Horror on the Lens: Cast a Deadly Spell (dir by Martin Campbell)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a real treat!

Produced for HBO in 1991, Cast a Deadly Spell takes place in an alternate 1948, where magic is used regularly and zombies are used as slave labor but the streets of Los Angeles are just as mean as they’ve ever been.  Fred Ward gives a fantastic performance as Harry Phillip Lovecraft, a hard-boiled P.I. who refuses to use magic on general principle.  Lovecraft, however, may have no choice when he finds himself embroiled in a case involving a magic book, Julianne Moore, and Clancy Brown!

Enjoy!

(If you want to know more about the film, check out this review that I wrote for Horror Critic.)

A Movie A Day #292: The Bride (1985, directed by Franc Roddam)


The Bride opens where most films about Frankenstein and his monster end.

The Baron (played by fucking Sting, of all people) has agreed to create a bride for his creation, who in this movie is named Viktor and played by Clancy Brown.  Jennifer Beals plays the Bride, who is named Eva.  Eva looks like a normal, beautiful wielder-turned-dancer so when she first sees Viktor, she screams.  Viktor gets upset and starts to trash the laboratory.  “Don’t be impertinent!’ snaps the Baron’s assistant (Quentin Crisp).  A fire breaks out.  Quentin Crisp dies and so does another assistant played by Timothy Spall.  The monster escapes.  The Baron takes Eva into his household.  The Baron is obsessed with controlling Eva, who wants her independence and who has fallen in love with Cary Elwes.  When Eva sees a cat, she screams.  “You never told me about cats,” she tells the Baron, “I thought it was a tiny lion!”

The rest of the movie is a bewildering collection of cameos from respected thespians forced to recite some of the worst dialogue in film history.  Viktor befriends Rinaldo the dwarf (David Rappaport), who tells Viktor about how much he dreams of one day seeing Venice.  After Rinaldo is murdered by Alexei Sayle, Viktor swears that he will go to Venice and he will take Eva with him.

(Timothy Spall,  Quentin Crisp, and Alexei Sayle are not the only British performers to be strangely miscast in The Bride.  Keep an eye out for Phil Daniels, Ken Campbell, and Tony Haygarth, all wasted in small roles.)

The Bride attempts to put a revisionist, feminist spin on the story of Frankenstein but it ultimately just looks like a two hour Duran Duran video, with a guest vocals provided by Sting.  The scenes with Clancy Brown and David Rappaport work but otherwise, every important role is miscast.  Jennifer Beals is monotonous as the Bride and Sting never comes close to suggesting that he is capable of the type of mad genius that would be necessary to create life.  When it comes to the Bride of Frankenstein, stick with the original.

One final note: Both Sting and Phil Daniels also appeared in a much better film from Franc Roddam, Quadrophenia.  I recommend seeing Quadrophenia almost as much as I recommend forgetting about The Bride.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Warcraft (dir by Duncan Jones)


Last night, my cousin and I watched Warcraft, which is a film that has been called “the worst of 2016” by several critics.

Personally, I don’t think it’s the worst film of 2016.  It didn’t make me physically ill, like Hardcore Henry did.  My cousin — who, unlike me, has actually played all of the Warcraft games and therefore came into the film already knowing who and what everything was — says that he enjoyed it.  On the basis of both Moon and The Source Code, I think Duncan Jones is a genius who will eventually emerge as one of the most important directors working right now.  Dominic Cooper is in Warcraft and so is Ben Foster.  They’re both fairly unrecognizable (thought not as unrecognizable as Clancy Brown!) but they’re also two excellent actors and I’m always happy to see them listed in the credits.  Visually, the film was well-designed though it was impossible for me not to think about the Make Love, Not Warcraft episode of South Park.

But I have to say that no film has ever left as totally confused as Warcraft.  I got that the film was about a war between Orcs and humans.  And I appreciated the fact that the film attempted to give all of the Orcs their own individual personalities and culture.   If I wanted to, I could probably spend a few 100 words talking about how the war in Warcraft can serve as a metaphor for every war currently being fought in the real world.

But seriously, I spent nearly the entire film trying to keep straight who was who.  The cast was huge and the dialogue was full of people and creatures talking about magic and honor and history and tradition and sacrifice and why so-and-so had to do this to such-and-such because of something that happened to someone else centuries ago and it made my head hurt trying to keep up with it all.  I eventually gave up.  My cousin was enjoying the film and, in the end, that’s all that mattered.

Plus, there was a cute little orc baby!  I liked him and his story reminded me of the story of Moses floating away in that basket.

Anyway, Warcraft was slaughtered by critics and, because it cost a ton of money to make, it didn’t make any money back.  So, the film probably won’t get the sequel that the ending was obviously designed to set up.  However, I get the feeling that, next year, Warcraft will be a popular film to live tweet whenever it shows up on SyFy.

It may have been the most incoherent film of 2016 but it wasn’t necessarily the worst.

Guilty Pleasure No. 31: Hail, Caesar! (dir by the Coen Brothers)


Sometimes, I wonder if I was the only filmgoer who actually enjoyed Hail, Caesar! when it was released in February.

Oh, don’t met wrong.  I know that I’m being a bit overdramatic when I say that.  It got some good reviews from the critics, though the praise was rather muted when compared to the reviews that traditionally greet the latest film from the Coen Brothers.  I know more than a few people who have agreed with me that Hail, Caesar! was an entertaining lark of a film.

But I know a lot more people who absolutely hated Hail, Caesar!  Of course, no film is going to please everyone and the Coen Brothers have always had a tendency to attempt to deliberately alienate their audience.  But what has always struck me is the fact that the people who disliked Hail, Caesar seem to really, really dislike it.  Talk to them and you get the feeling that they view Hail, Caesar as almost being some sort of a crime against both humanity and cinema.

Taking place in a stylized Hollywood in 1951, Hail, Caesar! tells the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie is a shadowy figure.  As head of production at Capitol Pictures, Eddie’s job is to keep the “bad” behavior of the stars from getting out into the press.  (The press is represented by Tilda Swinton who, in a typical Coen Brothers twist, plays twin sisters who are rival gossip columnists.  If the thought of that makes you smile, you are potentially a part of the right audience for Hail Caesar.  If it makes you roll your eyes, you should probably avoid the film.)  Eddie is the most powerful man in Hollywood and he will do anything to protect the image of the American film industry.  He will lie.  He will cheat.  He will threaten.  He is so ruthless and so good at his job that even Lockheed Martin is trying to hire him away from Capitol.  And yet, at the same time, Eddie is also a family man and a Catholic who is so devout that he goes to confession on a nearly hourly basis.

(For all you non-Catholics out there, Pope Francis only goes to confession twice a month.)

Hail, Caesar! follows Eddie as he deals with a series of potential problems.  Temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is upset because he’s been forced to cast Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, giving the film’s best performance), a good-natured but inarticulate cowboy star, in his sophisticated comedy.  Synchronized swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansoon) is not only pregnant but unmarried as well!  (It’s the 50s, remember.)

However, the biggest crisis is that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has vanished from the set of his latest film. A mysterious group known as The Future has taken credit for kidnapping him.  It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that The Future is a cell of communist scriptwriters and they are determined to convert the rather dumb Baird to the struggle.  As opposed to most films about Hollywood in the 50s, the communist screenwriters are portrayed as being a bunch of self-righteous and rather cowardly nags, the majority of whom spend more time debating minutiae than actually trying to the overthrow capitalism.  In many ways, Hail, Caesar is the anti-Trumbo.

As you might guess from the plot description, there’s a lot going on in Hail, Caesar but none of it really adds up too much.  Nor is it supposed to.  We’re encouraged to laugh at these frantic characters, as opposed to sympathize with them.  Eddie Mannix and Hobie Doyle both emerge as heroes because they’re the only characters who remain calm and confident, regardless of what strangeness is happening onscreen.  Eddie may be ruthless, the film tells us, but at least he gets results.  Hobie may not be the smartest or most talented guy in Hollywood, we are told, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is.

Hail, Caesar! is a bit of a lark, a celebration of style over substance.  As far as Coen Brother films go, Hail, Caesar has more in common with Burn After Reading than No Country For Old Men.  The film is largely an inside joke aimed at people who know the history of Hollywood, which is perhaps why some viewers reacted so negatively.  Inside jokes are fun when you’re in on the joke.  When you’re not in on it, though, they’re just annoying.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Hail, Caesar!  It may not be the Coens at their best but it’s a lot of fun and it appealed me as both a history nerd and a lover of old movies.  The best parts of Hail, Caesar! are the scenes that parody the largely forgotten, big-budget studio productions of the 1950s.  This is the rare film that acknowledges that not every film made before the 1960s was a masterpiece.  The Coens love movies but that doesn’t keep them from getting a little bit snarky.  For example, check out this production number featuring Channing Tatum:

Is Hail, Caesar self-indulgent?

Yes.

Is it largely an inside joke?

Yes.

Did I absolutely adore it?

You better believe I did.

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Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen

Warcraft Official Trailer (For The Film…Not The Game…I Know, Right!)


Warcraft

Warcraft was a game on the PC that I played for hours on end. It was the closest thing gamers had to a video game version of the Warhammer Fantasy property. the title had two popular sequels and gave birth to the biggest, most popular and most addictive MMORPG in history. I mean, World of Warcraft, led to couples getting divorces, players getting into real fights outside the game and even getting together in holy matrimony for reals.

So, Hollywood seeing a cash cow when it sees one had been trying to get a live-action film based on the Warcraft property for years. So many different directors had been attached to make it (from Uwe Boll right up to Sam Raimi) but in the end Duncan Jones got the job to bring Azeroth (and Draenor) to life on the big-screen.

With the film still months away, Universal and Legendary Pictures look to start the hype train going by releasing the first official trailer for Warcraft with much fanfare.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #69: Bad Boys (dir by Rick Rosenthal)


Bad_Boys_(1983_film_poster)First off, I am not about to review the Michael Bay film where Will Smith and Martin Lawrence shoot people and blow things up.  Instead, this Bad Boys is a film from 1983 where Sean Penn doesn’t shoot anyone but that’s mostly because he can’t get his hands on a gun.  And, at one point, a radio does blow up.  So, perhaps this Bad Boys has more in common with the Michael Bay Bad Boys than I originally realized.

Anyway, Bad Boys is about Mick O’Brien (Sean Penn), who is a 16 year-old criminal from Chicago.  One night, when one of his crimes goes wrong, Mick’s best friend (Alan Ruck) is killed and Mick accidentally runs over the brother of rival gang leader, Paco (Esai Morales).  Mick is sent to juvenile detention where he and his sociopathic cellmate, Horowitz (Eric Gurry), team up to overthrow the two “leaders” of their block, Viking (Clancy Brown, with scary blonde hair) and Tweety (Robert Lee Rush).  Meanwhile, Paco is arrested for raping Mick’s girlfriend, JC (Ally Sheedy), and soon finds himself living on the same cell block as Mick.

And it all leads to … violence!

(In the movies, everything leads to violence.)

Bad Boys is one of those films that seems to show up on cable at the most random of times.  I’ve never quite understood why because it’s not like Bad Boys is a particularly great film.  It’s hard to see anything about this film that would lead a programmer to say, “Let’s schedule 100 airings of Bad Boys!”  If anything, it’s the epitome of a good but not that good film.  On the one hand, you have to appreciate a film that attempts to take a serious look at both juvenile crime and the true life consequences of tossing every “lawbreaker” into a cell and locking the door.  People fetishize the idea of punishing criminals but they rarely consider whether those punishments actually accomplish anything beyond satisfying society’s obsessive need for revenge.  (And it’s interesting to note that the problems of 1983 are not that much different from the problems of 2015.)  On the other hand, Bad Boys is way too long, heavy-handed, and repetitive.  This was one of Sean Penn’s first roles and, much like the film itself, he’s good without being that good.  Watching his performance, you get the feeling that James Dean would say, “Nice try.”

However, the film is saved by two actor.  First off, there’s Clancy Brown as the stupid but intimidating Viking.  With his bad skin, blonde hair, and a permanent snarl on his face, Brown makes Viking into a character who is both ludicrous and scary.  And then there’s Eric Gurry as the small and demonic Horowitz.  According to his imdb page, Gurry long ago retired from acting but anybody who sees Bad Boys will never forget him.

Embracing the Melodrama #59: At Any Price (dir by Ramin Bahrani)


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With Embracing the Melodrama coming to a close (only two more reviews to go, including this one!), I want to take this opportunity to tell you about a good film from last year that didn’t get quite as much attention as it may have deserved.  The Iowa-set At Any Price is a look at greed, family secrets, and even murder in rural America.  It’s not a perfect film but it features a perfect lead performance from Dennis Quaid and it’s worth taking a chance on.

Dennis Quaid plays Henry Whipple, an Iowa farmer who also works as a sales representative for the Liberty Seed Company.  Henry sells genetically modified seeds and one thing that this film gets absolutely right is just how cut-throat the seed business truly is in the heartland.  Henry is very proud to be the top seed salesman in the county, with only Jim Johnson (Clancy Brown) coming close to matching him.  The film’s best scenes are the ones that follow Henry as he travels along his route, selling seeds, giving away candy bars, and always flashing his wide grin.  It’s only as the film progresses that we start to notice how desperate that grin really is.  Henry, we soon realize, is motivated mainly by greed and fear.  He’s the type of farmer who will go to a stranger’s funeral just to try to buy the deceased’s land.  Henry is also the type of guy who is willing to cut ethical corners to sell seeds as well.  As far as Henry is concerned, he’s only doing what he has to do to make sure that he has a successful business to pass on to his family.

Henry is all about his family and, while that may be his redemption, it’s also his family’s curse because Henry is something of a control freak.  Henry’s loyal wife (Kim Dickens) turns a blind eye to Henry’s mistress (Heather Graham).  Meanwhile, his oldest son has fled Iowa and moved down to South America.  Henry’s remaining son, Dean (Zac Efron), is more interested in pursuing a career in NASCAR than on the family farm.  Eventually, as the result of a shocking and almost random act of violence, Dean is forced to pick his future.

With both Neighbors and That Awkward Moment, Zac Efron has been reinventing himself as a skilled comedic actor.  Before that, however, he appeared in a series of movies that were meant to show his dramatic range, films like The Paperboy, Parkland, and this one.  These films ranged in quality from terrible to good but, in all of them, Zac Efron felt miscast.  Efron is the weak link in At Any Price.  Dean is supposed to be a character driven by both anger and a need to win (at any price — we have a title!) but when we look at Efron’s pretty blue eyes, we’re left with the impression that there’s not much going on behind them.

Far more effective is Dennis Quaid.  Quaid is so likable in the role that it takes a while to realize that Henry is essentially a monster.  And yet, you never totally lose your sympathy for him.  He has his own demons, demons that he’s passing down to his son.  The power of Quaid’s performance is that you can tell he knows he’s wrong but he just can’t stop himself.

At Any Price is a good farmland melodrama, full of beautiful landscapes and carefully observed details.  It’s not a perfect film but it is one worth watching for anyone who is wondering whatever happened to the American dream.

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