Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
LA 92 (2017)
I was 13, living in an affluent New England town, and totally oblivious to Los Angeles in 1992 (beyond my life-long cinema obsession). Looking back, the LA Riots influenced America (the music, the election, film, our language, our style, and our acceptance or rejection of diversity) more than any other event in the 1990's. Even having lived in LA for a few years (only about a decade later), I never really understood the impact of the riots on that city until I saw this. The style of this doc is 'manipulation' but, if you can get pasts some of its tasteless pandering, seeing this footage (chronologically shown in the film), was absolutely eye-opening. I never really experienced racism until I moved to Los Angeles in my 20's and there really was a feeling that I could only liken to the friction that causes earthquakes (coincidentally) within the culture of that city; it's a bloody mess of ambition, failure, inequality, and segregation (racial & financial). The film sets up the social climate with the Watts riots (which, oddly, I feel more informed about) and all but suggests that we're due for another social catastrophe and, by all accounts, I can't say that I disagree.
Torment the Savant
Often, when sitting through screenings that push the limits of my cine-file patience, I wonder if I'm going to accomplish even the most basic of constructive comments. Ironically, with 'Frank', I was so knocked down with absolute glee that I don't know where to begin. Co-screenwriters Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan ('The Men Who Stare at Goats') and director Lenny Abrahamson ('What Richard Did') have constructed a story that is totally effortless in its tone and ability to hit all the right comic keys. The cast is fantastic with Domhnall Gleeson ('About Time' / 'Black Mirror') playing Jon, a small-town wanna-be musician who finds himself in the serendipitous position to fill in as the keyboardist in an art-rock band (think 'Talking Heads' crossed with 'Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds') lead by the eccentric Frank (Michael Fassbender), a troubled man whose psychosis requires that he never take off his massive-eyed, fishbowl mask–often pleading that he 'has a certificate' to prove it. The best description I can give for Fassbender's Frank is of a good-natured Hunter S. Thompson as a child with Asperger's syndrome; it's really quite a performance, especially considering it's done without ever seeing his face. Maggie Gyllenhaal's ('The Dark Knight' / 'Secretary') avant-garde Clara is underplayed and with a deadpan hilarity that never shows the slightest wink or parody. As Jon begins to introduce the prospect of fame and popularity, his already distrusting band mates become skeptical as Frank's stability and creativity begins to unravel. I'm not sure the whole audience got the joke but this by far the most fun I've had with a film this year – SXSW or otherwise.
It's honest, raw, and pretty darn hilarious
I adore director Neil Berkeley's previous documentary, 'Beauty is Embarrassing', as much for its subject (artist Wayne White) as for its casual style. It's uncanny that his subject in 'Harmontown', Dan Harmon (creator of TV's 'Community' and writer of Oscar-nominated 'Monster House') is almost, physically and intellectually, Wayne White's Doppelgänger. I'm sorry to say that I largely 'missed the boat' with Harmon's body of work: 'The Sarah Silverman Show' definitely struck me as irreverent and funny but 'Community' always seemed a bit mediocre which, in Harmon's defense, when graded on the network-sitcom curve, I do consider completely watchable and good for a giggle.
It wasn't until Harmon's erratic work ethic got him fired from both of those creations that he found his own form of therapy in podcasting an unconventional stand-up show containing no jokes, no preparation, and the occasional Dungeon & Dragon session. The documentary follows the show's tour across the US with his cohorts, Spencer Crittenden (the awkward 'Dungeon Master' plucked from the original Los Angeles audience), Jeff Bryan Davis (comedian and TV personality), and, his girlfriend, Erin McGathy (well-known podcaster). Despite his narcissism (which is balanced by a heaping side of self-loathing) and notorious tendencies to sociopathically manipulate those around him, there is a sense from his audience that he is the Jesus of well-intentioned nerdom. I won't say that I'm a complete convert but I will absolutely subscribe to his podcast (also called 'Harmontown'); like the film, it's honest, raw, and pretty darn hilarious.
Open Windows (2014)
God bless Nacho Vigalondo
God bless Nacho Vigalondo ('Timecrimes' / 'Extraterrestrial'); he is a madman in person and in practice. 'Open Windows' is another attempt at an unconventional, high-concept thriller exploring the medium of film at its heart - action through time - and in ways that no one else has even conceived of. Elijah Wood's character is set up in a hotel in Austin having won a sweepstakes to meet his favorite actress, played by Sasha Grey - who, based on some of her IMDb titles ('Anal Artist' / 'Pop Goes the Weasel' / 'House of Ass 3'), isn't likely a Disney alum. When Wood is notified by her representative, 'Chord', that she has canceled their meeting and that being rude to her fans is nothing new, as a supposed retaliation, he's presented with the opportunity for remote access to the actress' laptop, phone, and webcam.
The film doesn't take much time dealing with the ethics of spying on someone but, rather, jumps right into a fast-passed thrill ride that has Wood's character jumping for A to B to C as Chord's true intentions unfold. The story is told in real-time, almost entirely on the screen of a laptop, with practical cameras following multiple events, and various plot points reveled through pop-up windows on the screen. The film was cleverly introduced as a modern-day 'Rear Window' and the gimmick does work; it took some time to get used to but, the tension ramps up quickly and, though the format is pivotal to the story, you almost forget that you're watching anything but a standard narrative. Unfortunately, it's the technology within the narrative that stretches disbelief a bit too far as the twists and turns become more and more bizarre. I'm always curious to see what Vigalondo has up his sleeve and his ambitions did not disappoint but the limitations he imposes on himself as a filmmaker seem to have pushed the state of modern technology into the realm of 'fantasy' which distracts from what is, otherwise, an inventive hostage/who-dun-it scenario.
The Guest (2014)
I need a motive
*Spoilers* 'You're Next' had a lot of critics in certain circles and I can fully see that it's essentially 'Home Alone' crossed with 'The Strangers' but
I'm kind of okay with that; the music was great, the bad-ass vixen was cool and it just perfectly turned the slasher genre on its head without making an out-and-out parody. 'The Guest' is the new thriller from writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard and there is a common thread in the retro style and ethic as with their prior film but 'The Guest' sits in a genre unto its own. David (played by Dan Stevens of 'Downton Abbey') is a mysterious ex-military traveler who knocks on the door of a family home claiming to be the friend of their son who fell in combat. We immediately see that there is something not quite right about this character but the family is largely oblivious. Slowly, David finds the key to each family member's trust before he unveils his true intentions. Here's the thing; I don't know if I spaced for a moment or if there was some subtle clue that I missed but, next thing you know, David has moved into the family's home and then there are a series of absolutely over-the-top gun fights with a military police group. The aspects of this film that are similar to 'You're Next' really work (costume design, score, music, characters) and it's a great little ride but, call me old fashioned, I need a motive and I'm not sure one was ever revealed.
The Mule (2014)
Bringing new meaning to 'anal retentive' filmmaking
*Spoilers* If the worth of a film is measured in its audience's response, the woman dry-heaving next to me definitely got her money's worth. Set in 1983, a working class simpleton, Ray Jenkins - played by co-director Angus Sampson ('Insidious' / '100 Bloody Acres')- is detained in at a West Australia airport upon returning home from Bangkok where he was convinced to ingest and transport 20 condoms full of heroin. The initial tone of the film signals that this might be a comedy of some sort but any sense of humor is swiftly lost as a cruel group of police officers (lead by Hugo Weaving in one of his most intimidating rolls to date) starts (let's say) 'pressing progress' toward resolving the case as Ray struggles to 'postpone the discovery' of his guilt – lots of innuendo here - throughout 10 days of observation. Along the way, Ray's circumstance results in a domino effect that uncovers crimes far larger than his own. I couldn't stay for the Q&A but the film is presented as having been based on true events and, as unbelievable as it was, I never questioned it for a moment. Though Google provides a slew of 1983 Australian drug smugglers, I can't find a single reference to these events and, as much as I liked this film, if they pulled a 'Fargo' on me, I adore it. Co-directors Tony Mahoney & Angus Sampson bring new meaning to anal retentive with this very different sort of horror film.
The Infinite Man (2014)
Ultimately, the film is just a ton of fun
With a cast of 3 and barely more than one location, first-time feature filmmaker (and writer), Hugh Sullivan, has woven together a topsy-turvy time travel film that falls somewhere between 'Primer' and 'Groundhog Day'. The initial impression is of pure comedy with time travel as the incidental extreme that the main character (played by a fantastic Josh McConville) is willing to go to in order to keep control over his love life. The result is a complex, infinite loop that wowed me with every twist and turn. Though never stepping over the line into 'Thriller' or serious 'Science-Fiction', the logic of the storyline is mathematically maddening and the film does consider some truly heavy existential ideas like the result of jealousy on relationships and how fear of change and the desire to control others is almost always counterproductive. Ultimately, the film is just a ton of fun and, though it perfectly fits within the supposed film-festival mold, even the most novice of movie-goers would get a huge kick out of this one.
For your own educational enjoyment
In 1997, when I moved to London, as an American, beyond a song on the 'Trainspotting' soundtrack, I had never heard of the band 'PULP' (who released their first album in 1983). That gap in my musical knowledge was swiftly corrected by the locals and I was soon swaying and gushing with empathy to anthems like 'Mis-Shapes' and 'Common People'. The year after my arrival, the band released the controversial 'This is Hardcore' album (which I adored) and largely fell from the limelight. In the UK, at least, Jarvis Cocker and his bandmates have not been easily forgotten and the band, which hasn't toured or played together since shortly after the turn of the century, decided to organize a final concert as a bookend to their career.
Kiwi filmmaker Florian Habicht ('Love Story') has created a 'concert film' as unique as the band itself. Instead of providing a sleek chronology of the bands history, full performances of their fan favorites, and back-stage antics, he's focused his attention on the 'common' residence of PULP's native city, Sheffield, and made pensioners the center of his study. This may be a film for the fans but, for the sake of pop music history, the greats that didn't quite make it stateside (largely because they weren't macho enough), and because there isn't yet a trailer for this documentary, I encourage you to seek out this ban for your own educational enjoyment.
Stage Fright (2014)
I'm gay, I'm gay but not in that way
So that you know, there is a film out there about a summer camp for kids that's owned by Meat Loaf, with fully choreographed song and dance numbers – including lines like 'I'm gay, I'm gay but not in that way' - and a kabuki-masked, falsetto-screaming, guitar-squealing, knife-wielding slasher who hates musical theater and wants to kill the cast of a make-shift production of some-such copy-right-friendly version of 'Phantom of the Opera'. The gore was vivid, the laughs were steady, and I honestly don't think I need to report anything else to help you decide if this one is for you; it definitely has an audience and made for a very strange Late Night Picture Show.
Reinforcing the limitlessness of DIY filmmaking
Once a year, over the last 12 years, Richard Linklater ('Waking Life' / 'Before Sunset') has reunited the same cast and shot segments of a feature film following the life of a boy (played by Ellar Coltrane – who literally grew into this part and became an actor of substance) from the age of 5 through the age of 18; the result is both fascinating and inspired. The only other project that comes close in comparison is Michael Apted's 'Seven Up' series which documents the lives of a collection of school children in 7-year intervals, starting in 1964 and still going as of the latest edition in 2012. What's so unique about 'Boyhood' is that these individuals (including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Linklater's own daughter, Lorelei Linklater) evolve and age within a scripted narrative that is not 'like' a time capsule, this is a completely authentic period piece that retraces an era from the cultural response to September 11th, through the election of Barrack Obama, and into the age of social media saturation. As you watch these actors morph through more than a decade of their lives within a few hours, the story becomes as engaging as its concept. Throughout my life and travels, I've heard so little enthusiasm for Linklater outside of Austin and it's a shame because he is a unique force within the industry and quite an American gem. The director received a well-deserved standing ovation from SXSW's elated audience having, once again, set a new standard in the exploration of film's potential and reinforcing the limitlessness of DIY filmmaking.
That balance begins to tip
David Gordon Green, who's versatile career has swung from the sublime ('Snow Angels' & 'Undertow) to the completely absurd ('Pineapple Express' & 'Your Highness'), has swung back once again with this adaptation of Larry Brown's bleak novel, 'Joe'. The thriller follows the lives of country drifters surviving on the fringes of modern America's mid-west. The title character, played by Nicolas Cage, is a man with a troubled past and a short temper that has found a respectable - if teetering - balance in life. When he hires a young drifter, played by Tye Sheridan ('The Tree of Life' / 'Mud') as a day-laborer and tries to take the boy under his wing, that balance begins to tip when the boy's vagabond father becomes jealous of his income and his friendship with Joe. This is a film about fighting against your own nature and, though his more serious roles are often overshadowed by his over-the-top gonzo-ness, this is, by far, Cage's most subtle success to date. Don't worry though, he still gives the camera 'crazy-eyes' at least once.
The Immortalists (2014)
These are extremely intelligent men
To date, anti-aging technology has been fruitless but, so was flight technology until it wasn't. This is the defense, given by biologists and doctors pursuing a scientific end to aging and death, to those that label them as quacks and charlatans. Undeniably, there is delusion in their optimism but the subjects of this documentary are as much aware as anyone that most of the quick-fix solutions out there are total rubbish; these are extremely intelligent men set apart by their sincere (and often desperate) search for the ability to keep their loved ones young and healthy and alive forever.
If you haven't guessed, the science of anti-aging isn't really the subject of this documentary but, rather, the outlandish characters at the forefront of its research. All the logical arguments are covered and the filmmakers never out and out exploit their subjects but their thesis devolves into a character study of these eccentric researchers; one of which is openly described as 'completely mental' by one bystander. I do wish that the film had ended with a fountain of youth (who wouldn't) or, at least, had shown a bit more respect for those willing to participate but these individuals are so entertaining that it's almost forgivable.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
One of the most intentionally funny vampire films
This film premiered long ago so I'll try not to rehash all that's been said already; just know that, if you aren't already a Jarmusch fan, it isn't likely that his reinvention as a genre filmmaker will convert you. Fortunately, I am a fan and this musing on what keeps life fresh and worth enduring through the allegory of the immortal just further endeared him to me. Two ancient vampires (Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston) reunite in an effort to re-spark the will to live, clinging to the arts and sciences for their inspiration. Once again, this is a Jarmusch film so don't expect anything of the traditional plotting; this is a film about love and, surprisingly, it's one of the most intentionally funny vampire films I've seen. The cast (including John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, and Jeffrey Wright) are all excellent and, with a Q&A from Tilda Swinton afterwards, this will definitely be a SXSW highpoint for me this year.
The effort is a paradox
There are fans of 'Daybreakers' out there and I really got a kick out of 'Undead' but this is another large shift in tone for the Australia twin directors. First and foremost, there are some very good performances with actress Sarah Snook (a complete unknown to me) stealing every scene. She's followed not far behind by Noah Taylor and, returning muse, Ethan Hawke. We were warned yesterday that 1/3 of the features submitted to SXSW this year were somehow related to time travel and I'm definitely getting that drift. Unfortunately, where yesterday's 'The Infinite Man' seemed to turn the genre on its head, 'Predestination' tries so hard to blow your mind but has painted so clearly by-the-numbers that you're 4 steps ahead of the film at all times. To its credit, this is a hard one to summarize and I don't want to give anything away beyond that Hawke plays a temporal agent traveling through time to prevent great disasters but finds the effort to be a paradox.
Food-porn at its best
Jon Favreau's pet project, after a decade of big budget, heavy-on-special-effects, blockbusters and fantasy fair, is as charming as they come. The film follows a master chef (played by Favreau) whose career is derailed and, as a last resort, opens a food truck and drives across country with his young son and his sous-chef, played by John Leguizamo, selling Cubano sandwiches. Along the way, we're treated to food-porn at its best and introduced to a cast of characters that would make Woody Allen blush: Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansen, and a slew of other familiar faces.
This is still a far cry from 'Swingers' - the film that began the plague that is Vince Vaughn and managed to charm every straight man in America - but the man knows how to make a light comedy with clever dialogue that doesn't feel frivolous. This is far from indie/art-house but Favreau was candid in saying that he had no desire to make a cinematic contribution, he simply fell in love with the premise, ran with it, and the result brought the house down.
La danza de la realidad (2013)
Reality is a subjective concept
If you're familiar with Jodorowsky's films ('The Holy Mountain' / 'El Topo') you are already aware that your chances of fully understanding the menagerie he presents is futile; whole books can and have been written in an effort to deconstruct his symbolism and celebrate his imagery. It's very easy to focus on the humor and find distraction in the surrealism of his films – that was always the initial draw for me - but his ambitions are of substance with meanings often relevant only to the director himself. The seed of this film is an autobiographical story of Jodorowsky's early childhood in the isolated coastal city of Topopilla, Chile where he experienced alienation as a displaced Ukrainian Jew. Jodorowsky insists that reality is a subjective concept and he immediately describes his setting as a circus with an overbearing father who dresses as Stalin and a mother whose lines are entirely delivered in operatic sing-song.
The film is as much about his father's journey through life as it is his own and the performances are so passionate and over-the-top that, along with his vivid pallet of colors, there is a 'cartoon' quality to the experience. All whimsy aside, this is one of his most cohesive narratives and he refers to 'The Dance of Reality' (his first film in 23 years) as a therapeutic endeavor – or 'psychomagic' – intended to heal residual, family-related psychological distress. Films made for an audience of one will always be a challenge but it's an absolute privilege to be allowed a peek into the mind of such a unique artist.
The stand-alone credit it deserves
One of the more baffling choices made in 1980's Hollywood was to release a movie about witch toy-makers combining computers with pieces of Stonehenge as a weapon to kill children under the title 'Halloween 3'. Sure, from one perspective, associating this one-off horror flick with a tried and true franchise must have seemed like easy money but the deception reviled audiences and, regardless of the films many qualities, it was a total flop. Now, 30 years later, the film has finally found its cult and the stand-alone credit it deserves.
In an effort to start a new anthology series and move the title 'Halloween' away from the one-trick-pony that is 'Michael Myers', John Carpenter and Producer Debra Hill took a risk and hired Tommy Lee Wallace, the Production Designer & Editor of the original Halloween, to write and direct the first installment. The result is a bat-s@#t, off-the-wall plot that had me both terrified and scratching my head as a kid.
The film follows Dr. Challis, played by the mustachioed cult icon (only - possibly - perceived - as - studly - to - some - other - generation), Tom Atkins. After one of his patients is brutally murdered by a mysterious suited man who then self-immolates in front of him, Challis inexplicably leaves his wife and kids to follow his late patient's hot, young daughter – what more motivation could he need - on a quest to solve this mysterious killing. The only clue they have is the jack-o-lantern Halloween mask her father was clutching when he was wheeled into the ER. The sing-song television ad ('4 more days to Halloween ' set to the melody of 'London Bridge is Falling Down') that has already played no less than 3 times by this point of the film (with many many repeat viewings to come) shares the same green shamrock logo as the mask. Their destination is an isolated Northern Californian village called Santa Mira, the headquarters of the Silver Shamrock Toy and Halloween Mask Company lead by Conal Cochran (the always imposing Dan O'Herlinhy – 'RoboCop', 'The Last Starfighter').
It's not that the gore and horror of their discoveries are any more shocking than what we've already seen in 'Halloween' movies – in fact, the suited henchmen might as well be 'Michael Myers' clones based on their killing style and presence – but that the deaths are some much more 'out there'. It's one of those films that, if you haven't seen, tries to unravel as a bit of a mystery and the solution to that mystery is so totally inexplicable that I don't want to give it away. What I will say is that this, like a few of its contemporaries, was made in an era just before it became absolutely unheard of to depict children in peril; these toy-makers pull no punches in that effort using an absurd combination of witchcraft, astrology, paganism, microchips, subliminal messages, robots, snakes, bugs, and wicked Halloween masks to brutally murder trick-or-treaters and their parents. You really have to see this to believe it.
Fort Tilden (2014)
That's what's so funny
If ever you wondered what happened to the 'valley girl' ethic, rest assured that it is alive and well in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Harper (Bridey Elliott) & Allie (Clare McNulty) are 20-something best friends whose parental affluence hasn't really required them to mature in the years since college. This comedy follows their ill-conceived attempt at being thrifty as they choose to bike (rather than taxi) across Brooklyn to a Rockaway Beach party. These are two of the most vapid and shallow characters ever portrayed as protagonists - they don't learn a thing as they spend hundreds of dollars during their 10 mile odyssey - and that's what's so funny. As for winning the SXSW Grand Jury Prize, I can totally see the comparisons with, festival darling, Lena Dunham's 'Girls' - which is a guilty pleasure of mine - but, where Dunham's wit and goofy characters coax empathy, the 'Fort Tilden' characters have no apparent redeeming qualities. I laughed a bit but this is no Patsy & Edina or Romy & Michele; I got more than my fill of Harper, Allie, and their equally self-centered world.
Space Station 76 (2014)
It's hard not to love him for it
What can I say about, first time director, Jack Plotnick's ('Girls will be Girls' / 'Wrong') 'Space Station 76'
picture 'Star Trek - Deep Space Nine' set in an alternate universe that parallels 1970's America, in which God is a transvestite; that about sums it up. This is a day-in-the-life melodrama set on a spaceship where Patrick Wilson's ('The Conjuring' / 'Hard Candy') captain struggles with his secret love for transferred lieutenant Daniel (Matthew Morrison of 'Glee') with replacement lieutenant, Liv Tyler ('The Fellowship of the Rings'), coming to terms with woman's 'lib' in a world where a glass of wine and a cigarette are the perfect preparation for breast feeding. Plot-heavy this is not but Plotnick lays his childhood pain out on the line in this genre parody and it's hard not to love him for it.
13 Sins (2014)
I was all in
For those that haven't seen 'Cheap Thrills', I apologize because, for those that have, it's the best reference I can give for Daniel Stramm's '13 Sins'. That, along with the added consequence hinted at with, "in the most positive, empowering way, try to think of this as a gun pointed at your head." It's a good introduction to this game of 'dare' that becomes more and more elaborate and unethical. Just before he hits his lowest point, a father-to-be played by Mark Webber ('Scott Pilgrim Vs The world' / 'Bomb the System') is provided with the opportunity to participate in a mysterious competition that could either jeopardize what life he has left or provide a solution to all his woes. I'm bias because this was my second helping of Ron Perlman today but, when it's reveled that this contest is taking place on a grand scale, that intertwines one contestant against another, I was all in.
Blood Pulls a Gun (2014)
'Blood Pulls a Gun' stands above the rest
'Blood Pulls a Gun' stands above the rest. A teenage girl, Alice (Odessa Young), lives with her father in an isolated Australian resort hotel that has seen better days. She spends her time looking through keyholes and alleviates her boredom by stealing little knick-knacks from the few guests that pass through. When a mysterious stranger, played by Josh McConville ('The Infinite Man'), and his lover check in, her life gets much more complicated. Both the performances and the look of the film are excellent but I remember being worried that narrative would take a back-seat to tone and atmosphere. Not so. It is very rare to pull off 'erotic' successfully and this does it in spades. The build in tension is so enthralling and the film's ending is so distressing that I have to give great respect to director, Ben Briand, and writer, Kevin Koehler. I can't wait to see what they do next.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)
Likening herself to a conquistador
At age 29, Kumiko is an isolated depressive working in an office position that's usually reserved for younger Japanese girls that are filling their time before finding a husband and moving on. With no ambitions to follow suit, after finding a water-damaged VHS copy of the Cohen Brother's 1996 film, 'Fargo', she becomes obsessed with finding the money-filled suitcase buried by Steve Buscemi's character and stitches together her own treasure map of the North Dakota tundra. Likening herself to a conquistador, she sets off on a journey to the 'New World' on a hunt for buried treasure via less-than legal means. The film is slowly paced but the humor never misses the mark and its unique tone and style is absolutely beautiful. The story hinges on Rinko Kikuchi's ('Pacific Rim' / 'The Brothers Bloom') performance which keeps even the lulls in the narrative interesting.
Dark Angel (1990)
It is a very thin line between 'Dark Angel' and films like 'The Terminator' or 'RoboCop'
It is a very thin line between 'Dark Angel' and films like 'The Terminator' or 'RoboCop'. That 'line', more often than not, comes largely down to budget. 'Dark Angel' (or 'I Come in Peace' as it will always be to me) is no more far-fetched in story than the films it aspires to be and manages to make up for its small budget with enough pyrotechnic absurdity to make Michael Bay blush and one-liners that could give Arnie a run for his money.
'Dark Angel' follows detective Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) whose investigation of Houston's organized drug smuggling syndicate, 'The White Boys' (a tongue-in-cheek troupe of Patrick Bateman clones straight out of 1980's yuppie culture), is interrupted by an extra-terrestrial drug-harvesting alien and the cosmic cop on his trail. Okay, so, when I put it like that, it does sound more than a bit silly but this is the stuff of comic books; it's incredibly violent and could easily accompany films like Spawn, Predator, or Darkman.
The humanoid alien has come to earth to steal heroin which he then injects into his victims using a snake-like probe. The drug results in a tidal-wave of endorphins which the ghost-eyed E.T. extracts from their brains using a giant spike directly to their foreheads. Come on, that's kinda cool... right? In a time when CD's were a mysterious technology, ironically (*wink wink*), the alien's primary weapon is a razor sharp, self-propelled shiny silver disc that is tuned to the electro-magnetic frequency of humans. His back-up weapon is a kick-ass gun that fires 3-times the speed of the one used in 'RoboCop'. That was literally the request made of the prop department and achieved to great effect; there are seemingly more explosions than dialogue. I started counting fire balls a few minutes into the film and even before I got to the climax, I lost count somewhere around 36. You could make an epic drinking game out of this one and be fall-down drunk half-way through.
For all its hokey, misguided ambitions (and for what it's worth) this is Lundgren's best performance. He's fresh-faced, human, 99% intelligible and, in a sharp about-face to the tough-guy cliché, he collects art, sips Cabernet, and longs for romance. It's a weird take but they balance it out by giving him one of the cheesiest action-movie one-liners of all time. Alien Drug Dealer: 'I come in peace.' Dolph: 'and you go in pieces, asshole.' It's pretty unfor(give)getable.
Apparently, 'Dark Angel' (the original title) was envisioned as a big-budget blockbuster (aren't they all) and was written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Death Becomes Her, Spider-Man). If you've seen it, you might think me an optimist but this really could have gone either way. The fact that it went the way of the forgotten late-night video rental is fitting but there is some really vintage stuff here and it's never boring.
Day of the Dead (1985)
The walking dead equivalent to 'Return of the Jedi'
Though they've lost their fear factor for me, zombie films are my favorite junk food; I just can't get enough of them and 'Day of the Dead' is the peanut-butter-filled Twinkie of the lot. Romero's original Living Dead trilogy set the standard for American zombie movies and this is the walking dead equivalent to 'Return of the Jedi'.
In 'Day of the Dead', there's the veneer of a story focusing on a group of government assigned scientists and military personnel posted in an isolated underground mine-come-research facility sometime after the zombie apocalypse. The film follows a collection of characters who are undeniably more interesting than the throw-away 'meat' posing as human beings in most modern horror movies. We could go on and on about the Romero(ian) social commentaries & satirical subtexts about government conspiracy and the breakdown of civility in contemporary America but, let's face it, the bread-and-butter here is that 'Day of the Dead' is the film that finally makes a zombie the protagonist! The real hero here is Howard Sherman's 'Bub'. The most emotive and 3-dimensional character in any of Romero's films. In a performance that genuinely rivals Karloff's 'Monster', he has to be one of the greatest (and most under-appreciated) characters of 1980's cinema.
Also unique to 'Day' – and rare to genre films of the time – is a strong female lead. The story is largely told from the perspective of Sarah, played by Lori Cardille, and Romero admits that placing a heroine front and center was a bit of a self-imposed penance for years of writing jelly-armed damsels in distress (a la 'Barbara'). Sarah is no 'Ellen Ripley' and there's never an epic hero-moment for her but she's more than passing and has some great moments at the beginning of the film.
'Day' is also the most Lovecraftian of Romero's films with mad scientists who manage to come off as the least insane of the bunch and, with 'Bub', we get the zombie epiphany that there really is more going on inside those decaying skulls than we ever hoped or feared; zombies have memories of life.
With hindsight and oodles of carbon-copy slasher films
In 1976, director Charles B. Pierce ('The Legend of Boggy Creek' / 'The Winds of Autumn'), well before 'Halloween' or 'Friday the 13th, single-handedly invented the silent-killer-in-a-mask genre that has saturated horror ever since. What's more, he did it with style. There are chunks of this film that could easily have been directed by a young, idealistic Steven Spielberg with an every-man police officer as the lead and an almost-folksy narration elevating the town of Texarkana to sympathetic heights.
In the mid-1940's, the city of Texarkana (which straddles the Texas/Arkansas border) was the location of one of America's first serial killer cases. 'The Town That Dreaded Sundown' is a very loose interpretation of the (so dubbed) 'Phantom Killer's' exploits and the Police, Texas Ranger, and FBI investigations that followed him over the course of a year. The famous bag mask (that was later recycled for Jason Voorhees' first appearance in 'Friday the 13th Part 2') was a liberty taken by the director - a liberty taken with great success. Also a construct of creative freedom are the murder scenes in this film (which are violently terrifying and extremely graphic for any era). A good example of this skewing of truth is a death – and I won't go into detail – involving a rather creative attempt at playing the trombone. There was a saxophone in evidence with one of the real murders but the gruesome fiction that Pierce comes up with has to have scarred many young minds over the last 37 years (mine included).
With hindsight and oodles of carbon-copy slasher films stored away in our collective psyches, the plot comes across as being pretty basic for the genre but it's actually a very human film. There are genuine characters and a bizarre sense of humor that fluctuates between hideously dark and downright goofy. From scene to scene, the tone changes are so jarring that I wouldn't hesitate to believe that there were multiple directors involved. It feels a bit like a nightmare baby spawned by John Huston, John Carpenter, and 'The Dukes of Hazard'. How can you possibly not enjoy such a monstrous birth!?