Monday, August 29, 2016

Hellraiser V: Inferno (2000) Review:

After films that perform abysmally at the box office, very rarely do franchises survive later on. And this doesn't always mean sequels either. Sometimes films fail right at the start before things get going. Sequels on the other hand are reminders that if a franchise is not taken care of, the critical reception will tend to dip. For Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987) series, the final theatrical nail in the coffin was Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996). With a troubled production of studio interference, inconsistent direction, poor critical and financial reception, it was finally time for the series to enter the home video market. Although the home video market is considered to be films of lesser quality, there tend to be the occasional surprise here and then. Five years later, it seems to have stepped up. This doesn't mean it blows all expectations away, but there are differences between this entry and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) and Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996).

Craig Sheffer
Sitting in the director's chair for this release was Scott Derrickson in his first long running movie. Derrickson also worked as the writer along with another usual associate being Paul Harris Boardman. Boardman also wrote for The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Deliver Us From Evil (2014). The story here is much more peculiar than previous entries. Joseph Thorne (Craig Sheffer), a seasoned detective is on the trail of a serial killer whom his first victim opened the Lament Configuration and left a child's finger behind. Hoping to find the child before it's too late, Thorne and his partner Tony (Nicholas Turturro) dig deeper. Unfortunately as the two continue searching for answers, Thorne begins heading down a path only he can travel. The premise itself is quite good actually, but there are other issues. The most noticeable flaw is that this movie makes no attempt to connect this one to any of the previous films in any way. That also doesn't mean forcefully inserting references but the story could have lead to areas of past events.

Along with that is the amount of time that focuses on Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his fellow cenobite followers. The plot is more of a horror thriller with a smattering of cenobite flavor. Who doesn't want to see more cenobites? As for detective Thorne, his motivations seem to contradict his actions. He gives reasons as to why he makes certain decisions, but not all of it is clear. Thorne has a wife (Noelle Evans) and daughter, yet sleeps with a hooker (Sasha Barrese). There was no sign of his marriage in trouble to begin with so what gives? However for the story, those are the prominent issues. Even with its writing related problems, the whole mystery killer plot is gravitating. On top of that, the end result produces a moral lesson involved with deeper meanings that reference other films like Bill Murray's Groundhog Day (1993). As for characters of significance, Thorne is of main focus. His partner does receive some attention but over time he's dropped. There's also a psychologist played by James Remar that adds some depth to the story.

Although Craig Sheffer's role isn't totally clear, his ability to convey the right emotion is acceptable. Considering he also was in Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990) a full decade earlier, it feels all the more appropriate. Doug Bradley as Pinhead continues to have all the memorable lines especially towards the finale. The following cenobites such as the Wire Twins and the Chattering Torso all have their moments of grotesqueness and work effectively in being scary. For a budget of only $2 million and being a home video release, the special and practical effects look fairly decent. Even the horror end of things look credible. The gore and violence used throughout isn't always shown on screen but there's still a lot of blood spilled throughout the running time. The devices used for these violent depictions are what you would expect from a Hellraiser film - hooks. Except these hooks are little more practical in their use. Instead of them hanging from the ceiling majority of the time, now they're used as a flail. Ouch.

"Uhhh well this is new..."
Working as the cinematographer was Nathan Hope. Mostly having experience in the small screen, Nathan Hope has done a few big screen productions like this one, Mimic 2(2001) and The Fog (2005) remake. By far though, his most recognizable expertise shines through on the crime show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation from 2003 to 2007. For this movie, Hope's camerawork is still for 80%, but gets shakier near the finale. Thankfully the one technique that Hope avoids that previous DP Gerry Lively used were wide-angle lens shots. Those felt unnecessary. Composing the film score to this sequel was Walter Werzowa. Impressively Werzowa created a score with an hour full of music. The music itself sadly no longer has any main theme close to Christopher Young's but Werzowa makes new ones. Plus, the sound mostly consists of organic orchestra featuring strong deep strings and massive pipe organ cues. Seriously though, who uses pipe organs in their film scores anymore? That's one of the best parts and the score also contains very little jump stings.

Script wise the characters still lack clarity in motivations and connections to the previous films. Also the cenobites don't feel utilized to their potential. Yet somehow this sequel is better than the last two with a more intriguing premise, decent effects, believable acting and appropriate music.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016) Review:

Ever since Marvel Studios began expanding their films into more shared universes, a trend has begun to follow among other production companies. The most obvious of competitors would be Warner Bros. DC but there are others. Another franchise that is supposedly expanding its cinematic universe is Michael Bay's Transformers (2007) franchise. The concept is a common thing now among high-end money making movie properties. However this is no secret for Warner Brothers. After losing their chance to reinvigorate their universe with Green Lantern (2011), DC tried again with Man of Steel (2013) and finally brought themselves back from a long period of dormancy. So in order to catch up to Marvel's output, the next choice was making Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). It certainly brought the studio up to speed but whom are they fooling? There were a lot of missteps taken to get there. Adding to that is this movie which promisingly looked like DC's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), but with villains. Sadly this was not as great as one would hope.

Rick Flag, Harley Quinn, Deadshot & Capt. Boomerang
This is actually rather shocking considering the cast and crew involved. Crediting himself as writer/director is David Ayer, the same man who headed praiseworthy projects like End of Watch (2012) and Fury (2014). The story is based on the comic about Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) recruiting the worst villains from Arkham Asylum to fight what the regular military would or could not defeat. That means bringing on Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Capt. Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), June Moone AKA Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), Slipknot (Adam Beach) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) under the command of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to take down a powerful force that only they can stop. Meanwhile on the side, the Joker (Jared Leto) is up to no good  looking to find a way to break his joker queen out of the iron grasp of Amanda Waller. Initially this sounds fine but the story lacks structure.

Close to the start, the conflict begins and the suicide squad is sent out to pacify it. Yet before this even happens, Amanda Waller assembled them to take care of a different reason. This different reason is completely dropped once the main struggle arises. So what was the original mission they were going to be sent on? It's never answered. Either that or editor John Gilroy put the scenes in the wrong order. And Gilroy has been the editor to a number of popular films like Salt (2010) and Pacific Rim (2013). So what gives? Along with that are some backstories that are briefly skimmed over. Why? This film has a two hour run time; Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) has the exact same. Nonetheless even with these written issues, the actors perform well in their roles and are likable to a certain degree. Some of them even have more human backstories than one would expect. The costume/character designs are also commendable. For once, these characters have some color in their suits and aren't so dark and brooding like Bats or Sups.

Speaking of which, Ben Affleck as the caped crusader does have a few scenes throughout the movie. Is it worth it? Sort of from a narrative standpoint but in other ways it just feels like Batman was put in to have more people view the film. The action at least entertains for the most part as well. Deadshot’s ability to be precise in every round he shoots is awesome. Katana use of the sword is sharper than your average kitchen knife (of course). El Diablo knows how to heat up people's nights with his powers and Harley Quinn's gymnastic acrobatics certainly make her a special addition. Regrettably this does not make up for the sections that have CGI overload. Thankfully it does not get as bad as Batman V Superman with its almost PS2 gameplay like cut scenes, but there are still unnecessary moments. Whether it's the adversary the suicide squad has to fight against or even if it's digitally editing Harley Quinn to have booty shorts. It just seems like wasted amounts where this particular effect is abused for the wrong reasons.

"Get me my Task Force X"
Roman Vasyanov was chosen to provide the cinematography to this picture. Vasyanov also worked with Ayer on End of Watch (2012) and Fury (2014). This shows that Vasyanov knows how to make great or accurate looking movies. Fury (2014) had great looking camerawork and End of Watch (2012) made the viewer feel like they were in the movie. None of that's shown here. It's strange too. With all the colorful personalities and costumes, one would think that this movie would have brighter images to show. There are about 2-3 scenes that have daylight in them. Every other scene is in the dark or it's raining. All it does is remind the viewer of how gloomy looking the previous Zack Snyder DC films were presented. It's frustrating. Composing the film score to this movie was Steven Price, another David Ayer collaborator. Price's work is another disappointment. Unlike his past work in films like Fury (2014), there is no reoccurring theme for the suicide squad. And this is the perfect time to establish one for them. But that wasn't done.

Unlike what one would expect, this David Ayer film has its moments due to its cast, action and part of its writing, but that's all it can be given. The music isn't memorable, the camerawork doesn't match the colorful characters or tone and the overall plot doesn't make sense for a two-hour film.

Points Earned --> 5:10

Maverick (1994) Review:

Westerns have a certain appeal that fans of the genre look for. When people think of westerns, the most common of concepts that come to mind are gun fights, saloons, fillies, booz, beards, dirt, horses, the list goes on. For movies during the last half of the 20th century, Westerns didn't seem to be as popular as one thought. In order for these types of movies to work, the right cast, director and crew had to be involved to really get the viewers attention. With previous disasters like Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980), the genre took somewhat of nosedive in interest among viewers. It was later close to being killed off again after the next biggest (and strangest) disaster being Will Smith's Wild Wild West (1999). With those two bookending those two decades, there were others in between but not a whole lot. However, when learning that the director of Superman (1978) and the lead from Lethal Weapon (1987) would be working together to make a popular television western a major film, could there be a problem? It depends on how you see it.

"Cooper,...high five?"
In their respective careers, both Mel Gibson and Richard Donner have made quite a filmography for themselves. Being that they are also from a time where they would remember older shows from the past seems right that they make an older property more mainstream. The script was adapted William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Chaplin (1992)), of where viewers are introduced to Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson), a career poker player who looks to enter a major game but lacks the funds. To attain his entrance fee to the game, Maverick goes around looking for ways to make that money, leading to all sorts of comic relief events. Of those moments, Maverick comes across filly thief Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster), Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner) and hotheaded gamer Angel (Alfred Molina). Aside from the main cast, there are several other names to boot like: Graham Greene as pseudo Native American, Geoffrey Lewis playing a friendly banker, Paul L. Smith as a French Diplomat and even Art LaFleur, Dan Hedaya and Danny Glover all as gunslingers.

The problem is even with this, the overall execution of the story does not feel like a western. Very few events that take place in this western setting feel like it belongs to one. Instead, much of it feels like a parody of sorts due to its tone. That's not to say these scenes aren’t funny but the film's trailer presented itself as more a lighthearted western with some comedy. Not the other way around where it's all comedy and less western. This also doesn't mean the actors perform badly either. Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick has a number of good lines that make him a smart and likable character. An ongoing joke is that people call him Bert Maverick, which gets him annoyed. Jodie Foster as the slippery crime filly is fun to watch too. Her ability to trick people just by her looks makes her quite dangerous if one isn't paying attention. James Garner as Cooper has his moments as well, showing both a caring and selfish side. The most creative of the supporting characters is Graham Greene's role. It's interesting that he would play a fake Native.

This could've be one of the funnier parts to the film. What if the Native Americans were just putting on a different face when talking to the Europeans? It's completely oddball and clever. Yet as unique as this is, the film suffers from an over packed running time. There are some particular parts to the story that could've been cut to help slim down viewing experience. The biggest time user of them all is the actual gameplay this movie focuses on. That being Poker. This is also one of the more surprising things about this western. One would expect that since it's a western, the climactic finale would be dealing with a showdown or some kind of deadly match. In place of that, viewers watch Mel Gibson and characters play a poker game with each other until the last individual is standing. Unless one is a true poker fanatic, no one will know how to play the game the right way. This in turn could make the game less tense. How engaging will the game actually be for a nonplayer?

Graham Greene (right)
The cinematography handled by Vilmos Zsigmond is nothing short of great.  Being that Zsigmond has worked numerous projects dating back to the early 1960s, his ability to capture the right look has only gotten better. Just like his work in Heaven's Gate (1980), Zsigmond sets the stage for amazing looking western backgrounds. That means including every bit of the land from top to bottom. There's even a great scene that involves a canyon and it looks so spectacular. Very few cinematographers can master the art of capturing all of the land but Zsigmond seems to have figured that out. The musical score composed by Randy Newman was an interesting addition as well. Considering this score was created only a year before Toy Story (1995), it's funny to hear cues that sound like they belong to Pixar's animated classic. The sound of the music is utilized with organic orchestra that has all the signature themes that only Randy Newman could resurrect. The score itself is fun to listen to and does fit the western setting.

This is a fun western poker game movie but don't expect it to be more western than that. There are some shootouts but majority of the tone is comedic and has more parody like scenes than western ones. Nonetheless, the actors, cinematography and music all make it a tolerable goofy watch.

Points Earned --> 6:10