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THE HOT ROCK, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES

Thursday, August 18, 2011

PRIEST: FUTURISTIC BATTLE OF GOOD VS EVIL

It seems only natural that Hollywood has sought out new sources of inspiration for movies. They’ve sequelized and remade just about everything under the sun. So when word got out that they were taking a manga (Japanese comic) story and turning it into film, fans were both glad to hear it and concerned if they were dedicated to the original source. For those of us unaccustomed to it, the film is pure entertainment.

The future is a bleak one. The battle between humans and vampires escalated to the point where the world was nearly destroyed in the aftermath. These vampires are unlike those seen in most stories, less suave and sophisticated and more along the lines of faceless monsters with gaping jaws.

To win the war the clergy created a new force to be reckoned with, the Priests. Raised to battle these demons and with abilities greater than most men, the Priests set out to destroy the vampires and nearly did so, trapping any that remained in sealed areas of the world. But the world that was left was just as decimated, comprised of cities surrounded by walks and ruled by the Church. The Priests were disbanded with their being no need for them any longer. Until now.

In one of the settlements outside the city, a lone cabin stands and the inhabitants are set upon by a rampaging army of vampires. There are two survivors. One is a young woman who was captured by the vampires. The other her father, the brother of the Priest who stood out above the rest (Paul Bettany). With revenge in mind and warning the Church of this mounting army he asks to be reinstated. But the leaders refuse to believe there is any danger and not only deny him reinstatement but tell him to stand down or be hunted.

Priest (as he is called) ignores their threats and heads out to find the vampires and rescue his niece. In turn the Church reinstates several members of the Priests and sends them out to capture him, dead or alive.

Accompanied by his niece’ boyfriend and Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet), Priests tracks the vampires to their lair. What he discovers is far more dangerous than he imagined. There is not just a small group of vampires comprising an army but thousands. And they are led by Black Hat (Karl Urban), a former Priest turned vampire and friend to Priest, lost during one of their battles against the scourge.

Black Hat has taken over a train and filled it with the vampires as well as his captive. With only the help of a fellow Priest and Hicks, Priest sets out to end this once and for all. And no one, including the Church, will stop him.

If the story sounds familiar, yes it does seem like a retelling of the movie THE SEARCHERS. So I guess it isn’t as original as we can hope for. But the film does put a nice twist on both the heroes and villains seen in movies of this sort. The vampires are monstrous creatures while the Priests are ninja like warriors having more in common with Crusaders than with current members of the clergy.

The movie looks spectacular, mostly taking place at night and yet shot in such a way that everything is visible. Too many movies like this choose total blackness but this movie gives us a good view of the action and the characters. The special effects are top notch as well both physically and animated. The creatures seem real and the explosions, etc. are well done.

Bettany has changed since we first saw him years ago. Where he once played various geek type roles he’s taken on the mantle of action star and it suits him well. Gigandet seems to be everywhere since his big role in TWILIGHT. This movie can only be another notch on his belt.

The movie may not be for everyone but for action and sci-fi/fantasy fans it will offer them everything they could hope for. This isn’t a spoiler but the end of the film does leave an opening for another and one can only hope that it does well enough on DVD that the studio follows through. This was a good solid action piece that would make a worthwhile series.

DYLAN DOG, DEAD OF NIGHT: THE RIGHT MIX OF HORROR AND COMEDY

Movie genres are mixed and match time and time again. Recently they mixed sci fi and the western resulting in COWBOYS & ALIENS. Sci fi was mixed with the samurai film for BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. So nothing seems unusual when you mix comedy with horror and come up with something surprisingly delightful like DYLAN DOG.

Based on the comic book series by the same name, DYLAN DOG tells the tale of a private eye with a past that is slowly revealed as the film progresses. Dylan (Brandon Routh) picks up the usual divorce case here and there and has help from his friend Marcus (Sam Huntington). It takes place in New Orleans, a town twisted in mystery and the occult, both of which come into play throughout the film.

The film opens with an apparent murder to which Dylan is called by the victim’s daughter, Elizabeth (Anita Briem). When Dylan asks why she called him, she hands him a card and he turns down the job and leaves rather suddenly.

When Dylan returns to his office later that night, he finds Marcus dead on the floor, his chest ripped open. Because of this loss, Dylan comes out of retirement from his previous job and starts the hunt for the killer of Elizabeth’s father and Marcus, a killer he believes is the same person.

As he explains it later, Dylan’s original job was as a policeman of sorts for all of the unnatural beings that had gathered in New Orleans, a town well suited for their needs. Vampires, werewolves, ghouls and zombies all live in New Orleans but people tend to just look the other way, knowing inside they’re there but never acknowledging them. These creatures of the night have a truce that prevents them from taking on the normal people of the world. When one would step out, Dylan was the man to bring them in. But something happened that made him quit.

Fortunately for Dylan, Marcus rises from his slab in the morgue and becomes one of the living dead. Marcus doesn’t find this fortunate though and throughout the film tries to deny this fact. Much of the humor in this film comes from Marcus and his situation such as his refusal to eat maggots to survive. Yes it’s a gross joke but trust me when I say that in the hands of the group that brought this movie to life it becomes quite funny.

Dylan reunites with old friends and foes as he tries to uncover the mystery behind the deaths and why an importer like Elizabeth’s father would hold any interest for the creatures he protects. You see Dylan isn’t about hunting monsters but about protecting them…unless they defy the truce and take out innocent humans.

Meetings with zombies and vampires result with little to go on but a series of clues strung together like the best mysteries written. Each one ends with another clue that moves you further down the line to who is behind it all. And that isn’t revealed until the last act.

I’ve never read the comic but word is they’ve done it justice here. With a limited budget to work with, the writers, director, cast and crew have pulled off a great combination of humor and horror that holds your interest till the end. Better yet, it leaves you wanting more, wishing that this would become a series of films rather than a single effort. The so so reception at the box office doesn’t seem to make one think this will happen, but perhaps with an interest in the DVD it will.

Routh does a great job here. Many will recall him playing the title character in SUPERMAN RETURNS. Thoughts that he would be saddled with the character alone are tossed aside as he brings a life to Dylan here. The character is confident whether facing down a client’s husband or a raging vampire, even if he does get tossed across a room. The words that come out of his mouth evoke the usual tough P.I. genre but his look is far from it. And yet it works.

My favorite actor here though is Sam Huntington as Marcus. He truly has the funniest lines in the film. But it’s not just the lines but how he delivers them that make them funny as well as the physical aspects he displays here. After watching him you’ll first find yourself saying “I know I’ve seen this guy before” and then discover you’ll want to search out other movies he has been in.

This is not over the top film making with an extensive budget to bring about special effects and more. But it works. And it entertains. And there’s not much more a person could hope for in a movie these days.

BETTER OFF DEAD: DESTINED TO BE A CLASSIC CULT FILM

Okay so maybe this film has already achieved cult status. Not only does it star John Cusak in one of his early leading roles, the director (Savage Steve Holland) disappeared from feature films after this and ONE CRAZY SUMMER only to delve into TV directing. Fans miss him and I include myself in that mix. So what’s the movie like? Completely off the wall and hilarious.

Cusak stars as Lane Myer, a teen obsessed with his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss). Proof of that is shown early on when we see his closet filled with clothes hung on hangers that each feature a picture of Beth as well as walls covered with her picture. Problems start early on when Lane fails to make the ski team due to the underhanded doings of Roy, the stereotypical jock jerk found in so many movies. To make matters worse, Beth dumps Lane to become Roy’s new girlfriend since she decides she needs to step up the social ladder.

Despondent, Lane can’t figure out a way to get Beth back and so decides to kill himself. Not since HAROLD AND MAUDE have we witnessed the dark humor of attempted suicide. No, that’s not a funny topic but when you see Cusak with a rope around his neck deciding not to go through with it only to have his mother (Kim Darby) open the garage door while sweeping knocking him off his stool to struggle…well you get the picture I hope.

Lane finally decides that the best way for him to win back Beth is to take on the ultimate challenge, the one hill only the best skiers go down. That’s because most end up hospitalized. Lane doesn’t quite go there but he doesn’t conquer the slope either.

As this story is unfolding Lane also gets to see his next door neighbor, the nerdy overweight Ricky (Dan Schneider) doing well. In an attempt to get him a girl Ricky’s mother has taken on a foreign exchange student, Monique (Diane Franklin). The problem is Monique has no interests whatsoever in Ricky. And one night she and Lane become friends.

The film ends with a final duel between Lane and Roy. Will Lane get Beth back? Will Roy stop being a jerk finally? And what about Lane’s best friend Charles (Curtis Armstrong)? Will he finally find something interesting to do or the recreational drugs he seeks in this town?

The movie relies on the most absurd things happening for laughs and each and every one of them works. To tell you most would ruin your enjoyment of this film but I’ll give you a couple without wrecking them. Remember to always pay your paperboy even if you only owe him two dollars. Never put flammable materials on a dining room table. And if a Cosell sound alike oriental pulls up in a car beside you be ready to race.

This movie was pretty much what many teen films in the 80’s were all about. Teen angst taken to extreme. But rather than follow the John Hughes pattern of taking these teens seriously, Holland decided in his first feature film directing to make them over the top. And it works hilariously.

The film is just now hitting stores in blu-ray format. Does it help it any? Sadly no. The film continues to have a grainy look to it but that’s the look it had when it was originally released. We can’t expect every film from the past to look pristine in all forms. But for fans of the film having it in blu-ray will be something they’ll want to add to their collection. Sadly the extras are non-existent. There is nothing new here. It would have been nice to bring Cusak back to talk about his early years making this film before he became the star he is today. In any event, this is one movie that should be on every collector’s shelf. It is a film that you’ll find yourself quoting and on occasion popping out to watch over and over again.

JESSE STONE, INNOCENTS LOST: SLOW PACED MYSTERY

Author Robert Parker is perhaps best known for the series of books he wrote about his private detective Spenser, mostly due to the popularity of the TV series which starred the late Robert Urich. But he began a series of books based on a second character named Jesse Stone and those stories have been turned into TV films starring Tom Selleck in the lead role. The latest has just arrived on DVD.

As the film opens Jesse is dealing with a form of depression, falling back into old habits of drinking (the character has a history of alcoholism) after being placed into forced retirement by the town council of Paradise, the town he lives in. The head of that group has plans for Jesse’s position, namely inserting his son in law as the head of the police department.

Jesse ends up having more to worry about when a young woman named Cindy Van Alden (Eileen Boylan) turns up dead, an apparent suicide. This was a young girl that Jesse had helped in the past, getting her into rehab and trying to save her life. The new police chief is more concerned with the tourist trade in town and the damage the death of a local tied to drugs could do. So Jesse takes it upon himself to look deeper into the girl’s death.

Without a badge how can he do so? Jesse was recently asked by his friend Healy of the State Police to assist in a different investigation. This side story takes up little of Jesse’s time and permits him to carry a badge while looking into Cindy’s past.

It turns up that Cindy’s rehab experience wasn’t quite what Jesse thought it would be. As he talks to the doctor that heads the facility he learns that the man is a resident of Paradise and that for all the talk of trying to save people’s lives the facility is actually a rehab mill, a place that offers a quick fix to addicts and then turns them lose with little or no follow up.

As Jesse puts together the pieces of the puzzle elements of the Russian mob, an assist from a former foe named Gino (William Sadler) and taking on the responsibility he felt he ignored that resulted in the young girl’s death all come to play. The guilt of her death weighs heavy on his shoulders and inspires him to find justice for another life lost.

This film is quite different than most mysteries seen today. Rather than count on heavy duty gunfire and fast paced car chases, the film focuses on character development and dialogue that rolls smoothly rather than at a whip snake pace. Conversations seem like conversations and words by all characters are chosen wisely so as to not trip themselves up, the result being placed in jail.

Selleck does a great job as Jesse Stone, a man with a troubled past and who is currently troubled with the present. He intends on taking back his job, the only one he’s truly ever known and excelled at. The town council may be more interested in the appearance of the town on the surface but Jesse is concerned with justice and the safety of the people who live there. At the same time his inner demons have started him drinking again and the depression he deals with has caused him to seek help in a psychiatrist/ex-cop played by William Devane.

The pacing of the film seems incredibly slow but on reflection you realize that it’s just the story unfolding in the most natural way possible. Plot devices aren’t tossed in randomly and the interaction between characters makes this a much better film than one would expect.

Parker only finished 9 novels with this character before his death.  This story was written by the man continuing the tales of Jesse Stone, Michael Brandman, and Selleck himself. They’ve done a great job and one can only hope to see more.

GLEE ENCORE: MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC!

So everywhere I turn I keep hearing about how great a TV series GLEE is. My sister and her family are GLEE addicts. There are magazines, games, buttons and more adorned with the GLEE logo and actors. So what makes it so special? My guess, from watching this DVD, is the music.

Having still not seen the series, I gather that it revolves around a group of high school teens who aren’t a part of the “popular crowd” that become involved in the school’s glee club (what we used to call the choir). Each episode includes a musical performance, many of which use popular songs. And that’s what this DVD is all about.

There isn’t much acting ability that can be deciphered watching someone sing a song no matter how much you like the song or how much emotion the singer can put into it’s performance. But you can enjoy the music and the vocal abilities of the singer. That’s what this is all about.

Each of the actors singing here (and I for one hope that each of them does their own singing and isn’t being dubbed each week) does a stand up job and come off incredibly well. I don’t see them selling billions of CDs on their own but as part of this group they should do well.

So what songs do they offer? Here is a list for those interested:

"On My Own"
"Don't Stop Believin'"
"Gold Digger"
"I Say a Little Prayer"
"Alone"
"Somebody to Love"
"It's My Life/Confessions Part II"
"No Air"
"You Keep Me Hanging On"
"Defying Gravity"
"I'll Stand By You"
"Don't Stand So Close to Me/Young Girl"
"Lean on Me"
"Imagine"
"True Colors"
"Smile"
"Don't Rain on My Parade"
"You Can't Always Get What You Want"
"Gives You Hell"
"Hello"
"Vogue"
"Like a Virgin"
"Like a Prayer"
"Fire"
"One Less Bell to Answer/A House is Not a Home"
"Beautiful"
"Run Joey Run"
"Total Eclipse of the Heart"
"Jessie's Girl"
"Rose's Turn"
"Bad Romance"
"Beth"
"Faithfully"
"Any Way You Want It/Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'"

One thing to note about these selections. I’ve talked to kids in their 20s and late teens and trust me, most of them wouldn’t recognize these songs if it weren’t for this show. None of them would know who Burt Bacharach, Bonnie Tyler, Journey, The Rascals or Bill Withers are nor would they care. Which is kind of sad since it means they are missing so much great music that exist and only care about what’s current. With any luck by watching this show perhaps a few of them will seek out the original artists and discover what they’re missing. Until then they can enjoy the songs they love from the show with this disc and then maybe one day their children will seek out the originals.

SCREAM OF THE BANSHEE: WILL SY FY NEVER LEARN?

Many have talked about the fact that the Sy Fy channel makes terrible movies to run on their station. Usually it’s some form of giant predatory snake, lizard, crocodile/alligator or dragon gone wild or pumped full of experimental drugs. With a touch of incredibly poor CGI effects, these movies are pumped out faster than the old AIP horror films.

On rare occasions Sy Fy delves into movies of another kind as well. Their takes on horror have created a new low in that genre, the results of which offer movies whose special effects budgets (incredibly low at best) are better than what they spent on the script. Pick up a few genre actors looking for a quick check or an actor down on their luck when it comes to hot prospects and BAM, you have a Sy Fy original.

SCREAM OF THE BANSHEE is one such flick. A part of the After Dark series (which while many bad mouth I’ve found to offer good and bad movies), the film concerns archeology professor Isla Whelan (Lauren Holly) and two of her students are in the midst of organized and recording a ton of artifacts located in the bowels of the university they’re in. One recent acquisition delivered to Isla is an ancient metal glove that we saw a knight wearing at the start of the film when he and several other nights took on some creature in a flowing red gown.

As they look over the item they’re led to a secret room which holds a box hidden away some time previously. Being the smart college group that they are, they realize the glove is a key of sorts that opens the box. Hoping to find some serious treasure, they are rewarded only with a rotting head instead. After Isla leaves the 2 students behind for a bit, the head’s mouth opens and releases a terrible scream that causes their ears to bleed as well as Isla’s and the guard in the building. What they have done is unleash the banshee, trapped within the box for centuries and now free to do harm.

Follow ups with several other clues lead the group to discover that there was a professor prior to them that had found the box and was searching for the glove. This professor (played by Frank Henriksen for perhaps a total of 9 minutes on screen) had the box taken from him by a student assistant, the one responsible for placing it in the wall. Henriksen’s search for these items eventually drove him mad. Now it seems that the banshee wants to wreak havoc once again on an unsuspecting world and all that stands in the way are a professor and 2 students.

A few other subplots are tossed in that no one cares about. Isla’s daughter going through the usual teen difficulty of a mother that doesn’t understand her and that she can’t relate to. The assistants are fond of one another yet for some reason don’t let on through most of the film. It’s extras like these that round out the script or as I tend to consider it, pad out the script so a 30 minute movie lasts a near unbearable 90 minutes.

What is most upsetting is seeing recognizable actors doing films like this. With Henriksen I can understand as he’s done it more than once and most likely to make a quick paycheck. At 71 years old he’s at the end of his career and probably wanting to leave something behind for his family. But Lauren Holly? This incredibly attractive actress has resorted to roles that were meant for women far younger. And if not, then the characters should be more concerned for their positions and such rather than how attractive they are. Holly looks good, but come on, how many professors make an attempt to dress with shirts unbuttoned enough to allow their students a life lesson they should have learned in the back seat of a Chevy while in high school. I for one would much rather see Holly playing characters her age and looking her age. To do otherwise is to assume that women over 40 can’t be attractive on their own without the help of modern medicine or without doffing their clothes when the chance presents itself.

On the whole this film leaves little to make it worthwhile. There are no scares with the exceptions of the expected jump scenes, those scenes where things are quiet and suddenly something jumps up accompanied by a loud and piercing sound effect of music at such a decibel that your ears bleed much as the characters in this film. The monster looks like a decently made mask but a mask none the less. But it’s the story that’s perhaps the worst thing this film has to offer.

If the movie shows up on TV to watch and you’ve already seen that episode of MAN VS FOOD three or four times, if the rerun of TYRA has something so disgusting you can’t watch it or if Jerry Springer reruns feature someone normal as opposed to the usual weirdoes he normally has, then perhaps you could watch this. But better yet, turn off the TV and read a good book.

THE VIOLENT KIND: THE BORING KIND

Here we have an example of a movie that wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be. Biker flick? Party film? Horror movie? It jumps all over the place and never quite lands on one category or another but tickles each.

A group of bikers are getting together at a secluded farm far out in the country. They party hard and tensions rise when one of the members, Cody, sees his ex Michelle with a new boyfriend. She’s a tease and knows it, doing all she can to incite him to violence. Hey maybe that’s because he’s “the violent kind”. Hmmm.

So the party drags on for a while and her little sister Megan back from college is there as well. This is the good girl who, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why she’s at the party. You would think she would be well aware of the type of things that happen at these parties but apparently she is more innocent than can be believed. She has a thing for this Cody and has since she was a teen. Ah young love.

Things turn crazy when Michelle tries to leave later than most guests. Cody, his best friend and his girlfriend and Megan are all that’s left but going down the road they come across Michelle and her new beau’s car. Michelle has been hurt and the guy is dead. Oh but things get better.

Once back at the house, Michelle becomes possessed by some sort of demon. Trapped in the house with no idea who is the cause of this, the threesome decides to try and escape. The only problem is that it is a group of ghosts from the fifties who have taken over the house and intend to kill each of them.

This group is made up of all sorts of cool cats. Greaser, stylish mod, you name it, the different groups are represented here. And they intend to wreak havoc.  Who will stop them? Who cares! I’m telling you by this point I was so bored and tired of the bad acting, bad photography, bad direction, bad script…nearly bad everything…that I didn’t care and didn’t want to know. I just wanted it to be over.

The fortunate characters in this film were the ones killed early on in it. Not because they didn’t have to be eviscerated or suffer broken limbs but because they didn’t have to suffer through the boring rubbish that is called THE VIOLENT KIND.

No heroes, all villains, poor possession, biker wannabes and fifties doo whop do not combine to make a good movie. This film is the proof of that.

THE LAST GODFATHER: WE CAN ONLY HOPE IT’S THE LAST

There are movies made that are so bad they’re good. That is to say they are made with the intent of being a good movie but due to budget constraints, over acting and other variables, they end up being really bad movies…that viewers can enjoy by laughing at them. And then there are just really bad movies like THE LAST GODFATHER.

Harvey Keitel (completely wasted here) stars as Don Carini, a Mafioso who is in his declining years and has decided to pass on the title of Don. Tony V (Michael Rispoli) seems the logical choice, the right hand man of the Don for many years. So you can imagine his surprise to learn that the Don had a son years ago that he kept away from everything to protect him.

That son is Young-gu (Hyung-rae Shim), the love child that Don Carini had when he was in hiding in Korea. Young-gu’s mother took a bullet for the Don and to protect his son he placed him in an orphanage that he took care of. Now grown, Young-gu is brought to America to take over his father’s empire. The problem is that when you say Young-gu is innocent it doesn’t completely describe him. He’s a bumbling idiot.

The Don’s men can’t believe their eyes. This is the man they are supposed to follow. The Don puts Tony and his sidekick Macho (John Pinette) in charge of educating Young-gu in the business. They start with loan sharking and Young-gu can’t get the hang of it. When they try to teach him to defend himself he does so more by accident than by intent.

On one job they take him along on, Young-gu meets Nancy Bonfante (Jocelin Donahue), an attractive young woman he inadvertently saves from a supposed mugger. The two fall in love unaware that her father is Don Bonfante (Jon Polito) and has been at war for years with Don Carini. It’s Romeo and Juliet…sort of.

Trouble happens when Don Bonfante’s right hand man Vinnie (a totally out of place Jason Mewes) decides to make his move and take over the family. Wanting Nancy for himself he starts a fight between the two families that ends in a gun battle where few if anyone gets hit by even a stray bullet. So who wins? Who cares!

The movie is filled with slapstick style comedy that has been done, redone and overdone for years. The pranks seen on screen were done by Red Skelton back in the sixties on television and offer nothing new here. Movies which feature an innocent character who is a total idiot are insulting to viewers unless the film is intended perhaps for children. But this movie is filled with gun battles between gangsters, a love story of sorts and all sorts of things not intended for kids. That makes it too adult for kids and too stupid for adults. So who’s this movie for then?

Let’s put it this way. If you took the NUTTY PROFESSOR films of Eddie Murphy or even his DR. DOOLITTLE films, both family friendly series, and placed them against this movie they would see like Oscar contenders. This movie is THAT bad. If you were to rent this movie for $1 at a Redbox you are spending too much for it. This movie is so bad that they should pay YOU to watch it.