Reviews written by registered user
|197 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a one of those queasy low-budget downbeat horror films that
proliferated in double features in the 1970s.
Wacko herpetologist Strother Martin recruits college jock Dirk Benedict as a lab assistant in his work with snakes (ergo the title). It does not take long for the viewer to figure out that Martin is a loon with an insidious agenda, although it seems to take everyone on screen forever and a day to reach the same conclusion. When not holding court over rodeo-style shows where he antagonizes a King Cobra to the amazement of a sparse handful of gawkers, Martin spends inordinate amounts of time in his lab - ostensibly doing work on creating antidotes for snake-bite victims. He is assisted for the most part by his young nubile daughter Heather Menzies, adorned with large unattractive spectacles to try to convince us that she is not a beautiful woman and is incredibly brainy. The eyewear fails on both counts. However, with one assistant already, and not exactly swimming in work or loot, the addition of another lab assistant, especially a courteous young buck without a brain cell on display does not make a whole lot of sense unless Martin has something sinister in mind. Naturally, it does not take long for Benedict and Menzies to start making goo-goo eyes at each other, much to Martin's consternation. Martin insists on injecting Benedict with a variety of serums, which he insists are standard for herpetology lab assistants.
In fairness, the direction is fairly competent and there are some moments of suspense, which will probably be magnified for anyone with a fear of snakes. What kills the film is that the storyline is so absurd and too much relies on characters acting stupidly even more so than in the average horror flick.
For instance early in the film, Benedict sheds a top layer of skin like a snake shedding its skin. Any rational human being would begin to suspect that there was something suspicious in those injections that Martin has been pushing and would seek a second opinion, but the dutifully docile Benedict simply takes Martin's word that it is "normal" and goes on as if nothing strange just happened. And has anyone run into a college jock that behaves the way that Benedict does in this film? He is completely without attitude, painfully polite and helpful, takes everything his elders say at face value and, even when obviously sickening and in pain in the latter portion of the film, still allows himself to be led around by Martin. He may as well have VICTIM tattooed on his forehead. Never once does our lunkhead guess that he is dealing with a backwater Dr. Moreau hoping to transform humans into reptiles. And are we seriously supposed to believe that Menzies lives and works in this same compound with her crazy dad, has a romantic relationship going with Benedict, and suspects nothing? To drag out the proceedings, outside interference enters in the form of kindly coach Richard B. Shull who becomes suspicious when Martin starts limiting access to Benedict and strapping bully Reb Brown has designs on Menzies. When Brown tries to sneak into Menzies bedroom and accidentally kills her harmless pet snake, you know his days are numbered.
Character actor Martin takes the whole thing very seriously, which is not very helpful. Benedict and Menzies are solid, but stuck playing characters so idiotic that it is hard to be sympathetic.
The film seems to be flirting with exploitation status, but never really has the bona fides to make it. For instance, the murders are committed in a largely bloodless fashion, so gorehounds will not be sated. The film throws in an odd and completely pointless skinnydipping scene for Benedict and Menzies, but then films it Austin Powers-style with laughable painted on foliage to protect the modesty of the leads. However, later the filmmakers go the opposite route providing nudity from hunky Brown in the shower when Martin stages an attack on him, which makes the timidity of the earlier scene seem particularly puzzling.
The film has no humor, so it fails to be a campy guilty pleasure. As it unwinds, it also becomes progressively dumber, with a jaw-dropping conclusion that almost seems written by someone on acid. Truly nothing ends well for anyone: the authorities descend on Martin's lair too late to prevent anything. The final ludicrous moments feature a snake being ravaged by an escaped mongoose, while the camera freeze frames on Menzies' angst-ridden shrieking countenance. As the image fades to black, it is hard not to initially wonder did someone really get paid for writing this?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From the latter 1980s into the early 1990s, actor Kevin Costner seemed
to lead a relatively charmed professional life, appearing in such
popular films as Silverado, The Untouchables, No Way Out, Bull Durham,
Field of Dreams, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK and his
Oscar-winning spectacle Dances With Wolves, before tanking and never
really quite recovering from Waterworld. In the midst of this success
stands a little-seen "action" film called Revenge, which came and went
very quickly and won over neither critics nor viewers, before being
forgotten in light of DWW's success later that same year.
The film centers on former Navy pilot Costner who, for some reason, thinks it is a great idea to take a vacation at the palatial estate of an organized crimelord (Anthony Quinn), who he once transported on a hunting trip, or some such rubbish. It does not take long to see where the predictable film is going when we are introduced to Quinn's much-younger wife, Madeleine Stowe. Before you know it, Costner and Stowe are having quickies in the closet, while Quinn is doing solo lambadas on the dance floor at his estate. It does not take long for Quinn's minions to be dispatched to beat up Costner to near death and kidnap/brutalize Stowe, and then...well, quite frankly, most discerning viewers won't care.
To say that the film's pace is stillborn would be complimentary. It has little in the way of surprises and trudges very slowly from point A to point B. Pretty much every character is unlikable and unsavory in some capacity. For a torrid liaison that "cannot be denied" as the posters heralded, the chemistry between Costner and Stowe is nearly non-existent and not helped at all by director Tony Scott's glossy, Calvin Klein-inspired love scenes. Worse, the film is entirely too long and convoluted for such a simplistic core story. It goes without saying before the lights dim that Costner and Stowe will fall into lust and Quinn will vent his wrath, but this takes a huge amount of film time to happen.
The latter portion of the picture is downright laughable and ultimately pointless. After Costner is beaten and left to die (one presumes), he recovers, hooks up with an entirely new set of characters in the latter third of the film and sets about to ostensibly get revenge on Quinn. The introduction of a gaggle of new people out of the blue is a bit jarring, especially since they are more interesting and well-played by character actors like Miguel Ferrer and Sally Kirkland than were any of their predecessors. Once Costner crashes Quinn's estate, instead of a mano a mano, they basically stare intently at each other before Costner apologizes for shtupping his wife and the satisfied Quinn sends him off to find her dying in a mountain nunnery still clutching a keepsake of his.
The entire endeavor is filmed with precious little in the way of action and conveyed with the solemnity one usually saves for eulogies. Aside from Ferrer and Kirkland who manage to make much of little in the very latter portion of the film, this is no ones finest acting hour. Stowe is particularly dreadful. Shoe-horned into costumes so tight that one fears bodily harm was done to the actress, she spends the majority of the film either semi-conscious or demonstrating the emotive abilities of a mannequin. I honestly did not think that the woman could act until seeing some of her subsequent work. And truthfully, if her character was so compelled to have a child that she would face death and dally with the next agreeable man to cross her sight, why on earth did she marry someone as old as Quinn, who has no interest to father a child, to begin with? Quinn trots out the old nutshell of the macho Latin crime boss with almost no deviations. Quinn has played similar roles numerous times and this time is particularly nothing special. Hopefully he was well paid. By contrast, Costner cannot be accused of not throwing himself into the part. He had become synonymous at the time with upstanding American heroes, so it must have seemed a coup to play someone a bit shady and unethical. He gets to wear the kind of beaten-up makeup that looks like your eyes are fried eggs and briefly flashes his well-toned derriere (the only high point of the film). Unfortunately, there is nary a breath of humor to his acting here and he takes things so seriously that one would think he was appearing in a Shakespearean tragedy rather than a lurid, low-rent potboiler.
Revenge is the kind of film that is impossible to recommend to anyone unless you especially despise that person. By the time one has slogged through the whole mess to its ludicrous downbeat climax, Stowe's fate seems rather tame by comparison.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Convincing period settings highlight this uneven film inspired by some
of the caper films of the 1930s focusing on a suave cat burglar in
London blackmailed into service for the Allies. He is tasked with
trying to break into the imposing German Embassy and stealing some gems
in an attempt to foil a Nazi plot.
A fun concept somehow goes astray and never realizes its full potential. Director Roger Young and company take an old-fashioned plot, dress it up in dandy clothes, add some dashes of modern sex, violence and nudity, but their final effort falls apart long before the conclusion and, at least in one case, it is not hard to see why.
A plot this simple should move with fleet feet, but the pace instead moves in fits and starts. The bones of a great film are here, but they are never fleshed out enough and some convoluted plot additions do not help. The film drags on long past the point it should have concluded and contains at least one too many conclusions.
The production looks great and sports a fine supporting cast. Bob Hoskins is on hand as a sputtering British bobby who does not like giving the elusive Lassiter a get-out-jail-free card for his efforts. Jane Seymour is as pretty as a porcelain doll as Lassiter's girl Friday. Lauren Hutton has a field day as the sexually voracious and deadly German courier whom Lassiter must romance in order to scope out the interior of the German Embassy. Unfortunately, after presenting Hutton as a truly deadly nemesis, the film completely bungles their final confrontation and fails to show us their love scene, which one would imagine would have been wild indeed.
The film's biggest problem lies with its leading man. Obviously the character of Lassiter conjures up the likes of a George Sanders, David Niven or Cary Grant. In short, it requires someone charismatic, urbane, debonair yet able to pull off the physical action required. After having bored us to death two years previously with a similar period adventure in High Road to China, actor Tom Selleck now torpedoes another period piece. Where debonair is called upon, Selleck gives us dull. Where suspense and action are called for, Selleck gives us lifeless. He comes off as little more than a good-looking prop who can barely summon the energy to move from point A to point B on the set. I would say he is wooden, but I am afraid to libel a tree. He never seems much of a match for Hutton, proves a dismally lacking romantic foil for Seymour and comes off as little better than a stunt man in the action scenes. We have no rooting interest nor concern in what happens with this character and that is largely the fault of Selleck's lackluster performance. By the film's conclusion, quite literally the ONLY memorable thing that Selleck has contributed is in briefly baring his best asset while exiting Hutton's bed in the nude. This stellar contribution is offset moments later when a guard catches him lounging around in Hutton's frilly robe and a scene where the actor could have demonstrated a light comic touch is instead played as if a humorless mannequin inhabited the part.
Rarely have I seen an actor whose low-wattage on screen personality so completely sabotages a film (Rob Lowe's ho-hum performance in Masquerade comes to mind, but that film was strong enough to overcome him), as what Selleck does here. Hollywood was and is teaming with a lot of good-looking leading men, so why filmmakers would choose to fill such a role as this with an actor of arguably no charisma or life is a real head-scratcher. In all honesty, in some scenes Lassiter could have been portrayed by a chair and the end result would offer no difference than what Selleck contributes here.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A film version of the hit TV comedy series Get Smart seemed a foregone
conclusion once such things became the norm. And in the right hands, a
successful rendition was possible. Unfortunately, that is not what
happens here. The TV show, which was a lampoon of 1960s spy films,
featured extensive slapstick and verbal comedy thanks to the chronic
ineptitude of CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart (played indelibly by Don
Adams). Smart was ably supported by the adoring Agent 99 (the beautiful
Barbara Feldon) and was often the thorn in the side of the laconic
Chief (the great Edward Platt).
The film takes the same relative set-up and conspires a reason for why amateur agent Smart gets promoted to the field. This time around Steve Carell takes on the role of Smart and he is paired with the initially reluctant Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. The story is as thin as cheese cloth, but it does not need to be deep if the comedy bits work. More often than not, they don't.
The pacing of the film is all over the map. Director Segal does not demonstrate much aptitude for choreographing slapstick, so it often comes out of left field and seems clumsy. He does slightly better with the more serious action scenes...but serious action scenes have no place in a Get Smart movie. At times in the latter half of the film, one feels they inadvertently wandered into Mission: Impossible rather than a comedy.
Hathaway is a fairly good choice for 99. She has the beauty, appeal and is able to mimic Feldon's delivery to a good extent. Unfortunately, there is no chemistry with her older co-star and she actually seems funnier when she is annoyed by Smart than when she is enamored of him. Apparently the screenwriters did not understand the dynamics of the role of the Chief, and rather than a buffet of deadpan comedy, Alan Arkin gets stuck basically playing an upbeat cheerleader to Smart. The less said about Terence Stamp and Ken Davitian as Siegfried and Shtarker, the better. And why Dwayne Johnson is in this film in any capacity is anyone's guess.
The biggest hurdle was finding someone to at least halfway capture the spirit of Adams in the title role and Steve Carell is woefully off base. Part of the problem lies with the screenplay. Sometime Smart is depicted as inept, while other times he is surprisingly adept, which makes no sense. Like Inspector Clouseau, Maxwell Smart was a character of divine nincompoopery, who legitimately thought he was a great spy and constantly failed his way into success. If Adams for one moment gave away the game that he was aware of his idiocy, then the project would have failed. By contrast, this version envisions Smart as a nice guy with low self-esteem who thinks he might be able to be a good agent if only given the chance. He is too aware of when he screws up and spends too much of the film in an earnest puppy dog mode trying to make amends and win over his fellow agents. This is not the character from the TV series and it is definitely not the character that is needed to carry this film to comic glory. Carell may be likable, but he is rarely funny here. And a Get Smart movie featuring an earnest, unfunny Maxwell Smart, is no Get Smart at all.
For a feature adaptation of Get Smart, one would do better to check out The Nude Bomb. It is uneven and misses the participation of Feldon and Platt, but it does feature Adams in full buffoonishness and more laughs in 30 minutes than this adaptation manages in its whole running time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This certainly ranks among the Top Ten of "What Were They Thinking?"
films ever made. The production is sumptuously photographed, has a more
than qualified director in Oscar nominee Roland Joffe, a recognizable
supporting cast of Oscar luminaries featuring Gary Oldman, Robert
Duvall and Joan Plowright, and a then-bankable leading lady in Demi
Moore. Factor in the pedigree associated with Nathaniel Hawthorne's
legendary novel and something far more worthwhile should have been the
Moore is cast as Hester Prynne, a proper Puritan wife sent ahead to the colonies to prepare a home for she and her husband. Emboldened by the new responsibilities thrust upon her and some of the new relationships she starts, Hester gives in to an attraction to the righteous Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale (Oldman) when it is believed that her husband has perished in an Indian massacre. Hester's peccadillo and her subsequent illegitimate pregnancy cause her to become persona non grata in the colony and she is forced to wear the scarlet letter of the title brandishing her an adulterer.
Anyone who made it through high school is familiar with the tale of Hester Prynne, but given the issues inherent in the material and how it still remains pertinent in today's society with women's right being trampled on, its cinematic adaptations have been amazingly rare. So it is doubly unfortunate that Joffe and company have so succinctly bungled this effort.
Moore is pretty as a picture, but entirely too contemporary a presence to convince as Hester. She provides neither the insight nor the range to make Hester's plight palpable. Oldman is solid and provides a titillating full frontal voyeuristic skinny-dip, but his role is beyond ridiculous (more on that later). Robert Duvall as Hester's wacko husband shows up later in the film and gives the worst performance of his career. This is so bad it is akin to the work Nick Nolte contributed in Hulk. And pretty much everyone is out-acted by a bird that seems to be chirping for sexual freedom.
The film's biggest problem and the result of its failure is that it fails to have respect or even understand the entire point of the source. No one feels that Joffe needs to be slavishly faithful to Hawthorne's prose. And sexing the material up for modern audiences is also not an unwise call.
However, what is absurd is basically castrating the story of its core. Joffe and company take the window dressing of the Scarlett Letter, but abandon its entire reason for being. Hawthorne's story was an indictment of Puritanism and the hypocrisy of Christianity in that Reverend Dimmesdale was a self-righteous blowhard stirring up his foolish flock and leading the charge against Hester by day, while being her lover at night and demanding she keep their secret. If anything, he is the villain of the piece, yet the film version somehow re-imagines him as a worthwhile, misunderstood romantic figure! Instead of Dimmesdale being depicted justly as a craven, cowardly monument of hypocrisy, we instead get Dimmesdale as the Puritan answer to Fabio and Duvall gets to usurp the villain role as Hester's wild-eyed madman hubby. This shift in narrative, plus changes in the latter half of the film including the ending, completely abandons the entire purpose of Hawthorne's tale. Joffe instead throws in Indian attacks and nonsense sound and fury to distract from the fact that there is no longer anything at the center of his film. As such, the film does not conclude, so much as implode under its own rubbish pretensions.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Suzanne Collins' novel was a deserved bestseller because it was
fast-paced and intelligent with a strong heroine at its core. Which is
why it is so disappointing that the most accurate description of the
film version is plodding.
Set in a repressive future, where twelve progressively poorer districts pay penance to a rich capital city by way of a lottery that forces a male and female teenage recruit from each district to participate in The Hunger Games, a yearly televised gladiator style competition played until only one survivor is left standing. When her innocent and vulnerable 12-year-old sister is selected against all odds, the resourceful Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her place, and along with the male offering, Peeta, is whisked away to be trained for the deadly games.
The film is largely faithful to the novel, but feels compelled to tone certain aspects down to its detriment and add things that are unnecessary. Director Gary Ross provides by-the-numbers direction that is far more dull than inspired. His visions of this world are disappointing. The dirt poor District 12 looks like a set for denizens of Deliverance, except that Katniss, her sister and her friend Gale are entirely too well scrubbed for such a place. By contrast, the capital city and its citizens seem like they were snatched from one of the cheesier episodes of 1960s Star Trek.
The set up of the lottery, the trip to the city and the training seems to go on forever. Ross and company provide some very badly done flashbacks to fill in gaps in the narrative. For instance, Katniss is conflicted that Peeta has been chosen since he risked the wrath of his tyrant mother and showed her a kindness when her family was starving. The book told us in a couple of paragraphs. The film requires no less than three flashbacks so vague that those unfamiliar may think Peeta is being mean to her in them by throwing food to pigs.
Once the action moves to the Games, it doesn't get any better. The use of music (which can enhance suspense) is severely limited and Ross films the action with one of those jitter-cams, which often makes it near impossible to fathom what is going on. Worse, any time we start to become involved in the action in the forest, Ross and company segue to an added sequence featuring Donald Sutherland's icy president or Wes Bentley's calculating gamesmaster (a character not in the novel) or some other lackluster diversion.
The casting which sounds great on paper, turns out to be a mixed bag. Sutherland dusts off his glare as the predominant villain. Bentley is fine, but his role is excess baggage. Woody Harrelson is a great choice to play a former winner who functions as an adviser/agent to the the two main characters, but the script has reigned in or eliminated some of his best moments. Elizabeth Banks is little more than a buffoon as the ludicrous Effie Trinkett, while Lenny Kravitz manages to be sympathetic as a kind stylist.
In the core role, Jennifer Lawrence seemed to be a real coup for Katniss. Unfortunately, she comes off like a more mundane Helen Hunt. Katniss should be appealing and dynamic. On paper, she popped. On film, not so much. Part of the problem is that Katniss is conflicted about a number of things and Lawrence has confused conflicted with ambivalence. Instead of filling the gaps destined to happen in a film transfer, Lawrence keeps both the other characters and the viewer at arm's length. We believe she is tough and resourceful and can do miracles with a bow, but she is so aloof for the most part that we don't care. Instead of insight, we get far too many scenes of Lawrence either brooding or weeping as a substitute. When she develops a rapport with a young competitor, Lawrence fails to make us understand why or feel that it is anything other than a plot contrivance. We never feel any doubt in the film that she will triumph, so the film seems to be marching slowly to a preordained climax. Lawrence also shares no chemistry with co-star Josh Hutcherson, which mutes the later moments between them.
It is arguably a scripting and acting fault that Hutcherson, despite lack of chemistry with Lawrence, actually emerges as more sympathetic and whose character, whose future seems much murkier, elicits more concern. Hutcherson manages to take on a more passive role, and successfully elicit the sympathy that often and puzzlingly eludes the lead. Yet if Lawrence has no chemistry with Hutcherson, she has even less with Liam Hemsworth as Gale. The film takes a character whose appearance in the novel was basically as a bookend and tries to set the ground for some kind of Twilight-lite triangle. Hemsworth is entirely too clean for District 12, generates no heat with the leading lady and has the thankless task of being reduced to either smiling or pouting - the latter of which he does not do well. Too many segues from the action to Hemsworth looking angsty to remind us that he is in the film and supposed to be of some import become annoying quickly.
While not a total disaster by any means, the film truly misses the mark by a farther mile than many would have you believe. The film is neither suspenseful nor does it allow us to really get to know or root for the heroine, a character that jumped off the written page. The additions are ill-conceived and the workmanlike direction proves entirely unsuited for material that requires a surer, more inspired hand. And would someone please tell directors to stop shaking the camera all over the place in some misguided attempt to generate "you are there" excitement...it doesn't work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Goodfellas is a technically impressive film and interesting to review
largely because of the huge following it has amongst film critics and
Martin Scorsese fanatics alike, most of whom reverentially believe it
is his best work
and they may be correct.
The story based on a novel by Nicholas Pileggi chronicles the rise through the ranks of the Mafia of Irish-Sicilian Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who has always wanted to be a gangster since he was a kid, and finds his wish granted. We follow him from a rambunctious teen to his first arrest, his marriage to Jewish wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) through to their fall into drugs, and finally as an informer prior to entry into the Witness Protection Program.
The film has a dry sense of humor and is technically and visually amazing. Scorsese loves the mobster milieu and is obviously working in his element here with a nicely picked cast. The attention to detail, the camera work, the costumes, the choice of music is all well thought out to the most intimate minutiae. The film is a fairly fascinating peek at life inside the Mafia. Scorsese allows events to unfold believably and the moments near the end where Henry and Karen become increasingly paranoid that they are under surveillance, complete with jittery, over bright intense camera work that heightens their unease, is arguably some of Scorsese's best work.
The acting is fairly solid. Liotta manages to hold things together as the focal character and he gets nice support from Bracco. DeNiro manages a dignified turn as Liotta's mentor and friend. Joe Pesci won the Oscar as the psychotic killer Tommy DeVito. He is utilized well enough here to overlook the fact that it is basically the same performance he gives in everything else.
Yet as amazing as the film is, it still has its drawbacks that prevent it from becoming the classic that many of its admirers would have you believe. As fascinating as Goodfellas is, I actually find Scorsese's similarly themed subsequent work Casino just as impressive technically, yet far more interesting in that it tells its tale using the backdrop of the formation of gambling mecca Las Vegas. I realize that I am in the minority with that view, but there it is.
Yet most notable of all is that Goodfellas seems utterly incapable of connecting on an emotional level with the viewer. The superior Godfather films featured similar themes and focused on characters capable of shocking acts of violence, yet managed to connect on an emotional level so that we had some concern for the players. By contrast, at the end of Goodfellas, as brilliant as I thought some of the direction and technical aspects were, I found that I did not give a damn what happened to any of the characters on screen, including Henry and Karen. I was completely indifferent to whether they lived, died, escaped, etc. And this issue makes for a somewhat empty viewing experience.
1990 was a very interesting film year. Coppola released his last Godfather film that year. Although it got an Oscar nod, critics largely overlooked it in favor of Goodfellas due to the fact that it is not on the same level as its predecessors. There is no question Godfather III is a flawed film, but it is also more emotionally rich than Goodfellas and any one of its flaws is more interesting to discuss at length than any of Goodfellas successes. Conversely, critics and Scorsese fans have spilled gallons of ink over the "injustice" of Dances With Wolves winning the Best Picture over Goodfellas, but it is not hard to see why it did. DWW in its own right is just as technically impressive as Goodfellas (maybe even more so considering its director was an amateur with a passionate vision), but DWW connects emotionally with the viewer in a far more powerful way than Goodfellas ever does. At the end of DWW and Godfather III, I had to know what happened with those characters. At the end of Goodfellas, not so much.
What Scorsese has achieved is certainly noteworthy and makes for a very good, solid gangster film, but most definitely not a masterpiece. It is slick, flashy and technically well done (sometimes even brilliant), but its inability to make me give a damn about any of its characters is a huge stumbling block.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Along with Dante's Cove and the Donald Strachey mysteries, one of the
jewels in the crown for the gay-interest cable channel Here! before it
turned its back on scripted entertainment and devolved into repeats and
all-yadda yadda reality/talk show junk. While not as polished as the
other two, it certainly had its moments and actually seemed to improve
with each new season thanks to wacky additions and twists.
Season 1 is set in a small coastal town where a variety of guys are showing up with their blood drained and then walking out of the morgue. Intrepid reporter Thom (David Moretti) discovers a link between the victims and a sex club called the Lair, presided over by vampire Damian (Peter Stickles) and his minion Colin (Dylan Vox). Thom's probing proves to have dangerous consequences for himself, his boyfriend Johnathan (Jesse Cutlip) and best friend Laura (Beverly Lynne).
Season 1 is the least impressive of the three seasons Here! produced. The show worked better when it opened up the action beyond vampires, but for the first season vampires is all we get, along with a number of the old clichés - like Thom potentially being the reincarnation of Damien's old lover. Some other weaknesses are the fact that we have little concern for Johnathan since he seems to be stuck in a perpetual jealous snit and the writers do not seem to have any idea what to do with the Laura character. Meanwhile, Brian Nolan's Renfield-esque informer and Colton Ford's sheriff do not seem to have much to do.
On the plus side, there is some decent acting with Stickles and Moretti doing well, and Ford coming off surprisingly good. There is lots of male skin and the first episode showcases sexy Moretti in arguably the most erotic voyeuristic shower scene ever filmed. Yeah, baby!
Season 2 corrects some of the previous faults. It unloads some of the extraneous characters and adds some new faces. Amazingly, despite all of the build-up with the character, Johnathan is recast and then dropped in quick succession, leaving the central relationship between Thom and Damien. The story lines wisely expand to include ghosts, werewolves and, strangest of all, a killer plant. The special effects with the werewolf are weak, but given that the transformations end with cutie Matty Ferrero waking up starkers, all is forgiven. Acting improves a bit more, with Stickles becoming more sympathetic and Ford remaining solid. Unfortunately, the writing for Moretti's character is all over the place, making his character one of the most fickle in history and it proves a real challenge to the actor. Vox takes on the main villain role and he seems to be laughably channeling Joan Crawford in the late stages of her career.
Season 3 comes off the best as more of the kinks are worn off. Steven Hirschi joins up as a gorgon (the werewolf is out) and Ford gets his own storyline (and finally a nude scene!). Stickles is better than ever, but the writing for Moretti is schizophrenic and makes him unsympathetic. He sleeps with a sweet book shop owner so he can steal from him and place his life in danger, then seems oddly unmoved later at the ultimate fate of that character - a reaction reflected in his surprising reticence over the loss of his former boyfriend and best friend. What is up with this character - at least get him in the shower again to make us forget he is becoming a pill. Unfortunately it all ends with the requisite cliffhanger and Here!'s promised next season has never been delivered.
While not quite the gonzo guilty pleasure of Dante's Cove or as solid as Chad Allen's Donald Strachey mysteries, The Lair is a worthwhile guilty pleasure in its own right, whether it be for the great male skin or the wacky plots, it comes off much like a softcore gay-interest Dark Shadows, which is not really a bad thing. The fact that it kept improving makes its disappearance even more regrettable as there has been nothing similar to it to fill its loss or even its niche in general since then.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Americans David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are backpacking across
England. While resting at a pub, the bizarre locals caution them about
looking at the full moon and getting lost in the woods. Naturally, that
is just what happens when a beast attacks, leaving Dunne dead and
Naughton barely surviving. While Naughton recuperates and starts a
relationship with his kindly nurse Jenny Agutter, he is plagued by
vivid nightmares and ultimately comes to the realization that he has
been turned into a werewolf.
After a drought, 1981 brought us the one-two werewolf punch of first The Howling and then later An American Werewolf in London. The "in" thing is to dismiss the success of the former, while overstating the success of the latter. For my money, I prefer The Howling, which had some fun and inventive ideas on moving a werewolf film into modern times. By contrast, AWIL for all of its flourishes, comes across as a fairly generic werewolf film. We have the tormented, likable hero hurtling headlong towards his doom in England. The gory hallucination sequences often seem shoe-horned into the mix for shock value and the comedy itself is rather hit or miss. Having Naughton's undead friend and subsequent victims hound him into committing suicide is novel, but the fact that director John Landis feels compelled to have this happen at a porn theater and have the on screen sex interspersed with the dialog seems more than a tad silly and obnoxious.
Additionally, the relationship between Naughton and Agutter seems predictable and ill-developed. She never has much of a role in the action and seems more of a plot contrivance. She is included merely because there has to be "the girl" who may potentially be terrorized by the werewolf and also because Naughton needs to have a reason to hang around London rather than returning home.
The film does have things to recommend it. Although The Howling broke the ground first with amazing werewolf transformation scenes, Rick Baker's transformation effects here are equally impressive. Some of the attack scenes are well-choreographed.
Casting-wise, the denizens of the pub seem to have been imported from Central Casting for oddballs. Agutter acquits herself nicely in an under-developed role. Dunne is amusing as the undead friend, who pops up throughout the film. Interestingly, Naughton is very winning and sexy in the central role and seems a good sport in regard to some of the more arduous tasks thrown his way. We sympathize with his predicament and want him to come out on top, even after seeing the devastation his transformations leave in their wake. Naughton is adept at navigating the serious moments as well as the more comical passages. The extended sequence after his first transformation where he awakens stark naked at the zoo and must find his way home is memorable not only for its off-beat humor, but for Naughton's willingness to play it for laughs and provide some welcome full frontal male nudity that is quite stimulating. I hear they may remake this film and one can be certain that whoever gets cast in the male lead now will not be remotely this forthcoming with the nudity.
Landis seems to have some problems marrying the comedy with the horror, and his uneven direction is particularly notable in the abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. It almost feels as though the plug came out of the projector rather than a real ending. In the end, while I feel The Howling is an all-around better film, this werewolf certainly has enough going for it to merit attention.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
After a drought of werewolf films, 1981 saw the arrival of two very
successful werewolf films with The Howling and An American Werewolf in
London. For my money, I have always found The Howling to be the more
inventive, ambitious and satisfying of the two films.
As the film opens, L.A. has been victimized by a series of brutal murders and the perpetrator has offered to meet with frightened TV news reporter Dee Wallace. The police sting goes slightly awry with the killer ostensibly dead and Wallace shell-shocked from the ordeal. TV psychologist Patrick Macnee recommends that she "recharge her batteries" at his quaint woodsy retreat dubbed "The Colony". While Wallace and husband Christopher Stone deal with their new surroundings and the eccentric personalities at The Colony, friends/work colleagues Dennis Dugan and Belinda Balaski continue the investigation into the killer and find it suspiciously leading straight to The Colony.
The Howling seems forever doomed to be unappreciated when compared to the later An American Werewolf in London. Although it opened first and broke ground with its werewolf transformation sequences, AWIL came later and got all of the glory and Oscar love. The effects here are nothing short of amazing and the fact that decades later they seem infinitely more impressive than the crummy CGI transformation effects propagating wildly is even more of a tribute to them.
The film boasts a solid, literate screenplay filled with quirky humor by the wonderful John Sayles. The humor is such that it never slows the film down and does not necessarily need to be commented on, but sharp-eyed viewers and film aficionados will have much to chuckle over without the chills being compromised. Joe Dante's first-rate direction is also a plus. He provides some great atmosphere - whether it be the seedy porn shop where Wallace and the killer first meet or the mist-shrouded lonely woods filled with who-knows-what creeping terror. There are a number of good jolts and suspenseful sequences. The film also crafts some incredibly appealing characters - with the downside being that something dreadful seems to happen to far too many of them.
The cast is great. Old pros like John Carradine, Kevin McCarthy and Slim Pickens are on hand, usually playing characters named after directors of past werewolf films. The normally humorous Robert Picardo is terrifying as the demented killer, Eddie. Elisabeth Brooks is both sultry and menacing as the literal man-eater Marsha. Macnee is truly inspirational casting as the pop psychologist who knows more than he lets on. As the central characters, Wallace, Stone, Dugan and Balaski are all sympathetic and appealing. Balaski's mid-film duel with a nasty werewolf is especially adrenaline pumping and it is a shame that the actress has rarely been given a chance to shine in other roles.
Watching the film more than three decades after its premiere, it is amazing how well it holds up - both visually and narratively. For my money, this was the last great werewolf film and the subsequent imitators (not to mention an army of increasingly laughable sequels) come off as so much detritus.
|Page 1 of 20:||          |