Film Review: Wire Room (dir by Matt Eskandari)

Wire Room tells the story of Justin Rosa (Kevin Dillon).

Once upon a time, Justin was a member of the Secret Service.  But, for reasons that are never really made clear, Justin was eventually demoted and found himself working for Homeland Security.  After 18 years, Justin has finally achieved his dream.  He’s been assigned to a wire room, a high-tech command center where HSI agents conduct surveillance on high-profile criminals.  On his first day, Justin shows up late.  He gets yelled at by his superior, Shane Mueller (Bruce Willis).  Justin explains that he couldn’t find anywhere to park.  Shane is not impressed.  Of course, Shane takes a taxi to and from work because Shane is a total alcoholic who likes to spend his free time at the local strip club.

After meeting Shane and Nour Holborow (Shelby Cobb), Justin is left in the wire room alone.  His sole job is to keep an eye on a British arms dealer, Eddie Flynn (Oliver Trevena, who chews the scenery with relish).  Shane is obsessed with taking down not only Eddie but also all of the corrupt cops that are on Eddie’s payroll.  Eddie has no idea that his entire mansion is wired and that Homeland Security is watching him while he wanders around the house in his leopard-print robe.  Eddie also doesn’t know that a bunch of assassins are coming to his house to try to kill him.

Realizing that Eddie is about to be killed, Justin tries to call Shane but Shane is too busy getting drunk to answer his phone.  When Nour calls about an unrelated manner, Justin asks her for advice.  She tells him to call Shane.  He already tried that!  Realizing that Homeland Security is full of drunks and incompetents, Justin decides to call Eddie himself.  Soon, Justin and Eddie enter into an uneasy partnership.  Justin tries to keep Eddie alive while Eddie tries to figure out how Justin knows what’s happening at his house.  To me, it would seem like it shouldn’t be difficult for Eddie to figure out that Homeland Security has wired his house but no one in this movie is particularly smart.

Wire Room was one of the last movies that Bruce Willis made before announcing his retirement from acting.  Willis doesn’t get much screen time and his dialogue consists mostly of profane insults.  That said, it is nice to see Willis playing a good guy again and there’s even a few hints of the old Willis charisma to be found in his performance.  If nothing else, he seems to enjoy the scenes in which Shane gives Justin a hard time.  As for Justin, he really is a truly stupid character who makes so many obvious mistakes that it’s hard not to worry about the fact that he’s been entrusted with keeping the homeland safe.  Fortunately, Kevin Dillon is an actor who can make stupidity likable.  (There’s a reason why Johnny Drama was the only character on Entourage that anyone really cared about.)

Like the majority of Willis’s recent films, Wire Room is a low-budget action film.  The special effects aren’t particularly special and the action scenes are fairly rudimentary.  A huge problem with the film is that the viewer is never quite sure how close or how far anyone is from the titular location.  For instance, we’re continually told that people are heading towards the wire room but it seems like it takes them forever to actually show up.  At one point, we see a group of bad guys heading up to the wire room but, somehow, Justin and Shane still have time to scrounge up some weapons and have a fairly detailed conversation before any of them actually arrive.  For all of the shooting and the yelling, Wire Room also never convinces us that there’s much at stake as far as the story is concerned.  Shane, for instance, doesn’t seem to be particularly upset when Justin tells him about what is happening at Eddie’s house, despite the fact that Eddie’s death would destroy Shane’s investigation into police corruption.  If Shane, the man in charge of the investigation, doesn’t care about what happens then why should we?

That said, there is some perhaps unintentional enjoyment to be found in Wire Room.  Kevin Dillon plays Justin as being so dense and so slow-witted that the film almost becomes a parody of the recent spate of movies and television shows that have been released about hyper competent government agents.  There are laughs to be found and Bruce Willis gets to be the good guy again.  Wire Room is not a particularly memorable movie but it is a decent time waster.

Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 5.7 “House of Horror” (dir by Bob Gale)

Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 7th episode of the 5th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!  

House of Horrors has everything that you could possibly want from a Tales From The Crypt episode!  A dumbass idiot frat boy (played by Kevin Dillon) forces three pledges to enter  a supposedly haunted house.  Mayhem ensues.  This episode is full of atmosphere, dark humor, plot twists, and unexpected turns and it features two wonderfully over-the-top performances, one from Dillon and one from Meredith Salenger as a Southern-accented sorority president who may have a secret of her own.

This episode originally aired on October 27th, 1993 and is currently celebrating its 30th birthday.


Film Review: A Day To Die (dir by Wes Miller)

A Day To Die is a low-budget action film with a ludicrously complicated plot.

The film opens with an elite SWAT team reacting to a terrorist incident in a small town.  A group of white supremacists have taken over a hundred hostages in a high school.  An elite SWAT team, led by Brice Mason (Frank Grillo) and Connor Connolly (Kevin Dillon), attempt to rescue the hostages but a mistake leads to the school blowing up and many of the hostages dying.  Corrupt police chief Alston (Bruce Willis) breaks up the SWAT team.  Some of the members become auto mechanics.  Some of them become drug addicts.  Connor becomes a …. parole officer.

A year or so later, Connor is forced to kill one of the henchmen of the local drug lord, Pettis (Leon).  Pettis is upset because, by his estimation, the dead man would have brought in over two million dollars over the course of his career.  Pettis orders Connor to steal two million to pay off his “debt.”  Pettis gives Connor 12 hours to find the money and, just for good measure, he kidnaps Connor’s pregnant wife (Brooke Butler).

Pettis suggests that Connor get the money by robbing a rival’s drug house.  With no other choice, Connor puts in a call to Brice and soon, the old SWAT team has gathered in a garage.  Quicker than you can say Fast and Furious, the team is talking about how they’re family.  If Connor needs them to rob a bunch of drug dealers, that’s what they’re going to do.  However, they’re also going to take down Pettis in the process.  Of course, what they don’t realize is that Pettis has a connection of his own with Chief Alston.

Probably the best thing that can be said about A Day To Die is that Bruce Willis seems to be remarkably steady on his feet.  This was one of the batch of films that Willis made before his family announced that he was retiring from acting.  Knowing what we now know about not only his health but also the allegations that Willis wasn’t always sure what type of films he was being singed up for, it’s always a bit awkward to watch his last few films.  But, in A Day To Die, Willis actually gives a credible performance as the corrupt police chief.  Though there’s not much of evidence of the swaggering wise guy charisma that made Willis a star, Willis still delivers his lines convincingly and he seems to be invested in the character.  While I’m faintly praising the film, I should also mention that Leon appears to be having fun with the role of the sharply-dressed drug dealer and Frank Grillo is his usual rugged self.  They’re all good enough to keep you watching.

Unfortunately, Kevin Dillon uses the same facial expression that he used when he played Johnny Drama on Entourage and, as a result, it’s a bit difficult to take him seriously as an action hero.  (If anything A Day To Die seems like the type of film that everyone would laugh at Johnny for doing while Vince was appearing in Martin Scorsese’s Gatsby.)  Ultimately, the film is done in by an overcomplicated plot that really doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.  As entertaining as Leon is, Pettis’s actions never really make sense.  In the end, A Day To Die is better than American Siege but nowhere close to Gasoline Alley.

A Midnight Clear (1992, directed by Keith Gordon)

In December of 1944, with the world at war and Christmas approaching, a small U.S. Army Intelligence squad is sent to a deserted chateau near the German lines.  The squad, which was decimated during the Battle of the Bulge, is made up of six young soldiers who all have genius IQs.  They’ve been hardened by war but they’re still young enough to have some hope for the future.  Leading them is “Mother” Wilkinson (Gary Sinise), an officer who cares about his men but who has been mentally struggling with not only the war but also with the recent death of a child back home.

At first, the chateau seems like a perfect sanctuary, a place to wait for the war to end.  But then the Americans discover that there is a regiment of German soldiers nearby.  The Germans are just as young as the Americans and when the two groups meet each other, they don’t fire their guns but instead have a snowball fight.  The Germans say that they know the war is about to end and that they want to surrender before the Russians arrive.  However, the Germans are worried about their families back home and what will happen when word gets back that they’ve surrendered.  They request a staged fight so that it will appear that they were captured in combat.  Almost everyone is down with the plan but it turns out that it’s not easy to fake a war in the middle of a real one.

Based on a novel by William Wharton, A Midnight Clear is one of the best Christmas films that hardly anyone seems to have heard of.  It’s a war film that is more concerned with the men who fight the wars than with the battles. Along with Sinise, the ensemble cast includes Ethan Hawke, Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ayre Gross, Frank Whaley, and John C. McGinley and all of them make an impression, bringing their characters to life.  By the end of the movie, you feel like you know each member of the squad and their individual fates hit you hard.  Some of them make it to the next Christmas and tragically, some of them don’t.  The film starts out almost gently and all of the soldiers are so intent on just letting the war end while they hide out at the chateau that you find yourself believing that it could actually happen.  When reality intrudes, it’s tragic and poignant.  Intelligently directed by Keith Gordon (making his directorial debut), A Midnight Clear is an unforgettable anti-war story that has an amazing final shot.  A Midnight Clear makes an impression on Christmas and every other day.

A Movie A Day #208: War Party (1988, directed by Franc Roddam)

On the hundredth year anniversary of a battle between the U.S. Calvary and the Blackfeet Indians, the residents of small Montana town decide to reenact the battle and hopefully bring in some tourist dollars.  The white mayor (Bill McKinny) and the sheriff (Jerry Hardin) both think that it is a great idea.  Even the local Indian leader, Ben Cowkiller (Dennis Banks, in real-life a founder and leader of the American Indian Movement), thinks that it will be a worthwhile for the Indians to participate.  The Calvary’s guns will be full of blanks.  The Indians will play dead.  However, as the result of a bar brawl the previous night, one of the local rednecks, Calvin Morrisey (Kevyn Major Howard), shows up with a gun full of bullets.  After he shoots one of the Indians, Calvin ends up with a tomahawk buried in his head.  Three Indian teenagers, Warren (Tim Sampson), Skitty (Kevin Dillon), and Sonny (Billy Wirth), flee into the wilderness.  Thirsty for revenge, a white posse heads off in pursuit.

War Party is an underrated and surprisingly violent movie.   Franc Roddam brings the same sensitivity to his portrayal of alienated Indians that he brought to portraying alienated Mods in Quadrophenia.  Though, at first, Kevin Dillon seems miscast as an Indian, he, Wirth, and Sampson all give good performances, as does Dennis Banks.  The movie is often stolen by M. Emmett Walsh and Rodney A. Grant, playing renowned trackers who are brought in to help the posse chase down the three youths.  That Grant’s character is a member of the Crow adds a whole extra layer of meaning to his role. Even though the setup often feels contrived and heavy-handed and anyone watching should be able to easily guess how the movie is going to end, War Party still packs a punch.

A Movie A Day #140: The Rescue (1988, directed by Ferdinand Fairfax)

A group of Navy SEALs enter North Korea on a mission to destroy a submarine that has fallen into Kim Il-sung’s hands.  They destroy the submarine but are captured before they can safely cross the border back into South Korea.  With the SEALs facing a show trial and probable public execution, Admiral Rothman (James Cromwell) draws up a plan to rescure them.  The U.S. government, not wanting to escalate the situation, shoots down the plan.  (Americans giving up?  Is Carter still president?)  However, Rothman’s nerdy son, Max (Marc Price), gets a hold of the plan.  Before you can say “Why didn’t anyone else think of this?”, he and the children of the SEALs are sneaking into North Korea and rescuing their fathers!

This is a pure 1980s film.  Like Red Dawn, it shows that America is such a great country that even our teenagers are stronger than the average well-armed communist.  Of the actors playing the rescuers, the best known is Kevin Dillon.  He plays the rebel who smokes cigarettes and rides a motorcycle.  Though their relationship may be strained, his father (Edward Albert) is still happy when Dillon suddenly shows up in North Korea.  Soon, father and son are working together to blow up America’s enemies.  This movie’s about as dumb as they come and it’s another example of Hollywood presenting North Korea as just being the junior varsity version of China but it’s also undeniably entertaining, especially if you don’t care about things like plausibility.  Watch it the next time that Kim Jong-un threatens to blow you up.  Who needs Chuck Norris when you’ve got Kevin Dillon?


Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 5.7 “House of Horror” (dir by Bob Gale)

Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 7th episode of the 5th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!  

House of Horrors has everything that you could possibly want from a Tales From The Crypt episode!  A dumbass idiot frat boy (played by Kevin Dillon) forces three pledges to enter  a supposedly haunted house.  Mayhem ensues.  This episode is full of atmosphere, dark humor, plot twists, and unexpected turns and it features two wonderfully over-the-top performances, one from Dillon and one from Meredith Salenger as a Southern-accented sorority president who may have a secret of her own.

This episode originally aired on October 27th, 1993.



Insomnia File No. 2: Stag (dir by Gavin Wilding)


What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were suffering from insomnia around 2:30 in the morning, you could have turned over to Flix and watched Stag, a dreary film from 1997!

And I know what you’re saying.  “Really, Lisa?  I could have watched a dreary film!  WHY DIDN’T SOMEBODY TELL ME!?”  Well, sorry.  Your loss.  Maybe next time you won’t be so quick to resist the call of insomnia…

Anyway, Stag eventually turns out to be pretty bad but it actually has a pretty good opening.  A bunch of rich guys get together in a big house and throw a bachelor party.  Whenever one of them first appears on screen, they get a freeze frame that tells us their name and gives us a few biographical facts.

For instance, one coke-snorting character is introduced as “Jon DiCapri: Soap opera star, spokesman for “Stars Against Drugs.”  A drunk guy begging for money is identified as “Timan Bernard: Accountant, Author of ‘Ethics in Business.'”  The pensive fellow standing by the window and a smoking a cigarette is “Daniel Kane: Gulf war veteran, post traumatic stress disorder,” while the guy running around in a wig and lingerie is “Ed Labenski: Contractor, church treasurer.”  My personal favorite of the introductions belonged to the guy with the neck tattoo and the terrible teeth.  We’re told that he’s “Pete Weber: Drug dealer, extortionist. Self employed.”

Of course, Pete Weber is also Andrew McCarthy, playing a character who is far removed from the world of Pretty In Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire.  And Daniel Kane is actually Kevin Dillon, taking part in the type of misogynistic hi-jinks that would later be celebrated in Entourage.  Jon DiCapri is actually William McNamara, who will always be remembered for his memorable death scene in Dario Argento’s Opera.  As for Timan Bernard, he’s played by John Henson, who was the host of that terrible Wipeout show that was on the air forever despite the fact that nobody in the world would admit to watching it.

And they’re not the only ones at this bachelor party!  The bachelor himself is played by John Stockwell, the director of movies like CheatersCrazy/Beautiful and In The Blood.  His best friend is played by Mario Van Peebles.  Even distinguished character actor Ben Gazzarra is at this bachelor party!

As I said, the film starts out well enough, with the men all acting like idiots and pretty much confirming everything that I’ve always suspected about bachelor parties.  But then the strippers show up and there’s a highly improbable accident and soon there are two dead bodies bleeding out on the linoleum floor of John Stockwell’s house.  The rest of the movie is pretty much the men yelling at each other and arguing about what they should do.  Some fear going to jail.  Some want to frame someone else.  Some want to cover up the accident.  A few suggest calling the police but then Andrew McCarthy rips the landline phone out of the wall and, since this movie was made in the 90s, that is literally all he has to do to keep everyone from contacting the outside world.

Despite some decent performances, the film turned out to be pretty tedious.  That said, as I watched it, I found myself wondering how my girlfriends and I would have handled a similar situation.  What if we were throwing a bachelorette party and suddenly Magic Mike ended up lying in the middle of the floor with a broken neck?  To be honest, I get the feeling we’d probably handle it in roughly the same way as the characters in Stag.  We would just be a lot more passive aggressive about it.

“Oh my God, is that guy dead!?”

“I don’t know but that’s what I think Heather said.  But it’s all Amy’s fault and … Bitch, everyone says it’s your fault so unless everyone in the entire world is wrong … whatever, Amy.”

“Oh my God, what are we going to do with him?”

“I don’t know but Vanessa said that maybe we should say that he like never showed up at the party and then she said that Jen said that … oh my God, are those new earrings!?”

“Yeah, do you like them!?”

“They’re so pretty!  Anyway, Jen said that maybe you should like go bury him somewhere…”

“Oh my God, Jen said I should go bury him!?”

“Well, I didn’t hear for sure but Tina said that she heard Vanessa say that Jen said that you should go bury him…”

“That bitch!  I am so going to kick her ass!  Oh my God!”

But anyway, the body would eventually get buried.  Just not by me.

ANYWAY!  What was I talking about?

Right … Stag.

It’s not a very good movie.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. The Story of Mankind

Quick Horror Film Review: The Blob (1988 Version – Dir. by Chuck Russell)

The Year was 1988.

My father was working in a precinct in Manhattan, and on occasion, my family would have to drive into the city to either get his check or help him file / retrieve something there. Whenever we went to Manhattan, we always saw something grand, like the “Ghost Building” which was shimmered in white light (this was actually Rockefeller Center, but my little sister, brother and I never knew). We once even saw the ’89 Batmobile tear through the city on it’s way to deliver the video release of Tim Burton’s Batman to the Tower Records uptown.

At a stop light, right by the Flatiron Building, I happened to glance around at some of the construction scaffolds. They always put movie posters on there, and I’d squint to see what was coming out soon. That’s when it caught my eye, a pink poster that looked like someone was swimming underwater. We got a little closer as my dad had to make a turn and I was then able to make it out.

“Oh no.”, I muttered, scrunching down in my seat. “They redid it.” All my childhood fears came flooding up in a wave of memories.

I once saw Larry Hagman’s Beware! The Blob (alternately known as Son of Blob) when I was really little. The idea that a gooey mass could squeeze under doors and through window cracks and anywhere there was a space freaked me out. This wasn’t Michael Meyers looking for his sister, or Jason Vorhees guarding Crystal Lake. There was no reasoning my little mind could use to feel better about it. Add to the fact it was only bothered by the cold, it made every summer a secret “look over the shoulder” one. When I attended my first bowling match for fun in college, I’ll admit I hesitated to step out into the bowling alley, if only for a second.

I never saw the movie in the theatre. I got so caught up in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and everyone talked about Die Hard so much that The Blob became something of a blip to the school kids (from what I remember), but it remembered. I read the poster, and kept tabs on the writer’s names – Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell, who both went on to interesting projects over the years.

Okay, enough about my history with The Blob, let’s dig into the film, which is quite possibly one of the best remakes I’ve ever seen. It hits all of the notes of the original while setting down the groundwork for new directions when some fresh ideas. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good.

The Blob is a re-telling of the classic 1958 film with Steve McQueen, only this time, Chuck Russell (The Mask) and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist) brought Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith aboard. It’s the story of a small town that receives a strange visitor from outer space in the form of a gelatenous mass inside of a meteor. When an old man gets a little too curious with a yard stick, it jumps out on and onto his hand. Needless to say, if you ever see anything fall from the sky, please, don’t go running to check it out. It never really ends well. At least, I’ve never heard of it doing so.

Anyway, like the original, the old man is found by the Gallant Hero (Donovan Leitch) and Heroine (Smith), who put him in their car and head to the local hospital. This results in the death of the old man, but also a twist in that the Gallant Hero is also killed / absorbed by the Blob. Shawnee’s character tries to save him, but to no avail. She’s should consider herself lucky that she made it through okay. While I didn’t see this in the theatre, I always wondered what effect that might have had on the audience. I mean, here you had the would be hero of the story and he’s taken out of the picture in the first act. That had to be amazing, I think.

As with the original, the Blob makes its way to the main part of town by way of the sewer, heading into the local movie theatre. Before getting there, there’s a interesting scene where Meg and Flagg (Dillon) – the bad boy turned reluctant hero – run into the Blob in a diner and hide in a nearby refrigerator. Rather than go with the classic “solidify it all in one piece”, Darabont and Russell decided to make the Blob’s freezing effect more like pieces of quartz. I thought this made things all the more scary – how could one really tell that all of it was ever collected while it was frozen?

One has to feel just a little sorry for Candy Clarke’s character. You run into a phone booth to make a phone call, only to have slime run down the sides. To top it off, you try to make a phone call for the local sheriff (played by Darabont favorite Jeffrey DeMunn from all of his films and The Walking Dead), and as if it answered for her, the Blob puts his decaying face right on the phone booth window. Another twist thrown in the remake is the death of a child. Usually in horror movies, kids are usually spared. Usually. Not so here, and it just adds to the horror of things. No one’s safe unless you’re walking around with some liquid nitrogen, and it’s not like that’s in great supply.

Eventually, we come to find – thanks to a lot of men in white suits and Crossroads Joe Seneca – that the Blob was actually man made, and it’s the scientists fault it came back the way it did. What I found interesting about that was the idea that they felt they had to burn it. Didn’t anyone think of bringing something cold? I mean, they’re scientists. Someone in the group had to have that idea at some point. Anyway, this all ends with a huge battle in the middle of a busy street and the townsfolk hiding in the municipal hall. Meg and Flagg do find a way to get everything fixed, but (as with many horror movies), we’re left with the promise of another sequel.

Overall, I loved The Blob. There’s very little I can find wrong with it, given that the source material was never really Oscar worthy to begin with. This was just a sit down for the adult in me, grab your popcorn and enjoy the film.

The kid in me prefers to watch this in a very cold room, just in case.