It's taken me 13 years to finally watch Vulgar. Released in 2000 and produced by Kevin Smith's View Askew production company, the film seperates itself from the lowbrow toilet humour of the Askewniverse titles and presents a dark little revenge flick... think "I Spit on your Grave" with a clown in the vigilante role. Its an odd movie with lots going for it but suffers hugely from it's indecisiveness . It doesnt know which genre it wants to be. With familiar faces from the Askewniverse canon it detracts from the seriousness of it's story... and it IS serious. Brian O'Halloran (Dante from Clerks) is good in the lead role and gives a surprisingly vulnerable performance and considering the shoe-string budget it was shot on, the film looks great... but the story is let down by its script. Dialogue becomes campy and support actors fail epically (the mother character most notably) and what should be a kick ass indie revenge flick becomes nothing more than a demented little sibling of Clerks. In fact, its entirely conceivable that this could be Dante's sequel story.
We just got back from seeing Samsara. Really good. I've loved Ron Frickle's films over the years and with Baraka being his most famous work, this new film continues its legacy. The formula remains the same, however the technology is state of the art and allows the film to get deeper into different aspects of civilisation. The biggest difference Samsara has to Baraka was that its message is stronger. Rather than simply presenting an eye opening look at the world we live in, this offers moral suggestions. Consumption is probably the most obvious statement being made with adverse poverty dominating the screen before production lines, fast food and bulk buying take over. The footage is incredible and the editing is mesmerising. The film builds a rhythm that captivates and puts you right into it. If you enjoyed Baraka I reckon this one is a step up. I would love to see his next film shot for Imax, possibly in 3D. But hey, given how long it takes to make these films.... thats a while off.
I used to have Westworld taped off the TV onto VHS when I was a kid. It was the coolest movie ever and I reckon I wore the tape right down. In an unspecified future two men spend their vacation at an alternative amusement park called Westworld. Along with it's two other adjoining parks (MedievalWorld & RomanWorld) it's a state of the art hi-tech experience where tourist are able to interact and live the real experience. All of the citizens within the park are androids, designed to simulate human behaviour. The two lead characters are played by Richard Benjamin and James Brolin who find themselves in a real fight for their lives when the park's computer system breaks down and the droids malfunction. Yul Brynner plays the gunslinging robot who's hellbent on killing these guys. Damn this movie kicks ass and even though its 40 years old, it still holds up well. Of course the computer technology has dated drastically but it doesn't matter when the special FX and storyline work so well. Again, I watched this with my 11 year old step-son who lapped up every second. Clearly it remains affective and relevant to any kid keen enough to see it. I guess now we're going to have to watch the sequel Futureworld. LOL oh and I was a bit weirded out at how much James Brolin looks like Christian Bale in this flick.
In anticipation of the upcoming Manborg I have been consuming a crap-load of 80s & 90s sic-fi action flicks... this week I ploughed my way through the Universal Soldier franchise and as it's been years since I've paid any attention to the series I was surprised at how much fun I had. And so in chronological order....
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (1992)
I feel like I'm getting old because I vividly rememberthis playing at the cinemas and remember renting it when it was a new release on VHS. It was a fairly hardcore movie for the time and it came branded with an R18+ rating. Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play two soldiers who are killed in Vietnam and are reanimated by the government under the Unisol Project. A Unisol is a super soldier, remotely controlled and obeys all instructions. When Van Damme's character begins to remember things from his past life, he breaks away from his command and spends the film running from Lundgren's character. It's a simple story but it's action packed and well paced. Of course it is ludicrous at times but that's what most fans love about these movies.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 2 (1998) / UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 3 (1999)
Um.. yeah. Now here's two reaaaaally shit movies. Picking up directly from where the first movie left off, Universal Soldier 2 is a low-grade made for TV movie with an entirely new cast. It was made back-to-back with part 3 and looks like it was made on a dodgy camcorder. The dialogue is poxy and the action is terrible. Because these were made as an intended gateway to a potential tv series, you can very easy skip these and disregard them from the franchise. CRAPOLLA!
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN (1999)
Rightfully this 4th instalment ignored the telemovies and continues the Unisol story following the original movie. Van Damme's character (Luc Deveraux) is now employed by the government and it working for Unisol, keeping them honest and making sure that the program runs smoothly. He is also now a functioning human thanks for a reversal in the experiment (LOL). The Unisols are slightly more human now too, showing characteristics of humour and compassion. Of course things go wrong when the main computer system evolves to think for itself and transfers its brain into that of the strongest soldier amongst the bunch. Its up to Deveraux to stop him and the usual sci-fi action/fight sequences ensue. The movie is full of cliches and the acting is atrocious... but it was never made as high art and so it still makes for a good little popcorn movie. A bit of fun.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION (2009)
With 10 years between instalments, this next chapter in the Unisol legacy more or less ignores the last movie. It continues using the framework of the original film with Deveraux still undergoing therapy/rehabilitation (in Switzerland) to return him to civilisation. When a terrorist group take the Russian president's children hostage and threatens to blow up the Chernobyl reactor, the Unisols are called into duty and Deveraux is recommissioned. this is a HUGE step up for the franchise and it's a fucking awesome movie! Every bit of kitsch is removed and the story is treated with deadly seriousness. The action sequences are fantastic and this turns out to be a really gritty and engaging movie. I considered it the strongest in the franchise.... until.....
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012)
The final chapter (for now) in the Unisol story is without a doubt the best. Having watched it for the first time this week it has been playing on my mind since. This is not your ordinary action movie and it's an entirely different kind of thing to any of he previous instalments. A family awakens to a home invasion. The mother and daughter are brutally killed by Luc Deveraux and the father survives, only to fall into a 9 month coma. When he awakens he is driven by a strong need to avenge his family's death. So that all seems pretty straight forward but this movie goes so much deeper. Nothing is really what it seems and the overall arc is quite clever. To reveal much is to spoil it and so I will just say that this is ULTRA violent and really disturbing. As a horror loving gore-hound I was shocked and elated at the graphic extent to which this flick does. Van Damme and Lundgren don't own a lot of screen time but when they do, its great stuff. For me this is a big deal when a sci-fi/action franchise like Universal Soldier can end up with the 6th instalment being the best of the lot. The last two movies are fantastic and it's thanks to director John Hyams who is the son of legendary sic-fi director Peter Hyams. He has seen potential in the series and delivered to serious and well executed movies. Well worth checking out these last two, at least.
Beasts of the Southern Wild has been met with critical acclaim but I have also read quite a few criticisms of it, most notably arguing that it romanticises poverty. I disagree with this. Firstly the film is told through the eyes of a child who was born into these circumstances and secondly an important portion of the film is metaphorical. It tells the story of a young girl and her ill father who live in the "bathtub", a poverty stricken area situated on the upper side of a levy. A hurricane hits, destroying everything and the survivors of this community band together struggling to survive. At first she is living in a world that is rapidly closing in on her and through adversity and courage she faces fears, responsibilities and maturity. It's a beautiful story told from a child's perspective. We watched it with our 11 year old son and when the credits rolled he said "I loved that! That was great!". THAT right there affirms the film for me. Such a deep and affecting film. If you were't aware, this has been nominated for several Academy Awards including best picture and best actress. I doubt it will win either but I do think it deserves the recognition. Wonderful stuff.
The tagline for An American Carol goes like this...
"WARNING! This movie may be offensive to children, young people, old people, in-the-middle people, some people on the right, all people on the left, terrorists, pacifists, war-mongers, fish mongers, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics (though you'd have to prove it to them), the ACLU, liberals, conservatives, neo-cons, ex-cons, future cons, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarian, people of color, people of no color, English speakers, English-as-a-second language speakers, non-speakers, men, women, more women, & Ivy League professors. Native Americans should be okay."
I've just watched it and.... WOW.... just WOW! What the hell have I just witnessed? An American Carol is a slapstick comedy from David Zucker, the legendary director of Airplane, Top Secret and The Naked Gun. The last decade has not been so good to him and his movies have been terrible. In fact the slapstick style that he helped define has been reduced to crap like Superhero Movie, Epic Movie and other shit-house flicks like that... and so his return with An American Carol is in some ways a return to form. There's a lot of gags and I did find myself laughing aloud at a lot of them... BUT.... BUT... the politics of this movie is so extreme that I felt really uncomfortable watching it. My own personal politics sit comfortably between the fence and slightly to the right but THIS movie is extremely right-winged to say the least. It parodies Michael Moore as a guy who hates America and uses the Christmas Carol set-up to tell it's story. He is visited by three spirits who show him how wonderful America is and that war is good... but I just saw a whole lot of chest beating and arrogance. I tried to keep reminding myself how our television (and films) is riddled with left-wing opinions and a general anti-right sentiment but two wrongs don't make a right and I think that extremities of either side is ugly business. Surprising is the quality of the cast Zucker has pulled together. James Woods, Kelsey Grammar and Jon Voight star (amongst others) and Dennis Hopper offers an amusing yet bemusing performance. When I think of Dennis Hopper I think of that hippy from Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now but I was surprised to read that in his later years he converted to Republican... it's funny how so many old folks do that. The greatest disservice Zucker does to his agenda is to include a seriously unfunny cameo by Bill O'reilly. If there's one thing the world does not need it's more O'reilly air time. He's is not parodied and his ignorant, arrogant and dimwitted garbage is given credence. I can't swallow that! And so I was really torn by An American Carol. It's so disappointing to see great gags and a revived style of comedy being completely shat on by an extreme right-winged sentiment. David Zucker has his opinions and he has a right to make a movie out of them. It's nothing Michael Moore and other filmmakers aren't doing constantly, but this takes it way too far for my liking. Bugger!
Night Crossing is a Disney production from 1982 Starring John Hurt and Beau Bridges. It's the true story about two families who attempt to flee East German into West Germany in a home made hot air balloon. It's a fantastic escape movie told with sincerity and maturity. Before the 90s, Disney used to produce some amazing feature films (Third Man on the Mountain, Follow Me Boys, Treasure of Matecumbe just to scratch the surface). They were often true stories and always informative. I learned a lot from watching these films and I still do. Night Crossing is surprisingly sombre for a Disney film with a young boy being brutally gunned down by border guards within the first 10 minutes of the film, blood and all. So naturally it's for older kids and I think it acts as a great gateway into the history of German-segretation and the Berlin Wall. John Hurt and Beau Bridges are really good, and Hurt shows a vulnerability that I haven't seen often in his performances. The one weird thing about the movie is that the actors have British and American accents and it's easy for forget that they're supposed to be from East Germany... and yet all of the East German officials (police, guards etc) have accents. I guess to sort of vilify them. But the story is fascinating and holds your attention. The film has slipped into obscurity with time but I highly recommend finding a copy and owning it.
If you read my reviews you will know my affinity for live-action Disney classics. 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' alluded me as a kid but having just watched it I can guarantee you it would have scared the living shit out of me. What a wonderful movie!! In a small Rockwellian town in the the 1950s a storm approaches and with it, during the darkness of night, a mysterious train arrives bringing a carnival. When morning arrives the town has carnie visitors, most notably Mr Dark, a tall and menacing ringleader. The two lead characters are 10 year old boys who sneak into the carnival and accidentally stumble upon Mr Dark's sinister plans. This is a smart movie that gives kids a whole lot of credit. Disney did this type of film so well back then and it seems that they've forgotten how to now. From a bloody decapitation of a child to a grotesquely desiccated corpse... this is a movie that genuinely frightens children and gives them a damn good time in doing so. Jonathan Pryce is fantastic as Mr Dark and Jason Robards lends a solid support as the only adult who realises whats happening. It was also written for the screen by the legendary Ray Bradbury based on his own book. That adds a huge level of cred and you can see very clearly that this story has influenced a lot of Stephen King's writing too. I wish I'd seen this when I was young but it's never too late and I think this is a brilliant gateway movie that will help kids ease themselves into a delicious world of horror.
It's the early hours of morning and I was in the mood for some bad science fiction. The upcoming Astron-6 movie, Manborg has had me exited recently and so I wracked my brain for something cheesy. Cyborg came to mind but then I thought "nah, not crap!" and so naturally I chose Cyborg 2 instead. It's been years since I've seen it and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. With a credible cast (for a b-grade flick) like Angelina Jolie, Elias Koteas, Jack Palance & Billy Drago it also boasts some impressive miniature landscapes and affective action sequences. The movie itself bares no relation to the first movie except for a few flashback dream sequences featuring Van Damme. I reckon part 2 looks better than part 1 but with no story relation its stupid to compare. In fact it's stupid to even write about this one at all... its a movie none of you will race to see but perhaps you might find it in a bargain bin some day for $1 in which case it's worth every cent. LOL Hmmm... almost 3am and I'm still not tired. I might watch Cyborg 3. Hahaha!
What the hell? Cyborg 3 isn't supposed to be better than parts 1 and 2... but it is. Ditching the cyber-punk setting of part two, the movie returns to the dusty post apocalyptic world of the original and yet it continues the storyline of the second (weird). The age of man and cyborgs co-existing is over and cyborgs find themselves outcast, hunted for their parts. The movie follows a villainous character known as The Recycler and he discovers that the fembot from the previous movie has become pregnant with a human child. This is the first pregnancy of its kind which threatens mankind but gives hope to the borgkind. Its far fetched but I was really surprised at how decent the movie actually is. It's shot well and has some really good performances. Richard Lynch plays the Recycler and he, as always, does a great job. Malcolm McDowell does his usual thing, albeit an unnecessary character but best of all is Zach Galligan (from Gremlins). He plays a reclusive designer, renowned for his work with cyborg technology... its a shame Galligan has been reduced to this sort of b-movie because he has a fantastic screen presence that deserves more attention. Anyhow, again I doubt anyone will rush out to see Cyborg 3 but where I recommended part 2 if you were to find it on sale for $1, I would jack up the worth of this one and recommend paying at least $3!! LOL
There's no secret that I am a HUGE Pee-wee Herman fan. If you didn't know, The Pee-wee Herman Show was a successful stage show created in 1980. It was presented as a children's show with a slightly vulgar adults-orientated schtick to it. It proved so successful that Pee-wee leapt onto the big screen in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure (directed by Tim Burton). A year later he was given his own children's TV show (Pee-wee's Playhouse) which continued the same formula minus the mature gags. It was a fantastic show which made Pee-wee Herman one of the most famous characters of the decade and another subsequent film was made (Big Top Pee-Wee). As most of you know the guy behind Pee-wee, Paul Reubens, was arrested in the early 90s for masturbating in a porno cinema and the character and his fame came to a screeching halt. Sadly Pee-wee layed dormant for 18 years.... until 2009 when Reubens brought the character back for a triumphant return with an all new stage show. I've just finished watching it for the second time and it's so so good to have him back. The show has all of the wonderful characters returning and it feels as fresh as ever. Reubens hasn't aged a bit and Pee-wee looks as youthful as ever. The new show has put back a lot of the mature stuff and introduces some new characters too. Technically it's incredible. The set design and puppeteering is crafted so well with new tricks being used while maintaining the old school aesthetic. Reubens created and wrote the show himself and he brilliantly incorporates audience participation, making everyone watching feel like children again. As I said, I LOVE Pee-wee and the most exciting thing is that he's back better than ever and has 2 brand new movies in the works. BRING THEM!
Provocative Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier became a house-hold name in Denmark when he presented his 5 hour miniseries, Riget (The Kingdom). It's a quirky horror story told in Copenhagen's leading hospital where strange things occur and apparitions haunt the corridors. Taking a lot of queues from David Lynch, Von Trier has crafted a dark and eerie ghost story with a very facetious undertone. Its the sort of film that would appeal to fans of Twin Peaks, although it does pack some very graphic imagery. Thankfully the film's biggest strength is its storytelling and performances because time has not served various aspects of Riget very well at all. The ghostly visions are lame compared to today's standards and an odd series of interludes involving two kitchen hands (with down syndrome) who narrate the story is confusing and nonsensical. Another oddity is Lars himself who appears during the end credits of each episode to reassure the viewer that the program is make-believe. I find him to be patronising but I guess in 1994 this sort of thing had never been presented on TV before... it must have been shocking for a lot of viewers. Anyhow regardless of these qualms Riget is a fantastic program/film and the 4+ hours of series 1 is well worth it, if even just for the final 15 minutes which are brilliant. Stay tuned for my write-up of Riget II.
In the 80s director Jack Sholder made a string of movies for New Line Cinema and he became one of the best genre directors on the scene. Following the fantastic shocker 'Alone in the Dark' and 'Nightmare on Elm Street 2' he made what he and many others consider to be his best film, The Hidden. Roger Ebert described it as a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Terminator and that's a spot-on description. Kyle McLachlan stars as an FBI agent on the trail of a parasitical creature who skips from person to person, turning each victim into ultra violent, homicidal maniacs who have a penchant for heavy metal music. Teaming up with a local cop, McLachlan's character frantically follows a trail of bodies, hunting this alien creature before it finds its way to a position of absolute power. While not quite a horror film, this clever and engaging sci-fi flick takes a familiar story and turns it into something fresh and new (for its time). Its well paced and well acted and stands up after all these years. I think it's a great movie but sadly a terrible sequel was made in the early 90s and apparently a new remake is in the pipeline... damn it. If you've never seen The Hidden then check it out. It was only 3 movies later that Jack Sholder made his last good film. lol.