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Deep Rising (1998)

Deep RisingThe recommendation to see this film came from an odd source.  An internet radio show discussion about the biggest box office bombs of all time.  Deep Rising did just over $11 million on a $45 million budget in 1998 with a cruddy January release date.  This was undoubtedly a major failure on behalf of the marketing campaign because, for me, this is a fun, exciting, scary, and action-packed film that is designed as a crowd pleaser.  This comes to us from Stephen Sommers whose follow-up would be the massively successful and entertaining The Mummy, and if you enjoyed that film I really believe Deep Rising should work just as well for you.

The most luxurious cruise liner in the world, owned by Simon Canton (Anthony Heald), is on her maiden voyage when it is damaged and attacked from beneath the sea.  Meanwhile, John Finnegan (Treat Williams) and his crew, who have a policy of “if the cash is there, we don’t care,” transport what turn out to be a band of ruthless hijackers who intend to seize and rob the cruise.  However, when they all arrive, they discover the passengers have mysteriously disappeared, but they are not alone.  Something is lurking behind every deck and passageway, snatching the intruders one by one, and they all now must fight together to escape with their lives.

What pleasantly hooked me first is the good cast.  It’s not a stunning set of acting jobs, but these are actors who were having fun with the material and strike a solid chemistry.  I’ve been seeing Treat Williams lately in television guest spots, but as a fatherly figure.  Him as more of an action centric lead was really good.  He demonstrates a fun, lively charisma that keeps you invested in how this plot unfolds.  He felt very capable and comfortable in this role, which was originally intended for Harrison Ford.  If you can think of Air Force One Harrison Ford, I’m sure the idea fits fine in your head, but Williams really does a superb job in this lead role.  One might expect having him and Famke Janssen billed as leads would add up to a particular romantic subplot.  There is a relationship built up between them, but the film doesn’t slow down for them to develop it in a traditional way.  It’s more of a bond built out of the intensity of the situation, but there’s some nice pay-off with them at the end.  They work well together equally carrying the weight of the action nicely.

Famke Janssen’s character, Trillian St. James, is a thief who tries to use slight of hand to slip into Canton’s vault early on, and really only survives due to being locked in the brig.  However, the character doesn’t have much to her after the thief plot has evaporated, and is certainly doesn’t show off Janssen’s incredible talent.  So, it’s not a film that’s going to go deep into characters like Die Hard, but the action moves fast enough that you don’t really notice it.  I also enjoyed the humor from Kevin J. O’Connor’s character of Joey, Finnegan’s fun and quirky mechanic.  Stephen Sommers would use him very regularly in his films from here on out, and I think O’Connor is a very good actor showing a range from serious roles like in Lord of Illusions to outright comedy in The Mummy.  It’s possible that not everyone would enjoy him as the comic relief, but for me, he’s a little charming and surely funny.  I never found him obtrusive as he definitely works well with Treat Williams, but also has some good adversarial dynamics with the mercenary characters.

Wes Studi portrays the mercenary leader Hanover to great effect.  The actor should be known to Michael Mann fans as he had a supporting LAPD role in Heat and a prominent role in The Last of the Mohicans.  Here, the work as Hanover is not as demanding, but he portrays a solid adversary who holds a tenuous allegiance through this harrowing scenario with Finnegan.  At anytime, he can be strictly in command, but he can be, usually, smart enough to know when to work side-by-side in order to survive.  The actors portraying his mercenaries are very good especially Trevor Goddard who was Kano in the live action Mortal Kombat movie.  I enjoyed him being in the movie so much that I wish he was in more of it.

I’m actually a big fan of Anthony Heald.  I’ve seen him on screen a few times on Law & Order and Miami Vice, but my fandom is more from his great voice work on various Star Wars audio books.  He’s got a lot of sly, ingenious talent, and he portrays Simon Canton very entertainingly.  As the film progresses, you learn some unsavory, underhanded things he’s done, and Heald plays up that aspect more and more.  He takes what appeared to be a very refined yet charismatic and cowardly character and deteriorate him into a despicable, enjoyably sleazy adversary.  He was fun to watch, and the film deals with its less desirable characters with a lot of satisfaction.  Overall, I think all of the actors do a good job as they seemed to all put their best foot forward for this fun thrill ride.

The pacing right out the gate is really solid.  It keeps moving forward at a tight rhythm and pace to rarely ever linger on any one scene.  This is aided by some signature Sommers humor that is sharp and succinct.  The actors all have really good chemistry to make this work, and Sommers maintains the right balance to not sacrifice good tension and terror for laughs.  Still, I was thinking about halfway through the runtime how the film was going to keep up this survival / escape plan plot for another fifty minutes, but it throws in a number of smart turns, dangerous obstacles, and thrilling sequences to achieve that.  Sommers keeps the film rolling forward with a lot of momentum, and of course, people get picked off one-by-one escalate the peril.  Sommers gives us a fine melding of horror and action with enough to satisfy whatever you primarily desire more.  Plenty of people get killed and eaten in bloody fashion, and there’s more than enough gunplay and fiery explosions to amp up the excitement.  Yet, overall, it’s just fun without taking itself too seriously.

By no doubt, this is a fairly simple plot.  Deep Rising starts out as a covert heist mission on the sea, but intriguingly twists into a sea monster movie that requires everyone to fight to survive.  Why they don’t just haul ass out of there is handled well as Finnegan’s boat needs hull and engine repairs.  Yet, it’s not a simple task getting out of the luxury cruise liner as danger awaits at every turn and in every flooded deck.  Even then, not everyone between Finnegan’s crew and these mercenaries can trust one another, and that plays nicely into keeping the adventure treacherous.  This felt like a nice mix of The Poseidon Adventure and Aliens with a little dash of Die Hard for the thieves / mercenaries plot.  I just really liked the close quarters feel of the ship which also reminded me of Friday The 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, but achieved with better results.  There really is so much potential for a suspenseful movie set in that environment, and this film really delivered that to my satisfaction.

Still, as I was watching this I was waiting for something to pop up on screen to justify this film’s box office reputation.  Just something stupid or low grade.  I was enjoying it so much that I was expecting the CGI to be really bad, but quite frankly, in general, this is particularly good for the late 90’s.  It’s rather on par with the digital effects in The Mummy for the most part, and the sea creature itself is impressively designed.  That design is courtesy of Rob Bottin who was responsible for the groundbreaking and timeless creature effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing.  There’s some traces of that in here, but Bottin is able to make it its own distinct creation.  Tentacles are everywhere, and the long jagged teeth springing out from it are frightening.  The tentacles frequently slither out from nowhere, or bust out from the hull or metal corridors.  Sommers does a great job building up tension and suspense by gradually unveiling the creature.  We get small glimpses of it, and even when you think you’ve seen it in all of its slimy, ferocious glory, the climax gives you the Coup de grâce.  There are plenty of fun scares and thrills in how these dangerous scenarios unfold from well crafted tension to straight out intense action beats.

The action all around is just great with a really great, slick, high octane finale, and all of those thrills, tension, and intensity are well fleshed out with Jerry Goldsmith’s score.  It just has a great driving rhythm and rousing, dramatic momentum to it, clearly reflecting the movie right on the mark.  I didn’t expect Goldsmith’s name to be attached to this movie, but he really did deliver something solid that played up the strengths of it.  It’s never going to amongst his revered legacy of work, but he did his job perfectly with this score by giving it just what it required.

Held together by some solid cinematography that always keeps the geography of these close quarters very coherent, and editing that maintains that consistent rhythm and tempo, I really have to say Stephen Sommers did an excellent job here.  No one tried to make Deep Rising out to be more than what it was designed to be – a big, fun, suspenseful, action-packed ride.  The film does have this sequel tease at the end, and while that was probably a fun final moment back in 1998, it’s not so much fifteen years later.  Knowing the film bombed and no sequel was ever made, it just leaves you desiring a more proper conclusion to this adventure.  Regardless, Deep Rising showed a lot of potential to be a hit.  However, its failure was not the fault of the movie, but of a really underwhelming marketing campaign.  The trailer feels like a slapped together direct-to-video trailer which conveys none of the film’s suspense or wider plot elements, and instead, relies a lot on CGI shots of the monster.  That trailer sells this as a forgettable, cheaply executed movie.  The poster campaign had some good teaser style ideas but lacked a big eye catching poster to encapsulate the film’s overall excitement and scare factor.  It even resorts to promoting it as being “from the special effects team who made Total Recall and Star Wars.”  How is that supposed to sell the quality of the movie?  Beyond all that, a late January release was not a target for big box office success.  Stephen Sommers made a really solid crowd pleaser of a movie, but was marketed lazily.  That’s a real shame because this is a film I would’ve loved to have even seen back in 1998.  It would’ve been a long time action favorite of mine.  Still, I really like the tagline of “Full Scream Ahead.”  Anyway, you can tell that I give Deep Rising a really solid recommendation.  I thoroughly enjoyed everything it had to offer, and I think a lot of other people will, too.


Identity (2003)

This film, directed by James Mangold, is one that I was very impressed with in its original theatrical release, and revisiting it now, it still holds up as an effective thriller.  Supported by a remarkable ensemble cast and a brilliant screenplay, Identity delivers a mind-bending story that cleverly weaves its way around a classic murder mystery premise.

Strangers from all different walks of life are all trapped by a torrential rain storm on a Nevada road one night.  They are forced to take shelter at an old roadside motel, run by the nervous manager Larry (John Hawkes).  There is Ed Dakota, a limo driver, escorting fading television star Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay), the turbulent married couple of George & Alice York (John C. McGinley & Leila Kinzel) with their young son Timothy (Bret Loehr), Rhodes, a Department of Corrections officer transporting the dangerous convict Robert Maine (Jake Busey), a beautiful call girl (Amanda Peet), and a couple of young newlyweds (William Lee Scott & Clea DuVall).  None of them are at ease amongst these strangers, but circumstances become dire when someone begins murdering them one-by-one.  Accusations begin to fly as paranoia and fear escalate, but they will all begin to discover very strange truths about their supposed chance encounter here.  Meanwhile in an undisclosed location, in an eleventh hour court hearing, psychiatrist Dr. Mallick (Alfred Molina) tries to prove the innocence and sanity of his patient, Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who has been convicted of murder, and is scheduled to face execution in twenty-four hours.  How both of these stories connect is a mystery of identity.

This film will keep you guessing from one moment to the next as to many things.  Many twists unfold in plot and perception, and when you think this film has twisted your thoughts into many knots, it throws one final one at you.  Now, these twists won’t leave you lost, there’s plenty of breathing room and enough exposition to allow you to understand all that is happening.  It is very cleverly paced and structured to keep an audience ensnared through the entire mystery.  This film is tense, suspenseful, creepy, and haunting.  It is an excellent psychological thriller that has far more to it than just a group of people getting killed off in a very Agatha Christie fashion.  In fact, no other film I have seen has utilized this genre quite so well.  There is just as much psychological terror for the characters as there is for the audience.

Director James Mangold brilliantly builds suspense and paranoia with a troubling sense of unease.  A group of strangers stranded in a run down desert motel definitely lends to that feeling.  Considering one of them is a known violent criminal heightens that even more.  Subtle things are revealed to the audience that add to our apprehension knowing certain people are not who they claim or appear to be.  This creates plenty of clever misdirection.  Add in some volatile and emotionally distressed characters, and the tension is wrapped so a tight, unnerving level.  When that tension finally breaks, it’s heart pounding.  The film hardly never allows an audience to relax fully.  There’s regularly some form of urgency or excitement that propels the characters forward towards danger.

The style of the film is very original such as with the immediate flashbacks.  You’ll see a lot of them at the start and a bit near the end.  They show how certain events brought everyone together in a unique non-linear fashion.  It nicely punctuates certain plot elements such as it was Paris’ high-heeled shoe that flew out of her opened suitcase that caused the York’s flat tire later that night.  It’s a nice, quick storytelling tool that helps move the story ahead quickly without leaving even small questions unanswered.  I enjoyed that element quite a bit, and the direction and editing of them was very handled well.  The addition of the rain storm throughout the film is classically atmospheric, and adds to the treacherous, mysterious qualities of the plot.  Danger and paranoia are abound as things get stranger and stranger, and the torrential rain and thunder claps simply unsettle the characters and the audience further.

The surreal aspects are also subtly handled.  They forge an underlying peculiarity for the strangers at the motel.  They attempt to explain them in various ways, but eventually, these occurrences go far beyond mere coincidence or rationale.  They can’t make sense of it, but it truly freaks them out.  It creates a bizarre, twisted web for them all.  These aspects build up so beautifully to an absolutely mind-blowing revelation.

Identity is masterfully shot and edited.  Shooting in all that nighttime rain never muddles the visuals.  We always have a clear picture of what’s happening without sacrificing the dramatic, moody cinematography.  The film evenly balances between various indoor and outdoor scenes giving an audience enough variety in the visuals to keep our eyes interested.  There is such great atmosphere crafted into how the film is shot, and the editing really supports the lingering suspense expertly.  When things begin deconstructing in the third act, the editing creates an amazing visual style which perfectly represents the psychological chaos.  It’s all a superbly executed thriller with many gripping twists and turns that have an excellent conclusion.

This ensemble cast is magnificent!  There strong performances all around with John Cusack being the obvious trusting protagonist.  He brings his usual heart and wit along with a solid dramatic weight.  Ed Dakota is a very relatable character with a great depth of pain and desire to do what is right.  He’s given a strong back story that Cusack really grasps the emotional weight and guilt Ed carries with him, making him someone we can invest our confidence in.

Ray Liotta has a nice turn showing both a hardened strength and a shadier side that surfaces later on.  He is very intense, confrontational, and adversarial while projecting a presence of authority with a more temperamental edge.  Jake Busey is convincingly intimidating and dangerous with a crazed look in his eye coupled with his reliable charisma.  John Hawkes is another stellar actor who can deliver a deep array of emotions.  Here, he runs the full gamut ranging from nervous and skittish to violent and unhinged.  And I really have to say that Rebecca De Mornay is hotter here than I have ever seen her before.  She’s beyond gorgeous in my view, as I have an affinity for red heads, and she does a wonderful job as the somewhat egotistical actress Caroline Suzanne.  She’s definitely a pleasure.  And of course, I always expect nothing less than excellence from John C. McGinley, as many do these days, and he doesn’t fail here.  His George York is a very nervous man with little self-confidence who doesn’t cope with these violent, tragic situations well.  McGinley brings a lot of compassion and simple innocence to this caring husband and step-father.

Alfred Molina is perfect as Dr. Mallick presenting a soft-spoken, intelligent psychiatrist with a sense of empathy.  Pruitt Taylor Vince has always impressed me taking on some substantive and sometimes peculiar roles, and doing an exceptionally unique and standout job in them.  For what little time he has on screen, he brings that same level of talent to Malcolm Rivers.  That jittery eye trick he does seems to land him these off-kilter roles, and it is distinctly effective.

I really have to hand it to the screenwriting talents of Michael Clooney, and especially the directorial abilities of James Mangold.  Both crafted together a very solid, smart, and effective thriller that has plenty of genuine scares and suspense to entertain an audience.  Because of this, it still has re-watch value.  The film is so strong that it would still work just as marvelously without the major twist at the end.  The mystery thriller aspect with people being killed off at the motel is just expertly executed in every way.  The addition of said twist just ups the psychological brilliance of the concept.  I definitely give Identity a wholehearted recommendation, just as I did when it was theatrically released.


Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

This has always been one of my absolute favorites of this franchise.  It delivers largely on entertainment value, and a far superior script and cast than A New Beginning had to offer.  This wraps up the Tommy Jarvis trilogy of films with a very satisfying climax, and there is so much that goes into making it such a great film.

Crystal Lake has been renamed to Forest Green in order to distance the town from its blood soaked past, but Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) is not yet free of his past.  Tommy and his friend Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo) return to the town to dig up Jason’s corpse and cremate it to eradicate the nightmare that’s plagued Tommy since childhood.  However, an iron rod and a lightning strike resurrect Jason as an undead juggernaut, and he immediately resumes his killing spree.  Tommy attempts to motivate the local police into action, but knowing of Tommy’s institutionalization, Sheriff Mike Garris (David Kagen) writes him off as disturbed and has him locked in a holding cell.  However, the Sheriff’s daughter, Megan Garris (Jennifer Cooke), becomes intrigued and invested in Tommy while she and her friends re-open Camp Forest Green for the weekend to host a bus load of kids.  As Jason closes in on the camp and builds up his body count, Megan chooses to aid Tommy in bringing an ultimate end to Jason’s reign of terror.

Slasher films of the mid-to-late 1980s were getting tamed down by the MPAA requiring a lot of gore to be cut to gain an R rating.  That hurt the quality and effectiveness of so many horror movies at this time, but Jason Lives was able to offer more entertainment value beyond the gore.  Writer / director Tom McLoughlin approached this film with a love for classic horror, but also, a desire to add some appropriate humor to liven up the movie.  Bringing Jason back from the grave required a bit of leap for the franchise, but it was handled very smartly with the use of some classic monster movie ideas.  Jason being resurrected by a lightning bolt much like Frankenstein’s Monster is a clear example of that.  The atmosphere McLoughlin added stands out amongst the franchise.  The whole film has this wonderful blue tone with shadow and fog which sets a great visual atmosphere that is evocative of those old noir like Universal monster movies.  Unfortunately, the Deluxe Edition DVD of the film screwed up the color timing so the blue tones are now green, and if this ever gets a Blu Ray release, this is possibly the transfer they will use.

Thom Mathews is my favorite Tommy Jarvis.  He’s finally a full fledged hero taking action to combat Jason directly.  Mathews has plenty of diversity to easily handle the dramatic, action, and lightly humorous demands of the script.  Tommy’s presented as a stronger character than before, but still with an underlying twinge of obsession.  Still, he is ultimately driven to destroy Jason in order to prevent him from killing more innocent people.  That is the right turnaround from the previous film where Tommy just stood around and did next to nothing.  He’s still haunted, but is taking action to rid himself of this waking nightmare once and for all.  Thom Mathews is a strong lead that really shines through, and sparks up a wonderful chemistry with his female lead Jennifer Cooke.  She provides a very spirited and strong willed young lady that is hard to handle for her father or Tommy.  Cooke has charisma, energy, and allure to spare.  She carries herself very well amongst this fun and talented cast – always standing out but never eclipsing anyone.  Megan Garris is a tremendous lively addition to the formula as a smart, fun, assertive, and sexy female lead.

David Kagen is very impressive as Sheriff Garris.  He’s smartly written to be a well-rounded character that is never dumbed down for convenience’s sake.  Kagen makes a big impression right from the start as an assertive man of authority.  Yes, he’s antagonistic to Tommy Jarvis, but anyone would be hard pressed to buy his story of Jason rising from the grave.  Looking at it from Garris’ perspective, he’s acting entirely properly since he doesn’t know what we know as an audience.  He’s an excellent protector for the people of Forest Green and his daughter.  Kagen does a great job making him both a realistic hard ass that you don’t want to mess with, and a rational and often fatherly man with a heart.  It’s wonderfully diverse from McLoughlin’s writing to Kagen’s acting.  Certainly by the third act, he becomes a solid heroic figure that you’re rooting for all the way.

The rest of the cast is a lot of fun.  They feel very much of the 1980s with their fashions, haircuts, and just their general personalities.  Each character has plenty of richness to them to feel like fully realized people, and the cast have plenty of chemistry and charisma to remain entertaining and pleasant to spend time with.  This is one of the most talented casts of the whole franchise, and truly the most fun of them all.

The role of Jason Voorhees eventually fell to C.J. Graham in this film.  However, there are a few scenes, most notably the paintball one, where Jason is portrayed by someone else, but he was quickly replaced with Graham.  That was a very good choice because C.J. truly defined the undead Jason.  He gave the slasher a more menacing body language that was just enough zombie while still being aggressive and intimidating.  He’s definitely one of my favorites.

To aid Graham’s notable turn behind the hockey mask, Jason Lives offers up a slew of creative kills and substantial gore.  While a good deal of graphic content still had to be cut, the horror aspects still sell very well.  Hawes getting punched through the chest, and Jason ripping out his heart is very shocking early on.  It’s an excellent first impression of the strength of this resurrected Jason.  Tom McLoughlin definitely showed he had fun conceiving and creating this film with all the original kills, and indulging in some nice action sequences.  An RV gets flipped on its side driving down the road, and there’s a nice car chase between the cops and Megan’s classic red Camaro.  It’s all very exciting and new stuff injected into a franchise that needed a breath of fresh air at this point.  The addition of several great Alice Cooper tracks from his Constrictor album was just brilliant.  It gave the film an additional promotional boost, and for Cooper, it gained him me and many others as fans.  However, the song “Hard Rock Summer” didn’t see release until the 1999 “The Life & Crimes of Alice Cooper” box set along with the Movie Mix of “He’s Back.”

I’m sure the dark humor of the film turned a number of people off in 1986.  The box office takes of the films steadily declined after Part 3 until the big success of Freddy vs. Jason, and so, this was no bigger of a hit than A New Beginning.  However, since its release, Jason Lives has gained a strong standing in the franchise.  It’s regularly praised as one of the best, and it is easy to see why.  Again, it’s very exciting and filled with a strong visual atmosphere.  Of course, it’s the story and its pacing that are the strongest.  The film has almost a constant urgency about it with Tommy facing the obstacles of Sheriff Garris and the police while Jason is out slaughtering people.  There’s enough going on with the Tommy / police conflict to keep it exciting with him being escorted out of town, getting apprehended in the car chase, and then, having to breakout of his cell with Megan’s help.  It’s a very solid build up to a especially fresh, strong, and fiery climax.  Intercutting between two stories is usually the most surefire way to maintain momentum and rhythm in a film, and McLoughlin shows a great sense of both.  Editor Bruce Green deserves a lot of credit for also keeping the pacing tight and sharply to the point.

Composer Harry Manfredini’s music changed distinctly with this sequel.  I’m sure there are those that would have preferred him sticking with the classic sound of Friday The 13th, but I have no particular preference either way.  It’s become part of the overall identity of the film which tonally sets it apart from most of the other films.  While I’m sure a first time viewer might have difficulty adjusting the new sound, I still feel it’s appropriate for the film Tom McLoughlin made.

While Friday The 13th Part 2 is my favorite of the classic formula, Jason Lives really is my favorite of the undead Jason era.  I believe writer / director Tom McLoughlin put together a thoroughly satisfying sequel which strongly wraps up the Tommy Jarvis storyline, and is filled with a fun 1980s style.  After the creative failure of A New Beginning, he gave us a film that felt lively and entertaining with some highly memorable and enjoyable characters.  The self-referential humor is nicely balanced with the horror aspects, and careful avoids falling into self-satire or parody.  It remains light and realistic, never making the characters appear dumb or foolish.  It is a very smartly written film that is executed with an equal level of intelligence.  I give this film glowing praise all around, and I highly recommend it.