Monday, November 20, 2017

Samurai Cop (1991) Review:

There are just some people in life that seem to have no idea how to do certain tasks. Yet their profession in life is the exact thing they cannot do correctly. How does that work? Well it doesn't matter because people like this exist all the time and sometimes, there are no answers. So the only way to deal with this matter is to either ignore it or embrace it. When it comes to bad movies, there's only a select group of filmmakers who can make ones that are so bad they are good. But occasionally, others make it into this category solely due to one production they had ever made. For director Amir Shervan, this feature would be his claim to fame. Yet prior to this film, his name was not well known. Even with the 29 other credits he had listed under him, it would be this movie that would bring his name into a conversation. Who would have thought though that such a ridiculous title would even get anyone's attention? Nobody probably did, but this is one of those films where that's the least silliest thing about it.

Matthew Karedas & Mark Frazer
The premise to this action film is about Frank Washington (Mark Frazer), a cop who needs help cleaning up the streets. However, the Japanese gangs that run around are ruthless. So for help, he recruits Joe Marshall (Mathew Karedas) also known as Samurai. Why? Because he was trained in the way of the samurai as well as your local urban cop. With that, you have your samurai cop. Running the gangs are Fujiyama (Cranston Komuro) and his henchman Okamura (Gerald Okamura) and Yamashita (Robert Z'Dar). The only connection Washington and Marshall have to Fujyama is Jennifer (Janis Farley), Fujiyama's girlfriend and business partner. So as to how they get closer to their enemy - it's rather obvious. The script was also written by director Amir Shervan. With that said, this gives a clear indication as why things are the way they are throughout the whole film. There are several things about it that are just hilariously stupid about it and yet it works in its favor.

The two biggest flaws the screenplay has are the dumb choices certain characters make throughout the film and the other being the over the top nonsensical dialogue said between characters. There are so many scenes that add nothing to the plot or develop the characters. Joe Marshall is somehow able to convince every single female he meets to sleep with him without even really saying much. How repressed were these women? Some just flat out ask Marshall whether or not he wants to fornicate with them. What world does this take place in? Like this happens in public settings, not your local strip club. As for the acting performed by Frazer and Karedas, they are okay to laughable at most. Karedas seems like he can act when he wants, but there are other times where no emotion exists. Meanwhile Frazer looks like he was on something the whole time during shooting. There's not a moment where he's serious whatsoever. I'm just curious if Karedas really saw himself as an actor. He looks more like a GQ model.

Aside from these two though, the best actor of the whole cast was in fact Robert Z'Dar. An underrated thespian in general, Z'Dar may not be in too many big hit films, but he did have way more than the two stars mentioned before. Being in movies like the Maniac Cop (1988) franchise and Tango & Cash (1989), he was certainly someone to recognize. Here Z'Dar is mildly controlled but is in the best shape of his life for this movie. As for the rest of the actors, Gerald Okamura is known for being in other big budget films like Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), The Shadow (1994) and Blade (1998). As for Cranston Komuro, the only movie he's known for is this one. There is also Melissa Moore playing Peggy, another cop but her role isn't that significant. Now with acting being mostly on and off, is there anything to expect from the other components? Some of it yes. The action sequences and effects are not one of them however. Being that filming was rushed and edited poorly, almost nothing works.

"I am the best looking in this movie....."
Many of the action scenes are boring and not that energetic. Several shoot outs sound as if they were all practicing and not aiming at one another. Some of the sound effects are not even placed on the right scene with some noisy shots falling silent. Only the sword duel finale was moderately entertaining, but nothing else. The cinematography was at least average. Handled by Peter Palian, a frequent Amir Shervan collaborate, the camerawork at least provides some sights to this action flick. When it comes to the backgrounds, especially the ending, audiences will get a clear view of what surrounds the main characters. When it comes to interior set pieces, they look okay as well. For music though, that needed some work. Composed by Alan DerMarderosian, the score sounds almost to that of a Gameboy Color start menu. It's not bad, but it's association to the story feels mismatched. Plus there are several times where the music will abruptly cut off when scenes change. That is never a good thing. Oh well.

There are things to find enjoyable about this because it is so horrendously put together. But that doesn't mean it's in anyway a good movie. The story is bare bones, the action, effects and music are all sloppily edited. The only saving grace is it's cast and the insanely goofy script.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Review:

Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been around for quite some time now. While it is one of the few film series that was based on a theme park ride, it has shown to be quite profitable nevertheless. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) was a surprise hit, while the next two sequels after it were more or less just guaranteed to come with it. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) was about as entertaining and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) tried to finish off with a bang, but ended up making things overly complex. In an attempt to bring it down a notch, Disney made Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). The idea was to have a one-off story about Jack Sparrow and his adventures. According to critics, that wasn't why so many people enjoyed the initial three, thus it was the lowest earning sequel. Finally after a long wait, the mouse house made this sequel, which in all honesty is a much more glorified return to its roots.

Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar
The story turns its focus to that of Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) who now serves the Flying Dutchman. Wanting to free his father from the curse, he sets out on the search for Poseidon's trident. He who is able to break the trident breaks all of the ocean's curses. While on his search, he meets Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) who is also looking for the trident and is a gifted astronomer. It is then at that point, they cross paths with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his crew led by Gibbs (Kevin McNally). Following closely behind is the zombie Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew hoping to kill Sparrow for his untimely demise. On top of that, Salazar hijacked Captain Barbossa's (Geoffrey Rush) ship in order to find them. The separate plot threads may sound a bit all over the place, but they all converge easily into one another unlike the stories presented in prior films like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007). Plus the script has great character connections.

Much of the original background crew members have changed and surprisingly, it's almost like nothing was replaced. Penned by Jeff Nathanson instead of Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, the script stays faithful to the earlier movies. The reintroduction of older and newer characters is handled fairly well. Occasionally there is mistake like how a character played by Golshifteh Farahani manages to get her hands on item that belonged to Jack Sparrow. It's not explained. But overall the execution is clear on how the story is told. Nathanson was also the writer to Rush Hour 2 (2001), Rush Hour 3 (2007), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and Tower Heist (2011). These may not be the greatest sequels in existence, but they aren't the worst either. Directing duties were also delegated differently. Instead of Rob Marshall or Gore Verbinski returning, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg took charge of the production. This was probably the biggest gamble the studio had ever taken.

The reason for this being that Rønning and Sandberg had only made one other American made film, that being Bandidas (2006). And that movie was just okay, nothing that really stood out as a breakthrough film. They did however direct two other films, but it was in their homeland of Norway so there's a good chance no one outside of Norway knew about it. Here they did a good job, which is great considering how little experience they have. One other big issue that comes up from this story is how if the trident is broken, it breaks all curses. For one thing, this could undo a lot of other things already laid to rest in previous films. Also this can make the fantasy end of stories harder to tell in future narratives. Oh well. The actors all have their moment to shine though and it's all done in a way that doesn't feel forced. Johnny Depp's return as Jack Sparrow is always welcome as well as the rest of the original cast members from previous movies. Even the new actors like Thwaites, Socdelario and Bardem do a great job.

"Amazing we got to no. 5 right?"
The action is also well done. The scale at which these sequences are set aren't as big in scope but this is okay. There are still plenty of visual spectacles to behold. The designs of Captain Salazar are unique in look and the same could be said for their pet sharks. Helping make these scenes look presentable was cinematographer Paul Cameron. Unfortunately he is no Dariusz Wolski from every other Pirates film before it, but Cameron does capture a lot of beautiful horizons. There's actually more shots of the sea than there is land in this entry. Cameron also shot for Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000), Deja Vu (2006) and Total Recall (2012). Lastly, the film score was not even composed by Hans Zimmer shockingly. To think he would pass up such an opportunity. However one of his students picked up the reigns and his name was Geoff Zanelli. Realizing that, the sound of the music itself very much sounds like Zimmer. The theme is still there too. Zanelli also scored The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (2015).

While the crew who produced this film are no way close to the original people who made the first couple so great, they actually maintain a lot of that greatness. The story also recalls much of what made the originals so fun as well. There still may be some questionable areas but it is far less than the other sequels. The actors, music, action and visuals are all entertaining to watch.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Thomas & Friends: Calling All Engines! (2005) Review:

The tales of Thomas and Friends created by the Rev. W. Awdry have been around for a long time. First being made into books and then being adapted into a live-action children's show by Britt Allcroft were things that were never thought of being done before. However it soon proved to the world that railways do have their appeal and these stories in particular had very much garnered a strong following. Unfortunately as many fans as the books and show had, very few were pleased with the release of Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000). A film that was supposed to be Britt Allcroft's magnum opus of sorts that would bridge the gap between Thomas & Friends and the short lived show Shining Time Station. Normally when a property fails on the big screen, it will almost immediately guarantees a halt in everything else as well. Thankfully that didn't happen, but with HIT Entertainment now owning the rights to Thomas & Friends, they decided to make a home video release special. For the beginning it's decent.

Thomas & Percy getting ready to build
With it being released at the start of Season 9, it was to commemorate the franchise's 60th anniversary. The story is about the summer season beginning on the island of Sodor. And for Sir Topham Hatt, the plan was to build a new airport to allow more visitors to come to island. This creates a lot of excitement among Top Hatt's engines, but it also causes much more friction. The reason for this being that both the steam engines and diesel engines were going to make this happen. But seeing that steam and diesel engines were rivals, things don't go as smoothly. Making things worse, a destructive storm whips through Sodor and completely destroys Tidmouth Sheds. Now twice as much work needs to be done. Written by Paul Larson and Marc Seal, who have worked on the TV show before this, manage most of the story okay. The same could be said  for Steve Asquith who has been with the TV show very early on. Yet there are still some very basic issues. The biggest problem is abrupt  motivation changes in characters. Some of which do not fit at all.

The other issue is the learning segments inserted into almost every other transitional point within the feature. It's apparent that HIT Entertainment had a different idea on how the show would be displayed to kids, but that was the show. For a TV special, there's no need for this. A movie special is a movie special, learning segments are not needed. What is pleasing to see though is that Larson and Seal incorporated both Diesel 10 and Lady into the story. This shows they were trying to keep the continuity from Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000). Of course this connection is only half baked though because it is never explained as to how Diesel 10 came back to Sodor or how Diesel 10 doesn't immediately set off to destroy Thomas when considering the past these two characters have shared. The overall moral though of showing how to work with others even with strong differences is an important thing for children to understand. It's a lesson everyone must understand, to get through everyday life.

Aside from this though everything else works within the realm of which the story goes. Michael Brandon being narrator for US audiences since Season 7 is no shocker. He and everyone down to Carlin have been giving different voices to all of Thomas' friends. Ringo Starr and Michael Angelis are the only two who pretty much kept their narration the same throughout as the actual storyteller. Either way, the reading of the lines are acceptable. For set pieces, we see a lot of very familiar settings. The more interesting bit is when the storm comes through Sodor. Seeing all the destruction that occurs during and after the event is a sight to behold. Imagine making a wreck of all those practical sets? What a mess to clean up. That could also go for when the engines begin causing friction with each other. A lot of the train models will get covered in all kinds of elements that would also mean much of the time would require cleaning later. This is why movies  dealing with physical props need so much more respect.

......that is until the Diesel's roll in
Lastly for music, the score and songs were composed by Robert Hartshorne and Ed Welch. Prior to boarding this tv franchise, both Welch and Hartshorne had their periods of experience in documentaries and other film based projects. But in all honesty this duo come in second best to the original duo; that being Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell. Hartshorne and Welch produce a likable score that matches the tone and personality of the original classic series that made it so memorable. Making it even better was that the songs they created utilize children vocals and it is just as on target. Songs like "Busy", "Try to do Things Better" and "Together" are all catchy tunes. Busy is a bouncy energetic song that really could get people motivated. Together is a great feel good composition that really feels like it can bring people together. The rest of the score uses other types of synthesizer instruments that sound close to the Campbell O'Donnell style. All in all, it was decent.

For the first home video release special to come out after the failure of Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000), this isn't a bad start. The story doesn't always have the best continuity and the learning segments are obnoxious. However, the overall morals taught, the narration by the respective actors and music all help make it watchable.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) Review:

Sequels are difficult to make right especially when their parent film made such a high impression on its initial fan base. The crew who made Highlander (1986) were almost entirely against making a sequel because of how well received the original was. Unfortunately when it comes to film contracts, it's not so easy go against what is wanted. So that already created friction between the film crew and the studio itself. Then on top of that, deciding to drastically make edits to the finished script last minute is never a thing that's going to roll over well. Nobody was happy with how things were being changed so frequently and it led to one of the most disappointing sequels to a promising start up franchise. Many fans considered it to be a lot like Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), where it completely ignored anything that was setup in the first film. Thankfully over time Mulcahy was able to form his own cut of the film. It may not be good but it is also not the worst sequel in existence.

"So,....I thought you died Ramirez?"
Being written by Brian Clemens, William N. Panzer and Peter Bellwood, the story has some  points that are good, but most of it is completely deviant from that of the first film. What's even stranger is that both Panzer and Bellwood had worked on Highlander (1986); producer and writer respectively. Clemens had certainly enough years of experience to help in the writing process but it's unknown how much he contributed. The story takes place in 2024 where the ozone has depleted and shield has been placed around the earth to protect it from the sun. The person behind this successful project is none other than Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert). However there's a resistance group lead by Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen) who believe the shield can be destroyed because the ozone has recovered. Meanwhile an antagonist by the name of General Katana (Michael Ironside) is out to kill MacLeod because as the tag line goes, "there can only be one".  This is the simplest way to describe this and it certainly needs work.

From what is elaborated on, it turns out both Ramirez (Sean Connery) and MacLeod were sent from another world to earth. This place is where all of these immortals come from. However with that said, it entirely negates and washes out any heart Highlander (1986) had to begin with. What was the point of killing Ramirez in the first film only to bring him back again? Not that viewers wouldn't want to see Connery again, but his exit was in such poignant way, it's weird to resurrect him. Having the script explain the background to MacLeod's situation was fine but it gets lost really fast with the inclusion of the sci-fi element of ozone depletion and shield use. It just feels like the wrong genre considering what the first film had established so well. The script does however reference the history of the first film so it's not like omits everything, which is why so many people make the claim that it is the worst sequel. Thankfully the writing for the characters is half there too.

Christopher Lambert maintains his character's personality even with the odd story he's given to work with. Sean Connery although having him return in general is off putting, has a performance that is very affable. He has a number of good scenes that involve him getting familiar with the new surroundings of the future. Even Virginia Madsen, who doesn't do a whole lot at least has a few lines that can grab a viewers attention. On the other hand, all the villains on screen are way over the top than they should be. Michael Ironside can be a menacing villain but here he walks around with a wide grin overacting every line. The same could be said for his henchman. There's also a subplot about the head of the shield business David Blake (John C. McGinley) wanting to overthrow the co-creator of the shield, Dr. Allan Neyman (Allan Rich). McGinley is about as evenly matched to Ironside in this movie. Every bit of dialogue from this guy was given way too much energy.

Michael Ironside looking like the devil's spawn
Speaking of energy, the action is also lacking in that too. For a story about an immortal swordsman, there's only a few scenes that involve sword fights. Other times its gun fire or not at all. And when these scenes do occur, they aren't that exciting. Old fashioned action should be though. It's sad when even that becomes boring. Unfortunately camerawork wasn't all that impressive this time round either. Captured by Phil Meheux, the shots are uninteresting. Most likely because the setting is so different from that of the original. Meheux did however work on The Mask of Zorro (1998), Bicentennial Man (1999) and Casino Royale (2006). The music was a little better though. Composed by The Police Band member Stewart Copeland, the score to this film is unfortunately hard to find but does provide some adequately constructed material. Even if some of the original themes Michael Kamen created seep into the cracks as well. That's cheating. Copeland also scored Wall Street (1987) and Taking Care of Business (1990).

Some say this is the worst of the worst. Not so, there are sequels that far surpass this. Sure, the antagonists are way too silly and the script makes significant changes to what the original film laid out. Even the sci-fi edge is all wrong and really should have been omitted or worked in another way. Still though the protagonists are likable and the music is acceptable. It's not a good story at all, but it's not the worst.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

They Live (1988) Review:

Director John Carpenter has been known for many unique films in cinema history. Mainly his forte has been in the horror genre, but he has spilled over into other types of stories that remain just as memorable. Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982), The Fog (1980) and Halloween (1978) especially, were the ones he is the most famous for. Even Starman (1984), which was the most deviant of his projects had a heartfelt story. However, if there were something that a lot of his projects had in common, it would be the idea of alien beings inhabiting the human body. It's not in everyone of his movies, but there are a bunch that push the idea of what were to happen if there was life beyond Earth and if they happen to look like us. Would they be threatening like the alien from The Thing (1982)? Or would they be innocent and genuine like Starman (1984). This question is also explored here, but with a different kind of lens. What if aliens ran our lives? At least on an everyday life kind of level.

"No way mannnnnn...."
That's more or less what Carpenter examines here. Adapted from a short story originally written by Ray Nelson, the story is about if humans discovered that their lives were being driven by an alien life force and not they themselves. How do they realize this? With the help of sunglasses that actually see right through the impostor human. The person to have the gumption to bring this to light is Nada (Roddy Piper), a drifter. Initially, he was looking to find work to keep his life going. Instead he changes careers to vigilante when he finds out the earth has been subjected to these phony people. Convincing Frank (Keith David), a newly met acquaintance that he's not seeing things, the two set out to stop the invasion. Along the way he also meets Holly (Meg Foster), a broadcaster who reveals to him that all the subliminal messages these aliens put out are through a main signal distributor. For an overall story, it is decent for its setup. But there are certain qualities that are repeated from prior movies.

Aliens looking like humans but nobody can tell they aren't humans? Sounds very much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Although that is not a film Carpenter is directly related to, his film The Thing (1982) has used those key elements before. Here is no different in that respect. What is done in the script that hasn't been seen in other Carpenter films was the use of political undercurrents in an unbiased manner. This is displayed when Nada compares the world around him with and without the special sunglasses. A poster will say "visit Hawaii", when really it means "marry and reproduce". Other messages like "watch TV" or "don't think independently" are signs of conformity. These are things corrupt people want to see in the everyday citizen, because the less informed the better. It's a clever spin and instead of the corrupt people in real life causing the issue, it's aliens that look like real people. The other problem this film suffers from is the pacing. Sometimes scenes drag on longer than they should.

Character wise Roddy Piper is an entertaining main lead for this film. Widely known for his WWF days, Roddy Piper demonstrates in this flick he can be a convincing actor given the right script. It is interesting though that Carpenter cast him so not to overuse Kurt Russell. However Piper doesn't look that different from Russell, being that he has blond/brown hair, a mullet and plays a tough guy spewing one liners. Keith David as Frank is another great actor. David is known for playing very grounded down to earth characters and he too has some lines that are comical that he exchanges with Piper. Meg Foster is another nice addition to the cast. She of course is cast as one of those complex characters that is tough to determine a motive on. Sadly there's no man villain to really talk about but the aliens that have the human like appearance are the enemy. Although they are not really scary looking, their design is freaky and is more grotesque than anything else.

All the subliminal messages
The rest of the visuals are adequate too. Sadly for those looking for gore won't get that in this movie. It's surprising since Carpenter is known for his gruesome spectacles like The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987). The practical effects are still noteworthy though. Gary B. Kibbe was credited as cinematographer. Having experience in other camera related positions in movies like Halloween II (1981) and Prince of Darkness (1987), Kibbe keeps the camera focused and clear on the shot needed to be shown. He would later be the cinematographer for In the Mouth of Madness (1994) and RoboCop 3 (1993). Lastly, the music composed by Carpenter and Alan Howarth was probably one of the largest highlights to this piece. Seeing that Howarth is consistent in synthesizer instruments, the score to this film also utilizes these components. What's unique about is that the sound comes across like a smooth jazz western and it works really well since it fits Nada's personality. An underrated film score indeed.

While it may drag in some spots, the gore / horror isn't there and there are elements borrowed from other familiar films, the overall experience is still fun to watch. It could have used improvements in those areas but it works okay even with that. The main cast is likable, the script has engaging undertones and the film score is relaxing in its sound.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, August 21, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Earned --> 8:10



Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Drive Angry (2011) Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Earned --> 7:10



Monday, July 31, 2017

Fateful Findings (2013) Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Earned --> 4:10

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Grizzly (1976) Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Earned --> 6:10

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Return of the Native (1994) Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Earned --> 7:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Earned --> 8:10

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ed Gein (2000) Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Earned --> 7:10

Monday, July 10, 2017

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points Earned --> 5:10
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