Terminator Redux: Eve of Destruction (1991, directed by Duncan Gibbins)


When Eve VIII (Renée Soutendijk), a robot that has been designed so that she can pass for a human, is taken on a test run though the city, things go terribly wrong when she gets caught up in a bank robbery.  When one of the robbers shoots her, it scrambles her circuits and causes her to switch into combat mode.  For some reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to install the equivalent of a nuclear bomb inside the robot so now, Eve VIII is wandering around the city, killing anyone who shes views as being a danger, and threatening to send both herself and everyone up in a nuclear fireball.

Realizing that Eve VIII’s test run has become a national emergency, the military calls in the best operative they’ve got and he turns out to be … Gregory Hines!?  The legendary Broadway song-and-dance man plays Colonel John McQuade, a special operative who has seen action in all of the world’s hot spots.  McQuade works with Eve VIII’s creator, Dr. Eve Simmons (also played by Renée Soutendijk) to try to track down the robot before it’s too late.  In a move that makes as much sense as installing the equivalent of a nuclear bomb inside of her, Eve VIII has also been programmed to have the same traumatic memories as her creator.  When Eve VIII destroys a cheap motel that Eve Simmons used to wonder about, McQuade announces that the key to trapping the robot is for Dr. Simmons to reval all of her “teenage sexual fantasies!”

The idea of a robot having and acting upon all of the repressed memories and desires of its creator is a good one but Eve of Destruction doesn’t do much with it.  Once McQuade and Dr. Simmons head off in pursuit of Eve VIII, it becomes just another low-budget Terminator rip-off.  Gregory Hines deals with being miscast by yelling all of his lines.  Renée Soutendijk does better as both Eve VIII and Dr. Simmons and even manages to generate some sympathy for the killer robot.  Interestingly, Soutendijk is best known for her work with Paul Verhoeven, whose RoboCop was an obviously influence on Eve of Destruction.

Eve of Destruction is a forgettable killer robot film from an era that was full of them.  Most disappointing of all is that Barry McGuire is nowhere to be heard.  If you do see the film, keep an eye out for the great Kevin McCarthy, playing yet another befuddled victim and, for some reason, going uncredited.

A Movie A Day #264: The Cotton Club (1984, directed by Francis Ford Coppola)


The time is the 1930s and the place is New York City.  Everyone wants to get into the Cotton Club.  Owned by British gangster Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), the Cotton Club is a place where the stage is exclusively reserved for black performers and the audience is exclusively rich and white.  Everyone from gangsters to film stars comes to the Cotton Club.

It is at the Cotton Club that Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) meets everyone from Dutch Shultz (James Remar) to Gloria Swanson (Diane Venora).  Shultz hires Dixie to look after his girlfriend, Vera (Diane Lane).  Swanson arranges for Dixie to become a movie star.  Meanwhile, Dixie’s crazy brother, Vincent (Nicolas Cage), rises up through the New York underworld.  Meanwhile, dancing brothers Sandman and Clay Williams (played by real-life brothers Gregory and Maurice Hines) are stars on stage but face discrimination off, at least until Harlem gangster Bumpy Rhodes (Laurence Fishburne) comes to their aid.

The Cotton Club was a dream project of the legendary producer, Robert Evans, who was looking to make a comeback after being famously charged with cocaine trafficking in 1980.  Having commissioned a screenplay by his former Godfather collaborators, Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, Evans originally planned to direct the film himself.  At the last minute, Evans changes his mind and asked Coppola to direct the film.  After working with him on The Godfather, Coppola had sworn that he would never work with Evans again. (When he won an Oscar for The Godfather‘s screenplay, Coppola pointedly thanked everyone but Robert Evans.)  However, by 1984, a series of box office flops had damaged Coppola’s standing in Hollywood.  Needing the money, Coppola agreed to direct The Cotton Club.

Evans raised the film’s $58 million budget from a number of investors, including Roy Radin.  Roy Radin was best known for putting together Vaudeville reunions in the 70s and being accused of raping an actress in 1980.  Radin and Evans were introduced to each other by a drug dealer named Lanie Jacobs, who was hoping to remake herself as a film producer.  During the production of The Cotton Club, Radin was murdered by a contract killer who was hired by Jacobs, who apparently felt that Radin was trying to muscle her out of the film production.

While all of this was going on, Coppola fell into his familiar pattern of going overbudget and falling behind schedule.  This led to another investor filing a lawsuit against Orion Pictures and two other investors, claiming fraud and breach of contract.  When the film was finally released, it received mixed reviews, struggled at the box office, and only received two Oscar nominations.

With all of the murder and drama that was occurring offscreen, it is not surprising that the film itself was overshadowed.  The Cotton Club is a disjointed mix of gangster drama and big production numbers.  As always with post-Apocalypse Now Coppola, there are flashes of brilliance in The Cotton Club.  Some of the production numbers are impressive and visually, this movie has got style to burn.   However, among the leads, neither Richard Gere nor Diane Lane seem to be invested in their characters while the talented Hines brothers are underused.  The supporting cast is full of good character actors who are all in a search of a better script.  A few do manage to make an impression: James Remar, Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne as veteran gangsters, Nicolas Cage as the film’s stand-in for Mad Dog Coll, and Joe Dallesandro as Lucky Luciano.  The Cotton Club is sometimes boring and sometimes exciting but the onscreen story is never as interesting as what happened behind the scenes.

 

A Movie A Day #263: Running Scared (1986, directed by Peter Hyams)


Running Scared is weird but good.

Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines!) and Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal!!!) are two tough detectives in Chicago.  All they want to do is three things: retire, open a bar in Florida, and bust Chicago’s most ruthless drug dealer, Julio Gonzalez (Jimmy Smits).  Their captain (Dan Hedaya) wants them to leave for Florida as soon as possible but they are determined to take down Julio first.’

There are two strange things about this otherwise formulaic crime film.  First off, the two tough cops are played by Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal.  According to the film’s Wikipedia page, director Peter Hyams realized that Running Scared‘s plot was nothing special so he decided that the only way to make the movie stand out was by doing it “with two actors you would not normally expect to see in an action movie.”  The other strange thing is that Hyams’s gambit worked.  Gregory Hines may have been best known as a dancer and Billy Crystal as a comedian but both of them were surprisingly believable as Chicago cops.  Running Scared is actually one of Billy Crystal’s best performances.  For once, he’s believable as being someone other than a version of himself.  Even his frequent one liners seem like something that a detective would say instead of Crystal recycling punch lines from his act.  Whether they are chasing down perps and firing their guns at a moving vehicle, Hines and Crystal are never less than credible as action stars.  Lorenzo Lamas has got nothing on the team of Hines and Crystal.

Predictable though it may be, Running Scared is one of the better late 80s cop films.  The action scenes are exciting and Hyams does a good job capturing the grittiness of Chicago.  Jimmy Smits is a good villain and Joe Pantoliano, Steven Bauer, and Jon Gries all shine in supporting roles.  Keep an eye out for the always underrated Darlanne Fluegel, playing Danny’s ex-wife.

Guilty Pleasure No. 30: Wolfen (dir. by Michael Wadleigh)


Wolfen_1981A guilty pleasure is a film that we might enjoy, but isn’t as loved by others overall. It’s the kind of film that you can watch on any given day, but to speak of it may cause raised eyebrows among your peers. Everyone has at least one film or two that they treasure in this way.

My Guilty Pleasure pick is 1981’s Wolfen, directed by Michael Wadleigh. Loosely based off the novel by Whitley Strieber, the film focuses on two homicide investigators who learn that the case they’re working may actually be caused by animal attacks. Often mistaken as a werewolf film, I really wouldn’t group Wolfen into that category. It’s supernatural in some ways, yes, but you won’t find any serious werewolf activity in it. Surprisingly enough, Wolfen was released in the theatre just a few months after Joe Dante’s The Howling. This makes me wonder how audiences took to Wolfen after seeing all of the make-up effects in Dante’s work. From an effects standpoint, Wolfen’s big claim to fame is the negative photography used to showcase the animals’ point of view. I can’t imagine it was incredibly amazing when comparing the two, but on it’s own, it’s not bad. It’s one of the few movies I’d like to see get a remake, if only to have the story match Strieber’s book better.

When a millionaire land developer and his wife are found brutally murdered in Battery Park, Detective Dewey Wilson is brought on to investigate. Albert Finney (Miller’s Crossing, The Bourne Ultimatum, Skyfall) easily carries the film as Wilson, feeling a lot like the owner of your favorite corner deli. Wilson’s detective work is subtle in the film, and Finney plays to that with a relaxed alertness. He comes across as calm, questioning, but you get the sense that if it came to blows, he’d be ready to react. I suppose most detectives are that way. When the murder is believed to be a possible terrorist attack, a Security Agency brings in a psychological expert named Rebecca Neff, played by Diane Venora (Heat, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet). Wolfen was Venora’s first film and she’s good in this, though the screenplay is written in a way where it’s more Dewey’s tale to tell. The book did Neff’s character more justice than the movie, overall. Rounding out the casting is Gregory Hines (Running Scared, The Cotton Club – also with Venora) as a forensics expert, Edward James Olmos (Miami Vice, Battlestar Galactica) as a Native American worker who may know more than he says and Tom Noonan (Manhunter, The Last Action Hero, F/X – once again, with Diane Venora) as a Zoo Worker who’s just a little to into wolves in general. That’s just my opinion, though Noonan’s been known to play creepy very well. The performances here are all pretty good. No one is really out of place here, as far as I could tell.

If Wolfen suffers from any major problem, it’s in the writing. In adapting the novel, they had the chance to really bring the terror from the novel on screen. In the book, we’re given an understanding of what the Wolfen are – creatures older, faster and more terrifying than your typical canine. They came complete with their own way of communicating with one another, and Strieber’s novel even referenced his other story about Vampires, The Hunger. The final standoff of the book was a fight similar to From Dusk Till Dawn, with the hope that our heroes could maybe hold off what was coming. The movie decided to go a different route. Not terrible in any way, but it could have been really good if they stayed on track.

I could be off here, but I believe the film elected to try to make the story more relevant for its time by circling the murder around terrorism and using the Security Agency. The Security Agency has so little to do with the film outside of bringing Neff on the case, it’s incredible. About every 20 minutes, the film cuts back to this crew of personnel at their computers, watching footage of attacks (that have little to do with the original victim) in an attempt to piece together why this death happened. Meanwhile, Wilson walks into bar and gets the whole solution handed to him in a short story over a beer. I wonder if Wadleigh (who co-wrote the script) was trying to say that with all the technology at their disposal, all it really took to solve a crime was just regular legwork. To quote Olmos’ character “It’s the 20th Century. We got it all figured out.” That’s just my speculation on that.

From a Cinematography viewpoint, Wolfen has some impressive scenes, particularly those of the Manhattan landscape. For a city that doesn’t sleep, the streets as they’re filmed here are barren, with lots of shadows. One scene in particular has Finney and Olmos’ characters talking on top of a bridge, and I have to wonder not only how they were able to get that shot, but how the actors maintained their composure. One wrong slip and either of them could have fell. I also love seeing New York City in the early 80’s, where most of the Bronx and Brooklyn looked like warzones. Both Wolfen and Nighthawks (also released in the same year) are great examples of how bad the city really was during that time.

Wolfen was also one of James Horner’s first scores. Listening to it, you can hear elements of what you’d find in Aliens, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and his other pieces.

Overall, Wolfen is a good film if you find yourself running into it late at night and there’s nothing else to catch. I watch it on purpose, but that’s just me. We all have our tastes. If at all possible, consider reading the novel as well.

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

Worst of the Worst: Mad Dog Time (1996, directed by Larry Bishop)


Mad_dog_time_4841Remember how, in the 1990s, every aspiring indie director tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino by making a gangster film that mixed graphic violence with quirky dialogue, dark comedy, and obscure pop cultural references?  That led to a lot of terrible movies but not a single one (not even Amongst Friends) was as terrible as Mad Dog Time.

That Mad Dog Time was terrible should come as no surprise.  Most directorial debuts are.  What made Mad Dog Time unique was the sheer amount of talent that was assembled and wasted in the effort to bring this sorry movie to life.  As the son of Joey Bishop, director Larry Bishop was Hollywood royalty and was able to convince several ridiculously overqualified actors to play the thinly drawn gangsters and rouges who populated Mad Dog Time.  Much like the Rat Pack movies that his father once starred in, Larry Bishop’s debut film was full of familiar faces.  Some of them only appeared for a few seconds while others had larger roles but they were all wasted in the end.  Hopefully, everyone was served a good lunch in between filming their scenes because it is hard to see what else anyone could have gotten out of appearing in Mad Dog Time.

Mob boss Vic (Richard Dreyfuss) has just been released from a mental hospital.  With the help of his main enforcer, Mick (Jeff Goldblum), and a legendary hitman named Nick (Larry Bishop, giving not only the worst performance in the film but also the worst performance of the 1990s), Vic is going to reassert his control over the rackets.  Vic also wants to find his former mistress, Grace Everly (Diane Lane) but he doesn’t know that Grace is now with Mick and that Mick is also having an affair with Grace’s sister, Rita (Ellen Barkin).

(Grace and Rita are the Everly Sisters!  Ha ha, between that and all the rhyming names, are you laughing yet?)

Anka and Byrne

Ben London (Gabriel Byrne) has taken over Vic’s nightclub and, while singing My Way with Paul Anka, tells Vic that he should take an early retirement because he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.  Before he can deal with Ben, Vic has to kill all of his other rivals, all of whom are played by actors like Michael J. Pollard, Billy Idol, Kyle MacLachlan, Gregory Hines, and Burt Reynolds.  The bodies start to pile up but Jimmy the Undertaker (Richard Pryor, looking extremely frail in one of his final roles) is always around to make sure that everyone gets a proper burial.

And there are other cameos as well.  Joey Bishop is the owner of a mortuary.  Henry Silva is wasted as one the few gangsters to stay loyal to Vic.  Christopher Jones, who previously co-starred with Larry Bishop and Richard Pryor in Wild In The Streets before dropping out of a society, plays a hitman who pretends to be Nick Falco.  Even Rob Reiner shows up a limo driver who talks too much.

Almost every poorly paced scene in Mad Dog Time plays out the same way.  Three or more men confront each other in a room.  Hard-boiled dialogue is exchanged for an interminable length of time until someone finally gets shot.  You would think, at the very least, it would be watchable because of all the different people in the cast but none of the actors really seem to be into it.  Richard Dreyfuss and Jeff Goldblum resort to smirking through their scenes while Gabriel Byrne often appears to be drunk.  Whenever he’s in a scene, Burt Reynolds seems to be trying to hide his face and it is hard to blame him.  There were many terrible movies released in the 90s but none were as bad as Mad Dog Time.

Quick Horror Review: Wolfen (dir. by Michael Wadleigh)


Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen (1981) remains one of my favorite stories with wolves, though there are no actual werewolves in the movie. It’s a great and underrated film, though I’m not quite sure if it really can be considered Horror. There’s bloodshed, yes, but not a lot when compared to the more superior The Howling, which came out in the same year.

The film in a nutshell is that you have the Bronx. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Bronx was a warzone, and there were a number of films showcasing the decay of the area (Nighthawks and Fort Apache: The Bronx are two good ones). When a real estate mogul who’s developing buildings in the area and his wife are brutally murdered, Detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) is partnered with a terrorism expert (Diane Venora) to solve the crime.

Through the film, Dewey discovers that the murders are being done not by people, but the spirits of ancient indians in the form of Wolves – or better to say that they were hunters from an older time. The Wolfen, as they’re called, are scavengers of the city’s decay, feeding off of those who won’t be missed – derelicts and the like.

While Finney and Venora carry the film, Gregory Hines has some fun lines as the local NYPD mortician and Tom Noonan’s Wolf Expert was interesting, though a little strange. The best person in the supporting cast (who doesn’t have as much time to work with) is Edward James Olmos, in a surprising turn as Eddie, who is believed to have something to do with the murders, but later helps put Dewey in the right direction.

Supposedly, the movie was a little heavy handed with all of the anti-terror angle they tried to use. From what I’ve read, it wasn’t a major part of Whitley Streiber’s novel of the same name and it tends to steer the audience away from the actual problem. I mean, the audience is seeing wolves do this (or at least are seeing something animalistic do it), so to bring in the notion that there’s a terrorist plot involved kind of went over my head. The movie would have been tighter without it, I believe anyway.

One of the cooler elements of the movie is that you are able to see things through the eyes of the Wolfen themselves in an infrared vision style. While this was done with movies after it like Predator, and films before it like Westworld, Wolfen was my first experience with the effect. That, coupled with James Horner’s score (a mixture of themes you’d later find in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Aliens), lend to some of the style. Unfortunately, Wolfen is a somewhat difficult film to find in terms of obtaining the DVD for it, but the film has been on Netflix. If you have a chance to catch it, it’s an interesting watch.

Quickie Review: Wolfen (dir. by Michael Wadleigh)


1981 was a great year for wolf movies. There was the excellent An American Werewolf in London by John Landis and Joe Dante’s equally creepy The Howling. To finish off the trifecta of werewolf films for the year there’s Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen. Wadleigh’s film was a very good werewolf tale that added a bit of Native American folklore to the typical lycanthrope story, but it’s slightly overlong running time keeps it from being as great as Landis’ and Dante’ contributions.

Wolfen takes place in the city of New York and its growing urban jungle of decaying and condemned buildings in the city’s ghettos. One has to remember that the late 70’s and through on the mid-80’s the inner-cities of most of the major metropolitan cities in the US have turned into rundown ghettos rife with drug problems, high-crime rates and unemployment. It is in this setting that Wolfen takes place in. The film used the screenplay co-written by horror veteran novelist Whitley Strieber and his quirky style heavily influences this werewolf story. Strieber’s screenplay mixes together a police procedural, political intrigue, business corruption, race and class relations, Native American lycanthrope folklore and horror. Wolfen tries to combine all these different elements together as well as possible and it mostly succeeds, but there’s times when the film gets dragged down a bit trying to accomplish this.

The cast was made up of mostly new actors (well young and new at that time) with a few veteran actors holding things together. Albert Finney gets the choice role of NYPD Detective Dewey Wilson who begins investigating a series of brutal murders of three individuals whose race, class and personal status brings no discernible clues that ties them together. Joining him in his investigation — which Wilson gradually suspects has some sort of supernatural angle to it — were the very young Diane Venora and Gregory Hines. Edward James Olmos plays a Native American whose knowledge ties to who or what was involved in the killings might be closer than everyone thinks. The performances from all involved were pretty good though Hines comic relief performance was a bit too blackface in its tone and execution. 1981 Hollywood was still not ready to discount such racial stereotypes and it gives Wolfen a certain sense of creepiness and insensitivity. Maybe the screenplay was written just that way to highlight one of the film’s themes of racial and class inequality. If it was then Strieber sure did an excellent job of hammering home the point.

There’s a point in the film where we find out the nature of these wolfen and it does stretch the usual definition of the typical werewolf story. But looking back on it now this version told by Strieber and Wadleigh does lend credence to native folklore about wolves who were cunning as men and who preyed not just on the animals in their territory but hunted men as well. Whether they’re wolves or men in the shape of wolves really is left to the audience’s imagination even after the brief explanation of the wolfen and it’s role in the legends and myths of Native Americans.

The film had very creepy moments whenever the story switches over to be told through the viewpoint of the wolfen. The skewed perspective the camera takes on to signify that we were seeing things through the eyes of the wolfen was disorienting and creepily well-done. Wolfen never really has pure horror moments in the film though in the hands of a director like Carpenter these sequences definitely would’ve raised the level of dread and horror. Wadleigh does a good enough job, but it seemed like he was treating the horror aspect of the story with less attention than it was its due.

Wolfen marks the weakest of the werewolf trilogy of 1981, but thats not to say that it was a bad film. The finished product was a well-done film and its attempt to be very ambitious in its storytelling has to be commended. The fact that the filmmakers and all involved were able to keep all the different themes and genres together without having the film spiral into utter confusion makes it a worthwhile werewolf film. It may have been the weakest of the three films mentioned but it wasn’t by much.