Monday, August 21, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) Review:

Comic book movies have long been underway for a few decades now. It was only until the 1990s were more properties beginning to show up. This was the trial stage for characters that were very much obscure to most. Then during the early 2000s, more properties were getting adaptations and with greater receptions. Though there were still flubs along the way, the code was for the most part cracked on making successful superhero films. After the 2010s, Marvel Studios had found a method of perfecting their films that many would envy for today. Of those Warner Brothers was struggling for a while to get their famous heroes going. Superman Returns (2006), Jonah Hex (2010) and Green Lantern (2011) all pretty much fell flat in getting an expanded universe going. It was only Christopher Nolan's Batman series that really got any attention. At last Warner Bros. made Man of Steel (2013), Suicide Squad (2016) and  Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), but all were mixed. Here though we have something much better.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
As popular as Wonder Woman is, the character had not had a live action venture into cinemas once. Before this she had only been portrayed in fan-made shorts, animated home video films and her own TV show in 1975. That's it though. Plus seeing how things turned out with Warner Brothers few entries in their shared universe, it was a bit worrisome thinking how this might turn out. The good news is, this feature is much better than anything so far. Written mainly by Allan Heinberg, the screenplay was well crafted for this adaptation. Surprisingly Heinberg had only worked on TV productions before this. Gal Gadot plays Diana, an Amazonian who is protected by her fellow sisters and mother from Ares, the god war. The thing is Diana does not know how powerful she truly is. When a pilot by the name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes nearby, Diana learns of World War I that's going on around her. Believing she can make a difference and that Ares is the cause of the problem, she goes where no man would ever want to.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, the director of Monster (2003), the vision she had for the film is competently fulfilled. The top actors all do a great job under her wing. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman gives a charming performance, with strength and tenderness all in one. Not only can she play a likable heroine but also can really pull off some tough sequences. Her development is also handled very well. There are so many points in which she learns about mankind. Chris Pine as Steve Trevor plays an admirable soldier. He too learns off of Diana for her lack of understanding. The rest of the supporting cast act enthusiastically too. Connie Nielsen as Diana's mother can stand her ground quite well. Danny Huston as Ludendorff, the main backer behind the Great War is intimidating in his portrayal along with his mad scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya). There's also appearances from Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, and Ewen Bremner. All of which follow Diana in her journey to stop Ares.

The only thing that might pose a problem to viewers may the portrayal of some characters. One character in particular is played by someone who doesn't exactly fit the role. Although in the end, they are not seen that much, it still may be a bit off putting. The action scenes shot in this film are well staged too. Unlike the past DCEU films, this one uses a mixture of CGI and what feels like practical effects. As the film reaches its third act, it is already assumed CGI would be the biggest driver in visuals, but at least here it doesn't look like video game cut scenes. That was all too abundant in movies like Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Plus the progression of the action scenes change over time too. This gives the viewers a nice dose of all kinds of firepower. Whether that be sword fights, superhero powers or trench warfare, it keeps the experience new and interesting. The best scene was probably in "No Man's Land", where Diana takes over the battleground. Can't do that in Call of Duty.

"Not sure whether she needs me or not...."
The camerawork was another pleasing element. Managed by Matthew Jensen, the cinematography was put together very professionally. No shaky cameras were used in the making of this production and the lens is as wide as it gets for the ultimate landscape view. The color pallet is also a great addition to the settings. Where Diana grew up as compared to the land where the war was being fought had drastic differences. This was used to emphasize the contrasts in man's corruption. Jensen had also done work for movies like Chronicle (2012) and Fantastic Four (2015). For music, the film score was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, the brother Harry Gregson-Williams, another composer. For his work, Rupert did an adequate job. Unfortunately as important as reviving an original theme is, Rupert brings back Hans Zimmer ugly electric cello theme for Diana. It just doesn't fit. Nevertheless the music (including that theme) work in making a unique sound for Wonder Woman. It's an effective score with a number of good moments.

Finally, the DCEU has a film that can be called a great movie. The best part is, is that it's of a character who hasn't gotten their own movie yet. Aside from the portrayal of a couple characters, the rest of the film in its entirety works great. The music, camerawork, action, actors and writing are all top notch.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Drive Angry (2011) Review:

Nicolas Cage has gained a reputation for playing all kinds of characters with all kinds of backgrounds with all types of personalities. These range of behaviors have covered the banal, to the deranged. Nicolas Cage knows no bounds when it comes to acting. People love and hate him for both his dramatic performances as well as his idiotic ones. During the early 2010's, Cage was on the border of his popularity. He was still getting cast into films that were guaranteed to get a larger release, yet he also signed onto films that got less notoriety. Only some of which were critically well received. Much of them on the other hand failed to make their money back or leave any kind of an impression. Of them though, one action film that kind of went under the radar that should have gotten more attention was this feature. There have been plenty of hard R action films that contained enough interesting characters and witty humor to keep things going. Yet the premise to this movie feels fresh in ways others have no shown in a while.

"He look a little angry there...."
Nicolas Cage plays John Milton, a dead man who escaped from the underworld to rescue his granddaughter from a satanic cult worshiper by the name of Jonah King (Billy Burke), who killed Milton's daughter. On his travels Milton gets the attention of Piper (Amber Heard), a wanderer looking for a purpose. All the while the devil's right hand man known as the accountant (William Fichtner) is looking to retrieve Milton and bring him back to where he belongs. Written by Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier, the two seem to have taken what feel like a mix of different characters and made them into one. As an end result, the story is not the most unique, but it serves its purpose in creating likable characters. Patrick Lussier also directed the film, who has mainly served as an editor to other projects like Scream (1996) and two sequels after it. Todd Farmer has been more of a writer to movies like Jason X (2001) and My Bloody Valentine (2009). The real problems in the script are abrupt motivation changes and an unclear backstory.

Nicolas Cage as John Milton gives a familiar performance but nevertheless, the way the Milton character comes across is comical. So many lines are stated with such deadpan, it's hard not to laugh. So many things happen to Milton that he just rolls off, it becomes quite entertaining. William Fichtner as the accountant is another comical individual. The moments the accountant shares with other cast members is humorous just for the fact that nobody understands his purpose, which frustrates him. Also the fact that Amber Heard does not play a love interest to that of John Milton is a plus. Not every protagonist needs to have someone to fall in love with. As portrayed in the running time, Milton has no time for that. Billy Burke as Milton's enemy plays a fairly considerable opponent. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty and does not hesitate to kill. Burke is also known for playing in Lights Out (2016) and in the Twilight (2008) series. For supporting characters there are also appearances by several others.

These characters do not affect the plot in any real way, but they do bring some recognizable faces to the show. David Morse plays a friend of Milton by the name of Webster. His sarcasm is about an equal match to Milton's. Jack McGee has a small role as Fat Lou, the owner of a local diner. He has a funny exchange with the accountant. Also, Tom Atkins shows up to play the head of the police department. It's a role that only Atkins would easily fit in to. The action and special effects are well handled here too. The violence in this film vary with all kinds of sequences. Sometimes people are shot with guns, others are run over by vehicles and some suffer worse than that. Those kills are normally attributed to the accountant, since he is the most supernatural character in this story. The thing is, although it looks like he's having fun doing it, he comes across more inconvenienced. With these types of kills are the blood and gore, which looks pretty good. Gore fans should be well satisfied here if they want guts.

William Fichtner
Working as the cinematographer to this project was Brian Pearson. For majority of the movie, Pearson's work was great looking. Hardly any of the action scenes involved shaky cam and much of it helped in the pacing of the experience. The lens used wasn't a wide angle but it was large enough to get the full scope of the surroundings. Pearson also worked on movies like The Fear: Resurrection (1999), Final Destination 5 (2011), Into the Storm (2014) and Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015). Topping things off however was the musical score composed by Michael Wandmacher. The film score has a unique mix of a hard rock guitar theme for Milton and a southern sound for Piper. There's also hints of horror cues that sound very close to typical stings. Being that Wandmacher also produced music for Punisher: War Zone (2008) and Piranha 3D (2010), it's no surprise this guy can combine both genres together with no problem. Thankfully a release of the score is available so anyone can listen because it is a lot of fun.

This may not go down in Nic Cage's career as the greatest movie he's made, but it sure is an enthralling one at that. There aren't many things to find wrong in this production other than a few minor holes in its writing. The action, camerawork, and music all coincide together to create an engaging experience. Plus the actors seem to be having a lot of fun in their roles.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fateful Findings (2013) Review:

Awful movies exist everywhere. Each one is released under different circumstances. Some are produced to intentionally be bad, while other times they just come across bad, but never wanted to be interpreted that way. The ones that are purposefully made to be horrible are made by filmmakers and studios who are just looking to make a cheap cash-in no matter how terrible the end result is. The best example many people might think of, that comes close to those descriptions would be either The Asylum or Uwe Boll. And then there are people like Tommy Wiseau or the man who made this movie, Neil Breen. It may be hard to believe but these two guys have a lot in common when it comes to how much they think they are a gift to the world. Both have a never ending ego that propels them to continue making their movies no matter what others say. They truly think their work is a high art that is at the same level as many of the other critically acclaimed films that have been released. Or so they think. As bad as this is, it is worth it.

Neil Breen and his,
Crediting himself to almost every single film crew position available, Neil Breen has taken on more roles than other thespian in existence. This is also probably why his film makes practically no sense. Neil Breen plays Dylan, a man who once found the love of his life before he hit his teens. Together, he and his then love Leah (Jennifer Autry) discover a magic token. Skip decades later and Dylan still holds this thing dear to him. Even after getting into a serious car accident. His current girlfriend Emily (Klara Landrat) is a struggling drug addict and a neighboring family is having their own strained relationships next door. Jim (David Silva) and Amy (Victoria Vivieros) have differing motives. Amy wants to relax because her job is hard and Jim wants to fornicate, mostly because he's always drunk. Plus Amy's stepdaughter Aly (Danielle Andrade) has to deal with their bickering. All the while Dylan has found a way of hacking into corporate systems that contain secrets and suffering from paranormal headaches.

Everything is about as fragmented as it gets. The writing is like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. It just doesn't work. What Breen did here was try to make a movie that have every single genre in its story. As a result, the play out is generic and feels alien. There are several unfinished subplots mainly because nothing is done with them to begin with. Throughout the running time there's a character in black that goes around walking from place to place and it is never revealed who they are, what they want, what they represent, etc. The subplots themselves don't exactly fit together either in any smooth way. The Jim and Amy couple argue to no end, but have no impact on Dylan or Emily in development. So why bother including them? Also the stepdaughter has a sequence where she waltzes into Dylan's house naked to arouse him, only to be sent away by Dylan. And the significance of this scene was? If it's not going to go anywhere, why include it in the script? Breen's storytelling is like a maze.

Later on Dylan meets Leah again all grown up but for the most contrived reason, being that one had written in a notebook way back and held onto it for years. Really? Let's not forget the acting from the cast or the dialog to boot. Wow is this treasure trove of people who are not invested in the project they are making. Everyone from the top down can't deliver a line in any form that sounds natural or believable. What probably aided the deliveries to be so bad was due to how bad the lines are written. Some conversations don't even relate to one another, making the association incoherent. There are only a few redeeming qualities to this horrendous film. Of the cast, the only actor who stands out is Neil Breen and not because he's the best actor. Far from it. What makes his performance so amazing is because of how he has control over this whole thing, stars in it and can't even be a leading man. No emotion is put into his lines; everything is monotone. And this guy thinks he is making mainstream movies? What a laugh.

"Help me, I've signed onto the wrong project!"
And that's by far the strongest highlight. It is because of Breen's emotionally void showing is what makes this viewing experience so funny. The main genre this film takes place in is a fantasy, science fiction thriller. Yet comes off like a comedy because of Breen. And this isn't his only stinker. Breen made two other films before this and basically gave the same kind of product. The two films were Double Down (2005) and I Am Here...Now (2009). The next best thing to Breen's acting is the cinematography handled by John Mastrogiacomo. Mastrogiacomo also has one other credit, which was to Breen's I Am Here...Now (2009). For what it's worth Mastrogiacomo gets some pretty background shots of the desert. Much of that is clear and vivid in its display. Interior shots are mostly okay but could use some improvement. The music was also adequate but that's probably because the music was just stock audio. There's no way Breen was a music director like he so proudly credits himself at the end. Yeah ok.

Recommendation wise, if you don't like indie or amateur films in general stay away. But if you're interested in seeing how unbelievable a guy like Neil Breen can be, now's the time. The camerawork and music might be okay, but don't expect anything else to tell an understandable story whatsoever. The actors don't even know what they're doing in it.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Grizzly (1976) Review:

Animal attacks are not uncommon things in the contemporary world. Humans can sometimes cross paths with a wild animal at the wrong time and place. Of course not all animals are intentionally setting out to harm individuals, but there are those moments where they had it coming. Whether it was due to their lack of awareness or just plain ignorance, certain animals should not be domesticated because it's just shouldn't be done. As explored in Steven Spielberg's ocean thriller Jaws (1975), the shark had proven to be a formidable force that should only be observed from far distances. It made a lot of people think twice about going back into the water. Smartly capitalizing on the fad and everyone's deepest fears, a producer by the name of Edward L. Montoro made this independent film focusing on a dangerous land animal. The animal of choice for this feature was the grizzly bear. So now instead of scaring the living life out of beach goers, Montoro wanted to make people fear their own backyard. Well done Mr. Montoro.

"Why am I in a Jaws (1975) knock-off?!"
Although the film has its own credited screenwriters, the parallels between this movie and Jaws (1975) are all too familiar. Written by Harvey Flaxman and David Sheldon, the script has few differences in its story. Michael Kelly (Christopher George) is a ranger at the local park and the season for backpackers and hikers has just kicked in. To his dismay a couple of campers were mauled by a grizzly bear and now he's on the hunt with helicopter pilot Don Stober (Andrew Prine) and nature boy Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel). Breathing down Kelly's neck is park owner Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), who wants the bear gotten rid of. See the similarities in how the events reflect what goes on in Jaws (1975)? The noticeable changes are that it deals with a bear instead of a shark and it's on land and not at sea. There are even scenes where after the campers are attacked, a posse of hunters go out to kill the bear themselves. Even Kittridge becomes greedy and becomes okay with having the publicity.

The minor changes within the story though deal with Christopher George's character. Unlike the main character of Jaws (1975), Mike Kelly is a single man who hasn't found the right woman in his life yet. Co-starring in this film is another actor by the name of Joan McCall playing Allison Corwin. She initially comes across like she could turn into Kelly's love interest but then goes nowhere. From the start Corwin explained to Kelly that she was trying to finish a project she was working on, but two thirds of the way through she completely vanishes from sight never to be heard from again. Something's a miss here. And McCall's character isn't the only one with an unfinished thread. There are a few others, and doesn't resolve much in the story. It's unbecoming that so much of the screenplay resembles another movie only to not completely take what they've learned and apply it correctly. Why bother introducing a character that adds nothing to anything?

The only true actors to come out unscathed is Christopher George and "Teddy" the bear actor. Although much of his other co-stars have been in several films like him, George is the only actor to try and make his role his own. Christopher George is probably best known for playing a role in the so-bad-it's-so-good film Pieces (1982). This feature would be his next best. The rest of the acting by Andrew Prine and Richard Jaeckel act passably but do not stand out from any other cast member. Andrew Prine would take a minor roll Ronald F. Maxwell's epic of Gettysburg (1993) and Richard Jaeckel would also play a minor role in the science fiction drama Starman (1984). For animal actors, "Teddy" the portrayed grizzly bear killer was quite a looker. In all honesty, the thought of having a real bear on scene was not thought to be likely. Apparently they did have a real bear on set though, and he is something to watch. There are some pretty serious injuries that are filmed too but the actual mauling isn't too believable.

"Teddy" the bear actor
The camerawork that goes with film is mostly doable. The only time it's too unconvincing is when the camera represents the animal attacks. The lens just moves too much to figure out everything. Other than that, the wide panning shots by William L. Asman are visually pleasing. The forest is a big place and the landscape is vast in its scope. The camera is also used as the eyes of the grizzly which has it pushing through brush so as to look like the viewer is the bear. That looks fairly accurate. Although Asman has done cinematography, his main credit is as a camera operator to films like The Rocketeer (1991) and Speed (1994). The music by Robert O. Ragland is also a supportive element to the film. It's by no means anywhere close to as recognizable as John Williams' music, but it has its moments. Sadly there's no main theme, which could've helped the movie greatly. Ragland also made the score to both The Fear (1995) and The Fear: Resurrection (1999). Hmmmmm okay.

As a calling to what could be said as the land version of Jaws (1975), this film fairs out alright but nothing truly great. Only a few actors work among the whole cast and the cinematography is the only good looking visual. The gore is average at best and the script is in a lot of ways very much the same to Jaws  (1975). The music is decent but it's difficult to remember it.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Return of the Native (1994) Review:

People get caught up in all kinds of things in their everyday lives. Whether it's their career, hobbies or other peoples' problems, some individuals can't seem to let go of their insatiable interest in certain things. Too much of anything isn't good for you in general. However, the most toxic of all topics is getting trapped on a consistent basis is in one's romantic life. Lovers fall for each other all the time, 365 days a year. What they don't understand is how quickly overrun they can become with their emotions. Once this occurs they can become completely distracted and not even see the flaws in the person they desire or the mistakes they might make themselves. It can also cause that same person swamped with lust to neglect anything else that might required some kind of obligation. This is dangerous and must be stopped. For novelist Thomas Hardy, these were themes he focused on a lot. With other written works like Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, The Return of the Native also visited this subject.

"It's okay Eustacia,...someday you'll meet Zorro"
Eustacia Vye (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is an attractive young woman who lives on a heath in England, but wants to move to France. Her reason for this being that the rest of the town thinks of her as a modern day witch. She's already known for partially seducing Damon Wildeve (Clive Owen), the soon to be husband of Thomasin Yeobright (Claire Skinner), of which Wildeve is more keen on moving away from the heath. That is until Clym Yeobright (Ray Stevenson), the cousin of Thomasin returns from France. When Eustacia and Clym first meet, they become quite infatuated with each other. Not long after they get married and move out of the heath, but not to France. In turn, Vye still longs for France and Wildeve hopes to see Vye once more. Adapted by Robert W. Lenski, the teleplay for this film operates in a way that shows just how muddled people's emotions can get after finding the one they love.  There's lots of back and forth between characters and that's normally how events like these happen. Lenski has written almost all teleplays.

Primetime Emmy nominated director Jack Gold governed this picture. With drama genre films being his strength, Gold knows mostly how to keep the plot engaging. With the threads of Vye, Yeobright and Wildeve taking up much of the plot, Gold and Lenski also work in Diggory Venn (Steven Mackintosh), a field worker who had hopes of marrying Thomasin but was too poor to do so. The person behind this roadblock was Mrs. Yeobright (Joan Plowright). She also feared, like the rest of the town, that Eustacia was the cause of all problems. What doesn't exactly work within the feature are two small areas. The first being that by the finale, one character thread is left unresolved. It's so noticeable, it could make the viewer wonder if the production crew just forgot to film a scene or something. Second, the issue of how English was spoken at the time. According to the story, it is set in 1842, yet the way English is spoken sounds like it belongs to Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur (2004). And yet that took place way before the 1800s.

The emotional drama that occurs throughout the running time though is executed properly by the cast. Since this film is much older now, it is quite a sight to see such big name actors in their younger years. Catherine Zeta-Jones as Eustacia Vye is quite the onlooker and is very skilled in getting what she wants from the people who can't resist her. That is until she meets Cylm Yeobright. For Clive Owen as Damon Wildeve, it's unusual seeing him play a character that's not so caring of others. Owen doesn't play it as a jerk, but is somewhat difficult to sympathize with. Ray Stevenson was the right choice to play Clym Yeobright. Stevenson plays Clym like a true gentleman and is also the one viewers should condole with mostly. Both Stevenson and Zeta-Jones have good chemistry on screen and are quite a pair (as some minor characters stated in the movie itself). What's more surprising is that Owen and Stevenson would end up starring together a decade later in King Arthur (2004). Fancy that.

A young Clive Owen
For supporting characters, Claire Skinner as Thomasin is a caring young woman. Although she may seem slightly weak at first, she does manage to take hold of the reigns and lead the way occasionally. Steven Mackintosh plays rather an underrated and overlooked character as Diggory Venn. He's also the best example of how patience pays off when it comes to treating your enemies with respect. Mackintosh was also in Brian Henson's The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). For visuals, even for a TV film, the cinematography was very palatable by Alan Hume. Much of the picture contains the 1800s homes and surrounding grasslands in the country. It's very beautiful to look at, even with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Hume also worked on Zeppelin (1971), Octopussy (1983) and Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983). As for music, another unreleased soundtrack this time by composer Carl Davis was well produced too. Containing a repeating main title, the tune isn't completely memorable but does replay often.

Looking past some very minor places within this feature, this old romance story is a fascinating drama that will keep the attention of its audience. The actors are younger than ever, the music has an outlining theme and the camerawork is very pretty.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Dreamer: Inspired By a True Story (2005) Review:

Movies based on true events can be a challenge to make when it comes to keeping the facts straight. Depending on who's making the movie and how much they want to bend the truth, the end result can come out resembling nothing like the narrative that motivated it. Another factor would be how heavily involved the originating source was to the production. With their input, much of the authenticity remains intact. For the story of a filly that got the chance to race in one of the biggest racing cups, the actual horses associated with the event may not be in it but they are represented accurately. For John Gatins, the writer of Coach Carter (2005), Real Steel (2011), Flight (2012) and Power Rangers (2017), this story in particular must have struck a chord with him in some way. Being that this was the only production he directed and wrote simultaneously, this project really must have meant something. Directing and writing is not easy to do. However Gatins seems like he can handle such an assignment.

"Hmmmm,....I see in your future,...a movie adaptation...."
Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) is a professional horseman who races horses. At one point he used to raise horses but soon got caught up in the business end of things. His father referred to as Pop (Kris Kristofferson) doesn't speak much to him because of his career change. His wife Lily (Elisabeth Shue) is a hard worker and loves both him and Pop. Above all else Crane's daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) is the biggest horse enthusiast. Constantly curious and trying to understand what her father is up to, Ben brings Cale to a race track to see a horse by the name of Soñador (Spanish for Dreamer). Although Soñador indirectly was telling Ben she couldn't race, Ben's boss Palmer (David Morse) pushes him anyway. As a direct result Soñador ends up having an accident fracturing her cannon bone. Fearing she may be put down in front of Cale, Ben decides to buy off Soñador from Palmer and nurse her back to health. There after starts a chain of events that leads to bigger and tenser events.

The whole film by itself is something hard to find a problem with. The story is well written, has characters that go through the right kind of development and demonstrate that sometimes it's not always business as usual. If you fight for what you want no matter the length of time, more often than not the odds will favor you. The only part that might seem a bit unrealistic for this movie is when Ben Crane looks into the eyes of his horse and can understand what they're telling him. Okay, it's kind of believable if a person has that much experience with a certain animal but it is also somewhat far-fetched. A step away from that, the script handles the plot well. Kurt Russell as Ben Crane is favorable lead and has a character arc that is rightfully sympathetic. Kris Kristofferson as Pop Crane as the grizzled version of his son is a good anchor for the family. The casting is also spot on because Kristofferson does look very much like an older Kurt Russell to some degree. Out of them though, Dakota Fanning stands out the most.

Having a child actor as the lead can be a gamble sometimes, but Fanning as Cale Crane is an enjoyable young star. Her smile and honest demeanor shows that she truly liked the part she was cast for. She's also the one who drives the story along with Soñador. David Morse as Ben's competitor does a great job at showing just how good of an antagonist he can be. He's not an irritating one, but does know how to get under one's skin in an effective way. David Morse was also in other big name films like The Rock (1996), The Green Mile (1999), The Hurt Locker (2008) and Drive Angry (2011). Rounding out the supporting cast was Freddy Rodríguez and Luis Guzmán as the secondary caretakers to Soñador with Ben and Cale Crane. Both Freddy and Luis in their respective roles added small portions of comedy to help lighten the mood at times. Rodríguez has gone onto participate in more TV shows like The Night Shift and Bull. While Guzmán remains an actor on the big screen being in films like Keanu (2016) and The Do-Over (2016).

Luis Guzmán & Dakota Fanning
Even from The Mummy (1999) fame, actor Oded Fehr has a minor appearance as certain character who affects the fate of the main characters. He may not have a lot to say but it's a credible showing. For what's on screen, the cinematography shot by Fred Murphy looks wonderful. Caught on a wide screen aspect ratio, Murphy's work can be really appreciated. Majority of the shots contain green pastures and other rural landscapes. The best shots though belong to the racing scenes, which really capture the beauty of how the horses run and the way they maneuver. Murphy also worked on films October Sky (1999) and Secret Window (2004). Completing the final component for this feature was the film score composed by John Debney. With other family projects to his credit like Spy Kids (2001), Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001) and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015), this particular genre feels natural. Debney's score is one of those prime examples of how a non franchise film can use a reoccurring main theme that works.

There's very little that doesn't captivate here. The script has a small part that gets a little beyond credibility but overall it's hard not to find it engaging. Actors, cinematography and music all converge on one another to make a gratifying viewing experience.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ed Gein (2000) Review:

After the gruesome discovery residents of Plainfield had made when entering the house of Ed Gein, no one knew the genre of horror would change forever. With Robert Bloch publishing his thriller novel "Psycho" in 1959, Hollywood would end up taking the story and twisting it into various iterations. Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Psycho (1960) of the same name frightened many at the time. Skip a decade or so and Tobe Hooper would do the same thing in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Without Ed Gein or his contorted history, the stories of horror, fans have today to enjoy would not exist. It is unfortunate though that such events had to occur in order to develop such iconic creations. Up until that point though nobody had really made a movie based on the actual inspiration himself. Ed Gein had only been written about prior and was still alive up until the mid 1980s. Putting a production together that solely focused on the background / life of Ed Gein is just as intriguing as the other popular horror movies.

Carrie Snodgress
The running time mainly follows Ed Gein  (Steve Railsback) to the point of where he begins to commit his heinous acts that many never saw coming. Inserted at different points are flashback sequences that show what brought him to that point. These flashbacks pursue his upbringing from young boy to middle-aged adult. Living under the strict rule of his mother (Carrie Snodgress), Gein transforms from a timid adolescent, to a man with a distorted sense of reality. Writing the screenplay to this indie film was Stephen Johnston. For the most part, the story feels pretty solid. Certain scenes within the movie do contain moments that are unrealistic, but this appears when Gein has already hit his psychosis so it can be assumed that only he is seeing these things. However there are factual errors to the story. Certain names and events were changed. For example, the owner of the hardware store that Gein had killed was Bernice Worden. In this feature it was Collette Marshall (Carol Mansell). Maybe it was legal issue?

Or the deputy who arrested Gein was named Arch Sly, but here his name is Sheriff Jim Stillwell (Pat Skipper). Even the way of which Gein's disgusting hobby was discovered has a slightly altered telling as to what other sources say. Perhaps director Chuck Parello modified these scenes to make it more dramatic. But why - a true story is way more convincing. Aside from this, the rest of the story execution is captivating enough. The subplot between Gein and Mary Hogan (Sally Champlin) is fascinating. Parello even delves into what might have happened to Ed's brother Henry (Brian Evers), since his death still remains unknown. This is by far the best personification of the life of Ed Gein in the most realistic fashion. From an upbringing with his religious mother, to his plunging mental health on his own. After this movie, Johnston also wrote for psychotic films like Bundy (2002) and The Hillside Strangler (2004). Parello is best known for directing this feature and Henry II: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1996).

Gein is displayed as a truly lost individual with no clear sense of control or guidance. Steve Railsback as Ed Gein puts in the right amount of effort to show how much he studied the role. Railsback brings the deranged individual to life with quiet and restrained intent. There's enough to show that there's something not all there. Railsback has been in several film productions, his most famous being The X-Files and Lifeforce (1985). Carrie Snodgress as Augusta Gein is even more convincing being that she was the force that drove her son into lunacy. Citing biblical stories and forewarning her sons of the dangers of sinful people. Snodgress was also in other films like Easy Rider (1969) and Pale Rider (1985). The third actor that best fits the mold of their character was Sally Champlin as Mary Hogan. Not only did she fit the character visually but matched Hogan's described personality as well. All other cast members within the film work well too but do not stand out because their roles are not as prevalent.

"Don't I look purrty?"
Being that this is an independent film, the visuals are not as perfected but help paint the story. Some of the digital effects look lightly rendered onto the picture, which isn't horrible but not great. There are practical effects though for the skin / bone cannibal like activities that Gein was interested in and what psychologists suspected. The cinematography shot by Vanja Cernjul worked for the film. It wasn't filmed in a wide aspect ratio, but it did get the needed shots in order to convey the correct atmosphere for how Plainfield might have felt at the time. Cernjul was also the cinematographer to American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002). For music, Robert McNaughton composed the film score. For an unreleased film score the music does its job efficiently. It's unfortunate that there was no main theme of any sort. McNaughton also scored both Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), its sequel and is related to the director of the first; John McNaughton.

By no means is it a gory horror film with the most recognizable icon. The script also adapts certain parts of the history correctly, while other times is misses the mark completely. No matter what though, the main leads fill the shoes professionally, the story is tempting to watch, the music fits the atmosphere as well as the visual style.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Monday, July 10, 2017

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) Review:

When the first Universal Soldier (1992) film came out, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren were very much in their prime of popularity. Both had been in their fair share of widely known movies and were often included into the same category as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It was also the movie that had one of the earliest collaborations between the big name action stars aside from Rocky IV (1985). Later on the series went underground to TV sequels but did not fair well financially due to the lack of star power. A few years later, Van Damme came back to the series in Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) but it too failed horribly. The poor writing in general and silly nature of the end product felt nothing like the first movie. With that it was no shock that the franchise remained dead a good decade before producers thought maybe another film could be made. When they did, it was met with open arms but also rolling eyes. It was passable at best but not good.

"Uhhhh, I supposed to be punching him?"
Instead of being a third story time line to the original, one could consider this the first real sequel to Universal Soldier (1992). The reason behind this being that it completely ignores the events of Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) and has a more serious tone. The Ukranian Prime Minister's children have been captured by terrorist leader Topov (Zachary Baharov) and held in Chernobyl as ransom. Special forces are developing a plan to get them out but are stuck because Topov has teamed up with scientist Dr. Colin (Kerry Shale) from the UniSol project now known as Black Tower. On their side they have the next generation UniSol or NGU (Andrei Arlovski), an emotionless killing machine. After a few attempts it is decided by Dr. Porter (Gary Cooper), another scientist from the Black Tower project, to bring back Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). However Colins has a backup and that's having Andrew Scott's body (Dolph Lundgren) on standby if a problem arises.

For a continuation of the original story, the writing is average at its greatest. Yet there are still a lot of unanswered questions. So what did become of Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker)? How is Andrew Scott's body intact after the finale of Universal Soldier (1992)? Again, the UniSol project was only known by a select group of scientists so where was Dr. Colins and Dr. Porter? These questions just begin to add up over time. Written by Victor Ostrovsky (in his only credit ever), the only thing in the script that is relatively untainted is the fact that Deveraux has been in rehabilitation since the end of Universal Soldier (1992). But as for development very little of what Deveraux feels is explained and his reconvening with Scott only triggers old memories. Nothing is explained as to how both of them feel. It even seemed at one point that Scott was thinking about something but he ends up getting cut short. Why throw in something that might work only to completely negate it?

There's also appearances from others like Corey Johnson, Mike Pyle, Emily Joyce and even son of the star himself, Kris Van Damme. Directing this feature is John Hyams, the son of director Peter Hyams. Hyams Sr. was the man behind 2010 (1984) and would later direct End of Days (1999). The direction here by John Hyams isn't that impressive. It's very linear in story structure. However when it comes action, the stunts and sequences are well staged. Much of the action that occurs throughout the running time are energetic by default and are very lively. The types of violence ranges from hand-to-hand combat, shootouts to improvised weapons. Also the interactions between Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme are noteworthy to view. Since these two characters share a history together that boils both their blood, it's interesting to have the two meet in a situation that is very familiar to them. Andrei Arlovski as NGU is a competent fighter too but since his character has very few words, not much can be said.

Andrei Arlovski
Camerawork was managed by Peter Hyams, which was unfortunately disappointing. Seeing that Hyams Sr. has had previous experience in doing cinematography, it's surprising that here the look to this picture is so unappealing. With credits to movies like 2010 (1984), Running Scared (1986), Narrow Margin (1990) and Timecop (1994), the visuals to this film should've look at least okay. Instead many scenes have dull colors and the backgrounds look to much like everything else surrounding it. Music was another problem when viewing this sequel. Composed by Kris Hill and Michael Krassner, the music is just as forgettable. Featuring only a few different cues, much of the sounds are just electronic clicks and warps. There's really no main theme and the cues for various sequences are about as anonymous as they get. As far as it's known, not even an official release of the music has been announced. So it's even harder for a fan of the music to really enjoy it. Although it would be hard to say whether it's worth it or not.

Stepping up from the previous sequel, the script attempts to connect to the first film. Yet only a couple places does it actually work. Camerawork and music aren't that good but Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme are fun watch on screen again and the action is good too.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Power Rangers (2017) Review:

In the early 1990s, the Power Rangers TV show was a big thing when it came out. With its big action set pieces and varying evil characters to combat, many kids found the show to be a lot of fun growing up. Since then the show has continued to be superseded by different kinds of rangers. The style and execution of the show very much remained the same but the difference was in the designs and settings. Every few years seemed like a new version of the Power Rangers were being made. Prior to that, two movies were made featuring the original rangers. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie (1995) and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie both attempted to bring about more fans but only succeeded with the first. The show was what really kept the franchise afloat. Being that it's so popular though, producers finally thought it was time to reboot the series with a brand new film. Modernization of the characters, suits, and villains were something that was bound to happen. In the end, it was alright.
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"So,...will this make us cool again?"
Seeing that this is a reboot film, the script was handled as an origin story. Written by John Gatins, audiences are introduced to a bunch of misfits that can't seem to find a break in their lives. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is a football player who just blew is last shot at getting a scholarship for a dumb prank he tried to pull. Kim (Naomi Scott) was once a cheerleader who made an ill-fated social media post that got her in trouble. Billy (RJ Cyler) is just a book worm techie and gets caught in the wrong situations. Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G.) are both outsiders who try to stay as secluded as possible from the town they live in. Before they know it, they cross paths together after discovering mystical colored coins. Upon making this discovery, they then run into Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the original owners of the glowing coins. There they learn what the power rangers were all about and that an ex ranger by the name Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) must be stopped before she destroys their world.

The development of the main leads are adequate. Although they make questionable decisions at first, viewers can get attached to them. The actors portraying those characters do an acceptable job. With the cast only having big name actors as the supporting roles, this gives ample time for the lesser-known thespians to shine. Out of that group, nobody takes the spotlight more than the other. They all have their moments to grow and that's always a sign the writer is thinking properly. What doesn't make sense though is that once these individuals start to train as power rangers, everyone in school treats them exactly the opposite. That's not realistically believable. On top of that Billy is a wiz at almost everything and even discovers an important plot device that Repulsa is looking for. How he finds is not explained and makes no sense. Putting that aside though, the rest of the storytelling is decent. Gatins was also the writer to Real Steel (2011), Need for Speed (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017).

The direction was also competently controlled by Dean Israelite. What's more surprising is that Israelite had only directed one other theatrical feature which had a much smaller budget and only made twice as much back. The film was Project Almanac (2015), which was released in late January. When movies are released then, most are because they are not very good films. But all the power to Israelite for moving up. The action sequences that begin to occur around the middle of the film are well staged. Any CGI that was used in those scenes were also rendered effectively not to look fake. One of the more unique designs was to Repulsa's Goldar. Made completely of molten liquid gold, the flow of how the liquid gold moves is not seen on many creatures. The power ranger suits was another change that was done in order to not date the costume. This worked in their favor because although it's metallic armor, it looks much more durable than to that of the older style suits. Like they actually could take a beating.

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Bryan Cranston as Zordon
Camerawork for this film was a mixed bag however. Shot by Matthew J. Lloyd, the cinematography is a hybrid of shaky cam, rotating panoramic shots and traditional shooting. The classical filmmaking parts were fine; nothing to mention there. The shaky cam and rotating shots are another problem. Shaky cam is always an issue because the motions can be nauseating even if the idea is to create realism. As for the rotating shots, it can get very dizzying. Lloyd got some professional shots but anything else is nothing to be impressed with. He also filmed for Cop Car (2015) and Project Almanac (2015). Rounding out the  technical elements was music composed by Brian Tyler. In the past, Tyler's music has been used for many different action films and here it sounds very stock in its own way. For some reason he doesn't translate the Power Rangers main theme but it's not all neglected. Tyler seems to have taken an alternate approach to his music. In certain areas, cues will sound close Daft Punk's sound. Interesting.

Modernizing the power rangers franchise wasn't a bad idea at all. Much of the work put into this feature manages to stand out with relatively necessary development of characters. The action is permissible and the music fits the genre to a degree. The only problem is the script misses some key points and the cinematography is uneven in presentation.

Points Earned - -> 6:10

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Hunley (1999) Review:

The American Civil War is one of those times that history buffs love to revel in because of how tragic the war was. There have been so many personal stories revealed over decades about various people on both sides who fought the odds to prove themselves to others. Even in bigger events, there were people who had stories like this. Ronald F. Maxwell's Gettysburg (1993) and Gods and Generals (2003) were just a couple from a cluster of films made to shed light on these individuals. By far the most ingenious invention ever made during this period was the Hunley submarine used shortly by the confederates in 1864. Not long after, the Civil War would end in 1865. What's surprising is that not only was the Hunley the first of its kind to be a fully functioning combat sub, but it also vanished quickly after it was brought into the world. Discovered at the bottom of the ocean in 1995, it was then salvaged in 2000. In 1999, this TV Movie was made to try and explain what might have happened the last time it was used.

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Lt. Dixon speaking to his crew
Written and directed by John Gray (White Irish Drinkers (2010)), the story follows Lieutenant George Dixon (Armand Assante), a real life officer who volunteered to be the leader of the Hunley sub experiment. After a couple failed launches, Dixon tries one last time and recruit a team that'll make the mission a success. Soon he finds Simkins (Chris Bauer), Collins (Sebastian Roché), Wicks (Michael Stuhlbarg), Miller (Jeff Mandon), Becker (Michael Dolan), White (Frank Vogt) and his second in command Lt. Alexander (Alex Jennings). After being given the "go-ahead" by General Beauregard (Donald Sutherland), Dixon begins his preparation with his crew to use the Hunley. The script was also co-written John Fasano, the same writer to some bad to decent films like Universal Soldier: The Return (1999), Sniper: Reloaded (2011) and Sniper: Legacy (2014). For a story based mostly on fact, it's a decent watch. The problem is that it is predictable in a war drama sort of way. It's rather obvious as to how it'll play out.

This can be troublesome for viewers because this does not permit the experience to be very suspenseful. It's unfortunate that that is how the story structure comes across. John Gray seems like a competent director but the execution follows a structure very close to other heroes who were believed to be a lost cause. However this particular issue does not take away the quality of the main leads. Both Armand Assante and Donald Sutherland emote correctly for the scenes required. They are also given backstories that allow the viewer to understand why they are who they are. Before Lt. Dixon went off on the Hunley mission, he was a regular infantryman and was narrowly saved by a gunshot that struck a coin given to him by his wife (Caprice Benedetti) before leaving. As time goes on, Dixon also realizes that he and General Beauregard share the same interests. The supporting cast is what suffers the most in development though. Although their actual histories were unclear, this gave the liberty to play with that.

Chris Bauer as Simkins is the brawn and misses his wife. Sebastian Roché as Collins is frequently combative with others. Alex Jennings as Lt. Alexander gets seasick easy but will loyally follow his first in command. Aside from those three, everyone else has brief backgrounds given just to give them one character trait. One can catch fish with his hands and another speaks French. Not exactly the most important of attributes. Even the individuals focused on more like Simkins, Collins and Alexander aren't that greatly developed. Visual aspects to the film were largely credible though. For 1999, there are some bits that contain CGI, but they're not extensive enough to carry a full act in the film. That goes for things like quick cuts to the Hunley submarine underwater or a few explosions. The rest of what was put on screen were mainly practical sets and props. Clips that had city structures and interior shots of the Hunley were impressive to look at. The team behind making that prop made an accurate representation of it.

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"Ready to dive Dixon?"
The camerawork handled by John Thomas was relatively good. Although the film was made for TV and did not have a wide lens, the shots were nice to look at. Exterior scenes that contained the city sets look voluminous and the inside of the Hunley certainly looked cramped and uncomfortable for anyone to enjoy. Each shot gave what was needed in order to convey the correct setting to the audience that was watching. John Thomas would later shoot for big name movies like Sex and the City (2007) and Sex in the City 2 (2010). Randy Edelman composed the film score for sound. Being that Edelman had produced the widely underrated music to Gettysburg (1993), it's only appropriate that he scored this film as well. Since the story is not on large a scale, the music is not as grand in sound. The tracks contain more solo pieces from either trumpet or snare drums. Both contribute equally though and  bring the right feeling for each scene especially dealing with Dixon. All in all it's a good watch but not as unique as one would think.

Structurally the execution is not anything special, the supporting characters are not well developed and a lot the suspense is removed since it is known what happened to the civil war sub. However the actors are believable, the visuals, cinematography and music all help bring it to a level that is doable for a civil war film.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Fate of the Furious (2017) Review:

Putting all criticisms aside, it is truly amazing how quickly this franchise has expanded. In a matter of less than two decades, a simple racecar thriller known as The Fast and the Furious (2001) has created practically as many sequels as the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) did. That's mind blowing. This should prove to viewers who do and don't enjoy it that the producers must know what they're doing when each film passes its predecessor. However being that actor Vin Diesel has clearly stated that there will only be 10 entries in the story, it's rather difficult to think anyone would stop there. Some fans might have hoped that after Furious 7 (2015) was released, would mark the end of the series. Looking at it that way would make sense because of how well the film sent off Paul Walker and his character. With that, there was concern of how the next entry would deal with this absence. Don't worry though, everyone on board seemed to have thought of everything.

"So now we gotta get Dom?!"
Sometime after the events of Furious 7 (2015), Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are relaxing when Toretto is confronted by a person called Cipher (Charlize Theron). Not long after blackmailing him, Cipher begins using Toretto to do her dirty work. This in turn betrays the family he has been so heavily involved with from the start. Trying to stop Toretto, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) arrives and adds Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to the crew, which many hesitate on. Yet Letty, Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) all know they need all the help they can get. Cipher also has a deadly yes-man by the name of Rhodes (Kristofer Hivju) who isn't afraid to kill. Meanwhile Mr. Nobody added a newbie to his roster too, that being Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). But that's not all, there's several other character appearances. Writer Chris Morgan seems to know just how to give a wink and nod at every turn.

Character development is continuously growing throughout the entries. New roles are added, which then in turn begin to build on their foundation with a series of trials that'll prove themselves to others. All actors within the story give amiable performances. This goes for protagonists and antagonists. The fast crew all have great quips with each other and even manage to respectfully squeeze in a reference or two to Paul Walker's character. The comedic elements are what really help push the likability of these characters. Seeing Tej and Roman or Luke and Deckard bicker, is all for a good laugh. Little Nobody shows that even he can be funny due to his lack of understanding with the original crew. Charlize Theron and Kristofer Hivju as the two baddies are great at being the villains. They show no mercy in their killing. This will also show to the fans that the people working on this movie know how to play with one's emotions. Not everything is green pastures for the fast crew.

The sequences involving action are well staged. It's also great to know that director F. Gary Gray utilized as many practical effects as he could. And like always, the action is turned up another notch to the point of being unexpected. Each time, the stunts get crazier and crazier. Lots of cars were destroyed, there's no doubt about that. Unfortunately there is one minor gripe about this. When things start to get harry in New York, the scene will possibly become a little over gratuitous in its delivery. There's a point where so many cars are getting wrecked, it can get comparatively overwhelming. At some point viewers might ask, "Okay we get it, how much of that is needed?" kind of question. Labeling that as an isolated issue, the rest of the sequences are fine because it is not so blatant in its destruction. As for the physical possibilities of handling these scenarios, it's highly unlikely. This franchise is at a point though where belief has to be suspended to a point.

Charlize Theron
Camerawork has always been a strong point in the franchise's last few entries and it remains that way. Thanks to Stephen F. Windon, the way the camera captures all action and visuals blends very well together. Again this all goes back to finding ways of being creative. There are several angular shots that work to give the viewer a better of idea of what it's like to be in a certain situation. This also applies to the non action related shots. Wide scope panning shots are also much appreciated in letting the viewer take in the sights to see what and where the characters dwell. All visually pleasing. Another weak point however is Brian Tyler's musical score. Although he has been scoring the franchise for a number of entries now, there's not much to mention over it because its sole purpose is just to elevate the experience with no emotional weight. That's not to say it isn't composed competently, but it does not add to the pressure of what is being presented on screen. All in all though, another solid entry.

Fortunately for this franchise, the cast and crew know how to keep pushing each new film to entertain. The music is sadly undetectable and one action scene feels a little too much, but other than that, the rest of the action, the actors, camerawork and story make another great installment in the series.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Friday, March 24, 2017

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993) Review:

In Stan Winston's career, he was known as the master of visual effects. Whether that was practical or special effects, filmmakers could always rely on the creativity and quality of Stan Winston and his team. With credits belonging to films like The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), it would be difficult to find someone match his integrity. As good as he was at his craft, Winston did delve into other positions of the movie industry. Being in the makeup department was his second most utilized role. However in 1988, Winston took a stab at directing a feature film and thus ended up producing Pumpkinhead (1988). Although it did not achieve the accolades that other horror films had garnered before it, Winston's directorial debut has gained much love over the years. It was not a masterpiece in every aspect but it sure entertained. The film is underrated and rightly deserves its cult following. But like every starter film comes sequels that baffle. Unfortunately not even Winston's creation was immune.

"Uhhhh,....I thought this was Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth"
In this sequel, Sean Braddock (Andrew Robinson) is a new sheriff in town who's looking to do some good. Regrettably, Sheriff Braddock is not greeted with warm smiles. A local by the name of Judge Dixon (Steve Kanaly) feels he's entitled to whatever he pleases because he's rich. On top of that, Braddock has an unstable connection with his daughter Jenny (Ami Dolenz). Meanwhile Jenny has a love hate relationship with Danny (J. Trevor Edmond), the son of Judge Dixon. Trying to fit in, Jenny heads out with Danny and his gang when they end up crossing paths with a witch who has the spell book to summon Pumpkinhead. Believing it to be a myth, Danny goes through the ritual and ends up summoning the demon he thought wouldn't appear. Interestingly enough Constantine and Ivan Chachornia are the writers of which never went anywhere after this. It's quite sad because this film has several flaws in its execution. Even weirder is that three of the writers from the original film served as creative consultants. And it's still bad.

Of all things, the biggest sin this sequel commits is dating itself. The story is all too familiar dealing with characters that are in over their head and others that know things before the main leads. There really is no value to this kind of twist. Then there's the actors themselves. Aside from Andrew Robinson and Ami Dolenz, the rest of the actors are largely annoying and forgettable. J. Trevor Edmond and his gang consisting of actors the likes of Soleil Moon Frye, a very young Hill Harper (CSI: NY) and Alexander Polinsky are all very obnoxious. The overall attitude is "let's take things to the extreme", a very 90s mentality. Of course once chaos erupts, then everybody fends for themselves in the silliest ways. It's all very stock and unoriginal. Nobody cares for these people. There's also several areas that go unexplained. The reason as to why Pumpkinhead is brought to life isn't for the reason a fan might think. The good news Pumpkinhead doesn't have any particular bloodline that he follows.

However the reason that is used, carries little emotional weight because it is all indirect in its story telling. There's also unclear continuity as to when and if this story is tied at all to the original Pumpkinhead (1988) movie. There's another scraggly old lady in this movie, is it the same witch from the prior film? If so when does this story take place? Before? After? Does it matter? Plus there's a subplot about the mayor (Roger Clinton) of the town popping in and out of a few scenes discussing whether Pumpkinhead's killings would bring in revenue from the media. Not a necessary plot thread. Poor director Jeff Burr. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre III: Leatherface (1990) was an average film at best and now he has another sequel with lackluster quality. It's obvious that Burr likes making horror films but the studios that oversee him always give him problems. Surprisingly even the minor characters are played by other familiar actors. Gloria Hendry, R.A. Mihailoff and Joe Unger are some to name a few.

Ami Dolenz & J. Trevor Edmond
For a direct-to-video film, the practical effects are acceptable. Mark McCracken as Pumpkinhead has the height and the costume itself looks similar to that of the original film. It is apparent that the facial articulation and smoothness in its movements aren't as polished as before though. Even the violence and gore is alright. This makes up for some of the dull writing seen throughout. The cinematography by Bill Dill was frustrating to watch. Several times the lenses move in and out on Pumpkinhead as if to look scary when all it does is make the experience feel cheaper than usual. It won't give the viewer a sense of the surrounding and it's also a bit disorienting. The music was thankfully a plus for what it was worth. Jim Manzie a composer who worked hard with Jeff Burr to release his score to the third Texas Chain Saw film, unfortunately did not get a chance to do it in full here. The main title although recognizable doesn't sound as creepy as the original but works when it has to. Mostly.

By all means it could've been a lot worse, but it is not good entertainment either. The effects aren't bad for a home video release and the film score isn't out of place. Yet a very small number of actors come off trying and the story lacks continuity and compelling storytelling.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Shining (1980) Review:

For many horror fans and filmmakers especially, site director Stanley Kubrick as a part of their inspiration to make movies. Kubrick had a reputation for being a director with a unique vision. Many of his films had aesthetically pleasing visuals and shots that were hard to find amateurish. He was after all a photographer before a filmmaker, which helped give him that edge. When it came to stories, another person who was constantly sought after to get permission for their works was Stephen King. Although King was not in the Hollywood business full time as other people, what he did provide were foundations to creating new horror films. Since its release, Kubrick's interpretation of Stephen King's The Shining text was widely praised for how intense the viewing experience was. Since then, much of the crew members have surfaced and spoke about the film and the level of involvement Kubrick demanded. Oddly enough, King wasn't that impressed with it. Believe it or not, King might be right.

"Son,...look into my eyes and tell me I'm pretty"
Adapted by Kubrick and Diane Johnson (in her first and only screenplay), the story is about writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) looking to find a place of seclusion to finish his project. He ends up finding an opening position as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Finding it worthy of his goal, Torrance brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to live with him from the fall to the summer of next year. Little do they realize that the hotel harbors an ominous spirit that has connections to a horrific past. As an overall story, the execution is very well done. However there are certain elements that if omitted, would not have impacted the experience in a negative way. Danny has a psychic ability where one can see events from the past and future. This talent is called "shining". This is only revealed to Danny and the audience when Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) concedes that he can do it too. What isn't mentioned is how on earth anybody knows what "shining" is. How does one contract such a power? Is it through genetics or by other  entities that be? The other big hole in the story is the lack of explanation for certain key events. How is a viewer supposed to understand what Kubrick's message is? 

It doesn't make any sense and it's sometimes sillier than it is disturbing. Everything else about the production on a written and visual level all work effectively to create a dark and disconcerting haunted house feature. The performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are neck and neck in quality. Nicholson easily can look off his rocker while Duvall reacts perfectly to her co-star's outbursts. Nicholson's eyebrows also add to his menacing look (as weird as that sounds). Danny Lloyd is definitely not as skilled as Duvall or Nicholson but can still freak out the audience with his mouth agape look. Very unsettling. There's also other short appearances from Barry Nelson as the prior caretaker to Mr. Torrance and Mr. Durkin (Tony Burton). 

Scatman Crothers as the cook to the hotel is an interesting character. It is because of his talk with Danny that adds to the suspense of the dangers that lurk within the building. The imagery that is displayed however is what really drives home the concept of dread that precedes the hotel. What is great about how Kubrick directs this film, is that it is not treated like many other mainstream horror films. Jump scares do not exist in this film. It all relies on mysteries and off-putting flashes of different scenes. These quick scene cuts are not annoying either. They're intriguing because it makes the viewer question "what is going on". At first "REDRUM" is a questionable component to the narrative but overtime, the meaning is exposed. Though it may be obvious or rather uneventful to some when light is shed on the matter, it will be for those not use to the Kubrick method of execution. Remember, Kubrick was also the director to Paths of Glory (1957), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971). 

Shelley Duvall
If anyone is looking for gore though, the volume is very low. Is there bloody violence - yes, but not enough to satisfy someone who enjoys lots of victims. Camerawork by John Alcott was wonderfully captivating. Having worked with Kubrick before, Alcott knows how a scene needed to be shot. Every scene has wide angle lenses that have static movements that rarely rotate. Also the technique of very slow zoom-ins are implemented and that helps the viewer focus in on what Kubrick was trying to convey. Alcott also worked on Terror Train (1980). Music on the other hand was a mixed bag. Composed by Wendy Carlos (best known for her score to Tron (1982)) and Rachel Elkind, the music used is effective but only in certain areas. In some parts its perfect with its deep drawn out strings and synths, which represents the dire threat that lives with the Torrance family. While in other places, it gets dragged out far too long when a scene is no longer that worrisome. It's not bad but could've been used better.

Some parts within the script could've been left out completely and the story would've run smoother. The music works but far extends some scenes for no reason. Aside from this, the acting, creepy imagery and unique cinematography make this a different horror film worth seeing.

Points Earned --> 6:10