12.10.2014

The Believers


1987
Directed by: John Schlesinger
Category: Thriller

What I'll remember most about this film more than anything is the year 1989. 2 years after this film was released, an Austin, TX college student by the name of Mark Kilroy vanished while on Spring Break vacation with some friends. While bar hopping one night in Mexico, he got separated from his friends and vanished. Despite massive searches, he was never found. Some time later a high speed chase from the border checkpoint ended on a farm in Mexico, where it was soon discovered that Kilroy, along with 14 other victims, were buried on the premises, the result of human sacrifices by drug dealing cult members who practiced Santeria and Brujeria, often mutilating, eating and cooking the body parts of their victims for their rituals. After a shootout, the cult's leader was killed, along with an accomplice, and his second-in-command (Sara Aldrete) was arrested along with the others.

After their arrest, it was discovered that their favorite movie was The Believers. As soon as this was made public, every video store in Texas took this film off their shelves indefinitely. I live in deep South Texas, roughly about 30 minutes from where all this went down on the other side of the border. So this hit close to home. It was a huge deal here and is still considered folklore in this area. From what I recall, once the film  was pulled off the shelves, it would be many, many years before it would become available again. It's crazy to think that after 25 years, I still remember the name of that kid. What's even crazier still is that when I finally decided to revisit this recently, I didn't really see anything that would cause any normal human being with a rational thought process to think that doing anything this film depicts would actually result in.......well anything that wouldn't put your ass in jail for the rest of your life. Honestly, nothing is plausible in these voodoo rituals. But apparently this drug gang believed it all enough to copy them.

After the shocking and sudden death of his wife, psychiatrist Cal Jameson (Martin Sheen) moves to New York City to start over. He's soon recruited by the police force to help them with one of their own officers, who's being held on a psychiatric hold after having what appears to be a nervous breakdown. Jameson soon discovers that this officer was involved in something much more sinister, as his own world is turned upside down as he's unwittingly sucked into a world of voodoo and Santeria, culminating in a shocking conclusion. 

Written by Twin Peaks co-creator and co-writer Mark Frost, director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man) infuses this thriller with enough bravado and class that through his sure-handed brand of filmmaking, you stay invested, even if it isn't the most exciting thriller you've seen. What sells it is Martin Sheen's conviction. It's rare when we come across a film where he's the star, and not a villain or supporting actor. This was his first foray back into theatrical films after 3 years of exclusive television made-for-tv work, and thankfully Sheen didn't miss a beat. He's just excellent in this, and I don't think the film would have been as strong without him. With that being said, while it was nice to revisit this, it wasn't exactly the nail-biter I was hoping it would be. It's got some great things going for it, but it often felt a bit too long and dull in some areas, and when you consider that this film seemed to inspire some delusional people into doing some pretty atrocious things, there wasn't anything in it that was so far fetched that I would have ever believed it would be so controversial. Yet it was, and all because of a handful of idiots.

I haven't seen a lot of what director John Schlesinger has done, but I know he's regarded rather highly for his craft. I did enjoy Marathon Man immensely. And I remember being creeped the fuck out by Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights, but I don't think I've seen anything else he's done. In any case, solid filmmaking all around. I just wasn't thrilled, I should say, as much as I was hoping to be. A solid thriller, with some mystical overtones that doesn't quite grab you fully, yet slightly makes up for it in the end.

12.09.2014

Snow White and The Huntsman


2014
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Category: Fantasy

Something about this film never struck me as one that I needed to rush to see. I don't know why, maybe it was the whole Snow White theme, or the fact that Kristen Stewart (rolls eyes) was the star, but needless to say, I never had the itch or desire to check this one out. Yet recently, I decided to revisit Ridley Scott's Legend, and well, I suppose I was in the mood for a fantasy again.

Snow White and The Huntsman surprised me at almost every turn, and on every level. What I assumed would be another humdrum big budget retelling of Snow White, complete with overdone sloppy CGI, turned out to be an exceptionally well made and stylish dark fantasy that was able to capture a certain niche in the film industry that's been sorely missing for quite some time. This film was good, and quite the welcome surprise. What's sad is that whenever anyone hears the name Rupert Sanders, nobody is ever going to mention what an outstanding job he did directing this thing. Nope. What will more likely be mentioned is his affair with his star Kristen Stewart, who was with Robert Pattinson at the time, while Sanders himself was a married man with a family. Funny how one bad decision can totally ruin your life. His entire life got flipped upside down, all for a tryst with Kristen Stewart of all people? Makes no sense to me. But I'm getting off track here. Sanders is arguably one of the biggest reasons why this film works so well. His lush visual's create a world that bring's back memories of Scott's Legend. That's a bold statement, I know, but I honestly stand behind it. As I sat back and watched this, after a good 30 minutes the biggest thing I noticed was how much Sanders particular style resembles Ridley Scott's in his heyday.

I'll also admit something else. Stewart's usual droll acting came off a lot less annoying in this, so much so that I was able to enjoy the film and not want to reach into the screen and strangle some life back into her, just so I could get some kind of emotion out of her. I won't get into it, but I honestly don't see the appeal of Kristen Stewart. She's about as dull as they come, even when she's hitting the red carpet. No emotion, no substance, and no presence. Am I alone in this? Yet, I found her more tolerable in this than in anything I've seen her in up till now.

What's surprising to me is that I know this film did well, so well in fact that a sequel is coming with none other than Frank Darabont coming on board as director. And with all that's been said about this film, I'm probably more shocked than anything else that nobody ever takes the time to comment on Sanders outstanding visuals, or the creature, production and costume design. Artistically, SWatH is an outstanding achievement. Even when we get down to the CGI, it's near flawless and not overdone or shoddy as we've been accustomed to this past decade. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But it's disturbingly true. You'd think in this day and age of outstanding CGI work, the day where we joked about how fake CGI looked was well behind us, but it seems more relevant now than ever. So when a film like this comes out, and you're not pre-occupied with the shoddy effects work, well that's a rare treat indeed. But it all comes back to Sanders aesthetically pleasing work as a visual director. It's hard not to compare the guy to Scott, as they share a very similar visual style. I'm surprised no one has picked up on that, or is it just me who thinks that?

There's a lot to like in this Snow White interpretation if you give it just half a chance. It's dark, moody and incredibly atmospheric. The cast is pretty great, and a visual knockout. And let's face it, nobody does evil quite as effortlessly as Charlize Theron. The effects work is top notch, and it's all rounded out with a better than you'd expect quality. Believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to the sequel.

12.05.2014

Firestarter


1984
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Category: Horror/Thriller

As I scratch my early 80's horror itch, I realized that I never got around to ever watching this one. Strange, since I'm a big fan of the director, Mark L. Lester, who gave us such gems like Commando, Class of 1984, Class of 1999 and Showdown in Little Tokyo. So yea, I'm a fan.

Released in 1984, Firestarter came out in a time when practically every single Stephen King novel was being made into a movie. Carrie, Christine, The Shining, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Creepshow, Cat's Eye, Children of the Corn, Pet Semetary and so on. It's different now, but when a Stephen King novel got the movie adaptation, it was a pretty big deal. It was almost a guarantee that a SK movie would be a bonafide hit, and believe it or not, practically every single one was. Once the 90's came around though, that all started to change. Sure, we did get a few gems like Misery, Sleepwalkers - though I'll admit that one is not for everyone - and some really good drama's like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. But the 90's was the beginning of the decline of King's rule at the box office in the horror genre as a lot of his novels turned into films were becoming of less quality than we'd become accustomed to. I think the nail in the coffin was when most of his stuff just started going straight to video and made for television. Nowaday's it's extremely rare when a King film is a hit, let alone comes out in the theaters.

One of the things that surprised me right off the bat with this one is the stellar cast. Martin Sheen, David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Louise Fletcher, Art Carney, and a wonderfully evil turn from George C. Scott. Everyone is just fantastic in this; all delivering knockout performances. But it's really Barrymore's show here. This was her first film after the massively successful E.T. and I have to say, casting kids in lead roles is extremely tricky. Pick an annoying kid and it can certainly ruin the film experience for you. A good example is that kid in Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars remake. While I still loved the film, that kid was just flat-out terrible and I've heard several times how his performance pretty much ruined the experience for a lot of others. It almost did for me. But Barrymore is a solid actress, no doubt. You saw what she had to offer in E.T. 2 years earlier, but here her range is on full display and quite honestly, she's one of the best child actors I've ever seen.

I really liked this film. It starts off strong, and ends with a bang. Director Mark L. Lester's restrained camerawork feeds into the films overall early 80's aesthetic, keeping things simple, yet effective. It works remarkably well. Take into consideration that this is an early 80's production, and you have that immediate "old school" look. It's awesome. I sincerely doubt that if this would be remade today, it would never, or could ever, have the same visual impact and ambiance that this film presents. There's just no way. Then when we get to the third act, and all hell breaks loose, Firestarter becomes a technical marvel. The pyrotechnics involved are nothing short of astonishing, and hell, even I was surprised at some of the stunt work involving Barrymore. They certainly make films differently these days. Most of the stuff presented in the final act would never be attempted today. It's a guarantee that it would all be done with CGI, and would never have the same organic feel that this film is able to accomplish.

If I had any gripes, it would be that most of the cool fire action doesn't happen until the very end. But you know, I half expected that, so it's not that much of a bummer. There are plenty of moments where Charlie (Barrymore) and her father Andy (David Keith) display their particular talents, but it's really not until the last 30 minutes where she really let's loose and well, it's a flat-out awesome display.

By no means a film that will blow you away, yet an exceptionally well made film that perfectly captures the aesthetic of the early 80's. It has it's lull's, but recovers in it's final act to deliver one helluva finale. I'm so glad they never attempted to remake this.

11.29.2014

Fitzcarraldo


1982
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Category: Drama

One of the things I've yet to do is immerse myself in Werner Herzog's filmography. While I have seen a very slight few of his films, I must admit that I have not seen a good majority of his work. In his vast catalog of films, Fitzcarraldo always seems to be at the top. When I recently watched William Friedkin's excellent Sorcerer for the first time, Fernando over at The Film Connoisseur suggested this film, saying that it was similar in tone and theme. After a few months I finally sat my ass down in what I knew would be a long Sunday afternoon essential Herzog viewing, and I was right.

I'm just going to come right out and say it. I didn't really care too much for this film. Gasp! Don't kill me! I can definitely understand the appeal; crazy story and even crazier star, but none of it really gelled with me. Performances aside, Herzog can certainly put a film together rather well, but judging solely on his work in this film alone, I wouldn't necessarily call him a stylish director. A few scenes indeed stand out, but I found the majority of his visual aesthetic to be humdrum at most. Often times I found myself commenting on how much he shoots things in close-up, where I really thought the scenes could have benefited in a wide shot. But that's just me. I've seen the pictures, the trailer and the promotional material and so naturally, my excitement is in wanting to get to the "scene". You know, the "moving the huge boat over the mountain" sequence. Unfortunately it takes nearly 2 hours for this sequence to come to fruition. In the meantime we are treated to drastically slow tale of a mans passion for the opera, his brash and unorthodox behavior, and his relentless pursuit of the seemingly unattainable. I know some love this film to death, and as I said before, I can certainly understand why for cinephiles. For me personally, I found it all rather dull and incredibly uninteresting. I could bet that a good 30 minutes at least could have easily been cut without losing any of the films integrity.

But I will admit that when the film does eventually reach that third act, it's an astonishing display of Grade A filmmaking at it's finest. This is where the film really shines, and considering all the logistics that go into pulling something like this off, it's mind-bogglingly awesome. With that being said, it wasn't nearly enough to save the experience for me. It's quite fascinating to see something this grande physically happening in an authentic way. If this film was made today, I can guarantee you that it would most likely be done using a healthy dose of CGI to do the things that Herzog and his production team were able to accomplish using practical ingenuity. On that end, it's a stunning accomplishment. But that's where my praise for this film ultimately ends.

I have yet to see Burden of Dreams, the full length documentary based on the harrowing ordeal of making this film and Herzog's tumultuous relationship with his often leading man Klaus Kinski, but I hear it's pretty good. I do own it and plan to watch it soon, and maybe it will help me appreciate this film a little more. For my personal tastes, I feel Sorcerer is a far superior film in almost every way. Different genre's altogether, yes, but both displaying a titular character set out to do the seemingly impossible against all odds. Until then.....

11.22.2014

Saw II


2005
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Category: Horror

Released just a year after the original, Darren Lynn Bousman takes over directing duties this time out, with Leigh Whannell again returning as co-writer (along with Bousman), and begins to resemble more of the type of film the franchise is known for. Instead of just 2 people like in the first film, this time out a whole group of unwitting participants are forced to endure a series of unimaginable tests and traps, with each character having a common link.

I rather enjoyed this film a lot more than the first one. Though Bousman's direction isn't any stronger than James Wan's in the original, there are a lot more kills, gore, and all around it's a better film because it's the start of what the franchise is to become and what it's known for. Structurally, it's a bit different than the first film; a welcome change in my opinion. This entry also has the added benefit of having Donnie Wahlberg (The best thing about Dead Silence) playing another cop, though a completely different type than his role in that film. Wouldn't it have been amazing if it was the same cheesy character from Dead Silence?! But his addition to the cast is a welcome surprise because he's definitely a better actor than most people give him credit for.

There's nothing terribly interesting in this entry, other than the more elaborate kills and torture devices. So in that department, I guess you can say it's a bit more original. But as I look back on it, I can't really think of a single scene that really stood out more than any of the others. Perhaps the pit needle scene? There are more cringe-inducing scenes for sure, but none that really make this stand out in my book. One of the added benefits this time around is that it's a much faster pace than the first one. Instead of building up to a conclusion, this entry basically throws you into the story right in the beginning and it's essentially a series of traps and set-ups for every character forced to participate, while simultaneously try to figure out what the common link they all share is. It's breakneck pace is refreshing though, for that I give them props.

Overall a refreshing addition to the franchise for a number of reasons; Wahlberg's character being incorporated into the storyline, some fresh inventive kills, a faster more hectic pace, and the gore department delivers the goods. I liked it more than I was expecting to, and coupled with Darren Lynn Bousman's "safe" direction, Saw II ultimately plays out like a solid horror film, the kind I was hoping for. On that note, it delivers the goods. Unfortunately I'm finding it hard to get excited about it or to be enthusiastic with this review. I liked it, but nothing about it really got me pumped up. I definitely enjoyed it more than the first one, with the effects and gore department delivering some outstanding work. But it just didn't blow me away. Overall a solid torture porn film where the participants make the stupidest decisions imaginable, much to both our delight and frustration, Saw II elevates all the ideas and concepts conceived in the first film and dials it up several notches. Now on to Saw III!
To be continued...

11.20.2014

The Taking of Deborah Logan


2014
Directed by: Adam Robitol
Category: Horror

It goes without saying that I detest "found footage" films. I hate them. After Oren Peli re-ignited the sub-genre back in 2007 with the vomit-inducing Paranormal Activity, it seems every wannabe director used this concept as a way of breaking into the business and exploiting a concept to death. They're not all terrible though. While a good 95% of them just flat out suck, there are a few gems in the crowd that help you forget that most of these films are simply made because they are cheap to produce, and pretty much anyone can direct them since running around with a camera and spinning it back and forth as much as possible doesn't require any real talent. The Taking of Deborah Logan is an excellent example of doing a "found footage" film right, and bless them for that.

I had never heard of this film before, until a reviewer I follow mentioned how great it was around the same time it premiered for streaming on Netlix. Needless to say, that night we had our sights set on what to watch and The Taking of Deborah Logan did not disappoint.

A team of students decide to chronicle a woman who seems to be suffering from Alzheimer's as part of a study for their school. Though reluctant, the woman agrees and soon things become much worse for everyone involved as it seems that Alzheimer's may not be the culprit after all, but rather something much, much worse. 

 What I loved about this film is that while most found footage filmmakers (I use that term loosely) think they know what it takes to make a low-budget film successful, writer/director/editor Adam Robitel does. Having worked with Bryan Singer for a number of years, he knows exactly what it takes to build tension and suspense, and none of that involves throwing the camera around like you're high on crack. Using a variety of different techniques to tell the story such as video footage, surveillance footage and news reports, he effortlessly blends them all together to tell a compelling and cohesive story that slowly builds itself to a stunning climax. Sure, a lot of what you see in here you've seen before, but I can guarantee you that there's also a lot that you haven't, and for that, TToDL takes a few large leaps above average in this sub-genre.

I feel that I need to mention, and I can't stress this enough, that the BEST thing about this film is it's lead, Jill Larson, who plays the titular Deborah Logan. Her psychological and physical descent, all with the power of acting, is breathtaking. Watching her take on a transformation with no help of special effects or CGI is nothing short of astonishing. Had Larson not been the lead in this, I seriously doubt that the events of the film, and the film in general, would or could have been as effective or successful. She was fantastic and I'm sure anyone who's seen this will agree with me.

Found Footage is an easy type of film to make. So much so that we get at least half a dozen new ones every year. The problem is that most of them aren't successful just because you think you can pick up a home video camera and record some crazy shit and try to "jump scare" us. Thankfully TToDL and it's team does everything right and knows exactly what it takes to tell a story, build tension, offer outstanding performances, and delivers the goods in an otherwise severely saturated field. *Hint: It doesn't involve running around with a camera and making us nauseous. I'm not going to go out on a limb and say this film reinvents the wheel or anything, but for a solid, well-made low-budget horror film with outstanding qualities both in front of and behind the camera, it doesn't get any better than this.

11.17.2014

The Shadow


1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Category: Action/Adventure

Russell Mulcahy is a baffling director, and I can't stress that enough. When the guy is firing on all cylinders, he can knock out some pretty stellar work. Unfortunately these moments are few and far between in his long and vast directing career that spans over 3 decades. Let me put it this way. The same director released both one of his best films and one of his worst films the same year with Ricochet (one of his best) and Highlander II: The Quickening (one of his worst). And if you didn't already know beforehand, you'd never guess the same guy made both of these films as aesthetically, they couldn't be anymore different. Whereas Ricochet is undoubtedly one of his most visually impressive works to date, infusing every single frame of film with so much style that it's almost too good for this type of film, Highlander II comes off as one of the most visually bland and uninspired messes in recent memory, and that's coming from a guy who actually loves his original Highlander (despite it's problems) to death, while most do not. Even I agree that Highlander II is an un-savable mess, no matter how many ways you cut it.

Aside from the excellent Ricochet, let's not forget that Mulcahy is also responsible for other great pieces of work like the original Highlander and Razorback in the plus department. I can now easily count The Shadow among them. Let's forget for a moment that Russell Mulcahy has directed so many humdrum direct-to-video misfires and an endless barrage of television and music video work and focus more on the few gigs worth noting, the few bright spots in his eclectic filmography. Films like The Shadow.

I'm not going to say that this was a great film, but it's a good one, and a notable effort in his mixed bag of varying degrees of success. Watching The Shadow brought back fond memories and more similarities of Dick Tracy than I remember. Both have great production value, design and ambition. Both have an impeccable visual brilliance and casting, but they also suffer from the same problems that keep them both from achieving greatness.

One of the things that this film, along with Dick Tracy, suffers from is that it teeters on both serious and playful, not ever really finding that right balance. And that's not necessarily Mulcahy's fault. David Koepp's script often spends too much time having to explain things, and not really enough time entertaining us. There's a lot of exposition, but none of it is terribly interesting. We get a lot of Lamont Cranston's/The Shadow backstory and a plot regarding an atomic bomb being set off in the city, but what we don't get is a lot of cool scenes of The Shadow running around fighting crime in that cool-ass cape. Baffingly, those sequences are few and far between and for a movie called The Shadow, we see very little of that character. If I had to guess, I'd say maybe 15% of the time? Which honestly just isn't that much time at all. It's like having Michael Keaton in the Batman suit for only 20 minutes of the movie!

Completely unaware that Shout! Factory released this at some point in the last couple of years, I refused to watch Universal's 1997 DVD release because it was in dreaded Full Frame. So I was able to track down a Letterboxed Laserdisc for next to nothing and it also gave me an excuse to dust off the ol' player. While not in true widescreen, it's definitely the next best thing and far superior to Full Frame, though as we all know, Laserdisc just isn't up to snuff with DVD in terms of quality. But whatever. The point I'm getting at is that I'm glad I waited for the Laserdisc to check this out because visually, The Shadow is lush with vibrant imagery and an aesthetic that displays Mulcahy's knack for directing. None of this would be apparent had I watched this in it's most common form, the dreaded pan and scan/full frame edition from Universal back in '97. If this stuff matters to you, like it does me, it's worth the effort and extra bills to track down Shout! Factory's more recent release, or grab it's Laserdisc for fairly cheap on eBay.

Overall I actually quite liked this film a lot, if anything for it's impressive style. The production and design of everything in this in terms of the decor, sets, cityscape, wardrobe, and camera work is very impressive. The cast, led by Alec Baldwin (back when he was starring in films) is pretty fantastic as well. Penelope Ann Miller is criminally hot in this, and if you can look past John Lone's silly fake beard, he pulls off villain mode rather well. Ian McKellan, unfortunately, is a waste in this. He plays a scientist that's forced to create and activate the bomb and I'm not entirely sure, but I believe he was going for an American accent in this, but it's honestly hard to tell. Most of his scenes though are carried out while he's in a subconscious fog having been hypnotized by Shiwan Khan (John Lone), the descendant of Genghis Khan, to build and deploy this atomic bomb for him. So he's kind of just there in body, but he's not really all there in spirit and it just seems like such a waste for an actor of his caliber.

It feels like it needed to be a little more fun with a lot more action, so in that department The Shadow fails, but only marginally. I do have one question though. Why is it that when Lamont Cranston is in Shadow mode, he looks almost exactly like his brother Billy Baldwin? Part of the deal is that when he dons the cape and mask, his face physically changes. But I wonder if they purposely tried to make him look like his brother? I can't be alone in this thought.

11.13.2014

Saw


2004
Directed by: James Wan
Category: Horror

I think most of you will be surprised to learn that I've never actually seen any of the Saw films before. Well, that's not true. I had only seen this film once before, and honestly couldn't remember much about it other than the basic storyline. When I look back on it, I find it almost shocking to realize that James Wan is half responsible for creating the Torture Porn sub-genre. Why? Well because he's been more known for making spooky ghost stories more than anything. I'm not sure if co-writer/director James Wan (Insidious, The Conjuring) and co-writer/actor Leigh Whannell had their sights set on a franchise right from the get-go, but with a limited budget and some sheer raw talent, they ultimately created one of the most successful horror franchises in film history, in a time when the genre was saturated with tired formulas and weak uninspired slasher sequels that couldn't hold a torch to anything produced in the 80's. But then Saw comes along, seemingly out of nowhere, and creates a totally new horror icon, a new sub-genre, and most importantly, the need for horror fans to get their asses back into those theater seats.

It's been 10 years since this films original release, and while this new genre of horror or these films in particular are nothing to get excited about anymore, October of 2004 was a totally different story. While the films (7 as of this date) have changed dramatically in tone and substance since it's original inception, the core of the story and the mythology is here in the first one, just not over the top and in your face like the rest of them have grown to be. Being as I'd never gotten around to watching these, when Lionsgate recently released the entire set in a rather cheap Blu-ray set (3 films per disc?), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally do so.

Saw was surprising to me for a number of different reasons. First off, it's strikingly apparent that James Wan has grown considerably as a visual director since this film (his 2nd as director). While most of it is decent, a few amateurish sequences (like the car sequence) here and there surprised me quite a bit. But that's really just nitpicking, because overall, it was a solid effort. 3 years later he would give us Dead Silence, his most visually impressive film to date, and I wonder if that has more to do with him or his DoP? In either case, while not terribly inventive in the visual department, he tries his best to give it a Seven vibe; dark and gritty. The problem is that it's just not always successful. I was also surprised to see that the gore content was considerably lower than what I was expecting, and the kills, which the franchise in general has been known for, were few and far between. I guess the history and reputation of this series had me expecting something grande, but again, it's just nitpicking on my part. I don't know if writer/actor/co-creator Leigh Whannell already had the vision of the franchise set in his head or not at this point, but I never would have guessed the direction it would eventually take simply based on this film alone. With that being said, it's an impressive start, and a good standalone film in it's own right. Dark, gritty, violent (at times) with both a shocking and satisfying conclusion. It takes it's time setting things up, and it's more concerned with telling a fleshed out story rather than shocking you with it's gore content, which is where I think the series eventually leads to.

One of the things I found that helped the film was it's low budget. Being under the constraints of a limited budget allowed Wan and his crew to experiment with different ideas and technical know-how to produce something creative and unique. Most of the film takes place in a single room, which you'd think would be difficult to keep interesting, yet they find a way by changing up styles and frequently keeping things tight. The constant sense of claustrophobia lends itself to a constant uneasiness that keeps driving the film forward to it's dramatic conclusion. Not a bad start for a young filmmaker who'd only had one other film released before this. I should also add that Charlie Clouser's riveting and catchy score only adds to the films overall intense vibe, and Saw is all the better for it. It's a great theme and one that I hope continues on through the subsequent films.

I'm not going to say that I loved it, but I'm glad I saw it. I feel it's a start if I'm to try and understand the appeal of this long running series that seemed to knock them out literally every year. Now on to Part 2! To be continued...

11.11.2014

Legend: The Director's Cut


1985
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Category: Fantasy

I have fond memories of being enamored by this fantasy film going back to my mid teen's when this first came out. The design, the look, the lush visuals, and most of all, fucking Tim Curry's knockout performance as Darkness. Funny thing though is that I don't actually remember if it was a good movie or not, just that the design of the whole thing always impressed the hell out of me.

Somehow in some way this film popped inside my head recently and I realized that it had been ages since I revisited it. Without a moments hesitation I got online and snagged the Ultimate Edition, which includes both the Theatrical Cut with the Tangerine Dream score, and the Director's Cut, which includes about 8 minutes of new footage as well as re-inserting Jerry Goldsmith's original score. Of course I went straight with the Director's Cut in my first outing, with plans to revisit the Theatrical version shortly. I was curious to see if this new version would be so dramatically different that I'll have a greater appreciation for it, or if my feelings would generally remain the same.

Essentially, my feelings remain the same. The Director's Cut, with added footage and a different, more magical score than what I was used to, didn't really bring anything new to the experience for me. There's a lot to love aesthetically about Legend; the set design, Scott's brilliant visuals, Rob Bottin's stunning makeup work - especially when it comes to Darkness - basically the whole production. That's what people have and will always walk away from with Legend. But Legend is definitely lacking in several departments that hinder it's ability to become just flat out awesome. I was gonna use Legendary, but the fact of the matter is that it is indeed legendary. Though a box office dud during it's initial theatrical run, it's certainly amassed a healthy cult status since and remains one of the most visually impressive fantasy films ever made. But it's not without it's problems.

Both versions of the film suffer from the same issues, too dull for the majority of the running time, and not nearly enough action/adventure or excitement as there should be. Sure it's a fantasy/fable, but you've also got to keep us invested and entertained, especially when it's nearly impossible to understand what any of the actors are saying, other than Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry, without using subtitles due to the specific way the elves and fairies speak. So much of the film relies on visuals that they often forget to keep things exciting. It's pretty to look at, sure, but when it's an endless trek for the protagonist (Tom Cruise) as he searches for his love, along with his elf friends, you're kind of left just waiting and waiting for Darkness to show up, which he does, but not until the very last 30 minutes! Then the film resembles more of what you expect going in in the first place. But having to sit through an entire hour of whimsical just to get to 30 minutes of awesome is a little bothersome.

Of course, it's with these last 30 minutes where Legend really shines, and it's what most will remember. Darkness is front and center, and Ridley Scott's visual flair is on full display. Everything about this third act, except maybe for Darkness's flimsy horns while he's running, are expertly executed for a more darker and sinister finale. This is what I'm sure everyone was hoping for in terms of how Legend would play out. Too bad it's not until the very end. In an interview contained in the special features, Scott himself has gone on record as saying that there were a few things he would change given the chance, like adding more action and adventure into the story, and not succumbing to pressure by severely cutting it down from his original vision. Apparently, a stoned moviegoer at a screening that Scott also attended made a few comments, which ultimately threw Scott into panic mode and resulted in his cutting the film down considerably. Because a guy who was stoned had a big mouth.

Makeup effects master Rob Bottin has been in the business since the mid '70's. The man is responsible for some truly stellar makeup work such as John Carpenters The Thing, The Howling, Total Recall, and most importantly, designing Robocop's iconic suit. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but my feelings are that easily the best thing about this film is Rob Bottin's stunning makeup job creating Darkness, arguably the best interpretation of the devil I've ever seen on film. Most of Bottin's work has been iconic to say the least, none more important than his work on Robocop and Darkness, but I have one question; Why is it that he hasn't worked on anything since 2002?

I don't hate it, but I don't love it either. It falls a few steps short of brilliant for a number of reasons, but remarkably, it's still entertaining because of it's audacious production and a clear indication of Ridley Scott's impeccable attention to detail and his brilliant eye. It's absolutely worth a purchase because for a mere $10-$15 you get 2 versions of the film, along with a great documentary and a healthy dose of other special features. It's pure eye candy, plain and simple. Nothing more.