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Event Horizon (1997)
Don't go on this ship...
This is not a sci-fi movie; it's a haunted house story wrapped in the outward trappings of science fiction. It's a direct movie descendant of "Alien" and "The Haunting". Sam Neill is, once again, excellent as the designer/builder of the Event Horizon, the greatest achievement of his career that he cannot enjoy because he's wracked by the guilty knowledge that all the time he spent on it cost him the love and life of his wife, Claire. The ship, equipped with some fancy dimension-warping black hole drive, has returned after having disappeared seven years before, God knows where. It's never quite clear, but it seems to be either a dimension of pure destructive chaos or even Hell itself. Each crew-member's hidden fears and guilt are preyed upon by whatever it is that now inhabits the ship. Yes, there is blood and gore (plenty of it!), but this movie gives us chills thru the astounding ship sets (it looks like something wrenched from a Gothic cathedral), clever use of light and darkness, and the feeling that there's something either behind you or right next to you, watching you all the time. It's creepy and disturbing, all the way to the end. One of my all-time favorites.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
No, it's not overrated - it IS a classic!
If you only see one adventure movie in your life, then this has got to be it. The archetype of big-budget Hollywood adventure movies, with a story that is so rich in characters and action, so full of energy and charisma that time cannot dull its luster or erase its charm. It's the age-old story of Sir Robin of Locksley, the good Saxon noble, who uses his wits and his sword to fight injustice and corruption in medieval England. An absolutely perfect cast Errol Flynn as Robin, Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Basil Rathbone as Guy of Gisborne, Alan Hale as Little John, and Claude Rains as the despicable Prince John. The DVD is nothing short of stunning. The movie has been restored and looks absolutely breathtaking you can see details of costuming, set design, and acting that you just couldn't see before. Add to that a second disc that contains some fascinating documentaries, (would you believe that James Cagney was the first choice for Robin?) shorts, and two classic Hood-inspired Looney Tunes
and you've got enough entertainment for a whole weekend.
A major achievement, unfortunately marginalized in the States
Disney has always dominated the animation market here in the States with their popular, streamlined, well-crafted series of films aimed at children with a little extra thrown in to keep the parents interested. But it's a different story in Japan, and one look at "Princess Mononoke" will show you the exact reasons why. Whatever you may think about Japanese animation (or "anime", as it's popularly known), one thing you have to understand is that it's definitely NOT aimed at children, and that the level of animation is far superior to anything the House of Mouse has ever produced. This film, which I consider one of the greatest ever made, is the story of young Prince Ashitaka. While defending his tribe from a rampaging demon, he is infected with its' venomous hate. The infection is lethal, and the only hope for Ashitaka is to leave his ancestral lands, venture into the west, see what caused the entity that attacked his people to turn into a demon, and "to see with eyes unclouded by hate". His journey takes him to Irontown, a village of miners and metalworkers, and their struggle with the Great Forest Spirit. At that point, it becomes a moral fable about how humans coexist (or more often, fail to) with the natural environment and the price that they pay for trying to control the elements of nature. It's a tremendously fast-paced and exciting story, full of strong and well-rounded characters voiced convincingly by the likes of Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Gillian Anderson, Minnie Driver, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Billy Bob Thornton. The animation can only be described as jaw-droppingly beautiful. If you've never heard of director Miyazaki or have never seen anime, this is the place to start.
Premature Burial (1962)
Good...but it feels like Corman's coasting
"The Premature Burial" is not a bad movie. It's got a very sumptuous look, good performances from Ray Milland and Hazel Court, solid cinematography by Floyd Crosby, and strong, atmospheric direction by Roger Corman. But it still may not satisfy and I think I know why. It's because, by the time this movie came out, Corman's Poe adaptations had fallen into a predictable rut. The combination of morbid insanity, betrayal, and psychological trauma that was innovative and daring in "House of Usher" and "Pit and the Pendulum" had gotten clichéd. Ray Milland's Guy Carrell is a very close twin to Vincent Price's Don Nicholas Medina - even their childhood trauma is the same. No matter how much atmosphere, fog, set direction, musical stings and acting juice that Corman injects into this movie, it has a hard time overcoming that almost-fatal flaw. Having said that, I still like this movie. Some have said that Ray Milland is miscast - he is, if you think of his age, but if you insist on viewing it in those terms, so would Vincent Price have been. He does bring great acting talent to the table, and carries the role well. Hazel Court, as his paramour, never looked lovelier or behaved more despicably. The dream sequence is actually quite unsettling and disturbing, with the swirling mist and gel lighting. It's still nice to see such a pristine presentation of this movie. The DVD is just gorgeous, with absolutely no wear visible. There's no commentary from Corman (shame, MGM!) - instead, all we get is a very short interview with him. Not the best of the Poe movies, but still a good example of old school, American-made Gothic horror.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The empty cypher that is Matt Damon
Boy, was this ever a bomb! Sorry, I just can't buy any of the characters in this movie. Matt Damon as a uber-assassin who loses his nerve and memory because...why? Potente's dialogue seemed to be mostly a German expletive. And who's the Nancy Drew, secret agent-lookalike that runs the Paris operation? I also loved Matt's boss who wants to clear the safehouse in Paris of anything that will indicate a presence, and then proceeds to put his hands and fingerprints everywhere! Absolutely priceless in its stupidity. I particularly liked the dubious morality at the end, when all the killings and misery that li'l Matt has caused during his operations are magically washed away and forgiven 'cause he and Franka found love. I guess this movie is OK if all you want to see are things blowing up, cars defying all laws of gravity and physics, and people shooting big guns. Personally, I prefer a good plot and believable characters, but I guess that's not everyone's cup of tea.
Wrath of the God of the Mountain!
Nice combination of the giant monster and samurai genres. The giant monster Majin, god of the mountain, is an aloof and forbidding figure that comes across very much like the Old-Testament God, raining destruction and punishment on those who desecrate his holy ground - but it's interesting to note that what finally awakens him is not the suffering of the people but a pointed and personal insult. It's beautifully photographed, with solid acting, great miniatures, and a wonderful score by the great Akira Ifukube. Majin is not a 400+ foot monster like Godzilla - he's 2 1/2 times normal size, so the evil samurai he stomps into the ground get a good look into his contemptuous eyes as he bears down on their fortress and smashes it to smithereens. Not much in terms of extras, but it's nice to see this forgotten minor classic rescued and restored to the digital format.
Daimajin gyakushû (1966)
The God of the Mountain in his third at-bat
Not the second, but actually the THIRD movie in the series. This is an exciting and tense study of courage and self-sacrifice as four little boys embark on a long and forbidding voyage over Majin's Mountain to find the missing men from their village and rescue them from an evil and brutal samurai overlord with dreams of conquest. There's no way in heaven or earth that this movie would have been made the same if it was done by Hollywood - it's much too brutal and realistic in showing the fates of various sympathetic characters. Of course, you still get to see Majin awaken from his slumber and bring death and destruction to those who desecrate his mountain or persecute his people. Another beautiful print, with the same excellent cinematography, acting and miniatures as the other two Majin movies with the bonus of yet another Akira Ifukube score. Just pop that corn, plop down on the couch, and have fun watching Majin stomp evildoers.
The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
An amazing accomplishment
This is, hands down, the most faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's writing ever made. It is also the best. Frankly, I don't know what movie people who've posted here saw, but it was either not "The Call of Cthulhu" or they were just too drunk/stoned/out of it to get it. I mean, I'm reading reviews complaining about the lousy CGI work and/or the dumb fight scenes
except that there are NO fights and NO CGI AT ALL used, it's all done via stop-motion animation. In one of those "stroke of genius" moves that were actually caused by budget limitations, it was decided to make it just as if a studio in the 1920's had decided to adapt HPL. Thus, it came out a silent movie, in black and white, and using (as much as possible) the techniques and technology of 1920's movie-making. Somehow, the old-fashioned technique, coupled with the filmmakers' adherence to HPL's dictum that the most important component in horror is atmosphere and not action, makes this little 47-minute film work very, very well.
The film is divided into three parts, with a wraparound story that connects them just enough to get the sense of world-wide, psychic weirdness that Lovecraft was so good at conjuring. The story begins with an unknown man, pale and drawn, working on an impressionistic crossword puzzle and pleading with another man to take a sheaf of manuscripts that are his life work and burn them burn them all. The manuscripts tell three stories: the increasingly surreal and frightening dreams of a young Boston artist named Wilcox that culminate in an attack of "brain fever" that wipes out all memories of his dreams, the narrative of a New Orleans police inspector investigating reports of strange rituals and missing people in the swamps, and the deliriously bizarre narrative of the lone survivor of a ship that encountered a strange city of cyclopean masonry and bizarre non-Euclidean geometry in the South Pacific and the lone inhabitant they meet there dread Cthulhu himself. As the young man is taken away in a wheelchair, he pleads with his interviewer one last time to burn it all. The film ends with the interviewer opening one of the manuscripts and reading two ominous paragraphs that are actually the very first paragraph of "The Call of Cthulhu".
The noirish lighting and naturalistic acting go a long way towards selling this movie. The score (presented in Mythophonic sound!) is also a crucial component in helping to maintain that sense of unfocused other-worldly dread, that there are things and events in motion that we are (almost) powerless to prevent because humanity is not much more than an after-thought in the plans and schemes of beings that are as far above us as we are from an amoeba. And that's where the horror lies, in the realization that if we could see how little we humans really matter in the grand cosmic scheme of things and how powerless we really are, we would run screaming from the light of knowledge to the security and safety of ignorance and a new dark age.
Here's to the people at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society for a job well done. Let's hope that this is not their only attempt at filming Lovecraft because when a ballplayer hits a home run on his first at-bat, you know you're seeing the start of a Hall-of-Fame career.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Never turn on an abandoned tape recorder!
Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" movies are so different in the way sequels are structured that they really have to be reviewed together. Raimi made the original "Evil Dead" as an extremely low budget college project back in 1982 with the help of buddies Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell. But what he lacked in money he more than made up for with a dizzying array of camera tricks, homemade special effects, and sheer nerve and bravado. It's a very simple story: four friends rent an isolated cabin in the woods where they find the abandoned notes and tape recorder of an archaeologist who's discovered a book named the Necronomicon ex Mortis or Book of the Dead. When they play back the recorded notes that contain translated passages from the book, they unleash a horde of demons which they then spend the rest of the night fighting. Although there's an INCREDIBLE amount of karo syrup/blood thrown all over the place, what impresses you most about this is how much humor Raimi manages to inject into the proceedings. There's some scary stuff, but it's hard to take it seriously or get offended when the demons torture Bruce Campbell with an array of gags straight out of the Three Stooges. Even the monsters are credited as "fake shemps" in the credits! There are a couple of scenes that are creepy, both visually and aurally, which is a credit to how inventive Raimi was in setting up shots and designing the sound on a budget that wouldn't pay for the caterer in an Ah-nuld movie. The first "Evil Dead" is very obviously made by a young director who loved making movies and couldn't wait to strut his stuff in front of the entire world. It became a video hit here, so a sequel was announced. But Raimi, Tapert and Campbell pulled a fast one on their audience instead of doing a straight continuation of the story like a normal sequel, they went back and basically remade the first "Evil Dead". The difference was that this time they had access to a much bigger budget that would allow Raimi to really push things completely over the top and watch them go splat when they hit the other side! There's more blood, more gore, and more monsters but this one is even sillier and funnier than the original. As I said earlier, it's basically the same story, reworked slightly. Two of the original characters were jettisoned so that Raimi could concentrate more on Campbell's performance and that's the glue that really holds both movies together. Campbell transforms his character from a terrified and rather mousy little nerd to a chainsaw-wieldin', shotgun-totin', quip-spewin' Ramboesque action hero who proceeds to chop, shoot, kick and punch the crap out of each and every demon that confronts him even after having to chop his own hand off because "it went bad". If you can't handle lots of fake blood and gore, this isn't the movie for you but if you like your horror mixed with smart-assy humor and lots of visual flair then this one's for you, buddy.
The Nutty Professor (1963)
Best thing Jerry ever did...
Let me get this off my chest first: I am not a Jerry Lewis fan. I've always found his comedic antics tiresome and stupid, and his telethons for Muscular Dystrophy are nothing but daylong snooze fests. But, at one point in his career, he was able to bring it all together and create one of the great comedy films of all time, "The Nutty Professor". A comedic take on the familiar Jekyll and Hyde tale, it's the story of über-nerd Professor Julius Kelp (played by Lewis) and his search for love and a better self-image thru chemistry
which results in him changing into a creosote-haired, obnoxious, hard drinking, sexually voracious yet musically talented Rat Pack swinger named Buddy Love (also played by Lewis). While Professor Kelp loves his student Stella Purdy (played by Stella Stevens) from afar, Buddy has absolutely no problem sweeping her off her reluctant feet until, that is, Kelp's formula starts wearing off and Buddy's tenor singing voice suddenly starts squeaking like the Professor's nasal twang! It all comes to a head at the senior prom where all the kids want to swing to Buddy's music but the formula wears off and Buddy/Julius (in a touching and almost-profound moment) has to face the reality of what he's done and that you'd better love yourself because you're stuck with you for your whole life. But Lewis shows that he could also direct, and pretty well at that. From the opening shot of test tubes boiling away with candy-colored chemicals, this has to be one of the most colorful movies ever made just look at the deep purples of the lettermen sweaters or the entire décor of the Purple Pit or the violent primary splashes during the first transformation scene or Buddy's suits especially his suits! Lewis has always denied that Buddy Love was based on his old partner Dean Martin but it's pretty obvious that Dino and Frank Sinatra (the hard drinking, arrogant, and supremely confident King of the Rat Pack) are the prime models for Buddy Love. But it's also interesting to see how traits from one character show up unexpectedly in the other, like when Julius proclaims during class that hydrogen "is a total gas" or when Buddy sings "That Ole Black Magic" and his voice keeps slipping into Julius'. And there's all sorts of other touches, like Buddy's intro into the movie: after Julius drinks the formula, writhes all over a chemical-splattered floor and transforms into a hairy Beatlesesque gray monster, the next scene shows the shocked reactions of people on the street as the "monster" walks from the University to the Purple Pit where the camera pulls a 360° turn and we see
Buddy Love in full swinger regalia ordering a drink called an Alaskan Polar Bear Heater that's got to be the most lethal combo I've ever seen served anywhere! This is the movie that shows why the French think this guy was a comedy genius - his particular brand of physical comedy is not only timeless but also totally independent of language. When you see Julius bopping to Les Brown's band at the prom, it doesn't matter if you're sitting in a movie theater in San Francisco, Paris, Timbuktu, or Outer Slobodia, it's damn funny stuff even if you don't understand a word of what he's saying. A truly funny movie that's perfect for the whole family.
A solid, if simple, monster movie
This one works as a straight-ahead horror movie, a moral fable regarding the law of unintended consequences, and as the story of an estranged couple where both finally see what's really important. Ms. Sorvino proceeds with a scientific project that has the best intentions, but ends up creating an even more horrific threat than the one it was meant to eliminate. The underground sequences are some of the best, most claustrophobic and suspense-driven scenes since the original "Alien." Don't bother trying to figure out the science, and don't carp about it - it's just a movie. Having said that, Guillermo Del Toro establishes the story well, and sticks to its internal logic, never cheating to provide either a quick happy ending or more blood and gore. No, it's not morally uplifting or socially important - it's just a monster movie, well scripted, well acted, and well made.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
An American Classic
This is one of those movies whose reputation and stature has grown over the years, and deservedly so. From the wonderful sets and costumes that are awash in color, to the eerie and bombastic score, all the way through to the Bergman-inspired ending, this film is a classic. But towering over the direction by Corman, the set design by Haller, and the cinematography by Roeg is the performance of Vincent Price as Prospero. Here is a man who has seen the pain and evil in the world, who is a humanist in the sense that he believes that we must all be true to our natures and because of this he cannot accept that the world is ruled by a benevolent God. His friend and companion Alfredo, played by Patrick Magee, agrees with him but there are still subtle differences between them. Prospero has turned, not to what he considers evil, but to what he considers truth and understanding because he just can't believe that God would allow so much pain and misery in a world that He made - therefore, God is dead and the world is ruled by Satan. Alfredo, on the other hand, is a cruel and sadistic sycophant who is constantly on the lookout for more 'entertainment', whether thru torture or sex...or both. The inclusion of the story of Hop-Toad and the dancer is a masterstroke in that it lengthens and deepens the movie while also providing a highly deserving comeuppance to Alfredo. Jane Asher as the peasant girl, Francesca, starts by despising Prospero as a tyrant but in the ending ballroom sequence she feels pity for him, and you know that Prospero has achieved his aim with her: she is no longer innocent. See how much meaning you can wring out of a low-budget horror movie? As for the transfer, excellent with vivid colors and a strong Dolby Digital mono soundtrack. The only drawback, and it's a minor one, is that there's no commentary track from Corman - that would have been a delight. Still, this is probably one of the top ten best American horror movies ever made.
The Kids Are Alright (1979)
Proof positive that The Who are the greatest rock band of all time. This is an amazing record of their career, from their beginning as the High Numbers to a closing live rendition of "Won't Get Fooled Again" that will blow you away. Along the way, you'll see clips that will show you how funny, irreverent, and truly ahead of their time these four guys were. They brought a visual flair and a theatricality that no other band could match, from their stylish Mod clothes to their legendary live shows that culminated with Townsend and company smashing their equipment with complete disregard of their own safety. So many bands have copied their moves and their licks that it's almost criminal. If you want to see great rock and roll, you can't go wrong with this one.
Judge Dredd (1995)
Fun...just don't think too hard about it
From the pages of Britain's "2000 AD" comes the futuristic lawman, Judge Dredd. The original comic series, drawn by Brian Bolland, was a mixture of Mad Max and Clockwork Orange starring Judge Dredd, a lawman working and living in a society where law and order have completely broken down and the police are now called "Judges" and have to power to judge and pass sentence on any criminal they apprehend on the spot. It's a visually fantastic movie that brings the future metropolis of Mega-City One to complete life, from the rarefied heights where the wealthy live all the way down to the street-level slums where life is a constant stream of out of control street crime and block riots. Sylvester Stallone, as Judge Dredd, is the perfect granite-jawed embodiment of the complete judicial hardass that is Dredd
until he opens his voice to intone, "I am the law!" and you just start convulsing with laughter! With Armand Assante, Jurgen Prochnow and Joan Chen as the villains and Bruce Schneider as his comedy sidekick, it's a fun way to spend an evening as long as you just want escapist entertainment and aren't looking for any deep comments on humanity or the meaning of it all.
The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
Another goodie from Amicus
An excellent movie and great example of how scary a movie can be without really showing the viewer anything. It's a set of four stories all revolving around the tenants of a charmingly old-fashioned house and their various gruesome and horrific fates, all tied together by a wrap-around story about a Scotland Yard inspector searching for a missing horror film star. It starts out with a story about a mystery writer whose main character becomes a little too realistic, followed by a story about two old romantic rivals who become obsessed over a wax figure in a museum, then a story about a sweetly angelic little child who is anything but, and closing with the story of what happened to the missing film star
and what he does to the inspector. It's a gorgeous print that lets you really appreciate the work of director Duffell and what he was able to accomplish with a very small budget. Add to that the acting talents of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Denholm Elliott, Joss Ackland, Ingrid Pitt and Jon Pertwee and you've got a movie that can be enjoyed again and again. Just don't answer the phone if anyone from Stoker Real Estate calls to offer you a bargain on a beautiful house in the English countryside
A thinker's "Hulk"
There are a lot of people who disliked this movie, and a lot of critics who panned it. I look at this movie, and I see another prime example of "not getting it", of public and critics expecting one type of movie, getting another, and feeling disappointed and angry over it. Ang Lee, who directed "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "The Ice Storm" and "Sense and Sensibility", would seem an odd choice to direct this adaptation of the long-running and much-beloved Marvel Comics anti-hero, but it's precisely his talent for exploring character and motivation that lifts "Hulk" significantly over the soap-opera melodramatics of "Spiderman" or "Daredevil". I've read reviews from people complaining that you don't see the Hulk until almost the half-hour mark, but what they don't get is that Lee uses that time to build the characters of Bruce Banner, Betty Ross and her father, General Ross, into believable and well-rounded people whose fate we care about. What also grabs your eyes is the dazzling array of cinematographic tricks that Lee uses, from multi-panel scenes straight out of a comic-book to some of the coolest and artiest scene changes you'll ever see in a movie. But let's not forget the main attraction here: the big green giant, the Hulk, a massive CGI creation that still expresses the full gamut of human emotions while creating havoc throughout the Southwest and San Francisco. If all you want to see is a movie with a big green guy yelling, "Hulk smash!!!!" then this is not for you. If you want to see a comic-book movie that combines human drama, super-heroics, state-of-the-art computer imagery, and old-fashioned adventure then go soak in some gamma rays, put on a tearable t-shirt and go pay a visit to that mild-mannered Dr. Banner you'll get insight, but you'll never get a cure.
Gin gwai (2002)
Although this movie has been compared to "The Ring" and "The Sixth Sense", it's not a fair comparison. I've read too many reviews that, frankly, just don't get this movie. It's the story of a young violinist, Mun, blind since she was two, who gets her eyesight back thru a cornea transplant from an unknown donor. The operation is, of course, a resounding success
but there's a catch. Mun, her eyesight still blurry, sees shadowy people around her people that no one else can see. Slowly, she realizes that what she's seeing are ghosts, and she sees them everywhere: in the hospital corridor, at restaurants, on the street, in her apartment building, etc. With the help of the psychiatrist who is helping her adjust to having her eyesight back, Mun sets out to find just where her new corneas came from. Believe me, there are at least three sequences in this movie that reach heights of out-and-out horror that most people have never seen in a movie. But this is more than a simple horror movie. It's, at heart, a story of a young girl whose world has been changed overnight, who has received a power she doesn't want, and of her struggle to understand and come to terms with her new ability. There's absolutely not a single, solitary drop of blood in this movie, all the horror comes from the atmosphere of chilly dread conjured by the Pang Brothers and the frankly remarkable performance of Lee Sin-Je as Mun. The rights for this have been snapped up by Tom Cruise, so we can all look forward to a crappy American remake in the near future. Just pass on that and see the original.
All That Money Can Buy (1941)
Be careful what you wish for...
This is another of those "forgotten gems" that I love to talk about. It's a solid and atmospheric fairy-tale slice of New Hampshire Americana, the story of a poor farmer who gets so sick and tired of his constant string of bad luck that he sells his soul to Mr. Scratch. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that name, it's an old New England name for the Devil. So Scratch, played with humor, gusto and sly wickedness by Walter Huston, gives the farmer 7 years of prosperity in exchange for his soul, with an option for renewal. When the time is up, and Scratch reveals his terms for renewal, the farmer turns to the one man in the United States who can help him: the great orator and statesman, Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. In a great twist, Webster invokes the right to a trial by a jury of your peers and Scratch complies, but the peers he brings forth are the wickedest, blackest, most despicable collection of characters ever to grace our shores, starting with Captain Kidd, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach, and General Benedict Arnold! I won't mention anything more except to say that Webster issues a stirring oration in defense of the farmer's soul that is refreshingly free of any biblical, Christian, or other religious overtones but calls instead on the bedrock values of American society that all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Director William Dieterle uses light and shadow to create a strong expressionistic atmosphere and introduces the otherworldly characters with effective backlighting and a weird echo-chamber effect in their voices. Huston is simply outstanding as Scratch, who appears and reappears in the oddest places leading a parade in honor of Webster, playing the fiddle in a barn dance, as a shadowy voice tempting Webster to drop his principles to become President, etc. Edward Albert as Webster is an imposing presence with a sonorous and oratorical voice, but who is also a farmer and man of the people equally at home debating the Devil, delivering stump speeches and playing horseshoes. At heart, this movie carries a message that is as important today as it was in 1941: our society suffers when we let personal ambition and greed override our duties as citizens and human beings. Entertaining, uplifting, and thought provoking, this is a movie that deserves to be rediscovered by all who love film.
A precocious Del Toro hits a home run on his first try
This movie won the Best Picture at Cannes when it was released, and it's easy to see why. It's the oddest vampire movie you'll ever see, and one of the best. It's the story of an antiques dealer (Federico Luppi) who finds a thing called the Cronos Device inside an old wooden statue of an angel. The last man who had it was a 16th century alchemist who died in a building collapse
400 years later. Soon, the old man finds himself accosted by Angel (Ron Perlman), nephew of the president of Empresas De La Guardia, who is searching for the device. Why? Well, there's where the mystery begins. It's a story of addiction, resurrection, blood, and death with some very interesting Catholic overtones. Del Toro also names his main characters symbolically: old man De La Guardia, whose name roughly translates to "of the guard" or "guardian", is the guardian of the secrets of the Cronos device he's got the only manuscript that has the instructions to use it. Ron Perlman's character is Angel De La Guardia, literally "guardian angel" and that's EXACTLY the role he fulfills for his uncle. The granddaughter of the antiques dealer is named Aurora as in dawn, new beginnings or a new day which is exactly what is happening to her grandfather. Her name and her actions also seem to imply that she is the symbolic alter ego of Angel since she also acts as the guardian angel for her grandfather. Last, the antiques dealer's name is Jesus Gris "gray Jesus", a very apropos name for a man who is gray-haired and undergoes not one but TWO resurrections in the film. Yes, it's an intellectual film, but don't let that put you off. It's still got some damn scary moments and a couple of pretty icky gore sequences. Since it is a Mexican movie, it's mostly in Spanish with some dialogue in English. A great movie that deserves much more recognition than it's given by most horror fans.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
The Dark Knight in a tale of love, betrayal and murder...
An unfairly forgotten film, "Mask of the Phantasm" is not only a great animated film it is also the best of all the Batman films after Burton's original. The animation is not very detail-oriented, but it does a very good job of showing the emotional drama and turmoil of the characters. Bruce Wayne is a man who finds himself torn in two: as Batman, he's a fearsome avenger of the night who is always alone and as Bruce Wayne, he's a rich fop and a womanizer who is also always alone. At a party, he thinks back on his first romantic love with a beautiful heiress named Andrea Beaumont and what his life could have been like with her. Andrea's reappearance coincides with the sudden arrival of (another) masked avenger named the Phantasm who is killing the mob bosses of Gotham and letting Batman take the blame for the murders. The last mob boss, convinced that Batman has gone nuts and is murdering his old compadres, offers the Joker $5,000,000 to kill Batman
an offer that the Joker gleefully accepts. So, you've got Batman battling the Joker, the Phantasm, and the Gotham PD who want to bring him in for murder. On top of that, he's got the emotional turmoil of reliving his first love and the reasons she left him
and the fact that maybe he's tired of being Batman, that he wants a normal life but he still feels driven to work off the guilt of his parent's death and the pressure of the vow he made to them. It all collides at the old Gotham's World Fair in a spectacular animated fight sequence between Batman, the Joker, and the Phantasm. This is an animated film with an unusual amount of emotional weight and resonance that is balanced with a strong dose of action a gem all the way.
Jonny Quest (1964)
He's finally back!
When I was a kid (you know, back when Hanna-Barbera dominated TV cartoons and dinosaurs roamed the antediluvian plain), there was an incredibly, inexplicably popular show named
"Scooby Doo". But, for those of us who considered ourselves smarter and hipper than the average bear, there was only one cartoon that ruled and it ruled with an iron fist. I'm talking about "Jonny Quest", a combination of pulp adventure, science fiction, spy flicks, horror, drama and comedy that was utterly irresistible to me and millions of other little boys around the world back in the mid-60's. From the opening bars of Hoyt Curtin's driving, jazzy theme song, the opening credits were enough to drive any kid insane: a savage jungle with giant lizards, a mummy, a pteranodon, jet packs, gunfire, fisticuffs, giant robot spiders, hover platforms, giant death rays and then the introduction of the Quest family: 11-year old Jonny, scientific genius Dr. Benton Quest, tutor-pilot-combat expert-bodyguard Roger T. "Race" Bannon, Indian mystic Hadji, and Jonny's bulldog pup Bandit racing around the world to another thrilling adventure in Dr. Quest's sleek, needle-nosed jet aircraft. Jonny and his dad lived in a secluded island fortress-secret laboratory with Race Bannon, Hadji and Bandit. Dr. Quest was a scientific genius working for the U.S. Government, a widower (Mrs. Quest's death is only mentioned once, but the impression lingered that she was killed by bad guys trying to get to Dr. Quest hence, government agent Race Bannon is assigned to protect father and son) who was constantly called to come up with some piece of super-science or a solution to a strange mystery in some remote and exotic corner of the world and, more often than not, how Jonny (with considerable assists from Hadji and Bandit) saved or gave him critical assistance. "Jonny Quest" was different because it was obviously a show that was striving for a maturity and realism that had never been seen in television animation before. From the lush and detailed backgrounds to the almost-adult level of violence (all sorts of people and animals die in this show - and when someone died, they stayed dead), there was a lot in this show that wasn't for kids. And now, after years of waiting, Warner Brothers has released all 26 episodes in a massive and elegant 4-disc set, presented in their original broadcast order. From "Mystery of the Lizard Men" to "The Robot Spy" to "The Sea Haunt", they're all here and looking absolutely smashing along with all sorts of DVD goodies like trailers, a featurette on the animators, everything you'd ever want to know about the good and bad guys on the show and even a vintage commercial for sneakers starring Jonny! I fell in love with this show when I was about 8 years old, watching it dubbed in Spanish and in black-and-white, rediscovered it again in color when we came to the States and now, after 30+ years I can say with total assurance that some pleasures from childhood are just as good when you're an adult.
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Vikings set sail again!
Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, this is the story of a young Arab nobleman who spends too much time chasing someone else's wife and gets himself exiled as an "ambassador" to the savage northern barbarians known as Vikings. It then turns into a saga of nobility and heroic self-sacrifice as thirteen warriors are sent to battle something that is so vile, so horrible, so evil that people are afraid to even speak its' name. It's got some definite parallels to the classic story of Beowulf, one of the earliest sagas to come from Northern Europe. It's a rugged and manly story, showing both the waste and futility of war while also showing that armed conflict can bring out the bravest and noblest sentiments in a man. It's got a great performance by Banderas, a solid cameo from Omar Sharif, and the baddest Viking warriors the screen has ever seen. A solid adventure movie, very entertaining with a surprisingly moving ending.
Why, why, why....
do people insist that this is a great movie? I rented this, watched it at home, and both my wife and I agreed that this was a pointless, stupid, and BORING movie. How anyone can mention "great acting" and "Jennifer Garner" in the same sentence with a straight face is, frankly, beyond me. If you want to see her "great acting", check the scene where her sensei, Terence Stamp, expels her from his school - her priceless reaction shots will remind you of either a colicky baby or of sucking on a lemon! Flashback after flashback are presented, with Garner looking soulful and pensive as the trauma of her life is presented to us except that all you'll feel is abject boredom and/or an intense desire to eject this DVD and watch ANYTHING ELSE. Once again, Hollywood execs have created yet another movie whose only reason for being is to:
A. showcase some cool digital effects
B. show an attractive young actress acting out the teenaged-boy-fantasy of the warrior woman who can kick ass while dressed in an outfit that is so ridiculous small and tight that she'd probably pop right out of it after throwing one kick!
Hollywood is now so convinced that anything comic book-related will make a great movie, they don't realize that just because something works on a four-color printed page doesn't mean that it will work on a movie screen. Maybe this bomb, along with "Catwoman", "The Punisher" (the version with Dolph Lundgren and the version with John Travolta), and "Sin City" (yes, I know everyone seems to be falling all over themselves as they orgasmically praise it to the heavens but it's a crappy, self-conscious stab at film noir that comes across as forced, pompous, and downright laughable) will finally stop them from trying to transplant beloved characters to a new medium without trying to understand what makes them work in the first place.
Not quite complete crap, but close enough...
An attempt to make a modern-dress Gothic melodrama that is just not successful. Ernest Dickerson has a good grasp of the iconography of horror films, but he can't put them together well enough to make a good scary movie. He borrows concepts and images liberally from Clive Barker, Dario Argento, and Mario Bava - but all it shows is that he's a good copycat, not that he's a good stylist. From the idea of evil reviving itself by consuming a victim (Barker's "Hellraiser", but cinematic ally dating at least back to Hammer's "Dracula, Prince of Darkness" from 1965), thru the rain of maggots (Argento's magisterial "Suspiria"), to the disembodied hand reaching out of the darkness to torment the dead man's lover (Bava's masterpiece, "Whip and the Body"), there really is nothing here that we haven't seen before and better. The conceit of setting it in a ghetto with an all-black cast promises an interesting variation on your basic "revenge from beyond the grave" scenario, but beyond the music and fashions it's still a pretty clichéd film. One of the problems is that Dickerson just can't seem to leave well enough alone - like the maggot scene. OK, it's raining maggots and it's terrifying, we get it already, is it really necessary to go for the gross-out by showing people EATING them? Or the scene where Maurice is killed - again, the dog-spirit eats Maurice to give form and substance to Bones' cadaver, we get it, it's not necessary to linger on the details of the chow-down. It's never scary - just disgusting. Even his attempts to inject humor are forced and heavy-handed, with the idiotic scenes of Bones carrying the heads of his victims and having them carry on an interminably pointless conversation. And again, he doesn't show it to us once, there's at least three long scenes with the chatty heads so whatever humor there was is pounded into unconsciousness thru repetition. But the most glaring problem with this movie is that we are asked to sympathize with a character who is, at bottom, just as big a bad guy in life as the crack dealers who murder him. Dickerson tries to show us Bones as the protector of his 'hood, but come on - he's exploiting his people just as much with his numbers game, or did it never occur to anyone to ask how Bones got the money for his supah-dupah fly crib when everyone else around him lives in complete poverty? For a MUCH better horror movie that reflects the black urban experience, rent "Tales from the Hood" instead.
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
An overblown mess of a movie
"Riddick" has got to be the worst science fiction film I've seen in a long time, at least since Travolta's "Battlefield Earth". From the frankly pretentious introduction from writer/director David Twohy, all the way thru to the mind-numbing finale, all you get is a parade of great eye candy used in the service of a muddled and incoherent story. Riddick, who was just a simple convict in "Pitch Black", is now transformed into something called a Furyan, some sort of super warrior race that was wiped out by the other races or by the big bad Necromongers (what a stupid name!) - after seeing it twice, I still can't figure that one out. It's the same ridiculous "twist" that Stephen Sommers used in "The Mummy Returns" with Brendan Fraser's character; it didn't work then and it sure doesn't work here, either. You also get Judy Dench ("M" from the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies) as something called an air elemental who can turn into some sort of foggy stuff and can glide (but not fly!) but who has really nothing at all to do with the story. The main villains, a religious sect called the Necromongers, are pitched to us as the supreme evil in the universe, a force that will destroy all human life wherever it's found (which makes you wonder why they have wives). Problem is, they seem to be more interested in a pedestrian and boring power struggle for their throne than in carrying out their "holy mission". The movie drops you right into the middle of this mess - I suppose that it was meant to be an intriguing way to start the movie but after the first 30 minutes you'll still be scratching your head trying to figure what the heck's going on. If you haven't seen "Pitch Black", then you won't understand a good half of the movie anyway.
But the real problem with this thing is the utter and unrelenting darkness of the whole thing - all the characters that exhibit any kind of humanity are killed, leaving us only with the cardboard villains or the cardboard "hero" who mouth insipid and repellent lines like "you keep what you kill" which, from the last shot, appears to be some sort of moral Twohy is trying to teach us. There's never any real suspense or sense that Riddick is in danger - he's just an indestructible cypher who you know will win the big showdown against the Evil Leader in the end. To make it even worse, this is a "director's cut" which in this case means that you get a movie that is even more boring than the theatrical release. A waste of money to make, and a waste of money to watch.