Escape From New York (dir. by John Carpenter)


 

escape-from-new-york-movie-poster-1981-1020189511Before you start, note that Escape From New York was recently showcased in Jeff’s 4 Shots from 4 Films post to celebrate Kurt Russell’s birthday. For another take on the film, check out Jeff’s review. Please check that out, and then double back here, if you want. 

When I was little, my Aunt would sometimes take my older brother and I with her into Manhattan. In a little movie theatre near 82nd Street, she’d get us a set of tickets for a film, help us get seated with snacks and then either stay for the movie or leave to perform housekeeping duties for someone nearby if she had work and we weren’t allowed to hang out on site. John Carpenter’s Escape From New York wasn’t a film she stayed for (she loved Raiders of the Lost Ark), but it was okay. I was introduced to Snake Plissken, who ended up being cooler than Han Solo to my six year old eyes. Instead of being the hero, here was a criminal being asked to a mission. It showed me that even the bad guys could be heroes, now and then (or better yet, not every hero is cookie cutter clean). The film became an instant favorite for me. As I also do with Jaws and The Fog, I try not to let a year go by without watching Escape From New York at least once. It was my first Carpenter film.

The cultural impact of Escape From New York is pretty grand, in my opinion. It had a major influence on Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear video games and also spawned a few comics with Plissken, complete with Jack Burton crossovers with Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.

Carpenter brought in most of the same crew he worked with in his previous movies. The film was the third collaboration between Carpenter and Debra Hill, who previously worked with him in 1978’s Halloween and 1980’s The Fog. Though Hill didn’t write this one, she was still the producer, along with Larry Franco. There’s also a bit of speculation on whether Hill performed the opening vocals describing New York or Jamie Lee Curtis handled that. Cinematographer Dean Cundey (who worked on most of Carpenter’s early films) returned to help give the movie it’s gritty look, which is helpful considering how much of it takes place either at night or in darkened rooms. Another interesting part of the production is James Cameron, who was the Director of Photography when it came to the effects and matte work. One of the best effects shots in the film has Plissken gliding over Manhattan, which was designed by Effects member John C. Wash. The shot on his plane’s dashboard of the city was made from miniature mock up with reflective tape that made it appear as if it were digital, which was pretty cool given that they weren’t on an Industrial Light and Magic budget. There’s a fantastic article on We Are The Mutants and on the Escape From New York/LA Fan Page that focus on Wash’s technical contributions to the film.

For Carpenter’s career, Escape From New York marked the start of a great working relationship with Alan Howarth. Howarth, who also worked on the sound in the film, assisted Carpenter with the soundtrack. I’ve always felt this brought a new level to Carpenter’s music overall. You can easily hear the difference when Howarth was involved. Where Carpenter excelled at general synth sound, Howarth’s touch added some bass and depth. Together, they’d work on Christine, Big Trouble in Little China, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Prince of Darkness and They Live together. On his own, Howarth was also responsible for both Halloween 2, 4 and 5.

For the writing, Carpenter worked with Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers for him in the original Halloween. Escape From New York’s story is simple. In 1988, the crime rate for the United States rises 400 percent. As a result, someone had the notion to turn Manhattan into a prison for an entire country, setting up walls around the borough and mines in the waterways. When Airforce One crashes in the borough nearly a decade later, the recently arrested war hero / fugitive Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given a mission. Go in, rescue the President and/or the tape he’s carrying in 22 hours, and Plissken receives a pardon for all his crimes. To ensure that he follows through, he’s injected with nano-explosives that will kill him when the deadline hits. What seems like a simple mission becomes a little complicated when Snake discovers the President was captured by The Duke of New York, played by Issac Hayes (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka). Given that I’ve commuted to Manhattan more times than I can count, the film holds a special place in my heart.  The concept of the entire borough being a prison was mind blowing as a kid. The concept still holds up for me as an adult.

For a film about New York, there were only two days of filming actually spent on location there, according to Carpenter’s commentary. Most of that was used for the opening shot at the Statue of Liberty. The bulk of the film was made in Los Angeles, Atlanta and St. Louis. At the time, there was a major fire in St. Louis. The damage made for a great backdrop for both the crash site and the city at night. The film does take some liberties with locations, though. For example, as far as I know, we don’t have a 69th Street Bridge in Manhattan, but as a kid, it didn’t matter much. From an action standpoint, it might not feel as intense as other films. Even when compared to other films in 1981 – like Raiders of the Lost Ark (released a month earlier) – Escape From New York doesn’t have a whole lot, though I still enjoy what it does provide.

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Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) has 22 hours to save the President in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.

Casting seemed to come easy for the film. Hill, Castle and Carpenter reached out to some friends.  Kurt Russell and Carpenter worked together on Elvis, that was easy enough. Russell’s work with Carpenter would continue on in The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A.  From Halloween, Donald Pleasance was brought on to play the President, along with Charles Cyphers and Nancy Stephens as one pissed off flight attendant. From The Fog, we have Tom Atkins as Nick and Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, who happened to be married to Carpenter at the time. According to Carpenter on the film’s commentary track, the sequence for Maggie’s exit needed to be reshot and extended. The scene with her body on the ground was filmed in Carpenter’s garage and added to the film.

Ernest Borgnine’s (The Poseidon Adventure) Cabbie was a favorite character of mine. Like most cabbies, he knew the city well. He even prepared for some of its challenges with molotov cocktails. Harry Dean Stanton (Alien, Christine) played Brain, the smartest individual in the room and the supplier for gas for the Duke. If you look close, you’ll also catch Assault on Precinct 13’s Frank Doubleday as Romero, which his crazy looking teeth. To round it all out, Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly) plays Hauk, who puts Snake on his mission. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Carpenter film without a George ‘Buck’ Flower cameo. Buck was kind of Carpenter’s lucky charm in the way Dick Miller was for Joe Dante’s films. Good Ol’ Buck plays an inmate who sings Hail to the Chief.

Overall, Escape From New York is a classic Carpenter film that’s worth the watch. Whether you do so while wearing an eyepatch or not, that’s on you. We all have our preferences.

 

Here’s The Super Bowl Spot For Alita: Battle Angel!


This Super Bowl spot from Alita: Battle Angel aired earlier in the game and I somehow missed it.  (I was probably talking about that Game Of Thrones/Bud Light ad.)  So, here it is now!

This film was produced and written by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez.  According to this spot, if you don’t see this film in a theater, the world will end and it’ll be all your fault.  So, I guess you better make the time.

Here’s the spot:

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Alita: Battle Angel, Mid 90s, Love Gilda, Final Score, Hunter Killer, Iron Fist


Welcome to this week’s trailer round-up!

What do you get when you combine a script co-written by James Cameron with the direction of Robert Rodriguez?  We’ll find out when Alita: Battle Angel is released into theaters on December 21st!

A24’s latest period piece, Mid90s, will be released into theaters on October 19th.  This film is the directorial debut of Jonah Hill and, judging from the trailer, his film has got the 90s down.

SNL comedienne Gilda Radner gets a much deserved tribute in Love, Gilda.  This documentary will be in theaters on September 21st.

Judging from the trailer, Final Score looks like it might be the best action film of 1992.  It’s Die Hard in a stadium.  The Eurotrash villains take 35,000 football hooligans hostage but everyone’s too much into the match to notice.  At first, I thought this trailer had to be a parody.

Speaking of things that seem like parodies but are actually meant to be taken seriously, Hunter Killer is a real movie starring two real Oscar winners.  Keep an eye out for Gary Oldman and Common in theaters on October 26th.

Finally, proving that not even bad reviews can keep a Marvel hero down, Netflix’s Iron Fist returns for a second season on September 7th.

 

 

 

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Galaxy of Terror (dir by Bruce D. Clark)


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Long before Event Horizon (but, perhaps more importantly, shortly after the original Alien), there was 1981’s Galaxy of Terror!

Produced by Roger Corman and featuring production design and second unit work from James Cameron, Galaxy of Terror tells the story of what happens when, in the future, the crew of the Quest are dispatched to a mysterious planet.  They’re on a rescue mission but what they don’t realize is that they’re heading into a trap!

The crew of the Quest is virtually a who’s who of cult actors.

The youngest member of the crew is Cos.  Cos is scared of everything and, from the minute you see him, you can tell that he’ll probably be the first to die.  Cos is played by Jack Blessing, who subsequently became a very in-demand voice over artist.  You may not recognize the name or the face but you’ve probably heard the voice.

Captain Trainor, who is still troubled by a disastrous mission in the past, is played by Grace Zabriskie, who is rumored to have inspired Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” and who subsequently became a regular member of David Lynch’s stock company.

The fearsome Quuhod is played by one of the patron saints of exploitation filmmaking, the one and only SID HAIG!  Quuhod doesn’t say much but Sid Haig doesn’t have to say much to make an impression.

Technical officer Dameia is played by Taaffe O’Connell.  She suffers through the film’s most infamous and distasteful scenes, in which she’s assaulted by a gigantic space worm.  That scene was apparently insisted upon by Roger Corman and it’s not easy to watch.  At the same time, since the film takes place on a planet that is ruled by pure evil, the scene somehow works.  It’s that scene that tells you that Galaxy of Terror is not going to be your typical B-movie.  That is the scene that says, “This movie is going to give you nightmares!”

Ranger is played by Robert Englund!  That’s right — the original Freddy Krueger himself.  It’s interesting to see Englund in this role because Ranger is actually one of the only likable characters in the film.  It’s strange to see the future Freddy Krueger being menaced by the same type of threats that he unleashed on Elm Street.  But Englund does a good job in the role.  In fact, he does so well that you wonder what would have happened in his career if he hadn’t been forever typecast as the man of your nightmares.

The arrogant and cocky Baelon is played by future director, Zalman King.  It says something about King’s acting career that Galaxy of Terror is not the strangest film that he ever appeared in.

Burned-out Commander Ilvar is played by Bernard Behrens, who is one of those character actors who has a very familiar face.  If you watch any movie from the 80s or 90s that features a weary homicide detective or an unsympathetic bureaucrat, it’s entirely possible that he was played by Bernard Behrens.

Kore, the ship’s cook, is played by Ray Waltson, who is another one of those very familiar character actors.  Over the course of his long career, Waltson appeared in everything from The Apartment to The Sting to Fast Times At Ridgemont High to a countless number of TV shows and TV movies.  Waltson was usually cast in comedic roles so it’s interesting to see him here, playing a role that is very much not comedic.

Alluma, an empath, is played by Erin Moran, who was best known for playing Ron Howard’s bratty sister on the somewhat terrible (but apparently popular and deathless) sitcom, Happy Days.  Moran’s explosive death scene is another reason why Galaxy of Terror has a cult following.

And finally, the “star” of the film is Edward Albert, who plays Cabren.  To return to my earlier comparison to Event Horizon, Edward Albert has the Laurence Fishburne role.

Anyway, our crew is sent on a rescue mission but, when they crash land on the planet Morganthus, they find themselves outside of a desolate pyramid.  They make the mistake of exploring the pyramid and end up being confronted by their greatest fears.  (They also eventually discover that one of their crewmates is a traitor.)  It’s pretty much a typical sci-fi slasher film but it makes an impression because, thematically, it’s just so dark.  The fears that attack the crew members are so ruthless and brutal that they will take even the most jaded of horror fans by surprise.  Galaxy of Terror is relentless and merciless in its effort to scare the audience.

What especially distinguishes Galaxy of Terror is that, despite the obviously low budget, the entire film feels sickeningly real.  A lot of credit for that has to go to James Cameron, who creates a lived-in future that actually feels a lot more plausible than anything to be found in Avatar.

So, if you have the chance, turn off the lights, watch the film in the dark, and prepare for a perfect Halloween nightmare!

Terminator: Genisys (Official Trailer)


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I’m not sure if the 5th Terminator film is a prequel or a sequel. Time travel and paradoxes and all that jazz sure make it difficult to figure that out.

Now, what we do know is that Terminator: Genisys (whoever came up with that title should be shot) will take things even farther than the first film which is suppose to kickoff a divergent timeline that makes the first four films a moot point.

So, this means that Terminator: Genisys may be both prequel and sequel, but also a reset of the whole franchise. See what I mean about confusing.

Here’s to hoping that screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have a better handle on all this jumbled time travel and resetting stuff.

Terminator: Genisys is set for July 1, 2015 release date.

Guilty Pleasure No. 22: Battle Beyond the Stars (dir. by Jimmy T. Murakami)


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Two of my favorite films of all-time happen to be very similar. In fact, one could say that they’re pretty much the same films. I’m talking about Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and it’s Western-remake by John Sturges, The Magnificent Seven. Kurosawa’s film is one of the greatest films of all-time and it’s no wonder that many have taken the film’s story of the downtrodden hiring a band of misfits, rogues, but still honorable men to help them fight against huge odds.

One such film that tries to add onto Kurosawa film’s legacy was the Roger Corman-produced scifi-adventure film Battle Beyond the Stars. This 1980 film was one of Corman’s many attempts to cash-in on the Star Wars phenomena, but in his usual low-budget style.

For a low-budget scifi film, Battle Beyond the Stars happened to have quite a cast one doesn’t usually see in such productions. While it had such grindhouse and exploitation regulars as John Saxon and Sybil Danning, it also starred the wholesome Richard Thomas from The Waltons and George Peppard (who would later become famous with a new generation as Hannibal Smith of The A-Team). The film would be directed by Jimmy T. Murakami, but from watching the film one could see Corman’s fingerprints all over the production from the script which was pretty lean and cut to the basic outline of Kurosawa’s original film. There’s not much fluff to bog down the pacing of the film.

This film has always been a guilty pleasure of mine because it so resemble Seven Samurai and The Magificent Seven, but adds in it’s own unique style and look to a well-worn and well-trodden plot. It was much later that I found out that James Cameron had a major hand in the special effects work in the film. Think about that for a moment. The self-proclaimed “King of the World” who literally breaks film budget records every time he begins work on a film did FX work on battle Beyond the Stars whose effects budget probably wouldn’t buy a day’s worth of crafts table eating for his most modestly budgeted films.

Lisa Marie always loved to say that grindhouse and exploitation films are some of most honest films out there. There’s no bullshit to what we see on the screen. It’s filmmakers forced to be daring and inventive because the lack of resources forces them to think outside the box. Battle Beyond the Stars might be seen as a mediocre attempt to cash-in on a scifi cultural phenomena, but it does so with a go for broke mentality that makes it such a fun film to watch. It’s not the greatest thing Corman has ever produced and some would even call it a very bad film, but once one looked past it’s rough and flawed surface then one could see a gem in the rough hidden beneath.

Oh, this remake of the remake of the original also happened to star one Robert Vaughn who was one of original Magnificent Seven.

  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

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #64: The 70th Annual Golden Globes


Last night, I watched the 70th Annual Golden Globe awards.  Judging from twitter, so did a lot of other people.  All I can say is that I hope my golden globes are as popular as this show when they’re 70 years old.

Why Was I Watching It?

I have to admit that I nearly didn’t watch it because I was in kind of a crappy mood on Sunday night.  Seriously,that night,  my twitter timeline was a testament to just how annoyed this little redheaded Irish girl can get.  But, in the end, I decided that I had to watch the Golden Globes because, even though I don’t care much for rich celebrities, I do love movies, I love TV, and I love award shows.  Add to that, I knew that if I didn’t watch the Golden Globes that would mean missing out on a chance to make countless references to my boobs and I just couldn’t do that to my followers on twitter.

What Was It About?

It was about celebrities getting drunk and winning awards and getting bleeped while delivering their acceptance speeches.  It was about the fact that the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will do anything to get George Clooney to come hang out with them.  It was about Tommy Lee Jones glaring, Jodie Foster rambling, and Quentin Tarantino using the n-word backstage.  It was about Ben Affleck winning Best Director and Argo beating Lincoln for best film.  It was about star fucking and star mocking.  It was the best of award shows and it was the worst of award shows.  In short, it was the Golden Globes.

What Worked?

To be honest, the 70th annual Golden Globes were a lot of fun.  The show moved quickly and most of the jokes were actually funny.  The assembled stars started drinking early and I think that helped out a lot.

Among those who won Golden Globes, the best acceptance speeches were given by Lena Dunham, Christoph Waltz, Ben Affleck, and Daniel Day-Lewis.  A lot of people were critical of Anne Hathaway’s acceptance speech but I thought it was sweet and genuine.

My favorite winner was Jennifer Lawrence, mostly because she specifically started her speech by mentioning that she had beaten “Meryl.”  Some people on twitter felt that was a bit rude but, quite frankly, I’ve grown tired of Meryl Streep showing up at every awards ceremony looking like grandma in a prom dress.

(Meryl, incidentally, was not at the Golden Globes last night because she had the flu.)

I thought Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig were funny when they did their little introduction for the Best Actress (Comedy/Musical) award but I thought Tommy Lee Jones’ annoyed glare was even funnier.

Tina Fey (who looked great) and Amy Poehler (who did not) were both great hosts and I loved Poelher’s joke about how torturous it must have been for Kathryn Bigelow to be married to James Cameron.  That’s one of the great things about the Golden Globes.  Unlike at the Oscars, people are willing to make jokes about James Cameron.

Unlike a lot of people, I found Jodie Foster’s “coming out” speech to be funny and wonderfully human.  That said, I wasn’t aware that Jodie Foster was ever in the closet.  Seriously, worst kept secret ever.

It was a genuinely exciting and nice moment when Argo was announced as the winner for Best Motion Picture (Drama), defeating the heavily favored Lincoln. While I liked both of those films, there is a definite backlash brewing against the seeming inevitability of Lincoln’s victory.

Finally, Sacha Baron Cohen was pretty annoying but, on the plus side, he did take the time to insult Russell Crowe’s singing.  As anyone who has ever watched South Park knows, this means that Crowe is going to jump in his tug boat and head off on a quest for vengeance.

And that’s the way things should be.

What Did Not Work?

A lot of people on twitter were really excited when Bill Clinton came out on stage to introduce the clip for Lincoln.  Myself, I hit mute as soon as I saw him.  I don’t watch awards shows to see redneck politicians.  Add to that, having Bill Clinton introduce Lincoln was yet another example of the nonstop hype that has led to people resenting both Steven Spielberg and his latest film.

The Golden Globes used to be a fun precursor to the actual Oscar nominations so it was hard not to be disappointed that, under this new schedule, the Golden Globes were awarded after the Oscar nominations had been announced.

“OMG!  Just like me!” Moment

"I'll show you some Golden Globes!"

“I’ll show you some Golden Globes!”

Lessons Learned

None.  I was too stubborn last night to learn any lessons.

Poll: Who Should Direct Catching Fire?


With the recent announcement that Gary Ross will not be directing Catching Fire, the second film in The Hunger Games trilogy, there’s been a lot of online speculation has started as to who will take his place.  Since I was bored at work, I spent an hour or two reading some of that speculation.  Needless to say, a lot of names are being tossed around and some are a lot more plausible than others.  However, a few names seem to be mentioned more often than others.

Speaking for myself, I don’t think that the loss of Gary Ross is going to really hurt the sequel, financially or artistically. 

Financially, people are going to see the sequel regardless of who directs it and, quite frankly, I doubt many people went to the Hunger Games because they just couldn’t wait to see Gary Ross’s follow-up to Seabiscuit

From an artistic point of view, the main reason that I loved the Hunger Games was because, after years of seeing blockbuster movies where being female was essentially the same as being helpless and insipid, it was so refreshing to see a film about a strong, independent young woman who is concerned about something more than just keeping her boyfriend happy.  In short, I loved The Hunger Games because of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen.  In short, Gary Ross was about as important to The Hunger Games franchise  as Chris Columbus was to the Harry Potter films.

As for who the new director is going to be, here’s some of the more interesting names that I’ve seen mentioned:

Danny Boyle is one of my favorite directors of all time and he’s certainly showed that he can create entertaining films that both challenge conventional and force you to think.  As well, directing the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics and, if that’s not good training for the Hunger Games then what is?

J.J. Abrams is a far more conventional director than Danny Boyle but he’s also proven that he can make blockbuster films that don’t necessarily insult one’s intelligence.  Add to that, he created Alias and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

As the only woman to ever win best director, Kathryn Bigelow is an obvious choice for a franchise that is ultimately all about empowerment.  Plus, she’s proven she can handle action films and I think it would be a neat if, under her direction, Catching Fire made more money than Avatar.

Sofia Coppola, who should have won an Oscar for Lost in Translation,  would bring a definitely lyrical quality to Catching Fire and, if nothing else. her version would be amazing to look at.  Add to that, Sofia Coppola deserves to have at least one blockbuster on her resume.  (Yes, I know a lot of you people hated Somewhere but you know what?  You’re wrong and I’m right.)

Alfonso Cuaron has proven, with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azbakan, that he can step into a franchise without sacrificing his own individual vision.  Children of Men shows that he can create a realistic dystopian future.

Debra Granik is best-known for directing Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone.  If not for Granik, Katniss Everdeen could have very easily ended up being played by Kristen Stewart.

Catherine Hardwicke is, of course, best known for directing the first Twilight film and a lot of people will never forgive her for that.  And you know what?  That’s really not fair to Hardwicke. Say what you will about Twilight, the film was actually pretty well-directed and Red Riding Hood is one of the unacknowledged masterpieces of 2011.  (No, really…)   Finally, Hardwicke directed Thirteen, one of the best films ever made.  Hardwicke’s Catching Fire probably wouldn’t be critically acclaimed but it would be a lot of fun.

Patty Jenkins is one of the more surprising names that I saw mentioned on several sites.  Jenkins is best known for directing the ultra-depressing Monster  as well as the atmospheric pilot for AMC’s The Killing. Apparently she was also, for a while, signed up to direct Thor 2, which would suggest that she can handle blockbuster action.  Of course, she was also fired from Thor 2.

Mike Newell directed the best of the Harry Potter films (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and has shown that he can handle action and spectacle.  He’s also directed Mona Lisa Smile, which is one of my favorite films of all time.

Sam Raimi would turn Catching Fire into a thrill ride.  While you would lose a lot of the story’s subtext, the film would certainly not be boring.  Add to that, Raimi directing would increase the chances of a Bruce Campbell cameo.

To be honest, I haven’t seen anyone mention the name of Mark Romanek so I’m going to mention him because I think he’s great and that Never Let Me Go was one of the best films of 2010.  Add to that, he actually played an important role in my life in that I can still remember being 12 years old, seeing his video for Fiona Apple’s Criminal, and going, “That’s what I’m going to do once I get to high school…”

Julie Taymor is best known as a theatrical director but her films have all been distinguished by a strong, individualistic vision.  More people need to see her film version of The Tempest.

Susanna White, though not well-known, was a contender to direct The Hunger Games before the job went to Gary Ross.  White got her start working with the BBC before coming over to America to direct episodes of Generation Kill and Boardwalk Empire for HBO.  She was also a contender to director another film based on YA literature, The Host.

With Hanna, Joe Wright gave us the best film of 2011 (regardless of what the Academy thinks) and he’s proven that he knows how to mix empowerment and action.

There are other names in contention, of course.  I’ve seen everyone from Stephen Soderbergh (bleh, to be honest) to Rob Zombie mentioned.  Arleigh suggested both James Cameron and David Fincher but I think he was mostly doing that to annoy me.  Someone on twitter (may have been me) mentioned Tyler Perry and then laughed and laughed.  However, the 14 names above are the ones that I find to be the most interesting and/or plausible.

So, who do you think would be a the best director for Catching Fire?

As for me and who I would like to so direct the film, I think that the director of Catching Fire should be a woman because Catching Fire is, ultimately, a story about empowerment.  I also think that characterization is far more important than action so I’m not as concerned about whether or not the director has a history of blowing things up onscreen.  Instead, what the franchise needs is a strong, female director with an eye for detail and a strong appreciation for what film is capable of accomplishing as an art form. 

For that reason, my vote goes to Sofia Coppola.

A Quickie Horror Review: Planet of the Vampires (dir. by Mario Bava)


Later tonight, I’m going to watch Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath but before I do, I want to take a few minutes to review another one of Bava’s films, 1965’s sci-fi/horror hybrid Planet of the Vampires.

Taking place in the far future, Planet of the Vampires begins with two space ships receiving a distress call from an unexplored planet.  While landing, the two ships are separated from each other.  As the Argos lands, its crew is possessed by an unknown force and suddenly start trying to kill each other.  Only the ship’s captain (Barry Sullivan, who gives a surprisingly good performance in a role that most actors would have just sleepwalked through) is able to resist and he manages to snap the rest of the crew out of their hypnotic state. 

Once the Argos lands, search parties are sent out to find the other ship.  They find themselves on a barren planet where the surface is obscured by a thick, multi-colored fog.  As they wander through the planet, it quickly becomes apparent that they aren’t alone.  The searchers may have left the ship as human but they return as something else all together.  It all leads up to a surprisingly bleak conclusion.

If the plot of Planet of the Vampires sounds familiar, that’s because it’s probably one of the most influential, if not widely known, films of all time.   The film has been imitated in several other, far more expensive films but few of them manage to capture Planet of the Vampires’ sense of isolation and impending doom.  With this film, Bava again showed that he was one of the few directors wh0 could accomplish so much with so little.  While this isn’t an actor’s film, fans of Italian horror will squeal with delight to see Ivan Rassimov pop up here in a small role.

I’ve mentioned Planet of the Vampires before on this site when I was giving 10 reasons why I hated AvatarTo me, Planet of the Vampires stands as proof that you don’t need a gigantic budget to make an effective horror (or sci-fi film).  In fact, often times, all a huge budget does is shut down the audience’s imagination and quite frankly, nothing on film will ever be as impressive as what the audience can imagine.  With Planet of the Vampires, all that Mario Bava had to create an alien world were two plastic rocks and a smoke machine.  Working without the crutch of CGI, Bava had to pull off most of the film’s special effects “in camera,” and he would later say that one of the benefits of all that smoke was that it helped to obscure just how low budget this film was.  In short, Bava was working under circumstances that James Cameron would refuse to even consider and yet Planet of the Vampires holds up better upon repeat viewings than Avatar ever will.  The low-budget forced Bava to emphasize atmosphere over effects.  Yes, this film has its share of gore (it’s an Italian horror film, after all) but ultimately, this is another example of a horror film that works because of what it doesn’t show.  This is a film that exploits your imagination, working its way into the darker corners of your consciousness.  Bava creates a palpable atmosphere of doom that makes Planet of the Vampires into a surprisingly effective film.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Sanctum (dir. by Alistir Grierson)


Earlier this year, I said that — based on the trailer alone — Sanctum appeared to be a terrible film.  At the time, a few people disagreed with me.  “Yes,” they said, “the trailer is a collection of clichés and the plot looks incredibly predictable and the selected dialogue is so tin-plated that it probably attracts radio waves but this is just an adventure film.  STOP BEING SO GODDAMN JUDGMENTAL, LISA MARIE!”

Well, needless to say, that made me shut my little ol’ mouth all nice and quick.

Anyway, Sanctum opened in theaters on Super Bowl weekend and, if I remember correctly, it didn’t even play for a full week.  It was such a box office bomb that it was yanked out and replaced by a Miley Cyrus film on Tuesday.  Again, that’s if my memory serves correctly.  As a result, I didn’t get a chance to see this film in the theaters.  Instead, I had to wait to see it OnDemand.  Was it as bad as I expected?  Well, it wasn’t quite the disaster I was expecting but, at the same time, I still find myself resenting having to admit that I actually “demanded” to see Sanctum.

There are two misconceptions that need to be cleared up about Sanctum.  One is that it’s a James Cameron film.  Cameron is credited as being executive producer because his 3-D cameras were used to film the movie.  (Also, I’ve read that he is a friend of Andrew Wright, who co-wrote the script.)  However, the film itself was directed by Alister Grierson who tries to give everything a Cameronesque feel.  In Grierson’s defense, he succeeds in that all of the characters are forgettable and that you’re never actually surprised by anything that happens on-screen. 

The other is that the film is, as we’re told during the opening credits, based on a true story.  Actually, it’s based on the fact that Andrew Wright apparently likes to swim around in caves and he once got trapped with a party he was leading and nearly drowned.  However, nobody in his party died and I’m guessing that, at some point, someone may have actually said something half-way witty.  As a result, that incident doesn’t really seem to have much to do with anything seen during Sanctum.  As a lover of grindhouse and exploitation films, the blatant falsehood of the “Based on a true story” credit doesn’t bug me.  In fact, it was my favorite part of the film.

Anyway, Sanctum is about a bunch of cave divers who get stuck in a flood and have to swim and dive their way to safety.  It actually starts out pretty well, with a lot of aerial footage of Papua New Guinea and the initial cave diving scenes are genuinely exciting.  But then, eventually, the story has to start up and everyone start to talk and the actors have to breathe some life into the cardboard characters and the whole film becomes so determined to be nothing special that it starts to get genuinely annoying. 

Eventually, the cave ends up flooding and I guess you’re supposed to wonder — who will survive?  Will it be model Victoria (Alison Parkinson), who keeps panicking because she’s a woman?  Or how about Victoria’s boyfriend (played by Ioan Gruffod), who is rich and unlikable?  How about George (Dan Wylde), who is getting older and serves as a mentor/sidekick to the group?  Or maybe it’ll be Luko (Cramer Crain), who is a native who specifically decides to stick around to save all the white foreigners.  Or how about the crusty, veteran diver (Richard Roxburgh, who has apparently never met a line he couldn’t shout into pointlessness) who has a strained relationship with his headstrong song (Rhys Wakefield) who just happens to be trapped down there with them all?

Seriously, who’s going to survive!?

Anyway, if it seems like I’m being really hard on this film, it’s because there’s enough hints of what the film could have been that it makes you resent, all the more, what the film eventually turned out to be.  As I said before, even at its worst, the film is beautiful to look at.  Admittedly, I’m both scared of water and intensely claustrophobic but, even taking that into account, the early scenes of the cave flooding and the characters fighting for survival are well-directed and genuinely frightening.  This is a film that is at it’s best when characters are drowning because it means they can’t speak and we don’t have to listen to anymore of that terrible dialogue.

In the end, Sanctum goes to show that sometimes, you should trust the trailer…