1990: The Bronx Warriors

1990: The Bronx Warriors

1990bronx1

Today’s feature is an infamous Italian knock-off of The Warriors: 1990: The Bronx Warriors, starring Vic Morrow and Fred Williamson.

1990 :The Bronx Warriors was co-written and directed by Enzo Castellari, who also created The Shark Hunter, Keoma, and the original Inglorious Bastards. His co-writers were Elisa Briganti (Hands of Steel, Zombie, The House By The Cemetery) and Dardano Sacchetti (The Beyond, Devil Fish, The Demons, Amityville II, A Bay of Blood).

The cinematographer for The Bronx Warriors was Sergio Salvati, yet another member of the crew who was a frequent cohort and collaborator of Lucio Fulci’s: he shot his films City of The Living Dead, They Died With Their Boots On, Four of the Apocalypse, Zombie, and The Beyond. Later on, he worked on a handful of other memorable horror movies, such as Ghoulies II and Puppetmaster.

The editor for the movie was Gianfranco Amicucci, who also cut a number of Castellari’s other films, including Keoma, The Inglorious Bastards, and The Shark Hunter. He also went on to edit a number of Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust) movies, including The Washing Machine and Mom I Can Do It.

The producer of the film was Fabrizio De Angelis, who also produced a handful of memorable Italian films like Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, Manhattan Baby, and The Beyond. He also directed and produced the entire Karate Warrior franchise, as well as a number of other low budget films.

The makeup effects team for The Bronx Warriors was made up of Antonio Maltempo (The Godfather Part III, The English Patient, Manhattan Baby) and Maurizio Trani (Zombie, Piranha II, Troll 2, Ator 4),

The musical score for 1990: The Bronx Warriors was done by Walter Rizzati, who also has composing credits on such films as The House By The Cemetery, Deadly Impact, and something called Flying Sex, which IMDb doesn’t have a description for. Just let your imagination decide on that one.

The cast of 1990: The Bronx Warriors includes Vic Morrow (The Bad News Bears, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Humanoids From The Deep), Fred Williamson (Black Caesar, Hell Up In Harlem, From Dusk Til Dawn, MASH, The Inglorious Bastards), Marco De Gregorio (Thunder, Escape From The Bronx), Christopher Connelly (Manhattan Baby, Django 2), Joshua Sinclair (Keoma), George Eastman (Hands of Steel, Porno Holocaust, Anthropophagus, Django Kills Softly), Stefania Girolami (Sinbad of the Seven Seas, The Last Shark) and Angelo Ragusa (The Pumaman, Double Team).

1990bronx5

The plot of 1990: The Bronx Warriors takes place in the futuristic wasteland that is New York City in 1990. The city is ruled by rival gangs, and is considered essentially lawless. After a wealthy heiress runs away from home into the city, a mercenary is sent into the warzone to insure her safe return. What results is a convergence of warlords and cut-throat baddies into an all-out battle for the city.

Marco De Gregorio was cast as the lead role of Trash in the movie based on his appearance alone. Apparently, the director just ran into him at a gym, and made the casting decision based on his looks and the physical impression he made. He had only previously appeared in a television movie in an unnamed role according to IMDb.

Unfortunately, this film marked Vic Morrow’s last completed movie role, as he died tragically and horrifically due to an on-set stunt accident while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie the next year, which also killed two young children. The accident resulted in a number of lawsuits, and is one of the most infamous on-set accidents in movie history.

1990: The Bronx Warriors ultimately spawned a sequel: Escape From The Bronx, which focuses more on ripping off Escape From New York than The Warriors.

1990bronx3

1990: The Bronx Warriors was partially filmed on location in the Bronx, but also features a significant amount of sound stage footage that was shot in Italy, apparently due to an attempt to exploit some filming loophole for domestic Italian features.

Reportedly, actual members of The Hell’s Angels were used during filming to depict the extra members of The Riders throughout the film, which gives the movie an unexpected element of realism at times.

Vic Morrow’s character’s name in this film is The Hammer, which is also the real life nickname of his co-star, Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson. I’m curious if that ever got confusing on the set.

1990bronx2

The reception for 1990: The Bronx Warriors has been generally negative, though it certainly has a cult following as a classic bad movie. It currently holds an IMDb rating of 5.2, along with a 37% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The acting is overall pretty awful in this flick, particularly on the part of “Trash,” who is way too inexperienced for what they wanted from the role. Speaking of which, that’s a pretty uninspiring nickname for a powerful gang leader. It is supposed to evoke a low-class impression, but why not something like “Gutter” or “Sludge?” Everyone else has names like “Hammer,” “Hot Dog,” “Ogre,” “Blade,” and “Ice,” so “Trash” is definitely the odd one out of the group as far as cool names go.

Fred Williamson is always awesome, and is one of my favorite b-movie actors for a reason. He notably has an outstanding death scene in this movie, wherein he is torched to death by flamethrowers while smoking one last cigarette. It is…so awesome.

1990bronx6

There are a lot of moving parts to the story of The Bronx Warriors, but it irons itself out as it goes along. There are arguably a few too many character names and affiliations that aren’t adequately explained, but you pick up the essential stuff as the story goes along, to the point that everything is clear by the climax. That said, there are definitely a few elements that never quite make sense.

In the spirit of The Warriors, there are plenty of ridiculous costumes throughout this movie, as you would expect. Plenty of roller blades, motorcycles, leather, and fancy suits make their way into combat at one point or another, and it is just delightful.

This movie has one hell of an explosive ending, with just about every character dead and/or on fire. The movie finishes on a freeze frame of Hammer’s corpse being drug behind a motorcycle, impaled on a harpoon. I mean, wow. This especially potent because it takes place after a fake-out happy ending, complete with a damn cake.

1990bronx7
A cake shaped like NYC, that was catered in a war zone. Can you imagine the cost?

The central crux of the movie’s plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The heiress is apparently about to come of age, and she is afraid of her responsibilities as the head of a massive military corporation, and more specifically worried about being manipulated and used as a puppet. Of course, the current operators need her to be just that, so they a sink a ton of money into mercenaries to track her down and bring her back. However, in the conclusion, Hammer just decides to basically burn everything down, including the heiress. What was the point of all of that, then? This may have just been Hammer being bloodthirsty and angry, but he seemed to be using the military company’s men, so there is no way that the head honchos didn’t know that this was an extermination mission. In any case, pretty much everybody loses at the end of this thing, as I mentioned previously. It is a real nasty bloodbath filled with sadness and tragedy.

This movie is so much fun that it is easy to overlook a lot of the flaws in it. It certainly helps that a lot of those flaws, like the poor production values and nonsense story, totally add to the charm. It is evident from the start that this is a cheap knock-off, but if you enjoyed The Warriors or Escape From New York, this is genuinely more of the same, and that isn’t a bad thing.

Seriously, bad movie lovers have to check this one out. It is kind of surreal to see a bunch of Lucio Fulci’s Italian cohorts take on a quasi-remake of The Warriors, but it totally works.

American Chinatown

American Chinatown

americanchinatown1

Today’s feature is an obscure flick called American Chinatown, from the writer and director of the ludicrous cult classic film, Miami Connection.

American Chinatown was written, directed, and produced by Woo-sang Park, who regularly credits himself under the pseudonym of Richard Park. His best known film by far is Miami Connection, but he made a handful of other low-budget movies from the 1970s through the 1990s, including  L.A. Streetfighters, Gang Justice, and Shaolin: The Blood Mission.

One of the cinematographers on American Chinatown was Maximo Munzi, who also shot Miami Connection for Woo-sang Park.

The team of producers for American Chinatown included Larry Larson (City Dragon), star Tae-joon Lee (Ninja Terminator), Simon Bibiyan (City Dragon, The Malibu Beach Vampires), and Moshe Bibiyan (Warrior of Justice, City Dragon).

The musical score and editing for American Chinatown was done by Ron Adler, who worked on a handful of other small movies like Invisible Temptation, The Secret Force, and City Dragon.

The American Chinatown cast is headlined by the late Robert Z’dar (Maniac Cop, Tango & Cash, Soultaker, Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3, Samurai Cop), and also features Tae-joon Lee (Ninja Terminator), Bobby Kim (Black Belt Angels, Deadly Kick, Mark of the Black Dragon), and Liat Goodson (Vice Girls, The Prince), along with a number of inexperienced and non-actors to fill out the cast.

The plot of American Chinatown centers around a gang war, during which a top enforcer unknowingly falls for his boss’s adopted sister. He has to figure out a way to reconcile his feelings for the woman with his loyalty to the gang, all while leading the charge in an ever-heating conflict with the cross-town rival criminal organization.

American Chinatown is also known as Chinatown 2, which is not to be confused with the actual sequel to Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (The Two Jakes), which released in 1990.

The reception to American Chinatown has been generally negative, though very few people have actually heard of it or seen it. It currently has an IMDb rating of 4.2, and has a Rotten Tomatoes average audience score of .5/5. However, less than 90 ratings of the movie have been recorded on the two sites combined.

Right out of the gate, American Chinatown starts with an attempted rape, followed up by some completely inaudible and indecipherable dialogue, which is about as bad of a start as you can possibly have for a movie. On top of that, the editing and cinematography for the sequence is also astoundingly terrible, to the point where is honestly difficult to tell what is actually happening. Eventually, a mysterious man stops the assault, kicks the would-be rapists a bunch, steals their wallets and clothes, and then lets them go on their way. I guess this is supposed to set up this fellow as a badass, but the whole thing plays out really strangely, and I don’t understand why he just let them meander on their merry way.

americanchinatown2
The hero?

The acting in this movie is, across the board, just dreadful. Most movies at least have a bright spot somewhere in the cast, but that just isn’t the case here. I don’t know how this film was cast, but Robert Z’Dar is the only person who seems to know what acting even is, and that is a sad state of affairs for any film. The lead character’s love interest also has one of the most perplexing fake accents that I have ever heard in a movie, and I still can’t figure out exactly what it is supposed to be.

There are a couple of cool fight sequences spread throughout the movie, but they are all shot really poorly, so the talent of the stunt people is mostly wasted. Still, they are entertaining as the movie ever gets.

The music for American Chinatown, when it does bother to pop up, is ridiculous in the best way you could possibly hope for. It is always heavy on the synthesizers and funky beats, but suffers immensely from constantly disappearing for long periods of time, which is a damn shame.

One big problem with this film is the unlikability of the hero, who is frankly a complete asshat. I already covered how he allowed attempted rapists to wander away in the opening sequence (he does that again, by the way), but the rest of his interactions with his love interest for a good portion of the movie primarily consist of him berating her and trying to force her to leave him alone. I understand that the point is that he doesn’t want her to get wrapped up in the criminal world he lives in, but he really is a complete shit about it, though.

The whole movie has a disappointing lack of Robert Z’Dar in it, which I wasn’t exactly surprised about. He only pops up in a handful of scenes, and overall doesn’t get much time on screen when all is said and done. He does get the shit beaten out of him way more than I expected, though, particularly towards the end of the flick.

americanchinatown3

The ending to American Chinatown feels like they didn’t quite finish the move. Basically, a fight sequence ends with a freeze frame and a fade to black, without any visual resolution for the story. Then again, maybe something was covered in the inaudible dialogue that I couldn’t make heads or tails of. In any case, it is both jarring and unsatisfying as a conclusion.

Overall, American Chinatown isn’t nearly as memorable or entertaining as similar films like Miami Connection or either Lethal Ninja, but it has a few bright moments here and there. Unfortunately, they are very spread out, and the awful acting, sound editing, and cinematography makes for a trying experience to sit through, which isn’t going to be worth most people’s time.

Marmaduke

Marmaduke

marmaduke1

Today’s feature is a 2010 comic strip movie adaptation that literally no one wanted or asked for: Marmaduke.

Marmaduke is loosely based on the comic strip created by Brad Anderson and Phil Leeming. The screenplay for the movie was written by Tim Rasmussen (License to Wed) and Vince Di Meglio, the latter of which worked as a visual effects artist on films like Miss Congeniality and Daredevil.

The director for Marmaduke was Tom Dey, who has also been behind such Hollywood comedy films as Shanghai Noon and Failure to Launch. The cinematographer was Greg Gardiner, who previously shot Son of the Mask and Elf, among many others. Don Zimmerman, who has had a long career as an editor in Hollywood with such movies as Rush Hour 3, Over The Top, Rocky IV, Patch Adams, Galaxy Quest, Being There, and Coming Home, did the cutting for Marmaduke.

The musical score for the film was provided by Christopher Lennertz, who has worked extensively on the television show Supernatural, as well as films like Soul Plane, Disaster Movie, and Horrible Bosses.

The special makeup effects on Marmaduke were provided by a team including Bill Terezakis (Taken 2, House of the Dead, Snow Dogs, Friday the 13th Part VIII), Frida Norrman (TRON: Legacy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Todd McIntosh (Masters of the Universe, Torchwood), and Celine Godeau (American Mary, Slither, Dreamcatcher).

The Marmaduke special effects team was made up of Gary Heidrick (Scary Movie 3, Catwoman), Hike Hyrman (Van Helsing, Brothers Grimm, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Black Cat), Wayne Syzbunka (Lake Placid, The Black Cat, Pick Me Up, Dreams in the Witch House, Blade: Trinity), James Lorimer (Cellular, Van Helsing, Tank Girl, Drive, Flubber, Garfield), Steve Davis (Scary Movie, Snow Buddies, Friday the 13th Part VIII), Richard Darwin (Lost in Space, Dungeons & Dragons, The Flintstones, Babe), and Cara E. Anderson (Trucks, The Mangler 2, The Core, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2).

The massive visual effects team for Marmaduke included work by a number of effects companies, including Cinesite, Rhythm and Hues, and Image Engine, and in total included elements that worked on such diverse movies as Iron Man, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Life of Pi, The Golden Compass, Skyfall, Live Free or Die Hard, The Ugly Truth, Piranha 3D, Cloud Atlas, Pacific Rim, The Frighteners, The Brothers Grimm, Guardians of the Galaxy, Alvin and the Chipmunks47 Ronin and Yogi Bear.

The team of producers for Marmaduke included Derek Dauchy (xXx, Master of Disguise, Mr Popper’s Penguins), Arnon Milchan (Epic Movie, Daredevil, Fight Club, Heat, LA Confidential, King of Comedy, 12 Years A Slave, Gone Girl, Birdman), Jeffrey Stott (Drive, Nightcrawler, Whiplash, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, North), and John Davis (Waterworld, Eragon, Fortress, Predator 2).

The deep cast for Marmaduke includes Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy), William H. Macy (Evolver, Cellular, Edmond, Fargo) Owen Wilson (Anaconda, Inherent Vice, The Life Aquatic, Wedding Crashers), Emma Stone (Birdman, Paper Man, Gangster Squad, The Amazing Spider Man), Keifer Sutherland (The Lost Boys, Phone Booth, Stand By Me, Pompeii) George Lopez, Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder, Hamlet 2), Fergie, Sam Elliott (The Big Lebowski, Frogs, Road House), Marlon Wayans (The Ladykillers), Damon Wayans (Major Payne), and Judy Greer (Archer, Arrested Development).

marmaduke3

Ron Perlman was apparently at one point attached to the movie in the role that ultimately went to Sam Elliott, but left the production for unknown reasons.

According to the IMDb trivia section for the movie, Marmaduke contains:

two dog farts, three urine gags, two hits to the groin, one animal belch, two record scratch moments and two uses of the phrase “Who let the dogs out?”

The reception to Marmaduke was very negative, and it currently holds an IMDb rating of 4.1 alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 9% (critics) and 42% (audience). Regardless of the negative reception, Marmaduke wound up being profitable in overseas markets, in total grossing almost $84 million on a $50 million budget. Despite being in the black at the end of its run, the film certainly didn’t meet expectations, particularly in the domestic sphere.

The first and most distracting aspect of the movie I have to mention is the dog mouths, which are computer manipulated to move with speech patterns. While the result looks better than similar children’s movies that have tried the same thing, it actually winds up stuck in the uncanny valley, creating a sort of hypnotic and unsettling effect.

Speaking of the effects, the movie goes beyond overboard in a number of sequences. The scenes that feature Marmaduke dancing or surfing, both of which happen more than you might expect in the film, look absolutely awful, particularly the Bollywood-style dance scene at the end of the film. If the film had kept the effects a little more subtle, they might have gotten away with a watchable product. However, it definitely goes the way of Son of the Mask and Cats & Dogs in the excessive effects use.

marmaduke2

The story of Marmaduke is a lot deeper than it has any right to be, considering how much of the humor is related to farting or peeing. At the same time, however, it is all painfully cliche and predictable. Most of the plot centers around an oppressive racist/classist system that operates at a local dog park, which grants pure breed dogs privileges not afforded to mutts. Marmaduke, a newcomer to the area, spends most of the movie trying to ingratiate himself with the ruling class, before learning a valuable lesson about friendship, turning his back on it, and throwing a wrench into the system. Keep in mind, this is theoretically based on a comic strip that not only does not address classism or systemic oppression in any form, but rarely even features actual humor.

Speaking of which, why bother with trying to make a movie out of this source material? I have a hunch that this was at some point a speculative script for a generic talking dog movie, and that the Marmaduke brand was pretty much tossed onto it as a promotional plan. Because, really, there is just no content in the source material to create a plot out of, so why not just use whatever is laying around? It is true that Marmaduke doesn’t have a whole lot of die hard fans, but it is at least a recognizable name that could be marketed based on that recognition, giving it some value.

I’m not going to bother digging into the laziness of the humor in this movie, because there is just no point to it. However, there are a number of things about the story that bother me. Theoretically, the plot is your typical fish out of water setup, but the audience has no frame of reference of what Marmaduke’s usual surroundings are like, which undermines the whole premise. What was Kansas like for this giant dog, anyway? How is this new situation in California different for him? Aside from the audience being told that things are different, nothing is ever shown to drive home the contrast between the two locations.

Overall, Marmaduke is your typical children’s movie trash, bowing to base humor, bad effects, and tired plots. While the cast is really impressive, it is totally wasted on this movie. There isn’t really anything to recommend about the movie, outside of the fact that it is a near-perfect example of what is wrong with children’s and family films today. Unless you are just deathly curious, you should avoid this wreck. Or, better yet, check out The Flop House Podcast for another perspective on the film (with the same conclusion).

Wild Wild West

Wild Wild West

wildwest1

Today’s feature is Wild Wild West, one of the strangest alternate history movies ever to come out of mainstream Hollywood.

Wild Wild West is loosely based on a television show of the same name that ran from 1965-1969 on CBS, which featured characters of the same names and a similar focus on ridiculous gadgets.

The screenplay credit for Wild Wild West is given to two writing duos: Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson (Tremors, Ghost Dad, Short Circuit), and Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, How The Grinch Stole Christmas). The story credit, however, is given to another duo: Jim Thomas and John Thomas, who have been behind such movies as Predator, Predator 2, and Mission to Mars.

The director/producer for Wild Wild West was Barry Sonnenfeld, who also directed Men in Black, Get Shorty, RV, and The Addams Family, and was previously a cinematographer under the Coen brothers for Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and Miller’s Crossing.

The cinematographer on Wild Wild West was Michael Ballhaus, a frequent Martin Scorcese collaborator who has shot such acclaimed films as The Departed, Gangs of New York, Sleepers, After Hours, Quiz Show, and Goodfellas.

The editor for the film was Jim Miller, who frequently cut movies for Barry Sonnenfeld, including Get Shorty, Men in Black, and The Addams Family. He also edited another movie I particularly like: Michael Mann’s Collateral, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.

The team of producers for Wild Wild West included Jon Peters (Batman, Caddyshack II, Man of Steel, Tango & Cash, An American Werewolf in London), Tracey Barone (Money Train), Barry Josephson (The Last Boy Scout, The Ladykillers), Graham Place (The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink), Joel Simon (Steel), Chris Soldo (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1941, Snake Eyes), and Neri Tannenbaum (Orange is the New Black).

The visual effects team for Wild Wild West included a number of workers from Industrial Light and Magic, one of the most acclaimed effects companies in the business. The company was founded by George Lucas for the purpose of providing visual effects for the Star Wars films, and has since worked on films like Howard the Duck, Cocoon, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to The Future, Jurassic Park, Hudson Hawk, Deep Blue Sea, Small Soldiers, and Congo.

The special effects makeup on Wild Wild West included work by Rick Baker (Black Caesar, It’s Alive, It Lives Again, Videodrome), a 7-time Academy Award winner who is easily one of the most acclaimed individuals in special effects and makeup today. He won one of his Academy Awards in the previous year for work on the Barry Sonnenfeld film Men in Black, which goes a long way towards explaining his involvement here.

The music for Wild Wild West was provided by Elmer Bernstein, a legendary film composer who worked on scores for such films as Bringing Out The Dead, My Left Foot, Slipstream, Leonard Part 6, Airplane!, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Great Escape, Robot Monster, and The Magnificent Seven, among countless others.

The cast of Wild Wild West is primarily comprised of Will Smith (After Earth, Hancock, Bad Boys, Winter’s Tale), Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet, Henry V, Valkyrie), Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, The Big Chill), Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs, The Mangler), and Salma Hayek (From Dusk Til Dawn, Dogma, Desperado),

Wild WIld West follows two special government agents in the Reconstruction era, who are charged with tracking down a notable Confederate sympathizer with significant financial capacity who has reportedly been kidnapping expert scientists.  The further they dig into the matter, the more the eccentric duo discover a plot to kick-start a second Civil War through the use of advanced technology, which they have to figure out a way to stop.

Writer/director Kevin Smith (Tusk, Red State, Clerks, Chasing Amy) has a famous story about Wild Wild West producer Jon Peters from when they briefly worked together on the abandoned project to remake Superman in the 1990s, which theoretically explains the mechanical spider / spider motif that appears throughout Wild Wild West. If you haven’t heard the story before, I highly recommend checking it out.

Will Smith reportedly turned down the lead role in The Matrix to do this movie, which he has since said was the worst decision of his career.

Robert Conrad, star of the Wild Wild West television show, spoke out against this film adaptation, harshly criticizing it publicly. Apparently, Will Smith himself apologized to Conrad years later for the poor quality of the film.

Plans apparently existed to make a film version of Wild Wild West since at least the early 1990s, and at one point Mel Gibson was attached to star, and Richard Donner was going to direct.

The reception to Wild Wild West was overwhelmingly poor, and the film currently holds an IMDb rating of 4.8, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 17% (critics) and 28% (audience).

wildwest2

Wild Wild West had a worldwide theatrical gross of just over $222 million, on a reported production budget of $170 million. While it was profitable based on those numbers, it didn’t come anywhere near the lofty Hollywood expectations for it, particularly given the price tag, and is publicly remembered as a failure.

Wild Wild West features some hammy acting from Kline and Branagh, with the two chewing scenery all over the movie. However, I thought Kline was actually a pretty solid U.S. Grant that is totally wasted on this movie. Will Smith does his charismatic shtick, which isn’t particularly remarkable or horrible here.

The movie features a lot of over the top technology, which is a fair homage to the show, at least to an extent. I can understand the thinking here: people liked the eccentric gadgets in James Bond movies and Men in Black, so I can see why the team thought the steam-punk inventions would resonate with people. However, it all goes a few steps too far into the ridiculous, with killer disks, head projectors, and giant mechanical death spiders.

wildwest3
And mechanical collars?

Wild Wild West was pitched to audiences as a buddy cop action comedy, but the comedy just doesn’t work throughout the film, and Kline and Smith never particularly click. It turns out that a lot of the comedic elements in the movie were added through reshoots that were done after poor test screenings, which gives the whole movie an unbalanced feel. Comedy isn’t something that can be added haphazardly after the fact: if it is going to work, it needs to either be specifically directed, or ingrained in the screenplay from the beginning.

The length of Wild Wild West is a bit too long for what it is, and the movie already feels stretched out due to the meandering plot structure and interspersed moments of bad comedy. Really, there is no reason for this movie to stretch anywhere near a two hour run-time, given it isn’t particularly complicated or epic.

Overall, Wild Wild West isn’t a totally un-entertaining movie, but it was definitely poorly conceived and executed. The effects and production design are specifically pretty cool, and it still has a bit of a cult following for that aspect alone. However, the humor is pretty bad, which drags the whole thing down. It is still worth checking out thanks to the ridiculous performances from Kline and Branaugh (and to a lesser extent Levine), though, and there is plenty of nostalgia tied into the film for a lot of people.

Larry Cohen Collection: “The Ambulance”

The Ambulance

ambulance1

Today’s feature is Larry Cohen’s paramedic terror: 1990’s “The Ambulance.”

“The Ambulance” was both written and directed by Larry Cohen, marking his 17th theatrical directorial feature. However, it is also one of only two feature films he directed throughout the 1990s.

The cinematographer for “The Ambulance” was Jacques Haitkin, who also famously shot such films as “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Wishmaster,” “Shocker,” and “Maniac Cop 3.”

The musical score was provided by Jay Chattaway, who additionally worked on the William Lustig flicks “Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2,” and “Maniac.”

ambulance2“The Ambulance” ultimately featured two editors: Armond Lebowitz, a frequent Larry Cohen collaborator who cut “Special Effects,” “Q,” “The Stuff,” and “Full Moon High,” and Claudia Finkle, who did the editing for “Howling IV” and “Howling V.”

The effects team for “The Ambulance” included Theo Mayes (“Boogie Nights,” “Maniac Cop 2”), Jennifer Aspinall (“The Toxic Avenger”), Larry Arpin (“The Dentist,” “Highlander II,” “Maniac Cop,” “Leprechaun”), Rob Benevides (“Strangers With Candy”), Kevin McCarthy (“Hobgoblins,” “Demonic Toys”), and Ron Petruccione (“Serenity,” “Con Air,” “Dante’s Peak”).

The producers for “The Ambulance” were Barbara Zitwer (“It’s Alive III,” “Vampire’s Kiss”), Robert Katz (“It’s Alive”), and Moctesuma Esparza (“Gettysburg,” “Selena”), the latter two of which have worked together extensively for Maya Entertainment and Esparza/Katz Productions.

The cast of “The Ambulance” includes Eric Roberts (“Inherent Vice,” “Miss Castaway,” “Wolves of Wall Street,” “Best of the Best”), James Earl Jones (“Field of Dreams,” “Exorcist II,” “Conan the Barbarian”), Eric Braeden (“Titanic,” “The Rat Patrol”), Red Buttons (“The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Longest Day”), Megan Gallagher (“Hill Street Blues,” “The Larry Sanders Show”), Janine Turner (“Northern Exposure,” “Cliffhanger”), Nick Chinlund (“Con Air,” “Lethal Weapon 3”), Laurene Landon (“Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2,” “Pick Me Up”), and Jill Gatsby (“Class of 1999,” “Maniac Cop,” “Vampire’s Kiss”).

ambulance5The story of “The Ambulance” follows an amateur investigation into a series of mysterious disappearances after the victims were taken away by what appeared to be an ambulance crew. As the comic artist turned vigilante digs deeper, he begins to uncover a conspiracy, putting his life and sanity in danger.

A while back, I attended the premiere of horror flick called “Old 37,” which features a number of similarities to “The Ambulance.” The Kane Hodder vehicle also centers around killers utilizing an ambulance to kidnap people, though it lacks a lot of the more interesting story aspects of “The Ambulance.” That said, it isn’t all too bad, particularly for a film directed by “Alan Smithee.”

The legendary superhero creator Stan Lee has a quick cameo in “The Ambulance,” which is something he has become famous for with the recent boom of Marvel superhero films over the last decade and a half.

ambulance6Larry Cohen’s entry into the television series “Masters of Horror,” titled “Pick Me Up,” features an homage to “The Ambulance” with it’s twist ending, featuring two killers who have commandeered an ambulance for nefarious purposes.

I wasn’t able to dig up any budget or gross information on “The Ambulance,” but it is fair to say that it was a low-budget affair. The reception to the film was mixed: it currently has a 5.8 rating on IMDb, and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 75% (critics) and 55% (audience). For the most part, the film has been forgotten outside of die hard horror circles, though the film has certainly influenced a handful of other works.

ambulance4I found James Earl Jones to be a bit too cartoon-y with his portrayal of the obsessive, bubble gum chewing, eccentric detective here. Eric Roberts, on the other hand, is surprisingly solid in the lead role. I always associate him with lower-tier roles, which is where he usually seems to thrive, but he manages to pull his weight here with the spotlight. However, his hair is every kind of ridiculous in this movie, which is at least mildly distracting.

Eric Roberts’s character, however, is written like an absolute creep. The entire instigation for the film is because he was essentially harassing a woman on the street, and refused to leave her alone. It was clearly supposed to come off as charming and eccentric, but the whole exchange is skin-crawling. The woman does her damnedest to get him to go away, and has a couple of solid lines over the course of the interaction, the highlight of which is this:

“I have met creepier guys than you, but I don’t recall when”

“The Ambulance” curiously plays more like a conspiracy movie than I expected, and is less of a horror film than it is a thriller, and has some action and comedy elements as well. It sits on the boundary between a lot of different genres, but doesn’t balance it as well as some other films do.

The plot is interesting, and ties into people’s anxieties about the monolithic medical industry and the cruelty of product testing. There is also certainly a fear associated with the prone state of being in an ambulance on a stretcher, as well as being helpless in the face of corporate bureaucracy. On the surface “The Ambulance” isn’t much, but there is more to it than there appears to be at first glance.

ambulance3The soundtrack to “The Ambulance” notably has an awful lot of synthesizer and saxophone, which is a mixture that I am always on board for in these 1980s / 1990s flicks.

Eric Roberts’s job as a Marvel comics artist allows for a quick Stan Lee, but apart from that, it isn’t particularly important to the story. He winds up spending the entire film investigating and chasing down leads, so why not just make him a private investigator or a journalist? I can understand not making him a cop because of the progression of the story, but the skills he winds up using don’t make much sense for a comics illustrator.

Last but not least, Eric Braeden’s evil Doctor is chillingly creepy as the villain, and is the highlight of the whole flick. However, the parlor scene he has early on explains a little too much too quickly in my opinion. It also doesn’t make much sense for him to divulge the information he does to the forced patient, apart from to inform the audience of what is actually happening. I’m a little curious if this sequence was added in at some point, or if it was initially placed somewhere else in the script.

Overall, “The Ambulance” is in the lower tier of Larry Cohen’s filmography, but had the potential to be much better. It feels like it wasn’t given time to percolate properly, and the result is something rushed and of lower quality than it should be. I love the premise and the story, but the details are really lackluster, and the pacing isn’t great. Also, some of the performances are pretty weak, like Red Buttons, who seems totally out of place here. For Larry Cohen fans, it is worth checking out. However, it really could have been much better given the originality of the concept.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Best Seller”

Best Seller

bestseller1

Next up in the Larry Cohen Collection is 1987’s “Best Seller,” starring James Woods and Brian Dennehy.

“Best Seller” was directed by John Flynn, who also made “Brainscan,” “Out for Justice,” “Lock Up,” and”Rolling Thunder.” His primary style has always been crime-based action-dramas, which fits well with Larry Cohen’s flair for police procedural.

The original screenplay for “Best Seller” was, of course, written by Larry Cohen. However, John Flynn may have considerably modified himself it before filming, but wasn’t ultimately given a writing credit. He also apparently came up with the title, which was originally “Hard Cover” (which I think sounds way cooler).

The cinematographer for “Best Seller” was Fred Murphy, who also shot “Secret Window,” “October Sky,” “Hoosiers,” and Larry Cohen’s own “Q: The Winged Serpent.”

“Best Seller” was edited by David Rosenbloon, who also cut such features as “Deep Impact,” “Primal Fear,” “Fracture,” “Frequency,” and “Blue Chips.”

The musical score for “Best Seller” was provided by Jay Ferguson, who also scored flicks like “Double Dragon” and “Tremors II.”

The producers for “Best Seller” included John Daly (“Vampire’s Kiss,” “Hoosiers,” “Platoon”), Derek Gibson (“The Return of The Living Dead”), and Larry Cohen collaborator Carter DeHaven (“Special Effects,” “Perfect Strangers”).

bestseller3The effects team on “Best Seller” was composed of Ken Speed (“2 Fast 2 Furious,” “God’s Not Dead,” “Cobra,” “The Doors”), Robert L. Olmstead (“Cellular,” “Predator 2,” “Iron Man”), Peter Kunz (“Precious,” “Changing Lanes,” “Exterminator 2,” “The Hurricane”), Pamela Peitzman (“The Last Airbender,” “Alien From L.A.,” “The Hitcher”), and Deborah Figuly (“True Believer,” “Never Too Young To Die,” “Less Than Zero”).

“Best Seller” was distributed by Orion Pictures, which was behind a handful of well-regarded flicks throughout the 1980s and early 1990s before falling into bankruptcy. Such features included “RoboCop,” “Amadeus,” “Mississippi Burning,” “Dances With Wolves,” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” but also turkeys like “RoboCop 3,” and “Car 54, Where Are You?.” Former head and co-founder of Orion, Mike Medavoy, has a pretty great book out there called “You’re Only As Good As Your Next One” about his experiences in the industry (which included stints with United Artists and TriStar as well as Orion) that I highly recommend picking up for movie trivia junkies.

The cast for “Best Seller” is headlined by James Woods (“Videodrome,” “Cat’s Eye,” “Casino,” “True Believer”) and Brian Dennehy (“First Blood,” “Cocoon”), with other roles filled out by Victoria Tennant (“L.A. Story,” “Flowers in the Attic”), Paul Shenar (“Raw Deal,” “Scarface”), and George Coe (“The Omega Code,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Archer”).

bestseller2The story of “Best Seller” follows a cop-turned-author who is pulled into a massive conspiracy by a former hitman looking to tell the story of his career working for a corrupt politician.

The reception to “Best Seller” was pretty mixed: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 67% (critics) and 54% (audience), along with an IMDb rating of 6.5.

I couldn’t dig up any budget numbers for “Best Seller,” but it ultimately grossed just under 4.3 million in its domestic theatrical release. That is hardly Earth-shattering (or best-selling), but if the budget was low enough, it may have been profitable.

Personally, I wasn’t sold on Brian Dennehy as the lead here. There are plenty of cop-style character actors out there that I think would have fit better, like Robert Davi or Tom Atkins. However, he is definitely physical intimidating at times, which I assume was the reason for his casting. James Woods, on the other hand, is thoroughly awesome here. He blends his peculiar charm with a sense of menace to create a likable yet dangerous character who is clearly capable of snapping into violence at a moment’s notice. The chemistry between the two actors is pretty good, but the rest of the cast comes up a bit short. The antagonists just aren’t intimidating or large enough to feel like the massive threat that they are supposed to be.  Also, the daughter character comes off as having no depth or practical intelligence with her minimal screen time, and winds up inexplicably running into the arms of a guy who just shot her father for no clear reason, other than to create a hostage situation. She also accepts rides in cars from mysterious figures, like she is the lead in a stranger danger PSA.

The story pacing to “Best Seller” isn’t great: the tension is built pretty well, but it is never quite clear how much time has elapsed, how close the book is to being finished, or how near the story is to a climax or resolution. It feels more like a simmer than the tension of a burning wick, with no clear ending ever in sight. The lack of a clear finish line (book publication? how many drafts is that going to take?) really hurts the plot, but it is still a pretty good thriller regardless.

Roger Ebert brings up another issue with the movie in his perhaps excessively scathing review of the film:

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a movie about a character who is slow to catch on. When I’m watching a movie and something is perfectly obvious and the hero persists in not understanding it, my frustration grows and I want to shout advice at the screen. “Best Seller” has a character like that, played by Brian Dennehy, an intelligent actor who usually plays characters who are fairly swift. Not this time.

Ebert certainly has a point, and it is something that I noticed while watching the movie. However, I assumed most of his reticence about the conspiracy was more because of his suspicions and unease with James Woods rather than him not catching on with the clues, though he has one or two lines (“corporations don’t kill people” / “I don’t believe that someone could destroy police evidence”) that either reveal an immense naivete or a flaw in the character writing.

The ending credits song for “Best Seller,” called “Perfect Ending,” is absolutely ridiculous, and sounds like an honest buddy cop love theme. Everything from the melodramatic lyrics to the guitar riffs to the synthesizer background work is just off the charts wacky in the best possible way. It seems like the sort of song that would have fit into something like “Dead Heat” or “Samurai Cop.”

Overall, “Best Seller” is a flawed but entertaining flick. There are some things to like about it, and some things that don’t click. It doesn’t belong in an elite category for the genre, but it is worth giving a shot for James Woods, who gets to show off a bit here. Also, that ending song gave me a solid belly laugh.

Larry Cohen Collection: “Pick Me Up”

Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up

pickmeup1

Today, I’m going to be taking another stroll through the career of writer/director Larry Cohen with the “Masters of Horror” feature, “Pick Me Up.”

“Pick Me Up” was directed by Larry Cohen for the television show “Masters of Horror,” which showcased original work by some of the most famed figures in horror film history. I have already covered two episodes of the series directed by Stuart Gordon: “The Black Cat” and “Dreams In The Witch House.”

“Pick Me Up” was written by David J. Schow, who penned such horror flicks as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre III,” “Critters 3,” “Critters 4,” and “The Crow.”

“Pick Me Up” was edited by Marshall Harvey, a veteran horror editor and frequent Joe Dante collaborator who also cut “Lake Placid,” “Small Soldiers,” and “Matinee” (among many others).

pickmeup5

The cinematographer on “Pick Me Up” was Brian Pearson, who also shot the more recent horror flicks “American Mary,” “The Butterfly Effect 2,” and “Into the Storm.”

The makeup effects team for “Pick Me Up” included Mike Fields (“Dreams In The Witch House,” “The Black Cat”), Sarah Graham (“The Cabin In The Woods,” “Supernatural”), Margaret Solomon (“Timecop,” “The Black Cat”), and Amanda McGowan (“Sucker Punch,” “Final Destination 5”).

The “Pick Me Up” special effects were done by the KNB EFX group, which has worked on “The Walking Dead,” “Maniac Cop 3,” “Army of Darkness,” “The Faculty,” and “Sin City” under the lead of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger. The rest of the team included Scott Patton (“The Mangler”), Frank Rydberg (“Devil’s Advocate,” “Drag Me To Hell”), Andy Schoneberg (“Dead Heat”), Shannon Shea (“Leviathan”), Wayne Szybunka (“Lake Placid,” “Marmaduke”), Lindsay Vivian (“Sin City”), Grady Holder (“Lake Placid,” “Small Soldiers”), Robert Freitas (“Men In Black,” “Species”), and Michael Deak (“From Beyond,” “The Dentist”).

pickmeup4

The visual effects for “Pick Me Up” were done by a team that included Sebastien Bergeron (“Tucker & Dale vs. Evil”), Mladen Miholjcic (“Andromeda”), Lee Wilson (“The Fly,” “Videodrome”), and Stephen Paschke (“Watchmen”).

The music for “Pick Me Up” was composed by Jay Chattaway, who also did the scores for the Larry Cohen films “Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2,” and “The Ambulance.”

The cast for “Pick Me Up” features frequent Larry Cohen collaborator Michael Moriarty (“It’s Alive III,” “A Return to Salem’s Lot,” “Q,” “The Stuff”), along with Fairuza Balk (“Almost Famous,” “The Waterboy”), Warren Kole (“The Following”), Laurene Landon (“Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2”), Malcolm Kennard (“The Matrix Reloaded”), Crystal Lowe (“Insomnia”), and Paul Anthony (“Blade: Trinity”).

pickmeup2

Michael Moriarty does some improvised piano work during a sequence in “Pick Me Up,” much like he did in his audition scene in “Q: The Winged Serpent.”

The two dueling serial killers in “Pick Me Up” are named Walker and Wheeler, obviously coined after their modes of transportation: hitch-hiking and an 18-wheeler truck, respectively.

As far as highlights go, there is at least one highly memorable murder committed by Walker, in which he strangles a man with a dead snake. Apart from that, deaths are interestingly not emphasized, and a number happen off-screen. More attention is paid to suspense and the serial killers themselves rather than their actions, which I found pretty interesting.

pickmeup6

“Pick Me Up” features a number of tongue-in-cheek direct references to classic horror movies, including “Psycho” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” The flick also adopts major elements from both of those movies for the plot: the setting of a creepy, remote hotel (“Psycho”), and the presence of a killer hitch-hiker (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”).

pickmeup3

My biggest issue with “Pick Me Up” is surprisingly Michael Moriarty, who seemed more than a bit spaced out to me, like he might have been excessively drunk during the shoot. That might have just been part of the character, but I got the feeling from watching him that that wasn’t the case. Regardless, he is still a scene stealer and has his same quirky charm, but he isn’t on the top of his game.

Overall, “Pick Me Up” works with an interesting premise, and both the writing and directing is done with a clear affection for the genre. There are a couple of solid sequences, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been pulled off better. Compared to Stuart Gordon’s “Masters of Horror” episodes, Larry Cohen’s contribution here is a bit lacking. For fans of horror, it is worth checking out, but it is probably skippable for anyone else.