Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Monster Jams: Ultraphonix - Original Human Music (released 8/3/2018)
A killer surprise, Ultraphonix's Original Human Music is a stellar album that may be the best rock album to hit my radar in 2018. Heavy on variety, the album offers up some dope rock that leans toward metal, some funky jams, a soulful ballad or two, and frequent splashes of jazz and blues to keep things popping. It never misses, and as so-called "supergroups" go, singer Corey Graves (Living Colour), guitarist George Lynch (Dokken), bassist Pancho Tomaselli (War, Philm), and drummer Chris Moore (Cry Wolf, Damage, DeathRiders), deftly intertwine their respective talents to produce something new and distinct. While their efforts do conjure their greatest strengths, the end result isn't a nod to any of the performer's bands and certainly seeks to cover new ground. This is a key element of the album's success, and it is impressive that the band is able to take an experimental approach to much of the material without sacrificing intensity or cohesion in the process. Everyone has brought their A game, and everyone has their moment to shine, though Graves occassionally dominates the proceedings with his range and passion. Though he may not enjoy the same fanfare as Lynch, Tomaselli surely holds his own on bass, and while George shreds all over the place in blistering displays of talent and vision, Pancho provides Ultraphonix with a lively heartbeat and several deft flourishes of his own. Moore's work here is a bit more deliberate and less showy, but his steady hand is a key element of the band's ability to cover so much territory without getting lost in the wilderness. Standout tracks include "Walk Run Crawl," "Free," "Wasteland," and "Take a Stand," but you won't find a bad cut on this gnarly recording. Highly recommended!
Final Grade: A+
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Killer Comics: Justice League Dark #1 (2018)
DC has just hit us with a new Justice League Dark line-up and a fresh series, and this group and the book they inhabit are both well served by a gruesome first issue that fires on all cylinders. Some might view it as being heavy on the text, but James Tynion IV does a stirring job with his words, giving this book a distinct feel. It shows some self-awareness, weaves in a few good laughs, and deftly introduces us to the team while delivering a few quality jolts along the way. As first issues for team books go, I'm not sure that we could hope for much more. The pencils by Alvaro Martinez Bueno are simply amazing, with reach designs and a wealth of detail leaping off the page in a series of well-choreographed panels that keep the story moving in spite of all the exposition (which is prominent without getting in the way, another big win for this creative team). Genre mainstays like Zatanna and Swamp Thing (love the new look) are front and center, while we get a few cameos, a few surprise additions (Detective Chimp and Man-Bat, both of whom are granted new depth and utilized to maximum effect) and one superstar outlier, Wonder Woman. The stakes are high and while the overall pitch (magic is dying) may seem familiar to comic book aficionados who have enjoyed Marvel's recent work with Doctor Strange, Justice League Dark seems to be taking the concept in a different and more frightening direction. If you're looking for a new title to latch onto and you enjoy either horror comics or any of the characters involved (they had me at Swamp Thing), this feels like a book that you need to add to your reading list ASAP.
Final Grade: A
Monday, August 20, 2018
Short Attention Span Review: Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)
Count Yorga, Vampire is an underrated vampire flick from 1970 that succeeds for the same reasons that it isn't more noteworthy. It is a bit of a medley, and while this makes it unique for a sub-genre where there is most definitely a mold, it also means that it is a bit too loose in some respects. First off, you have Count Yorga as played by Robert Quarry, who is a typical suave vamp with a royal demeanor until it's time to feed. Then he becomes quite a beast, and Quarry does a fine job of embodying both aspects of this fanged fiend. Then you have the setting, which is very, very 70s, with an emphasis on loose cats looking for a good time and spreading the love. Finally, you have the tone of the picture, which often veers toward the sort of raw footage approach that would make Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre feel so real a mere four years later. While it doesn't reach that level of terror, the yield is also positive here, and at times Count Yorga, Vampire feels less like a Dracula clone and more like a gritty slasher flick, with the sort of intensity and bloodlust that makes such fare so vivid. Finally, you have an emphasis on the sensual side of vampire folklore, though it never feels like softcore and again veers toward slasher flick territory. While these various pieces may feel like a bizarre combo, I think that Count Yorga, Vampire works more often than not in spite of some serious flaws in character logic and some acting and cinematography that is, well, less than stellar. In my opinion, it is still worth watching for Quarry's performance alone, and those seeking a vampire story that has some of that classic feel while also presenting the folklore with a primal side and a bit of a mean streak won't find many better options. Finally, while it is telegraphed, the ending has some serious bite, and definitely stands as a fine example of the darkness and the sense of despair that so often defined 70s cinema.
Final Grade: C+
|For my money, Robert Quarry's work as Count Yorga ranks right up there with the likes of Christopher Lee, Chris Sarandon, and even Bela Lugosi--though Gary Oldman will always be king of this particular mountain.|
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Short Attention Span Review: The Car (1977)
The Car is a surreal horror film with a simple pitch that seemed destined to fail. Honestly, I'm not sure how they got the picture financed. It's basically Jaws in the desert with a mysterious black car filling in for a great white shark. Where did it come from? No one knows. Is anyone behind the wheel? No one knows. Why is it preying on the unfortunate residents of the dull and dusty town of Santa Ynez? You guessed it: no one knows. Can this malevolent menace on four wheels be stopped? James Brolin intends to find out. Brolin was always a serviceable leading man, and I think The Car is one of his better efforts. His grounded take on the determined sheriff in the eye of the storm is pivotal given the ridiculous nature of the picture. He's not alone in this regard, as the cast as whole performs admirably, with Kathleen Lloyd deserving special praise while Ronny Cox also shines in a rare sympathetic role. The effects are also worthwhile, and as it becomes clear the titular automobile is a supernatural vessel of death and destruction, The Car produces several stirring setpieces. It's impressive how exciting and even how frightening portions of this picture are. While I simply cannot fathom a vehicle constructed from these parts arriving on the scene as anything resembling a masterpiece, I must applaud director Elliot Silverstein and everyone involved for getting this weird horror flock to run as well as it does. Masterpiece? Surely not. Cult classic? Yes, it is certainly worthy of that status, and whether you enjoy it as much as I did or not, you'll likely be impressed with how well this unconventional premise is brought to life.
Final Grade: B+
|Seldom has a single image done such a fine job of summarizing a motion picture. This is The Car in a nutshell.|
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Short Attention Span Review: Flash Gordon (1980)
I don't think I can be objective here, but maybe I don't need to be. I don't really know, to be completely honest with you You see, I'm not sure that there is a greater paradox in the realm of the motion picture than Flash Gordon. It is entirely possible that this is a "so bad it's good" sort of movie. There are definitely a few bits at the very least that would have wound up on the cutting room floor if the powers that be were looking to create a genuine classic with this brazen affair. However, there is also a sense of majesty paired with some splendid entertainment value that elevates this colorful and quixotic gem. In terms of sheer enjoyment, it is hard to top, and despite some clunky performances and a few goofy moments courtesy of the FX or the plotting, it does many things amazingly well. The color palette is a true splendor, and the score is a genuine masterpiece courtesy of Queen, bolstered by a main theme that is nothing short of sheer perfection. The excitement is non-stop, and the stakes are incredibly high. The heroes are lovable and the villains are despicable, and anyone who doesn't smile while they partake of this feast for the senses is dead inside. And yet there are those wooden performances and those moments where you can't quite tell if the filmmakers are going for camp or simply missing the mark by a mile. It is cheeky. It is downright silly. And somewhere, deep down inside, your inner critic is bound to feel that the material is beneath you. But then it soars and despite your misgivings, you find yourself being blown away by all the energy and grandeur, and somehow the sappy plot gets under your skin. Then you're actually moved by this barrage of sight and sound that is a lot like a puppy: awkward, a little smelly, and 100% lovable. It's Flash Gordon. It could be terrible. It could be the greatest sci-fi adventure of all time. You're free to make your own call, but as for me, . . . well, it's the first movie I really remember seeing, at a drive-in no less. I have loved it for as long as I have loved the movies. Yes, it's true--I like Flash as much as Mark Wahlberg and Ted do. Maybe more.
Final Grade: A
|It may be of the "so bad it's good" variety. It may be totally legendary. I'm honestly not sure which is the right answer, but given our history I'm going to give Flash Gordon the benefit of the doubt here.|
Monday, August 13, 2018
Short Attention Span Review: The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Wes Craven was one of the biggest voices in horror for those of us fortunate enough to be fright fans in the 80s and 90s, and he kept on trucking until his demise in 2015. The People Under the Stairs is his ode to that creepy house in the neighborhood that everyone speaks of in hushed tones, and it is one of his most energetic and offbeat pictures. There are so many strange things happening in this particular house of horrors that the ghastly people under the stairs for whom the tale is named are merely bit players in a gleefully gory chiller. It takes about ten minutes for Craven to establish the scenario and the next ninety minutes are devoted to some of the most outlandish and grisly carnage he ever captured on film. While the supernatural elements that graced most of his spooky movies are absent from this shocker, it is no less frightening and perverse, and may even be a bit freakier than his typical fare. This is largely due to our main heavies, a devious pair of sinister outcasts played to the hilt by Everett McGill and Wendy Robie. Initially this demented couple register as more than a little quirky, but as the story progresses they go from kooky to sinister, and in the third act they graduate to vile, vicious, and unmistakably evil. They do so with guns blazing, but neither performer crosses the thin line into parody, and they are the chief architects of this film's unique legacy. However, young star Brandon Quintin Adams is also a great find, and both A.J. Langer and Sean Whalen aid him into providing the protagonists of this frightfest with a lot of heart, innocence, and courage. These heroic adolescents are a far cry from the horny teenagers who so often occupied those roles in horror flicks from this era, and that is another big victory for The People Under the Stairs. Maybe it runs just a bit too long, and maybe the ending goes off the rails a little here and there, but there can be no doubt that this is a wild ride from one of the genre's brightest minds. Any horror fan should enjoy a trip to this house where strange terrors lurk behind every corner, but do leave your expectations at the door. Craven surely broke new ground when he crafted this bloodthirsty oddity with a heart of gold.
Final Grade: B
|As it turns out, the titular people under the stairs aren't the biggest threats in Wes Craven's subversive house of horrors.|
Friday, August 10, 2018
Top 5 Chuck Norris Movies
I was born in 1978, but my memory wasn't firing on all cylinders as a babe, so that pretty much makes me a child of the 80s. As such, and given that I may be a bit of a martial arts fanatic, it should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of the one and only Chuck Norris. With that in mind, I decided to resurrect my Top 5 theme that has produced so many enjoyable pieces over the years and rank my favorite films starring everyone's favorite asskicker who has yet to take his asskicking talents to another plane of existence. First off, though, I should note that I am restricting this piece to films that Chuck received top billing in. The best film he ever appeared in was obviously Return of the Dragon, and his showdown with Bruce Lee during that picture's climax is also his best throwdown--but it won't be featured here. Sadly, his second best throwdown came in a picture where he did receive top billing, but The Octagon is kind of a mess and it didn't make my list either. Regardless, that's enough about movies that didn't make the cut; let's start at the bottom and work our way to the top.
#5) Firewalker (1986)
Okay, so admittedly Firewalker is a little hit and miss, but it makes up for what it lacks in special effects or polish in sheer entertainment. Norris does a bit of a send-up of his typical super badass persona here, and while his Max Donigan is a solid fighter, he isn't much of a marksman and it is certainly safe to say that he's not the sharpest tool in the shed. Chuck hams it up throughout this action adventure that frequently veers toward parody when it isn't paying homage to films like Raiders of the Lost Ark. While it can't be said that Norris has a gift for comedy, it is fair to say that his charisma and a decent script generate several laughs. Louis Gossett, Jr. was in his prime here, and it is entirely possible that he steals the show in his role as Leo Porter. Porter is a little savvier, a much better shot, and he's not exactly a pushover when it comes to fisticuffs. Norris and Gossett have solid chemistry and their bickering-laden friendship is one of Firewalker's biggest strengths. Sonny Landham is also rather imposing as the heavy, and Melody Anderson does a fine job of offsetting all the macho antics on display with a little beauty and grace--and she might bring more to the proceedings in the way of comedy than any of her co-stars. In the end, those looking for kung fu treachery may be a bit disappointed, but those who enjoy a goofy adventure yarn that goes for an equal measure of excitement and chuckles will have a lot of fun with this poor man's treasure hunt. I also think that the finale is worthwhile and I have no qualms about starting this list off with a Norris picture many of his fans may not be nearly as enamored with.
Final Grade: B-
|He's no Steve Martin, but Norris and the rest of the cast have a lot of fun with their roles in Firewalker.|
#4) The Delta Force (1986)
Early on, in a move that distinguishes it from standard Chuck Norris action films, The Delta Force takes a serious approach to the carnage on display. This is likely due to the parallels between the terrorist attack depicted in the movie and the actual hijacking of TWA Flight 847 a year prior to the film's release. The restraint is perhaps most evident in Robert Forster's cold and calculating performance as the villainous Abdul, though it also presents itself when the standard disaster film trappings (to include the presence of one George Kennedy in the cast) are never allowed to become overly sensational or melodramatic. Having said that, things change once Lee Marvin hits the scene, expertly playing a grizzled leader of men with a certain blonde-haired and battle-hardened human dynamo at his disposal. That's when the The Delta Force becomes standard action fare with an emphasis on good old American heroism and big ass explosions. The execution is top-notch; this is a slick production and Menahem Golan's direction is perfectly acceptable for a rousing shoot 'em up. This would prove to be Lee Marvin's final performance, and it is fitting that he went out playing the sort of tough guy role that he was famous for. Truthfully, the first half of this ode to beating up terrorists is riveting and tense while the second half is more of an idealized love letter to patriotic vengeance punctuated by a trademark Alan Silvestri score. Still, The Delta Force showcases an action icon in his prime alongside a cinema great and hits all the notes that it sets out to hit. The cast is loaded with familiar faces and while the picture would have benefited from a shorter run time, it's still a rip-roaring kick in the pants that showcases Chuck at his very best.
Final Grade: B-
|Yes, there is some restraint shown in portions of The Delta Force, but not in the "Chuck Norris driving a motorcycle outfitted with a rocket launcher" portion.|
You had me at "Chuck Norris gets captured in Vietnam and has to lead a daring escape from a brutal prison camp." True story: if that premise holds any appeal for you, you're going to have a great time with the best* film in the Missing in Action series. Colonel James Braddock is a trademark Norris role, and our man Chuck was clearly as adept at playing this kind of determined tough guy with an unbreakable spirit as he was at dishing out flying side kicks. This sequel/prequel sets the stage for a gung-ho finale by putting our war-ravaged hero and his fellow survivors through pure hell for much of the picture. The infamous rat scene (I'm not going to spoil this tasty bit for you if you haven't seen it) is not only one of this film's highlights, but also stands as the very epitome of a classic Chuck Norris moment. Soon-Tek Oh is sheer perfection as the heartless Colonel Yin, and his vicious tyrant may be the most loathsome villain Chuck ever squared off against. Several of Chuck's co-stars also shine in this one, with Steven Williams in particular giving the film some serious punch as Nester. A despicable traitor for 99% of his screen time, Nester makes quite an emotional exit when he ultimately redeems himself by sacrificing his life for the men he turned on. For a kickass action flick, there's actually a lot of emotion on display during the closing reel, and fans of this type of yarn are guaranteed to get fired up watching Braddock beat the shit out of Yin while dedicating his various kicks and punches to his fallen comrades. While it owes far more to red-blooded 80s action cinema than anything resembling a realistic take on the P.O.W. experience, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is a riveting flick with Chuck anchoring a worthy cast and delivering the goods.
Final Grade: B+
*To be fair, the first entry in this series is sub-par and the third one is nothing short of terrible.
*To be fair, the first entry in this series is sub-par and the third one is nothing short of terrible.
|Chuck leads a band of weary survivors as they suffer greatly before mounting an escape and kicking some serious ass in Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.|
#2) Silent Rage (1982)
What do you get when you blend a horror movie with a Chuck Norris action saga? Well, Silent Rage is surely a mixed bag, but it must be said that it is a highly entertaining mixed bag. As such, it does many things extremely well and it does many things just as poorly. Thankfully, it starts and finishes with grand flourishes, and this makes the movie's shortcomings easier to digest. In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that some of these shortcomings do venture into the realm of unintentional comedy; the romantic subplot is a genuine disaster, and the Stephen Furst stuff* is damn near unbearable. However, the horror bits are both the backbone and the best parts of Silent Rage. In addition to some quality suspense and a handful of nifty jolts, the slasher aspect of the picture yields several wicked action scenes pitting our man Chuck against a murderous madman who cannot be killed. Of course, there's also a totally needless subplot pitting Chuck against a biker gang that leads to a big brawl but ultimately seems out of place. Like I said earlier, it's a mixed bag. After a rock solid opening sequence that both establishes the villain and the hero of the picture and seemingly removes the villain from the equation, the movie flounders until psycho killer John Kirby (played by Brian Libby) rises from the dead. His resurrection comes as the result of a forbidden experiment gone awry and turns Kirby into an unstoppable madman whose wounds heal instantly. This frightening killer with an insatiable bloodlust proceeds to wreak havoc and there's a significant portion of Silent Rage where Kirby stalks Ron Silver (in a rare sympathetic role) and his wife. This section of the movie is incredibly intense and boasts the film's biggest scare. There's also a bit of cat-and-mouse shortly thereafter in a hospital that is equally riveting, and the big finale is very satisfying. The final shot is a standard genre trick, but it is executed to perfection and ends the film on a horrific note--and I'm cool with that. If the movie were more focused on delivering on its premise and less interested in forcing romance and comedy into the mix, Silent Rage might have emerged as a minor classic. As it is, it still stands as one of Chuck's very best, and I do rate this one as my favorite movie in his catalog given my horror jones and the strength of the parts of the movie that click.
Final Grade: B+
*As Charlie the dopey deputy, Stephen Furst bombs in a big way. His efforts at providing comedic relief fall flat and the very presence of his character is easily the movie's biggest shortcoming. I can't be the only one who shakes my head at the way Chuck Norris constantly assures this poor excuse for a human being that he has what it takes to be a good lawman. Making matters worse, the end result of this exercise in poor judgment is a gruesome demise for Charlie that subsequently requires Chuck to tenderly cradle the big dumbass in his arms for a tearful goodbye. If you can imagine that scene being anything less than an affront to acting, you have a fabulous imagination and you should definitely start your own blog.
|Chuck Norris may be the film's big selling point, but the tense and|
frightening aspects of Silent Rage are the picture's biggest strengths.
Lone Wolf McQuade owes as much to spaghetti westerns as it does to karate movies, and with Chuck in the driver's seat this proves to be a match made in heaven. The picture takes 80s action movies madness to such extremes that it is positively surreal at times, and nowhere is this more obvious than during the opening sequence. Seriously, the approach Chuck takes to corralling a band of Mexican desperadoes in the opening reel is 100% style and 0% plausibility, but it works to perfection, setting the stage for an operatic battle between good and evil painted in vivid strokes. Chuck was perfectly suited for the part of Texas Ranger J.J. McQuade, a determined lawman who approaches his job more like a man on a crusade than a policeman on a payroll. The villain he must contend with is a bold kingpin with a gift for martial arts, and David Carridine was perfectly suited for this role. McQuade is a man of grit and determination while Carradine's Rawley Wilkes is a sadistic vessel of pride and contempt. Here is another match made in heaven, and every interaction between these two titans pops in a big way, leading up to a stellar showdown. The score by Francesco De Masi is pure magic; while the on-screen action is already larger-than-life and bursting with color, the proceedings take on truly epic proportions when partnered with De Masi's spectacular themes. Additionally, Lone Wolf McQuade contains the Chuck Norris scene to end all Chuck Norris scenes. Picture this: McQuade, battered and unconscious, is tossed into his truck and the vehicle is buried beneath the desert sand. McQuade awakens, pops the tab on a beer, takes a big chug before dousing himself with the rest, and then he lets loose with a defiant roar and drives that mother right out of the ground. It's so damn silly and so very Chuck Norris that you can't help but love it. Lone Wolf McQuade is a slick exercise in machismo and style that I would rank as both the best Chuck Norris film out there and one of the best 80s action movies of them all.
Final Grade: A-
|Chuck Norris and David Carradine square off in a grand finale that is only one of the many epic moments in Lone Wolf McQuade.|
Thursday, August 9, 2018
Short Attention Span Review: Forced Vengeance (1982)
Forced Vengeance is a typical American kung-fu flick for its era, and as such, it is both amateurish in many ways and entertaining enough to warrant a viewing. The chief asset here is Chuck Norris, of course, and he plays a surprisingly hard-edged character. Also atypical for his work is the sex and extreme violence depicted herein, to include some gore to go along with all of the star's blazing kicks. I think this works in the film's favor, as the role of a casino enforcer wouldn't have worked with one of the actor's trademark "really nice guy who can kick a lot of ass" performances. Unfortunately, it is a bit mean-spirited and (even worse) decidedly misogynistic. That certainly takes a lot of the pleasure out of an action flick that never aspires to be anything more than a guilty pleasure. Bummer, dude. Oh, and lest I forget, the narration (courtesy of Chuck) is both totally unnecessary and 100% lifeless. It's like he's reading this shit for the first time, and the content consists of needless exposition (this is not a difficult film to follow) and woeful attempts at some poor writer's idea of kung fu noir. Take this nugget that serves to wrap things up: "Hong Kong. A borrowed place that lives on borrowed time. The British run it now. But in seventeen years, the lease runs out. And the People's Republic is the landlord. But this is a city of survivors. And whatever happens, Hong King will always be the place." Cue credits. Seriously. On the plus side, the choreography is above average (maybe second only to The Octagon* where Chuck's filmography is concerned), and Norris squares off against some decent opposition along the way. Michael Cavanaugh's Stan Raimondi is a surprisingly difficult foe to dispatch, and he's one of many villains who put up a decent fight. There are also some nifty touches from director James Fargo, with one battle displayed as a vibrant war of silhouettes that shows more artistry than one would expect from such a picture. All in all, this is a bit of mindless fun that would rank much higher and serve up a better viewing experience with a little more respect for the ladies and an absence of clumsy narration. Even with those considerable blemishes to take into account, Forced Vengeance is one of Chuck's better movies. It's not Top 5 material, but do keep in mind that while I love Chuck and I enjoy his work, he didn't make a lot of good movies.
*I've said this before, and I'll say it again: the closing reel wherein Chuck Norris tackles the ninja compound at the center of The Octagon is his best work as a leading man*, and that setpiece is kung fu flick royalty. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is a real drag, and despite those awesome fireworks by way of fisticuffs, the picture as a whole is a stinker.
**His work as Bruce Lee's nemesis in Return of the Dragon is his greatest accomplishment in the movies, and his climactic showdown with Bruce therein is one of the best duels ever in the history of martial arts cinema.
Final Grade: C+
|See that guy with the rifle?|
1) He is obviously one hell of a sentry.
2) He is about to get the shit beat out of him.
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Short Attention Span Review: Deadpool 2 (2018)
If you liked Deadpool, then you won't have any complaints about Deadpool 2. Ryan Reynolds was born to play this part, and the fact that the powers that be have allowed him to do it his way is both a sweet blessing for comic book fanboys and the secret to this franchise's success. In some ways, Deadpool 2 is better than its predecessor, particularly when it comes to big laughs and brawls. It also has a more interesting narrative, but it may suffer from a lack of focus, as it does seem to meander at times. It is also surprisingly sappy at times, and while it's hard to criticize a film for trying to inject more feeling into the proceedings, it certainly seemed a little odd to have Deadpool trying to pluck at my heartstrings. However, it does boast Josh Brolin as Cable, and that may be the real secret to this sequel's appeal. Reynolds is perfect as Deadpool, no doubt about it, and I enjoy his schtick, but it can be a bit grating. Brolin's more grounded approach (which still relies on a heavy dose of humor) is a fine way to balance things out and provide a worthy counterpart to Deadpool's inane shenanigans. Deadpool 2 is a little less vulgar than its predecessor, which I found surprising as sequels so often push the envelope in every way possible. However, it definitely ups the ante on the comedic front in a big way, and that was my favorite thing about it. Whereas Deadpool benefitted from a steady stream of chuckles, Deadpool 2 manages to do likewise while also sporting two bits that are as funny as anything you're apt to see. I'm talking sequences so hilarious that I couldn't catch my breath I was laughing so hard. I'm talking about a pair of comic setpieces that can rival the funniest parts of any movie ever lensed. Yeah, that funny. X-Force! So, in summary, Deadpool 2 is more of a mixed bag than the first one was, and it has a few chinks in its armor, but when it wins, brothers and sisters, it wins big.
Oh, and Reynolds continues to poke fun at his other comic book movie exploits to great effect, but his love/hate relationship with Hugh Jackman's Wolverine remains his greatest fallback. That stuff is golden.
Final Grade: B+
|No surprise here: Brolin is a welcome addition to this franchise. At this point, he has emerged as a true powerhouse who would be a welcome addition to most any franchise.|
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Short Attention Span Review: Halloween II (2009 - Rob Zombie version)
DISCLAIMER: There are two things that I should point out before we go any further. First, I am a big fan of Rob Zombie's movies, and I understand that these are polarizing ventures. His style isn't for everyone, but I dig it in a big way. Hell, John Carpenter is my favorite director, and I've gone out on a limb before* and stated that I found Zombie's Halloween to be superior to the original because I loved both the additional depth and the ramped-up carnage. Secondly, my praise here will refer ONLY to the director's cut** of Halloween II. I saw the theatrical cut upon release and deemed it an abject failure. After a friend nagged me for years, I finally gave the director's cut a chance and found it to be one hell of a horror film.
This is a case where you go in expecting one thing and get something else. The opening reel makes it seem like Rob Zombie's second dance with The Shape is going to be a blistering rehash of the original sequel--and it is FREAKING AMAZING!!! And then things take a hard left. One of the hardest lefts you're ever going to experience while watching a beloved horror franchise, in fact. And that may be too much for some to overcome, and it may have played a role in my disdain of the original release (though, upon comparison, there can be no doubt that it is grossly inferior to Zombie's preferred version) back in 2009. However, those who hang on for the ride will get their money's worth--and then some. While there are numerous departures from the source material at every turn and Zombie cross-pollinates a bloodthirsty slasher flick with the vision quest from hell, the end result is a dark and demented display of cold-blooded terror. Eerie, vicious, and even heartbreaking at times, Halloween II covers a lot of bizarre ground. Yet Zombie never loses his focus, and no matter how twisted things get, the center holds. There is little relief available to viewers in this unsettling journey into madness and despair, and at times Halloween II is so bleak that it becomes extremely hard to endure. Many feel that The Devil's Rejects is a tough watch, and I would agree, but Halloween II kinda makes that depraved grindhouse epic feel like a Spielberg movie. Many of the beats take the story to places I didn't want it to go, but the results are impossible to ignore, and the impact of Rob's dedication to painting such a horrid picture is devastating. There are moments of such unmistakable pain in this one that it emerges as one of the most haunting horror films I have seen, and that's just not what one typically expects from this sub-genre. Rob Zombie's Halloween II is bold and unconventional when we want it to be familiar, and then it gets meditative and disturbingly introspective when we want it to be titillating. I have little doubt that Zombie didn't expect fans to embrace this material with open arms, and the decision to forge ahead and challenge audiences with something so profound and terrifying is the very definition of audacious. I salute him, and while I wouldn't make my dog watch the theatrical cut, I heartily recommend the director's cut to my fellow fright fans. Just go in with an open mind and get ready to feel the fear.
Final Grade: B+
|Halloween II is everything you expect from a Rob Zombie film: brutal, grimy, frenzied, and profane. It is also both the strangest thing he has ever put on film and one of the most surreal horror films you're apt to see from an American director.|
**strange but true: I recommend the theatrical cut of Zombie's first Halloween and the director's cut of his sequel. I don't hate the director's cut of the first one as much as I despise the theatrical cut of the second one, but it is a big step down.
Monday, August 6, 2018
Short Attention Span Review: The Last American Hero (1973)
The Last American Hero is a plucky movie, much like its hero. It is determined to win the race, but it doesn't try to earn points for likability. Those expecting a warm and fuzzy sports movie where we root for a promising upstart and cheer his eventual success may be a bit puzzled by this one. Yes, it is about a promising upstart, and the movie does conclude with Jeff Bridges finally capturing the checkered flag as Junior Jackson. Yet Jackson (closely modeled after famed stock car racer Junior Johnson) isn't the warm and fuzzy type, and his win at all costs attitude and his take no shit demeanor are front and center while he begrudgingly offers up a few displays of innocence and good old boy charm. The filmmaking is authentic and invigorating; this looks and feels like the real thing, whether we're watching Jackson's early days running moonshine or his initial forays into auto racing. In addition to Bridges, who clearly had the makings of a star at this age, we get to see young Gary Busey shine and marvel at B movie legend William Smith, who damn near steals the show in what almost amounts to a bit part. Smith plays the antagonist, who is modeled after Richard Petty and is depicted as both formidable and vulnerable, and far too damn likable in spite of any flaws to be anything but a friendly rival. The movie speeds along, and while it takes us on a journey and fleshes out its characters, it just doesn't seem as satisfying as it should be. Maybe that is because Junior is so country tough and good old-fashioned stubborn that none of the various pitfalls he encounters shake him. Maybe it's because he is so damn determined to force his way into victory lane that neither he nor we get much of a chance to savor his successes. Maybe it's both. And, while that may not make for a cinematic experience a la Rocky or Rudy, it does ring true, and one is inclined to believe that this motion picture adequately conveys Tom Wolfe's writings about Junior Johnson. So, while it may not exactly lift your spirits, The Last American Hero is an insightful and captivating film, and it is surely worth a watch.
Final Grade: B
|A young Jeff Bridges displays star power in a lead role that is more about grit and determination than likability.|
Sunday, August 5, 2018
Short Attention Span Review - Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Having seen this masterpiece three times now, to include two showings at the theater, I feel that I am not rushing to judgment when I declare Avengers: Infinity War to be the best comic book movie of all time. This is an instant classic, peeps, and it stands as one of the greatest cinematic achievements I have ever had the privilege of enjoying. This is undoubtedly the biggest such spectacle ever presented on film, but with the superhero genre, in particular, we have often seen that too many ingredients spoil the dish. That's not the case here, and this stands as the perfect culmination of everything we've seen from Marvel since they took the reins and established their cinematic universe. Virtually everyone is on board, and everyone is given a worthy role. Seeing these characters pair up and watching them spar with one another and the biggest bad ever seen in a motion picture is an absolute joy. The script is flawless, with the feature displaying incredible depth and showcasing some of the best action setpieces we've ever seen, yet still managing to deliver an abundance of humor and several massive emotional beats along the way. It's impossible to pick a standout as everyone brings their A-game and the Russo brothers make such marvelous (forgive me) use of all their talents. I will say that the moment when the Guardians of the Galaxy hit the scene puts a tremendous smile on my face, and I do a fist pump every time grizzled Cap enters the fray. But there's so much more--I also delight in Thor's MVP role in the proceedings, and you just can't oversell Josh Brolin's artistry in creating one of the most imposing and relatable villains imaginable. I also loved seeing Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Okoye join forces, and that gut-wrenching climax is the stuff of legend. Marvel has given a new generation an Empire Strikes Back experience times ten, though thankfully modern audiences won't have to wait three whole years to see the good guys rise from the ashes. Marvel keeps raising the bar with their movies, but it is hard to imagine anyone topping this feast for the senses. Like everyone else, I can't wait for the sequel, and even though I've just watched Avengers: Infinity War for the third time, I can't wait to watch it again either. Best comic book movie ever. Word life.
Final Grade: A+
|Brolin's work as Thanos is amazing, and the unlikely decision to make him the true star of the picture makes Avengers: Infinity War the greatest comic book movie ever made.|
Friday, August 3, 2018
Powerful Pages - James Bond: Vargr by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters (Graphic Novel - 2016)
As a general rule, I am wary of movie properties being adapted as comic books. While I love both mediums, it just doesn't seem to work as well as it should in many instances. However, Marvel has recently revived their Star Wars line to tremendous effect, and the praise heaped upon this take on everyone's favorite super spy courtesy of Warren Ellis and Jason Masters forced me to give it a look. I'm glad everyone got the word out, because Vargr is a fantastic edition to the Bond catalog. Cutting edge, dark, thrilling, and moving at a rollicking pace, I couldn't put this grisly escapade down. Ellis did a fantastic job of plotting a non-stop assault that really put our hero through the wringer. Masters took a low-key approach to the art and elevated the piece with his deliberate work and his refusal to shy away from the gruesome effects of all the carnage taking place. I'm a big Bond fan, and I found Vargr to be as thrilling as any of his adventures on the big screen, and while it stayed true to the character, it was also the most ferocious take on the property I have encountered. If this were a movie, Daniel Craig could play the part, though it would be far closer to John Wick than Casino Royale in terms of brutality. While I note that Craig could play the part (and I honestly can't see any of his cinematic counterparts pulling off this level of phsyicality), I did like the fact that Ellis and Masters elected to render their own version of the character. He isn't drawn like any of the actors who played the role and he doesn't necessarily look like the bloke (forgive me) on the old Ian Fleming book covers either. In the end, I think that's precisely why this worked for me so well--Vargr felt perfectly at home in the character's legacy, but it was definitely its own thing. It didn't aim to pay homage, it aimed to take a beloved property and break new ground, and I think that Ellis and Masters accomplished their mission. Job well done, lads!
Final Grade: A
|Thrilling, dark, and action-packed, Vargr is a great entry into the Bond legacy.|
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Powerful Pages: The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty (1980)
The Ninth Configuration is a curious venture, so it naturally makes for a curious read. It defies expectations from the very start and interweaves some disparate genres in a quaint exercise in juxtaposition that makes it damn near irresistible. Originally published as Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane in 1966, the author revised the book and released it as The Ninth Configuration in 1980. Blatty will forever be associated with The Exorcist, which is one of the greatest horror novels of all time. Given the gothic trappings and a few macabre touches that are sprinkled throughout, many readers will expect something similar from The Ninth Configuration. They will surely be disappointed. In fact, anyone expecting anything that might equate to literal popcorn will be let down, as while the book exists largely as a comedy with a few horrific flourishes and one or two thrills, it is something entirely different at its core. The structure is also something that may dismay many, as The Ninth Configuration is told mainly through colorful dialogue, and boasts a significant number of characters and events for a relatively brief tale that doesn't reach 200 pages in length. At its quirky heart, this is a story of redemption, and it is frequently as much of a debate as it is a narrative. The themes are complex, with the very nature of good and evil being explored as the power and authenticity of both psychology and religion are laid bare alongside equally insightful exploration of humanity itself. These are heavy beats for a short book loaded with slapstick humor and a few provocative descents into terror and bloodshed. While the end result is sure to be found lacking by those looking for something less quizzical and more titillating, I couldn't help but be overjoyed. I laughed often, I was on the edge of my seat at times, and I found the conclusion to be profoundly moving. Most importantly, The Ninth Configuration is the kind of book that you will not be able to experience without asking yourself some serious questions and pondering some of those powerful themes with a fresh perspective.
Final Grade: A-