Archive for the ‘Movies (A)’ Category

 

 

 

ALIEN ZONE

 

1978 gave the world DAWN OF THE DEAD, one of the greatest horror movies ever, but that same year also brought HOUSE OF THE DEAD, which only shares three words of a four-word title and absolutely none of the more famous film’s virtues.

Also unknown by a variety of titles (including ALIEN ZONE), HOUSE OF THE DEAD is an anthology movie, framed by the story of an adulterer who seeks refuge from a rainstorm in a mortuary, whose proprietor shares four stories of unfortunate souls who currently occupy coffins there. TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995) has pretty much the same set-up, but that one is entertaining and this one is mulch.

It’s cool to note that HOUSE OF THE DEAD is the first film we’ve covered on the podcast that was made by a female director, although it would be a happier note if the movie were any good. This is arguably the worst one we’ve covered so far: GHOST HOUSE and THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE are in striking distance of that dubious honor but since the former has a murderous skeleton and the latter has Pam Grier (if only for a moment), I think HOUSE OF THE DEAD pulls into the lead for having absolutely zero cool things. I have faith in us to find something even more horrendous to cover, but it may be a while. We’re not technically a bad-movie podcast; a couple gems have snuck in there already and more are coming up.

On this episode we were joined by Daily Grindhouse editor-in-chief Paul Freitag-Fey, who is a tremendous writer and someone who knows even more about bad movies than I do. (Actually Joe and Freeman do also, which is why I enjoy doing this podcast so much! I always learn something new.) I can’t recommend watching the movie but I can highly recommend listening to our conversation about it, because we had a lot of fun and I think it’ll be contagious.

 

Listen to it here!

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So now that I’ve posted this episode I’m all caught up for now. We record a new episode next week, so you’re all set to spend all weekend listening to whichever ones you haven’t heard yet! Here are all of our previous episodes:

 

 

STREET WARS (1992)

STREET WARS (1992)

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Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

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GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

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THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1973)

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Raw Force (1982)

RAW FORCE (1982)

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Ganja & Hess (1973)

GANJA & HESS (1973)

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DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1976)

THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1976)

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THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972)

THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972)

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Find me on Twitter:

@jonnyabomb

 

ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948)

 

 

This is a quietly astounding movie, one which is not nearly as well-remembered as it could and probably should be.  ACT OF VIOLENCE began as a story by Collier Young, who was married to and divorced from Ida Lupino and Joan Fontaine. That’s a pretty interesting off-screen life. The script is by Robert L. Richards, who also wrote WINCHESTER ’73 and GORGO but was blacklisted on account of his left-leaning beliefs, which very likely are trace elements noticeable in the finished film. Directed by Fred Zinnemann (who also made HIGH NOON and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), ACT OF VIOLENCE isn’t overtly political but is easily applicable to many of the major social issues of its era, and still.

 

Act of Violence

 

Robert Ryan plays Joe, a crippled POW who returns to plague a local war hero, Frank, played by Van Heflin (from POSSESSED and SHANE), and by proxy his young wife, played by Janet Leigh (of PSYCHO fame).  Joe is so furious in the pursuit of his quarry that Frank, in frantic desperation, turns to some shady characters for protection, namely an aging prostitute, a lawyer, and a hitman. It’s a shockingly rapid moral decline, or else a violent stripping-away of heroic tropes. The look of the film reflects this descent into darkness, beginning in glorious day and heading into an unfathomable night.

 

AOV

 

ACT OF VIOLENCE was lit and shot by the cinematographer Robert Surtees, Oscar-nominated sixteen times over — and father to Bruce, a talented cinematographer in his own right who shot many of my favorite movies and worked frequently with Clint Eastwood.

 

Act of Violence

 

Why is Ryan’s character so intent on wreaking vengeance on a small-town  an all-American hero, his former friend)?  The answer to that question is truly surprising – in my opinion this film is one of the great morality plays of the film noir era.  In ACT OF VIOLENCE, Ryan literally emerges from shadows; he’s intense, and scary, and ultimately, entirely within comprehension, as the kind of tormented figure that is created by wartime. Torment is something Robert Ryan played particularly well, so fans of his should rush to see this film. And if you aren’t already a fan, this is exactly the kind of movie that’ll make you one.

 

TRAIN

 

This piece is expanded a little from my capsule review included in my tribute to the great Robert Ryan. Check it out!

 

@jonnyabomb

 

AFTER LIFE (1998)

AFTER LIFE is the second feature film from Japanese writer and director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Before features, he worked in documentaries, and that experience, that interest in real human beings and their thoughts and feelings, shows in this film. AFTER LIFE is set in a kind of business-like purgatory, where people who have recently died are asked to choose their happiest memory from life. Then, the people running the place put together a dramatic re-creation of that memory, and after watching the result, the dead are able to head on into eternity, taking that memory with them. The story focuses equally on the dead and the ones who work to their benefit.

Obviously, what’s most striking about AFTER LIFE, considering its subject matter, is its humility, its small scale, its lack of high drama. There are no angels flying around on feathery wings, no demons or hellfire. Everyone in this movie looks like a person you could meet. Almost every story told is one you could relate to. AFTER LIFE has a rare sweetness, a genuine spirituality. Sure, we’re talking about notions of Heaven here, but you don’t have to buy into one ethos or another to appreciate this film. This is the kind of spirituality that could and maybe should be universal. For the more philosophically minded, there’s plenty for you also. As the trailer asks, “What is the one memory you would take with you?” What a lovely question for a film to consider, and to ask its audience to consider.

AFTER LIFE is almost unique in its lack of conflict; its primary mode is reflective. There aren’t galvanic performances or sweeping visual flourishes here. The modest look of the film suits it well. A lot can be said with a little. Many movies want to shake the ground you stand on, to make your eyes widen and make your mind melt. This one has the feeling of sitting on a park bench by a duck pond in the spring, a loved one by your side, or in your thoughts. There is serenity here.

The Japan Society is screening AFTER LIFE tonight. I recommend attending, if you’re able.

@jonnyabomb


After Life

DAILY GRINDHOUSE BANNER

Daily Grindhouse would be pretty much my favorite website even if I weren’t writing for them, but since I am, here’s a collection of all my work so far.  It’s some of my very best stuff. Enjoy!

25TH HOUR (2002) 48 HRS. (1982) 52 PICK-UP (1986) 88  THE ACT OF KILLING (2013) ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) Alex Cross (2012) ALIEN (1979) ALIEN ZONE (1978) ALPHABET CITY (1984) american sniper  AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) ANACONDA (1997) ANTS (1977) The Apple (1980) ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) ARTISTS & MODELS (1955) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) BADLANDS (1973) BAIT (2012) A Band Called Death (2013) BASKET CASE (1982)  BATMAN (1989) BATTLE ROYALE (2000) The Baytown Outlaws (2013). Beetlejuice (1988) BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2013) BEST WORST MOVIE (2009)The Big Lebowski (1998) Big Trouble In Little China (1986) BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) BLACK DEATH (2011) THE BLOB (1988) BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) The Brides Of Dracula (1960) brothers-2009 BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965) untitled CARRIE (1976) CB4 THE MOVIE (1993) CEMETERY MAN (1994) Charley Varrick (1973) CHEAP THRILLS (2013) CHOPPING MALL (1986) class-of-1984-poster The Colony (2013) COMPLIANCE (2012) CON AIR (1997) Conquest (1983) THE CONTRACTOR (2013) Creature (2011) CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) CRIME WAVE (1954) THE CROW (1994) DARKMAN (1990) DEAD & BURIED (1981) DEADLY FRIEND (1986) deranged-1974-movie-review-jpeg-35312 THE DESCENT (2005) THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1976) dillinger-1973 DIRTY HARRY (1971) Django (1966) Django Unchained (2012).  DOG SOLDIERSDOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) DRACULA (1931) Dredd (2012) DRIVE (2011) Drive Angry (2011) End of Watch (2012) EQUINOX (1970) Escape From New York (1981) Evil Dead (2013) THE EXORCIST (1973) Eyes Without A Face (1960) FACE-OFF (1997) Fast Five A tumblr_n2u9s565B11rscnczo1_500 Fist Of Legend (1994) FRANKENSTEIN (1931) GANJA & HESS (1973) the-gauntlet-1977 Get Carter (1971) ghostbusters GHOSTBUSTERS 2 (1989) ghosthouse 1988 GI Joe Retaliation (2013) THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) GOD TOLD ME TO (1976) GONE GIRL (2014) THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) The Great Silence (1968) Gremlins 2 - The New Batch (1990) The Grey (2012) Halloween (1978) Hannie Caulder (1971) Hardbodies (1984) Hardware (1990).. Henry (1990) High Crime (1973)  THE HILLS RUN RED (1966) . IMG_8699 THE HIT (1984)Hit Man (1972) hobo with a shotgun HOMEFRONT (2013) The Horror Of Dracula (1958) the host - no words HOUSE (HAUSU) (1977) The Iceman (2013) The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (2009) IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) THE INNOCENTS (1961) THE INSIDER (1999) The Invisible Man (1933) Iron-Man-3-2013 I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) Island-of-Lost-Souls-19331 Jackie Brown (1997) jaws jennifers body  JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) The Keep (1983) KILLER JOE (2011) The Killers (1966) Killing Them Softly (2012) The-King-of-Comedy-1983 LADY IN CEMENT (1968) LADY TERMINATOR (1989) THE LAST CIRCUS (2010) BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON (1985) Lawless (2012) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) the-leopard-man-movie-poster-1943-1020199765 Leprechaun (1993) A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (1997) LINK (1986) Liz & Dick (TV, 2012) Lockout (2012) The Lords of Salem (2013) Lost Highway THE MAGIC BLADE (1976) MAN OF STEEL (2013) THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997) The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) Maniac Cop (1988) THE MANITOU (1978) MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976) men-in-war-1957 MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977) MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D (2009) My_Darling_Clementine_1946 NakedSpur-1953-MGM-one navajo-joe-1966 NEAR DARK (1987) NEON MANIACS (1986) night of the comet NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986) THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) Night of the Living Dead (1968) NOSFERATU (1922) NOTORIOUS (2009) OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983) ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) OUT OF THE PAST (1947) PACIFIC RIM (2013) pet-sematary-1989 Phenomena (1985) POOTIE TANG (2001) POSSESSION (1981) PREDATOR (1987) Premium Rush (2012) PRIVATE SCHOOL (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) Pursued (1947) q-the-winged-serpent-movie-poster-1983-1020195479 quick-change-poster BERANDAL (2014) RAVENOUS (1999) RAW FORCE (1982) Raw Meat (1972) RE-ANIMATOR (1985) Rear Window (1954) RED RIVER (1948) RED ROCK WEST (1992) Relentless (1989) RIDDICK (2013) tumblr_njo3upN5tn1sy67obo1_540 the road  ROBOCOP (1987) ROBOCOP (2014) SCANNERS  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) SCROOGED (1988) Shaft (1971) Sheba, Baby (1975) SHOCK WAVES (1977) shogun_assassin SORCERER (1977) source-code Spring Breakers (2013) SQUIRM (1976) STARSHIP-TROOPERS-1997 story of ricky  STREET TRASH (1987) Streets-Of-Fire-1984 THE STUNT MAN (1980) SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) Super (2011) SUSPIRIA (1977) switchblade_sisters_poster_02 (1) TAXI DRIVER (1976) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) THE THING (1982) THIS IS THE END (2013) thriller TORQUE (2004) touch of evil The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) TREMORS (1990) TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) THE UNKNOWN (1927) Under The Dome VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988) VERTIGO-1958-649x1024 Vigilante (1983) vigilante force THE VISITOR (1979) WHICH WAY IS UP (1977) WHITE HUNTER  WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL THE WICKER MAN (1973) winters-bone WITCHBOARD (1986) worlds-greatest-dad-2009 ZODIAC (2007) ZOMBI 2 (1979) ZOMBIELAND (2009)

Make Daily Grindhouse your daily destination for genre movie news, reviews, and interviews — there’s a ton of truly great content over there, beyond just the parts with my name on ’em.

And follow me on Twitter for updates!: @jonnyabomb

AGE OF THE DRAGONS (2011)

I can’t speak for every dude who writes about movies on the internet, but as for me, it’s not like I don’t have any options at all as to how to spend my free time. Sure, I fit the stereotype of single and brainy, but I also bring plenty to the dating pool. I’m generally considered to be sweet, thoughtful, loyal, and giving. Most people find me funny. I’m certainly presentable, even considered outright attractive from some angles. I’m currently regularly-employed and employable. I’m terrific with kids and I’ll make a great father one day. Animals also love me (though not always cats). The ladies reading this may be asking, What’s the downside?

Well ladies, the answer may be that I’m addicted to movies. Addicted. Big-time. I don’t know why, but I can’t go more than a day without one. And there’s only so many times you can watch GOODFELLAS or PULP FICTION or BOOGIE NIGHTS or whatever finite number of acceptable classics that normal guys my age watch, before you start sniffing around the outskirts of what’s out there in the great beyond, movie-wise. Sometimes that search can result in a great discovery, and most other times it doesn’t.

When I saw a preview somewhere for AGE OF THE DRAGONS, I knew I was in trouble. Somebody made a version of MOBY DICK starring PREDATOR 2‘s Danny Glover as Melville’s Captain Ahab, in the relentless and dangerous pursuit, not of a great white whale, no, but instead, of a great white dragon.

Aw hell.

I’m gonna have to watch that.

RIGGS!

MOBY DICK is often cited as The Great American Novel. Every author is out there trying to write one, but Herman Melville did it almost two hundred years ago. The book is its own Great White Whale. It has influenced countless writers and their works, been adapted to film multiple times, and has many obvious and less obvious descendents in movies such as JAWS and ALIENS. MOBY DICK is so many things — a historical document detailing the whaling industry of its era, a lierary allegory, a character study of obsession and madness, a rousing adventure tale… It’s really good! You should read it.

For a book of more than six hundred pages, the main plot of MOBY DICK is perfectly simple: A young sailor named Ishmael and his friend Queequeg, an intimidating foreigner, get a job on a whaling ship called the Pequod. They meet the first, second, and third mates on the ship — Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, respectively — but it’s a while before they meet the ship’s captain. When he arrives, he basically takes over the book. Ahab is a vengeful Quaker (which is an oxymoron, for the record) out to destroy the white whale who, in an earlier encounter, scarred him and took his leg. The only question is how many of the crew members will survive his deranged quest.

I love this story — it kind of has an elemental appeal to me at my center. It’s based on a true story! I love stories about sea monsters. As a kid my family took summer vacations to some of the areas described in the book. I grew up obsessed with the whale at the Museum Of Natural History in New York. And technically I’m half Quaker, so I even get that part of it. All of this is a run-up to say that I have more than a passing familiarity with the source material for AGE OF THE DRAGONS, which is why I found it to be even more of a bizarre anomaly than I figured it was going to be.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS is so remarkably bizarre precisely because of its fidelity to MOBY DICK. There is no question that the people who made AGE OF THE DRAGONS have read MOBY DICK, which is both what makes it strangely admirable and what makes it so weird. Let’s look at some of the similarities and the differences.

Well, besides, the obvious.

MOBY DICK.

MOBY DICK is about a large angry whale.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS is about a fire-breathing dragon.

In AGE OF THE DRAGONS, the action is shifted from sea to land. The dragons can fly, but the men who hunt for them travel on land. (Sky-boats would have been a little too crazy. Duh.) Still, their choice of vehicle is in fact a boat.

Boat.

The boat does have wheels, so I guess that makes sense, and the terrain they cover is generally coated with blankets of snow, so technically the boat is travelling over expanses of water, but again, let’s not mince words here: This is fucking weird. I mean, if you want to get all film school on it, you could possibly attribute the snow boat to being an extended reference both obliquely and literally to Werner Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO, another story of mad obsession, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fucking snow boat in a dragon-hunting movie.

Not only that, but the winter is apparently one of the utmost extremes, so you know what that means….

Ahab Snow Ninja

!!!SNOW NINJAS!!!

Snow Ninjas.

At every moment where I got anywhere near taking this movie seriously, somebody would show up dressed like a snow ninja and I’d have to chuckle. Which is totally fine. There isn’t anything at all wrong, from where I’m sitting, with a movie about dragon-fighting snow ninjas. But if you’re going to make a movie like that, you ought to have a sense of humor, and AGE OF THE DRAGONS is played for straights. It’s pretty dour and grim, missing the fact that Herman Melville had a satirical eye, having penned lines for MOBY DICK like “Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”

But I guess the makers of AGE OF THE DRAGONS figured, if they were going to take the sense of humor out of MOBY DICK, they’d better put something else in, and what they settled on was — you guessed it — a pretty girl. Her name is Rachel, which, despite there being no character like her in MOBY DICK, actually does mean something in reference to the novel. (I think the Rachel is the name of one of the boats.) Here the character is Ahab’s daughter, who he took in after her family was killed by dragons. Ishmael takes a shine to her, I guess because she’s a better bunkmate than Queequeg, which Ahab doesn’t like but what did he think was gonna happen, really. The actress doesn’t resemble Danny Glover much, which I guess is a virtue because let’s face it, she’s only really in the movie for stuff like this:

Girl.

Outside of Danny Glover, there’s no one in this movie you’ve heard of before, except for Vinnie Jones. My British friends know Vinnie Jones from his soccer — sorry: football — career, and my American friends know him from SMOKIN’ ACES 2, X-MEN 3, and GARFIELD: A TALE OF TWO KITTIES. He plays Stubb in this movie, but not for long. A dragon breathes on him and he turns into a pile of dust. Sorry if that’s a spoiler. I don’t think anything like that happened in the Melville text, but I guess they only had Vinnie Jones budgeted for a couple days on this shoot. It doesn’t feel like an organic storytelling decision, is what I’m implying.

Vinnie.

Anyway the main reason I wanted to see this movie was to see Danny Glover acting weird and talking a lot about dragons, and in this respect I did not walk away disappointed. Basically Danny Glover hates dragons because when he was a young Danny Glover, he and his sister were walking through the woods and a dragon showed up. The dragon turned his sister into a pile of ashes like it did to Vinnie Jones, and it also burned Danny Glover up pretty bad, to the point where he can’t go out in direct sunlight. On one hand that’s a bummer, but on the other hand….

Danny Glover in Snow Ninja outfit.

Danny Glover in Snow Ninja outfit.

As I was watching this movie, which has a lot of dull parts — really too many, for a movie that has dragons and Danny Glover dressed like a G.I. Joe character — I gave a lot of thought to Danny Glover, who is an actor I have a ton of affection for, but who has been really under-served by the movies, I think. He’s definitely a guy who has “important actor” status, but who hasn’t been in as many great things as he should or maybe could be.

Danny Glover High Points:

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (Clint)

WITNESS (a rare villainous turn)

THE COLOR PURPLE (probably, I haven’t seen it)

LETHAL WEAPON (obviously)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN (Bill Duke version)

LONESOME DOVE

TO SLEEP WITH ANGER

THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS (funniest part of the movie)

DREAMGIRLS

Personally, I liked SILVERADO, PREDATOR 2, PURE LUCK, and BE KIND REWIND also, but I don’t know if those roles necessarily go on the highlight reel. (PURE LUCK is pretty bad, actually, but it’s a Martin Short movie, so.)

I guess the point I’m making is, for such a prestigious actor, there sure are a ton of movies like OPERATION DUMBO DROP, GONE FISHIN’, LETHAL WEAPON 4, and SAW, on that resume, which also includes an unfair amount of shitty TV shows. Of course Danny Glover has been in some great stuff, but not enough. He needs some Fincher or Mann or Spike or Spielberg in his future. I mean, of course I enjoyed seeing him like this —

Riggs!

— but there aren’t too many of me. I’m a guy who will spend this much time thinking about a version of MOBY DICK that has dragons: Through me does not necessarily pass the road towards Oscars and widespread critical acclaim. And even with that said, I’d probably rather see a sincere version of MOBY DICK than a silly one which I can only watch in the middle of the night when there’s no female presence around to stop me. There’s no reason why Danny Glover couldn’t be given a movie where he can play Captain Ahab for real. He shouldn’t be stuck playing some weird groaning Gollum-esque character lurching around in a cave in Utah at computer-animated dragons.

Seriously, you should see the part when he fights the great white dragon at the end and gets his leg caught in the harpoon — if only for a textbook definition of anti-climax. I mean, I haven’t said much about the effects of the movie: The production value is actually rather good — I liked the sets and the costumes and even a couple of the scenes of the dragons. The actors all take it as seriously as they’re asked to, and the music by J Bateman (either Jason or Justine, I’m not sure which) is better than average for a movie of this type.

But the movie’s pace is slack and all the good dragon bits all happen early on — it’s like the production blew their dragon wad early, and like a bad lover with no follow-through, skimped on the effects in the final scenes. Even Danny Glover turns into computer animation, a cluster of pixels being dragged away on the tail of a fake monster. If it wasn’t enough that he was asked to overact through the entire movie, he doesn’t even get to leave it with any dignity.

So AGE OF THE DRAGONS, sadly, probably not a thing I can recommend. But at least I learned a thing or two about myself.

I learned that all you have to do is say the word “dragons” and I will watch your movie. It’s a foolproof method of advertising. Everyone and their grandma use more common sales pitches such as “boobs” “monkeys” and “explosions” to lure me in, but not everyone promises “dragons” and that brings my eyes over, every time.

The other thing I learned is that if I had any brains at all, I would have just watched JAWS for the 57th time. So maybe strike “brainy” from that list of datable qualities I listed up top in reference to myself.

@jonnyabomb

I haven’t been updating Demon’s Resume remotely enough, but a good part of that reason is because I’ve been way more active over at Daily Grindhouse.  All of the writers there are great and I encourage you to bookmark the site.  I’m very happy to be a part of that.  For the people who follow me through this site and might like more frequent updates on what I’m up to elsewhere, I’ll do a better job of keeping you posted by providing the links.

Here’s my examination of John Carpenter’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.  I’m pretty proud of it.  I’m a lifelong admirer of Carpenter’s work and in this piece I spent some time discussing it in minimum and also connecting it to the rest of his filmography.

Below is a poster gallery, via Google search and copyright the respective owners.

And as always, my consciousness streams on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

 

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find. But I could be wrong. (See?) It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating: Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is. I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience. I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly. Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself. I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face. On top of all of that, I grew up with movies. I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more. It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind. I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice. It’s certainly harder to be funny that way. And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

_______________________________________

There will be a particular breed of smartass who chooses to refer to Tim Burton’s new Alice In Wonderland project as “Tim Burton’s Avatar.”

A different breed of smartass may prefer to think of it as “Tim Burton’s Lord Of The Rings.”

Personally, I happen to be both kinds of smartass.

It’s reminiscent of Avatar because it’s longer than it needs to be, because there are dragons flying around all over the place, because there are weird computer-generated forests, and because the 3-D element is still new enough to make it feel like an event, which has led huge audiences to happily overlook its story flaws. (Avatar is a much better movie, for the record.)

It’s reminiscent of Lord Of The Rings because it’s longer than it needs to be, because characters who look ridiculous in body armor are forced to wear body armor, because it has charmingly pudgy little men skipping through scenes, because the great Christopher Lee plays a villain (even if he only gets one line, in voiceover, here) and because there are more walking scenes in it than there are in the average episode of Lost.

It’s a little disappointing that my smartass tendencies were roused by Alice In Wonderland, because Tim Burton’s movies generally dispel cynicism and invite enthusiasm, particularly from a daydreaming wackadoo like me. Tim Burton’s movies imagine worlds of darkness which are always strangely populated by optimism. Tim Burton is one of my very favorite directors and there are no shortage of proclamations to that effect all across the internet, but the main reason is that his movies celebrate all the things I’ve always been most captivated by: Skeletons, shadows, monsters, ghosts, freaks, aliens, pretty girls, old horror movies, heroic acts of stupidity, stupid acts of heroism, love, death, and monkeys.

Alice In Wonderland has a couple of those things, but not many of them, and while it wouldn’t be accurate to say that he has been sticking to re-envisioning exisiting properties of late (he’s always done that – only a fraction of his movies began from his own original concepts), it could fairly be argued that Tim Burton as a ‘cover artist’ is getting somewhat stale. For one thing, Alice In Wonderland as source material isn’t really a good match for Burton’s sensibilities. The original Lewis Carroll stories and most of the subsequent interpretations are all about maddening nonsense, verging on insanity. They’re somewhat nightmarish, honestly. By story’s end, Alice wants to get the fuck out of Wonderland. In contrast, Burton’s best movies have a playful sense of fun that you’d love to visit, even if you wouldn’t want to live there.

Beyond the mismatch of filmmaker to material, there are problems with the new Alice In Wonderland movie. To begin with, the script credited to Linda Woolverton is a mess. The story is nonsense, and not in that compelling, affecting, memorable Lewis Carroll spirit of nonsense. Just try to describe the plot of the finished movie in any coherent way. Can’t be done! The script tries to weld a heroic, Lord Of The Rings type of fantasy structure onto the original story and it just doesn’t work. Johnny Depp, as the Mad Hatter, has some fun and is fun to watch as usual, but his role, beefed up and altered from the original stories, is more noble warrior than infuriating troublemaker. That’s not just disloyal to the original story; it’s boring. The most memorable thing Depp gets to do as the Mad Hatter is breakdance at the end, and that’s more because it’s incongruous and bizarre than enjoyable. Depp is one of the great impish rogues of the modern cinematic age, but he’s confined by weak dialogue, off-putting make-up, and an ill-defined role here.

With a couple exceptions, the rest of the cast is similarly ill-served. The great weirdo Crispin Glover is wasted in a humorless villain role. Anne Hathaway, as the White Queen, gives a wispy performance lighter than air, which drifts from the memory as soon as she steps off-screen. Maybe one of the movie’s biggest problems is that its Alice isn’t particularly interesting to watch. I don’t know the actress Mia Wasikowska from anything else – it’s possible she’s a very lively actress elsewhere, but I wasn’t interested in her at all here, and I didn’t think she brought anything that hundreds of other girls could do just as effectively. The cinematography, by the otherwise fantastic Dariusz Wolski, is uncharacteristically dingy and unpleasant, and the 3D element is totally useless.

To me, a Tim Burton movie is never less than watchable, although this one comes closer than any before. What turned me off is that it’s unrelentingly grim, which isn’t what I expect or need from a Tim Burton film. There was enough that I enjoyed to make the time spent feel worthwhile – I loved the freakish character design and execution of The Cheshire Cat and Tweedledee & Tweedledum. Those characters in particular, and Helena Bonham Carter’s giant head, were fairly awesome. Alan Rickman, as The Caterpillar, is always a welcome presence, on camera or in voice alone. And I liked the dragon, but I’m notoriously easy to please that way. Still, it wasn’t the most impressive dragon I’ve ever seen, to say the least.

Long story short, I’m very glad to see that Burton’s next project is a feature-length retelling of his early Disney short, Frankenweenie. It may be another retelling of a pre-existing property, but at least it’s one of his own! What the world needs right now is not Tim Burton, big-budget interpreter. The world needs Tim Burton, modern-day imagineer.

Disagree somehow? Hit me here: @jonnyabomb