Wednesday, July 20, 2011
So fast forward 17 years and Harmon returns with another horror/thriller set on the open road Highwaymen. Sure it doesn't top The Hitcher but it's a very solid little flick. Jim Caviezel (best known for playing Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion) plays Rennie Cray a burnt out shell of a man out for revenge against the mysterious driver who ran down his wife years earlier. You see the hit and run with his wife wasn't an accident, this driver is a serial killer, who uses a car like Jason Voorhees uses a machete, who kills women for fun. Along for the ride is Molly, played by Rhona Mitra, an innocent woman who Cray saves from the killer only to try and use her as bait to lure him out later.
This film was at the cinema for like a week before going to video. It got a couple of good reviews but mostly torn to shreds by critics. I caught it on TV late one night and if you wanna check out this flick I recommend you do the same, put it on about 11pm. The whole movie sort of plays out like a dream/nightmare. There's a lot of dream-like scenes, not least the opening scene where Cray's wife gets run over that plays out in bleach bypass slow-mo. There's also a great bit involving a crash between a car and horse trailer in a tunnel, where Molly staggers out of the car only to see the surviving horse wander around confused. Horses should be in more horror movies, they just seem like perfect omens of evil.
I honestly don't know how Jim Caviezel got cast in this film. I mean the guy's worked with Terence Malick, Ang Lee, and played Jesus (where he spoke all his dialogue in Latin no less). And here he turns up in a grimy lurid low budget revenge thriller. It's weird, he seems quite humourless in interviews but I guess he must have a dark side to pick this film. He's also pretty great in Outlander, another fun glossy b-movie, which I'll get on to reviewing eventually. He's sort of fun b-movie hero, he's not beefy like Stallone and he doesn't do quips like Bruce Campbell, but he does give the character an above-average characterisation of barely suppressed rage.
Mark Isham does a great, great score – stripped back guitar full of repeating motives, not dissimilar from Neil Young's score for Dead Man. Sadly, it's not available in shops but you might find it floating around the net if you look hard enough. The whole film's wrapped up in 80 minutes so it's pretty short but also pretty tight. It never lags, which when you're making a film about cars should be a given. Like Harmon's earlier film there's some logic gaps and leaps of faith you've got to make, like Cray having a sixth sense for where the killer will turn up. All the stunts are very well done and as for the killer's identity, I won't spoil it... you'll either think, cool or wow, that's massively distasteful and pretty stupid. Obviously I'm in the former camp.
Anyway, if you've seen and like The Hitcher, check this film out. It's got a little bit of the same vibe and would make a great double bill.
Monday, July 18, 2011
A belated sequel to a movie or franchise that pretty much ignores the original and more or less rehashes the same storyline under the guise of being a sequel. See: Tron: Legacy, Predators, The Incredible Hulk
Friday, July 15, 2011
I think part of the appeal of b-movies is that you can see the joins. On big budget movies, the quality of the acting, cinematography, music, lighting, set everything is so perfect you almost forget you're watching fiction. In b-movies that never happens. You sit there watching people trying to act as best they can to fool you into thinking you're watching a big budget movie but it never happens. But hey that isn't a necessarily a bad thing. If everyone just watched professional theatre no one would go to see amateur dramatic productions.
So yeah, everyone can probably agree that The Crow was Lee's biggest film. And that Rapid Fire and Showdown in Little Tokyo were neat little unambitious action flicks. Laser Mission is probably right at the bottom of his memorable movies but it's still worth watching. The guy really had a lot of charisma and it shows, even in this little b-movie.
Laser Mission sees Brandon Lee play Michael Gold, an American Secret Agent, who's sent out to track down a scientist played by Ernest Borgnine, whose knowledge of how to create a laser cannon has also attracted the attentions of the KGB. When Borgnine gets kidnapped Gold teams up with Alissa, a blonde woman who claims to be Braun's daughter, to track him down. Sparks fly between the two as they go on a globe trotting journey to recover Borgnine, all the while trying to stay a step of the evil Colonel Kalishnakov.
This is a very low budget flick and ordinarily with films this cheap, they are dull, boring and pad everything out. Luckily this has two things going in its favour. One, director BJ Worth is a former stunt co-ordinator so we at least get a lot of action, car chases, and fights and not too much talking. Two, Lee gives the role his all, relishing the chance to reel off quips like no tomorrow and diving into the physical stunts. There's a definite air of 'poor-man's' Bond to Laser Mission. In an early scene, Gold walks through airport customs, the man behind the desk checks over his passport and asks him "Are you here for pleasure or business Mr Gold?". "A little bit of both you might say," Gold replies trying to surpress a grin. Later he falls through a roof onto a couple's table and calmly says to them "I just dropped in to say... bon appetite!" Both lines sound exactly like something Pierce Brosnan would say. There's also a little Romancing the Stone in the love/hate relationship between Gold and Alissa.
The rest of the cast can't really act. Borgnine, in particular, sees fit to put on some unidentifiable accent. At times I think he was reading his lines off a card just off camera. Why is it when name actors turn up in low budget films they choose to scupper their performance with bizarro accents?. A lot of the extras also struggle with their lines and there's a slightly annoying subplot involving two moronic Russian, who Gold is always easily outwitting, that seems like something that would fit in with a more kid friendly film.
Anyway Laser Mission might be in the bargain bin at your local pound shop but it is worth a least a quick watch with a beer and pizza. If you don't even want to put down your hard cash the film is up in its entirety on Youtube (it's public domain), check out part 1 here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLr2s-p7jz0
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Okay, so the bizarro plot has Jim, a catering salesman living in 1980s Manhattan. He's living a slightly unspectacular life until one night he's transported back to 1917 (yup, just like that) in France and helps a fighter pilot called Biggles escape from his crashed plane. He wakes up the next day, confused and thinking it must have been trippy dream, as you would, but then Peter Cushing turns up on his doorstep, warning him that what he experienced will happen again. Jim follows Cushing to London to get more answers where its revealed that he was Biggles superior officer, and Jim and Biggles are inextricably linked as 'time twins' and can travel back and forth in time to help each other out when they are in peril.
It feels at times that this film has been directed by a child. So little of it makes logical sense. Why does Peter Cushing live inside Tower Bridge? How come he looks 60ish when he's supposed to have been Biggles superior officer in 1917 making closer to 100? Why is Jon Anderson of Yes doing a synth-y power pop song as the theme tune? How does being a 'time twin' work? How can you hop from the past to the present? Should your actions alter the future? Where did the Germans get a sonic weapon in 1917?
Really none of this matters. Like the character of Jim, you're just propelled from past to present so fast you don't really think how stupid the film is until it's over. The only thing that really sticks out is the use of Beckton Gas Works - famously used in Full Metal Jacket as Vietnam, and in For Your Eyes Only as... well, an abandoned Gas Works. Here's it's used to represent a bombed out French village and all the concrete doesn't really work. There's only so far I can push my imagination.
The performances are all pretty good. Alex Hyde-White is fairly bland and inoffensive as Jim (he's no Marty McFly) but Neil Dickson's superb as Biggles, Peter Cushing's solid as Raymond and William Hootkins is great as Chuck, Jim's colleague and the comedy relief for the film. Hootkins is a excellent character actor who, sadly, is best remembered for being the fat X-Wing pilot Porkins in Star Wars and didn't get that many major roles, so it's nice to see him here.
As I said Jon Anderson does a pounded synth track for the film called 'Do You Want to Be a Hero' that really works with the schizophrenic nature of the film. He also did a great track for Ridley Scott's Legend called 'Loved by the Sun' – it's a shame he didn't do more 80s movie soundtracks.
So, that's it. If the thought of Biggles flying a helicopter and defeating the Germans in 1917 does convince you to watch this film, nothing will.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Deaths on the big screen range from the quietly subtle to the outrageously over the top. In many ways, films allow both the filmmakers and the audience to explore a range of emotions they rarely come across in real life. For example, I've probably seen hundreds of death scenes play out in films but never seen someone die in real life.
There's a certain disconnect between how people die on film and how people die in real life. I guess most directors, writers and performers can only guess what it looks like and the myriad of ways it can occur. Now there are some exceptions. The TV show CSI for instance usually adheres pretty closely to realism. Having said all that, sometimes film makers show such a basic lack of understanding of physics and biology it's baffling. Here's a few I've rounded up.
Top 5 implausible death scenes on screen
The sheer balls of everyone involved in this short scene is tremendous. Presumably, the screenwriter wrote this. On paper. He wrote the words “A jet fighter pulls alongside McBain's aeroplane. McBain pulls out a pistol and shoots the jet down. It explodes. McBain holsters his pistol.” The actors rehearsed the scene at least once before climbing onboard the plane or a mock-up of a cockpit (more likely) to film the scene. The director presumably was behind the camera the whole time, directing the scene, giving the actors their motivation “Okay Chris, you see the jet pull alongside. He talking over the radio saying you've got to turn the plane around. You pretend you can't hear him.” Later the editor must have cut the footage together. Splicing the bits of second unit shots with the close-ups. Getting the best takes. Making sure the dialogue flows. And AT NO POINT did any of these people say “What the f*ck? This makes absolutely no sense on any level.” Just watch the video, at no point do we see the bullet penetrate the cockpit window of either the plane McBain (Christopher Walken) is in or the jet fighter he's shooting at. The only thing I can hypothesize is that Walken rewrote this scene and then intimidated everyone else involved to go along with it.
(Skip to 3:50 mark)
I'll put my hands up and admit, yes this is a science fiction film, and ordinarily they get a pass for having to be realistic but this film is littered with completely ridiculous logic gaps - not least the train scene where Michael Ironside cranks the speed up so fast people start flying through the air due to the g-force (presumably) while he remains completely unaffected. This particular scene, even when I first saw it aged 12, remains one of the stupidest bits of cinema ever. Connor MacLeod is being chased by a jet pack wearing assassin from distant planet called Zeist (unless your watching the director's cut where, even stupider he's retconned as being from the past!). In order to kill him MacLeod has to chop his head off (as with all the bad guys in the series), so in a rather roundabout way to get the job done, he grabs an electrical wire, wraps it around his sword and pulls it taut . Said assassin flies into the wire (very slowly), and in a blinding lack of the most rudimentary biological structure, the assassin's head is cleanly decapitated. What the hell? To top it all off, the assassin's body then slowly carries on floating (now upright?!) into an electrical fuse box, causing that to explode as well. There's over the top, and then there's Highlander 2.
Everyone knows this next one. We all watched it in the 80s. “Let off some steam, Bennett”. My friends and I used to say this too each other as kids. Commando was the first film to really be designed for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terrible puns. Sure, he had some great lines in The Terminator and Conan the Barbarian but they weren't puns Commando is where they just started inserting the most random humorous lines to accompany his kills. I almost think the writers maybe started off with the lines, they wrote the fight scene around it. For those who are yet to experience the awesomeness of this here's the run through. Arnie has finally caught up with his treacherous former army colleague Bennett. They fight hand to hand in some kind of steam room. Arnie takes Bennett down then, to finish him off he grabs a pipe and throws it at Bennett at such a speed it penetrates his chain mail armour, and his torso, and the boiler behind him, making the steam from the boiler syphon out through the pipe. That's incredible. I'm not a physics expert or anything but the strength, to throws a pipe through a man's chest, through his spine, AND through a metal boiler must be enormous. Also, if the pipe's hollow surely when he went through Bennett it wouldn't have make just an open hole? How did that steam come out?
Again, Friday the 13th is a pretty soft target. The series now has 12 films to its name and starting with Part 4 they began to just get ridiculous with the kills Jason would perform. No longer were people merely stabbed with a simple knife, they started getting heads crushed, taking a flare to the mouth or even murdered with a strimmer. In a lot of ways the Final Destination series are the spiritual successor to the Friday movies. Anyway, Part 8 is a particularly crazy episode in the now tired series. Jason is improbably brought to New York where no one bats an eyelid (okay, that's a nice joke.) As usually the victims split up to be taken down one by one. Julius, whose character has been set up as having an interest in boxing, is on a rooftop when Jason appears almost out of nowhere. Deciding he's got to man up Julius decides to unleash his boxing skills, giving Jason a left hook and a right hook. Jason just takes the punches before unleashing a massive punch... wait for it... that punches Julius' head clean off! Once again, like Highlander 2, the filmmakers seem to think that the human head can be removed like a piece of soft butter. What's that you say? Jason's an indestructible superhuman zombie. Fine, but surely if he's hitting the head with that much force, why does the body stay practically still?
(Includes all death scenes from the film, all are equally as stupid)
The Sleepaway Camp films (four and a half in total) are even more easy to pick on than Friday the 13ths. For those who haven't seen them before the Sleepaway Camp movies are like a poor man's Friday the 13th and the main reason they were modestly successful is that they went even further with outrageousness of the deaths. Not necessarily more gory (though a lot were) but in terms of the creativity of the kills. Notice have I've titled this 'the killer murders a cook'. Essentially the killer's identity gets revealed at the end of the first film and it's the one saving point for the whole film (albeit very, very weird). This is the opening murder of the film and really it sets a tone for the whole series. An innocent cook is boiling something in a huge saucepan. He uses a stool to get high enough to put stuff in it. Suddenly, as he stands on top of it someone behind him starts shaking the stool. Now does he:
A) Turn around, see who it is and make an attempt at stopping them
B) Just stand there like a lemon yelling and never once turning around
That's right. He chooses not to turn around, or kick with his feet, or yell for help, or (considering his size) just fall backwards and squash the attacker! I get that the director was trying to create tension by dragging the scene out but unfortunately it backfired and, like virtually all the death scenes, it just makes all the characters in the film seem like they're in alternate version of earth where everyone's IQ is 50 points below ours.
Right, so there you have it. Five of the stupidest movie death scenes. There's hundreds more so I might do a follow-up at some point.