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Robert De Niro
Michael Jai White
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Michael J. Pollard
M. Emmet Walsh
Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Even the Prison couldn't hold them
Lane Smith stars as a worn-out bug-eyed warden Sharpe who in 1968 executed some prisoner. 20 years later the almighty Board reopens the Prison, transfers some inmates to it and reinstates the old dog Sharpe who's plagued by nightmares of that execution he carried out a long time ago. Viggo Mortensen plays a mysterious convict do-gooder that helps everybody and carries himself with unprecedented grace. Lincoln Kilpatrick (who did some quality time later in Fortress) plays an old black guy that already did time here under warden Sharpe. The go-to girl of late 80s action and horror Chelsea Field is spliced in as a concerned female observer. To top it all off the evil spirit gets unleashed (it's the 20th anniversary of that execution) and haunts the place The Keep/Evil Dead style. Prison is not well written, but looks okay and is shot well. It has a lot of familiar faces. The scares don't work, but I think it's because they're ridiculous and funny to begin with. The third act has people running around in panic and a surprise twist is revealed that goes absolutely nowhere. This movie you're going to laugh at if you've seen Evil Dead, The Keep and Fletch. But to Renny Harlin's credit, he made it watchable enough for others to comfortably sit through it. It's his first all-American movie and he made a wise decision of grabbing onto the first (worst?) thing they gave him and do his best with it.
100 Feet (2008)
Great quality stuff
This is a great thriller from Eric Red, the writer of Hitcher and many more. On the outside it's a budget haunted house horror flick, the kind that everybody used to make a couple of years ago, before the slashers came back. But this one stands out with its solid writing and impressive no nonsense execution. Eric Red took what was fashionable and made the most of it. He has quite a reputation with numerous classic genre films throughout the 80s and 90s that he has to live up to. And live up to it this movie does. Famke Janssen carries the film with ease. It doesn't take much time till you root for her because the character is as real a person as it gets in these movies. The supporting cast are all great too. Bobby Cannavale who plays the cop on a stakeout outside her house does a "young Chazz Palminteri", just what the role asks for. And Michael Pare who plays the ghost actually acts and acts well under the coat of blurry special effects and not a word of dialog save for a couple of grunts, not to mention he *is* scary. I enjoyed the hell out of it and I hope Eric Red continues to make movies this good.
Schlock in 73, cult classic now.
The reviews for this movie here are mainly positive. And it's no surprise. This is a very, Very strong first movie. In fact, it looks almost exactly like the more famous Landis movies down to the lighting and editing. It does have some silly stuff in it, and there are scenes to make the picture longer. But the movie never feels constricted by its low budget, it successfully pokes fun at it. Landis is great as the titular ape and Rick Baker's done a great job on the mask - it even allowed Landis to emote. Eric Roberts' wife plays a blind girl who befriends Schlock thinking he's a dog, but soon she regains her sight and then!... Schlock's really funny, it looks like it's someone's first movie only for the first 15 minutes, and then it becomes big and quite enjoyable.
Susan's Plan (1998)
Susan's Plan worked for me.
People had been dumping on this film a lot so I made sure to check all the other Landis movies I could before trying this one out. Susan's Plan is a low budget "a bunch of people talking to each other" movie with a very simple plot - the title character comes up with a plan to whack her ex husband with the help of her friends and split the insurance money, but the plan goes wrong and hilarity ensues.
Susan's Plan, even if obviously smaller, is still classic Landis. The low budget is compensated by a strong narrative and a myriad of colorful characters who're rather at home in the Dream On universe, than in bigger Landis movies. Almost everybody in this movie is famous for one thing or the other, even the small parts, just check out the cast. The most unexpected performance comes from Michael Biehn, I'm not sure if he ever played something so funny and against type, because it's a role one would expect Jim Carey to play. Thomas Haden Church seems to be playing Peter Weller. Lisa Edelstein is all Cuddy again. And Dan Aykroyd's character is just really sick!
Susan's Plan feels constructed around cheap and accessible locations and well known, but inexpensive actors, and it's very well done at that. At just 85 minutes it appears to have some padding scenes of various importance, like characters' dream sequences, Susan's day job as a teacher, or Stuart Gordon as a doctor telling a dirty joke, but it's done to make a full creative use of a location. One thing that I found amazing was how Landis and his actors manage to switch between something really funny, or plain silly to something suspenseful and genuinely scary almost all in a single scene. Overall it's a small crime comedy for midnight TV that looks bigger than it actually is. I really liked it and I recommend it.
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Another positive review
A team of future cops take a bullet train to a Marsian colony to retrieve a murderer played by Ice Cube. Upon arrival they're attacked by colonists possessed by the Ghosts of Mars. John Carpenter's penultimate theatrical feature to date is easily one of his best, considering the odds against it. The film borrows from Total Recall, The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13, but still looks fresh and original. The pace is steady and the mood consistent. The electronic/metal score recorded by Carpenter and Anthrax, while being uncharacteristically modern, still is very much signature Carpenter. The glorious Panavision cinematography is fresh just like it was in the 80s. The (then) young stars Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham and Clea DuVall fit their roles perfectly, most notably Henstridge, who effortlessly portrays a woman in command and *not* a tough chick with a chip on her shoulder. The seasoned actresses Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy add a punch here and there. Ghosts of Mars leans closer to Escape from LA on the fun meter, but retains the quality and edginess of The Thing. A good movie.
Check the gate
I'm pleasantly surprised by the movie thanks to people's negative comments. Good acting, good rhythm, the dialog doesn't knock you out of the mood that the film has going. Willem Dafoe and Chloe Sevigny are especially comfortable in this one. Didn't like the ending. But that's always the case with arty movies about something vague. For the most part the thing was not pretentious. Art-house viewers keep expecting that legendary moment of cinematic epiphany to hit them. And it never does. I mean it's a movie about acting, directing and pretty landscapes. Maybe the disappointed viewers wanted a smart SWAT thriller or something.
Qualcuno pagherà (1988)
Qualcuno paghera, aku several other titles
This is the second Sergio Martino movie after Hands of Steel with Daniel Greene as his star. Greene plays an up and coming boxer with a powerful right hand and a heart of gold. He works night shifts in a bar and has a girlfriend whose father played by Ernest Borgnine disapproves of the relationship thinking Greene is a no good for nothing loser. To prove himself Greene catches the attention of a local boxing promoter played by Giuliano Gemma who decides to make a champion out of his newfound protégé. Then some other stuff happens... Martino gets a lot of flack for his 80s movies, like they're no match for his gialli. I think it's uncalled for because they're certainly more memorable. Cheesy, yes, but entertaining in many ways. In this Gemma plays his character almost like he's suicidal, which works. Borgnine can't do much with the lines he has, but still kind of fits the picture. Greene has a strange appeal with his looks of a thug and voice of a saint. Technically the film is very well done on what I suppose is a very low budget. The boxing bits aren't disastrous - they're short and to the point (unlike Rocky). The pace is fine, there's never a slow moment, plus the movie has one of the catchiest theme songs I've ever heard and that's always a big bonus. Ultimately the film suffers from the strange things the writers made the characters do in order to have an act three when all was resolved in act two. A flawed but fun Italian Rocky knock-off.
Survival Quest (1988)
Lance Henriksen the action hero
Survival Quest is one of the few Lance Henriksen starrers that happened during the eighties. This time he gives a great unexpected performance as a good guy, who runs a survival school and leads a group of assorted city people through the wilderness. Eventually they cross paths with a military man played by Mark Rolston who leads a survival class of his own. Don Coscarelli pulls out fine performances from everybody and the script is so well done that every character that's supposed to matter does. Aside from the acting, the film relies on such inexpensive things as breathtaking vistas and avoiding clichés (for the most part). The only thing that downplays the whole experience is the music one'd expect from a Hallmark family movie. Definitely the strongest Coscarelli effort outside of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep.
Burke and Hare (2010)
Burke and Hare is a story of two men in Scotland in the late XIX century barely making a dime when an opportunity comes along to earn hard cash by killing people and selling their bodies to the benefit of science.
This movie may seem morally rotten at its core making a comedy out of murder, but it succeeds at it while quite a lot of comedies with far less harmful plots don't, not to mention that some of the most popular TV shows of today make it fit right in. John Landis comedies much in common with ZAZ productions and sometimes are almost live action cartoons. The title characters are shown as flawed people in a desperate situation which they think justifies their actions - we don't laugh with them, only at them. And that's intentional.
John Landis came back with a surprisingly decent feature. It's as if the MTV-style cinema revolution has passed him by (the one that hit the new Sherlock Holmes square in the face). No camera gymnastics, no forced sensual assault, all the action and physical comedy happens in frame. Burke and Hare is his first 2.35:1 feature and it shows - the frame at first appears a little too wide, like if the characters were taken from a 16:9 movie and arranged accordingly. By the way, "highly entertaining", "very funny" and "packed with the cream of British talent" - those bits on the poster aren't far from the truth.
Stuart Gordon shows what he can do with a drama
Mena Suvari is a young easygoing nurse who bumps into an out of job and newly homeless Stephen Rea and gets stuck in a situation she wasn't expecting herself to wind up in. Comedy and drama ensue.
Stuck came as a true surprise to me. I didn't believe Gordon had it in him to direct a provocative social drama bordering on satire and make it as good if not better than his horror classics From Beyond and Reanimator. I didn't believe I'd be watching a movie starring Mena Suvari, who did a great job too. And Stephen Rea played destitute like few can.
I hope Gordon does more non-horror films. Past examples of Mamet-scripted Edmond and Troma-distributed King of the Ants have shown that Stuart Gordon can put the bloodsoaked Lovecraft library aside and do something special. Lucky for him and his fans, he's not among the horror directors who have to cling to their 30yearold genre successes.