6.24.2017

Batman Was Released 28 Years Ago Today

* this is a day late, so it was technically yesterday. But I wrote this yesterday, the 23rd, so that should still count.

Tim Burton's Batman has and continues to be one of my all-time favorite films ever. It's a film that I was obsessed with upon it's initial release, and that obsession has not waned in the least bit ever since. I still love it, and frequently revisit it on a regular basis, always buying each new Blu Ray release that comes out, even though they're not any different from the previous one. It's a sickness.

In the summer of 1989, I was a 13 year old kid, and my family and I were driving all the way to California from Texas to visit family (we did this every 2 summers), which took about 3 and a half days. I remember Paula Abdul and Milli Vanilli constantly playing on every single radio station we picked up on the way over there, and I remember stopping at a random convenience store in some small town and bought the novelization of this film from a book rack and ended up reading it in the car ride up there. I have so many vivid Batman-related memories of that summer, so I thought I'd share them all with you here briefly as I wax nostalgic.

I remember buying so many film related items that summer, like a Batman fabric poster, which I still have, several of the Toy Biz Batman toy line, a cardboard Batmobile sun deflector for my parent's car, and several movie-related Batman t-shirts that were literally available everywhere (the merchandising machine on this film was insane and unprecedented). But the one item that I still covet, the one that I still own and still use to this day is my ceramic Batman coffee mug, which had the  Batmobile on one side. With the exception of a very small minor chip at the top, it's still in pristine condition and I refuse to let anyone else touch or use it to this day.

When I got to the theater in the city of Lancaster, CA that June 23, 1989 wearing my glow-in-the-dark Nicholson Joker shirt, the line literally stretched around the entire building. This was the my first experience ever dealing with a long line for a movie. But I waited, and we eventually got in to see it and that one movie screening changed my life forever. I became obsessed with Batman after that and it was all because of this movie. Ultimately I would end up seeing it in the theater a good 6-10 times and then an innumerable amount on VHS.

Is the film perfect? No. I'm a realistic guy and I know the film suffers from quite a few problems. I know there was a better film in there somewhere but the one we did end up getting wasn't bad either. In fact, from a design standpoint, it's phenomenal. No other film had come out before that looked and felt like this one did. At the time I had no idea who Tim Burton was, even though I'd seen Beetlejuice at the theater the year before and didn't like it (at the time), and being 13 years old, I didn't have a clue what a production designer was, much less Anton Furst, the man who created the industrial gothic look and tone of Batman, who also designed the best version of the Batmobile ever. And then there's the man who designed and created the batsuit, Bob Ringwood. Hands-down my favorite version of the Batsuit in the entire history of film versions and still the best in my humble opinion.

And minus a few issues like structure and a weak ending, the film overall is tremendously entertaining and endlessly enjoyable. There's just a very fun, yet deadly serious and ominous tone, which is totally contradictory I know, but that's exactly what this is and in a very odd way, it works. There'd never been a film like this before, much less a superhero film, and though the current DC Movie Universe is flooding the market with them these days, they still haven't been able to pull it off as effectively as Tim Burton, writer Sam Hamm, and designers Anton Furst and Bob Ringwood. It seems now though that DC has taken all the recent negative feedback and are slowly scaling back on the dark and dreaded tone.

I feel that a lot of what makes this one so much fun despite it's dark gothic tone is Danny Elfman's iconic score. It's perfectly fitting for the material and adds so much to the experience. It's also a sad reminder that we don't get these kinds of scores anymore, no matter how big the film. It seems that composer's are all tapped out of themes these days, because I can't remember the last time we've gotten anything vaguely in the league of scores from Williams, Elfman, Eno and Badalementi. Nothing memorable or iconic, not even for the big superhero films. which is sad.

This past year I had the pleasure of seeing this film on the big screen again as part of Cinemark's Classics Series, and I felt just like a kid again. Even though I've seen it hundreds of times since then, it didn't lose any of it's appeal or entertainment value, and was just as good seeing it for the something-hundredth time as it was 28 years ago.

6.23.2017

Revisiting Timecop

It's easy to say that Van Damme's career is sporadically hit or miss. But there was a time early in his career (late 80's to early 90's) where he was turning out quality work and quality films on a regular basis, with a majority of them hitting the theaters. At that time he was one of the biggest action stars on the planet, at a time when Stallone and Arnold's star-power were waning, and we were hungry for some new action blood. He might not have been the best actor around, but he was dedicated, good looking and could do some physical stuff nobody else could. Timecop was right at the tail-end of his winning streak, before his personal problems became news headlines and his films became less and less fun, important and well....good. Thankfully Timecop is all of those things and more, and yet another highlight of director Peter Hyams stellar career. Let's dig in.

Crackle was streaming this recently and I realized I hadn't seen it for a while. When I began watching it, I was surprised at how good it was and that it was far better than I remembered. I was also a bit surprised to learn that it's really more of a sci-fi/thriller rather than an action film. There's plenty of action for sure, but the film really puts a lot more focus into the story, which was impressively compelling, and it's thriller elements, which kind of took me by surprise, but didn't make it any less entertaining because it was awesome.



Going in, there were 3 things I was most excited about: Van Damme, director Peter Hyams and Ron Silver, and all 3 didn't let me down. Ron Silver has always been a favorite actor of mine. I always love when he plays the villain, because he's just so damn good at it. Watch Blue Steel if you need further proof. And Peter Hyams is such a criminally underrated director. I won't even get into why, because I made a whole post all about him a short while back, but trust me, he's a God among filmmakers in my book. Sure his last good film was The Relic in 1997, and every film since then has been......questionable, but he did keep up a massive winning streak spanning 2 decades (80's and 90's) and delivered some incredible films that have still stood the test of time, and Timecop is a perfect example of that. He gives the film such a distinct visual style, the kind that only adds to the films overall appeal, and he never really gets the credit he deserves for it. It's a very similar style to Roland Emmerich in the 90's (see Moon 44, Universal Solder, Stargate and Independence Day), before Godzilla and CGI changed all that forever. But it's really this "look" that gives Timecop so much of it's flavor.

There were only 2 things that I had minor issues with. I'm sure there are other better examples, but here it seems JCVD was really struggling with his acting. At least he doesn't look tired like he does in later films like Maximum Risk and Knockoff. But here his line delivery is pretty bad, even for him. It could also be because there's more dialogue here than he's usually accustomed to, and definitely much more depth needed for his character. But you know, we don't come into these films for Van Damme's acting, right?



I also felt the ending was a bit of a letdown. Usually these films slowly build up to a big finale, but this one kind of just ends without much of a bang. We do have the big confrontation, the reveal, and a bit of fighting, but none of it really packs a punch the way a finale should. But, as a whole, Timecop delivers the goods on a consistently entertaining level and it's really just a small gripe. There was no huge crazy finale, but that's okay too.

Somehow this film kind of gets swept under the rug in a variety of ways, whether it's listing Van Damme's best films, or director Peter Hyam's talent behind the camera in delivering a great sci-fi/action/thriller under the radar, or just in terms of these classic 90's sci-fi actioner's altogether. It's rarely ever mentioned in the same breath as other great's from the same time like Universal Soldier or Stargate, and that's a damn shame. While I never got around to the Jason Scott Lee low-budget sequel, I can at least revel in the experience of revisiting this classic and loving it more than I ever did before. It's also worth noting that Hyams and JCVD would re-team the following year for the highly underrated and excellent Sudden Death, which I will also be revisiting shortly. Stay tuned...

How to see it:
Timecop has been released numerous times on DVD and Blu Ray as either a standalone film or as part of a 2-pk with Bloodsport on both formats at a very reasonable price. I've also seen it as part of one of those Van Damme Action 4-pks, so really, there's no shortage out there. You'll find it easy and find it cheap. Me, I got the 2-pk with Bloodsport on DVD, because the DVD quality on this one is actually very good and I didn't feel it needed an upgrade to Blu Ray just yet. Plus I got it for under $5. Score!

* speaking of JCVD, are we EVER going to get to see his Full Love aka Soldiers aka The Eagle Path? Anybody have any info on this?

6.22.2017

Documentary Dynamite!: Nintendo Quest


2015
Directed by: Robert McCallum
Category: Documentary

I'm always down for a good documentary, and this is one I'd been eyeing for a while when I first happened upon it on Hulu Plus a while ago. But I never actually got around to it, even though the NES is my all-time favorite console. I eventually forgot about it until I came across it again recently on Crackle. I took it as a sign to finally get off my ass and watch it already.

Avid game enthusiast and collector Jay Bartlett has 30 days to collect every single officially licensed Nintendo game released. He cannot order anything online, which means he has to grab each of the 678 games in person while driving cross-country. His good friend Robert McCallum is along for the ride to document it all. 

Sadly, while amusing and entertaining for the most part, it doesn't quite hit the mark for me. It's a shame too, because it starts off really strong and the subject matter alone, original NES games, should be enough to grab just about any gamer. But this documentary suffers from a few problems that really prevents it from being awesome. For starters, the main focus of this documentary, Jay Barlett, just isn't a very compelling guy. At least not enough to follow around for an hour and a half. He's likable enough, but never really shows much of a personality or charisma, other than the moments when he gets upset about something. Some past trauma and personal issues also come to light. And then there's the amateurish look and feel to it all. While not terrible, it always comes across as a reality show rather than a documentary (yes there's a difference). The camera is constantly moving and swaying side to side, even in the transitional moments where the narrator and director is talking directly to the camera. In fact, this constant camera movement reminded me of a kids game show on Nickelodeon or something. And the other moments, where a small crew is following Jay as he visits friends and video game shops across the country are handled with little flair. It's as if whoever was behind the camera never filmed anything before. It's a slight annoyance, but one I personally couldn't look past.

The beginning of this doc is pretty excellent though, and I wish they had stuck to this format rather than what they chose. It starts by giving you an oral and visual history of Nintendo, from it's inception to it's dominance in the U.S. market to it's lasting impact on the video game market. It's really with this first section of the doc where it really, really shines and ultimately ends up being the most fun and best part of this documentary. Probably because it's quick and throws a lot of information at you in an entertaining way, while also incorporating a lot of old vintage footage. But as this was only McCallum's first documentary feature, I have to cut the guy some slack and hope his upcoming Masters of the Universe documentary, currently in post-production, will be a vast improvement tonally and in quality.

None of this means that it's bad either. On the contrary. It's engaging enough throughout if you're a fan of Nintendo or a vintage gamer. It's fun watching him find a lot of games I hadn't even thought of since their original release, and also discovering titles I never even knew existed. And of course, there are the rare and mega-rare titles. the ones we all hope to come across randomly some day. Here, we get to see Jay find these holy grail cartridges out on the hunt and through connections and the lengths some will go to for these.

Not one of the best, but not a terrible one either. It's enjoyable just for the mere fact that you get to see so many of these games again, especially if you either haven't played them in years or have completely forgotten about what it's like game hunting. Any other NES documentaries out there that I'm not aware of that you'd recommend? Please let me know!

How to see it:
It's since been removed from Hulu Plus, but if you want to stream it for free, you can watch it on Crackle. You just have to endure commercials from time to time. But that's a small price to pay to get to see it in digital for free. You can also purchase the DVD for relatively cheap. I'm sure it comes with bonus content too, so that would be a good way to go. But it's available for free on Crackle right now. I just don't know for how long.








6.21.2017

Hunter: The TV Series (1984-1991)

Growing up, I was always aware of this show, but never got around to actually watching it. At the time, I was all about Knight Rider, The A-Team, The Fall Guy and sometimes Air Wolf. But this is why I love Hulu Plus so fucking much. They're all on there and I can watch them anytime I want. Anywho, as I was browsing recently Hunter was suggested to me, and at the time, I was smack in the middle of a long Miami Vice run and needing something a tad different in the 80's action genre to break up the monotony. I thought I'd at least give the hour and a half pilot a shot, if nothing else.

I'm so glad I did because Hunter was just fantastic and so much more than I was expecting. I'm only about 4 episodes into the first of 7 seasons, but what an opening! They really put so much into that pilot to grab you, and it worked. Essentially it feels like a cross between a Dirty Harry film and any of Charles Bronson's films from the 80's. Lead actor Fred Dryer even kind of looks, dresses and talks like Dirty Harry to be honest, only he's much more of a smartass 100% of the time, which really adds a lot to the likability factor to his character. He could easily have played it straight, which would have been ultimately forgettable, but because he's a smartass and always dropping quips and puns, it's far more effective in his character development and Dryer was a fantastic choice.

What would a good cop show be without an equally compelling partner? In this case, we have the smoking hot Stepfanie Kramer, who works really well as a counter-balance to Hunter's wisecracking antics. It also helps that we see her in tight skimpy outfits often (at least in the first few episodes I've seen so far) as she routinely goes undercover as a prostitute.

The pilot episode was a story about a serial killer who targeted women, with Hunter and his new partner trying to discover the identity of this killer and try and stop them before they killed again. A lot of this episode looked and felt like a slasher film, and I was constantly impressed with it's dark, gritty tone, action sequences and violence. The direction was pretty solid overall too, with some sequences being quite awesome, while others could have used some tweaking. Still, for a mid 80's television show, I was mightily impressed. And here's the clencher, the pilot costarred Brian Dennehy as a psychiatrist 2 years after he was going for Stallone's balls in First Blood.


Sam J. Jones in the Bill Duke directed episode in Season 1




Speaking of cameos. Episode 3 was also amusing in that it costarred Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon) and was directed by actor and future director Bill Duke (Predator, Commando).

I am absolutely loving this show - as much as I love Miami Vice, but in a different, more gritty and less polished way. I love that he's a smartass, and I appreciate the graphic tone, which I understand will shift and change with upcoming seasons. I'm also really enjoying the intro's and end credits. They're a funny and amusing reminder of how these shows used to be. With this one, they give you a preview of that particular episode during the opening credits, and the end credits give you a picture recap of what just happened. LOL. It's awesome.

6.20.2017

90's Thriller Throwback: Desperate Hours


1990
Directed by: Michael Cimino
Category: Thriller

As I slowly dig into enigmatic writer/director's short but eclectic career, I decided to follow up my disastrous screening of Heaven's Gate (more on that in another post) with this little seen, little mentioned and often overlooked thriller from 1990. Re-teaming with his Year of the Dragon star Mickey Rourke, Desperate Hours is somewhat of a departure for the megalomaniac filmmaker. For starters, it's a modern film and not historical, which he seems to jump back and forth to between films. And secondly, he didn't write or co-write this one. He's merely the director this time around as well as a producer along with Dino and Martha De Laurentiis. But that's why I was excited. Because if Year of the Dragon is any indication, I seem to like his gritty thrillers more than his extravagant big budget historical epics. So let's dig in.


An escaped con (Mickey Rourke) on the run from the law kidnaps a rich dysfunctional family and hides out in their home while he waits for his accomplices to arrive, all while the law is closing in on him as tensions inside the house come to a boil.

Desperate Hours is a really solid little thriller in the absolute best possible sense. It demonstrates the best of what Michael Cimino can do within the thriller genre and a tight script, even though he didn't have a hand in the script personally. And I must admit, I was a little bit apprehensive going in because on the surface, I was wondering how a film that's primarily about a family being held hostage in their own home could be thrilling, engaging or entertaining. But rest assured, it is. Cimino infuses this film with enough of his claustrophobic sensibilities (if you've seen any of his films then you know what I mean) and keeps the film gritty, yet highly stylish in a genre where this film easily could have gone unnoticed. And the sad thing is that it largely has. People have either never even heard of it or have, yet never bothered to watch it, which is a damn shame because it's quite frankly an excellent film all around.



This was a pivotal time in Mickey Rourke's career. His career defining roles were becoming less and less, and his personal troubles becoming more prominent in the headlines. The year before he had made a film called Wild Orchid with his then girlfriend Carrie Otis, and hell, I was young enough to not give a shit about any of that but his tumultuous relationship with her on and off the set seemed to just always be in the news, so whether I wanted to know or not, I knew about it. And it's because of his personal issues and on-set behavior that quality work became less and less. However, he was able to knock this one out of the park in classic Rourke fashion before falling victim to the "villain" label in numerous low-budget action films from then on out. That is until The Wrestler proved to us all that he could still in fact deliver a helluva performance.

Anthony Hopkins turns up as the bullish angry lawyer husband who's in the throes of a bitter divorce from his wife, Mimi Rogers. Hopkins is interesting in this one. I've seen him in a LOT of films, and this was made a year before he gave the world his career defining role of Hannibal Lecter. Very much like he does in SotL, he uses an odd accent that I can't quite place. At times it seems he's trying to do American, and at others, a whole other accent altogether. If you watch any of his other films you'll notice he doesn't ever do that, sticking to his native tongue most of the time. But in here, it was just so distracting that I didn't know what to make of it. The cast is rounded out by some notable character actors like Kelly Lynch (Roadhouse), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Elias Koteas (TMNT 1990), David Morse (12 Monkeys) and Shawnee Smith, who just 2 years before headlined the excellent The Blob remake in 1988, but here plays just another annoying and forgettable teenage daughter.



One of the biggest surprises for me was the film's structure and pace. While a large part of it takes place within the Cornell house, the film does an excellent job of taking us outside throughout the film as we look at the story through the eyes of the detectives on the case. And it's really with these moments away from the house where the film really shines and Cimino is able to do what he does best, and that's giving the film a true sense of his visual magic. Despite his history of being pretentious, a perfectionist and megalomaniac, it's with films like this and most importantly Year of the Dragon, that reminds me that while all true, he was still a highly gifted visual filmmaker. He knew how to add tension where it needed it most, and does it with a mostly even hand, giving the actors room to work their magic, while simultaneously filling nearly every shot to the brim with a constant sense of claustrophobic dread. I've never seen another filmmaker who's been able to do that the way he does and if you pay attention, it might blow you away as it did me. Sadly, Cimino would only go on to direct one more film after this, The Sunchaser a full 6 years later.

On the surface, there's nothing really remarkable about this little film, which is probably why it didn't do very well and has largely gone unnoticed. But if you like a razor-sharp edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of tense moments, unflinching violence, a top-notch performance by Mickey Rourke, a score that gives that film a punch of bravado, and some of the most keen visuals Michael Cimino has to offer, then look no further and give this film a shot. It makes for a perfect Sunday afternoon viewing.

How to see it:
Currently here in the U.S., there's only ever been one single DVD release from 2002 that you could pick up really cheap, which is what I got. Thankfully it's in widescreen. I don't know. It seems like his films just don't get much love when it comes to releases. Much like his Year of the Dragon, it's only gotten the one here in the states, in a very bare bones no frills edition. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free, and that would probably be the smartest way to go since it will be in HD and I'm sure will look far better than the old DVD. To date, no Blu-Ray has been released and none on the horizon, but I know of a French Blu-Ray available and I'm sure there are other regions that probably offer this that I'm not aware of yet.

6.19.2017

Revisiting Spielberg's E.T.

I'm old enough to remember seeing E.T. countless times in the theater back in 1982. I was in elementary, and I specifically remember the school taking us all to the theater to see it. I also remember my after school daycare doing the same thing. It was just that kind of movie. The kind you could take pretty much any kid to and that they knew it was both suitable and also very entertaining. I also remember that it took years for it to hit VHS, and waiting and waiting for it to eventually hit. See, back in those days the time it took to go from theaters to home video was usually about a year, not like now where it's virtually just a matter of weeks or a month. But I wanted to see it again so bad and always checking with my local video stores and all saying the same thing, that it still wasn't out and they had no idea when it would be. Of all the things I remember about E.T. as a kid, it was the fact that I had to wait so long (years if I'm not mistaken) to see it again on my home television screen.

It would eventually hit Home Video and become as big a juggernaut as it was on the big screen. I can't even tell you how many times I saw it, but it was a lot. Not to mention the barrage of endless tie-ins, toys, and product placements, most famously with Reese's Pieces candy. But as we get older our tastes change and I kind of forgot about it, not watching it a single time for several decades, that is until the Special Edition hit on Blu Ray, which provided us with both the regular and the "touched up" a la George Lucas' Special Editions where Spielberg added a few scenes that he wasn't able to do before because of the lack of technology, and altered a scene here and there, most famously with the one where he replaces guns with giant walkie talkie's in some of the agents hands. Really, the Special Edition has become kind of a laughing stock for a few reasons, and most people still prefer to watch the original, as do I. Since watching that SE version I've unknowingly avoided this film ever since, by sheer happenstance. Flash forward quite a few years and I see that it's on Netflix, so I decide to give it a shot one afternoon as I'm full-blown into my 80's obsession and hope for the best for 2 reasons: 1) that it's the Theatrical Version, and 2), that it's still as good as I remember.



The answer to that is yes and yes. E.T. is still as magical and engaging as it ever was, even now as a 41 year old man, I enjoyed it just as much as I did so many decades ago. But I also learned something very important this time around. While Spielberg has better films under his belt, I think E.T. is his most visually stunning film to date. And that, more than anything is what really caught me by surprise because of all the films he's ever directed, most of them all-time classics, the fact that he pulled off something so visually captivating aesthetically that he hadn't been able to before or since blows my mind. Every single shot was a work of art, and I was constantly in awe of what he did on a visual level with this film.

I'm not going to bore you with every little detail about the film, other than to say that it was just as enjoyable as it was all those many years ago, only this time I was also able to fully appreciate how visually stimulating this was. For a filmmaker who's given us some fantastic films in his decades long career, most of them impressive on a technical level, I was blown away by the fact that when compared to his work on E.T., most of those other films only barely scratch the surface of what he can do with a camera in terms of compositions. On a technical side, most of the effects work is still outstanding and come off far better than most CGI that we are inundated with today. I will say though that some of the "bikes flying in the air" stuff just wasn't very good, but even so, considering "when" this was made they're still rather impressive.....for their time. I'm glad this was the Theatrical Cut too, because my memories of the Special Edition just aren't very good. I think of the scene with E.T. in the bathtub and I cringe.



Hands down an incredible experience for me all around, and proves yet again what a talented and incredible filmmaker Spielberg was in his prime. I mean, he still is, but he seems to churn out more drama's than usual these days, and when he does do an adventure film, well we get Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Need I say more?

6.14.2017

Documentary Dynamite!: Becoming Bond

A few months ago I was in a big James Bond binge, devouring all the Dalton and Brosnon 007 films and as many Roger Moore films as I could before I got burned out, which I eventually did. And I'd always been aware of George Lazenby as an actor and that he did play Bond just one single time, when Sean Connery gave up the role and they were looking for a worthy successor. I always wondered why it was just that one time though, and thankfully, this documentary spills out all of those juicy details.

I'm a frequent user of Hulu Plus, I just love it. And when they recently added this to their list of new films, I was excited. I hadn't heard any buzz on it or anything, but I just felt it was going to be good, and boy was I right. Becoming Bond was hands-down one of the most entertaining documentaries I've seen in a while. Funny, charming and inventive, it's told by George Lazenby himself as he sits in front of the camera and tells his life story and how he ultimately became Bond. But what I found amusing was the fact that they would also have actors reenact these moments in his life, but it's done in such a satisfyingly heartfelt and poignant way that at times it feels like you're watching a movie, only narrated by the man himself, George Lazenby, and it's in these moments where Becoming Bond really, really shines. The actors do such a magnificent job in the roles of the real life people who would become integral parts of Lazenby's life, with actor Josh Lawson, who plays George as an adult, really bringing it all together in a knockout performance that's both touching and funny.

There's a moment about 30 minutes in when the director of the documentary has to stop Lazenby while he's speaking and says "Wait, I have to stop you right there. How much of this is true?", where Lazenby responds with "Which part?". The director: "All of it.". Lazenby: "How could it not be true if I remember it?". And that's a perfect example of how fantastical his life story is and how amazing of a story it ultimately becomes. What I found most surprising is that you don't even have to be a fan of the 007 franchise to enjoy this. If you enjoy a good documentary, then you will love this. Whether you're a fan of James Bond or not, that's really only a small part of his entire life story, which is a fascinating and incredible journey, made all the more amusing by a man who, whether you believe him or not, is likably arrogant and tells the story of his life in such a matter-of-fact way that you can't help but enjoy the ride. And what a wild ride it was.

80's Cannon!: 10 to Midnight


10 to Midnight has been on my list of films to watch for a very long time now. It possesses 3 things that immediately made it a priority to watch (Bronson, Cannon Films & J. Lee Thompson directing), it was just the matter of finding just the right moment to do so. It's also brought up often as one of Bronson's best from his 80's era, described as a slasher/thriller about a serial killer who kills women in the nude, which makes it an instant departure from his usual "revenge" stuff. I just wanted to make sure I had the time to sit through it completely and not have to watch it in 20-30 minute intervals, which is usually how I have to watch movies these days.

As excited as I was about finally getting a chance to sit down with this early 80's Bronson/Cannon classic, I have to admit that I was left a bit underwhelmed and somewhat confused by this uneven effort. While not bad, it wasn't nearly as awesome as I was expecting, nor as violent as a lot of other reviews lead you to believe either. Yes it's violent, but it's done in such a cheap manner that it never comes off as gratuitous because you just can't get past the fake looking blood and dodgy/ill-conceived editing of these sequences. One of the things that drew me to this was the fact that it was the first in a long line of films between Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson. I'm a huge fan of most of them (Death Wish IV being my favorite) and I've always liked Thompson as a director, but something just seemed off this time around, like he couldn't figure out what type of film he was trying to make or he couldn't stick to a specific style since it changed frequently throughout. But you know, it's not a huge deal for most and I can certainly understand it's appeal. I just don't find it nearly as good as I was hoping it would be.

Of course, Bronson was being Bronson, which was cool. But this film was yet another reminder that Bronson just plays the same character in nearly every one of these 80's films, which if you like them, it's fine. Except in this one, I noticed a bit of range in that he was more of an asshole than normal here, which was amusing watching him be condescending and a smartass to nearly everyone. Too bad that didn't transfer over to his daughter in the film, who plays an even bigger one and just comes off as insufferable. Andrew Stevens, who plays Kessler's (Bronson) new partner easily stands out as the best and most likable character in the bunch. I've always liked Stevens as an actor. I never thought he got the credit he deserved for being a good one, because he really is. While he's good at playing a villain, he's equally as good playing the good guy. Stevens would eventually go on to be a mega producer, writer, actor, director on well over 100 films in the DTV market just a few years later. I have to say though that the real scene-stealer in this would have to be Gene Davis, who plays the serial killer because he was just absolutely awful. Just terrible. Every scene he was in was cringe-inducing. In this he plays a serial killer who kills women while he's in the nude, which is a lot. So if that's your thing, you will see a lot of nudity in this, mainly from him, but of other random women as well.


I don't know, the more I think about it the more I realize this didn't hit the mark for me. It felt a bit lazy at times, and the constant shift in tone (sometimes it's a slasher, sometimes it's a detective drama) didn't blend well when it very well could have with just some minor tweaks. With all his experience as a director, I think it's with J. Lee Thompson that I'm most disappointed with. Often feeling and looking amateurish, had the film been more streamlined and stylish, it could easily have been a lot better as a film overall. I mean, just look at his work in Death Wish IV, my favorite of his Bronson collaborations. Still, this isn't a bad film. I'm glad I finally got to see it and it definitely left an impression. Just not in the way I had hoped.

How to watch it:
This film is available in a variety of formats, nearly every single one to date. So it's just a matter of picking how you want to watch it. It won't be hard to find.

6.09.2017

80's Horror: The Brain (1988) Film Review

I'd come across this cover before during some of my many frequent visits to the local video stores back in the 80's and 90's, but it never drew me in so I never gave it a shot. Flash-forward several decades and while seeing a film at The Alamo Drafthouse recently one night, they show this trailer for an upcoming screening. That trailer had me, and since I knew I couldn't make the screening since I live 5 hours away, Not knowing what it's even about, I grabbed myself a copy, so let's dig in.

A small town high school kid must stop an evil alien being, along with the alien's accomplice - a popular local enigmatic television host, intent on controlling the world by brainwashing every human being on the planet through television reception.

I never know what I'm getting into with these types of films. Just from the trailer, I already knew it was going to be cheesy, which was perfect, because I loooooove 80's horror cheese. It's the best. But it's not always successful and can be a really hard thing to pull off correctly because it's all in how they handle it, and whether they're doing it intentionally or if it's just a happy accident. It's typically the happy accidents that end up being the best and most memorable and The Brain easily falls into that category and it's a blast from start to finish.

The Brain was pretty much I hoped it would be, in that it was fun, cheesy, very 80's, and had some nifty practical effects work that makes it better than I was expecting. Not great mind you, but it sure was fun. It's also ridiculous, with some hilariously awful dialogue, acting, and a story that's just the right amount of dumb and entertaining. There's no way this film was meant to be taken seriously, but it's sure played that way and for that, it rises above your standard schlock. It also helps that for a film of this......budget, it's rather competently made. Or as competently made as a film like this could be I should say. It's not lazy, which is a huge plus, and the acting for the most part isn't bad, but there is definitely some bad acting to be found in here. I think the most surprising thing for me was seeing David Gale (Re-Animator) in this. And if you haven't seen this yet, just wait till you see what they do to him. Oh it's glorious.

This highly entertaining slice of low-budget goodness comes from frequent collaborators Edward Hunt (director) and Barry Pearson (writer), who also worked on Plague (1979), Bloody Birthday (1981) and Alien Warrior (1986) together among others. I've actually owned Alien Warrior for years now and still have yet to actually watch it. Maybe it's time I get to that. But I was surprised with Hunt's work on this one. While not exceptional, it's fairly competent (surprisingly!!) and retains some rather clever camerawork to compensate for lack of budget and effects, which only adds to it's overall charm in a positive way.

This film won't change your life or anything, but it sure is a helluva good time in the "low-budget 80's horror cheese" department and a far more entertaining film than I was expecting going in. To be honest, I'm surprised it doesn't get much love or even an upgraded release complete with all the bells and whistles. But hey, if Blood Rage (as obscure as they come) can, then maybe The Brain isn't too far behind.

How to see it:
I can't say that the current price tag for the VHS and Laserdisc are justified, because while I did really enjoy it, I would probably never pay those prices. But that's just me. And unfortunately, those are the only 2 legitimate releases we have here in the states as a legit DVD and Blu Ray release of this classic is still not currently in the works as far as I know. If I'm wrong, please let me know. Thankfully there are a few other avenues. For starters, it's usually available on YouTube for free. And if you just need a physical to hold in your hands, there are plenty of bootleg's around from various sites at a cheap price. Obviously they'll be sourced from the VHS or Laserdisc release, but something's better than nothing.