We All Float Down Here: Graveyard Shift (1990, directed by Ralph S. Singleton)


The old textile mill has a problem.  The people who work there keep dying, especially the ones who work the night shift.  The mill has another problem.  It’s become infested with rats.  Just stepping into the mill means you’re running the risk of having a rat fall through the ceiling and land on your head.  The evil mill foreman, Warwick (Stephen Macht), puts together a cleanup crew to work overnight and take care of the infestation.  Idealistic drifter John Hall (David Andrews) is hired to help and soon discovers that there’s something even bigger than a rat living underneath the mill.  Unfortunately, by the time that John makes his discovery, almost everyone else is dead and Warwick, having had an Apocalypse Now-style breakdown, is painting his face with muck and trying to kill whoever’s left.

This is a weak film adaptation of a throw-away Stephen King short story.  That the film itself is clearly not meant to taken seriously doesn’t make it any better.  The only thing that this film has to recommend it is Brad Dourif, who has an extended cameo as a crazy exterminator named Tucker Cleveland.  Cleveland knows everything about how rats have been weaponized over the years and he will be more than happy to explain every detail.  It’s too bad that Dourif does not have a bigger role because the movie is lot less entertaining when he’s not around.  If you do watch Graveyard Shift, stick around for the end credits so you can hear the theme song that is made up of samples of dialogue from the movie.

Film Review: Cherry 2000 (dir by Steve De Jarnatt)


Okay, so this one is kind of weird.

Remember how, a few nights ago, I watched and reviewed something called Prison Planet?  No?  Well, I don’t blame you.  I wish I could forget about it too.  Anyway, the movie that aired right before Prison Planet was yet another futuristic tale that was largely set in a desert wasteland.  This movie was originally released in 1988 and the title was Cherry 2000.

Cherry 2000 takes place in 2017, or perhaps I should say that it takes place in 2017 as imagined by someone in 1988.  In this film’s version of 2017, both the economy and the environment are a mess, America is divided into warring urban and rural zones, and all human emotion and creativity is being stifled by government bureaucracy.  In short, Cherry 2000‘s version of 2017 is a lot like the real world’s version of 2017…

In the future, everyone’s still obsessed with getting laid but all of the bureaucratic red tape has made things difficult.  Having sex now means first getting a lawyer to draw up a contract.  In order to avoid all of the legal complications, men are now marrying specially designed sex robots.  Again, this probably seemed way out there in 1988 but, in the current world, it just looks like my twitter timeline.

(Do they have sex robots for women in the world of Cherry 2000?  As far as I could tell, all of the sex robots in the film were designed for men’s pleasure, which doesn’t seem quite fair.)

Anyway, Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) is a business executive who thinks that he is deeply in love with his robot wife, Cherry 2000 (Pamela Gidley).  However, a mix of sex and a broken washing machine causes Cherry to short-circuit.  When Sam tries to get her repaired, he’s told that it’s a lost cause.  Cherry is beyond repair.  Add to that, apparently the Cherry 2000 model is no longer being manufactured.  If Sam wants a new Cherry, he’s going to have to go into Zone 7 and get one out of an abandoned factory.

So, of course, that’s what Sam does.  The only problem is that Sam is a business guy and Zone 7 is the most dangerous place in the world.  Why is it so dangerous?  Because it’s ruled by a warlord named …. Lester.  (No offense meant to anyone named Lester but that’s not exactly the most intimidating name in the world.)  Lester is played by B-movie mainstay Tim Thomerson, who appears to be having fun whenever he appears on-screen.

To help guide him through Zone 7, Sam hires E (Melanie Griffith).  E is the film’s saving grace, largely because she kicks everyone’s ass.  The great thing about E is that, from the minute she first appears, she makes no secret of the fact that she finds Sam and his sex robot to be just as pathetic and ridiculous as we do.  Griffith plays the role with just the right mix of humor and annoyance.  If I ever have to guide anyone through a desert wasteland to a sex robot factory, I hope that I can do it with half as much style and panache as E.

Anyway, Cherry 2000 is a weird little mix of the western and science fiction genres.  For a film about sex robots, it actually has a rather goofy and almost innocent feel to it.  It’s a film that raises a lot of issues but which is also smart enough not to spend too much time on any of them.  Director Steve De Jarnatt also directed one of my favorite 80s movies, the charming apocalyptic love story Miracle Mile.  Cherry 2000 may be a mess but it’s definitely a watchable mess.

A Movie A Day #217: Wyatt Earp (1994, directed by Lawrence Kasdan)


Once upon a time, there were two movies about the legendary Western lawman (or outlaw, depending on who is telling the story) Wyatt Earp.  One came out in 1993 and the other came out in 1994.

The 1993 movie was called Tombstone.  That is the one that starred Kurt Russell was Wyatt, with Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton in the roles of his brothers and Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday.  Tombstone deals with the circumstances that led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  “I’m your huckleberry,” Doc Holliday says right before his gunfight with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo.  Tombstone is the movie that everyone remembers.

The 1994 movies was called Wyatt Earp.  This was a big budget extravaganza that was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Costner as Wyatt.  Dennis Quaid played Doc Holliday and supporting roles were played by almost everyone who was an active SAG member in 1994.  If they were not in Tombstone, they were probably in Wyatt Earp.  Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Annabeth Gish, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham, and many others all appeared as supporting characters in the (very) long story of Wyatt Earp’s life.

Of course, Wyatt Earp features the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but it also deals with every other chapter of Earp’s life, including his multiple marriages, his career as a buffalo hunter, and his time as a gold prospector.  With a three-hour running time, there is little about Wyatt Earp’s life that is not included.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his time in Tomstone, Wyatt Earp’s life was not that interesting.  Neither was Kevin Costner’s performance.  Costner tried to channel Gary Cooper in his performance but Cooper would have known better than to have starred in a slowly paced, three-hour movie.  The film is so centered around Costner and his all-American persona that, with the exception of Dennis Quaid, the impressive cast is wasted in glorified cameos.  Wyatt Earp the movie tries to be an elegy for the old west but neither Wyatt Earp as a character nor Kevin Costner’s performance was strong enough to carry such heavy symbolism.  A good western should never be boring and that is a rule that Wyatt Earp breaks from the minute that Costner delivers his first line.

Costner was originally cast in Tombstone, just to leave the project so he could produce his own Wyatt Earp film.  As a big, Oscar-winnng star, Costner went as far as to try to have production of Tombstone canceled.  Ironically, Tombstone turned out to be the film that everyone remember while Wyatt Earp is the film that most people want to forget.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Apollo 13 (dir by Ron Howard)


Apollo_thirteen_movie

I just finished watching the TCM premiere of the 1995 Best Picture nominee, Apollo 13.  Of course, it wasn’t the first time I had seen it.  Apollo 13 is one of those films that always seems to be playing somewhere and why not?  It’s a good movie, telling a story that is all the more remarkable and inspiring for being true.  In 1970, the Apollo 13 flight to the moon was interrupted by a sudden explosion, stranding three astronauts in space.  Fighting a desperate battle against, NASA had to figure out how to bring them home.  Apollo 13 tells the story of that accident and that rescue.

There’s a scene that happens about halfway through Apollo 13.  The heavily damaged Apollo 13 spacecraft is orbiting the moon.  Originally the plan was for Apollo 13 to land on the moon but, following that explosion on the craft, those plans have been cancelled.  Inside the spacecraft, three astronauts can only stare down at the lunar surface below them.

As Commander Jim Lovell stares out the craft’s window, we suddenly see him fantasizing about what it would be like if the explosion hadn’t happened and if he actually could fulfill his dream of walking on the moon.  We watch as Lovell (and, while we know the character is Jim Lovell, we are also very much aware that he’s being played by beloved cinematic icon Tom Hanks) leaves his foot print on the lunar surface.  Lovell opens up his visor and, for a few seconds, stands there and takes in the with the vastness of space before him and making the scene all the more poignant is knowing that Tom Hanks, before he became an award-winning actor, wanted to be a astronaut just like Jim Lovell.  Then, suddenly, we snap back to the film’s reality.  Back inside the spacecraft, Lovell takes one final look at the moon and accepts that he will never get to walk upon its surface.  “I’d like to go home,” he announces.

It’s a totally earnest and unabashedly sentimental moment, one that epitomizes the film as a whole.  There is not a hint of cynicism to be found in Apollo 13.  Instead, it’s a big, old-fashioned epic, a story about a crisis and how a bunch of determined, no-nonsense professionals came together to save the day.  “Houston,” Lovell famously says at one point, “we have a problem.”  It’s a celebrated line but Apollo 13 is less about the problem and more about celebrating the men who, through their own ingenuity, solved that problem.

That Apollo 13 is a crowd-pleaser should come as no surprise.  It was directed by Ron Howard and I don’t know that Howard has ever directed a film that wasn’t designed to make audiences break into applause during the end credits.  When Howard fails, the results can be maudlin and heavy-handed.  But when he succeeds, as he does with Apollo 13, he proves that there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned, inspirational entertainment.

Of course, since Apollo 13 is a Ron Howard film, that means that Clint Howard gets a small role.  In Apollo 13, Clint shows up as a bespectacled flight engineer.  When astronaut Jack Swiggert (Kevin Bacon) mentions having forgotten to pay his taxes before going into space, Clint says, “He shouldn’t joke about that, they’ll get him.”  It’s a great line and Clint does a great job delivering it.

Apollo 13 is usually thought of as being a Tom Hanks film but actually, it’s an ensemble piece.  Every role, from the smallest to the biggest, is perfectly cast.  Not surprisingly, Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, and Ed Harris all turn in excellent performances.  But, even beyond the marquee names, Apollo 13 is full of memorable performances.  Watching it tonight, I especially noticed an actor named Loren Dean, who played a NASA engineer named John Aaron.  Dean didn’t get many lines but he was totally believable in his role.  You looked at him and you thought, “If I’m ever trapped in space, this is the guy who I want working to bring me home.”

Apollo 13 was nominated for best picture but it lost to Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart.  Personally, out of the nominees, I probably would have picked Sense and Sensibility but Apollo 13 more than deserved the nomination.

Horror Film Review: Dracula A.D. 1972 (dir by Alan Gibson)


(I originally wrote and posted this on February 5th, 2011.  Seeing as how we’ve been taking a look at the other Hammer Dracula films, I figured I might as well repost it for Halloween!)

Dracula A.D. 1972 opens in 1872 with a genuinely exciting fight on a runaway carriage that ends with the death of both Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) and his nemesis, Prof. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).  However, as Van Helsing is buried, we see one of Dracula’s disciples (played by Christopher Neame, who had an appealingly off-kilter smile) burying Dracula’s ashes nearby.  The camera pans up to the clear Victorian sky and, in a sudden and genuinely effective jumpcut, we suddenly see an airplane screeching across the sky.

Well, it’s all pretty much downhill from there.  Suddenly, we discover that a hundred years have passed and we are now in “swinging” London.  The city is full of red tourist buses, hippies wearing love beads, and upright policemen who always appear to be on the verge of saying, “What’s all this, then?”  We are introduced to a group of hippies that are led by a creepy guy named Johnny Alculard (also played — quite well, actually — by Christopher Neame). One of those hippies (Stephanie Beacham) just happens to be the great-great-granddaughter of Prof. Van Helsing.  Apparently, she’s not really big on the family history because she doesn’t notice that Alculard spells Dracula backwards.  Then again, her father (played by Peter Cushing, of course) doesn’t either until he actually writes the name down a few times on a piece of a paper.

Anyway, the film meanders about a bit until finally, Alculard convinces all of his hippie friends to come take part in a black mass.  “Sure, why not?” everyone replies.  Well, I don’t have to tell you how things can sometimes get out-of-hand at black mass.  In this case, Dracula comes back to life, kills a young Caroline Munro, and eventually turns Johnny into a vampire before then setting his sights on the modern-day Van Helsings.

Poor Caroline Munro

Dracula A.D. 1972 was Hammer’s attempt to breathe some new life into one of its oldest franchises and, as usually happens with a reboot, its critical and (especially) commercial failure ended up helping to end the series.  Among even the most devoted and forgiving of Hammer fans, Dracula A.D. 1972 has a terrible reputation.  Christopher Lee is on record as regarding it as his least favorite Dracula film.  And the film definitely has some serious flaws.  Once you get past the relatively exciting pre-credits sequence, the movie seriously drags.  There’s a hippie party sequence that, honest to God, seems to last for about 5 hours.  As for the hippies themselves, they are some of the least convincing middle-aged hippies in the history of fake hippies.  You find yourself eagerly awaiting their demise, especially the awkward-looking one who — for some reason — is always dressed like a monk.  (Those crazy hippies!)  But yet…nothing happens.  All the fake hippies simply vanish from the film.  Yet, they’re so annoying in just a limited amount of screen time that the viewer is left demanding blood.  Add to that, just how difficult is it to notice that Alculard is Dracula spelled backwards?  I mean, seriously…

To a large extent, the charm of the old school Hammer films comes from the fact that they’re essentially very naughty but never truly decadent.  At their heart, they were always very old-fashioned and actually quite conservative.  The Hammer films — erudite yet campy, risqué yet repressed — mirrors the view that many of my fellow Americans have of the English.  For some reason, however, that Hammer naughtiness only works when there’s the sound of hooves on cobblestone streets and when the screen is populated by actors in three-piece suits and actresses spilling out of corsets.  Dracula A.D. 1972 did away with the support of the corset and as a result, the film is revealed as a formless mess with all the flab revealed to the world.

The Party Scene

Still, the film isn’t quite as bad as you may have heard.  First off, the film — with its middle-aged hippies — has a lot of camp appeal.  It’s the type of film that, once its over, you’re convinced that the term “groovy” was uttered in every other scene even though it wasn’t.  As with even the worst Hammer films, the film features a handful of striking images and Christopher Neame is surprisingly charismatic as Alculard.

As with the majority of the Hammer Dracula films, the film is enjoyable if just to watch the chemistry between Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.  Both of these actors — so very different in image but also so very stereotypically English — obviously loved acting opposite of each other and whenever you see them on-screen together, it’s difficult not to enjoy watching as each one tried to top the other with a smoldering glare or a melodramatic line reading.  As actors, they brought out the best in each other, even when they were doing it in a film like Dracula A.D. 1972.  In this film, Cushing is like the father you always you wished you had — the stern but loving one who protected you from all the world’s monsters (both real and cinematic).

Christopher Lee as Dracula

As for Lee, he’s only in six or seven scenes and he has even fewer lines but, since you spend the entire film wondering where he is, he actually dominates the entire movie.  Lee apparently was quite contemptuous of the later Hammer Dracula films and, oddly enough, that obvious contempt is probably why, of all the Draculas there have been over the years, Lee’s version is the only one who was and is actually scary.  F0rget all of that tortured soul and reluctant bloodsucker crap.  Christopher Lee’s Dracula is obviously pissed off from the minute he first appears on-screen, the embodiment of pure destructive evil.  And, for whatever odd reason, the purity of his evil brings a sexual jolt to his interpretation of Dracula that those littleTwilight vampires can only dream about.  Even in a lesser films like Dracula A.D. 1972, Christopher Lee kicks some serious ass.

So, in conclusion, I really can’t call Dracula A.D. 1972 a good film nor can I really suggest that you should go out of your way to see it..  I mean, I love this stuff and I still frequently found my mind wandering whenever Cushing or Lee wasn’t on-screen.  However, it’s not a terrible movie to watch if you happen to find yourself trapped in the house with 90 minutes to kill.

Dracula A.D. 1972

 

Review: World War Z (dir. by Marc Forster)


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I’ll get this out of the way and just say it: World War Z the film pretty much has nothing in common with the acclaimed novel of the same name by author Max Brooks (reviewed almost at the very beginning of the site). Ok, now that we have that out of the way it’s time to get to the important part and that’s how did the film version turn out on it’s own merits.

World War Z was a film that took the long, winding and rough road to finally get to the big-screen. Whether it was the five different writers brought in to work on the script (J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame came onboard first with Christopher McQuarrie coming unofficially to help tighten a few scenes in the end) to the massive changes made to the original source material that was bound to anger the fans of the novel, the film by Marc Forster had an uphill climb to accomplish even before the final product even came to market.

I was as surprised as man others were that the finished product was better than I had anticipated. Some had very low expectations about World War Z coming in due to the rumors and news reports coming in about the problems during production, but it doesn’t change the fact that the unmitigated disaster predicted by every film blogger and critic beforehand never came to fruition.

World War Z might not have been what fans of the novel had wanted it to be, but when seen on it’s own merit the film was both exciting and tension-filled despite some flaws in the final script and use of well-worn horror tropes.

The film begins with a visual montage interspersing scenes of nature (particularly the swarming, hive-like behavior of certain animals like birds, fish, and insects), alarmist news media reporting and the mindless celebrity-driven entertainment media that’s so big around the world. From there we’re introduced to the main protagonist of the film in one Gerry Lane (played by Brad Pitt) and his family. We see that the Lane family definitely love and care for each other with his wife Karin (Mireille Enos in the supportive wife role) and their two young daughters, Rachel and Constance. The film could easily have spent a lot of time establishing this family and their relationship towards each other, but we move towards the film’s first major sequence pretty much right after the opening. It’s this choice to not linger on the characters too long that becomes both a strength and a weakness to the film’s narrative throughout.

WorldWarZPhilly

World War Z finally shows why it’s not your typical zombie film with it’s first major sequence in the center of downtown Philadelphia as Gerry and his family sees themselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As they wait there are some subtle hints that something might just be somewhat awry ahead of them as we see more and more police racing towards some sort of emergency ahead of the family and more and more helicopters flying overhead. There’s a brief lull in the scene before all hell breaks loose and the film’s zombie apocalypse aspect goes from 0 straight to 11 in a split second.

It’s this sequence of all-encompassing chaos overtaking a major metropolitan city seen both on the ground through the eyes of Gerry Lane and then on flying overhead wide shots of the city that gives World War Z it’s epic scope that other zombie films (both great and awful) could never truly capture. It’s also in this opening action sequence that we find the film’s unique take on the tried-and-true zombie. While not the slow, shambling kind that was described in the novel, these fast-movers (owes a lot more on the Rage-infected from 28 Days Later) bring something new to the zomgie genre table by acting like a cross between a swarm of birds or insects with the rapidly infectious nature of a virus.

These zombies do not stop to have a meal of it’s victims once they’ve bitten one but instead rapidly moves onto the next healthy human in order to spread the contagion it carries. We even get an idea of how quickly a bitten victim dies and then turns into one of “Zekes” as a soldier has ended up nicknaming them. It’s this new wrinkle in the zombie canon that adds to the film’s apocalyptic nature as we can see just how the speed of the infection and the swarm-like behavior of the zombies could easily take down the emergency services of not just a city and state but of entire nations.

WorldWarZJerusalem

World War Z works best when it doesn’t linger too long between action sequences. Trying to inject some of the themes and ideas that made the novel such a joy to read only comes off as an uncomfortable attempt to try and placate fans of the novel. When we get scenes like Philadelphia in settings like Jerusalem and, in smaller scales but no less tense, like in South Korea and on a plane, the film works as a nice piece of summer action fare. This works in the first two thirds of the film but a sudden shift in the final third in Cardiff, Wales could be too jarring of a tonal shift in storytelling for some.

While the change from epic and apocalyptic to intimate and contained in the final third was such a sudden change this sequence works, but also shows just how bad the original final third of the film was to make this sudden change. It proves to be somewhat anticlimactic when compared to the epic nature of the first two-thirds of the film. We get a final third that’s more your traditional horror film. In fact, one could easily see World War Z as two different films vying for control and, in the end, the two halves having to try to co-exist and make sense.

World War Z doesn’t bring much of the sort of societal commentaries and themes that we get from the very best of zombie stories, but it does bring the sort of action that we rarely get from zombie films. The film actually doesn’t come off as your traditional zombie film, but more like a disaster story that just happened to have zombies as the root cause instead of solar flares, sudden ice age or alien invasion.

So, while World War Z only shares the title with the source novel it was adapting and pretty much not much else, the film wasn’t the unmitigated disaster that had been predicted for months leading up to it’s release. It’s a fun, rollercoaster ride of film that actually manages to leave an audience wanting to know more instead of being bombarded with so much action that one becomes desensitized and bored by it. There’s no question that a better film, probably even a great one, lurks behind the fun mess that’s the World War Z we’ve received, but on it’s own the film more than delivers on the promise that most films during the summer fails to achieve and that’s to entertain.