Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Delta Force


I randomly got the whim to watch The Delta Force for the first time in at least fifteen years. I recall seeing it as a Saturday matinee in 1996 or so on a FOX station. It struck me the film might take on a different meaning in the post-9/11 era. Alas, it only took about twenty minutes of film before I remembered it is too shallow to make any kind of real statement.

The first half The Delta Force is based loosely on the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985. Some of the real events which are fictionalized for the film are the Cairo-Athens-Rome flight path, there were two hijackers with a third arrested in Athens, flying between Lebanon and Algiers to impede any rescue attempts, a German stewardess is asked to separate the Jews from the other passengers by passport names, a Navy pilot tortured, murdered, and thrown onto the tarmac, and passengers being taken off the plane and hidden in sites around Beirut.

I have mixed emotions about the first half. There is nothing wrong with a dramatization of real events, even one that comes soon after the event it dramatizes. Perspective may suffer. A lot of films like that do not age well as history reveals more of what really went on. In terms of The Delta Force, I wonder two things. One, how does Uli Derrickson, the real Flight 847 stewardess, feel about her ’portrayal? Derrickson served as translator because German was the only common language between the terrorists and any passengers, she hid the Jewish passports in an effort to save the Jews, and paid for jet fuel herself in Algiers when officials refused the terrorists’ demand for a free fill up. Two, how does the family of murdered navy diver Robert Stethem feel about how his fictional counterpart was brutalized and murdered?

The reason I wonder about those two points is not because they are presented in The Delta Force, but the second half of the movie is so bad, it cheapens what happened to the real people involved. The similarities to the TWA 847 hijacking end with a completely fictional, outrageously jingoistic war in downtown Beirut that does not elevate itself beyond Rambo-level sincerity. At one point, Chuck Norris has a fistfight with one of the escaping terrorists, then blows him up with a missile firing motorcycle. A Japanese made Suzyuki, no less. The real TWA 847 crisis ended without a rescue. The Delta Force resolves the crisis with an Entebbe like assault that plays out like a revenge fantasy. Indeed, the beginning of the film is about the failed rescue of the embassy hostages in Iran, so there is a notion from the beginning the film is making up for not kicking terrorist butt when we had the chance.

There were some bits that were laugh out loud absurd. The terrorists are incredibly tough when brutalizing hostages, but act like completely stereotypical wusses when the Delta force attacks. Not to say terrorists are necessarily tough. They are attacking unarmed civilians, after all. But it is made out to be the American military is completely invincible and the terrorists know it. I believe in the US armed forces, but come on. War is brutal. American soldiers get killed. The violence needs to be presented more seriously.

The second absurd moment is small, I suppose, but it completely destroys the tension. The Delta force has to load up nearly 200 rescued passengers onto the plane in broad daylight with both militias and civilians shooting at them. Somehow, they manage to do this. With no one getting shot, even though some passengers are elderly and/or wounded already. The delta Force are the last to get on the plane. They are in such a hurry to escape gunfire, the staircase are removed before every can get in, so some have to jump. Those on the plane dangle a rope down so the remaining stragglers can climb aboard as the plane starts rolling down the runway. Amid all this panic, a stewardess is calmly making coffee. I know it is dumb, but that is an unintentionally hilarious moment at a time when the screws ought to be tightening.

Do not even get me started on Chuck Norris’ catching up with the speeding plane on his missile equipped Suzuki and acrobatics in order to get onboard right before it takes off. I have already stopped thinking and just try to enjoy the movie long before that point. I also try not to remember this was Lee Marvin’s last film. I am certain the pain of starring in it finally killed him.

The Delta Force is a dumb action movie. It attempts to generate the same feeling of American pride in viewers as Red Dawn. It fails in that regard, but if you enjoy mindless violence and rah rah jingoism, check it out. The Delta force has a lot of red meat if that is your thing. For me, it is just a mediocre action flick. It is Shakespeare compared to its two sequels, however. But those are for (perhaps) another time.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shallow Hal

I said yesterday that Jack Black is often better as a supporting character than the main. That is not meant to be a sweeping generalization. He is up and down as the lead character, but when he is up, he flies high. Case in point is Shallow Hal, a film with some big laughs, a few awkward ones, and a strange poignancy at times.

Black plays Hal Larson, who, along with his buddy Mauricio (Jason Alexander), spends all his spare time acting like an obnoxious jerk while trying to pick up gorgeous women out of his league. Both of them are superficial and--hypocritically, if you ask me--contemptuous towards unattractive people. By accident, Hal becomes trapped in an elevator with self-help scam artist (Hush. He is.) Tony Robbins. Robbins hypnotizes Hal to see the inner beauty of people in hopes he can find true love.

The plan works. Hal begins hanging around with fat, ugly girls, whom only he sees as gorgeous. Mauricio cannot understand the change in his friend. Hal begins dating his boss’ daughter, Rosemary She is morbidly obese, but he sees her as Gweneth Paltrow. The two build a meaningful relationship together until Maurice, who wants the old Hal back, gets Robbins to break the hypnotic spell. Hal no longer recognizes rosemary. It breaks her heart to think she has been dumped.

Hal has a change of heart as he begins to recognize the outward appearance of all the beautiful people he has met under the hypnosis. He decides he loves Rosemary anyway and reconciles with her before she leaves the country on a peace Corps assignment with her old, evidently less desirable than Hal, boyfriend.

If Shallow Hal has a problem, it is that it often takes the easy way out, either for laughs or tears. The predictable fat jokes are abundant. I expect and thought quite a few were hilarious. The tugging at the heart strings was a bit much. You have to buy into the idea that every fat, unattractive, and crippled person has a heart of gold while anyone who is not like that looks normal. Looking normal in Shallow Hal means being an unsavory type on some level. That is hard to swallow. People are people, with all virtues and flaws intact. The most blatant attempt to choke the audience up is when Hal visits Rosemary as she volunteers at the hospital working with kids. He does not realize--and neither do we--until the hypnotic spell is gone the kids are horribly scarred children in the burn unit. I confess it was a poignant revelation, but they were trying too hard there. Maybe I just do not like being manipulated emotionally.

The Farrelly brothers for absurd, often offensive comedies with enough heart thrown in to usually keep them from collapsing into childish farce. They do not always succeed. Shallow Hal has its flaws, but it perhaps surprisingly hits quite a few marks. It is worth watching if you do not mind not taking a romantic comedy very seriously. Shallow Hal is not a full fledged chick flick.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

School of Rock

I generally like Jack Black when he plays supporting roles. He has been uneven when he has to carry a film himself. School of Rock is one of the times he pulls off a lead role well. Black plays a man/child with a heck of a lot more brains than Adam Sandler. Therefore, he is a heck of a lot more entertaining.

Finn has no clue how to handle these prep school fifth graders, so he gives them all recess until he overhears them in music class. Realizing they have big musical talent, he turns the class into a hard rock band with full management staff behind the back of the stuffy principal, Mrs. Mullins. (Joan Cusack) finn plans to enter the kids’ band into the rock contest he was originally planning to play in with hopes of a large cash prize. The kids take to rock and roll fast, but soon Finn is discovered to be a fraud. When the principal gets rid of him, the kids decide to compete in the contest anyway, taking a now very depressed Finn along.

They lose, but an encore is demanded by the crowd. Everything predictably works out in the end. The parents forgive finn for derailing their kids’ education. Mrs. Mullins comes around. Finn is hired to run an after school music program. No harm is done. It is a trite, happy ending, but fits perfectly well with the tone of the rest of the film.

I liked School of Rock overall. The story is awfully implausible, but some of the jokes about the touchy feely, child psychology method of teaching these days were amusing. I also give kudos for letting the kids be kids without making them purposefully cute or vulgar for shock value. It is a decent, funny family movie that does not talk down to kids or bore adults. Classic rock fans have to appreciate the soundtrack and finn’s enthusiasm for what rock and roll is all about--sticking it to the Man..

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Bucket List

Just a note to those of you who might be reading Apocalypse Cinema on a regular basis. If you found this review through a search engine or clicked on it out of curiosity, please skip ahead to the next paragraph. That is where the actual review of The Bucket List begins. For those of you still with me here, I had a plan to review a horror movie a day throughout the month of October. Ill health has thrown me off schedule twice to the point I would have to go nearly into December in order to finish. Frankly, I have watched other kinds of movies since September that I want to write about . I do not feel like these horror movie reviews are all that popular anyway, so I am just going to move on. There will be plenty more horror movie reviews in the future, but for now, I want more variety in what I write about.

I want to like The Bucket List. I really do. But it just tries too hard to tug on my heartstrings with both the comedic and the tearjerker moments that I feel blatantly manipulated rather than going with the narrative flow. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are great, but it feels like they have taken characters they have played in the past and put them in this film. Nicholson is the grumpy misanthrope who learns to love and find jjoy in his life. Freeman is the wizened, articulate man who has been held back in life by the social realities of when he was born. Where have they played those respective characters before? In practically every movie they have been in over the last twenty years.

Nicholson plays hospital tycoon Edward Cole, a man who cuts costs by demanding every patient share a room. When he contracts cancer, he is forced to share a room with Carter Chambers (Freeman), a terminally ill mechanic who wanted to be a history professor, but family obligations and racism stood in his way. Their relationship is naturally hostile at first. Edward does not want to share a room. He is only doing so to avoid a public relations nightmare. But the two develop a fast friendship as they struggle through their treatment and eventual discovery they are both terminal.

When carter finds out how much time he has left, he crumples up the bucket list he was writing. Such is a list of things to do before one kicks the bucket. Edward finds the crumpled list and offers to bankroll the trip to cross items off. The two set out to see the world and do incredibly dangerous things like skydiving and race car driving. Edward even hires a hooker for Carter when he discovers he has only ever been with his wife. Carter declines and asks to return home, but requests Edward reconcile with his estranged daughter as a favor to him. Their first reunion does not go well.

Carter gets the terrible news his cancer has spread to his brain. He dies on the operating table during a voice over montage that also has Edward finally winning over his daughter. The problem for me is twofold. First, a Morgan Freeman voiceover is so been there, done that at this point. He has enhanced a number of great movies by narrating them, but The Bucket List is so maudlin, it feels like the powers that be were trying too hard for sincerity. Two, there is no dialogue heard between Edward, his daughter, and granddaughter. It is left up to the imagination to figure out how he patched things up. Sometimes, that works. Here, it does not.

All the pieces are there for a great movie, but they just do not fit together. The humor gets lost in the drama--these two are dying, for heaven’s sake--while the drama often gets lost in the exaggerated effort to make the audience sad. The Bucket List cannot decide exactly what it wants to be, so it winds up being a movie you feel bad for the few times you laughed and irritated at the scenes they could have flashed Cry now across the scene and been more subtle. I am curious whether cancer patients or their families have been offended by the film. That thought ran through my mind for the final two-thirds. I assume that is not what they wanted me to take away from it.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Freaks

The reputation for Freaks is legendary among film buffs. Rumored to have been banned since audiences were far too disturbed by the film’s content to remain in theaters more than a few weeks, the film was only officially banned in the United Kingdom and shelved by MGM in the United States. Nevertheless, a heavily edited version of Freaks become popular in midnight showings at various small venues. The film has since been declared culturally significant by the National Film Registry, paving the way for wider acceptance. A Dvd was released in 2004, which is what I viewed for this review.

I knew Freaks by reputation only. Cheap VHS copies had been floating around the comic book convention circuit for as long ass I had been frequenting them, but I never saw anything more than box cover art. We are talking about a time period in which I was in late elementary to junior high age, a period in which I was particularly sensitive about my disabilities and the reaction of other people to them. I was not emotionally ready fo see this sort of thing.

Now that I have, I am wondering if I or anyone else can truly be prepared to watch Freaks. It is a horrifying disturbing film which destroyed the career of director Tod Browng, a man who had worked with the great Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi, but still absolutely fascinating.

If you do not know the film by reputation, perhaps you have heard the most frequent pop cultural reference from the film--someone clapping while chanting, “One of us! One of us!” in context, it is an insult to the person being taunted because he or she is now part of an undesirable group. Most recently, Howard made this joke in reference to Penny hanging out with the geeks on The Big Bang Theory.

So what is the big issues with Freaks? There are several, actually. First, Browning cast actual deformed people to play the sideshows freaks. While the film makes an effort to humanize the deformed people, often by showing how they deal with slice of life situations, there is a highly exploitive vibe running throughout. Second, there are no redeeming characters. The general plot is that normal people are ugly on the inside, but the freaks are good. But by the end, we learn that everyone is unspeakably cruel. Finally, the ending is insanely violent even by today’s standards. I can only imagine what audiences thought in 1932.

The plot is a trapeze artist named Cleopatra and a strongman named Hercules plot to steal the dwarf’s fortune. He is smiyyen with Cleopatra,, even though she is a beautiful, tall woman. She pretends to return his love so they can get married, then poisons him once she is his wife. Pone of the freaks overhears her talking about her and Hercules’ plan to run away with the money, so the freaks plot revenge.

In the climax, the freaks attack Cleopatra and Hercules with any sharp object they can get ahold. It is strongly implied they castrate Hercules and maim Cleopatra until she becomes a freak dubbed the duck Woman herself. So they live out their days among the freaks for whom they had nothing but contempt as one of them.

There are a half dozen or so scenes in Freaks that will linger with you as aggressively as the revelation of what Victor has become in Se7en most notably, the climax, in which all sorts of deformed freaks crawl towards Hercules and Cleopatra with knives held in any way they are capable. You lose all sympathy for them subsequently because of their brutality. Hence, there are no good guys ultimately in the film.

It ends with you feeling unsettled about everything you have just seen. Yet, I recommen watching it once. Once is all you will ever need to experience this dark, dark film. if you need an expert's opinion, legend has it the Siamese twins entered the MGM cafeteria at the same time fledgling screenwriter F. Scott Fitagerald was eating lunch. Upon seeing them, Fitzgerald rushed to the bathroom to vomit. So you do not have to take my word for it alone.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Mummy


Since I covered Universal’s The Mummyyesterday, I thought the Hammer version from 1959 would be an interesting choice for comparison. Upon viewing, I note that, like the Frankenstein series, Hammer takes its update into a startlingly different direction which does not quite resonate as well as Universal’s Frankenstein or Dracula films.

The plot is remarkably similar to the 1932 original. An ancient Egyptian has the hots for a woman destined to be given to the main Egyptian god. Being the devout sort of guy who does not want to tick off the powers that be, he lets his love go until after her death because he thinks her obligation will have ended by then. ‘til death do we part and all that good stuff. It turns out he is wrong. When he is caught in her tomb trying to bring her back to life, he is buried alive to serve as her protector for all eternity.

The film shift gears from the original when the mummy is revived in modern day London to be used as an instrument of revenge by an Egyptian angry that British archeologists have robbed a tomb of sacred artifacts. Whereas Boris Karloff was far more subtle, spending most of the original film as the sinister Imhotep going about his plan, This mummy is Jason Vorhees’ grand pappy. He beats down doors, snaps bones, and generally messes people up.

Is it fun to watch? Yes. Is there anything particularly interesting about it? No, not unless you count the subtle attempt to mirror the mummy to the hero, played, of course, by the great Peter Cushing. The mummy has a slow, painful gait. So does Cushing.. His is the result of suffering a broken leg which was not set properly. But the dichotomy does not go any deeper than that, so whatever the filmmakers were aiming for, they missed as far as I am concerned. Perhaps a wiser head than mine can decipher the nuance.

Speaking of nuance, Christopher Lee does a good job with playing the mummy. He is essentially a silent golem with his face mostly covered by bandages, so it is not easy to give the character a personality as he goes on his killing spree, but Lee pulls it off.

Alas, Lee is no Karloff. That is not a knock on Lee. No one is Karloff when it comes to portraying monster. I said above universal and hammer took their franchises in different directions in order to distinguish their brands. Hammer’s mummy is the least of the franchises to me. For Hammer, Frankenstein is more a psychological study of Dr. Frankenstein. For Dracula, Lee creates a dark character often more frightening than Bela Lugosi. But the mummy turns out to be a less bloody precursor the the Friday the 13th/Halloween/Nightmare on Elm Street flicks on the late ’70’s-80’s. Ther movie does not rely as much on gore, but there is not as much cleverness in it, either.

The Mummy is fun to watch, but disappointing compared to what Hammer has done with other franchises.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Mummy


I am a big Boris Karloff fan. So have many other film buffs over the decades, so much so that Karloff was often billed only as Karloff the Uncanny. The Mummy, which was a big hit, but not considered as fondly as Karloff’s Frankenstein, is nevertheless a personal favorite.

An archeological expedition uncovers the tomb of Imhotep, a high priest who was buried alive 3,700 years ago. Imhotep, wrapped up tight as a mummy, is accidentally awakened by an archeologist who inadvertently reads an incantation from a scroll. The archeologist goes mad upon seeing the revived mummy as the creature heads off into the desrt.

Imhotep returns a decade later, sans wrappings, with plans to revive his main squeeze. She is now an exhibit at the Cairo Museum. His effort at reviving her fails. He then realizes her soul has departed the shell of her corpse. It now resides in the body a beautiful, young socialite Helen Grosvenor. Grosvenor is played by the lovely Broadway actress Zita Johan.n Johann ranks right up there with Thelma Todd in classic Hollywood beauty in my book.The only way to be reunited with his true love is to mummify Grosvenor, then bring her back with the same incantation that originally revived him. The archeologists discover his true identity and destroy the appropriate scroll, turning him to dust before he can mummify Grosvenor.

I may not enjoy most of what passes for horror these days, but I really dig the classics. As such, The Mummy is one of my all-time favorites. I cannot say the script is full of surprises. It predictably goes from point A to B to C, in fact. But the journey is still good fun. Karloff is great as usual. His make up job as the mummy is quite impressive. Rumor is it took eight hours a day to put on and was incredibly painful to remove. I believe it. It looks like a perfect blend of skin and bandages. Exactly what you would expect from a nearly 4,000 year old corpse.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gremlins


Yesterday, we saw what happened to Zack Galligan when the Gremlins money finally ran out. He was forced to star in Waxwork Let us see how he earned that cash in the first place.

Gremlins is a classic 80’s movies and one of the favorites from my childhood. Is there anyone my age who did not want a Mogwai > We all swore we could handle the rules of owning one a heck of a lot better than Billy did. Even if they were rather illogical. I cannot feed one after midnight? Okay, but when can I serve him breakfast? When does the prohibition end? What if I cross the International Date Line? How do I clean him if he cannot get wet? You never know what these critters might get into.

Okay, I am anal. I think about these things. Fortunately, I think about them more in 2010 than I did in 1984, so I have a lot of fond nostalgia to make up for some of the logical issues.

Randall Peltzer, played oddly enough by Hoyt Atkins, buys his son a Mogwai, a strange little ball of fur, from a Chinese curiosity shop over the owner’s protests. Billy takes to the critter enthusiastically in spite of being warned of the dare consequences of getting him wet, feeding him after midnight, or exposing him to light.

Naturally, all three of those things happen as the movie progresses. When Gizmo, as Billy names it, gets wet, he spawns a group of hellion Mogwai who wreak mischievous havoc. When they trick Billy into feeding them after midnight by cutting the wire to his clock, they become far more sinister creatures who terrorize the town before being destroyed in the climax.

The film is wonderfully paced. We get to know and like Gizmo enough to want a Mogwai ourselves, but the one accident of him getting wet snowballs the entire story into an increasingly violent black comedy. There is brutal mauling, a microwaved gremlin, decapitated gremlin, and a final confrontation between Billy and a gremlin that used to scare the heck out of me as a tyke. I still jumped at the final bit watching the movie again 26 years later.

The violence prompted the MPAA to revamp its ratings system a couple moths after the film’s release. The revamp lead to the Pg-13 rating, which is an effort to keep kids from seeing unusually violent material. It has worked out really well for them over the years.

I will admit for a movie aimed at a younger audience, the violence is pretty graphic. There is a lot of comedic elements to temper things, such as the stereotypical mean old lady being launched out a window by a malfunctioning stair lift, but the body count and the means by which they are killed is most impressive. I have already mentioned the horrific final confrontation.

Some of the stop motion effects are awfully dated, but Gremlins is still a fun view today. Phoebe Cates in her heyday as Billy’s girlfriend Kate is also a joy to behold. And yes, that is Howie Mandel “voicing” Gizmo. That is also Tom Bergeron as a TV news reporter. Watch for producer Steven Spielberg as a man in an electric wheelchair. But do watch. Gremlins is a sometimes gruesome, but always fun classic

I have to note the allegations of racism that have plqued the film over the years. Some have claimed the final, most evil version of gremlins were a negative steretype of blacks. They ate fried chicken, listened to loud music, break danced, and were generally unruly and perverted--all racost stereotypes of blacks. If one is attwempting to see that sort of thing in it, then yes, it looks that way.

But I highly doubt producers of a big budget film would purposefully do something so malicious that would risk their reputations and box office success. And really, producer Speilberg has created such positive black themed films like The Color Purple and Amistad. I do not believe accusations of racism have any merit.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Waxwork

Yesterday, we hit the horror/crime genre with From Dusk ‘til dawn. Today, he hit the horror/comedy/genre with Waxwork. True fans of horror, which I am not, would dare not include Waxwork among horror films, even within the cheesy flicks of the late ’80’s era. I will grant them Waxwork is a Goosebumps script with some minor gore and BDSM (!) thrown in to elevate it beyond kiddie fare, but it is still an enjoyable film to watch.

Right off the bat, the film loses credibility because of its leads. Waxwork’s hero is Mark, played by Zach Galligan after the Gremlins money ran out, and Sarah, played by Deborah Foreman of Valley Girl fame. So that is two early ’80’s icons relegated to a low budget escape from a wax museum with living exhibits.

Poor foreman has the longest fall. she is part of the most memorable sequence in the film which involves a long, barebacked whipping from the Marquis de Sade, for whom she winds up developing a strange attraction. Women suffering degradation in horror films is nothing unusual, but what I dismaying here is that she never earns any revenge or redemption. Sarah is rescued by Mark, but as she came to enjoy the torture, she does not want to leave. He snatches her up, anyway. Definite proof the screenwriter is a guy who knows very few real women.

The plot is pretty straightforward. A wax museum appears over night in a small town. Local kids go inside and discover they can enter the exhibits where they will be transported to another dimension in which the exhibit is real. Unfortunately, the exhibits are all classic horror displays, from Dracula to pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The kids have to rescue missing friends and find their way out while dealing with Sarah’s newfound fascination with being tied up and whipped.

What ensues is a predictable romp. It is mostly tame kills as far as horror films go, but there is the occasional impressive bit of gore. The perverts out there will probably dig Sarah’s ordeal. It is cleaned up enough she has no markings from the beating, nor does she react appropriately to the punishment she is supposedly suffering. But the sequence lasts a good ten minutes with other scenes interspersed to ratchet up the tension. For better or worse, it is what you will takee away from the film as a whole.

Waxwork is trite fun. I thought, as a non-horror fan, it was fun, but not anything special. I would not even call it a comedy. There were few laughs. Most of those were at the absurdity of it all. They might as well have made it a time travel movie in which Mark has to rescue Sarah from the Marquis de Sade, all things considered.

Ratings: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

From Dusk 'til Dawn

From ‘til Dawn is the first Quentin Tarantino film to show up on Apocalypse Cinema. Not the most auspicious film to start with, but I am certain many more Tarantino offerings with appear before it is all said and done. I have to bow to my 31 horror film reviews plan, which has already been thrown for a loop enough already.

The movie is a collaboration between director Robert Rodriguez and writer Quentin Tarantino. I have mixed feelings about Rodriguez as a filmmaker. He runs hot and cold for me. But Tarantino’s contributions, save for his acting, are classic Tarantino. The cynical sensibilities, the crisp, rapid dialogue, and excessive violence are all present. Why his turn as the psychotic Richie Gecko is so lacking is anyone’s guess, but he is the worst character in the film.

From Dusk ’til Sawn begins as a typical criminals on the run flick, with George Clooney and Tarantino playing Seth and Richie Gecko, bank robbers who are forced to kill a convenience store clerk and a Texas police officer during their escape. When they stop into a motel in order to plan their escape to Mexico where they will meet their contact, it is revealred they have taken a bank teller hostage. When left alone with her, Richie, the most psychotic of the brothers, rapes and murders her.

Now more desperate than ever to flee the country, the Geckos hijack an RV driven by a pastor and his two children. The pastor is suffering from a crisis of faith since his wife was brutally killed in a random car accident--an act of God, so to speak. The pastor is played to the hilt by Harvey Keitel and is one of my favorite characters in the film. His daughter, Kate, played by Juliette Lewis is near the top, too. A typically rebellious preacher’s kid, she is fascinated by the dangerous Seth.

They make it across the border and to the bar where they are to meet their contact. It is when the sun goes down the movie transforms from a crime to action/horror film. The bart is a haven for vampires. Everyone is forced to battle the bloodsuckers until sunlight can seep through the numerous bullet holes left by the gunfire in the morning. By then, only Seth and kate are left alive.

Is there anything special about this film? No, not really. It is quite straightforward in both its action and horror parts. It is still highly entertaining if you have a penchant for both genres. They do not exactly go together like chocolate and peanut butter, but it is a good time if you do not think about it too much. From Dusk ’til Dawn is a grind house homage not meant to be a great film. But it is still an amusing little flick.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Fly


To go from the classic original version of The Fly yesterday to the 1986 gross out directed by David Cronenberg is quite a fall. The things we do in the name of cinema criticism.

Beyond the building of teleportation devices which a brilliant scientist uses on himself and an unfortunate fly who happened to get caught in with him, the movie bears little resemblance to the original in either plot or entertainment value. Geena Davis’ bare breasts do not make up for the film’s obvious intent, which is to gross out, rather than entertain, the audience. Mission accomplished.

From Brundle Fly’s physical deterioration, to his barfing on food in order to eat it, to a dream sequence in which Davis gives birth to a larvae, to Brundle Fly finally getting his head blown off in full, gloriously bloody explosion, >The Fly exists for no other reason than to make your seat while biting your lower lip to keep from barfing yourself.

It is not just that. Lord bless him, Jeff Goldblum solidifies his motif as the stuttering brilliant, eccentric scientist, but Seth Brundle has no charm whatsoever. He is a paranoid alcoholic who screws up his experiment because he is suspicious Veronica (Davis) is about to go back to her old lover. Veronica is not all that great, either. Call personal ax grinding, but her immediate decision to get an abortion after the dream sequence mentioned above is a huge knock against her.

Critics who view The Fly positively have made two points in its favor. One, it is an allegory for the AIDS “epidemic” of the time. I can how they think that. While I am sympathetic to AIDS victims, there is no fire in my belly over the issue, so the poignancy is lost on me. Two, the film played off the real budding romance between Goldblum and Davis. With that in mind, it must not have been much of a relationship. Considering Davis is now married to Remy Harlin, I think I have a point. Neither of these are selling points as far as I am concerned.

Pkay, so I do not like the film. The only point I will give in its favor is the special effects. The make up jobs are disgusting, but done very well. Fans of gore fests may think this is a classic film, but there is nothing in it for me.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Fly

The original 1958 version of The Fly may very well be the greatest film in the science fiction/horror genre. It is effectively scary because of what it does and does not show, but it is also one of, if not the, best written films of the genre.

The story is told in flashback, as widow Helene Delamber explains how her scientist husband, Francois, lost his head and arm in a hydrolic press. The cops do not buy her story that it was suicide, so she is about to be nailed for murder.

The truth is her husband invented teleportation devices that worked, but a fly was caught in with him, so their atoms were mixed. Francois has the head and arm of a fly. Somewhere out there, there is a fly with the mini-head and arm of Vincent Price. Francois tries to keep his deformity a secret from Helene and the audience by wearing a hood.

Francois thinks he can reverse the process if the fly can be found, but the search takes too long. While Francois maintains his intelligence and, more poignantly, his love for Helene, the fly’s instincts begin taking over until he sees no choice but to die. He convinces Helene he is a hopeless case , so she uses the press to kill him.

For a science fiction film of the era, the scene in which Francois convinces Helene to put him out of his misery is quite moving. His death is enormously horrific, as well, largely because it is largely left up to the imagination. We are left to wonder what it must be like to have one’s head and arm crushed because it is not shown. These days, blood would have slpattered everywhere, particularly on Helene. Remember kids, true horror is implied, not shown.

That said, let me contradict myself. The following scene in which the fly with Francois’ head and arm trapped in a spider web about to be devoured is a masterpiece of terror. Something like that could not have been effectively implied. The imagination could not have pictured the man/fly hybrid as horrific as it was. The police detective kills both the fly hybrid and the spider with a rock, then alters the facts to save Helene and himself from murder raps.

Simply put, The Fly is one of the best science fiction/horror films of all time. Vincent price is at his best, the script is unusually tight and emotional for a ’50’s science fiction film, and even the special effects hold up today. It is a masterpiece.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)