Monday, August 26, 2013

Alice in Wonderland (1951) Review:

After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and many other animated films to come after it, there came a time when Walt Disney would adapt a famous story in his vision that would involve a much different tale. That story is Alice in Wonderland,...unfortunately, it may create some mixed results for various viewers. For the most part, this is based on the original story to begin with. If you don't like the original, you probably won't enjoy this either. I was on the fence for this even though I do support it more than I didn't enjoy it. But it still lacked a lot of what many people would consider a Disney classic.

Alice & the Mad Hatter & Rabbit
The story begins in the real world where Alice, a little girl is being a taught a history lesson from an adult. But Alice has other plans, she's too much into fooling around like a kid and not having to care about education and other important skills. She becomes bored and follows a rabbit yelling that he's late and thus begins her trippy adventure into the world of wonderland. I think the term really should be called crazyland or nonsenseland because that's really what is the description of this place. There's nothing to gaze on in wonder about. The pace at which these inhabitants live is remarkably fast. Almost like they're all on a sugar rush. A lot of them are also very rude which is a bit strange for Disney.

It doesn't last forever but the pace is very quick for about half the film and it can get extremely annoying to watch. It won't help that the main character, Alice, becomes fed up with everything around her as well. It's good character development but for me, if the main lead is frustrated, then so am I. If the lead is tired of its surroundings I will be too. This is mostly because the first half of the movie was all random occurrences. There didn't feel like much of a plot to begin with and by the end, my opinion had not changed.

The point at which where viewers might change from annoyed to appreciating the cleverness of Disney's adaptation, is when Alice runs into the garden bed full of flowers. It'll be cool to see how Disney and Co. smartly marry the names of flowers and adjectives together. From there, viewers will finally be able to enjoy the zaniness that is the more popular characters like the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat. Thankfully for them, they are given more charm than most of the other characters. But again, they're all a little too cooky to be liked all the time because even they become nuisances at some point.

"Painting the Roses Red"
However, if there's something to give credit for, it's the animation and music - score wise. The soundtrack that has the musical numbers,...ehh they were alright but there were only a few that were catchy like "Painting the roses red" or "The unbirthday song". The animation though is as great as all the others are. The imaginative drawings and character design are extremely unique. Oliver Wallace, a composer for many other Disney films like Peter Pan (1953) and Lady and the Tramp (1955) did a good job at the score as well. Besides this, if there's one useful lesson learned from this movie, it’s that being crazy can be funny but too much nonsense can dilute the experience.

This is probably the most divergent of all Disney oldies. The animation and musical score are appreciated but the plot is seriously lacking along with very few likable characters with the rest being fairly rude. Even the few likable characters can get tiresome.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, August 19, 2013

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) Review:

When World War II ended, the atomic age had begun. Major corporations saw the power nuclear energy could provide, so the industrialization of factories and transportation started with a boom. But along with this, came some nasty side effects thanks to the radiation nuclear energy gave off. So to lightly emphasize the issue and capitalize on the topic, a set of films began to be created. Out of this bunch, was the most popular, Godzilla (1954). But there are others that have credibility to them as well and just aren't recognized for that talent. This is one of them.

Curtis - Tobey - Domergue
After a strange run in with a mysterious ocean creature, an American Sub Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey), decides to find out for himself what he possibly ran into. The plot device - after series of nuclear bombing tests in the west Pacific Ocean, the radiation mutated a gentle sea octopus into a human eating, town-destroying monster. So it is obvious that there really isn't much else. The writer, George Worthing Yates did his best with the screenplay. He's also the writer of the classic sci-fi film Them! (1954). But what Yates didn't accomplish here is telling its audience who is with who. Commander Matthews befriends two scientists - Prof. Joyce (Faith Domergue) & Dr. Carter (Donald Curtis).

Both men seem to be attracted to Prof. Joyce but it's never explained to whether who’s dating the girl. Why is it important? Because the topic of romance is touched up on right when the characters meet, so apparently there was a story to be told - it just wasn't evidently told to the audience. Almost like it was swept under the rug. But if that was the case, why bring it up to begin with? There's also the fact of a reporter bringing up a good point on the octopus. He asks if there are anymore and the consensus was that no one knew. Well gee, that's kind of important because I'm pretty sure no one wants to rebuild a city more than once in a year! That's where Mr. Yates fails at his writing. Anything else is acceptable though because it is science fiction, so any explanation can be made to why the octopus became bloodthirsty.

The actors themselves give good shows. Kenneth Tobey was also in The Thing from Another world (1951) and more famously Airplane! (1980). Faith Domergue is good as the female lead, she definitely has the appeal of 1950's actress. Donald Curtis is also another actor who would later play in The Ten Commandments (1956). Its also fairly clear that his film didn't a have a good budget for its time, but for what is put on screen, it's not that bad. I'll admit there are few scenes where it's like someone is standing in front of a green screen but again, that might've been all they had for that scene and it wasn't that often either.

The claymation octopus used for by Harryhausen
Mischa Bakaleinikoff the composer to film's score wasn't bad either. It had all the right tunes for various scenes but it was also not the strongest. It definitely did its job that's for sure. But if there is one thing to really admire with this movie is Ray Harryhausen's master techniques in creature / visual effects. Apparently, the budget was so small, Harryhausen had to cut the octopus' legs down to six, not eight. Quite honestly, he hid that so well, I didn't even notice the difference. The miniature models were also well done too. Anything that has Harryhausen listed in the credits has great quality and that should be one of the main reasons to see this mid 1950's sci-fi monster movie.

It may be lacking in a convincing story and character development, but the actors perform well anyway. The main attraction though, is Ray Harryhausen's clay animation of the enormous octopus.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lady Death (2004) Review:

Not all comic book adaptations have found success in live-action. From what has been produced in the past, it takes a lot of meticulous work and tedious time to produce a product everyone will like. Sometimes, the better route is to ditch the live-action bit and start off with an animation feature instead. It's less costly and could prove as a valid test to show whether a certain character has enough draw power to bring in enough viewers. Sadly, this motion picture attempt just didn't cut it for viewers, as did I.

Lady Death
The lead, Lady Death is taken from the same name character from a now debunked comic book company called Chaos Comics. Unfortunately, by the time this motion picture was released, Chaos Comics went bankrupt. So, that's not a good sign right there, if the main comic distributor is out of business before the movie is even released,...the turnout probably won't be that successful. This ended up coming true but not because of popularity, it was more because of everything else. The two components to this film that really bring the quality down are its animation and writing.

The majority of writing was done by Carl Macek, the same guy who wrote the screenplay to Heavy Metal 2000 (2000), the slightly bit more entertaining sequel to the animation cult classic, Heavy Metal (1981). But that's not to say that movie, or this one for that matter is really that entertaining. Heavy Metal 2000 (2000) was a little bit better because it actually focused on a character and not just a compilation feature. The same is here too but the reasoning behind various subplots are practically left untouched. After being accused of being the lovechild of Lucifer, Hope (the heroine) is burned at the stake and upon her death, decides to take vengeance on Lucifer for the cause of her death.

This particular plot may be simple enough but upon deeper analysis, there are a lot of holes within the story. For example, it's not even explained to why or how Hope turns into Lady Death or how she even decides to come up with the name. Another unexplained subplot is if Hope really was the lovechild of Lucifer. Was it all a lie or did she truly have dark powers that she had no idea of. And if that was the case, how did she learn how to use her power? It's questions like these that are not answered, which can lead to a very disconnected and possibly boring watch between viewer and the screen.

Lucifer's human form
Plus, the dialog isn't too deep either. One of the most repeated lines in this film is "Desire equals power" and its not that difficult to understand the first time it is said, yet it is stated several times as if everyone will forget. Adding to the frustration is the disjointed and choppy animation. There were even some frames where the character stopped moving completely and was zoomed out of the frame; almost like no one would notice. Even the continuity wasn't kept in line, which seems legit that no one was taking this animated picture very seriously. But it’s baffling though, the animators are not even credited here so....were they professionals? What's going on?

As for anything else, it's ok. The music provided by Bill Brown was appropriate for the setting but it didn't make the experience any more meaningful. The actors who lent their voices to their designated characters also did a fair job but again, the dialog didn't help them make their characters very memorable. The art headed by storyboard artist Dan Schaefer looked good but for these few things, that's about all I can give it for the attempt that was made. But to say it'll capture even the smallest bit of the viewers attention is a little bit of a stretch.

This poor adaptation of the Chaos Comic heroine has respectable performances from its voice cast but the overall product is horrendous. The writing is bare bones with minimal explanations to anything, the dialog is repetitive and animation is almost to the point of insulting.

Points Earned --> 2:10

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Diamond Dogs (2007) Review:

Dolph Lundgren is an action actor. He plays characters that are always one step above everyone. He always has the best skills, the best lines and the most screen time. But no matter how strong these particular elements are, if everything else is bad, the movie will be bad. And that is exactly where this movie falls down the tubes. Dolph Lundgren plays an ex-military man, Xander Ronson who had a bad history with friendly fire. Now, he lives in Asia to escape his problems by taking part in illegal gambling.

Dolph Lundgren & Nan Yu
After being ambushed by the police, he is told that he owes a huge debt to many people he borrowed money from and if he doesn't get it within 2 weeks, he goes to jail. Luckily for him, a greedy artifact collector named Mr. Chambers (William Shriver) approaches Ronson. If Ronson helps Chambers find the ancient artifact, Ronson will be able to pay off the debts. That's about it for plot and from there, it doesn't go anywhere else. The writer, Léopold St-Pierre, probably didn't review his screenplay enough because the film ends exactly the way it starts out, which could make many viewers feel like watching this movie wasn't even worth the parts that were credible.

Here's the good parts. First is Dolph Lundgren, if you're a fan of him. There’s not doubt that he puts in the best performance. It is frustrating because most of his films contain a lot of good lines. Here, Mr. Lundgren only spews out a couple. The only other actor I enjoyed was Nan Yu, the actress who is now best known for playing Maggie in Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables 2 (2012). But it's funny too because after watching this picture, it'll be obvious to why Lundgren's character hit on Maggie so much in EXP2. The music provided by Larry Cohen was ok but not fantastic either. The good thing is that it reflected a lot of the culture that was on screen so I'm glad Cohen respected that.

And if there's one thing to learn from this movie on a moral standard, it is that greed always makes everyone lose. That's just how the cookie crumbles. That's it for what is considered good, and by good I mean passable for this movie. What really brings this production down are the bad guys, action and camera shots (along with the writing already mentioned). A lot of the time, the camera just can't stay focused, which can make the viewing experience very annoying. Plus, for a Lundgren film, the action was very light. It made Detention (2003) look like an action packed blockbuster. It'll be a half-hour or more before any shooting starts.

William Shriver -__________-
Lastly, the villains are what will anger people the most. William Shriver as the greedy Mr. Chambers has a squeeley little voice and a puny figure compared to Mr. Lundgren, which makes them seem very mismatched in a bad way. And although the Chambers character is suppose to come off as threatening, Shriver doesn't pose himself as one because when he makes threats to Lundgren's character, he just roles it off like it didn't mean much to begin with. Chambers just comes off as a sniveling weasel with no backbone instead of a real villain, making any real threat obsolete. I thought it couldn't get any worse than Detention (2003), but I was wrong. I don’t even know what the title has to do with anything in this movie!

Dolph Lundgren and Nan Yu act passably but they are far too overshadowed by the weak villains, minimal action sequences, unsteady camera shots and poor writing. This is a time waste of a movie.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Terror Train (1980) Review:

From the late 1970's to the early 1980's Jamie Lee Curtis was the most popular horror genre heroine to ever hit theaters. With her unique yell and brave actions, audiences couldn't get enough of the legendary "Scream Queen". Apparently, Terror Train (1980) is the product of a producer named Daniel Grodnik after having a dream of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) taking place on a train and the result is quite obvious too. And although it is a unique idea, the end result is less entertaining than one would think. The flaw, like many other films is located in the writing department.

Jamie Lee Curtis & David Copperfield
The character arcs are the same like many slasher films. Some time in the past, a less popular kid among others is humiliated or neglected in some fashion and ends up losing his mind and starts to kill people. And it just so happens Jamie Lee Curtis is right in the middle of it. But here's where things are different if one wants to compare it to Halloween (1978). First, the villain here has a cliched back-story. John Carpenter didn't want Michael Myers to have a back-story - making him unrelateable to the audience. Here, the audience can relate, but the explanation used for his spontaneous killing spree is way overused.

Plus it doesn't help that it seems like there were too many characters to name in this movie. Of course, they are just fodder for the killer, but half of them aren't given any depth to begin with. For example, before the train gets underway, the conductor has a conversation with a lady who seems to be the stationmaster. They seem to have some kind of relationship but it's never looked at again. What's the point of bringing it up then? I did like the finale to the film because it did have a surprising climax but then right after that, it cuts directly to the ending credits. None of the loose ends are tied up, almost like everyone was hunky dory and the writer T.Y. Drake decided he didn't need to write anymore. It was just too abrupt.

For direction, I can't say Roger Spottiswoode did a bad job since this was his first debut at a theatrical film, but I also can't say he did a great job. It was just fair - nothing out of the ordinary. The actors who were on screen the most did a fair job as well. The best was obviously Jamie Lee Curtis and second best was David Copperfield (a magician) playing a magician. And if it wasn’t Curtis kicking and screaming, it would be Copperfield showing off all his neat tricks. As for the villain played by Derek McKinnon, he wasn't bad either and he definitely didn't look straight in the head, which helped make his character look just as weird.

The killer.....yeah....just weird
Weird is actually the way I will describe the killer. Michael Myers is creepy but this guy is just weird. Here's why: he is injured so many ways in this picture just like Michael Myers would be in Halloween (1978), yet they are too different characters. Myers is a hulking 6-foot giant. The killer in this movie looks about 5 foot 5 inches and isn't bulky. He's a thin guy. So tell me how several injuries can keep this guy going? Plus it's also more acceptable for Myers because no one knows if he was human or not. But the killer here is, so why is he practically unkillable? The writing Mr. Drake, the writing!

The music provided John Mills-cockell wasn't great either. I mean, it had all the elements to sound like it belonged to a horror film but it never felt scary. There were no tunes that gave me goosebumps or made me cringe. So how can I say it was effective if it didn't affect me? Sorry, no credit here either. Good thing he hasn't scored many other films. It's not to say this movie wasn't watchable though. If you like slasher films, take a look see because you may end up liking it, but if you want a villain that'll make you quiver even after the film has ended, I can't guarantee that this picture will do that.

Jamie Lee Curtis and real life magician David Copperfield are the best characters and the plot is an obvious mix of ideas but it's still unique. But what makes it average is the weird villain and mediocre writing.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fright Night (2011) Review:

Tom Holland's Fright Night (1985) is one of the few vampire film's the non-Twilight fans enjoy. Not only did have good make-up effects for its time, but it also had likeable characters and a contemporary plot that audiences had never thought about before. And because of its success, three years later spawned Fright Night Part 2 (1988), which like many sequels had a diminishing return but still had a strong following. Jump to 25 years later and we have the remake that I can't say everyone wanted to see, but for the people who were tired of the Twilight series, definitely had something different to watch here. Especially for those who never saw the original to begin with.

Charlie Brewster (Yelchin) & his family
The plot is the same as the original, a teenage boy, Charlie Brewster, figures out that his next door neighbor is a vampire and soon finds out the vampire is out to get him, his friends and family. Remember though, for any of you readers who saw the original, this is a remake so not every scene will be done the same. For example, instead of Charlie discovering the vampire on his own, a classmate friend of his tells him. This is just one of several differences between this film and the original. But that's the only difference - the scenes, and Marti Noxon did a fine job at writing the screenplay. After all it's not her first time writing a story about vampires. Noxon also wrote the story for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996). Besides, everything else is kept relatively the same from characters, to effects and gore.

Playing Charlie Brewster is Anton Yelchin, an actor who has been filling the shoes of several famous characters now like Kyle Reese from the Terminator series, Chekov from the Star Trek series and now this. Yelchin is convincing as a teenager because he has the baby face to prove it, plus his voice isn't that deep. Playing the charismatic Peter Vincent (the famous vampire slayer) is David Tennant, who also gives a performance that is much enjoyable for his sarcastic attitude. Surprisingly, even Chris Sarandon, the original vampire from Tom Holland's classic, has a brief cameo. Watch out for him, his screen time isn't long.

Jerry (Farrell)
But if there's one character that tops them all, it's Colin Farrell's performance as Jerry, the vampire next door. The best parts are when Farrell makes his character act like a human being. The movements, mannerisms and smooth voice make him one slippery little devil. In fact, one could say that Farrell had a lot of fun with this role because of how much he smiled in every frame. Some of the scenes that he plays in are actually quite comical, even though the movie's basis is the horror genre. But there will be times where you can't help but laugh because of how awkwardly hilarious the situation may seem.

However, if there was one thing that didn't help Farrell look more like a vampire was the CGI special effects. When the vampire face of Jerry takes over it doesn't look as real as it should be. I don't know, perhaps I wasn't expecting a whole facial reconstruction when he decided to transform. He honestly didn't even look like a vampire to me, which just made him look fake. The gore and blood was there but that was also mixed too. There were some scenes where it mixed well with real objects and then there were other scenes where it look like it was added in last minute. That should have been skimmed over a little more I think. The music was great though. Ramin Djawadi's score had a main theme and contained a lot of strings and organ sounds which are key in creating horror music. Well done.

The remake to the 1985 vampire flick is a fair match to its original. The music is appropriate, and actors perform well, especially Colin Farrell. The special effects may look unfinished though.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Heavy Metal 2000 (2000) Review:

When Heavy Metal (1981) came to theatres, it was at the peak of popularity, riding in on the coat tails of famous rock bands and solo musicians. It is the whole element that propelled it into theatres - it showcased a lot of the successful songs that various artists had had come out with at the time. Adding to that was its unique style of animation, music, foul-mouthed characters and hard carnage. It was such a success that it gained no only a cult following, but even a Direct-to-DVD sequel almost two decades later. Unfortunately, the original did not interest me at all. I loved the animation and music but it lacked a convincing narrative. In this sequel, it has a couple of things that make it better but it doesn't amount to much overall.

Julie (Strain)
One of the better features about this movie is that it at least follows one specific character instead of just giving its audience a compilation of meaningless ones like the first film. After seeing her hometown destroyed by a mad man who desires to be immortal, Julie decides to travel on a quest for revenge. And as coincidental as it may seem, the mad man was only made crazy once he touched green glowing object. Why do these two films obsess over green glowing objects? The other coincidental thing is that Julie will fill the role of the silent female swordsman from the first film (in the last story told by the green glowing orb). Of course this is never explained at all by any of the writers. I'm glad the writers set a main character for the audience, but the reasoning behind various plot points are left unresolved making it question after question.

The voice-cast is always appreciated. Michael Ironside provides his villainous voice for Tyler (the mad man) while Julie Strain (a playboy model / actress) lends her voice to main female lead Julie. It is interesting though that it seems like the character of Julie was modeled after Strain herself, both look very similar. The musical score aspect of the film was well crafted too. Composer Frédéric Talgorn actually made the score sound very similar to Elmer Bernstein's rendition of the first movie. But again, because this is a rock related film, there is going to be rock music. Of course, this time though it'll be in the death metal genre - which is fine if you (the viewer) are into that kind of thing. But if not, and you're looking for the classic 80s rock, that won't be here. Either way, like both films, it did not enhance their performance.

Tyler (Ironside)
The hand drawn animation (along with carnage) was done well and in some scenes it even contained CGI. However, the CGI used in this, is fairly weak and doesn't blend well with its 2D counterparts. Sure, it reminisces to the CGI used in the films like Spawn (1997), but that at least mixed well together with its surroundings. Going back to the writing though, it's a step in the right direction by finally giving an actual plot but there are still several places in the writing that isn't expanded upon. Even the characters are not given much of a back story to rely on. A long with that are unexplained character motivations which gives its audience no reasoning to why characters did what they did. There's more work to be done here.

The sequel to the animation cult classic of the early 1980's improves on a character basis, but its writing is still missing sections of what constitutes as a good narrative. The animation and music is respectable but that’s it.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Friday, August 9, 2013

District 9 (2009) Review:

Like many other directors that have a breakthrough in film, their first theatrical release is always considered to be their best. Sam Raimi is the perfect example. Before Spider-Man (2002), he was known for creating the low budget horror film, The Evil Dead (1981). Now look at him, even after all the other well praised films he has made, he is still best known for that movie in particular. Same will happen here with director Neill Blomkamp. District 9 (2009) will forever be considered, by many, his best creation in film. For the most part, this is mostly credit for the type of style this film gives its audience.

The CGI looks really well mixed with the live-action
The story revolves around how a dystopian city called Johannesburg where humans and aliens called "prawns" live amongst each other. Unfortunately, neither species is happy living with the other on the same ground. But what will really grab the viewers’ attention is Neill Blomkamp’s direction. At the introduction and the finale, the film acts like a documentary with interviews from various citizens and professionals. I assume this is where the short film Tron: The Next Day (2011) got its creativeness from, because they too used a documentary-like style of filmmaking. This kind of direction does make the experience feel more authentic because documentaries are historical film works which are supposed to give its viewers a better understanding of what happened in the past.

Adding to that authentic feel is actor Sharlto Copley, who at the time, was a no-name actor. Copley is in his root continent in this movie, which makes the story that much more believable. Plus, because Copley hasn't really shown audiences until now what he can do, he will prove himself not only as a viable action star but also a actor who can show true emotion. Even more astounding is how this movie was able to create such a real looking environment and creatures. The prawns are something to behold, especially the way they talk. It is a very intriguing sound. But, it may annoy some audiences that there is no translation for the dialog between prawns. Its basically like watching two wookies talk. No clue what's being said; which is frustrating.

Awesome looking machinery too
The special effects and action scenes were also well executed. Even the practical effects such as makeup was innovative. Though one element that I found this film to be weak in, was the film score. Clinton Shorter, a composer with not many theatrically released movies under his belt, lacks sufficient expertise to really bring out the emotion in various scenes. I like that he was able to give the score an African voice to its background, but was only effective to establish the setting. After that though, it needed more depth to illustrate the struggle between humans and prawns. But I never felt that at any point. Instead, Shorter will incorporate a lot percussion when tension arises but other than that. The music is left under produced.

Blomkamp's theatrical debut may not contain the most convincing music but with solid special effects, a realistic tone and unique film making, after viewing the movie, some people may think District 9 may have existed.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991) Review:

After proving his ability to be an action star from Red Scorpion (1988), The Punisher (1989) and Dark Angel (1990), someone got the bright idea to pair up Dolph Lundgren with famous martial arts star Bruce Lee's son, Brandon Lee. I'm going to assume this was director Mark L. Lester's idea because he's worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger before from Commando (1985). He must have enjoyed working with Schwarzenegger so much he needed to make another action film starring another foreign born 6 foot giant with big muscles. But adding to this special film was the casting of Brandon Lee who was added for good measure.

Brandon Lee & Dolph Lundgren
Both Lee and Lundgren follow the typical character arcs that most action films contain - the leads work by their own standards and consider themselves above the law, they also don't get along with others. But here's what's different, the two cops don't stay at odds for a lengthy amount of time so that particular element doesn't last very long to begin with. Doing this allows the companionship between them to grow better and stronger and this shows. Lundgren and Lee give their characters a lot of energy (and use it I might add) throughout the film. Plus, to make things even more backwards was having the characters' backgrounds switched. Having Lundgren's character born and raised in Japan and Lee's character raised like an immigrant in America was clever.

This enforced the funny tongue and cheek dialog between them which makes it enjoyable to watch. That particular element, the writing, I found to be written well. Together, these two "officers" of the law are trying to rid L.A. of the vicious Yakuza of Japan led by Yoshida (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Tagawa was a great choice as the leader, he has a truly menacing presence when he's on screen. It's also appropriate that he plays that role because Tagawa is Japanese. Though it is funny how this isn't the first time Lundgren has fought the Yakuza either. He also did it in The Punisher (1989), they have something against him?

Like any Dolph Lundgren movie though, there's bound to be plenty of fist and gunfights. And Brandon Lee? Yeah, no bad guy is going to live in this movie. What may surprise people even more is how heavy some of the action scenes are. Apparently the 79 minutes of running time was the cut version, meaning the uncut version was much heavier (lengthier too). It actually stunned me a little to see such a lighthearted duo face off against such a  brutal enemy. Tango & Cash (1989) was rated R but even the violence there was light compared to this. That's not to say it wasn't entertaining - far from it. I also liked David Michael Frank's score to the film. It's definitely no orchestra but he creates a main theme for the film and even it gives it a Japanese like feel to it, which was much appreciated.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Yoshida
Going back to the running time though, this movie should've been left uncut for release. The movie plays out very well yet the story feels so rushed like there were parts that were supposed to be included in the story (which their were, but were cut). This film could have had that and its frustrating when a good film is lowered in quality when the important parts are cut. Perhaps audiences could have seen even more development between Lee and Lundgren, that way this duo would be just as memorable as any other buddy cop duo. It's not to say they acted badly but there's always room to grow.

The leads are charismatic, the action is heavy and the writing is clever. Unfortunately, viewers may feel short-handed when it comes to running time due to all the cuts the MPAA wanted.

Points Earned --> 9:10

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

8MM (1999) Review:

Besides Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), director Joel Schumacher has made some unique films. Adding to that is his distinct taste for also picking topics to cover that really have no need to brought up. Mainly because it's something not many people would have an interest in. This is exactly where Schumacher goes with this particular subject about an 8mm sex film containing a recorded murder. Great....

The stressed Nicolas Cage
The man for the job who decides to find out who's behind it is Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage), a family man and devoted worker. And as for the whole film, Cage played his character efficiently through each frame. I also enjoyed how he was able to deduct various clues in the case that he was trying to solve. Even a young Joaquin Phoenix playing a character called Max California puts in a unique performance as well. In fact, Phoenix spews out a few lines that practically sum up the entire film - "You dance with the devil, the devil don't change; the devil changes you". Yikes, that's heavy and deep.

Joaquin Phoenix as Max
But here's what makes this film difficult to enjoy. First, Schumacher dives into the darker world of the sex industry where things begin to get strange and unnerving. That whole aspect can make viewers extremely uncomfortable because it's not just sex anymore where it's all pleasure. Schumacher is good at pushing limits, but that doesn't mean pushing limits makes things enjoyable. Also even though, we (as the audience) are supposed to despise the antagonists, I absolutely loathed them. I hated them enough that I wished they weren't written into the script; it was so sickening.

Making the experience worse while watching these criminals on screen was the everlasting story that seemed to drag on and on. The music didn't work either. Composer Mychael Danna's soundtrack is minorly effective in some places but majorly ineffective in the rest. Especially the transition or montage scenes - just plain annoying. Surprisingly, I did enjoy the conclusion to the film but it took an awfully long time to get there. And if it hadn't ended the way it did, my score definitely would have been lower.

This detective story may have leads who can act well and have excessive tension, but the story is repulsive by nature, which can make the viewing experience quite uncomfortable. It's definitely a dark thriller, perhaps too dark.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, August 2, 2013

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) Review:

Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987) is considered by many to be one of the most unique horror films of the late 80's. What emphasized those opinions were gruesome images along with its gothic tone. A year later, New World Pictures released Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988) and although it wasn't as critically praised, it still resonated with many fans. I found it enjoyable but the writing was much weaker than I had expected it to be. Then, jump four years later and we get Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), which to many just didn't satisfy and bordered on the edge of really bad. The sad thing is that, it is bad, even with the few good things it has going for it.

Terry Farrell as "Joey"
The plot is about a "down on their luck" news reporter, Joey (Terry Farrell), who can't find a decent story to save her career. That is, until she comes into contact with the lament configuration after watching a hospital patient's head explode. Amazingly after being okay with such a traumatizing experience, this intrigues her more to find out what this tiny puzzle box is all about. To do this, she digs into the past using archives from Dr. Channard's mental asylum and interview footage of Kirsty Cotton. It is also explained to why Pinhead is back in this movie because in the movie before, he was killed off. This is one of the better parts, at least when it comes to the back-story and continuity. Peter Atkins, the same writer of Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988), wrote the screenplay.

I'll admit, it's very much appreciated that Atkins' is keeping the continuity straight. If that wasn't at least on track, my rating would probably be lower. But even so, Atkins' ability to give explanations to why this mystical puzzle box decides to make various humans cenobites, and others not, makes no sense. Is it just by random chance? The cast on the other hand is another bowl of mixed nuts. It's great to see that the casting department had Ashley Laurence come back for a small cameo in the asylum footage and of course Doug Bradley as Pinhead himself. That was great, but the main lead, Terry Farrell wasn't. Farrell just didn't make her character come off as a strong female lead, no matter how many times one says "Go to hell!".

Unfortunately, dialog is another problem. I don't know what Atkins was thinking when it came to dialog, but almost every character here (and maybe even a little bit of Doug Bradley's lines) all have this sarcastic if not watered down dialog that makes them sound like these lines were written for a bad comedy. The Hellraiser franchise is not a comedy, not even a dark comedy, so why are characters making bad puns or being overly sarcastic? Even some of the new cenobites have corny dialog. For example, any female besides Joey (Farrell) wasn't that smart in speech or actions. What's up with that? It wasn't necessary then and it isn't now.

Doug Bradley as his former character
Capt. Elliot Spencer
Let's not forget though, this is a horror franchise so there will be plenty of death, blood and ugly images. And for those who wish to see that, yes, you will get your eye full worth without a doubt. But, if you're the viewer looking for the same kind of tone and chills you felt from Hellraiser (1987), it won't be found here. Even more surprising is how absent Randy Miller's score to the film was. I was actually impressed with his work from both Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995) and Darkman III: Die Darkman Die (1996) because he not only made sure he stuck to the original theme, but added some unique tracks to them as well.

Here however, right from the intro credits is Christopher Young's music! It's not to say Miller didn't provide anything, because I know there were tunes in there I never heard before but it seemed like most of the music was just recycled and edited. It's sad when a composer comes off as sounding lazy – especially if they aren’t that bad to begin with. It's not to say this movie doesn't pull through, but its original tone and atmosphere of the picture no longer exists which makes it depressing that a franchise so likable is beginning to lose its charm. It's beginning to get to a point where the only reason why someone would want to watch this is for Pinhead alone. But Doug Bradley can't carry this picture by himself. Otherwise it would've worked from the first installment.

The third entry is much lighter in atmosphere and doesn't carry itself the way the first two did. The continuity is thankfully kept in order but the dialog isn't too clever and the only real character that’s worth a watch is Pinhead himself.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Daredevil (2003) Review:

Blade (1998) has the credits to say it was the first successful Marvel antihero film, but that was based more on the popularity of Wesley Snipes. This however, would be the next successful (financially at least) Marvel antihero film with popularity rudimented solely on its character itself. And of course, because many people wanted to see what this film would be like based off of their opinions from Spider-Man (2002), Blade (1998), Blade II (2002) and X-Men (2000), which received critical acclaim for unique adaptations. Unfortunately, not many people came out of the theaters too thrilled if at all, having mixed feelings about it.

Ben Affleck as Daredevil
The character of Daredevil is about a troubled soul named Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) who gains supernatural powers after having an accident with biohazard waste material. This accident ends up blinding him, while simultaneously enhancing his other senses and allowing him to "see" where he is, even though his eyesight is shot. Along with that, he draws inspiration from his father who had the boxing nickname title of Jack "the devil" Murdock and becomes the crime-fighting Daredevil. Sticking to its source material, Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), Bullseye (Colin Farrell) and even Elektra (Jennifer Garner) all have roles in this movie as well, which is appreciated.

Trouble is, fans were split on the whole leather aspect of the movie. Quite frankly, it wasn't that distracting. If there was one thing I don't think fit the bill, it was Colin Farrell dressing up to be Bullseye like he was some alley street punk. Oh and Elektra's headband. That's about it for character design flaws. Affleck as Daredevil though was well performed. He's always surprising everyone of how he's blind but knows where everything is. Garner as Elektra definitely no doubt has the moves of action material and being attractive at the same time. Farrell as Bullseye is comical in the sense of how he gets frustrated when he misses his targets. Well of course if you're on a winning streak any one would get mad. Duncan as Fisk was a nice choice too. He's certainly husky enough as well as his booming heavy voice to boot.

However, what really eats away at these performances here is Mark Steven Johnson's writing. Johnson seems to have an affinity for love interest subplots, which is exactly what happens here between Daredevil and Elektra. This is what is believed to hold up the story of Johnson's mixed reviewed Ghost Rider (2007) as well between Johnny Blaze and Roxanne. Plus, it's not easy writing and directing simultaneously, and I think after this film, Johnson should have seen that he needed a writer and found a writer to cover Ghost Rider (2007). The feel that I get from this movie is that the relationship felt forced or rushed. It just felt too soon to happen and it sidetracked my attention from the action. One thing I do credit Johnson for writing is how Murdock struggles with himself to figure out if what he's doing is right, and if he should continue his crusade. This shows that Murdock is still human even though he has special abilities.

Elektra (Garner) & Bullseye (Farrell)
Speaking of action though, the action sequences were well staged. Comparing that to the action Ghost Rider (2007) had – it was much more frequent and even some of the scenes were fairly brutal. Impalings, broken joints and severed body parts - that's more realistic than fantasy violence if you ask me. It could almost be bordering "Marvel Knights" status with this kind of violence, which is what the next Daredevil film should be under if fans want a dark and gritty tone.  Sadly, this wasn't accentuated enough with the film score provided by Graeme Revell. Revell's score is productive by making a thumping theme for the title character and even a softer motif for the relationship between Elektra and Daredevil, but anything else is generic and uninspired music. It also doesn't help that half the time, soundtrack music from pop culture was used in between as filler. Not needed. In the long run, it is still worth a look though.

This Marvel antihero film has some fairly strong action and a good cast.  However, its writing struggles to compel with an obligatory love interest subplot and poor music placement throughout the running time.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Monster House (2006) Review:

If there's one thing that's difficult to do in the horror genre, it's to make a scary PG film. Yet, the one that takes place here accomplishes that beautifully. The question is, what elements are the actually key components that help make it so effective - of course that will be covered. For a viewer though, it's just amazing how undeniably interesting the story is to this film. There are a couple of things that I feel needed to be brought up because it doesn't fit but on the whole, it makes up for some good creepy scares.

The kids vs one creepy house....
Written by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab and even Pamela Pettler, screenwriter of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005) & 9 (2009) (for good measure I'm sure) found a way to make this story really stand out on its own. The plot revolves around how a group of ordinary kids figure out that a house in the neighborhood is living on its own, literally. And it's no friendly house either, no, no, no, no. This house is by far from being homey, inside and out. What makes the story even more intriguing is how the owner of the house is just as scary looking as the house itself.

The voice acting to the film was done proficiently as well. All the voices matched their characters respectively. The character most viewers will enjoy is Chowder and his ability to be so fickle in his decisions and his kid-like playfulness. However, the character I found the most likeable was Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). Buscemi's ability to make Nebbercracker be so crotchety and soft at different times is remarkable. It's like he was playing a totally different character. Surprisingly though, this is where I found a flaw - character design & charm.

Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi)
I'm not saying the animation was done badly. By no means - the animation is done well for Sony's first animated feature. It's weird too, because the characters do look computer generated, yet they have this clayish texture to them, a claymation picture like Gumby: The Movie (1995). Back to character design and charm. I'm not sure if it's because the plot revolved around kids but none of these child characters grew on me. To me, they just don't make a very memorable group and unfortunately I can't explain why. It's expected though that many people will enjoy Chowder's performance though, he was the comedy relief of the film, no doubt.

But, if there's one thing that'll make viewers skin crawl, it'll be the imagery and musical score provided by Douglas Pipes. Again, for a PG film, this is fairly dark. Not only is the Buscemi's character, Nebbercracker, freakishly thin, but so is the external and internal look of his house. If rickety old wood and dirty windows make you cringe, this house will creep you out. Even various characters will be eaten alive (which is in the trailer so that's no spoiler)! I do question what happens to them though, that's never all.

Let's not forget Mr. Pipes’ music. This is what really makes this a creepy movie. Pipes not only has a main theme but he also has motif themes for Mr. Nebbercracker and his house. It's basically a light tread on the piano keys and a wipe of the harp strings, but boy oh boy does it create the chills. Not only that, but it also gives the character some real feeling because it shows what kind of person that he is. I will admit, it is not effective all the time for example in an action scene, but it still makes itself known throughout the movie which is important. If you want something new to see, this is a film for that.

Its characters may not be the most memorable, but its covered by some creepy music, unique animation and good voice-acting.

Points Earned --> 8:10