Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Universal Soldier: Regeneration

Holy shit guys, I just saw the new Universal Soldier movie and it was incredible.  Everything about it was done so well.  I’m calling this the benchmark for what all action movies should strive for today and it was even reminiscent of the glory days which makes John Hyams my new favorite director.  I mean you could actually understand what was going on during the fight scenes which seems to be an impossible task for new action.  There’s very little (if any?) CGI which is huge in my book.  The story is lean and mean too so you’re not gonna get lost.  It’s about a mad Russian dude that takes over the old Chernobyl nuclear plant and threatens to blow it up releasing tons and tons of radioactive material into the air if certain political prisoners aren’t released.  It’s as simple as that man.  You don’t even really need to see the previous Universal Soldier movies to enjoy or understand this one, it works well on its own.

Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski was perfect as the bad guy.  He’s a big dude and he has that Arnold Schwarzenegger thing going for him where if he plays someone that’s supposed to be an emotionless robotic brute then he’ll go far.  He’s an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter so doing an action picture like this is perfect for him.  His stoicism transfers through the screen so well that you can’t help but feel intimidated by this unstoppable machine.

Dolph Lundgren is really good too.  He puts a lot of human emotion into a character that’s essentially supposed to be a robot and not think.  He has a couple of philosophical speeches that really make you feel for him.  His face has gotten so interesting to look at too.  Gone are the cute boyish looks of Rocky IV.  Now he has a menacing weathered visage to match his terrifyingly huge body.

But you know who stole the show?  Van Damme.  I know that might sound odd because he stars in it but he’s actually only in maybe half the movie.  And he has become a real good actor guys.  He proved it with JCVD and he’s just as good here.  The last half hour is where he really shines because it’s non-stop action and he looks fucking badass as ever.  He may look old in the face but he can still move.

I loved everything about this movie, especially the action scenes.  I loved the way they were staged, shot and edited.  It’s cool that Peter Hyams (John’s father) was the DP on this and that John edited it.  You can tell that they took great care with the material and wanted to make it the best that they could and not something that’s just churned out.  There’s even one part that’s reminiscent of Children of Men (or even Hard Boiled but more Children of Men) where it’s one long shot of Van Damme going from room to room killing bad guy after bad guy mercilessly and it’s jaw dropping.  The opening scene is fucking crazy too and involves an awesome car chase. 

After seeing both of John Hyam’s fucking fantastic documentaries about MMA and bull riding I knew he had talent but no idea that he could make the effortless and perfect jump to features.  I really hate that technically this is a B movie because no one is gonna give this a chance.  Everyone’s gonna think (myself included), “another Universal Soldier?  That can’t possibly be good”.  But I’m tellin’ ya everything about it is A quality.  It’s way better than almost every action film put out in theaters in the last I-don’t-even-know-how-many years.  See it guys.  It blew my mind way the hell out of here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Why anyone would want to make a movie based on the Nirvana single, “Sliver”, I have no idea.  And why they would make it totally different from what Kurt Cobain sang about I don’t know either.  I guess this is how at least one person interpreted the song. 

This is the very next film Sharon Stone did after Basic Instinct and it’s another sexy thriller (that would make sense as those are the only kinds of movies that I watch these days).  She plays Carly Norris, a recent divorcee that moves into a new apartment building.  What she doesn’t know is that the whole place is rigged with cameras that catch and record everything that every tenant does in their private apartments.  The owner of the building is Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin (Backdraft, Fair Game (1995))) and he puts the moves on Carly to try and get her in the sack.  But another guy, Jack Lansford (Tom Berenger (Major League, The Substitute)), also keeps trying to pick her up. 

Even though this has the makings of a love triangle it actually doesn’t happen.  Carly can’t stand Jack because he’s conceited and thinks his writing (he’s a writer) is hot shit.  Jack also likes to pretend to attack her while she’s jogging in the park.  Now I’m no Casanova but that doesn’t sound charming.  Maybe if he talked to her like a normal human being and sent her some flowers or some shit then he might have a chance.  But he doesn’t so Carly goes for Zeke instead.  There.  Love triangle over.  But Zeke is a creep and a half.  He looks like a vampire with his slicked back hair, ogling eyes and smug grin.  He thinks he’s hot shit too but displays it in a less gaudy way so he looks like less of an asshole next to Jack. 

At first I couldn’t understand why Carly was going for this guy.  Sure he seems nice on the surface and maybe he’s cute looking (I think he’s kinda ugly personally but the people in this movie argue otherwise), but after talking to him for a minute you can tell this guy is a grade A stalker.  He has some creepy/stupid/funny lines like “I like playing games with people who like playing games” and he’s supposed to have this fixation with volcanoes (apparently the film was supposed to open with shots of a volcano) but it’s only brought up once and he says “I’d like to fly into one sometime”.  Carly then asks why and he responds “I don’t know.  It sounds like fun.”  After wooing her with shit like that Carly’s hooked.  It wasn’t until later that I understood what Carly saw in Zeke.

But I think I need to back up for a minute and tell you more about Carly before I continue.  She’s a big time editor that saves the day when things need to be read and edited in like a week or less.  Everyone seems to like her and she even has one of those envious yet goofy secretaries that can’t stop complaining about how boring and bad her life is.  Naturally they have her wear tasteless clothing to make her look like kind of an imbecile.  This is supposed to be the comic relief by the way.  Carly is pretty wholesome and innocent though.  She doesn’t wear a lot of makeup or revealing dresses or anything but Sharon Stone still has some brassy dame left in her to show that she’s a woman that can take care of herself.  You think that she’s looking for a nice easygoing relationship but she’s actually looking for something with an edge and that’s what I realized Zeke brings to the table.  He pushes her limits and she likes that.  For instance there’s a scene where they go out to dinner and Zeke asks if Carly’s wearing the bra and panties that he sent her.  She is but Zeke then asks to see them.  Carly is shy at first but eventually takes her panties off while others in the restaurant watch her.  After she’s done it she has a huge smile on her face that says, “this was fun.  I like to be challenged”.  Unfortunately the whole movie isn’t like this with Zeke upping the ante every time they meet ‘cause I think it would be interesting to see how far Carly would be willing to go.  Instead the whole thing kinda peters out.

Tom Berenger was really good in this and I liked seeing him as an asshole.  He’s not usually this boisterous and it made me appreciate him more.  He was in this a bunch but I thought he could’ve been in it even more.  He helped to break up the drab and very serious scenes between Carly and Zeke.

This is another Joe Eszterhas script and he is the sexy thriller king of writing.  He wrote screenplays for Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Jade and Jagged Edge.  He also gets an executive producer credit for this one.

It’s also worth mentioning that the guy who wrote the book from which this movie is based also wrote Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives.  Too bad this ain’t no Rosemary’s Baby.

The problem is that this movie doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere.  The mystery of several tenants being murdered or committing suicide over the past couple of years shares equal billing with the Zeke and Carly story.  I think it would have been better to focus more on one and have the other take a backseat.  I didn’t really get where the film was going and then when it was over it felt like it ended very abruptly.  There were a bunch of questions that went unanswered and things that the movie did tell you but still weren’t that clear (I don’t want to get into the specifics because I don’t want to give everything away).  Overall I thought this one was kinda boring and unfulfilling. 

Sex Scenes: Two and a half.  Sharon Stone cries during the first one which I don’t quite understand.  The half is because there’s a masturbation scene and also some security camera style sex.

After Sex Scenes: One.  They keep threatening to show William Baldwin’s penis during it but thankfully they don’t.

Strange Cameos: Martin Landau (Ed Wood, North by Northwest) plays Carly’s boss (at least I’m pretty sure that’s who he was supposed to be).

C.C.H. Pounder plays the cop investigating the murders/suicides.  She was in Face/Off and was the one to actually suggest switching faces.  I’ve also seen her in End of Days as Schwarzenegger’s superior officer.  Oh and she was in Avatar too.

Colleen Camp plays Carly’s quirky secretary and she was one of the cops helping McClane in Die Hard With a Vengeance.  You might also know her from some other stuff too like Greedy, My Blue Heaven or Wayne’s World.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Basic Instinct

This is the big one.  Basic fucking Instinct.  I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m jumping to this one now and it’s because it comes next chronologically in my somewhat arbitrary list of sexy thrillers.  This film is famous for two things.  The first is all the nudity and raunchy sex scenes.  The second is the leg crossing (or uncrossing?) scene.  Now both of those things are well and good but the thing is that there’s a fucking crazy story here as well.  This movie is infamous and for a time it was constantly spoofed but I’m not sure how many people have actually seen it and not just fast forwarded to the leg crossing part or the sex scenes.  It’s become a prime example of leftover 80’s excess and pure 90’s cheese.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing but no one seems to care about this one anymore.  I guess in a way it’s sort of good because people were only making fun of it anyway and didn’t take to heart all of the things that it did well.  But fear not ‘cause we’re gonna go through it and see what makes Basic Instinct arguably the best sexy thriller ever made.

An old rock ‘n roll star gets murdered with an ice pick so the cops interview his girlfriend, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone (Casino, The Muse)), to see if she knows anything.  Actually when they go to see her she tells them that she was just fucking him and that’s all.  One of the cops on the case is Nick Curran (Michael Douglas (Disclosure, A Perfect Murder)) and he’s got a shady past because he accidentally shot some tourists so he’s kept on a short leash.  As the case is investigated they discover that Tramell is a writer and in one of her books she wrote about an old rock star getting stabbed to death with an ice pick.  She keeps fucking with the cops, especially Nick, and it looks more and more like she did the murder but they don’t have any hard evidence so they can’t bust her.  And it goes on like that until the credits roll.

The entire cast in this picture is a big part of what makes this such a great movie.  I mean Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone as the leads are pretty perfectly cast but even the other secondary tier and minor characters are good.  This was Jeanne Tripplehorn’s (The Firm, Waterworld) first movie and she plays Nick’s old girlfriend/cop psychiatrist.  Even though it’s unclear I’m going to call her the only good guy girl in this.  She’s sweet but naive because she keeps going out on a limb for Nick while he doesn’t give her much gratitude in return.  George Dzundza (The Deer Hunter, Dangerous Minds) is Nick’s partner Gus and, of course, he’s his only friend.  This is your typical sidekick cop and has all the traits to match.  He’s fat, not as handsome, older, can’t seem to get laid, has much more affection for his partner than his partner has for him, has a nickname for Nick (“hoss”) and is all around kinda goofy.  But he’s also wiser, more experienced and can see the danger that his partner is in while his partner can’t or chooses to ignore it.  I like this guy though because even though he’s supposed to be the cartoony one he’s not nearly as silly as a lot of other action movie partners.  Nick needs Gus because he’s the voice of reason and is loyal to him.  He’s the counterweight to Nick’s maverick behavior.  So chalk one up for “cop partners that aren’t the dumbest characters in the movie”.  And Denis Arndt (S.W.A.T.) as Nick’s Lieutenant is also great.  Sure he ends up yelling a lot of his lines at Nick which is standard for a superior officer type role but there’s something about Arndt’s performance that I really like.  He seems like a real cop and not some guy pretending to be one.  I’m not sure if it’s the way he carries himself or his delivery but it’s interesting that he doesn’t want to pursue Tramell at first because they don’t have anything on her.  But when he does want her investigated he reluctantly and subtly shows Nick that he was wrong and lets him back on the case.  It’s also interesting that he seems genuinely annoyed that Nick keeps getting in the way of the case.  Arndt doesn’t just go into full rage mode at everything Nick does instead he looks pissed as if to say, “c’mon Nick.  Get your shit together.  I actually really want to solve this and it gets hard when you fuck shit up every once in a while”. 

Now for those of you that are Michael Douglas fans then you’ve probably seen this already but if you’re still not a believer then this probably won’t sway you.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s damn good in this but I don’t think it’s his best performance.  That would go to either Gordon Gekko from Wall Street or William Foster from Falling Down.  Two totally different but completely engrossing characters that are both badass and complex.  You both love and hate them which makes them plenty interesting and goddamn fun to watch.  Nick Curran isn’t as an extreme character as either Gekko or Foster.  In fact he’s a fairly simple character.  He likes to drink, do drugs, smoke cigarettes and bang chicks.  The thing is that he tends to do some of these things while on duty and ends up killing innocent civilians as a side effect.  And when you take those things away from him he tends to be on edge.  So Nick starts the movie drug, cigarette, alcohol and sex free but soon those things creep back into his life.  There’s not much else to him.  He had a wife at one point but she killed herself.  No other information is given so it’s something that’s easily forgotten.  All you need to know is that Nick drinks and smokes because it relaxes him.  He does drugs and has sex because they’re fun.  The most difficult and crazy fucking murder case that he’s ever taken on happens to come at a time when he’s given up his vices so the whole situation seems way worse than usual.  Nick really does want to solve the case and catch the bad guy which is why he goes to such extreme lengths (having sex with the possible killer) to figure shit out.  I love him but there isn’t a whole lot there.  Michael Douglas still offers a confidence and testosterone level that makes this character very enjoyable to watch.  I don’t think just anyone could take on this role and elevate it to a more entertaining level like Douglas can and did.

Sharon Stone ironically is also a not very complex character.  For the entire movie the filmmakers want you to think that she’s the killer.  I mean they plant a tiny grain of doubt because there isn’t anything definitive that points to her but you’re watching this piece thinking of Catherine as the killer.  She has a shady past like Nick where they reveal that she might have had something to do with her parents’ deaths and also the murder of a college counselor.  Catherine is a character that you’re gonna hate but damn is she fine.  And that’s what actually made her interesting.  She’s smug as fuck but I still wanted to see her toy with Nick and the rest of the cops.  I wanted to see how these guys were going to react to such an obnoxious arrogant gorgeous asshole.  But the problem that I have is that arrogant is the only way that Stone plays it or was told to play it.  There are only two times when she shows sadness and vulnerability which isn’t enough to show that she’s human.  Not for this movie at least.  In this thing Catherine is like a machine that knows no boundaries or emotions.  There’s only the drive to complete her experiment or book or whatever the fuck it is.  Few characters are colder than Catherine Tramell which may seem kinda odd but seriously, I think the goddamn Terminator acted more human than this broad.  However, just like with Michael Douglas I still think Sharon Stone was great for the role and had a big part in launching the movie into the consciousness of the mainstream.

There’s one other thing that I noticed about Catherine that’s that the people in this movie praise the shit out of her and call her a “devious and diabolical mind” and “brilliant”.  It’s like the movie is acknowledging to itself that it’s such a smart fucking film.  The how-badass-is-he/she part of a picture is always great but this one was kinda funny because it’s like they’re saying, “she’s so smart you won’t believe your eyes.  Just wait for the smartness ‘cause it’s gonna getcha”.   

After reading those last couple of paragraphs I don’t want you to lose faith and think that Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone can’t carry this movie ‘cause they can.  I think their characters aren’t so interesting on their own but put them together and suddenly it works.  Catherine’s constant testing of Nick pushes him and makes for a worthwhile viewing of how their relationship develops.  Any normal person would see that Catherine is evil but Nick can’t stay away.

As I stated before the most infamous scene from the entire picture is the leg crossing from the first interrogation scene.  First of all what kind of interrogation room looks like that?  It’s a huge grey room with these squares all over the walls.  It looks more like a bunker a hundred feet below ground than something you would find in a police station.  But I love the way it looks.  It’s very future-of-the-80’s-ish.  If you’re one of those people that have only seen the two second part where Sharon Stone uncrosses her legs then I would strongly suggest that you watch the entire sequence because it’s incredible.  It’s definitely one of the best scenes in the entire movie.  They made an interrogation without a cop banging some scumbag’s head against a table and without yelling seem unbelievably exciting.  And it’s all about the way it was shot.  This should be a somewhat boring and shorter scene but with the push-ins and the pans and the quick edits it changes it into a totally different beast.  Even if you’re not inclined to watch the whole movie just watch that scene and then tell me you don’t want to know what the fuck is going to happen next.  The lie detector part immediately following the first interrogation scene is also done really well with Catherine looking right at Nick through the TV screens like she’s burning his soul out.  I love that after it’s all over the cops are totally spent while Catherine looks like she never broke a sweat.

Most people know that Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall) directed this and action fans definitely know him.  He’s a fucking great director that makes you feel kinda slimy after watching one of his movies.  He’s balls out and this is certainly no exception.  According to IMDB Verhoeven wanted to be the first to show an erect penis in a non porn big studio mainstream film.  Of course this didn’t happen otherwise that’s what it would be famous for.  But he also wanted the dirtiest sex scenes that he could get away with.  Initially this was rated NC-17 and it took a bunch of re-edits to get it down to R.  That’s not that impressive considering how many films go through the same exact process.  But with this one you can see the NC-17 shining in the distance and I think it’s worth mentioning because it does have that kind of feel to it, that you could be watching something harder than an R picture.  I also think it’s interesting that NC-17 exists at all but we’ll get into that with some other movies later on this list that retained that rating and didn’t re-cut to R.

I also want to mention that this was made by Carolco Pictures.  They’re a helluva studio that put out movies like the Rambos, Lock Up (1989), King of New York, Terminator 2 and Universal Soldier.  I like their style.  Unfortunately Showgirls and Cutthroat Island bankrupted them so they don’t exist anymore.

This film is intense and quite a task to get through.  I don’t mean that it’s hard to watch but there’s so much that you don’t know that you’re gonna feel lost for pretty much the whole thing.  It’s like The Big Sleep of sexy thrillers.  By the end you have no clue who the real killer is or how people are figuring things out ‘n shit.  I still don’t know what the title means.  But the ride was so much fun it doesn’t matter that you’re confused about so many things.  Nick is an easy character to get a hold of but Catherine keeps making your viewing experience more intense by stirring the pot every once in a while.  I was totally exhausted after just skimming the movie over to get some notes for this write up.  I was relieved when the credits finally rolled.  There aren’t any major subplots or other annoyances that this movie gets hung up on so it’s all meat.  It’s the meatiest meat you can get.  I really think you should see it.  It’s sexy and thrilling to the max. 

Sex Scenes: Four.  They’re nicely sprinkled throughout too.  It starts with one, ends with one and the other two are evenly placed.  There are also some extra breasts ‘n asses here and there.

After Sex Scenes: Five and two of them don’t go with the four sex scenes which is kind of interesting.

Strange Cameos: Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park, To Die For) plays a cop and is in the first interrogation scene.  He had just started on Seinfeld too.

Daniel von Bargen’s character isn’t in this very much but his name keeps coming up throughout the film.  Some might know him as the bad guy, Nix, from Lord of Illusions.  Others may recognize him from Seinfeld as George Costanza’s boss.  Apparently he was also in Rising Sun and Broken Arrow but I don’t remember him.

Stephen Tobolowsky has a brief part as a consulting psychiatrist to the cops.  People will forever know him as Ned from Groundhog Day but he’s been in a ton of other stuff including The Glimmer Man where he plays a bad guy.

Jack McGee also has a small but crucial part as a cop that gives Nick some important information.  I recognized him as Roger Moore’s sidekick from The Quest and also as Mickey Ward’s father from The Fighter.  When I looked him up I saw that he was in Breakdown which I do remember so I’m listing that too.

Chelcie Ross plays an irritated cop that doesn’t like Nick.  You might know him as pitcher Eddie Harris from Major League or as Colonel Oats from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

James Rebhorn unfortunately has maybe two lines in this thing but he’s fucking great in anything.  He was in My Cousin Vinny and Independence Day ‘n shit but I know him as the guy that interviews Michael Douglas at Consumer Recreation Services (CRS) in The Game.  Alright, alright I’ll come clean.  I actually recognized him as the Dad from Blank Check.  Whatever man.