I don’t think any of the sequels to The Howling have a good reputation, and that’s quite clear from this very first one. You cannot take this movie seriously, which goes under either the subtitle of Your Sister is a Werewolf or Stirba Werewolf Bitch, neither of which can be taken very seriously either. However, you can have a vastly inferior sequel that is surely not a good film still be a greatly entertaining one. If you want to trade scares for some stupid werewolf action then Howling II might be for you.
After countless millennia of watching, waiting and stalking, the unholy creatures known as werewolves are poised to inherit the earth. After newscaster Karen White’s shocking on-screen transformation and violent death, her brother Ben (Reb Brown) is approached by Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee), a mysterious man who claims that Karen has, in fact, become a werewolf. But this is the least of their worries as to save mankind, Stefan and Ben must travel to Transylvania to battle and destroy Stirba (Danning), the immortal queen of all werewolves, before she is restored to her full powers!
I honestly don’t know how this film was approached as a sequel to The Howling. Practically no effort is put into making it feel or look like a natural continuation of that story in that world with those characters. Howling II can only be described as seemingly taking place in the B-movie alternate universe of the first movie to where artistic brilliance and visionary storytelling is replaced with as much “new wave” music inspired flash and cheesy goofiness as possible. Just how they recreate the ending of the last film as a lost piece of news broadcast footage says enough with horrendous makeup effects and an actress who bares zero resemblance to Dee Wallace. Sadly, that’s just a taste of what’s to come.
Some of the editing in this movie is just bad. Certain sequences are choppy, have little coherence to the action that is occurring, and frankly, just comes off like a perplexed mess at times. The plot is much the same. Much of it is rather laughable changing werewolf lore for silly reasons. These werewolves apparently have no vulnerability to silver, and titanium must be used. Of course, stakes through the heart and holy water being some of the weapons of choice here clearly reek more of a botched up vampire screenplay than a werewolf one. So, yeah, this wasn’t a screenplay with much thought put into it, but how stupid this thing is along with some of the performances simply turns this around to being entertainingly bad. The first movie really did, reportedly, throw out a lot of what was in Gary Brandner’s novel, and if his work on the screenplay for this film is any indication, it was likely all for the best. The quality of this sequel is not built on its execution, but the script itself and the ideas it conjures up. You really can’t watch Joe Danté’s original movie followed by this and see any correlation of tone, concept, or artistic quality between them. Howling II is simply pure 1980’s cheesy entertainment value. Scares don’t factor into it, just a lot of jovial laughs because the movie is played so straight.
As ludicrous as the film makes itself out to be, when you have Christopher Lee unloading all of this exposition it’s hard not to buy into it all. With Lee being as stoic and imposing ever, the silliness of the movie is simply enhanced to higher levels of awesomeness. Whether he’s Count Dracula, a Dark Lord of the Sith, Saruman, or anything else, Lee sells every role he takes on with total earnestness and theatricality. That is no different with his performance as Stefan. Of everyone here, he plays it the most dead straight, and is the most awesome because of it. However, when he was cast in Gremlins 2, Christopher Lee apologized to director Joe Danté for having starred in this silly sequel to his remarkable film. That’s some class right there.
Mostly going for broke through his enjoyably non-dimensional acting talents is Reb Brown. His reactions to Stefan’s exposition is probably the same as the audience’s – total, eye-rolling disbelief. It makes for some funny moments, but it’s really when Reb delves headlong into his guttural screams as he blasts away with a shotgun at this film’s sad excuses for werewolves that his base level entertainment value comes to light. A good performance? Not by a long shot, but like so much here, it’s all a lot of bad junk that compiles into a raucous fun time.
Of course, rounding out the cult following cast is Sybil Danning who is here simply to add a busty sexy appeal, and she surely excels at that. However, the werewolf sex scene in this film is purely gratuitous while being entirely unappealing to look at. Whereas the first film made it a great melding of eroticism and primal terror, this sequel just throws in a sex scene for the hell of it and decides to glue a ton of cheap furry makeup on the actors. Aside from Danning ripping off her top, there’s nothing worth seeing in this sequence, and you can stick around for the end credits to see that bare-breasted moment repeated a total of sixteen times.
The werewolf effects in this sequel are not close to being even second rate when compared to Rob Bottin’s amazing work on the first film. They are cheap and often cheesy. Most times, the filmmakers try to disguise them through all the terrible rapid fire, incoherent editing, or by having people be chased by a steadicam point of view shot. Unfortunately, there’s no real hiding substandard quality like this. These bad makeup effects, along with a couple of cheap visual effects, are yet another thing that makes this movie as enjoyably bad as it is.
I suppose the one genuinely good thing in Howling II is the new wave rock main theme by Babel, which is repeated every few minutes. It’s a really catchy tune, and so, it’s not at all a burden to hear again and again and again. However, what score there is beyond that isn’t much worth noting. I’ll also say that the movie is fairly well shot with some good production values and art direction. So, it’s not a poor film to look at. It really is just some of the sloppy editing that makes so much look incompetent.
Like I said, there is nothing here that is remotely scary, but when the shotgun blasting, titanium stake stabbing, and magic wielding action begins, it’s quite enjoyable in all its over-the-top cheesiness. Seeing Christopher Lee and Reb Brown standing back-to-back gunning down crappy looking werewolves is about as much fun as it sounds. Howling II is a terrible sequel to the visionary original, but if you take it as it is in being a film that feels like it exists in an entirely different universe than the first, you can have a lot of fun watching it. It’s just pure B-movie indulgence.
Good werewolf movies are difficult to come by. Most just don’t find a way to make them interesting, alluring, or entertaining like vampire films are more easily able to do. However, there are a few universally accepted classics of this subgenre, and this 1981 film from director Joe Danté based on the novel by Gary Brandner is indeed one of them. For me, it’s a movie that’s taken some time to get into. The first time I rented it on VHS I was working twelve hour shifts to the early morning hours, and fell asleep halfway through, same as with The Amityville Horror. This time, I gave it my full attention and patience.
Severely shaken after a near-fatal encounter with a serial killer, TV newscaster Karen White (Dee Wallace) takes some much-needed time off. Hoping to conquer her inner demons, she heads for “the Colony,” a secluded retreat where her new neighbors are just a tad too eager to make her feel at home. Also, there seems to be a bizarre link between her would-be attacker and this supposedly safe haven. And when, after nights of being tormented by savage shrieks and unearthly cries, Karen ventures into the forest to find answers, she makes a terrifying discovery. Now she must fight not only for her life, but for her very soul.
The Howling is an extremely slow burn film. Joe Danté gives you only the vaguest of teases early on hiding his ravenous creatures in the shadows and brief glimpses, which can be effective. The best execution of this is in the first act of the film where Karen encounters Eddie, the supposed serial killer portrayed by Robert Picardo. The use of darkness, suspense, and subtle backlight is a brilliant work of art. However, my suspicions from way back on first viewing were right in that we don’t see a werewolf in all its full glory until well past the halfway point in the movie. Until then, Danté takes the time to utilize some psychological aspects as Karen is haunted by her experience with Eddie. She is hit with nightmares and startling visions that heighten her fear and paranoia. This film is a bit of give and take. You certainly go into this wanting to see the werewolves reeking havoc often, but you have to wait a very, very long time to get to that point. However, once you do, the pay-off is excellent as Danté doesn’t hold back anything.
Many would know the special make-up effects work of Rob Bottin from John Carpenter’s The Thing, but that would be another year after this picture. Here, he creates some of the most amazing werewolf effects ever. Everything is so lifelike with very fine details and textures in addition to very elaborate methods used in the transformation sequences. Today, it would all be digital effects, but in 1981, you needed a practical effects master to realize something of this stunning vision of horror. The full size werewolves are wholly frightening as they tower probably at a good seven feet tall with every ferocious quality imaginable. What Bottin accomplished here will truly unnerve and terrify many. How he did it on a $1.5 million budget, even in 1981 dollars, just floors me.
This is also one of the absolutely most beautifully shot horror films I’ve ever seen. Joe Danté and his cinematographer John Hora utilize some very inspired camera angles and compositions. However, the most gorgeous aspects are the brilliant backlighting and the use of colored gels to create a wonderful haunting atmosphere. There are films that are simply shot in color, and then, there are films that utilize color in remarkable ways. The Howling is truly the latter as these reds, blues, and greens highlight the creepy and eerie moments like fine brush strokes of artistic inspiration.
The Howling does more than simply give you werewolves slashing and gnawing on humans. Firstly, it has some satire on the entire self-help movement. Trying to aid those afflicted with being a werewolf with therapy and a push towards integration into society is handled with the right kind of wit without being comical. Joe Danté definitely has that talent to fuse horror and humor such as with Gremlins, but he keeps things on point with the horror and barely diminishes that at all. Furthermore, this film gives us a strange but perfectly executed mix of sensuality and terror in one sex sequence. Once again, the artistic beauty of the film is on display as two people engage in sexual activity at a campfire, but as the act becomes more virile, the beats within are unleashed and they begin to transform. What begins as very erotic turns into a frightening, primal act that still gets the heart pumping. This is a very tantalizing and compelling sequence melding these two things together in a very provocative way.
The cast of this horror classic is jam packed with excellent acting talents such as Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, John Carradine, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Picardo, Noble Willingham, Dick Miller, and several others. Every single one of them does a solid job bringing forth the distinct qualities of their characters’ personalities. In particular, Dee Wallace leads the film with the right level of vulnerability and traumatic unease. The fear the audience regularly feels is channeled through her performance, and the journey her character goes through in this results in a unforgettable conclusion. Also very notable is Robert Picardo proving yet again that I know he’s a great actor. What he does as the supposed serial killer Eddie is tremendous and dead-on-the-mark showing a very subtle intimidation factor with his restrained charisma and clear full fledged absorption of this character into himself. He also acts through all the wickedly good make-up with exceptional ease. He might have only a few brief scenes, but he really becomes one of the most memorable things about this cast.
The ending of The Howling is fantastic and frightening. First off, the entire third act is just excellent every step of the way as we finally get our full helping of werewolf awesomeness in a hair-raising escape sequence. However, what comes after that when Karen returns to the television studio for her news report is exceptionally tragic and clever. What she sets out to accomplish with her live report is smartly turned on its head by these filmmakers. Almost no one believes what they see and dismiss it as a high quality fabrication. They believe it to be spectacle instead of the raw, chilling reality that it is. The film concludes on a very signature Joe Danté beat of wit and humor. He has always been a unique filmmaker infusing a special, unmatched blend of the bizarre and the humorous with excellent results.
Now, is The Howling a horror movie for everyone? Maybe not. I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t enjoy sitting around for fifty minutes before we get a real good look at a werewolf, which I honestly had an issue with. After Karen’s early encounter with Eddie, there’s very little horror or suspense to engage you on the horror movie level until you’re more than halfway through the movie. The characters and performances are perfectly fine to move the plot forward in the interim, but there’s hardly anything to get your heart pounding with terror in that time. However, I appreciate the artistic brilliance of this film, and anything that doesn’t quite work for me is possibly more attributed to just not being quite my style. I also wholly endorse teasing us with the werewolves, much like Ridley Scott did with his creature in Alien. Build up suspense with it, and then, once you finally reveal it, you’ve got a great, startling moment of awe. This is a remarkably well made movie, and one that absolutely has its rabid fan base that I entirely respect. Whether or not the slow, slow build up and reveal is to your taste, this is one of those horror essentials you need to see. The pay-off for that build-up is definitely well worth the wait, and seeing what practical effects could achieve back in the day will show you what CGI has almost never been able to replicate.
I’ve made some mentions of the Die Hard clone in recent months in reviews of Sudden Death, Olympus Has Fallen, and more. Now, just because you’re the first do something, or the one who sets the trend doesn’t always mean you did it best. However, in the case of John McTiernan’s blockbuster action film Die Hard, there is simply no equal. While I don’t list it as my number one favorite of all time, I cannot deny that this is likely the best action movie ever made, and there are a lot of qualities that go into making it that exceptionally awesome.
NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) has come to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) at her company’s holiday party. However, as he waits for the festivities to end, the entire building is taken over by a heavily armed team perceived as terrorists, but their sinister leader, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), reveals that his interest is purely in greed. As the hostages are rounded up, McClane slips away with only his service revolver and his cunning wits at his disposal. What begins as a perfectly planned crime quickly ignites into McClane waging a one man war to save everyone before they are all blown sky high.
There are many things that set Die Hard apart from everything else, but I think the biggest key of it are the characters. Beyond just the performances, this film takes its time to introduce them to you, and allow for their dynamics and personalities to play out before any of the action begins. This is mainly the development between John and Holly McClane. Their turbulent marriage is fleshed out in smart, subtle beats that never feel like exposition, just natural conversation. These are real, relatable people in a grounded reality with normal problems that are soon thrust into an extraordinary situation, and because we get to know these characters through levity and emotional conflict, we care greatly about them once peril befalls them. Even the villains are given their due time to feel fleshed out and dimensional such as how Hans Gruber discusses men’s suits, art, and culture with Takagi before threatening him with a gun for the password to his vault. These moments make Gruber an interesting and engaging villain who has a fairly equal amount of depth to John McClane. This way, it is also a battle of wits and personalities as much as it is a pure action conflict. This is so much due to the time director John McTiernan and his screenwriters took to slip those important character building moments into the film, and that makes it a greatly more substantive action film that you would regularly get in any decade.
Now, the 1980’s were filled with the larger than life, nigh indestructible action hero. Then, comes along John McClane. This guy who is as vulnerable as the rest of us that gets beaten up, his feet sliced up by glass, bleeds everywhere, feels fear, and gets progressively worse for wear as the film goes on. All the while, under the intense stress of a violent life or death scenario, he’s cracking wise with everyone left and right just doing what he can to cope and survive. Where a Rambo or John Matrix type would just burst in blazing a full arsenal to wipe out everyone, McClane has to be clever and cautious every step of the way against these extremely well-armed killers. All he has is his wits, and Bruce Willis’ well established comedic talents blended perfectly into the quick witted quips of McClane. I’m sure there was speculation abound leading up to this film’s release as to Willis’ ability to be an action hero because of doing so many comedies, but he was able to bring a completely unique identity to this role that is hard to match. While it is the wisecracks that we remember so much, the purely human moments of drama really sell this character as one that stands apart from so many others. Bruce Willis really shows that he could do the full spectrum of acting here as he leads this film with charisma, heart, and physical intensity. He brings a fresh dimension and grounded realism to McClane that makes him the beloved, very human, bad ass icon that we so love.
Just how McClane is a distinct departure from the action heroes of the day, Hans Gruber distinguishes himself from many of the over the top, cheesy villains of the 80’s. Alan Rickman is brilliant as Hans Gruber. What truly makes this so is that he’s not obvious at all. Gruber is a guy who is smart, charming, smooth, educated, and charismatic. Yet, he’s a calculated, clever, ruthless villain. You can see that Gruber had every single detail of this plan plotted out perfectly, and is able to outsmart and keep ahead of everyone except for the one wild card in his brilliant crime in John McClane. As much of an sociopathic, murderous villain as Gruber is, you can be thoroughly entertained by the charisma and intelligence Alan Rickman injects into him, but you still rejoice when McClane finally does him in.
A little unexpected humor arises from the less than sharp minded LAPD and FBI. Paul Gleason’s Chief Robinson is clearly in over his head exercising clear incompetence while thinking he’s got everything under control. Then, FBI Agents Johnson and Johnson, a joke in and of itself, are too full of themselves with their gung ho testosterone to be perceptive enough to know when they’re being played. Add in more competent, yet still funny characters like Argyle the limo driver and Theo, Hans’ charismatic safe cracker, you’ve got laughs for miles without damaging the serious integrity of the action and drama of the movie. This is seriously one of the most quotable action movies ever.
Yet, amidst all the explosive thrills and well-timed humor, we get the tether of humanity with Sergeant Al Powell. Reginald VelJohnson connects perfectly in this role bringing the tired, wounded, and alone McClane into contact with someone on the outside who can be a moral and emotional support. An action film is great when the thrills are exciting and bombastic, but you get something exceptional when this thread of humanity is so strongly in place. VelJohnson gives us the full spectrum from lovable and funny to heartfelt and compassionate to stern conviction. Powell is ultimately given some depth and substance showing that this film wasn’t going to take a shortcut anywhere at all. The very human moments between Powell and McClane are a special strength.
But indeed, the action is ultimately the driving force of this movie, and once that spark of excitement is lit, it runs on pure adrenalin with riveting intensity and masterful execution. This is big action with a real sense of gravity and peril. The scale makes it amazingly fun and exciting while the weight of the drama makes it suspenseful and electrifying. I love the subplot with Karl’s vendetta against McClane for the murder of his brother, and when the two finally clash, it’s awesome. After all of the heavy gunfire and explosions, the few minutes of visceral raw physicality are a breath of fresh air before the scale of the action escalates further with the roof exploding signaling the third act rocketing forward. Die Hard does nothing but amaze you at every turn. Every step of the way, we care about these characters in the thick of danger, and we gradually see it escalate as Gruber’s plan unfolds. It’s also great seeing McClane figure things out a little at a time, such as wondering why Hans was on the roof, and then, realizing he plans to blow it sky high with all the hostages on it.
I tend to write these reviews while watching the movie so to pick up on all the nuances, but Die Hard is so consistently engaging, thrilling, and entertaining that I could hardly tear my attention away to type anything up. Whether it is the absolutely wickedly awesome action, the touching character building moments, or the great laughs it elicits from an audience, Die Hard is the perfect example of executing an action film correctly. There’s not a moment wasted, and the editing is dead-on sharp and perfect in its pacing and timing. Moments are so excellently punctuated with the right cut, and even more so with Michael Kamen’s remarkably intense and spectacular score. His is a masterwork of brilliant, sophisticated action film compositions. Not to mention, this is an expertly shot movie using those beautiful anamorphic lenses and that cinemascope widescreen canvas to accentuate the scale of the action. And where many action films today can barely keep the camera steady long enough to understand the geography of a single scene, McTiernan and cinematographer Jan de Bont do so many subtle things to layout the geography of this entire building. Early on, they walk you through the entire central area of the Nokatomi Tower over the opening credits so you understand where the hallways, elevator, offices, and stairway are so we can navigate it as competently as the characters. As the film goes on, we revisit the conference room, the elevator shafts, and the roof to maintain a familiar environment for the action. As a film lover and a filmmaker myself, this movie just makes me gush from a technical standpoint as it is so perfectly executed in every moment. This film is exquisitely made from a massively talented team of filmmakers, sonic geniuses, and brilliant visual artists.
This film was adapted from the Roderick Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever, and many of the mind blowing and clever moments in the film are taken directly from the novel. McClane’s jump from the exploding roof with the fire hose wrapped around him, the C-4 bomb thrown down the elevator shaft, and more exist in Thorp’s novel. Apparently, it was a novel written as a sequel to The Detective, starring Frank Sinatra, but he declined the role. Years later, it was supposedly intended as a sequel to Commando, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, before being re-fashioned into the action classic that we now know and love. Indeed, everything has its right time to come to fruition, and Die Hard happened in the right way at the right time with the right talent.
Between this and Predator, John McTiernan established himself as one of the premiere action movie directors of the time, and of course, this launched Bruce Willis into blockbuster super stardom. Despite how Willis now feels about doing action movies, saying he’s bored with them at this point, we will always have these pinnacles of the genre when Willis was in his prime and eager to do his absolute best. Die Hard is probably the most perfect action movie I have ever seen as it hits all of the beats of excitement and character just right with a spot-on mix of drama and humor to make it an undeniably memorable experience. For anyone who has only ever seen either the fourth or fifth film in this franchise, you are doing a horrible disservice to yourself in basing the quality of Die Hard on those films. As I said from the start, there is simply no equal.
I did see this movie in theatres, but it was a week after release and I didn’t have much ambition to write up a review. Now that it’s out on home video, I can put my thoughts together on this very well made thriller that, yet, still lacks a certain memorable quality. Jack Reacher is based on One Shot by Lee Child, and while the movie does some significant departures from the 6’5″ towering blonde character with the casting of Tom Cruise, on its own merits, there is an enjoyable film to be had here from a very capable director with a fresh style.
In an innocent heartland city, five are shot dead by an expert sniper. The police quickly identify and arrest the culprit, former U.S. Army officer James Barr (Joseph Sikora), and build a dead bang guilty case. Regardless, Barr claims he’s innocent and delivers only one message to the police, “Get Jack Reacher.” A former Army Criminal Investigator, Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) sees the news report and turns up in the city, but comes only to condemn Barr based on past history. However, Barr’s attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), pulls Reacher into her investigation in order to get to the truth, but he will only do so if she looks into the lives of victims so to gain an objective, moral view of Barr’s alleged crime. Reacher sets out to confirm for himself the absolute certainty of the man’s guilt, but comes up with more than he bargained for as he uncovers a seedy conspiracy of corruption.
This film is directed by Christopher McQuarrie who also wrote the screenplay. He is most well known as the screenwriter of The Usual Suspects, but this is a distinctly different style and tone of film that I do feel he handles competently and sharply. The film starts with a strong weight of drama as we see the cold, calculating, and brutal sniper killings resulting in a traumatic, jarring impact. How Reacher is pulled into the story reflects perfectly on the character himself – smart, sly, quick-witted, and unpredictable. McQuarrie is able to firmly ground the drama of this story while still offering sharp dialogue with dashes of levity and personality. We do get these clever moments of humor that are somewhat unexpected, but for whatever reason, they are very entertaining and just work surprisingly well. The balance between the serious and humorous are in the right balance. He uses the humor to add levity and entertainment value to the movie while the drama creates the narrative’s momentum. McQuarrie also knows how to solidly plot out a mystery, as The Usual Suspects demonstrated. He lays out all the facts, perceptions, and details in very intelligent ways. It never feels like a dry procedural, but a compelling web that Reacher is intricately and confidently pulling apart one strand at a time.
And it is the Jack Reacher character that makes the investigation so intriguing. How he approaches the evidence, what nags at his mind, how he perceives motive and reasoning create a fascinating deconstruction of this mystery. Tom Cruise embodies these qualities exceptionally well. I also love how he slyly bulldozes his way through a situation. He’s not a guy who suffers anyone, and is determined to get to the truth no matter who’s standing in the way. Yet, he’s not a battering ram. He uses smarts, wit, and bravado more than force which makes him intriguing to watch. Cruise harnesses a hard edged confidence and presence that creates an intense electricity in his performance. Despite his average size and build, Cruise feels formidable from how he carries himself. While the Reacher of the books is meant to be this physically large man sort in the vein of a Dolph Lundgren, I feel that Cruise’s smaller stature works to excellent effect. He’s more unassuming, more average looking. You don’t expect a brutal ass kicking from him, but that’s just what you get. In Cruise’s hands, Reacher is a skilled and intelligent man with a sort of dry yet sharp sense of humor who can assault any enemy with tactical efficiency. This has long been within Cruise’s physical capabilities between his work on Collateral and the Mission: Impossible films, and he has always been an immensely dedicated physical actor. Altogether, I feel Tom Cruise is a stellar, wicked cool fit for this role as written here, and he puts in a solid performance.
Another great performance comes from Rosamund Pike. The script gives Helen Rodin a smart set of conflicts that are both internal and external. Reacher has her get personal with the victims of this sniper attack, and it forces her to realize the impossible nature of her position as the defense attorney. It gets pushed further as the truth is unraveled by Reacher, and it becomes more and more difficult for her to trudge forward with any course of action, yet she still does. Externally, she has her own father as the District Attorney opposing her from continuing on with this case, and there are conflicts with Reacher as they battle back and forth on their ideals and viewpoints on the case. Pike gives us a character that does question herself, and struggles with these moral quandaries that Reacher puts her into. Yet, she is her own person, making her own choices, and showing her strength while still being a vulnerable, compassionate person. Rosamund Pike is purely excellent in this role giving us emotional dimension and assertive strength, and it surely doesn’t hurt that she is exceptionally beautiful to my eyes.
The film’s villain comes from a surprising source – German filmmaker Werner Herzog. He portrays The Zec, a former prisoner of a Russian gulag, now the leader of this gang perpetrating corruption in this city. He’s both a chilling, threatening presence and a darkly enjoyable villain. He’s got this pretty extreme back story of having gnawed his own fingers off to survive his incarceration, and tries to force this average street thug into doing the same to prove his worth to him. It’s a crazy moment in The Zec’s introductory scene that really sets the tone for how tough and ruthless this villain is, and I really liked it. It surely feels a little over the top, but the dead serious weight given to it sells it in entertaining fashion. Herzog certainly has done acting in the past, but it’s certainly a surprise turn in this film that succeeds in spades. And even Jai Courtney is thoroughly impressive as the more action centric villain Charlie who causes trouble for Reacher throughout the movie, and battles with him at the end. He’s got a solid presence that sells a lot of his character without him having to say much. He showcases charisma with just a sly smirk, and just feels like a sharp talent with a lot of potential in him.
And lastly, we get a fun, quirky performance from Robert Duvall as this ex-Marine that runs a gun range and ultimately aids Reacher during the climax. His chemistry with Cruise creates some great levity during the very dark and heavy final act.
On all technical levels, this is a rock solid feature. It is excellently shot by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. The fantastic use of smart angles and purposeful compositions really enhance the intrigue and calculating aspects of the story and characters. In conjunction with the great, conservative editing by Kevin Stitt, we get a very effective thriller with solid scenes of suspense and poignant character moments. With McQuarrie’s very competent and solid talent at the helm, it really forged something that highly impresses in both technical skill and storytelling ability.
While the film has an intricately woven mystery at hand, it never overshadows the worth of the characters because without them the story doesn’t mean as much. I do love that the film does take the time to flesh out who those victims were, what their lives were like, and allows us to connect with them on a brief but strong emotional level. Christopher McQuarrie does the same thing with us that Reacher does with Rodin in this instance – have us connect with those people on a personal level. These are not just faceless victims. These were people with lives and loved ones, and they are not trivialized in this film, which is immensely commendable and really a breath of fresh air. It emotionally motivates both Reacher and Rodin to move forward in their efforts to unravel this plot and expose the truth, and it has purpose in unraveling the mystery.
And indeed, this film features one of the best car chases in recent memory. It has a very tense stare down between Reacher and David Oyelowo’s Detective Emerson after Reacher has just been framed for a murder. That stare down then explodes into this visceral 1970’s throwback car chase. It’s fantastically shot never tightening the frame too much, or shaking it all around with incompetence. We have beautiful compositions all around with an intense visceral quality fueled by the mere rumbling sounds of a muscle car engine, and solidly paced editing. That’s a page taken right out of Bullitt, and I think this chase does follow strongly in that tradition. It was a great happenstance that the Chevy Chevelle actually wouldn’t start during filming creating this great, real moment of it stalling out in the middle of the chase. This is an awesomely hard edged chase that does not overstay its welcome. It’s right to the point delivering a dose of adrenalin in the middle of the film, and the sly, clever ending to that car chase is so right for this character. The film does have very good action scenes, but it’s not proper to call this an action movie. It’s definitely a mystery thriller with solid shots of action. There are some entertaining fight scenes, and a very hard edged, very violent climax.
McQuarrie does choose an interesting tone and approach to the action scenes in that there’s hardly any score that plays through any of them. I saw this approach taken during the anti-climactic shootout in 2006’s Miami Vice, and I didn’t feel it was especially successful. Here, while I was undecided about it after my theatrical viewing, I do now feel it is rather effective for Jack Reacher. The tactical shootout in the quarry starts out with just the sounds of gunfire and some stellar cinematography and editing to make it work. However, when it moves further along, we get some suspenseful music cues, but the action itself remains raw and visceral without any music accompaniment. When Reacher and Charlie finally throw down, it’s just the harsh sounds of bones cracking and rain pouring to sell the hardened violence. The conclusion to this is very telling of the character in regards to his code of justice. It’s not really what you’d expect from an procedural crime thriller, but it is fitting overall. Now, I do feel like the ending lacked maybe a definitive sense of closure or consequence. There aren’t any actual hanging plot threads that I picked up on, but a more solid, stronger ending might have given it that extra added punch to please audiences. Reacher simply departs after all the action is done leaving others to clean up his mess which creates a feeling of an unresolved something. The ending has some poignancy and sly qualities in two separate scenes, and this ending is far from being poor in any aspect. I just think it could’ve used a stronger punctuation for the story and characters.
Ultimately, Jack Reacher is a very well directed, well acted, and overall very solidly made movie. The screenplay is very smart with a unique balance of dramatic weight and humorous levity that oddly works very well. The Reacher character is a very interesting one well embodied by Tom Cruise. He’s not explored in a lot of depth, but we get insights into who he is, what he values, and what his convictions are. How he operates, how he thinks, and what actions he takes tell us all we need to know in this story about Jack Reacher. It’s great seeing that despite Reacher having a predisposition towards Barr’s guilt, he’s able to maintain an objective point of view in his investigation. His own personal feelings against Barr never cloud his judgment. He wants the truth, no matter what that might be. These are sure signs of a very smartly written film and well developed character that is thoroughly understood by both McQuarrie and Cruise, thanks to the novels of Lee Child. Yet, despite of all this, I do feel the film lacks that extra spark that would catch on with audiences. It probably stems from the fact that this is not especially an action film, despite the marketing, and more of an intelligent thriller that doesn’t lend to a rousing, exciting experience. For everything that these filmmakers were striving to achieve, they did so with great success, but I don’t feel there’s a great demand for a franchise based on this outing alone. If the filmmakers can put together a film with more action and excitement, I think it could take off fairly well, but as it is, this film didn’t set audiences on fire with anticipation for another installment. While it’s not impossible, Cruise surely has plenty of other projects he’s quickly developing, including a fifth Mission: Impossible film, that he’s not in a major need to launch another franchise.
Adapted from the novel by Stephen King, and directed by David Cronenberg, The Dead Zone is definitely one of the best films based on King’s work. It has always been heralded with acclaim for many excellent reasons. Not the least of which is an incredible lead performance from Christopher Walken.
Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is a young and charming school teacher with a bright future ahead of him with a woman he loves and intends to marry. Yet, after leaving her home one night, he is involved in a car accident which leaves him in a coma for five years. Upon awakening, Johnny discovers he has gained the power of psychic visions where he see the past, present, and future with just the touch of a hand. This frightens Johnny, and he feels only more isolated from the world when he learns that Sarah (Brooke Adams), the love of his life, has married another man and had a child with him. After Johnny physically recovers from his coma, he becomes more and more reclusive until Sheriff Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) enlists his help to find the vicious Castle Rock Killer. However, when Johnny later shakes the hand of young and upcoming political candidate Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen), he is confronted with a frightening vision that shakes Johnny down to his core.
To say the least, Cronenberg has been a very original director with a unique perspective and style which comes out in science fiction or horror fare. Although, what he gives us with this film is a much more subtly clever and psychologically powerful over overt strangeness. Instead of going for the throat like he did with Scanners or Videodrome, he really hones in on the heart of this story, and he does it magnificently well. Every element he brought together truly merged with the heavy, somber tone he was going for. That was an excellent direction to envelope the film in as it puts us right into Johnny’s headspace. I think it was a stroke of genius that he made Johnny’s visions fully enveloping. He put Johnny inside the vision as if he was right there as it happened, but unable to affect change within the vision. It created a far more strained experienced for the character than if it just appeared as a dream state. With the first vision, he could probably feel the heat and flames just as if he was there in the burning house. During the vision of the Castle Rock Killer, Johnny is adamant how he was right there watching the murder, but unable to stop it. This forges Johnny into a darker, more reclusive state.
This is the earliest film I’ve seen of Christopher Walken’s career, and it shows that, no matter the age, Walken delivers his all. Johnny starts out as a kind, lively man fully in love, but the accident forces a turbulent change in him. He feels like a man out of sync with the world, and is now haunted by his new abilities. He’s angry that five years of his have been taken away, and that the woman he loved moved on with her life while he has none to return to. Walken is able to convey the deep emotional turmoil of Johnny with so much humanity that you can’t help but feel his pain. The tragic sense of the character really comes through in such strong, brilliant ways. Walken subtly mixes in the charm of the pre-accident Johnny underneath that somber, unstable exterior. The well of emotion in his face and eyes honestly becomes heartbreaking many times over. When the visions occur, Walken goes into an intense trance which is immensely riveting. Walken actually had Cronenberg fire off a gun, loaded with blanks, to elicit his startling reaction in those moments, and that was greatly effective. Walken can be very intense, at times, as the fear of his knowledge of the future boils over, but he’s always able to return to that heartfelt side. I could really go on and on about all the nuances and profound qualities of Christopher Walken’s performance, as he is always so rich with, but suffice it to say, he is absolutely stunning in this role.
Another great talent on display is Tom Skerritt who brings his strong presence of authority and sense of compassion to Sheriff Bannerman. He feels very authentic as the lead police officer of a small New England town. He really invests you in Bannerman’s plight where he has exhausted all avenues of investigation, and is willing to put his faith in the extraordinary to protect the people of his town. Herbert Lom does a very interesting and relatable performance as Dr. Sam Weizak with the genuine care of a physician. I really like the candor and humanity he brings to the role as Johnny’s doctor. He’s about the only one Johnny can confide in about his abilities, and that creates some very strong scenes which show Johnny’s pain and struggles. It’s very strong and intriguing work. Brooke Adams is very lovely and beautiful in the role of Sarah. She is very sweet and smart showing a simple, very caring woman that would endear herself to the younger Johnny who was bright and full of life. Adams does the same to an audience showing warmth and tenderness, and really striking up a genuine, heartfelt chemistry with Walken. The great Anthony Zerbe has an admirable turn as Roger Stuart, who hires Johnny to tutor his son, and also, bridges Smith with Stillson. Zerbe has a screen presence of respect, intelligence, and sophistication which serves the character excellently.
Martin Sheen is awesome as Greg Stillson. While he is perfectly stereotypical of a politician, and seemingly an exaggerated one, it entirely works for the role. Stillson is megalomaniacal, as is revealed to Johnny. He’s full-tilt insane, and Sheen revels in that madness. He has thinly veiled unhinged mentality which many voters would perceive as zeal, passion, and charisma, but Zerbe’s character perceives the danger he poses, which is a very nice touch to motivate Johnny’s and Stillson’s paths to cross.
While I have not read the novel, it seems like it had just a series of generally episodic events, which could have proven complicated to translate into a coherent screenplay, but I believe the filmmakers did an excellent job of weaving them together with Johnny’s plight being the through line. How he goes from feeling angry and cursed to slowly realizing the potential good he can do with his powers is a fascinating approach. Yet, he’s never really a man at peace. There’s always an emotional or psychological turmoil swirling inside him. Because of this, The Dead Zone is more a character-driven movie as there is no overarching main plot, aside from Johnny’s internal struggles. The film gives us a series of otherwise unrelated events that deeply affect and mold Johnny towards a powerful ending. While it could use a little more meat on the bone, in terms of a more rigorously involved plot in the Stillson centric segment, this really seems like the best approach to the material, and it is done exceptionally well.
The film’s score was done by the late, great Michael Kamen, who was a masterful composer and musician. Here, he produced a brilliant score that is powerful and haunting. It really has a strong presence which really digs deep into the emotions abound in the film, reflecting the sad, bittersweet feeling Cronenberg captured on screen. Even in the beautiful moment, he still manages to keep that heavy, foreboding tone present. It’s really a mesmerizing piece of music which is undeniably one of Kamen’s finest and distinct works.
The winter setting of The Dead Zone is marvelously brilliant. It reflects the cold, lonely, isolated sensibility that come to define Johnny Smith. It also perfectly Stephen King. Cinematographer Mark Irwin shot this film amazingly well. There are some sequences with wonderfully moody lighting such as the tunnel crime scene with the headlights reflecting off the ice, or the green tinge inside the Dodd residence. Johnny’s visions are all very visually strong, especially the ice break sequence. Overall, Irwin captures the power of this picture beautifully and compellingly.
The horror aspects in this film are very psychologically and visually based. Certainly the most graphic and startling is the Castle Rock Killer segment. We get violence and some disturbing imagery with this part which is very expertly executed. The rest of the film focuses on the fearful knowledge that haunts Johnny, and creates a troubling foreboding tone which leaves the audience unsettled. It’s a cerebral film built on a solid, somber atmosphere that can leave you saddened. I do think it’s a film that goes beyond the confines of horror, and pursues something much more fascinating and deeper. That was much of King’s intention. He wanted to write a story that didn’t delve into creatures or spirits or other things that come out to scare you in the dead of night. The Dead Zone was a sad, turbulent journey for a man that never asked for these extraordinary powers, but had to somehow cope with these experiencing jarring, haunting premonitions of death. They lead him down a chilling path that would be frightening for anyone.
As is obvious, I really like The Dead Zone. The only thing that pulls it away from a perfect rating is that I don’t think the build up to the climax is quite strong enough. A bit more time taken for Johnny to deep down struggle with his decision, or to really reflect upon himself would’ve given it a more dramatic swell. The ending is excellent, though. It really hits the right, powerful emotional beat. I wouldn’t change a frame of it. Christopher Walken puts in a rock solid performance that runs through a wide array of emotions that he brilliantly wraps into a single package. David Cronenberg had already proven he could go way far out with his concepts, and really deliver very bizarre, yet profound films. Here, he proves he get deep into the soul of a story and character, and deliver something equally profound on a much more intimate human level. I really, strongly recommend this film. It is expertly crafted by a great team of wonderfully talented film artists.
This film was based on the novel A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson, and David Koepp, the screenwriter and director, made a hell of solid and smart thriller out of it. Koepp has plenty of fine credits to his name ranging from generally good to great films. While there are a few black marks on his filmography, he showcases a vast amount of solid talent with this nicely crafted supernatural thriller that is Stir of Echoes.
Tom Witzy (Kevin Bacon) lives with his wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) and his son Jake (Zachary David Cope) in Chicago. They live in a neighborhood with a good reputation, but at a party with a bunch of his neighbors, the narrow-minded Tom dares his open-minded sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), to hypnotize him. She does, but when she implants a post-hypnotic suggestion for him to ‘open his mind’, he begins to see disturbing and confusing visions. His son has an imaginary friend called Samantha (Jennifer Morrison), but Tom soon realizes that she is not imaginary. She is the ghost of a young girl that is now terrifying and driving Tom towards strange ends. As the horrific visions intensify, Tom realizes they are pieces of a puzzle, echoes of a crime calling out to be solved, but when his other-worldly nightmares begin coming true, Tom wants out. He desperately tries to rid himself of his eerie, unwanted powers – only to be seized by an irresistible compulsion to dig deeper and deeper into the mystery that is consuming his life.
Kevin Bacon absolutely does an incredible job in this role. He really absorbed himself into it adopting a subtle Chicago accent and a textured blue collar working man appearance. His physicality is very raw, and it helps that he seemed to be in excellent, lean shape for this film. He pushes the performance through every fiber of his body with a powerful nervous energy and charisma that is electrifying. Bacon portrays the increasing obsession and near psychotic behavior amazingly well. His manic intensity becomes scary like he is going off the deep end, which is quite the truth. On the flip side, he shows the heart of Tom Witzy with a lot of genuine depth. Beneath this crazed obsession, he is a deeply caring husband and father with a touching levity of heart. It’s good to see the real man before this psychic awakening occurs, and thus, we get full context on how drastically he changes and what he’s jeopardizing with his crazed behavior. There’s ultimately a lot of compassion and humanity in this man who starts out with a bit of an abrasive attitude.
Playing perfectly off of Kevin Bacon is Kathryn Erbe. She also shows a strong range from loving, bright wife and mother to woman of fire and conviction when Tom goes further out of control. Erbe and Bacon have very honest and heart-filled chemistry which is a main strength of the movie. Zachary David Cope was a fine young actor here. While he has an appropriate innocence and cuteness, he proves to have a mindful intelligence to portray the nuances of the role. Acting opposite thin air to an unseen ghost is definitely a challenge, but Cope really showed a lot of promise here. Sadly, it was only second and last film acting role. The remainder of the cast does equally fine jobs building up a realistic community of dimension characters that ground the film very firmly.
Stir of Echoes is definitely a spooky and startling film with a tight pace. It keeps a nice unsettling atmosphere going as Tom is very unnerved following his hypnotic awakening. As the visions begin inflicting more graphic images upon Tom, the more freaked out he gets, and the more the tension of the film rises. It’s an entertaining and fascinating descent into manic hysteria which just drives the film’s suspense and danger to a more chilling height. When the film hits those peaks, it gets the heart pounding very strongly. It winds itself up to a frightening full head of steam once the third act slams itself upon the audience. While it’s not a rousing climax that is practically horror-based, it definitely resolves itself properly. It builds upon the more underlying qualities of the film, namely the characters and the community they inhabit.
Thus, I really like the character driven strength of this supernatural thriller. It’s a ghost story that doesn’t boil down to defeating an evil specter, but instead, helping find justice for an innocent soul. Showing the quality of this seemingly tight knit Chicago neighborhood plays an important role in the story, and it’s nicely developed and demonstrated to ultimately explore the heart and soul of these people, no matter where they might lie.
Admirably, this film boasts some very good visual effects. From the ghoulish effects to make Samantha a frightening apparition to the hypnosis sequence in the theatre, these are all consistently top notch effects. The ghostly make-up effects work done on actress Jennifer Morrison are very haunting and unsettling. She did a fine job in that aspect as well as the living Samantha in the flashbacks late in the film. She was a very sweet, shy young woman that is a worthy of the sympathy and tragic value put on the character. While the “shot in reverse” movement is a clichéd trick to give a creepy quality to her ghost, it is still very effective.
Now, I also have to admit I find a bit of pleasing notoriety from the theatre scenes when Lisa hypnotizes Tom. They were shot at the Rialto Theatre in Joliet, Illinois where my high school graduation was held the year before this film’s release. I really love that the filmmakers shot on location throughout the Chicago area bringing a real authentic feel to the neighborhood and other locations. There’s one shot where Tom’s up on a telephone pole making a call to Lisa, and it pulls back to reveal the Chicago River and Metra trains rolling by. It’s a location I am very familiar with, and it just creates an honest sensibility that I commend. Chicago really is a diverse and beautiful city that deserves to be shown off more prominently in film and television, and this is a small gem that takes pleasant, if small advantage of that.
While David Koepp is the sole on-screen credit for the screenplay, there was some work on it done by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en). So, I would like to share my praise for the quality of the script with them both. I’ve never read Richard Matheson’s novel that this was based on, but Koepp and Walker clearly had an intelligent foundation to build upon. The story never goes for cheap clichés of the genre, and instead, stays focused on its smart supernatural thriller path. The film makes it a point that it is very focused on Tom Witzy from early on, and the script follows that path very steadily. It keeps the audience in tune with what he’s experiencing, and we are able to relate to him even when he becomes more irrational and brazen. He’s intensely driven to uncover whatever it is he needs to in order to shut these psychics visions down. He himself becomes connected with Samantha, even if he doesn’t entirely know what his purpose in all this is. So, we follow him on this haunting journey that is exceptionally well executed by David Koepp. It surely helps this film that there was a highly effective score put together by the immensely talented James Newton Howard.
While this turned out to be a bit shorter review than I usually post, I think the quality of Stir of Echoes has been well conveyed. It’s not a very complex story, but it lacks no depth of character or scares. It won’t slam bang you with horror, but it has a solid atmosphere, some startling, graphic imagery, and air of compelling supernatural mystery that is very satisfying. Seeing the film is worthwhile for Kevin Bacon’s exceptional and amazing performance alone. He really showed a very wide breadth of talent and commitment here that I find incredible. The only iffy aspect is that I’m sure the climax would feel stronger if there was an actual supernatural element added into it instead of a straight physical confrontation. However, I’ll say again that it suits the more character based sensibility of the story, which is somewhat refreshing to see, and does support the idea of needing a living person to resolve things instead of a vengeful spirit stalking and killing people. So, I certainly do not knock the climax one bit, but an audience could feel like a little extra punch was desired after all the spooky paranormal happenings throughout the film. There’s just not much of a climactic pay-off for the scary elements in the film. Overall, I do highly recommend Stir of Echoes as a smart and suspenseful film that has some refreshing turns on the old ghost stories premise.
I have a tendency to miss out on great films in the theatre due to an uncertainty about them. I can get so used to how mainstream films are marketed that when I see something distinctly different, it’s hard to be sold on it. Thankfully, better late than never, some trusted word of mouth finally got me to check out Drive. To my sensibilities, this is an astonishing, flat out amazing film. This feels like if Michael Mann made a movie between Thief and Manhunter, and was scored by Tangerine Dream. This is fully evocative of a 1980s neo noir crime thriller with its sense of tone and atmosphere and using a magnificent soundtrack to envelop an audience into its emotion. Beyond that, I feel Drive is also brilliant.
Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stunt driver by day that moonlights as a wheelman for criminals by night. He’s employed and aided by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a former stuntman who is propositioning the shady Bernard Rose (Albert Brooks) to invest in a race car venture with this “Driver” as their star. Though a loner by nature, the Driver can’t help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband. After a heist goes wrong, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals including Rose himself and the bull-headed Nino (Ron Perlman). Soon he realizes the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash, and is forced to shift gears into a brutal, unrelenting head-on collision.
I will grant that the film is not heavy on plot. It’s fairly simple and straight forward keeping itself contained to a small collection of characters. Some might find that a letdown. However, the substance of this film is in the presentation. Ryan Gosling’s character is very minimal on dialogue allowing his presence and the atmosphere of the film to carry the Driver’s weight. The performance alone is very understated and low key, but not skimping on intensity or humanity. His carefully chosen words hold purpose, and Gosling’s soft spoken delivery forces an audience to focus their attention closely. Sometimes, a lack of dialogue can bring a mystique and an intriguing quality to a character, and Gosling sparks that magic. His performance allows you to read more into the man instead of him telling you about who he is, and that’s not an easy thing to pull off. The scenes where the Driver and Irene are together bring a subtle charm and heart to the surface. You see the brightness in the soul of this character that contrasts, and later, compliments his grittier, darker side. When he has to become that more intimidating, brutal person later on, Gosling has no problem being convincing. You can feel his visceral intensity permeating the screen. I was impacted hard by those razor sharp moments, and this all comes together in a rock solid piece of work by Ryan Gosling. This is my first exposure to his talent, and I couldn’t be more blown away. Also, wrapping him in that Scorpion jacket is just wickedly cool.
Carey Mulligan puts in a gracefully beautiful performance. She and Gosling have a fine chemistry that gives the film its warmth and purpose. Their performances reflect nicely off of one another with heart and subtlety. She never has to say a word to reflect Irene’s emotional conflict over her feelings between her husband and the Driver. Mulligan touchingly shows that in her eyes and expressions, and how she gravitates to this new charming, under spoken man in her life. It’s an engaging and inviting piece of work.
Albert Brooks is a shocking powerhouse heavy here. He’s intimidating as all hell while still having his light hearted, humorous moments. Still, I never stopped getting that shady feeling from him that he was a mob boss that could slash your wrist or stab you in the eye with a fork without batting an eyelash. There’s such a fine line the character treads that Brooks walks with ease. Even when he’s being friendly, there’s still that sense of unease behind everything he says, and even before you know he’s a mob boss, you get the feeling that there’s something not entirely straight about Bernie Rose. For me, he ranks amongst the best like Christopher Walken in True Romance or Robert Prosky in Thief. He can turn from being your best friend to your absolute worst enemy in half a heartbeat without even seeing a shift in the character’s manner. It’s all rather matter of fact with him, and Brooks carries the appropriate weight to achieve these character traits throughout the picture. I love Albert Brooks’ performance supremely.
The supporting cast is also finely textured. Bryan Cranston has a broken down heartfelt sympathy as Shannon, the mechanic and former stuntman that aids and endorses Gosling’s character. He’s a good natured person who gets in too heavy with the wrong people, and you can’t help but feel for him when things turn worse. Ron Perlman’s gangster character of Nino is interesting. He’s a Jewish man trying to make himself out to be an Italian mobster. It’s not an overt part of his performance, but it ties into Nino’s motivations for being a “belligerent asshole,” as Bernie Rose puts it. Nino has plenty of bravado and ego, but not a lot of good sense. Perlman nicely inhabits those qualities with plenty of enthusiasm. Oscar Isaac does well as Irene’s husband Standard. The character clearly stands out as a person stuck in a number of unwanted situations. These criminals are violently pressuring him to do this job for him to pay back his debt, and it’s subtlety obvious that his wife does not want to be with him, anymore. Isaac shows the character’s regret well, and comes off more of a sorry man than a sympathetic one. He’s a guy that’s made a mess of things, and knows nothing will ever be okay ever again. The damage is done, and he’s just trying to sweep it under the rug as neatly as possible. However, he’s endangered the lives of his wife and son, and the Driver has no sympathy for the man. He only helps him out for the benefit of Irene and Benicio. These actors all add a strong array of emotion to the film which heightens the tone and atmosphere.
Now, speaking of atmosphere, the score constantly hit me as something very akin to Tangerine Dream’s score for Risky Business. It has that very light, dreamy quality to it most times, but does delve into very dark, heavy territories. There are foreboding, tense moments in this score that are just mesmerizing. Cliff Martinez crafts a deeply enveloping auditory experience which soaks into nearly every fiber of the film, but the filmmakers pick key moments where silence holds more weight than a soundtrack. The collection of songs in this film retain that 1980s ambient synth-pop quality, but have a modern quality that is beyond my ability to articulate. From my own independent filmmaking experiences, I know how insanely difficult it is to find modern original music that sounds like it came from the 1980s. So, the fact that music supervisors Eric Craig and Brian McNeils discovered and assembled music of this amazing style and quality impresses me to no end. I purchased the CD soundtrack, and it now ranks as one of my absolute favorites of all time.
The chase scenes of Drive are masterful. The first one is exceptionally smart being tactical in evading the police instead of going for outright action. That aspect come later after the botched robbery. It’s short and to the point being very slam bang intense, and not over indulging in itself. The opening sequence is exceptionally refreshing by being intelligent. On top of being realistic and smart, it is an excellent introduction to our main character showing his precision as a getaway driver. These scenes are expertly shot accentuating the distinct tones and tensions of both sequences.
When this film gets brutal, it holds nothing back, and hardly goes in predictable directions. The Driver never relies on a gun, and instead, goes with blunt force trauma to inflict violence upon people. The scene where he goes into the strip club wouldn’t be nearly as effective if he just brandished a gun the guy’s face. When you see the Driver pull out a hammer, you know this is going to be dead serious business, and it’s not going to be pretty. It’s a startling, powerful sequence which further propels the character’s threat level. He’s not just some cool headed amazing driver, he’s a dangerous man not worth crossing. The violence overall is graphic and gory, and shockingly unsettling. Emotion just pours through these scenes.
I am further floored by the cinematography talents of Newton Thomas Sigel. I’ve previously reviewed his work on The Usual Suspects and Fallen – both gorgeous films with their own identities. Drive is no different. No shot is ever wasted, and every composition is chosen with purpose. How the film is shot reflects the artistic vision realized with the music, acting, and editing. The film has inspired moments of absolute cinematic beauty due to Sigel’s artistic brilliance. The elevator scene late in the film is a magnificent example of this. The lighting and color tones used throughout create rich visuals which enhance the film’s atmosphere further.
This is a film where every element is cohesively used to create a powerfully enveloping experience. The conservative editing style of Matthew Newman allows Sigel’s shots to hold their weight, and establish a somber or rich tone that draws an audience into every moment. The music enhances those moments to create a wonderfully vibrant sonic quality for even the most still or fluid sequences. I haven’t seen a film like this since Manhunter. The music plays such a prominent role in creating a rich atmosphere that is as in the forefront of the picture as the actors. Each aspect is integral towards what is a wonderfully engrossing motion picture.
Drive is something which shows what independent film can do. It takes chances. It goes for a filmmaking style that has not really been around in more than twenty years. It takes an immensely effective way of crafting and presenting a film that a major studio would likely not embrace. It’s an intelligent, fresh, and creative film that feeds the senses. It gives you white knuckle action, a heartfelt romantic storyline, strong character drama, graphic brutality, gorgeous cinematic moments, intelligent writing, amazing performances, and a beautiful, exciting soundtrack. It’s hard to imagine all of these phenomenal visual and auditory elements coming across in a screenplay, but Hossein Amini clearly wrote something truly inspiring on those script pages to inspire the amazing film we ultimately got. I know nothing of the James Sallis novel this was based on, but clearly, the written word captured the vibrant imagination of these filmmakers. I will admit that Drive is not a mass audience movie as it requires an appreciation for a certain filmmaking style, but for those that love a slick 1980s style crime thriller that utilizes strong atmosphere and a prominent synth-pop soundtrack to wrap you up in its story and characters, this is absolutely for you. In my view, Drive is a meticulously crafted masterpiece of cinema born out of a bold vision from director Nicolas Winding Refn. I love this film thoroughly, and I cannot give it a higher recommendation than that.
There are countless interpretations of vampires out there. Whether it is from Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, John Carpenter, or Joss Whedon – vampires will continue to be explored in literature, films, and television. What Anne Rice has presented the world is a very classical, romantic, and aristocratic view of nosferatu. It seems that many may have soured to this interpretation in recent years, at least in the filmed media. With films like The Lost Boys, Fright Night, John Carpenter’s Vampires, and the television series of Angel and Buffy The Vampire Slayer integrating vampires into a modern setting with pop culture references and humor. Still, Anne Rice’s view will likely remain the most traditional perception.
Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) has chosen to grant an interview to a persistent reporter in Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) in present day San Francisco, California. Louis is, in fact, a vampire. This easily takes Daniel by surprise, and is even more shocked to learn it is true. Louis tells the tale of his life in darkness, as a vampire. After the death of his wife and child in the year 1791, life lost its meaning for him, and he welcomed death at every turn. Although, it would never come until he met Lestat (Tom Cruise), who offered him a new life where pain, death, and disease would no longer be a burden to him. Still, he would have no idea the endless agony that would await him. Louis spins the tale of two hundred years from Louisiana to Paris and beyond. Encountering others of his kind, leaving a trail of blood, pain, sorrow, and death behind him. It is a compelling and enthralling story which has many twists and some surprises.
There’s so much to praise about this film. Director Neil Jordan gives us a beautiful sense of time and place. With so much of this film being a period piece extending from the late eighteenth century to the present day, that is the most critical element in this film. The landscapes are indeed gorgeous with a rich depth and a textured history. The production designs and values are impressive and masterful. This is award winning work. I don’t think I really have the words to express how spectacular, epic, and grand it all is. Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography compliments it all greatly and beautifully. I have never seen anything else from Jordan, but I know that this film shows an immense breadth of artistry that I’m sure transcends into his other films. Though, elegance is essentially the one word to describe this film. Every second is filled with it from Elliot Goldenthal’s classical score to the performance of the actors.
Brad Pitt is sympathetic as a tortured man condemned to endure it all forever. As a vampire, who knows for certain if he has a soul (again, depends on your chosen interpretation of them), but it becomes hard to dispute that Louis does. He so tries to fight against his nature, to be a decent person, and thus, eventually finds nothing but agony from this eternity. He does not seek death – he could easily step into the daylight and let himself fry – but some form of peace and solitude from eternal damnation. Pitt portrays and emotes all of this to a tragic degree, but by the late twentieth century, he seems to have come to terms with most everything.
The flip side of this comes from Tom Cruise. His Lestat finds nothing but pleasure and wonder in his reign as a vampire. He is somewhat reminiscent of Julian Sands in Warlock – someone with a high sense of elegance and charm, but underneath this gentle facade is pure, delicious, sadistic evil. Although, Lestat is far more naturally cultured and arrogant. Up until this film, Tom Cruise had been the young heartthrob leading man with the million dollar smile. He was the hero, the nice guy. Here, he shows us his dark side, a striking performance that showed the world he had a talent no one imagined he had. Cruise wouldn’t step into another dark, let alone villainous role for another nine years in Michael Mann’s Collateral as the sociopathic contract killer Vincent. As Lestat, he shines with ease, and enjoys every magnificent moment of it. Kirsten Dunst won several awards for her portrayal of the girl who would be eternally young by way of the blood of a vampire. Those awards were well deserved, and easily launched her young career forward starring in dozens of films in the subsequent years.
The story eventually moves forward to Paris where new characters come into play. Stephen Rea portrays Santiago as a very playful, mischievous, but still sadistic creature of the night. It’s a fun performance, giving the film a different spark of life when it really needs it. After the departure of Lestat from the story, these new personalities are quite welcomed. Antonio Banderas, as always, is marvelous. As Armand, he carries much weight about him, and has a powerful presence and allure. He easily becomes the main antagonist at this point in the film. He is more directly evil and seductive than Lestat. Outside the view of the public, he makes no allusions to being anything but what he truly is. Louis calls he and his minions monsters, and that is indeed true. The final talent to mention is Christian Slater. While his role is minimal, it is well played with an apprehension and fear. The late River Phoenix was originally chosen to play this role, but when he met an untimely and tragic death, Slater stepped in to deliver a solid performance.
Louis’ story is filled with much emotional richness with so much tragedy, love, heartbreak, and pathos. It surely has a different quality to something like Highlander where immortals are still human, can still do most things any other person can, but simply have to live for centuries on end enduring life on a larger canvas of time. Here, Louis is tortured because he has become something ungodly and so against his nature. He’s a man who comes to realize that he only traded one kind of pain for another, and now, must live with it for eternity. It’s a journey that might be a little romanticized, but it is mostly sorrowful and somber. His story is populated with rich, fascinating characters in a wide, sprawling, gorgeous world.
Overall, I must say that this is a remarkable film. It is wonderfully constructed. Everything blends and weaves together in an enrapturing narrative. The editing remains wholly coherent and competent. You never got lost in the timeline of events, or in the few flashes from the present to the past. Anne Rice adapted her own novel for the film, and while I know nothing to the novel itself, I surely get the feeling that it is faithful from how much care clearly went into the film. The film also definitely has its share of scares and frightening moments while gore is kept to a respectable minimum, but showcases some wonderful makeup work. The movie concludes with a Guns N’ Roses cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” which I find very appropriate. The lyrics of the song are very much akin to Lestat and those like him in the film. Many never liked this cover deeming it tacky, but I truly enjoy it. It was the last thing recorded with anything resembling the classic line-up of the band. However, as far as the film goes, it was critically and commercially successful. I have no qualms about it, and give it a perfect score! While it might not be every horror fans’ taste, this is an extremely well made film showcasing an abundance of talent in every frame from everyone involved. It gets my highest recommendation.
Admittedly, I am not a book reader. Whatever my issue, I find it difficult to sit down and read a full novel. So, while I have a good amount of say regarding this film, I have no frame of reference on the James Patterson novel it was based on. I like the Alex Cross character very much in what Morgan Freeman has given us, but with all of two films from more than a decade ago, it’s never been much of a film franchise. Both this and its follow-up Along Came A Spider (whose novel is actually a prequel to this) have similar problems, but Kiss the Girls is definitely the better of the two. Still, it doesn’t live up to the potential it could’ve had.
Washington, D.C. forensic psychologist Dr. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) travels to North Carolina to investigate the apparent kidnapping of his niece Naomi. The local police have the evidence, but not the investigative intuitiveness to put the pieces together. Meanwhile, the strong willed, yet compassionate surgeon Dr. Kate McTiernan (Ashley Judd) is abducted and later escapes from this collector and killer of exceptional woman who calls himself “Casanova.” Now, aided by the sole escapee, Cross begins an investigation that takes him from one coast to the other and back trying to identify and capture the disillusioned “great lover.”
The actors in the film’s central focus, Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, are both very good. Judd makes Kate a very empowering character from the start, and she is easily presented as someone you can care about and feel strength from throughout. She’s physically tough, is confident, determined, but also, shows that she has vulnerability and compassion. It’s great that the film introduces her prior to her abduction in order for the audience to see the woman as she is naturally. From there, we are emotionally connected with her through her trauma and recovery. She was a strong person before, and this experience merely solidifies those qualities within her. Judd has plenty of gravitas and vibrancy. She keeps Kate McTiernan a forefront character that continues to stand tall throughout the narrative. It easily demonstrates the strong core of Ashley Judd’s acting ability, and why she has become such a revered talent over these many years.
Freeman is masterful as Alex Cross. He’s always been a very intellectual actor allowing the audience to see the gears turning in his head, and establishing a very particular manner for his roles. He inhabits them all well, and makes them subtly distinct. In this role, he shows us one of the best investigative minds in fiction. Cross is able to see the lines of connection that others can’t because he’s so detail oriented in his work, the same as Freeman is with his acting. When he walks into the squad room with all the abduction victims on the board, it doesn’t take him long to put it all together to understand why they were picked, and what Casanova’s agenda is. Just how Freeman’s eyes operate in a scene say so much of what Alex Cross is thinking and deducing. Cross is also tempered. He is calm and calculating in his investigative process. While the local cops are all a little smarmy and egotistical, Cross maintains a cool perspective on everything bringing a serious psychology to the case. He rarely allows his emotions to dictate his behavior, but even if he doesn’t show it, they can influence it. There’s no denying his personal stakes in this investigation, and that alters how he handles everything. In an interrogation scene, he can’t help but become enraged as a sleazy suspect talks sexually ill of his niece, and that shows that Cross is just as human as anyone. While he can remain focused and professional, maintaining his cool in dangerous situations, he has his limits. Still, he is able to rebound, admit his errors, and ultimately tie things up. Alex Cross, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman, is truly a fascinating characters full of potential. However, despite the strength of the character and the actor, that is not enough to lift the film into exceptional territory.
The unfortunate side of things is that the story and how it unfolds lacks compelling development. The bi-coastal killer plotline with the Gentleman Caller essentially has no pertinent relevance to hunting down Casanova. It comes off as a divergence ultimately added just to throw in some gunfire and stakeout scenes. While it does connect with the main story, it’s ancillary. You could cut it out, and it wouldn’t make a real difference towards the capture of Casanova. It only amounts to a gunshot echoing through the woods that leads Cross to finding the lair, and in time, they likely would’ve found it, regardless. This subplot is there so the characters have somewhere to go and something to do until the final act with its weak twist ending.
This is a negative mark against both Alex Cross films. They both have these twist endings that come out of nowhere which have no organic flow from the story or characters. By how Kiss the Girls is presented, Casanova could’ve turned out to be anyone or no one. Casanova ends up being a character that’s been there in the film all along, but no one knew it. The problem is that there is zero evidence presented throughout the movie towards that end. You take Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects for an example here. When you watch that movie for the first time, you see his performance in one way. However, on repeat viewings you see an entirely different performance because of what you discover at the film’s ending. Spacey himself hasn’t changed, but your perception of the character has. You see a subtle thing here or there that does seem peculiar, and does add up to something more substantive and telling later on. Unfortunately, none of that is here in Kiss the Girls. You can’t re-watch this movie and pick up on something you didn’t notice before in the performance of the actor who turns out to be Casanova. It’s played straight in every scene as if the character is exactly who he appears to be, but then, the performance changes entirely once the twist ending begins. That is very shallow and generic work from script to direction and beyond. A movie with a twist ending like this needs those little clues you can pick up on throughout, but not be able to fully assemble them until our protagonist has. However, when you look back, you see how all the pieces of the puzzle come together seamlessly. None of that exists in this screenplay or film. The ultimate reveal of who Casanova is turns out to be unsatisfying because of this issue.
This is not to say that the actor in question handles this turn poorly. It’s quite an exceptional performance that has substance and an unsettling quality. He sells it well, and doesn’t need a mask or shadows to make him appear intimidating and chilling. It’s simply the execution and lack of pre-existing evidence to that effect which is the failure here. Not to mention, the film ends kind of flat. It’s more about structure than anything. Casanova is dispatched with, and the film ends. All of the character resolution happens before this to make way for the surprise twist after the audience has let their guard down.
I feel like Alex Cross is an extraordinary character inserted into a mediocre film. The story structure is not tight enough to remain thoroughly satisfying, and the mystery of Casanova is not complex enough to really take advantage of Cross’ compelling intellect. There is more mystery about finding Casanova than actually exploring him. In another similar film like Manhunter, it’s all about putting every little piece of forensic and psychological evidence of the killer together to drive the protagonist of Will Graham towards confronting and stopping Francis Dollarhyde. Finding him is as important as discovering who he is from the inside out because they are symbiotic. It’s a chain reaction of one revelation begetting another. Within Alex Cross’ first moments on the case, he’s already figured out Casanova from the inside out, and it just becomes about finding and identifying him. However, this happens so early on in the storyline that actually finding Casanova requires the film to tangle up in a lot of unnecessary plot developments. It’s a great aspect of the character of Cross that he can do that, but it’s also a complication in the plot progression. Every new plot development is a red herring. It misdirects the characters towards something that ends up at a dead end, and only serves to pad out the run time. Also, the Gentleman Caller subplot almost immediately can be perceived as a bust to the audience because his behavior is such a stark opposite to what we experienced with Casanova earlier. Casanova is not a violent, impulsive person. He’s more subdued and even tempered. It’s not a good swerve in the plot, and results in no furthering of the plot or characters.
On the positive side, the cinematography of Aaron Schneider envelopes this film with excellent visual atmosphere. There is definitely some neo noir edge present with strong blacks, a little haze, and solid blue tones throughout. There’s enough light and shadow at play with a restrained color scheme to create a consistently tense visual style. It never gets too heavy, but it surely sets the tone of the world we’re delving into. Despite the shortcomings in the screenplay and story, Schneider’s work makes Kiss the Girls look especially good. The camera work itself might not be of particular note, but its subtle touches punctuate the right dramatic beats. One can take or leave the heavy use of Dutch angles in the final scene, but it’s probably more of sign of the times in the late 90s.
Adding upon that is the very good production design which gives life and personality to various environments. The police squad room looks authentic looking to have many years of use behind it. Casanova’s lair has its peculiar warmth in stark contrast to Dr. Rudolph’s cold, modern home. I like how Kate notes that it doesn’t feel like Casanova, and that design element alone fuel hers and Cross’ inquisitive minds. The environments reflect the characters that primarily inhabit them, and the cinematography captures them perfectly.
The supporting cast is good, some better than others, but none of them have much importance to the story being told. They serve their purposes and roles well, but in most cases, they are easily forgettable. Plus, I find it surprising that the always astounding Brian Cox is wasted in a minor role as Chief Hatfield. He puts in a strong performance, but why use such a powerful, diverse actor in what is essentially a nothing role? This film just seems to have a bad habit of wasting its potential.
I don’t have much exposure to director Gary Fleder’s other work. I recall seeing Runaway Jury several years ago, but it was more the performances from the heavyweight cast that made the impression more than anything. Here, it’s obvious he has a good handle on how to present the genre, and get some stellar performances out of his main actors. However, the loose storyline and pointless plot developments show that he’s not so much interested in presenting a tightly wrapped, riveting, or smart thriller as just going by the numbers. He tries to pass this off as a mystery when there’s only enough genuine storyline to fit into a 30-45 minute film. Everything else is pointless filler that amounts to nothing. Again, I do not know if these issues exist in James Patterson’s novel, but in this film, that’s what I perceive.
Kiss the Girls had the right base elements for a hell of a good thriller with an amazing lead character backed by an equally great actor. Ashley Judd anchors the film well giving Freeman someone to carry the weight with him. The film is boosted further with some nicely atmospheric noir cinematography. The premise is good but underdeveloped. There’s no real chase involved between Cross and Casanova. Nothing where one has to be more cunning than the other to stay ahead. That takes away the urgency, or at least, the relevant immediacy of the plot. You never get the feeling that there’s a connection between the hunter and the hunted, and the best films of this genre establish that in one way or another. Casanova never reacts to Cross as genuine threat, and Cross is too busy chasing down false leads to truly be in sync with his prey. Kiss the Girls is a decent thriller that is generally enjoyable, but lacks enough relevant plot developments to make it anything more than average. Again, Alex Cross feels like a potentially iconic character waiting for a film that is as intelligent and intriguing as he is. Whether we will eventually get that remains to be seen.
Brilliance! That is what this film has always been to me. It had controversy surrounding it when it was made and released, but time resolves these issues. Films that take chances and tackle some explicit subject matter often polarize audiences, but all I ever saw from this was a hell of an entertaining, genius piece of cinema. A true twisted classic that introduced me to one of my favorite actors of all time.
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is an empty man. He lacks emotion, he lacks a sense of reality, and seriously lacks a genuine sense of humanity. “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman…but I simply am not there.” For whatever perverse reason, Patrick Bateman is completely disassociated from the rest of humanity. He’s a Wall Street executive that really does nothing all day long, but earns loads of money despite it. He finds many people despicable from his girlfriend Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) to his own co-workers to the random homeless man on the street. By night, he has a terrible bloodlust that he is slowly losing control of. But the question ends up being – what is reality and what is just pure fantasy? This is a dark, dark journey through the mind of one demented and empty individual – welcome to the life of Patrick Bateman.
Christian Bale is a marvel! I really was not familiar at all with Bale before this film, but afterwards, I took close notice of him. When I heard he was up for the role of Batman / Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins I was 100% in support of him, and he proved me and many others right. The man has brilliant acting abilities, and fully immerses himself within his roles, both mentally and physically. As Patrick Bateman, he plays the role with a lot of fun. The manic and maddening nature of Bateman is brought out fully under Bale’s talents, and it becomes a wholly satisfying performance that will disturb and entertain. Bateman is a seriously sick man, and honestly has no comfort zone in this world of ours – probably why he becomes lost in his own world of fantasy. Bale just plays it up like I believe no one else ever possibly could. His moments of introspection are unsettling as he knows that he’s a sociopath, but has no idea just how far off the deep end he will go.
The supporting cast is wonderful as well. They give quite the counter-balance to Bateman’s madness and hysteria. Reese Witherspoon has a small, yet pertinent role as Bateman’s girlfriend who is a regular materialistic, high society snob that’s rather oblivious to Patrick in general, and Bateman, in return, cannot stomach her. Willem Dafoe wonderfully portrays Detective Donald Kimball, who is hired to investigate the disappearance of one of Patrick’s co-workers – Paul Allen (Jared Leto). Through the brilliance of Dafoe’s acting and Mary Harron’s directing, you never quite know what Kimball does or doesn’t know. He keeps Bateman guessing – not to mention sweating. While much has been admittedly attributed to editing two different performances by Dafoe, he delivers both qualities with a great deal of skill. He has fantastic chemistry with Bale.
Jared Leto is also wonderfully hilarious as Paul Allen. There’s enough satire in what he does to make the character not simply a stuck-up moron. Leto plays stupid very intelligently. He holds up his end of the scenes with Bale equally well. He’s immensely entertaining, and an excellent encapsulation of this film’s satirical mindset. The entire cast is just great. They all play very intriguing characters, and they all do so extremely well. There’s not a negative note about any of it.
The music in this film plays up the off-balance mental state of Bateman. It goes between very high class music reflecting an affluent sensibility, and Bateman’s love of contemporary pop music. With this being set in the late 1980s, the soundtrack is rich with songs from Phil Collins, Robert Palmer, and Huey Lewis & The News. When this music is set against particular scenes, it accentuates Bateman’s dementia to an extreme. My favorite is with Lewis’ “Hip to be Square” where Bale engages in the lamest little dance which is actually a stroke of improvisational brilliance on Christian Bale’s part. If ever I were to meet Mr. Bale, I’d love to put this song on the stereo, and have him re-enact that moment. It cracks me up like crazy. The score is beautifully composed by John Cale, and it was an absolute stroke of genius to take this route.
This film is a dark satire on 1980s American capitalism in how the desire for wealth dominates everyone’s lives, and how it dwarfs their sense of humanity and morality. Most of the characters are so full of themselves that they can barely tell one person apart from another, or at least, don’t place enough worth on anyone else to care. Mistaken identities are abound in the film, which is an allegory to how Bateman has no real sense of self. Everything in the film reflects upon that since it is all told from his perspective. With Christian Bale being a Welshman, I’m sure that allowed him to bring an original perspective towards the satirical subject matter and Bateman himself.
American Psycho was mainly controversial for its use of explicit sex, violence, and twisted psychological subject matter. That means the film is not for everyone as these are all taken to generous extremes, especially in the highly satisfying unrated cut. There are a lot of great sequences in this film because of those elements, none that I will spoil for you, but many are there to reveal the fact that Patrick Bateman tries to emulate certain behaviors. From a pornographic video to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, he integrates them into his twisted fantasies, but there remains the question – how real are they? The psychological ambiguity of this film is masterful. There is plenty of evidence to support whatever theory you choose, but you have to look at the subtleties to truly grasp all the possible meanings. Did Bateman actually do all these horrendous, violent acts, and the world is just so consumed with greed, self-importance, and indifference that it doesn’t matter? Or is Bateman so far out of his mind that he cannot separate his own sick fantasies from hard reality? Both theories are fascinating to explore, and neither can be entirely discounted. This is not one of those films which presents you all the evidence, and just leaves you blowing in the wind as the credits roll. That’s where Patrick Bateman’s internal monologues come in. They give you a perspective on these things, and allows you to see it all through his eyes. And even at the end, Bateman doesn’t know what to believe, but with that internal voice, an audience gains the only thing that matters – what it all means to Bateman.
American Psycho is a crazed psychological descent into a giant black void that is filled with immense entertainment values. You can indulge yourself in Bateman’s over-the-top manic madness, or get completely freaked out by it – or both. Whatever the case, director Mary Harron delivered a massively unique and fascinating adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel. It gave Christian Bale what was most likely his breakout role. I absolutely love this film, and if that means I’m a bit strange, then I find that to be nothing new. I give American Psycho a perfect score and my strongest recommendation to whoever feels this is for them.
Where do I start in reviewing such a masterpiece? Francis Ford Coppolla directed what is generally considered the most faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, and for most people’s money (including mine) Gary Oldman (JFK, Léon The Professional) delivers the most definitive and frightening incarnation of Count Dracula. This all can easily be attributed to James V. Hart’s screenplay being so rich in character, dialogue, and respect to its source material. Coppolla delivers quite the intriguing visual experience, and while many of the effects are dated by today’s standards, they fit in well with the style and tone of the film.
The tale of Dracula is one of love that endures through death. Dracula (Gary Oldman) was once a soldier fighting the Turks in war, and was a man of faith. Unfortunately, despite his victory over his foes, the Turks brought word of Dracula’s death at their hands, and his dearest love, Elizabeta (Winona Ryder) is stricken with such unbearable grief that she plunges to her death. When Dracula returns to learn this, he is driven into a maddening rage. He cannot understand how his God would allow this injustice to happen. He renounces God, shuns him, and practically declares war against him. Dracula vows that he will rise again from his own death to avenge the death of his beloved.
Flash forward to some centuries later, and Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) is sent out to meet with a mysterious Count in Transylvania after one R.M. Reinfield has gone wholly mad. The Count is set to move into a new estate in England, and Mr. Harker is there to deal with the final paperwork and such. Jonathan must leave his beautiful wife-to-be Mina (Winona Ryder), but the Count becomes aware that his beloved has been reborn as Jonathan’s own. Harker is very mystified and weary about the strange happenings at the castle all throughout this land of Transylvania, and soon, he falls prey to the Count’s evil. Dracula soon begins his quest to reclaiming his eternal beloved, but as he moves in closer and closer, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Sir Anthony Hopkins) is brought into the mix. Dr. Jack Seward (who has been overseeing a clearly certifiable R.M. Reinfield) calls him in, being an old student of the Professor. Soon, Van Helsing deduces the supernatural happenings, and concludes it is the work of the undead, a nosferatu, a vampire. Soon, the hurt begins, and there is much carnage left on the path to the ultimate confrontation between the living and the undead. The story comes together in a very unique way, and very fitting for this strange tale of love that will never die.
The creature effects here are outstanding! The creatures of the night are given a massive life of their own, and will frighten you to a great extent. The makeup effects on Oldman are stellar as well, making him look to be a very elderly Count, or the wonderfully young Prince Vlad. The transformations the character goes through are simply amazing, and just on these levels, it beats out all other cinematic presentations of Dracula (or most any other vampire). From wolves, to giant man-bats, to god knows what other unholy abomination. Coppolla and Columbia definitely spent their money well on the makeup effects. As stated earlier, the visual effects are rather dated, but they fit well into the overall look and style of the film. However, they were all created practically, in-camera without any optical or digital composites. Coppolla details this well in the special edition DVD release.
I’m really eager to speak about the acting in this film, but not for the reason you may think – Keanu Reeves. Okay, I happen to be a Keanu fan. I’ve seen many of his films from Bill & Ted to Point Break to The Matrix to Constantine to Street Kings, but frankly, hearing Keanu trying to pull off a genuine English accent is bad cinema, really bad. And him working off of Gary Oldman for most of the film only makes him appear worse than he’s being. Keanu can deliver a fun and/or interesting performance in the right film, but this just doesn’t play to his style. Reportedly, Coppolla cast Reeves just so he’d have a “hot young star to appeal to teenage girls.” Why he felt that was required, I don’t know, and again, I have nothing but respect for Keanu, but this just wasn’t his kind of role. Anyway, onto the strong performances. Gary Oldman is where it all lies here. A Dracula film hinges on the power of the actor in the title role, and you couldn’t get any better than Oldman. The man has proven his diversity in countless films, and is absolutely one of the greatest actors of our time. He plays the infamous undead Count with such insidious charisma and lust. As the elderly Dracula, he is very creepy, eerie, and devious. He plays it up so well that it’ll make your skin crawl. As the young Dracula who attempts to illicit the love of Mina (Winona Ryder), he’s very mysterious, seductive, and still rather creepy. All in all, it’s a masterful performance, and it baffles me why Oldman wasn’t nominated for an Oscar or a Golden Globe. He did win Best Actor at the Saturn Awards, though. Joining him on the darker side of things is Tom Waits as the delusional and especially crazed Reinfield – a wonderfully satisfying performance. He certainly brings a special flavor to his few scenes acting as a prophet of doom (kind of like Crazy Ralph in Friday The 13th, only completely out of his mind).
On the protagonists’ side, we have the ever impressive Sir Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, The Mask of Zorro) as the venerable Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Hopkins’ performance is quite lively and jovial, but overall powerful. It’s a clever and endearing performance, and despite the character’s unorthodox, verbose style, he really makes himself a favorite. He portrays a very interesting adversary for the immortal undead Count of Transylvania. While Hopkins easily has the hero lead, you also have great talents such as Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Saw), Richard E. Grant (Warlock), and the female lead in Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands, A Scanner Darkly). Winona does a fine job in this role which requires strength, fear, vulnerability, and simple beauty. She’s the object of obsession for Count Dracula, and she is the woman he has renounced God for, and has forced himself into eternal damnation over. All of these marvelous talents are well handled by the very seasoned Coppolla who is no stranger to star studded cast overflowing with sharp talent.
The score from Wojciech Kilar is absolutely awesome. It’s practically operatic, and very dramatic stuff. It’s grand, it’s powerful, and scary all at the same time. It’s an absolute wonder to experience, and makes the film even better than it was. This music is so haunting at times, and frankly, this is how a classic horror film should sound. I can’t say anything negative about it because it makes the film so much larger than life. It enhances everything on screen.
The costume design is as intricate and detailed as you would imagine. It has depth and character to it as well as grace, and in other parts, a very strange appeal. Oldman’s wardrobe is especially impressive and has become iconic. Every character is aided and enhanced by their wardrobe, and it helps breath further life into the picture. In addition to the fantastically exhaustive production design work, it gives the picture a sense of texture, personality, and history.
All in all, every part of this film makes it live and pulsate with power. Aside from Keanu, all the performances are masterful, the makeup effects are absolutely amazing, and I challenge you to find a more intense classic horror film score than this one! Overall, this is one solid, taut, and frightening film from a master filmmaker in Francis Ford Coppolla. If you’re looking for a genuinely scary, haunting, and chilling horror film – you absolutely cannot go wrong here. Frankly, I do not have the knowledge to compare this to every other Dracula film that’s come around, but general consensus has left this fine film with a strong reputation that has endured. I am glad to contribute to that with a solid endorsement for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The Exorcist franchise is like a roller-coaster – lots of ups and downs. The original film is an eternal, bona-fide classic. The Exorcist II, while I have never seen it, is generally revered as a terrible mess of a film. Things swing upward with William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III. Blatty adapts his novel Legion into this theatrical outing with him directing as well. While this film is very much in a far better direction, there was studio interference which mostly complicated and muddled the film’s ending. Still, there’s a surprisingly creepy piece of horror cinema to behold that has gradually become one of my favorite horror films of all time.
Set fifteen years after the events of the first film, we mainly follow Lieutenant Bill Kinderman (now portrayed by George C. Scott) who has formed a friendship with Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), friend and confidante of the late Damien Karras. It’s an odd friendship built on a love of movies and the memory of Karras. The Lieutenant is investigating an eerie string of disturbing murders that harkens back to those of the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), who was executed fifteen years earlier. There’s a religious subtext to some of the murders, but none of the forensic evidence pieces together from one death to the next. Things become stranger when investigating at the hospital Kinderman discovers an isolated mental patient who claims to be James Venamun, the Gemini Killer, but bares a striking resemblance to Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). He is clearly insane, but knows everything about the original Gemini killings. He also refers constantly to “the master” who slipped him into this body as Karras was slipping out after his fateful fall down the steps fighting Pazuzu. Kinderman can’t see the evil within, but he feels it and knows the death and dismemberment it has caused. As Kinderman comes closer to deciphering this demonic mystery, his own soul and life could easily be in danger as well as others’.
This is a positive review, but I’m going to start out with the bad first, just to change up the template. The ending to this film was changed because after the studio renamed the film from the novel’s title of Legion to The Exorcist III, they realized there wasn’t a single exorcism in the script. To accommodate this, an extra plot line was introduced which bought Jason Miller back, and a line about seeing through “the eyes of faith” to accommodate having footage of both Dourif and Miller portraying the same general character. None of that is really a problem in terms of storytelling or the quality of the film. It’s all handled and balanced beautifully through clever editing and storytelling. Where the problem lies is the climax and conclusion of the film. What we’re inevitably left with is an overly grandiose exorcism with a breadth of fantastical, biblical, and blasphemous imagery which seems a little out of place and over-the-top. Granted, there is a heavenly dream sequence with a wealth of respective imagery. Also, there are supernatural elements throughout the film, but they’re more subtle. This ending breaks the restraints and lets loose the floodgates. In one perspective, it might seem appropriate like the gates of hell have been breached, and everything is being unleashed. However, to my perspective, it doesn’t seem to mesh all that well with the rest of the film’s style, and twists the story into an odd direction which isn’t as satisfying or coherent as it probably could’ve been. There’s also the dictated addition of Father Paul Morning (Nicol Williamson) to the film who is not given any character building scenes to integrate him into the story. This addition causes some storytelling problems, and seems like an irrelevant diversion from the plot until the finale justifies it. All of this doesn’t kill the movie, but I would’ve been interested to see what Blatty originally had in mind. Apparently, the novel does not have a happy ending.
Onto the good stuff. George C. Scott commands this movie. From the guy who won an Academy Award for his powerhouse portrayal of General George S. Patton (though, declined the award), that’s to be expected. He offers up a dry sense of humor, some degree of grief, but overall, he provides conviction and intensity to Bill Kinderman. The highly acclaimed character actor Lee J. Cobb originated the role in the 1973 film, but the actor passed away from a heart attack three years later. Ed Flanders takes over the role of Father Dyer from the real-life priest, Father William O’Malley. Jason Miller is the only returning cast member from the original film, and does a very subdued and creepy performance as the brain damaged ‘Patient X.’ However, where the acting really soars is Brad Dourif. Whatever roll he was on going into this film, it made his performance enveloping. You just can’t turn away. With the monologues he had to deliver, the role and performance could’ve killed the film, dragging it down into boredom. Fortunately, Dourif has a magnetism that just reels you in hook, line, and sinker. His charisma eats up the scene, and the sparks that fly between him and Scott are the meat of the piece.
This was only the second film directed by William Peter Blatty. The first being The Ninth Configuration from 1980 which Blatty once considered the real sequel to The Exorcist despite it’s connection being one briefly seen, unnamed character from 1973 film. Despite such a brief directing résumé, Blatty shows a lot of skill and competency here. This film oozes with creepiness, making it one that’ll twitch your nerves, and keep you jumping. There is one particular sequence featuring a white gown and a killer musical stinger that’ll freak you out. Just thinking about it gives me the chills. No matter your own opinion of the film, this sequence will get you every time.
The musical score by Barry De Vorzon is quite fitting, and immensely effective. I was previously familiar with his haunting and intense score on the cult urban action film The Warriors, which was very much of its time in the late 70s. The Exorcist III score is much more traditional, but still haunting as well as chilling. It makes itself essential to building the atmosphere of the picture.
The director of photography, Gerry Fisher, gives this picture great composition and an amazing look in certain scenes. Every time the film ventures into the isolation chamber, the lighting is so beautiful in an exceptionally dark and eerie fashion. Fisher previously lensed the fantasy adventure classic Highlander with amazing artistic talent, and wonderful composition. The Exorcist III doesn’t call for anything as epic as Highlander, but the artistry is still beautifully evident. He definitely gives the film a visual impact that lasts.
There are some discrepancies between the original 1973 film and this sequel. Likely, these are due to Blatty focusing more on his original novel source material instead of Freidkin’s feature. The primary issue is that, in The Exorcist, Kinderman and Karras barely knew each other. They meet for one conversation for their first meeting ever, and are never seen together again. Here, it is heavily referenced that the two men were best friends, and knew each other quite well. It’s that friendship which drives Kinderman’s intense investigation, and motivates the plotlines along. I have not read Blatty’s novels, and so, I cannot confirm or speak to any of this speculation. However, considering he is the author, screenwriter, and director, it’s easy to conclude that these are character connections he always intended in some form or another. Other issues are easily resolved. The year of when the events of the first film occurred has been altered to 1975, but there’s nothing in the first film to conflict with this. Just the fact that it was released in 1973 is all that causes any issue at all.
Overall, I feel The Exorcist III is an amazingly well done film, and only the interference of Morgan Creek executives diminished and hindered Bill Blatty’s vision. Paul Schrader and Renny Harlin would also learn of this over a decade later when filming their respective prequels to The Exorcist, and Blatty blamed no one but Morgan Creek for both versions’ failures. A director’s cut of The Exorcist III is apparently never to surface due to Morgan Creek being unable to locate the footage. Still, despite these obstacles and tampering with the film, I honestly feel an effective, original, enthralling, and exceptionally satisfying horror film shines through. Blatty showed great talent and competence in both scripting and directing, and George C. Scott’s performance is a powerful and intense as you’ve come to expect from him. Ultimately, this is a great surprise considering the more maligned entries in this franchise (save the original), and is indeed one hell of a terribly creepy film. This is a horror film I can watch just about anytime and be pulled into every time. This is what has gradually made it a strong personal favorite of mine which I would also consider one of the best horror movies ever made. If for nothing else, it’s a good watch for a dark, lonely night.