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Monthly Archives: July 2011

And you thought 9-11 was tough try this: Escape from New York (1981).

I was watching an episode of American Dad today which made some references to a futuristic Armageddon world and then it came to me: John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981).  This flick has it all: a great cast Kurt Russell as “Snake Plissken,” Lee Van Cleef  as “Bob Hauk,” Ernest Borgnine as “Cabbie,” Isaac Hayes as “The Duke of New York City,” and Adrienne Barbeau as “Maggie.” This quality continues as the movie has a futuristic Sci-Fi story, suspense, humans sacrificing themselves and a cult like following.  Why haven’t I looked at this one sooner?  Who the hell knows but here we go!

In the “near future” Manhattan is turned into a free for all prison.  The island is surrounded by a fifty foot wall and all bridges leading in and out are heavily mined.  Needless to say the dystopian society that has evolved inside the walls is cruel and unforgiving.  Road Warrior like gangs roam the streets looking for prey or carrion to feast on with an assortment of weapons and whatever machines they can keep running (like Ernest Borgnine’s taxi).  As prisoners are being processed before being dumped into this hell they are given the opportunity to be terminated immediately rather than face the chaos.

 

Enter Snake Plissken, a one-eyed ex-special forces soldier caught robbing the federal reserve who is about to serve the rest of his days in New York.  Alas, Air Force 1 is forced to crash.  The President survived thanks to some sort of escape pod but he is stuck in New York.  How do we know the president survives?  The Duke sends one of his fingers to the authorities to confirm it.  Snake cuts a deal with Hauk that if he can get the President out of New York within 24 hours he will get a full pardon.  Oh and by the way there is a cassette tape that contains important information on nuclear fusion that he has to get too.  By the time Plissken has reluctantly agreed, Hauk has him injected with microscopic explosives that will rupture his carotid arteries once the 24 hours are up.  Even cooler is that the explosives can only be defused during the last 15 minutes before they detonate, ensuring that Snake does not abandon his mission, or find another way to remove them.  If he returns with the President and the tape in time Hauk will save him.  As he should, Snake promises to kill Hauk when he returns.

 

Snake slips in atop the World Trade Center in a glider, and locates the escape pod.  He follows the President’s life-monitor bracelet signal to the basement of a theater, only to find it on the wrist of an old man.  Snake then runs into a friendly inmate nicknamed “Cabbie” (Ernest Borgnine), who offers to help and takes him to see Harold the “Brain” Hellman, a well-educated inmate who has made the New York Public Library his personal fortress.  It turns out that Brain and Snake are old buddies from some heists they pulled in the past.  Brain tells Snake that the self-proclaimed “Duke of New York” (Isaac Hayes), the terrifying leader of the largest and most powerful gang in Manhattan, has the President and plans to lead a mass escape across the mined and heavily guarded 69th Street Bridge by using the President as a human shield.  How much cooler can things get?  Well when the Duke unexpectedly arrives for a diagram of the bridge’s land mines, Snake forces Brain and his girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) to lead him back to the Duke’s place f/k/a Grand Central Station.  Snake finds the President being held in a railroad car but is not able to rescue him and he is captured by the Duke’s cronies.

Brain and Maggie trick the Duke’s men into letting them have access to the President and after killing the guards, they free the President and flee to Snake’s radical glider.  When the Duke learns the President has escaped with Brain, he loses his mind and rounds up his gang to chase them down and kill them.  Snake manages to slip away and catches up with Brain, Maggie and the President at the glider, but during their attempted getaway, a gang of inmates push the glider off the building.  Is there another way out?  Yes, Snake and the others find Cabbie, and Snake gets behind the wheel before heading for the bridge.  When Cabbie reveals that he has the nuclear fusion tape, the President demands it, but Snake takes it.

 

Being pursued by the Duke, Snake and the others drive over the mine infested bridge.  After the taxi hits a land mine, the cab is destroyed and Cabbie is dead.  As the others make a run for it Brain is killed by a mine and Maggie won’t leave him.  She wants revenge on the Duke and shoots at him with a revolver—to no avail as the Duke smashes Maggie and his car.  Snake and the President reach the containment wall and the guards raise the President up on a cable drawn from a Jeep mounted winch. Snake sees the Duke approaching and attacks him from behind but only after the Duke blows away the two guards with a machine gun Snake lost to the Duke when he was captured.  Knowing time is running out Snake nails the Duke in the head and makes his move for the cable.  Halfway up the wall, the cable stops and the President fatally shoots the Duke.  Snake is then lifted to safety, and the explosives implanted in his body are deactivated with mere seconds to spare.

After Snake gains his signed pardon from Hauk, Hauk offers Snake a job, to which Snake merely starts walking away. As Snake continues walking out of the prison parking deck area, Hauk asks Snake if he is going to kill him. Snake replies, “I’m too tired… maybe later.” Snake, still walking away, pulls the magnetic tape out of the cassette containing the information on nuclear fusion as he leaves.

 

Wow!

 

What else can I say?  Great movie.

 

Here is some comedy.  Where did they decide to shoot this movie needing gritty decaying buildings?  Where else can you find hell on earth but East St. Louis!  I always thought East St. Louis’s reputation was urban lore, but apparently I was wrong.  See http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CCsQtwIwBQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DtWMFsXwpToA&ei=TFYiTv2EE4ajtgfq-rijAw&usg=AFQjCNGqe9vUGdn7wG7-W4ioFYfWfAPKMA&sig2=UoFKCPSfyE_TncCaurkPsA.

 

The movie was also a great commercial success—it had a budget of six million dollars and grossed about fifty million worldwide.  Nice work as usual Mr. Carpenter.  They sure don’t make them like this anymore.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Our Next Tri-fecta is Movies Directed by Women!

After Dr. H and I finish the last of our “They had the budget but blew it” series I’ve decided to pay tribute to movies directed by women. We will examine three movies all directed by women. In fact if you can guess two out of the three directors I’ll even send you a DVD of your choice courtesy of JPFmovies. So stick around the films just might surprise you.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Guest Reviewer Silver Gives Us Gold With His Look & The Dark Crystal (1982)

Here is what our guest reviewer Silver has to say about a little known classic:  The Dark Crystal.

 

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Vocal Talent: Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Percy Edwards, Barry Dennen, Michael Kilgarriff, Jerry Nelson, Thick Wilson, John Baddeley, David Buck, Charles Collingwood, Sean Barrett, Mike Iveria, Patrick Monckton, Susan Westerby, Joseph O’Conor

Directed by Jim Henson & Frank Oz

Expectations: One of my favorites. I watch it every few years.

3 stars

==

Growing up in the 80s, my childhood was filled with the puppets of Jim Henson. From Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock to the first three Muppet films, I was an absolute Henson fiend. Hell, I even watched the Muppet Babies cartoon. One day while rummaging through a stack of VHS tapes when I was around eight or nine, I came upon one that had the words, The Dark Crystal scrawled onto the tape label. What was this? Even in my youth I was obsessive about my film watching, so seeing a title that I was unfamiliar with took me by surprise. I popped in the tape, finding that we had recorded the movie off of TV and the first minute or so were cut off. I didn’t mind missing that first minute, nor did I mind the fuzzy quality of the TV reception recorded onto that magnetic tape, for I was thoroughly enthralled in the tale being woven before me. So began my quest with The Dark Crystal. I must have watched that tape five or six times over the course of my childhood, obviously not a lot for an obsessed kid, but I distinctly remember wanting to savor every viewing so that it wouldn’t become cheap. I’ve pretty much stayed the course ever since, only re-watching the film every three-four years and loving it every time.

The Dark Crystal is a story of tragedy and renewal, of the Skeksis and the Mystics, and the Gelflings that will change the course of their world forever. It is a realm rich with history that unfolds as the minutes pass by. There are definite shades of Lord of the Rings throughout, especially the “halfling venturing across the land with a storied object to enter the evil one’s domain and destroy them” storyline, but to discredit The Dark Crystal’s story in such a broad way would be unfair, as its greatness lies within its detail and its characters. The birdlike Skeksis are haunting and creepy to this day, the Mystics wise and moving slowly with purpose. Jen the Gelfling hero is an orphan that most children will find easily relatable if they’ve ever felt lonely or ostracized in any way, not to mention that every kid wants to go on an adventurous journey.

Technically, the film has no equal. Never before or since has anyone undertaken such a massive puppet film, with no humans represented on-screen. Even if you hate the film (how dare you!), you have to admire the genius of Jim Henson and his studio at work. I highly recommend also watching the PBS documentary included on most DVD releases of the film, The World of the Dark Crystal. It’s filled with great footage of the guys inside the puppets, and while that does break the illusion, it grows a respect for the performers that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

In addition to the puppets, the optical FX are incredibly well done and add to the visual splendor of the film. And let’s not forget the matte paintings! Holy shit, they are even more impressive than I remember and this should be Exhibit A for the case to bring them back to filmmaking. CG backgrounds can look good an all, but there’s something majestic about the matte paintings here that 3D art could never attain. The cinematography helps a great deal as well, with wonderful color representation and gorgeous framing. One might expect a film filled with puppets to feature a rather static camera, as the puppet’s mobility is obviously limited. This is not so, as the camera moves in, out and around conversations and action, further intensifying the sense that we are watching real characters as opposed to cleverly designed puppets. In addition to the visuals, Trevor Jones’ dark, haunting score has resonated and stayed with me since my first viewing all those many years ago. It’s truly one of the best fantasy film scores of all time, other-worldly, fantastical and haunting all at once. Jones perfectly evokes the character’s through his music, resulting in a perfect auditory compliment to the visuals.

The serious tone propels the film deeper into the crystal chasm, presenting unaware viewers with quite the dark fantasy film. And I mean dark! If you know of another kid’s movie that features cute, tiny characters strapped into experimentation chairs against their will as their life essence is drained into a vial for the evil emperor to drink, then please let me in on the secret. The film is rated PG, but I’d be surprised if it got released with the same rating these days. Not to mention that, the film is just creepy and scary. It ran me through a range of emotions as a child and it still has me feeling similarly after tonight’s viewing. Any film that can still affect someone on such a deep level is worthy of your time.

On the negative side, it does drag a bit in spots (the opening narration is over six minutes), but overall it is paced pretty well. I’ve seen it so many times at this point that I’m unsure if I’m a qualified judge of this anymore. There is also a scene with the Gelflings in the forest that reminded me of the 70s sci-fi hippie film, Silent Running. This is not a positive in my eyes and thankfully it’s only a few short moments. Other than these minor quibbles, I had a great experience with the film, even if I was able to see through a lot more of the FX this time around.

I’m biased as this is a film from my childhood, but I would honestly say that The Dark Crystal holds up admirably. If you fancy yourself a fan of fantasy, you should be entertained with this fine film and the history of the world and its inhabitants. If you’re a fan of puppets, you’ll be entertained by the technical wizardry of it all and the power of puppets to create the illusion of life. If you’re a fan of both, then it should be a match made in heaven.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Well we thought it could not get much worse but we were wrong: The Chill Factor (1999)

The Chill Factor had a budget of $34,000,000—the question I want answered is where the other $33,500,000 went because it certainly didn’t go into the script.  Cuba Gooding Jr. (of Jerry Maguire fame) manages to soil what was left of his acting reputation as well as illustrates a complete inability to pick the right movies to enhance his career—that or his agent is totally brain dead.  In fact I recently came across an article looking at Gooding’s downward spiral since winning an Oscar stating:

“Perhaps it is as simple as the Oscar curse. Before his fervent acceptance speech at the 1996 Academy Awards, Cuba Gooding Jr. was an A-lister on the rise; after that, it all seemed to go downhill.  Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career choices, to put it mildly, became erratic.  Could behind-the-scenes management kerfuffles also have been to blame?  Should Gooding not have chosen, as Tropic Thunder‘s Kirk Lazarus might say, to “go full retard” in Radio?  And who will answer for the abomination that was Boat Trip?  (And Snow Dogs?  And Chill Factor?  The list goes on…)”

The “Plot” of this Hollywood red headed step child is exceeding cliché.  The Army develops a horrifically dangerous chemical weapon that detonates if it temperature rises above fifty degrees and is nicknamed “Elvis.”  The film sounds like it is the cousin of that odious movie Speed (Sandra Bullock) except contending with heat and not velocity.  Of course the experiment goes wrong on an island killing a squadron of soldiers and their commanding officer is held responsible to the tune of ten years in Leavenworth.  During the commanding officer’s tenure in prison, he plots his revenge to steal this deadly weapon of mass destruction and sell it to the highest bidder.  Actually I don’t think I need to continue because you already know what happens, the mercenaries chase the two fish out of water and the chemical weapon is neutralized at the end with the bad guys dying a graphic and gruesome death.

Dr. H thinks that this movie would appeal to people who believe that Brittany Spears is the creative genius of our generation and that G.W. Bush is an intellectual force to be reckoned with.  I agree.  The main difference between The Chill Factor and Chain Reaction is that Chain Reaction at least had a decent cast while the Chill Factor has nothing. 

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movies that had the budget but blew it: Chain Reaction (1996) I think Keanu Reeves ran about thirty miles in this flick.

Dr. H and I are going on a bad movie bender.  Not your typical “bad” movies involving low budget productions or films that go right to dvd though.  Instead we are looking at bad movies that had the money, supposedly had the talent and yet managed to create a pile of dung.

 

Our first look is at Chain Reaction (1996) starring (among others) Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman.  This “film” had a budget of Fifty Million Dollars — that is right, dollars, not pesos or yen but greenbacks.  Despite an almost bottomless checkbook, the filmmakers managed to create something that I could not in good conscience feed to a goat.  Not only did it have the cash but some seasoned cast members as well.  First there is Morgan Freeman (playing Paul Shannon), a solid actor though he has made other bad movies besides Chain Reaction.  While I personally am not a fan of Reeves, who plays the lead, Eddie Kasalivich, plenty of other people would disagree with me.  There is also Fred Ward as “FBI Agent Leon Ford,” an actor who starred in one of (in my opinion) the great underrated movies “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.”  And there is my favorite actor of this bunch, Brian Cox, playing the evil Lyman Earl Collier.  Cox is in two of my favorite movies: first he plays the real/original Hannibal Lector in Michael Mann’s 1986 production of “Manhunter” and also co-stars in another of my favorites, “Super Troopers” (2001) as Captain O’Hagan. 

 

Now with fifty million dollars and a high caliber cast someone, somehow, somewhere cobbled together Chain Reaction.  I could not believe it and neither could Dr. H.

 

Eddie Kasalivich (Reeves) is a student working with a team from the University of Chicago to create the greatest most abundant clean burning and healthy form energy from bubbles. Though this team had been without success, while he was working at home Eddie discovered the secret unlocking all the energy in the tiny bubbles.  He perfects the machine and everything works and is stable.  Yeah the world’s energy problems have now been solved by a college student working at home!

 

But this is only the beginning, because after the celebration, he has to go back to the lab and get his motorcycle.  While there, Eddie discovers his leader dead and the reactor about to explode.  Then, get this, he runs to his bike and speeds away and then the reactor explodes like a nuclear bomb.  Luckily Eddie and his bike outrun the explosion’s shock wave and when it finally does catch up to him, he had skidded off into a ditch so the explosion (destroying eight city blocks) goes over him.

 

Now Reeves begins the marathon.  Because of some planted evidence Reeves and his female colleague, Lily, are framed and on the run from about every law enforcement agency in the world for the next ninety minutes. 

 

As if the viewer didn’t know it by now, the explosion was a plot hatched by some black operations government agency to destroy the science behind the great energy source.  Eddie is able to track these rogue government agents to the “C-Systems Research” facility where they are trying to replicate the experiment.  Eddie sneaks into the lab (where he finds Lily, who was kidnapped and forced to continue working on the project) and fixes the machinery so that the next morning another scientist discovers the working reactor and everyone parties.

 

Ah hah!  Luckily for someone Freeman is suspicious, gets a download of the data and secretly provides a copy to his assistant.  He then finds Eddie at a computer in the C-Systems Research board room.  Eddie begins to negotiate his release in exchange for making the reactor work.  But someone’s bluff is called at this point—I really could not tell whose—and Cox’s character Lyman forces Eddie to have the reactor explode but not before Reeves was able to send not only proof of his innocence to the FBI, but blueprints of the reactor to “hopefully a couple thousand” international scientists as well.  He must be really smart to know and remember a couple of thousand scientists and their fax numbers.  Eddie obviously has a higher calling, to the world and to science.  But first there is more running that has to be done because the base is self-destructing so Eddie and Lily must keep running to meet the FBI which is now convinced of their innocence.  Morgan Freeman escapes through a back door to a chauffeured sedan and is last seen dictating a memo to his assistant Anita informing the Director of CIA that C-System is “…no longer a viable entity. Will be in contact.”

 

Whew.  The world’s cleanest, cheapest and safest form of energy is now for everyone to consume.  All thanks to Reeves’s ability to run long distances without breaking stride and know and remember a couple of thousand fax numbers.  Dr. H near the end of the movie said “My God Man Kill Me, Please Kill Me,” but I just didn’t have it in me to put him down.  Chain Reaction and its cast were nominated for only one award, with Keanu Reeves being nominated for the Razzie for Worst Actor, which he lost to both Tom Arnold and Pauly Shore.  Well at least Reeves didn’t win the Razzie.

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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