Author: Derrick

The Apple

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1979

Cannon Film Distributors

Directed and Written by Menahem Golan

Produced by Yoram Globus

Once in a decade or so there comes a movie that is so astronomically bad that it pounds through every level of badness there is and comes out the other side having achieved such a holy transcendence of awfulness that it approaches genius. And in the 70’s the movie to have achieved this Mount Everest of WTFery is THE APPLE.

There is nobody who has seen THE APPLE is going to tell you it’s a good movie. As a matter of fact, calling it a bad movie or an awful movie or even a terrible movie is being extraordinarily kind. And yet for those of us who have seen THE APPLE will recommend it to everybody who asks the dreaded question: “So should I see it?” we’ll always say “Yes.”

Why? Why does THE APPLE have such a hold on us who have seen it? In my case I’ve seen it multiple times and I swear each and every time I do so I sit there with my lower jaw hanging open in disbelief at what I’m watching. Maybe it’s because even because it’s so bad I don’t see where it’s a malicious or mean-spirited film. The people making it and the actors really give it all they have. I get the feeling that they really believed they were making a good movie. Except for maybe Vladek Sheybal who gives me the impression he knew full well he was in the middle of the grandmomma of bad movies but determined to have as much fun as he could while doing so.

It’s 1994 and life is nothing but show business.  Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) are two wide-eyed young singers from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan who have come to America to perform in the Worldvision Song Festival.

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Their poignant folk love song; “Universal Melody” and simple performance is no match for the glitter rock duo of Dandi (Alan Love) and Pandi (Grace Kennedy) and their monster hit “BIM” which is a song that I guarantee you’re going to hate by the end of the movie like you’ve never hated a song before in your entire life.

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BIM stands for Boogalow International Music. It’s owner, Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) sees something in the innocent naivety of Alphie and Bibi that cries out to be corrupted and seeks to lure them into signing a contract with him. Bibi quickly and willingly embraces the dark side while Alphie resolutely sticks to his values and principals, resisting the drugs, sex and wild partying. From the title and a vision Alphie has halfway through the movie you’ll soon guess the true identity of Mr. Boogalow and what the entire movie is; a retelling of the Adam and Eve story as a disco/rock musical.

THE APPLE is the sort of movie that I watch and while watching it wish that I had some of whatever substance the writer was ingesting when he was writing it. It’s the kind of movie that the longer it goes on it gets crazier and crazier. It’s by no means a boring movie at all. The songs and production numbers, terrible as they are come one right after the other so there’s no real lag time with a lot of plot or story. There’s just enough to get you from one musical number to the other. For instance, BIM goes from a mere record company at the beginning of the movie to ruling the world with not so much as a line of dialog to explain how that happened.

Not that all the songs are terrible. The best ones are performed by the guy who can’t sing; “How To Be A Master” is performed by Vladek Sheybal. He’s the guy who fills the “Who The Hell Let HIM In This Movie?” slot as you’ll most likely recognize him as one of the SPECTRE spymasters from the James Bond movie “From Russia With Love.”  He does that Rex Harrison/Richard Harris thing where he’s really not singing but talking along with the music but he does it very well. It’s a delightful reggae flavored tune that Mr. Sheybal performs with sly mischief. The lyrics are actually quite clever and fun. And his other big number, “Showbizness” is also pretty good as a commentary on the values of living in the media obsessed world of 1994 America.

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But then we have ear bleeders like “Coming” sung by Grace Kennedy as Pandi tries to seduce Alphie. It’s such a blatant rip-off of Donna Summer’s “Wasted” that I hope like hell that somebody got their ass sued. “Speed” “I Found Me” and “Cry For Me” are equally as bad.

And undoubtedly most of the fun of watching the movie is how the filmmakers in 1979 thought people in 1994 would dress. Everybody in this movie has clothing that had to be inspired by David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Earth, Wind and Fire, Funkadelic/Parliament, Kiss and Elton John. The only people who dress like regular folks is Alphie and the hippies from the 60’s he falls in with after having the piss beaten out of him by two of Boogalow’s thugs who for some reason have tusks coming out of their mouths. And no, don’t even ask why they have tusks. This is a movie that gets so crazy that the only way things can be resolved is for God Himself to come down from Heaven and take control of the plot. And no, I am not kidding.

So should you see THE APPLE? Without a doubt Yes. THE APPLE is one of a very few movies that you can watch, be totally sober and still feel like you’ve taken some kind of hallucinogenic. It’s audaciously awful and spectacularly bad. But for all that, it’s a movie I recommend with no reservations because at the end of the day, it’s fun to watch and bad as it is, if you approach it in the right spirit you won’t feel like your time has been wasted.

90 Minutes

PG

The Fabulous World Of Jules Verne

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1958

Ceskoslovensky Statni Filmexport/Warner Brothers (U.S. release)

Directed by Karel Zeman

Produced by Zdenek Novak

Written by Karle Zeman, Frantisek Hrubin, Jiri Brdecka and Milan Vacha

Based on “Facing The Flag” by Jules Verne

God bless the Internet is all I have to say. Sure, it’s got a lot of bad things we could sit around and bitch about for a couple of hours. And we all spend way too much time Googling all sorts of useless trivia and Skyping away until Blip A.M. But thanks to the Internet I’ve been able to reconnect with a lot of stuff I watched on TV during the 1970’s and 1980’s I thought I’d never be able to see again. And the marvelous 1958 Steampunk adventure THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE is one of these.

Of course, when I watched it all those years ago, the term Steampunk wasn’t used. The movie was simply labeled as Science Fiction but Steampunk is what it is and a marvelously imaginative visual example of the genre at that. THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE was usually aired on NY’s Channel 9 on Saturdays, sandwiched in between Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion fantasies and Italian muscleman sword-and-sandal epics. Somebody at that station must have been in love with the movie’s visual style as much as I was because it seemed to air every three or four months. Now you have to understand that a movie being shown that often in such a relatively short time period was truly something special back then. This was before even pre-VCR days which meant that at the time and day your favorite TV show or movie was airing, you either stayed home to watch it or you didn’t watch it all. Which meant you had to wait months for it to be rerun. If it ever was.

Some of you who just read that last two sentences now have looks of utter horror on your face, I know it for a fact.

Engineer Simon Hart (Lubor Tokos) is thrilled and excited to be living in an age of scientific wonder where new modes of transportation such as the locomotive, transatlantic ocean liners, airships and submarines, all powered by steam are revolutionizing travel. Simon is the assistant of the brilliant Professor Roch (Arnost Navratil) who is working on a powerful new explosive. The term ‘atom bomb’ is never mentioned but since Professor Roch says later on he needs heavy water for his explosive I’m going to guess that’s what he’s working on.

Professor Roch and Simon are kidnapped by Captain Spade (Frantisek Slegr) the leader of a band of ruthless cutthroats who have hijacked a submarine for their nefarious trade. Captain Spade works for the diabolical Count Artigas (Miloslav Holub) who wants the professor’s explosive for his own diabolical purposes. They are then taken to the pirates’ secret lair hidden inside a dormant volcano on Back Cup Island. Can Simon escape the clutches of the pirates and Count Artigas to warn the unsuspecting nations of the world before the trusting Professor Roch creates the most terrible explosive known to man?

I’m not familiar with the original Jules Verne novel, ‘Facing The Flag’ this movie is based on and I gather from what little I’ve read about it, it’s a pretty obscure work of his. But it’s a pretty good story we’re presented here. And the movie moves along at a really good pace which it has to, given its short running time The acting is nothing to brag about but it serves the needs of the story and I’m happy with that me. But what you want to watch THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE for isn’t the acting; it’s the utterly amazing visual style of the movie that’s the real star.

Director Karel Zeman wanted to reproduce the look and texture of woodcut illustrations and line engravings on film and the result is a movie that looks utterly and totally unique. The special effects are a mix of animation and stop motion, double exposures, miniatures and matte paintings combined in such a way that is simply amazing. There’s no other way to say it. THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE is like a 83 minute showcase of all the special effect techniques available to filmmakers at that time because they’re all used here and used wonderfully. The result is a movie that looks marvelously surrealistic. But here, I’ll let the trailer make my point for me:

You used to be able to see the movie on YouTube but sadly it was taken down. It is available on DVD through Amazon, though. Give it a try. I think you’ll like it.

Oblivion

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2013

Universal Pictures

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Produced by David Fincher, Peter Chernin and Ryan Kavanaugh

Screenplay by William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt

Based on “Oblivion” by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson

I get what OBLIVION is trying to do. Or at least I think I get what it’s trying to do. Watching OBLIVION I felt myself squinting like Fry from “Futurama” in one of those “Not Sure If…” memes. OBLIVION makes a noble try at being a Science Fiction movie with some action in it rather than an Action Movie with some science fiction. If that makes any sense to you. It started out to make sense to me but the longer the movie went on, the more I squinted. The movie’s leisurely pace gave me time to think about what was going on and yep, start doing the “Not Sure If…” thing.

After a devastating war with a race of aliens known as Scavengers, The Moon is destroyed and humanity’s Hail Mary use of nuclear weapons has all but destroyed the Earth’s ability to continue supporting life. Technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his communications officer/partner/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are part of a massive operation to extract water from Earth to use on Titan where the human race has relocated. Jack and Victoria get their orders from their commander, Sally (Melissa Leo) who communicates with them from The Tet, a gigantic space station that resembles an upside down pyramid.

Now all of this information is conveyed to the audience in a voice over by Jack in the first ten minutes of the movie. I kid you not. I gave you the short version but just about everything you read in the paragraph above this one is relayed in a voice over, along with the information that Jack and Victoria had their memories wiped five years ago as a security measure in case they’re captured by Scavengers. Do I really have to tell you that any character in any science fiction movie who’s had their memory wiped is not to be trusted? Or that at some point in the movie, everything the characters in the movie have been experiencing will turn out to not be real? Didn’t think so.

Jack’s job is pretty much being a glorified maintenance man as he keeps the weapon-laden drones running. They protect the ginormous water extraction machines from those Scavengers that still remain on Earth. But Jack is conflicted in his job. Unlike Victoria who has no desire at all to go down to the surface, Jack feels more at home there than in the mile high tower complex they live in that looks as if it were designed by the same architect who designed the spire where The Jetsons live. He has reoccurring dreams about being on Earth before the war. He’s on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building with a woman he knows he has deep feelings for but cannot remember her name or why he has these dreams. The answer comes one day during his routine patrol when a sixty year old spaceship,  The Odyssey, crash lands near the ruins of the Empire State Building. The ship contains a number of hibernation capsules carrying humans. One of them is Julia (Olga Kurylenko) who is the woman in Jack’s dreams. Defying direct orders from Sally to bring Julia to The Tet, Jack and Julia begin their quest to discover what The Odyssey’s mission was and how it is connected to the war with The Scavengers.

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OBLIVION has some good things going for it. It’s a gorgeous looking movie with some really cool gadgets and gizmos to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ over. I really dug Jack’s flier which is one of the coolest flying machines I’ve seen in movies recently. The special effects are appropriately amazing but in this day and age of computer wizardry do we ever see a movie with bad special effects anymore?

I really wish I could tell you to go for the acting but Tom Cruise doesn’t do anything to stretch his acting muscles in this one. And Tom Cruise can act when he wants to. I point at “Tropic Thunder” “Magnolia” “Collateral” and “Valkyrie” as just a few examples of what Cruise can do when he takes himself off autopilot.

I’ve seen Olga Kurylenko in three movies now and the more movies I see her in, the less I want to see of her. Didn’t like her in “Hitman” and actively disliked her in “Quantum of Solace.” She’s not much better here. And Andrea Riseborough is just plain dull. And despite what you see in trailers, Morgan Freeman isn’t a major character in this movie. His character’s name is Malcolm Beech but it should have been Malcolm Exposition as that’s the main purpose Freeman serves here.

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So should you see OBLIVION? Are you a Tom Cruise fan? If so, you’ve probably seen it already or have plans to see it and so nothing I say will change your mind. And that’s okay. Believe me, I understand. But for the rest of you I say wait for OBLIVION to come to Netflix.

124 minutes

PG-13

Better In The Dark #146: Rock The Sunset Delusion Where The Crimson Contenders Lie

 

It’s time for the 2013 edition of The Obscure Movie Episode!  Join Tom and Derrick as they present their annual six-pack of films you might not otherwise know about.  From the southwest noir Delusion to the Hollywood action thriller Sunset to the animated epic (that almost destroyed a Canadian movie studio) Rock and Rule, the Guys Outta Brooklyn cover a wide range of genres.  Plus talk about rats, New Year’s Eve, gullible football players and…Big Electric Cat!  You know we’re the hottest
thing since World War Three, so get to clicking!

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Olympus Has Fallen

olympus_has_fallen2013

Millennium Films

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel and Mark Gill

Written by Creighton Rothenberger

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is the agent of charge of the Secret Service’s Presidential Detail. And as such he enjoys an usually intimate relationship with The First Family. He calls President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) by his first name while they work out together at Camp David. He advises First Lady Margaret (Ashley Judd) on what earrings to wear at state functions. Their son Connor treats Mike as if he were his favorite uncle. That all comes to an end when there’s a horrifying car accident and Mike has to make a choice between saving The President or Margaret. Mike chooses President Asher.

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Mike is transferred to working in the Treasury Department as Asher doesn’t want Mike around to remind him of that night. Mike’s boss, Secret Service chief Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) tells Mike repeatedly that nobody blames him for what happened as he did his job of protecting The President. But it doesn’t make it easier for Mike who hates his desk duty, seeing it as a demotion.

Mike’s chance for redemption comes when The White House is attacked and captured by the brilliant terrorist mastermind Kang Yeonsak (Rick Yune) who takes President Asher and most of his top aides hostage. His goal is to use them as leverage to force U.S. military forces to withdraw from Korea’s DMZ. Kang also is after the access codes for Cerberus, a computer system that will allow him to detonate all of America’s nuclear missiles in their silos, turning America into a nuclear wasteland.

During the ferocious assault, Mike joins the Secret Service agents defending The White House and manages to get inside. By the time military backup arrives, the terrorists have slaughtered all the Secret Service agents and secured The White House. It’s up to Mike Banning to go full-blown John McClane to save the day single-handedly. Can he rescue Conner Asher before Kang’s men find him? Can he save President Asher? Can he deactivate Cerberus before the countdown hits zero and the United States goes ka-boom?

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If you have to ask, then you must not be familiar with action movies of the 1980’s which is what OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is an unashamed throwback to. In fact, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is so committed to its 80’s Action Movie roots that for me it’s a better “Die Hard” sequel than “A Good Day To Die Hard.” The story is totally preposterous of course, but then again, what action movie doesn’t have a preposterous premise to begin with? And the movie has more than its share of plot holes such as; why does Kang waste time executing hostages to force Speaker of The House/Acting President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) to order U.S. troops to withdraw from Korea when he could have simply used the threat of Cerberus to do so? Why does Asher wait until his Vice President (Phil Austin) and Secretary of Defense (Melissa Leo) are beaten damn near to death before ordering them to give up their codes while he gives his up without putting up any kind of resistance?

But OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, despite the plot holes is a pretty solid action thriller. And I liked how it didn’t go down the usual route of this genre of movie. Thankfully, Mike doesn’t turn into a burned-out, alcoholic mess who screws up his marriage after his demotion. He’s actually a pretty well-adjusted guy with a solid marriage. He just needs to spend a little more time with his wife (Radha Mitchell in a really boring and uninspired performance) and get from behind that desk.  I figured that the only purpose of the President having a son was so that at a crucial point he’d be taken hostage and we’d get yet another tired scene of the bad guy holding the gun to the brat’s head and telling our hero to drop his gun. That doesn’t happen here and I was so glad for that.

The casting of this movie is really first rate, full of A-list actors who I was quite surprised to see in what is essentially a big budget B-Action Movie. Besides Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Ashley Judd, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Rick Yune and Morgan Freeman we’ve got Dylan McDermott as Dave Forbes, ex-Secret Service agent and best friend to Mike, Robert Forster as the Army Chief of Staff and Cole Hauser. That’s one impressive line-up of talent for any movie and they all do their usual professional work here. I can’t really single out any performance that I didn’t like. Except for Radha Mitchell and I’m willing to chalk that up to her character really being underwritten and never really getting a chance to do much.

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And I really enjoyed seeing Gerard Butler back doing what he should be doing: making kick-ass action movies. Hopefully this won’t be his last one and he’ll stay away from making crappy romantic comedies. And I can’t close out this review without a special nod to Melissa Leo whose character takes one of the most excruciating ass-whoopin’s I’ve ever seen in a movie.

So should you see OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN? If you’re an action movie fan, yeah. The spectacularly gory violence and sheer level of destruction in this movie is gleeful and plentiful. This movie has got one of the highest body counts I’ve seen in recent movies and the CGI guys were apparently given full leave to go nuts, which they do. There’s nothing in OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN that will really surprise you as the director, Antoine Fuqua is not out to reinvent the Action Movie genre here. He has produced a solid piece of entertainment designed to do nothing more than put asses in seats, sell popcorn and provide two hours of carnage. If that’s all you’re looking for, OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN is your huckleberry.

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Rated R

180 Minutes

Dredd

dredd_movie_poster_by_toheavenorhell-d59xrkz

2012

Entertainment Film Distributors/Lionsgate

Directed by Pete Travis

Produced by Alex Garland and Andrew MacDonald

Written by Alex Garland

Based on the character “Judge Dredd” created by John Wagner and Carols Ezquerra

I miss the huge eagle shoulder emblem and that honkin’ huge chain. Really. I can understand why that shoulder emblem is impractical for police work but I still miss it. It’s the only thing I miss from 1995’s “Judge Dredd.” Well, I miss Diane Lane. And as good as he is (and he is very good) Karl Urban can’t say “I am the law!” like Sylvester Stallone (or Kelen Conley) But outside of that, fifteen minutes into DREDD I couldn’t remember anything else about that earlier movie. That’s how good a job DREDD does of giving us a version of the classic British comic book character that is far closer in spirit to the Judge Dredd we know and love.

Mega-City One is an impossibly huge city covering the East Coast of what used to be the United States with over 800 million citizens living in it. The number of violent crimes is staggering. In order to combat the crime wave, Mega-City One is policed by The Judges who fulfill the functions of both police officers and judges. Having caught a criminal, Judges are authorized to try and sentence criminals right on the spot. Cuts down on the paperwork.

It’s new Judge recruit Cassandra Anderson’s (Olivia Thirlby) first day on the job. Even though she failed several of her aptitude tests to become a Judge, she’s given a chance to prove herself due to her being an extremely powerful psychic. If she can pass her Assessment, she’ll get her badge. That’s the good news. The bad news is that she’s partnered with Judge Dredd, the toughest and most feared Judge in Mega-City One and it’s him who will have the final say if she becomes a Judge or not.

And then comes the worst news. While investigating three murders in Peach Trees, a 200 story slum tower, Dredd and Anderson arrest Kay (Wood Harris) one of the lieutenants of The Ma-Ma Clan. Run by former prostitute and now drug kingpin, Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) takes control of the tower’s control room and seals off the building from the outside, trapping Dredd and Anderson inside. Ma-Ma can’t afford to let Dredd and Anderson escape as since during their investigation they found out that Peach Tree is the center of production and distribution for Slo-Mo, a highly addictive drug that slows down the user’s perception of time. On their own and cut off from back-up, Dredd and Anderson fight their way up, floor by floor to get to Ma-Ma.

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DREDD is just about a perfect B-Movie. If this had been made back during the heyday of grindhouses in the 70’s and 80’s it would have run on 42end Street for a solid year. It’s gloriously violent and wallows in the violence because it’s a movie that knows full well what it is: it’s a grindhouse/exploitation B-Action Movie  and it has no desire or aspirations to be anything but the best grindhouse/exploitation B-Action Movie it can be.

But there are plenty of touches here that elevate it to the top rung of B-Movies. First off, it’s a lot smarter than it has to be. It doesn’t have the satirical edge the comic strip does but it makes up for it with sharp characterization and plausible motivation. None of the characters are dumbed down so that they’ll play by the numbers. These are smart, dangerous people on both sides and they behave like it. The production is also highly unique looking. Mega-City One and Peach Tree has a look both realistic and functionally futuristic at the same time. It’s a good movie to look at just for the production design.

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The movie doesn’t flinch away when it comes to the violence. Especially during gunfights which are shown from the point of view of those who have inhaled the Slo-Mo drug. Everything is then shown in slow motion. The idea is to capture the hallucinogenic feel of the drug user and the movie pulls it off in a way that I’ve really never seen before. People are getting taken out with head shots or having their guts blown into hamburger and the way it’s filmed is actually beautiful in a way.

The acting is wonderful with Karl Urban leading the way. He’s become one of my favorite actors in recent years and he gets another gold star from me for his commitment to the role. Just like the comic book character, Karl Urban’s Dredd never removes his helmet and we never see his face. Urban does all his work with his chin and his voice. He talks in a terrific pseudo-Clint Eastwood voice that isn’t exactly an imitation or impersonation but is just short of that. Urban manages to get in quite a bit of humor in a character that is essentially humorless. It cracked me up how no matter what Ma-Ma throws at them or how dire the situation got, Dredd never forgets that he’s supposed to be training Anderson and from time to time will ask her questions as if they’re in a classroom and not standing knee deep in dead bodies.

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Since by his very nature we can’t get into Dredd’s head as he has no friends, no family and lives only to uphold the law we have to turn to Anderson for the movie’s emotional center and Olivia Thrilby does a better than average job of that. Anderson doesn’t wear a helmet because it would interfere with her psychic abilities so we get to see her face and the emotions at play in her as she tries her best to survive this hellish day. I really liked the adversarial relationship that develops between her and Kay as they play mind games with each other, trying to get the upper hand. Since Anderson is a psychic and can tell what others are thinking and feeling, she has to reconcile that gift with the duties a Judge must perform. Thrilby does a great job at portraying and balancing that conflict

And as one of the best bad guys I’ve seen in recent movies, Lena Headey doesn’t just take the cake. She steals the entire damn bakery. Ma-Ma is smarter, tougher and more sadistic than any man that works for her and Headey dives into the role with manic glee. Out of everybody in the wonderful cast she looks like she’s having the most fun.

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So should you see DREDD? If you haven’t yet then you absolutely should set aside time for DREDD. It’s a perfect Saturday afternoon movie, with impeccable casting and told in a direct, straightforward, pedal-to-the-metal manner. I had a great time watching it and I think you will as well. Just one little warning: the language in this movie is not for those of you with soft ears or gentle sensibilities and the violence is not for kids or those of you who don’t like violent movies. It grinds my grits when people watch R rated movies and spend the whole time complaining about the language, sex and/or violence. The movie rating is there for a reason and DREDD more than earns it’s R rating so don’t say you weren’t told.

Rated R

95 minutes

Dark City: The Director’s Cut

Dark-City-1998

1998

New Line Cinema

Directed by Alex Proyas

Produced by Alex Proyas and Andrew Mason

Screenplay by Alex Proyas, David S. Goyer and Lem Dobbs

Based on a story by Alex Proyas

A man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a tub full of cold water. He’s a resident in a hotel but has no memory of checking in there, let alone living there for the past three weeks as the desk clerk insists. He gets a phone call from a man claiming to be his doctor (Kiefer Sutherland) who tells him he must leave the hotel as there are people looking for him. ‘People’ is somewhat of of an understatement. The Strangers look like walking corpses dressed all in black and have extraordinary psychokinetic powers. The man leaves and begins a search for his identity, pursued not only by The Strangers but by Police Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) who suspects that the man is the maniac responsible for a string of horrifying murders.

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The man eventually discovers his name is John Murdoch and that he has powers of his own that enable him to evade The Strangers. Armed with these powers he sets out to discover the truth of his origins. Did he really murder six prostitutes? Is the sultry torch singer Emma Murdoch (Jennifer Connelly) truly his wife? Why is he tortured with memories of his youth living in the coastal town of Shell Beach and why is it nobody can remember how to get there? Why does everybody in this city of eternal night, this DARK CITY fall asleep at midnight? Why do The Strangers use their power to rearrange the very city itself and swap identities of the sleeping inhabitants?

If you’ve never seen DARK CITY I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the fun of you discovering the answers to those questions and many others. Because DARK CITY is just as much a neo-noir detective story as it is so many other genres. It’s also a horror movie. A live action graphic novel. A science fiction movie. A suspense thriller. In a way, it’s even a superhero hero. It’s so many different genres blended together and amazingly, they all work thanks to the utter brilliant screenplay and direction. I know people who go on and on and on about how great “The Crow” is but they can keep that movie. Just give me DARK CITY which for me is the best thing Proyas has directed so far.

The visual look and texture of this movie is just as unique as the story. The architecture of the Dark City itself looks European mixed with Art Deco and German Expressionism. It’s a look like no other city in a movie has ever has. It’s even more impressive when you find out that it was all constructed on a set. The production design alone is worth seeing the movie.

This is the first movie I ever saw Rufus Sewell in and right from there I said to myself I would have to keep an eye on this guy. He’s one of those actors who I just can’t take my eyes off when he’s on screen. He’s always doing something interesting with his eyes, his body or his hands. And he’s one of the few actors who I can actually see thinking. He’s flat out terrific in this movie. Kiefer Sutherland is equally terrific. People who only know him as Jack Bauer really need to watch DARK CITY to see just how good an actor he really is. William Hurt has a lot of good scenes as Inspector Bumstead. I liked his relationship with a uniformed policeman who admires Bumstead and who acts as his unofficial sidekick in police work. Bumstead has long had his own suspicions about the origins of the city as he reveals when he asks Emma Murdoch questions about her own memories. And as usual, I can’t say a bad word against Jennifer Connelly. Not only is she gorgeous as hell she’s an amazing actress as well.

Dark City

What else can I say? Not much else. Chances are most of you reading this have already seen DARK CITY and so you know what I’m talking about. As for those of you who haven’t. Please do yourself a favor and this weekend get yourself a Blu-Ray of DARK CITY. I’m advising you to get the Blu-Ray because not only does DARK CITY look astounding in Blu-Ray, it also has a commentary by Roger Ebert who was a major champion of this movie from Day One. ‘Visionary’ is a word thrown around far too often when describing movies but in the case of DARK CITY it’s more than well deserved. It’s one of the most imaginative and fascinating movies I’ve ever seen. It tells a great story and does it in a memorably thrilling and original way. Enjoy.

Rated R

100 Minutes

Mafia

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2011

Levine Pictures/Jamie Kennedy Entertainment

Directed and Written by Ryan Combs

Produced by Phillip Glasser and Brian Hartman

When I first heard about this movie my interest was immediately piqued. A urban crime thriller set in the 1970’s starring Ving Rhames, Pam Grier and Robert Patrick? Why had I not heard about this movie before now? I mean let’s consider the star power involved here for a minute:

Ving Rhames has worked with high octane directors such as Quentin Tarantino, John Woo and John Singleton. He’s proven himself to be an exceptional capable and memorable actor in many movies and I always like to point out to people that besides Tom Cruise, he’s the only other actor to have been in all four “Mission: Impossible” movies. He’s also well known for that incredible moment when he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor back in 1998 and gave his award to Jack Lemmon:

Don’t worry, Ving got a duplicate award later on.

If you’ve known me for any length of time then you know I worship Pam Grier and have ever since I started seeing her movies back in the 1970’s. Her legendary movie career during the 70’s and 80’s has enshrined her as the Queen of Blaxplotation and over the years she’s continued to flourish, demonstrating an acting ability that proved she had a range and talent that has taken her far beyond that period.

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Robert Patrick’s career took off with his role as the T-1000 in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and just kept on taking off. I really enjoyed him when he joined the cast of “The X-Files” and I actually liked the show a lot better when he was there. So we’re agreed that we’ve got three of the best and most talented actors working today, right? Actors who certainly have no problem finding work, right?

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So what are they doing in a movie like MAFIA?

I highly suspect that Ving Rhames asked Pam Grier and Robert Patrick to do him a favor and co-star in the movie because he’s recently been making quite a few movies with MAFIA’s writer/director Ryan Combs. Movies such as “King of The Avenue” “Caged Animal” and “Animal 2” Ryan Combs is an African-American writer/director I wasn’t aware of until I saw MAFIA and even though this movie doesn’t hit the bullseye I’m sufficiently intrigued by what I saw in MAFIA to check out some of his other movies. And if that was the intention behind having actors like Ving Rhames, Pam Grier and Robert Patrick in this movie then it succeeded.

Set in 1975 the movie recounts the last few days in the career of crime boss Renzo Wes (Ving Rhames) as he sets about obliterating his rival crime bosses. Renzo is in turn being pursued by police detectives James Womack (Pam Grier) and her new partner Jules Dupree (Robert Patrick) Renzo killed Womack’s ex-partner and she’s on a holy rampage to do everything and anything she can to bring him down. Dupree just wants to take it easy as he’s planning on getting married soon and doesn’t want anything going down that will interfere with that. He’s got enough on his plate as his fiancée (Melanie Marden) has told him that her brother is viciously racist.

The turf war escalates, jeopardizing Renzo’s criminal empire and straining his relationship with his right hand man Train (Sean Derry) who is rightly concerned that all the killing is going to bring the cops down on them with both feet. Renzo continues his war against his rivals while being plagued by visions of a chubby little boy holding a yellow toy truck and looking at Renzo with accusing eyes. And are his other visions of him in prison memories or premonitions?

First off, I have no idea why this movie’s title was changed to MAFIA as there is never so much as a mention of that criminal organization in the movie’s entire running time. The original title of “The Consequence of Renzo Wes” is a much better, more original title and fits the tone of the movie much better.

The movie obviously doesn’t have the kind of budget you would think a movie starring these three would have. The 1970’s period flavor is invoked strictly through the cars that are driven along with the appropriate clothing and hairstyles. In particular Pam Grier sports an afro that I would swear is the same one from “Foxy Brown” she used to hide a gun and razor blades in. But the slang used is contemporary (we didn’t say “ya feel me?” back in the 1970’s) and the music used is that fake pseudo 70’s music filmmaker use when they don’t have the budget to pay for the rights to use music and songs from that period. In addition, the city the action takes place in is never named or identified and there’s never any landmarks or anything mentioned or technology (outside of rotary phones) specific to that time period.

With a larger budget and better script, MAFIA could have been more of a notable movie. Combs deliberately films it as if it were a 1970’s exploitation crime thriller and I respond to the sincerity of the intent. But the movie is too laid back and too restrained. It doesn’t have that manic quality true 70’s exploitation B-movies had where you feel as if anything could happen at any time. Renzo has an enforcer who carries two double barreled shotguns who could have been turned into a memorable supporting character but he just stays in the background most of the time. And why is Pam Grier’s character’s first name “James”?

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And this is the main impression I got while watching MAFIA : that the writer hasn’t read any real hardboiled crime/gangster stories or novels and not really all that much of any sort of crime fiction at all. MAFIA feels to me like it was made by somebody who’s simply seen a bunch of 70’s black exploitation movies and said, “yeah, I wanna do that.” The problem is that there’s no heat, no passion in the movie and no originality brought to the story or the characters. This movie really needed a writer who could have fleshed out the thin story, given the characters some dimensions and brought some much needed energy to the plot and make it sing and swing instead of just going from one predictable point to another.

So should you see MAFIA? If you don’t, you won’t be missing a thing. The only actor bringing their A-game to this is Ving Rhames himself. Pam Grier and Robert Patrick stay safely on autopilot for this one. And it’s got a mercifully short running time of 82 minutes so you won’t waste too much time if you do.

Rated R

82 minutes

Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane

2009

Davis Films

Directed and Written by Michael J. Bassett

Produced by Samuel Hadida

Based on the character “Solomon Kane” created by Robert E. Howard

Robert E. Howard is known mainly as the creator of Conan but as all us fans of his work well know he created many other heroes of equal power. They’re not as well known or as popular as Conan with the general public but in terms of characterization they’re more developed and more psychologically complex than Conan who pretty much was happy as long as he spent his days thieving and slaying and his nights wenching and drinking. Howard’s Pictish king Bran Mak Morn is obsessed with bringing the warring Pict clans together into a mighty empire against Rome and leaving a legacy to live on after his death. King Kull of Atlantis may be a barbarian but he spends just as much time in philosophical introspection as he does hacking his enemies into hamburger. And SOLOMON KANE is not only a swordsman of demonic skill and ferocity in battle, he is also a devout Puritan who has dedicated his life to God and to the vanquishing of evil.

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It’s his religious fanaticism that gives Solomon Kane his distinction in the pantheon of Robert E. Howard heroes and for me it’s what gives the movie an added kick of characterization. Solomon Kane’s quest is an unusual one, concerned with spiritual salvation and redemption as much as it is with lopping off as many heads of as many men as he can who stand in his way to kill the evil sorcerer Malachi.

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After barely escaping The Devil’s Reaper (Ian White) who attempts to take his soul, Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) retreats to a monastery in his native England. He covers his body with protective tattoos and Bible scriptures to keep The Devil’s Reaper at bay while he repents of his sins and embraces a life of peace. Even though he has renounced violence Solomon is destined for Hell for his past sins. Cast out from the monastery, he begins a pilgrimage to return to his family estates. As a boy Solomon was exiled by his father (Max Von Sydow) but now Solomon wishes to make amends.

He finds friendship with a Puritan family, William and Katherine Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige) and their three children and travels with them. They are ambushed by the demonic soldiers of the sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng) led by his brutal lieutenant, The Masked Rider (Samuel Roukin) In the ambush, all of the Crowthorns are killed except for Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood) Solomon promises the dying William that he will rescue his daughter. And so, now believing that God’s plan is for him to once again become a killer, Solomon takes up arms and sets out to rescue Meredith. In the course of that quest, Solomon Kane will confront not only foes armed with swords and magic but wrestle with his own inner turmoil and crisis of faith.

Now, don’t get scared. This may sound like heady stuff for what is essentially a Sword and Sorcery yarn but trust me, it doesn’t get in the way of the killing, maiming, slaying of demons and zombies and buckets of blood any good Robert E. Howard story has. The movie is essentially an origin story for Solomon Kane and it’s been a while since I’ve read those original story I honestly don’t believe that anything in the movie violates what has been set down in those stories.  Although I do seem to recall that Kane was born a Puritan and he didn’t come from a noble wealthy family.

But it’s hard to argue with a couple of things that SOLOMON KANE may have gotten wrong when there’s so much that it gets right. The production values are amazing. They didn’t film this one on the cheap. And I liked how the landscape and location work are used to really good effect here to heighten the mood, tension and atmosphere in the various scenes. This is a Dark Ages that really is dark. It’s cold, it’s muddy, it’s rainy, it’s snowy. In short, it’s a rotten time and place to be living in. And there’s no punches pulled when it comes to the violence which is raw and brutal. There’s some really impressive stuntwork being done during the swordfights.

I had long heard that James Purefoy was excellent in this movie and I’m happy to confirm that. I’m pretty confident that he read the original Robert E. Howard stories as he scarily and convincingly conveys the righteous anger that consumes Solomon Kane in combat. And in the quieter scenes where he’s given up his violent ways and is searching for God, he sells those just as well. The quest of Solomon Kane is not just a violent one but a spiritual one as well and James Purefoy does a wonderful job of giving us both sides of the character.

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Who else? There’s Pete Postlethwaite, who has always looked to me like Patrick Stewart’s meaner older brother doing his usual professional work. And it’s always a joy to see Alice Krige on screen doing anything and still looking beautiful and sexy even in Puritan clothing. Max Von Sydow makes the most of his brief but pivotal role as Josiah Kane, Solomon’s father.

The story of this movie’s production is a convoluted one as it was made in 2009 and only got to the United States last year. The only thing I can think of is that there must have been somebody getting paid under the table to keep the movie out of the U.S.  I have a long list of movies that should have been major box office hits and SOLOMON KANE joins that list. As a Robert E. Howard fan I was delighted and thrilled with this movie. It’s a genuine Sword-and-Sorcery epic starring one of the most intriguing heroes ever created for the genre. By all means, watch and enjoy.

104 minutes

Rated R