Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall Documentary

Too bad this wasn't a feature length doc but it's still great nonetheless.  Never knew he had gotten this bad.  Jesus, he really is the real life Randy "The Ram" Robinson from The Wrestler.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trespass (2011)

So you have this group of thugs that break into Nic Cage and Nicole Kidman’s house.  They’re looking for diamonds ‘cause that’s what Cage deals in but of course shit doesn’t go as planned and…stuff…kind of happens, I guess.

I’ll get right to the point and say that this thing felt very lazy, by the numbers and trite.  It’s almost like the filmmakers were trying to create the blandest thriller they could devise.  The gang that breaks into the house is your typical fare filled out with a leader that appears to be ruthless but doesn’t seem to actually want to hurt anyone, his younger pretty boy brother that’s kinda dumb and gullible, a bulldog that’s hard to keep on the chain in the form of a formidable muscular dude and the leader’s girlfriend/wife that gets scared very easily and panics at the drop of a hat.  None of these characters are interesting or very threatening.  Throughout the whole film they constantly give Cage and his family one last chance to hand the diamonds over but never follow through on actually beating them or torturing them.  Well, Cage gets his hand broken at one point but that’s about it.  And it’s not enough for him to want to fork over the goods.  He’s real stubborn.

Cage is the second most disappointing thing about this picture (I’ll get to the first in a second).  He’s not over the top but I guess that fits because he’s supposed to be a stuffy prick of a business man and not Castor Troy.  And it’s not that Cage shouldn’t go for roles like this but more like he needs to make sure the plot is outrageous enough to engulf the somewhat boring character.  For instance he plays it down in Season of the Witch but it’s about him fighting supernatural creatures during the middle ages so it kinda works out alright.  With this picture it just involves him trying to stay cool under pressure while some incompetent robbers attempt to push him around without much luck.  The gross haircut and needlessly big glasses are nice touches but don’t make up for his middle of the road performance of a middle of the road character.

The greatest disappointment though is Schumacher.  He was doing so well with his new shit like Blood Creek and Twelve, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.  That expert eye that I said he possesses in my Twelve review seems to be absent here.  This one feels more like an inexperienced director’s stab at a thriller.  Instead of cutting the bullshit to leave more meat like he had been doing it’s all bullshit with very little substance to sink your teeth into.  What the fuck was Schumacher thinking?  There’s never a lot of tension, action, suspense or believability that these bad guys are going to do shit.  I haven’t seen all of Schumacher’s films but I have seen over 50% of them and this might be the worst so far. 

This movie can be summed up by saying that it’s an inexcusable waste of Cage and Schumacher’s talents.  And also that it’s just kind of a Panic Room rip off.  I mean I thought Panic Room was kinda lame too (with the exception of Dwight Yoakam, I would love to see more movies with him as the villain) and this is a worse version of the same idea. 

It ain’t no 8MM (that was a pretty weird and cool picture) or Batman Forever (this one gets a lot of flak but I think it’s a lot of fun and really not that much worse than Batman Returns).  It’s Uninspired: The Movie.  Hopefully this is only a hiccup for Schumacher and he’ll get back into the groove with his next film.  As for Cage, he definitely has some great movies left in him (or at least great performances) and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down either.  I doubt Schumacher and Cage will cross paths again but if they do, of course, I’ll be the first in line to check it out.  I still want to see Falling Down 2.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

King of New York

I love King of New York (big surprise, right?).  It’s one of the best crime/gangster pictures ever to grace the silver screen and would be Abel Ferrara’s best movie if he didn’t follow it up with an even crazier character study in the form of Bad Lieutenant (the new Nicolas Cage, Werner Herzog one is pretty fucking amazing as well but my heart will always belong to the original).

This film is fairly well known but at the same time it gets overshadowed by others in the same genre like Donnie Brasco and Goodfellas.  Even Scarface’s little brother Carlito’s Way seems to get a lot of attention and acclaim which I don’t quite get ‘cause I didn’t think it was that great.  Maybe King of New York wasn’t mainstream enough?  I really don’t think it’s the violence considering the movies I just listed.  It’s certainly not that the movie portrays the gangster life as a grand way to live.  If anything it does a really good job of showing how fucked up both a mobster’s and rogue cop’s lives are by depicting them as a very tense and dangerous way to live.  It has a big name star (Christopher Walken), was shot masterfully and is entertaining as fuck.  I dunno.

Ferrara obviously loves New York City which is present throughout the film but what also comes through is how fucked up it is or at least was back in the 80’s and early 90’s when it came to crime.  It’s fascinating how someone can know a place so well that even when you’re shown how horrible it can be you always feel like you’re in good hands.  Ferrara knows just where and how to stage all of his scenes and who his characters are.  This picture packs a helluva punch and he molds it so it has maximum impact.  He’s an underappreciated genius in my opinion that I hope gets more recognition with time.

One of my favorite parts is when Laurence Fishburne (actually this was back in the days when he credited himself as Larry Fishburne) goes into a restaurant to order some food in the most badass way possible.  Cops David Caruso (Jade), Victor Argo (True Romance) and Wesley fucking Pipes come in to bust him but he never gives in to them or backs off on the macho talk.  Yeah man, the line about Fishburne bragging that he doesn’t leave no witnesses when he’s doin’ murder is priceless.

Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow I guess what I’m sayin’ is I’m thankful for this masterpiece.  It’s a must see for anyone into crime pictures, badass shit and/or art in general. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

World War I, or The Great War, is often overlooked and people usually go straight for the sequel World War II.  Well WWI was pretty nasty and this picture shows that in spades.

This group of young teens decides to enlist when the war breaks out thinking it’ll be glorious and awesome to kick some ass.  You know, the old let’s-show-‘em-who’s-boss attitude.  But when these guys get to the front line they realize very quickly that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be sorta like The Deer Hunter.  They witness their friends getting killed, have to put with a constant barrage of noise from gunfire and bombs and they seem to be starving most of the time because food is extremely scarce.

The battle scenes are horrific and probably the nastiest I’ve seen since the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan.  We’re talking 1930 here too so it made it even more shocking.  We see hundreds of men just getting slaughtered and the chaos that accompanies a charging advance in an attempt to gain some ground.  Probably the most dreadful image is of one guy’s hands that are still clenched to a piece of barbed wire while the rest of his body has been blown away.

It’s a helluva anti-war statement and a really great gritty film.  Oh and one little thing I left out is that this is from a German’s point of view.  It’s an American film but it doesn’t matter which side they show, the point is that war is terrible and people are getting fucked up on both sides.  The German soldiers don’t know why they’re really there and I would imagine most people from all countries fighting in those trenches didn’t either.  It was just something that their country told them to do so they did it.

This is without a doubt one of the best war films I’ve ever seen.  It’s not afraid to pull punches and show how fucking awful it is.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Spoilers ‘n shit

Carolco Pictures (along with two other production companies) made Terminator 2 in 1991.  The mega producer owners Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna wanted to continue with the series but Showgirls and Cutthroat Island bankrupted them.  So they bought back the rights to the Terminator series at auction and regrouped to form C2 Pictures.  A few years later we got Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  A ballsy move considering it doesn’t involve anyone that had anything to do with the first two Terminators except Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stan Winston.  And the result is…well…really good.

Let’s start with the cast.  Nick Stahl (The Man Without a Face) plays the grown up John Connor.  He’s become a paranoid drifter that wants to believe that he and his mother Sarah Connor (now dead and therefore does not appear in the film) avoided judgment day.  But he knows in his heart that shit still doesn’t seem right.  He doesn’t have a cell phone or try and make contact with anyone he knows or go anyplace that will keep a record of his name or existence.  You know, just in case another terminator goes back in time and tries to kill him…again.  Well that strategy doesn’t really work because a terminator does get sent back in time and finds him easily.  Admittedly the new terminator sort of stumbles upon him but it had a good idea of where to look so it wasn’t a total shot in the dark.  Anyway, Stahl is actually really great in this role and makes me wonder why we don’t see more of him in mainstream movies.  He really conveys the conflicted emotions about him kind of wanting the war hero and leader stuff to be true but at the same time he doesn’t want to be burdened with it all.  I mean imagine if someone told you that one day you’ll possibly be the most important human ever to have lived because you prevented your race from being wiped out by machines.  And you know that it’s really going to happen because you’ve witnessed yourself two killing machines from the future battle it out over you.  That’s some heavy shit to lay on a kid even if it wasn’t true but because you have proof that it’ll actually happen has got to fuck with you.  Again, I’m getting all of this from Stahl.  I can feel he’s being tortured and has had to put up with it almost all his life.  The scariest parts for him might be the years in between Terminator 2 and 3 because after a while he might think that he’s going crazy, especially after judgment day was supposed to have passed.  When the terminators show up again he’s in a state of panic but at least he knows what’s going on and can rest assured that it wasn’t just all in his mind or something.  This character is really complex and it’s interesting to see him grown up because we get to see how John Connor has taken all of this in over the years and what he thinks of it now.  In Terminator 2 he didn’t have time to process this stuff because his mother was there to tell him what was what and the situation with the terminators was so immediate that he had to either get with the program or be killed.  There’s no time for second thoughts.  In Terminator 3 he handles things a little differently.  John Connor becomes so desperate and overwrought with the state of affairs that he threatens to kill himself at one point proclaiming that he doesn’t want any part of his destiny.  This more or less fits with part 2 and now that he’s older we see that he still doesn’t think he’s some hotshot hero.  He just wants to be left alone. 

Stahl may seem unassuming but I think that’s part of the point.  Do you buy that Edward Furlong is supposed to be the future leader of mankind?  Yeah, not really but that’s just it.  It’s about greatness coming from within and it’s the same with Stahl.  I think he’s just unassuming enough to work.  He’s not some obvious big brawny dude, pretty boy model or total nerd with geeky glasses and a pocket calculator.  He’s just the right balance of misfit and average Joe.  The only weird part that comes up though is when he thinks Arnold is the same terminator from T2.  John Connor was there when that T-800 killed himself in molten metal.  But other than that it’s a great performance.

Kristanna Loken (BloodRayne) is the new evil terminator called the T-X.  This movie follows the tradition of the series of casting a relative unknown as the villain.  Ok, ok Schwarzenegger did Conan the Barbarian right before The Terminator and that was successful but it was the Terminator role that made him a mega star.  Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how much you like the following actors) Robert Patrick and Kristanna Loken did not shoot to superstardom after their portrayals of terminators from the future.  Anyway, Loken does fine here.  She plays a machine well, pretty much never showing emotion.  I thought it was nice to have a female terminator this time too.  I mean a good ol’ macho fest is always welcome around these parts but I think it’s a good change of pace for the series.

Claire Danes (Brokedown [sic] Palace) is Kate Brewster and she’s the audience representation this time around (Edward Furlong took that job in T2).  She doesn’t know what’s going on and does a lot of wide eyed shocked staring.  Surprisingly Brewster is not annoying here and it’s because of her redeeming qualities towards the end of the film.  She shoots down a flying killer robot and pilots a plane that allows her and John to escape the city.  So if you think Kate is just some dumb broad that they threw in there to scream at everything then think again.  Well she does do that for two thirds of the film but the fact is she helps out in more important ways than one so that means I like her.  She may not be Sarah “balls to the wall” Connor but Kate just learned about all this shit and has less than 24 hours to get her act together so I cut her some slack.

That just leaves the terminator himself, Arnie.  How does he stack up this time twelve years later?  Well this is definitely the least threatening he’s been in this role.  He said that he beefed up for the part and even got back to his dimensions when he did T2 but I don’t know if it’s the way he was shot or the digital terminators that were inserted into some of the action scenes that were messing with me or the lighting or something else ‘cause he sure doesn’t look as big or downright menacing this time.  He still moves alright but you can tell he’s older and it feels like he didn’t put as much effort into it for this installment.  It could be Jonathan Mostow’s direction or maybe that has nothing to do with it.  I dunno.  It’s still nice to see Arnie as the terminator though and it’s good that he took up the role one last time before he got too old.  I’ll admit it’s borderline here but I think he pulls it off well enough.

Now on to the action and man does this movie deliver.  It starts out with a little back story, a small update of events and characters and then we move into the plot proper.  The T-X starts killing John Connor’s future lieutenants first instead of just going for the main target which is really smart and I’m glad the machines adjusted their strategy this time ‘cause after failing two previous times wouldn’t you change your tactics too?  And getting some of those other commanders out of the way should change the war at least a little bit.  But when the T-X goes after Kate Brewster (who’s with John Connor) the real battle begins.  The terminators duke it out on the streets, in an office building, in a cemetery and etc.  There are two big chunks of action, one towards the beginning and one towards the end, with a smaller (but still awesome) action chunk in the middle.  All of it has such a grand scope to it and that’s what I like to see in a Terminator picture.  None of the action scenes are bad in my opinion either.  But the shining crown jewel that this movie offers is the first car chase (yeah, there are two).  John and Kate are in a Toyota pickup truck, Arnie starts on a police motorcycle and moves to a fire truck, the T-X has police cars and an ambulance under remote control (that’s the new gimmick this one has) but the T-X itself  is on a giant motherfuckin’ crane truck.  I don’t know what the proper name for it is but it’s a fucking crane on a goddamn truck that looks like it’s at least twice the size of a fire truck.  And this thing does so much damage it’s unfathomable.  The whole chase scene is a beautiful piece of art and alone makes this film worth watching.

The other really great scene is the mano a mano fight between the T-800 and the T-X.  They beat the shit out of each other and the surrounding building.  It mostly takes place in a bathroom and they use it well by smashing urinals on each other, smashing through toilets, smashing through stall walls and just a lot of other smashing in general.  It’s a real smash fight. 

There are, inevitably (it’s a third installment after all), some bad things in here.  First, the look of this one is lighter, slicker and glossier than the previous films.  Pretty much the entire movie takes place during the day and in less than 24 hours as opposed to the previous two which were set (if memory serves) mostly at night and over the span of a couple of days.  I like the 24 hour bit but the daytime thing definitely isn’t as cool, either looking or feeling.  There’s a lot of CGI in this too.  Some of it doesn’t look terrible but most of it is kinda bad and you all know by now how I feel about CGI so I don’t think I need to expand on it.  I wish they would’ve used the Terminator theme but we don’t hear it until the end credits which is kinda weird and inexcusable.  But the worst aspect of this movie is the humor.  Just about all of the bad jokes are by Schwarzenegger too.  There’s the strip club scene where he gets his signature outfit, the star shaped sunglasses that he initially puts on, the “talk to the hand” sass that he gives to the gas station guy, the part where he tells Kate to relax (you have to see it to get it) and others.  They’re all very unfunny and unwarranted.  There was a little bit of humor in the first two Terminators but not much so it’s not like it’s tradition for the series to crack a bunch of bad jokes.  It’s a shame and too bad that the filmmakers couldn’t help themselves.  And that’s my biggest beef with this thing, stupid fucking jokes in an otherwise serious action film.

So all in all I think this Terminator kicks ass.  In fact I think the first Terminator is only slightly better and I would kind of rather watch this one most times.  It’s like Alien and Aliens.  I guess Alien really is the better picture but if you ask me which one I would rather watch at any given moment there’s a 90% chance that I’m gonna say, “Aliens”.  The Terminator is good ‘n all but it has just a little too much down time and it doesn’t have that amazing car chase sequence with a crane truck.  I mean don’t get me wrong, Terminator 2 is by far the best one.  It’s a masterpiece and I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a perfect film but fuck it, it’s a perfect film.  No other Terminator movie is going to beat it, ever.  In fact a lot of movies aren’t going to beat it. 

How badass does this look?
But Terminator 3 is pretty great for what it is.  It’s one last hurrah for Arnie and the series proper (I thought Terminator Salvation was just ok and less interesting than when the terminators exist in our time battling it out).  I can understand people getting tired of seeing basically the same story as the first two installments but goddamn is it a great premise.  These films made the most out of the idea of two virtually indestructible robots from the future going head to head.  I know most of you out there think that T2 wrapped up things nicely and that there’s no need for a third film but I think it fits right in there.  I especially dig the solemn ending (a Mostow trademark) with the beautiful imagery of the nukes going off and the idea that judgment day is inevitable.  This one makes a bigger deal out of destiny than the other two and I like that idea.  No matter what you do, if you’re destined to do something then it’s gonna happen whether you like it or not so you can either fight it or make the most of it.  I think that’s fitting for this movie.  Hollywood makes a ton of sequels and in the early 2000’s it seemed inevitable that there would be another Terminator picture so you can either try and pretend that it doesn’t exist or saddle up for one last ride.  I say “ride, postman!”  Uh, I mean…whatever just see it.  It’s awesome.

Side note: I saw The Hidden recently and there was something about it that was bugging me but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then while watching T3 this last time I realized that it was a Terminator rip off.  Just instead of robots it’s aliens.                    

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Spoilers all over this piece

You know, if you stop and think about the scheme that J.T. Walsh (Blue Chips), M.C. Gainey (Con Air), Jack Noseworthy (Event Horizon) and that grizzled ol’ prospector type guy cook up in Breakdown isn’t that smart.  Their idea of a good plan is to pick out some random guy, couple or family that looks wealthy, stick ‘em up and have them fork over their dough that they’ve got in the bank.  I see one major problem with this scenario and that is that you don’t know if these people actually have money.  There’s also the risk that you might fuck with the wrong person.  I mean the guy you’re robbing could whip out a gun of their own and start shootin’ or be someone too high profile to rob and a whole shit storm could come down on your head.  But that last possibility is a stretch so I’m gonna focus on the first point that I made.

This gang of truckers is taking a huge stab in the dark with their method.  It’s not efficient or particularly competent.  They go through a lot of trouble but don’t know what the stakes are.  Sure it’s possible that they could get lucky and nab a million bucks but the more likely scenario is that they’re gonna get a fairly unimpressive amount.  Now the movie does make the point that just because someone looks like they might have a lot of money doesn’t necessarily make it so.  Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan don’t really have the $90,000 they say they do but Russell wears a polo shirt, khakis and drives a new (1997) Jeep so the bad guys make the mistake of judging a book by its cover. 

And as thoughtless and reckless as the plan the truckers have is what may be even more bizarre is the way they carry it out.  They sabotage Russell’s car so that it’ll go on the fritz when he’s in the middle of nowhere, southwest USA.  Walsh then comes along to try and lure them into his truck so he can kidnap them but only Russell’s wife gets in.  Walsh tells him to meet him at a diner down the road but he’s not there so Russell goes to the police and even runs into Walsh who denies everything and then there’s this young guy that tells Russell he knows something about his wife and on and on and on.  It doesn’t make any sense to have all this run around.  It only gets the police involved and Russell even almost gets away at one point.  These truckers really shot themselves in the foot with this one. 

Director and writer Jonathan Mostow must have realized that this was kind of a stupid way to go about robbing someone because he even has one of his bad guys ask the other why he didn’t just pull a gun on the couple and force both of them into the truck.  But the reasoning that the bad guy gives is that Russell would’ve ran out into the desert instead of complying.  This makes absolutely no sense to me.  Russell is broken down miles from the nearest phone, he doesn’t get cell phone reception, there are no cars around (we never see anyone else pass them while they’re broke down), the cops are nowhere to be found, it’s not like it would’ve taken very long to whip a gun out and tell them to get in the truck and the gang would’ve taken them by surprise.  And I really doubt that Russell is going to run away when a gun is put in his face.  It’s way simpler with less to go wrong.  Instead there’s this whole mystery of Russell’s wife disappearing and Walsh denying he had ever seen them before. 

Of course this is all in the name of cinema and that’s why there’s this convoluted plot.  The truckers allude to ripping off many others before but it’s amazing that these guys got anyone’s money at all.  You really need to do some research before you have someone empty their bank account.  You should make sure there’s enough there to make it worth your while ‘cause you’re breaking some serious laws in my opinion like kidnapping and murder. 

Overall though, the movie isn’t that bad.  When you watch it the first time it’s really exciting actually because you don’t know what the hell’s going on.  Aside from the first time viewing thing the cast is pretty great and there are some really cool moments like the car chase at the end, the creepy cellar where Walsh keeps his victims and the really awesome scene where Russell gets his revenge on Gainey by duct taping his neck to the headrest of the truck and making sudden stops choking him.  I remember when I saw this picture in theaters the audience cheered and applauded during that part.

Once you know what’s going on your first thought will be, “wait, that was an overly complicated plot that the truckers had and could’ve been handled in a much better way”, but the second thought will be, “damn this movie just got really fun”.  Really the whole ending of the picture is kinda spectacular.  I mean there’s a duel on a truck that’s dangling off the side of a bridge.  I also like the way it fades to the credits with the eerily slow and quiet soundtrack playing.  That’s great mood.  It’s similar to how Mostow ends Terminator 3 (which makes me want to go back and check out that film again). 

But what I’ll remember this movie for most is the “fuck you”, “no fuck you!” exchange between Gainey and Russell.  It’s up there for me in badass moments.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cat's Eye- Quitter's, Inc.

Cat’s Eye is one of those horror pictures made up of a bunch of stories like Creepshow ‘n shit.  There are three here with one being about a gangster that forces this guy to walk around the ledge on the top floor of a casino and another is about some killer troll/goblin thing that attacks a little girl (Drew Barrymore).  Those are both pretty crappy so by default the best story is the first.  It’s about a smoker (James Woods) that wants to quit so he goes to this agency run by Alan King to help him (yeah I thought he was a weird choice too).  But the catch is King will torture Woods’ family if he relapses so the pressure’s on. 

I like this concept and think it could have been a whole movie by itself so I was sad to see it end.  Woods is great as usual and King is surprisingly menacing.  There’s a good amount of tension and I like how it builds seemingly like there’s no way for Woods to escape the clutches of this mad man.

Here’s a funny clip where Woods is at a party and everyone (including the kids!) is smoking.  Some even have cigarettes in their ears (?).  I love the shot of the guy with his head back blowing out an endless stream of smoke with the woman gazing at him with a huge smile on her face.  The drunk is James Rebhorn (Meet the Parents, Basic Instinct) who does a great job of almost stealing the scene but it’s just so surreal and wacky.   

Friday, November 4, 2011

Near Dark

How do you guys feel about Kathryn Bigelow?  Yeah Point Break is classic and The Hurt Locker was pretty good but what about her other shit?  Strange Days was…well… strange.  I dig the whole future of the 90’s thing but the plot seemed half baked.  The preachiness at the end didn’t bother me but not using Michael Wincott (The Crow, Metro) to his full extent did.  I’ve heard K-19 was awful but haven’t seen it myself.  She’s kind of a tough one to figure out.  And the problem is Near Dark doesn’t make things that much clearer.

A young Oklahoma cowboy gets bit by a female vampire and joins her band of miscreants.  But he’s conflicted with what’s happened to him and doesn’t know how to react or what to do.

A bunch of people out there call this the adult Twilight and I would say that that’s a fair description of it.  There are a number of differences but I think if you’re going to describe any movie by saying that it’s just like Twilight then people have already made up their minds if they’re interested or not.

But let me just say that the bar scene in the middle of the picture is the best part and almost makes this film worth watching.  It’s mostly due to Bill Paxton (Weird Science, Twister) because he hams it up like he usually did back then.  Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Stone Cold) is also really good in this but he’s good in everything.  He lends a legitimate and alluring quality to this picture that’s sorely needed.

With the exception of the bar scene the action and some of the plot points are handled clumsily.  Shit isn’t explained well or not at all, devices are introduced just so they can obviously be brought back in later, it’s hard to get a handle on the time of day or night as it seems to change whenever it’s convenient and etc.  But this was only Bigelow’s second feature so I guess I can cut her some slack.  She does mood quite well though and that’s what this is, a mood piece.  The soundtrack is by Tangerine Dream and they use a lot of droning synth as the driving force behind the emotions in the film. 

So all in all I would say don’t bother with this one.  You’re not missing much.  It could’ve been an awesome vampire action movie but the filmmakers decided to go for more of a romantic approach.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that but the combination of Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton, the dark atmosphere, knowing what Bigelow would eventually do with action on Point Break and the few badass moments that actually are in here makes me want this to be so much better and action oriented than it is. 

As for Kathryn Bigelow herself it’s still up in the air.  If The Hurt Locker sucked then I would call her a one hit wonder but it didn’t.  I guess her stuff is hit or miss.  It’s also sporadic so it might be a long time before we get another good one from her.  Here’s hoping that “Untitled International Thriller” that’s supposed to be coming out next year is loaded with badass shit.     

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vampires (John Carpenter's)

Unfortunately this Halloween season wasn’t the greatest for me.  I did come across a new classic in Hellraiser III and enjoyed The invisible Man but everything else that I watched was shitty or mediocre.  So I guess I don’t recommend It’s Alive, House (1986), Ginger Snaps, Dark Tower, The Resurrected, The House of the Devil, Video Dead or Subspecies.  I didn’t find anything too special about those films.  And after many years I finally brought myself to check out Memoirs of an Invisible Man.  It was the only John Carpenter feature that I still hadn’t seen (and I still need to watch his TV movie Elvis and the segment he did for Body Bags).  Memoirs is probably his worst film because it fails to be either funny or dramatically engaging.  If I didn’t know this was a John Carpenter joint I never would’ve guessed it was made by him.  But I can’t fault him for trying something different so in one respect it’s interesting to see how Carpenter handles a comedy adventure type movie.  Ok I’m sure you’re asking yourself by now, “why all of this introduction?”  Well after striking out with the pictures listed above I wanted to ensure that I had a surefire hit to watch on Halloween itself.  So I chose to go with Vampires and Frankenstein (1931), something new(ish) and something old.  I hadn’t seen either in a pretty long while so they were due.  Frankenstein is still great and it’s by the same director as The Invisible Man, James Whale.  It’s quick and concise but also packs in a boatload of good drama especially when it comes to the monster.  The scene with him and the little girl is so goddamn heartbreaking.  It’s definitely worth seeing and better than I remembered.  Vampires on the other hand was pretty much how I remembered but that one calls for more detail so let’s get into it.

The church (apparently going as high as the Vatican) enlists and trains slayers to wipe out vampires.  But these guys aren’t some yahoos that stumble upon the things and then have to try to defend themselves.  These badass dudes are elite vampire hunters and killers.  They have tools, armor, training, knowledge, priests and even a set of rules to help them battle these bloodsuckers or “goons” as the movie likes to refer to them.  I like that term by the way and I think it should be used more often in vampire pictures or any horror picture really.  Anyway, one day a master vampire (yes there is a hierarchy of vampires in this film) shows up in the American southwest looking for a black cross.  He needs it to complete a ritual so that he can go out in the daylight and not get burned up.  Only one guy can stop him and that one guy is none other than James fucking Woods (Cop, Another Day in Paradise).

I’m not even sure if I can accurately describe to you how strange I think it is that James Woods is our lead for this thing but I’ll give it a shot.  First of all when you think James Woods you don’t necessarily think of “action star” or “horror maestro”.  I mean he’s intense as fuck but you don’t see him too often running around shooting guns and getting in hand to hand fights.  He has done that stuff but it’s more like the third or fourth thing to come to mind.  Second, he’s kinda old.  He was 51 when he did Vampires and when he stands there among his men in his black leather jacket over black shirt, jeans, black boots and sunglasses holding a silver crossbow in his black gloved hands he just doesn’t look very intimidating.  Maybe it’s because he doesn’t look very tall or muscular compared to the rest of his gang, maybe the crossbow is a bit too big.  I’m not sure.  Whatever it is he does look cool but just not fearsome.   And third, he’s a fast talking wise cracker that could bring you out the movie easily.  Fortunately he restrains himself fairly well throughout and this last part isn’t much of an issue, most likely because of Carpenter’s direction.  But with all of that said I can’t deny that I absolutely love James Woods.  And I think Carpenter actually turns all of those cons that I just listed to work to his advantage in this film. 

Here’s the main reason why those negatives don’t matter, even though I said that Woods doesn’t look terribly tough when he’s just standing around that’s all forgotten about when he springs into action.  Woods earns his “badass motherfucker” badge because he shoots vampires in the face at point blank range, stabs them in the forehead with a giant stake, blows their hands off, nails them in the heart with his crossbow and strikes a match on one of their charred skulls to light his cigar.  Fuckin’ a.  I love how Woods yells out “Die die fucking die!” when he’s killing these sonsabitches, I love that he’s so serious when it comes to dealing with them never letting his guard down, I love that he doesn’t wear any armor while the rest of his men are all covered up and I love that he doesn’t care what he has to do or who he has to hurt in order to kill the master vampire.  Any preconceived notions you (meaning “I”) have about Woods’ toughness and/or his age are erased after the opening scene.  But I want to say that he wouldn’t work as well if he had to carry the whole movie by himself so Carpenter was smart enough to give him an (almost) equal.  You see Woods really co-stars with Daniel Baldwin (Nothing But Trouble, Mulholland Falls) in this.  Both seem to have about equal screen time and both roles are very important.  Woods represents the older, wiser and more experienced slayer while Baldwin represents the slightly younger, cockier and brawny understudy.  They complement each other nicely.  And they say “fuck” a helluva lot.  Any movie becomes at least a little more fun when the characters curse a bunch and I really think that adds to the badass atmosphere in this.  Almost every conversation each of them have involves a couple of fucks.  Like when Woods is assessing the situation towards the end of the film he says, “he’s got…the biggest nest of blood drinking motherfuckers the world has ever known”, when Baldwin is stealing a guy’s (Frank Darabont (Dir: The Shawshank Redemption)) car he yells at him “shut the fuck up or I’ll blow your fucking teeth out of the back of your head asshole”, and even when he’s getting a hotel room he says “what’s the fucking total guy?”.  It’s music to these ears.

Thomas Ian Griffith (The Karate Kid Part III) is pretty cool as the main villain Valek.  He has maybe five lines in the whole movie but he has presence and the scene where he rips a hotel room full of people to shreds is fucking great.  I liked that they used Griffith’s stoicism for maximum effect.  What makes these vampires work so well is that they’re savages and like wild animals.  There’s practically no human part of them left so you can’t negotiate or even talk to them.  All they know is to kill. 

So we got badass leads, a formidable bad guy and a great premise what could go wrong?  Well most of it does come together.  Carpenter essentially made a western but used slayers instead of cowboys and vampires instead of Indians or cattle rustlers or hired guns or greedy landowners or whatever other villains there are in westerns.  That whole aspect of it works and I like that Carpenter isn’t that subtle with his hints that this is an overlay for a western.  The slayers are the posse and when they get ambushed our hero and his partner have to find out who did it.  The film takes place in the southwest somewhere which is typical of a western, our leads are more like drifters that go from town to town looking for trouble, there’s a lot of gun toting and shooting and there’s also a search and destroy mentality to it that you find in movies like Unforgiven and For a Few Dollars More.  I love that Carpenter merged two kick ass subjects together (pretty successfully) in this piece.

The part of this movie that I have a problem with is the middle third.  The first third is the best part and the last third is pretty good but not incredible.  The middle third is where the film slows down a bit too much and we go through a long period of trying to find out who this villain is and what he’s up to.  That’s all fine but if there was another fight with Woods and Baldwin against some vampires in there then this would’ve improved the movie a great deal in my opinion.  But apparently the budget was slashed significantly before filming so who knows what had to have been cut.  The reduced budget also probably explains the odd number of montages in this one.  Carpenter doesn’t do that sort of thing and in Vampires he has a total of seven.  I’m not sure if he meant to do that from the start wanting to try out something new or as a way to work within his budget.  The last fight between the vampires and the slayers should have been an awesome climax that went on for a while with tons of blood and carnage but instead we just see the vampires running for cover in a montage.  That’s the worst example and really the only one that doesn’t work.  It’s obvious that there was meant to be a big battle to cap the picture but alas we don’t get it.  That’s a real shame.

Even with some of the flaws that this film has it’s pure John Carpenter.  Although, I still don’t understand why he switched to live instruments and hard rock music for his soundtracks a la Escape from L.A. instead of using his signature synth sound a la Escape from New York.  That never made a lot of sense to me.  But I’ve learned to accept it as part of who he is now.

To round this piece out here are a couple of things I found interesting.  In keeping with Carpenter tradition the opening scene is part of the main story.  I mean it serves to show us who these guys are and how they roll but they’re at this house for a reason, they’re looking for this master vampire.  I like that we’re thrown into the main story instead of having a scene just for the purpose of demonstrating how badass the slayers and vampires are, although I like that too.  Another thing I found interesting was the scene where Woods is telling his newly recruited priest the rules for vampires.  He explains that shit like crosses and garlic don’t work and that they don’t turn into bats and on and on.  It’s nice to have these things laid out for us but there seem to be some inconsistencies like Woods forgets to mention that these vampires can move like a freight train.  This trait is only used once though (or twice if you count the part where Valek actually rides a freight train) so I don’t quite get why it was included at all if it wasn’t going to be used more often or be integral to the plot in some way.  The vampires also have superhuman strength but Woods makes it seem at one point that only Valek has this power even though the other vampires are clearly very strong and can at least jump very high in the air.  This characteristic is actually used throughout the film so I’m alright with that one.  But during this conversation with the priest Woods says something that I don’t like and it’s the line, “forget whatever you’ve seen in the movies”.  I don’t understand why a line like that pops up now and again in some horror flick.  I get that it’s to try and convince you like the shit you’re watching is how it would go down in real life but are we not watching a movie right now?  It’s a bad cheesy line that actually takes me out of the film instead of sucking me in.  Just my personal pet peeve.

If you’re a Carpenterant and you haven’t seen this then you gotta get on it right away.  I love this film for what it could have been and for what it is.  The opening vampire raid including the part where the camera zooms in on Woods as he stares at the house and simultaneously the camera zooms in on the house like Woods is preparing for battle, like he’s becoming one with the house and the evil in it, is pure magic.  Also Woods’ name in this is Jack Crow.  I feel like you don’t see a name like that in action movies today (the few that are made).  When this picture is good it’s exquisite.  When it’s not so good it’s still entertaining and at least engaging on some level.  So of course you should see this.