Movie Reviews 197 – Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001)

October 27, 2014

Children of the Corn RevelationIt’s watching movies like these that make me question my obsession to be a ‘completist’ and watch every movie in a series no matter how bad the successive releases get. It’s taken me more than four months to recover from Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return and finally watch this seventh installment in the Children of the Corn series. More importantly, Children of the Corn: Revelation is the last movie that I have. Well for now at least.

It begins promisingly enough with a woman who arrives at a recently condemned building into which her grandmother has inexplicably just moved into. All the tenants have received their 30 day eviction notices, and as you can imagine the last tenants remaining are all ‘down on their luck’ stereotypes including a stripper, a thief, a pothead and a wheelchair bound grumpy old man. Not the kind of folks you’d want meet at an apartment building get together party.

Jamie (Claudette Mink) finds that her grandmother has vanished sometime before her arrival and it is up to her and a reluctant police officer to solve the mysterious disappearance.  Over time Jamie learns a lot about her grandmother’s past that includes her being the sole survivor of a large circus tent fire in which a number of children perished 60 years ago. All the more so compelling given the fact that Jamie own parents recently died in a fire as well.

Jamie’s hunt for clues among the tenants is useless and the only other intriguing aspects are the sporadic appearance of a shadowy disfigured priest (Michael Ironside) and ghostly looking kids seen both in the apartment complex and the surrounding neighborhood.  Aside from the kids the only hint to series theme are the cornstalks that grow profusely around the edge of the building, and the priests single dire warning about “He who walks behind the rows”.

The main problem with this movie is that after setting up the interesting mystery, the latter half of the film becomes a killfest in which each of the tenants die gruesome deaths but only after finding dried corn wreaths on their front doors. It’s all silly at this point, and Jamie’s sleuthing eventually determines that the current upswell is related to that faithful fire long ago. A waste of a good cast and an otherwise decent production. What this movie needed was a better script that built up on the initial mystery instead of opting for the splatter focus as an ending. Not that there’s anything wrong with the splatter, it’s just that splatter, corny or otherwise.  does not make a movie. This movie is better than it’s predecessor, but just barely. And that’s how I sat through this one. Just barely.

I’ve already put in more words than this films deserves and doubt I’ll be watching Children of the Corn: Genesis, which at this point was the last movie in the series. But you know me. I am a completist so who knows.

Movie Reviews 196 – High Plains Drifter (1973)

October 20, 2014

High Plains DrifterThe Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is undoubtedly the pinnacle of Clint Eastwood’s Spaghetti Western career. Part of director Sergio Leone’s “Man with no Name” trilogy, it was where Eastwood would define his stoic, silent gunfighter persona and what would turn out to be his big break in film. But while the other movies in the trilogy are fine (A Fistfull of Dollars and For a few Dollars More) I would rate High Plains Drifter as my second favorite Eastwood western.

While it was his second feature directorial stint (he’d already made a mark in the director’s chair with Play Misty for Me) he clearly shows his talent for blending the gun battles with drama and characters, even if the character he plays is a thinly veiled copy of “the man with no name”, simply called “the stranger” in this movie.

The story is not very complex, but plot manages to retain a few lingering questions that really make it all the more interesting. Clint silently rides into a desolate small town and immediately raises eyebrows from all the town folk. After taking care of a few amenities mostly silently but not without incident he heads over to the barbershop. As he sits in the barbers chair for a much needed shave three gung-ho cowboy who he seems to have ticked the wrong way pile into the shop but before they can pull their twitchy triggers Clint mows them down with nary a flinch.

Trouble is, those gunfighters were hired by the town because three other gunmen put into jail a long time ago are scheduled to be released from prison and they’ve let it be known that they intend to return to the town to avenge their jail sentences. The town then tries to convince Clint to hang around and take care of the three men on the way. Clint decides to take on the town at the promise that they would “do anything” in return upon which Clint tests their resolve and the definition of “anything” often with comic results.

But there is much more to the history between the jailed outlaws and the townspeople that the stranger was led to believe. A dirty little secret where most in town aren’t as innocent as they portray themselves to be. The three men jailed killed the Marshall but the rest of the town just stood back and let them, turning their backs as the crime was being committed.

We eventually learn the whole truth of course but even so, there remains a nagging feeling that perhaps the stranger coming in as he did was no coincidence at all. All for you viewers to decide as you watch this underrated and somewhat forgotten dusty gem.

Movie Reviews 195 – The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)

October 15, 2014

ZatoichiSpoiler alert to those we haven’t read my last blog, but having just watched The Book of Eli, this is technically the second ‘blind swordsman’ movie review in a row. And at the same time the stories are somewhat the opposite of one another, but to really understand that I’d have to spoil both movies.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi  is one of those enduring movies that seems to break all the rules, but in the end delivers in every respect. The non-linear approach is applied not only to the chronology of events, but also to what at first appears to be a haphazard mix of stories and characters that eventually coincide.

We follow the slow paced elderly blind masseur Zatôichi (Takeshi Kitano, who also wrote directed and co-edited the film) as he arrives in a small town, only to quickly dismember a troupe of fighters that have just caught up with him. Obviously a skilled old samurai, he then takes lodging with an elderly woman who tells him the towns troubles with the current Yakuza gang.

At the same time an unemployed ronin comes to the same town accompanied by his sick wife. Desperate for work he seeks out employment as a ‘bodyguard’ (read: on-call assassin) and,  much to the chagrin of his wife, ends up working for the troublesome gang currently vying for power from two other gangs as they bully the village inhabitants.

Last but not least we encounter two young Geisha girls trying to lure men, but not for friendly frolicking and not just any men. These girls also have their sights set on specific members of the Yakuza gang and while their their mission is shrouded in mystery, it is nothing like another whopping secret they have.

While many movies like this span breathtaking fight scenes with comedy relief, this film goes way beyond the norm ending in a Bollywood-like colorful dance sequence that will blow your mind. (Did I really see that?) In between we have an overweight grown imbecile constantly charging around huts believing himself to be a ronin, a gambler who tries to mimic Zatôichi’s prowess at dice gambling, and a bumbling bartender and waiter at the local watering hole.

We watch as the disparate storylines come to an ultimate unfortunate showdown between two sympathetic characters, only one of which can be victorious. While immensely entertaining, this is not a complete ‘feel good’ movie with everyone leaving happily, although that dance routine would have you believe otherwise. The gore is palpable and when you understand the circumstances of those two Geishas, their entertaining dances are actually quite creepy.

Apparently a staple Japanese cinema (like The One Armed Boxer, or Lone Wolf and Cub series) there are numerous Zatoichi films made over the years, many of them acclaimed. So keep an eye out there for others and not just this one. I certainly will.

Movie Reviews 194 – The Book of Eli (2010)

October 10, 2014

The Book of EliDenzel Washington and Mila Kunis don’t immediately spring to mind when deciding which stars would be good candidates for a post apocalyptic science fiction yarn, but the story of The Book of Eli is itself about as quirky as the cast selection.

We never really find out what happened to the Earth that resulted in its transformation to a dusty, barren wasteland with only the odd small town or isolated household still clinging to life. But Eli (Washington) is a peaceful man on a divine mission to ‘go west’ no matter what, and any attempts to stop or delay his goal quickly turns the reserved man into a lightening quick, knife wielding samurai who will at least nicely warn his aggressors once before slicing and dicing them in a heartbeat. Among his few possessions is a book that we soon learn is the main reason for his obscure mission.

Eli’s problem arises when he hits a dilapidated town run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) who not only himself has a penchant for books but has gangs scouring the earth for one book in particular. It is of course ‘the good book’ and it is of course the book that Eli is toting with his possessions.

But hang on. This isn’t an overzealous religion spouting one act pony of a movie. The obvious battles between Eli and Carnegie and his henchmen is interspersed with encounters with a number of other seedy, low-life gangs that roam the wild. Meanwhile, Eli reluctantly takes on a fellow traveler in Solara (Kunis) the rebel daughter of Carnegie’s current woman (played by Jennifer Beals). And before you go there, this isn’t a nouveau Adam and Eve story either.

There is a lot of silly stuff to suck up along the way, like what does Carnegie really expect from having the last bible in his possession, or to whom Eli is supposed to deliver it? But there is a lot of fun (and blood spurting) too in the barren world where people barter for water (remember Waterworld?) and where ‘traps’ are set out for wanderers, all reminiscent of Mad Max and other parched Earth movies.

While much of the movie is a predictable as are most biblical fables, the film does deliver in the end with a few walloping surprises that seem so obvious but only after the ‘reveal’. Not the best post-apocalyptic movie (there are so many) but better than I expected.

Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero (Larry Tye, 2012)

September 14, 2014

Superman-bookLook. Up in the air. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s one of the most iconic characters ever created. It’s Superman.

This latest entry into the history of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s comic creation has everything you’d expect. Starting from his humble roots in a Baltimore bedroom from the then teenage creators, to becoming the first real comic book mega star, before moving onto all other forms of media from TV to movies. This book chronicles both sides of the printed page, the major milestones in the creators lives and the development and dispersion of the character in all media.

The first few chapters goes into detail how the boys finally got publisher DC comics to buy their little piece of the super character long before his origins, powers and weaknesses were fully developed. Even his strength varied greatly over the years, from the simplistic “Faster than a speeding locomotive and able to leap tall buildings” (yes, he could not even really fly in those early days) to having the almost insuperable power to move planets and suns to eventually having to tone down his powers in order to make some things challengeable and have more interesting stories.

Interest in the character himself alone would quickly fizzle out were it not for the many other secondary characters surrounding him including his parents (both adoptive and birth), friends, and lovers, naturally with emphasis on Lois Lane who dominates the Superman pages second only to the man himself, and these are covered in detail as well.

When it came to the early years of Superman, the original TV series starring George Reeves was almost as influential as the comics themselves and in some ways more so. The mysterious circumstances of the actors death is just a small part of the drama before and behind the camera lens that are discussed, conspiracy theories and all.

Fact is, Superman, the supporting characters, and all the events they lived through on the printed pare were rarely consistent because of the many writers who helmed all the comics. But this book doesn’t only do a great job of pointing out these deviations. When DC decided it was high time to make things ‘correct’ not only in the Superman universe but all the other comic characters in it’s stable it came up with the Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries that not only described the many parallel universes it devised to explain the inconsistencies, but created a cataclysmic solution to collapsing it all into one definitive universe. This book does helps sort out the end state for Superman as a result of Crisis. After Crisis, the next big ‘change’ in the Superman story was another ‘reset’ with the new Man of Steel series created by John Byrne in 1986, which, for a while at least, redefined Superman.

Of course the series of Superman movies starring Christopher Reeves are here as are the more recent Lois and Clark and Smallville TV shows. Some of the more interesting aspects of these not only include the constraints placed on the show makers, but how one of the shows haphazardly ended up having Superman killed off in the comics (in as much as a fictitious character can really die in a comic anyway).

Of course, along with success comes controversy and ultimately friction. Those familiar with the comics are probably also familiar with the many legal and moral battles Siegel and Shuster (and then their families after they themselves passed on) launched against DC comics almost as soon as the honeymoon years were over and the treasure trove that the character became was fully realised.  While most of it is well captured here, even a book published only two years ago was not able to fully envelop the lawsuits that continue to snake through the courts even today. Sadly, one cannot escape the fact that the only thing more American that Superman and apple pie is a never ending lawsuit.

But Superman (like the lawsuits) will live on and so will books like these.

Movie Reviews 193 – Slap Shot (1977)

August 11, 2014

Slap ShotBet you’d never thought you’d be reading a review for a 1970’s hockey movie here. But then again, I never thought I’d ever see an actor like Paul Newman in crude comedy about a minor league hockey team vying to remain afloat by putting on a carnival show of fights and other nefarious distractions both on and off the ice.

When team captain Reggie Dunlop (Newman) learns that the local steel plant and main town employer are shutting down he realizes that The Charlestown Chiefs may be folding up. With no prospective buyers lining up and an elusive owner that keeps to the shadows Reggie decides to turn the team’s fortunes on his own. First he concocts a rumour that there are buyers interested by planting false information in the local paper. But the fun really starts when he notices that the local fans have a taste for bloody brawls, especially when the distractions lead to actually winning games. As luck would have it, the team has just signed the Hanson brothers, three young bespectacled goons whose idea of game preparation include wrapping tin foil and tape over their knuckles.

Most of the focus is on Reggie who’s stoking the fighting flames in the locker room and Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean) the lone standout player who refuses to bow to the low brow tactics. But the show stealers are the Hanson brothers played by real life minor leaguers Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson and Dave Hanson. (That’s right, they were more Carlson brothers than Hanson brothers). From the moment they are greeted at a train station by Reggie who finds them battling with a vending machine which stole their quarter, the audience just waits for their next appearance. The fun includes a French speaking goalie trying to master the English language, a crude womanizing lounge lizard, the one good looking player with buxom twins constantly in tow, and the finale that pits a bevy some of the most notorious hockey hit men who are amassed to put the Chiefs in the penalty box for good.

Directed by George Roy Hill (who also directed The Sting, The World According to Garp, and a host of other great movies) the film is laden with reverence to old time hockey and invocations of the ghost of coach “Toe” Blake. It’s a surreal peek at semi-pro sports, hockey lifestyles, fandom and economics but it made this offbeat comedy something of a sleeper hit especially here in Canada. Even the French speaking public loved it because of it’s authentic Quebecois slang and swearing. Cool Hand Luke fans will also be glad to see Newman reunited with his former co-star Strother (“What we’ve got here is a failure to Communicate”) Martin.

If that wasn’t enough the soundtrack featuring Maxine Nightingale’s one-hit-wonder “Get Right Back Where We Started From” will get you right back to the 70’s.

Movie Reviews 192 – Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

August 2, 2014

OneSheet (Page 1)Forget for a moment that the star of Bangkok Dangerous is Nicolas Cage. This fact alone nearly deterred me from watching this movie. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not that bad an actor. But for a martial arts action movie, Nick Cage is not the kind of star that comes to mind. Cage tends to be overdramatic when he gets these action roles which becomes a distraction while trying to enjoy a movie. And Bangkok Dangerous is exactly the type of movie where being overdramatic can ruin things. But even Nic couldn’t ruin this one.

This movie has a great (if not that original) story about a hired hitman wanting to distance himself from his intended victims only to ultimately submit to his conscience. Joe (Cage), the methodical and precise gun for hire does this by not only by committing the ultimate sin for a hitman; letting his prey live, but also by taking on a young protegé and falling for a woman all at the same time. In a revelatory moment of introspection, he goes from rigidly obeying his own set strict rules and protocols to breaking all of them all at once. You can almost figure out how all these changes result in utter chaos with regards to his current mission and how he handles his new love interest.

Joe first adopts Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) after using the young man as brief message conduit (one of Joe’s cool work protocols) and almost as soon as he’s broken his rule of solitary operation he also falls for a cute mute pharmacist Fon (Charlie Yeung). It’s the interaction with these two new people who become immersed in his life that he begins to question his cold killing ways to which he’d reconciled as putting down evil men.

Directed by the Pang brothers (who I’ve discussed previously with Re-cycle and who are better known as the guys who created the original Asian The Eye trilogy of movies) this is a great flick with just the right touch of human elements to shore up the action packed chases and shootouts.

And here’s a crazy fact. This is not the first Bangkok Dangerous movie the Pang brothers have made as they made one in 2000. But this is not a remake of that one for North American audiences as you would think.  While I have not seen that earlier movie, the plot seems completely different to this movie. You’d think the bros would have been able to come up with a new title so as to avoid any confusion.

Movie Reviews 191 – Dead Calm (1989)

July 29, 2014

Dead CalmA simple plot in which a couple, Rae (Nicole Kidman) and John (Sam Neill), seek solitude and isolation on their yacht to console their hearts after the recent tragic loss of their child only to be terrorized by a young man they encounter on the high seas from another drifting yacht.

Their visitor Hughie, (Billy Zane) who frantically rowed over in a dinghy to their yacht, spews tales of a food poisoning outbreak that took the lives of the others who were on his boat. Perplexed at first, especially when Hughie stoutly refuses to return for any reason to his now abandoned vessel, John, a career senior naval officer is suspicious. As Hughie catches a few winks he decides to ride the dinghy back to Hughie’s ship where he has a few surprises in store for him.

But that leaves Rae alone with Hughie and it is she that must somehow survive the whimsies of the obviously deranged Hughie. All she has is the hope that her husband is still alive on Hughies boat and her dog.

The stark isolation compounds the suspense that the couple face and even with a cast of only three people there is enough tension and action to live up to the best of any high seas battle. It’s a game of minds and chance that will determine the outcome but even on such a limited set there are plenty of surprises.

I think Dead Calm has flown under the radar of most people although I remember enjoying it years ago. If seeing these three stars early on in their careers isn’t enough to entice you, the dog certainly will!

Movie Reviews 190 – Coffy (1973)

July 18, 2014

CoffyShag carpets, red velvet fedoras, chrome bumpered caddys and polyester bell-bottomed jumpsuits propel viewers back to the groovin’ 70’s in Coffy, a low budget Pam Grier blaxploitation vehicle from director Jack Hill. Most viewers will be more familiar with Grier’s title role in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, but that role itself was just a tribute to Grier’s title role in Foxy Brown, another Jack Hill movie.

Grier plays a Nurse named Coffin, nicknamed Coffy (Coffee, get it?) who takes on drug dealers and kingpins with vigilante vengeance when her little 11 year sister is lured to a world of drug addiction. Her pillars of support include a childhood friend Carter (William Elliott) who is a one of the few honest cops left on the force and her lover Howard (Booker Bradshaw) who`s just announce he`s running for congress.

After blowing off the head of a street lord and injecting his flunky with a bad dose of drugs like that given to her own sister, Coffy learns that she has to reach higher into the echelons of the drug distribution system to make a dent. For that she targets street pimp and pusher King George (Robert DoQui) and his own European supply boss Arturo Vitroni (Allan Arbus, doctor Sid Friedman on M.A.S.H). Coffy (sporting one of the worst fake Jamaican accents ever) gains the confidence of King George and gets in a cat fight free for all with a bunch of the pimp’s girls at a party. Vitroni however delights in the fight and the ensuing generous display of boobs as a result of the girls tearing off one anothers clothes as they trash. He takes exceptional note of the buxom Coffy and invites her to his hotel that night, but before she can waste him she’s subdued by Vitroni’s head henchman (Jack Hill regular Sid Haig from Spiderbaby and The Devil’s Rejects). But Coffy eventually escapes only to be surprised to learn who some of the other members of Vitroni’s team are before one final rampage and heading off into the sunset.

The plot is nothing to write home about but there is plenty of action. To be honest, Grier’s acting is quite dreadful (nothing like her refined and acclaimed performance in Foxy Brown much later in her career) and her looks probably influenced her getting the role. But the best aspect of this movie is how it captures that 70’s instant in time where ‘black was were it was at’. You know that you could never get away today with a scene where a city councilman has a meeting with the chief of police at a tittie bar and not only does no one notice, but when Coffy joins the duo they all joke about drugs.

If a retro jive talkin’ blaxploitation movie is what you’re looking for, this is it.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm – Greg Keyes 2014

July 11, 2014

firestormFirst off, let’s get something straight from the start. I’m a devoted Planet of the Apes (PotA) fan. I don’t mean I just like the movies and think they’re cool. It goes way deeper than that. The original series of movies were always a favorite of mine even as a kid, but as the years wore on, instead of just relegating the memories of the ‘Planet of the Apes” mania that occurred during my formative years in the 70’s to the back of my mind, the allure has grown. When discussion groups on the internet started popping up in the late nineties I stumbled upon a few PotA ones and it just took off from there. My interest has lead me to consume books, magazines, comics, fanzines and really anything that I can get my hands on. I now have just about every one of the above printed material and much more. Tapes, DVDs, Soundtrack CDs, Cups, posters, cards, super 8mm reels, and of course toys including puzzles, plastic models and action figures. (The more refined collector’s prefer the term “action figures”, but who’s kidding who? They’re toy dolls.). I’ve got them all. All this to say that when it comes to Planet of the Apes, count me in, baby! So you may want to consider that as you read this review.

Touted as a novel that bridges the events between the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Firestorm picks up immediately after the events of the first film. And in case anyone was curious, there really isn’t much for readers to summarize the story so far and what happened in Rise. So if you haven’t seen Rise, a lot of the book will be confusing (as will this book review). To recap, Caesar has led his troop of escaped apes across the Golden Gate bridge and into the Muir Woods forest just north of San Francisco. The same medicinal gas that Gen Tech was producing as a potential cure for Alzheimer’s, and which gave rise to intelligent apes, was also found to be deadly in humans.The last scene from Rise indicated people showing signs of the virus and then we got to see graphics of the viral spread across the globe as the credits roll.

We now learn about the effects of the virus as the very first victims begin flooding into hospitals and how the growing numbers become a concern. Caesar in the meantime, having reached temporary safety of the woods, must now decide his next move and what to do with his group, many of which are injured. For Caesar, it is not so much a battle with humans at this point as it is one of survival for his troops of renegade apes.

Meanwhile, there has been a whitewash by the current San Francisco mayor’s office, where most of the events of the insurrection and battle on the bridge has been downplayed or silenced altogether. Anvil corporation, a sister company to Gen Sys which developed the smart serum and released the retrovirus now afflicting the population has hired professionals in their hunt of Caesar and the escaped apes. Clancy, a female anthropologist is teamed with Malakai, an African mercenary with practical knowledge of ape psychology. But both are standout reluctant participants with the rest of the Anvil crew. At first, there are mixed messages as to whether Anvil want to capture the apes or just kill them, but they have to rely on Clancy and Malakai to find them first regardless.

As the magnitude and spread of the deadly virus grows, the apes are oblivious to what is happening in the cities and must simply contend with finding sources of appropriate food and keeping one step ahead of the humans. Eventually they clash and it becomes clear that Anvil is trying to kill the apes, who are mistakenly being blamed as the source of the virus.

A large focus of the novel is on the Mayoral race going on in San Francisco where the recently retired police chief, Dreyfuss, is a major contender. Clearly one of the ‘good guys’, helping to quell skirmishes and fomenting riots, he eventually becomes the de-facto mayor as his city and the rest of the world crumbles.

Aside from Caesar, we also share much of the story with Koba, the one-eye, slashed and bedraggled looking fellow lab specimen we briefly encountered in Rise. We basically retrace his entire wistful life via flashbacks, some of which include scenes from Rise. Koba comes to understand his augmented intelligence and learns that he must refrain from violence and revenge for the sake of the other apes. We also get a lot of interaction between Maurice, the sign language savvy Orangutan as he shares his wisdom with Caesar.

Most of the action is all about apes outwitting humans, but we also get to experience of lot of human on human violence as the city and civilization itself goes down the tubes.

While I certainly enjoyed the novel, especially the first half where we get some interesting human characters dealing with their own personal crumbling lives, the latter half was not as engaging, being more action oriented as the apes elude capture, for which the outcome was preordained.

I think ape enthusiasts like myself will certainly enjoy this novel. But you really have to have seen, and enjoyed the first movie in order to relate to it.

How much is relevant to the new movie Dawn? Without having seen it (it opens today!) I can say that it’s a pretty open ended story that won’t impact anything in the movie itself with the exception that the character of Dreyfus will be in the movie (and played by favorite Gary Oldman no less, so that alone is promising!)


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