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in defense of

Blair Witch 2 : Book of Shadows

defense14484992_1295032927207794_670354707381042166_nI’ve long contended that Book of Shadows really suffers from its connection to the Blair Witch series. It’s not nearly as much of a sequel as it is a sidequel… But then again you could say the same thing about The Curse Of The Blair Witch special that premiered on sci-fi, and yet that one fit the franchise better.

Book of Shadows  is such a difference kind of movie though, that it finds it difficult to really fit in with the rest of the series. In some ways this was intentional, the director, Joe Berlinger has himself said he had no interest in going over the same formula again… I understand where he’s coming from, but I’m not totally certain I agree with his choice. Because Blair witch project was such a divisive film, you weren’t making a sequel to try and attract new fans or convert the haters… It was to polarizing for that. Instead, what you needed to be doing was making a sequel for the fans.  I find it interesting, listening to the Berlinger’s mv5bmti0ote5mtm2mf5bml5banbnxkftztcwntu1nde1mg-_v1_ux214_cr00214317_al_commentary about just how out of touch he is with the demographic he is supposedly trying to reach. This is a director who had been chosen because of his experience creating documentaries… And yet he chose to run screaming in the other direction. If you listen to him talk about film, you’ll see that there was definitely a much heavier studio hand in this. That’s to be expected, and it’s always a problem but it’s a problem that was exacerbated but the fact that instead of a franchise entry, he seemed hellbent on creating an art film… He kept trying to characterize the movie as a satire rather than a horror film, and repeats this theme several times throughout the director’s commentary.  He wished to explore the phenomenon that arose around the film and it’s effects on society.

Okay, but that’s not what anybody wanted from a sequel

It would have been a far better subject for a documentary then a feature – and it’s no surprise that since then Berlinger seems to have stuck with the documentary format where he can indulge in social commentary rather than just attempt to entertain. He’s not a bad director, he’s just a poor choice for this project -a director that had absolutely no interest in making the film at the studio wanted, or making the film the fans wanted, or even making a true sequel to this franchise…and it shows.

What’s really interesting, is that this should’ve worked. Wes Craven’s Scream had brought the concept of the meta film firmly in to the public eye. It was something that we understood and even liked at the time. The head trippy mind bending films were coming into fashion again and Book of Shadows is a little bit of all of that combined with a household name that had high recognition.  This movie looks like a great idea on paper… but all comes back to this not being what the fans really wanted to see. remember how I mentioned in the 2016 movie that there is this delicate balance… You have to take the familiar and balance that with some new ideas pushing foreward. The Wingard film may skew a bit too much towards familiar… But book of shadows doesn’t mv5by2yznzg1ytatmju4mc00owu5lwfinjatzmi0zjc5mmm4yzcxxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtqxnzmzndi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_give us enough of the familiar – it skews in the completely opposite direction, and that betrays the brand.

Can I point out a couple of incidental quibbles with the movie as well? Actually, it’s more with the production design. We’ll start with that poster. That poster actually would be marvelous image for Blair Witch 2016. We’re back in the woods there, and the woods does indeed seem to be a character in of itself. The idea of being absorbed by the woods make sense there. In Book of Shadows however, this poster and has no real representation. There is no place for it, it doesn’t happen – not even symbolically. In fact, it serves more to make me expect a movie that’s set largely in the woods, and not so much at an old decaying home.

Then there is the name itself that I want to know who came up with this name, because it’s got nothing to do with the film. I know when a book of shadows is… although I’ll wager that the better part of the film going public (even this films audience) did not. However when you have a film with the phrase “Book of Shadows”, paired with the word “Witch” in the title, a film where an ethereal witch is supposedly the antagonist, where there is even a Wiccan ingenue included in the cast….perhaps it’s just me, but I expect that at some point we will see a witch’s spellbook (that is to say, a book of shadows) come into play, likely driving the story (much the way the necronomicon does in Evil Dead). Nowhere in this film are any books to be found, much less a “book of shadows”. Apparently someone thought this would just be a cool name.

These are minor sticking points, but put together with the source material, the sequel nature of the film and the franchise….it leads you to expect a VERY different kind of movie, and that’s a problem guaranteed to put off a large chunk of your audience.

I’d really like to have seen this done diffrently. Perhaps as an unauthorized parody, a DTV sidequel instead of the “official” sequel. It’s a movie that has no interest in being part of the franchise that birthed it and I think it should be treated as such.


In Defense of The Human Target

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imagesCACH1UKFFor about two months during 1992 we got the Human Target on TV. It was enough to make an impression on me.

The series followed the premise of the comics – a body double, a stand in who also acted as a body guard and took on cases one else would touch, but then departed from the old P.I. with a storefront office approach and  amped it up to a high tech world where the makeup was applied by computerized machinery on board a stealth jet .

The changes worked for me, they seem like the same kind of changes the comics might have made if they were trying to revitalize the series. It was my real imagesCAFNTK28introduction to Rick Springfield who I thought did just fine in the role. Nothing spectacular, but then again, he doesn’t need to be since the guest star his character is posing as would be on screen far more often than he would. It also filled the DC Comics size gapin my TV schedule since the Flash was now off the air. Interestingly enough, John Westly Shipp, who played the Flash would end up on an episode of Human Target, which was of course produced by the same people that did the Flash. It was nice to see him on TV again so soon after the departure of Barry Allen. I spoke with him a few years ago about the role. He still has fond memories of it.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I suspect the network didn’t really want the imagesCABHAZ3Fshow to succeed. Perhaps WANT is a little strong of a word. I think they didn’t really care. They had just seen Bilson and DeMeyo’s Flash crash and burn over at CBS and weren’t too confidant in their new offering. Still there was a hole in the schedule to fill, they had to show something opposite the Olympics and this may as well be it.

I can’t really complain about not getting a fair chance though. Seven episodes is fair, even when buried. The critics didn’t like it, but then again thy usually hate Comic properties – or at least, they did before Marvel changed the perception of the superhero movie. I’m sad we didn’t get more of this, but I’m happy with what we did get.

I’m also a little perplexed. Eighteen years later they tried again.

imagesCA5DFJCAIn 2010 I suppose things made a little more sense. Comics were more readily accepted as source material and the vertigo series was really critically acclaimed…and completely ignored in the shows plot. Christopher Chance is boiled down to nothing more than a glorified bodyguard.

The cast was excellent also featuring Chi McBride
who I loved from the John Larroquett show and also Jackie Earle Haley in possibly my favorite performance of his EVER.

This version was a slick action series and certainly a whole lot of fun though I don’t understand why they bothered to pay for the license when the character bore no resemblance to DC’s comic character. Perhaps just to get people like me to watch? If so it worked. I followed it both seasons. Still cancelled too soon, but at least with a DVD release. If you want the 1992 series you may have to resort to bootlegs. I still see them occasionally at conventions. Check both of these out, even if you don’t know the comics.

Actually , check them out ESPECIALLY if you don’t know the comics!

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In Defense of Genesis

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imagesCAFDSLGWI’m so glad we hit horror so hard this year. I was surprised last year when this column was mostly Sci-Fi. Still, I think it’s time for something different.

We’ve never done a music review before, but this one is fitting. You see, I have two all time favorite bands. One is the Christian Rock band Petra that spanned over thirty years and still occasionally does reunions and such. The other one is Genesis.

oldGenesis has NEVER been popular. Even among the classic rock crowd or the prog rockers, Genesis has a reputation for being…I don’t know….vanilla. I always chalk  that up to exposure. There are some folks who insist that they were fine until Peter Gabriel left the band. I usually hear cries about how they sold out and got too mainstream after Gabriel left the original line up. I don’t really buy it. Gabriel got a lot more mainstream after he left Genesis as well. Songs like “Shock the Monkey”, “Shaking the Tree”, “Kiss that Frog”, and “Mercy Street” all got plenty of radio airplay. It was more assign of the shifts in music than of selling out. I truly believe that too much of the issue is that too many people have only ever heard “Invisible Touch” on the radio, but never gotten the album and flipped it over to the other side and listened to “Domino”.

“Blood on the windows
touchMillions of ordinary people are there
They gaze at the scenery
They act as if it is perfectly clear
Take a look at the mountains
Take a look at the beautiful river of blood.
The liquid surrounds me
I fight to rise from this river of hell
I stare round about me
Children are swimming and playing with boats
Their features are changing
Their bodies dissolve and I am alone.”

That’s what I’m talking about. For a teenage me who was sick of love songs and wanted some meat to his music, this was great stuff. I’m just as big a fan of the Phil callingCollins era as I am of the Gabriel era. In fact my favorite point is that really brief period where Gabriel was gone but before Steve Hackett left…

So what happened? Why did the band implode with the release of “Callign All Stations”? was it really that bad without Phil Collins? A lot of people like to point fingers at the failure of that album with glee, but it’s honestly not a bad record. Ray Wilson is a good replacement for Collins on vocals and the new direction works. It feels like Genesis…but a new chapter.

Mike Ruthford and Tony Banks have both gone on record as saying they relate to each other though Phil. He was kind of the filter for their ideas, but I think it’s more than that. When Collins took over the lead vocals, some one else had to take over the drums (trust me. I’ve tried doing lead vocals while keeping time behind a drum set -it’s devilishly hard to do and nearly impossible to do WELL). That was Chester imagesCAOCKAZ4Thompson. When Hackett left, They hired Daryl Sturmer for the lead guitar. Rutherford has actually pointed out that Sturmer is faster than him on the frets, but Sturmer always pointed out that Rutherford was the creative drive behind the riffs.

Thompson and Sturmer were very much a part of the band, even though they were basically employees and didn’t own a piece of the band. They were there for every tour for twenty years.

But they also worked for Phil.

When Collins left, Sturmer and Thompson had their prior commitments to him leaving Banks and Rutherford alone. You see, it wasn’t one member of a trio leaving, it was three members of the band…the majority of them. That’s a lot to replace and rebuild.

I think it still could have worked if they had spent a couple of years touring smaller venues and released one more album with Walston. Quality was really never the issue as much as manpower.  Still, Banks and Rutherford made the call, at their age, they were ready to call it a day. I can’t blame them. I was thrilled when they reunited for the “Turn it on Again” tour in 2007. This was the band I knew.  There’s always been talk of a Gabriel reunion or some classic lien up, but this, this really is my era’s imagesCAOLA8LNGenesis and I’m good with it. This band has earned it’s place.

Look, forget about the tripe  the radio plays. Grab yourself a copy of the self titled “Genesis” album, or the “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” or even “We Can’t Dance” with brilliant songs like “Dreaming While You Sleep” and “Driving the Last Spike”. Check out all the stuff that isn’t on the radio because with this band there’s far more than meets the eye.


In Defense of Event Horizon

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imagesCAZXQPERWould you believe that I’ve only recently become aware that this is regarded as a bad movie?

Seriously I don’t get it. You have gore, you have terror, you have a haunted house in space along with Sam Neil, Lawrence Fishbourne and the son of the Third Doctor Who. I love this movie!

I’ve actually heard people lament the lack of gore in this film. I find it gory enough (and that’s saying something!), but apparently some of these folks didn’t. http://www.dreadcentral.com/news/69459/take-look-event-horizon-you-didnt-see#axzz2nre8zYrf

The photos reference here actually do by and large make it into the movie but only as flashes.  We get the impressions, and I always assumed that was how it was imagesCAX9J54Dmeant to be. These photos didn’t “Just surface” either as the article suggests, they were always around. I remember seeing them in fangoria back when the film was in production.

Another complaint I’ve always heard was that the ship looks weird. My friend Johnny Em actually has complained to my face “Who would design a ship like that?” Some of his point is the massive amounts of space. He’s kind of right about that, at least as far as modern space travel goes. Every inch of available space is used as efficiently as possible. Some of this could also be referring to the “Meat grinder” tunnel which is actually imagesCAMKV9LSexplained away as keeping the magnetic fields in check.

I kind of get this criticism, but from my perspective it falls flat. I look at a car engine and I don’t recognize a thing. I don’t understand how it works and I assume it looks like that because it has to. I apply that same philosophy to this film and the sets don’t bother me. In fact I really love the look of the ship from the outside, I find it really well realized. This is a horror movie first and a space movie second (as opposed to say, Aliens, which I’d consider Sci-Fi action first and horror second) so I’m sometimes surprised at how good some of the ship untitle2ddesign looks, both on the Event Horizon itself and on the smaller rescue ship, the Lewis and Clarke.

Still, the horror is what really works for me. It’s actually one of the better sequels….

Well, let’s just wait on that. We’ll come back to the idea of it as a sequel.

I’ve occasionally heard that his has far to complicated of a back story. I’m completely baffled by this. I thought we wanted intelligent horror, something with a imagesCAX617GBwell thought out narrative. adding Wier’s backstory as well as references to the Event Horizon vanishing and coming back…it all gives the feeling of depth. It makes the world feel real to me. This isn’t just another slasher, thought there’s plenty here for slasher fans as well. Horror and evisceration. Gore almost on the level of…Hellraiser.

This film gets compared to Hellraiser a whole lot. I frequently hear complaints about it being derivative of Hellraiser actually, and occasionally I hear the word “Homage”. I’d like to take that one step farther. I don’t think it’s derivative, and I event1_budon’t think that it’s a homage. I think it’s a sequel. In fact, I think it’s one of the best sequels.

Sure there’s no box, and no pinhead. But Hell isn’t just about boxes….there’s more than one box, and there’s more than one puzzle that can send you into Leviathan’s Hell. We know that from the comics, and we know it from early drafts of the Hellraiser 4 script. We also know there are more cenobites than just Pinhead, and don’t you tell me that there are no cenobites in this film. Just look at Wier. in his transformed state he’s more a cenobite than anything you can imagine. Look. You can see occult glyphs and runes carved into his skin. I’ve seen at least one fan fic over at the Hellbound web go as far as to connect the two directly, showing the events immediately after the end of this film and I whole heartedly agree.

Take a look at his one with fresh eyes, and perhaps a Hellraiser frame of mind (I told you we’d be talking a LOT about Hellraiser this year). I love this film and hope you’ll begin to see what I do.

By the way, that fanfic I mentioned is posted after the trailer.

“A Much Worse Reality”

A Hellraiser/Event Horizon Short Story.

By Max Shrek.

Dedicated to Scarecrow. Thanks, bud.

The woman stood on the ledge and looked up. They should be here any minute. Below her was the great labyrinth. A giant maze, filled with dark and damp corridors, rooms inbetween each. In those rooms were unspeakable horrors. People’s most exciting dreams becoming their worst nightmares. Behind her, the Great God, Leviathan; his diamond shape twirling at the center of Hell, bright black light blasting out of four sides.

She felt her long black dress begin to flow, as if a wind was blowing through here. She smiled. In the sky, it appeared as if reality is self was bending backwards, seemingly sucking through nothing was going into it. No. Something was coming out. Within seconds, half of the ship “The Event Horizon” came though the portal. It’s massive form flew over the woman’s head, her hair blowing.

The ship landed soon, its engines shutting down and finally stopping. She walked up to the ship, amazed by its size. Leviathan was right. This was the perfect puzzle. She stood in front of the door and it opened for her. The ship was the Great God’s masterpiece and she was its liasion. The ship did whatever she commanded it to. And she had to see some results.

“Impressive,” she said, looking upward at what the ship had done. She was in the infirmy. Above a bed was a man, his stomach completely open, being held together by hooks and chains. Below him the remains of his organs. This is what Leviathan was waiting for. He had plenty of different puzzles and plenty of different contraptions that does this and much, much more, but never in the same device. The device already a means to break the surface of the real and go to both dimensions, all Leviathan had to do was make it ordered.

The woman sent the man’s soul back into the labyrinth and continued foreward. She had to get to the core.

She stood before the large circular door. A large, three sided curved crack appeared in it and three sides curved back into the walls. The door was open and she was in the heart of the Event Horizon, a large round room with something very big in the center.

It was different than she imagined. The way to bend realities. It was a giant, rotating, black ball, on it vertical and horizontal lines, and at ever intersection, a large light bulb. Not only was it rotating, but also three large metal rings around it, like a small planet. Below it, a small pool of water. In the water, there were small fires here and there but more importantly, two bodies, both alive.

Captain Miller woke up in the pool of water by the palm of a human female grabbing his chin. With her force, he groggily lifted his head and groaned. He looked at the woman, seeing her blurrily. “Hmph. Another soul,” she said, stone cold without emotion. The next thing Captain Miller felt was a cold long hook tear into his right cheek. He screamed as another tour into his shoulder, then his chest, then his arm, then his left eyelid. He cried for help as the hooks and chains dragged him across the floor and out of the ship and into the corridor’s of Leviathan.

She approached the other body. It was of a man, naked, his skin tinted gold. All over his body were cuts sliced into the ruins and symbols of Leviathan. “Could this be a…” She knew the ship was indeed powerful and possessed many strengths and devices, but Cenobite transformation equipment? Incredible!

Of course, this was not a full blown Cenobite. This being was only partly, a Pseudo-Cenobite. This had happened before, in 1992. The Pillar of Souls was opened and Xipe Totec escaped. He created many different Cenobites and unleashed them upon civilians, massacring them without Order or style. It was extremely chaotic, but eventually ordered was returned, all the Pseudos went to Hell and became full Cenobites, and Xipe Totec was reunited with Elliot Spencer, thus putting the Order back into the demon.

But that was the past and this was now. And now she had a new Pseudo-Cenobite in front of her. And as she squinted her eyes, she reconized him.

“Welcome to Hell, Dr. Weir,” Julia said as she smiled and helped the creature up. His eyes slowly started to open and he saw the form in front of him, the beautiful face, the cunning smile, and long red hair.

“Wh-who are you?”

“I’m Julia.”

The Weird Cenobite exited the ship, still being carried by Julia, who had one arm slung around him. Weir clenched tightly to Julia’s black dress and the flesh underneath.

He eventually stopped and stood straight up, still very tired though. “Th-this is where the Event Horizon went? The dimension of pure evil, of pure chaos?” Julia starting laughing. She shook her head while still chuckiling, “Ah, no, Doctor. This is Hell, yes, but it is not a place of chaos I assure you.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. He could still see her. He didn’t need his eyes to see the radiant beauty standing in front of him. Or the power of the God behind her and the dark light it shown upon him.

“But the things I saw–” “The things you saw were affected by human perception. What is seemed like Chaos to you is Order to us. We are staging a War on Flesh, on the very nature of your human boundaires. You said that the ship could take you beyond the limits of the universe, that is true, yes. But we here are to give you an experience beyond the limits.” “Limitations of what?” “Your senses… and imaganation.”

Weir was confused. The ship had shown him only glimpes into Hell, not explaining its true nature or reality. “I must congradulate you on behalf of Leviathan,” she said. Weir remembered the diamond from his visions. Within seconds, he understood Leviathan and his nature as if the Great God was spekaing to him. But then he stopped, and Julia continued, “Not sense Philip LeMerchand has someone found the perfect door to Hell. Your ship was brilliantlly designed, but an even greater artist, our God, modified it. Made it a puzzle. Quite impressive don’t you think?” “Yes…” he said, nodding.

A loud noise was heard behind him. He quickly turnt his head and saw a large human sized box open up. There was no door and it was hollow except for many sharp objects on either side. “What is this?” he asked Julia. “A transformation chamber,” Julia told him, “It’s for you.” “For me?” “Yes. You see the ship didn’t have its full equipment, therefore it wasn’t able to make you into a full Cenobite.” Cenobite. Weird reconized the word. “Now, you shall be modified as the ship was, and become one of Hell’s forces.” Weird smiled and stepped into the machine. He felt two tubes go into his neck. One taking blood out, one putting blood in. It was starting and Weir felt more pleasure than he had ever known…

As Julia watched the transformation, she wondered what Order Weir would join. Maybe he could be apart of Scarecrow’s. Or Face needed a new partner. He was one of Hell’s favorite sons and would be good with Weir. It was up to Leviathan and his wisdom and intellict was infinite so whatever he decided would be the right choice. Regardless, they would be put back on the ship and go back into space.

An investigation team would most likely be sent back to Neptune to check out the events that happened on the Event Horizon. The two survivors will be adamant against this but the goverment will send them anyway. And they’ll find Leviathan’s new favorite toy and an expanded Order and Hell will have a couple more souls.

The End.


In Defense of Vampires : Los Muertos

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untitledThere’s a sort of conventional wisdom that says sequels are bad, and musicians can’t act and vampires are romantic. It’s that very kind of stereotype that makes me do these kind of columns.

John Carpenter’s “Vampires” was a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by the Anne Rice kind of “tragic immortal” vampire.  His vampires weren’t quite the animals of “From Dusk Till Dawn” or “30 days of Night” but they were monsters. Devolved humans. Predatory and evil, not people anymore.

It was enough to make me really want to spend some more time in this world, great premises with the Vatican strike forces and the rules and basically this underground world they created. That’s exactly what you get here. It’s more of the same. Perhaps some diminishing returns -Jon Bon Jovi isn’t James Woods, but then again who is? Bon imagesCAKKJLSGJovi gets a lot of flack for this and I think a lot of people go into the movie intending to dislike him, and when he doesn’t do anything special they feel justified. To be clear, he’s adequate in this film. He’s perfectly fine. Actually that really defines the movie as a whole. It’s very average. Nothing special, just nice vampire and action. If you hated John Carpenter’s Vampires, I’m going to give you a pass on this one. It’s just more of the same. But if you like your vampires the way Carpenter envisioned them, then give this a try. It may not stand up to repeated viewings but is worth at least one more watch!


In Defense of Hellraiser Inferno

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untitledI’ve saved Inferno for last because it’s far more unusual for a Hellraiser film than it appears. It’s easier to defend from an objective point of view than it is as a Hellraiser fan actually.

In many ways this was breath of fresh air when I stumbled across it in 2000 or 2001. I had no idea it was even coming out when I saw it on the used video tape shelf at Blockbuster and I immediately bought it. Four had been a big let down for me (I even saw it in the theatre, and I had no inkling that the workprint existed yet) and this was actually arefreshing return to form.

I think this film is jarring to a lot of people because it’s SO different from the other Hellraiser movies. We’re back to a small personal story after the world and star spanning scope of Hellraiser Bloodlines, and man is this a head trip with a twist ending. Still, I dug the twist and the trippyness. I got imagesCAEUHIJJit. I will admit that I was disappointed by how little Pinhead was in it (then again that would prepare me for his limited appearances in all of the DTV movies) but on the other hand we also got some very cool new cenobites with no real eyes and Lament glyphs carved into their flesh, moreover, the main bad guy the Engineer had a VERY Hellraiser look to him

Another thing that made it feel a little Hellraiser was the inclusion of Craig Schiffer. He’s definitely Barker alumni having played the main character in Clive Barker’s Night Breed. He’s even more of an anti-hero in this and it suits him. I think I believe him in this role more than I ever did as Cabal. Perhaps it’s just his age. He’s grown into his look and he plays the imagesCA0FCIR4world weary cop type perfectly. Nicholas Tourtino is a brilliant piece of casting as his partner by the way, being as familiar with him as I already was from stuff like NYPD Blue.

There”s just enough gore hereto satisfy, probably a more satisfying type of gore in fact than what we’d seen in recent years. That was actually one of my main complaints with Bloodline, it seemed like the most inventive use of gore was during the dissection scene and even that was fairly tame. Then again, Bloodline was a fairly straightforward movie (muddled mess that it was, it didn’t aspire to anythingimagesCAAC8NLL more than by-the-numbers slasher fare. Inferno wants to get under your skin (no pun intended). It wants to unease you, to disturb you. They throw images at you that are meant to make you do a double take – “did I just see that” and it fits since at the end (Spoilers) we learn that most of the film in in Craig Schiffer’s head. He’s in his own personal hell. Those little cells we see in Helbound? He’s in one, and is experiencing this mentally. It makes sense, different tortures for different people. For Craig, the slicing and punishing of flesh isn’t torture enough, his bad choices have to be paraded in front of him. Regret is far more painful than razors through skin.

But….that’s also where the Hellraiser fan in me begins to have an issue.

imagesCA5TL30HYou see, the Hell of Leviathan isn’t the Judeo-Christian Hell. That’s made clear…(at least back in the 80’s and 90’s it was, Clive seems to have changed his position on that in the last ten years or so) it’s a different dimension filled with extradimensional beings who crave order. We call it Hell because that’s the name we use for the worst thing we can  think of and they have accepted the name, but it’s not the Hell the Bible speaks of. They don’t care if you’re good or evil, they just care about desire…and flesh. imagesCASZE4DMInferno seems a little too judgemental…not that I have an issue with that in of itself, it’s just a little out of place in Hellraiser. Again, my best rationalize it is that this was determined to be the best way to torment Craig Schiffer’s character and we simply haven’t seen it before. It’s a good explanation and I’m fine with it, but I shouldn’t have to figure out how it fits in the mythology myself.

Still, that’s a small complaint, and one aimed more at appeasing Hellraiser fans who are driven nuts by this element. All in all, this is a really good supernatural detective story. It feels like something you wouldn’t be surprised to se Harry D’Amore in. If imagesCAP8XPGKyou go in not expecting to see too much Pinhead (despite his rather prominent appearance on the cover) and knowing it’s going to be a head trip, I think you will quite enjoy this one. This is back when Hellraiser still had a budget and a great cast. Definitely give this one a try on demand or borrow it from a friend.


In Defense of Dracula 2000

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drac1I’m well aware of the hate for this movie. I  tend to think that this comes down to expectations perhaps. there’s always a lot of “How dare they” and “Who do they think they are claiming this to be a sequal to Dracula?” (I get that. I have the same reaction to Dacre Stoker’s terrible book….). Hammer did a ton of Dracula sequals. Many of which are far weaker than this one.

Perhaps it’s what pop culture has done to the vampire. This Dracula is evil. Plain and simple. No rational, the wounded lover, he brooding immortal, no just evil, driven by want and spreading his disease of vampirism everywhere he goes. This is not Anne Rice or Stephanie Myer’s (yes, I equate them both the same for their watering down of the mythology and over romanticizing. Stop changing the beast. If you don’t want to write about vampires then write about something else, don’t change what already exists!) kind of swooning dark lover. This is a monster. We’re not used to this, but I think we need to get back to it (a reason 30 days of night was so popular.).

It also draws criticism because it looks like it a cool, young, hip cast like any other disposable horror movie – remember what I was saying about Hellraiser:Hellworld.

drac2This isn’t exactly the case. We get the group at the beginning as fodder, but we don’t really follow t hem. We start off with a high tech band of thieves who break into an insanely secure vault and make off with the only thing they find…a coffin they mistake to be a safe. The coffin contains Dracula, held weakened and captive by an immortal VanHelsing who keeps himself alive using Dracula’s blood, filtered through leaches. He intends to stay alive until he can find a way to destroy Dracula once and for all.. Other vampires can be killed but Dracula holds a secret….

This is great stuff. There’s high tech thieves (ala Oceans 11, but younger), Biblical mystisicm, and great vampire action. This is an all star cast as well. Seriously, look at this list : Danny Masterson (That 70’s Show and Men at Work), Omar Epps imagesCA6NBGN1(House M.D.), Jeri Ryan (Star Trek : Voyager, Boston Public), Jonny Lee Miller (Hackers, Elementary) – even Christopher Plummer!

Finally, the movie has a bit of a comic book feel to it. That may turn some people off, though I don’t understand why. My favorite Vampire film ever is the Lost Boys. Slick and modern (for the time) with that same Graphic Novel feel to it. This works for me. Just enough action, just enough blood, Dracula’s appeal to the opposite sex is shown but not over stated, it’s the perfect vampire movie to me.

Now that you know what you’re getting into, go check this out again – but don’t confuse this with the terrible Dracula 3000 and skip the sequels. Just enjoy this one for what it is, a fun vampire movie with some great familiar faces.


In Defense of Hellraiser Revelations

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imagesCA7N6QEIIf Rick Bota and Peter Atkins wer the custodians of Hellraiser in each of their eras, I wonder if that makes Gary Tunicliffe the custodian today.

Really, he’s been around since the early days.  doing makeup as far back as 3. He also worked second unit under Rick Bota who pretty much had complete faith in him – any shot of a hand or a back…anything without the actors face in Deader or Hellworld was Gary. He loves the series and you’ll never find a bigger cheerleader for it.

Revelations was made basically to keep the rights to Hellraiser in house. It is the most slapped together of any of the films. Remember that half a million that they had to spend in Romania  (to stretch the dollar even further) for Deader and Hellworld? Revelations got $350,000 AND had to shoot in L.A. They also had to be done in two weeks. As you can see, no one at dimension was taking this film seriously.

No one but Gary. He wrote the script, created some untitledspectacular makeup effects (better actually than we’ve seen in over a decade) and worked countless unpaid hours creating new cenobites and new costumes (we haven’t seen new costumes in ten years) and brilliant new designs so this film would have a chance at being more than just a throwaway.  Seriously, look at those. This could be straight out of any of the “respectable” Hellraiser films. All of this and the truth is, they weren’t even sure it would ever be released. It just had to be made to keep the rights.

Besides all of this (as if this weren’t all enough), it immediately had two strikes against it.

First, Dough Bradley wasn’t invited back to be Pinhead. This is a shame, butimages understandable. Doug is getting older and that collar of his gets bigger with every sequel. But also, there’s no money. He’s not going to play the character just for the love of the game, and dimension wasn’t going to shell out his fee this time. Shortsighted on their part, but then again, on the corporate level, this entire project was.

Second, Clive Barker came out and trashed the movie before it ever hit the shelves. Now THIS pisses me off. In my previous articles, you’ll notice that Barker’s name NEVER comes up as a custodian of Hellraiser. I acknowledge that he created something remarkable in the Hellbound heart, and something just as remarkable in the first Hellraiser movie., But that’s where his involvement stops. He created the premise, but really, Peter Atkins created the mythology when he wrote the second third and fourth films. Most of what we truly love about Hellraiser comes from Atkins, not Barker and I consider him the true father of Hellraiser.  I don’t know images2why Barker was so vocal abut this film. His entire involvement in all of  the sequels has been to sit at an advance screening, turn in notes (which may or may not be considered) and cash a check. I wonder if he wasn’t paid off this time.

I truly believe all of this contributes to this film being judged to harshly, certainly by the wrong measure. The film tries hard. It’s not a found footage file as is occasionally reported, though there are some found footage elements. Gary tries to recreate as many elements from the original as he can. One family destroyed by what’s in the box. We get the skinned body coming out of the mattress, we get the darkened torture room again image1s(something they tried to do in Hellseeker by the way, and failed – Bota remarks about how the room disappointed him. This one is a hundred times better), we get candles surrounding the supplicant trying to open the box. We have complicated adulterous relationships and forbidden sex. We have a puzzle guardian. All of the elements are there. The big problem is I’m sure this is a first draft, with no time or money for revisions. Two weeks means no time for rehearsals, not time even while you’re acting to find the characters…and it’s a shame because I can see what this could imag2eshave been. What it should have been if they’d been given even the meager resources they had on Deader and Hellworld. Over on the Hellbound web, one person remarked “If this were a fan film, I’d be raving about it.” This is a good point, because I know fan films with bigger budgets or at least, more resources and most have far more time.

It’s a shame my biggest defenses are “They ment well” and “there’s worse out there” but that’s really at the heart of it. This is better than any film the Asylum puts out any day of  the week. It’s better than the majority of stuff on Sci-Fi, and it has the distinctive flavor of Hellraiser to it.


Ghost Rider : Spirit of Vengance

defense11040828_970894472954976_8504486711095508076_nHalf Price books had a sale last week, and I found a bunch of Blu Rays for $1.00! I picked up Spirit of Vengeance because it’s one I’ve been meaning to see but putting off. Truth is  I wasn’t a big fan of the first one and I haven’t heard a SINGLE good thing about this one. Still, I was ready to give it a try so Saturday while the girls were at dance I popped it in the PS3 and settled in with a pizza.

It starts off with a surprisingly good action scene featuring the rider himself. Easily as good as anything from the first film and it was good to see the character again. I could see some differences, no spikes (extra animations and cost I’m sure), and a skull that was darker – the entire suit seemed more consumed by Ghost Rider’s  hellfire than previously. That’s cool, costumes change with every movie.

It was about half an hour in when I started yelling at the screen. “I thought this was supposed to be a BAD movie!”. It would be my mantra fro the next hour.

Seriously, I’ve heard nothing good bout this, yet I found myself liking this far better than the first one. Nicholas Cage isn’t doing nearly as much of his manic Nicholas Cage thing….it’s more tormented and driven. Danny Ketch shows up and I went nuts! Edris Elba was marvelous as usual and I thought the cuts to the comic style images for backstory exposition to be really effective – it was a look that just appeals to me. Despite the soft-reboot feel (not even that really, or they would have replaced Cage) I really loved the direction they took and the different tone and style really worked for me.

A few things I’ve been told.

“Ghost Rider barely appears in  the film.”

To be  fair, he appears just as much as he did in the first movie – and we see more of him in this film that we do of Iron Man(in armor) in any of the Iron Man films. I’d like to see more, true, but really, I was led to believe he’s in this way less than the first and that’s just not true.

“It should have been rated R!”

11329851_970894469621643_3763512787988524655_nThat was never going to happen. Seriously, this isn’t the Punisher and they always said this would be PG-13 and if you were expecting anything else you deceived yourself. Despite the dark nature of the character, the comics I’ve read have never been particular gory or full of language. There’s violence, but it’s comic book violence and the film still manages to be just a violent than most of the comics I’ve seen. Even more violent than many  of them. The action was perfectly satisfying to meant this film delivered exactly what it promised.

“I was filmed on location because  they had no money!”

Yes, it was. The  implication is that this  makes it look cheap I guess. Well it looks  anything but cheap to me. They build a logical reason for Johnny Blaze to be  on the run and they used the foreign locals to great effect. I can’t argue with this choice one bit.

“Christopher Lambert isn’t in it enough.”

Lambert is in semi-retirement. That he’s in it at all is a shock, and a pleasant one  at that. I love his character – I love the look, the attitude, everything. Why are we complaining that he’s not in it enough when we should be cheering that he appears at all?

I love this script, I love this style and I kind of wish there was more of this – I still consider Drive Angry to be the spiritual third part to this unfinished trilogy, indeed it would really finish the arc, but sadly that’s not to be. Now that it’s back in Marvel’s hands, if we ever see more Ghost Rider, it’ll be a significantly different version, and that’s not a bad thing, but I’m still happy that I finally got to see this one and I suspect I’ll be spending a lot more time defending this in the future.


In Defense of Generation X

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Poor Generation X. This title was doomed from the word go. It’s a shame too, because Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo created a great title, a true successor to the New Mutants, a modern version of that premise with interesting interpersonal relationships and fun characters propelled into the spotlight in the wake of the crossover event “the Phalanx covenant” in all the X-Books.  They got four issues in….

Then the Age of Apocalypse happened.

The series was put on hiatus for half a year while that event played itself out and by the time the series came back it had to rebuild practically from scratch, and discovered a good chunk of their audience had drifted away.

I always kind of looked at it as a four issue mini series, but in recent years I’ve been picking up later issues where I can. You can see a lot of lost momentum and like I said, it’s a shame.

Pick up the first four issues if you see them, or grab the trade paperback Generation X Classic: Vol. #1 and see if you don’t feel that same sense of wonder and potential I did when I was following this back in ’94

Back-X


In Defense of Rick Bota

defenserickWe’re continuing with the Hellraiser theme this week, but I’m lumping a bunch of films into one. You see, this is a defense of Rick Bota.

In the past I’ve called Bota the custodian of Hellraiser for the early 2000’s. He’s listed as the director on Deader, Hellseeker and Hellworld, though that doesn’t really even begin to encapsulate what he does.

These films are always maligned, in large part because “they aren’t as good as the first four” or three. After all they were Direct To Video and that automatically means crap. Of course the same criticism was leveled at both Hellraiser Three and Four – not as good as the first two.

Can I just take this argument off the table? Seriously, if you expect a sequel (especially one of the later ones) to be nearly as good as the source material, you’re in trouble. Hellraiser (and Hellbound for that matter, which I actually like hw1better) is nothing short of a masterpiece. They also had a budget. The  DTV sequels were made for pennies. Half a million in 2005 as opposed to one million in 1987. Huge difference. We still get two or three cenobites besides Pinhead in every one of these movies. I don’t know how they manage it. With that kind of difference you can forgive that the cenobites pants are now just leather biker pants and that the armor comes from the same mold.

It’s interesting especially in the case of Hellworld and Deader, that the films tone is criticized. Three and four are huge sprawling films where Pinhead has almost hw2become a slasher. With the first of the DTV movies, Inferno, the series went back to smaller more personal stories. The head trip aspect was amped up. It was a different direction in service of the budget, but not an entirely new one. We still have disjointed imagery and some trippy scenes in both one and two – Kirsty standing over a bloody bed surrounded by feathers, The little girls abduction in Hellbound and the funhouse scene…the emphasis is new, but it’s not out of place. In fact, it’s truer to the theme and tone of Hellraiser than three or four were. Hellseeker actually features the return of Kirsty, and we have Bota to thank for that. The script wasn’t written with that character in mind…although she had the same name. Bota brought back Ashely Lawrence to help tie this back into the series as a whole (something by the way, that the previous film Inferno, doesn’t even attempt to do).

I’m a particular fan of Deader. We once again have mysterious places much like the opening scenes of Hellraiser – I imagine this Romania is just the sort of place one would find the box, and perhaps one of the places Frank would have looked. Bota goes out of his way to link the villain Winter, with LeMerchant.

Hellworld draws the biggest criticisms, and rightly so. It’s  the weakest of the three Bota films. While Deader and Hellseeker were bother created from completed scripts (stand alone scripts from the slush pile at Dimension by the way, that were imagesCANRSRQVre-written into Hellraiser movies) Hellworld was basically a nebulous idea that was floating around when the crew headed into Romania to shoot Deader. Pages were still being written while shooting was going on…something that smells very much like a studio decision to me. The crew was handed a set and told to make a Hellraiser movie out of it. What’s fascinating is that this is where Bota really shows his love for the material. For the first time since the second movie Hellbound, we have references to Leviathan. The movie is drenched in the mythology, references to the cenobites and Lemerchant. They even brought Lance Henrickson in to chew scenery and be generally malevelont.  Unfortunately we’re also stuck with a group of lackluster teens (including future Superman Henry imagesCA8RI4X1Cavill) straight out of any 90’s horror movie. It’s a shame because there is some potential here but obviously not enough time or budget to realize it. In one scene, a victim is hooked and lifted in the air and bled out. Actually only lifted up a couple of feet, where as Bota pictured him a couple yards in the air….but no time or budget.

There’s also complaints about how Pinhead is treated in this movie, but of course (spoiler) it’s not actually pinhead so acting out of character is exactly what he should be doing. For all of it’s wallowing in the mythology, it fails to achieve the edginess of the other films, and that’s a shame because the passion behind it is obvious. Still, on it’s own, on a Saturday night with friends before heading out to the club or at a hw3party, this is a fun film. As an entry into the series, I still enjoy it the same as I enjoy the lesser episodes of Star Trek or Doctor Who.

I have heard more than once that Rick Bota tried to destroy Hellraiser. That he is to blame for substandard Hellraiser. The truth is, Dimension was going to make these films and if it hadn’t been Bota it would have been someone else…possibly someone who didn’t care about the series legacy. Or it could have just as easily been, no more films at all. I was super excited fore each and every one of these. I’m glad we have them and I’m glad someone took the time to try and link every one of these into the series proper instead of just slapping together another slasher with pinhead makeup. Nothing will ever be as good as the original, but I’ll watch these with the same vigor as I read the comics!


In Defense of X- Force

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imagesCA9PYZBQX-Force doesn’t always get the respect it deserves for two reasons.

One : Rob Liefield. The man is hated beyond reason. I understand he rubs some folks the wrong way and that he’s not the greatest artist ever, but his astetic practaclly defined the 90’s and that can’t be denied. If it’s not your preferred look (and it’s not mine) then that’s fine but the hatred for Liefield seems to border on the irrational at times.

Two : It’s a mutation (see what I did there?) of the New Mutants, and was that really necessary? It actually goes back to Liefield and who did he think he was trying to relaunch the books so it was just his???

imagesCA0NU0NVCan I tell you why I have a soft spot for X-Force? It’s the book  that got me into X-Men.

I’ve always been team DC, but in the 90’s I wasn’t reading ANY X titles. I hated the 80’s costumes…to pointy. Seriously. On day I was browsing and I came across X-Force #19, and I was hooked. It drew me into the greater world of the X-Men in the 90’s and this is a good thing.

I’d point out, this wasn’t Liefield’s X-Force. Sure it was his lineup, but he’d since left for Image. This was Fabian Nicieza’s run. IN fact, for a while there he seemed to have a finger in everything X related, and this is the incarnation of X-Force I love.

Attempts to redo them or reteam them just never worked for me, though I kind of like the covert ops team with Wolverine…mostly because it was something totally new. Still, I love going back to those Nicieza days and reading that era of X-Force. Look! War machine’s in this issue!

20-03


In Defense of Hellraiser Bloodline

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untitledIt’s a guilty pleasure, one of the weakest of any of the theatrical Hellraiser films, but I feel I have to step up and defend this one. In fact, Hellraiser in general will be getting a lot of my attention in this column over the next year.

First and foremost, please don’t tell me that this one sucks because it’s the one in space. I’ll likely slap you in the face. Yes, a part of it does take place in space, but it’s less than a third of the film and was planned as even less.

Ah plans.

This is possibly the single most meddled with of all the Hellraiser films. I’ve read no less than four scripts for it and own not only the theatrical, but also an strange workprint that surfaced over at The Hellbound Web. You can see a great deal more emphasis placed on modern day and the past sequences, making it a great deal better in fact. There’s more terror, more threat. Less….dog.

imagesCAFH5H33Of course by this time, Dimension wanted more slasher material, less of the haunting villain. In the late 80’s and 90’s Peter Atkins was really the custodian of Hellraiser. He was the scriptwriter and one of the guiding forces of the story. You can see where the studio tinkered to get more kills, or came up with bizarre ideas like making the chatterer in this film a chatterbeast…. The litany of how much Dimeinsion interfered with this is legend but let’s hit a few key points

Adding the space wraparound to get to Pinhead sooner,  despite every version of the script up until then having him appear around the 40-minute mark.

imagesCAZ9Z6EQMore kills, less plot. Huge chunks of the script were excised. Scenes that were filmed were left of the cutting room floor – in general you edit seconds, minuets out, not scenes…certainly not ones that explain dialogue and plot points.

We know Kevin Yagher quit. I’ve read in more than one place that his replacement did as well, and in other places I’ve heard of as many as four different directors for this film.

For all of this, there are great moments. LeMerchant is portrayed a little more heroically than he was in the comics, but ochildne could chalk that up to it being told from a family history point of view which makes him more heroic, less of a sadistic serial killer. We really do get an interesting history of the box and the scene of  the Merchant building (which pretty much picks up straight off from the end of Hellraiser three) is perfect. It’s a lot of what I wanted from the end of that film. There’s a scene with Pinhead and John Merchant’s child that still disturbs me. It’s not like a jump scare, it’s not terror…it’s horror. He has the kid and you just don’t know what he’s going to do with him. He’s invaded your very ordinary domestic world and you’re just human. Powerless. The design of the cenobite Angelique is nothing short of stunning. Extremely Hellraiser.

I’ve actually got no complaints about the “in space”. The ship is gloomy, dirty, camped. There’s dust and chains and cold metal all around.  They play it straight, and really, it heightens the feeling of isolation. It’s like a haunted house with monsters romancing the halls…only there’s no hope of escape. shipYou either defeat the monsters or they YOU WILL DIE. It’s pretty horrifying in of itself. of course the idea of Cenobites roaming the station looking for people to kill is not exactly Hellraiser, instead it’s what the studio thought would be an easier sell.

If you haven’t seen it in a while, this movie is worth a second look. This is a film that improves on subsequent watching, perhaps because you know what to expect. I’ve always viewed Hellraiser as episodic and this movie is really three different episodes of that series, adding just a slight bit more to the mythos. If you can find the original workprint, it’s worth watching (avoid the “reconstruction” one floating around Youtube. It’s got some of the missing scenes, but then adds some weird CG ones of it’s own as well).


In Defense of Joel Schumacher

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Schumacher’s name is synonymous with failure. After all, he pretty much destroyed the Batman movie franchise and it took visionary director Christopher Nolan to redeem and reinvent it.

And I don’t believe a word of the above statement.

Truthfully, I think the film Batman and Robin poison everything around them and that’s not fair. Batman Forever was actually a decent film. You have to remember, at the time, the only cinematic version of Batman we had was Burtons, and he had no interest in the source material. Catwoman was interesting, but there’s noting about her that ever remotely resembles Selina Kyle…and the creepy Penguin? I don’t even know what that was.

What Batman Forever gave us were villains much close to their comic book counterparts, and a Bruce Wayne that I actually could believe was the Bruce from the comic series rather than the pointy eye browed, curly haired weirdo that slept hanging upside down (Oh! I get it! LIKE A BAT! um, yeah.)

Sure there was a little more humor…Jim Carey (Who I don’t like that much at the best of times) was being Jim Carey. There was some speculation that Robin Williams should have played the Riddler (and the Joker before that). Can you imagine how hammy THAT would have been? The humor isn’t down to the camp levels of the TV show though. There’s plenty of action, with Schumacher’s flair for zooming shots actually giving it a more comic book feel, and that’s what I loved about it back in 1994. It felt much more like the comics to me and that was a welcome change. I even laughed at the single reference to the old TV show (which I still hate to this day) about Holey rusted metal….

I think however, that some studio exec with warm and fuzzy feelings for that show head that line and a lightbulb went off over his head…

You see, I don’t place most of the blame on Batman and Robin on Schumacher. This was another film (much like Star Trek Five again) rife with studio interference. Not even that. The word “interference” suggests some level creative vision on the directors part. Schumacher walked into a meting, before the script was even written and was handed toys. Cars, costumes and props and was told that these all had to be worked into the film somehow. The original script didn’t even have Bane in it. Ever wonder why the toy looks SO different from the on screen character? It’s because the toy was designed before the role was cast.

Schumacher could have said no. I’ll grant that. He could have breached contract. In retrospect it might have even been good for his career. But back in 1993, I can easily see how quitting this film (Batman films were a license to print money after all) might have looked like career suicide.

This isn’t cockeyed optimism that fuels my devotion to Schumacher. rather it’s he track record. On one hand we have Batman and Robin – a heavily studio controlled film that was an utter disaster on every level. On the other hand we have my favorite vampire film EVER, the Lost Boys. And we have Saint Elmo’s Fire before that. We have Phone Booth and 8MM (both done after B&R, just incase you were about to make the argument that he had talent but then lost it). Phantom of the Opera is another fairly closely controlled property that he was able to make good with.

It drives me mad when I hear him trashed on the basis of (mostly) one film that he had little or not control of, and I’ll stand by my defense of him any day you like.

 

 

 


In Defense of Alien Resurrection

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1Wow. There sure are a lot of Sci-Fi films showing up here. I think I expected to be writing about more horror and superhero than sci-fi. interesting.

I really like Alien 4. There will never be another film as good as Alien or Aliens, but as far as sequals go, this is a good one. Perhaps part of the reason I like it so much is because it wipes the slate clean, it cleanses the pallet from the prior film. You see, I hate Alien 3.

I once heard someone say that if you really like a character in a horror movie – especially one who survives, then you shouldn’t ever watch the sequal, because something horrible will happen to them.  Alien 3 gives us this in spades, killing off EVERYBODY. It renders that rousing escape in Aliens practically pointless. Newt and Hicks don’t even get an on screen death. It’s horrible and it taints the entire movie for me. I hated the dog alien too. The rod puppet just didn’t work nearly as well for me as the puppets and suits Cameron used. I realize this is David Fincher’s directorial debut and there are a few good beats, but it’s riddled with stupid things like killing off beloved characters and getting Ripley laid because as the producers put it “It was about time she had a man.” 6

What really burns is that there were far better sequals avalible. Check out the novels (or graphic novel adaptions) of Earth Hive, Nightmare Asylum and earth War (or Female War). This is a far more satisfying follow up to Aliens and actually can fit in nicely between Aliens and Resurrection.

That’s one of the things I really liked about Resurrection. It wipes the slate clean. It’s a fresh start, without really trying to connect itself as firmly to the previous sequals as 3 did.

One of the big complaints I hear about this film is what they did to Ripley. She doesn’t act like Ripley, she doesn’t feel like Ripley.

2That’s the entire point. She isn’t.

This is a clone grown from Ellen Ripley’s DNA, with perhaps a race memory. A few actual seeming memories surface from time to time as well, the cloning process is strange and imperfect, but make no mistake; this is NOT supposed to be Ripley. The characters call her that, and she has Ripley’s face (to appease a studio that wasn’t certain you could make an Alien movie without Sigorney Weaver) but she has a radically different set of memories of growing up. She’s really not even quite a mature adult.  In fact….she’s not actually human. That Alien DNA infects her.

Sigorney Weaver did some amazing things as this clone character. She got it. She plays it with hesitation, confusion and an animal bubbling just under the surface. Her character is conflicted, confused and actually more aggressive than Ripley ever was. It’s best represented in the final line of the film where they descend to Earth and she says “I’m a stranger here myself.”

3Trust me, you’ll like this character a whole lot more if your remember this. She’s not Ripley. In fact, this was one of the things I was happiest about. I was tired of Ripley. I can deal with her running into these things once….hunting them down the second time, but Aliens isn’t ABOUT Ripley and I was ready to move on. I’m glad this did. In fact it brought a great new cast of characters for us to move on with.

This is another sore point with some people though. In a lot of ways, you can see the template for Firefly here. Joss Whedon has said as much, and he has complained that the direction was completely opposite to the tone of his script. There are a lot of people who think Whedon can do no wrong. They hate this 5move because he says to hate it.

I’m not one of those people. I Like his work, but find him completely capable of missteps. Moreover, I’m a fan of Alien. I want this to be an Alien film, not a Whedon film.  It doesn’t need his quirky sense of humor. It doesn’t really need his distinct touches, this has always been an industrial, slightly dystopian future. It’s scary. Not cute scary, but rather dirty scary. I like the story he came up with. I prefer Renaut’s directorial vision. If a Whedon movie is all you are after, then I understand your dismay at what has been described as a kind of bastardization of tone from Whedon’s vision. Then again, movies are always more about the directors vision as opposed to TV which is all about the writer’s ideas (remember that difference we talked about a couple of months ago in Star Trek 5!). To everyone else, I simply suggest going into this as an expanded universe Aliens film. 4

It really does have that almost comic book expanded universe feel to it. Winona Ryder’s character in particular feels that way to me. It’s a well done character wit ha back story I really enjoy. It fits well in the Aliens world ….and I’m not usually one of her fans. In a lot of ways, she tries to take the place of Ellen Ripley, though she comes off as a little too young (I know she’s not, but she sure feels that way) and impetuous. Ron Pearlman (who in fact, really CAN’T do wrong) is his usually excellent self and I love seeing Michael Wincott and Brad Dorff chew the scenery.

It holds up a little better these days due to the disdain the AVP films get. Check it out again with some fresh eyes, and while you’re at it, try and track down those novels to see how different the Aliens universe can be without Alien 3 and Ellen Ripley.


In Defense of X-Men Origins : Wolverine

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1This is actually a hard Colum to write. The rules are it has to be about a property (mostly movies, but comics and music are fair game too) that everyone in general hates and that conventional wisdom tells us is bad, but that I like. And I mean LIKE. Not just a “meh…that’s not really THAT bad a movie….”

Here’s how I can  tell that Wolverine isn’t a bad movie. I like it – and I don’t like ANY of the X-Men movies. The second one is  the only one I might ever bother to rewatch besides this one (and the way Wolverine cuts through those soldiers in the mansion really bothers me). I actually change the channel if any of these movies come on broadcast TV.

I read the comics, but let’s face it, the cinematic X universe bears little more than a passing resemblance to the comics. That’s actually a good thing too, because I can’t stand Wolverine in the comics. Hugh Jackman however, actually makes me care about the character. he makes me like him. The first three X-Movies are really just all about Wolvie, so why not finally admit it and put his name on the shingle?

The action is good here. It’s a lot of CG, 3but we’ve come to expect that from X-Movies. Wolverine broods a bit, but I think it actually fits the character. I’m hearing a lot of complaing on that same subject for the Days of Future Past film as well, but if you genuinely know the character, you’ll realize he’s more than a hack ’em up brute. It’s a role Jackman plays extraordinarily well.

The lack of continuity with Sabertooth has bugged some people. I get that. I really wish it were Tyler Man again, or that this guy had played him in the first film. It would have helped my suspension of disbelief. However, Sabertooth isn’t just a brute either. In the mid 90’s there was some real development of the character, imprisoned in the mansion and while they were attempting to rehabilitate him, he was 2playing mind games with the crew. There’s aspecial hatred between him and Gambit. It’s a shame that actually never played itself out on screen here. It’s a missed opprutunity, but then again, perhaps one that would have made the plot look too crowded to casual fans.

Gambit by the way, it perfectly realized here. I’m a fan of the character and loved the portrayal in this film. My only complaint is that he’s underused. That’s been the excuse for three previous films as to why they never brought him in by the way – they felt they wouldn’t have a big enough role for him. After waiting so long though, it was good to finally see Remy LeBeau realized on screen.

6Which brings me to the big sticking point for a lot of people.

Deadpool.

For all you haters out there….I’ll give you this one. What they did with deadpol was a real waste. It smacks of studio interference by a group of people who just don’t understand the character. A shame too, because before his transformation into the bizarre weapon X without a mouth. Ryan Reynolds actually does a nice job as Wade Wilson. If anything, it’s a bit underplayed.

Here’s why it didn’t ruin the movie for me. I barely knew ANYTHING abut Deadpool when this came out. He’d shown up in X-Force as a fairly generic Vanilla character and I was completely unfamiliar with the more loony 4characterization he’d grown into (and thanks to Jesse Vining who re-introduced me to the character when I was getting back into Heroclix). I imagine a great deal of the general public was the same way….it was just another bad guy to them. Still, to a fan, I can see how this could poison the film for you. I have similar feelings about Alien 3 (but more on that next month). The fact that we still haven’t gotten a proper Deadpool feature (especially with that script that’s been floating around) makes it even more of a slap in the face.  In this case, I’m genuinely asking you to set aside that and pretend he’s just a random bad guy. This really is a fun film, and there are too few X-films with this kind of rewatchability to just throw this one aside.


In Defense of Star Trek Five

defense

st5There’s no doubt that this is one of the weakest films in the franchise. In fact, there’s really not a lot of defense for it, but then again, the movie isn’t exactly the one who needs defending. What this really is, it’s a defense of William Shatner.

I’m not a fan actually, but I think he gets unfairly savaged when it comes to Star Trek five. It ended any feature directorial career he might have had and at the end of the day, there’s so much of what went wrong in this film that just wasn’t his fault.

Let’s start with the one real thing that WAS his fault, because it affects a lot of the rest of the film, but didn’t necessarily have to. Shatner’s greatest sin was begin an inexperienced director. Sure he’d done some TV work, but that’s just not the same thing. Having directed a couple of features myself as well as episodes of my own series, I can tell you that logistically those two tasks are very different. the vision has to be different. There’s a ton more “moving pieces” you have to coordinate. But most of all…you have a very different relationship with the studio. And that’s where everything began to go wrong.

st51Shatner invoked the favored nation clause in his contract (basically an agreement that anything they give Nimoy, they have to give Shatner as well.) generally used in salary negotiations, but more than one source has mentioned that this was Shatner’s way of leveraging his directorial debut on to Paramount. The studio wasn’t thrilled about this, but did still have dollar signs in their eyes after  Star Trek 4, possibly the most successful of all the Trek films (ironically, my least favorite). They backed Shatner into a corner and got a fourteen to sixteen month scheduled. They’d tried to do this with Nimoy, who had flatly refused, stating he needed at least two years to do things properly, and more likely three (I actually remember him mentioning this in an interview after Star Trek 3). Shatner’s inexperience allowed him to be bullied into an impossibly tight schedule. Still, that wasn’t necessarily the end of the world as long as you have a good crew working with you – particularly in per-production.

Well, that presents a little problem we like to call “The Writer’s Strike”. Hitting ST5 atst59 the worst possible time, we ended up with a less than polished script. In fact, we have a flawed premise from the word go. It’s one thing for the Enterprise to search for and encounter a small-gee god. It’s another for them to try and find  God, Elohim, Yahweh, Jehovah. The problem is, anyone with the clout to be able to explain this to Shatner and company was out in front of the Paramount building holding a picket sign.

You don’t just need good people in pre-production though, you also need good people in production. Star Trek in particular NEEDS good special effects. This was 1989 – the year we learned the true meaning of  the word “Blockbuster”. Sure we’d had them before, but this is one of the first summers where we had constant back to back blockbusters packing out the box office. Indiana Jones and The Final st57Crusade, Batman, Ghostbusters 2 and that’s just for starters. What this translated into was a shortage of effects houses, and you could just forget booking  Lucasfilm for another year at least (There’s that rushed production schedule again!).

ST5 went with a smaller house that was known for it’s smoky, wispy effects. It’s a decision that kind of makes sense as they were thinking about what to do with the Great Barrier section of the film. The problem was that this effects house had NEVER worked with models like this before. They had to learn the process from st58the ground up and the end results were….less than spectacular. The green screen is obvious, the tone and lighting is frequently wrong and the ship movements are jerky, unnatural. It brings the whole film down, and strips away a great deal of the suspension of disbelief.

Then there’s the villain chase at the end where Kirk is pursued by a giant floating head.

Well, that wasn’t actually the intention.You can find this in both the novel and comic adaptation. The original idea was to have the rocks burst from the ground and assemble themselves int man-like forms that breathed fire and chase Captain Kirk through the desert and up the cliff. Almost sounds similar to what we saw in Galaxy Quest. Of course today, thisgq would be all done in CGI, just like it was in Galaxy Quest, but in 1989, it would either have to be suits or puppets. IMDB reports the budget for ST5 at 27,800,000, higher than four. So I don’t understand what happened when they bargained Shatner down. He wanted an army. The studio said too much. We don’t have the budget. Shatner was willing to play ball. Five. He said. They agreed. Month’s later, word came down that five was being reduced to three. On the day of shooting, only one rockman costume appeared on set….and it looked awful. It looked like a rubber suit, not even up to the standard of the monsters that we saw on the TV show in 1966. The floating head was a post production fix…and one Shatner should st54actually get some credit for. It was a good bit of quick thinking that ended up being surprisingly effective.

Post production was rushed due to the firm start date in summer 1989 and there was no time for test screenings or tweakings. The film was going out as it was, for better or worse. So much of the story of Star Trek 5 is a tragedy of studio interference. A more seasoned director might have been able to turn out a superior film under these conditions. A more experienced director might have been able to stand up to the execs and fight for what was best for the film, perhaps snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Shatner just didn’t have that kind of juice and even worse, he didn’t have the kindst56 of support a first time director really needs to thrive.

A lot of times I’ll use this space to recommend you go revisit a movie and try to see it through different eyes.  This time around I have a different suggestion. Head to the library or the used bookstore or even Amazon and get yourself a copy of the novelization. Back in the days before DVD, there was no such thing as “Special features”. You know how we got to see deleted scenes? We read the novel. You want to see how truly scary Kahn is ? How brutal and violent? Check out the novelization for Star Trek 2 – you’ll see Kahn murdering the space station crew in scenes that were only hinted at in the film. The same is true of this film. The novelization helps show how good a film this really could have been if it had a bit more time, a bit more polish and better visuals. Shatner’s flair and touches are still there, but a lot of the gaps are filled. It’s not a short book. It’s as long as any of the Star Trek novels, actually longer than most.  Pick up the book and see if that changes your opinion about Star Trek 5.

 

 


In Defense of Hudson Hawk

defenseuntitledI’m going to give you  two words as too why you should like Hudson Hawk. Two words, and they aren’t even “Bruce Willis”! No, those two words are “Oceans Eleven”.

Seriously. In so many ways, this is cut from the same blueprint…and it’s possibly even more expansive. This is a funny heist movie featureing a couple of buddies, starring one of the biggest stars in the world at the time.

Of course, it was never marketed that way. No, because Bruce Willis was an action hero, this was always marketed as an action movie. Can you imagine if Oceans Eleven was markted as an action flick? What kind of criminal mismanagement would  that be?

Seriously, though, go into it with that mindset. It’s a different kind of humor than ocean’s eleven- where that is more buddy related fast talking kind of humor, Hudson Haw is more like Cohen Brothers weird off the wall humor. Still, WIllis pulls it off admirably and Danny Aiello is perfect in the film.  There are strange characters permeating this film, slick the candy-bar spies, and the psycho gangster millionaire…and Sandra Burnhart……imagesCAOSBM0Z

The heist has a treasure hunt feel to it, every bit as good as National Treasure, and with just about as high of stakes. The romance falls a little flat, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of chemistry between Willis and Andi McDowell (but then again I never really liked her and I’m not sure what her appeal is supposed to be in the first place). but really the movie hits just about all of it’s notes perfectly.

It’s readily available on DVD and probably on any number of streaming services.


In Defense of Lost in Space

defenseimagesI actually have problems with series like Lost in Space, or Star Trek Voyager for that matter. there’s something inherinantly unsatisfying about them because you know he main plot point – getting home will either NEVER be resolved or won’t be resolved until the series ends (and personally I think it would have been a brave move to state at the end of Voyager that the ship was lost and never heard from again).

Lost in Space isn’t necessarily saddled with that  caveat as a film, but they choose to go that direction anyhow, in order to open the door for sequels. I get that but it was kind of a downer. There’s some gloom here because of that and because of the glimpse of the future we see. Stranding them kind of robs us of some true punch-the-air moments. It’s actually my one main complaint about the movie. Still, I find the rest of the film incredibly fun. It’s good actin and cool costumes. I love seeing Doctor Smith being truly EVIL again (he really did start off as more mattsof a bad guy and really mellowed after the first six episodes). It’s one of the rare times Matt LeBlanc shows some acting chops, the first time I didn’t look at him as an idiot (though what a bad choice picking this over the Matrix). He still has one of the greatest lines ever too “and the monkey flips the switch….”. I still use that myself on a regular basis.

I love the ship designs. The CG is still in it’s infancy, but works surprisingly well – smithsespecially in that spin around shot of the characters in zero G. It’s more believable than the troll in Harry Potter.

Can I make a quick guess as to why perhaps I like this better than a lot of people do?

I have no connection to the source material. I never watched it on TV and I’m not jarred by the differences here. To me this is a superior version. The derelict ship it’s like a haunted house in space and the spiders are genuinely creepy. I like the ship design better (why must we cling to space ships created in the 60’s anyhow? I don’t actually dig the original Enterprise shipdesign either – a contemporary of the Jupiter 1. I much prefer the film version!) and I like the characters just fine. It’s a good sci-fi shoot ’em up. I know that’s a common criticism of the Star Trek movies, but there’s a difference. Lost in Space never aspired to be more than a family space show where Star Trek actually was relevant at one time….

I really like this movie. If you can divorce yourself from the original TV show, SI suspect you will to. It’s still easily available, probably even on a budget release at this time!


In Defense of He-Man

defenseOne of the quickest ways to raise my ire is with the following words:

He-Man“He-Man is gay.”

It’s not just the insult….it’s the ignorance behind it, and the tenuious reasoning that brings one to that conclusion.

The thing is, there’s a whole generation that has a very different idea of what fantasy is than what it used to be. Tolkin and Dungeons and Dragons really laid the groundwork for when Dragonlance would come in and change everything (tell me I’m wrong. Go on, tell me.) He-Man doesn’t come from that school, and it’s one of the reasons he been so hard to update. He-Man’s look and a lot of the premise is grounded in an older heroic Fantasy arch type. He comes from the same linage as Conan and Tarzan. Wagnerian in nature, the same kind of strapping hero as Doc Savage or Captain Kirk, neither of which could keep their shirts on for more than half an hour.

It’s a kind of fantasy that isn’t created much anymore because it’s been labeled too “homoerotic” (there’s a scene in Family Guy where Stewie plays with Lion-O and He-man and makes that comment…and I just wanted to punch him in the face)

“But he wears Purple!”

Seriously?

“And Pink!”

imagesCAXN0PQMso by that logic, Miami Vice must have been the gayest show on the planet in the 80’s.

(for those of you without historical context, let me assure you that you will NEVER have more women than Don Johnson did)

The remarkable thing about He-Man is that despite the barbarian exterior…there’s something gentle, kind about him. It’s the same quality Superman has – you look at him and something in his demeanor just makes you trust him.

He really is Superman in so many ways, in his morality, his ethics, in the way he doesn’t need to show off his power. It’s just there when he needs it. This is a good hero, one we need more of really.

Check out the DC comic series that started last year. Maybe you’ll see what I mean.

skeletor1thegroup001


In Defense of Star Trek : Insurrection

defenseToday we’re talking about what is actually my untitledfavorite of the Next Generation movies. I’ve never understood the hat this movie gets. I have heard more than ne person tell me this is a worse movie than Star Trek Five.

This is frequently used as positive proof that Jonathan Frakes can’t direct. Funny, considering he also directed what is arguably considered the best film of the series too; First Contact. I do see his flair in it. The zooming shots, a lot of camera movement. Many of the set-ups are simple, but certainly not bad.

This film gets lambasted for it’s humor – as if humor was never a part of Star Trek. Why do I never hear that criticism leveled at “The Trouble With Tribbles”? It’s really more than just humor in this film, it’s familiarity. We should be comfortable enough with the characters that it’s a reunion. If you’re expecting 2001 from a Star Trek movie then I don’t know what you’re thinking. They tried that with the first film. It didn’t work. To be fair, by this time Trek movies had devolved into simple sci-fi action flicks…and  that includes Generations. and yeah, most of them have EXACTLY the same ending. This is still one of the better versions of it though…

sonaThe ships in this film are gorgeous – and it’s one of the first times we really some serious new design work  in TNG in ages. A pity that the interiors look like any other Okuda hell, but those ships hulls are beautiful and a nice departure from First Contact.

Speaking of First Contact- I like the movie, but it really doesn’t have a story.  No,  think about it. The characters drift from one engagement to the next – it’s a video game. A fun ride but no real plot. This movie has a narrative, growth in 2the characters (which we sadly abandon at the end because everything has to return to the status qoe) and some good plot twists. It has great actors like F. Murry Abraham and Anthony Zerke.

If the gags bug you, ignore them. Try watching this for the romp that it is and visit with these characters we really grew to care about. There’s not to many movies in the TNG film period and it’s a shame to have to throw this one out.