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Posts tagged “psychic

The Shadow (1994)

The ShadowI have LOVED this movie since I first saw it.  I know this was met with mixed reactions upon release, and it was not a real lucrative success in theatres.  Frankly, I am baffled by this.  The Shadow, to me, is a marvelous film that is perfect Russell Mulcahy style, second only to Highlander.  It’s also a film that was never given its due justice on home video, but thanks to iTunes, I can now enjoy this film in beautiful high-definition widescreen!  I believe The Shadow to be a solid piece of work in every aspect as well as an immensely enjoyable superhero action film.

In 1930’s China, Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) is known as Yin-Ko, a murderous opium warlord, who is reformed by a Tibetan mystic who teaches him how to use his keen mental powers to manipulate others.  As penance for his past misdeeds, Cranston masquerades as a New York City playboy by day and secretly plays the heroic Shadow by night, staving off evildoers with a network of agents and a cab-driving sidekick (Peter Boyle).  A greater challenge arrives when a new enemy presents himself in Shiwan Khan (John Lone), the final descendent of Genghis Khan, who has received training from the same Tibetan master who instructed Cranston.  Khan desires to have the once savage Cranston join him in his conquest of the world through use of an atomic bomb, but finds only an adversary.  Meanwhile, Cranston encounters the alluring and intriguing Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller) who also possesses unique psychic abilities that complicate his life, but soon, they join together to combat the powerful Shiwan Khan.

Mulcahy shrouds this whole film in this wonderful mystique and atmosphere that is perfect for this sort of character.  The entire presentation of the Shadow reinforces the supernatural element of him – the smoke, illusions, and psychic perceptions.  He’s enigmatic to a vibrantly fascinating degree bordering on frightening.   I love the lighting trick of enveloping Cranston in shadow when he utilizes his psychic abilities.  The mystical and surreal visions we get as we delve into his psyche are stunning.  This film really envelopes an audience fully and deeply into Lamont Cranston’s mind which is endlessly fascinating, if not quite disturbing.  It also doesn’t bog us down with a lengthy origin story.  It’s quite succinct, telling us all we need to know, and even touching back upon it as the film goes on.  This way, it can jump right into the meat of the story.  While I’m sure something like a 120+ minute film could be made from this material, like a Batman Begins, walking us through Cranston’s change from the barbarous Yin-Ko to the heroic Shadow, I like the straight to the point mentality of this film.

I honestly believe Alec Baldwin was a dead-on perfect casting choice.  He has the dapper charm and charisma for Lamont, but with a tinge of shadowy mystique at nearly all times.  As Yin-Ko, he is a chilling, violent warlord who is hedonistic in his bloodletting.  He never ceases to satiate his lust for barbarism.  In the middle of Cranston and Yin-Ko, we find the Shadow where Lamont uses the darkness within to battle evil wherever it hides.  I love that Baldwin embraces and envelopes himself in that darkness, and even adopts a bit deeper voice, at times, that is both haunting and unsettling.  His eyes are also magnificently piercing with that intense, razor sharp stare.  Overall, I think Alec Baldwin put together a stellar and dynamic package here with a darker tinged hero with charisma, charm, and an edginess.  His performance here made me believed that Alec Baldwin could also have been a great Bruce Wayne / Batman.  He takes a character of complex depth and grim history, and makes him a nearly larger than life entity of justice.

Baldwin has such great chemistry with Penelope Ann Miller forging a unique but very pleasing romantic, lively relationship.  That Margo also possesses psychic abilities makes her an intriguing counterpart to Lamont Cranston.  She’s not going to be manipulated by his powers, and she can see directly into his mind, picking up his thoughts.  It forces them together, much to Lamont’s dismay, but this allows for a unique synergy between them.  They never have a love scene, but their bond goes so deeply into their psyches that a love scene would seem almost unnecessary.  Miller brings a great deal of spirit and assertion to Margo Lane making her both an elegant beauty and lovely character to invest your time in.

And oh, do I love John Lone as Shiwan Khan.  He has such theatrical presence that commands every scene he appears in.  He has such passion with his performance embodying Khan’s admiration for Yin-Ko, but also, the lust for violent conquest.  He hungers at the thought of the power and the barbarism.  He’s a perfect villain who reflects upon Lamont as the man he was and is still haunted by.  Khan challenges Cranston as an equal tapping into the deepest, darkest parts of his being, and even being superior to him in certain ways.  Shiwan Khan is an intelligent, calculating villain with patience and the merciless will to enact his plans of destruction.  It is an immensely satisfying portrayal from a very talented actor.

Tim Curry does a wonderfully pleasant job as the weasely Farley Claymore.  He embraces this sleazy, cowardly, power hungry character with great zeal.  He’s loving every minute of it, and he creates this great second foil that an audience can’t wait to see get what’s coming to him.  Curry is always just so much fun to watch in whatever he does, and this is no exception at all.

This film makes gorgeous use of both digital and optical effects.  For one, the filmmakers do an amazing job seamlessly recreating 1930’s New York with various matte paintings, back lots, miniatures, and more.  This creates a fully enveloping  reality for the film’s setting that has the feel of something made in that time period of cinema.  The visual effects used to cloak the Shadow in various instances, and even to morph Baldwin’s face from Cranston to the Shadow are simply fantastic.  I can’t really recall any film marrying optical and digital effects.  It was either one or the other all the way, but I think Mulcahy saw the value in both technologies utilizing each to their best results.  Even Jurassic Park only used CGI dinosaurs when it was necessary, and relying on animatronics for the rest.  Here, it all comes together for a stunning and masterful visual experience.

The production design on The Shadow is simply astounding.  It has rich, detailed art direction and production values fashioning an elegant 1930’s look.  Everything feels authentic to the time with beautifully dressed sets.  Khan’s majestic room at the top of the hotel is gorgeously draped with bold Asian designs in fabric, and the Cobalt Club is so elegantly realized.  The costumes are excellent, especially those for Penelope Ann Miller who looks classy and gorgeous in those dresses.  The look of the Shadow is awesome with the long brimmed fedora, black cloak, overcoat, red scarf, and the twin shoulder holsters.  It’s a solid, yet simple iconic look that makes a striking impression.  I love how the cloak flows giving the Shadow a floating quality that reinforces the wraith-like glimpses we occasionally get of him.  Even the atomic bomb has a great art deco design.  This art department really did an amazing job here leaving no detail unpolished.

While the story is rather typical of a superhero film, bad guy wants to conquer the world, it’s really the characters and their motivations that make it different.  I always wonder what exactly a villain would do once they’ve taken over the world.  What’s left to do when everyone is your enslaved servant?  For Shiwan Khan, it’s not about being the ruler of the world, but indulging in the barbarism that comes with that power.  He doesn’t want to sit back and enjoy himself.  He wants to see the world tear itself apart in savagery and war.  He wants to strike terror into humanity, and see it descend into fear and butchery as he pits one army against another army.  The added dynamic between Khan and Cranston makes the story all the more compelling to me.  When you’ve got a hero and villain so tightly interwoven and connected like this, it creates a great sense of depth and intrigue.  Lamont must battle an adversary who is his superior, but gradually, must grow his abilities to eventually match those of Khan.

The film also features some smart, timely, and appropriate humor.  Mulcahy balances the darker atmosphere and peril with some quirky moments that never take you out of the vibe he’s running with.  The rhythm and chemistry between Baldwin and Miller creates plenty of levity, and there are even a few jovial bits with the now late Jonathan Winters, who portrays Lamont’s Police Commission uncle.  Mulcahy keeps the movie fun while still delivering thrills and intrigue on a grand tapestry.

The climax is just stunning from when the Shadow enters the Monolith Hotel to when he and Khan finally clash.  It’s a visually awesome sequence with some great effects shots.  All the shattering glass creates an amazing dramatically intense impact.  There’s a great sense of triumph for Lamont here as he is now taking the fight directly to Khan instead of lagging behind him, and the touches of character growth are excellent.  Alongside that, you’ve got some fun yet perilous moments with Margo and her scientist father, portrayed by Ian McKellan, trying to chase down and disarm the ticking time bomb that will nuke the city.  It’s fun stuff that still maintains tension in this solid climactic sequence.

Top all of this with a fantastic Jerry Goldsmith score, and I personally believe you’ve got a great, fun film on your hands.  I have never had any criticism for this film as I enjoy and love it thoroughly.  It’s a solid superhero film with a retro feel that is realized with vibrant vision by Russell Mulcahy.  He was the right choice for The Shadow bringing his great eye for cinematography and fantasy with an air of mystique to this very mysterious and fascinating character.  Anyone who has not seen this film is someone I strongly urge to do so.  I don’t understand where the negativity came from over this.  I think it’s a grand example of Mulcahy’s best work, and what made him the filmmaker that I love.  He gets great performances out of everyone in this cast, and just hit the style, tone, and atmosphere just perfect as far as I’m concerned.  The Shadow feels like a film that should have been a surefire hit, and be held in great admiration to this day.  Instead, it has merely a cult following, and has been saddled with a full screen DVD release.  Fortunately, it will finally receive a widescreen Blu Ray release this June.  Until then, you can rent it from iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.


Dredd (2012)

DreddMy summer movie season last year mostly sucked, and by the end of August, I just didn’t want to step foot inside another theatre for a long while.  That was unfortunate for when Dredd was released in late September.  I couldn’t get enthused for anything despite all the rave reviews this film got.  Fortunately, I don’t seem to be alone in discovering this on the home video format as its sales and rentals have been on fire in the last two weeks.  Thus, in the frigid icy winter weather, I dashed over to the Redbox outside of the CVS Pharmacy and rented it.  So, what’s the simplest statement I can give to this film?  It’s that I have no criticisms to levy against it. Dredd is AWESOME!

The future America is an irradiated waste land.  On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One – a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets.  The only force of order lies with the urban cops called “Judges” who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner.  Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Karl Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge – a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of “Slo-Mo” experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed.  During a routine day on the job, Dredd is assigned to train and evaluate Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with powerful psychic abilities thanks to a genetic mutation.  A heinous crime calls them to a neighborhood where fellow Judges rarely dare to venture – a 200 storey vertical slum controlled by prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her ruthless clan.  When they capture one of the clan’s inner circle, Ma-Ma overtakes the compound’s control center and wages a dirty, vicious war against the Judges that proves she will stop at nothing to protect her empire.  With the body count climbing and no way out, Dredd and Anderson must confront the odds and engage in the relentless battle for their survival.

Dredd is just full-on hard R-rated action that is brutal and relentless.  Yet, it is not dumb by any means.  Alex Garland wrote a very smart screenplay that keeps things rather simple, but has its own dramatic depth and character strengths.  We don’t get long sit-downs with the characters to pine over their emotions and back stories.  Instead, we get insights into them in solid, succinct moments that work towards the momentum of the film.  Dredd himself remains hardened throughout never allowing anything to crack his weathered, tough exterior.  However, the depth we get from him is in what he does, not so much what he exudes.  He is a strict enforcer and abider of the law.  He follows it to the letter, and doesn’t just kill someone because this is a graphic action film.  His intentions are clearly stated making us aware of who is suited to be executed and who isn’t, and Dredd’s threats carry grave weight.  He’s also calm, collected, and confident.  He never lashes out.  He’s calculated in everything he does.  This guy is a bonafide bad ass who has been very weathered by this post-apocalyptic world that needs order more than anything else, and he’s deadest dedicated to that ideal.  The situation that he’s in here, it’s just like every other day to him.  For instance, when told to put Anderson in the deep end of the job, he says, “It’s all deep end.”  This guy’s been through the worst this world has to offer, and he’s not afraid of any level of danger.

Karl Urban was a perfect fit for Judge Dredd.  I’ve enjoyed him in every role I’ve seen him in from The Lord of the Rings to The Chronicles of Riddick to The Bourne Supremacy.  He always seems to dedicate himself fully to all his roles, and he has some impressive talent that will carry him far.  It also takes a special actor, dedicated to the character, to have his face almost entirely covered for the entire film.  Dredd never removes his helmet, and we never see his face.  Just that mouth and chin area is all we get, and some actors simply wouldn’t allow their face to never be seen on camera either by ego or principle.  Urban doesn’t have that problem, and that quality of Dredd works to his advantage.  It’s reflective of his attitude.  He’s not the type to open up about himself, or allow any glimmer of weakness to show through.  That aggressive visage of that helmet and visor create his ill-tempered demeanor, and Urban entirely absorbs himself into that mindset.  Putting on that harder, gruffer voice mixed with a little bit of beard stubble and his grim expression creates a great heavy, gritty presence.  He gives us the kind of bad ass, hardened character that I’ve not seen in a long time.  It follows in the tradition of Snake Plissken and the Punisher, but it is that vehement dedication to law and justice which separates him from those sorts of anti-heroes.  Urban sells this role with everything he’s got, and delivers on every level.  This is a role that could easily become cliché in the wrong hands, but with Urban, Dredd is a serious force to be reckoned with that never fails to be interesting.

The character of Anderson is really handled greatly.  She’s a fine counterpoint to Dredd in that she does have anxieties, apprehensions, and an emotional core to struggle with throughout the film.  Carrying out an execution is not easy for her, but she does her job, regardless.  The little details about her past are dropped in very comfortably, and work into the story seamlessly.  Her psychic abilities make for an excellent cog in the plot, and even makes for some appropriately humorous moments.  I think the best action films know how to drop in a little bit of humor and levity without it betraying the tone of the overall film.  Dredd is no exception.  Her psychic abilities even give us one very whacked out sequence where she goes into the head of Kay.  It’s sexy, graphic, and frenetic in the most schizophrenic way.  The beautiful Olivia Thirlby is truly excellent as Judge Anderson.  She inhabits that very green rookie sensibility without falling onto clichés.  There’s a genuine weight to what she brings to this role showing that Anderson is highly capable, but does not yet have the experience to hone her skills and emotions properly.  Anderson has an excellent arc that has some fine pay-off in the end from Dredd himself.  It’s a big learning experience for her that really fleshes the character out.  She doesn’t get lost in Dredd’s shadow at all, and I think the filmmakers did an excellent job at that.

Also, Lena Headey portrays one deranged, depraved villain.  She’s not “off the walls” crazy as the performance is rather subdued, but Ma-Ma does some crazy random violence that would require an R rating just to mention it.  She’s a total sociopath, and really enjoys her torture to a grisly degree.  She isn’t just going to kill you.  That’s not enough.  She’s going to send a message with your body, and make it loud and clear with a giant splat on the concrete!  She’s sick and twisted complete with a scarred face, and it’s a glorious villain for a gloriously graphic action movie!  The rest of the cast is rock solid with no one giving anything less than a top notch, full force performance.

The cinematography on this movie is really amazing.  What stands out the most is the design of the “Slo-Mo” sequences.  The high speed photography makes everything appear to be running in ultra slow motion, creating a gorgeous spectacle, aided by some CGI enhancements, that is simply stunning.  It makes for a very enveloping experience along with the very aural, ethereal score to mimic the sensation this narcotic stimulates in its users.  Conversely, everything beyond that is very gritty and textured.  The sprawling landscape of Mega City One is very epic, and a desaturated color palette is used to set the grim tone right from the start.  Dredd avoids making this some Blade Runner clone, and adopts its own realistic style for this industrialized and economically crumbling metropolis.  The cinematography gives this film weight, scope, and depth that elevates its above your expectations.  The action is all shot superbly showing full competence in how to stage and photograph even the most blisteringly intense sequences.  Anthony Dod Mantle deserves an exceptional level of credit for the work he did shooting this picture, and giving such a solid and powerful visual style.

The action itself is bloody and brutal with people regularly getting shot in the face!  If Dredd’s going to pass a sentence of death upon you, he’s going to wipe you out in the most explicit way possible.  Maybe he’ll burn your skull from the inside out, set you ablaze, or maybe he’ll just pound some bullets into you.  He does not hesitate, and he never wavers in his job.  And of course, the villains dish out their own heavy duty warfare as well.  Their biggest attempt at taking out Dredd and Anderson is when they unleash not one but two hardcore Gatling guns that rip through concrete destroying an entire level of the complex.  It’s wicked awesome!  There are numerous diverse sequences here that keep the action always interesting and immensely intense, and they are all handled superbly.  One of the coolest sequences is when Dredd and Anderson bust in on some guys who are doing Slo-Mo, and thus, nearly all the action unfolds in that ultra slow motion style.  Bullets rip through flesh in the most stunning way possible to where it’s practically gruesome artistry.  I am just amazed at the depth of vision injected into this movie with sequences like that.

Dredd features an excellent, hard edged score by Paul Leonard-Morgan.  He makes excellent use of driving, pulsating synth beats and some stellar distorted rock guitar.  This is essentially a heavy metal synth score that actually works insanely well because of the hard hitting, gritty style of the movie, but also, it never bombards you.  It flows along with the action and momentum of the film.  The synthesizers really give the film more of an ominous, foreboding, relentless tone that build up the tension and anticipation while the guitars are there to kick ass.  It’s almost 1980s like in its musicianship, and it’s always able to bring itself down to a more subtle place, when appropriate.  Overall, this is one masterful, edgy, exhilarating action film score that entirely suits the futuristic, post-apocalyptic grit of Dredd.

What I think is most amazing about this movie is that it had only a $45 million budget, but looks like a far higher grade feature than those numbers would suggest.  This demonstrates a team of filmmakers who knew about to get the most out of every dollar, and not waste their resources.  There is not a single thing that looks cheap anywhere in this film.  The sets, costumes, action set pieces, and visual effects are all high caliber quality showcasing amazing craftsmanship and artistry.  And for those who care, this was shot in digital 3D, and from what I hear, Dredd looks fantastic in 3D.  That is no surprise considering how stunning it looks in 2D.  Everyone who worked on this film clearly put everything ounce of effort and passion they had into it, and I believe it exceeded all expectations.  Still, I also like that the film doesn’t try to over stretch itself by becoming more than it needed to be.  The film is ultimately quite ambitious, but the filmmakers didn’t push the proverbial envelope any further than they needed to with this story.  All of the elements are smart and fit together beautifully.  There’s a lot of subtle context and ideas within the film between the characters and ideas of justice, but all of it works towards the action centric plot.  It’s very focused without being narrow, but never becomes broad.

Flat out, Dredd is an ass kicking, hard hitting bombastic action film that never hesitates to go all out, but never degrades itself with camp value or cheesy set pieces.  It’s totally hardcore all the way, and should satisfy the hunger for any true action movie fan that’s desired a return to classic hard R rated films.  I’m very impressed by Karl Urban’s performance, and if this were to become a franchise, I believe he could carry it to very exciting, riveting, and intriguing places.  Director Pete Travis doesn’t really have much of a track record to speak of, but I hope that Dredd is the beginning of a very successful and notable one for him.  This is really a visually magnificent film that brings all of its dynamic elements together into an intense cohesive whole.  He has shown me something awesome and amazing with Dredd, and he’s not the only one to credit for it all.  A whole team of excellently talent filmmakers came together to really nail this adaptation of the British comic strip.  It is creatively successful without a blemish, in my view, and I hope that time will prove Dredd to be commercially successful as well.


Halloween 5 :The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Another sequel, released approximately one year later.  Clearly, it was a rushed production, and the pitfalls of that are blatantly obvious throughout this film.  It’s not a pure failure, but the volume of problems and bad ideas are impossible to ignore.  Director and co-writer Dominique Othenin-Girard is probably responsible for many of them.  His résumé consists mostly of French films, but he was also responsible for the generally panned and dismissed Omen IV telemovie.  The films’ other two screenwriters, Michael Jacobs and Shem Bitterman, have nothing else of note on their filmographies.  If this film is any indication of their talent, it seems to make sense.

One year after the events of Halloween 4, things are not as expected.  Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) is merely locked up in a children’s psychiatric hospital, acting weird, but not homicidal in anyway.  Michael Myers, ultimately, is still alive, and has been laying dormant in the company of a derelict by the river.  With the coming of Halloween, he rises once again, and starts on his killing spree towards Jamie all over again.  This time, Jamie has a psychic link with Michael, able to see what he sees, and generally know where he is.  Of course, most everyone doesn’t believe her wild claims, believing she is indeed insane, and ultimately, allows for many more to die because of it.  Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), as usual, is there to head up the endless fight against The Shape.  Meanwhile, a mysterious man in black makes his way into Haddonfield for unknown reasons as Michael maliciously slashes through the town.

I have to say, first off, that this film suffers mostly from an underdeveloped script due to the rushed production.  Where Alan McElroy put together a rather intelligent script for Halloween 4, the three screenwriters on this film did everything possible to make it stupid and stunted.  From the pair of lame, dumbass cops to the annoying character of Tina to most any other new characters, it’s a real chore to consider anyone likable here.  Aside from the returning cast of Harris, Pleasance, Cornell, and Starr, the acting is rather poor and irritating at times.  Don Shanks’ Shape doesn’t really stand out.  There’s not much for him to really work with, and the mask he’s saddled with is terrible.  Granted, it follows within the continuity that this film establishes, but the filmmakers weren’t forced to make it dirty and ugly.  Part of the symbolism of the mask is to reflect a blank, emotionless visage of the killer, and scuffing it up takes away that stark, striking visual.

The direction that Othenin-Girard takes the film is very visually gothic.  Everything appears grittier, dirtier, and more grim.  Although, the most horrendous and objectionable change is that of the Myers’ house – which bares zero resemblance to any other Myers’ house throughout the series, before or after.  Obviously, continuity wasn’t a real concern for Dominique.  I will give him credit where the film’s tension and suspense is concerned.  He handles it very well, and creates many scary sequences throughout various parts of the movie.  It’s simply the harsh and drastic departure of visual style and art direction that detract from its quality in the overall series.  The entire film has a far more cryptic than atmospheric style compared to the rest of the franchise.  This doesn’t tend to go over well with the fans, and considering the film’s other stated flaws, it’s stance within the franchise is quite expected.

Halloween 5 also planted the seeds for what became Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers with the mysterious Man in Black.  However, as another example of a rushed production and poor screenwriting, even the screenwriters themselves didn’t know who the hell he was supposed to be.  They just decided to throw in some ambiguous character with no idea of what to ultimately do with him.  That’s sloppy work to pawn off onto another screenwriter who would work on the next sequel.  I’m sure that’s something screenwriters of sequels hate – cleaning up the undeveloped or unresolved garbage left over by the last screenwriter.  At least the Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street movies had the courtesy to kill their respective slashers off at the end of every movie allowing for a generally clean slate for the next movie.  In Halloween 5, the Man in Black was partly portrayed by Don Shanks at the thought that the character might be a blood relative of Michael’s, possibly a brother.  Obviously, any intentions these filmmakers might’ve had about the Man in Black’s identity were irrelevant by the time of the sixth film’s production.  During this production, tensions and conflicts were abound.  Pleasance and Akkad disagreed with each other, and they both disagreed with Othenin-Girard about the direction of the story, and the direction of the film.  Not many were happy with the outcome, and it resulted in a rather uneven and terribly unpolished film.

This is a film that tries to be taken deathly seriously, but there’s just so much bad crap smeared all over it that it’s hard to take it seriously.  While I would not speak ill of children with disabilities, they don’t make for good characters in horror films.  They simply add to the irritating bevy of new characters we are subjected to.  There are the aforementioned bumbling rejects from the Police Academy franchise who couldn’t be more out of place, and they are even given their own silly music theme to go along with their goofy antics.  Then, the entire psychic link between Jamie and Michael comes off like something from a Z-grade rip-off of The Dead Zone.  Maybe, and that’s a huge maybe, the idea could’ve worked in more talented hands, but the execution comes off as terrible.  The entire time Dr. Loomis is shouting at and shaking Jamie like a total madman trying to force her to tell him where Michael is, and that alone is just bad on so many levels.  Donald Pleasance does the best job he can with the written material, but there’s just too much incoherent madness for him to make much of it.

While this is meant to be a continuation of Halloween 4, it comes off more like a transitional film meant to segue from Halloween 4 into a different storyline altogether in the eventual Halloween 6.  It never feels like a self-contained movie since it hardly resolves anything from the previous movie, and has no resolution to any new plot elements it introduces.  I think more than its slasher juggernaut counterparts, the Halloween franchise has been the most mismanaged. There was too much cluttered continuity and mythology that almost every new screenwriter or filmmaker who came in tried to twisted around into a new direction, or simply disregard altogether on a whim.  While Jason & Freddy have had their continuity inconsistencies, you rarely ever had someone come into either franchise trying to drastically alter the nature of the characters.  The tone of the films might’ve changed, but what you knew of Krueger & Voorhees from the first film or two remained set in stone throughout the franchise.  Their origins were plainly known, and anything that was added to them later on felt natural and logical.  Not with Michael Myers.  Every new film has tried to find a new rationale for the existence of the character whether or not it jibed with what came before.  Moustapha Akkad never attempted to put the series on a set path of tone and story.  That is very strange considering how thick Halloween 4-6 are with an overarching storyline that’s supposed to make sense, but is really just a fortunate cut and paste job assembled by three different sets of screenwriters.  Halloween 5 raised a number of bizarre, ridiculous questions it never intended to answer, and while that’s surely not it’s worst attribute, it does degrade the artistic and creative potential of the film.

As I said, this is not a pure failure, but it’s a real mixed bag of problems.  While it is enjoyable if you dumb yourself down and not care much about continuity, it’s far away from being one of the better films of the series.  In contrast to Carpenter’s original, this is real schlock.  On its own, it’s still schlock, but potentially enjoyable to some varying degree.  Suffice it to say, this film could’ve stood from an extra year of development as well as a far more competent and talented director.  This was a terrible drop-off from a rather respectable and enjoyable Halloween 4.  It’s worth seeing, but not worth any good expectations.


Constantine (2005)

I very much love this film, and count it as an all time favorite.  I saw it twice in the theatre in 2005 because I was very much enthralled by the concept of the film and the excellent execution of all its characters and ideas.  It has since remained a strong favorite of the genre for me, and has driven my fandom of John Constantine further.  I was not knowledgeable about him before seeing this adaptation, but in the years since then, I have become a fan.  In the Hellblazer comics from DC / Vertigo, he was a blonde Englishman created by the widely revered Alan Moore and visually based off of Sting, the front man for The Police.  Obviously, that does not fit the description of Keanu Reeves, who portrays the title character as a dark haired American in Los Angeles, and there are numerous other changes here that deviate from the source material.  That inevitably irritated numerous hardcore Hellblazer fans, but since this was my introduction to him, I can allow both versions to co-exist in my fandom.   There are many reasons why I highly love this film including its gorgeous visual style, the world it showcases, and the potential of the characters.

It is said that whoever possesses the Spear of Destiny holds the fate of the world in their hands, and the Spear of Destiny has just been found and put into the hands of evil influences.  In Los Angeles, exorcist and occult detective John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) begins to see foreboding signs of something big and unfriendly coming with demons forcing their way into our world, but at the same time, the anti-social chain smoker is diagnosed with lung cancer.  It’s not so much the diagnosis that troubles him as the knowledge of where he’s going.  John was born with a gift he didn’t want, the ability to clearly recognize the half-breed angels and demons that walk the earth in human skin, and Constantine was driven to take his own life to escape the tormenting clarity of his vision, but he failed.  Now, marked as an attempted suicide with a temporary lease on life, the bitter hard-drinking, hard-living Constantine seeks a reprieve from his Hellbound fate.  He patrols the earthly border between heaven and hell, hoping in vain to earn his way to salvation by sending the devil’s foot soldiers back to the depths.  Unfortunately, he gains no absolution from the half-breed angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), and no consolation from strenuous allies such as the ominous former witch doctor Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou).  They all adhere to “The Balance” which keeps half-breeds from directly interfering in human affairs in order to settle a wager between God and the Devil for the souls of all mankind.  When desperate but skeptical LAPD Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) enlists his help in solving the mysterious death of her beloved psychic twin sister, their investigation pushes them deep into a subversive plot to use the Spear of Destiny to bring forth an evil that threatens to destroy humanity.  Caught in a catastrophic series of otherworldly events, the two become inextricably involved, and seek to find their own peace at whatever cost.

Director Francis Lawrence came from a music video background, and that can be hit or miss when moving to feature films.  However, Lawrence’s background was clearly a benefit as he injects a very powerful and epic visual style into this film.  Director of Photography Philippe Rousselot realizes that immersive vision brilliantly.  His composition is rock solid creating very engaging visuals that pull an audience into the story and characters.  There is depth to spare in his frames, and plenty of grace and integrity in how he shoots everything.  There’s never any handheld camera work.  It’s all fluid movement that contributes to the overall enveloping otherworldly tone of the picture.  The use of color temperatures is very key to the atmosphere as it accentuates the dramatic tones throughout with a vibrant palette.  This is a gracefully shot film with great attention to creating a unique atmosphere and tone in its visuals.

The overall quality of the visual effects are stunning.  They are exceptionally consistent and of an amazing high quality.  From subtle effects like the fiery glint in the eyes of demons to the enveloping landscape of the Hell version of Los Angeles, they create a complete, rich, textured, and full world for John Constantine to exist within that is truly convincing.  The fearsome demonic creatures seen throughout are designed with consistency and originality.  This feels like a world with its own weathered history, and attention is paid to every detail to present it as such.  The entire “into the light” effect in the climax is awesome as the shadows are literally pulled away to force the evil presence into view.  There is never just one effect used over and over again as a crutch.  The film is full of vibrant effects that give the film its fantastical flare.  Overall, every effect is just executed and presented with amazing artistry complementing Francis Lawrence’s vision beautifully.

I also very highly enjoy the score to Constantine.  It has a great atmospheric, haunting electronic style that further fleshes out the otherworldly quality of the film, but still incorporates plenty of traditional score elements that punctuate the rousing, dramatic sequences as well as the softer, more intimate emotions of the film.  Composers Klaus Badelt & Brian Tyler put together one hell of a unique musical accomplishment with this.  I’ve never heard a score quite like this before, and it works so amazingly well.  There is a great use of melody all throughout which enhances the emotional depth that this film is truly rich with.  This is definitely a film that takes a different approach to things to give an audience a very distinctive identity for an all encompassing experience.  The addition of the song “Passive” from A Perfect Circle is wicked cool in my opinion.  It truly set a great tone entering into Papa Midnite’s club.

These enveloping elements wrap together to create a very rich story with a tone full of integrity and gravity.  It can be a very haunting and scary film that uses horror elements at times, but is best categorized as a supernatural dark fantasy action film.  The action in the film are not big set pieces with spectacular stunts.  John’s not some bad ass action hero who can slug it out with a demon.  Instead, he uses his occult and demonic knowledge as well as his skills as a con artist to help him win battles.  He fights smart using the tools he has acquired which exploit the weaknesses of his enemies such as holy water, Moses’ shroud, a pair of Holy Cross brass knuckles, dragon’s breath, and various eclectic items provided to him by his allies.

This story is partially inspired by the Dangerous Habits comics storyline, which I have read.  There’s little directly adapted from that story, and is more just taking the premise of Constantine being diagnosed with lung cancer and having to cope with that.  How he deals with it and the resolutions of the comic and the film are very different, but both greatly show off John’s cunning skill as a con artist to varying degrees.

Constantine himself is very fascinating, and I think this version of him is well portrayed by Keanu Reeves.  I am quite a big fan of his work ranking Point Break as one of my absolute favorite films ever.  I find his work quite enjoyable, and he has some highly impressive acting ability.  I think his approach tends to be more subtle, and with Constantine, he really drives home a very diverse character.  Reeves showcases Constantine’s jaded personality with depth and purpose.  He brings out that worn down, weathered texture that makes the character so intriguing and surprising.  He can be an outright asshole because he’s been both plagued by the knowledge he has about the world around him, and that he’s destined to spend eternity in Hell, regardless of what he does.  He’s tired and frustrated by these rules that these so-called “higher beings” have imposed upon humanity for their own sport, and he knows there’s little he can do to combat that.  Keanu gives the character enough edge while still maintaining an underlying sense of humanity which evolves through the film.  As the story goes along, he becomes more and more invested in Angela as a person instead of just her being a cog in a larger plot.  You gradually see the bond form between the characters, and how that starts to drive John’s actions.  There’s a pivotal shift in there where he stops sulking in his own pain and starts seeing Angela’s.  He sees her regret and how far she’s willing to go to mend it.  John can still be an asshole, but ultimately, it’s just to those that deserve it.  Reeves portrays these subtle and strong emotional beats powerfully showing that there’s more to Constantine beyond that spiteful, embittered exterior.

Another subtle part of John that’s retained from the comics is how his friends constantly pay the price for his battles.  In the comics, John is haunted by the ghosts of his dead friends, and the screenwriters slipped a brief line in here about John not needing another ghost following him around.  So, it’s no wonder that he’s as cynical and jaded as he is, but it’s also these circumstances which drive him to fight.  He challenges everyone on their egotistical or hypocritical behavior, and allows no one to slide.

However, the arc for the character takes him from being a self-serving person who fights evil for his own sake to someone that does the right thing for the sake of others.  It takes nothing away from the hardened core of the character, it just makes him an actual hero by the end.  That is helped immensely by Rachel Weisz’s emotionally impactful performance.  Reeves and Weisz had previously worked together on the 1996 film Chain Reaction as love interests, and perhaps that added a stronger chemistry between them.  In this film, their chemistry is exceptionally solid and tight.  They have great back-and-forth dialogue with sharp timing and rich character dynamics.  Angela is also easily able to stand up to John’s abrasive attitude which is a welcomed quality.  Weisz strongly portrays the more emotionally and psychologically vulnerable counter-balance of the story.  This allows an audience to have a relatable conduit into the character of John Constantine and his supernatural world.  Rachel Weisz is an incredible actress showcasing a wide range of abilities here.  She is remarkably powerful bringing out the emotional pain that Angela has deep within.  However, while Angela is vulnerable, she is a police detective, and thus, Weisz never makes her appear helpless or incapable of defending herself.  She has a definite strong will and confidence about her mixed in with a grounded, engaging charm.  It’s simply that the character been impacted by tragic events, and is thrust into a potentially frightening scenario which brings out those fearful or unstable elements in her.  Weisz handles it all with dramatic weight and grace.

It is also immensely impressive how strong the supporting cast is in Constantine.  Djimon Hounsou has such an awesome presence as the witch doctor turned night club owner Papa Midnite.  His deep voice and subtle charisma give weight and gravity to his performance.  He can be greatly imposing and intimidating without even standing up in his initial scene.  Hounsou and Reeves spark a fascinating chemistry.  They play the characters with a sense of shared history which has its turbulent areas which causes friction and some antagonism between them.  The screenwriters had a good philosophy of the best way to convey exposition about a character is to show them working.  You get to know more about Midnite and Constantine through what they do and how they go about doing it than can really be conveyed through straight dialogue interactions.  This is showcased beautifully in the sequence with “The Chair” which allows John to see the path the Spear of Destiny has taken recently, and to find out where Angela has been taken.  It’s a manner of operating alluding to information that is necessary for them to know to do what they need to do, but is not necessary to be spelled out for the audience.  This further reflects the sense that this a world with a long, textured history between characters, and it is presented in a very smart way that never bogs down the film with extraneous exposition.  Midnite himself has a very pleasing arc in the story that ultimately shows Hounsou’s range and charm.  He makes the character very fascinating, imposing, but ultimately, highly pleasing.

Tilda Swinton is immaculately graceful and elegant as the half-breed angel Gabriel.  The filmmakers chose to go with an androgynous quality for the character, and absolutely wanted Swinton for the role.  They chose incredibly well.  Her performance has a gentle compassion that eventually turns into a subtle megalomaniacal mindset.  She also has an ethereal aura and presence about her that is pitch perfect.  It’s a nice dynamic when Constantine goes to see her with him ranting and calling out the hypocrisy at hand, but she offers up a very warm, motherly tone with him.  They are both trying to make each other see things from their perspective, and neither is entirely in the right.  There is a very aristocratic, snobbish mentality from Gabriel that John can’t stomach, and it works so exceptionally well for this character.  It’s such a remarkable performance that the words to describe it in depth escape me.

Now, this film was before Shia LeBouf started grating on peoples’ nerves, but here, there’s enough heart and charm with him as Chas to make his performance a pleasure.  Chas is spirited and driven to be given the chance to be of real assistance to Constantine instead of just his personal cab driver, but John just knows the danger of allowing him to do so.  Yet, Chas is eventually given the chance to show his worth.  As with everyone else, the chemistry is dead on the mark perfect.  Gavin Rossdale’s turn as the demon Balthazar is oozing with charisma.  He relishes being engulfed in evil, and that delicious smarmy arrogance just pours out over the screen.  The tension and spite between him and John is thick as can be.  You can’t help but love and hate him all at the same time.  All of the actors throughout the film really inhabited their characters with exceptional commitment and nuance, and came together as a cohesive whole to deliver something diverse and marvelous.

Of course, there is Peter Stormare’s magnificent performance as Lucifer himself.  There have been so many portrayals of the Devil over the years in cinema from some massively talented actors, and each portrayal has been unique.  Stormare takes unique to a whole new level here.  The physicality alone is unsettling as if he’s trying to uncomfortably fit back into a human form like it’s an old out of shape body suit, and it results in some peculiar and tense nervous energy.  The look is striking enough without devolving into shock.  The shaved eyebrows and shorn haircut along with the tattoos really present a standout visual that separates Lucifer from everyone else in the film.  Stormare takes all of this to forge a weirdly eccentric Devil that doesn’t need to flaunt an ego or boast of his power.  His creepy, chilling presence sells everything.  The addition of the pure white suit and bare feet was a nice touch, and it really fits the visual aesthetics of the film.

While I have nothing against a well done origin, it is very commendable that this is not an origin story spending a large percentage of the film showing how Constantine became the man he is today.  His back story is not even revealed until well into the second act as we get to know it alongside Angela, and allusions to other shared histories are sprinkled throughout.  The film treats its audience as intelligent by not having to explain every little thing.  It presents a world, gradually lays out the general parameters of how it works, and then, allows it to envelop the audience.  I like this approach for the character because there is a lot of John Constantine history that is very relevant to the character, but it would be nigh impossible to hit all the poignant marks to develop him fully in a two hour film.  Starting a film series here is very interesting because it takes John from the jaded, weathered depths to someone more purposeful and formidable.  It is a greatly executed arc wrapped up in a strong plotline backed by some excellent talents in front of and behind the camera.

It seems hard to judge where this movie stands in terms of general consensus.  It’s not one of those comic book movies everyone talks about, or includes on the list of the best or worst adaptations.  I seem to perceive this as a film that had good commercial success, but tends to get overlooked for no apparent reason.  Professional critics were divided on it, but the thing with critics is that they get paid to go see movies they are not always pre-disposed to enjoy.  This was a movie that appealed to my tastes via its marketing, and it did blow me away.  Again, the hardcore fans of Hellblazer likely had their passionate gripes with all the changes made to the established elements of the property, but it’s not a bad film at all.  It’s exceptionally well made from a filmmaker with great vision and artistry, and features an amazing cast that put their all into it.  From an objective point of view, it’s a greatly entertaining and satisfying film.  It has plenty of interesting action, an excellently crafted world, fantastic, stunning visual effects, a unique and fascinating score, and is just generally well written all the way around.  I really love this film, and I love what I’ve read in the Hellblazer trade paperbacks.  Both offer me something different but equally satisfying to my tastes for supernatural horror and dark fantasy.  If you’re unfamiliar with the property, this film can ease you into the heavier subject matter and grittier feel of the comics, but they are two unmistakably different presentations on the characters and the world they inhabit.  Taking the film on its own merits, it’s a highly imaginative, excellent piece of work that is worth investing your time and interest in.


Friday The 13th, Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Now that the Tommy Jarvis storyline had concluded, it left the door wide open for anything to be attempted in Friday The 13th, Part VII.  Paramount had a great decision by hiring the awesome make-up effects master John Carl Buechler to direct the film, and then, there was the debut performance of Kane Hodder as Jason.  There were workable elements in this film to make it great, but whenever I watch it, I just feel this doesn’t hit the mark.  I don’t even think it’s a fault of MPAA censorship on the gore, of which there was an excessive amount.  It just sort of feels like a poorly executed concept with not enough talent behind the script or in front of the camera to make it what it could’ve been.

Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln) has the ability of telekinesis, but this ability has haunted her for years now as it caused the death of her father on the docks of Crystal Lake when she was a little girl.  As a young woman, she has returned to the lake with her caring mother Amanda (Susan Blu) and the deceitful and manipulative Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), who wants to exploit Tina’s powers for his own fame.  However, the teenage residents of Crystal Lake have something more to fear than Tina’s emotionally charged powers as she accidentally frees Jason Voorhees from his watery grave.  He begins yet another killing spree, but is not prepared for the challenge Tina’s powers pose for the undead killer of Camp Blood.

I believe what I don’t like about this movie is the lack of worthwhile characters and fun.  There was always a sense of levity in these movies from even a few light hearted characters.  People that were just fun to spend some time with before the slaughter began.  The only characters in this film making any jokes are the insensitive jerks that are not worth spending time with.  Our female lead of Tina is far too troubled of a character to gain any levity or much relatability from.  There’s really nothing accessible about the character in how she’s presented.  I really don’t think Lar Park-Lincoln was a good casting choice in this instance.  She really does nothing interesting with the character, and spends most of the time with very dour or pouty expressions on her face.  The film starts out when Tina’s ten years old, but her behavior never matures beyond that of a child when we flash-forward.  While she is an active part of the story, it still falls back into that trap with Tommy Jarvis from A New Beginning in trying to make a hero out of a depressed, introverted character.  The potential of what this character could’ve been really required an actress of more textured emotional ability.  I don’t have an issue with the telekinesis idea as it’s something that really could’ve worked very well, but I don’t think it was well realized here.  It feels like a concept that was nothing more than something on the page.  It wasn’t developed with a sense of depth in concept or with the actress.  Like so much in this film, it’s flat and hollow.  The various effects are good for it, but it just needed a stronger character and performance behind it to really sell that this is someone worthy of combating the powerful undead Jason.

The rest of the cast is rather forgettable due to the uninspired writing.  These characters are once again shallow stereotypes played up for one note gags or bland character conflicts.  Not much effort is put into writing them.  I’ll grant that they are better realized stereotypes than most, maybe due to the decent acting talents here, but that doesn’t make them good.  I’ll certainly take this cast and its characters over the boring, disjointed group from Friday The 13th, Part 3, but I’d still rather spend my time with a more entertaining array of people.  On a side note, it’s an interesting retroactive quirk that Terry Kiser happens to be in this movie, and does get killed since he’s partly best known for playing a corpse in the two Weekend at Bernie’s movies.  Kiser is a solid actor with a fine range, but the role of Dr. Crews is such a badly written, one note, obvious bad guy that there was nothing substantive here for him to work with.

The music of the film is terribly uneven.  It features Manfredini cues recorded for Jason Lives and original pieces of score from composer Fred Mollin, and they don’t mesh at all.  They have very different tones and approaches.  Clearly, the Jason Lives music is a little lighter and more fun than the usual Friday The 13th scores mostly utilizing horns, and Mollin’s stuff is very heavy, dark, and menacing primarily using percussion and strings.  It suits the more grim, merciless, and dark edge of the film’s tone.  I have no idea why this mish mash of different scores were used, let alone why they used recycled recordings from the previous film.  This would be fine if they were comparable, but they clearly are not.  It would’ve been better to solely use Fred Mollin’s music throughout as I love everything he did in this film and in Jason Takes Manhattan.  Mollin also did some fine work as the composer on the unrelated television show Friday The 13th: The Series.  I think he took this film and the next into a far more dynamic and foreboding musical realm than Manfredini ever demonstrated.

The climax of this film, how Jason is defeated, is just a horrible idea that is terribly executed.  There’s just so much possibility that could have been taken advantage of with the film’s premise, but what the filmmakers do is just plainly bad.  I mean, you’re telling me that no one ever fished the body of Tina’s dad out of that lake to have a proper funeral?  They just left him to decay at the bottom of the lake forever, and he just happens to come back to life without a bit of decay on him?  In theory, it’s a nice reversal of the dream sequence ending from the first film, but I can’t buy Jason getting taken down in this ridiculous, piss poor manner.  The build up to this moment is excellent.  Great action beats with high production values really ramp up the danger and menace of Jason.  So much is thrown at him, and he just keeps coming back, more pissed off than before.  Kane Hodder even does a full body burn in a rather long take (slow motion or no).  Buechler really makes the whole third act impactful and visually impressive, but to have it end the way it does just feels like someone’s slap dash idea who got too tired to write a proper ending to the film.  It’s just a bad idea, through and through, which makes me want to forget I ever saw it.

I will credit the film for having a distinctly darker tone than the rest of the series.  Visually, it’s very dark and imposing.  It surrounds Jason in far more presence and aura than ever before.  This is also a credit to Hodder’s performance.  He created a very thorough body language and mentality for Jason, and it truly penetrated through the screen.  It truly made Jason frightening again, even if the film itself lacked suspense, a decent plot, or good lead acting.  I get that people are supposed to scream in horror movies, but Lar Park-Lincoln seems to inappropriately scream at the top of her lungs at almost everything in the third act.  It’s like she’s not there inhabiting the scene as an actor enveloping herself in the mood, but just screaming as if that’s the only reaction people are supposed to have in a horror movie.  There’s just no genuine fear or intensity in her performance, despite how purely menacing Kane Hodder is as Jason.  I think his debut performance was absolutely his best.  It’s just unfortunate that it wasn’t in a better movie.

Hodder is greatly aided by the stunning make-up design Buechler created for Jason Voorhees.  Seeing the bones stick out from underneath the decayed flesh, and making use of the partially shattered mask to show just a glimpse of Jason’s zombified face are brilliant touches.  This is a masterwork of special make-up effects artistry and craftsmanship, and is something that has not even been remotely challenged anywhere else in the franchise since.  What gore we do get after the MPAA’s severe slashing of this film is exceptionally good, but even still, you hardly see any of it.  This really was the most heavily edited down entry in the whole series of films, and I’m sure an uncut version would be filled with hardcore gore and graphic violence.  That surely feeds into the overall darker, more aggressive tone of the movie.  John Carl Buechler does give us a film that is nicely and consistently paced with a lot of creative kills that have become classics.  However, it all does just feel like a blunt instrument due to a lack of real suspense.  Anyone can show brutality and gore splattering across the camera lens.  It takes a skilled filmmaker to tightly craft suspense, and Buechler hardly makes an attempt to deliver that integral part of good horror.

It’s been said that Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema considered the crossover idea of Freddy vs. Jason at this time, but the two studios simply could not come to an agreement.  Thus, what ideas Paramount had for the film were adapted for The New Blood – which is a horribly generic title for a slasher sequel.  It’s hard to picture it aside from a protagonist with a supernatural ability, but I doubt they had anything more than a vague thought of a plot for a 1988 Freddy vs. Jason movie.  Maybe just the thought of it got the screenwriters anxious to throw a more powerful adversary at Jason this time, and really push the supernatural angle further.  Of course, I think the script could’ve used more work overall to develop its premise and characters beyond just base concepts.

The New Blood had some potential, and did deliver on inventive kills and a hard edged approach.  It feels like a brutal horror movie, but without the graphic visuals to complement it, due to the MPAA required cuts.  However, it really comes down to a weak script, and some uninspired casting choices that just make this an unimpressive sequel for me.  This could’ve delivered it all, but ultimately, delivered very little of anything, in my view.  There’s not much entertainment value that I take from this sequel as the characters are often yawn inducing with the lead of Tina Shepard being the biggest offender.  Again, it is very difficult to give a damn about who lives or dies when the characters are badly written or poorly acted.  I know this film has its big fans, but I just need more than edited down, suspense deprived brutality and Hodder’s great debut performance as Jason to win me over.