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** 1/2 out of ****
Larry Cohen's last directorial attempt at anything resembling the horror genre film is different and yet much the same as his previous outings. Gone is the gritty, semi-documentary approach, giving way to crisper editing and a fairly slick, Hollywood look. Those dismayed by that will still be pleased to know Cohen's trademark quirky humor is still present, and this time his movie is played almost completely for laughs. Yeah, Q was an intentionally absurd affair, but some of the fun was offset by that gritty look, and Gold Told me to was pretty damn serious from beginning to end. But enough about those film, how's The Ambulance? Surprisingly, despite a lame title, it's his most amusingly funny movie to date.
Eric Robert stars as Joshua Baker, a comic book artist with a crush on a woman (Janine Turner) he passes on the street everyday. Finally, he musters up the courage one day to approach her, but as he speaks to her, she suddenly collapses and is taken away by an ambulance. Josh later visits the hospital she should have gone to, but discovers no one of her first name or description ever arrived. From there, Cohen piles on an adventure story of sorts set in New York about evil doctors and ambulance attendents who are after diabetics, and one man's quest to get to the bottom of it all. Believe me, this is all more enjoyable than it might sound.
Given such a premise, it's possible this could have been played as a straight, fast-paced thriller with many twists and turns. But Cohen opts for a more comical route, and as if to ensure that we understand that, he even gives away the mystery ten minutes into the film! Yeah, I had been expecting something along the lines of a suspense/thriller, and I was initially a little disappointed to see this played out as a comedy, but quickly re-evaluating my expectations, The Ambulance really turned out to be a pretty enjoyable movie that put me through a lot of giggling fits. Yes, it's been a damn long time since I've seen a movie that opts for humor without resorting to potty jokes.
The story isn't what makes The Ambulance overall work, it's the characters, the dialogue, and the absurd situations. One particularly amusing moment is a fight between the ambulance attendents and a gang of thugs, with Roberts hilariously acting as a cheerleader while strapped to a stretcher. Another laugh-out loud scene features a desperately sick Roberts trying to hide from an approaching ambulance and shouting to his apartment neighbors to remember the attendents' faces, noting that they'll be witnesses.
The performances are mostly all pretty top-notch for what's required here. Roberts is a lot of fun as the everyday Joe trying to get to the bottom of the situation, doing all this because of a beautiful woman (the resolution of which is quite satisfying and hilarious). Watching roles like this always make me wonder how he never made the transition to Hollywood star, he's got the charisma and acting ability for it. Megan Gallagher gets in some good scenes as a tough cop who happens to believe Baker. Red Buttons as a journalist and James Earl Jones as a hard-boiled lieutenant steal a good bit of the scenes they're in, the latter doing so with his obsessive gum-chewing and sarcastic tone. Soap star Eric Braeden doesn't really get to do much, and from what I've seen here, he pretty much acts the same in everything he's in.
Entertaining as the film often is, The Ambulance isn't without its flaws and dead spots. Some scenes drag on way too long without enough laughs, specifically Roberts' little stay at the hospital, and some aspects of the movie are just too silly. For instance, the interior of the ambulance somehow has this green glow emanating from it, more like something you'd see in The Tommyknockers or the power plant in The Simpsons. That same glow is present in the villains' hideout, and yes, it still feels out of place there, too. There are a few attempts at thrills, but the chase scenes don't really generate all that much excitement, mainly because the otherwise goofy tone waters these moments down. The lines spoken immediately after the final chase, however, are good for a laugh. Plot holes are also very prevalent, as no explanation is really given for why the woman (and later Roberts himself) gets sick all of a sudden. And while we do get clarity and a resolution with the woman Roberts is searching for, we never really learn the fate of one specific minor character that was also abducted by the ambulance.
Flaws aside, I suppose I'd recommend The Ambulance, given that you go in expecting a comically-oriented thriller, a subgenre that's almost non-existent these days (unless you count Conspiracy Theory, which coincidentally, starred Roberts' sister, Julia). It's rarely dull, and I suspect the next time you see an ambulance, you'll probably have a hard time holding back a giggling fit.
** out of ****
I'm not generally one of those viewers out there who feels the need to just go along with the majority opinion and hose praise or lambast a film just because that's what everyone else says. Regardless, however, there's very little to say about Phantom Menace in general except that it IS a disappointment, not necessarily as a film in the much beloved Star Wars series, but mostly as a piece of escapist entertainment. The fact is, while so many fans are clamoring about how it's so untrue to the rest of the series (which is actually completely untrue), the movie's real problem is that it's simply not all that well directed, well written, or well acted.
Well, sure, the first Star Wars had its fair share of clunky moments, and the dialogue and acting wasn't overall anything great, but it surged forward thanks to the energetic performances, the lively direction, and the sense that everyone involved truly had fun making the film. Oh, and let's not forget the X-wing battle in the finale, definitely one of the most exciting dog fights in movie history. Then there's The Empire Strikes Back, a sci-fi masterpiece of imagination, true vision, and action spectacle.
In comparison to those two, Phantom Menace often just feels like a sorry carbon-copy. True, the special effects are a vast improvement, what with the digital age and all, but effects mean nothing if you can't entertain on any other level (be it dramatically, story-wise, action-wise), and let's face it, for the majority of its running time, all Menace offers for entertainment value is visual spectacle.
Despite the risk of sounding like an idiot, I'll go right out and say that the plot initially confused me. From my very first viewing, I gathered it was about some planet called Naboo that had problems with the trade federation and a couple of Jedis were going to get involved in the peace talks, or something like that. This all eventually leads to Tatooine, where Jedi Qui-Gonn Jinn (Liam Neeson) discovers Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), a young boy with the potential to be the most powerful Jedi in the world.
This is the set-up, and if things hadn't been introduced so confusingly, I'd say it's not a bad way to begin a grand epic. The movie does get off to a fairly rousing start, with John Williams' magnificent score setting the tone for what should have been great things to come. The lightsaber fights with the robots added to the excitement, but once things hit Tatooine, this is where the movie really stumbles. Yes, this is where we are introduced to...Jake Lloyd!
This kid's performance has become something of a legend in movie lore. It's kind of like how you try your best not to mention Ishtar to a group of movie lovers (or Patch Adams to real doctors). Really, I know Lloyd was just a nine-year old kid, but a good deal of the movie does ride on this kid's shoulders, and I don't mean this just in terms of the plot. How superb (or not) his performance is sets up our emotional involvement in this character. Think of Empire of the Sun for a moment, which featured the most brilliant child actor performance of all time from Christian Bale (with Haley Joel Osment coming in second very closely in The Sixth Sense). If Bale had been acting on Lloyd's level, Empire would have had an Ishtar-like fate and Spielberg would have been laughed out of Hollywood (okay, that's a little extreme but I'm trying to make a point).
I see I'm just dancing around the subject, so I'll get to the point. Plain and simple, Lloyd's performance is absolutely awful. Now, I don't know what it was in this kid that Lucas saw, but he carries none of the emotions we would expect in a young Anakin. Hell, he doesn't even act like a real kid. Most of the time, he just seems like what he is-a child actor desperately trying to remember his lines to the point where he can't emote. I know most people hated Jar-Jar Binks, but this kid annoyed me so much more. At least Jar-Jar seemed like a real individual, and for crying out loud, he was a CGI creation!
Natalie Portman is better than Lloyd as Queen Amidala, but still pretty flat. Given that Portman is indeed a talented young actress (much moreso than Carrie Fisher ever was, not to mention she's also considerably better-looking), but she never seems all that involving. Either that, or she mistakenly believes lack of emotion is the right way to generate a sense of honor and nobility. Whatever the reason, she's bland.
Ewan Macgregor gets almost absolutely nothing to do as Obi-Wan Kenobi, except fight quite a bit, and yes indeed, he looks impressive wielding a lightsaber. I'd say about 1/3 of his dialogue consists of the word "Master," which he utters a little unconvincingly at times, but he's generally okay, and I'm sure he'll have much more to work with in the sequels (whether or not it's good material remains to be seen). And the scene where he meets Anakin for the first time, basically a cute little hello to who he believes is no more than just a cute boy, is actually quite creepy when you consider what's going to happen down the road.
Of the lead performers, only Liam Neeson registers superbly. His performance is certainly far more lively than anybody else's, and it took me much, much longer than the other actors to notice some of his dialogue was a little lackluster, a sure-fire sign of good acting. Honor and nobility seem to come almost naturally to him, and for my money, Neeson is even better than Alec Guinness was in the original Star Wars (Gasp! Blasphemy!).
Overall, it seems interesting characters is something this movie is missing. Other than Jinn and Binks (who is amusing in an off-kilter way), the only other guy that sparked my interest was Darth Maul, played by a bad-ass Ray Parks. Sure, he utters maybe only three lines in the whole movie, but damn, this guy has some very impressive moves. Plus, he just looks absolutely frightening.
I go to watch Star Wars to be entertained, to be swept away by a fully-realized universe, by a true epic story, by the immense action sequences. But, alas, none of this occurs on a very consistent basis. While the sets are imaginative and amazingly crafted, pretty-looking scenery isn't going to hold my attention forever. The story starts to feel a little dumb after awhile, especially once Lucas starts mentioning about how Jedis are determined by the amount of midi-chlorians in their blood, an explanation that put a sour taste in my mouth the first time I saw the film (but, to be fair, I've since mostly gotten over it). Too many things happen by coincidence, and I was only further riled when one of the characters stated, "Nothing happens by coincidence."
The action didn't impress me nearly as much as so many others, and really, there's not enough action in this movie (To be fair, I may have been slightly jaded by the delightfully entertaining The Mummy, released only two weeks earlier than Phantom Menace, and most definitely a far superior popcorn ride). The pod race, a sort-of classic sequence now, doesn't really do it for me. I don't know about you, but I was rooting for the kid to lose. The four-way battle scene at the end is more impressive, but the only real thrills come in the way of the two-on-one Jedi fight that eventually results with only one man coming out alive, but this scene is intercut with other scenes of fighting that weren't particularly exciting, though had the potential to be. I mean, that gigantic battle on the bright green field might have been more involving if Jar-Jar Binks hadn't inexplicably been placed as the general of the whole Gungan army. I don't know about you, but I would not put the fate of a race in the hands of Jar-Jar Binks. People stupid enough to do such a thing deserve to die.
There you have it, my (useless) opinion of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a movie that is certainly not awful but never attains the grand proportions we expected from it. Though I notice much criticism toward the film these days, I clearly remember how so many fans clamored about just how incredible the film was during the movie's opening week in theaters. Heck, the movie even had a rank in the top 250 on IMDB for a couple of months (coming as high as at least number 130). Nowadays, I have a hard time finding anybody who will say anything other than, "oh, it could have been better." Seems to me fans just didn't want to concede the critics might have been right. And let's face it, I think we agree with them this time.
*** out of ****
As you can probably guess on your own, a third film in a series about big dinosaurs chasing after measly, little humans is probably going to wear itself thin in terms of plot, and let's face it, Jurassic Park III doesn't have much story. But let's be honest, do we really care? All I ask for my hard-earned money is a competently made thrill ride that features big dinosaurs chasing after measly, little humans. And on that level, JPIII is a pretty damn good success. Certainly, this series is turning out better than the Jaws franchise.
In this third-go-round, Sam Neill returns as Dr. Alan Grant, the now-world famous paleontologist who's having trouble coming up with grant money thanks to the fact that everybody in the world knows real dinosaurs exist. Thus, Grant is a bit easily goaded when a couple (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) offer to pay big bucks for him to give them a little tour guide of the dino island. Reluctantly agreeing, Grant brings along his protege, Billy (Alessandro Nivola), and they all head off to Isla Sorna.
Not all goes according to plan, once Grant finds out the couple is really searching for their son, who was stranded six weeks ago. Then there's that slight complication when this really big dinosaur called the Spinosaurus rips apart the airplane the group arrived in. Afterward, there are only five survivors, and they set out to look for the missing boy and a way off the island.
Plot-wise, it would probably be easier to simply state that a bunch of people get stuck on an island with man-eating dinosaurs. After all, thrills would be the only reason anybody would watch this kind of movie in the first place, yet I find it funny I keep hearing complaints about bad story-telling and little characterization. Really, the general movie-going public has got to re-evaulate their expectations a little more if they don't know what to expect out of a movie called Jurassic Park III. Things such as story-telling and character development mean little to a movie about dinosaurs, much less a third film about said dinosaurs in a series, but those elements are adequate enough for the thrill-ride experience to work.
Directed by Joe Johnston, this movie still often has the look and feel of a Spielberg film. There's a bit of sentimentality here and there (as opposed to almost zero in the The Lost World), particularly in the beginning, with the scenes between Neill and Laura Dern (these moments work quite well), and later on in the film, between the estranged couple, played by Macy and a very annoying Leoni, and their son (these moments don't work so well). It's these scenes that lead me to question how so many people can proclaim this one superior to the original because of no sentimentality when it clearly has some. Really, what I learned from such statements is that some people out there are just desperate to come up with something to bad mouth Spielberg.
Johnston is not quite as good an action director as Spielberg. By that, I mean there's not as much build-up to the attack scenes, nor is there really that much suspense, especially when compared to the nail-biting finale in the original and the trailer park scene in the The Lost World. Johnston gets to the action quickly, almost as if though he were afraid he'd lose our attention otherwise. It feels a little sloppy at times, but at least it eventually builds into that thrill-ride experience.
The excitement delivered in spades, thanks to moments such as a nice little drag-down knockout fight between the Spinosaurus and the T-Rex. The guy I was rooting for didn't win, but it was still a damn good fight. The raptors are sorely underused here, and there were a lot of possibilities Johnston could have come up with, especially set inside that village. But, unfortunately, he abandons the enclosed setting (which really could have led to a lot of great thrills) and sticks to the jungle.
Mind you, the jungle is still set up for quite a bit of fun. The Spinosaurus makes several more appearances, one of them telegraphed by an amusing riff off Jaws and Peter Pan. The pteranadons are put to good use here, with a sequence set inside a cage that's fairly exciting. Sure, that "evil stare" that one pteranadon gives is pretty unintentionally hilarious, but stuff like that is appreciated in a B-movie.
Speaking of B-movie, this one's a little more obvious of its roots than its predecessors, which is a plus. JPIII has a pretty good sense of humor, as shown during a laugh-out loud dream scene that mocks the series itself. William H. Macy also gets in quite a few good laughs, a lot of them at the expense of the character himself!
Special effects are what we would expect, meaning they're mostly excellent, with the only real complaint being that some of the dinos seem a little too CGI and the Spinosaurus' animatronic origins are far too obvious. Mild complaints, though, considering the effects are really very impressive.
Acting's also decent, with Neill, Macy, and Nivola registering positively. Michael Jeter's actually pretty likeable as a "mercenary" and Trevor Morgan is a kid who doesn't save the day or act as comic relief, thank God. However, Tea Leoni's just annoying, as she just about always is. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about her that irritates me so; perhaps it's her speech pattern, or maybe just her general lack of acting ability.
Don Davis' score is noticeably John Williams-ish. The jungle drums from The Lost World are replaced by a more traditional action/adventure theme, which is effective enough if nothing spectacular. The original movie's main theme is present, too, though for some odd reason, it felt oddly inappropriate to me. I guess I was just hoping for more of the dark tone and atmosphere the second film gave us, and that musical theme from Williams (which is great, I'm not trying to knock it) sounds way too bright in tone and awe-inspiring to punch that feeling home.
Where Jurassic Park III really stumbles is the ending, which is incredibly abrupt and lacking a bit in basic logic. I'd go a little further, but I might spoil things somewhat, suffice to say that judging from what I saw, raptors don't really have very good auditory perception and we'll just leave it at that.
Given that this is a third movie in a series known primarily for its action/special effects, I'd say Jurassic Park III rates quite highly as an entertaining action/horror excursion. Perhaps not quite as intense as its predecessors, it still works considerably well, and it's story doesn't quite have as many idiocies as The Lost World, as it is known infamously for. JPIII was also probably the best sequel in a summer chock full of them. The Mummy Returns was a colossal disappointment, Rush Hour 2 pretty much repeated most of the same mistakes of Rush Hour, and American Pie 2 is...the sequel to the already dreaded American Pie. Anyway, JPIII's good fun, and I guess it says something positive when I actually don't mind the prospect of another sequel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
* 1/2 out of ****
**SPOILERS** Just by reading my headline summary of The Shining, I'm guessing there are going to be a lot of fans thinking "Oh, it's just another average Joe out there who just doesn't 'understand' Kubrick and his films." Okay, I suppose I could take a pretentious insult like that. But what I do understand is that from the opening scenes, this movie reeks of filmmaking incompetence. You can clearly see, during the aerial view of the car heading towards the Overlook Hotel, the helicopter's shadow on the bottom right-hand side of your screen. Even worse than that has to be the clear view of the helicopter blades on the top of the screen during the first shot of the hotel itself. I seriously doubt Kubrick and company filmed this intentionally.
But, seriously, The Shining is easily one of the most overrated movies of its genre. I'm a huge fan of horror, moreso than the average viewer, but I can't see how so many people could back a movie that's obviously second-rate on so many levels. As anybody who's seen the movie knows, it's based off of Stephen King's popular novel (To be honest, it was never really one of my favorites of his, though still a decent book). Jack Torrance (Played by a hilariously overwrought Jack Nicholson) is a struggling writer who takes up the job as caretaker of the luxurious Overlook Hotel for the winter, along with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and young son, Danny. Unfortunate for them, a blizzard holes them in and Nicholson starts to grow insane.
Not much of a plot, is there? Truthfully, I'm not one of those people out there who believes in strict adherence to the source material. If a movie can diverge from the book it's based on and still come through as grade-A quality, it's got my respect. But Kubrick doesn't just diverge, he leaves out major parts of the plot completely. No back story is offered about the hotel and why it's haunted, there's not even a slight hint given as to who Tony is, the imaginary boy that Danny speaks to. There's a big difference between trying to scare the audience with the unknown and just totally alienating the viewer by not explaining a thing, and this movie accomplishes the latter. And I do believe that this movie is called The Shining, which is the name Scatman Crother's character gives for a certain telepathic power that Danny has. So how come this power is of very little consequence to the plot? The only time it's really intentionally used is just to get someone over to the hotel, and if you've seen the movie, you'll know how pointless that was.
I can just hear the fans clamoring that the success of this movie has little to do with King's original plot, but Kubrick's direction. To that, I can only laugh. Oh, it's not like he doesn't try to give the movie a foreboding atmosphere or a stylish look, it's just that he kind of fails in these regards. The ominous aerial shots, a little cool at first, grow a bit hilarious after the fifth time it's done, especially with the banging music playing over the background, as if to remind us "Brace yourself for the horror to come!"
Kubrick also relies heavily on long tracking shots, a la Brian De Palma. Initially, it works in creating the sense that this hotel is indeed humongous, but I pretty much got the point after the first hour. Kubrick continues these shots incessantly throughout the ENTIRE film (148 minutes!), with almost no end in sight. Even De Palma would have known when enough is enough.
When it comes to this movie's running time, two-and-a-half hours doesn't seem all that long compared to some other King films (The Stand, Storm of the Century, and The Shining remake). But Kubrick paces this film at the speed of molasses, making sure that everybody says their dialogue as slowly as possible, making sure that his camera catches as much of the hotel as slowly as possible, making sure...you probably know what I'm trying to get at. There's a difference between deliberate pacing (2001, Kubrick's real masterpiece) and simply being boring and talky, and The Shining is most definitely the latter.
And it's not as if though I can't appreciate a slow build-up, but as I said before, this build-up isn't particularly well-done and every time a certain segment gets interesting, Kubrick cuts away and kills off the momentum by introducing each new part with silly subheadings like "The Interview," "A Month Later," and "Tuesday." It's funny that I hear complaints about the subheadings for Sphere ALL the time, but never once for this film. I don't know about you, but a subheading like "The Interview" hardly sounds foreboding or preparation for the horror ahead, and I very much doubt Kubrick intention was to throw us off guard from the "horror" with such a workmanlike heading.
Kubrick's ideas of pay-off for a slow build-up aren't very inspiring. We get a naked woman in a bathtub who then becomes a naked, old woman standing out of that bathtub. She cackles like a witch at Nicholson, and then Nicholson proceeds to...back off slowly. This isn't a particularly ambitious ghost, since it seems entirely content with just cackling. Still, this is the only real scene I can think of in which Kubrick actually utilizes the whole "haunted house" motif which, by the way, is considerably more interesting than seeing Nicholson go insane.
When that does eventually occur, Kubrick decides to film virtually all the chases OUTSIDE the hotel. I mean, this hotel is like a huge mansion, a perfect opportunity for cat-and-mouse chases, and like much of the film, the potential is once again wasted. The chase outiside in the hedges isn't bad, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Now that I've bashed Kubrick's filmmaking, it's on to the performances. WIth three principal actors for the majority of the running time, it's important the acting is very good. Too bad it's not. Jack Nicholson's overacting is so ridiculous, it would put Charlton Heston to shame. Hell, there's not even an attempt to make us sympathize with Torrance's plight. Shelley Duvall registers pretty badly as his wife, not quite as awful as I've heard, but she's pretty damn annoying. The kid who plays Danny never seems like anything more than a child actor trying to act disturbed (For better peformances with similar themes in mind, watch the far superior The Sixth Sense and Stir of Echoes). Scatman Crothers is easily the best of the cast, but (spoiler) he's only here to give the film a body count. It's almost as if though Kubrick thought he would lose the audience's attention if he didn't try putting in a visceral kill scene, and it's hard not to lose respect for him for doing that.
The Shining, bad as it often is, still has its moments (Since it's directed by Kubrick, how could it not?). The scene where Shelley Duvall flips through hundreds of papers stating the same phrase is a real spine-tingler, the only scene that's remotely frightening. When it's hinted that something evil lurks inside room 237, it makes for a fairly creepy scene when the kid stands right outside that room's door (Of course, when you find out what's inside, it's hard not to be a little disappointed). But considering that a big deal is made out of this room, it's more than a little annoying that no explanation is given for what happened inside. The score, overdone as it may sometimes be, is still pretty decent and probably scarier than almost anything else this film has to offer
So, I suppose that's all I've got to say about Kubrick's rendition of The Shining, a movie which could have been so much more but ended up going nowhere. There was, of course, a remake, most of which I've seen, and yes, I liked it considerably more (Though it has been five years since I've seen that version). For a film that combines the talents of Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King, and Jack Nicholson it's hard not to be disappointed with the outcome (I will make explicitly clear that none of this is really King's fault, considering he wasn't all that pleased with Kubrick's film itself and that he had nothing to do with the making of the movie).
**** out of ****
I have already written a review for this film before, though on a second viewing, I felt the need to push the rating up to a perfect four stars. Why is this? Originally, I had stated the desert backdrops had annoyed me. The second time I viewed this film, it honestly didn't bother me anymore. Also, Barbara Kodetova, who I found rather annoying as Chani, is still slightly annoying, but the fact is that she plays a character who's lived a harsh, dangerous life in the caverns of Arrakis who's learned not to trust outsiders, so I can be sympathetic to the way her character is played. Besides, she's better than Sean Young was at playing the same role.
What I love so much about this miniseries is still the same as before. It truly focuses on telling an absorbing story and gives it the full treatment that David Lynch failed to accomplish. Yes, I realize the original film has a lot of fans, most of whom are quite rabid, but the thing is, I don't see them willing to go beyond their simple outlook of Lynch's Dune as the "best sci-fi film of all-time." That movie simply was NOT the best sci-fi film of all-time, for so many reasons it would take several pages to go through it all. I'm sure even die-hard fans of that film would find it difficult to defend a lot of that movie's faults, but they all seem more than willing to forgive it because they believe Lynch somehow gave that movie a startling and awe-inspiring surrealism.
Because this remake is rather conventional compared to the Lynch film, there's an immediate backlash against it, with many proclaiming that it fails to capture the depth of Frank Herbert's novel. Well, wait a minute, when did surrealism immediately equal to capturing depth? For that matter, who ever said that David Lynch even actually grasped surrealism? He seemed mostly content with stringing together "poetic" images into several dream sequences, all of which serve to do nothing more than constantly repeat what I was aware after the second time he gave us one of these montages.
John Harrison's adaptation sticks fairly closely to Herbert's novel, and the running time allows him to pace much of the film evenly without having to rush a lot of individual scenes. I'm not one of those people who consider making Dune into a 137 minute film impossible (as was the case with Lynch's movie), but if you do so, you'd better focus on as many vital scenes from the novel as possible to keep the plot moving ahead, which is not what Lynch attempted to do.
Harrison's film takes itself seriously, but manages to be highly entertaining and extremely enjoyable. At 265 minutes (And I keep hearing there's a version 30 minutes longer), this film is never dull for a single moment and the length actually helps make this an even more engrossing tale. By the end, I was actually disappointed the film even ended! Harrison brings soul and spirit to the project, and he's great contributed by a fine cast and crew. Acting-wise, Alec Newman is pretty good as Paul Atreides, taking on a tough role but delivering on most counts. Matt Keeslar is similar solid as his opposite, Feyd Rautha, but the best performance of them all is definitely Saskia Reeves, giving a turn that has impressed me even more the second time I watched this film. She is also, indeed, a very beautiful woman.
There's one aspect of the cast that I definitely much prefer over the original, and it has to be the appearance of each of the characters. Possibly because of Star Wars, Lynch felt the need to make his character as odd-looking as possible, and believe me, it was an incredibly distracting element on his part. Kyle Machlachlan's Paul Atreides had some damn big hair, Thufir Hawat had eyebrows the size of a Chia pet, and Dr. Yueh has a bare space in between his mustache (Very unintentionally hilarious). The cast in this remake are rather normal-looking individuals, and for that, they're made much easier to relate to.
Visually, both movies have their own distinct look which separates both, thus I doubt anybody would be confused as to which version it is they're watching. The miniseries is the definite winner in this department. While the ambition of the sets and special effects in the original were quite amazing, the whole movie was repellant to look at, due mainly to the ugly world that Lynch created. Harrison's movie creates a world that is harsh, but simultaneously exotic and enticing, no small feat. The visuals are also more breathtaking, with the planetscape shots equivalent of any recently theatrically released sci-fi film. The giant sandworms and the guild navigator are the best CGI designs, rendered amazingly life-like and simply mesmerizing to stare at. The production design is incredible, we're treated to palaces, cities, the interior of spacecrafts, and desert towns, and I would place this film even above The Phantom Menace in this category.
If you haven't seen either version yet, I think you've gathered which version I recommend. This Dune remake isn't completely perfect (In my opinion, every movie has at least a flaw) but it's the best representation of science fiction I've seen in years, and I honestly don't feel any other sci-fi/fantasy coming out above this with the possible exception of this miniseries' own sequel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
* out of **** (Warning, review will have spoilers)
V was a quite a popular miniseries in its time, and it still has quite a bit of fans, but something tells me that has more to do with nostalgia than actual film quality. The movie itself, to put it simply, sucks and it sucks badly. It's a hodgepodge sci-fi "epic" that takes its audience as nothing more than idiots who will be in awe by the premise of an alien invasion. Oh, there have been smart and fun alien invasion films out there. David Twohy's The Arrival is the perfect proof of that and Independence Day, corny and stupid as it sometimes may be, is well made escapism. V is just terrible, mostly full of second to third rate acting (except for the underrated Marc Singer), a script I could have improved on, and horrible special effects that were lame even by 1980's standards.
Admittedly, V does begin intriguingly enough. Fify giant alien spacecrafts situate themselves above Earth's major cities. Eventually, they reveal themselves as the Visitors. They look human, though their voices do sound a little odd and they are afraid of light. They claim they come in peace, and just about everyone in the entire world except for our lead characters fall for their act completely. Basically, there's going to be human resistance, and it's all going to be led by TV movie actors whose careers have pretty much gone nowhere.
Let me go into Kenneth Johnson's script and what I found so moronic about it. Taken as a straightforward story, this film has plot holes and logical lapses the size of an oil tanker. First of all, we have to believe that the United States government would be dumb enough to be duped so, so easily by the Visitors' claim that they have arrived on peaceful terms. I realize Johnson is probably trying to make a point (a la his WWII allegory, which I'll get to in a moment), but the fact is, considering untrustworthy so many governments are these days, we just don't get duped so easily these days, not to mention the fact that the Visitors' spokesman is as unconvincing as they come.
There are many individual scenes that serve to do nothing more than insult any viewer's intelligence. Take, for instance, the scene where Marc Singer boards the Visitor spacecraft and records the aliens speaking, who at that EXACT moment, just happen to be laying out there entire plan for world domination, and afterward making a snack of some poor rodents just to further show how evil they are. Worse yet, they actually speak in English rather than their native language and for some reason, they (and just about every other Visitor) decide to keep their human skinsuits on all the time, despite how unbelievably uncomfortable it must be for them, considering their reptilian origins.
Johnson must think he's done a great job with the character development, since he so often focuses on many different human characters. What he doesn't seem to realize that he's done nothing more than create cardboard AND stereotypical cutouts. Hispanics are portrayed as being illegal smugglers, African-Americans are either hoodlums or "lovable" old men with hearts of gold (Uncle Tom's Cabin, anyone?), and teenagers are either completely naive and impressionable fools or whiny, spoiled brats who can't (or won't) accept the consequences of their actions. Johnson probably believed he was trying to display a theme of brotherhood and teamwork, but all he does is insult the people of these ethnic backgrounds.
The most annoying of all the characters must be the anthropologist and his family. He's got three daughters, all of whom incessantly complain. His oldest daughter is actually the dumbes, leaving me to believe that she has to be either the cable man or the mailman's kid. She actuallly falls in love with a Visitor and decides to have unprotected sex with him, all because she's in the throes of passion while being locked up inside a giant spacecraft! Hmm, I can't guess what's going to happen from there.
But by far the worst element of Johnson's script has to be the WWII allegory. Adding this aspect to the story, he must have thought this would put it above most other sci-fi films. Judging from audience response, they seem to have fallen for it. These are probably people who wouldn't feel a thing unless they got whacked in the head with a sledgehammer. Johnson bludgeons us enough with this incredibly lame allegory, which serves to show me nothing more than the fact that Johnson does indeed seem to know WWII existed. There's the Visitors' symbol, which so closely resembles the Nazi swastika, you'd think everybody in the movie would have to be blind not to notice that. We even get to see a re-enactment of he prejudice the Jewish people went through, except the treatment is aimed at...scientists! Johnson further bangs us over the head with dialogue involving how charismatic the alien leader was and how he took power. Gee, I can't seem to think of what other dictator that reminds me of.
Johnson's direction is a bit better than his writing, at times even more than competent, but also at times spectacularly bad. Every time a character comes to the realization that there's something fishy about the Visitors, he does a slow zoom close-up to their face, mainly focusing on their squinting, "thoughtful" eyes just to show us these people are "smart" and suspicious. But my favorite has to be when Johson suddenly decides he's making an anti-war commentary and films a battle scene in slow-mo through they eyes of Faye Grant as she watches the death and destruction around he, to say nothing of the hilarious contrast by the fact that everyone else around her seems to be cheering their heads off. He actually caps this battle off with Grant aiming a pistol at an incoming shuttlecraft, and even dose a zoom-up towards her deathly serious face to show us that she has, indeed, taken charge! Well, at least she doesn't shoot the ship down. Then again, how the situation is resolved is just as lame. Singer flies by in his own shuttlecraft and fires, causing some damage to this one enemy ship that's holding the Visitor in charge of this attack, and this somehow justifies the retreat of ALL of the alien crafts! Amazing, just imagine if all war was like that, bring your gutless leader along and at the very first little sign of trouble aimed at him or her-escape! For that matter, why this fleet would be led by a scientific officer makes no sense. After this battle's over, the fact that the location of this rebel base has been revealed doesn't seem to make the humans just a little twitchy. What's to say the Visitors won't send another fleet? The answer: probably their double-digit IQs.
There are a LOT of other little problems, even continuity errors. The Visitors supposedly have reverberating voices but there are many scenes when it's obvious that effect isn't there. A cop who seems sympathetic to the human rebel resistance is seemingly EVERYWHERE, as well as a rebel who I saw get arrested at a road block but stil ends up fighting later at a Visitor guarded armory. What Visitors would be doing guarding U.S. military weapons is something only Kenneth Johnson would know (Considering that they should usually be guarded by, oh, humans). I can't forget to mention the shuttlecraft chase. There's actually a scene where a shuttle flies upside down, but the passengers' hairs never stick up (or down, from the view you see it). And I'm very sorry to say this to Kenneth Johnson, who probably failed zoology, but reptiles (specifically iguanas, whom the Visitors resembles) actually do relish light!
All in all, this is a huge, huge mess of Dune (David Lynch version) and Highlander 2 proportions. Hell, Lynch's Dune and Battlefield Earth were actually better. At this point, it feels a little moot for me to mention if there was anything I actually liked about the movie, but there were a couple of things. Marc Singer delivers a terrific and charismatic performance as the hero, making some scenes more bearable than they should be. And I did like the opening helicopter battle sequence, which was directed with a frenetic touch and superbly edited. The assault on the armory is also another well-choreographed action sequence, and actually quite realistic when you consider how difficult it is to fight in a skirmish. Otherwise, this is as bad as big-budget sci-fi gets. V was actually followed by a sequel, which (to my memory) managed the not-so-hard task of being better, even though that film itself isn't anything to really write home about. In the end, Johnson must have believed that he was trying to hit in a hard message, that persuasion and charisma can hide true evil, but the only theme I got out of this is that dumb heroes can only prevail from dumber villains.
rating: ** 1/2 out of ****
I've put off watching Hellrasier III: Hell on Earth for a long time now, probably because of how I didn't particularly care that much for its predecessors. The original Hellraiser was a so-so horror film that was veering dangerously close to sub-par territory and Hellbound was a sequel that featured an incredibly silly core for a plot when you think about it (It turns out the girl's journey to hell was nothing more than an attempt by her uncle, of all people, to get her into his bed). But it's to my surprise that Hellraiser III is actually better.
Why is this? Probably because it has no pretentious story pretending to tell more than there actually is. This film is made for no other purpose than for sheer entertainment value, and for that I find it considerably more respectable. It also has Terry Farrell in it, and she's a considerable improvement above Ashley Laurence and Claire Higgins combined in both acting ability and looks.
The movie begins with Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell), a down-on-her-luck reporter, trying to get her "big story." She's in a hospital one night, and a young man is admitted and he has chains embedded into various parts of his body. The doctors try to do what they can but he literally tears apart in front of their eyes. This, Joey believes, is the story she's been looking for. She tracks down the person who brought the young man to the hospital, a woman named Terri, who apparently is the boyfriend of J.P. Monroe, the owner of a popular club. It's also this same club that contains a statue of the cenobite Pinhead, whose demon form is now trapped in this condition but can be revived with blood. Pinhead is eventually awakened and he makes a deal with Monroe, thus creating a chain of events that sets Pinhead free and out to wreak havoc on the city.
There are a few things that are immediately noticable about this film when compared to the previous installments. For one, it doesn't have that dark, pervasive atmosphere, which is good since it wouldn't fit here at all. Another thing is that the movie has a more polished look to it, due mainly to the fact this was a big studio release. So, on a technical level, this movie does indeed look more professional and competent than the other entries. Of course, it takes more than just that to make Hellraiser III superior to its predecessors, and it accomplishes that because it's a fun ride and acknowledges its own lack of ultra-seriousness.
It's in my opinion that series fans are being far too hard on this movie and are pretty much wrong when they consider it among the series' weakest films. I've even heard complaints that it lacks the depth of the original, which just makes me want to laugh because the original had about as much as depth as a puddle of dog urine. Stylish direction and weird imagery does not add up to meaningful and deep, and director Clive Barker didn't have the convictions to take his film beyond the level of a gorefest, albeit still a somewhat stylish one. The sequel, Hellbound, was just a dreary and silly descent into a very bland-looking hell.
Director Anthony Hickox chooses to play Hellraiser III as a thrill ride in one form or another and is mostly successful. The movie begins somewhat slowly (though never boring for a moment) but builds up to a furious final half-hour that features a hell of a lot of gore, some terrific visual effects (as well as some weak ones), and a slew of new cenobites, all of which lack the dark seriousness of the previous ones and are obviously played for laughs here. Not a bad thing, if you ask me, considering some of the past cenobites were a little unintentionally funny and a change of pace is welcome.
As is usual, you can expect tons of gore from a Hellraiser film, and this one's certainly no exception. I believe I saw the R-rated version, so that probably explains why a few scenes looked a bit trimmed and toned down. There are still some very memorable scenes of mass slaughter, such as a nightclub massacre that results in what must have been 100 total deaths, an immense body count! The gore here looks less grimy and repulsive, and as a result, is less disgusting and disturbing than the previous films.
Terry Farrell is pretty good as the reporter who has stumbled across the biggest story of her life. Admittedly, her good looks do mask some of her less convincing moments, but she's fairly solid for the majority of the running time. Doug Bradley is a scene-stealer as Pinhead, who is used more extensively in this film. Gone is the "enigmatic" creature and in its place is a more darkly humorous and delightfully wicked villain. A lot of series fans complain about this rendition of Pinhead, but I enjoy it far more than his "We have such sights to show you!" bits from the original. His performance as his human self is not bad, either, and it's actually a little hard to believe (in a good way) that these two very different characters are played by the same actor.
Now, this is a good sequel and fun horror film, but it's by no means a great movie, which obviously means it still has flaws. The plot stretches a bit thin at times (but there's still far more of one here than in Hellbound) and some of the effects work is a bit shoddy at times. Some of the one-liners are also more groan-inducing than hilarious, such as "That's a wrap!" and "Time for your close-up!" The movie is also never scary or particularly suspenseful and you do get the feeling that Hickox was often trying to play the film as a flat-out horror flick.
But on the whole, this is much better than I could have ever expected and it's nice to be pleasantly surprised by a film that I was certain was going to be pretty weak. Another sequel was made not long afterward, entitled Hellraiser: Bloodline, which I have yet to see but have read almost nothing but bad reviews. I'll have to check it out sometime, but it seems likely that Hellraiser III is probably the best in this series.
* 1/2 out of ****
Friday the 13th has never been a great film series, but there's something about it that's morbidly attractive. It may be because of the fact that it managed to stretch out the relatively simple premise of a retarded serial killer to 9 films (with another one upcoming that takes place in the far future, no less!). I mean, take Jason's first appearance, which featured him with a pillow over his head, and then take at a look at Jason Goes to Hell, in which Jason is a semi-supernatural being with the ability to hop into other people's bodies. The series has evolved quite a bit, if you ask me. It will be odd to see how different the latest sequel will be than say, Part 3, which is pretty much the same as the first two, only this time Jason has his hockey mask and the girls are better-looking.
The film takes place only several hours after the events of the previous movie. The focus is on a group of teens headed to a farmhouse not far from Camp Crystal Lake for a weekend of sex and fun. These teens are the basic slasher cliche characters, ranging from the heroine to the geeky loser who seems to p*** everyone off. The heroine is Chris (Dana Kimmell), who actually once encountered Jason. She's having trouble adjusting to being in a forest and heads out into the woods(!) with her friend Rick while everyone else stays behind at the house. Jason then arrives and begins his massive slaughter. The story is as simple as that.
With a plot that's basically a carbon-copy of the previous two films, it feels a little odd to review what is pretty much the same movie over again. For 70 minutes, the movie is every bit as boring as Part 2, due mainly to Steve Miner's inability to build up any good scares or shocks as well as the fact that he takes too long to get the movie going. His direction hasn't improved much at all (only in the finale, which I'll get to in a moment) and he's certainly not helping himself by not trying anything new or different in this film.
There are a few memorable death scenes, particularly one guy who gets slashed in half when he's walking around on his hands. But these moments aren't built up to particularly well, there's no sense of dread and almost no suspense, and what little of it is there is mainly because of Harry Manfredini's very effective and creepy Ennio Morricone-esque score (It's a little funny to note that the score sounds a bit like the one from The Thing, so Morricone might have received a little inspiration from these films). It's interesting to note that Part 3 was made in 3-D upon its original theatrical release, which probably explains the numerous scenes of knives and other dangerous objects maniacally waved in front of the screen. I'll admit, if I had seen this movie in the 3-D enhancement, I probably would have found a lot of these scenes more entertaining, but without the gimmick, it's almost a complete bore.
The gore effects are in more abundance than in the previous two films, but they still look rather cheesy sometimes. The most laughable effect is the literal eye-popping scene that was obviously shot to get a reaction out of the 3-D viewing audience. It just looks fake now. Nudity is also expected out of a Friday the 13th film and there's very little of it here, almost none at all, and none of it comes from the good-looking girls. It would have been nice to see Catherine Parks or Dana Kimmell topless for a scene or two, but the fact that Kimmell is the heroine already pushes those chances to zilch (the closest thing to nudity that's been revealed by a series heroine is probably from Melanie Kinnaman from Part V, who was featured running around in the rain braless with a white shirt on).
The acting is pretty much as bad as the first two films and I suppose that's to be expected out of a low-budget 80's slasher flick. Though I hate to sound shallow, this cast is easier to bear than the previous installments because Dana Kimmell and Catherine Parks do make for very good eye candy, and at least they're both better than the horrendous Amy Steel, a scream queen who seems to have her fans despite having all the acting skill and charisma of cardboard.
But there is a reason why I rate this above Part 2 (and probably the original Friday the 13th, too) despite how much my criticism seems to place it on the exact same level as that film. It's because of the last 20 minutes, which features the typical climactic chase where Jason moves around trying to get at our heroine. All the cliches are used here, such as the car that (in)conveniently runs out of gas, the dead body in the closet, the killer who's really not dead, etc., but Steve Miner actually handles the entire sequence quite well, and I certainly felt just how frantic the situation was. The finale was good enough for me to rate the film * 1/2 instead of just *. It by no means makes the movie good or even middling, but it was enough to pull it above the worst of the series.
There's a grand unmasking scene at the end which reveals Jason in all his non-glory. He looks a little different than he did in Part 2, probably because this time he has no hair and was played by a different actor. Actually, he looks a bit like the Ferengi Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and that's not a good thing. Oh, and what's up with all these scenes of women passing out and finding themselves safe from Jason? In part 2, Amy Steel was attacked by Jason but woke up in a stretcher with paramedics around her. In this film, Kimmell relates a similar story about an encouter with Jason in the woods and how she woke up in her own bedroom. Does Jason just not like to kill girls who pass out in front of him or what?
It's a little hard to believe that this film was only 1/3 the way through the entire series. The next installment, The Final Chapter, differed from all its predecssors in that it was actually scary and consistently entertaining, making it the first wholly enjoyable film in the series. I'd say just skip the first 3 and go straight to The Final Chapter since that film has a good opening prologue that relates what happened in the previous films, but most people seem annoyed at the idea of skipping installments in a series.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*** out of ****
Well, it was inevitable. The 80's had to come to an end, which of course, led us to the 90's. It was around the turn of the decade that the slasher genre started to die out, and the only movies of the subgenre that were considered profitable were the ones attached to big-name series (i.e. Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Child's Play, and Friday the 13th). The interesting thing about the 90's is its approach to the slasher. After all, in the 80's, the filmmakers were usually reliant on blood, mood and atmosphere, and sex and nudity. But that's in the past. With the release of The Final Friday, it was quite simple to see how much the series (and subgenre) had changed. This film still keeps the blood and the sex/nudity (which is actual more graphic than any of the other installments), but prefers all-out gory fun over atmosphere build-up.
This film plays the whole thing in a semi-campy tone that often flirts with intentional self-parody. After the failure of Part VIII, New Line Cinema picked up the rights to the series and ended it all with a bang (of course, with Jason X, the series is hardly over). The Final Friday begins with a sexy woman driving over to the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake. She enters one of the houses, prepares a bath, then strips, but then the lights go out in typical horror film fashion. The person responsible for the power failure turns out to be none other than Jason Voorhees, the psychotic mad slasher wearing a hockey mask. He looks bigger than usual, too. He chases the woman out into the woods, which is a big mistake for him, because it's a trap the FBI set up, and they proceed to pump over a hundred rounds into him, and blow him into at least a dozen pieces.
Everyone thinks Jason's reign of terror at Crystal Lake is over, but it's not. A coroner examining his heart gets too close, and soon enough, we've got a body-hopping Jason who is now on a quest for rebirth and the only way he can do this is through a blood relative. These relatives would be Diana Kimble, her daughter Jessica (Kari Keegan), and Jessica's own baby. The only man who knows of this connection and knows how to kill Jason is Creighton Duke (Steven Williams), a bounty hunter who's willing to offer the information, for a price. Anyway, Diana is eventually killed, and Steven (John D. Lemay), Jessica's old boyfriend (or husband, we're never really told) and her baby's father, is accused of her murder. His jail cell is actually right beside the Duke's (who was arrested for reasons never stated), who tells him the secret of how to kill Jason Voorhees. Steven manages to escape, and scrambles to protect Jessica and his baby from Jason.
The Final Friday probably received the most mixed responses from series fans. Many showed nothing but scorn towards the movie because it strayed away from series continuity while many others considered it the best of the series because it actually tried something different. This different plot is a take of Jack Sholder's The Hidden, and director Adam Marcus plays it well into this movie. While The Final Friday has a few messy moments in direction and features a mostly grating score from Harry Manfredini (which makes it a real disappointment since he was responsible for the original nerve-jangling score), this is perhaps the most fun film in the series, as well as the fastest-paced, most action-packed, and goriest.
This time around, Jason isn't on his typical mission, which is to kill horny teens. Though he really can't refrain himself from doing so to a couple in the middle of intercourse, which results in a body cut in half that is often considred the most memorable death scene of the series. Anyway, the film mostly focuses on his attempts to gain back his old body, which can only be done so through another Voorhees. Thus, one thing no critic can say about this film is that it reverts back to formula.
Throughout the film's course, there's quite a bit of kick-ass action, which includes a police station and diner massacre, as well as a one-on-one showdown between Lemay and the big man Jason himself in the finale. These moments are violent, fast-moving, and pretty exciting. My favorite part of all these scenes must be when Lemay, who has just been arrested and has spotted Jason, leaps over his own handcuffs, knocks a cop aside, takes his gun, and proceeds to empty half the clip into Jason. Having seen the unrated version, there's no doubt this is certainly the goriest film in the whole series (think of it this way, the first 3 parts combined won't match the amount of blood and guts this film has). KNB did the make-up effects and they are impressively done. Body parts fly, blood spurts and goes everywhere, and there's a heck of a lot of maiming going around in this film, with the highlight being the aforementioned diner massacre. The movie has a huge bodycount, numbering around 26.
None of this is played particularly seriously. I mean, the film is certainly never frightening or the slightest bit scary for an instant (then again, most of the other series installments aren't either, as only The Final Chapter offers consistent scares, though The New Blood does get in some good chills.) but I doubt this was even a consideration on director Marcus' part. Instead, the movie often opts for laughs. It's all apparent from the opening FBI-staged attack. Think about it, what better way to lure Jason out than for a good-looking woman to get naked? It happened in a span of 8 films, so there sure wasn't any reason it wouldn't work now. It makes for a funny opening joke and establishes a tone that is half-knowingly tongue-in-cheek.
Some of the dialogue is fairly humorous, if not exactly subtle or necessarily clever. I liked the Duke's response to what he thought of Jason Voorhees and I laughed during the scene where Steven picked up a group of young, good-looking hitchhickers going to Crystal Lake and tells them, "So, you thinking of smoking some pot, having a little premarital sex, and getting slaughtered?" Dialogue like that helps make this the second-funniest film in the series. The movie doesn't quite have as many laughs as Part VI, mainly because the Diner employees, who are certainly there to add campy humor, are more annoying than anything else, which is probably why I savor their massacre (well, maybe just the fat woman's). It's also that same sequence we get to see Vicki, the waitress who shows as much bravado and fighting skill as Ash from the Evil Dead series, take on Jason in Sigourney Weaver style. There are a couple of other fun moments horror buffs will definitely enjoy, such as when Steven finds a copy of the Necronomicon in the Voorhees house and a crate in the basement that is the same from the one in Creepshow.
The acting is overall better than you would expect from a cast of mostly unknowns. The only actor I've seen here from something else is Steven Williams as the bounty hunter Creighton Duke. He has the best performance in the film, stealing many scenes with his cool attitude and smooth dialogue-delivery that's equally compelling and a lot of fun to watch. John D. Lemay is pretty good as Steven, the film's nerdy-looking hero. He's quite likable and something must be said about the toughness of a guy who lasts for nearly 3 minutes in a one-on-one fight with Jason. As the movie progressed, he also had his fingers broken and was thrown from a moving car. As for Kari Keegan, the film's heroine, she doesn't make much of an impression. Her performance is pretty mediocre, but at least she isn't relegated to damsel-in-distress mode. Kane Hodder still makes the best Jason, but it's not as if there's a lot to do in the role.
Overall, this could be my favorite in the series. As for the other contenders of that hardly prestigious title, The Final Chapter has the suspense and scares, Part VI: Jason Lives has the most laughs and the best acting, and Part VII: The New Blood features the best heroine and some good suspense. Jason Goes to Hell is simply the most fun, displaying all the entertainment value I expected from an action/horror flick.
** 1/2 out of ****
There seems to be a similar pattern going around that affects the latest sequels to the most popular slasher series of the 80's. These 90's sequels tend to try out something pretty different from its predecessors, to the point of even negating parts of the series. Such films include Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, New Nightmare, and H2O, of which the former two managed to instill new energy back into their respective series again. In this case, Bride of Chucky is going all-out for laughs, and it's quite successful at doing so, making it easily the best film in this not-so-good series.
The movie's first scenes already let us know just how tongue-in-cheek all of this is. A cop enters an evidence room, which includes such items as Michael Myers' and Jason Voorhees' masks, Freddy Krueger's glove, and Leatherface's chainsaw. The cop picks up one specific object we can't see, though it's obvious it's Chucky, the serial-killer possessed doll. Eventually, the doll gets to the hands of Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), who actually turns out to be the killer's (when he was a human) former girlfriend. Using the help of a voodoo book, she revives Chucky, and ends up imprisoning him because she's still angry at him for never marrying her.
Chucky escapes, kills Tiffany, and puts her soul into another doll. Naturally, she freaks out when she sees what's happened to her, but Chucky informs her they can still be human again. The only way for them to do that is to use the amulet that was on the human Chucky's body when he died. Thus, they have to get to that specific cemetary in Hackensack, New Jersey, so they enlist the aid of Jessie (Nick Stabile) and Jade (Katherine Heigl) via phone to deliver some dolls with the promise of big cash. The two young lovers agree and decide to get hitched. All seems well for the two, until murders start popping up around them and they begin to suspect each other, all the meantime never noticing that the dolls are the real culprits.
Bride of Chucky is, simply put, a dark comedy that only has the concern of making its viewers laugh. And boy, some of these jokes are absolutely hilarious. My favorite part is probably the scene where Chucky is crawling back to his van when some stoned pothead sees him. Chucky proceeds to give him the finger, resulting in the pothead's hilarious deadpan response, "Rude f***ing doll!" Another one of my favorite lines must be when Jessie asks Chucky how he got to be this way, and he responds by saying, "It's a long story. In fact, if they made a movie, it'd take 3 or 4 sequels to do it justice." If that doesn't get you laughing, then I wouldn't recommend this movie to you.
But for all those who enjoy tongue-in-cheek horror, this is a treat. The scene-stealers are Chucky and Tiffany, spouting a lot of memorable lines without ever getting into the "hip" style that has annoyingly permeated virtually every other slasher film in recent memory. Brad Dourif, of course, voices Chucky and he hasn't lost that same sense of fun over the years the series was in hiatus. Jennifer Tilly is equally as fun as Tiffany, making for an effective foil to Chucky, and is all the more hilarious because of their love/hate relationship that's positively psychotic.
The special effects are among the movie's highlights; the dolls look mostly flawlessly rendered and amazingly lifelike. But how could any review of Bride of Chucky go by without mentioning the doll sex scene. It's probably the reason it got half the money it did at the box office. Let me just say this, you probably won't believe it, but this sex scene is the most tasteful part of the entire movie! That should give you some idea of what to expect from the rest of the film.
The movie's also got the requisite blood and gore, with particularly memorable death scenes. Despite all the violence, this isn't a movie for die-hard horror fans looking for a scary or suspenseful gorefest. The movie doesn't actually kick into thrill ride mode until the last 10 minutes in the cemetary. Even then, you have to ask yourself just how exciting it is to see dolls and humans duking it out.
Now, even as an intentionally goofy horror/comedy, the movie still has some big flaws. There are no rooting interests at all. The dolls, while obviously funny, are pretty damn crazy. As for the humans, they're either annoying or simply display nothing approaching charisma or good acting.
The movie also takes too long to get going, and considering the movie's only 89 minutes, that's certainly a problem. It's not until the half-hour or so mark that Chucky comes to life again and the road trip to Hackensack doesn't begin until the movie's a little over halfway through. This is a flaw that's made forgivable because once the movie gets going, the pace is unflagging.
I enjoyed Ronny Yu's high-energy direction, which is an approach that closely follows all the other most recent slasher sequels (it actually only worked well in Jason Goes to Hell, but New Nightmare was decent in this respect). After the pedestrian work of the other installments, it's nice to see some sturdy direction. This film's final scenes sets itself up for another sequel, and considering it's box office success, I don't see any reason why it won't happen. Bride of Chucky is goofy and certainly lacking in intelligence, but it's got a hell of a lot of entertainment value, and that's all you could really ask for out of it.
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