This one is a bit different. We’ll go with this format for the next month or two. Take a listen.
Check out www.thelot.com for links to the films reviewed in this episode.
This one is a bit different. We’ll go with this format for the next month or two. Take a listen.
Check out www.thelot.com for links to the films reviewed in this episode.
Following in a long vein of mediocre superhero films comes a sparkling gem that sets itself apart from the rest of the soot-ridden rocks accumulating in Stan Leeâ€™s closet.
Ghost Rider is the story of Johnny Blaze (Matt Long), a young, hotshot daredevil looking to make a name for himself. When not leaping through hoops or crashing unceremoniously, he sees a lovely young woman (Raquel Alessi) and spends time with his alcoholic, chimney-smoking dad (Brett Cullen).
Much to his surprise, he discovers that his dad has been diagnosed with cancer, and its spread. Saddened, he decides to think about his life, and reassess things. Itâ€™s on this fateful eve that a worn-out thespian (Peter Fonda) decides to pay him a visit, offering him his fatherâ€™s perfect health for the mere price of his earthly soul.
Deed signed, soul sold, his father makes a miraculous recovery. We soon find, however, that all good things do come at a steep price. Our aged octogenarian friend is soon revealed as no one other than Mephisto himself, and Blaze, his new bounty hunter.
Fast-forward some decades, and we find Blaze (Nicolas Cage) once again up to his old stunts, only his dares now border closer to suicidal than thrill-seeking. Luck doesnâ€™t favor our protagonist much, however, as it appears Mephisto has a need for his little errand boy, and his pimp-hand is strong.
Overall, the movie follows a very linear plot. Boy finds dream, boy loses faith, boy sells soul to devil, and then, boy becomes a flaming-headed servant of Satan. There are a few hiccups along the way, but throughout, it seems a little bit forced.
At times, it seems as though the writers would face obstacles in plot development the same way Johnny didâ€¦ driving over them with a mother****ing Hellcycle!
Still, this leaves too many questions unexplored, and even critical plot moments seem fake in retrospect. Itâ€™s too easy, all of it. From the tragic romance to the climatic battles. Nothing that would seem to even make Ant-Man break a sweat.
Despite its shortcomings, it does have some stunning visual effects, and some amazing stunts, but at times, it feels that the entire plot was merely created as a justification to put Nick Cage in a leather biker outfit, and have him drive up and down buildings.
Still, it does not fall as short as some of the more recent superhero flops (*cough* Spider-Man III *coooughh*), but it never does soar higher than the likes of Daredevil, or Elektra.
While there may be heart, this movie lacks heavily in the way of soul, seemingly as devoid of one as villain. Ooh, yes, I went there Blackheartâ€¦ whatcha gonna do? I didnâ€™t even know your name until I looked it up on Wikipedia!
Final Score â€“ ** (Average)
Fanboy Score â€“ ** (Average)
Final Word â€“ If youâ€™re just in to watching summer blockbusters, or movies that develop plot, youâ€™ll find little here other than a CGI demonstration, but if youâ€™re a die-hard fan, and donâ€™t despise Nicholas Cage, you might like what little story there is, if you can let go of the fantasy that this is a serious movie.
Mike Enslin is a writer who’s sort’ve at a crossroads in his life. He currently writes books based around haunted locations across the country and his current book is about haunted hotels. He gets a mysterious tip in the mail about a hotel in New York City called The Dolphin and not to stay in room 1408. Obviously this piques his interest and he does what he can to get a reservation in the room, even with all sorts of warnings not to do so, with some of the most convincing coming from the hotel manager himself, basically telling Mike that nobody usually lasts for the first hour, telling him that it is an evil room. Mike of course is insistent on staying there, and he checks in, and within minutes, the terror does indeed begin.
And that’s trying to be as vague as I can be about the new horror/suspense movie 1408 from director Mikael Hafstrom. This is adapted from a story by Stephen King and while I’ve never read the story, it sure feels like it has all the hallmarks of his work- the slant on writing, the creepiness of hotels and the dark personal secrets that we all have that sometimes lead to the greatest horrors of all. This is an extremely well-made film, very well paced and certainly well-performed. It has a great look to it, with one of the stars of the movie just being the room itself, which at times seems to me to carry some sort of similarities to how David Lynch lights rooms that he films in. Most of the visual effects in this film don’t have that CGI “flash” to them and instead almost feel more theatrical or somewhat “cheap” but that hardly meaning that it looks bad, on the contrary, I think the effects work quite well here.
1408 stars John Cusack as Enslin and this is really a tour-de-force for Cusack, especially for the period that he’s in the room because for the most part, he’s the only one there and he has to sell this well in order for you to buy into it, and he does. He’s perfectly cast for this, with both his cynical wit and an everyman quality, he brings this home very well. Samuel L. Jackson is the manager of the Dolphin, and he’s great too, though don’t go expecting this to be one of his showier roles. The interplay between Cusack and Jackson before Cusack enters the room is really entertaining to watch, these guys play off of each other quite well. Mary McCormack is also in the film playing Enslin’s estranged wife, and she does a fine job too, with a great scene especially at the end of the film.
What you have here is really, really good stuff, and just when you think the film might fall into a trap that you don’t want it to fall into, it rebounds back and gets itself back on the track that it needs to be on. Now with that said though, one has to wonder about certain things: It’s a PG-13 film, and really for what you have here, that’s fine, there’s nothing in the world that says that you can’t make a good effective horror film with a PG-13 rating (last year’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose worked the same way)- but how would it have fared had a less known actor been cast in the lead? Again, don’t get me wrong, John Cusack is absolutely terrific here, but at the core, we know it’s John Cusack performing a role- wouldn’t it’s horror seem a little more extreme if the actor in front of the camera was someone you didn’t readily know? Probably… and as far as I know that could also affect the rating (although there’s multiple factors that go into that as well, more than likely this was contracted to come in at PG-13) Also, Like I said above, I haven’t read the original story, and as is the case with most movies, one wonders if multiple endings weren’t filmed for this. The ending that this film has is, again terrific and horrifying in it’s own way, but one wonders if it could’ve been darker and even more extreme than what it was. I know for a movie like this, I tend to want to want it to go as dark as it can, but that’s just me, and again, don’t get me wrong, this is good stuff… this is just stuff that I think about with a movie like this.
In the end though, 1408 is a great ride with a terrific tour guide in the form of Cusack. Our audience seemed to react to this the way it should, with over to one side of us being a guy who brought in five little kids with him, with most of them being quite scared by the film (and of course causing a disturbance, but nowhere near as bad as it could’ve been). This is good stuff and of course, highly, highly recommended.
In this episode, special guest Paul Maki joins me to chat about his serial fiction podcast Really Big Things.
The audio is a bit dicey and this was the first time I recorded via Skype.Â It’s not horrible, but there are a few noticeableÂ points where Skype cut out.Â I left them as they were, as it would have been a royal pain to do even more editing for only a second or two of inconvenience.
More detailed notes to follow.
Catch Really Big Things at www.jackmangan.com
Just a little preface before get into the review proper, Day Watch is the second in a trilogy of Russian movies that started with the film Night Watch. Night Watch, which is steeped in Russian legend, tells us the story of the eternal battle between Light and Dark forces and the pact struck between the two when it appeared that the only way the battle was ever going to end was going to be the destruction of both. Vampires, shape shifters and more supernatural beings are real in the world, but ruled over by the light and dark forces, each of which has their own sort’ve police force to keep the other in check, the Light’s force is called The Night Watch and the Dark’s is called Day Watch. Night Watch told the story of Anton, a young man who forever alters his life by employing Dark forces to do a deed for him, and thus awakening his own supernatural powers. Anton becomes a member of the Night Watch and becomes involved in a series of events that awakens two beings, one called the Great Light Other and the other, the Great Dark Other and legend foretells that if the two should ever meet, it will be the end of everything that we know.
Day Watch continues the story, with the Great Light Other, Sveta, now in the employ of the Night Watch, and the Great Dark Other, Yegor now training with the Day Watch. This story throws into the mix another legend about an object called The Chalk of Fate, which when used, can literally reverse whole events. Both forces want the Chalk, with the leader of the Dark forces, Zavulon wanting to break the pact…
… and as always, there’s way more to tell, but I’d just as soon you discover the rest for yourself. Night Watch is an incredibly cool movie, yes it’s story and history is complex, but as long as you stick with it, it’s all pretty easy to follow and very easy to get involved in. Day Watch is just a little more complicated and quite a bit more all over the map, seeming at times to try to also go into some high comedy before winding up with a very intense ending. Because of the nature of The Chalk of Fate, this ending could almost be seen as a cheat, but yet it’s not as much as say something like a movie like the Nicolas Cage film, Next is.
It’s an amazing looking movie, as is Night Watch with special effects that rival anything made here, and to me anyway, Night Watch was always more the type of movie that I wanted something like Underworld to be like, but instead that fell into a series of cliches that you’d seen many times before.
Day Watch re-unites the entire cast of the first film under the same director, and please forgive me, these Russian names are hard for me to remember, so I’m just going to forego even trying to name names. But the cast is quite good, and I’m quite impressed with a number of the characters, in particular, Anton, Sveta (truly a stunning woman), Zavulon and Olga (who is a shape shifter and Anton’s partner in the Night Watch).
It’s an interesting film, but like I said above, it’s ending might be seen as something as a cheat, especially when you think that this is supposed to be part of a trilogy, yet things are wrapped up pretty nicely by the end of this film.
Really though, the only way that I can recommend Day Watch though is only if you’ve seen Night Watch. Day Watch does open with a prologue that explains everything from the first film, but still seeing the first film itself carries a lot more gravity with it and arms you much better for the second movie than just the prologue itself. Well worth seeing though, if you’ve seen Night Watch, but still the ending might leave something to be desired… we’ll just have to wait and see if this continues further beyond this.
Something from outer space is making it’s way through the galaxy and devouring planets in it’s wake, it’s on a course for Earth and it’s being preceded by a strange silver-glazed being riding what appears to be a surfboard. On Earth, The Fantastic Four have become huge public eye stars for their fantastic exploits, and now we’re just days away from the wedding of Reed Richards and Susan Storm. The Surfer makes his appearance on Earth, causing calamity in his wake, leaving the US military to get in touch with the Fantastic Four to help devise a way to at least figure out what this is… And inadvertently, through his own power after effects, the Surfer revives Victor Von Doom, who wants nothing more than to gain the power of the Surfer for himself.
And that’s the basic premise of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer which so far for me is the best of the Marvel Comics movies to come out this year. Now I really liked the first film too (even more so now that there’s an Extended Edition out there) and one of the big reasons that I liked this, is that by the nature of the Fantastic Four comic itself, these films don’t come in and get as heavy as say Spider-Man movies do, or Batman, or even something like Daredevil. The Fantastic Four should be more fanciful, more whimsical than the other comic movies out there, and I think they’ve certainly succeeded with both of them thus far.
There’s lots of nods to the comic here, although there’s lots of stuff that’s also going to really piss off the internet-vocal fanboy crowd as well- in particular the portrayal of Galactus in the film, which still to me is more vague than “just a big cloud.” There’s a space in there where there could’ve been a little something more shown, but I ain’t gonna hold that against the movie… and I certainly can understand the decision to not show Galactus in his traditional sense, simply because they’re wanting more than just the fanboy element to like the film and I’d tend to think that the mainstream audience seeing a building-sized humanoid wearing a Jack Kirby designed purple helmet might not take it the way it should be taken (although again, there is a moment where there could’ve certainly had been a compromise between the two- which I could see being opened up a bit in what will probably be the inevitable Extended Edition of this film).
Director Tim Story and his crew have certainly made some changes along the way, compared to the first film… this one is way more effects-heavy and I tend to think for the most part they’re all pretty cool effects, especially when you’re dealing with these characters in particular who’s entire bodies are pure effects. The make-up for the Thing has really been improved on, particularly around Ben Grimm’s upper body and his brow… to me, it really allows Michael Chiklis to actually perform better. And finally, a character that’s been talked about for film ever since 1980 (when someone connected to Olivia Newton-John- this was around the time of Xanadu– had the option on the Surfer) has finally made it to film and fulfilled some promise that effects movies like Terminator 2 promised you could see. The Surfer is really nicely done here- acted out by actor Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne, he’s a true commanding presence in the movie.
But I don’t at all want to slight the four leads- Ioan Gruffod, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis all reprise their roles and they’re all real comfortable with each other on-screen. There’s some moments near the end of the film where that chemistry is really evident and you do buy that they’re a family. I’ve got to give some huge marks to Chris Evans here, who gets to give Johnny Storm a lot more depth than he’s had before and still have fun with the part. Also returning is Julian McMahon as Doctor Doom, and again, he’s obviously having a real ball with the part. New to this cast, and continuing the trend of hiring FX TV series actors for this movie is solid-as-a-rock Andre Braugher as the general who gets in touch with the Four (I figure Denis Leary must be the next in line to get a part in the film- no doubt looking both tortured and sardonic at the same time)
Out of all the big Marvel Comics movies this year, this was the one that I was looking forward to the most, and for me anyway it delivered the goods. On top of that, again I got to see this in digital projection and as such that made the viewing experience even more special. I’d say that if you liked the first movie, I’d definitely recommend this film. But if you got your nose all out of joint over the first one, you should probably just stay home, there’s probably not much that this one is going to do for you. And if you’re the type that’s gonna get real steamed off that Galactus ain’t a big guy in a big purple helmet, don’t go at all and don’t forget your helmet when you leave the house…
One of Danny Ocean’s crew, Rueben (played by Elliot Gould) has decided that pulling off capers just isn’t for him any more and he wants to take his money and open up the most extravagant casino on the Las Vegas strip. Rueben, against everyone else’s advice, partners up with a slick and sleazy businessman name Willie Bank, who quickly screws Reuben out of the entire deal, causing him a heart attack. Danny Ocean, Rusty, Linus and the rest of the crew are looking for revenge and they devise a very complex scheme in which to take Willie Bank down…
… and that’s the premise for Ocean’s Thirteen the latest film from todays Scorsese and DeNiro, Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. And personally, I think it’s fun as hell…
Soderbergh is, at least in my eyes, one of the most talented filmmakers out there today, always inventive and always stylish, he makes stuff that for me anyway, is always highly watchable, and with the case of the Ocean’s movies, re-watchable. His scenes and set-ups are just extremely well-devised and as is the case with these movies, that style, their wonderful music, and the high-powered cast brings in a sense of “Hollywood Cool” that I think we really haven’t had since the days of the original Ocean’s Eleven with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack.
I was watching this weekend’s Lyons and Bailes: Reel Talk on NBC (which if you’ve never seen the show, is well worth catching as an alternative to Ebert & Roeper- This shows late night in the wee small ones on Saturday and Sunday mornings and stars film critics Jeffrey Lyons and Allison Bailes, Bailes getting my pick as the sexy movie reviewer out there- not just attractive, but she knows her stuff… but I digress), and they didn’t recommend the film because they just saw it as this caper thing with no real character development. Well, I don’t think you go to see a movie like this looking for character development, or at least I don’t… I definitely go for the “cool” factor of the film and watching Steven Soderbergh weave his film-making magic and I think if you know that before you go in, then you’ll probably be entertained along the way.
Everybody’s back for this film, George Clooney of course, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Elliot Gould, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Don Cheadle, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin and Bernie Mac all reprise their parts as the eleven. Even Andy Garcia returns in a nice little turn of events, as does Vincent Cassel from Ocean’s Twelve, along with Eddie Izzard too. The only people not in this film are Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and I was halfway expecting them to turn up by the film’s end, but it didn’t happen. Joining this cast are the scenery-chewing Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin who as far as I’m concerned is still hot as hell. Pacino’s having a lot of fun here, that’s pretty evident on-screen- oh, this film hardly pushes him in anyway, but he’s still fun to watch.
Yep, it’s a convoluted plan, I’ll give you that, but it just didn’t matter to me, I still thought it was easy to follow and a lot of fun to watch, and there’s some inspired moments along the way, including a bit where Danny is caught getting involved while watching an episode of Oprah that has a tremendous pay-off by the film’s end. This is subtly fun stuff, and so far for me, the first of this summer’s Hollywood sequels to really give me a totally satisfying film experience. If you like the first two movies, I’d certainly recommend this one as well, and if you’re a fan of Steven Soderbergh, don’t even give it a second thought…
When the original Hostel ended, the young man, Paxton, had just escaped the European torture facility by having to commit a few brutal murders of his own. Hostel Part 2 picks right up with Paxton at it’s start, but quickly moves on to a new set of victims for it’s second installment. Three young female students are making their way through Europe and while attending an art class in Italy, they meet a young model who becomes attached to them and takes them to the Slovak area, setting them up to be the next targets for the dreaded Elite Hunting group (if you’ve seen the first movie, then you know that Elite Hunting is the name of the group that finds these young victims and then puts them up for bid for wealthy business people to come and do with as they please, with the end result having to be killing their victim). We also follow two American businessmen, one who’s gung-ho to do this thing while the other is a little skittish about it. And from there, hijinks ensue…
For the most part, Hostel Part 2 follows the same formula as the original, with setting up the girls in it’s first half, as well as the businessmen, and then it ups it’s pace in it’s second half taking place within the torture facility. Writer/Director Eli Roth follows this,, but also manages to throw in a twist or two along the way, and it’s usually a twisted twist as well…
Critics of these films call them torture-porn, but I don’t quite see it the same way. What Roth has done with his first three movies (the two Hostels and Cabin Fever) has basically gone back to a 70s style type of terror film from which really there is no hope… you’re taking the ride with the victims, and in some cases emphasizing with them, but ultimately the shock comes in either their own demises or what they have to do to get through this themselves. In the case of Paxton with the first film, it was transforming him into something that he wasn’t. In the case with this one, it’s the same with a young woman named Beth, very well played by a young actress named Lauren German- but Roth gives us the twist though too with both of his business men, Stuart and Todd, played respectively by Roger Bart and Richard Burgi.
Personally, I do think that Hostel Part 2 is a pretty effective piece of terror until it’s very final scene and then Eli Roth turns it all into a cartoon, basically I think trying to ease an audience into not taking this all too seriously. I could’ve done without his choice in the end to do this, and would’ve preferred that he ended it without the laugh and just kept it as dark and disturbing as he could’ve.
All of the actors give some decent performances here, along with the above-mentioned, Bijou Phillips plays Beth’s friend Whitney, who’s way more of a sexual free-spirit, and independent actress Heather Matarazzo (who I hadn’t seen in anything in awhile), plays Lorna, their somewhat nerdish friend, who at least for me was the most sympathetic character in the film and whose torture moment is probably one of the most painful and disturbing to watch, primarily due to just how well Matarazzo plays the part.
Even with the ending that I disagree with, I’d still recommend this film, especially if you enjoyed Eli Roth’s other films. His films certainly are not for everyone, I’d be the first to grant you that, but if you like to see a horror/terror film that pushes the boundaries about as far as they can go, then Hostel Part 2 just might be up your alley.
Earl Brooks is for all accounts and purposes, the embodiment of the American success story, he’s got a loving wife, a daughter who he’s proud of in college, and he’s the owner of a successful business, and at the start of our story, Earl Brooks is being named Business Man of the Year. Earl Brooks has his demon though and it’s an addiction, an addiction to killing people and Earl has kept that addiction under control for two years. But in the wake of his successful night, his demon comes back out, tempting him as a way at saying “you deserve this- have some fun tonight” in a manifestation that only Earl can see named Marshall. And Earl finds his next victims, and begins to plan to have his fun… and from there, things begin to build and in some interesting ways…
Wow… I gotta say, I never saw this one coming. The promotion for it had been sparse, almost coming out of nowhere over the last two weeks, and for a movie that stars Kevin Costner, well that’s saying something. This almost seems more like an independent film rather than a big-ass studio production, and that’s one of the things that’s very cool about this great little movie called Mr. Brooks.
Costner’s the star, no doubt about it, and this is from his production company, TIG Productions, and it’s without a doubt one of the more interesting and engrossing serial killer movies that I’ve seen in awhile. This is directed by a man named Bruce Evans, who I’m not really that familiar with, and it really looks great and tells it’s story without getting overly flashy. If there’s any one movie that I can say that this comes closest to putting me in the mind of, it’s a classic serial killer movie that doesn’t get seen that often any more called The Stepfather that stars Lost’s Terry O’Quinn, and me saying that is a high compliment.
Some have criticized this movie for having too much in it, developing a couple of other subplots that they said was almost like having three movies in one. Well, I didn’t see it that way- Earl Brooks is shown as a complex man, and his life is equally complex. These other things happen, but it all gets tied together in a satisfying way for me anyway.
Costner is absolutely terrific in this movie. He exercises a few muscles here that he hasn’t used in awhile and he’s clearly enjoying himself, especially when he’s having his conversations with Marshall, who’s played with some great gusto from William Hurt. Costner and Hurt have some terrific chemistry here, and it’s always fun when they’re on-screen together. Demi Moore is in the film, playing Detective Atwood, and she looks great and plays the part with some real lived-in smarts. Comedian Dane Cook is also in the film, playing a young man who’s discovered what Brooks does and wants to experience the rush first hand by blackmailing Brooks. He does a fine job here being an annoying character but not to the point that the audience is annoyed with him. All in all, Costner and company have assembled a fine cast for the film.
In this summer of sequels, movies like Bug and Mr. Brooks are a breath of fresh air. I know over the next two weeks, I’m going to be seeing four more movies, all sequels (Hostel Part 2, Ocean’s 13, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Daywatch) and I can only hope that some of them approach being just as good as what Mr. Brooks is. Good stuff here and very much recommended…