Daredevil

Daredevil

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In light of the recent trailer debut of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the high acclaim garnered by the Netflix “Daredevil” series, today’s feature is the infamous “Daredevil” film, which marked Ben Affleck’s first superhero role.

“Daredevil” was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson (“Ghost Rider,” “Grumpy Old Men”), adapted from the lauded comic book character and series created by Stan Lee, Bil Everett, and Jack Kirby.

The cinematography for “Daredevil” was provided by Ericson Core, who is best known for his work on “The Fast and The Furious” and “Invincible.”

The production designer for “Daredevil” was Barry Chusid, who also worked on films such as “Mystery Men,” “Blade,” “Anaconda,” and “The Day After Tomorrow.”

One of the producers on “Daredevil” was Kevin Feige, which was one of the first producing credits of his career. He has gone on to become President of the enormously successful Marvel Studios, and has overseen such hit films as “The Avengers,” “Thor,” “Iron Man,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

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The special effects team for “Daredevil” included coordinator John McLeod (“Howard the Duck,” “Sin City,” “Face/Off,” “Batman Returns,” “Planet Terror”), foreman Mike Edmonson (“The Avengers,” “Iron Man,” “Theodore Rex”), makeup by Eddie Vargas (“Epic Movie,” “The Midnight Meat Train”), as well as elements from films like “Pulp Fiction,” “12 Monkeys,” “Training Day,” “Deep Blue Sea,” and “R.I.P.D.”

The score was provided by Graeme Revell, who has also composed music for films such as “Street Fighter,” “Spawn,” “Red Planet,” and “Sin City.”

The cast for “Daredevil” is headlined by Ben Affleck (“Gigli,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Argo,” “Gone Girl,” “The Town”) and Jennifer Garner (“Alias,” “Juno”), with an accessory cast that includes Jon Favreau (“Iron Man,” “Swingers”), Colin Farrell (“Winter’s Tale,” “In Bruges,” “Phone Booth,” “Minority Report”), Michael Clarke Duncan (“The Green Mile,” “Armageddon”), Ellen Pompeo (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Catch Me If You Can”), Joe Pantoliano (“Memento,” “The Matrix”), and Kevin Smith (“Clerks,” “Chasing Amy”).

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Apparently, “Spider-Man” crossover references had to be removed from the screenplay due to the rights divide between Sony and Fox over the characters. The Kingpin and Ben Ulrich, characters who are regulars in both franchises, were given specifically to Fox and “Daredevil” for the film, and couldn’t be mentioned in association with Spider-Man specific institutions like The Daily Bugle.

The story of “Daredevil” centers on a blind criminal defense lawyer with superhuman senses who moonlights as a vigilante in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. His activities run him afoul of a number of criminal elements in the city, who try with all of their might to take him down.

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“Daredevil” has a 5.3 IMDb rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 45% (critics) and 36% (audience), making the reception generally negative. However, it was a significant box office hit, grossing over $179 million worldwide on a budget estimated at $78 million. It even justified a spin-off / sequel in “Elektra,” an arguably even more infamous and reviled superhero film.

Apparently, attempts to make a “Daredevil” film started in the 1990s, but took a long time to get of the ground. Likewise, there were a couple of attempts to reboot “Daredevil” by Fox after the 2003 hit, in order to prevent the rights from reverting to Marvel. These ultimately failed, however, which resulted in Marvel and ABC creating the acclaimed Netflix “Daredevil” series that debuted in 2015.

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It has been claimed that the original concept for the “Daredevil” film was to aim for an R-rating, including nudity and extreme violence. The film still certainly maintains a very dark tone for a superhero movie, and the Director’s Cut features a good deal more violence than the version that ultimately made it to theaters.

Jon Favreau, who plays Foggy Nelson in “Daredevil,” was apparently already in talks about making “Iron Man” during filming on “Daredevil,” which launched the eventual Marvel Cinematic Universe that would absorb the Daredevil character in 2015.

It reportedly took 8 months to perfect the “Daredevil” costume, and the ultimate product was apparently very uncomfortable for Ben Affleck to wear. Affleck has been quoted as saying:

“by playing a superhero in “Daredevil,” I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero. Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon.”

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Of the many criticisms of “Daredevil” that I have heard, two consistently stand out. First, most people feel that the film is far too melodramatic, and hard to enjoy because of it. Second, many feel that the pacing and action in the film is far too slow to hold their interest.

Personally, I have never felt that “Daredevil” was excessively dark or gritty in comparison with, say, the Nolan “Batman” movies. However, it certainly isn’t written well, which is where I think the weakness is. Nothing is particularly subtle, so all of the dark elements are bashed over the audiences heads, which isn’t exactly the best way to go about that. As far as the pacing goes, there’s no arguing that “Daredevil” is a high-octane action movie. I honestly think that would have been even worse: Daredevil strikes me as a character that needs to be a bit more atmospheric and human. That said, that doesn’t make the movie any more interesting to watch.

My biggest problem with the film is the amount of digital effects used throughout that have aged about as well as shrimp lost in the back of the fridge. It was still pretty recent technology at the time, but looking back now it really doesn’t hold up, and makes the whole film look more artificial and strange. The other major issue I have is with the obnoxious soundtrack, but that is neither here not there: just a product of the times I suppose.

Overall, “Daredevil” is certainly one of the lesser modern superhero movies. It isn’t nearly as bad as the 1990 “Captain America,” “Howard the Duck,” or even “Green Lantern,” but it is certainly a pretty long way from good. However, I don’t think of it as all that bad, either. It certainly isn’t bad enough to enjoy as a bad movie. Mostly, “Daredevil” mostly serves as a cautionary tale of how not to do a superhero movie, and as a warning that audiences will eventually tire of “gritty, realistic” heroes after a while. It is probably worth a rewatch given the release of the Netflix series and in anticipation of Affleck returning to the realm of superheroes, but there isn’t all that much to get out of it as far as laughs go.

Bargain Bin(ge) Las Vegas: Record City

Welcome to the newest installment of the Bargain Bin(ge), where I cover used DVD stores from around the country and the various movies I have plundered from them.

Earlier this week, work took me out to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. With the limited free time I had, I decided to check out some used media stores in search of DVDs.

lasvegasOne place I checked out was a little hole in the wall on Sahara Ave. called Record City, which proved to be a pretty spiffy spot for digging up DVDs, VHS tapes, and records.

recordcity5 recordcity6 recordcity4 recordcity3 The thing that most stood out to me about Record City was the significant stock of VHS tapes, which is becoming increasingly less common to see. I didn’t wind up picking up any as they are a little unwieldy for air travel, but a VHS copy of “Heavy Metal” definitely stuck out to me on a cursory look-over of the section.

The DVD prices weren’t too bad, but the selection left a little bit to be desired. I still managed to find plenty to walk away with, but it was probably the least impressive of the three shops I visited in Las Vegas, at least from a DVD standpoint.

Apocalypse

7From the looks of it, “Apocalypse” is a lower-budget “Left Behind” knockoff, which leads me to hope that it will make excellent fodder for a (God)Awful Movies segment. From the looks of the trailer, this is going to be an absolute hoot to watch through.

The Vampire Bat

8“The Vampire Bat” is an old vampire movie from the 1930s directed by Frank Strayer, who was behind a ton of horror movies from 1920s through the 1950s. It should make for an interesting watch from an era in horror that I don’t typically cover.

Mitchell

9 10I already wrote about “Mitchell” back as part of the IMDb Bottom 100, and I even already have a copy of it. I just couldn’t resist picking up this obviously fake DVD copy of the movie. What are the odds that “Mitchell” is even on the disc in this box?

Bride of the Gorilla

12“Bride of the Gorilla” is a b-movie about a man who is cursed into becoming a gorilla. It is one of countless movies out there to feature a man in a gorilla suit as the central monster. The writer/director, Curt Siodmak, was a prolific screenplay writer best known for penning “The Wolf Man,” and Lon Chaney, Jr. even pops in for a role in the feature.

The Undead Express

13“The Undead Express” is apparently a movie about vampires living in the New York subway system. From what little I have read, it sounds like it was catered to a younger audience, which certainly isn’t clear from the trailer. Ron Silver of “The West Wing” and “Timecop” leads the cast, which also features a bit role by Wes Craven, which the DVD box advertises as much as possible. I’m not sure what to make of it, but I’m planning to give this movie a shot at some point.

 

Timecop

Timecop

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Welcome back to the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! Today’s feature is the 1994 time travel action flick, “Timecop.”

“Timecop” was directed by Peter Hyams, whose other films have included “End of Days,” “Capricorn One,”  and “Stay Tuned.” He also provided the cinematography for the movie, something that he has done on a number of his features.

“Timecop” is an adaptation of a Dark Horse comic story by Mark Verheiden and Mike Richardson. It was written for the screen by Verheiden, who has worked on films and television shows such as “Smallville,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and “The Mask” as both a writer and a producer.

The music on “Timecop” was provided by Mark Isham, who has provided scores to films like “Point Break,” “Lions For Lambs,” “The Net,” “Quiz Show,” “October Sky,” and “The Hitcher.” Over his significant career, he has accumulated nearly 150 composition credits for films.

The special effects team for “Timecop” included elements from such productions as “Robot Jox,” “E.T.,” “A.I.,” “Lake Placid,” “The Cabin In The Woods,” “Watchmen,” “Superman,” “It,” and “First Blood,” among many others. The visual effects supervisor for “Timecop” was Gregory McMurry, who has worked on such films as “Argo,” “The Core,” “Con Air,” “Predator 2,” “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” and “Blade Runner” over his film career since the 1970s.

The production design on “Timecop” was done by one Philip Harrison, who worked on films like “The Core,” “Spawn,” “Mississippi Burning,” and “Stay Tuned.” “Timecop” was edited by Steven Kemper, who has cut such features as “Face/Off,” “Mission: Impossible II,” and “Harry And The Hendersons.”

The cast for “Timecop” is headlined by Jean-Claude Van Damme, one of the most iconic and recognizable action stars of the era. The accessory cast is filled out by Mia Sara (“Daughter of Darkness,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), Ron Silver (“The West Wing”), Bruce McGill (“Lincoln,” “Collateral”), Gloria Reuben (“ER”), and Kenneth Welsh (“The Aviator”).

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The story of “Timecop,” predictably enough, is about a police officer tasked with stopping crimes committed via time travel. He winds up attempting to thwart a vast power play helmed by an ambitious politician who is exploiting his access to time travel technology as a criminal enterprise.

The success of “Timecop” eventually spawned both a sequel and a television series, and rumors of a remake in the near future have been floating around for a couple of years (without the involvement of JCVD, reportedly).

The Jean-Claude Van Damme movie “Sudden Death” was made back-to-back with “Timecop,” and featured many of the same players from the “Timecop” production team.

“Timecop” wasn’t generally received well by critics, though it is one of the higher regarded films from Jean-Claude Van Damme’s filmography. It currently holds a 5.8 IMDb score, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 43% (critics) and 35% (audience).

“Timecop” was made on a $27 million budget, and grossed close to $102 million worldwide in its theatrical run, making it a significant hit. It is one of the very few Jean-Claude Van Damme movies to break 100 million in total grosses, and is regarded as one of the highlights of his career.

In his review, Roger Ebert called “Timecop” “a low-rent ‘Terminator,'” and that influence can certainly be seen throughout the film. The financial success of the first two “Terminator” movies spawned a horde of imitators, and while the plot to “Timecop” bears less similarities than most of them, the focus on time travel action goes a long way towards inviting comparisons.

A number of the critical complaints I saw about “Timecop” were regarding the way that time travel is treated in the film, in the sense that not enough thought or originality is put into it’s portrayal or repercussions. I think it is a little ridiculous to expect hard science in this sort of action movie, but there are certainly some moments in the story that require some significant suspension of disbelief.

“Timecop” is arguably a showcase of Jean-Claude Van Damme at his peak physique, and that is something the film definitely uses. He is absolutely a believable action hero, and the somewhat infamous shots of his splits certainly aren’t done with special effects.

Speaking of which, the special effects that are used in the film have not particularly aged well, especially when compared to other early 1990s movies. I have seen a number of complaints about this from more recent reviews, but I am sure that in the context of the time they were at least passable. “Timecop” is essentially a step above a b-movie, but not quite an A-list feature, and it definitely looks like it.

Overall, “Timecop” certainly isn’t an elite sci-fi or action movie, and isn’t anywhere near my go to “-cop” movies (“Robocop,” “Maniac Cop,” “Samurai Cop”…). There are better action movies and better sci-fi movies, but “Timecop” finds a perfectly OK middle ground. It isn’t incredibly memorable, but I don’t think most would regret watching it.

“Timecop” certainly has some fun moments, and if you are a fan of JCVD, this is almost sure to be up your alley. I definitely recommend checking out the We Hate Movies podcast episode on the movie to get a more thorough idea of what you are in for. It treads the line between being a bad movie and just being a generic action flick, but either way you can find some enjoyment here.

Bargain Bin(ge) Las Vegas: Zia Record Exchange – Eastern

Welcome to the newest installment of the Bargain Bin(ge), where I cover used DVD stores from around the country and the various movies I have plundered from them.

Earlier this week, work took me out to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. With the limited free time I had, I decided to check out some used media stores in search of DVDs.

lasvegasI wound up visiting two locations of Zia Record Exchange, a chain of used media stores in the Southwestern states of Arizona and Nevada. This particular segment covers the Eastern Avenue location in Las Vegas, a little ways off the beaten path.

ziaeastern8 ziaeastern9As with the Sahara Ave. location, the Zia on Eastern is very much defined by its ambiance. I will say that it isn’t quite as distinctive as the Sahara location, and that it is a little better spaced out (I think the floorplan may be a bit bigger). This location proved to have an equally impressive movie selection, and plenty of good deals to go around.

ziaeastern1ziaeastern2ziaeastern3ziaeastern4ziaeastern5ziaeastern6ziaeastern7As you might expect, I came away with a pretty good haul after spending some time scouring through the bargain bins and shelves. Here’s are the flicks I came home with:

Destroy All Planets / Attack of The Monsters

14I am a total sucker for old kaiju movies, and these are two of the most ridiculous entries into the infamous “Gamera” franchise. I marathoned all of the classic ones a while back, and I thoroughly recommend checking out the MST3k treatment for “Attack of the Monsters” (“Gamera vs Guiron”).

The Beast of Yucca Flats

15Here’s a flick I covered as part of the IMDb Bottom 100: “The Beast of Yucca Flats.” It is usually in high consideration for being one of the worst films ever made, and the director, Coleman Francis, is easily one of the most notoriously awful filmmakers in history. Tor Johnson of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” stars in it, making it a sort of perfect storm of awfulness. I recommend checking out the MST3k treatment if you want to watch it, or else it is not a pleasant experience.

Gamera: Return of the Giant Monsters / The Magic Serpent

16“Gamera: Return of the Giant Monsters” is better known as “Gamera vs Gyaos,” and is one of the classics in the “Gamera” franchise. “The Magic Serpent,” on the other hand, seems to be a more obscure kaiju creature feature that leans more towards being a fantasy ninja epic. I’m curious to see how it is, because the few reviews out there about it seem positive.

It’s Alive

17“It’s Alive” is a cult classic from Larry Cohen, and a movie that I have had a lot of trouble finding on DVD. I’m a pretty big fan of the Cohen stuff I have seen, so this one has been on the top of my “to watch” list for a while now. Also, it is about a ridiculous killer baby. I am totally down with that. It got a remake a few years ago that I have also been meaning to check out. Keep your eyes peeled, because this one is for sure going to be popping up on the blog soon.

Active Stealth

18“Active Stealth” is a movie that stars Daniel Baldwin of “Car 54, Where Are You?,” “King of the Ants,” and “Vampires.” I think of him as a modern version of Joe Estevez, in that he is related to a famous person that he kind of looks like, and uses the similarities to rack up endless b-movie acting gigs. As for “Active Stealth,” director Fred Olen Ray has over 130 directing credits on b-movies like “Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers” and “Super Ninja Bikini Babes,” so I have to assume that this is a quality action flick.

Bloody Birthday

Bloody Birthday

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Today marks my 26th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, I decided to surround myself with close friends and family, and take a little break from the world of awful movies. Just kidding! I watched a shitty movie with a birthday theme.

1981’s “Bloody Birthday” was co-written and directed by Ed Hunt, whose credits include a documentary called “UFO’s Are Real” and an episode of “Greatest Heroes of The Bible.” Sounds like just the sort of person I try to avoid in my daily life. The other co-writer on “Bloody Birthday” is one Barry Pearson, who primarily producers television programs that I assume no one has ever seen.

The music for “Bloody Birthday” was done by Arlon Ober, who provided scores for such horror films as “Incredible Melting Man,” “Q,” “Child’s Play,” and “House.”

The cinematographer on “Bloody Birthday” was Stephen L. Posey, who might be best known for his work on the much-maligned “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning.”

The special effects on “Bloody Birthday” were provided by Roger George, who worked on films like “Blacula,” “The Terminator,” “Saturday the 14th,” “Chopping Mall,” “Ghoulies,” and “Repo Man.”

The cast of “Bloody Birthday” includes Lori Lethin (“The Day After”), Susan Strasberg (“Scream of Fear,” “Picnic”), Billy Jayne (“Cujo”), Julie Brown (“Plump Fiction,” “Earth Girls Are Easy”), Jose Ferrer (“Dune”), and Michael Dudikoff (“American Ninja”) in a background role, the same year as “Enter The Ninja.”

bloodybirthday4The story of “Bloody Birthday” centers around three children who were born on the same day, and are apparently ravenous killers due to the astrological situation at the time of their birth. Around their 11th birthdays, they decided to go on a spree, picking off parents, teachers, and local teenagers. One of their classmates and a babysitter start to catch on, but the town refuses to believe that children are behind the string of horrific murders.

bloodybirthday5“Bloody Birthday” went by a number of alternate titles in foreign markets, including “Killers of the Eclipse” and “Children of the Devil,” which are both easily more appropriate names for the film. I assume “Bloody Birthday” was chosen because of the trend of naming horror movies after assorted holidays, despite how tangential the birthday actually is to the story.

“Bloody Birthday” currently has a 5.7 score on IMDb, as well as a 38% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it does have a little bit of a cult following among horror aficionados, but it is still a bit of an obscure film. I couldn’t dig up any financial information on the film, but I assume that the budget was plenty low and that it didn’t receive any kind of wide release, given that the production company behind it has no other credits.

There are certainly plenty of things to criticize about “Bloody Birthday.” First off, the trio of evil children aren’t exactly stealthy killers, but the small town is apparently incapable of hearing gunshots ring out in the night. They also kill in broad daylight on a couple of occasions, giving little mind to the fear of witnesses.

Speaking of which, how strong are these children supposed to be? It could be argued that they are cursed by their astrological destiny, but that doesn’t really excuse their ability to beat a grown man to death. I happen to know that there are plenty of scientifically accurate studies out there about how many 5th graders grown adults can take in hand to hand combat, and this film doesn’t seem to fit with those findings.

bloodybirthday3I don’t think I need to go into the problems with the astrology-based mythos behind this movie’s plot. Basically, the alignments of planets do not affect people’s personalities. Also, why aren’t there thousands of maniacal children in this movie? Surely there were more than three kids born on the astrologically significant day in question?

To the credit of the child actors in “Bloody Birthday” the killer kids are genuinely creepy in this movie. I usually dread any movies that rely on children in key roles, but this trio is absolutely passable here. The rest of the acting in the film is your typically b-movie mixed bag, but it is all serviceable enough in my opinion.

bloodybirthday2Overall, “Bloody Birthday” isn’t a great horror movie. It has a few creative deaths that are worth watching, and the evil children keep it interesting, but this is more of a copycat of other horror movies than anything unique to itself. There also isn’t a very satisfying conclusion, which brings it down a peg.

As far as a recommendation goes, you could certainly do a lot worse. The movie is paced well enough, and never quite felt boring. If you want to watch an obscure horror movie or are itching to watch children murder people, “Bloody Birthday” will satisfy you.

Bargain Bin(ge) Las Vegas: Zia Record Exchange – Sahara

Welcome to the newest installment of the Bargain Bin(ge), where I cover used DVD stores from around the country and the various movies I have plundered from them.

Earlier this week, work took me out to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. With the limited free time I had, I decided to check out some used media stores in search of DVDs.

lasvegasI wound up visiting two locations of Zia Record Exchange, a chain of used media stores in the Southwestern states of Arizona and Nevada. This particular segment covers the Sahara Avenue location in Las Vegas, not far from the touristy allures of the casinos and hotels.

ziasahara11 ziasahara10 ziasahara8 ziasahara9 ziasahara4 ziasahara3 ziasahara2 ziasahara1The first thing that stood out to me about Zia was the cool ambiance to the place. The walls and signs are all well-decorated and hip, making for a top-notch atmosphere. As the name suggests, it is primarily a record store, but the inclusion of movies is hardly an afterthought: the selection was really fantastic, and I wound up finding a number of films I haven’t been able to find anywhere else in the wild. “Weekend at Bernie’s 2” comes to mind, though the price wasn’t right for me to walk away with it. Likewise, they had copies of “God Told Me To” with Larry Cohen commentary and “Leviathan,” although both were outside of what I wanted to pay.

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All of that said, I still found some good deals, and walked away with a nice stack of DVDs. If you find yourself in Las Vegas, it is worth your time to check out the selection at Zia Record Exchange if you are a fan of rare and cult films.

Cloned

1“Cloned” is a television movie from the early 2000s starring Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing,” “Cabin In The Woods”) and Elizabeth Perkins (“Weeds”). I’m a big fan of Whitford, but I haven’t seen him do much outside of his snarky, comedic comfort zone. The same goes for Perkins, who became mostly a comic relief player in “Weeds” in the later seasons. This looks to be a pretty heavy drama laced with sci-fi elements, so I’m interested to see how they work with a more somber backdrop.

It Lives Again / Island of the Alive

2I was rather delighted to find a combined copy of Larry Cohen’s sequels to the 1974 classic “It’s Alive,” partially because I have never seen copies of them before, and party because of how outlandish the premises are. Larry Cohen has a knack for finding the sweet spot between horror and comedy, and is one of my favorite b-movie directors along with Stuart Gordon for doing it so well. I’m planning to go through the whole “It’s Alive” trilogy soon, maybe in a multi-week spotlight on Larry Cohen much like I did with Gordon.

Special Effects

3This is another Larry Cohen flick that I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of. I don’t know much about this one, apart from that it is a twisted homage to Hitchcock’s thrillers. The premise of a movie director making a film about a murder he got away with is certainly intriguing, and I’m interested to see how Cohen pulls it off. He can certainly write suspense if “Phone Booth” is any indication, so this should be an interesting watch.

In Too Deep / Glass Shield / Cry, The Beloved Country / License To Kill / Malevolent / A Rage In Harlem / Road Ends / Ice

4I always love grabbing discount movie collections, because you always get your money’s worth in screen time at the very least. As opposed to most horror box sets composed of amateur flicks with awful effects, this action/crime set seems to be mostly built from TV movies featuring bankable stars (Ice Cube, Dennis Hopper, Forrest Whitaker, and Denzel Washington to name a few in here). The most prominent of the bunch on the box is “In Too Deep,” which was directed by Michael Rymer, who has since made a name for himself producing and directing on the hit TV shows “Hannibal” and “Battlestar: Galactica.” I’ll be interested to do more research into this lot, and see if there is some blog material in here.

Roadie

5“Roadie” is apparently a musical comedy starring Meat Loaf. I didn’t read any further into it than that, apart from finding out that the director, Alan Rudolph, was behind the “Breakfast of Champions” film adaptation. I’m assuming that this movie is going to be just awful, but I’m planning to buckle in for the experience.

Transformed

6I don’t know what this movie is, but it involves Fred Williamson, drugs, and martial arts, so I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. This may have been a mistake.

The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai

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Today’s feature is a little film called “The Last Samurai.” No, not the 2003 Tom Cruise movie that we are all familiar with: the 1991 Lance Henriksen movie that no one has ever heard of.

“The Last Samurai” was directed and written by Paul Mayersburg, who is best known for writing “The Man Who Fell To Earth” and “Croupier.” “The Last Samurai” was the last of three films that he directed, but he is still active as a screenwriter, and is currently attached to an announced 2016 movie called “Killer Surreal.”

The cinematography for “The Last Samurai” was provided by Sven Persson, who worked on and off on films set in Africa since the late 1940s according to his IMDb entry. “The Last Samurai” is his last reported film work.

One of the producers of “The Last Samurai” is a man named Tony Carbone, who has no other recorded producing credits. However, he has a co-writing credit on a 2010 episode of the television series “Archer” called “Honeypot,” which is a fan favorite in the series. I’m a little curious if these are indeed the same person, and how he wound up with these credits decades apart from each other.

lastsamurai4The special effects on “The Last Samurai” are credited to Massimo Vico, who worked on films such as “King Solomon’s Mines” and Albert Pyun’s infamous “Alien From L.A.”

The stunt coordinator for “The Last Samurai,” Scott Ateah, has gone on to work on over 200 films, including big budget productions like “Watchmen,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Slither,” and “I, Robot,” as well as infamous flicks like “The Core,” “Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2,” “The Wicker Man,” and a whole bunch of “Air Bud” movies.

The cast of “The Last Samurai” is headlined by Lance Henriksen, a veteran b-movie actor who is best known for his role as the android Bishop in “Aliens.” However, he has also been featured in movies like “The Pit and The Pendulum,” “The Mangler 2,” “Hard Target,” “Super Mario Bros.,” and more movies about Sasquatch than you might expect. John Fujioka takes the other central role, and has appeared in films like “American Ninja” and “Mortal Kombat.” The rest of the cast features John Saxon, a veteran character actor who has appeared in features like “Mitchell,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “From Dusk Til Dawn,” Arabella Holzbog of “Carnosaur 2” and Richard Linklater’s “Bad News Bears” remake, and Lisa Eilbacher of “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Leviathan,” and “10 to Midnight.”

lastsamurai3When it comes to summarizing the story of “The Last Samurai,” I can’t possibly do any better than the back of the suspiciously-fake-looking DVD case that I paid 95 cents for:

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“Japanese multimillionaire, Yasojiro Endo journeys to Africa to find the truth about a Samurai ancestor who disappeared two centuries ago and to find the true spirit of the Samurai in himself. While on a safari with mercenary Johnny, he bumps into a business acquaintance also on safari, except he is actually in the midst of a covert arms deal. Endo and Johnny are now in the way, and must reach deep within themselves and come to terms with their personal demons to summon their strength for their fight to the finish. They confront their inner selves, and both discover their true nature is that of the Samurai.”

“The Last Samurai” was initially released straight to video in Germany, and took a number of years to get distribution in the United States. As I mentioned earlier, almost no one has heard of this movie, so it clearly didn’t make a financial splash. Predictably, there is no budget information about the film available, but I have to assume that it was very, very low.

“The Last Samurai” starts with a black and white, slow motion sparring session, which is later implied to be a moment from a former life of Fujioka’s character. It doesn’t really fit with the rest of the film, and I am a little curious as to if it was filmed after the fact and edited in. The fact that it was used for at least one home video cover of the movie has me a little suspicious.

lastsamurai2My first thought after starting “The Last Samurai” was “Holy crap, this score is awful.” The theme sounds like a synthesizer replication of a middle school saxophone player warming up.  The rest of the score is a mixture of ominous synthesizer tones and occasional drum beats, which gets very old quickly. The music is credited to a guy named Rene Veldsman, who only did scores for six low budget movies in his career, which is probably for the best.

I’m not sure if the problem is my DVD copy or if it is the movie itself (or a combination of the two), but the film quality here is just abysmal. to the point that it is honestly distracting whenever there are sudden movements or cuts.

Lance Henriksen portrays a mercenary in “The Last Samurai,” and has a line at one point that I am willing to bet was pulled from real life. When negotiating his pay, Henriksen nearly runs down Fujioka with a car, after which the following exchange takes place:

“You have a Japanese sense of theater”

“If I’m an actor, I want 20 grand. A day.”

I’ll admit, I got a little giggle out of that.

Speaking of which, the acting in “The Last Samurai” is a mixed bag. Lance Henriksen thankfully hams up his character, and makes his segments entertaining. He even seems to be enjoying himself with the role, which is really great to see. Fujioka makes a lot of dramatic use of a personal fan, which I think is supposed to be stately, but just looks kind of ridiculous in the context of the film. John Saxon also stands out, if for no other reason than because of his astounding miscasting as a wealthy middle eastern arms dealer. His attempts to nail down his character’s accent and just surreal coming from a second generation Italian immigrant from Brooklyn. The rest of the cast outside of those three, however, is abysmal. There is clearly a lot of use of non-actors who can barely get through a line, which makes any interactions between the actual actors and the accessory cast excruciating.

At least some of the blame for the performances has to be leveled at Mayersburg, given he both directed the feature and wrote the dialogue (which some of the actors were understandably having trouble with). His inexperience as a director almost certainly contributed to some of the problems with the movie, and I think it is safe to say the the film is better written than it is directed.

All of that said, the movie isn’t all bad. It takes way too long to get going, but the last 20 minutes of action is pretty fun, and Henriksen absolutely thrives in his role. The movie could definitely have used some more editing to help with the pacing and the extraneous character details that bog it down, especially given how long it feels at 1 hour 30 minutes. Still, there are far more tortuous film experiences out there, and this flick at least offers some redeeming moments.

As far as a recommendation goes, if you have ever wanted to see Lance Henriksen’s bare ass or watch him awkwardly play with a monkey, this is the movie for you. Outside of those niche interests, “The Last Samurai” is a bit too slow to recommend outright, though the highlights are probably worth checking out.

American Psycho 2

American Psycho 2

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Today’s feature is yet another reviled and unnecessary sequel: 2002’s “American Psycho 2,” starring Mila Kunis and William Shatner.

“American Psycho 2” was directed by a fellow named Morgan J. Freeman, who has most recently served as an executive producer on the reality television show “Teen Mom.” He has also had a handful of directing credits since the early 1990s, but nothing since a few television episodes in 2010.

The screenplay for “American Psycho 2” is credited to two people: Alex Sanger and Karen Craig. Craig has another writing credit for a 2005 television movie, but outside of that neither individual has credited film writing experience.

The cinematography on “American Psycho 2” was provided by Vanja Cernjul, who has worked on acclaimed television series such as “Bored to Death,” “Nurse Jackie,” “30 Rock,” and “Orange Is The New Black,” as well as a handful of films like “Wristcutters: A Love Story.”

The “American Psycho 2” score was composed by Norman Orenstein, who has worked on the music for the “Cube” sequels, George Romero’s “Diary of the Dead,” and the “Animorphs” television series.

The producing team for “American Psycho 2” features a trio of returning producers from “American Psycho,” including an eventual president of production for Lion’s Gate in Michael Paseornek. Paseornek, along with fellow producers Chris Hanley and Christian Halsey Solomon, are the only returning elements from the original film.

The cast of “American Psycho 2” is headlined by Mila Kunis, who was in the middle of her success with “That 70s Show.” Her earlier credits included a handful of child roles in films like “Santa With Muscles” and “Piranha,” and she has of course gone on to have significant success as both a live action star (“Black Swan,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) and a voice actor (“Family Guy”). The rest of the cast is pretty sparse on recognizable faces outside of William Shatner, who most know from his role as Captain Kirk in “Star Trek.” However, his lengthy career has also featured a couple of famous “Twilight Zone” episodes, a handful of memorable b-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders,” and a whole lot of other television roles (like “T.J. Hooker”).

americanpsycho22The story of “American Psycho 2” centers around a young college student obsessed with becoming a professional criminal profiler, who believes that becoming a Teaching Assistant under a noted professor is the key to realizing that goal. Over the course of the film, she targets and eliminates all of the perceived obstacles and rivals that stand between her and the coveted position. The tenuous connection to “American Psycho” comes in the form of her back story, which shows that, as a child, she witnessed Patrick Bateman murder her babysitter. She then killed Bateman while he was distracted and escaped the murder scene, leaving a mystery as to how Patrick Bateman came to meet his end.

The production company behind “American Psycho 2,” Lionsgate, is now regarded as one of the top “mini-major” film studios in the business, producing blockbusters like “The Hunger Games.” However, that has only been the case since about 2012. Before that, though they co-produced some larger features with other studios (such as “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Day After Tomorrow”), they primarily dealt with upper-end b-movies and horror films: “American Psycho,” “Cube,” and “Saw,” for instance.

From what I can tell, in 2002 “American Psycho” was one of the few profitable properties Lionsgate had, and the studio needed a film that could be depended on to make some money. Apparently, the producers took a screenplay and amended it to provide a tenuous connection to “American Psycho,” and went ahead with branding it as a sequel, assuming that the name recognition would equate to profits. This predictably angered the fan base of the original film on principle alone, but the ultimate product made them exponentially more livid.

MCDAMPS EC009The notoriously fickle and ill-tempered author of “American Psycho,” Bret Easton Ellis, has of course denounced the film as an unnecessary and shameful sequel. Even Mila Kunis is reportedly ashamed of the film, though she is certainly a much bigger star now than she was in 2002, and can afford to dissociate herself from earlier embarrassing works.

“American Psycho 2” never got a theatrical release, and went straight to home video distribution. Of course, given the annoyed fan base of the original film, the sub-par script, and the cheap production, it was not received well. The film currently holds an IMDb rating of 3.9, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 11% (critics) and 18% (audience), which is abysmal by all accounts.

Given the obsession with detail featured in both the book and film of “American Psycho,” it is an extra spit in the eye that this sequel is so lax in its attention to minor (and major) details. For instance, Mila Kunis’s character is called the wrong name in displayed newspaper and book features, even after her fake identity and history is exposed.

Personally, my biggest issue with this movie is how poorly it lived up to its potential as a film. The forced changes to the script to make the film into an “American Psycho” sequel ruined what could have been an interesting young adult-focused serial killer movie with a rewrite or two. I didn’t even think the performances were completely awful, which is a major criticism I have seen of film time and time again. Shatner probably wasn’t the best casting, but I am willing to bet he was the biggest name that the production could get for the money that they paid. After all, this was movie that was engineered (poorly) to profit, which means they wanted bang for their buck. At the time, I have to assume that both Kunis and Shatner came pretty cheap, but were still recognizable enough to market. With a little more attention, money, and time, I think the nugget of a story beneath “American Psycho 2” could have been turned into something at least palatable.

americanpsycho23Overall, even if you can divorce the film from “American Psycho” to look at it on its standalone merits, you can tell that it was rushed and made for cheap. It is a film that was never allowed to properly incubate, the the consequence is a sub-par product. It should be looked at as a cautionary tale of what happens when studio interests and producers are allowed to run wild without the checks and balances of an artistic force passionate for the project. Films take a delicate mixture of elements to work, and when the balances are thrown off, things go wrong. “American Psycho 2” is on the opposite end of the spectrum of passion projects, where the artist is unchecked by reason (movies like “Slipstream,” “Glitter,” or “Battlefield: Earth”). Basically, this is an example of a “no-passion” project, where the studio and production logic went unchecked by dedication or artistic merit.

It should probably go without saying, but this isn’t a recommendation from me, outside of a quasi-academic curiosity. Unless you are a huge fan of Kunis or Shatner and want to take a trip through their respective filmographies, this is pretty skippable. If you are a fan of “American Psycho” and want to get angry enough to raise your blood pressure, give it a shot. As far as memorable moments go, there is a creative death by condom, so that may be worth giving a look.

 

Congo

Congo

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Today’s feature was actually a significant financial success, which moviegoers of 1995 should be embarrassed about now. Here is arguably the least of Michael Crichton film adaptations, “Congo.”

“Congo” was directed by Frank Marshall, a prolific producer with over 100 credits (including “Back to the Future” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) whose directing roles before “Congo” included “Alive” and “Arachnophobia.”

“Congo” is loosely based on a best-selling novel by Michael Crichton, who has done his fair share of screen writing and directing on top of writing countless treasured books like “Jurassic Park” and “The Andromeda Strain.” However, the screenplay for “Congo” was written by John Patrick Shanley, an Academy Award winning writer who was behind “Moonstruck” and “Doubt.” Reportedly, Shanley didn’t read the source material, and wrote the screenplay more or less based on a simple synopsis of the story.

The cinematography for “Congo” was provided by Allen Daviau, who was Steven Spielberg’s go-to director of photography earlier in his career, giving him credits on films like “Amblin,” “The Color Purple,” “E.T.,” and “Empire of the Sun.” He also provided cinematography for “Van Helsing,” another film I have covered here on the blog.

The music for “Congo” was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who worked on scores for films like “Supergirl,” “Mulan,” “Alien,” “Small Soldiers,” and “Gremlins,” among countless others.

Stan Winston was brought in to create the gorillas for “Congo,” specifically because of his impressive work on “Jurassic Park.” In fact, without his abilities showcased in “Jurassic Park,” “Congo” would likely have stayed in production limbo indefinitely, until effects could catch up enough to effectively replicate gorillas.

“Congo” features a pretty deep cast of actors, including Joe Don Baker (“Mitchell,” “Final Justice,” “Leonard Part 6”) Dylan Walsh (“Nip/Tuck”), Laura Linney (“The Truman Show”), Ernie Hudson (“Ghostbusters”), and Tim Curry (“It,” “Clue,” “McHale’s Navy”). Beloved b-movie actor Bruce Campbell (“Evil Dead”) also makes a brief appearance in the opening of the movie, and absolutely kills it with his trademark charm before being dispatched by angry gorillas.

The complicated story behind “Congo” involves a number of plots that converge in an expedition into the jungles of the Congo. A team of scientists is seeking to reintroduce a gorilla into the wild, while a number of other parties piggy-back on the operation in search of diamonds, a mythical monument, and a missing loved one. As you would expect, things quickly go awry for the team.

congo5Famous singer Jimmy Buffett appears briefly in the movie, portraying a pilot. Buffett is actually a trained pilot in real life, which I suppose qualified him for the role.

The diamonds used in the production are actually quartz crystals called Herkimer Diamonds, which were the only believable and large enough stones available for the movie. They are very rare, and are only found in specific areas of New York. The crystal at the end of the film that is thrown away was reportedly actually lost, and is presumably still out there somewhere.

congo8“Congo” has a long production history, extending to before the novel was even published in 1980. The success and technical breakthroughs of “Jurassic Park” gave the incentive to get it off the ground, as previously there wasn’t enough confidence in the effects available to portray the apes. Unfortunately, the effects still weren’t advanced enough to handle portraying apes, due to the difficulties in replicating hair. So, ultimately, gorilla suits and models were used anyway.

“Congo” had a box office total of over $150 million worldwide on an estimated budget of $50 million, primarily because of the significant promotion of the film and the lingering hype over “Jurassic Park,” which was fanned by the advertising campaign which drew intentional comparisons between the two films. “Congo” was ultimately the #16 movie of 1995, coming ahead of critically lauded movies like “Braveheart,” “Heat,” “12 Monkeys,” and “Casino.”

The reception for the movie, however, was not so good. “Congo” currently has an IMDb score of 5.0, as well as Rotten Tomatoes rating of 22% (critics) and 29% (audience), making for a very poor reception across the board.

The ape suits clearly don’t match the impressive effects work in “Jurassic Park,” and have aged very poorly. However, there clearly weren’t any other viable options at the time for creating the apes. Realistically, the only thing that could have been done was to just shelve the movie, which would mean losing out on the coat-tails of “Jurassic Park,” which was the prime catalyst for the production to start with. So, I can excuse the ape suits here, at least from a production standpoint. Regardless, this is probably the most disappointing major creature work by Stan Winston outside of “Lake Placid.”

congo4“Congo” features a number of over-the-top accents which struck me as entirely unnecessary. Tim Curry is by far the worst offender, but his faux-Romanian accent is at least entertaining and hammy. Ernie Hudson puts on a bit of an English accent that is also a bit amusing, but perhaps even more unnecessary for his character than Curry’s near-offensive Romanian.

A number of the criticisms I have seen of “Congo” point out the apparently implied romance between Dylan Walsh and Amy the gorilla, which I think was intentional on some level. Both Amy and Walsh’s character were supposed to be sympathetic, and their bond was central to the story. However, particularly at the end of the film, it seemed like they pushed the relationship a bit too far and overt, and it just didn’t come off as well as hoped. Honestly, I think this is at least partly due to how Walsh played the character. I would be shocked if Campbell (who was also up for the role) wouldn’t have played the relationship as more brotherly or parental in comparison to Walsh’s teary-eyed romantic vibe.

congo3Speaking of which, I think “Congo” really suffers from not having enough Bruce Campbell or Joe Don Baker in the story. Both men have powerful presences and personalities, and steal every moment they are on screen. At the very least, having either of them on the main expedition would have made the film more entertaining to watch.

congo6I can’t very well not mention the diamond-powered “communication lasers” at the center of the plot. It obviously sounds fancy, interesting, and potentially insidious, but it just doesn’t make any sense. How exactly are lasers to be used for communication? Also, why are the lasers solely used as weapons when they are supposedly for “communications”? Was that intentional, and the purpose was to develop new military technology all along? It just isn’t clear.

This isn’t exactly a criticism as much as an observation, but the face in the lost city definitely reminded me of Olmec from the TV game show “Legend of the Hidden Temple.” Of course two stone faces are going to look similar, but just take a look for yourself:

congo7 congo9Overall, “Congo” is a pretty dull movie that is only somewhat redeemed by a handful of over-the-top performances. It isn’t good enough to be “Jurassic Park” and isn’t incompetent or goofy enough to be “Anaconda,” and exists in an uncomfortable limbo space in between the two. Realistically, it shouldn’t have been made when it was, and the quality was a costly casualty of a rushed cash-in on the back of “Jurassic Park.” I can still recommend this movie on the strengths of Tim Curry, Bruce Campbell, Joe Don Baker, and the power of nostalgia, but I would be lying if I said making a drinking game of this flick wouldn’t make the experience much easier.

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Bargain Bin(ge) New Orleans: Louisiana Music Factory

Welcome to the latest installment of the Bargain Bin(ge), where I cover used DVD stores from around the country and the various movies I have plundered from them. This past weekend, I took a trip down to New Orleans: one of the most unique and interesting cities in the United States. Of course, I managed to take some time to dig into a couple of local used media spots between enjoying the cajun food and the sights.

nolaThe Louisiana Music Factory is a used media shop on the edge of New Orleans’s French Quarter, sitting on the extreme end of the increasingly popular Frenchman Street. As the name suggests, LMF is primarily a record store, and also has a little stage for live music. That said, it does have a little DVD section that I decided to peruse.

musicfactory6 musicfactory7 musicfactory5 LMF is a cool spot with an interesting ambiance, and shouldn’t be missed if you find yourself in the French Quarter. It is worth the short hike down Decatur. However, you shouldn’t be going for the movies: this is a pure record store, and that’s what you should spend your time digging into here. Unfortunately, records aren’t easy to pack in carry-ons, so I was out of luck. Regardless, I wound up tilling up a couple of worthy DVD finds there.

Caddyshack II

Frankly, this is a movie that absolutely shouldn’t exist. Caddyshack II is a truly reviled sequel that suffered immensely from behind the scenes tensions during the early days of the production. Chevy Chase is the only returning cast member, and he only rarely appears. Rodney Dangerfield backed out before filming, Harold Ramis wanted as little to do with it as possible, and notorious hair-stylist turned producer Jon Peters had a heavy hand in making sure the movie got made in spite of every omen that it shouldn’t be. It is often said that there is nothing worse than bad comedy, but the sheer amount of trivia behind this disaster has me curious to give it a watch.

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Sister Street Fighter

Here is a little spinoff that I actually had no idea existed: Sister Street Fighter. I don’t typically cover martial arts movies, but I’ve had my eye on the Sonny Chiba “Streetfighter” series for a while now (not to be confused with the JCVD video game adaptation). “Sister Street Fighter” is apparently a parallel story to “Street Fighter,” and briefly features Chiba. I’m expecting some extreme b-movie violence, and hopefully an enjoyable watch here. Expect a review on this flick sooner or later on the blog.

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