Sunday, May 31, 2015

Armageddon (1998) Review:

Back around the late 1990s, Hollywood started becoming obsessed with making movies about the end of the world. Some of which bordered on the edge of unrealistic while others wanted to really scare the crap out of its audience with what sounded and looked like plausible science. Whether it be shifting plate tectonics like Volcano (1997) or the devil himself in End of Days (1999), someone thought up of some way the world would end. For director Michael Bay, his idea was more patriotic, although perhaps a little too self-righteous. Although the plot of the movie is not mentioned to be in accordance with the Mayan calendar, the way it comes across is pretty much "the end of the world"-ish. What's more surprising is that Michael Bay finds this to be his worst movie. I think he should check his list again.

Yeah,....I cared more about this,.....
After NASA discovers a gigantic meteor the size of Texas is headed towards Earth, the head of NASA named Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) orders the recruitment of oil driller Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) to head up to space to knock the "global killer" out of orbit. Stamper accepts but only after the rest of his drilling crew comes with him. The rest of the drilling crew contains AJ Frost (Ben Affleck) who's also dating his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler), Chick (Will Patton), Rockhound (Steve Buscemi), Bear (Michael Clarke Duncan), Max (Ken Campbell) and Oscar (Owen Wilson). The supporting cast also includes William Fichtner, Jessica Steen, Peter Stormare, Keith David and Jason Isaacs. Thankfully, for a cast this huge Michael Bay had some credible writers for this production. Penning the official screenplay for this film was none other than Jonathan Hensleigh (Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) and Jumanji (1995)) and a young J.J. Abrams. As a whole, the story is proficient at working with what it has. Most of the characters mentioned prior do have a definitive personality and also portray genuine emotion.

Then again, there are some moments that hint at the typical Michael Bay shtick that always feels unnecessary. Being that the movie is 2 and a half-hours long, there definitely could have been some trimming on the sides. Some scenes either had no relevance or meaning to the story and did not further the plot. All they did was emphasize how silly some characters can be written. Most likely the running time could have been cut down to 2 hours. The only other part that wasn't needed was the love subplot going on between AJ and Grace. It felt forced and cliched. Making matters worse was Liv Tyler's acting ability. She wasn't horrible but she had a very stiff face and in some cases she became quite obnoxious portraying her character. Delightfully, there are enough supporting characters to make-up for her. The most interesting belonged to William Fichtner’s role as a space astronaut caught between his code by NASA or what his gut says. His exchanges with Bruce Willis are quite the attention grabber.

The most entertaining act of the film (and rightfully so) is the final act. It is there that we see Harry Stamper and his crew work as a real team and seeing that happen and how they handle various situations is an intense ride from beginning to end. This also goes pretty much for the cinematography and special effects. All of which blended in nicely as well. The director of photography for this production was John Schwartzman and for what was depicted on screen, it still holds up today. There are large wide panning shots of landscapes but most of it belongs to the meteor, which does look heavy on CGI. Again though, the special effects are something to admire too. For it's time, it could have looked a lot worse but even today it still looks decent.

,......than this
Musically related, the score was composed by Trevor Rabin. Rabin, who's main forte is in the synthetic aspect of film score, does not deviate from what listeners would normally hear. Much of his music contains the same kind of generic electronic keyboard rhythms and action cues. Surprisingly however, Rabin provides a very memorable and emotional power anthem that acts as the movie’s main theme. Although there was no Armageddon 2 (and hopefully never will) the fact that Rabin made such a memorable theme for the movie is commendable. It has a very heroic like tune that makes the jobs being done truly feel a difference is being made. As a recommendation for anyone looking to collect Rabin's score, the best would be to go with the bootleg edition. Most of Rabin's score do not contain more material than 30 or so minutes. But the bootleg for Armageddon (1998) is a little over an hour and a half. It's hard to find film scores with such detail so if you can get a hold of it, I suggest you do.

Like other Michael Bay films, it has a few areas that needed trimming with unnecessary scenes that make the movie longer than it needed to be. Plus, Liv Tyler's acting is noticeably irritating on screen. Other than that, Bruce Willis and the rest of the supporting cast work well, the music is recognizable and the third act to this sci-fi nail biter is quite a ride.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Fruitvale Station (2013) Review:

Controversial topics are never easy to bring up because people can get fired up quite quickly. Yet this kind material needs to be resurfaced again and again in order for people to understand and digest the events that go on around them from day to day. For subject matter like this, there are several mediums the material can be sent through to grab the target audiences' attention. Written works such as books or newspaper articles are one, while the more popular method is on video via biopic, documentary movies or even nowadays, handheld recorded phone video. As for this movie, it's a combination of all three video mediums. The beginning of the film bookends the story with live footage and a documentary style conclusion of the true story that this film was adapted from. The meat and potatoes of the movie is where more of the biopic like execution comes in but only covering one day of the main character.

FVS_162_DF-01547.jpg (4992×3328)
Michael B. Jordan & Melonie Diaz
The story follows Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan) from New Year's Eve to New Year's Day, showing the different people he comes in contact with and how he interacts with them. This includes his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz), daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal), his mother (Octavia Spencer) and several other characters. It's interesting how one day a lone can display so much character to its viewers. Debuting as writer and director, Ryan Coogler displays the ability to cohesively write and direct this project efficiently to get the point across to his target audience. Every character and every scene has it's own message of which then all tie together in order to tell the story (of which has already occurred). The other notable key skill Coogler has is giving each character the ability to develop in their own way, which then also effects the overall play out of the movie. It'll end up making the audience think on the character's decisions as well too.

The character portrayals is what really moves the story here, mostly because the actors can portray all the right emotions. Michael B. Jordan was a sufficient choice to play Oscar. Jordan represents the misunderstood guy; the one who's making it by but could use a little more of a boost to start living better than he could be already. Oscar knows his living conditions are not top notch but he does what he can to make a good impression on others and be a good role model for his daughter. A good example of Oscar showing that he's working at being a better person is helping out a stranger played by (Ahna O'Reilly), who initially felt uncomfortable with him approaching her due to how he talked and dressed. Melonie Diaz as Oscar's girlfriend shows the strength when needed and that's usually around Tatiana. The chemistry between Diaz and Jordan also feel authentic and match their settings easily with their co-stars.

Ariana Neal as Oscar and Sophina's daughter is one of those rare child actors who show strong promise at an early age. Not only is her acting believable, but the intelligence and innocence that she gives the character of Tatiana is likable. Octavia Spencer as Oscar's mom also demonstrates the needed traits to be the mom of her older son. Spencer's chemistry really matches with Jordan's. Besides these main characters there are a number of other scenes that help define them and their surroundings. All of which go through the same motions most other people do everyday; sadness, euphoria, intimacy and frustration. This all goes back to the social commentary the film's message is trying to get across. Although individual's have troubled pasts, that doesn't mean any of them can change. Some are always working to be better than they were and the unfortunate thing is, sometimes society doesn't see that. Thus, making it a continuous uphill battle for the misunderstood.

Being a father
The musical score composed by Ludwig Göransson is decent for what it gives. There is no main theme but that's expected because this isn't a franchise anybody was looking to make. Plus, the score is fairly simplistic and minimalistic, yet effective. It is a little difficult to make out what instruments are being used mainly because the tracks aren't very long. But one of the best cues however is when the scene focuses on Oscar being a dad, this uses oscillating guitar chords making it sound innocent and home-like. It's those moments that work the best. There's only one element that could've used some improvement and that's Rachel Morrison cinematography. For what Morrison shows, much of them were good shots. The only problem was the camera’s stability. Surely this movie was not filmed by a camcorder, yet many of the shots are constantly wiggling around. For some scenes it can more understandable than others but most just requires the camera to be observing the events not being active in it. Perhaps Morrison was trying to make it feel as real as possible, maybe.

Aside from camerawork that is a bit too unstable for no apparent reason other than maybe to be as realistic as possible, the overall execution to this biopic/documentary is strong in its message to its audience. The music, writing and characters are all well developed and the actors that portray them suit the roles well, especially Michael B. Jordan as the main lead.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996) Review:

When movie franchises begin to get "long on the tooth", everyone from the director and the film crew to the studio producing the film, are required to come up with new ways to make the viewing experience fresh for the audience that follows it. These are the guidelines that should be followed when occurrences like this happen. Of course we all know that's rarely the case except for the few. Most money hungry studios end up taking the full reign of the production and end up demanding the final result being fairly an exact copy of previous entries made or drastically changed the concept itself. Thus leading to the trend of diminishing returns. For Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987) franchise, the trend is mostly the same, except the issues are in other places this time.

"Who knew this box, would be such a hit"
Compared to Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), this entry doesn't really surpass it, but it does at least feel more on track than the prior one does. Originally Kevin Yagher (a make-up and special effects artist who had experience in other horror films) was set to direct as his debut film. Unfortunately, Miramax Studios, which then owned the rights fought with Yagher, causing him to quit. However, one man who hasn't left since Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988) was writer Peter Atkins, who once again penned the script. In this chapter, the year is 2127 and audiences are introduced to Dr. Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) an inventor who has discovered a way to destroy Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his followers forever. Regrettably, he is stopped before he is able to finish by a group of soldiers who came to take him away. To stall time, Merchant convinces Rimmer (Christine Harnos) to listen to why he needs to finish what he was doing. The story Merchant tells is how the Cenobites were first released and how they connect to his family ties.

The fact that Atkins went in even further than before to explain the back story to Pinhead and his origins is again commendable, but sadly this new information totally contradicts the three films before it. None of the main characters in the prior entries were related to Merchant, so why did their fate have them come in contact with Pinhead? Also what about the multiple boxes that Dr. Channard had in his office from the second film? If these boxes act as portals, what makes you think destroying one box will keep Pinhead out forever? It just doesn't add up. Along with that is a new pseudo-villain named Angelique (Valentina Vargas) who also has a past with Merchant, but only him. Of the characters in the story, the only people that matter and viewers will enjoy is Dr. Merchant, Angelique and Pinhead. Bruce Ramsay (who ends up playing different versions of himself) manages to at least be competent in his role and certainly more convincing than Terry Farrell from the previous movie. As for Vargas and Bradley, they both looked like they enjoyed their roles. Doing all kinds of evil acts and such.

On the flip side, the rest of the cast is completely forgettable. There is no character development, not even for Rimmer who listens to Dr. Merchant. There's also a young Adam Scott and an older Kim Myers (from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)) and they too have no real significant importance. But aside from characters, Atkins did change a number of things for the better. One being the tone; the third movie had a completely different tone to that of the first two. Many fans took it as too goofy and cheesy where Pinhead was portrayed more as a generic slasher villain. Here, Pinhead still kills just cause, but he's not as blood hungry either. Another plus is the creativeness of the cenobite designs, which unlike the third film looked quite gimmicky. Here, they look more like what Pinhead's followers would look like. Then again, fans may also complain because there really isn't a lot of new additions. Throughout the whole film, only three new cenobites appear of which one wasn't even human and they also don't receive a lot of screen time. Along with that is a possible dislike for the smaller amount of gore too. With that it may not be as scary either.

Angelique (Valentina Vargas)
Yet, the kill scenes are still quite gruesome. Another interesting edition to the mix of the franchise is the use of CGI, which doesn't look that bad. It's used minimally which is how it should be used. The cinematography shot by Gerry Lively is a slight improvement over his work in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992). This time instead of showing Pinhead in the sunlight all the time, he is kept in the shadows and this helps him feel more mysterious and dangerous. Finally for the musical score, Daniel Licht who would later be known for his music in the Dexter (2006) TV show composed the tracks. Thankfully, Licht exceeds Randy Miller's score from the prior film by adding new themes for the cenobites and making a variation of Christopher Young's original theme that was created from the first film. Much of these tracks use the same string build up, choral echoes and percussion but its the deviations that make it more appealing to listen to than recycled tracks.

It still doesn't anywhere match the first two original movies and most will probably find it equal to that of the Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) quality, but even for the production troubles that it had and nonsensical story telling, it can be a more entertaining watch. Although the likable cast is few, it is made up with more back-story, a better-written tone, appropriate costume design, acceptable special effects that don't look dated and a better film score.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Liar Liar (1997) Review:

By the middle to late 1990s, Jim Carrey had solidified his presence in Hollywood history by moving from Saturday Night Live skits to major box office grabs like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), The Mask (1994) and Batman Forever (1995). It seemed as if Carrey was destined to always play some kind of supernatural character that had no limits as well as not being able to live on the common social level at the time. That is until he starred in this movie. For this role, it was actually a step down from the weird and crazed out parts Carey had played in the past. It is by no means as toned down as his performance he would later play in The Truman Show (1998) but at this point, it was the beginning of that transition. The story follows Fletcher Reede (Carrey), a lawyer who loves doing what he does by unethically lying to get by; that also means his family. After missing out on his son's birthday, Max (Justin Cooper) wishes that his dad couldn’t lie for one whole day, which ends up coming true.

Can you trust that sad face? - Carrey's I mean
The catch is, Fletcher has a huge case coming up which if he wins (by lying) he could earn the big bucks. The script written by Paul Guay, Stephen Mazur and directed by Tom Shadyac (who has worked with Carrey before) prepare and execute the story properly. Specifically the way the characters are written is a big part. The Reede family show that his son and divorced wife Audrey (Maura Tierney) try endlessly to work with Fletcher's schedule of lies but it wears thin quickly. Making things tougher is Jerry (Cary Elwes) a friend who's moving out and wants Audrey and Max to come with him. Another large strain are the characters that take part in the court case, mainly Samantha Cole (Jennifer Tilly) the defendant and Fletcher's boss Miranda (Amanda Donohoe). All of these smaller threads are taken care of and provide the right character development for Carrey's role. The other interesting spin the writers put on this story is how the plot uses morals, ethics and social commentary on the judicial system as a backdrop for the entire message of the film.

The only problem to the writing is the wish that Fletcher's son, Max makes. Up and until the wish is made and takes full effect, the audience gets the idea that the world they are in is the real world. However, when the wish is made Fletcher can't control himself. By what means made this come true and what's keeping him from making a lie? Most would consider this very nitpicky and too critical but it is a giant question in the film's story. Who has the power to grant these wishes? Do they apply to other children or people in general? All unanswered questions that probably the writers had no time to think about. The best supporting element to the story however is Jim Carrey's comedy. These are the moments that allow Jim Carrey to be himself and be spontaneous with his responses were which many are sure most lines were unscripted. But it's also not just the lines, the actions Fletcher takes to make sure that he doesn't get himself into trouble is hilarious too. Some of which situations are so extreme it makes the viewer wonder if one would go to such measures too.

"The pen is,.....Rrrrrrr---oyal blue!"
The other elements that work in this film’s favor are the music and cinematography. The director of photography belongs to Russell Boyd who is competent in his work at getting the right shots from the courtroom to the office hallways. However, the best things Boyd does is when Fletcher starts going crazy. This leads to various angles at which the camera portrays other objects in the room as other living things. That's clever because audiences then begin to believe the object being focused on is living. As for music composed by John Debney who didn't have many well-known scores released at the time manages to pull off the comedic and dramatic scenes quite well. The only negative thing that can be said is that it sounds very dated with its familiar like 90s family comedy drama sound. It sounds so 90s. Finally the only other thing that dates the movie more than it should have were the visual style of the haircuts and dressers back then. Haircuts like Jerry's are just really old looking now. Other than that it's good.

The dated sounding music and visual appearance of the actors don't let it age well. Plus the reasoning behind how Max's wish came true weren’t explored. But for the most part, the writing is spot on with well-developed characters, downright laugh out loud scenes, and the story's subtext commentaries it addresses.

Point Earned --> 7:10

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) Review:

It's a rare case when a sequel makes a comeback in a franchise that begins going downhill in quality. Unfortunately with the law of diminishing returns it's not easy for that to happen. When audiences start figuring out that the connections between stories are not being regarded and nothing new is being added to create a cohesive part by part saga, they begin to ignore and not support the cause. Once that happens, it becomes very difficult for the name to come back with something that'll make everyone forget the bad taste that was put in peoples' mouths. Yet for horror franchises, it’s much harder for this issue to occur since many just went to view the picture for the kills. But this is a unique case where the third entry (which usually is the worst in a trilogy) ended up being better than the second.

Heather Langenkamp looking much more like a woman O_O
However, the only big problem this installment has is where it lies in the timeline. The title suggest that it takes place after A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985) yet throughout the running time, nothing is mentioned about the events of this film's first predecessor (which also happened to acknowledge the original). Plus the original had a false ending so how did Nancy escape Krueger at the end of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)? This makes it confusing because many Krueger fans believe that Part 2 shouldn't exist, but it was made, so with this productions four writers, something could've been quickly added in to reference the last film. Besides this though, the rest of the writing works aggressively at making sure its audience will enjoy and care more about this set of characters than the last movie. When a bunch of kids start suffering from dangerous dreams at a mental ward headed by Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson), Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) returns to help the struggling fatigued youths fight back against Freddy Krueger using the powers of their dreams.

The reason behind Krueger attacking these kids is that they are all that remain of the Elm Street kids of the parents that killed Freddy. This time, the motivation for Freddy is clear. Why not for Part 2? We'll never know. Making his directing debut and partially writing for this entry is the underrated Chuck Russell. Co-writing with Russell is the return of Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner and future 3 time oscar nominated Frank Darabont. For this alone, it only feels right that the story has more substance this time around. Having John Saxon and Heather Langenkamp reprise their roles was a major plus and the new set of youth  or dream warriors as they call themselves, are certainly more charismatic than the last bunch from Part 2. The dream warriors consist of Roland (Ken Sagoes) the tough guy, Joey (Rodney Eastman) the mute, Taryn (Jennifer Rubin) the punk, Phillip (Bradley Gregg) the geek, Kristen (Patricia Arquette) the believer and a couple others all of which have a distinct personalities. Heck even Laurence Fishburne has role in this movie!

Veteran actress Nan Martin plays a specific role that is pretty creepy for the story. Again Langenkamp and Saxon provide just the right amount of nostalgia for the fans so that they have plenty to fall back on from the original film. Even Craig Wasson's character is quite useful through the story. Of course we can't forget Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger himself. Like every time before, Englund looks like he's having a blast and any line that he says is darkly funny in its own right. The writing also includes more interesting scenes whether it be the dream sequences or back story information to Freddy Krueger. It additionally doesn't follow the normal horror tropes either which is commendable. The dream sequences whether it be the kills or the act of fighting back go hand-in-hand with the special/practical effects and cinematography shot by Roy H. Wagner. This makes the dream scenes and kills much more creative, diverse and gruesome than the prior entry.

.....and Freddy's on Dave Lettermans lol
Lastly, the only other element besides continuity that doesn't sit well with this sequel is the musical score composed by Angelo Badalamenti. Future horror composer Christopher Young composed the musical score from Part 2 and sadly it was a let down. This was due to Young omitting the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) theme composed by Charles Bernstein. For this score, Badalamenti reprises the creepy main theme that composer Bernstein created. except it feels rather shoehorned in a couple times than it is effectively put into the right places. Along with that are horror cues that sound even more synth keyboard emphasized that Bernstein's score. It might be more accurate to say that it resembled that of Richard and Charles Band production quality; it really sounds cheap. This is baffling considering everything else with this entry had such better quality, the music should have received a boost as well, but it didn't.

The continuity is vague in its timeline placement and the musical score sounds cheaper than usual even with the return of the memorable creepy theme. However, with better dream sequences, kills, a cast of new dreamers, the return of original characters and a story with more clear motivations, this sequel gets very close to the original.

Points Earned --> 7:10

What About Bob? (1991) Review:

There have been movies released before about crazy or uncontrollable characters let loose to follow a certain somebody and drive them up a wall. The most recognizable of comedies that had this kind of set up were films like Ben Stiller's dark comedy The Cable Guy (1996), Duplex (2003) or Kurt Russell's Captain Ron (1992). Both of which were about main characters’ mental issues that somehow were able to get away with everything, meanwhile simultaneously annoying the living crap out of the person they cling on to. This is no different on a narrative level; the formula is all there. The only change are the leads, their positions on the social ladder and the location. The real element that will win over its viewers will be Bill Murray - if you’re a big fan of him.

"I'm on top of the world!"
To be realistic it is not a bad performance and Bill Murray doesn't play the worst character. However, he's still not that likable. In fact, none of the characters any actor plays is that likable. The day before Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) leaves for vacation, a fellow psychiatrist transfers one of his patients, Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) to be checked out. After visiting Dr. Marvin, it is revealed to Bob that Dr. Marvin is going on vacation. With that, Bob does everything he can to see his Dr. again for psychiatric help. Tom Schulman best known for writing Dead Poets Society (1989) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), penned the script for this comedy with the legendary Frank Oz directing.

The strange thing is, like stated before, the execution isn't anything new. The direction is too well known - crazy person introduced to potential host, host becomes victim of crazy person’s antics while nobody else believes them. Unlike The Cable Guy (1996) and Duplex (2003) which were mean spirited comedies and Captain Ron (1992) being more dimwitted than anything else, this just plays out irritating. Thankfully, Bill Murray's character wasn't written to be mean spirited, in fact his role is more innocent by nature. The problem is he just doesn't take a hint when someone says leave. With that Bill Murray comes off as more obnoxious than anything else. He's not sick-minded or a jerk, so that kind of makes him acceptable but not likable really because there's little to sympathize for. Bob could be a likable character if he was written more as a character than knows he's causing trouble but can't help it. Instead, Bob causes pain to others and doesn't even notice it. Then again though, that may be due to his dumb surrounding characters.

It truly is amazing to how oblivious people can be. Since when are family members so accepting of a professional's patient to show up on vacation, sleep with them in the same room and eat at their table. Not to mention teaching their kids bad words. Doesn't that raise a couple, if not more than a couple red flags? Haven't they heard of the phrase, "don't bring your work home with you"? Dr. Marvin seems to be the only one who notices and understands that. It's weird because everyone else is so accepting of Bob and yet they don't deal with him in the same manner as Dr. Marvin. Plus, some of the smallest things Bob does everyone finds it hilarious, especially Mrs. Marvin (Julie Hagerty) who is quite annoying too. Saying "MmmmmmMMMMmmm" after every bite of food at the dinner table really stirs up that many chuckles ? It's because of their lack of concern and care for the victim that makes them unlikable as well and contain no charm. Clearly stated in the movie, one of the reasons why people like Bob is because he's fun and old man Dr. Marvin wasn't.

"Isn't he so fun dad?"
Maybe writer Tom Schulman was trying to get the message across; that you can't live life being a stick-in-the-mud all the time (meaning relax now and then). But aside from one subplot about Dr. Marvin's son trying to learn how to dive, there is no indication of Dr. Marvin being a father who can't have fun. The only reason why nobody finds Dr. Marvin fun is because he's trying to get rid of a patient that is following him and can't get rid of. Wouldn't that make you act rotten too? These supporting characters are so thickheaded. The only actor that is funny on occasion is Richard Dreyfuss. The reason for this being that even going back to the years of Jaws (1975), when Dreyfuss got frustrated, his yelling was more comical than it was dramatic. Nonetheless, since this is a comedy, Dreyfuss is funny in a number of areas because his character has no other way of dealing with the problem (being Bob). Cinematography this time by Michael Ballhaus  wasn't anything important, it doesn't showcase much. The music however, composed by Miles Goodman is alright, although it does sound very close to that of his more popular score a year later from The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). It's not terrible but it isn't good comedy either, unless you're a true Bill Murray fan.

Hardcore Bill Murray fans should have no problem with this but if you tire of formulaic host comedies where some crazy person makes everyone turn on the already label victim, it'll be a frustrating sit. It's not the worst because Richard Dreyfuss is funny and Bill Murray's role isn't mean spirited, but the whole play out is just annoying to sit through anyway.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Swamp Thing (1982) Review:

There's something about lesser-known comic book characters when it comes to being adapted to film. For odd reasons they don't receive as much critical or financial success. Yet it has been proven that these characters can become popular if done right. An example of this is James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Heck nobody even knew they were a Marvel property until the studio announced they were being put to the big screen. This only shows that the right people have to be involved with how the production is conceived and executed. The antithesis of that example is Man-Thing (2005), also produced by Marvel but in no way taken care of in the same manner. Like the character of Man-Thing, DC also had their version called Swamp Thing, which received its rendition way before Man-Thing's film was even thought of. But being that it was the second DC character to be portrayed on the big screen, one would think it would have done as well as Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) for being new and different.

Dr. Holland & Alice Cable
Instead, the film went underground and gained a cult following. It's not that it was bad but it certainly was not written anywhere near the same depth as Superman (1978) and its sequel. The story follows Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) who meets Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise) in a new discovery where plant cells can be fused with animal cells in a solution. To Holland's dismay greedy man Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) wants his findings for himself and destroys his lab. Attempting to escape, Dr. Holland accidentally collides with his experimental solution and mixes in with his swampy surroundings. This leads to him becoming Swamp Thing, a creature with super strength, regeneration and healing powers. Written and directed by indie horror fanatic Wes Craven, thankfully this feature does entertain on some level. It is surprising though that Wes Craven works with such a toned down picture. The violence is nothing compared to his works before like the dreaded The Last House on the Left (1972) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

The cast of characters isn’t extremely unique but they do portray the proper emotion and do have their own personality. Ray Wise makes Dr. Holland sound very intelligent yet not bookworm-ish enough to be a total geek. Adrienne Barbeau as Cable is charismatic and even demonstrates some tough behavior, which is always encouraged for most female lead characters. Cable also meets a funny kid named Jude (Reggie Batts – which is his only film credit). It's weird how this actor didn't continue because he had some comical lines throughout the film. Playing the Swamp Thing character was Dick Durock and for the 1980s, his look is close to that of the comic. The only actor who isn't the most interesting is Louis Jourdan as Dr. Arcane. Besides being a jerk for his selfish reasons there really isn't much of a personality behind the character. I'll admit his voice is a bit captivating though.

Aside from acting, the writing does miss in one particular area. This belongs to Swamp Thing's powers. The strength boost is explained, but how he knew what makes him regenerate and healing others is left unchecked. All Craven needed to do was add in one scene that shows how Swamp Thing discovered these abilities and that would at least cover half the problem. Sadly, the powers are just thrown in for the scenes that needed it. The ability is different but there's no development to how it came about. Also the middle section to the movie does drag because of a long-winded chase scene. Unfortunately adding to that are some standard action sequences. Most of the events that happen are very 80s era type tropes. That's not to say all of it is, but most and because of the rather underwhelming action, the pace of it slows. No reason to be too concerned though, that's it for the big issues. The visual style of the film is something to behold though.

That's some camoflage....
One of the most interesting visual techniques used is the transition editing by Richard Bracken. Not every change between scenes is different or the greatest looking but a number of scene changes involve comic book like transitions, which really help solidify the feeling like the viewer is watching a comic book movie. As stated for Dick Durock's Swamp Thing portrayal, the practical and special effects are dated in some areas but are also something to admire for at least having the ambition. One note being that the solution Dr. Holland develops has the same color and glow to that of the serum Dr. West would use in Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator (1985). Robbie Greenberg's cinematography looks great too with wide shots of the swamp with plenty of sunlight and color. Lastly is composer Harry Manfredini's score. Unfortunately, due to him working consistently on the Friday the 13th (1980) franchise years prior, much of his music sounds reminiscent to that of those scores. That means tinkering keys and blaring horns for the tense moments. However, there is one musical cue that makes it worth while and that is the love theme for Cable and Alec. The theme uses a clarinet and harp and the tune is completely memorable. If it weren't for that, Manfredini's score would be considered unoriginal.

DC's second original comic book movie isn't as smartly written and doesn't have the massive action spectacle to that of Richard Donner's Superman (1978) but it is still highly watchable. The leads can act, the music works, the effects are decent and Swamp Thing as a character is unique all by itself.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rocky IV (1985) Review:

It's interesting how fate works. Sometimes it seems like no matter how hard someone tries to move on from his or her current state, just can't cut a break. A few people may believe that it is a calling of higher purpose. Something of which an individual cannot or try to escape. After three prior entrees, it feels as if Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) can't find a way to unbind himself from his boxing roots. There were some words thrown around in Rocky II (1979) and the seed was finally planted in Rocky III (1982) after losing Mickey. Once Clubber Lang was defeated, it seemed as if Rocky was decisively taking a step down from his lucrative pastime or so he thought.

"Welcome to Russia, where I must break you..."
Enter Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren in his first starring role), the heavy weight boxing champion of Soviet Russia. A man of few words whose height towers among many and has a penetrating stare. Believing that his opponent should only be Balboa, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) steps in first to face Drago. Sadly, Creed underestimates Drago and dies in an exhibition match. Looking to avenge his long time friend, Rocky decides to take the rematch to mother Russia himself. And right when Balboa thought he was about done! This installment again retains a number of key elements that help made the original such a hit but just as well misses in areas too. Once again Stallone is credited as writer/director of which this time keeps most of the direction focused this time. Unlike Rocky III (1982) which focused on the glam of fame, this chapter returns to what made Rocky likable and that's his family, friends and how he interacts with others.

Although the run time is shorter than the predecessors are, the chemistry between all the characters felt more equal than Rocky III (1982). Burt Young as Paulie still has his funny lines and Talia Shire as Adrian shows her concern for the people she cares about. Audiences even get to see Rocky interact with his son this time! For Carl Weathers, as his last appearance in the series is great to watch too. There is one specific scene where Balboa addresses Creed about him fighting Drago and whether it is worth it. The words exchanged feel meaningful and put the situation into the right perspective. Some may think otherwise though because Lundgren's character has very little to say. However, when looking at Drago from the perspective of which he grew up in, it's not like his training real gave him a reason to say much. He was trained to win and winning was all he knew. However, this does not excuse these other particularly questionable areas in the film.

An example of this are two montage scenes that are supposed to be throwbacks to the past films but it's done in such a random order than it doesn't quite work. With that, the scenes feel like filler, making viewers feel like they're beginning to waste their time. Another thing that doesn't make much sense is Creed's motivation to fight Ivan Drago. Didn't Creed remember what happened to Balboa when he was so eager to fight Clubber Lang from the previous entry? When you make haste without thinking or preparing, serious consequences may come your way. Creed knows this, so why did he not remember it? The whole USA vs USSR backdrop makes sense but again, why didn't Creed prepare properly for the match? His decision was rash and it cost him dearly. Wouldn't it have been more effective (emotionally) if Rocky and Creed prepared and then Creed lost?  Wouldn't that be more heartbreaking? This is something Stallone could've included in his script but (obviously) wasn't used.

Even for a boxing film, Bill Butler gets nice scenery shots
Another aspect that is sorely lacking is the musical score. This time the music was composed by Vince DiCola (best known for The Transformers: The Movie (1986) score). This was also DiCola's first entry in the film score profession. To say that it’s bad is unnecessary. In fact, DiCola actually uses the Rocky and training montage theme in his score; the problem is he doesn't utilize it to its fullest capacity. Instead, the themes are hinted at only briefly. Other than that, the rest of the tunes belong to synth orchestration, which doesn't really fit the Rocky series except for the occasional pop song. With Bill Conti's signature piano, string and horn absent there aren't enough instruments for the audience to get attached to per scene. Even the emotional scenes aren't as effective as they could've been because the score doesn’t match. However, the film isn't devoid of entertainment. The fight scenes are still lively. Lundgren and Stallone really throw the punches in this entry. Plus cinematography by again Bill Butler worked at its job. Once you do a certain job for so long you end not having to change much. Butler has maintained a consistent look in the Rocky series and he hasn't disappointed yet.

This entry is fairly equal to Rocky III (1982), it just has problems in other areas. The writing and direction is a tad better which focuses more on its characters than it does fame and glory and Dolph Lundgren's debut is nothing short of good entertainment. However, it still suffers from unnecessary scenes, a contradictory motivation for Creed and a disappointing musical score, which unfortunately lacked the Bill Conti touch.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Volcano (1997) Review:

Disaster movies go way back in cinema. Just like how gore hound fans love to see their deadly horror films, there's also a large crowd of viewers who live to watch disaster features. For unexplained reasons, studios and screenwriters alike have a fond interest of showing to their audiences how mother nature could flip the birdie at us. Unfortunately like a lot of other movies, there isn't much of anything clever about these types of films. The problem is because the movie focuses more on the natural disaster itself more than the characters; especially during the late 1990s when special effects started being abused instead of being utilized. This film has that but does have a few points that make it worth the time to see (once).

Jones & Heche and gray snow
When worker Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones) of the Office of Emergency Management is notified of a couple burn victims in man-made underground pipes, he decides to find out what caused such a freak accident. Believing it could have been a pipe burst, Roark discovers something much more dangerous than he thought. Consulting to Dr. Amy Barnes (Anne Heche), they hypothesize that the cause is actually an active volcano. As a story, this is about as far as it gets when it comes to anything that moves its characters. Initially the story starts out with what seems to be a political/social take on (possibly) what has happening in California at the time,...but it never really gets addressed. As for characters, the only actors who save themselves (performance wise) are Tommy Lee Jones, Don Cheadle and Keith David. Everyone else quite honestly wasn't necessary with all the numerous story threads. Their roles are there for cliche development and that's it.

There's a subplot about a nurse played by Jacqueline Kim that doesn't go much of anywhere and Roark's daughter played by Gaby Hoffmann wasn't that important either. Even as significant as Anne Heche's role was, she still has a cliche character. Also what’s with her and liking much older men? She has a crush on Jones in this movie and falls for Harrison Ford in Six Days Seven Nights (1998). It's interesting to see who wrote the script for this movie. Credit is given to Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray. Armstrong only has this movie to his credit. However, Ray has apparently improved because he now has critically acclaimed films like The Hunger Games (2012) and Captain Phillips (2013) on his resume. But for this work, it can be seen that he hadn't perfected his skill just yet. The only pluses that can be given in the writing are the several tense scenes which involve the flowing lava peril or when the people of the city are working together. Both scenarios are polar opposites in tone but they also work effectively in bringing out the right emotion while watching the film run its course. It's funny how that works.

Ok, who left the oven on?
Mick Jackson directs the film and although it gets the job done in areas mentioned prior, the direction is just standard. This was also his last feature film to direct for the big screen. Since then, he has moved on to directing TV show episodes and TV movies. The cinematography provided by Theo van de Sande looks decent. Considering Sande had more than 20 years of experience before this, rightfully so his work should look good. Sande does not have wide scoping shots but they at least conceal the illusion that this movie was not filmed in a large city. The special effects to the lava also looked decent although a couple times some shots were recycled. Finally the musical score composed by Alan Silvestri work well. Again, when it came to the emotional scenes it did work in its favor. Considering that this is not a franchise, listeners should be able to understand why there was no memorable main theme. That's acceptable for this kind of movie.

It’s a very basic thriller when it comes to characters and their development. Plus the fact that it's a disaster movie doesn't exactly have anything to highlight other than the disaster. Thankfully, some of its main leads, peril scenes and effective music manages to make it entertaining enough to use some of the viewers time.

Points Earned --> 6:10