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Event Horizon (1997)
Although flawed, "Event Horizon" is still entertaining with great production design.
The sum of its parts are better than the whole, but "Event Horizon" features terrific Producrion design, strong visual effects and performances that drive the film. The script by Phillip Eisner, has a great concept but the writing could be better (there was an uncredited rewrite by "Se7en" writer Andrew Kevin Walker) and, no doubt, Paul W.S. Anderson took a crack at it as well.
The handsome production design always makes the film fun to look.
Spoiler: There are some dumb sequences in the film such as the character of Peters (played by Kathleen Quinlan) chasing her son and then falling in the core to her death is pretty dumb. It also doesn't make sense as to why Weir (Sam Neill) doesn't mention the delusions he has on the ship (acting as if nothing is happening) doesn't share what is happening to him. Is he in denial? It might have been interesting to find out a bit more about that and what drove his wife to suicide.
End of Spoilers
The deleted scenes (some of which exist in low quality video) would have helped the film providing us with more background info but, as is, it's still entertaining with a brisk pace.
Although far from perfect, this is one of Paul W.S. Anderson's better films.
King Kong Lives (1986)
The cheesy spirit of B-movies lives in this sequel to Dino's 1976 "King Kong"
When I was reading scripts and pitching story ideas to Alex De Benedetti (Dino's son-in-law although I wasn't aware of it at the time and future producer of "Evil Dead II", "Pumpkinhead"), I was asked by Alex to pitch a story idea for a sequel to "King Kong". My story had a similar type of resurrection to the one that is used in this movie but from there it changed sharply. The only way I could figure to make a sequel to "Kong" was to include a strong element of satire (which was, to some degree, in the 1976 film as well)and I also wanted to do a bit of a homage to the Japanese monster movies (like "Godzilla" and even the original "King Kong"). They went in a different direction-a horrible different direction.
"King Kong Lives" has a cheesy charm but the actors look like they are trapped in a film and looking for a way out. It seems Kong didn't die when he fell from the Twin Towers (wow, that's a miracle!); he's in a coma, needs a new heart (yep, they have a giant mechanical heart but Kong needs plasma--of course they find a Lady Kong for a blood transfusion and Kong, naturally, has big ape sex with the lady. Aside from setting up the potential for a family franchise (which didn't happen--"Lives" was a big flop), the ending could only have come from Dino (RIP)who dreamed big even if sometimes big wasn't better.
I didn't see "King Kong Lives" until years after it was released (I had no desire really--it sounded kind of dumb)but when I finally did I couldn't believe how bad the film was. Luckily, the writer of this film went on to bigger, better and bolder things (Steven Pressfield who penned the script for "Above the Law" and the novel The Legend of Bagger Vance)but it seemed like this was a career ender for the director John Guillerman.
For a chuckle you could watch "King Kong Lives" and you'll realize that what really lives in this film is the spirit of 50's cheesy B-movies on an "A" budget.
Mindless and about as appealing as bad pornography
Made by the guys that made the over amped, overrated mess "Crank", "Gamer" is worse demonstrating that they have no grasp of narrative structure and have the talent to put together pointless violent montages that seem like bad MTV music videos stretched out to feature length "entertainment".
Clearly these guys have been watching too many Michael Bay movies but even Bay has a rudimentary sense of storytelling ability. These guys have none.
A good cast is wasted in a film that has a solid concept but pointless, mindless execution. All form and no substance, "Gamer" wastes a terrific cast in a campy mess filled with violence that verges on pornography and characters that are cyphers at best.
The Invaders (1967)
Classic series finally arrives on DVD
My review: Many shows from childhood fail to live up to expectations when you're an adult. "The Invaders" is an exception. Produced by Quinn Martin ("The Fugitive")and created by Larry Cohen, "The Invaders" took elements from Martin's most popular series "The Fugitive" and successfully created a paranoid science fiction thriller that inspired later shows like "The X-Files", "Dark Skies" and "The 4400".
Architect David Vincent(Roy Thinnes)stops to rest after a long drive back from a meeting with a client when he witnesses an alien spacecraft land in the middle of nowhere. When he reports it to the local police he's treated with distain by a detective (the wonderful character actor J.D. Cannon)and finds that even his own boss (James Daly) has a hard time believing him. They encounter a couple of their honeymoon who completely discount Vincent's account of the landing. Going back to the site to speak with the couple again Vincent discovers that they are aliens themselves and part of a large conspiracy that has infiltrated every part of our society.
We get some very cool extras that fans will enjoy. On the last disc is the long missing 60 minute pilot episode. While it doesn't look quite as good as the series itself with faded colors, it still looks surprisingly good without any restoration. The longer pilot had a number of brief scenes that were cut prior to the airing of the show including a slightly different ending.
Roy Thinnes provides an introduction to each episode including the unaired pilot. He also sits for a nearly 30 minute interview discussing how he became involved with the show, the numerous guest stars he worked with (he essentially was the only regular on the show (aside from the unseen episode narrator William Woodson and introductory narrator Hank Simms)as he was always traveling to uncover hot spots where the invaders were up to no good). Characters did show up in multiple episodes but Thinnes carries the show.
It's easy to see where "The X-Files" got its inspiration from. Thinnes praises the writers for the show as well as the directors (the first two episodes where directed by TV and film veteran Joseph Sargant who does a terrific job of setting up shots with cinematographer Andrew MacIntyre creating moody and magnificent atmosphere during the first episodes that rival "The Outer Limits" and "The Twilight Zone" at their best.
We also get three promo spots produced by ABC for the series. The promos are essentially clip jobs with narration describing the series. They are still very nice to have in this set.
The first season set looks exceptionally good given the age of the series. Although images are a bit soft the color is surprisingly strong and bold. The mono audio sounds really good with dialog crystal clear. Interestingly, series composer Dominic Frontier who also did the music for the first season of "The Outer Limits" cannibalizes music from that series for the pilot episode.
Often seen as a Cold War metaphor, "The Invaders" is far more than that. The writing is superb and the episodes resonate because of the skilled direction and exceptional, believable lead performance by Thinnes. While it would be a stretch to say this series had a "story arc" like most modern TV shows, there is a sketchy one which is that Vincent sets out to find proof and expose the invaders. They, in turn, want to eliminate him because he's one of the few crusaders trying to uncover their plot to take over our world.
Overall Paramount/CBS has done a superb job bringing this classic series to TV. I'm surprised at how well it has held up with most of the writing/direction/acting top notch. Featuring well known guest stars such as William Windom, Harold Gould, Roddy MacDowell, Suzanne Pleshette, Ed Begley, Dabney Coleman and Michael Rennie during its brief two year run, "The Invaders" was an exceptionally good series with cool visual effects but, more importantly, well written stories that could drawn an audience into the world of David Vicent.
I'm hoping that the second season set will see the 1995 TV pilot that starred Scott Bakula included and, perhaps, we can get more interview time with Thinnes about shooting season two.
The Shield (2002)
"The Shield" is one of the most morally complex dramas on TV
Boy there sure are a lot of prudes writing about "The Shield". This is an adult TV show folks not designed for young teens or children (and you would have thought they had figured this out by now). Fox hasn't kept the show around because of sympathy. They've kept it around because it is one of the most compelling adult shows on TV. The fact that it plays on FX and that isn't a mainstream channel allows the writers/producers/directors to tackle complex adult material that might other wise not be done for TV (unless it was Showtime or HBO). It's a cop show and there are only so many variations that can be on cop shows but Shawn Ryan manages to make "The Shield" compelling television by playing with the formula as much as possible. It's a police version of "The Sopranos" with Vic Mackey (the excellent Michael Chiklis)willing to break the law to convict criminals and also not afraid to skim their profits or take kickbacks to control the street.
The first season was designed to paint Mackey as a corrupt officer unafraid to tackle law enforcement his way. As the seasons progressed, Mackey (particularly during the fourth season)saw an opportunity to redeem himself and tried to but the skeletons in his closet continue to rattle away. I'm perplexed by those here who feel the show was "hyped" (sure it was...it's called getting the viewers to tune in), disappointed (maybe they should follow the show for more than three or four episodes)and horrified (this isn't a Network TV show folks--it's a cutting edge drama that continues to create complex characters and watches them suffer for their sins). Clearly I'm watching a different show than they did. I heard all the hype and was impressed with the top notch writing, direction and performances.
I do wish that Glenn Close's character had been kept around longer but she only signed for the one season. Her character was a strong no-nonsense officer that had risen through the ranks to Captain and found Mackey both an important member of her team as well as a rogue officer that needed to be reined in. Forrest Whitaker has also done a terrific job as the IAD agent out for Mackey's blood at any cost. The heroes and villains of the show often cross over from one role to the other.
It's a gritty series that doesn't shy away from adult content, language, situations and presents some of the most morally complex characters on television. Kudos to Ryan and his crew for moving ahead inspite of the misguided criticism seen (often)here. I'm looking forward to the changes in season seven (which will reportedly be the last season)and looking forward to the continued excellent work by CCH Pounder, Michael Chiklis and the rest of the cast and crew.
4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
A better film than the original
Entertaining and mindless comic book fantasy isn't perfect but is much improved compared to the original film directed by Tim Story. It's also clear that a substantial amount of footage was cut (it runs less than two hours and was recut for a PG rating). The performances are better in the second film and, although the character of Victor Von Doom isn't given as much screen time as I would have thought, that's not a surprise given that this truly is the Silver Surfer's movie.
Fans of the first film will enjoy this. Although it isn't completely faithful to the series of comics that ran with both Galactus and the Silver Surfer, the writers do manage to stay true to the basic concepts of the original comic book. Having recently seen the "special edition" of "Fantastic Four" that film actually was improved by most of the restored scenes of character development. Likewise, I'm sure that would be the case here as well.
Still, "Fantastic Four" and the Marvel characters here were somewhat better realized with "The Incredibles" where Brad Bird borrowed many of the elements that made "Fantastic Four" and other Marvel comics so popular.
Superman Returns (2006)
Superman sequel soars
First a confession--I really liked Richard Donner's first film. It's great populist entertainment. Sure it wasn't the Superman of the comics nor of the TV series or cartoons but I didn't care. The late Christopher Reeve was perfectly cast as Superman and even Margot Kidder worked well as the scattered Lois Lane. Donner's job was to reinvent Superman for a new audience. Bryan Singer's film captures the same qualities that made Donner's film so fun to begin with and he's stayed true (for the most part) to the 1978 film's mythology.
**There are some minor spoilers ahead so you may want to skip this paragraph if you haven't seen the film.** Superman (newcomer Brandon Routh in a marvelous performance that captures elements of Reeve's while establishing the role as his own)has been absent for 5 years. When the location of Krypton was identified he decided to return and see if anything remained of his home world. Exposure to Kryptonite in space weakened him but he manages to return to the Kent farm after his absence and recovers with the help of his mother Martha (the great Eva Marie Saint). He also briefly recalls his youth when he first discovered his superpowers.
He returns as Clark Kent to Metropolis and is rehired by Perry White (Frank Langella)only to discover that Lois (Kate Bosworth)has moved on with her life and has a five year boy and has won the Pulitzer Prizer for an editorial entitled "Why The World Doesn't Need Superman". Clearly she has issues with Supes. She's also taken up with Perry's nephew and the paper's associate editor Richard White (James Marsden from "X-Men" and "X-Men 2")living with him. The only one who seems to have missed him is Jimmy (Sam Huntington).
Lex Luther (Kevin Spacey who fills Gene Hackman's shoes nicely bringing a deliciously evil edge to Lex)is free as Superman never showed during the parole hearings to argue for his incarceration. He has a plan and it involves in a perfect quotation from the original film, "land" and the death of billions. Lex returns to the Fortress of Solitude and learns everything he can about Superman and his lost world before stealing important artifacts.
**End of Spoilers** Singer recreates the feel of the original film while bringing a look that is uniquely his own to the film with its marvelous art deco production design. The story written in collaboration with "X2" writers Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris (who also co-wrote the forthcoming remake of "Logan's Run")quotes liberally from both Donner's "Superman" (even using footage and recordings of Marlon Brando as Jor-El)and the George Reeves TV series (with cameos by Noel Neill and Jack Larson). Heck, Singer even throws in the iconic final shot from "Superman" and "Superman II" with Supes circling the Earth for good measure. It's clear that this film was a labor of love but also an attempt to examine a lot of themes that are essential to the Superman mythology including the Messiah myth as well as the unresolved love affair with Lois. Singer's direction of the actors is top notch.
If the film is flawed its due to its running time--"Superman Returns" probably could have been trimmed by a good 20 minutes (much like Donner's "Superman")and worked just as well. Still all that screen time allows Singer to maximize the action set pieces (including a stunning robbery where Superman proves that bullets do indeed bounce off of him) without sacrificing the chararcter development.
Routh manages to channel Reeve's winning performance as Superman/Clark Kent staying true to Reeve and Donner's(and writer Tom Mankiewicz's) interpretation of the character. Routh manages to inject enough of his own personality and make the character while still touching on Reeve's marvelous and underrated performance in "Superman". Although Kate Kosworth's Lois might be a bit less kooky than Margot Kidder's take on the role she's as hard nosed in her performance. James Marsden works well as the third part of this romantic love triangle as the new man in Lois' life. Kevin Spacey is brilliant as Lex much like Routh touching on Gene Hackman's performance but adding an edgy dangerous edge missing from Hackman's. Spacey's Lex is someone that you could believe would kill billions just to make a "killing" on a land deal.
The visual effects are truly stunning and state of the art. The sequence involving the launch of the new space shuttle and its mishap is brilliantly realized. Much the same can be said for some of the other sequences involving the foiled robbery and the unexpectedly moving conclusion which refers to the Messiah myth and Superman comic book.
"Superman Returns" is a loving valentine to a film that Singer clearly respected and loved (heck he even uses John Williams "Superman" theme and the same opening titles as in the first film). I'd highly recommend "Superman Returns" for fans of the first two Chris Reeve films. It's populist film-making at its best tackling a number of challenging themes within the entertaining package of a superhero fantasy.
The X Files: Triangle (1998)
Pretentious but fun episode
An ambitious if slightly pretentious episode of "The X-Files" finds Mulder trapped on a British ship that disappeared 50 years ago in the Bermuda Triangle. The ship filled with American and British passengers was taken by Nazi officers all of whom look like Spender, Skinner, the Cigarette Smoking Man and Scully. He must figure out how to survive, help the passengers and return to our time. Meanwhile, Scully must get to the region believing that Mulder will be doomed without her help.
This is an ambitious, fun if slightly pretentious episode written and directed by Chris Carter. The writing is, for the most part, top notch although Scully is given little to do but run from place to place seeking help. While better than "The Post Modern Prometheus" it's still a placeholder in the sixth season of "The X-Files".
The X Files: Monday (1999)
Fascinating variation on "Groundhog Day"
Clearly inspired by the film "Groundhog Day" this fine episode of "The X-Files" takes its usual twists and turns taking the material that inspired it and making it truly unique for the show. While this isn't one of the best episodes of the show it's still a quality episode well written and performed with a nice twist to the end that most fans will probably figure out before the third act.
The episode begins with an unusual opening for "The X-Files" (and that is saying something); Mulder and Scully are dead. The entire episode revolves around showing us what happened and why. Mulder's clearly having a bad day--he wakes up to a water filled floor and discovers that the water bed he's not supposed to have (purchased in the episode "Dreamland")has sprung a leak. More importantly the water has leaked down to his apartment manager's room. Bad news for the cash strapped G-man. He's also late for a departmental meeting with Skinner (the leak shorted out his cellphone and the electricity in his apartment). He drags himself in only only to realize he needs to get to the bank and make a deposit before the check he just wrote his manager bounces. He's there when a robbery occurs. He's at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Anymore information would completely spoil the episode but some nice performances and twists save this from being a merely derivative episode. Like "Drive" it might fall just short of the standard established for the show's best seasons (you pick--3, 4 or 5)but it's still better written and performed than most shows out there today.
The X Files: Agua Mala (1999)
Don't drink the water...
In "Aqua Mala" Mulder and Scully end up a monster that can get you anywhere even while your sitting on the head. Really. It's a very good monster-on-the-loose episode of "The X-Files". Arthur Dales (the late great Darren McGavin) returns in this episode. He expresses concern for his daughter and son-in-law who have disappeared during a hurricane in Florida. He's been monitoring the police bands and he believes that some sort of creature is at work taking inhabitants during the storm. He calls Mulder for his help when the police treat him like a crackpot. Mulder suspects that it's something that was driven into the sewer system by the storm but he and Scully find something much more dangerous and sinister than they could possibly have imagined...
Well directed "Aqua Mala" is a suspenseful episode with a lot of good humor in it as well. Although the conclusion seems a bit rushed the episode works still works due to sharp direction, witty writing and strong performances from the regular and guest cast. My only complaint is that Dales doesn't seem very upset at the conclusion of the episode (you'll know why when you see the episode)and clearly some scenes were left on the cutting room floor explaining the outcome of this episode.
This was McGavin's last appearance on "The X-Files" as Dales. When McGavin's wife passed away he wasn't able to make his third appearance in the episode "The Unnatural" and so veteran character actor M. Emmett Walsh stepped in to play the role in a very "X-Files" twist. Although writer/actor Duchovny's "The Unnatural" is a bit heavy handed at times with its message, it's still a delightful episode as well.