Suspect Zero

Suspect Zero

suspectzero2

Today’s feature is the 2004 psychic serial killer thriller Suspect Zero, starring Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley.

The screenplay for Suspect Zero was co-written by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Volcano, State of Play, Hart’s War, The Hunger Games) and Zak Penn (The Avengers, Last Action Hero, Elektra, Behind Enemy Lines), with the original story credit going to Penn.

The director on Suspect Zero was E. Elias Merhige, who was also behind films like Shadow of the Vampire and Begotten, but hasn’t made a full length feature since the release of Suspect Zero in 2004.

The cinematographer for Suspect Zero was Michael Chapman, whose shooting credits range from massively influential films like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and The Last Detail, to cult classics like Scrooged and The Lost Boys, to popcorn flicks like Kindergarten Cop, Space Jam, Ghostbusters II, and Evolution.

Suspect Zero had two primary editors: Robert K. Lambert (Red Planet, House of 1000 Corpses, Rollerball, Ed) and John Gilroy (Nightcrawler, Pacific Rim, Michael Clayton).

The score for Suspect Zero was composed by Clint Mansell, who is known for providing memorable music for films like Black Swan, Moon, The Wrestler, Requiem for A Dream, and Pi.

The effects work for the film was done by a team that included Thomas Burman (Frogs, Con Air, Hudson Hawk, Teen Wolf), Bari Dreiband-Burman (The Mask of Zorro, Howard The Duck), Stephan Dupuis (Ant-Man, Jason X, RoboCop 3), Todd McIntosh (Marmaduke, Torchwood, City Slickers II), Kenneth Van Order (Speed 2, The Hateful Eight), and Matt Kutcher (The Hottie and The Nottie, The Midnight Meat Train).

The team of producers on Suspect Zero included Paula Wagner (Vanilla Sky, Mission: Impossible), Nigel Sinclair (Rush, End of Watch, Mindhunters, The Life of David Gale), Tom Rosenberg (Crank, Million Dollar Baby, Gamer), Gary Lucchesi (The Midnight Meat Train, Aeon Flux, Virtuosity), Lester Berman (The Postman, Superman), Moritz Borman (World Trade Center, Alexander), and director E. Elias Merhige.

The cast of Suspect Zero is led by Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking, The Dark Knight), Ben Kingsley (Schindler’s List, Iron Man 3, Sexy Beast), Carrie-Anne Moss (Memento, The Matrix), and Harry Lennix (State of Play, Man of Steel, The Matrix Revolutions).

suspectzero3The plot of Suspect Zero follows a telepathic vigilante on the hunt for a theoretic undetectable serial killer, who he refers to as “Suspect Zero.” Meanwhile, a police officer is on the hunt for the renegade telepath, and is on the trail of bodies (all of serial killers) left in his wake.

Zak Penn’s initial screenplay for Suspect Zero reportedly started circling Hollywood in 1995. Over the years, notables such as Paul Schrader, Sylvester Stallone, Ben Affleck, and Tom Cruise all expressed interest in the project before it actually made it to the screen. Cruise even stayed on the film as a producer through his production company, though his name specifically doesn’t appear in the credits.

Suspect Zero was made on a budget of $27 million, though it only raked in $11.4 million in its worldwide theatrical release. The reception at the time was relatively negative: it accrued Rotten Tomatoes scores of 18% from critics and 38% from audiences. However, time has been kinder to the film, and the IMDb rating (which is updated more consistently frequently) has risen to a 5.9.

suspectzero1Suspect Zero definitely suffers from the inevitable comparisons to David Fincher’s Se7en, which is by all accounts a much better movie. Most of the criticisms I have read at least mention the stylistic similarities if nothing else. However, the movie deserves to be considered on its own merits, and I think the time and distance from Se7en has allowed that to happen. Still, the movie is far from flawless.

First off, a number of the surreal ‘vision’ sequences seemed way too forced to me, and I never got on board with the idea of using thermal ‘Predator-vision’ to indicate the psychic sequences. It just seemed to me that there had to be a better way to get across the idea of remote vision without resorting to what basically amounted to a night vision filter.

As much as I like both Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley, neither of them put in consistently impressive performances in this flick. However, I think that has far more to do with the way that the characters are written over anything they could do. None of the characters have much in the way of personality in this movie, and there isn’t much to them beyond their explicitly-stated back stories, which is a real shame. There are flashes of interesting chemistry between the two actors, but it never totally clicks.

Likewise, the screenplay for Suspect Zero isn’t particularly effective at telling its story. It gets the point across, and the audience gets from A to B eventually, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth to it beyond the basic road map. Visually, the movie is pretty interesting, and it almost makes up for some of the weaknesses in the writing. However, even that goes overboard, as I mentioned with the ‘Predator-vision’.

As far as positives go, I’m a big fan of the score to this movie, and how it is used to create discomfort and tension throughout the film. Mansell always seems pretty good at that, and he really gets to show off his creepy composition skills here.

Overall, I think this film gets an unwarranted bad reputation. It isn’t great by any means, but I think people were particularly weary of Se7en imitators at the time. It is a bit slow and arty in its aesthetic for the casual movie-going crowd, but if you are interested in dark cop/serial killer films, this is definitely one worth checking out. I feel similarly about The Cell, which came out a handful of years earlier, though that film is far more surreal, and nearly unbearably pretentious. It also makes Suspect Zero look comparatively coherent.

If you are a big fan of The X-files and True Detective, Suspect Zero might hit the perfect middle ground for you in terms of both style and substance, just don’t go in expecting anything Earth-shattering.

Arena

Arena

arena4

Today’s movie is Empire Pictures’s mostly forgotten sci-fi boxing flick from 1989: Arena.

Arena was written by Danny Bilson, who also penned Trancers, Trancers II, The Flash, and The Rocketeer, and Paul De Meo, who wrote flicks like The Vipers, Eliminators, and The Sentinel.

The director on Arena was Peter Manoogian, who was also behind movies like Demonic Toys, Eliminators, and Seedpeople, among others.

The cinematographer on the film was the veteran Mac Ahlberg, a frequent Stuart Gordon collaborator who has shot such films as Evil Bong, Re-Animator, Space Truckers, Good Burger, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, DeepStar Six, Robot Jox, King of the Ants, Dolls, and From Beyond.

The editor on Arena was Andy Horvitch, another Stuart Gordon cohort who also cut films like Stuck, Edmond, The Pit and The Pendulum, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, Beeper, and Demonic Toys.

The producers on Arena included Empire Pictures head Charles Band, Debra Dion (Dolls, Trancers, Troll, Ghoulies), Irwin Yablans (Men at Work, Halloween, Halloween III), and J. Larry Carroll (Laserblast, Diagnosis: Murder).

arena2The music on the film was provided by Richard Band, the brother of Charles Band and noted music composer who has worked on such films as Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dreams In The Witch House, Castle Freak, Troll, and Laserblast.

The makeup effects team for Arena included Scott Coulter (It’s Alive (2008), Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, Friday the 13th Part VIII), Bruce Barlow (From Beyond, Leviathan, Ghoulies II, Dinocroc), Adam Hill (On Deadly Ground, Leonard Part 6, The Abyss, Masters of the Universe), and Alessandro Jacoponi (Troll).

John Carl Beuchler (Troll, Carnosaur, Dolls, From Beyond) was in charge of the creature effects for Arena. The rest of the special effects team included Michael Deak (Pick Me Up, The Lawnmower Man, From Beyond, The Dentist), Mike Elizalde (Lady In The Water, The Frighteners, Total Recall, The Happening), Jeffrey Farley (Wolf, Carnosaur, Robot Jox, Shocker, Evil Bong), Steve Wang (Hell Comes To Frogtown, DeepStar Six), A.J. Workman (Moonwalker, Look Who’s Talking, Mac and Me), Renato Agostini (The Core, Leviathan), and ‘Screaming Mad’ George (Space Truckers, Jack Frost, The Dentist 2).

arena1The visual effects team for Arena was made up of David Stipes (The Lawnmower Man, The Stuff, Creepshow) and Jeff Pyle (Waterworld, On Deadly Ground, Volcano), who primarily did miniature work for the movie.

The cast for the movie included Claudia Christian (Babylon 5), Marc Alaimo (Total Recall, Tango & Cash), Paul Satterfield (Bruce Almighty, Creepshow 2), Hamilton Camp (Joe Dirt, Almost Heroes), Armin Shimmerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and Shari Shattuck (On Deadly Ground, Death Spa).

The plot of Arena takes place in a distant future, where a number of alien races from throughout the galaxy interact. This society includes a popular form of entertainment: a modified version of boxing.  The story follows a human as he becomes an unlikely star in the arena, and challenges the defending champion. Basically, it is Rocky in space.

Arena currently holds a 5.2 rating on IMDb, along with a 34% audience score on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator. However, these both come from pretty small sample sizes, as Arena definitely qualifies as a forgotten feature.

Personally, I was impressed with the creativity and the vision behind the monster designs in Arena, particularly given the fact that there was an extremely limited budget for the team to work with. Most of the aliens are just humans with some makeup effects, but a handful of them are more insect-like or otherwise complicated puppets or rubber suits.

arena3That said, the voice over work (for the monsters that required it) was absolutely atrocious. Horn, the primary antagonist, sounds absolutely ridiculous when he is supposed to come off as intimidating, and comes off as incredibly cartoon-y rather than menacing.

Late in the movie, there is a femme fatale who is introduced over the course of what is supposed to be a seductive musical number. However, just like the monster voice over work, it is absolutely awful. Honestly, he song is almost unbearable to listen to, with or without the lackluster singing, and it plays in the background of an entire scene. It is pretty surreal to watch, given the lead character is absolutely enamored with the impossibly terrible performance, and is distracted by it throughout the scene. Even worse, he acts like he is totally unaware that the singer is affiliated with his enemies, despite the fact that they were introduced by his primary antagonist. Just like Rocky, the hero of Arena (appropriately named “Armstrong”) isn’t the brightest of bulbs.

Overall, there are definitely some highlights to Arena that make it worth watching through, but I think the real value of the movie is in the outlandish premise. A run-of-the-mill sports movie set in outer space against the backdrop of a dystopian society turns a flick that is otherwise pretty basic into something incredibly bizarre. I feel like this is the most true sequel to Rocky IV, as the only way for a boxing match to have greater consequence than ending The Cold War is for a match to literally save the universe.

For bad movie fans, Arena is a good deep cut to check out. I think it would make a pretty good pairing with Robot Jox given the similar sports-movie styles, though Robot Jox is definitely the better movie of the two.

Jungleground

Jungleground

jungleground1

Today, I am going to take a look at one of the lesser-known movies starring the late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper: 1995’s Jungleground.

Jungleground was written by Michael Stokes, who also penned the movies Iron Eagle IV, The Marsh, Exit Speed, and a number of episodes of children’s television shows, including Rolie Polie Olie, Totally Spies, and Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends.

Jungleground was directed by a fellow named Don Allan, who never had any other directing gigs on feature motion pictures, but worked on a couple of documentaries.

The cinematographer for Jungleground was Gilles Corbeil, who also shot the action movies Back in Action and Balance of Power, and has worked as a camera operator on such films as Mimic, Shoot Em Up, 16 Blocks, Pixels, Pacific Rim, and the upcoming Crimson Peak.

The musical score for Jungleground was provided by Varouje, who has also done scores for low budget movies like The Circuit, G.O.D., Tiger Claws, and Expect No Mercy.

The effects team for Jungleground included Liz Gruszka (Devil, Kick-Ass), Ron Craig (Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe, Death Wish V), Antony Stone (Generation Kill, Lord of War), Jeff Skochko (Silent Hill, Cube 2: Hypercube, Repo! The Genetic Opera), and Stan Zuwala (The Adjuster, Iron Eagle IV),

The producers of Jungleground were Peter K. Simpson (Prom Night, Prom Night II), George Flak (The Marsh, Striking Poses), and Ilana Frank (Prom Night II, Prom Night III).

The cast of Jungleground is composed of the late wrestling star and cult icon Roddy Piper (Hell Comes To Frogtown, They Live), Torri Higginson (Stargate: Atlantis), JR Bourne (Teen Wolf, The Butterfly Effect 2), Rachel Wilson (Breaker High, The Glass House), Nicholas Campbell (Goon),  and Nicole de Boer (Cube, The Dead Zone, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).

The story of Jungleground takes place in a mostly abandoned, lawless city (“the jungleground”) run by ruthless gangs. An undercover policeman is outed and captured after a sting gone bad, and is given one night to escape the jungleground, or else his fiancee will be executed by his captors.

JUNGLEGROUND, Roddy Piper, 1995. ©Norstar Releasing

Jungleground is a pretty obscure movie, with just over 1000 user reviews between IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes combined. Of the two, it currently holds a 5.1 rating on IMDb, and a 44% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which are hardly glowing numbers.

The plot to Jungleground gets pretty complicated as it moves along, but it clearly takes a lot of inspiration from Escape From New York and The Warriors, much like 1990: The Bronx Warriors. There is a notable side plot about the interior workings of the “Ragnarockers” gang that operates in the jungleground, but the fact that it rarely actually connects to the main plot with Piper drags the story down a bit, which is a definite weakness of the film.

While Roddy Piper gets a handful of one-liners in the movie, he doesn’t seem to be having as much fun as he did in They Live and Hell Comes to Frogtown. His charisma still comes through here and there, and he makes the movie entertaining more than any other single element in it, but he certainly isn’t on the top of his game. It strikes me as though he is taking the movie far more seriously than it merits, which is ultimately a disservice to what is definitely campy material.

Jungleground strikes me as a movie lost in time. I am still kind of shocked that this is from 1995, because it looks like it could easily have come from anywhere between 1982 and 1989. If not for Roddy Piper looking just a tad older than he did in They Live, I would have sworn that this was made back to back with something like Class of 1999.

jungleground3Overall, Jungleground probably qualifies as middle-of-the-road as far as b-movies go. I picked this up on a whim from a video store some time ago, and the untimely death of Piper gave me the motivation to actually pop it in and review it. I had higher hopes for it being a forgotten gem, but it certainly isn’t a painful movie to sit through. It isn’t as good as similar movies like Escape From New York or The Warriors, or as good-bad as knockoffs like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, but it is a totally serviceable b-level action movie if that is what you are craving. Piper might not be at the top of his game here, but he is still definitely Rowdy Roddy Piper, and has fleeting moments of true badassdom (such as the ending, in which he leaves the film’s villain quadriplegic, but alive).