Friday, August 30, 2013

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Title: Johnny Mnemonic (1994)

Director: Robert Longo

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Udo Kier, Takeshi Kitano, Dolph Lungdren, Henry Rollins, Ice –T, Dina Meyer

Universally panned by critics and a bonafide box office bomb, Johnny Mnemonic was a disaster financially, it made roughly 19 million on a budget of 26, this even though it starred Keanu Reeves, an actor whose career was smoking red hot at that particular moment in time. You see, Reeves had just finished making Jan De Bont’s Speed (1994) when he decided to jump on the Johnny Mnemonic bandwagon. Speed was an extremely successful film at the box office and a great career move for Keanu; it raised his status as an actor by turning him into box office gold. So considering how popular Reeves was at the time, why did Johnny Mnemonic end up being such an epic fail? It certainly wasn’t because of lack of star power. The film also starred Dolph Lungdren as a crazy homicidal preacher, Udo Kier as a techno agent, Henry Rollins and Ice-T as rebel leaders and Takeshi Kitano (of Sonatine fame) as the head of a an evil corporation. Maybe the film failed because it wasn’t that good? Could it be that it disappointed audiences or hardcore cyberpunk fans somehow?

In the film Johnny Mnemonic is a courier, which is just a fancy word for delivery man. The thing is that the guy is a courier of digital data that he carries somewhere in the back of his mind. Problem is the package he’s just uploaded is huge and exceeding storage capacity can kill you! You see, in this future a big percentage of humanity is suffering from a decease called N.A.S., which stands for Nerve Attenuation Syndrome.  Basically, N.A.S. is a condition that affects the human nervous system and is caused by the onslaught of electronic devices to which humanity is exposed to in a daily basis. Technology is making humanity sick and it’s because of information overload, airwaves poisoned by technological civilization. Humanity just can’t live without their gadgets. Good thing is that there’s a cure, bad thing is that the powers that be don’t want humanity to have it because they’d rather have people as patients, paying for their costly treatments for N.A.S. But wait, there’s hope! A group of rebel scientists are hell bent on releasing the cure for N.A.S. to the free world! These rebels fight against the system and humanities dependency on technology. From time to time they send subversive messages to the masses through television saying things like “Snatch back your brain zombie, and hold it!” To make everything right all they have to do is send the cure from Beijing to New Wark; via courier.  That’s where Johnny Mnemonic comes into play. Will Johnny make it in time before the overload of information in his brain kills him?

This project had many good things going for it, number one, the screenplay was written by the ‘father of cyberpunk’ William Gibson. Who’s William Gibson you say, well, he’s the guy responsible for writing the very first cyberpunk novels, novels about technologically suffocated societies in which people are more mechanical than human, worlds in which people spend more time in the virtual world than in the real world. This is a wing of science fiction that focuses on “high tech, low life”. Gibson wrote ‘Neuromancer’ one of the seminal works of the cyberpunk genre; it’s a story about a hacker who’s hired to pull off the mother of all hacks. The novel takes place in this Blade Runner like world with problems like over population and again, a society over dependent on technology. Neuromancer is so thick I’ve yet to finish reading it! It’s quite dense, a true challenge to read, and this comes from someone who fancies himself a science fiction fan! This fascinating and at times nightmarish book holds some similarities with Johnny Mnemonic; actually it even shares some characters. Johnny Mnemonic in turn is a film that’s based on another one of Gibson’s works; a short story entitled ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ which was first published in Omni magazine, and later re-printed in Gibson’s collection of short fiction stories called ‘Burning Chrome’, a book I will be acquiring soon! Johnny Mnemonic by the way is one of Gibson’s first works, first published way back in 1981, so it’s fitting in a way that one of his earliest works is the first to get the big screen treatment. 

For the longest time (as far back as 1989) Gibson and his pal Robert Lungo (who ended up sitting on the director’s chair) had been trying to get funding for Johnny Mnemonic. In their minds, Johnny Mnemonic was a film that could be pulled off for a mere 1.5 million dollars; in other words, they wanted to take an art house approach to this story; an artsy version of Johnny Mnemonic. A small yet creative film, and I gotta wonder what that film might have turned out like. But it kept getting harder and harder to get any financial backing for the film because studios didn’t like the fact that they were trying to make such a small film. Studios like multimillion dollar productions with big stars attached to them, something big and bombastic, something they can sell. Things finally pulled through when Keanu Reeves read the script (which myth has it was left at his door step!) and decided to do the movie. It was then that the studios started offering the millions to Gibson and Lungo. After much trepidation, the project finally found its funding! So after so many years of trying to get this movie made, was it finally worth it?

Well, first things first, there’s no denying that this film turned out to be a quite influential piece of cinema. The directors behind The Matrix Trilogy; the Wachowski Bros. obviously saw this film and decided they could do something similar, but better. It’s just so obvious, damn, right down to the fact that they also used Keanu Reeves for The Matrix. At one point Johnny says his name is “Mr. Smith”, he plugs himself into a virtual world and travels through it. Keanu dresses with a white shirt, black suit and tie. Johnny is kind of like a Christ figure, same as Neo. And basically, the whole film has a theme about “waking people up”, so yeah, there’s no doubt this one, along with Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell (1995) served as a major influence for The Matrix. Other films that Johnny Mnemonic is similar to? Well, there’s Cyborg (1989) and Babylon A.D. (2008), two films that are also about a courier transporting the cure for a decease that’s threatening the world, and most recently Elysium (2013) played with the same ideas. 

Johnny Mnemonic is a film that science fiction fans will no doubt enjoy because it presents us with this dark, technological world in chaos, kind of like what we saw in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), but with the added element of seeing technology as mankind’s villain, as a detriment to society, a hindrance that disconnects us from our humanity. Which isn’t so farfetched when we consider how connected we all are to our smart phones, I-Pads, I-Pods and laptops;  so in many ways it’s a reflection of our society and how addicted we are to technology, could we live without it nowadays? How lost would we be on this planet without our technological advances? Has humanity separated itself so much from the natural world, that we now don’t even know how to survive in it? I mean we actually live in a time when going out to dinner means telling everybody on the table to turn their phones off so we won’t be distracted by a call, a text message or candy crush. Aside from the films themes, I also enjoy a lot of the visuals that a movie like this one has to offer. I mean, how cool does Johnny Mnemonic look hooked up to that Virtual Reality helmet? Very cool that’s how cool. Like Hackers (1995), The Matrix (1999), this is a movie that hackers no doubt love, because the hacker is the hero. Some of the best moments in the film are those of Johnny, hooking up to the information super highway and just hacking the hell out of it.

But then the movie is hampered by often time’s cheesy dialog and nonsensical shenanigans. Sometimes the film kind of contradicts itself, for example, there’s this dolphin in the movie that is supposed to be the savior of humanity because it’s the dolphin who handles all the data through its brain, but then the rebels, those who would fight for humanity and freedom, have this dolphin confined to this little tank that gives it no space to swim at all. To me, the dolphin looks like its being tortured, trapped in this cage filled with dirty water, then they also have the dolphin strapped to a helmet that forbids it from seeing. So we have a blind dolphin who can’t swim because the good guys need to use him? Peta would have a field day with these guys! Which brings me to another point about the film, at times it feels like the good guys aren’t really all that good, take Johnny for example, sure he’s carrying the cure on his noggin, but does he really have to stop and rant about wanting “room service and 10,000 dollars a night whores”? I guess the point is that Johnny has to learn that it’s not just about him anymore, that he has to learn to do things for others, but damn does he come off as self centered. Then we got the leader of the rebels played by Ice-T, and well, his performance isn’t much of a stretch considering how he played basically the same character in Tank Girl (1995). The most over the top performance has to be Dolph Lundgren as the crazy preacher. He is really crazy, managing to fuse Jesus with the psychotic. He carries a crucifix around that could double as Rambo’s knife! He also spews hilarious one liners like “It’s Jesus Time!” A funny performance and certainly not what you’d expect from Dolph Lundgren.  

And now a word about the computer graphics on this show. There’s this moment in which Johnny enters cyberspace and we see him controlling his journey from the real world (sounds like The Matrix don’t it?), well, the graphics in those scenes are interesting, but unfortunately by today’s standards look outdated, they do their job of telling a story, but feel truly ancient, kind of like the computer generated imagery in Lawnmower Man (1992). They might have been “dazzling!” in their day, but now these graphics seem like child play, still, this didn’t stop my enjoyment of the film. One has to expect fx to outdate, I mean, time passes after all. Final words on Johnny Mnemonic is that it’s a cool little movie, not a masterpiece but at least it has its cool visuals and that delicious cyberpunk feel that I wish Hollywood would exploit just a bit more. In my opinion, there aren’t enough cyberpunk films out there. I can’t comment on how faithful the film is to the short story, but at least we know the film was written by William Gibson himself; if it fails it’s by Johnny Mnemonics creator’s own fault! Then again, this was one of those films that the studio took from the filmmakers and re-edited to their liking, so this might have something to do with certain inconsistencies. But whatever, faithful to the story or not, I think Johnny Mnemonic has a couple of cool things going for it that makes it worth a re-watch. Also, if you ask me, the film remains a seminal work of cyberpunk cinema, that’s gotta count for something.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Wolverine (2013)

Title: The Wolverine (2013)

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hal Yamanouchi

The Wolverine is the summer movie that slipped by me, it was not a top priority in my list because there were so many other summer flicks that seemed more mind blowing, I figured I’d get to it eventually. The trailers hadn’t blown me away and to be honest, I didn’t think it was going to be good, I guess it had something to do with how much I loathed X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), the last Wolverine solo movie. You know, the crappy one, the one that should’ve never happened. Well, I am happy to report that this latest Wolverine movie completely ignores that last film, the story basically unfolds as if that last Wolverine film had never happened. And I am also happy to report that The Wolverine is a solid film, a good Wolverine movie at freaking last! All you need to know is that you should see this one as a continuation of X-Men: The Last Stand (2009). So what exactly made The Wolverine not suck?

This time around we meet up with Wolverine as he is trying to forget his connections with the X-Men; he can’t deal with the fact that he essentially killed the love of his life, Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand (2009), so he’s gone off to Canada to live a life of solitude, disconnected from everyone. He’s still a do gooder, but he wants to be left alone. Unfortunately for him, the past won’t let him be. You see, in 1945, during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Wolverine saved a soldier named Yashida from the atomic blast. The man feels a debt with Logan, and so as Yashida lies in his death bed, he wants to see Logan one last time, to thank him for having saved his life. But Yashida wants more than to thank Wolverine. As it happens, after Logan saved his life, Yashida  ended up becoming the head honcho of a major corporation that specializes in technological advances and so, Yashida wants to use this high tech to somehow extract Wolverines healing factor. The problem is that extracting Logan’s healing factor would kill him. Yashida thinks Logan will agree because Logan sees his immortality as ‘a curse’. The question arises: will Logan agree to do the process, or will he find a reason to continue living?

The first thing that worried me about this film was James Mangold directing. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing because Mangold has directed some decent films in his time, Copland (1997), Girl Interrupted (1999) and 3:10 to Yuma (2007) come to mind, but in my opinion he is not one of those directors who has a distinctive style or anything, he doesn’t put a stamp on his films. Plus, I mean we had Darren Aronofsky almost direct this one and that prospect got me jazzing my pants. Sadly, it never came to be and we got Mangold, a director I see as a ‘directors for hire’, kind of like Joe Johnston. These are directors who do a good job of directing a film, it will look great, it’ll tell it’s story, but the film wont have a stamp on it, it wont be unique in any way. These directors simply do their job as directors, they follow the studios requests and voila! a product is sold. If I had to say something distinguishes a Mangold film is that he gets good performances out of his actors, he focuses on the characters and the story, which of course is a good thing on any film,  and in the end its something that benefits this particular film, because Wolverine is a character that's begging to be explored.

Good thing is that on this film we get to know Logan better than any other X-Men or Wolverine film that’s been released. This movie is not just one action sequence to the next, or one crappy cgi filled moment to the next, nope, on this one we spend some quality time with the character. Kudos to the writers for coming up with some really cool moments in terms of things that can happen to Wolverine, as a comic book geek, I was enthralled with some of the events that unfold here, not gonna spoil it though! The film does a good balancing act between character development and solid action. Ever wanted to see Wolverine battling a bunch of ninjas? You’ll see it here. Ever wanted to see Wolverine go up against an atomic bomb? It happens here. There’s this awesome sequence where a bunch of bad guys chase Logan on top of a bullet train, cool stuff. Exciting! But we are not left without the more introspective moments, moments were we see Logan falling in love anew or moments when Logan remembers the love of his life, Jean Grey. Also, this is the first film of all these X-Men/Wolverine films that made me realize that essentially Logan's an immortal? Kind of like  Highlander (1986)? They really put a focus on this aspect of the character which they hadn't done so much before, so we get Logan dealing with some of the issues that an immortal has to deal with, like watching his loved ones die. 

The only complain I might have is that it was a bit too similar thematically speaking to films like Prometheus (2012) and Blade Runner (1982), because all these films are about a person close to death that’s searching for eternal life, which brings the movie down a notch in terms of originality, but aside from that? It’s all cool in my book. The villains were cool, I have to admit I loved the way they depicted ‘Viper’ the snake lady with the poisonous tongue…cool character, truly a threat to Logan. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was great, this is the sixth time he has portrayed the character, and well, by now he’s got it down flat. This Wolverine is a bit closer to what Wolverine is like in his solo stories, alone, depressed  and pissed off, always on the edge. I still have to wonder what Darren Aronofsky would have done with the character, Aronofsky ended up not directing because he wrote a script that was too ‘R’ rated, and much darker in tone, the studio didn’t want to mess with their kid friendly golden calf, so Aronofsky dropped out. With this kind of film, the studio wants it to be PG-13 because they want to aim it at kids,  and Aronofsky didn’t want to make a kids film, he wanted to make a serious take on the character. I’d say that Mangold managed to deliver the goods for the studio (the film still ended up being PG-13) but at the same time, it’s not all that kid friendly, its PG-13 but it’s not strawberry shortcake. I mean, Wolverine is spewing profanities left and right on this one. Wolverine says bitch, asshole, he says shit quite a few times…and finally he utters the king of all profanities “fuck” on one occasion, because that’s what the MPAA allows on a PG-13 film. You get to say one fuck, so you better use it wisely! I guess this was the studios version of giving the film an ‘edge’. There’s also a scene in which Wolverine walks in on a bad guy as he is with a bunch of prostitutes walking around in their underwear, but that’s as far as the “edge” on this film goes. Bottom line is that maybe some scenes might be a bit too much for little kids.

Ninjas always make any movie that much cooler

And speaking of little kids, I saw this one on a packed theater filled with little kids! It was a cool experience because I got to see a bunch of kids hollering and cheering for Wolverine every time he did something cool or heroic, I mean I actually saw this little kid super excited during the train sequence, it took me back to when I was a little kid. At the same time, I saw another little kid next to me say something like “enough!” when the movie got a little too talky. What us adults call character development bores the hell out of the kids. So anyways, that’s my two cents on The Wolverine, not a bad movie at all, not the piece of crap I was expecting and it’s a million times better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine. One more thing, after the movie is over, wait for the extra ending that will have you salivating for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), which will reunite the X-Men from the past and the future in one gigantic, orgasmic comic book movie. This film will mark the return of Bryan Singer to the X-Men franchise which he helped launch with the highly successful X-Men (2000) and X2 (2003). Anxiously awaiting that one, it looks promising!

Rating: 4 out of 5  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Elysium (2013)

Title: Elysium (2013)

Director: Neil Blomkamp

Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura

Elysium comes to us from director Neil Blomkamp, the guy behind the critically acclaimed box office hit District 9 (2009), a fantastic film in my book because it speaks about racial differences and the need for different races to show empathy towards one another. In that film, aliens arrive on earth and are initially welcomed by humanity, but after a few years, that welcome wears off and transforms to xenophobia. It isn’t long before the aliens are segregated and end up living in these refugee camps that have turned into ghettos. The main character of the film is a human immigration officer named Wikus, a man who has been appointed the task of giving the aliens eviction notices that let them know they are now being relocated. One thing leads to another and Wikus ends up turning into an alien. He quickly learns what it means to be persecuted, he feels the unfair treatment; he gets to understand what being on the other side is all about. Blomkamp figures that the best way to know what racism feels like is by experiencing it yourself, which is what is so brilliant about District 9, you feel racism first hand, you feel it’s happening to you. Racism is something humanity has yet to outgrow; Blomkamp knows it and wants you to experience it. On Disctrict 9 the main character is part of an oppressing force in society, but then he becomes the oppressed, he becomes the one that’s persecuted, he suddenly knows what it means to be on the other side of the equation. And that was just Blomkamp’s first film! District 9 made such an impact that the film was nominated for four academy awards including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, something of a rarity for science fiction films. So of course he was going to move up in the film world, of course we were going to see another film by him. So here comes Elysium, Blomkamp’s sophomore effort, his second film. How was it?

On Elysium the world as we know it has gone to shit, essentially, earth is one giant dumpster, the poor live down here on earth, while the rich and privileged live on a gigantic spaceship hovering close to earth called ‘Elysium’. The story revolves around Max, a blue collar worker who ends up having a horrible work related accident and is suddenly faced with the fact that he only has five days to live! What can he do in order to survive? Well, if you were rich and lived on Elysium you’d simply get inside something called a ‘Med-Pod’ and cure yourself, but that’s only if you live in Elysium, if not, then you die because you are not one of the privileged, you my friend are scum. But what if there was a way to make these machines available to everyone? What if someone could infiltrate Elysium, reboot the whole system so that everyone can benefit from these Med-pod’s? This becomes Max’s mission, for he is not about to die any time soon!

First thing I noticed right away was how similar Elysium is to District 9 in terms of themes. This film is also about one group of people being neglected and oppressed by others. The whole thing with the rebels trying to get into Elysium felt a heck of a lot like Mexicans trying to cross the American border, so in that sense, it is also felt like it was addressing racial issues. The difference between both films is that while District 9 presented us with themes of xenophobia and racism, Elysium focuses more on themes of classism. But then again, class issues and racial issues function in the same ways, so yeah, the films are very similar in this way. We’re basically talking about one group of humans thinking they are superior to another which is kind of disgusting because we’re all humans on this spaceship called earth, so what’s the point? Why do some humans feel the need to bring others down? I personally find the idea repulsive and nauseating, as should every one of you out there my friends. We should aim to help each other, not exploit each other. So I immediately found the themes in Elysium fascinating because they speak of the world we live in today. After the success of Elysium, Blomkamp said that he’s been asked about how he sees the future, how he thinks the world will be and his answer was that the film isn’t so much about the future, that it’s about the world as it is NOW, which is a fantastic reply. This lets us know that Elysium is the best kind of sci-fi, it’s the kind that reflects society, it holds a mirror to it.

I mean, wouldn’t it be better if those that achieved success and wealth in the world used that power for the good of all humanity as opposed to propelling a society that is built on the idea of exploiting those less fortunate? This is what happens in the world today, and it’s just another form of slavery if you ask me. We don’t have people putting literal chains on others, but there’s symbolic chains, you know what I mean? The way society is constructed benefits the wealthy and ignores the poor. One of example of this are the roads in my country of Puerto Rico. You go into a rich neighborhood and you see the streets paved, the street lights illuminating every street corner, the garbage picked up, but if you go into a poor neighborhood you see streets filled with gigantic holes (because the government doesn’t pave them) you see dark streets because light posts are shut off and the streets filled with garbage because the government doesn’t bother picking up the garbage on a regular basis. So yeah, there’s a difference in the way classes are treated. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone was treated fairly? I’m talking about my country here, but I’m sure this is the same in many countries; the poor side is ignored and treated unfairly, this is why ghetto’s exist. It’s a place to dump the poor so they don’t have to live next to you.  Sad part is all those poor people pay taxes as well; their money should pay for the cleaning up of their town as well. It should be enough to light all the streets and avoid dark areas that breed criminal activity. But alas, this is the world we live in and these are the lives were living.

And so, the same can be said of medical attention, which is a major issue in Elysium. On the film the Med-Pods are these miracle machines that can cure any decease, hell, they can even bring you back to life! According to the film, you can live forever if you are a citizen of Elysium! This part of the film talks about expensive medical plans that many people cannot afford to pay and the ridiculously high priced medicines. Ever had to take a pill that costs more than 70 dollars? I know people who have. Many can’t even afford paying a medical plan; they live life frightened of getting sick or needing major medical attention. Shouldn’t medical plans be more affordable? So the situations depicted in Elysium aren’t farfetched at all, only the wealthy get the best medical attention, the poor get the worst or none at all. The poor get sick and die faster. Why are things this way? Maybe this is the kind of situation that the powerful want? For poor people to die faster? Things to think about, and so, this is the main theme of Elysium, making quality medical attention affordable to everyone! How hard can it be? The same can be applied to education which is also kept expensive so only a certain group of people can get quality higher education, this is a vicious circle from which only the wealthy can benefit from .

Visually speaking the film is impressive, I mean, Elysium itself is a wonderful creation. It’s this gigantic spaceship/city hovering in space. By the way, this idea of a giant spaceship that harbors livable space inside of it reminded me a lot of Arthur C. Clarke’s amazing novel Rendezvous with Rama.  Anybody read that one? It’s one of my favorites of Clarke’s and basically, it’s about this gigantic spaceship that one day parks itself next to earth. The government then organizes a search party to enter it. They discover that inside of the ship there is a habitat, including a city, an ocean, artificial sunlight and plants…basically the same idea we see in Elysium. I’m thinking Blomkamp maybe read Randezvouz with Rama and was a bit inspired by it. Though the idea of spaceships with habitats inside of them is nothing new, I mean, this premise was also explored in Disney’s The Black Hole (1979), only in a far cheesier fashion. These similarities with Clarke’s novel got me thinking that Blomkamp would be the perfect director for a Rendezvous with Rama adaptation. By the way, Elysium also has elements from George Orwell’s 1984, and George Lucas’s THX-1138 (1971), especially when it comes to the whole thing with Max working in a robot factory, and the whole thing with the robotic police force. It also shares similarities with Johnny Mnemonic (1995).

An amazing cast brings this one to life, Matt Damon is great as Max, he pumped up for the part and looks like a tank for it. Jodie Foster is effectively icy as Delacourt, the person in charge of running Elysium. She's a nice lady to her rich costumers, the people of Elysium, but an icy cold bitch to those who want to try and enter into her special private little kingdom, kind of like the governments of the world who only cater to the wealthy. Sharlto Copley, the actor who played Wikus on District 9 reunites with Blomkamp once again. He plays Kruger, a killer/mercenary that the government hires to execute Max, interesting how the film alludes to the idea that governments sometimes rely on the help of criminals to achieve their goals. Copley really gives it his all here, dare I say he actually kind of outshines every other actor in the film.  I was also glad to see Diego Luna on this show, though he has a small part. So anyways, I’ve gone on long enough about Elysium, it’s a fantastic sci-fi film, the best kind, the kind that talks about the world we live in through its fiction. The success of the film has probably assured Blomkamp’s next film which will be called Chappie, looking forward to it. I’m happy that Blomkamp has rejected working on established science fiction properties like Star Trek or Star Wars (yup he’s gone down saying that) in order to stick to his more original stuff. What a fantastic concept, a director aiming to do something new and original, how about that?

Rating:  5 out of 5 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Title: Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Allen Payne, Kadeem Hardison, John Witherspoon, Zakes Mokae

Who knows why it happens, but sometimes audiences reject a film for the stupidest of reasons, for example, in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine, when Eddie Murphy was asked about Vampire in Brooklyn, he said that the movie failed to become a hit because of the hair style he used in it. According to Murphy, it was all because of the wig he wore for the whole thing, it made it look as if Murphy had straightened his hair in the same way that Ron O’Neil straightened his hair out in Super Fly (1972). To me it’s just another look, people can wear their hair however they choose to. I don’t know, whatever the case might be, apparently people hated Murphy’s hair for this film. Me? I think Murphy looks kind of cool wearing the straight hair and I certainly don’t think its reason enough to hate this movie.  I just happened to give it the old re-watch and ended up liking it.

On this film we meet a vampire called Maximillian, who arrives at the New York City shore in a boat, filled with dead people. You see he is on the lookout for a female who unbeknownst to her is of his own heritage. Poor old Maximillian doesn’t want to go through eternity alone. It’s that age old vampire problem, who shall I spend the rest of eternity with? So Maximillian goes about it same way Dracula would. He chooses a ghoul, finds his woman (who happens to be Angela Bassett) and proceeds to charm the pants off of her, literally. Will she fall for his charms or see past his façade? So basically this is a retelling of Dracula, but in a modern setting. We go through the same beats as a Dracula film, but within a contemporary setting. Maximillian finds a place to live but it isn’t Carfax Abbey, it’s Brooklyn.  He gets a ghoul, who of course eats insects and roaches, but he isnt a madman, he’s a street hustler. He meets the woman of his dreams, but she isnt a debutant, she’s a detective named ‘Rita’ which sounds a hell of a lot like ‘Mina’ from Bran Stoker’s novel. In Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula sends a black carriage with black horses to pick Mina up, on this film he sends his limo. So yeah, a retelling of Dracula, but with a modern twist. Because of this, there’s not a whole lot of surprises in ways of story, this of course is the same problem that a lot of vampire movies face. They tell Bram Stokers novel all over again, they simply change the setting, or the era, but it’s the same story, so if you’ve seen your share of vampire movies, then you know what you’re gonna get with Vampire in Brooklyn.

But fear not, what makes this film interesting are other factors. First of all, the cast here is 95% black, so this is a black version of Dracula, something along the veins of what was done in the blaxsploitation classics like Blacula (1972) or Scream Blacula Scream (1973), so that’s a cool element about it. The other element is placing a vampire in the heart of Brooklyn, New York. So suddenly we see Maximillian the Caribbean vampire dealing with gangsters trying to kill him, going into night clubs in search of his love, he even ends up dancing the night way with Rita. So what makes this one set itself apart is the New York setting and the all black cast. Then, during its second half the film diverts to a passionate love story between the head vampire and the object of his affections, detective Rita. Funny how at heart most vampire movies are about love huh? And passionate love at that! Most of the time, vampire films serve as an allegory for the art of seduction, with the head vampire playing the role of the ultimate seducer, the guy with the irresistible words and the hypnotic stare that will make a woman forget the world;  Vampire in Brooklyn is no exception.  

The film comes to us from horror legend Wes Craven, the guy behind A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and a myriad other horror films, like for example the entire Scream franchise. This was his first and so far only attempt at directing a vampire film, but he does it with great aplomb. The horror aspects of the film are handled rather well. The movie, while a comedy, does not lose its horror edge. I mean, Maximillian turns into a wolf, rips a gangsters heart out and then shreds another gangster to pieces  limb by limb! When Maximillian vamps out, he looks pretty damn demonic! The ghoul pretty much ends up looking like a zombie, rotting away piece by piece, so it has some decent make up effects work, gruesome stuff. I’d say that Craven juggles the comedy, the romance and the horror aspects pretty well, never settling into one for a long time, the film is always shifting it’s tone. I am not a huge fan of the Scream films (actually I can’t stand em!) so to me, this was the last good horror film that Craven directed. After this he made the dreaded Cursed (2005) and My Soul to Take (2010), not exactly the cream of the crop in terms of horror. For me, Vampire in Brooklyn was the last good hurrah from one of the great horror directors.

And speaking of the comedic aspects of the film, having Eddie Murphy might give you the idea that he will play a “funny vampire”, but he doesn’t. He plays Maximillian like a cool, suave dude. The funny of the film doesn’t come from Murphy playing Maximillian. On this one he plays his character as a smooth ladies man who can sweep a girl of her feet with a few words. Murphy obviously wanted to play this character as a sensual force, not as a comedic element. What they did do to amp up the comical aspects of the film was surround Murphy with comedic actors, like for example, John Witherspoon who plays Silas Green, the landlord of the building in which Maximillian and his ghoul reside in, he has some pretty funny moments, I mean, Witherspoon just talks and I’m cracking up. We also get Kadeem Hardison playing the ghoul, who crumbles apart (literally) as the movie progresses, this aspect of the character lends itself for some funny moments as well. But I know what you’re thinking, so this is a comedy in which Eddie Murphy isn’t even trying to be funny? And you’d be wrong, there’s a moment in which Maximillian disguises himself as a preacher, which is just hilarious, quite possibly the funniest moment in the whole movie. Then, in typical Eddie Murphy fashion, he also plays another character, an Italian gangster wannabe with a big mouth. So be on the look out for this, Murphy plays a couple of roles on this one, same as he’s done in other films like Coming to America (1988) and The Nutty Professor (1996).

An interesting aspect of the film: this is a film that plays a lot with vampire lore; it doesn’t follow vampire rules so much. We’ve all seen this in many vampire films, filmmakers will make their vampires do the strangest things that vampires aren’t supposed to do. For example, in Vampire in Brooklyn Maximillian can make dogs turn into a flying ball of fire, he can make fire appear out of thin air, and that's just for starters…Maximillian’s got some strange tricks up his sleeve. So anyways, closing words about Vampire in Brooklyn is that it’s not as bad as you’ve been led to believe, I actually think it’s a pretty cool vampire flick. The ending promises a possible sequel which never came out because the film wasn’t a real success, still, I happen to think it received the stake to the heart unfairly. Time to unearth this one and give it a good watch come next Halloween!

Rating:  3 ½ out of 5  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kick Ass 2 (2013)

Title: Kick Ass 2 (2013)

Director: Jeff Wadlow

Cast: Aaron Taylor Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey, Donald Faison, Clark Duke,  Morris Chestnut

The thing I enjoyed about Kick Ass (2010) is that it presented us with characters who don’t have super powers, they aren’t mutants, they aren’t aliens from another planet. These masked vigilantes are essentially pissed off citizen’s that dress up in costumes to do what the police doesn’t do, they take preventive action towards crime, they don’t sit around eating donuts in a coffee shop waiting for their walky talkies to tell them some disaster has just gone down, they don’t arrive at a scene to pick up the pieces, or fill out paper work, nope these vigilantes are patrolling the streets trying to nip crime in the butt, before the bad guys do their thing! They are colorful versions of Charles Bronson in Death Wish (1974) only difference is that Bronson simply walked around in a trench coat, while the heroes in Kick Ass dress up in silly costumes and hide their faces behind masks. Oh, and Bronson never walked around with a Samurai sword in his trench coat!

The premise for this sequel is that Kick Ass has kind of forgotten how to be a super hero, so he wants Hit Girl to train him, to help him get back into the ass kicking business, after all, Kick Ass is credited in the media with having started the whole masked vigilante movement, he can’t just walk out of this thing he started. Hit Girl helps him and she’s thankfully still very much in the ass kicking business, the only problem is that her new step dad wants her to lead a normal life. So in order to please him (and her dads dying wishes) she attempts to leave her vigilante days behind and takes a stab at being a regular teenage girl, which means joining the cheerleading team, going out on dates, attending sleep over’s and dressing more girly. But is that what she’s really all about? Is Mindy Macready Hit Girl or not? Meanwhile, the former hero known as “Red Mist” decides he wants to get revenge for his father’s death, so he has only one thing in his mind: killing Kick Ass. In order to do so, he leaves his hero name behind and now calls himself ‘The Motherfucker’ and calls upon anyone who is willing to join his vengeful crusade. Will Kick Ass be ready to go up against ‘The Motherfucker’ and his gang?

Some controversy was stirred concerning Jim Carrey and his character ‘Coronel Stars and Stripes’. You see, at one point Jim Carrey was all gung-ho and happy to be in Kick Ass 2. But then, the tragic events that happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton Connecticut made him change his mind. In case you’ve forgotten, the Sandy Hook Massacre was all about this 20 year old man who one day killed his own mother, then, went to Sandy Hook Elementary School, shot twenty kids and six staff members, then to put the icing on the cake, shot himself. According to Carrey, after these events took place he had a change of heart and suddenly didn’t want to promote Kick Ass 2 because of its levels of violence? Truth be told, Kick Ass 2 is not more violent than the first Kick Ass film, in fact I found that the levels of graphic violence were considerably brought down for this sequel. Yeah there’s blood and decapitations…but it’s still less graphic then anything that happened in the first film.

"Yeah! There's a dog on your balls!"

But that’s not even the point; the point is that Kick Ass 2 isn’t going to augment the levels of violence in the world. Jim Carrey not promoting the film isn’t going to stop more mass murders. True, the events that occurred in Sandy Hook were tragic, but they are not related to movies, they are related to way bigger problems in society, in reality, films though violent and profane always try to bring out the best in all of us. Even a violent film like Kick Ass has in the end a positive message to it. I just hate it when people blame movies for the crazy things that happen in the real world? Chole Moretz put it nicely in an interview when she said that if we we’re all that gullible we’d all dress up like princesses after seeing a Disney movie. It’s not like I would pick up a chainsaw and chop off my own hand after seeing Evil Dead II (1987) you know what I mean? And I don’t want to say that the cinematic medium isn’t a powerful one, because it is. Movies are powerful medium, quite possibly the fastest way to transmit ideas and concepts to the masses, still, this doesn’t mean we can’t see a violent movie and see what it’s trying to convey without getting violent. I mean, I can see a graphic and violent film like A Clockwork Orange (1971) and understand it’s really a film about learning to give something back to society as opposed to abusing our power. We all know movies are fake, most of us know how to differentiate between fiction and reality, we know how to grasp a concept that a film is trying to convey even though it’s a violent film. If you don’t then my friends it’s something to work on okay! So don’t give me that bull. My big question for Carrey is, dude, didn’t you read the script? Now on the other hand if Carrey’s comments were just a publicity prank to grab some headlines and give the movie some media coverage, that I understand; that I can get!

Chloe Grace Moretz, goofing around behind the scenes

So; on to the movie itself. How was it? Well, I’d say that though it isn’t the same director (Matthew Vaughn stepped out for whatever the reason) the film managed to retain the same feel of the original. We still got the goofy situations with the vigilantes trying to be all that they can be even though they are all just regular people. Loved all the inside jokes at superheroes and comic books; comic book fans will giggle on a constant basis. I will make an observation though; the film is named Kick Ass, not Hit Girl, so why does the film feel that it’s more about Hit Girl then Kick Ass himself? As it is, Hit-Girl has the more interesting story arc here, Kick Ass, as a character, is always playing catch up. I get it, Hit Girl was such a hit with the fan boys across the world that they gave her more screen time. If they ever make a third one, and I hope they do, well, I hope they focus a bit more on Kick Ass himself and his journey towards becoming a hero, because as it is, on this sequel Kick Ass feels like the sidekick, which has always been the case from the very first film. The assortment of villains was pretty nifty. ‘The Motherfucker’ gathers a group of villains to achieve his goals, and so we end up with this crazy group of villains. My favorite was this crazy Russian lady called ‘Mother Russia’, wow, crazy character! She’s the one responsible for most of the graphic violence in the film.

By far the best thing about the movie is how the vigilantes all decide to form a group called ‘Justice Forever’ which feels like the low budget version of ‘The Avengers’ or ‘The Justice League’. I loved those scenes where they get together to patrol the streets and kick ass together. There’s this really cool scene where they fight some villains, and everyone does their part to kick some ass. I love the mantra they shout before going out into the streets. The comic book related jokes fly when these guys get together, funny stuff. So, in the end I think this movie is getting a bad rap unnecessarily, everything is so freaking ‘politically correct’ that if a film has even an inkling of graphic violence or profanity (which Kick Ass 2 has a lot of) the media boycotts it and the masses tune out. I guess it’s all part of the dumbing down of the masses, can’t have them getting violent or emotional, we can’t have the masses, god forbid, exposed to the idea of taking matters into their own hands and trying to make a difference on their own like the vigilantes on this film now do we? But whatever my peoples, I’m always for the waking up of the consciousness, the not playing it so freaking safe, the idea of living your life more or less on the edge, without so much predictability. I’m always pro-action, pro go out there and do stuff. Not necessarily putting on a mask and kicking ass out on the streets, but maybe fighting our own personal motherfuckers and taking control of our destinies, becoming who we really are or should be; as this film, even through its violence, implies. Let’s read between the lines people!  

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Universal Soldier (1992)

Title: Universal Soldier (1992)

Director: Roland Emerich

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker

Universal Soldier is a film that’s primarily known for uniting two huge action stars from the 80’s/90’s; I of course talk of Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Now, back in the day this was a big deal because Van Damme was the action star of the moment. Before Universal Soldier came along, he’d done a string of extremely successful action films like Cyborg (1989), Kickboxer (1989), Lionheart (1990) and Death Warrant (1990). The good thing that Van Damme had going for him was these films were low budget action films that managed to make their money back. Just as an example: Cyborg cost about 500,000 dollars to make yet grossed more than 10 million! Kickboxer cost 1.5 million yet grossed more than 14 million! Van Damme career kept growing, each movie getting just a little bigger. Universal Soldier was the biggest film Van Damme had been a part of up to that point. On the other side of the ring we have Dolph Lundgren who started his career with a small role as a henchman on A View to a Kill (1985), then hit the big time by starring as ‘Ivan Drago’ in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV (1985). He then  took a stab at starting a franchise (and failed miserably) with Masters of the Universe (1987), then worked on a series of low budget yet enjoyable flicks like The Punisher (1989);  which by the way is still the best Punisher film out there if you ask me. He also made the sci-fi action film I Come in Peace (1990) which I’m dying to re-watch, I Come In Peace is such an obscure sci-fi flick that seems to have simply slipped through the cracksn and disappeared. As you can see, both of these actors had respectable action star careers at the time when their careers crossed paths on Universal Soldier, so of course, it was a major event to see them working together on a project. Question is was this movie big enough for the both of them?

Universal Soldier starts out with these two American soldiers on active duty in Vietnam. One of them goes completely bonkers (Lundgren) and starts killing off innocent Vietnamese people without mercy, even going as far as cutting off their ears and making a necklace out of them! In comes Van Damme, the good natured soldier, to try and put an end to his madness and bring the crazed soldier back to reason. Unfortunately Lundgren’s character is too far gone into his madness and so they end up kicking each other’s asses until they kill each other! In comes a special military unit who bags their bodies and ships them off to somewhere. That somewhere ends up being this special program called UNISOL, which basically brings soldiers back from the dead and turns them into these zombie soldiers which the government has complete control over, or so they think! These zombie soldiers don’t look anything like zombies, far from it! You see, the government has apparently developed away to get the Unisol’s skin to regenerate when exposed to the cold. Don’t ask me why; just chalk it up to bullshit movie science. Anyway, it isn’t long before the animosity between these two soldiers reawakens and blamo, we are right back where we started, with these two soldiers trying to kick the living crap out of each other.

This film was directed by Roland Emmerich, a director who is currently known for directing big budget summer blockbusters like Independence Day (1996), Stargate (1994) and 2012 (2009). Recently he directed White House Down (2013). But back in 1992, it was Universal Soldier that ended up being his first truly big budget Hollywood film, it was Emmerich’s big break to prove himself to the big Hollywood moguls. Before it, he’d made a string of small pictures like the supernatural family film Making Contact (1985) and the Michael Pare starring sci-fi film Moon 44 (1990). Universal Soldier ended up being Emmerich’s Hollywood training wheels, after that there was no stopping Emmerich from becoming the successful filmmaker he became. I mean, here’s a filmmaker that plays the Hollywood game every step of the way, he makes the movies that Hollywood producers love. How so? Well, if Hollywood likes PG-13 films because they’ll make more money, then he’ll give them a PG-13 rated film! Hollywood likes a happy ending? Emmerich will give it to them! They don’t like nudity or foul language? He’ll go with that as well. There’s no denying that Emmerich’s films are squeaky clean, he gives Hollywood the formula they want, he plays by their rules and they love it. Now, here’s the interesting thing about Universal Soldier: it comes from another time in Hollywood, another era, and so, here we have a Roland Emmerich film that’s actually rated R, filled with nudity and violence! Who would’ve thought it?

Universal Soldier is a well thought out film in some ways, it was made by a group of people who knew the kind of film they were making and who they were making it for. For example, yeah sure, action films are largely seen by a male audience because we like the action, the explosions, the guns, but it’s no secret that both Dolph Lundgren and Van Damme were a huge hit with the ladies as well, this is probably the reason why the filmmakers decided to include many a scene in which Van Damme’s character stripping. Now if you’ve seen many of Van Damme’s films, then you know that he was in the habit of showing his bare on ass on most of his films. I mean in terms of ass shots, Universal Soldier has got to be some kind of record for Van Damme! There’s this whole scene that revolves around the female protagonist having to look through Van Damme’s whole body for some sort of a tracking device that is hidden beneath his skin, the scene takes a while as the girl slowly but surely makes her way through Van Dammes pectoral muscles and thighs…you get the picture. The filmmakers knew the ladies would get a kick out of these scenes, in fact, just the fact that they had a woman as the lead lets you know that the filmmakers kept the female audience in mind. There’s even a scene with an old lady checking out Van Damme as he walks naked through the street and her son tells her “shame on you!” So yeah, the film is both aimed to please the dudes in the audience (with the action) as well as the ladies, with all of Van Damme’s nude scenes. 

In terms of the action, the film satasfied but didn't exceed my expectations. There’s a couple of action set pieces that are pretty cool, like a chase sequence between a bus and the UNISOLS big ass tank/truck/laboratory thing that takes place in around the Grand Canyon, it’s pretty explosive. And the ‘piece de resistance’ is of course, the big final fight between Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren which is satisfying. By the way, Dolph Lundgren is completely over the top as “GR-13” the crazed UNISOL who goes on a rampage, killing women and children, cutting off peoples ears and then saying sarcastic lines like “I’m all ears!”. Van Damme plays the good guy, he plays the role with a naivete and a vulnerability that goes in clash with Lundgren’s whacked out performance.

The film ended up reminding me of a couple of films, like for example Robocop (1987) because just like officer Alex Murphy worked for the police department in Robocop, these Unisol’s used to be soldiers for the U.S. Army. In both films the robots/zombies are experimental in nature and in both films the units in question begin to remember when they used to be human, so their human memories come rushing in at some point and clash with their robotic natures. But most of all Universal Soldier felt a bit like The Terminator (1984), some scenes seem to be copy pasted from both Terminator films. Even the musical score sounds like the pounding electrical sounds from The Terminator soundtrack. All these similarities with The Terminator franchise make perfect sense when we take in consideration that this film was produced by Mario Kassar, one of the biggest producers to ever walk through Hollywood and also the guys behind Carolco Pictures and one of their biggest hits: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). By the time Universal Soldier was being made, Carolco Pictures was knee deep in debt, and so they needed for Universal Soldier to be a huge hit, if not, it would go completely bankrupt. Now here’s something I’ll never understand, how a studio can have a hit as huge as T2 yet still manage to be bankrupt? I guess it goes to show how deep in debt these guys get in order to make these big budget movies. It also shows that to play the Hollywood game you have to have nerves of freaking steel. So yeah, a lot was riding on this film; a whole freaking studio to be precise! Thankfully, though Universal Soldier wasn’t as big a hit as they expected, it did make its money back in the U.S. with some healthy earnings from abroad. So with the success of Universal Soldier and a couple of other hits like Cliffhanger (1993) and Stargate (1994), Carolco Pictures kept on living for a couple of more years, until the dreadful year of 1995, when they decided to produce Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island (1995), a film that ended up being a gargantuan failure and also the last nail on Carolco Pictures coffin.

So anyhow, what we got here ladies and gents is a decent action flick from the time when action flicks where still violent and graphic; when Hollywood produced violence unabashedly. Sadly, those days are gone and we’re left with washed out action pictures that are nothing like the blood drenched, explosion filled action films of the 80’s and early 90’s. By the way, the dvd includes some nifty extras including a retrospective featurette in which Van Dammage and Lundgren muse about their experiences making the film, also, it includes the original ending which was a whole lot grimmer then the one we actually got, it’s worth a watch. This film was followed by a bunch of lesser sequels like Universal Soldier 2: Brothers in Arms (1998), Universal Soldier: The Return (1999), Universal Soldier Regeneration (2009) and Universal Soldier Day of Reckoning (2012), this last one reunited Van Damme and Lundgren once again, alas in a far smaller take on the Universal Soldiers universe. Now don’t ask me about these cheap ass sequels because I’ve never bothered seeing them, they all look like they’re not worth my time, but this first one? A decent action flick which served as a stepping stone for Emmerich’s career.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Popcorn (1991)

Title: Popcorn (1991)

Director: Mark Herrier/Alan Ormsby

Cast: Tom Villard, Dee Wallace Stone, Jill Schoelen, Kelly Jo Minter, Ray Walston, Tony Roberts

Popcorn is one of those films that celebrates the act of going to the movies with your friends; the joy of watching some cheesy, half assed and unintentionally funny b-movie at your local theater as the pop corn flies through the air and the crowd cheers at the screen as it watches a film through their red and blue tinted 3-D glasses. Oh the fun of watching a movie with a rowdy audience! Popcorn also pays its respects to that time in cinemas when certain film producers marketed their films through the use of gimmicks. One particular producer from the 50’s was famous for promoting his films this way, his name was William Castle. For example, for his first self produced film entitled Macabre (1958), Castle would give you a thousand dollar life insurance that a family member of yours could cash in case you died of fright while watching the film. He also stationed nurses and hearses outside of the movie theater just in case! These gimmicks proved to be successful and Macabre went on to be his first self produced hit. Other films with equally interesting gimmicks followed, for example for The Tingler (1959) starring Vincent Price had one of the most interesting of all these gimmicks. In the film, there’s a creature that attaches to your spinal cord and comes to life whenever you show fear and dies only when you scream in terror!  So Castle rigged theater sits to vibrate during the most terrifying moments in the film, as Vincent Price’s character  hollers from the screen “Scream! Scream for your lives!” Needless to say, everyone in the theater was screaming at a given point in the film. God what I would give to be one of those lucky people who got to see these movies this way! But alas, all we have today are films that pay homage to that bygone era. For example, the film I’ll be reviewing today entitled Popcorn.

In Popcorn we meet a group of film school students who discover that their university has just cut the budget for their film class, so in a desperate move to find funding for their film class, their professor organizes an all night horror film festival to show three classics horror films that used gimmicks to promote themselves. One of the films is called ‘Mosquito’ and on that one, at some point in the film a giant mosquito will hover on top of the crowd. Then there’s ‘The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man’ in which at some point in the film, theater seats are rigged to give audience members a harmless jolt of electricity! The final film of the night is called ‘The Stench’ and on that one, odors are released into the crowd that would go in accordance to what is happening in the film. The students hope that the gimmicks will draw in the crowds. So, one day, while preparing the theater for the festival, the group of students stumble upon an old film canister, unbeknownst to them the film held within is called ‘The Possessor’ a film that was made by a cult leader (and filmmaker) called Lanyard Gates. The Possessor is filled with grotesque imagery that somehow resembles the nightmares of one of the film students! How could this be? How can she be dreaming about a film that she’s never seen? The mystery unravels as the all night horror film festival marches on!

So that’s the basic premise for Popcorn, and while it has been used before, I must admit it’s a pretty nifty premise for a horror film. I’ve always loved that idea about a cursed film; last time I saw that premise played out was in John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns (2005) which was also about a cursed film called “The Absolute End of the World” a film supposedly so horrible, so frightening, that simply watching it triggers madness, chaos and death. We also got a similar story in The Ring (2002). On Popcorn the film is called ‘The Possessor’, and it was made by a filmmaker who doesn’t take criticism very well. As a slasher Popcorn functions well, though lovers of gore will be displeased with the fact that many of the deaths on this film are bloodless, though that doesn’t mean they are any less effective. With the villain in this film, the filmmakers were aiming to create another great horror icon, akin to Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. The character was played by Tom Villard, an actor who normally played nerdy characters in such films as One Crazy Summer (1986), it's very interesting how on Popcorn he is playing against type. This was to be the only film in which Villard got a first billing role; unfortunately, the film never took off; it was not a box office hit. Still, I see this film as one of the last bastions of the 80’s horror scene, because even though it was released in 1991, the film retains that silliness, that goofiness that I love so much from films of the 80’s. This was a horror film of the 90’s, but with an 80’s sensibility to it. For example, there’s this scene in which suddenly, right smack in the middle of the horror festival, the projector stops functioning! Of course the crowd goes nuts! So what do the organizers of the film festival do to quiet down the crowd while they fix their technical troubles? They bring out a Reggae band! So suddenly the horror festival is a reggae concert? Ha! How nuts is that? Then again maybe that scene has something to do with the fact that the whole film was shot in Jamaica? 

The way I see it, Popcorn is kind of like the horror version of Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993), another film that pays homage to the era of films promoted with gimmicks. Both of these films pay homage to William Castle and his special brand of film marketing. Cool thing about Popcorn is that while it is a love letter to those old 50’s and 60’s horror films, at the same time it mixes things up and becomes an 80’s slasher, so basically, it’s like a mish mash of two different eras in horror film history, and speaking of mish mashing, to me Popcorn felt like someone took all those old William Castle films, Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1990), Bad Dreams (1987) and The Phantom of the Opera (1943) put ‘em all in a blender and hit puree! My only gripe with watching this movie is that the image quality on the dvd was piss poor. This was a bad transfer all together, the sound was terrible, the image was grainy and dark…a proper release is in order. I managed to enjoy the film anyways, because I know the film isn’t supposed to look this way, all I kept thinking was how much more I could be enjoying this flick if the transfer had been properly handled. I hear the folks at Elite Entertainment might be releasing this film on a special edition Blue Ray soon, let’s hope it looks better than the dvd I saw.

One of the films within a film 'Mosquito'

Popcorn was half way directed by Alan Ormsby, the writer behind such classics as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1973) and Cat People (1982). Ormsby was responsible for the film within a film segments of Popcorn, that’s right, he’s the guy behind the films they are showing at the horror festival, which by the way are a trio of entertaining segments, a highlight of the picture. The rest of the film was directed by Mark Herrier, an actor who appeared on films like Porky’s (1982), Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983) and Porky’s Revenge (1985). Popcorn was Herrier’s sole directing gig, I honestly can’t imagine why he got this gig though, besides to short films he made, he had no previous experience in directing feature films. I guess this was his one and only chance to direct a feature film, unfortunately, it failed at the box office. So anyhow, that’s the deal with Popcorn my friends. While not an entirely original concept and not an amazing film by any standards, Popcorn remains an enjoyable watch, a forgotten curiosity of 90’s horror before 90’s horror tried being “hip and cool” with films like Scream (1996) and I Know What You did Last Summer (1997). If you’re a horror fan, you’ll get a kick at all the little nods to old horror films, like for example, in the film, posters of classics like The Tingler (1959) and The Incredible Melting Man (1977) are prominently in display in the theater lobby! At the same time, Popcorn displays an 80’s horror slasher vibe to it that I really dug. So there you have it my friends, if you can, search this one out for a night of silly, horror fun! Atrociously bad dialog included! Glad to announce that this popcorn wasn’t stale at all, just remember that in the world of Popcorn, you buy a bag, but go home in a box!  

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 


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