Monday, September 27, 2021

#2,622. The Hunger (1983)


Tony Scott’s incredibly stylish vampire film, The Hunger is positively gorgeous, and while some might argue that the story doesn’t quite measure up to the visuals, I feel that the two complement each other nicely. 

Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) is a centuries-old vampire whose lovers (also vampires) never seem to live as long as she’d like. Such is the case with John (David Bowie), her current companion. Though she promised, many years ago, that he’d never grow old, John is suddenly aging at a rapid pace. 

 Hoping to slow down the process, he seeks out scientist Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), whose research centers on a possible “cure” for growing old. Little does Sarah know how her meeting with John - and a later encounter with Miriam - will change her life forever. 

The cast assembled for The Hunger is extraordinary; Deneuve and Sarandon have some steamy scenes together, and Bowie, under tons of make-up, delivers what is arguably his best screen performance as the desperate John, clinging to a life that’s quickly slipping away (Also impressive is young Beth Ehlers, who plays Alice, Miriam’s and John’s neighbor and only friend). All of the actors do their part to bring us into this dark yet beautiful world of music, murder, and life everlasting. 

In addition, Scott’s approach to the material, combining bloody horror with an arthouse sensibility, might be off-putting to some (critics were not kind to the movie back in 1983), but I loved it! Very seldom have I seen light used so effectively in a horror film, let alone one about vampires (who, by tradition, usually dwell in the darkness). 

Sporadically creepy and dependably hypnotic, The Hunger deserves a second look, and a new appreciation. 
Rating: 9 out of 10 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

#2,621. Tank Girl (1995)


Based on a UK comic series of the same name, Tank Girl is set in the year 2033, decades after a comet struck the earth, throwing the world’s climate into chaos.

Because it hasn’t rained in 8 years, water has become a scarce, very valuable commodity, and the Water & Power (or W&P) Corporation, controlled by the sinister Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell), has a monopoly on it. In fact, W & P has just destroyed the last independent water well, which belonged to Rebecca (Lori Petty) and her friends.

With most of her accomplices dead, Rebecca is captured by troops loyal to W & P and forced to work in the company’s facility. Teaming up with a meek mechanic named Jet Girl (Naomi Watts), Rebecca eventually escapes, steals a tank, and sets off into the desert to save her adolescent friend Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower), who W & P sent to work in a brothel.

To defeat the mighty corporation, Rebecca, now calling herself Tank Girl, tries to track down an army of mutants known only as The Rippers. Even W & P is afraid of the Rippers, and with their help, Tank Girl is positive she can rescue Sam and bring the mighty Kesslee to his knees.

There's a lot to admire in director Rachal Talalay’s Tank Girl, but it’s story isn’t one of them; it’s all a bit hackneyed, jumping from one setting to another so rapidly that it’s hard to get your bearings, and W & P - Kesslee included - never feels like much of a threat.

Fortunately, the movie’s positives far outweigh the negatives. From its well-realized post-apocalyptic set pieces to its exceptional soundtrack (assembled by Courtney Love and featuring music from – among others - Ice-T, who also plays one of the Rippers), Tank Girl has style to spare, and Lori Petty oozes charisma as the title character, bringing an incredible amount of energy to the role.

Add to that the contributions by Stan Winston’s make-up effects team (which created the look of the kangaroo-like Rippers) and some kick-ass animated sequences, and you have a motion picture that, while certainly not perfect, is a hell of a lot of fun.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Thursday, September 23, 2021

#2,620. The Color of Money (1986)


The Color of Money is not a Martin Scorsese film; this is an attack launched time and again at this movie, from critics and fans alike.

The truth is, it really isn’t a Martin Scorsese film.

I mean, it is…he directed it…but it’s not in that it doesn’t have the same energy, the same bravado as a typical Scorsese work. It follows its story too closely, the camerawork doesn’t seem as interesting, and even the situations are (gasp) occasionally formulaic.

I concede to all of these points, but in no way do so to damn the film outright.

A sequel to the 1961 classic The Hustler, The Color of Money sees Paul Newman reprising his role as Fast Eddie Felton, a pool shark who is now past his prime. Instead of hustling, Fast Eddie spends his time nurturing an up-and-comer, Vincent (Tom Cruise), teaching him the ways of a hustler.

Joined by Vincent’s girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the pair hit the open road, traveling from one pool hall to another, in the hopes of making a fast buck.

With The Color of Money, we bear witness to legendary director Martin Scorsese sitting comfortably in the back seat, allowing his star, Paul Newman, to take the wheel. Does this make The Color of Money a bad film? Absolutely not. It makes it an atypical Scorsese film, nothing more. After all, if Scorsese decides to stay out of the limelight every now and again, who better to take his place in it than Paul Newman?

As expected, the actor delivers an Academy Award-winning performance, giving us a Fast Eddie who has matured, and is willing to pass what he’s learned on to the next generation. Cruise is also quite good as the cocky Vincent, as is Mastrantonio (her character is arguably the smartest of the three). But this is Newman’s show, and he’s absolutely superb.

So don’t go into The Color of Money expecting a Martin Scorsese film, but I wouldn’t let that scare you away, either. It is a Paul Newman film, and the great actor proves yet again he’s more than worthy of a few hours of your time. X Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

#2,619. The Irishman (2019)


It seems that nothing can slow Martin Scorsese down; almost 50 years after turning Mean Streets loose on the movie-going public, the great director offers up yet another glimpse into the world of organized crime, and 2019’s The Irishman is every bit as masterful as Mean Streets, Casino, The Departed, and, yes, even Goodfellas.

Robert De Niro stars as Frank Sheeran, a Philadelphia truck driver who, after befriending mobster Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci), became a major force in organized crime, gaining a reputation as a guy that “painted houses” (i.e. – killed those who needed killing).

Buffalino eventually introduced Frank to Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and over the years Sheeran and Hoffa would become close friends. But when Hoffa started feuding with other Teamsters officials, most notably his associate Tony Pro (Stephen Graham), it sent shock waves through the underworld, with Frank Sheeran caught in the middle of it all.

Scorsese has assembled a dream cast for The Irishman, starting with his old pals DeNiro (who shines as Frank Sheeran, the Irishman of the title and also the film’s narrator), Pesci (as the calm and collected Buffalino, a far cry from his Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas), and Harvey Keitel (appearing in several scenes as Angelo Bruno, the mob boss of Philadelphia).

Also present are Stephen Graham and Bobby Cannavale (both of whom had major roles in the Scorsese-produced series Boardwalk Empire), comedian Ray Romano (as Bill Buffalino, Russell’s cousin and a lawyer for the mob), and Anna Paquin (playing Sheeran’s estranged daughter Peggy). The standout performance, however, is delivered by Al Pacino as the impulsive Hoffa, whose short fuse consistently lands him in hot water (even in prison, he couldn’t keep his anger in check, getting into a scrum at one point with Tony Pro in the mess hall).

And then there’s Scorsese himself, employing every trick he’s learned over the years to ensure this nearly 4-hour movie flows brilliantly, feeling less than half that long. As with most Scorsese crime films, The Irishman is often violent, sometimes jarringly so (there’s rarely any warning when Sheeran carries out a hit), and the film has an epic feel to it, with such historic events as World War II, The Bay of Pigs, and the assassination of President Kennedy occasionally playing into the story.

Yet The Irishman also differs from the likes of Goodfellas and Casino in that it follows its characters into old age, showing us how they dealt with their past transgressions when approaching the end of the line (in one late scene, Frank Sheeran shops for his own coffin). Perhaps it’s a natural progression for Scorsese, himself a few years shy of 80 when he directed this 2019 movie.

Yet even with The Irishman being a bit more reflective than Goodfellas, it’s also just as magnificent, and while some filmmakers might lose their edge when they get older, Martin Scorsese has proven with both The Wolf of Wall Street and this movie that he’s only getting sharper.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Sunday, September 19, 2021

#2,618. Fantastic Planet (1973)


Director Rene Laloux’s animated film Fantastic Planet whisks us off to the planet Ygam, home to both the intelligent, oversized Draags and the tiny, humanoid Oms. To the Draags, Oms are either pets (for their young) or vermin (wild Oms hide in every corner of Ygam, and multiply much more rapidly than Draags).

When his mother is accidentally killed by playful Draag children, an Om infant named Terr (voiced by Eric Baugin) is taken in by Tiwa (Jennifer Drake), daughter of the Draag leader, Master Sinh (Jean Topart).

As he grows older, Terr (now voiced by Jean Valmont, who doubles as narrator) learns the ways of the Draags, including how to read their language. These skills prove useful when Terr escapes captivity and joins a tribe of wild Oms, which is in constant danger of being eradicated by their Draag overlords.

Though colorful and wildly imaginative, Fantastic Planet is also quite bleak; the abandoned park where the wild Oms reside is home to a number of dangerous creatures, from giant bird-like monsters that devour Oms by the dozens to plants that lure insects to their doom, not for food but for the mere sport of killing them. In one of the film’s more surprising moments, a baby reptile is devoured moments after it’s hatched… by the very creature we assumed was nurturing it!

While the story itself isn’t very complex (the Draags mistreat the Oms, who eventually rebel, and the threat of war between the two looms heavy in the final act), the visuals that Laloux conjures up throughout Fantastic Planet, regardless of how horrific they sometimes become, are what keep us watching.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, September 17, 2021

#2,617. The Collector (2009)


The Collector has enough blood and gore to fill up two horror movies, but it’s the film’s more suspenseful moments, skillfully executed by first-time director Marcus Dunston, that really impressed me.

Arkin (Josh Stewart), a former convict, does odd jobs for his employer Michael Chase (Michael Reilly Burke), a well-to-do executive whose family recently moved into a new house. In dire need of cash to pay off a loan shark, Arkin breaks into the Chase homestead while the family is away and heads straight for their wall safe.

But as the would-be thief will soon discover, someone else had the same idea, only his fellow intruder, a masked psychopath known only as “The Collector” (Juan Fernandez), is after much more than money.

Though tense and frightening, The Collector does, at times, push the believability envelope to its breaking point (you may find yourself asking questions, like how did the Collector rig so many elaborate traps in only a few hours?). But in the end, it was such a thrill ride that I had no trouble suspending disbelief while watching it.

In fact, I was totally caught up in the cat-and-mouse game that develops between Arkin (who does his damnedest to stay hidden) and The Collector (the way director Dunston shoots these scenes, occasionally letting his camera drift above the action to show how close the two characters are to one another, enhanced the suspense). And as the movie’s villain, The Collector is one eerie dude (we see his glowing eyes through the mask, and it’s enough to send a chill up our spine).

As for the film’s gore, it’s pretty gnarly; The Collector rigs the house with everything from hooks to bear traps, to a pissed-off guard dog, all of which inflict their fair share of pain (in addition, there’s a scene involving a cat and lots of glue that had me on the edge of my seat).

The Collector proved to be one hell of a low-budget horror movie, and was so good that it actually spawned a sequel (2012’s The Collection). Don’t miss it!
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

#2,616. To Your Last Death (2019)


An animated action / horror film from director Jason Axinn, To Your Last Death is insanely brutal, but oh-so-much fun!

Having survived the deathtrap set by her billionaire father (voiced by Ray Wise), which claimed the lives of her three siblings, Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon) is approached by a supernatural entity known as the “Gamemaster” (Morena Baccarin), which offers Miriam a chance to go back in time and alter the outcome of this tragedy.

Though confused and frightened, Miriam accepts, only to discover along the way that there’s more at stake than she could have ever imagined.

Filled to its breaking point with sleazy characters (even Miriam’s brothers and sister have their dark sides) and bloody gore (there are axes and guns aplenty, yet, surprisingly, the film’s most memorable mutilation comes courtesy of an electrical outlet), To Your Last Death also dabbles in fantasy (i.e. - the Gamemaster subplot), making it one of the more unique animated films I’ve seen in some time.

Add to this the fact that it’s narrated by William Shatner, and you have a movie you’ll want to immediately move to the top of your queue!
Rating: 7.5 out of 10