1.14.2017

An Unexpected Surprise: Fatal Beauty Is Really a Badass 80's Action Thriller


1987
Directed by: Tom Holland
Category: Action/Comedy/Thriller

Recently I've begun a new form of film-watching. I hit my local thrift store, and puruse they're plentiful selection of VHS tapes. Some days these are only 50 cents, while others they're $1 each. Still, $1 is chump change when it comes to the enjoyment of a film, so I don't mind. I purposely pick up random titles of films that were made in the 80's, more often than not "thrillers", and blindly grab them if I've never seen it. I've found this to be a very rewarding experience, because these would not be films I would normally look for, rent, or add to my Netflix List. But for $1, I figure "What the hell? It's only a $1". And what ultimately ends up happening is that these are the films that end up completely taking me by surprise by how great they are. This happened most recently with Shoot to Kill and Band of the Hand, 2 films I am just completely in love with now.

Fatal Beauty is the perfect example of why I love films. Of going into them with a preconceived notion as to what type of film it might be, only to be surprised by it being a completely different one altogether. I'll be honest, the only reason I finally gave this a watch was because it was the film Tom Holland directed after his breakout debut with Fright Night. I didn't know that until now, and I was floored by the idea that he would choose this as his next project when he had just delivered a successful hit in the form of a vampire horror film just 2 years earlier. Knowing that his next film after this was Child's Play, another horror hit for a major studio, I was even more fascinated by the idea that he would instead choose a Beverly Hills Cop style cop/action/comedy sandwiched between 2 horror hits. When I came across this VHS tape at my local thrift shop, I jumped on it.

Much like myself, maybe you went into this thinking it was an action comedy, with Whoopi Goldberg displaying her knack for being a smartass. What I wasn't prepared for was how this film ended up being something different. In reality, Fatal Beauty is more of a gritty, violent cop thriller, with an occassional funny line thrown in. But really, I didn't find the humor to be more prominent, which was surprising, and ultimately this ended up being a pretty great 80's cop thriller that offers up ample amounts of violence, bad language, grittiness, and a hard-edged vibe that hits you right from the opening frame and doesn't let up until it's violent conclusion. For me, these were all pluses. I love being thrown a curve, in a good way. I love when I go in expecting something, and then having that idea take a complete 180.

I can only surmise that they were riding the Beverly Hills Cop wave, which coincidentally saw the release of it's sequel Beverly Hills Cop 2 (the most successful in the franchise) this very same year. It was also a good year for violent action films with the likes of Lethal Weapon, Predator, Robocop and The Living Daylights all hitting theaters this same year. 1987 was a good year for action to say the least. But still, I would not expect a film called Fatal Beauty, sporting a cover of Whoopi Goldberg smiling while holding a gun, all while sitting in a mustang convertible, with palm trees and the Hollywood sign in the background, to be anything but a funny take on the standard cop film. I mean, how does that yell "violent cop action thriller"? It doesn't. It spells "action buddy/comedy", which this film verily is not. And again, that's a good thing.

I think what trips people up is that on the surface, it's very much like Beverly Hills Cop. In this case, there's a new drug hitting the streets called Fatal Beauty, and narcotics officer Rizzoli (Goldberg) just happens to stumble upon this new trend, with an aim to put the drug dealer Leo Nova (Brad Dourif) out of business for good. Along for the ride is a persistent bodyguard (Sam Elliot) for a local drug dealer she's currently keeping under surveillance. The film is truthfully a bit weird in how it throws certain elements into the mix, like this bodyguard. It never really makes sense why he's always around, other than he's following orders from his boss. Yet he consistently risks his life to save hers at just the right time. He's also unapologetic-ally falling in love with her, which is also questionable since she's nothing but rude, mean and condescending to him. Then there's the whole thing about her having an Italian last name, which she obviously is not. There are so many elements that come into play that don't really make a lot of sense, yet it was the 80's, and details like that weren't all that important. It really just makes it all a bit more quirky than we're used to today.



And then there's the title - Fatal Beauty. Obviously right off the bat you assume it's referring to Whoopi Goldberg's character, which in itself is a bit odd. She's not someone you would picture when referring to someone as a fatal beauty. So that may have thrown some people off, when in fact Fatal Beauty refers to the new designer drug hitting the streets, and not the main character in the film. Maybe had the film been called something else, it may have had a better reception? Perhaps.

Another aspect that really kind of threw me for a loop, and which is also another major element to making it one of those "sign of the times" is the use of curse words incessantly. I'm talking like literally every minute. That's just something they don't do anymore, mainly because they want to make them as PG or PG-13 as possible so they can fill more theater seats. It's funny how that wasn't an issue 30 years ago. In the case of Fatal Beauty, the use of the word "Bitch" and "Cunt" is pretty incredible. I think they were trying to go for the same kind of record Scarface achieved years earlier with the use of the work "Fuck". What's interesting is that in this film, calling Rizzoli a bitch is kind of a thing. It's like an instigator for any kind of trouble she gets herself into. They call her a bitch, she tells them how much she hates it, and proceeds to get into a fight or gun battle because of it. Yet there are moments where she's not even in the scene and they refer to her as the bitch or cunt on a regular basis. It's kind of crazy. They definitely didn't think ahead about possibly having this film play on television one day.

Whoopi Goldberg was really trying to find her right fit around this time, or maybe the studios were? She came out swinging with her intense performance in The Color Purple. But immediately followed that up with a series of action/comedy/thrillers such as Jumpin Jack Flash, Fatal Beauty and Burglar, before delving into some more drama. Really though, comedy is where she delivers, and it's what ultimately won her an Oscar. But when you look back at these series of films, it's kind of surreal when you look at the no-nonsense and vigorously unfunny person she is today.

While the cast is pretty great all around, with a ton of notable character actors left and right, it's the casting of Sam Elliot, while a bit out of place here, that kicks this film a few more notches into badass territory. Really, it's a bit odd. He randomly shows up always at just the right moment, and then disappears again for long stretches of time. But when he shows up, he's a badass 100%. He always displays that swagger and Sam Elliot charm, saves the day, gets involved in endless shootouts and gun battles, and tries repeatedly to get into Rizolli's pants. He just rules.



Fatal Beauty was a constant series of surprises for me, mainly in that it's not at all the kind of film I was expecting based on that poster and cover art. I still can't explain why Tom Holland made this between Fright Night and Child's Play, but regardless, he does a bang-up job behind the camera, giving the film a darker and grittier look and vibe that I could ever have expected. He also demonstrates a knack for shooting action, which I wish he would have explored more with subsequent films. If you're never seen this before, and you like 80's action, then definitely give this one a try. It might surprise you.

1.12.2017

Year of the Dragon: Michael Cimino's Gritty, Brilliant and Bloody Masterpiece


1985
Directed by: Michael Cimimno
Category: Thriller

Very few films ever leave an impact on me the way Michael Cimino's Year of the Dragon did. It's become such a very rare feeling - to see a film and just be completely blown away, to have my senses obliterated by it's sheer epic and gritty realism. This film was also a turning point for me in regards to director Michael Cimino. I'll admit, I've never thought much about him. In fact, I've only ever seen The Deer Hunter. And with all that mess about Heavens Gate, the studio's collapse because of his fondness for going over-budget and over-schedule, I pretty much just labeled him as a pretentious hack. That is probably why I never really put much thought into this film until now. Nothing in particular pushed me to seek this out. I think I was just in the middle of my 80's Thriller phase, and when I saw all the talent involved like Oliver Stone writing, and Mickey Rourke starring, I dove right in and was hit like a punch to the gut by it's intensity, it's raw energy, and it's undeniable passion. Year of the Dragon is a brilliant tour de force in the crime thriller genre, and it's one of the best films I've ever seen.

Essentially a story about a newly assigned detective named Stanley White (Mickey Rourke), who makes it his mission to take down the Chinese Triad and the Italian Mafia in New York with his unforgiving and no-holds-barred approach. But the film and story take on so many levels and veers off into so many different directions and stories that there's just so much more to it than that simple premise.



The Good:

Brilliant visualsYear of the Dragon is a masterpiece. It's a hard-edged detective thriller that offers up ample amounts of gritty atmosphere and an unbelievable amount of talent behind the camera, courtesy of director Michael Cimino's superb camerawork. One of the things I noticed immediately was how chaotic every single frame is in this film. In each shot, whether it be in a city street, an office, an underground factory, a restaurant, there's so much going on in every single scene that it becomes intense and claustrophobic. Coupled with the fact that most, if not all, of these shots, including the ones confined to tiny spaces like an office, are shot using some impressive camera setups, you get the sense that a lot of the chaos in every frame is on purpose, which makes it all the more impressive.

There are moments where the film feels like a gritty cop thriller, set in the underbelly of an Asian crime syndicate, and the film has a grittiness to it. Yet the camerawork never falters. Every shot is executed with such precision, that even the chaotic moments come out as beautiful.

It doesn't always stay in the gritty though. There are moments where the film looks stunning. I could easily pick about a dozen shots that I could freeze-frame, and they'd be worthy as an art print on my wall. There's a scene in particular that just really took me by surprise, because had it been any other director, it wouldn't have even been a scene you would be able to remember because it's such a tiny moment in such an epic film. Detective White (Mickey Rourke) is standing on a New York City street at night looking at a dead body. Very simple and not at all interesting moment in an otherwise fascinating film. Yet, Cimino treats it like one by making this shot an incredible one. The camera placement, the lighting of the buildings in the background, the lens he used, the placement of the cars......it's all perfectly constructed to create a gorgeous shot, and this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the look to Year of the Dragon. The style and tone of each shot shifts constantly visually, but it always looks this amazing.



Mickey Rourke delivers. It really is a shame he didn't become the huge box office star he could have been. He has no one to blame but himself and his demons, but in an otherwise rocky rollercoaster of a career spanning 4 decades, the moments, films, and performances that shine the most will all come from his work in the 80's, with the exception of The Wrestler in 2008. When you see him in something from the last 10-15 years, it's shocking how different he looks. It's hard to look past the fact that his face just doesn't move due to the numerous plastic surgeries and see the performance. But it's films like this that really make you notice. Even though his character is easily one of the most unlikable you'll see, he carries it so far over to the other side that you kind of end up liking him. It's in films like this that remind me that he was easily the top of his class. He may not have gotten the big films and big paychecks, but he delivered the big performances nonetheless.

Impeccable writing. Co-writer Oliver Stone was at the height of his creative streak, having come off of writing films like Conan the Barbarian and Scarface, he followed Year of the Dragon with other knockout's like Platoon and Wall Street. It's so surprising to me that this film is never mentioned as some of his best work. In fact, I had no idea he was even responsible for this until I did some digging. And after finally watching it and being blown away, again, I find it shocking that his screenplay for this isn't more highly regarded as a masterpiece of crime cinema.



Michael Cimino's last screenwriting credit was the disastrous Heavens Gate, which was 5 years earlier, and we all know how that turned out. Yet here we are, a full 5 years later, and along with Oliver Stone, turns out a bloody, violent, and gritty masterpiece of crime fiction. It just blows my mind. Interestingly enough though, this would be his last screenwriting credit for the remainder of his career.

The 80's gave us a tremendous amount of quality thrillers. In fact, as I dig through this enormous output of films I never got around to seeing back then, I'm realizing that the best ones came from this decade, and Year of the Dragon was one of the best. On the surface, it's easily dismissive. The poster art doesn't grab you, and you don't know anything about it right off the bat. Is it a period piece? Is it a drama? Action? Thriller? I'm sure that played into my not seeing it until now. Even then, when I finally put this on on a quiet Monday afternoon while home alone, I had no idea what to expect, no clue what was in store. And typically, these are the moments that a film will blow me away, which is ultimately Year of the Dragon did for me.

The Bad:

There is no bad. Year of the Dragon is a masterpiece.

Michael Cimino's Legacy:

By the time Year of the Dragon came out, Michael Cimino was all but a pariah in Hollywood. Ostensibly taking cue's from Stanley Kubrick, Cimino developed a work ethic not unlike Kubrick's. While Kubrick developed this reputation and earned it with hard work, "decades" of film-work, and much success, Cimino adopted the "perfectionist/authoritarian" approach to filmmaking early, but still saddled by producers who still had control over the production, much like the way Clint Eastwood did on Cimino's directing debut Thunderbolt & Lightfoot. But that would all change when Cimino directed The Deer Hunter in 1978, taking home 5 Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture, which only fed Cimino's massive ego. When he was given more power and more freedom, he made Heavens Gate, which he released in 1980. Massively over-schedule and over-budget, the films success would have justified at least some of that. But instead, it was a massive flop, resulting in United Artists downfall, and Michael Cimino being ostracized from Hollywood. It would take a full 5 years for him to get another film made, which was 1985's Year of the Dragon. This time around he would have limits, and a budget. He would only go on to direct 3 more films after this, each with varying degrees of critical reception - none matching his Oscar glory of '78, before fading away into obscurity in 1996 after his last film.

Mickey Rourke and writer/director Michael Cimino on set

I fully believe he was as talented as Stanley Kubrick, and I believe that had he not been such a problematic individual and a megalomaniac, he would have continued making quality films without the status of being difficult. He came from an era of filmmaking where the director was the star, much like William Friedkin and Francis Ford Coppola, knowing no bounds or limits when it came to making something he wanted. His downfall though came at a time when studio's realized the error of their ways by fully allowing this, and effectively putting an end to it. It's a shame his career was overshadowed by his arrogance and overindulgence because honestly, he's one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation.

There are many great articles you can find all about Michael Cimino, who became known as more of a mystery than for his films, especially in his later years. This one in particular written by Steve Garbarino in 2000 for Vanity Fair is the best of the bunch, so if you get a chance, do yourself a favor and read it.

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2010/04/ciminos-final-cut-200203

Who knows how far his talent would have taken him? Personally, I can only say I've seen The Deer Hunter and Year of the Dragon out of the 7 films he's directed. Despite it's insurmountable controversy, Heaven's Gate has since become a cult classic, embraced by cinephiles and critics alike, and considered by many to be a masterpiece, and I look forward to giving that one a watch at some point. I don't ever hear about how good the last 3 films are he made, so I'm going into them a little weary. But that's also what happened with Year of the Dragon, so I guess you never know.

How to Watch it:

Here in the U.S., we've only ever gotten a single DVD release back in 2005. Thankfully it is in widescreen and does come with a commentary track by Michael Cimino. To date, we still haven't gotten a Blu Ray, which would really give this visually stunning film the makeover it deserves. I am aware of a Region Free Spanish Blu Ray you can get, but my Sony player is notorious for not allowing certain Region Free releases to work. You can stream it on Amazon and also buy it digitally there. VHS and Laserdisc are other options. But really, this film begs to be seen in widescreen. It's the only way to do the film any justice.

1.11.2017

80's Thriller Throwback: Dreamscape


1984
Directed by: Joseph Ruben
Category: Thriller

I'd always been mildly curious about this one, and when I came across it while browsing films to stream, I figured this would be a good one to add to my 80's thriller binge.

Alex (Dennis Quaid) is a young man with psychic abilities who uses his abilities to win bets at the race track rather than do anything good with it. He's recruited, rather reluctantly, to help a government agency plant an idea into the head of the United States president through his dreams. But others have a far more sinister agenda. 

Released in 1984, Dreamscape has a pretty stellar cast, and a very nostalgic 80's feel to everything, giving it one of it's greatest attributes. If this film was made today, it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining or well-made. You can guarantee it would be an overly done CGI mess, with no character to it at all. Using primitive effects techniques for the many special effects sequences give the film a rather unintentional charm. Some of these sequences work well, while others do not. Unfortunately it's with these dated effects sequences Dreamscape garners most of it's reputation. Most people just think of that specific element rather than the story itself.

Dreamscape delves deep into the world of dreams and psychics, and sets it all within a political thriller involving the president. An employee with a very high security clearance wants to use these psychic abilities to do some terrible things to the president, so he recruits another psychic who has no trouble using it for evil, to do the job. When Alex and his mentor Dr. Novotny (Max Von Sydow) discover this, they use a new technology that's just been invented so Alex can infiltrate the presidents dream state and warn him of their plans.

I wish I could say I loved it, because I really wanted to. But for me, this was just okay. Joseph Ruben's direction is pretty uninspiring, giving the film an overall underwhelming look. If the story had at least been engaging, then it would have easily passed, but it's just kind of okay and blandly structured. A lot of it comes off as a bit uninteresting to be quite frank. Too bad too, because there's a really good film in here somewhere. It's a fascinating idea, and the thriller aspect of it works fairly well, until the dream sequences come into play and they just kind of take you out of the moment. This was 1984, so effects work wasn't really all that primitive, but it just looks so bad here. I don't know if that's attributed to director Joseph Ruben, or the effects producer, but they just don't work and come off as silly, when the intent was to be scary.

Let's take a look at this terribly misleading poster art by legendary poster artist Drew Struzan. It immediately invokes a sort of "adventure" vibe, and that couldn't be anymore from the truth. I feel it's really this poster that pulls you in, only to be let down by what the film ultimately becomes. Why is he holding a torch like he's an archaeologist or treasure hunter deep in some catacombs? While the images littered throughout the poster are indeed in the film, the poster makes them look cooler than they really are.

Not a terrible way to spend an hour and a half of your time, but you could spend it on something better.

1.10.2017

Bad Movie Night Presents: Hercules (1983)






























1983
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Category: Fantasy

When I finally got my hands on Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, I was instantly reminded of why I grew up on Cannon films. Their insanely eclectic output touched on nearly every genre, and their particular budget limits and turnaround times lent for some pretty amazing low-budget, grindhouse, trash that has never been able to be duplicated today. Sure a lot of them were thought of as terrible at the time, like Superman IV and Masters of the Universe, but they've since become cult classics and dearly reveled for their cheesiness, rather than abhorred by them. And when filmgeeks like myself hear of the projects that were in the works that never got off the ground, like the live action Spider-Man film that was set to be directed by Albert Pyun, well our nerd brains light up with excitement. One of the films touched up on this insanely entertaining doc was this early 80's low-budget Italian production under the Cannon Films banner. One scene in particular stood out while they flashed a bunch of random scenes from this film. It was of Hercules fighting with a bear, grabbing him by his tail and throwing him up in the air with such force that he literally flies into space. I'm telling you, that image left us all howling with laughter and that was catalyst for me tracking this film down. My only hope going in was that the rest of the film could somehow live up to that one scene. Little did I know that the "bear flung into space" scene was nothing compared to the sheer insanity of the rest of the film.

It's hard to tell what was going through the minds of those involved in making this. Initially you think it's a family friendly film, and really, it does play out like a film you'd see on TV on a Saturday afternoon. Yet every female in this is practically nude. I mean, it is technically PG, but I'm kind of shocked at how skimpy and sexy every female's costume is in this. They're so skimpy in fact that they leave very little to the imagination. But hey, I'm not complaining.

Essentially, writer/director Luigi Cozzi (Star Crash, Contamination) takes the very basic elements of the Hercules story, and takes huge leaps and bounds with the myth and legend, completely turning it on it's head. The directions he takes this story is nuts! Not being satisfied with the typical legend as we already know it, he mixes in elements of steampunk, robots, lasers, outer space, and last but not least, SCIENCE!!

This was produced by none other than Golan-Globus Productions, or as they're better known as Cannon Films back in 1983, right at the start of their dominance in the low-budget market. I don't know about you, but for me, just knowing that this is a Cannon film makes it all the more better. This entire thing carries that very specific Cannon quality, and it's a quality I worship and love to death. But it's also surprising in the sense that most of the practical effects work is actually really impressive. There are real sets, and shockingly large at that. They implore numerous composite shots to varying degrees of success, but that's also a large part of this film's charm. In the hands of someone who's not a master in dealing with large effects such as this, the film can suffer by looking cheap. Thankfully writer/director Luigi Cozzi, while no master, does a competent job for the most part. The insane effects that do work, work really well, and the parts that don't, look cheesy, silly, and cheap, but still in a very fun way. So in an odd way, the good and the bad both work in it's favor. I think what tends to get overlooked (probably because of the cheesy dubbing) is the effects work, and the grande scale they tried to take it. If you pay closer attention to it, you might be impressed.

Lou Ferrigno was just perfect casting with this. The fact that his voice was dubbed only adds to the films immense entertainment value. We all  know he needed it because of his speech impediment due to his lack of hearing, but even if he didn't, it made the experience all the more genuine. What really fascinated me though was how Ferrigno exudes so much charisma through his body language. Even though his voice is dubbed, you sense the genuine talent in his facial expressions and movements. You get that despite his speech impediment, the guy can still act and act well. Physically and emotionally, he is the perfect Hercules. Audibly, some other guy provides the voice. But let's be honest, the guy is a monster. He's huge, and his perfect physique fits the role well. He acts like a Hercules, but most importantly, he looks like a Hercules.

It's not only Ferrigno who gets dubbed though. Being an entire Italian production, even though there are actors littered throughout from various countries, like Austria's Sybil Danning, the entire cast is dubbed. I actually enjoyed this. It really adds to the camp/cheesy factor, and hey, it must have made Lou feel good that he wasn't the only one.

We had no idea what to expect going into this. All we hoped for was a good time, and Hercules delivered that, in spades. It's hilarious, strange, awesome, and we constantly yelled "WTF?", "Huh?", or "You've got to be kidding me" on a regular basis. It was such a blast, filled with so much spirit and passion, resulting in one of the cheesiest and most fun experiences we've ever had. This film is so much fun, and such a trip. I couldn't imagine anyone seeing this and not being completely blown away and enthralled by it's endearing camp factor. If you don't end up enjoying this, then you just don't know what a good time is.

Director Luigi Cozzi and Ferrigno reteamed 2 years later for the sequel The Adventures of Hercules II, and we couldn't be anymore excited. If it's only half as entertaining as this one, we're in for a real treat.



How to see it:

Hercules and The Adventures of Hercules II are available on a DVD Double-Feature from MGM that you can easily get for around $5. They were initially released on VHS in those big MGM Big Boxes, which is how I saw it. You can also stream it for $2.99 on Amazon. There are blu ray's out there that were released outside of the U.S. as part of The Cult Movie Collection from Digital Classics that are not cheap.

1.07.2017

Eyes Wide Shut; a Long and Tedious Affair


1999
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Category: Drama

I can truthfully say I have been a lifelong Kubrick fan. I remember being a kid barely cracking 10 and loving Full Metal Jacket when it first came out. And I remember always being scared to death of The Shining whenever it would pop up on television back in the 80's. 2001 still remains one of my Top 5 All-Time favorites, and A Clockwork Orange is one I revisit often. So when I heard he was coming out of a 12 hiatus to direct a a suspense film called Eyes Wide Shut, I got excited. Really excited. So my 23 year old self took my butt to the theater to see another Stanley Kubrick masterpiece. Or so I thought.

Needless to say I didn't enjoy it......at all. I found it to be dull and boring. That was nearly 20 years ago and really, that's all I can remember from that experience. Recently I came across a documentary about Kubrick and when it came to Eyes Wide Shut, some of the production crew were discussing it very fondly, and that Kubrick was so passionate about it, and that while it didn't do well initially, people have grown to love it in the preceding years. When I brought it up recently on Facebook, there were a few who shared the same sentiments, so I was even more intrigued. I figured 18 years was a good gap between viewings. Maybe my 40 year old self, older and wiser and maybe even more matured, could appreciate it more this time around?

Not at all. There was so much I didn't like about this particular film (most notably Kidman's terrible performance) that I don't even know where to begin....but I'll try. Let's start with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. We all remember that at the time, they were huge, and the Hollywood couple. When it was reported that they would both be costarring in Kubrick's first film in 12 years, it was a huge deal. Their star power was insurmountable. However, revisiting this I was struck at just how much I did not like Kidman's acting, at least in this. Oh man, what was going on with her? Her American accent felt off, forced and completely false, while her delivery was even worse. I'm sure I can attribute that to Stanley Kubrick's direction, but holy hell why did every single line of dialogue have to take forever to droll out of her mouth? Did you ever notice in this film that she can't just speak or answer a question without repeating the question that the person asked her first and then replying, but in a very sloooooow waaaaaaaaay. It doesn't help that there's nothing interesting about her character either. She's portrayed in such a negative way that you find it hard to identify with her in the first place. She's extremely confrontational, and takes any reply as an attack.

Tom Cruise fared better. He's not totally unlikable, but much like with Kidman, the way it takes forever for any line of dialogue to come out of his mouth, and how half of that is devoted to his body language before he can get a word out really gets aggravating. The way these sentences and conversations between characters are structured make things take 10 times longer than they need to be. Nobody ever says what they mean, and no conversation is ever fully fleshed out. You get bits and pieces of a sentence, but they're never fully spoken audibly in nearly every single conversation between any two characters. It's so odd.

The film focuses a great deal of it's running time to dialogue, with a great deal of it not ever delivering anything with impact. There are many long conversations that will bore you to death. One sticks in my mind almost immediately. It's towards the beginning, after they attended the fancy party and are in bed while Alice (Kidman) smokes a joint, only to become aggressive, confrontational and defensive, resulting in her telling her husband Bill about a moment years earlier where she actually considered cheating on him. It's this very conversation that ultimately becomes the catalyst for the story. Everything that follows is a direct result of this shocking (to Bill anyway) bit of information. Basically she laughs at Bill's (Tom Cruise) confident stance that she would never cheat on him. So she tells him that she thought about it once, and that moment would have been the perfect time to do it. She didn't actually do it, she only thought about it. But this reveal shatters his world and his trust, thus sending his emotional state into a downward spiral. The funny thing is that while she was telling this extremely long and slow story about this sailor she wanted to fuck, the slow buildup was so drawn out that you expected the reveal to be much bigger, and when it's done, you kind of sit there thinking "That's it? She thought about fucking him but didn't?".







AestheticallyI personally found this to be Kubrick's least interesting film visually. I know he had a lot of hidden meaning, nods and messages littered throughout. In fact, we could spend the entire post debating on all those things. There are many articles and blog posts devoted to that already though. But I've always felt Kubrick had a very specific visual style. He's always implored the long steadicam shots, but he always mixed it with some really amazing tracking and still shots. Here though he seems to stick primarily to the steadicam for nearly everything, and it really lacks the punch nearly all of his previous films had. Here it comes off as lazy, or even worse, dull. Even the city shots, where I thought he could really do something great, were just as bad. And that's another thing. Whether you knew it going in or not beforehand, you can just tell that that was not really New York City. It just felt and looked fake.

Kubrick has never been a flashy director, but there was always a consistency to his style. Every film he directed carried a lot of his very specific trademark techniques, one of them being the long steadicam shots. I felt with this film in particular, especially with it's New York City setting, there were prime opportunities for some really great camerawork. But I didn't find any. There were moments where the camera would do a pan shot with the steadicam rather than a dolly and it just didn't look or feel the same. It comes off as rushed and improvised instead of planned. The secret society house sequence is another missed opportunity. It's in this sequence where the film takes a big detour, and looks and feels unlike anything in the rest of the film. He utilizes a consistent color them throughout the film, but changes that drastically when we get to this part of the film. Again, I had hoped this would mark a change in technique for the film, giving him an opportunity to implore some different camerawork, but sadly that's not the case. We are again treated to long repeated steadicam shots as Bill wanders through the house.





I think that had the film been at least visually arresting, I could have let it slide. The fact that it's slow isn't enough for me to dislike a film. I love slow films. In fact, they're some of my favorites. But if they're going to be slow, or more precisely....boring, then they need to at least be interesting on a visual level. And this film is not, which made the experience all the more torturous and tedious to the nth degree. We all know that nothing happens in a Kubrick film unless he specifically wants it that way. He's one of the only filmmakers to have total control over every aspect of his films. Or maybe he's the only one? So I have to wonder just what he had in mind and what he was thinking with this film, because while it does carry a lot of very specific Kubrick elements, it's still comes off as very un-Kubrick in many ways.

Another gripe I have that I just can't shake off is how we as the viewer are not given a lot of information. There are a lot of unanswered questions. For example, the secret society. I don't necessarily need to have everything spelled out for me, but "some" information on this whole thing would have been nice. Even after the film is over, all we know is that it's a very secret society that likes to host orgy's while masked and cloaked. We are told that they are very important and prominent figures in New York society, but that's about all the info we ever get. What's frustrating to me is that this secret society plays a huge role in the film, yet we don't know anything about them. I won't bore you with my many questions, but a few of them are: What is their purpose? Why do they resort to murder to keep their secret if they're just orgy's?

I guess the word that best describes my experience with this film is tedious. There are moments when I think hard about it and I want to call it pretentious, but that just wouldn't be fair to Stanley Kubrick. At least to me. It makes me sad that he ended his career with this film, instead of going out on a high note. As I watched the film, I couldn't help but feel that there was so much fat that could have been trimmed out to help move it along a little smoother. I constantly found myself staring at the running clock on my blu ray player since I knew it was 2 hours and 39 minutes, I wanted to see how much more I had to endure before it was over. That's never a good sign.

1.06.2017

The Minds Eye Film Review


2015
Directed by: Joe Begos
Category: Horror

This is a film that has been mentioned often in various groups I follow. So I'd been intrigued by it for a little while. It also helps that it has a pretty rad cover. Before I paid my $5 to rent it I decided to do a quick search online for reviews to see what the general consensus was before going in. To my surprise, it was decidedly mixed right down the middle. People either loved or hated it. There was no middle ground. Those that loved it often referred to it as the Scanners sequel we never got (prominently displayed on the poster), while others called it a cheap Scanners ripoff. So I knew going in it could go either way. I was curious myself to see what camp I would fall under. I will give them kudos for the great poster art though. It's not very often you see a poster that more than likely will be better than the actual movie. These days, it's always the other way around.


The Good:

Impressive effects. If there's anything that's going to stand out about this film, it will be it's use of some pretty stellar practical effects work, something that is becoming more and more a rarity. While they do use some CGI, it's done minimally, and when mixed with the practical stuff, you barely notice.

Solid casting. Despite not knowing any of these actors, except for Larry Fessenden, they do a fine job in their roles, especially Graham Skipper in the lead, who was also the lead in Almost Human. He has an uncanny ability to do a ton of screaming and not look silly doing it. Because you know, when you're trying to make someone's head explode using telekinesis, you do a lot of screaming too.

Psychokinetic movies are awesome. Really, when was the last time we got one? We of course always think of Scanners, Scanner Cop, Carrie, and maybe The Fury, but when was the last one we got? They seem to be an all too rare thing and that little sub-genre hasn't been tapped into nearly as often as it should. If there's anything this film proves, it's that these types of films are a dying breed and could certainly use a freshening up from time to time.

The Bad:

One of the things that I notice almost immediately with this film is that while it's supposed to be a throwback to this specific sub-genre, and it takes place in the early 90's, it just doesn't look or feel enough like it. You could easily say this film takes place in the current time, rather than immediately being able to identify that it's supposed to take place in the late 80's or early 90's. I think a lot of that goes into how Joe Begos directs. None of it is stylized, and most of it is shot using handheld. If he really wanted to give it an 80's or 90's look, he easily could have done so with a much more streamlined visual approach, instead of shooting it the way most films are shot today.

Final Thoughts:

The Minds Eye is a good little film. It wasn't awesome, but the effects work in the second half completely make up for the first half, which tended to be a bit slow while setting things up. But trust me, if you can get through it, you'll be handsomely rewarded in the second half where it gets crazy and gory as hell with some outstanding practical effects work. And that's really where the film is going to grab most people, with the effects work. While the acting, writing and direction aren't bad, those won't be the elements of the film that people will walk away remembering. It'll be the badass head explosions and whatnot. The ending is pretty killer, especially for a low-budget feature like this.

This is only the second feature film from Canadian director Joe Begos. His first was Almost Human, an homage to 80's horror films. Much in the way he directed that one, he tries to give this one another "throwback" vibe by setting this one in the early 90's. He does infuse some cool neon purple and blue colors from time to time, but overall these end up just being little touches here and there. Even the 80's style synch score seems to come and go, not really leaving any kind of an impact. Other than that, The Minds Eye doesn't have a dated quality, which would have really pushed that vibe so much further. It constantly feels like it's missing something, and that's probably what it was. I think had a much stronger director been behind the camera, it would have turned out a bit better. I personally wouldn't call it a throwback, so I wish people would stop calling it that. It kind of tarnishes that sub-genre by comparing this film to some of those great earlier ones by De Palma and Cronenberg.

It's definitely worth a watch, and there are things to enjoy about it, like it's effects work. More than likely though, you won't love it. It doesn't quite hit the mark like it could have, which is a shame because it has a lot going for it, and I admire them for what they were trying to accomplish.

Never Too Young To Die Comes to Blu-Ray!

This morning couldn't have started off any better. What a great bit of news to really get the day going. I just learned via Rupert Pumpkin Speaks instagram page that one of my all-time favorite films is FINALLY going to be getting the Blu Ray treatment thanks to Shout! Factory. As you may or may not know, Never Too Young To Die (1986) has only ever gotten a VHS and Laserdisc release here in the U.S., I'm talking a full 30 years ago. In that 3 decade span, there has never been an official DVD release of this Bad Movie Night masterpiece. So for filmgeeks like us, this is a huge fucking deal.

If you follow my blog, then you know I'm pretty obsessed with this film. It's hands-down one of the best, most entertaining and badass WTF?/Bad Movie Night films ever made. I can't even comprehend what the actual intentions were when they were making this film. It's literally insane, but in the best possible way. Like, this is the perfect film to gather your friends for, drink some beer, and have a howling good time at this. A good drinking game would be to take a big swig every time someone in the group says "What the fuck??". Because it will happen often. Trust me.

I have very fond memories of this film of my mom renting it for me at one of the local mom-and-pop video stores back in '86 or '87. And it took me decades to remember it and track it down again. It never popped up on my radar in all that time because home video was the only way to ever come across it. When I revisited it may years later (decades) as an adult, it literally blew my mind. It's like a crazy cross between James Bond, The Road Warrior, a high school teen film, and set in the glorious 1980's. It's so fucked up and amazing! Gene Simmons plays a hermaphrodite lounge-singing super villain named Velvet Von Ragnar who wants to poison the water supply to.............do something. I can't remember exactly because there's so much going on. Needless to say, the high school gymnast son (John Stamos) of a secret agent that just died decides to follow in his fathers footsteps to track down this super villain, and with the help of a sexy secret agent (Vanity), they intend to stop him/her. And folks, that's barely scratching the surface. This film rules so hard in so many ways because it's unintentionally hilarious and awesome at the same time.

No other details at this time other than a street date of April 11, 2017. I'll be happy if this is at least in widescreen. That would be such a drastically different experience for me out of all the times I've seen it. But some extras like interviews or behind the scenes stuff would be amazing. Stay tuned......



1.05.2017

Bond Turns Badass: License To Kill

After having been completely enthralled by The Living Daylights, I was more than excited to dig into this one knowing that both star Timothy Dalton and director John Glen would be returning. The only thing that could make it even better was if Robert Davi was in it. Oh wait!! He IS in it, and he's the Bond villain! This just became amazing.

I don't think I have ever been as excited going into a Bond film as I was with this one. Right off the bat, there is automatically so much to love going into it. Dalton and Glen reteaming after their kickass previous film, Robert Davi coming on board as the Bond Villain, and a whole mess of notable faces filling out the cast, most notably, a very young and thin Benicio Del Toro as a bad guy, and Wayne Newton as televangelist. I still struggle to understand why he was even in this to begin with. If you've seen it, you'll understand why. This was also released in the summer of 1989, which was a fantastic year for film, but also, as you will read later, the films ultimate demise.



It's really hard to top The Living Daylights, so I guess I had that mentality going in. But I was still excited. It was impossible not to with the talent involved. License to Kill was good, but it wasn't great. In a weird way, a lot of it feels rushed. The film again retains the same dark, violent tone that the previous installment carried, but pushes the envelope even further. The violence is brutal and bloody, and the action while not nearly as prominent as you expect, at least until the third act, is pretty badass. The fight scenes, chases and shootouts are all pulled off effectively, but there's just no "wow" factor to them. The film's big action comes in the final act, and it involves a big rig. I'm kind of conflicted about this because while it was indeed awesome, it was also highly absurd and silly, with the big rig doing a bunch of unrealistic stunts that, while awesome, come off as cartoony, which kind of took me out of the experience a bit in that the film is a straight-forward hard-edged, bloody, serious and violent thriller, only to have cartoony action take center stage in the final act.

I think for me personally, the best thing about this installment is it's cast. Dalton again proves to be a pretty great 007, but it's Robert Davi as the villain that steals the show. He's so underrated as a badass. He's one of the hardest and consistently working actors out there, and whether he's playing a bad guy or a cop (his specialty!), he always gives the film a significant kick of quality. Around this time, Davi was smack in the middle of his busiest and most prominent featured roles. He had just come off of 2 supporting roles in Action Jackson and Die Hard the year before, and continued his streak with films like Peacemaker, Maniac Cop 2 and Predator 2 in 1990, and then delivering another standout villain in the HIGHLY underrated and completely enjoyable The Taking of Beverly Hills in '91. The guy is prolific, and always delivers the goods. He always seems to pop up in some of my favorite DTV action films, one of them being an obscure little gem I discovered last year called No Contest, which is pretty much a paint-by-numbers remake of Die Hard, only with a female heroin, and with Davi playing the role of Sgt. Al Powell. It's so great and if you love low-budget action done well, track it down.



One of the amusing aspects of the casting was seeing the other Special Agent Johnson from Die Hard also have a supporting role in this film, character actor Grand L. Bush. Carey Lowell was hot as a Bond babe, and seeing Del Toro was a hoot, but the one I really can't wrap my head around is Wayne Newton's small "blink and you'll miss it" cameo in the third act. For some reason this bit of casting always stuck with me when I would come across this on tv back in the 90's. I never actually watched the film back then, but seeing him randomly in scenes always gave me the impression that he was the villain in this, since he played the villain in The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine just a year later. So it was a big surprise to find out that he had nothing but a less than 2 minute cameo in the entire thing.


License to Kill had a lot of good going for it, only to be saddled by a release date that would ultimately prove to be it's doom. I'm talking about the summer of 1989, or as it's often referred to as the "First Summer of the Blockbusters". With summer releases like Tim Burton's Batman, Ghostbusters II, Lethal Weapon 2, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this little action film just didn't stand a chance, resulting in Dalton's exit from the role of 007, and putting the brakes on the James Bond franchise for the next 6 years.

I really enjoyed this one a lot. It's not as strong as The Living Daylights, but still a helluva lot better than a lot of the later Roger Moore films. I think these 2 Dalton films get unfairly overlooked, because he wrongly gets associated with bringing the franchise to a screeching halt, which just isn't true. If anything, he reinvigorated the franchise with his tough, physical and serious portrayal of Bond, only to be poorly judged for it. As I continue to dig through the exhausting franchise, I've discovered that the team-up of director John Glen and star Timothy Dalton gave us 2 of the best James Bond films in the entire franchise.

1.04.2017

Documentary Dynamite: Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story

Documentary Dynamite is a new series I will be putting some focus on in the future on this website. I've only just realized that we watch a lot of documentaries, most related to films and movies, but rarely do I ever discuss or spotlight them, so this will be a new and regular series (maybe weekly?) on robotGEEK'S Cult Cinema.


2015
Directed by: Eric Dow
Category: Documentary

I had actually never heard of this documentary until I stumbled upon it while browsing on Hulu Plus recently. I had just finished the TMNT doc, Turtle Power, when Hulu suggested this as something I would also be interested in. And they were right. Much like most of you I nearly lost my shit when I saw the short film Batman: Dead End for the very first time years ago. It was such an adrenaline rush of awesome in something that was just a few short minutes long. Here was the very first (and only!) time I saw a real spot-on interpretation of Batman. No padded suit. No weird character design that looked nothing like Batman from the comics. This was as if Batman had literally jumped off the pages. The guy who played him was such an inspired choice because he literally wore tights, and pulled it off amazingly well. Every inch of the Batman costume design was flawless. And oh yea, seeing Predator and a Xenomorph battle it out with him was also cool.

Little did I know there was a story behind that remarkable little short film. And that story revolves around a guy by the name of Sandy Collora, an effects artist and commercial director who set out to put his stamp in the film world in hopes of landing a real directing gig. This would be his calling card if you will, and if all worked according to plan, he would move onto bigger and better things.

This was a really interesting and engaging documentary. In fact, it was pretty amazing. The fact that they were able to spread it out to a full hour and a half running time shows you just how much material they had to work with. And trust me, there's a lot. This documentary exhaustively details every little aspect of getting that short film made, from it's inception all the way to it's thunderous reception at Comic Con and the years that followed, including it's endlessly bootlegged legacy.

This doc digs so far deep into so may areas that I'm surprised they were able to fit it all into just an hour and a half, but that's the power of good editing. Writer/Director Eric Dow not only gives you insight into the entire production of that monumental short film, but also of the guy responsible for it, Sandy Collora, who quite frankly, is a character all on his own.

Clark Bartram as Batman (center) and writer/director Sandy Collora (right)
Most people thought Dead End would skyrocket his career, but it didn't. In fact, it did the exact opposite. Why you ask? Well, there are several reasons, but the most important being Sandy Collora himself. One could call him arrogant, and a tyrant, and they wouldn't be wrong. The guy admits it himself. There's definitely an "I'm the boss" mentality to his attitude, and he fully admits that his arrogance is probably what prevented him from moving up in Hollywood. He states that while he was working for a short time at Stan Winston Studios, he witnessed James Cameron on set of  The Abyss, and he saw his work ethic, how he demanded everyone's attention and respect, and he basically ran his production with an iron fist, and was completely blown away and captivated by that idea. James Cameron was in charge and he admired that idea. So when it came time to do his short film, he adopted a lot of Cameron's sensibilities behind the camera, as well as off the set, and well, he quickly developed a reputation as being difficult and somewhat of a tyrant. He acknowledges this, as do his coworkers and friends, and admittedly regrets a lot of it. I will say this. The guy is extremely confident, and that rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and comes off as cocky and arrogant. When his close friends admit this much, well that says a lot about his character.

There is so much information to this documentary that it's impossible to fit it all in in this post. Like, did you know Sly Stallone was actually in talks to star as Batman? He was literally having lengthy conversations with Sandy Collora about it and even said YES at one point, only to literally back out in the last second. It's things like that that make this documentary so engaging. There's so much to the story we don't know and so much revealed that kind of leave you floored.

Andrew Koenig as The Joker
Collora never could break free from the stigma he created for himself. When no projects ever materialized, he decided to write and direct his own and first feature film called Hunter Prey in 2010, 6 years after Dead End. It was this very documentary that actually convinced me to finally see it, as I'd come across it before but never jumped the gun on it, which I will dig deeper into with it's own review soon. He did end up making another Batman short film called Worlds Finest the following year after Dead End. This time he went a little lighter and bigger, pairing Batman with Superman as they battle Lex Luthor. It was okay. It never floored me the way Dead End did, and it didn't seem to be put together very well in terms of story and editing. It's lacking.....something. I just can't put my finger on it. I guess I'm not the only one since it never got the same recognition and fame that Dead End received. It's never regarded as one of the best, the way his first one is.

Much like a lot of you too, the first several times viewing Batman: Dead End was on a badly bootlegged DVD. It wasn't until years later that it started popping up on the internet more frequently, and in much better digital quality. Today it's regarded as one of the first fan-films that really took that fan-film concept to the mainstream, and showed people what you could do with some vision, creativity and passion.

Update:
It seems that this has been taken off Hulu Plus since the last time I checked. However, you can still stream it on Amazon. 

Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story is currently available to stream on Hulu Plus and Amazon.