Saturday, December 31, 2016

#2,278. Bite (2015)


Directed By: Chad Archibald

Starring: Elma Begovic, Annette Wozniak, Denise Yuen



Tag line: "This may sting a little"

Trivia: The director, Chad Archibald, got married in Spain the day the movie had its Spain premiere, and he and his wedding party attended the screening







Rumor has it that, during its premiere at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival, some of the scenes in director Chad Archibald’s horror / thriller Bite so disgusted audience members that a few people actually got sick (one guy supposedly passed out while watching the movie). When I first heard this, I assumed it was nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt, a way to generate buzz for the film, but the director and one of its stars (who were there at the time) swear it happened.

Naturally, this piqued my interest. Was Bite really as gross as all that?

As the movie opens, bride-to-be Casey (Elma Begovic), is in Costa Rica with her best friends Jill (Annette Wozniak) and Kirsten (Denise Yuen), celebrating her last few days of freedom before she and fiance Jared (Jordan Gray) tie the knot. During the trip, Casey expresses doubts about her upcoming nuptials, and is worried that she’s not quite ready to commit. So, to get her mind off her troubles, she and her 2 companions go for a swim in a remote stream, and while there Casey is bitten on the leg by what she thinks is an underwater bug.

When she returns home, Casey picks up where she left off, inviting Jared over to her apartment for romantic dinners and feuding with her soon-to-be mother-in-law (Lawrene Denkers), who doesn’t think she’ll make a good wife for her son. But as she struggles with the decision of whether or not to postpone the wedding, Casey notices the bite mark on her leg is getting bigger, and is much more painful than it was originally. As she’ll soon discover, it was no ordinary insect that attacked her; whatever bit Casey is causing her to undergo a physical change. In essence, she is transforming into a giant bug!

To answer the above question: yes, Bite is, at times, a very gross movie. Once Casey begins to “change”, she spews acidic saliva, lays hundreds of eggs, and starts looking and acting like an insect (her hair falls out and her head twitches uncontrollably). It’s here that Bite proves itself to be a nifty horror flick, offering up one disturbing image after another (a scene where Casey’s fingernail falls off is particularly difficult to sit through). In addition, Bite has its share of gruesome kills (a few poor souls venture into “bug” Casey’s apartment uninvited), and kudos to the filmmakers for going the practical route as opposed to CG (both Casey and her “lair” look pretty convincing).

Unfortunately, as good as some of these moments are, they’re not enough to make up for the rest of the film, which, truth be told, is fairly awful, The opening, when Casey and her friends are in Costa Rica, is structured like a found footage movie (video taken on someone’s phone), and features so many clichés and so much heavy-handed exposition that it actually made me cringe. Equally as bad is a brief dream sequence (one of the stupidest I’ve ever seen) that occurs right before Casey’s metamorphosis; and the characters are so poorly developed that we never fully understand what it is that motivates them. This is, in part, a weakness of the script, but the actors have to share some of the blame as well (though Elma Begovic does deliver a solid performance once the change happens).

So, while there are stretches of Bite that work as intended, the movie as a whole never comes together, and as a result I can’t really recommend it.







Thursday, December 29, 2016

#2,277. Private Resort (1985)


Directed By: George Bowers

Starring: Rob Morrow, Johnny Depp, Emily Longstreth




Tag line: "They're looking for hot times. And they came to the right place..."

Trivia: This marked the film debut of Rob Morrow








Love Him or hate him, there’s no denying that Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Sleepy Hollow) is a talented actor. So is Rob Morrow, for that matter (a 3-time Golden Globe nominee for his work in the hit ‘90s TV show Northern Exposure, Morrow also wrote and directed the 2000 drama / romance Maze), while Hector Elizondo (numerous movie & TV roles over a 5+ decade career), Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy, The Devil’s Rejects) and Andrew Dice Clay (stand-up comedian and co-star of Blue Jasmine) have proven time and again they’re no slouches, either. What possessed any of them to appear in 1985’s Private Resort is beyond me. I’ve seen some bad comedies in my day, but Private Resort is, without question, one of the worst.

Good buddies Ben (Morrow) and Jack (Depp) are spending the weekend at a luxurious Florida resort, where all the women are gorgeous and available. With so many babes around, the two pals went into the weekend hoping to score as often as they could, but when Ben sets eyes on Patti (Emily Longstreth), a waitress at the resort, he falls instantly in love. As for Jack, he hooks up with Dana (Karyn O’Brien), the beautiful granddaughter of the wealthy Mrs. Rawlings (Dody Goodman).

What Jack doesn’t know is that a jewel thief, who calls himself The Maestro (Elizondo), has just checked in with his bodacious wife Bobbie Sue (Easterbrook), both of whom plan to steal a valuable diamond belonging to the unsuspecting Mrs. Rawlings. And seeing as the resort’s head of security, Reeves (Tony Azito), is a bumbling idiot, Ben and Jack are going to have to step up and save the day.

Even a synopsis as formulaic and trite as the above cannot properly prepare you for how God-awful Private Resort is. Yes, it’s a 1980’s sex comedy, and as such there are plenty of attractive ladies parading around in skimpy bikinis (some of which malfunction). Even Leslie Easterbrook dons a sheer nightie that leaves nothing to the imagination, and from start to finish, director George Bowers lets his camera linger on exposed midsections while also giving us more butt shots than I could possibly count.

But neither the female cast nor the handful of nude scenes could save this so-called “comedy”There is not a single, honest-to-goodness laugh in the entire movie. Not one. In fact, the most it got out of me was a quick chuckle (when Elizondo’s character, chasing down Ben and Jack, wanders into an exercise class and tries his best to fit in). Even Andrew Dice Clay (as a guest of the resort who’s more than happy to cheat on his girlfriend) falls way short of the mark in his brief appearance, and fails to generate so much as a smile.

There are those who have been critical of Johnny Depp’s work as of late, and to be sure some of his collaborations with Tim Burton have been less than stellar (Dark Shadows was a disappointment). But as mediocre as some of his recent films have been, at least Depp had the good sense early in his career to stop making this sort of garbage. Private Resort is pure shit.







Friday, December 23, 2016

#2,276. Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)


Directed By: Edmund Purdom

Starring: Edmund Purdom, Alan Lake, Belinda Mayne


Tag line: "The Gift of Terror That Just Won't Wait"

Trivia: The film took almost two years to complete after original director Edmund Purdom quit the job and Derek Ford took over but was fired after two days








Don’t Open Till Christmas is a bad film. It’s sleazy, gory, and at times utterly ridiculous.

So why did I have so much fun watching the damn thing?!?

It’s Christmastime in London, and a killer is on the loose, targeting anyone and everyone wearing a Santa Claus costume. When her father (Laurence Harrington), decked out in a Santa suit, is murdered during a holiday party (in front of dozens of witnesses, no less), a distraught Kate Briosky (Belinda Mayne) teams up with Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Harris (director Edmund Purdum) to track down the psychopath who is responsible. At first, Inspector Harris and his second-in-command Detective Powell (Mark Jones) believe Kate’s live-in boyfriend Cliff (Gerry Sundquist) may have something to do with the killing (Kate’s father was rich, and with him out of the way his girlfriend stands to inherit a great deal of money). But the bodies continue to pile up, and before long a brand new suspect emerges: Inspector Harris himself!

Released in 1984, Don’t Open Till Christmas is, in many ways, similar to the slasher films that were popular around that time. For one, the kill scenes are exceedingly violent, and in an interesting twist the murderer uses a variety of weapons (including a spear, a knife, a gun, a razor and a broken bottle). There’s even an electrocution, and one poor guy dressed like Father Christmas suffers a gruesome fate while in the bathroom. Along with the horror, Don’t Open Till Christmas is also straight-up exploitation; at one point, Cliff and Kate pay a visit to Cliff’s photographer pal Gerry (Kevin Lloyd), who is snapping pictures of a naked model. The sequence comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t really forward the plot, but it does give the film its lone nude scene (which some would argue is reason enough to include it).

In addition to its seedier elements, Don’t Open Till Christmas has some unintentionally funny dialogue (I laughed out loud when, after the fourth killing, Detective Powell asked inspector Harris “Do you think we’re dealing with a psychopath?”), and the murderer’s uncanny ability to find every drunk in a Santa suit gets a little silly after a while (he is always in the right place at the right time). As for the killer’s identity, I knew less than 15 minutes in that Don’t Open Till Christmas was going to be a movie where the “big reveal” doesn’t make a bit of sense (and I was right). We even get one of the most preposterous flashbacks I’ve ever experienced (during which we learn why the killer hates Christmas and Santa Claus).

Still, it was all so incredibly ludicrous, so hilariously inept that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself; without a doubt, Don’t Open Till Christmas is, in some ways, “so bad it’s good”, yet there were moments when it genuinely surprised me (like when Caroline Munro, playing herself, shows up to sing a Christmas tune). That said, it’s a hard movie to recommend. Most viewers will find it poorly paced, horribly acted, and with scenes so outrageous they’ll be scratching their head, wondering what’s going on. As mindless entertainment, though, this one delivered the goods.

Yes, Don’t Open Till Christmas is trash, but it’s the kind of trash I love.







Tuesday, December 20, 2016

#2,275. Intruders (2015)


Directed By: Adam Schindler

Starring: Rory Culkin, Leticia Jimenez, Jack Kesy




Tag line: "They should have left her alone"

Trivia: This movie was also released under the title Shut-In








For a while there, Intruders looked as if it was going to be your typical, run-of-the-mill home invasion movie. But as it turned out, this 2015 film by first-time director Adam Schindler had some surprises hidden up its sleeve, and even if the final reveal wasn’t much of a bombshell, the majority of the movie twisted and turned just enough to keep me guessing.

As the story opens, Anna Rook (Beth Riesgraf) is caring for her brother Conrad (Timothy T. McKinney), who is dying of cancer. Living alone in the house they grew up in, the Rooks receive very few visitors; delivery boy Dan (Rory Culkin) shows up every day with a hot meal for Anna, and Charlotte (Leticia Jiminez), a lawyer, has been trying to get Anna to sign some papers dealing with her brother’s last will and testament, but aside from that the siblings are very much alone. In fact, Anna, who has a bad case of Agoraphobia, hasn’t set foot outside the house in 10 years. Conrad’s dying wish is that his sister live a little, become “part of the world” around her, but when he passes away, Anna can’t even bring herself to attend his funeral.

As a result, she’s home when three would-be crooks; J.P. (Jack Kesy), Perry (Martin Starr) and Vance (Joshua Mikel) come looking for the money she has stashed away (we discover in an earlier scene that Anna has a bagful of cash, which she keeps somewhere in the house). Assuming she’d be at the funeral, the thieves are surprised to find her at home, and, taking advantage of the situation, try to get Anna to tell them where she’s hidden the loot. It isn’t long, though, before the trio realizes their “hostage” is not the shy, introverted victim she appears to be.

At the heart of Intruders is a fine performance by Beth Riesgraf, aptly portraying a woman whose past has left her severely traumatized, yet not without the will to defend herself when the situation calls for it. We sympathize with her early on as she’s caring for her dying brother, so much so that, when she eventually turns the tables on J.P. and the others, we’re still squarely on her side, and it’s to Riesgraf’s credit that we never lose this connection to the character. As for the movie’s major twist, which occurs at about the halfway point, I was on-board with it, and liked how the film toyed with the audience in much the same way Anna did with J.P. and his gang.

Where it fell apart (for me, anyway) was in the big reveal at the end, when we learn the source of Anna’s troubles (and why the house has so many interesting “features”). Thanks to a brief conversation between her and Conrad at the start of the film, I had no trouble figuring out early on what caused Anna’s deep psychological scars, and for a movie that spent a fair portion of its run time trying to surprise us, this finale was a letdown.

That aside, Intruders works well enough most of the time, and while it isn’t an overly violent home invasion film (though it does have its share of bloodshed), it’s tense in all the right places.







Monday, December 19, 2016

#2,274. Pit Stop (1969)


Directed By: Jack Hill

Starring: Brian Donlevy, Richard Davalos, Ellen Burstyn




Tag line: "Raw Guts For Glory!"

Trivia: This was Brian Donlevy's final film








Quentin Tarantino once called director Jack Hill “the Howard Hawks of exploitation”, because like Hawks, Hill worked in a variety of genres, from sex comedies (The Swinging Cheerleaders) and blaxploitation (Coffy) to horror (Spider Baby), and women in prison (The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage). With 1969’s Pit Stop Hill took a stab at car-racing flicks, and thanks to co-star Sid Haig and some bat-shit crazy race scenes, it’s one of the more memorable entries in this particular subgenre.

When Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos), a newcomer to the dragstrip circuit, wins his first race, promoter Gavin Willard (Brian Donlevy) offers him a chance to take part in a new style of racing: figure eight, in which cars travel at top-speed around a track shaped like the number 8, crisscrossing each other as they go. At first, Bowman balks at the idea, not willing to put his life on the line (the main draw of figure eight racing is the number of crashes that occur during each contest), but when he’s insulted by the sport’s current champ, Hawk Sidney (Haig), he decides to give it a whirl. 

Before long, Bowman is challenging Sidney’s status as top dog, and so impresses Willard that he invites the newcomer to participate in a legitimate race. Unfortunately, Willard’s best driver (and chief mechanic) Ed McLeod (George Washburn) isn’t too keen on bringing Bowman along, despite the fact that McLeod’s wife Ellen (Ellen Burstyn) has taken a fancy to him. But with the stakes high, McLeod agrees to let both Bowman and Sidney run interference for him in the big race. The question is: which of the three will cross the finish line first?

Richard Davalos (who played James Dean’s brother in 1955’s East of Eden) does a fine job as Rick Bowman, the hard-nosed, arrogant racer trying to make a name for himself; and Ellen Burstyn (billed here as Ellen McRae) is equally as good as the bored wife looking for a little romance. But it’s Sid Haig, charismatic as ever, who commands your attention. From his first appearance on-screen, when he wins a race and, ignoring the boos of the crowd, plants a kiss on the bikini-clad trophy presenter (an uncredited Denise Lynn), it’s obvious Hawk Sidney is a show-off, and has an ego twice as big as his car. Later on, we discover that Sidney is also a sore loser, yet even when he crosses the line and behaves like one of racing’s bad boys (he does something about 2/3’s of the way into the movie that will have you seeing red), you can’t help but like the guy.

In addition to Haig’s scene-stealing performance, Pit Stop features stock footage from actual figure eight races, complete with dozens of car crashes and other calamities (one vehicle bursts into flames), leaving us wondering why anyone would sign up for such a thing in the first place.

If you’re not familiar with Jack Hill’s work, you should definitely delve into his filmography (there are plenty of hidden gems in there). And Pit Stop is as good a place as any to start.







Friday, December 16, 2016

#2,273. Streetwalkin' (1985)


Directed By: Joan Freeman

Starring: Melissa Leo, Dale Midkiff, Leon Robinson



Tag line: "She dropped out of high school this morning ... Tonight she's a Times Square hooker"

Trivia: Shot entirely at night over the course of 24 days








In the DVD commentary for their 1985 movie Streetwalkin’, writer/director Joan Freeman and producer/co-writer Robert Alden tell of how, in preparation for the film, they spent time riding along with the vice squads of four major metropolitan police departments. Unfortunately, aside from a few bright spots, the resulting movie doesn’t shed any new light on the subject, and feels more like a rehash of what’s gone before than it does an exposé of a serious social disease.

After being thrown out of the house by their callous mother, Cookie (Melissa Leo) and her younger brother Tim (Randall Batinkoff) make their way to New York City to build better lives for themselves. Moments after their arrival, Cookie is approached by Duke (Dale Midkiff), a pimp who sweeps her off her feet. Several months pass, and Cookie, now deeply in love with Duke, is also one of his top-earning prostitutes, and is doing well enough on the streets to have an apartment that she shares with fellow hooker Heather (Deborah Offner). 

But when Heather tries to leave town, an angry Duke beats her mercilessly, putting her in the hospital. Frightened, Cookie contacts Jason (Leon Robinson), another pimp, in the hopes he’ll represent her, thus ending her “relationship” with the potentially abusive Duke. Of course, when Duke catches wind of this, he goes ballistic, and hits the streets in an effort to track down Cookie so he can exact some “professional” revenge.

Despite the realistic atmosphere that its setting brings to the table (the movie was shot on-location in some of New York City’s seedier neighborhoods), Streetwalkin’ is pretty standard stuff, and offers very little that we haven’t already seen. A psychotic pimp beating on the ladies who work for him? They did this same thing a few years earlier in director Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad. An innocent girl forced to hit the streets to earn a living? That’s 1984’s Angel to a T.
To its credit, Streetwalkin’ does delve further into the pimp / prostitute dynamic than these previous movies (per Joan Freeman, in many of the cases she researched, the pimp was engaged in a romantic relationship with his women, which gave him more control over them), but overall this 1985 film has a “been there done that” vibe that it never seems to shake.

That said, Streetwalkin’ is certainly not a bad movie; along with its setting, both Melissa Leo and Dale Midkiff deliver powerful performances, and the final 15 minutes will have you on the edge of your seat. So, even if it does tread in familiar territory, the filmmakers navigate the path well enough, and you won’t be sorry you saw it.







Thursday, December 15, 2016

#2,272. Subspecies (1991)


Directed By: Ted Nicolaou

Starring: Angus Scrimm, Anders Hove, Irina Movila



Tag line: "The night has fangs"

Trivia: Radu is named after Radu The Handsome, brother of Romanian prince Vlad The Impaler









Full Moon Pictures, the brainchild of producer Charles Band, continues to impress the hell out of me. After bowling me over with Castle Freak and Dollman, they’ve done it once again with 1991’s Subspecies, a horror movie that features one hell of an eerie vampire.

Three college students: Michele (Laura Mae Tate), Lillian (Michelle McBride) and Mara (Irina Movila), travel to the small Romanian village of Prejmar to study its history and traditions. One of the area’s more interesting structures is a castle that, according to legend, is home to a benevolent vampire named Vladislas (Angus Scrimm), who, hundreds of years earlier, helped Romania in its war against Turkey. As a token of their appreciation, the people presented Vladislas with a very special gift: the Bloodstone, an artifact said to contain the blood of the saints. With this stone, Vladislas had an unending supply of blood at his disposal, which meant he no longer needed to feast on the locals. For centuries the territory has been quiet.

But that’s about to change.

Vladislas has two sons: Stefan (Michael Watson) and Radu (Anders Hove). Stefan’s mother was mortal, and because of this he shares his father’s respect for humanity. Radu, on the other hand, was the result of a torrid affair between Vladislas and a sorceress. Born into evil, Radu is a monstrous creature who longs to possess the bloodstone that his father holds so dear. With the help of his subspecies (a group of diminutive demons no higher than a foot tall), Radu kills Vladislas and claims the bloodstone for himself. Aided by his good friend Karl (Ivan J. Rado), Stefan tries his best to defeat his elder half-brother, only to discover that Radu has set his sights on the three pretty young college students, and intends to make them his vampire brides. Stefan, who is himself in love with Michele, is ready to risk everything, including the bloodstone, to keep the girls from falling into Radu’s hands.

Shot on-location in Romania (the first ever American production to film there), Subspecies takes full advantage of that country’s ancient landscape, which brings a flavor of authenticity to the proceedings (the real-life 15h century castle used for Vladislas’s abode is situated in Hunedoara, and rumor has it that Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, was once held prisoner there by the Romanian military).

Yet as effective a backdrop as the countryside is, it’s Anders Hove’s Radu that makes Subspecies such a memorable horror movie. With a look reminiscent of Max Schreck’s Count Orlok in the silent classic Nosferatu, Radu has extremely long fingers, rat-like teeth, and a face not even a mother can love. To add to his already creepy appearance, Radu, in nearly every scene, has blood dripping from his mouth (much of which comes courtesy of the bloodstone), and talks with a raspy voice that reminded me of Brando’s Don Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather. As for the title creatures (aka Radu’s army of tiny demons), they’re brought to life through a combination of puppetry and stop-motion, courtesy of special effects director David Allen and his team, and for a low-budget film, they look damn good.

Where Subspecies suffers is those scenes when Radu isn’t on-screen; the three female leads, though certainly attractive, aren’t particularly interesting, and the love affair between Stefan and Michele isn’t given enough time to develop properly. But if you’re game for an honest-to-goodness scary vampire movie, Subspecies has what you’re looking for.







Monday, December 12, 2016

#2,271. Color Me Kubrick (2005)


Directed By: Brian Cook

Starring: John Malkovich, Jim Davidson, Richard E. Grant


Tag line: "They wanted something for nothing. He gave them nothing for something"

Trivia: The UK heavy metal band Head-On, which is featured in the movie, was hand-picked from 400 other bands







It was in the early 1990s that Alan Conway, a gay alcoholic living in London, started telling people he was the famous film director Stanley Kubrick. Most believed him, and were more than happy to buy him a drink or two, in the hopes he’d give them a part in his next picture. Released in 2005, Color Me Kubrick is an often-comedic look at Alan Conway and those he duped, and while the movie does eventually wear out its welcome, star John Malkovich manages to always keep things interesting.
 

Even though he looked nothing like the man (for one, Stanley Kubrick had a beard, while Conway was clean-shaven), Alan Conway (Malkovich) convinced dozens upon dozens that he was Stanley Kubrick, and would use his “star” status to get free booze and other gratuities. Conning everyone from a punk rock group (promising to feature their music in his next film) to a bar owner trying to expand his business (as Kubrick, he co-signed for the guy’s small business loan), Conway managed to keep up the charade for a number of years. Those he fooled were usually too embarrassed to press charges, and when he’d run into a former mark on the street, he would quietly slip away. It wasn’t until he hooked up with established singer / comedian Lee Pratt (Jim Davidson) that Conway’s scam began to unravel, and to his amazement, once his deception was revealed, Alan Conway himself became a minor celebrity!

As Conway, Malkovich is flat-out hilarious; aside from Conway's often terrible American accent, he doesn’t know all that much about the real Stanley Kubrick or his work (one potential victim exposes the lie by saying he loved his movie Judgment at Nuremberg, which was actually directed by Stanley Kramer). What Conway does have, though, is a magnetic personality, and the uncanny ability to make people listen to him. It’s this quality that Malkovich brings to the forefront, and we laugh at just how far he’ll go to keep up the charade (at a punk rock club, Conway narrowly escapes the wrath of a previous victim by jumping into a cab, then, having convinced the driver he’s Kubrick, he cons the poor guy into giving him a free ride).

Along with the humor, Color Me Kubrick also explores the tragic side of this story; an alcoholic who couldn’t support himself, Conway did, at one point, fall in love for real, only to have the relationship collapse when he confessed he wasn’t Stanley Kubrick (even when his feelings were genuine, Conway lacked the self-confidence to simply be himself). In addition to Malkovich’s bravura performance, Color Me Kubrick features music from some of Kubrick’s best-known films, used in a way that, at times, is quite funny (the dramatic "Also Sprach Zarathusra", such an integral part of 2001: A Space Odyssey, plays during a very ordinary scene in which Conway walks into a laundromat).
 

Alas, even at 85 minutes, Color Me Kubrick feels a bit long; after a while, the novelty of its story begins to wear off. Fortunately, John Malkovich is on-hand to keep things rolling, and while I can’t say Color Me Kubrick is a perfect comedy, the actor makes you want to stick around to see how it all ends.







Sunday, December 11, 2016

#2,270. Lady Snowblood (1973)


Directed By: Toshiya Fujita

Starring: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon


Line from the film: "Look at me closely. Do I look like someone you raped?"

Trivia: This movie served as one of the main inspirations for Quentin Tarantino's movies Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2







Director Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood is one of several films that inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series, from its basic plotline (a woman seeking revenge against those who destroyed her family) to Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii, who was based on Yuki, the lead character in this movie. Watching the film, it’s easy to see why Tarantino is such a fan of it; from start to finish, Lady Snowblood is an incredibly stylish, and oh so entertaining, motion picture.

It’s the latter part of the 19th century, and a young woman named Yuki (Meiko Kaji) is preparing to take her revenge on the criminals who murdered her father and brother, then raped her mother (Miyoko Akaza). Born in prison, Yuki (who was not alive when the crimes took place) has spent her entire life being trained by a priest Dokai (Kō Nishimura), who has turned her into a killing machine. Now, armed with a samurai sword and with the help of both Matsuemon (Hitoshi Takagi), the leader of an underground organization; and writer Ryūrei Ashio (Toshio Kurosawa), who has penned a book about her mission of vengeance, Yuki manages to track down those responsible for tearing her family apart, and will not rest until each and every one of them is dead.

Lady Snowblood combines gorgeous cinematography with bloody violence to relate its tale of revenge, and right out of the gate director Fujita gives us a taste of what’s to come by way of two pre-title sequences. First, we’re transported 20 years into the past, to the day when Yuki was born. Utilizing a variety of camera techniques, from hand-held to overhead shots, Fujita pulls us into this very dramatic scene, when Yuki’s mother, on her deathbed, lays out the path her infant daughter is expected to follow. From there, we leap forward to the snowy night when Yuki, now fully grown, faces off against a mob boss and his henchmen. Brandishing a sword she keeps hidden in the handle of her umbrella, Yuki quickly dispatches her foes, blood gushing like a geyser from their various wounds. Working together, these sequences set the tone for the entire film, and from there on out, Lady Snowblood is equal parts beauty and brutality.

This, plus a series of well-realized flashbacks (including the murders and rape that set everything in motion) and a bad-ass performance by Meiko Kaji, helped make Lady Snowblood, along with Thriller: They Call Her One Eye, Death Wish, Coffy and Rolling Thunder, one of the finest revenge flicks of the 1970s. Whether you love him or hate him, there’s one thing you can’t deny: Quentin Tarantino has great taste in movies!







Saturday, December 10, 2016

#2,269. Easy Money (1983)


Directed By: James Signorelli

Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Pesci, Geraldine Fitzgerald



Tag line: "We're taking all the fun out of life - and putting it into a movie!"

Trivia: Bill Murray was originally cast in the role of Paddy but dropped out







I remember our hopes were high as my father, brother and I walked into the theater to see Easy Money back in 1983. Not only was it the first movie to feature Rodney Dangerfield since 1980’s Caddyshack, but this time around he had top billing all to himself, and we were anxious to see what the comedian would do with it.

For the most part, we were pleased with the film; Easy Money definitely made us laugh. But even then, we kinda felt Dangerfield could do better.

Monty Capuletti (Dangerfield) is a working class slob, a professional baby photographer who drinks too much, smokes too much, gambles too much, and does more than his share of drugs. Yet, despite all his flaws, Monty’s wife Rose (Candice Azzara) loves him. The same cannot be said, however, for his mother-in-law, Mrs. Monahan (Geraldine Fitzgerald), the owner of Monahan’s department store and a very wealthy woman. While iattending the wedding of Monty’s and Rose’s daughter Allison (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who marries a feisty Latino named Julio (Taylor Negron), Mrs. Monahan chastises Monty for his excesses, and laments the fact that Rose didn’t end up with someone else.

Then, a few weeks later, tragedy strikes: Mrs. Monahan is killed in a plane crash. During the reading of the will, her lawyer Scrappleton (Tom Ewell), announces that the Monahan fortune, totaling $10 million dollars, has been left to Rose and her family. But there’s a stipulation in the will that may make it impossible for them to collect: Monty must give up cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs for 12 months, and lose weight in the process. Should he fail to do so, Mrs. Monahan’s nephew Clive (Jeffrey Jones), who acted as her personal assistant, will receive the inheritance. With the help of his younger daughter Belinda (Lili Haydn), and the support of his friends Nicky (Joe Pesci), Louie (Val Avery) and Paddy (Tom Noonan), Monty does his best to control his urges, but can he really give up all the things he loves for an entire year?

Dangerfield, whose self-effacing stand-up routines had been entertaining people for decades, was a natural choice for the role of Monty Capuletti, an everyman who, at first glance, seems to have more vices than virtues. And, as expected, the film’s biggest laughs come courtesy of its star; the extended sequence where Monty and Nicky drive around town with Allison’s wedding cake in the back of a van, making stops at the bar, a race track, and a crap game along the way, is a hoot, as is the scene where the two pals pay a visit (for the first time ever) to Monahan’s department store, where they stick out like a sore thumb (“Hey, we’re browsing!”).

In addition, a side story involving the marital woes that Allison and Julio are experiencing (which start on their wedding night) is good for a few chuckles; and the exchanges between Monty and his mother-in-law (a character very similar to the one Geraldine Fitzgerald portrayed two years earlier in Arthur) give Dangerfield a chance to deliver some of his patented one-liners (when she criticizes his smoking and drinking, calling him an “ecological menace”, Monty shoots back “Yeah, well you were the inspiration for twin beds!”).

Yet as good as it is at times, Easy Money should have been funnier. Though not yet a household name in 1983, Joe Pesci’s character is still underutilized (those scenes in which he is featured are among the film’s best), and while Jeffrey Jones’ Clive does try on a couple of occasions to trip Monty up so that he can inherit the fortune himself (at one point, he has 8 pizzas delivered to Monty’s house, in the hopes it will ruin his diet), this is yet another avenue ripe for laughs that is never fully explored. As for Rodney, he does what he can with the part, but falls short of the comedic insanity he unleashed as the wisecracking Al Czervik in Caddyshack.

In my opinion, Dangerfield’s best starring role came in 1986’s Back to School, which allowed the comedian to cut loose in a way he never does here. Still, as a showcase for his style of humor, Easy Money has its moments, and just enough of them to make it a fun movie to watch.







Friday, December 9, 2016

#2,268. The Boy (2016)


Directed By: William Brent Bell

Starring: Lauren Cohan, Rupert Evans, James Russell



Tag line: "Follow his rules this January"

Trivia: Cast members actually used the doll ("Brahms") to prank each other on the set








Man, I really enjoyed the first 3/4 or so of The Boy, which makes the ending all the more frustrating to me. Even now, as I sit in front of my laptop, I can’t decide whether or not the disappointing conclusion ruined the movie for me; is there still enough here to make The Boy a worthwhile watch?

Well, let’s see where this write-up leads us, shall we?

To escape an abusive relationship, Montana native Greta (Lauren Cohen) flies off to England, where she’s accepted a temporary position as a nanny for a well-to-do couple about to go on holiday. But when she arrives at the spacious Heelshire estate, she’s shocked to discover that Brahms, the young “boy” she’s been hired to look after, is, in reality, a porcelain doll. Both Mr. Heelshire (Jim Norton) and his wife (Diana Hardcastle) treat the doll as if it is, in fact, their son (who we come to learn died in a house fire some 20 years earlier). Though she finds it bizarre, Greta (who needs both money and a place to stay) plays along, and agrees to follow the list of rules that Mrs. Heelshire put together, which includes giving Brahms his daily lessons and reading poetry aloud to him.

Of course, the minute the Heelshires leave for their vacation, Greta all but ignores the Brahms doll, and spends her time chatting on the phone with her sister and flirting with Malcolm (Rupert Evans), who owns a local market and delivers goods to the estate several times a week. Then, all at once, strange things begin to happen: while she’s taking a shower, Greta’s clothes disappear; and at night she hears what sounds like crying coming from Brahm’s room. It isn’t until Brahms “talks” to her, however, that Greta believes the doll is alive.

But is it really?

From the 1945 anthology Dead of Night to the opening scene of 2013’s The Conjuring, dolls and ventriloquist dummies have left an indelible mark on the horror genre, and, when handled properly, these lifeless “toys” can single-handedly send a shiver up your spine. Well, for about an hour or so of The Boy, the Brahms doll is creepy as hell, from the way Mrs. Heelshire dotes on it (carrying it around, giving it loving kisses, etc) to Greta’s experiences with it in the days that follow. Aside from the shower incident mentioned above, Greta at one point notices the doll, which spent the entire day lying on its back, is suddenly staring directly at the doorway. This is but one of several disturbing occurrences, all of which suggest that Brahm’s spirit is alive and well inside its porcelain doppelganger. Even if we set aside the film’s annoying “jump-scare-that’s-really-just-a-dream” sequences (that’s right… the movie drinks from this formulaic well not once, but twice), The Boy offers up its fair share of genuine thrills.

Equally as potent (and sometimes just as spooky) is the relationship that develops between Greta, so wonderfully portrayed by Ms. Cohen, and the doll. Having lost a child of her own as a result of domestic violence (her boyfriend beat her while she was pregnant, causing her to suffer a miscarriage), Greta finds she not only accepts that the doll is alive; she’s invigorated by it, and begins talking to “Brahms” as if it was an actual child. Along with its supernatural elements, The Boy also works on a psychological level, and we wonder if Greta’s subconscious is playing tricks on her.

And then, out of the blue, we find out what’s really going on. And it’s an absolute letdown. After spending the better part of an hour and 15 minutes weaving a dark, twisted tale of the supernatural, The Boy veers off in a different, and altogether unsatisfying, direction. Not to worry: I won’t spoil it for you (even though this ending damn near spoiled the movie for me).

Ultimately, I’m torn; for quite a while, The Boy is an effective horror film, and I wouldn’t want to deprive you of its early successes. But I can’t, in good conscience, recommend it wholeheartedly thanks to its awful conclusion.

So, with the above to guide you, the decision to watch The Boy or avoid it is yours. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.







Thursday, December 8, 2016

#2,267. What We Become (2015)


Directed By: Bo Mikkelsen

Starring: Mille Dinesen, Marie Hammer Boda, Troels Lyby



Tag line: "Stay home. Lock up. Don't breathe"

Trivia: This was the first post-apocalyptic zombie movie made in Denmark








The Johansson family, father Dino (Troels Lyby), mother Pernille (Mille Dinesen), teenage son Gustav (Benjamin Engell) and young daughter Maj (Ella Solgaard), live in the beautiful suburb of Sorgenfri, where they lead a perfectly normal life (Maj spends most of the day caring for her pet rabbit, and Gustav is trying to hook up with Sonja, the pretty brunette across the street played by Marie Hammer Boda). But something strange has been happening to the citizens of this quaint community: they’ve been getting sick, and in large numbers. The news media issues the occasional update, telling residents that a new virus is spreading rapidly, and that they should call a special hotline if they or any members of their family becomes sick. And the authorities are quick to tell them that under no circumstances should anyone venture outside their home.

Most people follow this advice. In fact, it isn’t until the military starts patrolling the streets, using automatic rifles to ensure nobody tries to leave town, that the locals begin to worry. Things reach a boiling point when soldiers cover the windows and doors of every house with black tarps, through which the Johanssons can see nothing, but occasionally hear gunfire, or the sound of troops rounding up their neighbors. Angry and exasperated, Gustav sneaks out one night and follows a government truck to a nearby school, where he realizes the full extent of what’s going on. He also does something that, though seemingly innocent at the time, puts him, his family, and everyone they know in the greatest of danger… 

For most of its runtime, 2015’s What We Become, a Danish horror film written and directed by Bo Mikkelsen, tries to conceal what’s actually happening in Sorgenfri, so I have no intention of delving too deeply into it myself. That said, even those viewers who know very little about the genre will more than likely be able to figure out what the “virus” is, and the effect it has on the locals. The clues we’re given early on speak for themselves: according to a news report, eight residents at a neighborhood nursing home have suddenly become critically ill (for no apparent reason); and later on, while attending a community picnic, Gustav spots a small child, who moments earlier was playing with his friends, doubled over and throwing up. The next day, a car crash occurs near the Johansson’s house, and when Dino investigates he’s horrified to find the driver’s dead body lying in the middle of the road. A police car and ambulance race towards the scene… and pass it by. Clearly they had something more pressing to attend to. We’ve seen all this before, and if What We Become has one weakness, it’s that it brings nothing new to the table.

Yet thanks to the fine performances delivered by the entire cast (especially those who make up the Johannsson family), as well as the way director Mikkelsen manages to generate tension throughout (even in those scenes where we know what’s going to happen before it does), What We Become is a film I would happily recommend to horror fans. Sure, it’s a routine entry if every way imaginable, but it’s also a good movie, and in the end, that’s enough to make it worth your while.







Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#2,266. The Shallows (2016)


Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo



Tag line: "Not just another day at the beach"

Trivia: Louis Leterrier was originally set to direct but exited the film, due to creative differences








I love the beach, I love the ocean, and even though I’ve never set foot on a board in my life, I love surf culture. Add to this the fact that I also enjoy shark movies (even bad ones like Shark Attack in the Mediterranean hold a special place in my heart), and it’s a no-brainer that a film like 2016’s The Shallows is going to draw me in immediately.

Medical student Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) has traveled to a remote beach in Mexico, the same one that. 25 years earlier, her mom (who recently died of cancer) visited while pregnant with her. Neither Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), who was nice enough to give her a lift there, or the two surfers she meets in the water (played by Angelo José Lozano Corzo and José Manuel Trujillo Salas) will tell her the name of this beautiful beach, but no matter; she’s there to honor her mother and, in the process, do a little surfing of her own.

Later that afternoon, while alone in the water, Nancy spots a wounded whale floating helplessly towards the shore. As she’ll soon discover, this whale was the victim of a shark attack, and she herself has accidentally stumbled into the feeding territory of a ferocious great white. Before she knows what’s hit her, Nancy is bitten on the leg, and, in an effort to escape the humongous beast, she swims first to the whale (using it as a life raft), then to some rocks, where she does her best to close the gash in her leg. Realizing there’s nobody else around, and that she’s several hundred yards from the shoreline, Nancy spends the next day or so doing what she can to survive, all with the knowledge that the shark is still lurking nearby, and has no intention of leaving until it’s finished her off.

With plenty of slow motion, a techno soundtrack, and even some underwater photography, the early moments of The Shallows, where Nancy and her two new companions are out catching some major swells, feel more like a surfing documentary (a la Step Into Liquid or Riding Giants) than they do a horror film (the movie was shot on-location at Lord Howe Island, a picturesque locale situated in New South Wales, Australia). That changes, however, the moment Nancy paddles out to that whale, at which point director Jaume Collet-Serra kicks the tension up a notch. From there on out, The Shallows is, for the most part, a one-woman show, and Blake Lively does a terrific job in the lead role, conveying the pain, fear, and frustration her character feels while trying to deal with a very frightening situation. In addition, the movie features a fairly impressive CGI shark (we don’t get to see it all that often, which makes the scenes when we do all the more effective).

I did have one issue with the film, and that’s the way it handled the shark attacks. To be fair, I knew going in (thanks in part to its PG-13 rating) that The Shallows would be light on blood and gore, yet I still felt cheated by a scene that involved a vagrant on the beach (the ending of which happens off-screen), and while the shark does attack others on several occasions, we ultimately see more of Nancy’s blood spilled than all of the remaining victims combined.

Still, I consider this a minor quibble, and if, like me, you enjoy a good shark story every once in a while, then you should definitely check out The Shallows as soon as you can.







Monday, December 5, 2016

#2,265. The Conjuring 2 (2016)


Directed By: James Wan

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe


Tag line: "The next true story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren"

Trivia: On the first day of shooting, a priest was brought in to bless the set








I was a big fan of 2013’s The Conjuring, which featured a haunting that famed paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren looked into in 1971. So, when it was announced that it’s follow-up, The Conjuring 2, would focus on an entirely different case from the Warren’s files, and that James Wan was returning as director, I was hopeful this second go-around would, at the very least, match the intensity of the first movie. To my delight, Wan and his crew have, with The Conjuring 2, delivered yet another excellent supernatural thriller. It’s even quite possible that after another viewing or two, I might decide I prefer this sequel to the original film.

In 1976, while investigating the supposed haunting of a house in Amityville, New York, paranormal researcher Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) encountered a demon more formidable than any she had experienced before. It was so powerful, in fact, that it made its way into her dreams, which Lorraine saw as a sign that she and her husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) should take a break for a while, and not accept any new cases. But when the Catholic Church approaches them a year later and asks them to fly to London to help a family in need, Ed and Lorraine reluctantly agree to do so.

For months, the Hodgson clan, which consists of single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) and her four children Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Janet (Madison Wolfe), Johnny (Patrick McAuley) and Billy (Benjamin Haigh), has been harassed by a spirit that claims to be the former owner of their house in Enfield, a suburb of London. Centering most of its attention on daughter Peggy, the ghost, who goes by the name Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian), tells the family they’re trespassing on his property, and that they should get out immediately. It isn’t long after the police themselves experience these strange occurrences that the news media catches wind of it, and by the time the Warrens arrive all of England is abuzz, wondering if the Enfield haunting is the real deal or just another hoax.

With the help of fellow researcher Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney), the Warrens begin their investigation, only to discover that the entity in the Hodgson’s home is more treacherous than even they anticipated.

Along with being a well-directed film (a scene early on, when the camera follows the Hodgson kids through the house as they get ready for bed, is pretty darn cool), The Conjuring 2 is frightening as hell; the opening sequence, where the Warrens are holding a séance in the infamous Amityville house, gets things off to a spooky start, and the various encounters that the Hodgsons have with Bill Wilkins’ ghost are sure to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention (a scene where Janet is home sick from school is particularly scary). In addition, the manifestations of the spirits in The Conjuring 2 (especially the demon from the Amityville house, which resembles a nun) will give you the creeps, as will those moments when Wilkins’ ghost “speaks” through Janet (though played by Bob Adrian, the voicework for Bill Wilkins was handled by Robin Atkin Downes).

As for the performances, Wilson and Farmiga continue the fine work they did in The Conjuring as Ed and Lorraine Warren, and Frances O’Connor is equally as strong as the mother caught in the middle of a nightmare. Yet it was young Madison Wolfe as the oft-terrorized Janet who impressed me the most (she’s especially good in those scenes where her character is “channeling” the spirit of Bill Wilkins). And while the final sequence left me a bit cold (aside from being too frantic, it was also quite predictable), The Conjuring 2 is a solid horror film, and has me anxious to see what Wan and Co. will come up with next.







Friday, December 2, 2016

#2,264. The Hateful Eight (2015)


Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh



Tag line: "Spend the holidays with someone you hate"

Trivia: This is only the eleventh film to be shot in the Ultra Panavision 70 process







In 2012, while on The Howard Stern Show, director Quentin Tarantino discussed his announcement that, after making 10 films, he plans to retire. “I don’t want to be an old man director past his prime, whose best work is behind him”, he said, and as an example he pointed to Billy Wilder, one of the greatest filmmakers in Hollywood history, who, having made classics like Double Indemnity, Stalag 17, and Sunset Blvd. early on, turned out 4 movies in the ‘70s that didn’t measure up: Avanti, The Front Page, Fedora and Buddy Buddy (Tarantino admits he did enjoy Avanti, but called the other 3 “God fucking awful”). “One bad movie devalues three good ones”, he said, and he doesn’t want a bad picture to mar his otherwise brilliant filmography.

Well, 2015's The Hateful Eight is movie #8, and thus far, Mr. Tarantino has gotten his wish. Like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill (Vol. 1 & Vol. 2), Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight is a tremendous motion picture.

As the movie opens, bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) is on a stagecoach with his latest capture, outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who he plans to deliver to the town of Red Rock, where, after he collects the bounty on her head, she will be hanged for her crimes. Along the way, he picks up two men left stranded in the wilderness: Union Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a fellow bounty hunter whose horse died on him; and former Confederate renegade Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), who is about to be named the new sheriff of Red Rock. With a fierce snow fast approaching, the stage decides to pull into Minnie’s Haberdashery, a nearby rest stop, where the four of them, as well as the driver, O.B. Jackson (James Parks), will wait out the storm.

Surprisingly, Minnie herself is not there. According to Bob (Demián Bichir), who is running the Haberdashery in her absence, Minnie is visiting her mother on the other side of the mountain. What’s more, another stagecoach had the same idea, and arrived a bit earlier carrying Oswaldo Mobray, (Tim Roth), the local hangman; Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy on his way home to visit his mother; and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), who has traveled to Wyoming to look for his son.

Being a less than trustful man, Jonh Ruth suspects that someone is not who they claim to be, and is trying to rescue Katie Domergue before he can turn her over to the authorities. As the hours drag on and the storm rages outside, tensions run high in Minnie’s haberdashery, but the question remains: who can John Ruth trust, and who is waiting for their chance to put a bullet in his head?

Coming on the heels of Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight marks Tarantino’s second western in a row, though it’s actually more of a mystery than it is a frontier adventure, weaving an Agatha Christie-like whodunit in which a good many characters have something to hide. On a technical level, The Hateful Eight is stunning, with gorgeous cinematography that brings the snowy landscape to life (with Colorado standing in for Wyoming), and a vibrant musical score by the great Ennio Morricone, who netted his first-ever Oscar (aside from his 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award) for his work in this film. In addition, Tarantino crafted a “Roadshow” version of the movie that played in 70mm, the first since 1966’s Khartoum to utilize that format.

And like most of the director’s best pictures, the script for The Hateful Eight is one of its strong points, featuring colorful conversations and a few surprising twists that will surely catch you off-guard (even with the majority of the movie taking place in a single setting, the crisp dialogue ensures that it never once feels stagebound). Throw in plenty of that Tarantino violence (which is as sudden as it is brutal) and excellent performances by everyone involved (especially Jennifer Jason Leigh, who earned BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Academy Award Nominations for her turn as the ornery Daisy Domergue), and you have a movie that satisfies on every level.

While I certainly understand his reasons for wanting to retire after 10 films, I have to say I’m a bit depressed by the thought that, eventually, I won’t have a new Quentin Tarantino movie to look forward to. Fortunately, there are 2 more yet to come before I have to worry about this.

And, of course, I’ll always have The Hateful Eight to watch over and over again…







Thursday, December 1, 2016

#2,263. Hardcore Henry (2015)


Directed By: Ilya Naishuller

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett



Tag line: "First they made him dangerous. Then they made him mad"

Trivia: Crowdfunding was used to get additional funds during post-production








From a stylistic standpoint, Hardcore Henry is in a class by itself. Inspired by first-person shooter videogames, writer / director Ilya Naishuller makes us, the audience, the star of his movie.

Yes, Hardcore Henry, a 2015 action film produced in Russia, is shot entirely from a first-person perspective, and thanks to a number of GoPro cameras, which were attached to some very daring stuntmen, what we see from that vantage point is equal parts harrowing and exhilarating.

As the movie opens, the title character, Henry, is lying in a tank of water in what looks to be a laboratory, situated on an airship floating high above Moscow. When he finally comes to, Henry is greeted by a pretty scientist named Estelle (Haley Bennett), who tells him that she’s his wife (aside from being unable to speak, Henry has also lost his memory). What’s more, Henry is now a full-fledged cyborg, with high-tech limb replacements and plenty of other modifications that have made him better than ever.

As Estelle and her associates work to restore Henry’s voice, the lab is attacked by heavily-armed mercenaries loyal to Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a deranged Russian millionaire with telekinetic powers who wants to take possession of Henry. Before he can do so, however, Estelle and Henry climb into an escape pod and make their way to the city below. Unfortunately for them, Akan’s men are everywhere and shortly after their pod crash-lands in the middle of a busy highway, Estelle is taken prisoner and Henry is chased into a nearby parking lot. It’s at this point that our hero meets Jimmy (Sharito Copley), a mysterious individual who, for reasons unknown, agrees to help Henry retrieve his wife. Of course, defeating Akan and his small army is easier said than done, but once Henry realizes just how powerful he truly is, he becomes a one-man wrecking machine!

Aside from the brief introduction aboard the airship, Hardcore Henry is wall-to-wall action, and is guaranteed to get your pulse pounding (one scene in particular, where Henry, riding a motorbike, attacks a fleet of vehicles belonging to Akan is one of the most thrilling sequences I’ve seen in a while). And while the movie has its share of CGI, there are moments when the stuntmen portraying Henry (by some accounts, as many as 10 took a turn playing him) wow us with their death-defying feats; early on, Henry scales the side of a building and, after shooting it out with a few dozen henchmen, chases a guy across a rooftop. 

Along with the excitement, Hardcore Henry also presents us with some mysteries to solve, the most intriguing of which centers on his new friend Jimmy (who appears to be immortal). All this, plus a cameo by Tim Roth (as Henry’s father), a rocking soundtrack, and a hyper-chaotic finale, do their part to make Hardcore Henry a kick-ass motion picture experience.

That said, Hardcore Henry is not for everyone. First of all, it’s incredibly gory; the opening title sequence alone features violent images, all playing out in slow-motion, that are tough to watch, and things only get bloodier from there on out. Also, if the shaky cam in 1999’s The Blair Witch Project made you nauseous, this film will likely put you in the hospital (the camera shakes so wildly at times that it’s difficult to make out what’s going on). 

Ultimately, I hate to steer you away from Hardcore Henry; it truly is an exceptional film. But if copious amounts of blood and guts aren’t your thing, or you’re prone to motion sickness, then this movie, regardless of how unique it may be, is one you should definitely avoid.

Everyone else should check it out.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#2,262. Jurassic World (2015)


Directed By: Colin Trevorrow

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins



Tag line: "The park is open"

Trivia: Colin Trevorrow revealed that the first cut ran 13 minutes longer than the final film








Like a good many people, I wasn’t blown away by either of the sequels to 1993’s Jurassic Park. It’s not that I hated The Lost World (1997) or Jurassic Park III (2001); both movies featured a handful of entertaining sequences, and the effects were decent to good. But one thing those two later films failed to recreate was the sense of wonder that made Jurassic Park so damn engaging, taking instead what had been an awe-inspiring story with real moral ramifications and transforming it into a pair of straight-up action films. Released 22 years after the original (and 14 years after the most recent sequel, Jurassic Park III), director Colin Trevorrow’s awesome Jurassic World is a welcome reminder of how exciting, how frightening, and... yes... how amazing dinosaurs can be.

It’s been 2 decades since the tragedy that rocked John Hammond’s Jurassic Park, and InGen, the company he founded, has come a long way since then. For years now, thousands of people have been flocking to Jurassic World, a bigger, even better amusement park. With the new owner, Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan), picking up where Hammond left off, and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) overseeing the day-to-day operations, Jurassic World wows adults and kids alike with its state-of-the-art attractions and impressive dinosaurs. 

Claire’s nephews, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), have recently arrived, and are looking forward to their stay at Jurassic World, but despite promising her sister Karen (Judy Greer) that she’d personally look after the two, Claire instead passes Zach and Grey off to her assistant Kara (Katie McGrath), who will act as their chaperone during their stay. Of course, boys being boys, they eventually ditch Zara to explore the park on their own.

Part of what’s keeping Claire busy is Jurassic World’s newest upcoming “attraction”, a genetically engineered super-dinosaur known as the Indominus Rex. Larger and meaner than any of the park’s other creatures, the Indominus Rex lives in its own paddock, and to ensure its structurally sound Mr. Masrani invites Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to inspect the pen. A former Navy man who has been training a team of Velociraptors for the military, Grady isn’t too keen on the idea of a genetically enhanced dinosaur, especially one that has spent its entire life in captivity. 

Soon after Grady voices his reservations, the Indominus Rex, as if on-cue, escapes from its pen, and when last seen was heading straight for the main park. With thousands of guests enjoying themselves in Jurassic World, and her two nephews off on their own, Claire, with the help of Grady, must work quickly to recapture the new dinosaur before it can do any further damage. But as everyone will soon discover, the Indominus Rex has a few tricks up its sleeve…

Like its predecessors, Jurassic World is filled to its breaking point with incredible special effects and exciting action sequences, but it also reintroduces that sense of awe and wonder that made the original film such a terrific experience. When Zach and Grey first arrive at the park, the overly-enthusiastic Grey runs ahead of his brother and Zara to admire the holographic displays in the main lobby and, as John Williams’ now-iconic score plays underneath, he rushes through their hotel suite and throws open the back doors, giving him a great view of the entire park (in all its glory). Along with showing us just how high-tech Jurassic World is, this scene allows the audience, for a moment anyway, to feel like a wide-eyed kid, drinking in some truly amazing things.

In addition, Jurassic World dedicates a fair portion of its time to the relationship between man and dinosaur; Claire, who spends most of her day in the main control room, had, for years, viewed the dinosaurs as nothing more than company “assets”. That all changes the moment she and Grady, while tracking the Indominus, stumble upon a wounded brontosaurus that had gotten in the humongous creature’s way. Thanks to some well-realized animatronics, this scene is both tender and heartbreaking.

Not to worry, though, because if its action you want, Jurassic World certainly has what you’re looking for. In fact, many of the dinosaurs featured in the previous sequels get in on the fun this time around as well (one of the movie’s most intense sequences involves the aviary that was a major part of Jurassic Park III), and there’s a late scene with Grady’s Raptors that you won’t want to miss. As for the effects, Jurassic World is every bit as groundbreaking as the original Jurassic Park (there are plenty of examples I can point to, but my favorite comes when Zach and Grey are enjoying themselves at a Sea-World style exhibit, and we get to see one massive underwater dinosaur).

With a box-office tally that exceeded $1.6 billion (it was the first movie in cinematic history to bring in over $500 million worldwide on its opening weekend), Jurassic World has all but guaranteed that we’ll be seeing yet another Jurassic Park sequel somewhere down the road. But thanks to this movie, I’m looking forward to what executive producer Steven Spielberg and his team will come up with next.