Tag Archives: vengeance

Death Wish Series – Review: Part 2

31 Mar

I vow to finish this series no matter what it takes, even if it kills me. The first Death Wish film, at this point, feels quite dated but it still presents the viewer with interesting points of discussion and some memorable sequences. Everything after that just got progressively worse to the point of being brainless and downright silly. Let’s see if that progression, or regression in this case, continues with the last two films in the series.

in 1987, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown was released, but this time Michael Winner was out of the director’s chair and replaced by J. Lee Thompson.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), an architect by day and vigilante killer by night, seems to have finally found a place for himself with his girlfriend, Karen (Kay Lenz), and her daughter, Erica (Dana Barron). This stability is shaken to the core when Erica dies of a crack overdose one night, which angers Kersey to the point of once again picking up his weapons and cleaning up the mean streets of Los Angeles. Before he gets very far, Kersey is contacted by magazine publisher Nathan White (John P. Ryan) who tells Kersey that his own daughter died of a crack overdose and puts him on the trail of two big time rival drug dealers. Kersey now has a larger plan of action schemes to pit the two factions against each other while systematically wiping out their business on the streets.

I can believe I’m saying this, but Death Wish 4: The Crackdown may very well be the best sequel in this series so far. That isn’t really saying too much, but it at least keeps things minimally interesting. It’s still, at its core, the same exact thing. Someone close to Kersey dies so he goes on a revenge spree until he finds his way to the person truly responsible. It’s the formula for this series that has grown so old at this point. What this film does differently is show Kersey going against to warring factions and making them suspicious of each other, which at least adds a newer level that wasn’t in the other films. The unfortunate thing is that this doesn’t really amount to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, and the effects that he has on them is over before you can fully appreciate what it is he’s doing. It was still nice to at least see the film makers trying something different with the material.

Death Wish 4 is still lacking in areas that the other films were, despite there being some improvements to the formulaic nature the series found itself in. For one thing, this film is still completely devoid of any emotional resonance which is garbage considering this is a revenge film. If you’re going to make a movie where a character feels the need to get revenge on someone, there should be some feeling expressed by the character. Instead, someone dies and Kersey kills people because that’s what it says in the screenplay, not because that’s what he feels he has to do. It’s so routine, and Bronson just looks like he’s going through the motions. It’s a very robotic feeling movie. Nothing happens because the characters feel this is what should happen next. Everything happens because that’s the way to move the story forward. That doesn’t make for good entertainment and that’s not the way a story should be written.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is a slight improvement over Death Wish 3, but not by a whole lot. It introduces some new concepts, which is fine, but doesn’t really go anywhere with them. The whole film just feels part of the same routine that other movies have already established. It also has one of the worst scenes involving a dummy I’ve ever seen, which can also be said about Death Wish 3. This isn’t a good action movie, but it isn’t the worst this series has to offer. I still found myself wishing I was just watching something else.

Final Grade: C-

As if 4 movies just wasn’t enough, a fifth and final movie was released in 1994. God help us all.

Paul Kersey, now living in New York City under the name Paul Stewart, has been madly in love with fashion designer Olivia Regent (Lesley-Anne Down) and has recently proposed to her. He also cares deeply for Olivia’s daughter, Chelsea (Erica Lancaster), who sees Kersey as a father figure. This happiness Kersey has found soon comes crashing down when Olivia’s gangster ex-husband, Tommy O’Shea, (Michael Parks) moves in on her business and eventually ends up disfiguring and killing her. This forces Kersey to once again pick up his weapons and bring real street justice to this band of criminals before they have the chance to hurt anyone else.

I really hate saying this, but I am so sick of writing about these movies. They wore out their welcome long ago, yet here I am commenting on another Death Wish film. Death Wish V: The Face of Death has few positives working for it. For one thing, Kersey has some interesting methods of killing people, and it sometimes borders into dark comedy territory. I also really enjoyed the villains in this movie, and they are much more memorable than any of the other antagonists this series had to offer. Michael Parks really hams it up as Tommy O’Shea and he comes of as slimy and down right villainous. I at least really wanted to see Kersey get his revenge on him and it works well. There’s also a really interesting character played by Robert Joy that is quite unique, but he’s never really touched upon except in a few very brief scenes.

Everything else about this movie is recycled, and I honestly don’t have too much to say about it. It’s all the same formula. Someone hurts one of Kersey’s loved ones and so he, in turn, kills them. It’s the same exact thing over and over again, and by this point it’s tired. Bronson, himself, seems bored out of his mind and this is obviously just a paycheck for him at this point. There’s nothing exciting about anything in this movie except for the end credits because I knew that it was at this point I was done with these movies.

I don’t have anything more to say about Death Wish V: The Face of Death that I haven’t already said for the other 4 movies in this series, especially concerning the sequels. This is a pretty boring movie that plays by the formula that it dares not change. There are only a few redeeming qualities, but it doesn’t really help that much.

Final Grade: D

The Death Wish series really didn’t have a whole lot of steam to start with, so the fact that there are 5 movies is really an anomaly of film. I will admit that it’s fun seeing Charles Bronson do what he does best, but there really isn’t much else worth while in these movies. I hate to use this term when it comes to movies, but this series is a prime example of cinematic garbage.

Death Wish Series – Review: Part 1

24 Mar

One of the most iconic action stars of the past century is the one and only Charles Bronson. He has a charisma about him that is undeniable, so it’s no surprise that he’s a name still remembered to this day. The film that got him raised to such a status is a well known thriller called Death Wish. While controversial for its time, and even this time in a way, it has garnered a lot of fans and a possible remake from Eli Roth. Like with other films of this time and genre, one movie wasn’t enough, which resulted in a total of five Death Wish movies. What can be said about them? Well… they’re certainly something else.

Let’s start with the original from 1974.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a liberal minded architect living with his wife (Hope Lange) and daughter (Kathleen Tolan) in New York City during a time when crime is sky rocketing. One afternoon, a group of thugs break into Paul’s apartment and assaults his daughter and murders his wife. Overcome with grief, Paul doesn’t know what to do and his beliefs are all starting to go down the drain. After a business trip, Paul comes home with the answer and a brand new revolver. He takes it upon himself to start working as a late night vigilante, walking the bad streets of New York and shooting anyone that threatens him or another person. This causes the media, citizens, and police to start paying attention to his actions, and things in New York begin to slightly change. With the people starting to fight for themselves, NYPD Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) begins his nearly impossible task of tracking down the vigilante and putting an end to his spree.

Death Wish was made in 1974 and based off of a novel of the same name that was published in 1972. This was a time when crime was really getting bad in major cities, and people just didn’t know what to do about it. This brought about a new age of action films, with the most resonant being the Dirty Harry series. This film doesn’t quite hit as hard as some other films because the idea of vigilantism isn’t explored nearly enough. The novel takes the idea and shows the dark side that it can create, while the film shows Kersey as a straight up hero who can do no wrong. This makes the film feel incredibly dated and kind of a shallow experience, especially if you’re approaching this wanting to see an action classic that can stand the tests of time. It can also come off as very preachy in terms of its right wing political ideology. I don’t care if a movie leans a certain way, but make it subtle and don’t talk down to an audience.

There are things in Death Wish that do stand out. For one thing, Bronson’s performance is good even though the character sort of feels a little bit underdeveloped. Instead of being this boisterous vigilante, he plays the role very quietly, which actually reflects the whole tone of the movie. As the series goes on, it gets more and more off the walls, but this film is much more down to earth. In fact, it’s hard to call this movie a full blown action movie when it often times feels like a drama. The plot moves along slowly, which in retrospect actually works better than I originally thought. There are also no grand action set pieces. The “action” happens very quickly with Kersey pulling out his revolver and shooting a criminal, and once that’s done he just leaves the scene. It felt gritty and real and wasn’t at all what I originally expected this movie to be.

Death Wish is an interesting time capsule of a movie, but it’s one that hasn’t really aged well. It’s political ideology is rammed down the audience’s throat to the point of being obnoxious and it features a well known main character that didn’t always feel too complete. It does feature some cool scenes that feel gritty and realistic and the whole approach of not making a grand scene of the violence is a good choice. I just wish that the idea of vigilantism and its dark side was explored more instead of the whole concept just being praised. It’s an interesting movie for any film history buff and fans of Charles Bronson, but it’s really lacking in many ways.

Final Grade: B-

Eight years later, in 1982, a sequel crept its way into theaters and dragged things down even further.

After his vigilante spree in New York City, Paul Kersey has found a peaceful home in Los Angeles. His daughter (Robin Sherwood) is in a mental hospital and improving significantly, and he’s also found new love with radio reporter Geri Nichols (Jill Ireland). All of this comes crashing down when his daughter is kidnapped and murdered by a gang of criminals, which forces Kersey to once again pick up his revolver and hit the mean streets. As Kersey starts his revenge quest on the group of thugs, Detective Ochoa gets wind of what’s happening and travels to L.A. to put an end to Kersey’s spree, but it can never be that easy.

Death Wish II is straight up garbage. There’s no use beating around the bush with this one. It doesn’t even try to be anything different than the original. Kersey is living a happy live, then someone he loves is killed which brings him to his vigilantism. That’s the same exact plot as the original Death Wish. At least that one raises some questions and presents the material in a subtle way. This one, however, is just violence for the sake of it without any interesting material to back it up. That would be acceptable if this film had any sense of style, but it doesn’t even have that. It’s just a gray, ugly looking movie filled with cannon fodder for Bronson to take his anger out on. It’s absolutely mindless and devoid of any sort of flash to pull the viewer in.

Death Wish II succeeds at only the most base level. I will say that compared to the first one, there’s a bit more mindless entertainment. There’s no real set up to the movie. Things happen right away which leads Bronson to start his vengeful murder spree. If you want to see an action star just blow criminals away, this is the right movie to look at. There’s a lot more action and the violent scenes do feel bigger and more exciting, which is definitely a plus. The only problem, like I said before, is that there’s no style and the motivation feels completely stunted by Charles Bronson’s lack of dramatic presence.

There’s really not much to say about Death Wish II. It feels like a rehashing of the first film, but more loud and more violent. This would be a welcome addition if the story felt different and something new was added. There’s really nothing new here at all. The only time there was a plot development that could lead somewhere interesting, the film makers decided to cut that off prematurely in favor of more mindless proceedings. This film is really a waste of time and only die hard Charles Bronson fans should give this movie any sort of respect.

Final Grade: D-

But the series wasn’t done with the stinker that is Death Wish II. Not by a long shot. In 1985, Death Wish 3 was released, and this is where things really started to go off the rails.

Paul Kersey has been living the life of a vigilante for too long and has finally decided to put away the revolvers and lead a normal life. This personal promise to himself is shattered upon his return to New York City where he finds his long time friend bleeding to death after being attacked by a group of thugs in his apartment. Kersey is than approached by Inspector Shriker (Ed Lauter), who makes an off the records demand of Kersey to return to his old ways and clear the neighborhood of the goons responsible for all the mayhem. Kersey finds allies in the tenants of the apartment building, especially with WWII veteran Bennett Cross (Martin Balsam) and the mild mannered Rodriguez (Joseph Gonzalez). With the support of his neighbors and other victims of the community, Kersey wages war with the criminals and their leader, Fraker (Gavin O’Herlihy).

Death Wish 3 is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies you or I may ever see. To be fair to it, it’s a slight step up from the second film but for some of the wrong reasons. I do like that the plot deviates from someone hurting his family, but it just goes right to someone hurting his friend. Where the movie really differs in that Kersey becomes something of a guardian angel to the neighborhood, and by the end they all join him in his war against Fraker and his goons. The third act of the movie, by the way, is an extended shoot out in the streets that seems to never end. It’s so much fun to watch but it’s some of the most absurd, mind numbing violence. By the end of it, there’s no emotion or excitement to be felt, other than the moment of joy when the first end credit begins to scroll up the screen.

The rest of the movie is also devoid of any kind of emotional or dramatic impact, which would be fine if the rest of the movie was as entertaining and off the walls as the third act. It isn’t unfortunately, and this is where things really get bogged down. It does have more memorable characters than the previous film, but they don’t really have to much to say or do until things really start happening. There’s a few scenes of Kersey gunning down people throughout the movie, but it’s just all part of the formula by now. Even with a storyline that’s changed, it’s not enough.

If you want a good laugh, Death Wish 3 might be worth checking out, if only for the outrageous finale. It still keeps up the same trend that the other ones did, so the whole routine is feeling kind of stale at this point. It is a step up from the second movie, but that’s hardly saying much.

Final Grade: D+

So that’s the first three films in the Death Wish series. I still have two more movies to go, so keep an eye out for the next part of this review.

Foxy Brown – Review

1 Dec

The 1970s was a really interesting time for film. This was the era of auteur film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg making major names for themselves and redefining how movies should be made. This was also a great time for B-movies that would be played as double features in drive ins or grindhouse theaters. The exploitation genre was thriving and this spawned another genre called blaxploitation, which is said to have started in 1971 with Shaft. In 1974, on a double feature bill with Truck Turner, came Foxy Brown starring the one and only Pam Grier. This movie has become known as one of the most influential blaxploitation films ever made, and despite the controversies surrounding it, has become a true cult classic.

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Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) has her hands full taking care of herself while also looking after her small time drug dealer brother, Link (Antonio Fargas), while also helping her government agent boyfriend, Michael (Terry Carter) recuperate after time spent in a hospital. Acting on his own misguided motivations, Link tips off gangster Steve Elias (Peter Brown) that Michael is alive and well despite what they originally thought. Soon enough, Michael is murdered in front of Foxy which ignites a fire that sends her on a mission of revenge. Disguising herself as a call girl, Foxy infiltrates the gang that uses a modeling agency as a front, and it doesn’t take long for Foxy to start working her way up the food chain to Steve and his partner, Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder).

There was a lot of very important names that went along with the blaxploitation genre like Richard Roundtree and Isaac Hayes, but one can not forget Pam Grier who made a living playing some of the most kickass female heros to grace the silver screen. This is the strongest element of Foxy Brown and the main reason why I could watch it over and over again. The way Grier delivers her smooth one liners while also not hesitating to shoot any villain that gets in her way makes Foxy Brown a really cool character. Another stand out performance is Antonio Fargas as Foxy’s overconfident younger brother that pretty much gets the plot of the film going. My favorite part of the movie has Foxy storming into her brother’s apartment and trashing after she holds him at gunpoint and lectures him on the mistakes he’s made. That’s going to be the scene I think of whenever anyone mentions this movie.

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Foxy Brown is an interesting movie to look at historically because it received a lot of praise and also a lot of controversy. Like many of Pam Grier’s roles, Foxy Brown was a very strong female character that spoke directly to African American women in 1974. She took good care of other people while also being more than capable of taking care of herself in all sorts of situations. On the flip side, the movie was criticized for the violence and drug use depicted in the lives of the black characters in this movie. There was also some critics who spoke out against the sexualization of Foxy Brown, even though many still were impressed by her ferocity and intelligence in dangerous situations. This opens up a lot of discussion and many people will have many different opinions. This kind of controversy helped turn Foxy Brown into the blaxploitation cult classic that it is.

Other than the controversy, another reason Foxy Brown has earned the title of “cult classic” is the fact that it’s just so damn entertaining. Having been originally released as a double feature, the run time is short which means the story moves at a very brisk and determined pace. Once the action gets started, it rarely slows down and Grier has a lot of great lines to say and asses to kick. While it is action packed, there’s a lot of surprisingly funny scenes as well. One great scene has Foxy and a call girl putting the heat on a judge which ends in a laugh out loud piece of slapstick. The grand finale is also one for the books with Foxy hijacking a plane from none other than Sid Haig, who starred in many Jack Hill films and became even more notorious as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

Foxy Brown may not be the most high quality film you’ll ever see and a great deal of its priorities and intentions can be seen as misguided and out of order, but you can’t deny that it’s one entertaining little movie. Pam Grier knocks it out of the park as the title character and the supporting cast really back her up. There’s something great seeing Foxy take down the gangsters that killed her boyfriend, even though the plot flies by at break neck speeds. Any fan of cult movie or the blaxploitation genre should consider this movie a must see, and anyone who’s just curious about the era might find some enjoyment as well.

Final Grade: B+

The Protector (2005) & The Protector 2 (2013)

28 Nov

Tony Jaa is one of the best martial artists working today. His work in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior put him on the international radar, but it wasn’t until The Protector that he really got to show the world how advanced he was in his martial arts. Today, I’ll be looking at the original Protector from 2005 and The Protector 2 that came years later in 2013. Both of these films have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not worth arguing over Jaa’s level of skill. In my opinion, he’s at the head of the game, but can his movies always live up to that level of skill?

Let’s dive right in to the 2005 original.

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As a child, Kham learned about the honor and importance of looking after and protecting the King of Thailand’s war elephant. Now, as an adult, Kham (Tony Jaa) has a young elephant of his own to look after along with the one he and his father have been protecting for years. When a group of gangsters and poachers steal Kham’s two elephants and attack his father, Kham goes on a mission to Sydney, Australia to avenge his father and return to Thailand with his elephants. What he finds in Sydney is a lot more resistance than he thought. With the aid of a bumbling police officer, Sgt. Mark (Petchtai Wongkamlao), Kham fights his way through the criminal underworld and finds a line of betrayal that all leads back to the sinister Madame Rose (Xing Jin).

There’s a lot that can be said about The Protector or Tom-Yum-Goong, as it was originally called in Thailand. Let’s look at the story first. At it’s core it tells an honorable tale of the culture of Thailand and the atrocious things that humans can do to others and to other creatures that inhabit this planet with us. The themes run deep and the aspects of betrayal that Madame Rose executes are all really cool too. What isn’t great is how the story is told. There are quite a few characters and scenes that only serve to deviate the plot from its main course and add some complexity to it that isn’t really needed. The idea of Kham facing off against a criminal organization is cool enough. One character in particular hides Kham for a scene and comes back to sort of act as a deus ex machina. Some of the scenes also feel like they are out of order at times and some of the editing is just downright confusing. If you find yourself scratching your head trying to follow the plot, don’t worry. I was doing the same thing myself.

If you watch the scene right above this, you’ll see why the convoluted plot of this movie isn’t enough to completely bring it down. The action and stunt work in this movie is absolutely out of this world. Like Jaa’s previous film, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, a lot of the draw this movie had was to see Jaa perform gravity defying stunts and action without any use of CGI or wires. Add Prachya Pinkaew’s style that is sure to include every bit of action in a scene, and you have a match made in martial arts heave. This movie can get down right brutal and Tony Jaa is at the center of it all, having choreographed the stunts and action set pieces himself. The main reason people want to watch a martial arts film is for the martial arts and this one delivers in spades. It’s just often not for the faint of heart.

In the end, The Protector is disappointing in the area of story and narrative structure, but more than makes up for it with the bone crunching action and fight sequences. These scenes are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and is some of the best martial arts you can find. It’s worth it to plow through the editing however you can to enjoy the movie’s themes and action.

Final Grade: B

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after spending some years in a Buddhist monastery, Tony Jaa returned to acting to film the 2013 film The Protector 2. Unfortunately, it may not have been the come back that was anticipated.

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After the events of the first film, Kham has returned to Thailand and continues to raise and protect his elephant. He thinks nothing of it when a mysterious buyer comes to purchase the elephant, and he respectfully declines his offer. Soon after that, Kham returns home from the market to find his elephant once again missing and begins a one man war against the criminal underworld in Thailand. Along the way, he is reunited with Sgt. Mark, now working for Interpol. As Kham searches for his elephant and takes down one henchman after another and Mark begins investigating a possible political assassination, it becomes clear that the kidnapping of Kham’s elephant and the assassination are somehow linked by a criminal mastermind known as L.C. (RZA).

What made the original Protector really stand out was how organic and real the action was while also being filmed surprisingly beautifully at certain moments. All of that, for the most part, is replaced by a much more synthetic kind of film making. There’s lots of green screen and CGI whereas the first film didn’t rely on that at all. This made The Protector 2 feel like a real disappointment. Prachya Pinkaew returns to the director’s chair so there’s a lot of well filmed action sequences, but in his attempt to make it even bigger than the first movie, he also makes it look less exciting. One scene in particular which is a fight scene on a rooftop featuring motorcycles should have been awesome. Instead it looked like one CGI stunt after another. There’s a lot of moments in this movie that feel like that and I know both Pinkaew and Jaa are much better than that. The action sequences could have been enhanced without making the whole thing often look absurd.

This isn’t to say that Tony Jaa slacks off at all and doesn’t deliver some really impressive fight sequences, and some of the CGI does work to the movie’s favor. It’s just not at all what I wanted from the movie. I will also say that the story is told a lot better than the first film. There’s no sloppy edits that make you wonder what the film makers were thinking, and there’s really only a few scenes that could have been cut out instead of a whole slew of them. There’s also a good supporting cast backing up Jaa. RZA is obviously having the time of his life playing the villainous L.C. and Marrese Crump and Rhatha Phongam bring a lot of energy to their roles as well. Petchtai Wongkamlao is also a welcome return as Sgt. Mark.

All in all, The Protector 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie but it shies away from what made the original film so memorable. Gone are the completely organic, wireless fights. The are instead replaced by CGI heavy set pieces that could have seriously been tweaked or toned down. While it doesn’t live up to the talents on display, it’s worthy of a simple distraction that can kill some time.

Final Grade: C

So there’s my review of the Protector movies. The first one is a fantastic example of how to  make a beautifully shot martial arts film. It would have been perfect had the story been cleaned up. While the second film is completely acceptable, you’d be best off sticking with the first to really see what Tony Jaa is capable of.

Darkman Trilogy – Review

4 Sep

The super hero genre is more alive than ever before nowadays, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good because most of them are very entertaining, and bad because it’s flooding the market. A name that goes hand in hand with super hero films in my opinion is Sam Raimi. Raimi successfully brought the webslinger to life in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (not so much Spider-Man 3). Before any of this, however, Raimi created a character named Darkman, a dark super hero based on characters like Batman and The Shadow, but also inspired by the old Universal monster movies. This idea spawned a trilogy of movies called the Darkman Trilogy. While two of these movies are direct-to-video with differing qualities, it can’t be denied the first film has become a cult classic.

Let’s start in 1990 with the original film, Darkman.

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Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a brilliant, but completely underfunded scientist who is on the verge of developing a new synthetic skin. Even with the hidden variables making this project difficult, Peyton still has the support and love of his long time girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand). Julie is a district attorney who is close to uncovering illegal business dealings by a major developer named Louis Strack (Colin Friels). Another party is interested in this incriminating evidence, a violent gangster named Robert Durant (Larry Drake). Durant breaks into Westlake’s lab to look for the evidence, and in the process destroys his work and severely burns and disfigures Westlake. Now thought to be dead, Peyton hides himself in a condemned factory where he rebuilds his machines that can construct any face he needs to disguise himself with, and soon begins to take revenge on Durant and his henchmen as the face changing vigilante Darkman.

Since it was first released in 1990, Darkman has become something of a cult classic. It’s over the top style and direct influences from Universal monster movies of the 1930s mixed with dark superhero action is a fantastic combination. In many ways, Sam Raimi hit the mark with Darkman, and in some ways it doesn’t quite stick. Where the movie slips up is the pacing of the story. This is an origin story, and origin stories can be tricky, especially when they aren’t based off of any real established lore. The character of Darkman came right from the head of Sam Raimi into the form a short story, so the film makers had to create a way to start the tale of Darkman. The first half hour of this movie goes frightfully quick, and it didn’t give me a chance to really care about the characters or their situations before Peyton’s transformation happens. The rest of the film goes on pretty good, with some odd speed bumps along the way, but the ridiculously fast pace of the beginning makes the character development suffer.

The movie really gets good whenever the action picks up or Sam Raimi does what he does best and goes crazy with the camera and the stylistic editing. This is a really cool movie to look at with the camera jumping all over the place and colors really popping in certain scenes. Raimi also knows how to direct action with his use of outstanding practical effects, stop motion, and blue screen to create a unique looking movie that only early-90s movies could do. Neeson also gives a pretty expressive performance as Peyton/Darkman, and it’s equally impressive given the huge amount of makeup and bandages on his face throughout most of the movie.

Darkman is a really cool, yet minor movie in the superhero genre. It’s not going to be a classic like Raimi’s later Spider-Man entries (excluding the third), but it does have a following of people that will defend it to their last breaths. While I definitely enjoyed the movie, the flaws that crop up throughout the film are very noticeable, and it’s clear that the production of this movie was pretty bumpy. Still for fans of oddball filmmaking and dark superhero tales, Darkman is a movie that deserves another look.

In 1995, Universal Studios released their first ever live action direct-to-video movie. That honor(?) goes to Darkman II: The Return of Durant.

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Years after being horribly burned and disfigured, Peyton Westlake (now played by Arnold Vosloo) still dons the title of Darkman and is still working hard to perfect his formula for synthetic skin and make it last longer than 99 minutes. What Westlake doesn’t know is that while he’s been working, Durant (again played by Larry Drake) has been alive in a coma, and he has just recently gotten out of it with plans to take over the city’s crime scene using a new super weapon designed by a mad scientist named Hathaway (Lawrence Dane). After Durant is responsible for killing the one man that may have had the secret to the synthetic skin problem, Darkman once again begins a mission of revenge against the sadistic crime lord, and this time he means to end things once and for all.

Whenever something’s released direct-to-video, I have some measure of fear that I’m about to watch a really awful movie and throw an hour and a half of my life out the window. That being said, Darkman II: The Return of Durant certainly feels like a direct-to-video movie, but it also was still a pretty entertaining film. Let’s get the garbage out of the way first. For one thing, Durant’s plan of using a super weapon designed with plutonium is way out of left field. His main goal is for a group of gun happy vigilantes to get rid of the competition so Durant will reign supreme. What? There’s so many plot holes there that it hurts to think about. The side characters in this movie are also completely useless and almost don’t even need to be in the movie at all. Most of them are just a testament to awful B-grade acting. Of course the cheesy screenplay adds a lot to that, as their characters and dialogue weren’t written well in the first place.

That being said, Darkman II is not a complete waste of time, in fact it felt like a pretty good sequel in terms of style and action. It still has this pulpy kind of fun that relishes at being way over the top. Believe it or not, I think Arnold Vosloo is a great replacement for Liam Neeson. Unfortunately, his performance is a little stifled by make up that doesn’t quite match the make up done on Neeson in the original. The only returning member from the first film is Larry Drake as Durant, and he hasn’t missed a beat in his performance. It’s still fun and easy to hate his character and he gives Darkman a villain worth defeating.

While this is definitely a step down from the original, Darkman II: The Return of Durant is not an awful movie. In fact, it’s a pretty entertaining movie that kept me watching for it’s entire run time. There are some really ridiculous plot holes and the acting is less than acceptable, but it’s B-grade minor entertainment that would be interesting to see for fans of the first Darkman. Just don’t expect anything great.

One thing these movies didn’t need was a third entry, but alas, we now have a trilogy. In 1996, the third film was released direct-to-video titled Darkman III: Die Darkman Die.

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Still trying to find the secret to permanent synthetic skin, Peyton Westlake accepts to offer of Dr. Bridget Thorne’ (Darlanne Fluegel) help to not only fix his destroyed nerve endings, but also allow him to use her laboratory. During his time there, Westlake finds the secret, but is betrayed by Thorne, who is actually working for a crime lord named Rooker (Jeff Jahey). Rooker wants to extract whatever it is that makes Westlake so strong, so that he can synthesize it and inject it into his henchmen. These super soldiers of Rooker’s will then go on to assassinate the district attorney and give Rooker unlimited power over the city. Feeling vengeful towards both Thorne and Rooker, and feeling an overwhelming desire to protect Rooker’s innocent family, Westlake becomes Darkman again to now save the city, a task more important than saving himself.

So here we have the second direct-to-video release of this trilogy, and boy have we really gone downhill. Darkman II: The Return of Durant was a pretty ok, pretty standard B-movie that had some problems, but was ultimately entertaining. Darkman III: Die Darkman Die is a complete train wreck of a movie. There is such little action, hardly any humor, and a story that is so boring and out of place that I lost interest before the halfway mark was even close to hitting. The whole plot of Rooker not spending enough time with his family, and Westlake disguising himself to take care of them is so stupid I almost can’t even handle it. There’s so much bland family drama with cringe worthy lines said by a terrible child actor that I was almost embarrassed watching it. How can a cool superhero action movie turn into this?

Arnold Vosloo is back playing Peyton Westlake/Darkman and he’s still a good substitution for Liam Neeson, but his role is written really poorly in this entry. He’s either grunting with pain, screaming with anger, or being overly sentimental with Rooker’s family. Darkman’s entire story of trying to fix his skin is also too played out by this point and the amount of stock footage from the second film just goes to show how repetitive this whole movie feels. The only positive I can think of is Jeff Fahey’s performance as Rooker. He’s an over the top, smug villain with a face that you just wanna hit. He seems to be having a good time oozing evil, so the entertainment I did have with this movie came from him.

Darkman III: Die Darkman Die is an insult to the first film and a disappointment to its ok sequel. It walks a fine line of being way too familiar while also straying uncomfortably far from the source material. The story could have easily ended after the second film, which makes this third movie feel like someone just thumbtacked it on to the canon that was already present. Do yourself a favor and do something better with your time. Spend an hour and a half tying and untying your shoes. It’s more fun than watching this mess.

So there you have it. The Darkman Trilogy is a pretty uneven group of movies. Nevertheless, the first film is a super cool dark super hero film and the sequel really isn’t all that bad considering the casting changes and its direct-to-video status. The only one to stay away from is the third film. Stay far away from that. If you haven’t exposed yourself to the dark anti-hero that is Darkman, I suggest you give it a try.

The Fog (1980 & 2005)

18 Aug

Watching a master working in his prime area is a joy to behold, so watching another horror movie written and directed by John Carpenter is always a lot of fun. Today, I want to look at his 1980 horror cult classic, The Fog, and it’s unfortunate 2005 remake. The history of The Fog is almost as interesting as the movie itself, with this being Carpenter’s horror follow up to his classic Halloween, but the way the story is told and the images he uses is what makes it a memorable movie. The same can’t really be said for the remake, but that isn’t all too surprising. With that, let’s dive right in.

Let’s go back to 1980 and take a look at the original version of The Fog.

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It should be a time of happiness for the small coastal town of Antonio Bay, which is celebrating its 100th birthday with vigils and town parties. Unfortunately for the residents, an evil force is lurking just over the fog covered horizon. When a small ship is terrorized and its occupants murdered, the threat soon becomes more real. The only person who knows the truth is the town priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook). As the fog rolls further inland, more paranormal events start happening to the town, which prompts the town’s radio station host, Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), to report on the direction the fog is moving as certain member of the town work to lift the curse that has befallen them.

Following the overwhelming success of Carpenter’s independent hit Halloween, studios were eager to grab the talent (along with Carpenter’s co-writer and producer Debra Hill) and use it for themselves. That being said, The Fog is what I consider to be Carpenter and Hill’s true follow up to Halloween, and while it doesn’t quite stand up to that film’s excellence it still stands as a strong entry in Carpenter’s filmography. The biggest thing that drags this film down is the fact that it isn’t quite long enough. There’s a lot of time spent building up the mystery surrounding the town’s past and building up the cast of characters that not enough time is spent with the evil lurking in the fog. While this does act as a complaint, I will say that it also means the characters are much more three dimension than a lot in the horror genre of this time and it also gives the story a sense of urgency and depth.

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It’s worth noting the excellent cast of The Fog that brings the characters to life. Adrienne Barbeau, who was Carpenter’s wife at the time, is a good protagonist with an interesting task that makes her feel like more than just a target of the vengeful spirits. Hal Holbrook is great as Father Malone as he brings a real sense of fear to his archetypal character. Finally, it was cool to see both Janet Leigh and John Houseman have a small role in a John Carpenter film. The only person who seems underutilized in Jamie Lee Curtis, who doesn’t do a whole lot but tag along with Tom Atkins’ character.

While The Fog certainly isn’t John Carpenter’s best film, it’s still become something of a cult icon. The men standing in the fog, or even the fog rolling in from the distance to the little town has become images seared in the history of the genre, and taps into some deep, dark fear that we all have. If more time was spent with what was in the fog and the actual horror that happens in the third act, this would have been a perfect little horror film. Unfortunately, more time is spent building all that up that the climax feels less than what it should have been. Still, this is a horror movie well worth checking out.

With the new millennium came the trend to remake both foreign and domestic horror movies, and 2005 finally brought the highly unanticipated remake of The Fog.

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Life never seems to get too difficult in the small Oregon town of Antonio Bay. It’s a peaceful town with a good tourist attraction and a close knit attitude where everyone seems to know each other. This easy going way of life quickly comes to an end when an impossibly large fog bank rolls in from the sea and beginnings killing people in the town and destroying property. This grabs the attention of Nick Castle (Tom Welling) and his girlfriend Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), who start an investigation as to what could have caused this kind of paranormal occurrence. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the town they live in has been cursed by bloodshed since it’s founding, and the victims of the founder’s violence are returning to seek their revenge and to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

In terms of story, the remake of The Fog follows the original pretty closely. The main plot about specters coming in the fog to reign terror down on Antonio Bay is all there, but this movie makes some very odd and, dare I say, stupid narrative decisions. At the beginning of the movie, a whole slew of characters are introduced, which led me to believe that they would all have something relevant to do at some point. Well that was just wishful thinking, because the only people that matter are Welling and Grace’s character, and to some extent Selma Blair’s, who plays this version’s Stevie Wayne, but even this character is left with very little to do and is easily forgotten by the end of the movie. That may be one of the hugest problems this movie suffers from. It’s almost as if the writers were just making stuff up as they went along and forgot about things they wrote earlier on in the screenplay.

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Speaking of screenplay, the writing for the characters is completely derivative, both in how they speak and the dimensions they are given. There was one weird joke in the beginning that got under my skin so bad because it’s the kind of joke that only that really annoying person you know says. This whole movie is made up of characters that I really don’t like saying the most asinine things with complete sincerity. The final thing I have to say about the writing is the ending, which I won’t spoil but have to mention. It’s a completely different ending from the original film, which is fine, but it also blew me away with how stupid and unplausible it was. It’s seriously something that has be seen to be believed.

A bigger budget doesn’t necessarily make a better movie, and the 2005 version of The Fog is a perfect example. There’s obviously more money that was put into it, but the writing, the characters, and the acting were all so subpar the movie ended up just boring me to tears. I couldn’t take anything in this movie seriously, and that’s a big problem for a movie that’s meant to scare you. There’s to many jump scares and not enough actual fear. This is a waste of a movie and is best left to be forgotten.

Just to recap, I can say wholeheartedly that any fan of the horror genre should at least take a look at the original version of The Fog. It plays out like a campfire story or old urban legend happening right in front of your eyes. As for the remake, don’t pay any attention to it. It isn’t worth it.

The Hunted – Review

19 Apr

In all my years of watching movies, one of the best film makers I’ve ever seen is the one and only William Friedkin. One of his most famous movies is the 1971 film The French Connection, but I know him best as being the director of two of my favorite films of all time, The Exorcist and Killer Joe. Needless to say, Friedkin is one of the most influential and memorable film makers, in my opinion. Not all of his movies have been overwhelming successes, however. Just look at his 2003 film, The Hunted. While I think The Hunted is a fine example of how to craft a thriller film filled with great action and suspense, I still feel there are some faults that can’t be overlooked.

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While on a black ops mission in Kosovo, Aaron Hallam (Benicio del Toro) witnesses atrocities that have such a great affect on him he can no longer fulfill his duties as a soldier. It also seems to completely unhinges him from reality. When hunters are being found brutally murdered in the woods of the northwest, all the signs point towards someone who has been trained for violent and precise combat. Not knowing how to catch this person, FBI Agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) brings in civilian military instructor L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), who has exceptional skills in both hand to hand combat and tracking. Soon the hunter becomes the hunted, but it is revealed that Bonham and Hallam may have connections previously unknown which makes the vendetta against society much more personal.

Right from the get go, I was interested in this movie not only because William Friedkin was in the director’s chair, but also because the movie starred both Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro. Both are very fine actors and both play their roles very well in The Hunted. Tommy Lee Jones really seems to understand his character and the nervousness that is deep down inside of him, which is completely counteractive to him being called in to track down a sadistic murderer who has been expertly trained. Jones delivers his lines with sharp sarcasm while also being very fidgety when stuck in some closed in area. On the flip side, del Toro uses his trademark soft spoken intensity to really create an imposing individual. While he is seen as sadistic and violent in most scenes, we still see the human side in him too and understand him as a tragic character. The acting is really all top notch stuff.

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The action in this movie is really cool. There is absolutely nothing stylized or cinematic about any of the fight scenes, which is an interesting choice. When there’s a scene of hand to hand or knife combat, there’s no music playing and the wounds suffered by the fighters are all really brutal. Still it creates a sense of realism. In fact, the entire movie has a very real look to it. This is partially due to Friedkin hiring one of the most acclaimed cinematographers, Caleb Deschanel. There are a few action sequences that are more cinematic. One foot chase through Portland has some great music and camera techniques that makes it all the more exciting.

The only shortcoming I can find in how the plot allows for virtually no character development for the secondary characters. The two main characters get a lot of time and attention to building them up, but there are a handful of other people that either get left in the dust without any sort of character resolution or just serve to take up space on the screen. This is sort of a double edged critique because on one hand I’d like to see the characters developed, but on the other hand Friedkin wanted this to be a “lean, mean action thriller” which is exactly what it is and I appreciate his attention on the entertainment aspect. If I want to be objective, however, I have to say that a little more character development would have gone a long way.

The Hunted is certainly not one of William Friedkin’s best movies, but it does offer plenty of fun and excitement. What this movie really only fails at is developing any kind of relationships between characters other than between Jones’ and del Toro’s. Everything else in the movie is pure action with plenty of thrills, cool fight sequences, and a memorable chase through Portland that reminded me of a sequence in The French ConnectionThe Hunted isn’t going to be revered as the years go on, but it’s a fun way to kill an afternoon.