Tag Archives: science fiction

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

6 May

In 2014, Marvel took a gamble and released Guardians of the Galaxy, which featured a team of heroes that were way more under the radar than any of the Avengers. Since it’s release, everyone can confidently say who Star Lord or Groot are because the film was so much fun. It made a killing at the box office and stands as one of the MCU’s greatest entries. It was inevitable that a sequel would be made featuring the beloved intergalactic crew, and it was up to James Gunn to once again capture everything we love about the first film and make something new. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as excellent as the first film, this is still a worthy sequel that provides a lot of laughs, action, and heart.

Peter Qull (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are known far and wide as the Guardians of the Galaxy. After helping the Sovereign race to protect important batteries from a space monster, and robbing them soon after, the Guardians find themselves stranded on a planet with Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), as their captive. They are soon met by Ego (Kurt Russel) and his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Ego informs Quill that he is his father and brings the Guardians back to his planet. As the team learns more, they begin to discover that this planet may not be what it seems, so they have to set aside their differences and team up with Yondu (Michael Rooker) to stop a force that threatens the entire galaxy.

There’s plenty to talk about with this movie because this is kind of an odd entry into the MCU. It has all of the energy that the original film did and it’s excellent to see the characters all together again, but the story in this one if very different than the first one, which is actually kind of a good thing. Let’s start with the negatives. For one thing, the pacing of this movie is really off. Things start off with a bang, but the team soon splits up and the story kind of loses track of itself. There’s what’s happening on Ego’s planet, but than there’s also a story involving Yondu, Rocket, Groot, and some Ravagers who hold a mutiny. Both of these stories seem equally important, so I was unsure where the movie was going. Luckily, the narrative finds itself again after some time and really makes up for some of the odd pacing. Another issue I had with this movie is the fact that it got a little mean spirited. Sure, the original movie had a lot of off color humor, but this one makes some of the characters (mostly Drax and Rocket) just come off as obnoxious and overly rude at times. It was a bit of a departure in tone, and I wasn’t really fond of it. Fortunately, this happens in just a few scenes and isn’t really a big deal for most of the movie.

Despite some weird narrative issues, when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decides to let loose, it gets crazy. This movie has some really wild action that made me smile so hard I thought my head would rip in two. The best part of the movie features Yondu, Rocket, and Baby Groot getting the best of some mutineers. That scene alone was just blockbuster perfection and is the reason why these movies are so beloved by fans. For all of the action and humor, this movie also has a lot of heart to it that gives it the emotional weight these comic book movies really need to be taken seriously. Forget how Captain America: Civil War made you feel. This movie has some real drama that may not leave a dry eye in the theater. It’s one thing to make a major CGI fest that focuses on wowing you with the action and the spectacle, which Guardians does, but it has so much more to it than that.

Speaking of CGI, this movie has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year. The ships whizzing through space engaging in over the top dogfights made it hard to blink. There’s so much happening in some of these set pieces, it’s hard to believe that actual humans created these scenes. What’s excellent about this movie, and this is no surprise knowing who James Gunn is, there are some really excellent practical effects and make up as well. The Sovereign race is painted gold, but it looks perfect. The same can be said about Gamora and Yondu’s make up. I spent some of the time just trying to find one flaw with the make up, but there were just none to be found.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as good or exciting as the first film. The first one was honestly just perfect. It was such an epic story it would’ve been hard to beat. Still, this is a really good sequel that captured the heart of the first film and reworks it to create something different. The story feels a bit smaller and disconnected from the rest of the workings of the MCU, but it also feels more personal to the Guardians. Any fan of this universe should have a blast with this movie. I know I sure did.

Final Grade: B+

Ghost in the Shell – Review

2 Apr

Back in 1989 a three volume manga series called Ghost in the Shell was released and told a story concerning a dystopian future where it becomes almost impossible to see where humanity ends and technology begins. This short manga series paved the way for an entire franchise to thrive and grow on. First, there was the mega hit anime film from 1995, which totally floored me the first time I watched it and only got better when I revisited it. There was also a very popular anime series titled Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, of which I have some experience with, but not as much as I’d like. There’s been a whole string of sequels and adaptations, and now Hollywood has thrown itself into the mix. Does it stand up with the original source material? Not quite, but it does work as engaging popcorn entertainment.

In the future, cybernetics have come so far that robotic upgrades to the human body has become something as normal as plastic surgery. The most extreme case of this blending of organic and artificial is Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson), whose body is completely cybernetic but is controlled by a human brain. The Major, along with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and boss Chief Aramaki (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano), defend Section 9 again all sorts of criminals, but specialize in cyber terrorism. After an attack on a business meeting run by the powerful Hanka Industries, the Major and the rest of the Section 9 bureau go on the hunt for a new, powerful cyber terrorist who appears to be targeting scientists that worked on a specific project for Hanka. As the clues begin to add up, the Major is forced to take a good, hard look at herself and begins to learn about her past and the lies that she’s been being fed to keep her complacent.

When I first saw this version of Ghost in the Shell, I left the theater super excited. I was ready to go back in and watch the movie again, but as time has gone on, that excitement has sort of waned. Don’t misunderstand me, though, I still really enjoyed this movie. The over the top hype has just died down a little bit. Let me get the best part of this movie out of the way first. This is a stunning film to look at. There’s so much going on in most of the shots of this movie that I found my eyes darting around the screen just to take in all of the little bits that make up the breathtaking whole. This is an achievement of what practical and CGI special effects are capable of. Along with the gorgeous city wide shots and the not so glamorous streets and alleys comes action sequences that are impossible to forget. Director Rupert Sanders and cinematographer Jess Hall have a very strong grip on how to make an action sequence seem to burst from the screen. The compositions, use of slow motion, and even the minor visual tricks make the action in Ghost in the Shell some of the best I’ve seen in quite some time.

So the special effects and action sequences are all way above average and stand out as something truly remarkable. Unfortunately, the same can’t quite be said about the story. The story isn’t bad, but it didn’t really grab me as hard as it should have. The plot about the cyber terrorist was engaging and his design is great, but there were parts that didn’t really do it for me. Part of the story is the Major investigating her past to find out what really happened to her. Those scenes don’t have the emotional or mysterious resonance as they probably should, because we already know something is amiss from the beginning just because of how certain characters are acting. I had a pretty good idea about what was going on, and it really didn’t break any new ground like the 1995 anime film did. Granted, the story in that film took a back seat to the grand philosophical discussions about technology and humanity, which made it clear that that’s what that movie was about. This one has a story that takes a back seat to the action, but it also doesn’t have the thematic strength of the 1995 film either.

Any fan of the Ghost in the Shell franchise will also have a good time picking out easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film, but they will also appreciate some scenes that have been meticulously recreated for this live action blockbuster. This isn’t really an objective part of my review, but it was kind of thrilling seeing some of the iconic moments from the franchise brought to life with a super large budget. It also helped that the actors were largely committed to their roles. Johansson does a great just as the Major, and does a great job at bringing a human side to the character while also feeling mechanical. She has truly established herself as an action star for this generation. Another stand out is “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Chief Aramaki, but that’s really no surprise. It’s always a joy to see Kitano in anything.

Ghost in the Shell isn’t going to be the next Blade Runner or Matrix movie, but for me to sit here and tell you that it doesn’t provide a really entertaining couple of hours would be a down right lie. The story could have been beefed up to be actually mysterious and it could have raised more questions in the way the 1995 film did. In terms of its action and its role as being a big budget extravaganza, it succeeds more than it fails. I can see how people new to the franchise may be a little confused or uninterested in parts of it, but as a fan of the original anime film and what I’ve seen of Stand Alone Complex, I thought this was a damn good adaptation.

Final Grade: B+

Power Rangers – Review

30 Mar

When I was a kid, it was a joy to tune into whatever version of Power Rangers was playing. The original show, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, was such a touchstone in my childhood that I’ve never really outgrown it and still have fun revisiting the show when I can, no matter how silly it can be. When I saw that a big budget movie reboot was in the works, I was equally excited an nervous. It’s pretty hard to mess up something so straightforward as Power Rangers, but I believe Hollywood can ruin anything if they put their minds to it. I went and saw the new Power Rangers movie opening night, and I’m so relieved to say that while it isn’t a masterpiece, it’s still a entertaining time at the movies and a great way to reboot the concept for the big screen.

After accidentally finding mysterious crystals at the edge of a mine, five teenagers from Angel Grove are about to experience something they never thought possible. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is a disgraced athlete whose only friends at this point is Billy (R.J. Cyler), an autistic loner who has a penchant for technology, and Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a former cheerleader who also has disgraced herself out of that particular group. These three, along with the new girl Trini (Becky G) and outcast Zack (Ludi Lin) notice how much their strength has increased since finding these crystals. Upon further investigation at the mine, they find an ancient spaceship and meet its only inhabitant, Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) who awakens the mysterious entity, Zordon (Bryan Cranston). Zordon and Alpha 5 explain to the teenagers that they are the next Power Rangers, whose task it is is to defend the planet and the Zeo Crystals from any and all threats. The newest threat is one Zordon knows very well. His arch enemy Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) has awakened after thousands of years and will use the Zeo Crystals to take over the world with her minion known as Goldar. Now the five teenagers have to work together to find their inner power and learn to understand and respect one another. Only then can they truly become the Power Rangers.

I had such high hopes for this movie, but deep down I expected it to fail completely. That’s why I still can’t believe how much I enjoyed it. First off, the new group of teenagers are great, and the decision to make them outcasts rather than the perfect role models was a good choice for a modern update. The first act of the movie really establishes their personalities and dynamics with one another while also giving you brief glimpses into their lives which are then elaborated on in a moving scene towards the middle of the movie. A moving scene? In a Power Rangers movie? Who would have guessed it? The whole idea of them learning to trust and understand each other in order to morph fits in well with the show, but I can see people getting off put by this difference. We also get really solid performances by all of them, with the stand out being R.J. Cyler as Billy.

Where Power Rangers starts to get lost is in the second act of the movie. Without spoiling anything, this is where the real meat and bones of the story happens, and while there’s a lot to fit in, the whole thing starts to really drag out. This is where Alpha-5, Zordon, and Rita are introduced, which is all really cool, but that happens towards the beginning of the second act. The rest of this it is all character building, which is necessary, but there were scenes where I thought the whole thing could have been cut completely. There’s one weird decision that was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Something happens that feels really forced and long winded that made me start to get really antsy. I knew that the suits would be saved for the finale, but it was at this point that I just wanted the story to move along since certain plot points finally ran out of steam. Instead of moving on, however, things just kept on going.

Once the third act hits, however, it gets awesome. This is one the Rangers finally get suited up for the big showdown and it’s so much fun. The Zords all look awesome, and while some of the CGI gets a little wonky, it has this gleeful over the top element about it that is impossible to resist. It also helps that the movie took so much time to give the team distinct personalities and backstories to make me feel invested in their efforts. There were parts towards the end where I was actually on the edge of my seat, desperate to see the Power Rangers win. It’s something I can remember feeling as a kid and it was really exciting to feel it again. I just wish that it lasted a little bit longer, because I was really enjoying the spectacle. If some of the unnecessary scenes in the middle of the movie were trimmed down or cut, and the finale made longer, I would have been a very happy camper.

I really can’t believe I’m saying this, but Power Rangers is actually a good movie. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but it’s a fun, nostalgic hit of adrenaline and it succeeded in modernizing the lore and turning it into a big budget action extravaganza. The pacing of the movie can be a little weird, and there are some plot holes and inconsistencies that you may notice if you look hard enough. Even with that, the characters are great and everyone seems to be giving their all. We live in a world where the new Power Rangers movie is better than a movie called Batman v. Superman.

Final Grade: B

The Great Wall – Review

3 Mar

I recently did a review for Zhang Yimou’s 2011 war drama, The Flowers of War. In that review, I mention that Yimou is a very respectable film maker who has an especially strong talent for filming what I believe to be some of the most beautiful looking movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film is The Great Wall, a monster movie that involves protecting the Imperial City from creatures hell bent on destroying civilization as we know it. That combined with Yimou’s colorful and sweeping directorial style kind of made this a must see for me. Well, all I can say is that this film definitely looks great. That’s pretty much where the compliments end.

timthumb

William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are two mercenaries scouring the East looking for “black powder,” which we now know as gunpowder. During their search, they end up at the Great Wall of China and are questioned about their intentions immediately upon their arrival. The two partners soon learn why the soldiers at the wall are so concerned about their motives. During a seemingly quiet afternoon, the wall is raided by alien monsters called the Tao Tie, whose goal is to penetrate the wall and continue on to the Imperial City. It doesn’t take long for William to come to a decision as to wether he wants to escape with Pero and another Englishman, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), or if he would rather stay and defend the Great Wall with the newly appointed general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian).

I was excited for this movie for multiple reasons. First off, I was pumped to see Zhang Yimou tackle a big budget monster movie and have his style painted all over the movie. I was also just pumped to see another monster movie from Legendary, which has pretty much become the monster movie company for America. In these ways, the movie does succeed. When battles start happening, I got really into it. The special effects look kind of cartoony, but for some reason, that didn’t really bother me. I was taken aback by Yimou’s use of color and framing scenes to make them look as epic as possible. One of these shots in particular happened in the very first battle where you can see most of the battle in one super wide shot. Another really cool thing are the different regiments of the soldiers and the uniforms they wear to identify themselves. Honestly, in terms of style and scope, this movie stands tall.

np_20161228_jsmovie28_1472282

Like I said before, that’s pretty much where all of the good stuff ends. The Great Wall really isn’t all that good of a movie despite having a really cool premise. My biggest problem was the characters. I haven’t seen such poor development and writing in a really long time. Any scene that didn’t involve a battle or special effect of some kind fell flat. Like completely, utterly flat. It’s incredible how an epic period piece featuring alien monsters attacking the Great Wall of China could be so boring. There are a few characters worth something, but that’s not saying to much. William’s partner Pero has a good amount of one liners and a story that at least attempts to go somewhere before that’s shut down by some idiotic decisions from the writers. Lin Mae is also a pretty cool character who feels the most human out of anyone else. The worst offender of characters not worth anything is Sir Ballard. If you were to take Willem Dafoe out of this movie, nothing would be different. He’s completely wasted here.

I was also really bothered by the acting in this movie, but part of this also has to fall on the writers. There was so much clunky and awkward dialogue in this movie which only made me more distracted during the down time that I’ve already complained was boring enough. Like I said before, the only exceptions from this are Pero and Lin Mae. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than the rest. Honestly though, I was mostly shocked at how flat and uninspired Matt Damon was. I didn’t know until the end of the movie that he was supposed to be European, and I still don’t know exactly where he’s supposed to be from. His accent is on and off throughout the whole movie, and the way he delivers his lines is cringeworthy. Aside from his weird accent, he uses this over the top tough guy voice that wore thin on me after the second line of dialogue he had.

The Great Wall is a very disappointing movie. Throughout its run time, I saw a lot of hope for potential, but nothing really came of it. I will say that this is a fantastic looking movie with cool creature design and some excellent use of lighting and costume design. Everything else from the characters and their development to the structure of the narrative is flat, recycled, or just plain boring. As a monster movie, it works at the most basic of levels. As a movie to be appreciated and viewed for something more than that, it’s a failure.

Final Grade: C-

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 & 2008) – Review

19 Feb

Science fiction, like all the other genres of film, can be done in one of two ways. On one side you there’s movies like Barbarella that have no real thought provoking qualities of any kind and serve as mindless entertainment. On the other hand, there’s films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which challenges the viewers to expand their minds and discuss the themes and implications that are artfully shown. In 1951, the movie world got one of the most revered and thoughtful science fiction films ever made up until that point. That movie is Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, a movie which came with a heavy and relevant message. As with many classics, it also got the remake treatment in 2008, but my response to that may surprise some people.

Let’s start this review by looking at the classic original film.

the-day-the-earth-stood-still-movie-1951

The world is sent into a frenzy when a mysterious UFO lands in Washington D.C. early one morning. The occupants of the ship are a humanoid alien named Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his 8 foot tall robotic sentry, Gort (Lock Martin). Klaatu is here on a very important mission, and he makes it clear that he must speak to all the leaders of the world at once instead of talking to them one at a time out of fear that it would be seen as him taking a particular side. This idea is completely ruled out which forces him to escape his government overseers and hide out in a small boarding house. There he meets a woman named Helen (Patricia Neal) and her highly curious son, Bobby (Billy Gray), who soon become the only people he can trust. Now on the run from the government, Klaatu teams up with the world renowned scientist, Prof. Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) to organize a meeting with all of the great thinkers, scientists, and philosophers from around the world to hear Klaatu’s message that could save the planet from catastrophe.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is widely regarded as one of the best science fiction films ever made, and with good reason. This film came out at a very complicated time in history, and it showed the follies of the situation with a lot more intelligence than its counterparts. The 1950s was loaded with alien invasion movies due to the fear that surrounded the Red Scare, but The Day the Earth Stood Still gives us a hero that looks at the situation calmly and tries to offer a solution. All this intelligent writing is made complete by a strong cast of characters and some really cool moments of science fiction. I can’t help but smile whenever I hear the words “Klaatu barada nikto” or thinking about the destruction Gort could unleash upon the world if need be. Let’s not forget Bernard Hermann’s eerie, theremin heavy score that sets the mood just right. This film perfectly encapsulates everything that is to be loved about this era of science fiction.

One minor complaint here has to do with the final message of the movie. The whole story clearly has a message of peace, open-mindedness, and acceptance, but Klaatu’s wording can get a little…should I say…awkward? His big speech at the end mentions how the planets he represents agreed to peace and are protected by a race of robots like Gort that act as law enforcement. The thing is that he kind of describes something resembling a police state. I don’t really think this is what the writers had in mind, but it does come off as kind of weird and never fails to pull me out of the movie.

Awkward wording aside, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a timeless tale of caution that should be praised for its clear, outspoken message to the masses of the time. The special effects, performances, and music are all exactly what this movie needs and it has earned the right to be called one of the best science fiction films ever made and to also have become an iconic landmark in film history. It’s intelligent and exciting and I find it hard to imagine there can be people that exist that don’t like this movie.

Final Grade: A-

Like it or not, the cinematic world was given the weight of a remake of a movie that has become a classic. While there was some judgement before going into it, I tried to keep as open a mind as possible.

220px-the_day_the_earth_stood_still

Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) is a professor of astrobiology who also has the challenge of single handedly raising her stepson, Jacob (Jaden Smith). Out of the blue, government agents arrive at her house and whisks her away to a secret facility that’s been tracking a UFO. The UFO finally lands in Manhattan, and a single figure emerges that identifies himself as Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). Klaatu is not alone however, as he also has with him a 28 foot tall robot sentry that is soon named GORT. After it’s clear the United States government will not listen to Klaatu’s warnings, Dr. Benson helps him flee from the government with the hopes that he will finish his mission to save the earth. What remains unclear, however, is if Klaatu’s mission will save the earth, but at the expense of the entire human race.

Like I said, I went into this movie with an open mind even after hearing mostly negative reviews from most of the critics I follow on the internet. I wanted to make my own assessment of the movie, and I think I have. The remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, despite some serious issues with the plot and characters, isn’t that bad of a movie. It isn’t that great of a movie, but I can’t just say I hate the movie solely because it’s a remake no one really asked for of a classic science fiction film. Keanu Reeves as Klaatu was a really good choice, especially for the direction that the filmmakers wanted to take the character in. It’s also a very good looking movie, which wasn’t too surprising since the director, Scott Derrickson, was responsible for one of the best looking movies of 2016, Doctor Strange. It may not have the best special effects, but there’s something really appealing about them, especially the first time we see GORT. His monstrous size combined with the ship behind him made it a very memorable scene.

So while I do like the visuals in this movie, I will say that this is much more style than it is substance, which is kind of disappointing considering how thought provoking the original was. The remake, however, is much more of a CGI spectacle and the story sometimes gets lost amongst it all, especially towards the end. I also really couldn’t stand Jaden Smith’s character in this movie. Like not even a little bit. He does nothing but slow the action down and really only succeeds at getting the characters in more trouble than they should probably be in. If he wasn’t in this movie, it would be all the better for it. Something sort of nit pickey is also the fact that they changed the conflict in the movie to something that doesn’t involve violence, which is still relevant for the time, but I liked the idea that these aliens were coming because of our misuse of weapons and our constant states of war.

With all these problems, I still had a pretty good time with The Day the Earth Stood Still. It certainly is a movie that has been forgotten over the years since its release, and I’m not going to forcefully remind people that it exists and they should see it, but it also really doesn’t deserve the hate that it gets. It’s a movie that works best as a time waster for a boring afternoon, and that’s it. That’s more than can be said about a lot of other remakes.

Final Grade: C+

In conclusion, the original The Day the Earth Stood Still is a landmark science fiction film that deserves to be respected. It’s one of the best there is and that’s that. The remake, however, doesn’t hit the right spots like the original did, but it’s still a pretty fun and disposable movie. If you’re going to just watch one, make it the original.

Phantasm Series – Review: Part 2

1 Feb

What my final consensus was on the first three Phantasm movies is that they do represent a spark of originality in a time of slasher movies, but they still weren’t free from their own set of flaws. Most of these flaws come from the pacing and the focus of the narrative, but there were also some problems with the development of characters and the acting. Surprisingly enough, the first direct to video entry, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead was my favorite of the bunch. Now let’s take a look at the last two and see how the world Don Coscarelli built holds up.

The fourth entry in the series, Phantasm IV: Oblivion, was released in 1998 and also sent direct to video.

mpw-39204

Taking place right where Phantasm III left off, Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) is on the run from the wrath of the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Meanwhile, Reggie (Reggie Bannister) is hot on his tail after being warned by the undead Jody (Bill Thornbury) that Mike will need all the help he can get. After the Tall Man leads Mike to Death Valley, the secrets of the Tall Man begin coming to light. Mike soon stumbles across a plethora of the Tall Man’s gateways, and he begins to travel through time to see just when the Tall Man came to be. What he finds is the story of a mortician living at the turn of the century who becomes madly obsessed with inter-dimensional and time travel. As Mike learns more of these origins, Reggie finally catches up with his friend and once again engage in a battle with the Tall Man and his horde of lurkers and spheres.

Is it possible that Coscarelli could strike gold again with the second direct to video release in this series? Well, no, I wouldn’t say gold. Perhaps bronze or silver. This is another relatively entertaining addition to the Phantasm universe and it does try to be something different from its predecessors which I really respect. For one thing, we actually see a larger picture of the the power the Tall Man has over time and space. This is way more of a science fiction film than it is a horror film at this point, even though the horror elements are never too far behind. Phantasm IV pushes the limit of the entire series in terms of storytelling and exposition, which is something that really had to happen at this point. It’s great to see what the Tall Man was versus what he turned into, and there are even some interesting twists along the way that feature all of the regulars of the series. This might be the entry with the most interesting story, if anything.

What this movie does that reminded me more of the first two films is that it sometimes gets a little muddled in showing too much or slowing things down. There’s a chunk that’s not too far into the movie that I can only describe as a lot of walking. When Mike first arrives to Death Valley and begins exploring the different gateways, it does show a lot of really interesting stuff in terms of world building and long awaited character development. It just seems that Coscarelli was determined to show of footstep that Mike takes on his journey. It was just a little bit too drawn out, but honestly, that didn’t bother me all too much. It’s also great to see Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm again, but of course we do get some cringe worthy acting from A. Michael Baldwin and especially Bill Thornbury.

Phantasm IV: Oblivion, along with its predecessors, are reminders of what makes this series so cool. They take the best parts of the first film and build on them to create a believable and cool sci-fi/horror world. There’s a lot of much needed exposition on who the Tall Man is and what his endgame is, and there’s also a deviation from the repetitive nature that the third movie suffered from. This is a worthy entry into the series, but it probably won’t convert anyone if you’ve haven’t had any interest in the series up to this point..

Final Grade: B

It would be 18 years before another Phantasm movie would be released, but after much anticipation, teasing, and idea changing the world finally got the final film in the series. This is Phantasm: Ravager.

phantasm-ravager-poster

For decades, Reggie has been battling the fury of the Tall Man and the evils he has wrought upon the earth. After Reggie’s most recent encounter with the Tall Man, he finds himself waking up in the care of a nursing home where Mike tells him that he’s suffering from an onset of dementia. The confusion only gets more severe as Reggie begins finding himself both in the care of the nursing home, but also in a future where the world was completely overtaken by the Tall Man and his army of lurkers and sentinels. As Reggie continues to battle the Tall Man and his own mind, the lines of reality begin to blur. Not even this will stop Reggie and Mike from joining forces through time and putting an end to this evil once and for all.

I really hate to say this, but Phantasm: Ravager is the bottom of the barrel in this series. It’s hardly even in the barrel at this point. What’s disappointing is that this movie has a promising start by throwing Reggie right into the action with a really fun scene on a desert highway. After that, the movie just sinks further and further into the mud, and not even the Tall Man’s usual shenanigans can pull it out. This movie tries really hard to be a puzzle movie and mess with the viewer’s mind instead of trying to coherently tell any kind of story. The only problem is that the puzzles they are presenting don’t seem to make any kind of sense and nothing is ever explained enough for me to even begin putting together what the hell is actually going on. What ends up happening is a series of scenes where Reggie and his companions are just running around in different times and places only to have the scene cut away right when things start to get remotely interesting.

It’s clear that this movie doesn’t have too much of a high budget, but this has been proven to not be a detractions from horror movies given the right circumstances. The first Phantasm was put together very well for such a shoe string budget. Ravager, on the other hand, is a complete eye sore that just gets worse as it goes on. There are scenes in the future where the world is taken over by the Tall Man and even on the Tall Man’s red planet that is scene throughout the series. These mark the low points for the series in general The CGI is so bad I actually had to look away for some of the movie rather than subject myself to the computer generated vomit that was filling up my screen. It’s important to work with what you have when you’re making a movie, and these film makers (this entry is no directed by Coscarelli) are obviously in way over their heads.

Phantasm: Ravager is by far the worst entry in the series, which is sad because there is some fun to be had seeing these actors return to these characters so many years later. Unfortunately, the story makes no kind of sense and the movie is damn near unwatchable due to some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen mixed with camera work that is bland and unexciting. This film is a let down for fans of the series, and I really wanted to see some sort of closure to the series, but this is what it’s left with.

Final Grade: D-

Looking back on it, Phantasm IV: Oblivion gets better as I think about it. That one’s really the last good entry in the series before it all just goes down the drain with Phantasm: Ravager. All in all, this series is pretty interesting and definitely unique. While it may not provide the best horror experience, these films do offer a breath of fresh air and has become something of a small icon of the horror genre. If you’re a horror fan, this series is worth checking out.

Phantasm Series – Review: Part 1

25 Jan

Horror movies have a fair share of memorable boogeymen. In the 1970s and 1980s there was Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees to name a few, but there are also some that have gained more of a cult reputation. One of these boogeymen is the Tall Man from the Phantasm series. I didn’t know much about these movies, but he was a character who always piqued my interest, and I also find it odd that I haven’t given these movies a chance yet, especially considering their cult status and following. I’m always ready to see some new horror movies, so I’m going to watch all 5 in the series and have a two part review on all of them. Let’s see how they are.

In 1979, writer and director Don Coscarelli released the first film in the series.

timthumb

Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Michael Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) are two brothers whose parents died a few years prior in a car accident. Michael is practically attached to Jody’s hip at times, which isn’t always convenient when Jody has things he needs to do. After the death of one of Jody’s friends, Michael becomes suspicious of the town’s mortician (Angus Scrimm) and the activities he’s engaging in in the mortuary. Michael begins his investigation and stumbles across very strange things in the mortuary like hooded dwarves that attack him and a flying silver sphere that will attach to your head and drill through your skull. Soon Jody and his friend, Reggie (Reggie Bannister), join in on the investigation and are quickly sucked into a web of undead minions, hidden planets, and the wrath of the mortician known as the Tall Man.

Say what you will about Phantasm, because either way this is one hell of an original movie. This film came out in 1979, which was an era of slasher films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween were both released and a year later in 1980 we’d be introduced to Friday the 13th. What Phantasm did was focus more on the supernatural and not so much a high body count. The whole thing feels like it could be a tale told around a campfire with the Tall Man being the boogeyman that would keep everyone up that night. Angus Scrimm plays the Tall Man to perfection, and there’s no reason not to see how he became a cult icon in the horror world. There’s also plenty of imagination in terms of the story and the design. This film was made on a super low budget, so the fact that writer/director Don Coscarelli pulled it off is amazing. One scene in particular where the silver sphere is attacking Michael in the mortuary is especially memorable and very well made.

So while Phantasm is a horror film that’s held up very well over the years in terms of its ambition and originality, there is a lot holding this movie back. My first complaint is something you’ll see in a lot of low budget horror movies, and that’s the acting. Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm both do great work, but A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury kind of do that weird overemphasizing thing you see in movies like this. It’s awkward to watch and must have been awkward to perform. Another big issue is the way the film is paced and structured. For a good portion of the movie, it seems like nothing is happening. There is admittedly some good suspense in this build up, but it just takes way too long, and this is a pretty short movie so there really isn’t any time to spare. Finally, there are scenes that are simply uninteresting even though it seems like Coscarelli was definitely trying to make something of them. The one I can think of is a small car chase on a deserted road. It’s a car chase that was boring and I couldn’t get into. That’s a rare thing for me.

All in all, Phantasm should be required viewing for anyone interested in horror films, but it’s not something that is necessary for everyone. There’s plenty of originality and I admire Don Coscarelli and his crew for making the movie they wanted no matter what the cost. There’s some great scenes that will stick with me for quite a long time and Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is one of the great cinematic boogeymen. There’s just some serious pacing issues that drag this movie down from being one of the titans of the genre. It’s still a really cool movie, but can’t be compared to something like the original Nightmare on Elm Street.

Final Grade: B-

Almost a decade later, in 1988, Coscarelli followed up his original movie with the higher budgeted Phantasm II.

33efac79124ae28c289561fa37053ac4

After spending years in a psychiatric hospital, Mike (James LeGros) begins having visions of this girl named Liz (Paula Irvine) who is being tormented by the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm reprises his role). He talks his way out of the hospital and meets up with his old friend Reggie (Reggie Bannister also returns), who at first doesn’t believe his story of the Tall Man, but quickly comes to realize Mike isn’t so crazy. The two get geared up and hit the road, following a trail of desolate towns wiped out by the Tall Man. Soon, the two meet up with Liz and it becomes clear that the Tall Man needs Mike and Liz together because of their strong telepathic bond that becomes apparent in their dreams. Now the trio must once again face the Tall Man, his army of dwarf minions, and his arsenal of deadly flying spheres.

I didn’t have too high of expectations going into Phantasm II since I just felt like the first film was pretty good. Still, I went in with a fresh mind and wanted to see that maybe a bigger budget would give Coscarelli some more room to go bigger and build on the lore. This just goes to show that a bigger budget does not make a better movie. For a horror sequel, this isn’t a bad film, but it still falls into the same pits that the first film does. The beginning of the movie starts out really strong by picking up right where the first film ended, but as time goes on everything starts to lose its luster. The characters all, once again, fail to really grab me or make me care. The only two that succeed in being interesting characters are the Tall Man, of course, and Reggie. Mike and Liz are both bland and altogether uninteresting, which makes some of the more intense scenes feel like they’re missing something. There’s also some weird pacing issues, yet again, where the movie slows down to a grinding halt at times and we are left with characters engaging in dialogue that often feels hollow.

I’m still having a little bit of a dilemma. I have a hard time not hyping this movie up because there is still a lot of really cool stuff. The special effects in this movie are a huge step up, and some of the scenes involving them are genuinely shocking. There are a couple of new spheres that offer some of the most memorable scenes in the movie and one particular puppet that was really creepy. There’s also a new sense of action in this movie that reminds me a little bit of Evil Dead II. This film has those moments of characters gearing up and customizing their weapons, which serve really well to get the audience hyped up. There are also some attempts at funny tough talk which usually just fails completely. Still, I will say the bigger budget does allow for some great show downs with the Tall Man that was sort of missing from the first film.

Phantasm II is a mixed bag for me. It’s missing the wonder, mystery, and suspense of the first film, but it does amp up the action, intensity, and special effects. For me, a horror movie is more about the mystery and suspense while the special effects and intensity come second. This is still a really imaginative movie that builds on the lore of the original, but it doesn’t have enough characterization going for it to bolster the content still. Phantasm II isn’t bad, but I can’t help but feel it’s missing something.

Final Grade: C+

In 1994, something unfortunate happened to this series. Universal stated that if Don Coscarelli and his crew were attached to the next Phantasm film, they wouldn’t distribute it. Coscarelli said that was fine and went on to make Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead, which was released direct to video.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Picking up right where Phantasm II left off, The Tall Man and his minions are in pursuit of Reggie and Mike (once again played by A. Michael Baldwin). After being seriously injured, Mike is left in a coma and taken by the Tall Man soon after he awakes. Now, Reggie is forced to go head to head with the Tall Man, yet again, but this time he has more help than he’s ever had. His first new partner is a young boy named Tim (Kevin Connors), who has survived in a town desolated by the Tall Man. Reggie and Tim also meet Rocky (Gloria Lynn Henry), a tough as nails biker who lost her best friend to the Tall Man. Finally, Mike’s brother Jody has returned as one of the Tall Man’s spheres that has the ability to take human form for a short period of time. This newly formed gang of heroes each have their reasons to stop the Tall Man once and for all, but will they be strong enough defeat him and his ever growing army of undead minions?

With this being the first direct to video entry in this series, I had very little hope that it was going to do anything for me. Surprisingly, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is the one that has entertained me the most so far. Some of the pitfalls that the other two movies fall in are avoided in this third entry. For one thing, Mike isn’t in the movie too much, which is a good thing because I wasn’t a fan of A. Michael Baldwin’s acting in the first film, and it’s pretty much the same in this movie. Another huge plus is that the characters of Tim and Rocky both work great with Reggie and provide a lot of cool scenes and comedic relief that works a lot better than it did in Phantasm II. Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister also do good work here, as they have continued to do throughout the series leading up to this point.

Much like Phantasm II, this movie is heavy on action. Reggies quad-barreled shotgun makes a return while Tim and Rocky bring a lot of over the top action as well. For a movie that was made for direct to video releasing, this is a pretty good looking movie with some impressive stunts and action sequences. Not only do we get cool action, but there’s also a good amount of world building in that we learn more of who the Tall Man is and what he’s doing with the bodies he steals and the towns he destroys. To point out one negative, I will say that the last third of the movie falls into an area that can only be described as redundant. It’s the big showdown inside a mortuary with a twist at the very end. This is Phantasm 101 and it wouldn’t hurt to deviate a little from what’s been done in every movie so far.

In the end, Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead doesn’t shake up the formula too much but it does offer a lot of good entertainment and fun additions to the cast of these movies. The characters are memorable and the action is fun. It just would be nice to see these movies go in a different direction in some ways.

Final Grade: B

The first three movies in the Phantasm series can be described as fine. The first and the third have stand out moments that make them memorable, but the second movie just dragged on a bit too much for me. There’s still two more movies to go so keep an eye out for part 2.