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All reviews - Movies (15) - TV Shows (2)

The Devil Wore Black Leather

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 3 January 2014 04:02 (A review of Hellraiser)

There are certain people whose names are synonymous with horror; along with Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, John Carpenter and George Romero invariably Clive Barker's name will be found as well. That's not at all bad company to keep. Barker, a prolific writer of horror and dark fantasy, made his directorial debut with Hellraiser and, to this day, it's still my favorite work.

The film was released in '87 to mixed reviews. The UK press fairly championed the film (Barker is a native son, after all) and Stephen King remarked "I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker." Lauded film critic Roger Ebert was much less enthusiastic though saying "This is a movie without wit, style or reason, and the true horror is that actors were made to portray, and technicians to realize, its bankruptcy of imagination. Maybe Stephen King was thinking of a different Clive Barker."

Ebert's comment, and it's effete snobbery, is just one of the reasons I've never liked the man. Perhaps he (Ebert) saw a different Hellraiser. The film is one of the most imaginative products of the 80's (in particular) and the history of film (in general); it is an iconic masterpiece in every sense of the phrase and it's safe to say that , while Ebert may have made his living as a film critic, Stephen King is a far more knowledgeable judge of horror than he.

But I digress...

In a decade that overshadows all others for it's output of horror films, Hellraiser rises to the top like sinfully-rich cream and Doug Bradley's Pinhead instantly became one of the most iconic horror characters of all time. It is a study in sin, religion, the thin, blurring line between pleasure and pain and, ultimately, the cost one can pay for seeking to push such boundaries as overlay these things.

Hell is in the details, waiting patiently in the cracks and corners of existence, for the curious, naked eye to focus upon it. Barker's unique puzzle-box is the key that unlocks the untold horrors of Hell and the Cenobites are the keepers of the labyrinth that awaits beyond the threshold. When Kirsty finds herself faced by them and asks who they are, she is answered thusly, "Explorers... in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, angels to others."

Hellraiser is a labour of love and vindication for Barker, who had written screenplays before which were directed by others culminating in unsatisfactory results for the author. Perhaps this is part of the reason the film is so damned good. Yet it has it's shortcomings, as well.

Filled with a cast of unfamiliar faces, save for Andrew Robinson who played the father, Larry, Hellraiser follows in the footsteps of most horror movies. Still, while the acting isn't the greatest, it is better than most offerings of the genre. The early scenes involving the family are the weakest of the lot; the introductions of those characters, the arrival at the old, family home and the dinner. They seem to be barely-tolerated set pieces, standards which must be tossed into the mix, their existence endured for the tale to come into it's own.

Yet interwoven among them are scenes that carry you through and keep you interested until the hook is firmly set and there is no escape. Flashback sequences into the past showing Frank's searches for visceral experience, the purchase of the puzzle-box in Morocco, Julia's remembrance of her illicit affair with Frank as she stands in the attic room which culminates in orgasmic pleasure perfectly timed with Larry's hand being ripped open by the nail as he helps the movers with a mattress on the staircase... By the time the Cenobites take the stage to face the horrified and bewildered Kirsty there is no escape and no thought of it.

The film has one of the lowest body-counts of any horror I've seen and it's only apparent as an afterthought; Hellraiser rises above the plethora of slasher-flicks that the 80's were rife with and sets itself firmly apart and above them. The final result? A movie that is more an experience that just a few hours entertainment that will fade in memory; a journey taken at the behest of it's creator that will be indelibly imprinted upon the mind and never forgotten.



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Occupational Therapy

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 19 December 2013 04:02 (A review of Red Dawn)

Unwarranted criticisms abound for this remake of the 80's cheese-fest which starred a host of up-and-coming, young B-listers such as Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell. In contrast, this updated version has it's own troop of young Hollywood talent including Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki and Alyssa Diaz; the aforementioned contrast being that this time the cast can actually act.

Hollywood loves remakes for the same reason that it loves sequels - money. Professional (and amateur) critics, on the other hand, tend not to; instead they seem to love to trash them. Granted, quite often the criticism is justified but not always. Every once in a great while the new version surpasses the original; such is the case with Red Dawn.

I'll be the first to admit that some films should be held sacrosanct - inviolable. A fine example is Hitchcock's Psycho. Red Dawn though...c'mon, who are we kidding here? It's developed something of a cult following but it's no classic. The original was chock-full of holes and inconsistencies, bad special effects and even worse acting. It was completely unbelievable...and so cheesy that they should have sold crackers and wine at the theater instead of popcorn...yet it was the 80's and the action film reigned supreme; besides, it was fun.

Even with the problems that the remake faced, being shelved because of MGM's financial woes and the decision to change the protagonists from Chinese to North Korean (for fear of alienating China and losing access to it's box office), this film is still superior to the original in almost every way. It's single deficiency is the choice of North Korea as the invading/occupying force; I found it a bit hard to swallow that a successful operation of this magnitude could be launched by them. Yet the movie is so well-done in every other aspect that it just didn't matter.

I like that they left the original main characters and merely shook up the dynamic a bit. After all, there was no reason to completely change those characters; they were what made the first movie good, in it's own way. From the opening sequence, this new (and improved) version blows it's predecessor away.

Hemsworth and Palicki were fine here (no surprise for me); Hutcherson, Peck and Diaz impressed me (as I had seen little of them up till now) and it was nice seeing Brett Cullen and Jeffrey Dean Morgan in their supporting roles. As I said before, the caliber of the actors here was simply better and so was the script. The actions of the characters, the dialogue, the emotion...all of it was much more believable.

Finally, as movies go, there are set-in-stone classics (such as Casablanca and Rear Window ) and there are memorable action flicks; if the original is remembered as being one of the latter, then 2012's Red Dawn very much so belongs in the second category.

Honestly, I don't get why people are so down on this film. It's damned good! So if you want some cheese with your whine then, by all means, opt for Swayze & company; for myself, I'd much rather see Hemsworth drop the hammer on the North Koreans.


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Hugo Triumphant

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 15 December 2013 03:17 (A review of Hugo)

Hugo is pure enchantment that recalls to mind (at least for me) such films as Pan's Labyrinth, Time Bandits and Stardust; each, though very different, all possess a magical aspect to them that transcends the averaged movie. There is also an infusion of Dickens here that one would have to be blind to miss. I truly wish that I'd had the chance to see this film in theatres instead of at home and I fear that because of that I have missed some of it's grandeur. Should it ever again return to the big screen I shall make a point not to miss it again.

This was a film filled with surprises for me, though not the usual kind. Hugo's aspect is grand, equally both bright and dark, and mesmerizing; I truly felt as if under a spell the entire time. Yet the surprises I speak of are something else entirely.

A better cast of actors could not have been chosen for this film and they execute the steps of their dance before the cameras flawlessly. Kingsley, Butterfield and Moretz may have garnered more screen-time than the remainder of the cast but each and everyone made the most of their allotted time and all of their characters are vital components of the spell.

Cohen's station inspector was a delight for me, as was the brief cameo of Jude Law as Hugo's father. The automaton and Christopher Lee both brought smiles to my face in their turns. In truth, I smiled quite a lot while watching this film. :)

Yet the most pleasant surprise of all was the fact that Martin Scorsese himself directed this most incredible enchantment. A man whose name is synonymous with films that plum the depths of the darkness in the human soul; a man whose name brings to mind mobsters, bullets and blood; and finally, a man who I never thought in a million years would even be interested in helming such a delightful enchanting tale such as this. I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Scorsese yet his films have a tendency not to leave one filled with warm and fuzzy feelings, indeed quite the opposite.

Paris, Dickens, clockworks, the hunchback of Notre Dame, the fledgling birth of the film industry...all woven together into the perfect magic spell. Hugo is well worth the wait (and the watching) and the world seen through the eyes of a lonely orphan boy is a truly awesome place...even when that world is the confines of a busy Paris train station in the 1930's.


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The Lady or the Tiger

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 15 December 2013 03:50 (A review of The Hunter)

The old adage "Don't judge a book by it's cover" finds in the film The Hunter a perfect representative. Indeed, what is one to expect when a film holds the labels 'adventure', 'thriller' and 'drama'; or when the plot summary speaks of a mercenary sent into the Tasmanian wilderness to hunt the last Tasmanian tiger in existence? In truth, I had no expectations going into this viewing; I was driven by curiosity more than anything and a fondness for Willem Dafoe's acting.

For some time now I have intended to watch The Hunter but just never seemed to find the right time. That time was this evening and I'm glad that I did; for what I discovered on this particular cinematic journey was so much more than what this film was touted to be.

I have long known that Willem Dafoe was an actor of the calibre to carry a film solely on his shoulders. My respect for him knows no bounds. For certain, in mere supporting roles over the years, he has improved movies with his very presence and unique character. It's safe to say that were it not for his inclusion in some casts, I might not have enjoyed certain movies at all.

While, as I said, I had no real expectations, in truth I did think that this would be a certain type of film. Yet though it is labeled as an adventure (and it is) and as a thriller (I won't deny that one either), what it truly is - at it's core - is a drama. The Hunter has a feel to it that I've found common among many 'indy' films. It's nothing tangible but a definite...something. Perhaps it's simply that the characters and actions aren't overdone as is so often the case with Hollywood blockbusters.

There is vital realism here and characters that have depth without beating you over the head with it. This is a movie to be experienced...not just watched. If you want something that requires no thought, a purely gratuitous squandering of two hours, then (by all means) make your way down the aisle with a tub of popcorn and catch the next Terminator or Fast and the Furious movie. You won't have to think and, honestly, your emotions won't get much of a workout either but it will be enjoyable.

While Dafoe's character of Martin makes his way to the Tasmanian wilderness to track down, if possible, the last remaining tiger; he finds much more than he bargained for. As his base of operations, he has a room rented from a widow with two young children whose husband (a researcher and zoologist) disappeared in the very wilds in which he must himself go. Tensions between loggers and the 'greenies' run high and Martin finds himself the object of animosity from the beginning from many.

As time passes between his hunts Martin finds himself enticed into the lives of his renters; the children who begin to look upon him as a surrogate father and their mother, who Martin frees from her grief-induced, drug-addled haze. Their eccentricities and persistence endear them to him and he finds reasons to spend more time with them. Ultimately, The Hunter is a journey of self-discovery and while I could say so much more, I have no wish to clutter this review with spoilers. Suffice to say that the payoff is well worth the ride.

This isn't your average movie and that is a very good thing indeed.


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Soldiers, Shepherds and Sacrifice

Posted : 7 years, 12 months ago on 13 December 2013 04:17 (A review of Tears of the Sun )

I find it surprising (though I suppose that I should not) that this film has received such a low rating among Listal and IMDB users. It's not the first time that a truly great film has not received it's due or, for that matter, an average-or-worse one has had undeserved praise lavishly heaped upon it. Indeed, it happens all too often and, ofttimes, time itself is the only cure.

Tears of the Sun does not center upon more grandiose conflicts as other lauded films of the genre have done; it is not a tale of WWII or the Vietnam Conflict but of a rescue mission in Nigeria, a country torn asunder by civil war, unrest and the atrocities that, inevitably, accompany such actions. Neither does it boast an all-star ensemble cast of heavies. Yet there are familiar faces aplenty here in a cast headed up by the likes of Bruce Willis and Monica Bellucci. Cole Hauser, Nick Chinlund, Eamonn Walker and Johnny Messner all play soldiers under the command of Willis; Tom Skerritt and Fionnula Flanagan both appear in relatively brief cameos, as well.

Lt. Waters (Willis) and his squad, though fresh in from the field, are informed by their commanding officer, Capt. Rhodes (Skerritt), that they will be inserted into the Nigerian jungle on a rescue op. Their primary mission, to rescue Dr. Lena Kendricks (Bellucci) and, of secondary import, a priest and two nuns, should they so wish. A limited timetable is afforded them as a force of Nigerian rebels are enroute towards the mission.

Complications immediately arise as the headstrong Dr. Kendricks refuses to leave the refugees in her care, many of which are children. Lt. Waters finally agrees to let the refugees come to the rally point, though only those who can travel under their own power; the grievously injured will have to remain. She agrees yet the priest and nuns choose to stay.

When those assembled reach the extraction point, Dr. Kendricks is outraged to discover that she has been lied to and that the refugees are to be left behind as there is no room for them. Yet as the choppers fly out and, inevitably, over the recently evacuated mission, Waters sees the devastation wrought by the rebel soldiers upon those left there (all of whom are now dead) and has an attack of conscience.

He directs the pilot to turn around and they return to the refugees that were left in the jungle. The children and a few others are placed aboard the choppers as Waters and his squad begin a trek through the jungle to lead the remaining refugees towards the border. Yet they find this to be no easy task as they are relentlessly pursued by rebel forces intent upon reaching the last living survivor of the current regime...who just happens to hide in their midst.

Tears of the Sun is, without a doubt, one of the best war films ever made and one of Willis' best to-date. It is also, however loosely, based upon a real-life mission.

The grim demeanor exhibited by the Seal team is a stark counterpoint to the fear and despair of the refugees; the very-real threat of the rebel soldiers and the atrocities they commit offers a third, however dissident one. The finished product is not unlike a musical score; all finely balanced and executed with interwoven drama and action to provide a truly awesome film.

Director Antoine Fuqua and the production team do an admirable job here depicting the realism of a country in upheaval. Likewise, Willis and the other actors portraying the squad, evince a stoic demeanor of soldiers worn by duty and violence. Yet the enormity of their task, the ensuing complications and the atrocities themselves begin to take a toll on them. It is interesting to observe the gradual shift in the squad's demeanor from soldiers-under-orders to righteous guardians of those in their care.

This is one of Willis' finest hours and the absence of his trademark wit, that seems so commonplace in other of his roles, is not missed here; indeed, it would be irreverently out-of-place. There is nothing to joke about and, though there is emotion aplenty to be had here, comedy has no place.

I find it hard to believe that anyone can watch this and not be affected or drawn in by the portrayals of the actors. The tale presented is masterfully blended with just the right amount of action, drama and stark realism, all of which is captured just so by the cameras.

There's a reason why I never tire of seeing this film; it's just that good.


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Purged Ambitions

Posted : 8 years ago on 6 December 2013 04:39 (A review of The Purge)

Let me begin by saying that The Purge's box office success reveals far more of the bloodthirsty anarchism that lies barely dormant in today's society than establishing it's viability as a well-crafted film. Now this assessment might seem a bit harsh to some, especially if this film was well-received by you but let me state my case and you be the judge.

The film's premise is more than sound; in fact, it denotes a tertiary alternative that stands equally apart, and between, dystopian and utopian societies. Yet the seed of promise is bereft of all it needs to find fruition.

Now, it could be said that one must suspend belief, to a certain extent, when watching a film to fully enjoy it but the counterpoint to that is that the tale should be woven with enough skill and magic that it isn't even a conscious decision on our part. Indeed, we should believe yet I found that I simply could not.

I just did not buy what they were selling; I'm not even sure that the actors believed.

That the government, to entice the public to walk the straight and narrow the other 364 days of each year in exchange for one night of unbridled chaos with complete immunity from prosecution, is...interesting. In fact, it's a concept I wouldn't be at all surprised to find in a sci-fi novel but, as far as the screen, I think it would have been more promising as an episode of The Twilight Zone than a feature film.

For all Ethan Hawke's popularity, I've never found him appealing or impressive, especially as a leading man, but I found this to be the most stilted performance of his career. Lena Headey, on the other hand, I have always enjoyed whether it was in The Cave, 300, The Sarah Connor Chronicles or Game of Thrones. Yet here I just had the feeling that she wanted it to be over. As a wealthy couple who hold themselves above the 'lesser fortunate', particularly on the night of 'The Purge', then descend alternately into murderous intent and then turnabout to express heroism the two just phone it in.

The kids, both within and without the fortress-of-a-home, are equally ludicrous in behavior. Most of all the son who actually opens their home to the man fleeing certain death at the hands of a young mob who watched far too many screenings of A Clockwork Orange while silver spoons dangled from their mouths.

In fact, the only believable person in the entire cast is the man who seeks refuge with them and he, surprisingly, only plays a minor role in the whole affair.

Yet it seems that the premise of the film (if not the poor script and watered-down performances) appealed to more than a few of our fellow humans, hence the big payday for the studio. So even if the self-indulgent, bloodlusting spectatorship of Ancient Greece is dead and gone, it seems that the rather dark appeal of wanton violence and murder is far from slumbering but simmering to a threatening boil in today's culture.

Not only is disco dead but it seems remorse is as well.

Harsh criticism? Heavy-handed? Perhaps. Fitting in my opinion though.


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Duds, Blanks and Misfires

Posted : 8 years ago on 30 November 2013 03:15 (A review of Guns, Girls and Gambling)

I was looking for something mildly diverting when I came across this on Netflix and it seemed to fit the bill. Admittedly, the cast of Oldman, Boothe, Fahey and Slater intrigued me though I will profess that seeing Dane Cook's name in opening sequence brought a frown to my face.

Regardless, this movie was exactly what I thought it would be - a mild diversion. Nothing grand, nothing epic and only passably good. A heist-gone-wrong film with Elvis impersonators and eye-candy that is reminiscent of Smoking Aces and Desperado yet not in a good way.

The gags fall far short (an Asian Elvis who needs anger management over racial stereotyping and a 'little person' Elvis who could use some of the same for obvious reasons). Then there's the 'eye candy' assassin who tracks down the various Elvis' searching for the stolen mask that is the centerpiece of the heist and badly quotes Poe to them before opening fire.

The main character focus is on Slater who delivers much the same performance as he always does.

If you're seeking a mild diversion, as I was, that requires little thought and holds some of the same key components of this film...I would honestly look elsewhere. The aforementioned Desperado for instance.


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