The Last Boy Scout

*Originally written in 2003

tony-scott-last-boy-scout

One of the last great action movies, before the days of massive CG explosions and battles kicked in, The Last Boy Scout signalled the end of an era- No-one wanted to see the ‘one man taking on an army’ kind of film anymore, though cleverly this film subverts that genre with its sharp script.

Halle Berry stars as a dancer, her character is not the sharpest, she falls for a simple trick and is killed. The men who treat women badly in the film are shown to be scumbags, and each of these men gets what they deserve. In the case of Joe’s wife, she is strong, but side-lined for most of the film (she was screwing her husband’s partner), but his daughter, played by the magnificent Danielle Harris, is witty, intelligent and strong, and saves the day on a couple of occasions. Yes it is a macho film, but it is aware of that fact, and that within this genre such a fact can be subverted. Admittedly this has been done much better in other films, but The Last Boy Scout still tries to be ‘one for the men’ mainly.

Joe, a washed up ex-bodyguard, played by Bruce Willis, is hired to protect a washed up ex-NFL star’s dancer girlfriend. Wayans – The NFL star doesn’t like it, believing he can do the job himself. When she is killed, the two form an unlikely partnership and investigate her death. They uncover a plot which involves senators, and coaches, and they race to save the life of the scumbag Senator Willis once worked for. Joe’s daughter is kidnapped, and he comes to remember that family is the most important thing he has, and he will not let anything harm that. After many explosive fights, the 3 square up against the bad guys in a final encounter.

The stunts are worthy of mentioning in the same breath as those of Die Hard, but as they are not confined spatially, they have less of an impact. However, the script is far superior than most action movies, and it probably ranks in my top 10 most quotable movies. It seems that every line of dialogue is repeatable. Wayans is excellent, almost equalling Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop performance, Willis is perfect as Joe, Harris proves she is easily one of the best actresses around, but for some reason she never gets the big parts, and the rest of the cast is strong. There are countless funny moments, the action is adrenaline charged, and the direction is fast and controlled by Tony Scott. This was widely overlooked for a variety of reasons, but all self-respecting action fans should definitely get this on DVD as you won’t be disappointed.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Last Boy Scout!

The Ghost And The Darkness

BBC One - The Ghost and the Darkness

*Originally written in 2004

In Colonial Africa, Col. Patterson is trying to build a large bridge for the British Railway, leading a large group of African and Indian workers. He has a strict deadline, but is known for always getting the job done. However, the attack by two lions in the area puts great fear into the workers, and over 100 are killed. Patterson comes up with several plans to catch and kill the lions so that he can continue with his work, while the locals are planning to leave believing the lions to be pure evil, calling them the ghost and the darkness according to a legend. They begin to lose confidence in Patterson because they were first attacked when he arrived. The lions seem unusually clever and vicious, and Patterson is out of his league. Enter Remington, straight out of a Haggard novel, an aging hunter who his renowned for his ability. Along with a friend Samuel, they go hunting.

The film deliberately moves at a slower pace than most films of this type, but this approach does not work. No real tension is created, and Kilmer’s Patterson always seems to have a smile on his face in spite of the death around him. For a cast of good actors, no-one particularly performs well, Kilmer is guilty of an awful accent, and Douglas is basically the same character as he played in Romancing the Stone, but without the wise-cracks. Until Douglas appears, there is little excitement, and the banter between characters, obviously trying to recall Jaws, is vastly inferior to Spielberg’s hit. However, there are a few decent moments, even if everything is immediately predictable, and at least the lions have not totally been butchered by Mr. CGI. The final hunt scenes are good, but the film should have been shorter to increase their impact.

Based on a true story with the usual changes to suit the modern audience, which hardly harm the story, The Ghost and the Darkness is worth watching if there is nothing on TV, but I would not recommend going out of your way to buy or see it.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Ghost And The Darkness!

The Man Who Knew Too Much

*Originally written in 2003

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – Journeys in Classic Film

Hitchcock remakes his own 1934 film, making it much longer and bringing in stars James Stewart and Doris Day as the distraught parents drawn into an international murder plot. This is another effective mystery from Hitchcock featuring a few exciting and tense scenes, and some good twists.

Dr. Mckenna, his wife, and young son are on holiday in Morocco. When their son Hank accidentally strips a woman of her veil on a bus, Louis Bernard intervenes, easing the situation. Later he decides to meet them for dinner and agrees to show them around. However, he acts suspiciously and Jo Mckenna believes he may be a spy as he asks them probing questions in a clever fashion, never revealing anything about himself. When he is called away on business, declining to have dinner with them, the Doc and his wife go out with another old English couple. They see Bernard at the same restaurant and the Doc becomes suspicious. However, the next day Bernard, (disguised as a local) is murdered, but before he expires he tells Dr. Mckenna of an assassination plot which he must not reveal to anyone else. While Mckenna is being questioned by the Police, their new friends The Draytons look after Hank. When the Police have finished, the Mckennas return to their Hotel to find the Draytons have kidnapped Hank. Without police help, and only their own wits and Bernard’s words they set out to save their son, and stop an assassination.

Hitchcock is in full control here, pulling the viewer whichever way he wants, and James Stewart is as good as ever. Day on the other hand seems out of place, only there to sing a song which may save their son, a song which won an Oscar, a song which is plain annoying. The rest of the cast are good, but hardly shine. The scenes at the Royal Albert Hall are full of suspense, and the preceding scenes as the couple catch up on the Draytons are well constructed. Also, Hitchcock manages to fit plenty of humour in, looking at married life and the arguments which can arise, and the confusion of friends looking in from the outside. Overall an enjoyable film which has plenty of good ideas and moments, but which lacks the finer touches which made some of his other films masterpieces.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Man Who Knew Too Much!

Retro Review – Tears Of The Sun

*Originally written in 2004

Tears of the Sun | War film Wiki | Fandom

After a slow start, Tears of the Sun turns into a decent semi-action movie with a fair amount of tension. Bruce Willis stars as Lieutenant Waters who, along with a small group of soldiers, is sent into Nigeria to ‘rescue’ any American citizens from impending death, as rebel fighters are entering the area intending to kill any outsiders. They have just wiped out the President and his family, and are taking control, and the US is not authorized to interfere. Primary target is Dr. Kendricks played by Monica Bellucci, the foreign widow of an American. Secondary targets for rescue are nuns. Tom Skerrit plays Willis’s superior, and sends the team in with strict orders not to engage the enemy. Of course, when they reach the doctor she refuses to leave as she has many injured patients. Willis reluctantly agrees to take 70 refugees with them, knowing that only the Doctor will be airlifted out. However, when the remaining doctors and patients are killed, Willis disobeys orders and returns to take the 70 refugees over the border to safety. However, the rebels are on their tail and no help is coming, and a twist reveals an important person among the refugees.

The film’s main faults lie in the fact that as an action movie there is little action for the majority of the movie, and as a drama there is not enough interaction between the characters to make us care for them too much. However, the performances from Bellucci, Willis and co. are all good, there are some tense scenes, the surroundings are stunning, and the final chase when the enemy catches up is very well executed. The issues of American intrusion, good vs evil, and morality are tackled well for a film of this type and much sympathy is aimed towards the victims of the conflict. Unfortunately some of the other soldiers are not given much screen time, and many look similar so we do not know who is who, undermining the emotional impact of the battle scenes. However, they all come to see that their jobs as soldiers is not to help their own citizens, but to protect the innocent at all costs, regardless of race. Overall a good attempt at mixing action and drama.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Tears Of The Sun!

Retro Reviews – Spiderman 2

Originally written in 2004*

Remembering 'Spider-Man 2,' 15 Years Later - mxdwn Movies

After the hype surrounding the decent Spiderman, I was looking forward to this because it introduced Doc Oc, one of my favourite comic book bad guys, but I wasn’t expecting it to be vastly better than the first. I was proved wrong. This improves over part 1 in every way, with the performances stronger, the effects better, it is more exciting and there is a less teeny feel about it. Not quite as good as the X-men movies, but better than most other recent comic book movies.

Peter Parker has been masquerading as Spiderman for some time, helping the city from crime, but he still has his critics. More importantly though he is trying to get on with a normal life, earning money and thinking about MJ. However, after the events of the first film, the three people Peter cares for most are becoming distant from him in different ways. MJ has fallen for someone else and Peter keeps letting her down, his best friend Harry, whose father (Green Goblin) was killed by Spiderman is closing in on his discovery and is becoming increasingly hate filled and paranoid. Aunt May is also getting older and becomes estranged from her nephew when she realises what Peter did in the first film. As well as this, Peter seems to be losing his powers. He decides that he must give up his alter-ego. Meanwhile, Doctor Octavius sees one of his experiments going disastrously wrong, simultaneously destroying the Osbourne company and turning the Doc into Doc Oc. Doc Oc goes on a crime spree, and puts New York in danger, particularly Peter’s closest friends. He must be stopped at all costs, so Spiderman is reborn.

Firstly the writers and Raimi deal with the many intertwining plot lines brilliantly, squeezing everything into the two hours, and leaving space for tonnes of action. Fans of the comic will enjoy seeing the appearance of later important characters such as John Jameson and Doc Connors. Each storyline is followed carefully and we feel sympathy towards Parker whose gift is becoming a curse. However, as this is primarily marketed as a summer blockbuster it is the stunts, action and effects which will matter to the masses. And they are excellent. The fights between Spiderman and Doc Oc are some of the most impressive action sequences to date, especially when the pair are flying through the city at break-neck speeds. Once the action starts, the excitement rarely fades, juxtaposed by the impending threat of peter being uncovered, and Harry finding out the truth. The film also sets itself wonderfully for sequels and spin-offs, as fans will know about the appearance of Venom, Doc Connors and the Hobgoblin. Maguire performs much better here than in the first, and his character’s depth certainly increases. Dunst is also much better, possibly her best performance since Interview with a Vampire, and Molina is perfect as Doc Oc. Franco as Harry also admirably shows range as he struggles between sanity and madness, and although he seems to be losing he still is capable of getting sympathy from us. Overall an excellent comic conversion, and a significant improvement over the original.

Let us know what you think about Spiderman 2 in the comments!

The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project' Premiered at Sundance 20 Years Ago

*Originally written in 2003

The wild hysteria surrounding this movie proves that the majority of the cinema going audience can still be fooled into believing anything they see or hear, or think they do, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is an extremely convincing and effective horror flick. A certain number of people on these boards (written originally on IMDb so refers to IMDb message boards), and who have reviewed Blair Witch Project HATE the film for varying, understandable reasons. When I first watched this, I watched intently, knowing exactly what the directors were playing at, and I found great enjoyment in watching the reactions of those who thought it was real. Did it unsettle me? No. Did it make me jump like the horror movies that rely on loud noises to scare (the recent Ring remake) – no. But it was the first horror movie in a very long time to put a smile on my face, and make me shiver. If you can remember back to when you played hide and seek as a kid – the feeling you had when the person looking for you was 10 feet away and coming closer – that is what this film gives, in a much greater quantity.

It is slow moving, and if you do not enjoy the pace, then you may not enjoy the film, but it compensates this by being short and concise, juxtaposed against how the 3 campers must have felt as the hours dragged by – the point I take from this is that in life we only remember a series of memories, images pasted together to make little sense, and life seems much shorter than it actually was.

The camera use and grainy feel again may be fuel for hatred or love, but it works perfectly – they don’t know what is going on, and neither do we, but that doesn’t matter because in an uncertain and threatening situation, the natural human reaction is to run or fight. Drained, exhausted, paranoid, they run. Ever had a nightmare about running away from something, but not knowing exactly what it was, or why you are running?

The best part of the movie (apart from the hilarious ‘I kicked the map into the river’ scene) is the last few minutes when Michael and Heather enter the house following Josh’s screams. This is perfectly spine tingling, and the ending is excellent as our feelings and fear somehow build and climax  in perfect harmony with what is happening on screen. The actors are clearly convincing, again look at the audience hysteria for proof, and although they are not called upon to do much, they do it well. Few great horror films come along these days, this is one- embrace it, let yourself be sucked in to feel the full effect, don’t be critical, and realize how good it is.

Let us know what you think of The Blair Witch Project in the comments!

Retro Reviews – Seven Samurai

*Originally written in 2003

Adventures and Quests: Seven Samurai (1954) | Detroit Institute of Arts  Museum

Kurosawa’s most famous film, and arguably the most famous film ever to come out of Japan over 50 years after its release. Endlessly influential, often touted as the first action movie, and full of rich cinematography, brilliantly constructed set-pieces, humour, sorrow, and some timeless characters portrayed by excellent performances. The Seven Samurai is still seen today by fans and critics alike as one of the best films ever made, almost flawless in every department and still as appealing and relevant as it was 5 decades ago.

The film begins by telling us that Japan over 400 years ago was a place of fighting and poverty, with Samurai and bandits wandering the countryside, some with honour, some stealing from the poor. We meet a group of 40 bandits who travel from village to village through the year, ransacking and taking whatever they can find. In the past they have murdered farmers, raped their wives and daughters, and taken their livelihood. They decide to raid one village once it is time for the farmers to harvest. A few villagers over-hear this and try to prepare. Some believe they should fight, some say they should plead with the bandits, others say they should just give in as always or they will be killed. Eventually their Patriarch Gisaku says they should hire some help, Samurai who will help them in exchange for food. This seems like an outrageous plan as Samurai are proud, but a small group of farmers led by Rikichi leave with some food to find such Samurai in the hope that their village will be saved, the alternative being worse.

They struggle at first and we see how there is no pity for them, that most people are too busy with their own affairs. Just as they give up hope they witness Kambei, a Samurai performing a selfless deed. They follow him and ask for help. Joining Kambei is a young apprentice Samurai Katsushiro who also saw Kambei’s deed, and following them is a fiery man who claims to be a samurai-Kikuchiyo. Kambei listens to them and eventually agrees, believing they will need a total of seven Samurai. He and Katsushiro make two, and they begin to look for and test others. Kambei’s old friend Schichiroji who he believed was dead arrives making 3. A woodcutting, quirky Samurai called Heihachi joins along with masterful swordsman Kyuzo making 5, and a man nicknamed ‘strongman’ makes 6. They leave for the village, followed by Kikuchiyo who wants to be part of their group even though no-one believes he is a Samurai. He proves himself and makes 7 when the villagers do not come to welcome their rescuers. We see how the Samurai and farmers mix, and we see mistrust and fear. Many emotions come out adding depth so rarely seen in action films. There is a love story, many twists, prejudices and hidden truths. As the bandits approach, the farmers are trained and a plan is made, but there will be many casualties.

As so many books have been written on this film alone I can only offer a summary. Each actor is excellent, with Mifune standing out. Shimura, Miyaguchi, Tsuchiya, and Kimura all give emotive performances and when a character dies or feels sorrow we genuinely grieve with or for them. There is so much going on and so many story lines that we are completely pulled into the lives of each character. Kurosawa’s direction cannot be faulted, and although it is slow at times and the search for Samurai takes up much of the film, we are captivated throughout. The action scenes, groundbreaking for their time still manage to create awe today simply because they are filmed so beautifully. This is an immortal story of winners and losers, of truth and honour, of love in all its guises, and of overcoming personal prejudice which will stay in the mind forever.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Seven Samurai!

Cell

CELL: Phoning It In | Horror Movie | Horror Homeroom

I bought Stephen King’s Cell when it was first released, back in 2006. It was one of the books which felt infused by King’s new found cynicism after almost being wiped out by an idiot in a car – the very same accident which wormed its way thematically and psychologically into the final chapters of The Dark Tower. Already in 2006, cell phones were the norm and much of the criticism of the book was from people who claimed the story would have had more foreboding impact had it dropped five years earlier. When I first read the story – I got the subtext, but I was much more interested in the simple fact that it seemed to be King’s take on the zombie genre, having spoken out in support of movies like 28 Days Later. I quite enjoyed the book, even if it was on the silly side and didn’t always make the most coherent sense. I additionally felt that the book would make a very entertaining movie – the zombies were fresh enough that a cinematic take could be unique, and there were several setpieces which could have translated well from page to big screen. I waited for years watching rumour after rumour drop on a film version – I was keen to see what Eli Roth could do when he was attached, and then I was excited when I saw the triple threat of cast of John Cusack, Samuel L Jackson, and the great Isabelle Fuhrman. Is it any good?

Where to begin with this mess? I saw some reviews when the movie was released – they weren’t good. I hoped that these were simply the usual snotty elitists who can’t appreciate a King translation for the silly fun they are usually meant to be. I waited until the film was available on Prime to stream, and lordy, it’s not good. The plot is taken wholesale from the text – an artist is in New York away from his family when some sort of attack takes place. Basically, anyone who was using a cell phone (making a call) is turned into a blood crazed maniac and begins bashing anyone and everyone in sight. Clay, the Artist, escapes this initial wave, allies with a group of survivors, and plans to make his way back to his family in the hope they were not turned. Throw in a Big Bad who can control the zombies, some psychic dream nonsense, and you have a recipe for something already convoluted and junky. King’s gift in the story is making all of this, if not plausible, but relatable. We know it’s silly, but we trust King’s eye for character detail, emotion, and story-telling. The film has none of these things –  major plot points are dropped (or not) without explanation, and the story unravels in sequence without emotion, suspense, or meaning – it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.

King’s gifts are not equated by director Tod Williams or screenwriter Adam Alleca. Williams, I have gone on record as saying that he made the best Paranormal Activity movie – so he knows what he is doing. I can only assume the production was the negative opposite of lightning in a bottle – the stars aligned to ensure that the worst possible outcome in every facet of the movie was achieved. Cusack seems like he’s having a stroke when trying to force out a tear, Samuel L Jackson seems bored, a few of the supporting characters are apparently genuinely damaged people that the filmmakers decided to put on camera for a bit of a laugh. Stacey Keach is fine for the three minutes he’s there, and Isabelle Fuhrman thinks she’s in a better movie than she actually is, or at the very least she’s trying to elevate things. On top of this, the soundtrack is filled with bizarre musical choices, the dialogue is low in the mix, and there are are three endings which you are free to choose as the one you want to be real.

Cell is a film I did want to love – I hold out hope that one day someone will make a good version of this, but I can’t see it. It’s a messy story, already dated, and that’s only going to get worse with time. There’s not a lot here for anyone to enjoy and everyone who you think would choose to watch the thing – horror fans, Stephen King fans – will be disappointed.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Cell!

Dead Of Night (1977)

Traumafessions :: Doomed Moviethon's Richard on Dead Of Night (1977)

This Halloween, and every Halloween, I try to watch a few portmanteau horror anthologies. Dead Of Night by Dan Curtis bares little resemblance to the Ealing film of the same name from three decades before, beyond the fact that they both offer little segments of horror and mystery for the viewer to enjoy. With only three stories and no wraparound it sets itself apart from many other anthologies, but thankfully the film still works thanks in a large part to the potency of its final piece.

It’s always interesting to me when an anthology film, ostensibly one in the horror genre, starts out with a segment which seems in no way related to horror. This is barely a Twilight Zone episode – one without an overly shocking twist or creep factor, but one which is still charming and watchable in its own right. Starring Ed Begley Jr as a car fanatic who picks up an old car to restore. The car has a bit of history, having been crashed 50 years earlier in a double death tragedy. Taking it out for its first spin, he finds himself somehow transported back to 1926 to learn the truth of the tragedy and maybe call upon some old relatives. It’s a strange, wistful tale which feels a little out of place but is still fun.

The second segment, is full blown Gothic Hammer goodness – creaking old mansions, butlers, sick busty women, and vampires. While this one does indeed have a macabre twist, you can see it a mile away if you’ve seen any horror movies of the last thirty years. It’s one of those segments which reminds me why I fell in love with Horror in the first place – even though it’s outdated and silly and not at all scary, it treats the material, and the vampire seriously – as this truly powerful and deadly threat rather than the lovelorn or easily slain anti-heroes we think of nowadays. It’s a piece which would be perfectly chilling and unforgettable for kids just dipping their toes into the genre. Plus you get Patrick McNee and Horst Bulchoz.

The final segment ‘Bobby’ is one of the most famous segments in all of anthology horror. Written by the great Richard Matheson, it’s the story of a grieving mother trying to raise her son from the dead using the dark arts. With little more than an exasperated sounding husband on the phone, it’s all about Joan Hackett and her attempts to resurrect her dead child. It’s a great performance, a chilling story, and one shot with literal thunderous aplomb – a stormy night becoming increasingly terrifying as Bobby teases his appearance, and proceeds to demand a game of hide and seek. It employs a lot of tricks to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and it remains an effective and nasty tale.

Dead Of Night is a nifty little anthology to kick off your Halloween viewing, and a great introduction for younger viewers. Just snuggle up on the sofa and scar them for life, setting out with a gentle opener then racking up the tension until the final moments. Horror films aren’t made in this style any more – gore and swearing and sex free, but still scary enough that anyone can get a kick out of it and easily shared with younger family members who will get the thrill of the genre and hopefully want to explore further. Seasoned horror fans will enjoy the nostalgia factor even if the genre has progressed to deeper scares in the years since, but should still appreciate the dedication Curtis had for the craft.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Dead Of Night!

A Dark Song

A Dark Song - Film Hub Wales | Canolfan Ffilm Cymru

A Dark Song is a film to be nerdy about and one which embraces its nerdy ways. It would be more precise to call the film detailed, committed to being authentic. It’s something rarely seen these days, unless said detail is Product Placement. It’s also another one of those films which I was touted as being ‘the scariest of all time’ which both intrigues and worries me, because horror is subjective and because that’s usually a blurb to cover the cracks of a shitty film. Luckily, it’s not a shitty film, nor is it the scariest ever. It’s a solid, grief driven horror movie more concerned with detail, foreboding, and creating a somber tone – and it largely succeeds in delivering on each of those points.

If you weren’t aware, I always enjoy limited scope films – films with a single set or a very tiny cast or some other limitation which tends to mean filmmakers are more creative to work around those restrictions. A Dark Song is essentially a two character, or two actor movie, and for the most part is set in a single location. That location is a large Country House in the middle of nowhere, and the performers are Catherine Walker (Sophia), and Steve Oram (Joseph). Sophia is a grieving mother who has sought out the Occultist Joseph in order to perform a serious of rituals which will allow her to eventually speak to her dead son. Joseph is angry, bad-tempered, distrustful, while Sophia is guarded and defensive meaning the two clash regularly. Part of the ritual means they must live together in this house for many months, without ever leaving or making any contact with the outside world, following various increasingly difficult rites which bring forth both demons and angels to torment and test the pair. The plan is that if someone is worthy enough to complete these rites, a guardian angel will appear and grant any wish.

The film almost plays out like a Mike Leigh film – if Leigh was concerned with the Supernatural and Occult Rituals. It has that kitchen-sink realism and gritty downbeat British tone, all wrapped up in the overall theme of the lengths we go to with grief and guilt, and propelled along by depictions and discussions of the various exercises one must perform to step through the various realms of Heaven and Hell. These involve sleeping in certain places, types of mental and physical torture, drinking blood, chanting, drawing arcane symbols etc. With the fraught relationship between the pair, and the months of punishing tests, tempers fray throughout the movie and the viewer is never sure if it’s all an exploitative joke.

I’m curious to see how viewers will react to this film – horror fans and non-horror fans alike. For horror fans, you’re made to wait until closer to the end before anything overtly horror related makes an appearance while the first half of the film or so is intriguing enough to me in exploring the characters’ relationship and snippets of the history and background of what is being performed. There is a pay-off, and it mostly worked for me, but I imagine others may be frustrated by the ending. I would argue that the ending is exactly what the character needed, and for the viewer it should be the journey that matters – some questions concerning the mother and son aren’t answered, and people may feel those should have been resolved.

Oram is his usual warts and all self – he’s a physical actor who always seems to be eating or scratching or gesturing, while Walker plays the exhausted woman well. Director and writer Liam Gavin shows a genuine interest in the rituals and mythology taken from the Abramelin books and adds enough open-ended intrigue to make me want to go down the rabbit hole. It’s an assured handling of tension and of whatever scares come later, but he does seem more concerned in the build up and the lore and the emotion, than making a scary movie. It’s his movie, and that’s fine, but the marketing may suggest it’s something that it’s not. For me, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking film of the sort which is rare these days.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of A Dark Song!