Movies that go BUMP in the Night or…. My top 10 favourite scary movies

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again. Thanksgiving? Nope. Christmas? Most certainly not. Halloween?

 

The answer is: “What is Halloween?” Remember, according to Alex Trebek (the host of everyone’s favourite game show “Jeopardy”), your answer must be in the form of a question.

 

Anyhoo, Halloween 2012 is upon us. While many individuals are currently preparing themselves for this year’s festivities by purchasing expensive outfits and accessories just so they can go to expensive-ass Halloween parties, get fucking WASTED and do the gangnam style dance for the world to see, tweet, instagram and/or post on YouTube and/or Facebook, others will ignore Halloween all together and resume their humdrum lives. And then there’s a certain few who’d much rather spend a considerable amount of time watching horror movies than spend an inconsiderable amount of money on a Thor costume with matching hammer. Fortunately, I am one of these few.  So I dedicate this post to the few and proud who enjoy being scared.

 

This is…..Oops, I meant…. WHAT IS “Movies that go BUMP in the Night or….My top 10 favourite scary movies”? 

 

DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind that this list is in no particular order. Also, “The Exorcist” will NOT appear on this list. No, I haven’t seen it. And hell fucking no, I will not watch it! So there! Moving along….

 

10. JAWS (1975)

And we begin today’s proceedings with Steven Spielberg’s first masterpiece, and arguably one of the greatest films ever made – “Jaws”.  Starring Roy Scheider as police chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper, Robert Shaw as the scene-stealing shark hunter Quint and Bruce the Mechanical Shark (oops….spoiler alert) as “Jaws”,  this film is as superb and deeply frightening as it was when it was released almost 40 years ago. Admittedly, it is at times laughably dated, and it isn’t as gory as a movie about a man-eating shark should be, but with solid acting throughout (Bruce delivers an Oscar-worthy performance …. just kidding, guys… as the carnivorous Great White shark), a well-written and well-paced story, memorable dialogue (“I think we need a bigger boat”), and an iconic musical score by fellow Spielberg collaborator John Williams, “Jaws” is still a very entertaining popcorn flick that you’re bound to enjoy – even with the lights on.

 

9. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978/ 2004)

Yes, ladies and gents, horror movie legend George A. Romero’s magnum opus, and its modern-day remake by Zack Synder (director of “300” and “Watchmen”) both share the No. 9 spots. While Romero’s first film “Night of the Living Dead” remains the first zombie movie (in creepy black-and-white) to include gore and graphic violence, its sequel “Dawn of the Dead” took it to a higher level with more zombies, more blood and more consumption of human flesh. But it’s the film’s seamless meandering through spine-tingling terror, unexpected moments of humour, and sharp satire  (the idea of a small group of human survivors in a shopping mall fighting ravenous, aimless zombies is still a very clever commentary on consumerism) that made it the “zombie masterpiece” that it’s widely regarded as.  Zack Synder’s version, though it lacks the humour and satire of the original, stands on its own as a grim, terrifying and action-packed horror movie. But the major change is the replacement of the slow-moving undead from Romero’s film with zombies who RUN! There’s a scene where an overweight female zombie charges towards her prey that will make you say “HOLY SHIT!”. Trust me! In short, both “Dawn of the Dead(s)” are great horror films in their own right, and are definitely worth checking out. And they’re best enjoyed with the lights off. Trust me!

 

8. THE EVIL DEAD/ EVIL DEAD II (1981/1987)

Before Sam Raimi directed the Spider-Man trilogy, he began his film career with a groundbreaking horror film called “The Evil Dead”. Rightfully labelled as “the ultimate experience in grueling terror”, “The Evil Dead” involves five college students vacationing in an isolated cabin in the woods. After they discover an ancient text called the Necronomicon (Book of the Dead) and an audiotape containing incantations from the text, demonic forces are unleashed. From that point on, the film becomes a fearsome roller-coaster ride of  blood, guts, demonic possession and dismemberment.  “The Evil Dead” became an instant cult classic, despite the controversy surrounding the film’s graphic violence and terror. It also marked the first appearance in a feature film by Bruce Campbell (a.k.a. Sam Axe from the USA Network action TV series “Burn Notice”). But it was Bruce’s amazingly animated performance in “Evil Dead 2” (one of my all-time favourite movies, in case you were wondering) that made him into a cult movie icon. This sequel maintains the over-the-top violence and terror of its predecessor, but adds a surprisingly effective element of Marx Brothers-inspired slapstick humour. The end result: Bruce’s transition from hapless victim of demonic attack to a shotgun-blasting, chainsaw-wielding BAD-ASS!  The third and final film in the series (1992’s “Army of Darkness”) ditches shock-value horror for medieval fantasy/adventure and deadpan humour, but it’s still a worthy conclusion to an excellent movie trilogy. But for Halloween purposes, stick with the first two Evil Dead films. They come highly recommended by yours truly!

 

7. DEAD ALIVE (BRAINDEAD) (1992)

For years, I’ve always read reviews about this film being one of the goriest films ever made. And after seeing it for myself, I totally agree. “Dead Alive” (alternate title: “Braindead”), directed by Peter Jackson (Yes, I said it…. Peter “Lord of the Rings Trilogy” Jackson) is one of the most ridiculously bloody films I’ve ever seen in my years of existence. And when I say bloody, I mean GALLONS of fake blood on screen! But just like the Evil Dead films (which Peter drew inspiration from), this film is enjoyable as hell! In a nutshell, “Dead Alive” tells the story of one man’s effort to save his hometown from his domineering mother who, after being a rare Sumatran rat-monkey, is now a zombie. Yes, its premise is fucked-up,  but the film itself is fast-paced, absurd, unique, hilarious and entertaining from start to finish. If you’re a die-hard gore-hound, or you love horror flicks with a sense of humour, or if you’re curious about the early film career of Peter Jackson (and to think a guy whose first few films were designed to make you puke would make the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), then look no forward than “Dead Alive” – provided, of course, that you have a strong stomach.

 

6.  A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

This film needs no introduction. Everyone and their great grandmothers must have heard the name Freddy Krueger at some point in time in their lives. Directed by Wes Craven, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is the slasher film that helped put the New Line Cinema corporation on the Hollywood map. And it created one of film history’s greatest villains – Freddy (played by Robert Englund) a disfigured child murderer with the supernatural ability to kill his victims in their dreams. Even creepier than Freddy’s M.O. is his signature weapon (a razor-fingered glove) and his badly-disfigured face. Like most horror films of the 1980s, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” spawned a franchise consisting of sequels (each one crappier than the other), a TV series, an unnecessary crossover with the Friday the 13th franchise (“Freddy vs. Jason” – remember that shit?!and an equally unnecessary remake – produced by Michael Bay of all people! But the original remains the best of the franchise, and it’s still widely regarded as a classic in the horror genre.

 

5. THE THING (1982)

And now, let’s add some science fiction to this list. “The Thing”, directed by the legendary John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell and Wilford (“If you have diabetes….”) Brimley, is a remake of the 1951 sci-fi film “The Thing from Another World”. Both films share the same story: researchers at an Antarctic station being attacked one by one by a shape-shifting alien. But what makes “The Thing” a horror classic is not its moments of heart-pounding tension and paranoia, or its creepy minimalist score by the great Ennio Morricone, but the extraordinary creature effects of the title character itself.  The alien doesn’t have a true form, so it traps its victim and assume its body characteristics. There’s a scene in which the Thing takes the form of a dog with a monstrous body, disfigured head and tentacles sticking out of its sides that’s still one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in a movie. “The Thing” is one of the few films that manages to frighten me every time I see it.  And for an 1982 film  devoid of any sort of CGI, it still holds up to this day. Though I have yet to view the 2011 prequel (also named “The Thing”), I can safely say that this one is still, undoubtedly, John Carpenter’s masterpiece.

 

4. BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992)

From Francis Ford Coppola, director of three of the greatest films of all time (“The Godfather”, “The Godfather Part II” and “Apocalypse Now”) comes No. 4 in my countdown – “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Still the best Dracula movie in like…EVER, Coppola’s film re-tells the famous story of the vampire count (played brilliantly by Gary Oldman) and his centuries-long search for true love. From the opening shot to the closing credits, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is a pure example of grandiose filmmaking. From its lavish sets and Oscar-winning costume design to its sound design and utilization of both old and new techniques of visual effects, this film is a visual and sonic tour de force. The performances are good, though it can be argued that Keanu Reeves (yep, Neo’s in this movie also) sounds too much like a surfer (he did star in “Point Break” which came out one year earlier) than an English gentleman. But Gary Oldman delivers an exceptional performance as the blood-lusting Count Dracula that is yet to be outdone. Bloody, gothic, beautiful and dare I say, sexy, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is the perfect romantic horror film.  No offense,  fans of “The Twilight Saga”!

 

3. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Sure, there’s no demons, aliens, zombies or spirits in “The Silence of the Lambs”. But what this film demonstrates is that you don’t need supernatural elements to tell a genuinely terrifying story. Winner of 5 Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Picture (making it the first horror/thriller film to win in that category), this film stars Jodie Foster as FBI trainee Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as the former psychiatrist/incarcerated serial killer with cannibalistic tendencies, Hannibal Lecter. With a serial killer (dubbed “Buffalo Bill” for the way he skins his victims’ corpses) on the loose, Clarice is requested by her superiors to interview Hannibal, whose foresight into the mentally disturbed may prove useful in capturing Bill. The direction by Jonathan Demme is top-notch, the story (adapted from a novel by Thomas Harris) is well-written, and the performances are excellent. Anthony Hopkins steals the show with his razor-sharp dialogue and creepy demeanour and proves a match to Jodie Foster’s stern character. Also delivering a great performance is Ted Levine as the twisted, sexually-confused Buffalo Bill. “The Silence of the Lambs” is a psychologically unsettling and emotionally powerful film that helped lay the groundwork of the slasher film for the 90s and beyond.

 

2. PSYCHO (1960)

If “Jaws” scared people so much that they were afraid to go to the beach, then “Psycho” was the film that made people (women in particular) look over their shoulder when they took a shower. Vera Miles’ shower death scene remains one of the greatest, and one of the most parodied, scenes in film history. And with the assistance of Bernard Hermann’s timeless score, it’s still effective up to this day. Similar to “The Silence of the Lambs”, the villain of “Psycho”….a psycho (DUHHH!). Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates, the proprietor of a shady motel (the Bates Motel) recently owned by his deceased mother.  Even though she’s “dead”, the mother psychologically torments Norman to the point that he commits murder to please her. Directed by the late, great Alfred Hitchcock, “Psycho” is a textbook example of how to make a fucking brilliant thriller. The performances are awesome (especially Anthony’s performance as the mother-fixated Norman), the pacing is tight and the incredible black-and-white cinematography adds to the film’s dark, ironic tone. This is a definite must-see for anyone who calls themselves “horror films” and those who appreciate and enjoy classic cinema. Oh, and ignore the 1998 remake directed by Gus Van Sant and starring Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates (VINCE FUCKING VAUGHN?!!). It never existed. I’m just saying.

 

1. THE SHINING (1980)

And here we have my top favourite horror film of all time: “The Shining” – which just so happens to be directed by my top favourite director of all time: the late, great, wished-I-got-an-autographed-copy-of-“A Clockwork Orange”-from-him-before-he-passed-away Stanley Kubrick.  Adapted from the best-selling Stephen King novel, “The Shining” details the account of a writer (Jack Torrance – played by Jack Nicholson) assigned as the off-season caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel and his slow descent into madness.  His wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) observes Jack’s mental deterioration while their son Danny (Danny Lloyd), who possesses psychic abilities (nicknamed “shining” ) sees disturbing images from the past and future. Apparently, a LOT of fucked-up shit occurred at the Overlook, including the  slaughter (by axe) of the mother and twin daughters of the former caretaker.  And it’s this former caretaker who influences Jack Torrance to attempt to do the same. Without revealing too much, the film features outstanding direction by Stanley Kubrick, a darkly humourous performance by Jack Nicholson in one of his best roles, creepy-ass music, a haunting, atmospheric look and feel, and arguably some of the most iconic scenes in horror movie history. The poster above is a major example, including the iconic line that Jack delivers: “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny!”. I could spend all day talking about how fucking brilliant this film is, but luckily for you, I won’t. Whether you’ve seen it before, or never gotten the opportunity, I strongly suggest you see this movie. It’s a landmark horror film that will stay with you for days, months and even years after you’ve seen it.  Recommended like doing the Gangnam Style dance totally shit-faced!

 

– Matthew

Coming just now….

 

No reviews today, ladies and gents, as I have to prepare myself mentally for the upcoming task at hand. What task? Which hand? Before you get your minds further in the gutter, please read on.

 

As you know, another Halloween is upon us. To celebrate this occasion, I’ll be dedicating my upcoming write-up to my top 10 favourite scary movies of all time (or as I call it – movies that go bump in the night). This write-up will consist of a mini-review of each film, including the reason(s) why I love/enjoy this movie and why you should definitely watch it (with the lights on, if you scare easily).

 

Now, I have already selected the films I plan on writing about, but any suggestions as to what films you’d like to see on the list – or recommendations of films I should see – will be greatly appreciated. And in case you were wondering, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” is NOT on my list 🙂

 

– Matthew

Definitely see this movie – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

 

With the Eli Roth-produced and Quentin Tarantino-presented (mind you, I did not say directed) martial-arts flick “The Man with the Iron Fists” hitting theaters early next month, I’ve taken the liberty to talk about the first film to involve the veteran hip hop producer/rapper/actor/first-time director RZA. “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”, directed by indie legend Jim Jarmusch, saw RZA scoring the film’s soundtrack, and making a brief, yet memorable, appearance in the film itself. His contribution to the film marked the beginning of the Hollywood career of the de facto leader of the iconic rap group, the Wu Tang Clan.

 

Ghost Dog? RZA? Wu Tang Clan? Jarmusch? All these names that sound like English, but they’re not. By the way, isn’t RZA the name of that brand of big-screen TVs with the two dogs? Not to fear, fellow citizen, for now I’ll gladly provide you with a bit of history. Yaaaaaaay! History.

 

In 1993, a group of New York-based rappers (most of them from Staten Island) joined forces with an up-and-coming rapper/producer named Robert Diggs (a.k.a. the RZA – pronounced “rizzah”) to form the Wu Tang Clan (the name derived from the 1981 martial arts film “Shaolin vs. Wu Tang”). Considered by many to be the greatest rap group of all time (although I personally think A Tribe Called Quest deserves that title – I’m just saying), the Wu Tang Clan broke new ground with their razor-sharp, explicitly witty, free-associative lyricism, eerie, minimalist beats and references to everything from Saturday morning cartoons to Five Percenter and Eastern philosophies. For the next four years, they were a dominant group in the rap game, until Diddy (then Puff Daddy) changed it, for better or worse, with the flashy, big-budget, commercialized “shiny-suit era” of hip hop music. RZA, a child of the 70s and a huge fan of martial arts and samurai films, incorporated his passion for cinema into the group’s most successful albums during that four-year period. “Enter the Wu-Tang: 36th Chamber” (one of my all-time favourite albums), Method Man’s “Tical” and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s (RZA’s cousin) “Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version” include samples from and references to the CLASSIC martial arts film “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”. Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” (another fave of mine) incorporates a Mafioso-themed narrative partly inspired by John Woo’s action drama “The Killer”, Ghostface Killah’s “Ironman” uses samples from 1970s soul music and dialogue from little-known blaxploitation films, and “Liquid Swords” (yet another favourite), the debut album from RZA’s other cousin GZA (pronounced “gizzah”) samples dialogue from the samurai cult film “Shogun Assassin”.

 

After the release of the Wu Tang Clan’s second album, “Wu-Tang Forever” (still a debatable title in the hip hop world, since Ghostface Killah and Raekwon are currently the only two Wu members rapping their asses off on a regular basis – note Kanye West’s/G.O.O.D. Music’s recent compilation album “Cruel Summer”) in 1997, the members worked on a number of solo albums. RZA, now one of the most sought-after producers in hip hop music, was asked to compose the score for director Jim Jarmusch’s seventh film, “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai”. A moderate success in the box office, it has developed over time into a cult film, and is now considered to be a classic of independent cinema. And thanks to “Ghost Dog”, RZA’s feet finally got through the door of Hollywood. Throughout the next decade, he appeared in films like Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes”, Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” and Todd Phillips’ “Due Date”. Despite the radical change in the rap game from the 90s, RZA stills remain an active figure in the hip hop world. After handling musical duties for Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2”, he composed the scores for the MONUMENTALLY BAD-ASS Japanese anime films “Afro Samurai” and “Afro Samurai: Resurrection”. “The Man with the Iron Fists” (similar in certain aspects to “Afro Samurai”) marks his directorial debut, as he combines his lifelong passions of hip hop music and martial arts into a movie which hopefully…..and I do mean HOPEFULLY…. will not suck dragon balls (Get it? Anime? “Dragonball”? Zzzzz).

 

So who the fuck is this “Ghost Dog”, you ask? Well, if you let me finish….(grumbles)

 

PLOT

Ghost Dog (not his real name) is a quiet, burly man who lives in a shack on the roof of an apartment building in Jersey City.  His only company is a flock of pigeons whom he feeds on a daily basis. Also, on a daily basis, he reads the Hagakure, an ancient text dedicated to the teachings of bushido – the practical and spiritual livelihood of the samurai. Two persons are intrigued by him: a young girl named Pearline who loves books, and a Haitian ice cream vendor named Raymond who LOVES to talk. While his conversations with Pearline are normal enough, Ghost Dog’s conversations with Raymond…..ahem…. less than normal, as Raymond speaks French, and Ghost Dog, usually unaware of what he says, replies in English. Weird, huh? Even weirder….or should I say cooler….is the fact that Ghost Dog is a fucking HITMAN for the Mafia! Yes, I said it! That quiet, seemingly harmless guy is weirdly an unofficial hit man for a small Mafia family. I say “unofficial” because Louie, a secondary member of the family, is the only mobster who knows Ghost Dog’s identity.  I say “weirdly” because Ghost Dog believes himself to be Louie’s retainer (a term meaning a warrior in service to a lord/master and not the orthodontic device used to re-align teeth). This master/servant relationship originated years ago, after Louie saved a young Ghost Dog (whose real name is still never mentioned) from a vicious beatdown by two white kids. As a result, he will always stay loyal to Louie, regardless of his actions and decisions.

 

However, this loyalty is put to the test when Ghost Dog runs afoul of the Mafia family. As requested by Louie via the family, Ghost Dog killed Handsome Frank, a local gangster and “made man” (fully-initiated member of the Mafia) suspected of sleeping with Louise, the troubled daughter of the family boss, Ray Vargo. What the family didn’t expect was that Louise herself witnessed the killing. What was supposed to be a clean hit has now become compromised, thanks to Louise. To avoid implication to the murder, Ray and his two elderly associates decide to find and kill Ghost Dog. Louie, who must stay loyal to the family or die, has no choice but to hunt Ghost Dog as well.  Will Ghost Dog stay true to the code, or will he die by it?

 

CHARACTERS

Ghost Dog – Forest Whitaker

Louie – John Tormey

Ray Vargo – Henry Silva

Sonny Valerio – Cliff Gorman

Joe Rags – Joseph Rigano

Louise Vargo – Tricia Vessey

Handsome Frank – Richard Portnow

Raymond -Issach De Bankole

Pearline – Camille Winbush

Samurai in Camouflage – RZA

 

MY THOUGHTS: Jim Jarmusch’s films often deviate from traditional narrative structure, instead focusing on mood and characterization mixed with deadpan comedy and dark humour. “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” is no different. In essence, it tells a standard story about a hitman marked for death by the mob. But in actuality, the film is literally a first-person view of the world through the eyes of a mentally unsound individual. Although he hardly looks like it, Ghost Dog is a CRAZY motherfucker! He lives alone on a rooftop with pigeons, he lives like a modern-day samurai and he kills for the mob without asking any questions. Though it’s fairly understandable why Ghost Dog would dedicate his life to helping the man who saved him from certain death years ago, it’s never explained how he became an assassin – and where he got his weapons to begin with (guns, knives, katana – yes, Ghost Dog has a fucking katana!), or how he acquired the Hagakure book, – and why he religiously follows its teachings, and most importantly, why the fuck he calls himself “Ghost Dog”. Watching the film recently, I couldn’t help but wonder if his insanity was a result of him getting hit upside his head during that beatdown scene. But it’s this loneliness, deep-rooted sadness and detachment from reality that makes Ghost Dog such a unique character.

 

Hip hop culture and the influence of rap music are examined in “Ghost Dog”. Consider an early scene involving a sit-down between Louie and the Mafia family. When the origin of Ghost Dog’s moniker is questioned, Sonny Valerio mentions rappers like Snoop Dogg, Q-Tip and Ice Cube, and even quotes a line from a Public Enemy song. While the film illustrates the contrast between modernity and ancient tradition (Ghost Dog follows the teachings of an 18th century samurai; Ray and the family still follow Mafioso rules), it also questions the extent and reality of one’s belief. Raymond regularly talks about the nutritional qualities of ice cream to his customers. In a later scene, he learns that ice cream isn’t healthy at all. How does that affect his belief in his product? Also, consider Ghost Dog who applies the teachings of the Hagakure to his daily life. There are periodic title cards throughout the film, each displaying a quotation from the Hagakure (and narrated moodily by Forest Whitaker). Ghost Dog applies each quote in a specific way, whether it’s taking a course of action or engaging his enemies. But when the Hagakure encourages the reader to “consider himself as dead….every day, without fail”, will Ghost Dog be willing to sacrifice his life for his beliefs?

 

Speaking of Ghost Dog, Forest Whitaker is perfectly cast as the film’s anti-hero. His mannerisms, voice and even his face express so much about Ghost Dog’s character, even when his past remains a mystery. Generally, the performances in the film are great. Each character is distinct, from the animated Raymond and inquisitive Pearline to the hardened Ray Vargo and his moody daughter Louise. Though it may prove challenging to the mainstream masses, the film’s character-driven plot is handled expertly by Jim Jarmusch. As such, you will see moments which don’t necessarily add anything to the film’s narrative (like RZA’s brief appearance as the Samurai in Camouflage), but within the strange world of “Ghost Dog”, they hardly feel out of place. And speaking of RZA, the soundtrack for this film is BRILLIANT! With a selection of haunting, hard-hitting beats at his fingertips, he created a musical landscape that suitably matched the film’s dark, somber tone, while staying true to the distinct sound and style that he perfected with the Wu Tang Clan.

 

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? If you haven’t already figured out by my rather lengthy review of “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (and my decision to talk about it in the first place), I LOVE this movie! It combines three of my favourite things – gangster films, samurai ideology and the hip hop culture – into an odd hybrid of a film that gets better every time I see it. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I strongly suggest that you watch this movie. Even if you’re not a Wu fan, or hip hop fan in general, you will find yourself absorbed in the RZA’s hypnotic soundscapes. And even if you’re not a fan of Forest Whitaker (even though the guy deservedly won a Best Actor Academy Award for “The Last King of Scotland”), you will find yourself caught within the “thousand-yard stare” of Ghost Dog. And when you hear the Wu Tang Clan affiliate Killah Priest’s “From Then Til Now” playing in the soundtrack, your eyes will look just like his.

 

 

You’ve been warned. Now go see this film already! 🙂

 

MY RATING – 4  1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely see this movie”)

Matthew

Double Feature: “Dredd” & “Taken 2”

Today’s post marks the beginning of a new segment inspired by my Road to the Dark Knight Rises and Expendable Movies projects from a couple of months ago. Rather than review one film within a particular genre on one day, and then review another film in the same genre four…..teen days later, I’ll just talk about both films in the same post. So without further ado (like there was any “ado” to begin with), welcome to the first installment of “Double Feature”.

 

Released two weeks apart from one another, “Dredd” and “Taken 2” are the latest action films to hit the big screen. “Taken 2” is the not-so-long-awaited sequel to “Taken”, an entertaining, and surprisingly well-made, film that established Liam Neeson as a certified BAD-ASS. “Dredd” is the second film adaptation of the highly-popular British comic strip Judge Dredd, the first being an abysmal mess of a 1995 movie that shared the same title with its source material. With Sylvester Stallone (who delivered the only memorable line from the film: “I AM THE LAW!!”), Armand Assante, Max Von Sydow and Rob Schneider (who was then honing his legendary acting skills which made him the shitty actor that he is today) in the film’s unfortunate cast, “Judge Dredd” was a critical and commercial failure.  Fortunately, “Dredd” (which has Karl Urban filling the boots of the Italian Stallion) is unrelated to “Judge Dredd”. And it’s in 3D, so I guess that’s a good thing.

 

SIDE NOTE: I didn’t see “Dredd” in 3D, so for argument’s sake, I will not use the marketing-scheme-to-get-moviegoers-to-spend-more-money-on-a-movie-that’ll-still-be-good-even-if-you-don’t-watch-it-with-3D-glasses-that-you-can’t-even-fucking-keep title “Dredd 3D”. Instead, I’ll use “Dredd” instead. Capisce?

 

Fortunately for me (the cheap bastard that I am), I managed to watch both of these films at a double feature (hence, the title of this segment). Even though they’re technically miles apart from one another (“Dredd” being a sci-fi flick and “Taken 2” being an action-thriller),  they are similar in terms of delivering the visually stimulating, testosterone-pumping and admittedly mindless action that a growing man needs. Not to mention, their posters are also similar. Seriously, they are! Look at them, goddammit!

 

 

 

Grey, smoky background; buildings positioned conveniently on the left and right side of the frame; protagonist in the middle of the frame; red title text. Coincidence? I think not. Lack of creativity in the movie poster department? I know so! Need more convincing? Look at the way Liam Neeson and Karl Urban, each with a gun in hand, are standing in these posters.

 

 

 

 

I rest my case. And now for the reviews.

 

“DREDD”–  After the opening shots of the futuristic metropolis Mega-City One fill the screen, and Karl Urban’s raspy voice-over narration fills your ears, you’re suddenly thrust into the ultra-violent world of “Dredd”. In this world, or should I say crime-ridden American dystopia, police officers called Judges (who assume the roles of judge, jury and executioner) maintain the peace. The most famous of the elite corps of Judges is Dredd, a hardened man who never hesitates when it comes to executing offenders. One day, he’s given the task of evaluating a rookie, Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Unlike other Judges, Anderson has psychic abilities (don’t laugh) which means that she can read the thoughts and sense the emotions of others. Anyhoo, Dredd and Anderson head over to a 200-storey slum tower block named Peach Trees to investigate the murders of three men. Upon arrival, they learn that Peach Trees is actually run by the vicious Madeline “Ma-Ma” Madrigal (Lena Headey), an ex-prostitute turned drug lord and leader of a large gang of street thugs. Ma-Ma handles the manufacture of Slo-Mo, a drug that slows the user’s perception of time. In other words, EVERYTHING MOVES REALLY SLOW (Hey, I see you rolling your eyes! Stop that shit!). When Ma-Ma realizes that Judges are in the building, she orders her men to seal the building with its blast shields. With no way out, Dredd and Anderson are left with one option: pass judgment on Ma-Ma, provided, of course, that they survive the bullet-riddled journey to her base on the 200th floor.

 

Upon the release of the trailer for “Dredd” a few months ago, most people (myself included) have compared the film to “The Raid: Redemption”, a recently-released Indonesian action/martial-arts film (that’s arguably one of the most bad-ass movies I’ve seen this year, in case you were wondering) that has a similar plot (SWAT team breaks into an apartment building to arrest drug lord; shots are fired, bones are broken and asses are kicked along the way and….. yeah, that’s pretty much the plot). And while I have no plans to pass judgment on director Pete Travis, I won’t be surprised if the writers for “Dredd” saw “The Raid: Redemption” at some point during pre-production before writing their script. But whether this is actually true or not, it doesn’t change the fact that “Dredd” is a REALLY ENTERTAINING MOVIE! Karl Urban delivers a superb performance as Judge Dredd – which is a big deal since his entire face is never shown throughout the entire film (you only see his mouth underneath his large helmet). Olivia Thirlby was great as Judge Anderson, and even though it’s easy to laugh at the idea of a police officer with psychic powers, the ways in which she uses these powers are rather impressive. Lena Headey plays a remorseless bitch of a villain, and a great one at that. Like “The Raid: Redemption”, the story is generic, but once you accept that it’s just an excuse to show scenes of high-octane, relentless violence, then you won’t give a shit about story anyway – which is a good thing for a film like “Dredd”. Oh, and the slo-mo sequences are FUCKING EPIC! When everything slows down (from drops of water and shards of glass to a bullet entering and exiting a body leaving a nice trail of blood particles in the air), it’s visual eye-candy in every sense of the term! And yes, I admit, I would have enjoyed these scenes even more if I watched the film in 3D. Ah, well. That’s the life of a cheap bastard, I guess. Long story short, “Dredd” is a brutally violent, highly entertaining and surprisingly fun sci-fi action flick that truly delivers the goods. It’s not a perfect film by a long shot, but it is far better than “Judge Dredd”. And when you really think about it, that’s the only thing that matters.

 

“TAKEN 2” – And now that my patience have completely ran its course, I’ll gladly give this film a one-paragraph review. Directed by Olivier Megaton (not to be confused with Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons) “Taken 2” continues the adventures of Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), everyone’s favourite retired CIA field operative. If you saw the first “Taken” film, you’ll remember that Bryan hunted and killed the human traffickers who kidnapped his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) in France. In this film, the male relatives of the dead human traffickers form a hit squad to hunt and kill Bryan and his family. Lucky for them, Bryan is on assignment in Istanbul and like the dutiful overprotective dad that he is, he takes Kim and his wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) with him. The “Relatives of the Deceased” hit squad catches up with the family, with Bryan and Lenore being kidnapped in the process. Murad (the elderly leader of the hit squad) and his goons throw Bryan and Lenore into a room. After Murad talks some death threat shit to our hero, he leaves the room, while his goons are in another room watching a football game. In other words, the room is UNGUARDED! (FACEPALM!!!). Obviously, Bryan breaks himself free, and through a series of nonsensical scenarios, loses his wife again to the bad guys, catches up with his daughter, gives her an advanced driving lesson which involves crashing into every police car on sight, and kills a lot of bad guys. “Taken 2” is a disappointment on nearly every level: the story is ridiculous, the acting is atrocious, the action sequences are bland and edited so quickly that it’s hard to understand what the fuck is going on (a cut during an action sequence lasts for less than a second) and the fight sequences (one of the many good things about the first “Taken” movie) are boring and poorly choreographed. The only saving grace in the film is Liam Neeson. Once again, he delivers a great performance as Bryan Mills, and it is fun to see him shoot and beat his enemies to death. But when you’re laughing at the unintentional humour,  cringing at the performances of Maggie Grace (God, that bitch can’t act) and Famke Janssen, and forcing to keep your eyes open or else you’d miss a half-second-long cut in a poorly-executed action sequence, you can’t help but think one thing: Liam deserves to be in a better movie.  In short,  “Taken 2” is one of the most unnecessary, unwanted and underwhelming sequels in recent years. If you like to laugh at bad movies, then you’ll have a fucking ball with this film. For everyone else, stick with the original.

 

MY RATING:

“DREDD” – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Worth a look”)

“TAKEN 2” – 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

 

– Matthew

See it if you really have to – Rock of Ages (2012)

 

Now I know what you’re thinking….”Rock of Ages”? Wasn’t that an action-strategy video game that came out for Windows and Xbox Arcade last year, and then on May 15th 2012 for the Playstation Network? Or was it that 1972 album from the legendary rock group The Band, which was then re-released in 2001 with a 10-track bonus disc consisting mostly of covers of Bob Dylan songs? Or was I simply skimming through the search results for the title “Rock of Ages” in Wikipedia, trying to piece together some unnecessary information in a pathetic attempt to create a proper introduction to my review of the film “Rock of Ages”?

 

The answer is (d) All of the above.

 

For those unaware of its existence (and for those who’ve already forgotten that it did exist), “Rock of Ages” is a rock musical/comedy film based on the 2006 rock jukebox (i.e. where previously released hit songs are used in the musical score) Broadway musical of the same name by Chris D’Arienzo. After the original off-Broadway production became a success, the film rights were sold to Hollywood heavyweights Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema. Directing duties were offered to Adam Shankman, director of such masterpieces as “A Walk to Remember”, “Bringing Down the House” (as you can see, I’m being sarcastic here) and a little musical comedy based on a Broadway play of the same name called “Hairspray” (a film I have yet to watch in its entirety).

 

“Hairspray” was a huge success back in 2007, and it was highly recommended by many critics. However, in 2007, I was too pre-occupied with films like “I Am Legend”, “The Simpsons Movie”, “American Gangster”, “Hot Fuzz”, “There will be Blood”, “No Country for Old Men”,”The Bourne Ultimatum”, “Transformers”, and of course “300”, that I didn’t give a shit about a musical starring John Travolta IN DRAG! Anyhoo, with the success of “Hairspray”, you’d think that a guy like Adam Shankman would be able to capture lightning in a bottle again with a musical based on the glory days of 1980s rock music. And with a stellar cast of actors in the roster (including the recently-divorced Tom Cruise), it should make a shit-ton of money in the box office. Right?

 

Well….it didn’t. “Rock of Ages” was a box office flop, grossing only $50 million worldwide, and failing to beat its $75 million budget.  Reviews for the film were mixed by critics and moviegoers, and it even appeared on a number of ‘Worst Films of 2012’ lists. Now, I will admit, I wasn’t keen on seeing the film (mostly due to its Broadway-style treatment of classic 80s rock songs), but like most people, I was interested in seeing Tom Cruise play a hair metal rocker.  And I’ll also admit that I’m not a HUGE fan of 1980s rock. I mean, I like some songs….come to think of it, I only know some songs….but I’m not as knowledgeable of 1980s rock as I am of 1980s hip hop….and hip hop in general. That’s my preference, guys. Please don’t hate. But as an on-again, off-again online film critic, I’ve made it my duty to watch “Rock of Ages” and give you my point of view.

 

So, while I continually dream of a hip hop musical comedy film set in the late 1980s, where a stellar cast of actors (including Dave Chappelle) and rappers (including Ice Cube and Ice-T) perform classic songs like “Children’s Story”, “The Message”, “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fight the Power”,  where problems are solved through freestyle rap battles and b-boy sessions, and where, like the song of the same name, Eric B is President), I have no choice but to settle with “Rock of Ages” for the moment. Sigh!

 

PLOT

Once upon a time (1987 to be precise), a two-time Dancing with the Stars winner named Julianne Hough, turned recording artiste, turned actress, turned first protagonist Sherrie Christian arrives to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a famous singer. Sherrie meets some dude from Mexico turned second protagonist Drew Boley, a barback who dreams of becoming a rock star. Drew works at the Bourbon Room, a popular nightclub owned by Dennis Dupree and his right-hand man Lonny Barnett. While working as a waitress at the nightclub, Sherrie develops strong feelings for Drew, and a relationship blooms between the two. Awwwwww. Meanwhile, Dennis and Lonny try to save the Bourbon Room from being shut down due to unpaid taxes. Suddenly, an idea springs forth. They’ll hire Stacee Jaxx, a famous rock star (and the literal epitome of a “rock god”) who recently parted ways with his band, Arsenal, to perform at the Bourbon Room.  Everyone is excited about Stacee’s upcoming performance, except for Patricia Whitmore, a religious conservative and wife of Mayor Mike Whitmore. With the support of her church, Patricia plans to shut down the nightclub, in the hopes of ridding Los Angeles of “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll”.

 

But amidst the rocking and rolling, things turn sour for Drew and Sherrie. Drew’s dreams of rock stardom eventually burdens their relationship.  Alternately, Sherrie’s dreams of stardom (which have already transcended the Bourbon Room) leads her to a strip club (owned by Mary J. Blige of all people), where…you guessed it…she’s forced to become a stripper. Meanwhile, Mr. Jaxx has problems of his own – more particularly, his greedy manager (Paul Gill) and Constance Sack, a news reporter for the Rolling Stone magazine. Though he manages to seduce Sack into a musical number/foreplay session (more on that later), he unexpectedly falls for her. Ain’t that some shit?! Will Sherrie and Drew find themselves singing in front of each other again and not in different locations (more on that later as well)? Has Stacee Jaxx found true love in a journalist who previously called him a “man-child”?  And seriously, how many songs are in this fucking movie?! All these questions and more may be answered in “Rock of Ages”.

 

CHARACTERS

Sherrie Christian – Julianne Hough

Drew Boley – Diego Boneta

Lonny Barnett – Russell Brand

Dennis Dupree – Alec Baldwin

Mike Whitmore – Bryan Cranston

Patricia Whitmore – Catherine Zeta-Jones

Paul Gill – Paul Giamatti

Constance Sack – Malin Akerman

Justice Charlier – Mary J. Blige

Stacee Jaxx – Tom Cruise

 

MY THOUGHTS: I have good news and bad news. The good news is: the soundtrack for “Rock of Ages” ROCKS! Obviously. If you’re like me, and you’ve heard nearly all the songs in this film (from Twisted Sister’s “I Wanna Rock” performed EXCELLENTLY by Diego Boneta to Journey’s “Any Where You Want It” performed by Mary J. Blige and Julianne Hough in the aforementioned strip club) in countless TV commercials, movie trailers and movies, then you will be nodding your head and tapping your feet when these songs come on. However, seeing Hollywood actors sing and dance to these timeless rock classics will become challenging for some viewers. Case in point: REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight this Feeling” (one of my favourite power ballads of like ever) is sung as a duet between…. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand (WTF)! And yes, it’s as fucked up as it sounds. However, these actors can sing – even Tom Cruise, believe it or not. And speaking of which, he does steal the movie. His performance as a drunk, doped-up rock god/babe magnet is perhaps the one true reason to sit through this entire film.  And similar to Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now”, he talks a lot of profound shit that hardly makes any fucking sense. Along with an amazing cover of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive”, Tom performs Foreigner’s power ballad “I Want to Know what Love is” (not one of my favourites) as a duet with Malin Akerman – which ends in a foreplay session/implied sex scene on a pool table which truly tested the limits of the film’s PG-13 rating. And like Baldwin’s and Brand’s duet, it’s as fucked up as it sounds. If only Tom Cruise sang Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” from the “Top Gun” movie soundtrack. Now that would be AWESOME!

 

The bad news is: despite its nostalgic soundtrack, and its glitzy musical performances, the film suffers from a weak and generic plot (i.e. small-town character moves to the city, dreams of being famous, falls in love, makes a bad decision, gets his/her heart broken, sings mournfully in the rain as if people will actually stop and listen to him/her sing, blah, blah, blah). You’ve seen it before in other musical films of the 1980s and in that aspect, “Rock of Ages” works on that level. It is a nostalgic throwback to the 1980s anyway, so I guess it’s expected that there would be some cheesy moments. But with the amount of work put into the film’s entertaining musical numbers, it’s a shame that there was hardly any effort in maintaining a solid script. And speaking of script, there’s not much of a script to talk about. There are literally 3 to 5 minute gaps of dialogue, followed by a song, throughout the entire film! SERIOUSLY! For a musical, and a two-hour one at that, there’s a lot of singing in this film. Characters break out into song in the weirdest instances (in one scene, Diego starts the first verse of Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” in a bathroom stall in the Bourbon Room nightclub). Yeeeeeeah. And speaking of singing, what the fuck was up with some of the film’s musical numbers where characters sang the same song IN DIFFERENT LOCATIONS?! In one logic-defying musical sequence, Julianne, Diego, Paul, Mary J. and Tom Cruise, each in a different location, sing the same song (Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”) during a montage that spans the course of at least one week! I would love to see a musical where characters in different locations, different times (17th century, 21st century, 25th century, Stone Age, Dark Ages etc.) and alternate universes (sorta like the hit sci-fi TV show “Fringe”)  sing the same song. It would be the first musical rupture of the space-time continuum in movie history. Now that would be AWESOME!

 

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM? It’s all a matter of taste. If you TRULY LOVE 1980s rock music, and you have no problem seeing Hollywood actors sing them, then you’ll enjoy “Rock of Ages”. If you like modern musical films, then it wouldn’t hurt to give this film a look.  If you like seeing Tom Cruise challenge his acting capabilities, then you should at least see his performance in the film. But if you’re expecting something original (at least with the story), look elsewhere. Like the music in this film, it’s all been done before.

 

MY RATING – 2  1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to)

– Matthew