Tag Archives: bad movie

The Identical

The Identical

Today, I’m taking a look at a bizarre alternate history film about identical twins who are, in turn, identical to Elvis Presley: 2014’s The Identical.

The plot of The Identical is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Twin brothers are unknowingly separated at birth; one of them becomes an iconic rock ‘n’ roll star, while the other struggles to balance his love for music and pleasing his father.

The screenplay for The Identical was written by Howard Klausner, whose other writing credits include Hoovey, Space Cowboys, Grace Card, and The Last Ride.

The Identical was directed by a man named Dustin Marcellino, who has no other directorial credits listed on IMDb. His only documented experience is shooting and editing a short film in 2011, called The Last Train.

The cast of the film includes the likes of Seth Green (Austin Powers, Idle Hands, The Italian Job, Rat Race), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Smokin Aces, Revolver, The Iceman), Ashley Judd (Heat, Bug, Frida), Joe Pantoliano (Memento, The Matrix, Daredevil, Pluto Nash), and Erin Cottrell (Love’s Abiding Joy). The lead of The Identical, Blake Rayne, is a well known Elvis Presley impersonator. He was cast in the dual lead role after one of his performances was seen by the film’s casting director, despite his lack of acting experience.

The cinematographer on The Identical was Karl Walter Lindenlaub, whose shooting credits include Independence Day, Stargate, Nine Lives, Universal Soldier, and Moon 44.

The editor for the film was Rick Shaine, who also cut Pitch Black, The Incredible Hulk, Theodore Rex, Loverboy, and the horror classic A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Four people are credited with composing music for The Identical, including Klaus Badelt (Ultraviolet, Equilibrium, Catwoman, Constantine, 16 Blocks, Rescue Dawn, Poseidon), Christopher Carmichael (The Howling: Reborn), and producers Yochanan and Jerry Marcellino, the latter of whom composed Michael Jackson’s hit single “Music & Me”.

After the film’s critical and financial failure, the production’s twitter account launched a campaign for fans to flood Rotten Tomatoes with positive reviews, claiming that the popular review aggregator has an anti-Christian bias. Even with that directed campaign, however, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes for The Identical sits at an unenviable 62%.

The Identical only played in theaters for three weeks before getting pulled for low grosses. In that time, it took in only $2.8 million of its $16 million budget, making it a significant loss for a small production.

The reception to the film was arguably even more disastrous: Linda Cook, film critic for the Quad City Times, summarized it as “Showgirls bad: a vision that slowly goes wrong, then terribly wrong, then hits disaster levels.” Likewise, Randy Cordova of The Arizona Republic wrote that “Elvis Presley made some bad movies, but…He never made anything as outright awful as The Identical.” Currently, The Identical holds an IMDb user rating of 5.1/10, along with a Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score of a measly 6%.

As far as positives go, I have to say that some of the music featured in the film is kind of catchy, even if the lyrics aren’t exactly deep. That said, this was definitely a music movie first, and everything else second. Unfortunately, that definitely shows once you delve beyond the soundtrack.

It would be easy to poke at first time actor Blake Rayne as a key issue with this movie. After all, he had no acting experience previously, so he’s an easy target. However, I thought he was actually pretty decent here. Given that his character is basically Elvis, it shouldn’t be too shocking that a professional Elvis impersonator could pull the role off well. Likewise, most of the cast is pretty decent: Liotta in particular deserves props for a performance that far exceeds the needs for this film.

The area where The Identical really suffers is in the screenplay writing. Not only is there a ton of unnecessary narration that drifts in and out of the film, but the very structure of story is bizarre: notably, it flashes back and forward numerous times, making it unclear when certain events are happening, and glosses over years at a time.

On top of that, there are some serious historical issues with the screenplay. For instance, it dodges the Civil Rights Movement and racism in any way that it can. Even more glaringly, the film doesn’t address that Elvis is an established figure within the film’s acknowledged historical canon. Basically, in the film’s version of history, both Elvis and an identical Elvis look-alike are celebrities at the same time, doing the same kind of music. On top of that, the Elvis look-alike’s identical twin winds up with an enviable music career, which is inexplicably never compared to Elvis’s. Despite establishing Elvis’s existence as a popular figure, at no point does anyone in the film note similarities between Elvis and his fictional identical(s), which is beyond mind-boggling. I assume this is the result of the screenplay originally having Elvis as a character (instead of Drexel), and being changed at some point to avoid issues. However, to leave in references to Elvis is a glaring flaw in the story’s world and internal logic, that both the screenwriter and director should have caught and omitted.

It may be a minor gripe, but one of the most egregious issues with The Identical is the costuming. There are countless bad wigs scattered throughout the film, in an attempt to convey ages of characters and time periods, but they all ultimately distract the eye because of how unconvincing they are. Costuming, ideally, should blend into the background, and only catch the audience’s eye if it is meant to establish something about a character or the setting. In this movie, wigs and outlandish outfits constantly stand out without cause or need, which takes away from the audience’s immersion and investment in the story.

Similar to the costuming, another pair of unusual issues with The Identical are the casting and makeup. Given the story spans over multiple decades, there were going to be some inevitable difficulties with portraying characters over time. Some productions elect to re-cast characters in order to convey different points in time, like Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight. This can create a slight disconnect, but audiences are usually a bit forgiving if the actors look plausibly related. The other popular way to show that characters have aged is the use of makeup, such as in Citizen Kane, which allows the same actor to portray an older version of their character. While some movies have been innovative in terms of prosthetic use or digital enhancements to achieve similar aging and de-aging effects, these two methods remain the most effective and cheapest ways to deal with having the same characters portrayed across long spans of time in a story.

In the case of The Identical, however, the production chose to do nothing at all. Seth Green and Blake Rayne, outside of changing goofy wigs occasionally, look the same when their characters are in high school and when they are grown adults. Particularly in the early sections of the film, this decision makes their scenes straight comical. In one sequence, the two clearly adult men are in a bar, and are supposed to be playing minors. Then, the “teens” are scolded by their also-adult parents. “Surreal” might not be the right descriptor, but it is pretty close.

If I didn’t know from the marketing that The Identical was a Christian movie, I’m not sure if I would have figured it out otherwise, and that is pretty noteworthy to itself these days. While religion does play somewhat prominently in the story, it is hardly the focal point. That is not even to mention that the version of Christianity lauded is not nearly as conservative as one might expect, particularly when comparing the film to its contemporary Christian features like God’s Not Dead or The War Room. Theoretically, this is what a Christian movie should be: a story that involves Christianity, insofar as it impacts the characters. The crux of the story isn’t that Christianity is rad: there is a (mostly) coherent narrative with tangible characters, who are often guided by their religion. It may seem like a minor distinction, but when a movie’s transparent purpose is to preach and convert, it automatically gets the tone of hokey propaganda, and it undercuts any character motivations or story investment that the audience might develop.

I don’t think there’s much to recommend with The Identical, but I did find it to be a bit thought-provoking. If you are curious, Ray Liotta and the music may justify your time, but there isn’t much entertainment to be had beyond that. I do think that, with some work on the screenplay and a little more attention to detail on screen, there might have been the makings of an interesting alternate history film here. Hell, if Bubba Ho-Tep can work, I’m not writing off any outlandish Elvis movie ideas.

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Sphere

Sphere

Today, I’m going to cover the 1998 Michael Crichton adaptation, Sphere.

The setup for Sphere is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A spaceship is discovered under three hundred years’ worth of coral growth at the bottom of the ocean.

The director for Sphere was Barry Levinson, who is known for movies like Wag the Dog, Sleepers, Toys, Rain Man, The Natural, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Bugsy.

Sphere is based on a novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, who was a well-known producer and director on top of being a best-selling author. Westworld, Jurassic Park, E.R., Congo, Twister, The 13th Warrior, Timeline, The Andromeda Strain, and many other prominent television shows and movies were either adaptations of his works, or were directly created for the screen by him.

While Crichton did occasionally provide screen treatments for his own novels, in the case of Sphere the adaptation work was done by Kurt Wimmer, who is best known for writing and directing the movies Equilibrium and Ultraviolet.

Additional screenplay credits were also given to Paul Attanasio, who has also written for films like The Good German, Donnie Brasco, Disclosure, Quiz Show, and The Sum of All Fears, and Barry Levinson’s former assistant, Stephen Hauser.

The cast for Sphere includes Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate, Rain Man, Marathon Man, Straw Dogs), Sharon Stone (Casino, The Quick and The Dead, Total Recall, Basic Instinct), Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained), Liev Schreiber (Spotlight, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Goon), and Queen Latifah (Taxi, Chicago, Bringing Down The House, Stranger Than Fiction).

The cinematographer for the film was Adam Greenberg, who also shot movies like Rush Hour, North, Eraser, Ghost, Three Men And A Baby, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Iron Eagle, and Near Dark.

The editor for Sphere was Stu Linder, whose other credits include cutting Quiz Show, Rain Man, Sleepers, Wag The Dog, and Toys, among others.

The musical score for the movie was composed by Elliot Goldenthal, who also provided music for the films Heat, Frida, Batman & Robin, Demolition Man, Alien 3, Pet Sematary, Batman Forever, Titus, Public Enemies, and Across the Universe, among others.

Sphere‘s production designer was Norman Reynolds, who also designed movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, Alien 3, Mission: Impossible, and Return to Oz, and additionally served as art director for Star Wars – A New Hope, Superman, and Superman II.

As with any adaptation, there are a number of details from the Sphere book that were changed for the film. Aside from the elimination of a few characters, the most interesting of these changes is actually the eponymous sphere’s coloration. In the book, it is silvery and chrome-like in appearance. Apparently, this was initially supposed to be the case on screen as well, but the decision was made for the sphere to be gold in the middle of the production, apparently for aesthetic reasons.

Interestingly, the ending of the movie was re-shot due to complaints from test audiences. While these sorts of changes are typically in response to petty complaints from fickle or shallow audience members, in this case, the change made the move more sensible. The initial cut failed to account for the decompression needed for the characters to acclimate from being in the far depths of the ocean, and test audiences didn’t buy it when the survivors made it to the surface.

Sphere grossed just over $50 million in its worldwide theatrical release. However, the production budget alone has been recorded as anywhere from $73 million to $80 million, making it a significant financial failure.

Unfortunately, the critical reception to the movie wasn’t any better: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 12% from critics and 38% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 6.0/10.

Personally, I think there are definitely some things to like about Sphere. For instance, Samuel L. Jackson is pretty damn good here, and is about as restrained, menacing, and cerebral as you’ll see him in anything. In general, the small cast puts out some solid performances. Aside from Jackson, Liev Schreiber is always a great supporter, and Stone does a serviceable job with her role. However, I think Hoffman doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the cast, and wasn’t the best choice to lead the film. I suspect that Levinson just likes working with him, and he was the most bankable name that was available to the production.

The biggest positive for the movie, however, it its design. The underwater facility just looks cool, and does a lot for the atmosphere of the film. Everything has a compelling science-fiction appearance, and it gets across the concept of the deep sea as a foreign world.

Likewise, I really like the concept for the story. I remember reading the book many years ago, and liking it quite a bit. The story is a bit surreal and highly psychological, which could have made for something compelling on screen. The book uses the high tension, claustrophobic setting to great effect, so there was certainly something for the film to work with. In the right hands, Sphere could be an effective science-fiction whodunnit, not unlike The Thing. At least, the blueprint was certainly there.

Unfortunately, in spite of the performances, the design, and a decent source, this movie is incredibly boring and forgettable. Honestly, it is a bit difficult to nail down exactly why. The whole movie feels a bit rushed, which makes it particularly difficult to get invested in the characters. At the same time, it is far from action-packed, so it is hard to say where all of the time goes. The movie certainly could have benefited from some character building sequences, as well as some better moments of sustained tension.

I think the biggest issue with the movie is that it was just put in the wrong hands. There’s nothing about Barry Levinson’s works that would indicate that he’d be a good fit for a psychological science fiction thriller. On top of that, the screenplay sounds like it was bounced around quite a bit, and probably suffered from that.

Overall, as I stated previously, Sphere is pretty forgettable. I do think that the source could make for a good sci-fi thriller someday, but this certainly isn’t it. With the recent television success of Westworld, I’m hopeful that people will start digging back through Crichton’s works, and will see the potential that was squandered with this iteration of Sphere.

Harry and the Hendersons

Harry and the Hendersons

Today’s movie is 1987’s Sasquatch-centered family comedy: Harry and the Hendersons.

The plot of Harry and the Hendersons has the following synopsis on the Internet Movie Database:

The Henderson family adopt a friendly Sasquatch but have a hard time trying to keep the legend of ‘Bigfoot’ a secret.

Harry and the Hendersons was co-written and directed by William Dear, who is best known for directing Angels in the Outfield, The Perfect Game, and If Looks Could Kill, as well as providing input on the story for The Rocketeer.

The cast for the movie includes John Lithgow (Cliffhanger, Raising Cain, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, Footloose, Blow Out), Melinda Dillon (Captain America, Magnolia, A Christmas Story, Close Encounters of The Third Kind), David Suchet (Wing Commander, A Perfect Murder, Poirot), Don Ameche (Cocoon, Cocoon: The Return, Trading Places), and M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple, Fletch, Critters, Slap Shot).

The cinematographer for Harry and the Hendersons was Allen Daviau, whose other credits include Van Helsing, Congo, The Astronaut’s Wife, The Color Purple, E.T., and Empire of the Sun.

Harry and the Hendersons was cut by Donn Cambern, who also worked as an editor on movies like Ghostbusters II, Twins, Time After Time, The Glimmer Man, The Cannonball Run, Easy Rider, and The Last Picture Show.

The musical score for the film was composed by Bruce Broughton, who also composed scores for movies like Silverado, Tombstone, The Monster Squad, Stay Tuned, Baby’s Day Out, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, and Lost In Space, as well as for television series like Dallas, Hawaii Five-O, and Gunsmoke.

Rick Baker, the special effects master who has, to date, won seven Academy Awards (with five additional nominations),  was the creature designer for Harry and the Hendersons. He ultimately won one of his Oscars for his work on the movie, and has claimed that the gigantic, lumbering Harry is his favorite of his many created characters.

Speaking of the creature work for the film, the suit worn by actor Kevin Peter Hall in order to play Harry stood at well over 8 feet tall, making for an immense presence on set.

While Harry and The Hendersons did not receive a sequel, it did spawn a television series, which ran for 72 episodes over 3 seasons, from 1991 to 1993. The series did not follow the continuity of the movie, however, as Harry is shown living with the Hendersons rather than returning to the wild as shown in the film.

Harry and the Hendersons was released internationally as Bigfoot and the Hendersons. A number of promotional images with this alternate title can be found around the internet with a little bit of digging.

Harry and the Henderson features a handful of characters who are obsessed with the hunt to capture or document a Sasquatch. These characters fit the mold of “cryptozoologists,” people who study unconfirmed mythical creatures (with the assumption that they exist), and “squatchers,” who are essentially Bigfoot hunters.

Harry and the Hendersons grossed just over $50 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making a significant profit on its production budget of $16 million.

Critically, however, the movie had a mixed reception. Today, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.9/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 44% from critics and 54% from audiences.

If there is anything that must be said about Harry and the Hendersons, it is that the effects for Harry are incredibly impressive. Even though it looks creepy as all hell, the intricate facial expressions displayed by Harry are almost unimaginable for a monster suit in the 1980s. Rick Baker absolutely outdid himself here.

Beyond Harry, the big highlight of the movie has to be John Lithgow: I can’t think of a single performance of his career in which he hasn’t been entertaining in one way or another, and Harry and the Hendersons might be his pinnacle of his scene-chewing prowess. The guy is just a delight throughout the movie, and gives it more energy and passion that it had any right to deliver. The humor as it is written is a bit hit or miss, but Lithgow manages to elevate it at every turn. Without his presence, this movie might have been unwatchable.

The biggest issue I have with the movie, apart from the aforementioned comedic writing issues, is its tendency to get preachy: the message of nonviolence is really over the top, to the point that it almost feels like a PSA at times. That said, it isn’t terribly distracting, and kind of fits with the overall silly tone of the movie, but I would be remiss not to mention it.

Overall, I think that Harry and the Hendersons is 100%, grade A cheese. It certainly isn’t good by any conventional standards, but it is a true product of its era, and is worth watching for that aspect alone. Lithgow and Harry definitely solidify it as a recommendation for bad movie fans, but I think it is worth a watch for anyone, just because of how much it has seeped into cultural crevices over the years. It is also almost completely inoffensive, like a bumper car lined with plush animals, so almost anyone could enjoy it.

Man-Thing

Man-Thing

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Today, I’m going to dive into an obscure, straight-to-video Marvel movie: 2005’s Man-Thing.

The plot of Man-Thing is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Agents of an oil tycoon vanish while exploring a swamp marked for drilling. The local sheriff investigates and faces a Seminole legend come to life: Man-Thing, a shambling swamp-monster whose touch burns those who feel fear.

The screenplay for Man-Thing was written by Hans Rodionoff, who also penned the films The Skulls II, Lost Boys: The Tribe, Lost Boys: The Thirst, and National Lampoon’s Bagboy.

The eponymous character of Man-Thing is credited to Steve Gerber, a veteran comic book writer who might be best known for creating the somewhat infamous character of Howard The Duck. He wrote a lauded 39-issue series that brought Man-Thing to wider prominence and fleshed out the story, but he interestingly did not create the character. The first appearance of the swampy creature was in Savage Tales #1 in May of 1971, and was initially conceived of by four notable comics figures: Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and Gray Morrow.

This film adaptation of Man-Thing was directed by Brett Leonard, who is best known for movies like The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity.

The cast of Man-Thing includes Matthew Le Nevez (Feed, Offspring), Rachael Taylor (Transformers, Jessica Jones), Jack Thompson (Australia, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil), Steve Bastoni (The Matrix Reloaded, The Water Diviner), and Conan Stevens (Game of Thrones, Son of God).

manthing2The cinematographer for Man-Thing was Steve Arnold, who also shot the films Feed, Highlander: The Source, and Last Cab To Darwin, along with a handful of shorts, documentaries, and television series.

Man-Thing was cut by editor Martin Connor, whose other credits include The Hard Word, The Railway Man, and Burning Man, along with a good number of Australian television series.

The production of Man-Thing had two lead designers: Tim Ferrier, who is best known for doing the design work for the cult favorite science-fiction television FarScape, and Peter Pound, a storyboard and concept artist who has worked on films like Ghost Rider, Mad Max: Fury Road, Dark City, and The Crow.

The initial plan was apparently to have Man-Thing film in New Orleans, essentially on-location for the Louisiana setting of the story. However, budget limitations led to a change of plans, and Australia ultimately served for the backdrop for the production.

manthing4While Man-Thing didn’t reach a very wide audience with its television debut and subsequent DVD release, those that did see it didn’t much care for what they saw. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 4.1/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 17% from critics and 12% from audiences.

The first thing that I noticed about Man-Thing is that the color grading is absolutely out of control. Most of the sequences are absolutely drowned in green tones, to the point that the whole movie looks like an overdone CSI episode. During the handful of daylight sequences, yellows take over with very much the same effect. However, no matter what, every sequence is unreasonably over-saturated with one color or another, which makes the movie look and feel cheaper than it needs to.

Man-Thing features a handful of unique scene transitions in the form of rapid montages of gore, pollution, and swamp imagery juxtaposed together. While I thought this was pretty interesting the first time it happened, it gets far too overused over the course of the film, to the point that it loses its potency. The same could be said for the whole movie, to be honest: there is a lot of rapid cutting whenever the action picks up, which gets really tiring after a while. When the same gimmick happens over and over again, it becomes predictable and uniform, as opposed to novel.

One of the most common complaints that I have read about Man-Thing is that it is not loyal to the source material of the comics, wherein Man-Thing is more of a heroic avenger than a murderous terror. While I am sure this was frustrating for die-hard fans, I can totally understand why the production went in the direction of a horror movie: honestly, it just makes more sense for the setting and concept, particularly for a one-off story. If this were going to be a television pilot or a franchise-builder, having Man-Thing as a protagonist would have made sense. However, I think that is a lot to ask for in a single movie. Unlike Swamp Thing, Man-Thing is not very humanoid in design, and it would be really hard to get an audience to back him.

One of the most impressive aspects of Man-Thing is surprisingly its use of gore, which I really didn’t expect. A number of key scenes in the movie take place either during autopsies or at crime scenes, where the bodies play an important role in building up the anticipation and fear of the monster’s full reveal. The fact that these corpses are done well adds a lot of power to the movie if you ask me. Honestly, most of the effects look good, which is more than a little unusual for a modern b-movie. This was likely due to the dark lighting concealing CGI issues, but if it works, it works. The portrayal of Man Thing himself is also notably cool and intimidating, and gives a distinct sense of size that does a lot for making the character imposing when fully realized on screen.

As far as the performances go, I think that all of the players are perfectly serviceable for a b-movie, particularly considering that almost the entire cast was filled in regionally on location. Even the comic relief characters, which can easily wreck the tone of a horror movie when done poorly, work like a charm.

As with seemingly every b-movie of the past 30-odd years, there is a sequence in Man-Thing with completely unnecessary nudity and sexual content that adds nothing to the story or characters. However, unlike most b-movies, it only happens once, and stands in sharp contrast with the rest of the film. While I haven’t read anything to attest to this, I have a suspicion that this brief sequence towards the beginning of the film may have been added in at some point, probably to help in selling the film to a distributor. I do know that the movie struggled for distribution before SyFy took it on, and this seems like just the sort of move that would be made to try and lure a sleazy distributor off of the fence.

It is worth noting that I have watched a ton of SyFy originals and straight-to-DVD features over the years, and typically, they are the absolute bottom of the barrel in quality. Man-Thing, when you stack it up against these cohorts, stands out from the bunch. Compare this film to any given Lake Placid sequel, or any of the litany of Mega Shark or Sharknado features, and you would come out with a much greater appreciation for it than if you compared it to Marvel Studios outings. I think that people often see this film, and compare it unfairly to movies far outside of its league.

Overall, I think that Man-Thing is a half-decent b-level flick, though definitely flawed. It clearly turned off fans due to the significant deviations taken from the source material, but as someone who isn’t familiar with the comics: this is totally ok. In a lot of ways, it feels like a modernized swamp monster movie, more so than most of the remakes and homages I’ve seen over the years.

As far as a recommendation goes, I would say to give it a shot. There are way worse entries in the early days of Marvel movies, and if you can handle any SyFy Original, you can certainly deal with the negative aspects of Man-Thing. If you go in with no expectations, and leave any prior comic book knowledge of the character at the door, you might just have a half-decent time with this flick.

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Resurrection

Resurrection (1999)

Today, I’m going to take a look at Russell Mulcahy’s bizarre 1999 crime drama Resurrection.

The plot of Resurrection is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Chicago homicide detectives John Prudhome and Andrew “Andy” Hollingsworth are assigned to investigate a gruesome murder, and both become entangled in the plot of a serial killer whose goal is to recreate the body of Christ.

Resurrection was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who is best known for The Shadow, Highlander, and Highlander II, as well as for his extensive work directing 1980s music videos like “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Hungry Like The Wolf.”

The screenplay for Resurrection was credited to Brad Mirman (Highlander: The Final Dimension), who also received a story credit alongside the film’s star, Christopher Lambert (Highlander, Highlander II, Mortal Kombat, Fortress).

Beyond Lambert, the cast for the movie features Leland Orser (Taken, Very Bad Things), Robert Joy (CSI: NY), Peter MacNeill (A History of Violence, Frequency), Barbara Tyson (Final Destination, Ernest Goes to Jail), and famed director David Cronenberg (Jason X, Nightbreed).

The cinematographer for Resurrection was Jonathan Freeman, who has shot numerous episodes of acclaimed television series such as Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, as well as the film Hollywoodland.

Among the numerous special effects workers for Resurrection were Charles Belardinelli (Red State, Saw, Dogma, The Mask, Suburban Commando, Killer Klowns From Outer Space) and Michael Kavanagh (American Psycho, The Boondock Saints, The Dead Zone, Deadly Eyes, Three Men and a Baby).

The prosthetic supervisor for the film was Louise Mackintosh, whose other credits include Wrong Turn, Cube, Bless The Child, and the Netflix show Hemlock Grove.

Resurrection received a theatrical release in a number of international markets, but never hit screens in the United States. It was instead released straight to DVD. However, the DVD version is somewhat edited down from the version that hit theaters overseas, notably to tone down the violence.

The reception to Resurrection was generally negative. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 6.2/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 17% from critics and 51% from audiences.

Resurrection, to start with, is undoubtedly a Christopher Lambert vehicle. From what I can tell, he was hugely instrumental in getting the movie made, so it makes sense that he is a prominent centerpiece. That said, outside of Highlander, he has never been much of a lead role sort of guy: he just doesn’t quite hold a movie together on his own. Part of the reason why that’s true is, unfortunately, because of his distinct and thick accent, which he’s never been able to shake for roles. In Resurrection, there is at least a slight attempt to try to explain Lambert’s accent, through making his character cajun and a New Orleans transplant.

There is only one reason that Resurrection has stuck in the back of my head for so many years, and it doesn’t have anything to do with Christopher Lambert. Resurrection, to be generous, is  one of the most egregious and shameless ripoffs that I have ever seen. This movie absolutely reeks of Se7en: the style, the plot, the characters, the twists, the content, the effects, the everything. Basically, if you removed all of the star power and David Fincher’s craftsmanship from Se7en, what would be left over would be very similar to Resurrection: a gritty detective cat-and-mouse story with heavy religious overtones and brutal violence.

As far as positives go, surprisingly, the comic relief sidekick character is arguably one of the strongest aspects of Resurrection. Leland Orser’s wisecracking, cheesy levity could easily have been out of place in this darkly-toned movie, but it winds up working pretty well. Mostly, this is because the movie tears him down as the stakes get higher, so he acts as a sort of barometer for the state of affairs for the movie as a whole. It is also worth noting that Orser is a genuinely talented character actor with a lot of range, and uses that range to turn his comedic character into a panicked, tortured one with the flip of a switch.

Something that stood out a bit to me on this rewatch of the movie is its general lack of polish. Structurally, it feels like it starts out of nowhere, like it is a tv program that only briefly needs to catch the audience up on the previous episode’s events. The setup for the plot and characters seems like an afterthought, and feels forced in and awkward. I think, from reading a little bit about the movie’s inception, that this was probably due to a rushed screenplay.  It sounds like Lambert and Mulcahy were immensely excited about the film’s concept, and bumped other projects out of the way to do it, which probably led to them glossing over some screenplay issues due to rushing. I think that there is definitely a nugget of a compelling film here, but it needed some more time and attention to be really good.

This brings me to another huge issue with the film. As mentioned previously, there was clearly a focused effort to imitate the style of Se7en with Resurrection. Unfortunately, the mimicry isn’t done very well, and ultimately acts as a disservice to the film. The frequent use of distorted images, the washed out, color-drained palette, and rapid, jarring edits all combine to make an ocular nightmare of a film that is “hard to watch” for all the wrong reasons. Things that Fincher can make work can easily go awry in the hands of someone less meticulous, which is exactly the problem with Resurrection.

Overall, I think Resurrection provides an interesting case of style mimicry going dramatically awry. And, for better or worse, this obscure knockoff has stuck in my mind for years, which must count for something. That said, the handful of positive aspects, like Orser’s performance and the effects work, are overpowered by an under-baked screenplay and an absolutely wretchedly edited final screen product. Unless you are driven by a wild curiosity or an infatuation with the canon of Chrstopher Lambert, you are better off skipping Resurrection.

Bleeders

Bleeders (1997)

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Today, I’m going to be fulfilling a request from one of my gracious Patreon patrons, and talking about 1997’s Bleeders.

The plot of Bleeders is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A man travels to an island with his girlfriend in search of his relatives but he finds maybe more than what he wanted to know.

Bleeders is loosely based on a serialized 1923 H.P. Lovecraft story called The Lurking Fear, which had been translated to the screen twice previously in Dark Heritage (1989) and The Lurking Fear (1994).

Among the credited screenplay writers for Bleeders is Dan O’bannon, who was known for genre flicks like Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Lifeforce, Total Recall, and Screamers. Also listed is Ronald Shusett, whose works include Freejack, Above The Law, and King Kong Lives.

bleeders2Bleeders was directed by Peter Svatek, who also helmed Witchboard III: The Possession, the television show Big Wolf On Campus, and television movies like Baby For Sale and The Christmas Choir.

The cast for the movie is headlined by Roy Dupuis (Screamers, La Femme Nikita), Kristin Lehman (The Killing, The Way of The Gun), and noted character actor Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, Surviving The Game, The Hitcher).

bleeders5The creature designs for the film were provided by CJ Goldman, who went on to work on larger movies like Battlefield: Earth, Pacific Rim, The Fountain, 300, and X-Men: Apocalypse.

As with many b-movies, Bleeders has been released under a number of different titles over the years, including Hemoglobin and The Descendant.

Bleeders currently holds an IMDb user score of 3.8, alongside an unenviable 30% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. A prominent review of the film on HorrorNews.net confidently stated that “I’ll be damned if there was anything in this picture worth seeing again,” which succinctly sums up the general reaction to the film.

When I first saw images of Bleeders, the first thing that stuck out to me were the monster designs. They don’t look particularly good, but they are, I suppose, imaginative. I assume that the budget, particularly for the effects, was really low, so there was a lot of necessary creativity to accommodate those restrictions. Honestly, considering that, the monsters could definitely have looked a whole lot worse.

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That said, there is definitely a problem with the monsters: they aren’t scary. While they do successfully rack up a kill count over the course of the movie, they are never particularly intimidating, which I think is more the fault of the direction than the creature designs themselves. There is one specific sequence I recall in the film where one of the beasts charges out of a clothes dryer at a potential victim, only to get caught in a sheet, flail confusedly, and then fall head-first into a boat motor. That sequence is probably the best representation of a Dungeons and Dragons “critical fail” that I have ever seen on screen, and it doesn’t give the CHUD-like beasts much gravitas.

The ludicrousness of that incident aside, the moment in the movie that has made the most lasting impression on me was a sequence that was meant to have great plot significance. One of the lead characters is, during the story’s climax, forced into a position where he must succumb to his long-suppressed cannibalistic nature. On its own, this setup has the makings for a decently dramatic scene. However, the way he goes about indulging this need is at once too gross, while arguably not being explicit enough: he eats (drinks?) a wet specimen of a human fetus.

While the act isn’t shown, the lead up and its aftermath are. On one hand, the very idea of eating a wet specimen is hella gross, and that is accurately and sufficiently conveyed. On the other hand, from the perspective of understanding and experiencing the character, not actually capturing this final, irredeemable act is a huge loss for the audience: it is a pivotal, climactic moment for a central character that is played entirely off-screen. While suggestion can certainly be powerful, missing out on the entire fall from grace isn’t something that can be overcome easily. At the very least, the act could have been done in silhouette or in deep shadow: any way that the content could be understood and experienced, while details of the act could still be somewhat concealed. The moment simply would have been more powerful if the audience could have experienced it.

This brings me to the biggest issue with the film: there really isn’t anyone for the audience to identify with. One of the strengths of Lovecraft’s stories comes from his ability to write horror from a distinct perspective, which helps immerse readers into his tales of terror. However, Bleeders lacks this immersive identification with any of the characters. If the story were from the perspective of the sick young man, that might have worked as a descent into madness. If the story had been through the eyes of his love-stricken, confused caretaker, there still could have been a story there, as she is the most notable outsider on the island. Instead, the narrative doesn’t back anyone in particular: the audience is left without even the slightest guidance. On top of that, the characters are all so damn weird and unbelievable that I couldn’t help but feel like a wholly disengaged gawker, rather than an invested observer of the story.

 

bleeders3Overall, Bleeders is a weird, if uneven, b-movie. Rutger Hauer is good for what little time he is on screen, and there are a couple of other hammy performances that lighten up the experience of watching the flick. However, the story is pretty damn slow, and pretty much everything that shows up on screen is visually bland. There are definitely the makings of a decent movie with the source material, but this isn’t it.

As far as a recommendation goes, I’m on the fence. Bleeders is definitely not your everyday b-movie, and it does have some redeeming qualities, but they aren’t enough for me to recommend it to anyone but the most die-hard bad movie fans.

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Timeline

Timeline

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Today’s feature is one of the lesser films to be based on a Michael Crichton work: 2003’s Timeline, directed by Richard Donner.

The plot of Timeline is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A group of archaeological students become trapped in the past when they go there to retrieve their professor. The group must survive in 14th century France long enough to be rescued.

Timeline is based on a novel written by Michael Crichton, who is best known for Jurassic Park, Congo, WestWorld, The Andromeda Strain, and E.R.. However, the screenplay adaptation for Timeline was penned by Jeff Maguire (Gridiron Gang) and George Nolfi (Sentinel, The Bourne Ultimatum, Ocean’s Twelve).

The director for the movie was Richard Donner, who is known for such features as The Toy, Superman, Superman II, The Goonies, Scrooged, and Lethal Weapon.

The cast of Timeline includes Paul Walker (The Fast and The Furious, The Skulls, She’s All That), Gerard Butler (Reign of Fire, Dracula 2000, 300, The Ugly Truth, Olympus Has Fallen), David Thewlis (The Island of Doctor Moreau), Anna Friel (Limitless), Neal McDonough (Minority Report), Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints), and Frances O’Connor (Windtalkers).

timeline5The cinematographer on the movie was Caleb Deschanel, whose other credits include Killer Joe, Winter’s Tale, The Patriot, The Right Stuff, National Treasure, and The Passion of the Christ.

The editor for Timeline was Richard Marks, who has cut films like The Godfather: Part II, The Hand, Broadcast News, Serpico, Pretty In Pink, As Good As It Gets, and Julie and Julia over his career.

The music for the feature was provided by Brian Tyler, whose other credits include Simon Sez, Dragonball: Evolution, The Expendables, John Dies At The End, and Iron Man 3.

Apparently, Michael Crichton so hated the film adaptation of Timeline that he ceased licensing out his properties for the rest of his life, which unfortunately ended only a handful of years later.

The actors David Thewlis and Anna Friel met while working together on Timeline, and were romantic partners for many years afterwards.

Timeline experienced a number of behind the scenes issues. It was initially supposed to release in 2002, but was delayed after the studio was unsatisfied with Richard Donner’s cut of the film. The film had to be entirely re-cut twice more, which led to the entire Jerry Goldsmith score having to be replaced with one by Brian Tyler, due to Goldsmith’s failing health.

Initially, the role eventually filled by Gerard Butler was offered to James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who turned it down.

A third writer, Frank A. Cappello (Suburban Commando, Constantine), was at one point credited for film. He apparently wrote an entire draft of the screenplay, and was even credited on some of the film’s early promotional materials.

The battle at the center of Timeline‘s plot is entirely fictional, though the overarching conflict of The Hundred Years War was very much real. A number of liberties are taken with historical accuracy, as you might expect,  including some intentionally anachronistic insignias placed in the background as Easter eggs. One of these is the Quebec flag, which appears on a shield as a nod to the filming location.

Financially, Timeline was a significant loss. On an $80 million production budget, the movie only grossed just under $44 million theatrically, leaving the production significantly in the red.

timeline3Critically, Timeline fared equally as poorly. Currently, it holds a 5.6/10 IMDb user rating, and Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 11% from critics and 45% from audiences.

Roger Ebert was one of the more charitable critics of the lot, giving the film a 2 star review. However, his criticisms echo much of the negative reaction to the feature:

“I felt too much of the movie consisted of groups of characters I didn’t care about, running down passageways and fighting off enemies and trying to get back to the present before the window of time slams shut…Just once I’d like to see a time-travel movie inspired by true curiosity about the past, instead of by a desire to use it as a setting for action scenes.”

As Ebert stated, one of the biggest weaknesses of the movie is the un-enthralling cast of characters. The interpersonal relationships and individual characters are all incredibly forgettable, to the point that some are only distinguishable based on their accents. Part of this is due to the cast just being unnecessarily large, to the point that the characters don’t get the space to develop on screen. As far as the dialogue and characters go, this movie is roughly as fleshed out as a lesser Friday the 13th sequel: individuals are only as identifiable as stereotypes, and only exist to be arrow fodder.

Plenty of fans of the source material have complained at length about changes to the screenplay, but I tend to let those kind of details slide: movies need to fit a more compressed medium, and writers and directors have the right to put their own creative stamps on things. So, for this movie, I’m not going to delve into those.

One of the more widely-mocked sequences from the movie involves the English army launching a volley of “night arrows” at their enemies. I remember this from the first time I saw this movie as a kid, and I definitely recall it not making any sense. “Night arrows” are not a thing: they are just normal arrows, shot at night, that aren’t on fire. The fact that characters act like this is some some of tactical brilliance is absolutely baffling to me, and I’ve never figured out just why that sequence was included.

Overall, Timeline is a way cooler idea than an actual movie. The weak casting and writing certainly didn’t help matters, but I’m not sure if this movie would have resonated with audiences even if everything fired on all cylinders. Even if Donner’s initial cut was a masterpiece, I don’t think a time travel movie set in this particular time period was going to excite anyone. The Hundred Years War just isn’t something that clicks for people in general at this point, let alone your average American audience.  If you want to mess with time travel, go to the dinosaurs, go to Rome, go to the Revolution, go to the Civil War, go to a recent 20th century decade, or go to the future. Some time periods are just more cinematic and intriguing than others for Hollywood, and I don’t think this time period makes the elite cut as far as options go for blockbusters.

As far as a recommendation goes, I found this movie to be incredibly dull and forgettable, and I’m hard-pressed to think of any redeeming qualities. Outside of seeing Gerard Butler in his long-hair period, or Paul Walker doing his damnedest to be a leading man, there’s not much worth seeing here.