Posts Tagged ‘DVD’


Dead On Arrival: Resident Evil: Degeneration

January 2, 2009

d. Makoto Kamiya

In this direct to DVD computer-animated feature, the world of Resident Evil is expanded slightly, but the main thrill is seeing Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield reunited since their first pairing in the videogame, Resident Evil 2.

The storyline is what one expects from Resident Evil: an outbreak of zombie-ism perpetrated by a mysterious person behind the scenes. The location this time is an airport terminal where Claire must protect a little girl and a slimy Senator, and Leon is sent in to rescue survivors. However, this only takes up the first act.

The rest of the story has Leon and Claire splitting up. Leon teams with an SRT member, Angela (who bears a striking resemblance to Angelina Jolie) to track down a suspected bio-terrorist, who turns out to be her brother, Curtis. Claire, meanwhile, travels with a doctor to the WilPharma institute where she discovers that they have a cure for the T-virus, but they house the G-virus as well. Danger!

The two threads draw together when Angela’s brother attacks the WilPharma institute and injects himself with the G-virus, transforming himself into a deadly creature.

While the narrative, on the whole, is clunky and peppered with leaden dialogue typical for this series, the animation is crisp and detailed; I found myself admiring the rendered dust motes more often than paying attention to the story.

For plot-hounds, this story takes place after Resident Evil 4 as there are mentions of Leon’s involvement with Ganados and the President’s daughter; I have a sneaky suspicion that there is the most tenuous of connections to RE5 with the appearance of the TriCell members toward the end as they sift through the rubble for remnants of the G-virus.

In any case, the story is so-so, and the animation is top-notch — though the people are somewhat stiffer than the zombies.

** stars.


Star Quality Shines Through in Stardust

December 14, 2008

d. Matthew Vaughn

In the extras, Matthew Vaughn describes this movie as The Princess Bride meets Midnight Run, and it’s an entirely accurate description that captures the delightful and engaging tone of this fantasy based on an original novel from Neil Gaiman.

This Star Is Not The Only Thing Rising

This Star Is Not The Only Thing Rising

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This Movie Stinks… Of Beauty: Street Trash

November 2, 2008

d. Jim Muro

You gotta love those trashy independent horror films from the 80s — The Toxic Avenger, Re-Animator, and Street Trash (among many more). Films such as these pushed the envelope of taste and humour as they stretched the boundaries of what was allowable on-screen — insane gore effects despite the low budgets, and, more often than not, full frontal nekkid chicks (and a couple of penis shots for fair balance).

You Know It's the 80s When It's Neon-Colored

You Know It’s the 80s When It’s Neon-Colored

This cult movie, long consigned to the back wall of video stores, finally made its DVD debut a couple of years back in a souped up two-disc “meltdown” edition released by Synapse Films. It tells the story of a community of bums living out of a automobile wrecking yard in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and what happens when a 60 year-old hooch, Viper, hits that community and starts melting bums from the inside out.

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“It’s All A Set-Up” — Halloween: Resurrection

October 18, 2008

d. Rick Rosenthal 

In spite of bringing back director Rick Rosenthal (Halloween II), and in spite of a fairly plausible explanation for bringing back Michael Myers, this film totally squanders the energy and freshness from the H2O reboot and settles for a mediocre meta-commentary on horror films (more successfully explored in Scream) and reality television/media that feels several years too late to be relevant.

The film begins with Laurie Strode in lock-down at a psych ward; she pretends to be medicated (stashing the pills in a doll) while waiting for the inevitable arrival of her brother. It is revealed that Michael switched places with a paramedic, and that the paramedic was the one who Laurie decapitated in the last film. So when Michael arrives, it becomes immediately apparent that the quality of script is not on the same level as the previous film; for one thing, characters do stupid things, they die.

For example, after hearing his partner getting killed, a security guard investigates and comes across a laundry dryer, and in a gag reminiscent of the scene in Part 6, decides for no reason to open it to check its contents. Nothing motivated this action beyond sheer plot contrivance for a boring kill; even the manner in which Michael appears (lowering himself one-handed from the ceiling) steals from a previous film.

The opening sequence climaxes with a confrontation between Laurie and Michael on the roof of the sanitarium. Having successfully ensnared him, Laurie does the unforgivable act of trying to unmask The Shape; of course this leads to her downfall and one very angry fan. What an insulting way to end her character’s journey, especially after how strong she was at the end of the last film.

Once Laurie Strode is killed off, I wondered “How the hell are they going to motivate Michael now?” Well, apparently the plot proper kicks off with a group of college kids taking part in a webcast set in the Myers household. What attempts to be a meta-commentary on the horror film genre as a whole, the Halloween films in particular, media manipulation in general, film voyeurism, and the sex vs. violence debate only comes off as a snarky, half-thought out dull film that just happens to have Michael Myers in it.

The group of kids are hardly engaging or as sympathetic as the group from H2O, as it includes that unfunny dude from American Pie and Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) doing her facial tic schtick.

So it’s ho-hum as Michael winnows down the group of kids while they cry for help directly addressing the camera Blair Witch-style. The only highlight: Busta Rhymes in a Michael Myers mask cussing out the actual Michael Myers. It is also the lowlight of the entire series (Thorn cult notwithstanding).

One star.

Well, this wraps up the Halloween franchise marathon; too bad it ends on a downer. Next up, the psychic thriller, Patrick.


Alive And Kicking: Halloween 20 Years Later

October 18, 2008

d. Steve Miner 

Now we’re talking! After the dismal and misguided part 6 comes this invigorating jolt to the franchise. A large credit goes to the fantastic script and the great ensemble cast.

Oh Shit!

Oh, Crap!

This movie gingerly skips over the events of Parts 3-6, while not entirely retconning them, and picks up plot threads from Part 2. A fairly wise move that allows the film to feel like it’s starting fresh because it dumps the Thorn cult subplot and goes back to its roots (far more successfully than Part 4 had been touted).

Picking up 20 years from the original events, the film reintroduces Laurie Strode who has been relocated by the WPA to Glenwood, CA under the new name, Keri Tate. She teaches at the posh Hillcrest Academy where her son, John (Josh Hartnett in his first major role) also attends. She is still haunted by visions of her brother, Michael, and it is causing tension between her and her son.

The great thing about giving her a son, other than to raise the stakes of what she has to lose, is that we get a relationship that allows her to be human and sympathetic. She has been medicating herself to suppress her memories of that haunting and fateful night, but, in classic horror movie return-of-the-repressed  type fashion, Michael comes back.

He first starts in Langdon, Illinois where he pays a visit to the assistant nurse of Dr. Loomis (Nancy Stephen reprising her role!) and discovers the new identity of his sister. And this initial scene telegraphs how smart and fresh the script will serve up the rest of the scares and thrills; it learned from the Kevin Williamson school of horror screenwriting.

On a side note, Michael looks a lot leaner in this film; he definitely lost the bulk he gained from film to film and it makes him scary fast; like a wiry starved rat. And it seems they cast Chris Durand mainly for his eyes; he does a great job of exuding childlike innocence with pure evil — like a kid intrigued by pulling the wings off flies.

In any case, Michael makes his way towards the academy, which, on the weekend of Halloween, is emptied of practically all the staff and student body (who have gone on a trip to Yosemite) except for a few who remain behind to party it up. This group includes Laurie’s son, his girlfriend (a young Michelle Williams) and another couple. During the time he is traveling, like a fateful bullet on its way to its target, the movie allows us to get to know the characters a little.

And when Michael strikes, as he does, these kids are allowed to fight back and even express how scared shitless they are. Just these actions alone are pretty revolutionary for a slasher film. They truly become our stand-ins because they smartly challenge our suspension of disbelief. What I mean to say is, whenever we watch these kinds of films, we hate it when the characters are stupid and do stupid things. In this movie, they are allowed to do smart things, like fight back. They’re still outmatched by the unkillable Michael, but the very effort allows us to root for them and makes it even more painful when the characters we like end up dying.

For example, when Laurie has a chance to flee with her son and girlfriend she decides to stay and confront Michael. Now this may seem like a stupid thing, but it’s set up in such a way that her action becomes noble and heroic. It’s a kick-ass moment for the character, because up until this point in her life (even reaching back into Parts 1 and 2), she never fought back or really stood up for herself; she was always running away. Here she takes charge, and it is empowering.

Even John Carpenter’s original score benefits from the reboot; it is scored with lush and moody strings and doesn’t fully reveal itself in its original sparse piano melody until after the final scene plays out.

And the final scene is incredible. It is the best death scene in any Halloween picture that made me cheer out loud for the victor. You have to see it.

So, because of a smart script, and a great cast (including Adam Arkin and LL Cool J in great supporting roles) the Halloween franchise finally gets a sequel fairly worthy, and in some instances, even better than the original source movie. Three and a half stars, hands down.

Next up, we’ll see how they squander all this good will in Halloween: Resurrection.


Get A Hobby, Michael!

October 16, 2008

d. Dominique Othenin-Girard

As earnest and as surprising as Halloween 4 struck me, this film feels flabby and not as fresh. Coming out within a year of the last one, it settles for typical slasher movie tropes despite an effort to maintain continuity within the Haddonfield-verse and despite an anemic attempt to inject new interest in the franchise.

Picking up where the last film ended, this movie has eerie parallels to the structure of Halloween II. We follow the fate of Michael after he falls down the well, to discover his near escape and recovery in a nearby river-shack. Only after establishing that Michael is still alive do we jump forward a year to revisit Jamie, suffering nightmares and voiceless in a children’s clinic.

For much of the movie, Dr. Loomis spends his time brow-beating Jamie into giving him info on Michael’s whereabouts, but for some inexplicable reason (besides having lost her ability to speak) she won’t help him except when her immediate friends are in danger. While Rachel from the last movie is offed in the first act, she is replaced by a friend, Tina — perhaps the only bit of good casting in this film.

So, as we lumber like the Shape from set piece to set piece, the kills not feeling particularly inventive or scary (or even gory) the movie feels mired in mud. Even the final confrontation between Dr. Loomis and Michael lacks any real thrill or tension — a heavy chain net? Really? And sedative darts? What?!

This film also has the dubious honor of introducing the mysterious “Man In Black” who wears a tattoo seen briefly in Michael Myer’s house (which, by the way, looks nothing like the original house from the first film), and leaves more question marks hopefully to be answered in the next installment.

So 1 1/2 stars just for the able and engaging performance of Wendy Kaplan as Tina, and for the script paying attention to continuity. Otherwise not a very memorable entry in the Halloween franchise.

Next up, we hack our way into Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, featuring an early performance by Paul Rudd.


“We Are Talking About Evil On Two Legs!”

October 15, 2008

d. Dwight H. Little

Hoo boy, and does he! A little pudgier than previously, but he’s back! And so is Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) spouting warnings about “evil on two legs” to anyone who’ll listen — and surprisingly, people do.

Halloween 4 tells the story of Michael’s return to Haddonfield, 10 years to the day of his original killing spree; apparently he and Dr. Loomis both survived the explosion of the oxygen tanks, and while Michael went into a coma, Dr. Loomis suffered severe burns on the right side of his body.

Here We Go Again!

Here We Go Again!

During a transfer from a federal psych ward back to Smith’s Grove ward, Michael escapes to seek a young girl named Jamie (nice!) who is the daughter of Laurie Strode. It’s not explicitly stated what happened to Laurie, but it is implied that she died some 11 months earlier. Jamie is now in the foster care of the Carruthers.

In revisiting this franchise, I was surprised at the effective mood and some fair scares; this is mainly brought on by some solid acting, Donald Pleasance’s spouting notwithstanding (though it’s not as histrionic as I expected), and very effective lighting. It does a good job of establishing many new characters while keeping in mind its roots (mentions of Chief Brackett, Jamie’s photo of Laurie, Jamie dressing in a clown suit for trick or treat).

Perhaps what surprised me the most, other than how seriously this movie was taking itself, was the script; it is at times engaging in setting up the thrills, but most of all, it actually respects its characters.

For example, when Dr. Loomis shows up ranting that Michael has returned, Sheriff Meeker actually trusts and believes him! Sure, he expresses some doubt, but a quick look at the decimated police station is enough to spur him to action. This makes Michael’s threat all that more believable because these guys are scared and act sensibly — they hole up at Meeker’s house and prepare to barricade themselves, unaware, of course, that Michael is already there.

Another moment in the script that floored me was after Rachel and Jamie elude Michael at the school, they bump into a vigilante group. After catching them up to speed, their response is to get the hell out of there. Good for them! No, “let’s split up and catch him” bullshit, just get in the truck and go!

Of course, these logical reactions by these people only lead to my main complaint about the movie: Michael Myers is fucking everywhere! He’s in the tea pot for crying out loud! (not really) But apparently he is faster than cars and able to read minds. So when the local gun group is like, letsgeddafugouttahere, guess who hitches a ride on the back of the pick up. Yup. Michael. When Dr. Loomis and Jamie, well ahead of Michael, get to the school, guess who they bump into in the hallways. Yup. Michael. Yeahbuhwha–!

The last leap in logic, which soured the movie for me is the final ’“twist” ending which comes out of left field, even if you were to factor in trauma spurring on the character’s actions. It doesn’t make sense.

So not the total turkey I half-remembered, but not any better than Halloween II and not even as good as Halloween 3. Therefore, two stars.

Next, we keep rolling with the Halloween sequels — Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers.


Zohan Could Use A Trim

October 13, 2008

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan (2008)
d. Dennis Dugan 

Not as funny as I expected, but still enough laugh-out loud bits to carry me through the end. Zohan tells the story of the title character’s pursuit of a life away from the military and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a hair-stylist, but his past catches up with him.

Here’s Hummous In Your Eye

Here’s Hummous In Your Eye

The movie repositions the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a local neighborhood community fighting off the greedy corporate mall-builders and landlords. It’s the same argument more successfully posited in Be Kind, Rewind, though here it also argues that faith-based bigotry and hatred can be overcome in such a community.

There are a lot of running gags involving hummous and the over-sexed Zohan shtupping elderly ladies (in this regard it is quite subversive even while mining the situation for laughs) that overstay their welcome. And then there are running gags that involve hackey-sack, ping-pong and Mariah Carey which, I’m certain, may be a cultural thing that I didn’t find that funny. The soundtrack displays Sandler’s love of 80s music and there are some funny cameos in unexpected corners — Dave Matthews, anyone?

I still think the Wedding Singer is Sandler’s best effort, balancing a healthy dose of laughs with a genuine and heartfelt romance. Here I don’t really feel that the chemistry between Sandler and the exceptionally hot Emanuelle Chriqui works as well as it did between him and Drew Barrymore.

John Turturro continues to pay the bills with this film, though he does get in some funny bits as a Palestinian terrorist/owner of a kebab franchise.

Overall, quite harmless, some good laughs, but nothing new. Two stars.

Next up, I should be resuming my Halloween marathon with Halloween 4.


This Movie Doesn’t Put Out

October 12, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1981)
d. Lou Adler

Simply put, rent this movie. It’s got performances by Diane Lane, Laura Dern and Ray Winstone — waaay early in their careers — that display why they have been so successful over the past two decades. It also bursts with so much energy, style and damned good punk (members of The Clash and Sex Pistols wrote half the songs on the soundtrack and appear in the film) that it re-invigorates the familiar plot into something fresh and exciting.

Ladies and Gentlemen… tells the story of the rise, fall and return of Corinne “Third Degree” Burns (Diane Lane) and her band, The Stains (Laura Dern and Marin Kantner), while she negotiates her identity, the jealousy of an experienced and cynical singer of a rival band, and the exploitation by the media and a corrupt manager (David Clennon (The Thing, thirtysomething)). 

Are You A Professional?

Are You A Professional?

Diane Lane’s character enters the film full of spit and fire; she is rebellious youth from the get go and suffering in small town Pennsylvania. But she’s got a plan, a vision that involves a “just Rock and Roll, and The Truth.” And her vehicle is The Stains. They hook up with The Metal Corpses, 70s glam has-beens, and The Looters, punks stranded in America and headed by a young, less corpulent, Ray Winstone.

When Corinne takes the stage sporting a skunk hair-do, Siouxsie Sioux eyeliner, fishnets and see-through blouse, and excoriates the crowd that she doesn’t put out, she inspires hundreds of disaffected youth to do the same — to stand up and take no guff from anybody. The media picks up on this and runs with it. And all this in a month!

Needless to say, the movie is filled with great performances both acting and musical. It made me want to create my own Stains cover band. And the early 80s punk styles are amazing. The hair, the make-up, the clothes. Everything. And while the entire movie is worth watching, I found the ending music video especially memorable; it’s such a video of its time, but also because we get to glimpse the characters a little further down the road from what the bulk of the film deals with, and it’s the most satisfying conclusion.

A second-runner up for best scene in the movie is where Christine Lahti, playing Diane Lane’s aunt, gives a TV interview. It’s heartbreaking for its honesty and allowing us a glimpse into the character’s backstory. It’s brief, but powerful.

And the movie wouldn’t have worked without the chemistry between Ray and Diane. Ray’s character has been struggling a long time to gain success, but it has eluded him; when Diane’s character seemingly captures success practically overnight, it wounds him. However, they are both attracted to each other; when she hears his band perform, she is enraptured; it spurs her on to cement and embrace her identity as Punk.

There’s this amazing scene where they share a motel room, and at one point they are on the bed in close proximity starting to undress, and he is reaching out to her, quoting the lyrics of his song; she asks for the lyrics and he becomes evasive, so she moves to the bathroom and slams the door, cutting him off. But when he reveals that he can’t read, she opens the door wearing only a towel. She then enters the shower, and starts telling a story from her past; Ray enters the shower also naked, and the scene ends with a passionate kiss.

As the scene plays out, they are undressing, literally and metaphorically, revealing to each other very personal things; also, the barriers between them grow less and less both physically and metaphorically. It’s the closest the two characters get and is very tender.

So I guess that’s three scenes.

Anyway, I highly recommend this film. If you’re curious about the early careers of its future stars, or if you love good punk music or the 80s style, or even if you don’t, you really need to check this out.

Three and a half out of five stars.

Next up, I try not to mess with the Zohan.


“It’s Time, Michael…”

October 10, 2008

Halloween II (1981)
d. Rick Rosenthal

Oh yeah, I can’t begin to describe how much I like this movie. I’ve seen it before, but I thought I’d run through the entire Halloween series as I try to cram in all types of horror/sci-fi/fantasy films before the day of Halloween. And yeah, it isn’t the greatest sequel, but due mainly to John Carpenter’s and Debra Hill’s script, it does a really great job of taking and expanding the scope of the first film.

C'mon Baby, Light My Fire

C’mon Baby, Light My Fire

Basically, the film re-establishes the last five minutes of the first film with some minor revisions and additions. Think back to the beginning of Back to the Future 2 or The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and how cool it was that it did the exact same thing. It immediately replaces us in the thick of the action and re-establishes many of the main characters.

Here, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is rescued by Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) from being killed by Michael Myers. However, just as in the ending of the first film, the body of Michael has disappeared despite being shot! six! times! (as Mr. Pleasance shouts, chewing every word like it was a last meal) and falling of a second floor balcony onto the cold hard ground. And, in an interesting writers’ choice, we end up in Michael’s POV in the moments immediately following this exchange; we abandon our protagonist, Laurie, for pretty much most of the first act. At first I thought this was a mistake, but on reflection, it’s actually a pretty cool idea.

What’s cool about this decision is that it allows us to experience the flow of news information that slowly expands outward about the killings and the bodies discovered in the house opposite the Strode abode. We get to see how the information affects the neighborhood and how it spreads. And of course, within this first act, Michael gets to kill again.

Another interesting decision made by the writers is the decision to keep Laurie traumatized and on drugs; for a large part of the movie, she is bed-ridden and out of action (similar to Judith O’Dea in Night of the Living Dead). When Michael finally tracks her to the hospital, we understand how extremely vulnerable she is, and yet she still proves very resourceful and capable.

The script also establishes a reason as to why Michael has targeted Laurie. It’s a little bit of a soap opera plot involving a hushed up birth and adoption and name change, and yet it remains plausible and acceptable. What doesn’t seem plausible is why Michael waited for as long as he did, and how he found out about his relationship with Laurie. Hmmm.

Finally, this film plants the seeds of Samhain and the druish hocus-pocus which, I believe, parts 5 & 6 pick up on.

One of the biggest drawbacks of this film is the music; the score suffers from not being performed by John Carpenter and being an 80s synth update rather than the percussive and haunting piano. Also, there is the killing where MM tilts his head sideways, recalling the same movement after he killed P.J. Soles’s boyfriend in the first film; here it is done in close-up and it’s neither effective or creepy.

Still, there are a lot of cool things about this movie: the shoes falling of the nurse as MM lifts her off the floor with a scalpel in her back; the very cool background killing of Bud while his girl sits in the foreground; then there’s the bug-nuts slamming of the cop car into the teenager. And finally, there is Dr. Loomis’s last line of this film. It would have been the perfect ending for both characters, except Halloween IV happened.

In any case, this movie back to back with the first, and classic, film makes for a satisfying duology. I give this film three out of five stars.

Once again, I will promise to see The Fabulous Stains. Cross your fingers!