "WTF?" territory. And that's one of the things I loved about this, that you realistically can't classify this in any one genre. The safe bet would be to just call it a horror film, which it is, but it also goes all over the place that you will be unable to really pin this down.

Maddy decides to infiltrate a group of girls that she despises more than anything, the high school cheerleaders, pretending to become one of them to exact some revenge. Before long, things quickly escalate out of hand and after an accident, nothing will ever be the same for any of them.

The beauty of All Cheerleaders Die is that filmmakers Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson know all too well that the teen horror genre has been saturated with mundane, tame and lame horror films. You know, the ones that star people that don't actually look like real normal human beings? The genre is overrun by them and McKee and Sivertson know this and basically have made a film by all calculations, looks like one of those films, yet immediately pulls the rug from under you and delivers a film that's so twisted, weird, fucked up and fun as hell that you have to just appreciate the audacity of these guys. It's like their big "Fuck You" to the endlessly lame teen horror films that never seem to cease.

Most of the cast is pretty solid, though I found a few of them quite annoying, which  of course is the whole point. Each one of these characters is almost a caricature of the high school experience; the goth, the jock, the nerd, the cheerleader, the slut, the virgin, the religious pretentious over protective older sister. All the very definition of the archetype of the high school experience, and wonderfully overdone in this film to effective results. You want them to die, you want to see them suffer and McKee and Sivertson, being smart individuals, know this and deliver on that concept.

I have a feeling it's all-over-the-place and kinetic nature may turn some people off, because it's pretty crazy, but what I found it to be overall was entertaining in the most positive way possible. Other than finding some of these characters annoying, I can't think of anything I really didn't like about this, which really surprised me. Go in with an open mind, appreciate the madness and enjoy the ride.

9.04.2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


2014
Directed by: Marc Webb

I've never considered the Spider-Man reboot a necessity. Sure Sam Raimi dropped the ball with Part 3 in his franchise, but the first two are extremely well made comic book films in their own right, and I always thought that the reboot was just way too soon. It's literally a remake of the first film from only 10 years before, just made in a much darker tone. And while director Marc Webb did a great job in offering a darker take on the material, I still didn't feel it was all that necessary.

So as the film did considerably well at the box office, despite my objections, it stands to reason that Sony saw a new franchise in their hands and greenlit a sequel immediately. I think Sony possibly thought that by going the Christopher Nolan route, they could re-invent the franchise. And while the trailers for this sequel did hook me in a little more than the first one did, I still was in no rush to go see it. I don't think the rebooted franchise is bad per say, Webb's direction is strong (more so in the first one than the second), and I think Andrew Garfield is an excellent Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but for me, this sequel suffers from the same problems that Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 had, too many villains in one film.

Growing up in the 80's, I was a die hard collector of each and every title of Spider-Man; Peter Parker, The Spectacular, The Amazing, Web of. Then when Todd McFarlane rebooted the franchise with his take on the character in 1991 at the height of his popularity, I became even a bigger nerd for that shit. So it's fair to say I know my stuff when it comes to Spider-Man, and so being a guy who grew up with the character, I felt Sam Raimi's take on the material with his 2002 film was stellar in every way. It was like a comic book come to life and I felt (at the time), that it couldn't get any better. Then he unleashed Spider-Man 2 upon us 2 years later and took it a step further - giving us a darker more sinister take, and introducing us to an evil, yet sympathetic villain that does something that most villains rarely do. If you've seen Spider-Man 2, then you know how it ends. Alvin Sargent's deft and intense script laid the groundwork for Raimi's inventive and brilliant camerawork, overshadowing anything that he had done with his previous film in almost every department. Many consider Spider-Man 2 one of the best comic book films ever made, and one of the best sequels ever made, as do I.

Whether we wanted one or not, we got the reboot, which decided to take a more serious and darker approach than Raimi's more comic book infused vibe. As a comic book film, it's a solid effort. The casting was spot on, and director Marc Webb did a good job considering it was his first time handling massive effects work. Their choice to use The Lizard as the first villain was also a nice touch, though I wasn't really a fan of the overuse of CGI. Yes, every single Spidey film is an overabundance of CGI, as it's the only way to do all the shit he does on screen. It just seemed like too many of the sequences with a lot of effects work came off as slightly sub-par and shoddy. But hey, it made money and now we have a sequel. Even as as comic book geek, I had no desire to make the effort to run to the theater to see this, but when it became available at my local Redbox for $1.25, I figured now would be as good as any to give it a shot.

There are a lot of changes this time around. Spidey's suit is slightly different, director Marc Webb returns in the directors chair, but much the way I felt with Jon Favreau's work on Iron Man 2, a lot of this feels rushed. The style he infused in the first film is gone and replaced with a more kinetic freestyle approach that I'm really not a fan of. The principal players return, but we're also introduced to some new characters, like Harry Osborn/Green Goblin, Electro and The Rhino. Overkill? You bet your ass it is. Rhino has a sequence in the beginning of the film for about 5 minutes, and is missing for the entire film until the very last sequence, a full 2 hours later. The character of Electro doesn't come into the picture until an hour in, and Harry Osborn's transformation into The Green Goblin almost seemed like an afterthought to the many writers credited with the screenplay. With his storyline being just a really small fraction of the film overall, I don't understand why they couldn't just focus on one villain. Green Goblin's rise and fall could easily be enough for an entire film, yet it's a minor subplot here. And I suppose Rhino's very brief cameo is intended as a set up for his return as possibly the villain in the next installment, but why bother with Green Goblin?

To the films credit, Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro and Dane DeHaan's portrayal of Harry Osborn are excellent. I knew they would never go with the look of Electro I grew up with, because lets face it, he just looks a little silly. So their take on his character was interesting, yet effective. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. Green Goblin on the other hand, ugh. Not a fan. But DeHaan's intense performance of a fractured and lost young Harry Osborn is undoubtedly a highlight of the film. Just wasn't digging the look of Green Goblin or the character overall. Also, how does Osborn just know how to use the glider his first time out? You'd think flying around the city on a hands-free glider would take some practice....no?

Structurally, Spider-Man 2 is pretty flawed. The film starts off on such a light note that it fools you into thinking that it's going to be a more light-hearted affair this time around, but then 52 minutes in (almost a full hour), the action starts trickling in and it refocuses itself and resembles more of the type of film you were expecting; a serious darker Spidey film. But it's two hour and fifteen minute runtime is too long, especially when none of the big stuff happens until almost a full hour in. Then the film jumps between storylines; Norman Osborn dealing with his recently deceased father's empire and then unfortunate ouster from the company and simultaneous decent into the disease that will ultimately turn him into The Green Goblin, as well as Max Dillon's transformation into Electro, and hell, why not throw in Peter and Gwen's relationship problems into the mix for good measure. There's so much going on here that you actually forget about the character of Rhino, who disappears for the entire film after a five minute introduction in the beginning. I don't even remember what the point of that whole sequence was to be honest.

Too convoluted, too long, and ultimately, too much of a good thing. While the effects work doesn't come off any better than the last film, and Webb's camerawork is a little less impressive this time around, the performances all around are top notch, that is for certain. It's just all too familiar; too many villains and it can't shake that rushed production feeling, and memories of Iron Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 come flooding back.


9.03.2014

Dead Silence


2004
Directed by: James Wan
Category: Horror

In 2004, writer/director James Wan seemed to come out of nowhere and single-handedly invent the torture porn genre with Saw. While only serving as executive producer on the rest of the franchise, he turned his focus on evil dolls and ghost stories with films like Insidious 1 & 2, The Conjuring and this early effort Dead Silence. Okay, so I guess technically there was a doll in Saw as well, but you know what I mean.

I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a James Wan fan as I've never seen a single Saw film, and wasn't really impressed with Insidious (was I the only one who thought it was just a remake of Poltergeist?), so with that, I never gave the sequel a shot, though I did enjoy The Conjuring; quite a lot actually. So while not actively seeking out James Wan horror films necessarily, Dead Silence recently popped up on Netflix and when we were undecided on what to watch, we both agreed on this one because......well I don't know why exactly.

Jamie and Lisa are a young couple in love when one night they receive a mysterious package with no return address. Inside is a ventriloquist dummy, with no note. Thinking it's a joke, they set it aside and soon strange things start happening. Jamie soon sets out on a quest to find out where it came from and why people are dying around him. Jamie soon uncovers the strange and twisted history of this doll and discovers a connection he never saw coming. 

While not offering anything new to the possessed doll genre, Dead Silence was quite the pleasant surprise because what it may lack in originality, it more than makes up for in it's stylish and confidant take on the material. What does that mean exactly? Well, in terms of style, it's one of the best looking horror films I've seen in a while. I know I've said that before, but when I say it, it's because shooting a film with some style is almost like a long lost forgotten art. Too many times directors choose to go the quick and easy route by shooting with hand-held shaky-cam and it pisses me off. So when a horror film comes out where a director actually takes the time to meticulously set up a shot, well then it earns my respect almost immediately, and Dead Silence is a prime example of that. Each shot is flawless in it's execution and while Dead Silence won't exactly scare you, unless you're scared of dolls, in the least it will stimulate your corneas.

Despite the films impressive visual palette, it's pace is another standout. Instead of taking it's time to get you to know the characters, the film instead starts things off right out of the park, with the mysterious delivery at the door of Jamie and Lisa. Not even 15 minutes in and we're introduced to the first death and the film never really slows down from there, which in my opinion, is quite refreshing. We are also introduced to what can only be described as the film's most interesting and entertaining character, Det. Lipton, played by Donnie Wahlberg (yes, "that" Donnie Wahlberg). Man, this guy was fucking great. In fact, when the film was over, my first thought was that I wished there was a whole series of films based on his character alone. You know, like each film he tackles a different case? Wahlberg's take on this character was nothing short of brilliant as he hams it up to 11, offering every single wise-cracking cop cliche he could think of, and it works fantastically. Seeing as this came out 10 years ago, it's safe to say we'll never get those films, but holy shit would they have been great. Wahlberg's Det. Lipton was definitely the highlight of the film.

I'm not going to lie and say this was any sort of masterpiece, because it's not. However, it's a thoroughly entertaining mystery if you can take it for what it is; an extremely beautifully shot film with some brilliant camera work, and a knockout performance by a supporting character that could easily have been the star of his own series of detective films. Wan's direction is crisp and lush, offering his most visually inventive film to date, and the cast is solid, with Wahlberg's Det. Lipton being the standout. A few suspenseful moments and some well designed creepy as hell dolls offer some genuine moments of thrills, but they're few and far between. What you'll probably take away from this more than anything is it's aesthetically pleasing take on the thriller genre, and Wahlberg's showboat performance of a cliche'd detective, but not much else.


9.01.2014

A Force of One


1979
Directed by: Paul Aaron
Category: Action

I love Chuck Norris. But when I try to put my finger on why exactly, for me I think it's more of the idea of Chuck Norris rather than his actual films. Let's face it, Chuck has made a ton of films, but how many of them are actually any good? Personally speaking, I can count 5. And if you want to dig a little deeper, the 3-year period beginning with 1983 and ending in 1986 is the cream of the crop as far as good Chuck Norris films go.

Which brings us to A Force of One, released in 1979. Notice this doesn't fall into that 3-year time frame? Yes, unfortunately as much as I wanted to enjoy this, it just didn't really do anything for me. Not a bad film in the least, it just doesn't offer anything in the way of substance. Director Paul Aaron handles the material well enough, and the film, taking place in the late 70's, oozes a cool Dirty Harry look and vibe made all the more striking by Dick Halligan's bomb awesome hard-hitting score, but not a lot actually happens, and if you go in expecting some action, or even some martial arts (as the poster and title imply), you'll be sorely disappointed.

One by one, members of an undercover police force are being killed by a martial artist. When they ask for the help of a local martial arts instructor (Chuck Norris) in teaching them self-defense techniques, he unwittingly becomes involved in a plot that's much bigger than he could have imagined. 

You know, I'm not going to beat up on this film too much, because all in all, it's a well made film. It was just kind of dull and when you go in expecting to see a Chuck Norris film about a guy who's a "Force of One", pummeling baddies left and right and what you get instead is something that resembles more of a made-for-TV movie, well you just kind of end up being bummed out.

On the surface, there's a lot to admire about this film. Some of the fight editing notwithstanding, it's a good looking film with some solid camera work, a tough score backed up by some killer horns, and Chuck looking super fly to the max with some funky wardrobe, though I'm still not used to seeing him with only a mustache; I think the beard look works better for him. The supporting cast in here is actually rather impressive, with stars like Clu Gulager (Return of the Living Dead), Ron O'Neal (Superfly), Jennifer O'Neill (Scanners) providing strong support to an otherwise mediocre affair.

And that's the main problem with A Force of One. Everything is extremely tame and mediocre. For a film that makes you think you're going to see a lot of martial arts, there's really not much of that in here. And when there is, it's mainly Norris practicing in his dojo, or in the ring. Outside of that, there are a few small fights here and there, but nothing that gets you excited and it's all very colorless. I don't even recall any blood......ever. And as with any martial arts or action film, you come to expect some actual action, yet save for a car chase, and the aforementioned uninspired fights, there's not a whole lot of anything remotely considered an action sequence in here. Like I said before, it all has a made-for-TV feel. Actually, now that I think about it, I don't even recall any swearing! Shit, maybe this was intended as a movie-of-the-week after all?

If you're looking for a Chuck Norris fix, this one isn't going to do it for you. Until I somehow discover a lost gem that I haven't yet seen, your best bet is just to revisit Chuck at his best, which would be Lone Wolf McQuade or Invasion USA.


8.30.2014

Hatchet III



2013
Directed by: BJ McDonnell
Category: Horror

So now we've come full circle. In case you need a recap, here's a quick one. I only recently discovered Adam Green's wonderfully bloody homage to classic 80's slasher films trilogy known as the Hatchet films. I may even be one of the few horror fans who hasn't seen these yet, that is until now. Hatchet, the first film in the series blew me away by it's hugely spirited take on the genre, reminding us why we loved those types of films in the first place, especially if you are a 30 something who grew up a teenager in the 80's. Hatchet II, while a solid straight-up horror film, took a more serious approach, while still offering some insane over-the-top gore. While not as enjoyable as the first film, it was a very solid effort and still a much better horror film than most that come out these days. Which now brings us to Hatchet III.

Picking up minutes after the events of Hatchet II, Marybeth is arrested and blamed for the bloodbath that took place in the swamp. With the help of a local hack reporter, she soon uncovers the truth about Victor Crowley's curse and together, must try and come up with a way to stop Victor Crowley for good. 

Right off the bat I'm going to tell ya that Hatchet III was a far superior film than Hatchet II. While it again doesn't possess the cleverness and tongue-in-cheek humor of the first film, it's a much stronger and better film because this time around, creator/writer/director Adam Green has handed over the directing duties to his longtime cameraman BJ McDonnell, and boy what a difference that makes. While I can certainly appreciate what Green has done with bringing this franchise to life and keeping it old-school, I've never considered him a strong visual director either. I think Hatchet II drove that point home for me. But by hiring his trusting camera operator to direct this time around is a blessing in disguise because it's apparent right from the opening frame that McDonnell has a strong visual eye and that we're in for a much more stylish take on Hatchet than the two previous films.

You're probably wondering how the fuck Victor Crowley can come back from the dead after watching what Marybeth did to the guy's head at the end of Hatchet II. Even I was curious. Well, apparently the Crowley curse is the reason he's able to recover rather quickly from certain death no matter how you kill him. I'm not entirely sure, but I don't think the whole "curse" thing was mentioned in the previous films. But it's a nice touch because as it allows him to regenerate every single day, he can return to doing what he does best, and that's killing Victor Crowley style! This curse is also the driving force behind the story this time around as Marybeth teams up with the reporter to try and put an end to it, thus ensuring that Crowley does in fact stay dead.

Much like with Hatchet II, this film again takes a more serious approach to the material, and you know, it works for me. Only this time around things move at a much more frantic pace, which keeps the film moving along rather nicely. I don't know about you, but I found the second film to be somewhat lacking in several departments, with it's pace being one of them. Scream queen Danielle Harris again returns in the role of Marybeth, much to my disdain, and somehow manages to comes off as a much bigger bitch than she was in the last film. It's true. And let me clarify, I like Danielle Harris as an actress. I think she's great. I think in the case of the Hatchet films though, it's just how her character is written and let me tell you, I can't make sense of a lot of her behavior in this entry. Like, I thought her whole purpose was to find her missing father and brother, but when she finally learns of their demise, it seems that she's just hellbent on being as difficult and uncooperative as possible from then on. It just doesn't make sense, because I would think that she would want some kind of revenge or what-have-you, but all she ends up really doing is being a pain in the ass for everyone and refusing to help in any way. But hey, that's just my opinion.

 One of the things I love about Adam Green is that he infuses his films with a plethora of cameo's, as does Rob Zombie, and his casting is always genius, and this film is no exception. In this entry, we're introduced to quite a few new characters, all played by horror icons. First off, Zach Galligan (Gremlins 1 & 2) plays the local sheriff. Caroline Williams (Stretch from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) enters the picture as a reporter struggling with not being taken seriously, who thinks the legend of Victor Crowley is true and with the help of Marybeth, can finally get the story of her career. Sid Haig (The Devils Rejects) makes a small cameo as a racist bigot. And my personal favorite, Derek Mears (Friday the 13th-2009) plays the head of a swat team who leads the charge into the swamp for a search and recover effort until Victor Crowley decides otherwise. And then you have Danielle Harris returning to the role of Marybeth and of course, the one and only Kane Hodder as Victor Crowley.

Jason vs. Jason, eerr, I mean Kane Hodder vs. Derek Mears
While it was great seeing Zach Galligan on screen again, for me personally, the casting of Derek Mears can only be described as exhilarating for me. You see, if you don't already know, he played Jason Voorhees in the criminally underrated Friday the 13th reboot - a great old-fashioned slasher film if you ask me. And so here you have two Jason's in the same film, which only gets more awesome when they finally go toe-to-toe in a fight and much like the experience of watching Candyman and Victor Crowley/Jason fight in Hatchet II, it's a total geekasm, because as we all know, Kane Hodder is everyone's favorite Jason Voorhees. So here you have two titans who have both played Jason Voorhees battling it out and it's just fucking epic. Pure glee is the only way I can describe watching this and so thank you Adam Green. Thank you for understanding what it means to blow the minds of geek horror fanatics.

While the overall tones change from one film to the next, two things that do not change is Green's insistence on no CGI, and most importantly, insane, bloody, over-the-top kills. I still can't get over Reverend Zombie's (Tony Todd) death from Hatchet II! How insane and badass was that?! As we move into Hatchet III, one thing remains constant and that is that the gore content is pure. Let's be real for a second. How many films in a series can deliver the level of brutality for 3 straight films all relying on the most inventive, innovative kills ever to grace the screen, only to one-up themselves with each successive film? I can't think of any, can you? But these Hatchet films deliver on that promise wholeheartedly.

One thing you may have noticed in Hatchet II is that Victor Crowley's makeup looked different. Again in this film, the makeup department takes a different and slightly fresh approach to his look, making him bigger, bulkier and much more gruesome overall. It's a much more exaggerated take on the characters look compared to the first film, as if each film becomes more and more brutal, so does the look of Victor Crowley. While we're on the subject, Aunt Dolly's Garage again returns for makeup/special effects duties and again deliver a standout and amazing body of old-school practical effects work.

Aesthetically, Hatchet III is a much more visually streamlined looking film, and that is due to BJ McDonnell as director. I have to admit, I can't remember the last time I'd recently seen a better shot horror film. It's rather impressive and for me, that's what stands out more than anything. I think Hatchet creator Adam Green is a solid director in his own right, with the first film demonstrating his strongest skill at directing. When he returned for Hatchet II, it felt much more "anything goes", and while he never goes the shaky-cam route, he does shoot the entire film with a steadicam, so for someone who likes a little style with their substance, like myself, I wasn't really a fan of the visual tone of the second one. However, McDonnell seemed determined to end the trilogy on a high note, because from a technical and visual standpoint, Hatchet III is just awesome. Imploring much more streamlined and stylish camerawork, Hatchet III aesthetically blows the other films out of the water, there's just no denying that. Which is interesting considering director BJ McDonnell was originally the steadicam operator for the first two Hatchet films. So you kind of assume he's just going to do all steadicam stuff then because, well, that's his specialty. Apparently not. McDonnell did his homework, and despite reports that the production on this film was put under awful and intense conditions (at one time Hodder himself proclaiming it was the toughest job he'd ever done) having shot the film in an actual New Orleans swamp for the first time and not in California, it ultimately ends up being the most stylish of the bunch and the most aesthetically pleasing. Trust me, there are some pretty killer shots in this film. Combined with some impressive lighting and of course, more over-the-top kills and gore, Hatchet III is the perfect ending to an incredible trilogy