Friday, May 30, 2014

Green Lantern (2011) Review:

Unfortunately Ryan Reynolds is one of those actors who viewers really enjoy or really hate to see on screen. He has tried time and time again to prove his worth that he is more than just a comedian and most just haven't been able to accept that. Much these opinions start arriving when he began playing comic book related characters. Sadly, when this movie arrived to all the local theaters, people were none too pleased with the end result. It's a little confusing why because although there are a few sections to this movie that are not polished up; it is still a watchable movie, and a fun one at that. The story follows very close to the DC comic where test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) has an encounter with an other worldly being that gives him a green ring with extraordinary power. The power is materializing anything one desires with the strength of their own will.

Hector and Hal
The actors that portray their respective characters perform decently. Ryan Reynolds certainly looks like Hal Jordan and portrays his character with charm. Along with Reynolds is Peter Sarsgaard who plays a childhood buddy of Hal, Hector. With them is Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), another childhood friend of Hal and Hector. All of which give respectable performances even with a script that feels unfinished with their somewhat cliched backgrounds. Very little of these three main characters' childhood’s are explored. Only a small bit of information is given about Hector's life as a tragic sympathetic character. Furthermore, after the prologue, it's just assumed that Hal and Carol were destined to become a couple. Also, Hal's motivations seem to contradict what he says versus his actions.

Once Hal figures out what the ring is and what it belongs too, he becomes acquainted with the rest of the Green Lantern Corp. The top members that audiences will get to see are Sinestro (Mark Strong), Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (the late Michael Clark Duncan) and they are also performed well. After being beaten down through a series of tests Hal decides that the Green Lantern Corp. is not for him, even though it was stated that when the ring chooses a host, it doesn't make a mistake. So that's ok, Hal made a decision. But what contradicts this choice, is once he's home he decides to use the ring to save the day and sticks with it after using it once out in the open. The writers should've picked a side here. I don't understand why it was difficult when half of the writers have worked on the Arrow (2012) series.

However, even with these issues the story isn't entirely empty. The main antagonist known as Parallax, voiced by Clancy Brown has an interesting background. Additionally, Parallax's method of destruction isn't extremely divergent from other grandiose intergalactic villains, but it's still different; which is devouring worlds, not conquering them. With this, needs to be the appropriate special effects, which do look presentable. Although Parallax is not in his traditional form, he still looks massive for a cloud octopus. The creations that GL creates look awesome too in their digitized form. Conjointly is his suit, which is also cool even though it strangely sheds a few pounds off of all the physic that Reynolds has on him.

and the creature from the black lagoon
Likewise, the action was enjoyable and with the well integrated special effects. There are a number of neat tricks that Hal and other Lanterns come up with to use. The cinematography by Dion Beebe is appropriate for the film. It doesn't stand out as anything out of the ordinary, but it's not ugly either which is fine. Editing was taken care of by master Stuart Baird who made the 2 hour long movie not feel like it dragged. Music related, James Newton Howard produced the score. Thankfully, since this is a superhero film, he does have a main theme for GL and even has tunes that are for the more softer moments. Yet when it came to action cues, Howard didn't make anything that was memorable. I don't understand, he's not a bad composer and he did the exact opposite to the score to Salt (2010). Were the action sequences that uninspired to him? Overall though this film isn't as bad people say it is. It still needed tuning up but wasn't trash. No.

Its musical score and background to the main characters are in some ways transparent but that doesn't make the entirety of the storytelling unwatchable. It still contains a decent mix of effects and action with an acceptable cast.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Elektra (2005) Review:

Almost all Marvel characters have their own fan base, including the lesser known ones. Out of this group, Elektra stands right in the middle. Comic book fans and viewers alike remember her from Daredevil (2003), but her presence wasn't the main focus nor was her character arc given much material to work with. But for those who enjoyed her appearance, fans were surprised to find their female antihero have a chance to have her own story told separately two years later. It's one of those times where this kind of attention could help boost popularity of the character or trash it completely. Sadly, this follow up to the already mixed feelings that Ben Affleck's Daredevil (2003) had left behind didn't help leave any sympathy for this when it was released. I really wanted to give it a slightly above positive rating but there are various reasons to why it just doesn't satisfy like it says it would.

This is what we should have.....
The story attempts at keeping fans happy by having scenes that directly connect it to Daredevil (2003) but then immediately stray away off it. Elektra (Jennifer Garner), ends up being reborn from her death caused by Bullseye and from then on, lives as an assassin for hire. One day when called upon what seems to be another routine target, Elektra begins to realize that there's more than meets the eye. Jennifer Garner works as Elektra; her figure and face are attractive along with her ability to perform the required action sequences. The cast does contain a few familiar faces, but the rest isn't memorable nor are they given any depth.

Accompanying Elektra is her agent McCabe (Colin Cunningham), who has a couple of comical lines but other than that doesn't have much of a background to why and how he decided to help her. Elektra also comes into contact with a father and daughter played by Goran Visnjic and Kirsten Prout respectively. Both of which also do not give performances that are anything that'll stick as memorable. The motivations to both characters are wafer thin and written as if they should have emotional attachments by the end of the movie, but don't convey it. It's very difficult for an audience to feel attached and invested in a character that is thrown in just as a plot device. How is it that the three writers, one of which (Zak Penn) wrote for X-Men 2 (2003) couldn't make a screenplay that felt any less original?

Making things even more confusing are the powers that Elektra now has. Instead of just being an assassin, Elektra now has the ability to see possible future events and visualize where her opponents are that are out of her physical sight. When were these special powers given to her? Just because this movie is under Marvel, does not mean every main character has to have super powers. This is just another element that makes the movie feel very generic because it's trying to be like every other superhero movie. Sometimes, being extremely skilled is all a character needs. Look at the Punisher or Batman films, they don't have super powers and they get by in life just fine with whatever skills they learned through their adult life. All Elektra needs are her sais and her ninja like skills and she's good to go.

But perhaps the more frustrating part about the story telling is how reliant it is on flashbacks. There are numerous dream sequences that attempt to show that Elektra is a tragic character, but all it does is create confusion and possible annoyance because of how frequently they keep reoccurring. The familiar faces the audiences will recognize are Terence Stamp who plays Elektra's blind sensei named Stick. Honestly, Stamp doesn't even look like he's acting blind at times, which feels weird because Stamp is an accomplished actor.

Audiences will also see an uncredited Jason Isaacs who gives audiences a brief background to Elektra's reborn mystery. Playing the main villain's father is Roshi played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. He’s always a nice actor to see on screen, although in this movie his presence has no importance what so ever. Then there is Will Yun Lee who plays the main antagonist Kirigi. Lee is good at playing a cool and swift moving ninja but again, he's nothing that truly stands out. However, when it comes to action it is lively. Like it was stated before, Garner can perform the required action sequences and it's awesome when she's in the Elektra garb. Even when fighting off various underdeveloped and uninspired henchmen that follow Kirigi, it is still fun thankfully.

Instead we see more of people like this guy....
Also with those action sequences, the special effects at least blend nicely with the surroundings. There wasn't a scene that looked out of place or extremely fake. However, the action is also very sporadic. The finale works but it takes an awful long time to get there and the action scenes in between aren't long enough to sustain the rest of the scenes entailing exposition and flashbacks. There is one other element that works here though and that's Christophe Beck's score. Beck's music contains a reoccurring theme for Elektra and some very deep string action cues that help elevate the action sequences. Surprisingly, even the scenes that are supposed to be emotional (that aren't), Beck provides the right keys to make it sound emotional. It's a good listening experience for a comic book movie. Sadly, the film as a whole still middles between not bad nor good.

Even with action that entertains, engaging music and an attractive lead, the good is equal to its bad components. The writing is formulaic, generic, contains several unexplained details and has very few performances that stand out. A weak Marvel film that deserved more.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) Review:

It was obvious that with the successful release of the Ninja Turtles comics, cartoon TV series and first theatrical release, that another story of the turtles was asking to be told. As told by the released date, it seems that the production of the next installment was already being set up very quickly after the first film. This is ok if everything is thoroughly prepped but most of the time, this isn't the case. The product becomes rushed and comes out nothing like it's predecessor. From the trailer it may seem like nothing changed, when in fact there are, and its rather distracting.

Yeah these guys haven't changed thankfully
The story takes place after the events of the first movie. So it seems like along with this setting, all the characters should be back too right? Actually, it's a bit of both. Some require explanations for both the missing and the present. Fans will appreciate that their four turtles still look the same and voiced by the same actors. However, a new actress named Paige Turco has taken over for the role of April O'Neil. Although she fits the look of the character more, she isn't given much to do this time. Her character hangs more on the sidelines than anything else, than actually helping her turtle friends fight crime. Also, where is Casey Jones? He's not to be found or even mentioned once throughout the film. Not to mention, the writer behind the screenplay worked on the first movie. How'd he miss that?

Another issue that comes into question in this installment is the return of The Shredder. In first movie, audiences witnessed him being crushed inside a garbage truck compactor. How in God’s name did he survive that? The continuity is lacking here and it's very unclear. But the piece of the movie that fans will not appreciate is the fact that for action sequences, the turtles no longer use the weapons they carry. It would be one thing if they didn't carry them at all, but in every fight they do and they never decide to use them. This particular aspect was something that fans enjoyed about the first one. Why upset the fans? It all comes down to money sad as it is.

When it came to other parts of the screenplay, the whole plot behind the "secret" of the ooze, pardon the pun, didn't contain enough substance to really expand upon anything that wasn't already known. This is rather disappointing because the setup behind the first made it feel like there was more to be told. Yet when viewers arrive at the sequel, the explanation to this setup feels almost washed over like there wasn't anything to begin with. With all this said though, there are still a number of redeeming qualities. First and foremost are the turtles themselves. Although they don't use their designated weapons, they still are fun to watch rolling around, have kicks flying and throwing fists. It seems that even the facial expressions move more fluidly too which is a good thing.

These guys though,.....
It’s also nice to see that Splinter is still included in the movie. Even David Warner, better known as Ed Dillinger from Tron (1982) plays a scientist who understands the toxic ooze. And most possibly, the most surprising of them all is seeing Vanilla Ice performing the most nostalgic of all raps, the Ninja Rap. To think that the first movie had music that dated it is now and understatement. With Vanilla Ice chanting his "Go Ninja Go" lyrics, there's nothing to think except that THIS is the dated movie now. The composer is also the same for this movie and it is understood now that John Du Prez's themes from the first movie are still kept in tact for this movie as well. At least now, there's an official theme. Surprisingly, it still entertains with all its issues.

It still contains fun action sequences and the same turtles but on the whole, the story feels like an empty shell of the first movie. Not to mention, there are a number of things that go unexplained.

Points Earned --> 6:10

George of the Jungle (1997) Review:

Cartoons are difficult to convert to movies. With a short running time of only 20-25 minutes of plot, it can be fatal to drag it out for more than an hour. This is not the first of its kind but it possibly one of the better live-action adaptations that have been presented to broader audiences of recent memory. There are a number reasons to why this stands true compared to other cartoons but it also contains flaws that many others have too. Therefore, it only constitutes as slightly above average.

Ah yes, that true love...
Audiences are introduced to George (Brendan Fraser), a simple-minded man brought up by the local Apes of Africa. One day he stumbles upon a beautiful tourist named Ursula (Leslie Mann) and they immediately began to fall for each other. To George's dismay, Ursula isn't single, for her fiancĂ© Lyle (Thomas Hayden Church) is also in love with her - thus beginning the plot. There are a number of pluses that come with the bad here. Thankfully, there's a tad more good than bad. First are the characters. Brendan Fraser as George of the Jungle was perfect. Fraser not only can do action but also handles comedy with ease. His persona  resembles that of a human cartoon; like Jim Carrey but not as extreme.

Leslie Mann as the damsel is ok. She is definitely cute enough for the role but doesn't make her character stand out. For a female character that stands up to some high-end people, she's still ditsy. However, the other cast members help overshadow her performance. Thomas Hayden Church is funny because of how naive he is and his perception of the lower class locals when in fact; he is the lowest of the low. Heading the locals is Kwame (Richard Roundtree from the original Shaft (1971)) and he too has funny moments. Along with that is John Cleese's voice work as George's friend Ape. The intellectual dialog that he is given sounds preposterous but in a silly fun kind of way. Topping it off is Keith Scott's narration; he is possibly one of the more comical of characters even though he is never seen.

What helps these characters actually make the film worth a watch is partly due to the writing, which involves breaking the fourth wall. This is not done once or twice, the count exceeds far more than many comedies actually do nowadays. But this particular element is what help makes it work and be funny. Unfortunately, the other part of the writing that doesn't work is what every other live-action cartoon movie includes; throwing the main characters into the current day. Relying on a character from decades before to make scenes comical by putting them in real world situations don't work very often. It's cliched and it doesn't give a unique universe for the main characters. Originally it started out fun and different because it took place in a jungle where things would happen that many audiences don't see, but in the city? If it's called George of the JUNGLE, why is it taking place in the CITY?

The snooty Mr. Lyle
There's also some noticeable loopholes in the story that don't give any explanation to how certain characters knew or remembered various information. However, in some cases some of the situations that take place should not be considered because the movie does play out like a cartoon, which is important if it's based off of one. That also doesn't mean the special effects should remind audiences of that. Since this movie was released at a time where CGI was really starting to boom, it can be seen clear as daylight what is fake and what is real. Unfortunately, that badly dates it. It could be worse though because Marc Shaiman's score kept fidelity to the original theme but made it fun to listen to for the whole ride of the movie. It's better than most.

The majority of characters and parts of the comedy are funny at times along with appropriate music. Yet, the story is cliche and the special effects are dated.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fast & Furious (2009) Review:

After two films that strayed away from the very first that made the franchise popular, producers to The Fast and the Furious (2001) decided to finally bring back the original cast and big name stars. That was one of their best decisions that have been made. It's baffling to why they thought changing the cast would really benefit them in any way. All it does is create resent and a disconnect with the new characters. Fans don't appreciate that. However, this is not the only difference brought to this ongoing series. The original cast returns but the story changes. Oh yes, there’s still an abundance racing cars but it's for a different reason.

He's back......
The story reunites Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) again to help in the arrest of a Cartel who is secretly making drug shipments in and out of the border of Mexico. However, these events only happen under very coincidental circumstances. The writer behind this installment is Chris Morgan, the same man behind The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). Morgan's writing is articulated in a way that still incorporates racing but it's no longer about who's packing nitro next to their driver's seat anymore. That part, fans should enjoy and this is really its strongest element. However, what Morgan still can't accomplish is a narrative that is cohesive enough that makes sense in its continuity. Just why exactly was Tokyo Drift (2006) made if they planned on making a prequel to it 3 years later?

Also, the character of Brian O'Conner is getting a tad redundant. He still lies and he drops the FBI after 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), but now is working for the FBI of L.A. And this would be fine and all if he would stop being such a rule breaker. O'Conner just can't seem to follow the rules he swore to uphold. Why doesn't he just stop working for the FBI - it doesn't benefit him. Thankfully, O'Conner no longer has a love interest problem. He's stuck with Mia and that's it. Character wise, there aren't much of any new appearances except for the antagonists. Toretto is back along with his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodgriguez) and sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). The only character that makes a subtle change is Paul Walker at which most girls will think he's the next heartthrob. Instead of having wavy surfer hair and wearing casual clothing, he now has a tux and a straight crew cut. Yeah, I could see why.

and he's back........!
The action is still fierce too. Instead of collaborating frequently on the town alleyways, the driving sequences also expand to broader horizons with larger landscapes and less tar. It'll give the audience something new to look at instead of the neon high beams and flashing traffic lights. The special effects also conform well to their surroundings; nothing looks out of place. Lastly, the franchise has finally found a solid contender to compose a score and that is Brian Tyler. During some very sentimental scenes, Tyler is able to emphasize those moments with the right emotion. Yet, Tyler is still lacking a distinctive theme for this franchise, which is a shame. He is an accomplished composer. Overall, a better sequel than the last two.

With the original cast back and a story that involves more than just fast cars, this installment starts to resurrect what it had going for it from the start. Its continuity nonetheless is a totally different issue that still needs addressing.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) Review:

There are records of pirates that date back to very early times and there are still accounts of it today. When film began to become prevalent with audiences, there were also several films made that revolved around these individuals. The life of a pirate is one of that many seek to obtain even though most would deny it. Who wouldn't want to sail around the world's oceans plundering with your friends and having a good time provided no rules? It sounds like a lot of fun. Surprisingly, as dark as this particular career can get for some people, Disney is able to portray the fictitious world of pirates where it may not be all fun and games, but it still looks like a blast (pardon the pun). There isn't any element that feels out of place.

Jack Sparrow
After a blacksmith named Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) sees his love Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) captured by a band of pirates, he calls upon the help of a unique ally, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), another pirate. The writers behind the screen are Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. These guys are 2 of the 4 writers behind Aladdin (1992) and The Mask of Zorro (1998) - which has multiple swashbuckling scenes like this one. Each character has an equal amount of development and charisma to make them likable. Johnny Depp of course is the most memorable even though his name is not in the title. The film is directed by Gore Verbinksi who didn't know it at the time but would work with Johnny Depp much more after this movie.

Aw, cute 
Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have good chemistry and look good together as well. The captain in charge of the pirates is Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and he too puts in a good performance as the antagonist to the story. What may be surprising to viewers is just how well the writers were able to mix the violence with comical moments. This is either due to Johnny Depp's acting and rather strange facial expressions or even lesser important characters like Barbossa's men - Ragetti and Pintel. They are definitely not appealing characters but they still portray the charm needed to enjoy what they do or say even if they aren't on the good side. Again, going back to violence, the humor makes it more fun.

The style of action portrayed here does involve swords, which feels similar to the Zorro series but is also different because of the settings it takes place in. How many high seas adventures are popular today? Not many. Besides swords, there's also cannon fire and shoot-outs for good measure. Adding on top of that is composer Klaus Badelt's score. Thankfully, Badelt includes themes for Jack Sparrow and the whole story itself. It's very catchy and once you've heard it, you won't forget it. I'm surprised too because although Badelt hasn't made a lot of great film scores, the one's he is remembered for is extremely good. Lastly is Dariusz Wolski's cinematography, which he gets a number of nice big views of tropical scenery although I'm sure a lot of it is CGI. There really isn't anything to not like about it.

The characters are likable, the action and humor mix well and the music is quite memorable. If you want to see an updated look on old fashion pirates, this is the original movie to see.

Points Earned --> 10:10

The Faculty (1998) Review:

Every high school has its issues. Whether it is misbehaved youth, poor budgeting management, inadequate staff or out of date supplies, there's always something that needs work. Interestingly enough, most students would likely say that it's their teachers that make their time feel like a waste. Sometimes this is true, while other times teachers are used as scapegoats for another person's problems. But what if the teachers were the problem and their intent was much more serious than one would expect? This is what happens when a random cluster of students at an ordinary high school discover that their teachers aren’t what they appear to be.

The unlikely group of schoolmates that bicker frequently
Directing this movie is Robert Rodriguez who has a story in the genre of horror for the second time - before that was From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Accompanying Rodriguez is writer Kevin Williamson who also wrote for Scream (1996) and the rest of its later sequels. The strange thing is, much of the material Williamson uses is blatantly taken from other movies. Yet he does it in a way that at least credits them and somewhat morphs it into his own without coming off as complete copy. For example, there are some conversations that discuss the previous "Invasion of the Body Snatcher" films. The leads even come up with a test to determine who is real and who isn't, just like John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). Again, it's not new, but it at least aims to entertain with a slightly different angle.

The cast contains various new and old actors. Some of which the new actors would become highly regarded in the current day. Playing some of the faculty, you have Robert Patrick, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen and even Jon Stewart. The young actors include Jordana Brewster as the uptight prissy girl, Clea DuVall as antisocial introvert, Laura Harris as the newcomer to the school, Josh Hartnett as the stayback senior, Shawn Hatosy as the Jock, Usher as his best jock friend and Elijah Wood as the bookworm. All of them portray their characters accurately considering they all look like highschoolers. Perhaps the most interesting character is Shawn Hatosy for playing a jock that decides that grades are more important than sports. That's rare for an athlete. Other than that, these characters are fun to watch but none of them stand out enough to be truly memorable.

John Stewart,...just one of the faculty
The creature itself in this movie isn't memorable either. However, in spite of that, its presence is still not to be missed. To explain it, it basically is like trying to explain what John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) looked like; you can't. It's a thing. Considering this movie partially exists in the horror genre the gore is respectable. Some of the gore moments are a little unpredictable but most are cliche because of them being taken from other films. For the most part, the CGI is convincing enough to get by even though there are some moments where it looks dated too. Helping to enhance the experience of horror is composer Marco Beltrami's score and unfortunately, it's not his best work. His music can be heard when it comes to the scares, but he missed a lot of emotional cues that could've been used. Oh well, it's still fun though.

Its concept is not new but it has moments that make it different from past films with a decent cast and special effects. Its music could've been a little better though.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Fear (1995) Review:

Very few horror franchises delve into the psyche of the victim’s mind with a unique antagonist. The most memorable villain was Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) because of his power to invade peoples’ dreams. In this movie, instead of dreams, the danger is created by fear (which is where the title comes from). When fear is present, a spirit called Morty enters the real world. It's an interesting concept, unfortunately, the execution of this movie needs some work for it to really peak in its value of entertainment. There are a few good parts and they will be covered.

Such a generic cast
This plot surfaces when a psychologist Richard (Eddie Bowz) gets a project approved for a fear therapy session up in a remote cabin owned by his parents. Upon getting there they begin to encounter strange events that are far from coincidental. Helping with the creepy factor is the character of Morty - a hand carved wooden mannequin that gives very little comfort. This particular aspect to the film is its strongest point. The suit that the actor plays in has looks of wooden textures and moves rigidly as well. Adding to that is the rickety sound that is used for every movement that Morty makes. It's very convincing that this wooden creature isn't the newest thing around. Perhaps what makes this character the most likable is the fact that he says very little. It creates mystery.

The writing by Ron Ford who continues to write today, did an ok job with the concept but everything else needs work. The concept of this creature appearing when fear is in the air is different. Considering that everyone has fears, no one is safe, so that works. However, when it comes to main characters, not one actor ever has scene that means anything more than what is being shown. The motivations behind a few characters are also misguided. One minute a girl is flirting with another man, then later she finds him repulsive - ummm ok. This is just one of a couple. Also, the fact that the casting crew hired a white actor with dreadlocks - just no. In this cast there are a few actors that go on into bigger movies but do not play roles any bigger than this. Surprisingly, Wes Craven has a small part in here. What exactly did he see in this movie? Another mystery.

However, that make up job though!
Other than that there's the music, scares / violence and cinematography. Picture wise, it's ok. It's not bad nor is it anything worth the time mentioning. The music by Robert O. Ragland was average too. It would've been even better though if there wasn't insertions of 90s pop music. It seriously dates the film - not to mention those dreadlocks from earlier. Finally, because this is in the horror genre, the film is practically non-scary. There are a number of scenes where the viewer will question to how even the characters on screen did not see the scare coming. How do you not see something through a transparent surface? Also, for what it presents the gore is very low here. It's probably lower in blood than even John Carpenter's Halloween (1978). If you want gore, it's not your film.

The concept of fear being brought to a reality is commendable and so is the actual design behind the antagonist. Yet, with writing that is unclear, poor scare tactics and other dated elements, the movie rarely works.

Points Earned --> 4:10

First Blood (1982) Review:

If there's one character that Sylvester Stallone will always be remembered for besides Rocky Balboa, that's this guy - John Rambo. The character of John Rambo may be an exaggeration of what kind of a struggle many war veterans live through everyday after being combat, but it represents them in a way that allows the audience to have sympathy. No matter how well decorated a war veteran is, if they suffered a traumatic event, it will never leave them. The memory will replay over and over again until their very last day. For most, the event is only strong enough to physically paralyze the veteran leaving them immobilized. However, there are some that suffer from and still can live and move around with it in their subconscious. John Rambo is one these and unfortunately, he gets pushed to far.

Stallone & that young Horatio Caine
After arriving into a small town to visit a war buddy, John Rambo (Stallone) is pressed by the local sheriff (Brian Dennehy) to keep moving and not return. This however, makes Rambo become defiant and return back to the town, resulting in his immediate arrest. Things only get worse once in the sheriff's building, where Rambo is treated like the worst criminal they've had in the last century. To be honest, I think they were bored - but they picked the wrong person to be bored with. With all the instigating, John Rambo is finally pushed too far with many of his memories replaying over and over. It's at this point he breaks free and begins to fight for himself as if he was back in the war.

Stallone's acting is great here. His doesn't say very much for a lot of the movie but when he does, his emotions portray an accurate description of what post traumatic stress victims have to deal with on a daily basis. Also, he gives audiences a better understanding of what it's like to be a soldier and then return to world that's totally opposite from what one is used to and how alienating it can be. Brian Dennehy as the obsessive town sheriff is also convincing because of his stance on drifters. His mindset is understood but his morals aren't up to par. Yet Dennehy's character still isn't fleshed out enough. His motives are given some explanation too but not entirely.

 Attempting to help the sheriff understand who he's up against is Colonel Trautman played by Richard Crenna. One of the best things about Crenna's character is how he understands John Rambo and is able to see anything coming before the rest of the authorities. Crenna also has some very good lines. Let's also not forget (just for a little fun) that David Caruso (Horatio Caine - CSI: Miami) has a small part in here too. He's extremely young and is one of the better cops in the local town. He at least tries to give John Rambo the benefit of the doubt that he’s not some punk off the street looking for trouble.

Dennehy & Crenna (far right)
The action is fun to watch here too. Retaining gorilla warfare is an interesting trait to maintain. Don't forget those survival skills though, he's better than any boy scout I've seen. Adding to that is Andrew Laszlo's cinematography where he captures some very wide angle shots of the mountainous landscape of which Rambo must survive and live off of. Surprisingly though, Jerry Goldsmith's score isn't as prevalent as some may expect it to be. It's certainly constructed better than some of his previous scores, but it still lacks strong action cues besides its main theme for Rambo. It does carry emotion but not a tune that's extremely memorable. It's not bad though. Definitely an entertaining action film.

This is one heck of a survival film. It has big action and respectable performances that portray the psyche of war veterans with a perspective that many people today do not consider.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Star is Born (1976) Review:

It's always been many people's dreams to become famous. Who could resist having tons of fans, lots of money and being able to do anything you want? It's a big change for anyone who makes this transition and most of the time, they end up cracking under pressure. Once this happens, frequently, the newly discovered celebrity will turn to drugs and other means to escape reality to find peace among themselves. But how often does someone discover the right person that'll keep him or her from going down the wrong path while in this state of glory? Now a days, it happens often enough that nobody thinks about it. Back then though, probably was a different story.

Imagine how many extras this production used?
Audiences will be introduced to artist John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson), an entertainer who's stardom is beginning to die among his fans. He takes drugs, drinks constantly, and sings the same hits every time he's on tour. Until one night, he goes out on the town, decides to sit at a local bar and discover someone who can sing just as good if not better than him. That singer is Esther Hoffman (Barbra Streisand), a girl just trying to make a living, seeking love and hoping to make it big in show biz. It's John who's going to help her get there. Thus allowing Esther to as John puts it - "Getting small piece of the American Dream". Ergo the title of the movie.

The movie is directed by Frank Pierson who also wrote for Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975). Pierson also wrote the screenplay with two other writers who formed a fairly solid story. The only weak point is the unclear characterization Kristofferson's character. There are some motivations of John Norman Howard that aren't exactly explained. He'll do actions that should require explanations to but doesn't give one. It's understood that he's a wild and free man but every action has a motive behind it. They don't just go unexplained. Other than that, Kristofferson's performance is well acted. It's even more coincidental that a lot of the scenes displayed throughout the running time depict rather closely to what Kristofferson himself was going through at the time of his life.

Barbra Streisand also puts in a good performance as the unknowing upcoming celebrity that is forced into the life of popularity and paparazzi. Of course, when Streisand and Kristofferson are together, their chemistry feels natural. This is also displayed when these actual artists perform together as well. Audiences should appreciate that Streisand had the singing scenes filmed without voice-over work. It makes the performances and singing that much more believable and emotional. There's also a few other actors who pop in from time to time. Tony Orlando and Kristofferson's future spouse Rita Coolidge have a scene together. A very young and what appears to be sane Gary Busey plays John Norman Howard's head collaborator. Even Robert Englund from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) has a brief scene.

Scenes like these were all done without lip sync
Although the films running time is about as long as your normal Michael Bay summer blockbuster (which may bore some viewers), these last few pieces help make the film as entertaining as it can be. Assisting to condense the movie as much as it could and make scenes flow was editor Peter Zinner who also edited for The Godfather (1972). Then there's Roger Kellaway's score to the film, which does try to keep the emotions high. However, it's not always present because half of the emotion is shown in the singing done by the main leads, which should satisfy most score aficionados. Lastly is Robert Surtees' cinematography where he captures very large concert audience shoots and some very beautiful rural landscape. It's an entertaining human drama with some flaws.

It lacks a little characterization and might be long for some, but the actors portray raw emotion and real performances to boot. The story is also a good representation of how quickly popularity can fall or soar.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Psycho (1960) Review:

There's a lot to say about Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). For one thing, it would not have lit the fuse to the explosion of other unique slasher villains that everyone comes to know and enjoy at the movies. As crazy as this idea was back in the day, Hitchcock was able to push the boundaries of suspense and create a legend that practically no one can forget. Thankfully everything here is put together in such a way that it amounts to a very clever, creepy and disturbing movie.

Anthony Perkins & Janet Leigh
The story is about a girl named Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who is given a huge sum of money and is expected to deposit in the bank. However, she becomes greedy and decides to run off with it. While on her escape, she decides to rest at an old motel owned by a man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). There she learns that Norman is under the strict rule of his mother and that he's a slight bit unsettling. However, she doesn't realize how unsettling Norman really is. Co-starring Perkins and Leigh are several other veteran actors like Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam and John McIntire.

The writing is based off of Robert Bloch's work of the same name. Bloch himself had based it off of the disturbing real story of Ed Gein of Plainfield Wisconsin in 1957. What's great though is that Hitchcock kept everything identical to the book. Every scene that is depicted gives momentum to the plot and helps make the tension that much more gripping. The best actor here is Anthony Perkins. Not only are his reactions real but also feel genuine. For example, when telling a lie and then being found out, he tries to cover his tracks. He is able to do so but speaks nervously.

Care to visit? ........You probably shouldn't
As for the year, 1960 had some graphic violence come into play. Not enough to shock anyone, but creative enough to let the audiences’ imagination run wild. Also, just because the film is in black and white doesn't mean for any viewer who doesn't like the "old" films, can't be entertained either. With the simplicity of color, there are other things for the viewer to watch and notice. Having only black and white actually simplifies the viewing experience for the audience. Accompanying that is Bernard Herrmann's all string score, with one of the most iconic tunes taking place in a shower scene. If you want to know where slasher films began, it's here.

Norman Bates is the original slasher villain. Audiences will be clinging to the disturbing story, the acting is great and the music is memorable.

Points Earned --> 10:10

Friday the 13th (1980) Review:

It's fairly obvious that with the success of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), that more people would be attempting to make films in that particular genre. Here audiences witness director Sean S. Cunningham dish out his first actual film that everyone remembers even though, this isn't his first time directing. However, what makes this film feel painstakingly similar to that Halloween (1978) is the whole concept in general. Screenwriter Victor Miller even stated himself that he was just riding the coat tales of John Carpenter's movie. Surprisingly though, as much as this sounds like it could be bad, it actually isn't.

Ahh yes,...the young naive campers
The story runs along the same lines as every other slasher horror film - a group teenagers are stalked and picked off by a mysterious killer. However, this time it takes place in a campsite, not suburbia. Also, the fact of how the story plays out is still respectable despite being sampled from Halloween (1978). This allows the movie to stand on it's own without coming up too much as a copycat. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the whole story is the mysterious background surrounding the camp. The real name of the camp is called Camp Crystal Lake, but the folks who live nearby call it Camp Blood. Gee, that sounds real ominous.  However, it's not only this aspect but the tragic story of a boy who drowned there as well.

Starring in this movie are a bunch of no name actors and one who would become real popular among fans. The one everyone knows of now is Kevin Bacon. The rest would either drop out completely of film or continue for a little and then fade away. What's with these actors? There are too many films where convincing actors star in an entertaining film and then drop out completely after that film was released. The two actors I wish had continued their careers were Robbi Morgan as Annie and Jeannine Taylor as Marcie. Along with them are convincing performances by the other unknown actors. Betsy Palmer is probably the most convincing due to her character’s mentality.

Betsy Palmer
For violence, gore fans should be relatively satisfied. It still is not the over-the-top actions that one would see in today's slasher movies, but it delivers; perhaps some moments viewers may not expect. I know there was one scene I didn't see coming. One aspect to the film that helps it stand on its own is the cinematography by Barry Abrams. Throughout the daylight parts of the film, Abrams captures a lot of good shots of the nature surrounding the camp. Adding to that is composer Harry Manfredini's score. If there's one thing that Manfredini got right, it's the whispering voices throughout the running time. It helps give the setting a very ghostly feel. Music wise, Manfredini relies more on screeching strings and not creating actual tunes. It isn't all too effective in most places, but there are times where he does create a tune here and there. It's just not often enough. This is still an entertaining film.

It certainly is not the newest of concepts considering that it took much of its premise from Halloween (1978), but it's atmosphere and story are interesting enough that it shouldn't be turned down. Also watch it for a young Kevin Bacon.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Review:

If you look at the history of cinema, almost every horror villain has something in common; they physically exist. They are present in the material world no matter how many times they're resurrected from the dead. That is, except for Freddy Krueger, who is the exact opposite of every other character. He literally doesn't exist, unless you're asleep. If you're asleep, then you should worry. Who knew that while even sleeping you couldn't be safe? Well, this is what happens to a group of teenagers who discover they are being haunted by the same creeper every night when they fall asleep. Sounds fun.

Heather Langenkamp
The girl who realizes this ongoing trend is Nancy Thompson played by Heather Langenkamp. Langenkamp is another one of those special actresses where credit must be given for giving her character amiability. Just like Kirsty Cotton from Hellraiser (1987) and Laurie Strode from Halloween (1978), Nancy is a character that shows strong courage in the face of severe danger - even if they do scream. But then again, who wouldn't if you truly had to face these menacing demons? Freddy Krueger is played by Robert Englund and although he barely has any dialog, the fact that his cackle is all that he really needs, makes him all the more intimidating. Aside from these two main actors, audiences will also get to see John Saxon from Enter the Dragon (1973) play Nancy's father, Charles Fleischer who later plays as Roger Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and playing Nancy's boyfriend is the now ever famous Johnny Depp.

The writer behind this movie is Wes Craven (who's also directing). What helps this movie elevate itself among other horror franchises is the fact that it relies on a whole different way of surviving. Forget running away. You can't escape your dreams if you’re tired enough. At some point, you will fall asleep. Most people can not avoid sleep so either way, Freddy will find you. Adding to this different angle of suspense are Wes Craven's heavy-handed gore scenes and uncomfortable imagery. Many of these scenes involve realistic looking practical effects, which will keep the audience guessing whether the character is dreaming, or not. Also, there are some scenes that are just downright creepy. Being haunted by ghosts are not the best memories people would like to relive.

Because everyone loves this guys mug....
But perhaps one the weaker parts of Craven's writing is the explanation to Krueger's special abilities. His backstory is elaborated on which is great, but the actual information about his demonic powers are never talked about. It would be nice to know. Plus, there is a point in the film where it's kind of explained on how he continues to exist but even then there isn't much explanation given. Not sure if it was supposed to be left unexplained but it could've have been, to clear things up. Finally, the last element that really helped this film was Charles Bernstein's score. His main theme which consists of a tune not only fits the story well but is rather unsettling. Although the music is enjoyable, at points it did sound like Bernstein couldn't come up with not very many other new tunes. It could've been worse though. Overall very entertaining.

Wes Craven changed the game of horror when he added Freddy Krueger to the mix. Only the insomniacs are safe. The special effects are great, along with a unique story, likable characters and creepy music. Some explanations are needed from time to time though.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Monday, May 12, 2014

Get Carter (1971) Review:

Today Michael Caine is considered to be not only one of Hollywood's most beloved actors, but also a symbol for all of the United Kingdom. Over the years Michael Caine has moved from a relatively unknown British actor to a household name. It's hard to say what it truly is about him that people like so much. Is it his accent? Is it the characters' he plays? Or is it his presence alone that defines him? Well whatever it is, it's difficult not to enjoy whatever movie Michael Caine stars in. Even for this movie, it's challenging to have the bad counter the good here.

Cool, calm, collected and still dangerous
In this crime thriller, Michael Caine plays a real life British gangster named Jack Carter. Upon coming home one day he learns that his brother has died. Believing that it wasn't an accident, Carter sets out to seek the truth and personal justice. What Jack doesn't realize, is that how much he doesn't know about what he's looking for. This is the kind of plot where the main character digs for the truth without realizing how much they'll actually get. It's a gamble most characters aren't ready for - yet the character of Jack Carter is. Jack Carter will get what he wants, even if it means he has to kill. What also distinguishes Jack Carter from many other anti-heroes is the fact that he's not a clean person either. He has just as much problems as any other gangster does. Yet the audience will feel more sympathetic for him because of the story telling thanks to writer/director Mike Hodges.

There are other well-known British actors in this movie as well, but it depends on how familiar the viewer is with other foreign cast members. For example, Britt Ekland who plays Anna, would also play in The Wicker Man (1973) and The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). Ian Hendry also has an interesting role to play here too, watch him carefully. One of the more tasteful aspects of this movie are the scenes where Carter is figuring out who are his enemies and who are his allies. Once it is determined to the audience, the act of revenge feels so much more gratifying. The kill scenes however aren't too unique. There are perhaps a few scenes that people may not expect but other than that, it's nothing out of the ordinary.

Mr. Ian Hendry
However, there are also a couple of scenes where it feels like the plot doesn't go anywhere. This rarely happens but in most movies this well constructed, it shouldn't happen at all. Cinematography wise, the background looks great. Wolfgang Suschitzky did a nice job capturing a lot of England without having to use matinee paintings or other special effects. The last thing to be mentioned was the music provided by Roy Budd. Budd's music is almost entirely absent throughout the running time yet he proves to the audience that he knows what he's doing. It's disappointing too because the opening theme for Carter is so catchy and memorable. Why wouldn't you want to continue that? Overall, a good revenge flick.

Without Michael Caine starring, who knows if this film would have the following that it has today. The story is well developed and has an intriguing message about what finding the truth to something leads to.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Internship (2013) Review:

Most of the youth that are either in college or getting out of college are looking for jobs. It's no longer a period in time the jobs are waiting for people to just take them. Students and other people of different ages a like must now fight and prove their worth to the employer. The only people who make it big nowadays are the ones who have the right connections. If someone knows the right person, they could make it into a place that's hard to find for a lot of other job searchers. So what's the best way to try  and secure a job in this day and age? The most common choice would be getting an internship. This is exactly what Billy (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson) reach out to do.

The Nick & Billy gang
After discovering that the company they work for has gone bankrupt, salesmen Billy and Nick decide that it's time for them to take a chance step out of their comfort circle and take part in an internship sponsored by Google. Once they get there, they realize that it's going to take more than just sales experience to get through the challenges that lie ahead. The catch is, they can't do it alone - a group is needed. There they join and form a cluster sore thumbs to help complete the required tasks. The best part is, the more time they work together the more they develop as characters, no matter how cliche they may be. But what separates Billy and Nick from the rest is that they are 20 years older than everyone else is, which severely dates them.

The rest of the characters involved in the group are not a breath of fresh air either but become likable over time nonetheless. The group is headed by a Google lead named Lyle (Josh Brener) who tries to help break the ice among the other socially awkward group members by talking in third person and trying to act like he has swag. The audience will also meet Stuart (Dylan O'Brien), a guy with an intense ego and loves checking his phone every 5 minutes. Then there's Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael), a smart kid who takes challenges too seriously. Finally there's Neha (Tiya Sircar), also a smart girl with several other interests that most girls probably wouldn't project so openly to other people. All around, they make an intriguing hodgepodge of a team. The majority of these actors don’t t have much under their belt but do a decent job portraying their characters.

Thankfully, Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern's writing gave even enough character development to each character that is introduced to the audience. There's even a bit of a love interest with Nick and a woman named Dana (Rose Byrne), although the background to this female isn't expanded upon much. However, this is an aspect that Vaughn and Stern got right - likability of the characters. They really are likable characters, the problem is that over the running time of two hours, it'll take a while to actually feel much for them. The flaw in this lies in the comedy; it's just not that funny. Without comedy it’s harder to portray charm. Rarely did I laugh or even chuckle to a lot of the slapstick. I know I wasn't expecting an all out riot but I also didn't expect to not laugh much either. Again, it's not until the viewer is far into the running time will there actually be points where it could bring out some laughs.

That college life though
Perhaps the one character that is the most fun to watch and listen to is Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi), the man in charge of the internship program. Not only does he exchange some comical remarks with Vince Vaughn's role but also just the way he presents himself. It's surprising though because writer Jared Stern has written for well acclaimed films like The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Wreck-It Ralph (2012) so it's puzzling to why the comical aspects of the film weren't very effective, unless, that was all credit to Mr. Vaughn's part. If there's one thing though to excite viewers is the cinematography and production design of the Google campus. It sure looks like fun. Lastly, Christophe Beck produced the score to the film and although it takes a back seat to more soundtrack music, it still is fairly effective when it's used. That's pretty much it.

The film is watchable with appropriate character development and cool looking production design of the Google campus. However, expecting it to be funny may be asking too much. Very few interactions produce a laugh.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Universal Soldier (1992) Review:

Before films like Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables (2010) were released, most action stars performed solo. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, and Jean-Claude Van Damme all made their own separate movies. Combining star power wasn't usually thought of because of how different the fan bases were. However, this movie is one those exceptions. Today it could be considered a movie where they collaborated before they were extremely well known (although at the time they were anyway). It was rare at that time to see two big names on the same screen - which probably pumped up a lot of people.

Line 'em up!
Here, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play Luc Deveraux and Andrew Scott, two Vietnam veteran soldiers killed in the line of duty, who end up being regenerated to serve as a UniSol (short for Universal Soldier). As a UniSol, their purpose is to carry out impossible tasks that no other ordinary soldier could do. To carry out these missions, the UniSols are monitored and commanded by remote audio instructions. One day on the latest mission, Luc begins to have a relapse of old memories and begins to bug out. After disobeying an order, he runs off with reporter Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker) to find out what he missed. Close behind them is Luc's colonel with Andrew Scott 2nd in command looking to rid them of their existence.

For the majority of the running time, the plot is a big chase. Yet, in only some instances does it actually feel like a chase. Writer Dean Devlin managed to include some unique scenes but his pacing on how the story moves, plods from time to time. That's not to say the material he includes in the story isn't noteworthy. Again, this goes back to some unique scenes that Devlin included - most of which involve Andrew Scott (Lundgren). This movie is also one of the few that director Roland Emmerich did not include a political commentary on since this idea is so far fetched. However, he does mingle some themes that are still important to recognize - for example, playing the role of God. If there was the technology to actually re-animate dead tissue, would it be possible to have complete control over the body? Hard to say, the mind is a tricky thing.

However, the movie cannot be analyzed too much because throughout the story there are a lot of loopholes and questions that aren't answered - like how can someone survive a fall from an enormous height and not come back mangled or even bruised? This is one those films where it's fun to watch but cannot be taken literal because of how absurd the idea really is. The acting can be moderately dealt with. Ally Walker plays her role like any other person would. She has a few lines that'll make people chuckle but not much else. Jean-Claude Van Damme's acting is stone faced for most of the time because of how he's not familiar with the world. However, Dolph Lundgren looked like he had a great time playing his role because of how deranged his character is. It was also wise of the casting department to at least make Lundgren the antagonist because of his height. If it were the other way around, I'm not sure if the entertainment level would be as high.

Ally Walker
What is fun to watch here, is when Lundgren and Van Damme finally clash. Since they both have martial arts training, there's no question that the kicks and fists will fly between them. Lundgren's got the bulk and Van Damme's got the agility. They both are good in contrast to each other, the only thing that was needed was Van Damme putting just a little more emotion into his role. Other than that, the cinematography and editing works well too. Finally, composing the musical score belongs to Christopher Franke who now produces music for The Amazing Race (2002) series. Franke's score does contain tunes that can be heard with light emotional tones but it's nothing too deep; which is pretty much how the film should be taken. Fun but not deep.

The action on screen between Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme is fun even though it is sporadic. The story elements are interesting considering it also makes the plot drag. Look for nothing too deep here.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Wild Angels (1966) Review:

Bad movies are made all the time. Some are made by amateurs, while others are made by the highest of production companies. Along with that, some films even have a solid cast and still messed it up somehow. It should make viewers wonder to themselves what the heck possessed these actors to take part in such strange concoctions. In this mid 1960s film, Roger Corman, the man best known for The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) is in the director’s chair. Starring in the film is a young Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra. Together, these two actors head a biker gang known as "The Wild Angels" (based on an actual biker group "Hell Angels").

Mr. Fonda riding.....
It's after the rolling intro credits where the narrative is lost. Credited as the so-called writer to this movie is Charles B. Griffith, a man who has produced several other works with Corman. Why didn't Corman see how bad the screenplay was? There is literally no part of the plot that is engaging enough for any audience. The only thing that is presented is the behavior of this gang, which doesn't help. The behavior of the gang is reckless, brash and even stupid. In one scene, a bunch of bonehead bikers hop on their bikes to chase a rabbit. A rabbit.

The mentality of this gang is to be "free" and ride their machines without having to answer to "the man". You know, the basic 60s perspective of most rebels. Roger Corman may have been trying to get this message across, but it is done in such a way that is so late in the running time, that by the time the topic is brought up, the audience will already be asleep. It's almost like he was just trying to capitalize on the craze at the time. Let's also not forget the symbol of "The Wild Angels" - the Swastika? Yeah, just how exactly is portraying this in any film other it being about Nazis or Charles Manson sound like a good idea? Point being, it isn't. No one should be proud to represent that symbol. How is that Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra and others found it to be a wise career choice?

and he's still riding...........
The dialog isn't anything special either. The characters have no meat to them. Plus, there are little to any characterizations among the leads that are presented to the viewers. Peter Fonda's character says "Shut Up" way too often. Nancy Sinatra's character keeps asking if Fonda's character still loves her (and he can't make up his mind). Nothing is explained to why the characters act the way they do on a personal level. The sole activities that matter to this group of neanderthals is riding their bikes, getting high, getting laid and having meaningless brawls. None of it is appealing, all the way up to the very last minute of the film. Michael J. Pollard best known for his role in Tango & Cash (1989) as Owen even has a role and can't help lift the entertainment level. Forget background music, nowhere close to being on target with the tone of the film. No wonder the real "Hell's Angels" filed a lawsuit!

A story barely exists here. The characters are as transparent as glass, the music is irrelevant and the events that take place are meaningless.

Points Earned --> 1:10

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pumpkinhead (1988) Review:

Stan Winston, among many professionals going into the film business of creature effects look at his works for guidance. There is no doubt that Mr. Winston was one of the elite of his time when it came to making creatures in cinema. Surprisingly, this particular horror film is Stan Winston's directorial debut and although he isn't an actual story telling visionary like Stephen King or Clive Barker, it is clear that he tried to make it match to the other forms of horror that were already released. Unfortunately, the demon Pumpkinhead is probably one of the lesser-known horror villains in recent memory. If anything, it is a well made guilty pleasure horror film for most.

Hold that boy Lance!
The story is about widower countryman Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen), a loving father who's son Billy, means everything to him. One day when a group of traveling city kids pass by and accidentally kill Billy, Ed calls upon a demon named Pumpkinhead to take his vengeance on the people who killed his son. But that's not all, apparently with resurrecting this creature come some extremely unpleasant side effects. Which in fact, these side effects can get kind of confusing. It's not to say that the writing is bad but there wasn't any clarification on what was happening with these "side effects". Plus, there was a character in the film that could have explained this. It's not like no one knew how Pumpkinhead does his work. Other than that, the writing is fine.

Even for the slew of no name actors that took part in the film give believable performances. When the city kids realize they hit Billy, the nervousness and tension feels real between all of them. Also what's cool is that Jeff East, the actor who played Young Clark Kent in Richard Donner's Superman (1978) is in here too. Lance Henriksen no doubt puts in a good performance as the emotional father who grieves over the only thing that meant something to him. Perhaps what gave this film an interesting edge is that the location isn't the normal setting. The story takes place on rural landscape. Nothing feels cleanly - yeah sure the setting wasn't clean in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) either, but it was only in certain places. Here, everywhere feels dirty, inside and out. It's a different feel that most horror films don't have anymore.

This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with set decorator Kurt Gauger's work, which gives the backgrounds a very dusty rural feel. Helping that feeling come around full circle is Richard Stone's score to the film. He doesn't create a main theme, but his incorporation of instruments that sound like they belong on a farm match the setting and images with ease. He even includes some emotional tunes. However, his ability to help bring out the horror elements to the film is underdeveloped. Thankfully, Pumpkinhead himself looks like a force that shouldn't be messed with - especially for 1988. When the cicadas sound, you know he's around. Although according to sources, that Stan Winston didn't have any time to inject his input into the concept, the design of Pumpkinhead is somewhat of a knock off.

Ok maybe not totally the same as Alien (1979)
but there are noticeable similarities
Much of the structure looks similar to that of the Alien (1979) franchise - which Winston did work on. I guess it's difficult to come up with a design to a creature called Pumpkinhead. It is a little off putting. As for gore goes, the death scenes are in the middle. Some can be graphic while others are cut too early to determine whether it was. Adding to the sometimes hard to see visuals are the dual color tones that are frequently used; dark blue for the wilderness and orange red for the inside of houses. I don't know if there's a deeper meaning to it but it may make viewers wish that there were more of a color palette to the film. Unfortunately, with all these factors accounted for, the actual terror factor of this film is quite low unless you are extremely young or you're not a horror fan in general. It's still a good movie but it's not scary like it could've been.

Even with creature effects master, Stan Winston directing, Pumpkinhead rarely scares. That's not to say it isn't entertaining though. The performances are believable, the sets feel real and the creature itself is presented professionally.

Points Earned --> 6:10