Elijah Wood Deals With The Father From Hell In The Trailer For Come To Daddy!


For the record, I’ve actually heard some good things about the upcoming horror film, Come To Daddy.  The film, which features Elijah Wood as a troubled man who makes the mistake of visiting his even more troubled father (Stephen McHattie), is said to be a truly frightening and thought-provoking film.  We’ll get to see for ourselves when Come To Daddy is released in March!

Until then, here’s the trailer!

A Movie A Day #195: Best Revenge (1984, directed by John Trent)


Damn … John Heard died.

I know that almost everyone knows John Heard as either the father from Home Alone or as the detective on The Sopranos or maybe even the executive in Big.  Over the course of his long career, John Heard played a lot of neglectful fathers, greedy businessmen, and corrupt politicians.  Heard was good in all of those roles but he was capable of so much more.  Though he did not get many chances to do so, he could play heroes just as well as villains.

One of his best performances is also one of his least seen.  In Best Revenge, he plays Charlie.  Charlie is a laid back drug dealer, someone who would probably hate and be hated by most of the authority figures that Heard was best known for playing.  Charlie is the ultimate mellow dude, without a care in the world.  All he wants to do is play his harmonica and spend time with his girlfriend (Alberta Watson).  However, an old friend (Stephen McHattie) wants Charlie to help smuggle 500 keys of hash from Tangiers to America.  Charlie wants nothing to do with it but then he finds out that the Mafia will kill his friend unless the drugs make it across the ocean.  Charlie and his friend Bo (Levon Helm of The Band) fly over to Morocco but are betrayed.  Charlie ends up in a prison cell, from which he has to escape so that he can rescue Bo, smuggle the drugs, and get revenge on those who betrayed him.

Because of the prison aspect and the fact that Charlie wears a fedora, Best Revenge was sold as being a combination of Midnight Express and Raiders of the Lost Ark but actually it is a character study disguised as an action film.  Despite the title, Best Revenge is more interested in the real-life logistics and hassles of being an international drug dealer than in any sort of revenge.  Though it is a role far different from the ones he may be best known for, John Heard was perfectly cast as a small-time drug dealer who suddenly finds himself in over his head.  Heard gives such a good  and sympathetic performance that this film, along with his work in Cutter’s Way and Chilly Scenes of Winter, shows what a mistake was made when Heard became typecast as the bad guy.

Best Revenge was filmed in 1980 but not released until four years later.  Along with appreciating Heard’s performance, keep an eye out for Michael Ironside in an early, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role.

Embracing the Melodrama #25: The People Next Door (dir by David Greene)


people_next_door

For the past week, I’ve been reviewing — in chronological order — fifty of the most, for reasons good and bad, memorable  film melodramas of all time.  I started with a film from 1916 called Where Are My Children? and now, as we reach the halfway mark, we also reach the 70s.  There were several reasons why I wanted to start the 70s with the 1970 drugs-in-the-suburbs melodrama, The People Next Door.  First off, not many people seem to have heard of it and I always enjoy discovering and sharing previously obscure films.  But, even more importantly, The People Next Door stars Eli Wallach, the great character actor who recently passed away at the age of 98.  Needless to say, Wallach is great in The People Next Door but then again, when wasn’t Wallach great?

At first glance, the Masons appears to be your typical suburban family.  Patriarch Arthur (Eli Wallach) may be a bit strict but he works hard to provide his family with a good life.  Wife Gerrie (Julie Harris) may seem to be a bit nervous at times but she still works hard to maintain a perfect home.  Son Artie (Stephen McHattie) may have long hippie hair and he does devote a lot of time to his band but otherwise, he seems to be a good kid.  And then there’s 16 year-old Maxie (Deborah Winters), who is blonde and pretty and overall the ideal American girl.  Even better the Masons live next door to the friendly Hoffmans, perfect David Hoffman (Hal Holbrook), his perfect wife Tina (Cloris Leachman), and their perfect teenage son, Sandy (Don Scardino).

But guess what?

Nobody’s perfect!

Arthur is actually a smug and overbearing bully whose constant bragging hides his own dissatisfaction with how his life has turned out.  He is jealous of his son’s future and his over protectiveness of his daughter takes on a distinctly disturbing tone as the film progresses.  Arthur is also having an affair with his secretary (Rue McClanahan).

Gerrie knows about Arthur’s affair but chooses to look the other way.  She goes through her day in a haze of smoke provided by the cigarettes that she is constantly smoking.  Like Arthur, she cannot understand her children.  Unlike Arthur, she does realize that she doesn’t have all the answers.

Artie may be a good kid but he feels totally and thoroughly alienated from the rest of the family and, because of his long hair, he is the constant subject of Arthur’s abuse.

And then there’s Maxie, who everyone believes to be perfect and wholesome until one night when she’s discovered tripping on LSD.  Arthur immediately assumes that Artie must have given his sister the drugs and kicks Artie out of the house.  However, what Arthur doesn’t realize, is that Maxie is actually getting the drugs from clean-cut Sandy.  Sandy doesn’t use himself but he has no problem with dealing.

To Arthur and Gerrie’s shock, Maxie tells them that she’s been using drugs for a while and she’s sexually active as well!  When Arthur subsequently discovers Maxie snorting cocaine and living with a naked biker, it’s naturally time for everyone to get into family therapy.  Unfortunately, the therapy doesn’t really help that much and soon, Maxie is again dropping acid and dancing naked on the front lawn…

As you can probably guess from the description above, The People Next Door is one of those families-in-crisis melodramas where everything that possibly can be wrong with a family is wrong with this family.  It’s always easy to dismiss well-intentioned films like this and The People Next Door has its share over-the-top moments.  But, at the same time, the film actually works better than most of the Suburban Hell melodramas of the early 70s.

That’s largely due to the performances, with Eli Wallach in particular giving an explosive performance as an all too plausible monster and Hal Holbrook and Cloris Leachman very believably bringing to life another family which turns out to be not quite as ideal as they first appear to be.  And then there’s Deborah Winters, who starts out as being so mannered that you think she’s going to give a bad performance but then, as the film progresses, you realize that Maxie is the one giving the performance because that’s the only way she can survive her “perfect” family.

I first came across The People Next Door on YouTube and, considering how much I love exposing people to obscure films, I was really looking forward to sharing it with you on this site.  But guess what?  In the three weeks between me watching this film and me staring this post, The People Next Door was taken down from the site.  I guess somebody is really dedicating to protecting the copyright on a film that hardly anybody in the world has actually heard of.

So, unfortunately, I can only share the trailer.

Watch it below!

Quickie Review: 2012 (dir. by Roland Emmerich)


[guilty pleasure]

When one sees the name Roland Emmerich attached as the director to a film on any given year one almost has to audibly groan. He’s not on the level of Uwe Boll in terms of awful films, but he does give Michael Bay a run for the title of worst blockbuster filmmaker. It’s quite a shame to see Emmerich’s films one after the other get worse and worse. This was a filmmaker who showed some talent in the scifi-action genre with such cult classics as Universal Soldier and Stargate. He would reach his apex with the popcorn-friendly and thoroughly enjoyable Will Smith alien-invasion flick, Independence Day. Since reaching those lofty heights each successive film has been more groan-inducing and worse than the previous one. For a brief moment in 2009 this would change as he finally succeeded in destroying the world that he had only hinted at with previous films such as ID4, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. The film 2012 was released in late-2009 and, while it was universally lambasted by critics and a large portion of the public, I thought it was his most fun film since ID4.

2012 literally has the world greet it’s apocalypse according to the Mayan Calendar in the year 2012. The first forty or so minutes has Emmerich explaining the details of how the world will end in 2012 either through the film’s lead scientist (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) or through a conspiracy-theorist played with manic glee by Woody Harrelson. The bulk of this film is almost like disaster porn for film lovers who are into disaster flicks. We have earthquakes which sends the whole California coast sliding into the Pacific. Supervolcanoes erupting in what is the Yellowstone National Forest right up to mega-tsunamis that dwarf the highest mountain ranges.

The cast might be called an all-star one, but I rather think it’s more a B-list with such names as John Cusack playing a goofy everyman who must save his ex-wife and two young children right up to Danny Glover playing the lame duck of lame duck presidents (I guess Morgan Freeman was unavailable or already done with disaster films after doing Deep Impact). The performance by this cast ranged from alright to laughable, but even with the latter the sense of fun never wavered. This was a flick about the world ending and Emmerich delivered everything promised.

It’s the scenes of world devastation which made this film so enjoyable for me and has become one of my latest guilty pleasures. No matter how bad the dialogue got or how wooden some of the acting came off the sense of wonder from Emmerich destroying the world on the big-screen and on my TV made this film fun to watch. Maybe those who hated it or thought it was trash were aiming to high. I will admit that the film is trash, but in a good way that past enjoyable disaster flicks of the 70’s were fun. It took the premise serious enough, but the filmmakers involved didn’t skimp on over-the-top destruction. I mean this film’s premise means we get to see in high-definition billions of people die as the planet decides to suddenly switch things around to get a better feng shui vibe to the planet.

Scenes such as the mega-tsunamis topping over the Himalayan mountain range was awesome. But even that scene couldn’t top the super-quake which destroys Los Angeles around Cusack’s character who tries to outdrive the quake and the resulting chasms which appear to chase his limo with is family inside. Seeing Los Angeles and the bedrock it’s on upheave and slide into the Pacific was one of the best disaster porn sequences I’ve ever seen and I don’t see anything topping it in the near future.

2012 as a Roland Emmerich production already has a black mark on it because of his reputation as a filmmaker, but for once he actually made a film that was able to surpass all the glaring flaws from it’s one-note, stereotypical characters to it’s wooden dialogue. He did this by making a film with disaster scenes of such epic spectacle that one had no choice but to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s a bad film, but it sure was a fun ride. This is why I decided on a fan-made trailer which best exemplifies this film and not the one made by the studio.

I eagerly await the sequel I fully expect from Hollywood: 2013: Disaster Strikes Back.

Quick Film Review: Immortals (dir. by Tarsem Singh)


Perhaps I’m jaded and spoiled by movies like Jason and the Argonauts and games like God of War.

I’m pretty sure that in an alternate dimension somewhere, audiences are sitting in the theatre and loving the hell out of Immortals. Maybe in some ways it’s actually good, but I can’t see them. At best, the film acts a great demo reel for Henry Cavill, who audiences will see as Superman sometime next year. For that reason, and perhaps Mickey Rourke’s Hyperion, Immortals is worth a peek. Even then, you may want to have someone take you to the movie, rather than pay for it yourself. Let’s put it this way. I spent more time on my iPhone with the brightness dimmed during the movie than I did actually watching it, and that’s a rarity for me. You’re better off waiting for the Netflix Edition. Everything you see in the trailer is basically the film in a nutshell.

The only other thing it really does have going for it is the 3D, which actually happens to be pretty good for the half hour that you can see it (and perhaps that’s just me, because it feels like it fades over time). The film does feel as if it were primarily filmed in 3D, and boasts some awesome visuals, but the story is a little jumbled. I won’t deny that Tarsem Singh has a really fantastic eye for painting a scene from The Cell to this point, but without sharp writing there’s something lost in the translation. It’s like watching David Fincher when he was still partnered with Darius Khondji on Seven or Spielberg with Kaminski in Minority Report. You can make pretty pictures, but there has to be some kind of meat and potatoes to it for the audience. That’s just how I felt here.

Eons ago, you once had mortals and you had gods. Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Dionysus, Aphrodite, etc. In Immortals, the gods learned that they had the ability to kill one another and as a result, there were a number of wars.  Enter Hyperion, who loathes the gods and wants them destroyed. In order to do this, he has to unleash the Titans, who were once servants of the gods but were punished for their treachery and sealed away in a special cage that can only be unlocked with an item called the Epirius Bow (which was one of the elements I truly enjoyed).

Our hero, Theseus (Cavill) lives a quiet life with his family when Hyperion’s forces attack. In the process, he witnesses his mother’s death at the hands of Hyperion himself and swears vengeance. Captured and left for dead with a number of others, he meets a mystic named Phaedra (played by Freida Pinto, who seems like she may be playing the same role emotionally that she did in Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Phaedra provides him with visions that allow him to reach the Bow.

Lead by Zeus, the gods watch all of this from Olympus, but are unable to interfere in the affairs of mortals on pain of death. These sequences (when they do happen) are the ones that you’re seeing in the trailers for the most part. Oceans rise and bad guys are cut down so fast that the first hardly has a chance to fall before the ninth one is hit. It’s amazing to see, it really is, but it’s been done before in movies as old as Jet Li’s The One. The film doesn’t lack in action, and in that, there’s a plus. What I had personally hoped for was something akin to giants or mythical creatures. Even though it was geared for teens, last year’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians offered more of a mystical element than Immortals did for me. It wouldn’t have hurt to have undead warriors or harpies or something. For all the money spent in effects, everything in this film seemed to be grounded in human based actions.

All of this culminates into a huge 300 like battle, right down to the narrow passageway that is used as an arena of battle. Theseus rallies his troops that are ready to retreat with a speech that’s helped along with the banging of shields. It was nice, but again, it wasn’t anything terribly new – “They’re only human!!” *clack clack clack* “We can beat them!” *clack clack clack* “For the children!!” *clack clack clack*

“And a tighter script!” I wanted to yell with a raised fist. “And maybe a refund!”

As for the audience, they seemed okay with it. There is a love scene which I don’t think younger audiences are ready for, but it was done in such a way that the “fade to black / open to the following morning” shot doesn’t let things get too far, visually.

When it gets to video, I may see Immortals again (because it is visually beautiful), but you’re better off treating yourself curling up somewhere and reading Homer’s The Odyssey for a while and letting your imagination fill in the pieces. It’s a okay film if you don’t ask for more than what it’s giving you.

Review: 300 (dir. by Zack Snyder)


I will get it out of the way and say that this was not and was not meant to be a historically accurate depiction of Ancient Greece. It was never meant to be even when it was still just an Eisner-Award winning graphic novel from the mind of iconic graphic novelist and artist Frank Miller. With that out of the way I was able to watch and enjoy Zack Snyder’s film adaptation on its own terms without the criticism of historical accuracies looming dangerously over my head. 300 deserves the label of being an event film. From start to finish, Snyder’s film practically screams blockbuster and popcorn and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Frank Miller’s 300 was at its time an interesting depiction of one of history’s greatest military last stands. Miller already known for hyperstylizing the look and feel of the noir genre with his Sin City graphic novels, takes the same approach with his depiction of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans taking a final last stand against Persian God-King Xerxes at a narrow mountain pass called Thermopylae (literally meaning Hot Gates in Greek). Zack Snyder took this graphic novel and painstakingly stayed true to the visuals Miller and his colorist wife, Lynn Varley put on paper. Looking back at my memory of some of the panels and images from the graphic novel. Snyder and his crew of art directors, cinematographers and CGI-artists were successful in translating almost every page of the graphic novel onto the screen.

Like Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Miller’s Sin City, Zack Snyder’s 300 pretty much brings the graphic novel to moving life. This means he stuck to the source material quite literally which limits his own take on the graphic novel. Like Rodriguez, Snyder doesn’t really put his own signature stamp as a director to the film. It’s not too much of criticis since he does a great job of translating Miller’s work onto film, but one wonders what sort of personal touches he could’ve added to the finished look that wasn’t lifted from Miller’s style and whether it would’ve changed the overlook look and feel of the film.

The story is quite simple and just takes the basic summary of the historical event itself. Spartan King Leonidas (played with visceral gusto and machismo by Scottish thespian Gerard Butler) makes a decision to go to war and confront the encroaching and fast approaching massive Persian Army led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) intent on conquering the Hellenic city-states of the Greek Peninsula. Persian ambassadors ride forth to demand oaths of fealty from those city-states ahead of the army’s path. Sparta is one such city-state, but different from the rest of its Hellenic brethrens. Sparta has gone down in history as a word synonymous with unbending dedication to a strict, ascetic warrior code. Warfare and battle were what Spartans were born and trained to do from an early age. Weakness and physical imperfections weeded out from the time of birth (the film explains just what happens to male newborns with physical imperfections and deformities). The answer Leonidas gives the Persian delegation could be seen as somewhat extreme, but not contrary to his nation’s warrior-culture of never surrendering and seeing death in battle the greatest glory for a Spartan to achieve. From this sequence right up to the end of the film we get to see just how much of a warrior culture the Spartans were in extreme detail.

It’s during the prolonged battle scenes between Leonidas’ Spartans and Xerxes army which will have everyone chomping at the bit. If you have to see this film for any particular reason outside of watching superbly-trained underdogs slaughtering and endless supply of enemy troops then you will most likely be disappointed by the slower scenes away from Thermopylae. Indeed, this film an its original source material would’ve worked even better without the extra filler Snyder and his writers added to give the film more depth. I’m all for more emotional depth and characterization in my films but when a movie is all about a bloody and heroic last stand of a few against the many, scenes which slow the story down does more to break the rhythm and tone of a film than add to it. Othe than a deeper understanding of the kind of partnership Leonidas had with Gorgo, his Spartan Queen, most of the subplots added by Snyder and his writers could easily have been left out and still ge a kick ass action epic.

It’s the action scenes which reall stand out visually. Some people might see the style tricks of speed ramping certain action sequences then slowing it down considerably to show the minute detail of the battle scene as being to gimmicky, but I would disagree and say it actually gives the movie a mythical quality in its storytelling. One thing I have to say about Zack Snyder as a director (his remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead better than what detractors have made it out to be) is that he knows how to film action and with special mention to bloody and gory action. He makes these scenes of dismemberments, decapitations, and disembowlments look like a piece of performance art.

These scenes of carnage would be considered extremely gratuitious if it didn’t look so made up good. Even the way the blood flows, spurts and splashes look like something Jackson Pollock would take interest in. The speed up and slow down of the sequences also gives the fight scenes a certain rhythm that once an audience picks up on will follow it through to the end. This is why the scenes back in Sparta with a duplicitous politician and his powerplay to assume control and power seem such a downer instead of enhancing the sacrifice of Leonidas and his men. Those scenes just feel tacked on and completely superfluous. Luckily, there’s not enough of them to slow down the frantic pace developed by the battle itself.

The performances by all actors involved really doesn’t require too much criticism or reflection over. Gerard Butler does a great and convincing job as the Spartan King and his conviction in confronting Xerxes and his army with so few seem very believable. It’s not a star-making performance but it does show that Butler can add a bit of gravitas to a character and role so basic in characterization. Lena Hedley is radiant as his partner and Queen. Despite the weird sounding name of Gorgo, Hedley plays the strong-minded and equally influential wife to Butler’s Leonidas. It’s only her scenes back in Sparta as she tries to rally her people to support their king which keeps these slower sequences from fully pulling down the film. The performances were good enough to keep the acting in the film from becoming too campy or too serious. It’s an action film and with enough action going on in the movie I could forgive the writers (both Miller and the screenwriters) from scrimping on character build up.

All in all, Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 succeeds in bringing the book to moving life. Throughout the run of the film it was hard not to get lost in the beautiful visuals. Whether it was the muted color pallette which puts most of the scenes in an almost sepia-tone look to over-emphasizing certain colors to set a certain mood. From oversaturation of reds in one sequence to one where everything seem to be tinted with the many shades of blues at night. This is what 300 will be best remembered for. It’s technical use of CGI to paint the environment in unrealistic but beautiful ways which gives the scenes a lyrical and mythical look to them once the actors were superimposed over them. The film really was a painting come to life and it shows once again how computer and digital filmmaking technology have now afforded directors in making what used to be impossible technically to something that could be done with the limit being the artist’s imagination.

This film will not win many acting, directing and even screenwriting awards (which it didn’t once award season rolled around), but it doesn’t have to for people to enjoy it. It will entertain and pull its audience into a living and modern retelling of a legend. Whether all that happened on the screen was exactly as it happened in 480 B.C. doesn’t matter. What it does show is that through retelling down the years even all the embellishments added to the story of Leonidas and his men doesn’t diminish the fact that what they did and accomplished was how legendary heroes were made and remembered.