Sunday, December 23, 2007

Netflix Rapid Fire Reviews - November '07

Day Watch
The visual effects in Day Watch are as good as or better than those in Night Watch, this film's precursor. Unfortunately, unlike the last installment of the franchise, Day Watch has a slow-moving plot that manages to be even more confusing than the last time around. Perhaps the fact that so many new and interesting concepts and images were born in Night Watch hurt this movie because it didn't seem to bring much new to the table. It was still a visually impressive experience, most notably during the climax, which finally clears up a few hanging plot threads, but overall it felt stagnant and unsatisfactory.

Kidnapped and held against his will over a long period of time for reasons unknown, a man is finally released and given a limited amount of time to uncover the mystery behind his imprisonment. The mystery of Oldboy is just strange enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen with anticipation, and just average enough to keep you from seeing what you're truly in for. The plot of Oldboy is masterfully woven in such a way that when the answers to all the story's questions are revealed at the film's climax, they hit you in the chest like a ton of bricks. I desperately want to allude to the hidden and eventual tone of the film, but I dare not deprive anyone of the satisfaction (or horror) of witnessing it for themselves firsthand.

From Dusk Till Dawn
From Dusk Till Dawn marks the first occasion that I haven't been completely turned off to a performance by George Clooney, which can most likely be attributed to the script written by co-star Quentin Tarantino, who is (in my opinion) the runaway star of this film. A couple of criminals take a family hostage to cross the border into Mexico and then wind up fighting some vampires south of the border. The first half of this movie is well acted, professionally shot, and masterfully written, reminding me of why it's so fun to watch movies in which the bad guys are the leads. The second half of the movie is cheesy, ridiculous, and over-the-top (in a bad way), failing to provide a viewing experience that is much more worthwhile than any random B horror flick. From Dusk Till Dawn is seriously like two completely different movies rolled into one, making it hard to categorize. Simply put, I loved the first 45 minutes and hated the latter.

Hell Comes To Frogtown
In a post-apocalyptic future, Rowdy Roddy Piper is one of the few fertile men left on the planet and is forced to fight a gang of mutated frog people against his will in order to rescue some attractive young women who he must then have sex with to help repopulate the Earth. That really says it all, doesn't it? The frog effects are sometimes surprisingly good, but usually pretty bad, and oddly enough the same can be said for Roddy Piper's acting. This movie is cheap, absurd, poorly acted, and likely to offend a lot of people, but if you enjoy over-the-top exploitation and/or horror films along the lines of The Evil Dead or The Re-Animator, you're bound to get some enjoyment out of Hell Comes To Frogtown.

The title of the novel upon which Lifeforce is based should at the same time give you an accurate idea of what the film is about and make you smile at it's blunt absurdity: "Space Vampires". Adapted by the men responsible for Alien (Dan O'Bannon) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper), Lifeforce provides an enjoyable ride right up until the ending, which is when the story fell apart for me. The special effects range from laughable to really impressive as people are possessed, explode, and have the life literally drained out of them. Patrick Stewart makes a rather odd appearance in the film as does the well-endowed Mathilda May, who plays a female space vampire who is unabashedly nude for the majority of her time onscreen. Lifeforce has a decent plot, a few good visuals, and some neat ideas, but I couldn't help but get the feeling that the filmmakers never exactly figured out what type of movie they were trying to make; a science fiction/horror or a disaster film.

Deepstar Six
A deep sea research team becomes trapped inside their underwater laboratory with a large, bloodthirsty sea creature. It sounds as corny as it is. I recall loving this movie as a child, but over the years I really romanticized it. The acting is pretty weak, the animatronic monster (the little bit you actually get to see of it) is rather poorly realized, and the plot plods along way too slowly. There is one particularly memorable scene in which a man dies a bloody death due to explosive decompression, but outside of that, there isn't much to see here. A few more scenes with the monster and perhaps a better look at it toward the end would have done wonders for Deepstar Six.

The Tripper
The directorial debut of actor David Arquette, The Tripper is comprised of three fourths comedy (if you want to call it that) and one fourth horror. A bunch of hippies gather in the woods to attend a music festival hosted by Paul Reubens, but their fun is cut short when a psychopath wearing a suit and a Ronald Reagan mask begins killing the attendees in a variety of gory fashions. In my opinion, horror fans looking for a good slasher flick need not apply because The Tripper is more dependent on it's humor and political satire than blood and guts, but then again it's not very funny either, so I'm not really sure who the target audience is supposed to be. The hippie character played by Jason Mewes was the most interesting and likeable of the bunch, but exits the film rather early on, leading to what I found to be a snore-fest for the remainder of the running time.

Barton Fink
In 1941, New York-based playwright Barton Fink is invited to move to Hollywood, California to write some studio films, but quickly finds that working simply for a paycheck cannot compare with working for the personal pleasure of having created something unique and meaningful. I'll admit that by the end of Barton Fink I was completely confused with what I'd just seen, but that is not to say that I didn't enjoy it. Much like the David Cronenberg film Naked Lunch, I wasn't sure exactly what the director was trying to say, but I had a blast taking the stylistic, superbly-acted ride. A quick visit to the forums on IMDb clued me in to what exactly the Coen brothers were trying to say with Barton Fink, and that understanding made me like the film even more than before. Barton Fink is certainly not meant for the casual movie-going crowd, but if you like your movies to make you think, welcome to paradise.

I'll put it right out there: this is one of the five worst movies that I've ever seen. I was lured into Slipstream by Bill Paxton and Mark Hamill, but quickly realized what a dire mistake I had made. In this film, Mark Hamill is one of two bounty hunters who have tracked down and captured a rogue android. Seeing an opportunity to make some money by collecting the android's reward himself, bounty hunter Bill Paxton kidnaps him from his captors and takes off down the slipstream (a supposedly violent wind current that runs for hundreds of miles). The acting in this movie? Shit. The directing? Shit. Music? Shit. Story? Shit. Effects? What effects? There is not a single redeeming thing about this movie. It's confusing, but at the same time it's boring, so you'll never even care about clearing up your confusion. I can't stress this enough: stay away from this piece of garbage.

Blood Simple
The beginning of the Coen brothers' career is anything but humble. Blood Simple is a film about betrayal, revenge, and deadly misunderstandings. Expertly shot and well-acted, this first film from the directorial duo is an obvious precursor to such later films as Fargo and No Country For Old Men. Hence if you like those films, you'll love this one. The suspense and plot twists in Blood Simple had me grinning with delight throughout and the intense climax actually made me giggle with anticipation. Considering that this is the directorial debut of the Coen brothers, I feel like I should have something bad to say about it, but I really don't. Blood Simple is a fantastic film.

Director Stuart Gordon takes yet another shot at adapting an H.P. Lovecraft tale to the screen. Following such horror genre greats as The Re-Animator and From Beyond, Dagon had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, this story about a town of people mutating into fish creatures didn't exactly reach the level of quality that those other films managed. The acting in Dagon is okay and the direction is fine, but the real downfall of the movie are the effects. I can't help but wonder how much better Dagon would have been if Gordon had used traditional effects rather than CG for all of the big monster reveals. Aside from the effects being rather poor, the story plodded along at a snail's pace, so even though the plot was interesting, I felt like It could have been told in a better fashion. All in all, I would only recommend Dagon to diehard fans of either Stuart Gordon or H.P. Lovecraft.

What the hell is this movie? Co-written by the Coen brothers, Crimewave is director Sam Raimi's studio follow-up to the independent horror classic The Evil Dead. If The Evil Dead proved without a doubt that Raimi had what it takes to be a successful director, Crimewave serves only to attempt to prove that notion false. Somewhere between a film noir and an episode of The Three Stooges, Crimewave tells the story of a wrongfully accused man on death row as he relates the tale of how he ended up in his current predicament. Horribly dubbed dialogue, a plot that jumps all over the place from moment to moment, weak acting, cheesy comedy, and poor sound quality are only a few of the bugs that plague this farce of a film. It feels as though this was a crummy independent film and The Evil Dead was a Studio masterpiece in comparison. The only redeeming part of this film is the car chase at it's climax which manages some neat camera shots and a rather humorous fight scene. I think that even hardcore Raimi fans will find it hard to sit through this one.

Tired of your day to day life? How would you like to live the life of a cowboy? Well in this futuristic thriller you can do just that by visiting a western-themed resort called Westworld. Realistic robots in cowboy get-ups allow you the opportunity to have a real shootout without hurting another person, and female androids provide uninhibited wild west style sexual romps. It's all fun and games until something goes wrong and the robots turn on the human guests of the resort. Westworld is a little slow at parts, but just about everything else about it is perfect. A great concept is pulled off via exceptional acting, fun action pieces, and spot-on directing by writer Michael Crichton. Most impressive is Yul Brenner's portrayal of a gunslinging robot with a grudge. Westworld is science fiction at it's best.

The Return Of The Living Dead
Ever wonder what George Romero's horror classic The Night of the Living Dead would be like if it were a comedy? Well, wonder no more. The Return of the Living Dead is Alien scribe Dan O'Bannon's take on the zombie genre, focusing more on the ridiculous situations that would arise from the dead coming to life than the serious and horrifying. Don't worry though, there are still plenty of disembodied entrails, exposed brains, and buckets of spilled blood to be found here (as well as one particularly impressive zombie known as the "tar man"). Set to a punk rock score and starring a band of leather and mohawk-clad youths, The Return of the Living Dead is a great addition to the zombie corner of the horror genre even if it isn't strictly a horror film.

Dead Heat
Remember when action movies in the eighties didn't need to make a whole hell of a lot of sense? Dead Heat is a perfect example of this. The title refers to the fact that a couple of cops (the heat) played by Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo are brought back from the dead to bring down the guys responsible for their demise. Joe Piscopo's ridiculous acting was enough for me to recommend this movie, but there are a few other redeeming factors, too. First and foremost is a scene in which all of the dead animals in a butcher shop are brought back to life to wreak havoc. The effects in this scene vary from sad to rather impressive, and until I'd seen it I had never thought that a skinned, headless cow could be so horrifying. Dead Heat is unabashedly cheesy and over-the-top, but the fact that it never quite takes itself seriously is perhaps what saves it from being unwatchable.

Maniac Cop
Like so many of Bruce Campbell's films, Manic Cop's budget is so low that you risk tripping over it if you're not paying attention. The idea is that a police officer has been killing innocent people throughout New York City and Bruce Campbell's character, an unsuspecting patrolman, gets blamed for it. Now he must hunt down the real killer, but when he does it may be tough to convince his co-workers that he's innocent because the actual offender is supposed to be dead. The direction, acting, cinematography, lighting, and dialogue in Maniac Cop are fairly bad, but the story is enough to keep it afloat at most times. As with many low budget movies that save all of their money for the action and effects shots, the scenes in between the (almost non-existant) action are rather dull. The highlight of the film for me was the climax which consists of a chase scene and an impressively shot stunt involving a pier, a van, and one hell of a brave stuntman.

The Man Who Wasn't There
A few times throughout his career, Billy Bob Thornton has proven that he's worthy of the highest praises that an actor can garner. Films that come to mind are A Simple Plan, Sling Blade, and now The Man Who Wasn't There. A film noir in every meaning of the term (including the fact that the entire movie is black and white), The Man Who Wasn't There follows a chain-smoking barber of few words through a series of events involving greed and murder. The Coen brothers have made some classic suspense thrillers over the years, and The Man Who Wasn't There fits perfectly among their previous successes. The acting, dialogue, and even line deliveries from the likes of The Sopranos' James Gandolfini and frequent Coen collaborator Jon Polito just scream film noir. The directing is on par for the brothers Coen, the film is visually stunning in simple blacks, whites, and grays, and the plot is riveting. Do yourself a favor and don't be the man who hasn't seen The Man Who Wasn't There.


Rob Tornoe said...

Okay, you and I differ on our movie tastes, but how can you give The Man Who Wasn't There 5-stars, but not give Barton Fink 5-stars?

Explain yourself!!!

(Full disclosure - I thought The Man Who Wasn't There was so boring and self-important, I actually fell asleep! It's one of only 2 movies I have ever fallen asleep to in the theater, the other being the remake of Kiss of Death with Nick Cage.)

Rian said...

Rob - I guess Barton Fink was a little too abstruse for me. I certainly wasn't bored by the movie, but I will admit shamelessly to not really understanding what the hell the Coen brothers were trying to say with it. It wasn't until I went onto the forums at IMDb and read some comments that I truly understood what the hell the message of the movie was. All in all I liked the movie quite a bit (especially after finally grasping it's meaning), but I had to drop it down a tad in the rating department because it was too vague for me and I can't give five stars to a movie that didn't make itself clear by the end. As far as The Man Who Wasn't There is concerned, I guess we just differ in opinions about that one. I wasn't bored by it at all and just enjoyed it a good bit. Aside from a few instances (A Simple Plan and Sling Blade), I tend not to like Billy Bob at all, but I thought he was great in this film. I dunno. Like I said, we must just differ in our opinions. It certainly feels good to have someone to debate with again, though.