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Showing posts from September, 2020

Police Story (1985)

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Sometimes I feel guilty watching Jackie Chan films.  Not because of quality - most of his films are consistently a joy to watch - but because I realize that I am watching a movie that could have easily made the news for the all the wrong reasons. Early in his career Chan began doing most of his own stunts, and that has continued (though to a lesser degree) even though he is now in his 60s.   Police Story is one of those films that almost became his last.  One scene, where he dropped into a lighted display case in a department store, resulted in him being taken to the hospital after he briefly stopped breathing.  As the universe usually has a sick sense of humor, it almost ended up being a split-second scene rather than one of his major set pieces that spelled the end for him.  But, luckily, he came through, and eventually, after years of trying, broke in into the U.S. market.  It was the U.S. cut of this movie I originally saw, dubbed in English and with a healthy number of the scenes

Futureworld (1976)

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Michael Crichton's Westworld was good enough to overcome a modest budget to inspire not just one, but two television shows.  The original was a short-lived series called Beyond Westworld , which aired in the latter part of the 1970s, and quickly disappeared.  The latter is the one currently preparing for a fourth season on HBO.  There was always more to the story than a robot gunslinger stalking guests at a high-end resort.  Like in the show, the whole resort, with its differently themed "worlds," goes completely out of control as an early idea of a computer virus starts to wake up the park's exhibits, who then turn as one against both guests and staff.  Also, within the last couple seasons of the show, it has explored the fact that Delos, the corporation behind the theme park, was into quite a bit more than entertaining a few rich folks.  Season three of the show was a bit of a departure, taking us away from the park and into the futuristic world that spawned it.  I

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

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For all intents and purposes the prequel trilogy should have covered the Clone Wars.  Ever since it was mentioned in Star Wars   there has been some mystery as to what the conflagration was.  It obviously involved clones, and some of those clones show up in Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire series, though that's now relegated to Legends status.  I had hopes that the prequels would deal with this time that has been suspiciously absent in Star Wars movies and the extended universe, but instead we get the beginning of the conflict in Attack of the Clones and the ending in The Revenge of the Sith .  Instead of an interesting period in galactic history George Lucas decided to focus on bad soap opera romance and Anakin's predictable downfall rather than exploring the one thing exciting going on, which was a galactic civil war. After the prequels were over Lucas decided to go ahead and show us what happened between Attack and Revenge , starting with an animated movie released to

Phantasm (1978)

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A number of renowned horror directors didn't get into the business of making scary movies because they had a passion for it.  Rather, they learned something Roger Corman figured out back in the 1950s: horror movies can be made cheap and, regardless of quality, they will often turn a profit as their fan base is already built in.  Despite the rather cynical means in which many horror films get made, the skill of the director is revealed as they take the plunge, whether it be their first film or just their first horror film, and ultimately it is that skill at telling an interesting visual story that sets apart the true artists.  Don Coscarelli may not be as much of a household name as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper or Sam Raimi; however, his influence on the horror genre is immeasurable.  Before he decided to try his hand at frightening an audience Coscarelli made two coming-of-age comedies, Jim, the World's Greatest and Kenny and Company, and along the way met a rather lanky person

Demolition Man (1993)

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I have to admit that Sylvester Stallone was never my favorite action star.  Largely it was because I associated him with Rambo and the ongoing Rocky movies.  By the time I was old enough to start seeing the more violent action features Stallone had long been a bit of a joke.  It wasn't until I was much older that I saw the original Rocky and First Blood  and realized why he had become as popular as he was.  Despite the fact that I had no desire to rush out and see movies with Stallone, in 1993 I received tickets for a press screening of Demolition Man .  I wasn't exactly excited, but I also wasn't paying for it.  I also knew absolutely nothing about it; in all honesty, I don't remember a big push on television for the movie until word of mouth resulted in it being popular.  The most I remember were some tepid tie-in commercials from Taco Bell.  To say I was surprised would be an understatement.  The movie had smart, biting humor. Wesley Snipes was completely insane thro

Stunts (1977)

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Before computers did practically everything for even the laziest of film makers, stuntmen and special effects artists were the kings.  One of the reasons to look forward to James Bond films over the years is to see what daring stunt the makers of the movie would come up with next, and some of their ideas definitely added life even to the worst of the films.  Jackie Chan and, recently, Tom Cruise have both built a reputation doing things that normally are left to professionals that, while they enjoy the thrill of doing something new on screen, often value safety above all else.  It's not surprising that the 1970s saw an entire side genre of "stuntsploitation" films.  I do remember several that were largely just strings of stunts put together with spoken narration.  Some, like Stunt Rock or Gone in 60 Seconds,  used a thin story to string them together, while others gave us full-on movies about those who worked in the profession.  Stunts is largely the latter, although it

Hardcore Henry (2015)

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Directors like to try new things sometimes, and often it gets the movie talked about to the point where it overshadows the plot.  For instance, there is a lot going on in  Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance ), for better or worse, but director Alejandro G. Iñárritu chose to film the movie as if it were one continuous shot.  It did take some effort to make it all seamless, but largely the ploy was successful.  It is not the only aspect of the movie to spark discussion, but it is a big part of what the movie is.  Hardcore Henry uses the gimmick of filming an action film all from the point of view of the main character.  It's not the first time the idea has come about - a good many of the found footage films practically do the same thing - but instead of trying to find any excuse to have the protagonist carry a camera around for 90 minutes, Hardcore Henry instead gives the audience the thrill of experiencing the action right along with the protagonist.  The main problem is

Clay Pigeon (1971)

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Clay Pigeon is a strange film.  It's pretty much a forgotten early '70s hippie exploitation film from Tom Stern, a character actor that was known for bit parts in biker films.  He took what money he had earned from his past movies, borrowed some more and talked MGM into distributing the film with promises of a portion of the gross - something that never came, as the movie was in and out of theaters despite having a decent cast.  Stern plays Joe Ryan, a Vietnam veteran and ex-police officer living as a hippy on the streets of Los Angeles.  Ryan was awarded the Silver Star when he jumped on a grenade that turned out to be a dud, which often gets him a pass when needed, although he seems to play that ace rarely.  When he spends some time in jail for taking a cop's motorcycle for joyride he is contacted by Agent Redford (Telly Savalas), who wants to help him flush out drug kingpin Neilson (Robert Vaughn).  Ryan refuses, but Redford decides to force the issue, putting Ryan on Ne

The Howling (1981)

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Every decade or so the classic monsters get a redo.  Our favorite Transylvanian vampire has gone from the rat-like "Count Orlock" of Nosferatu to the suave specter of Dracula , and then transformed into an almost feral presence in the Hammer versions before becoming tragic figure in the 1970s and 1990s.  All along the effect have become better, evolving from a couple of puncture wounds to entire throats ripped out.  Hammer didn't do too much with werewolves, and though Lon Chaney, Jr. played Larry Talbot as a tragic character in The Wolf Man and all the sequels it generated, the character came later in the Universal pantheon and it seemed that, for quite a while, no one had any use for lycanthropes.  That is, until the early 1980s. 1981 saw a pair of werewolf films.  The more famous, An American Werewolf in London , was directed by John Landis and had special effects by Rick Baker.  It told the story of an man turned into a werewolf when attacked on the Scottish moors, a

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)

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While it did well financially, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was not exactly received with open arms by the fans.  While Jake Lloyd got a lot of undeserved blame for his role as a young Anakin Skywalker, the main source of discontent was Jar Jar Binks.  The Return of the Jedi may have been a bit too kid friendly in order to make that sweet merchandise money, but The Phantom Menace went all out and the reputation of the series suffered for it.   What the next movie needed was to emulate The Empire Strikes Back .   That meant a darker tone, introducing more of the actual plot of the trilogy and including some conflict that would pay off in one way or another once everything was wrapped up.  Film maker and frequent George Lucas apologist Kevin Smith, before Attack of the Clones appeared in theaters, assured us this was it. Anakin would go to some dark places, Jar Jar played a minimal role and we would get to see Yoda in action.  We were promised a return to everything that m

Idiocracy (2006)

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It was either the late 1990s or early 2000s that I discovered Cyril M. Kornbluth's short story, "The Marching Morons".  I was already familiar with its companion piece, "The Little Black Bag", about a largely automated medical device that travels back in time and is misused in the current day.  The bag itself was designed by the remaining, hidden cadre of intelligent people of the future, made fool-proof in order to make sure that the general population of the time could actually treat illnesses, while pretending to know what they were doing, and not causing any harm in the process.  That particular story had been compiled and also filmed a number of times for anthology shows. When I read "The Marching Morons" I realized that there was only one place I recognized it from - The Simpsons .  In the 10th episode of their Halloween themed Treehouse of Horror , there's a segment called "Life's a Glitch, Then You Die".  It's based on the

The Black Hole (1979)

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If anything The Black Hole got me even more interested in astronomy at a young age.  Due to my interest in space travel, and the science behind it, I learned early on that the reality of entering a black hole was more of a frightening thought than an exciting one.  There is no other side of the "hole" - one gets dragged down to a singularity, and that's the end.  Even worse was when I learned about spaghettification, meaning the part that is nearest the singularity begins to get stretched to the level of the very molecules being pulled apart.   Regardless of the science, I remember wanting to see this movie as a child.  I spent a lot of time at the local library, and one of the books available was the comic adaptation of the film.  Later I got my hands on other adaptations, including the short-lived Beyond the Black Hole .  I really wanted the action figures, particularly V.I.N.C.E.N.T., Old B.O.B., Maximillian and the Sentry Robots.  Star Wars was always going to be my

The Running Man (1987)

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I remember it was the early 1990s.  I was in an arcade - an arcade in which, if I remember right, I beat a number of friends soundly at air hockey - when I found an arcade game calles Smash TV .  The point of it was that the player was in a game show and had to kill as many people as possible to advance, while grabbing prizes and working their way through the levels to gain their freedom.  I loved it, as it was something I had been looking forward to in a game for a long time.  As for The Running Man,  which provided inspiration for the game, I am not sure if I had seen it at the time I discovered the game.  When I decided to revisit it for this review I was sure it had come out later than it did, but quickly realized (before checking the date) how truly '80s the whole production looked.  I know I didn't see it in the theater, as there was no way I was sneaking in at 15 with my baby face, but I am quite sure I saw it sometime before 1990.  I at least know I had seen it before I

Skyfall (2012)

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The James Bond series has been a frustrating one to get through.  While the character is indeed iconic, the movies suffer from a horrible sense of inconsistency.  It is to be expected for a series, with little continuity in either actors or story line, that has been going for just shy of 60 years, but just the fact that it has spanned decades and a number of changes in the lead actor should lead to more memorable and outstanding movies than what's come about.  It is easy to blame it on writers or directors, but they have been largely consistent - for better or worse.  Guy Hamilton directed what is still probably the best of the series, Goldfinger , but is also responsible for Moonraker .  John Glen gave us For Your Eyes Only , and followed it up with Octopussy .  The writers of the series have also been consistent, with the same teams giving us crap and then turning around a couple years later and giving us faith again in the series.  Richard Maibaum was one of the writers for a go

Lords of Chaos (2018)

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 I have to say that it is rare to watch one of these band biopics and have it tell you, at the start, that a good deal of what you are about to see has been made up.  I usually assume that anyway.  Often it is based on the views of one person in the band, and that person frequently has a vendetta against someone else, or against the entire band in general.  Other times it is made by a super fan who wants everything to be perfect - unless they themselves also have some problem with a member of the band. Lords of Chaos is based on the book of the same name, and chronicles the beginnings of the band Mayhem, who became the godfathers of Norwegian black metal.  I am not going to go into all the information on how this form of music came about, but suffice it to say the Norwegian version tended to go even more lo-fi than the Swedish version (pioneered by Bathory, who happens to be a band director Jonas Åkerland worked with in their early stages).  Where early Swedish black metal was almost c