Horror Film Review: Anaconda (dir by Luis Llosa)


In many ways, the 1997 monster film Anaconda is an incredibly dumb movie but let’s give credit where credit is for.  Whoever was in charge of casting this movie managed to assemble the most unlikely group of co-stars that you would ever expect to see in a movie about a documentary crew who run into a giant snake while sailing down the Amazon River.

I mean, let’s just consider the most familiar names in the cast.  Jennifer Lopez.  Ice Cube.  Jon Voight.  Owen freakin Wilson.  I mean, it’s not just that you wouldn’t expect to come across these four people all in the same movie.  It’s that they all seem to come from a totally different cinematic universe.  They’ve all got their own unique style of acting and seeing them all on the same small boat together is just bizarre.  You’ve got Jennifer Lopez, delivering her lines with a lot of conviction but not much sincerity.  And then you’ve got Ice Cube coolly looking over the Amazon and basically daring the giant snake to even think about trying to swallow him.  Owen Wilson is his usual quirky self, delivering his lines in his trademark Texas stoner drawl.  And then you’ve got Jon Voight.

Oh my God, Jon Voight.

Voight plays Paul Serone, a Paraguayan who says that he can help the documentary crew find an isolated Amazon tribe but who, once he gets on the boat, basically takes over and announces that he’s actually a snake hunter and he’s planning on capturing the biggest anaconda in existence.  It takes a while for the snake to show up.  When it finally does, it’s actually a pretty impressive throw-back to the type of cheesy by entertaining monsters that used to show up in drive-in movies back in the 50s and the 60s.  But really, the biggest special effect in the movie is Jon Voight.  Wisely, Voight doesn’t waste any time trying to be subtle or in anyway believable in the role of Serone.  Instead, Voight gives a performance that seems to be channeling the spirit of the infamous Klaus Kinski.  Voight growls, snarls, and glares as if the fate of the world depended upon it and he rips into his Paraguayan accent with all the ferocity of a character actor who understands the importance of being memorable in an otherwise forgettable movie.  It’s as if Voight showed up on set and looked at what was going and then said to himself, “Well, Jon, it’s all up to you.”  Serone is really a pretty vicious character.  I mean, he literally strangles a character to death with his legs!  But, thanks to Voight’s crazed energy he’s still the most compelling character in the movie.  It’s really scary to think about what the film would have been like without Voight shaking things up.  Along amongst the cast, Voight seems to understand just how silly Anaconda truly is.  Voight takes a rather middling monster movie and, through sheer force of will, manages to make it at least somewhat entertaining.

Personally, I’d like to see a remake of Anaconda, one that would feature the same cast but would be directed by Werner Herzog.  Just imagine if Herzog had told the story of that trip down the Amazon.  Gone would be the bland dialogue and rudimentary character motivations.  Instead, we’d have Jennifer Lopez slowly going insane while hundreds of monkey lay siege to the boat and Ice Cube musing on the never ending conflict between man and nature.  Herzog’s Anaconda would probably be just crazy enough to keep up with Jon Voight’s performance.

What Lisa Watched Last Night #179: Fiance Killer (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


Last night, I turned over to the Lifetime Movie Network and watched the latest Lifetime movie, Fiance Killer!

Why Was I Watching It?

It was on Lifetime!  By now, y’all should know that I’ll watch anything that’s on Lifetime!

What Was It About?

So, Cameron (Felisha Cooper) is about to be very, very rich.  As soon as she turns 25, she’ll be coming into a huge inheritance!  On top of that, Cameron also has a new boyfriend.  His name is Brent (Adam Huss) and he runs a non-profit!  Or, at least, that’s what he says.  Cameron’s mother (Kari Wuhrer) doesn’t trust him.  In fact, she does a background check on him and comes away convinced that Brent is only interesting in Cameron’s money.  Of course, Cameron doesn’t believe that.  In fact, Cameron is so offended by her mother’s paranoia that she elopes with Brent!

Except, of course, mom is right.  Brent is after Cameron’s money.  Of course, Brent doesn’t really have it in him to commit murder.  However, his girlfriend, Lexi (Jean Louise O’Sullivan), definitely does…

What Worked?

Lexi is one of my favorite characters of all time!  Seriously, she must have undergone ninja training at some point because she could seriously just pop up anywhere.  Someone gets in a car and there’s Lexi in the back seat!  Someone goes down to the kitchen and there’s Lexi hiding behind the refrigerator.  My favorite thing about Lexi was that, for all of the intricate plotting that went into her scheme, she didn’t really seem to care whether it actually worked or not.  Lexi was an agent of pure chaos, less a schemer and more a revolutionary.  Jean Louise O’Sullivan had a lot of fun with the role.

What Did Not Work?

Obviously, with any Lifetime film, you’re going to have to suspend your disbelief to a certain extent but seriously, Cameron was occasionally too naive to be believed.  Maybe if she had been 18, I could have bought that she wouldn’t be able to see through Brent and his schemes.  But, by the time you turn 25, you really should know better.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Obviously, it would have been nice if I could have related to Cameron, who was a very nice person and always tried to do the best for everyone.  But, honestly, I could never do the whole eloping thing.  When I do get married, it’s going to be a huge wedding and I’m going to expect a lot of expensive gifts.  As well, I couldn’t ever marry someone who worked for a “non-profit” because bragging about working for a company that doesn’t make a profit just seems strange to me.

So, that pretty much left with me with little choice but to relate to Lexi.  Unfortunately, Lexi killed people and I’m not really into that either.  However, I do enjoy making a scene so I guess Lexi and I had that in common.

Lessons Learned

I should sign up for ninja training as soon as possible.  Admittedly, I might not be a very good ninja and I’m not really sure if there’s much ninja work available where I live but I’d still love to learn how to just pop up anywhere whenever I wanted to.  That seems like that could be a valuable skill to have.

A Movie A Day #172: Sensation (1994, directed by Brian Grant)


Doctor Ian Burton (Eric Roberts) is a college professor who believes that objects retain impressions of the past.  To prove his theory (and hopefully, not lose tenure), Burton recruits one of his students, Lila Reed (Kari Wuhrer), who has shown that she may have psychic abilities.  Lila holds objects and she sees the past.  At first, she is intrigued but then she realizes that she keeps seeing the same woman in her visions.  The woman was a former student of Burton’s.  She was murdered and the good Doctor Burton is the number one suspect.  Can Lila use her power to solve the crime and clear Burton’s name?  Or is Burton guilty and using her for something more sinister than just testing a thesis?

Sensation is one of the many softcore neo-noirs that used to regularly appear, “after hours,” on HBO and Cinemax in the 1990s.  Sensation has a tagline (“An experience in terror”) that it never lives up to but it is still watchable because of the combination of the sexiness of Kari Wuhrer and the strangeness of Eric Roberts.  The tawdry mystery will not fool anyone and Wuhrer’s visions were all done better in The Dead Zone but Sensation deserves some credit for at least trying to be a little more creative than the average 1990s straight-to-video release.

Keep an eye out for Ron Pearlman, as the lead detective on the case.  He does not get to do much but he’s still Ron Pearlman!

 

10 Reasons Why Sharknado 2 Was Sharktastic!


sharknado-2-poster

Unless you’ve been living in total and complete isolation, you know that Sharknado 2 premiered on SyFy last night.  And of course, I watched and live tweeted it.  Now, when it comes Sharknado 2, it seems like everyone has one question: Was it better than Sharknado?

The answer?

Yes.  Yes, it was.

Here are 10 reasons why Sharknado 2 was sharktastic!

1) Action!  Action!  Action!

Sharknado 2 didn’t waste any time getting to the point.  From the minute the film started with Ian Ziering and Tara Reid sitting in an airplane that’s hit some sharknado-related turbulence, Sharknado 2 was all about sharks falling from the sky.  The film didn’t waste any time revisiting the events of the previous film or trying to explain, for a second time, how a bunch of sharks ended up in a tornado.  And you know what?  If you were worry about the logic of the situation then you really weren’t the right audience for this film.  Sharknado 2 was a movie for those of us seeking nonstop shark mayhem and it delivered!

2) Plenty of New York Attitude

When the first sharknado hit Los Angeles, we were presented with a portrait of a town that deserved to be destroyed.  I mean — really, Los Angeles?  A little bad weather and a few sharks and your entire population is screaming and fleeing?  New York, however, knows how to handle a sharknado.  It didn’t matter how many sharks fell from the sky — the citizens of New York refused to allow it to stop them from enjoying baseball games, visiting the Statue of Liberty, and seeking out a good slice of pizza.  New York, you’re the tops!

3) Tara Reid Showed Us How To Handle Losing A Hand

I don’t know about you but if a shark fell out of the sky and bit off my hand, I would probably freak out.  Having watched Sharknado 2, I can say that I am definitely not as strong as Tara Reid.  Though she may have lost her hand early on in this movie, she never let it slow her down.  Not only did she defiantly walk out of the hospital but she also managed to drive a fire truck with only one hand!  I’ve got two hands and I don’t think I could do that.  Finally, as a perfect example of how to make lemonade out of lemons, she even replaced her missing hand with a radial saw that, as it turns out, was perfect for fighting sharks.  You go, girl!

4) Ian Ziering Gave It All He Could

In the first Sharknado, Ian seemed almost annoyed to be there.  You got the feeling that he felt that somehow, by appearing in a movie about flying sharks, he was somehow damaging his career.  In Sharknado 2, however, Ian brought a lot of conviction to his role.  Though it may be hard to understand if you haven’t seen the actual film, I’ll just say that you looked at and listened to Ian and you believed that this man had indeed been inside of a shark.

IZ in Sharknado 2

 

5) The Statue Of Liberty Lost Her Head

And you better believe that head went rolling down the streets of New York.  I am a little bit disappointed that Ian never found a moment to stare up at headless Lady Liberty and shout, “You blew it up!  Damn you to Hell!” but oh well.

6) Cameos Galore!

Seeing as how the first Sharknado became a bit of a pop cultural phenomena, we should probably not be surprised that a lot of celebrities agreed to do cameos in the sequel.  What should surprise, however, is just how well the cameos were integrated into the film.  Whether it was Kelly Osbourne getting eaten by a shark or Matt Lauer and Al Roker arguing over the proper name for the storm (eventually, Matt did call it a sharknado and you can see just how happy Al was; it was a touching moment), all of the cameos worked brilliantly and, even more importantly, they didn’t distract from all of the shark mayhem.

7) The Live Tweeters Were On Fire Last Night!

Especially me!  Seriously, Sharknado 2 brought out the best in me.

8) Ian Wasn’t The Only Actor Giving It His All

To be honest, the entire cast brought their A game to Sharknado 2.  Everyone from Vivica A. Fox to Mark McGrath to Kari Wuhrer to Tara Reid to Judd Hirsch to well, everyone seemed to understand that for this material to work, they had to be willing to say some of the most ludicrous lines imaginable with a straight face.  If a single member of the cast had tried to wink at the audience or play up the film’s inherent campiness, the entire film would have fallen apart.  Instead, everyone brought a lot of conviction to their roles.  Instead of mocking the film and their dialogue, you could tell that they were instead having fun with it and, as a result, the audience had a lot of fun as well.

9) Kelly Ripa Stamped On The Head Of A Hammerhead Shark

Proof positive that high heels can be a girl’s best friend.

10) Everyone Watched it!

And you know what that means:  SHARKNADO 3!

Sharknado 2

Quickie Review: Eight Legged Freaks (dir. by Ellory Elkayem)


In 2002 there came a film in the tail end of that year’s summer blockbuster film season which took me by surprise. The film I’m talking about was Eight Legged Freaks. It was from Kiwi-born director Ellory Elkayem and he did a wonderful job of bringing back just a small peek at those fun 1950’s giant monster and insect movies like Them! and a host of others.

The film pretty much follows the same conventions as those old-time monster movies. It has the smart and bookish teenage boy whose love for all things spiders will come in handy as the film moves along. Then there’s the eccentric and creepy loner who collects spiders and learns that the water he has been giving them has now been tainted by toxic chemicals from a drum container that has fallen into a nearby river during transport. This river and the creek it feeds is right next to a down-and-out mining Arizona town, ironically named Prosperity. The film  wouldn’t be complete without the arrival of its prodigal son, Chris McCormick (played with quite a bit of understatement by the usual over-the-top David Arquette) whose father used to own the gold mines which the town relied on for its economy.

With a reluctant hero comes the woman he left behind and pined for years ago, but now much older and with kids of her own from a previous marriage. Kari Wuhrer — of MTV and B-movie fame — plays Samantha Parker. McCormick’s love interest who also happens to be Prosperity’s current town sheriff and single mother to the aforementioned teenage boy with the thing for spiders and nubile teen daughter Ashley (played by pre-superstardom Scarlett Johansson). Then there’s Wade, the town mayor whose failing ostrich farm and unused mega-mall is leading him to sell the town wholesale to some nameless giant corporation.

With the basic plot set and characters introduced all hell breaks loose as toxic-mutated spiders grow to giant proportions and begin to terrorize and devour the townspeople. At first, it’s isolated attacks until their numbers grown in size and they attack the town itself en masse. This may be a B-movie but it sure had great CGI-effects when it came to the giant arachnids and how they behaved on the screen. The many different types of giant spiders ended up having distinct personalities to distinguish themselves from each other. From the tank-like tarantula to the agile jumping spiders and the cunning trapdoor spiders. In fact, these spiders were also given some sort of voice which sounded like chipmunks on helium as they screeched, yipped and screamed their way around the screen.

Eight Legged Freaks was not something great to write mom home about, but it was a fun film to sit through, especially one full of teenagers who seem to scream and shout the loudest. This was a type of film that actually needs a rowdy audience to really entertain. There’s really no need to follow the dialogue since most of it is quite forgettable. The action on the screen from the giant spiders chasing motocross-riding teens and their attack on the townspeople at the mega-mall does well without the need of extraneous dialogue.

Ellory Elkayem did a great job in making Eight Legged Freaks not just a fun movie but also a throwback to the 50’s monster movies that we see now on syndication. This movie showed Elkayem had great potential as a genre filmmaker. It’s a shame he had to follow up Eight Legged Freaks with two very awful and forgettable sequels to the Return of the Living Dead franchise. I’m still hoping that he’ll rebound from that double-debacle and make more fun monster movies. Until that happens we’ll always have his little flick about giant, mutant spiders who sounded like chipmunks on helium.