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77 reviews in total 
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The Killer (1989)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
There is no other film like it on this planet..., 29 February 2000

Absolutely nothing I have ever watched could prepare me for "The Killer". The first shootout grabbed me by the throat and didn't let go for the rest of the film. I'd never seen so much blood spilled onscreen; it never occurs to you that bullet wounds are a lot messier than most Hollywood action films would have you believe. To me, it helped drive home a point that such violence is truly horrible in every sense of the word and it's to Woo's credit that he never flinchs from portraying the realistic effects of violence on those it's been inflicted on, physically or psychologically.

That's really the film is all about: the vicious, seemingly inescapable cycle of violence. Once you're within the circle of blood, you're in for life. No way out, no exits. The ending drives that point home with the force of a .44 Magnum slug. How many action films can claim that?

They Live (1988)
1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The village idiot of films..., 24 February 2000

"They Live" a profound movie? You gotta be kidding least in the traditional sense. The production values are too ridiculous, the explaination for why the '80s was a time to be loathed is too convinient, and exactly how bullets did those guns have in them? AND YET...and yet I can't help thinking about it without a quote from Eric Hoffer (quoted by Harlan Ellison in his "An Edge in My Voice" collection of essays) floating to mind: "What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people's faces as unfinished as their minds." Kinda puts the first time Piper puts on the shades in perspective, doesn't it?

For the remake of "Scarface", Oliver Stone wrote a line during the drunk scene that, while funny, is pretty much what any writer worth his salt tries to accomplish: "I tell the truth, even when I lie." When I watch "They Live", I see, in the lie of this film, everything I ever hated about the 1980's. From the subliminals in the signs to the fascist tactics employed to beat down the resistance to the passive acceptance of the status quo, the entire film is just a fun-house mirror reflection of the way things were. If Carpenter weren't just as interested in having fun as he was with sprinkling in the subtext, this might have been a better film...but that still doesn't mean that I consider it worthless.

No one is going to mistake Roddy Piper for Laurence Olivier, but he does a fairly good job with what he's got. He's not quite as interesting as, say, Snake Plissken, but he does come off as an average guy who's been beaten down by life, but still cares about the world around him. One great line that he has that is NEVER quoted sums up the character rather well: "The white line's in the middle of the road. That's the worst place in the world to drive." I can't help but crack up when I think about his fight with Frank just to put a lousy (ableit special) pair of sunglasses.

The ending kinda kills things a little, but if one wants to get profound, I suppose one could say that it serves as a metaphor for what people some two or three decades down the line are going to see about the 1980's...but maybe not. This film is rather like a village idiot, spouting so much gibberish that it's sometimes hard to catch the pearls of wisdom mixed in with it. John Carpenter remains, to me, the king of deliberate camp (as opposed to the unintended camp of the Mummy remake).

Burton outdoes Irving by a country mile (or maybe two)..., 23 February 2000

At the risk of sounding somewhat heretical to the purists who decry adaptations as inferior product, I cannot claim much affection for Washington Irving. As I was talking to a friend of mine who is a literature major, we both agreed that Irving had a lot of good ideas, BUT his execution of them sucked. I've always found him too wordy, too meandering, and too coma-inducing to be considered interesting (and I've read more classics in the last five years than I did the entire time I went to high school). So, this said, it would have to be Tim Burton who would get Irving's most famous tale right.

While I'm not a fanatical Burton follower, I do have a great deal of respect for his craft and films that many of his detractors lack and I think that I can safely say that this is probably the most serious film of his that I have ever seen. That may sound strange considering the fantastical elements of this story, but unlike previous Burton efforts (and I include the original Batman on this list), Sleepy Hollow feels more grounded in reality, even if more than a few historical liberties were taken. The mystery of the decaptations, which I expected would be rather quickly resolved (after all, practically everybody in America knows who did it, right?), surprisingly turned out to be central to the plot, which I felt was a good move to give the story a solid backbone. However, it is not a mystery in the traditional sense that the audience can figure out the clues with the detective. Burton does drop a few subtle hints that you're likely to miss because THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTS YOU TO DO. It seemed to me as though he wanted the audience to follow Ichabod's thinking, deductions, and conclusions rather than veer off on their own, thereby adding to the shock when the real culprit is revealed. Such a style requires subtle, painstaking work and it's to Burton's credit that, in my case at least, he succeeded.

For all it's decaptations, blood, and somber atmosphere, the story does take a few Burtonesque touchs of humor that you can't help but at least smile at. My favorite has to be during the flashback to the Horseman's death (played with over-the-top relish by Christopher Walken). The Horseman makes a shushing sound to the two little blonds he runs into. One of them promptly snaps a branch to get his pursuers' attention. You have to see it to believe it. Another good one is when Nesmith asks Ichabod, "Is he dead?" Ichabod's logical but funny reply: "That's the trouble. He was dead to begin with." There are a lot of others but I won't reveal any more. Rest assured, though, they are there.

Now as to the main cast, what can I say about Johnny Depp (positive or negative) that hasn't been said before? I will say that he is one of my favorite off-beat film actors (still love his stuff in "Ed Wood) and his portrayal of Constable Ichabod Crane (no, you haven't wandered into the wrong movie; that's one of the changes that was added on early) is perhaps one of the most unlikely anti-heroes ever shot on film. A prim and proper shell of a man driven by reason and science, burnt by anguish over a very nasty childhood, Crane brings to mind Sherlock Holmes minus the nerves of steel (his teaming with young Nesmith would seem to verify this observation). This has to be the only movie that I've ever seen where the hero faints more often than the heroine. Speaking of said heroine, Christini Ricci admittedly does not have much to work with, but she infuses what she has with commendable skill. Perhaps one of the reasons for the minimalist screen time/performance was to increase the uncertainty about her true nature. As to what that might be...I'm not going to tell you. Though his name isn't mentioned often, I honestly feel that Casper Van Dien, considering what I have seen of his mediocre acting skills, was born to play the part of the brave but brainless Bram Bones. His best moment has to be his fight with the Horseman (a piece of macabre comedy that Buster Keaton could have admired).

The only other thing I've left to add about the film is that it is best that you pay attention to every detail, major or minor, during the movie. The biggest suprise of the whole film for me was how all the little pieces scattered here and there fit together at the film's climax. It'll be most interesting to see what Burton will pull next from his magic bag of tricks.

The Mummy (1999)
7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
The worst remake of all time (and that's saying something)..., 18 February 2000

My only problem with the critical loathing of the Mummy (1999) is that I am convinced that they did not dismember it enough. Therefore, I feel obligated to do such as is my duty as a movie lover. I really don't want to. But somebody's gotta, goes.

One comment that has stuck with me that I heard in the audience the night I went to see this wretched piece of celluloid is someone saying "This is like Raiders of the Lost Ark." Which it IS--minus the good parts. One would think with a budget of $80 million that they could afford to a)hire some better actors or b) write a better script. The humor, more often than not, is limp, the characterization is non-existent, all that CGI-animated sand could not hope to begin to plug the frequent plot holes, and I'm convinced that they used Boris Karloff's actual corpse in the initial scenes of the mummy being unearthed to save some money.

The film's main problem is that it cannot decide what it wants to be: action/adventure, comedy, or horror. So, by way of idiotic compromise, it tries being all three and, naturally, winds up failing miserably. The elements of the three genres mentioned above are not interchangable and I very much resent the filmmakers acting like they were. Then there's the business of the plagues of Egypt and the Book of the Dead. Excuse me, but the plagues are from Exodus, not Egyptian mythology, and, as anybody who watched the original 1932 classic upon which this is VERY loosely based, the Egyptians didn't use BOOKS. They used papyrus scrolls! And could somebody please explain to me why, if people have been looking for this city for their entire lives without finding it, it took our thoroughly brain-dead cast something like half a day to?

Probably the worst crime that this film committed was the evisceration of the character of Imhotep. Karloff portrayed him as a love-lost monster, equal parts sympathetic and repellant. Here, he's not even a blip on the radar screen, character-wise. All we mostly see is this dessicated corpse who, for some non-sensical reason, is afraid of cats (must have watched "Pet Semetary" too many times), can turn himself in a living sandstorm (which I think makes for a nice metaphor for the filmmakers; both are full of hot air), and has the most idiotic on-screen death ever captured on film. Karloff must be spinning in his grave.

Remakes, more often than not, are experiments in re-animation. While the occasional few do wind up being as good or better than the original, most such remakes are failures. Why? Because the ones doing the makeover don't understand what made the film work the first time...and don't care to. That, perhaps more than anything, is why I hate this version of the Mummy. Some things are better off dead.

Dark City (1998)
A valentine to German Expressionism..., 18 February 2000

The classics that everybody talks about years down the road are, most often than not, not recognized as such when first released. Citizen Kane wound up getting knocked out by William Randolph Hearst and a public too content with happy endings to accept this bitter vision. Wizard of Oz didn't become a bonafide hit until it hit television in the 1960's. Night of the Hunter (one of the scariest films of all time in my opinion) was a complete financial disaster for first-time director Charles Laughton. So it does not suprise me overly much that Dark City has gotten similarly, unjustified, downright shabby treatment from most critics and the audiences.

At first, I thought Dark City "a Metropolis for the '90s". Then I thought that it could be seen as a cross between the aforementioned Fritz Lang masterpiece and his first sound film, M. Now, after several late-night viewings (which for the right effect, I began playing the tape just before dawn, giving my surroundings the right atmospheric touch), I have concluded that it is a valentine to the whole German Expressionist movement: Lang, Murnau, Pabst, Freund. Though I also see it as a precursor to The Matrix (another excellent film to which one could trace its roots back to Metropolis), I also think that, had this been made in the silent era, it would have fit right in.

First there's the city itself. Only too obvious that it was inspired by Metropolis, where its inhabitants run on a rigid schedule of unbreakable monotony. But instead of just being factory workers in the guts of a great machine, they're pawns on a chessboard, with the Strangers removing and placing them as they please. The Strangers, again obviously, are inspired primarily by Clive Barker's Cenobites, but Mr. Hand's look is actually more inspired by that of Count Orlok in Nosferatu, right down to the collar. Compare the scene where John Murdoch holds the knife to Hand's face with a close-up of Orlok and you can see that the only thing missing is the distinctive bushy eyebrows. Dr. Paul Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland), a pathetic, twisted, little gnome of a man, recalls not only some of father Donald's more off-beat roles, but also Peter Lorre's turns as complicated villain (most notably in M and Mad Love). The lisp didn't bother me so much, as I reasoned that it might have been a result of his obvious deformities. One of the film's most interesting twists is how this complex character plays a part in the endgame. Finally, there's the names of the main characters themselves. Consider: Murdoch, Schreber, Bumstead, Walinsky. All of them Germanic in origin. One could not make the connection between German Expressionism and this film more obvious.

Some decades from now, I believe that this film will be recognized for the instant classic it is. Mark my words.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
An adaptation of a classic novel that lives up to it's billings..., 17 February 2000

In recent years, we, the moviegoing audience, have seen many "adaptations" of novels that just...weren't. Granted, sometimes the results are stupendous (the most recent version of Great Expectations blew me away), but most adaptations of books twist the original book's plot and premise into a pretzel that usually only resembles it in name.

Thankfully, back in 1933, James Whale did an expert job in adapting H.G. Wells' classic novel, THE INVISIBLE MAN. Contrary to many of the later versions of this classic literary character, the original was nothing but a total SOB in the novel and that's how Claude Rains (in his screen debut) plays him, as insane and unsympathetic. The only thing that I felt was missing was Griffin's letter in the original proclaiming "the reign of the Invisible Man" and calling himself "Invisible Man the First".

I see him as a cross between (to use another couple of classic characters reinvented by Whale) Frankenstein and Frankenstein's monster. He didn't become a monster by choice, but the point is made forcefully clear that he has no one but himself to blame for the mess he's in. He doesn't take it too well when people finally get a little too prying (but then, he hasn't exactly been a gracious guest, either) and begins his reign of terror through a set of some of the most extraordinary special effects work of any era (my favorite being the scene where Griffen skips along in nothing but a pair of trousers, singing a cheerful tune).

The movie belongs to, hands down, Rains, whose portrayal of the anti-social, arrogant scientist is right on the money from beginning to end. The only places I feel it falters is when the obligatory love interest (played by Gloria Stuart) starts appealing to his sensitive side and his last lines about interfering with the work of God. The Griffin of the novel would have written off such concerns as trivial and pointless, but anything to make Universal and the censors happy, yes? Still, it's a film well worth the price of admission.

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
A "film noir" that actually happens in broad daylight..., 16 February 2000

One of the most overlooked aspects of the 1964 version of "The Killers" is that most of the action takes place during the day. Let me say that again; MOST OF THE ACTION TAKES PLACE DURING THE DAY. From the opening contract killing at the school of the blind to the final reckoning, Marvin and Kluglar guide us through a seedy underworld that doesn't adhere to film noir's time-honored tradition that the nastiness takes place in the shadows. Yet, thanks in no small part to the original Ernest Hemingway story that this and a previous version in 1946 was based on, it is still undeniably rock solid, excellent film noir in terms of storyline and characters. There's absolutely nobody (with the sole exception of the guy who started the whole sequence of events, Johnny North) worth sympathizing with, least of the contract killing protagonists, but you don't need morally redeemable characters to tell a good story.

My only previous experience with Lee Marvin was "The Dirty Dozen", but it only gave me a rough idea of what to expect here: a quietly menacing triggerman with a voice that snaps it's commands out like the crack of a whip. Ronald Reagan is actually not all that bad himself as a mail-robber-turned-crooked businessman. How little did audiences know that in the next two decades he would go on to reprise this role as governor of California and President of the United States. I very much doubt anyone who saw this before then would have been suprised by what he did later. The rest of the cast didn't make that much of an impression on me; they seemed completely interchangable.

Don Siegel's direction isn't the greatest he's ever done ("Dirty Harry" perhaps has that distinction), but it does it's job nice and clean. The soundtrack, particularly the opening jazz riffs, carries a nice undertone of menace that's matched by the film's subject, a good contrast to the cheery surroundings so much of the drama takes place in. All in all, an unjustly snubbed film noir minus the noir. Don't miss it.

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