Film Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2010 (Sundance)
Directed by: Eli Craig
Written by: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson
Music by: Michael Shields, Andrew Kaiser
Cast: Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons

Eden Rock Media, Looby Lou, Reliance BIG Pictures, Urban Island, Magnet Releasing, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Holy shit. We have go to hide all of the sharp objects!” – Tucker

I really liked this movie when I first saw it, which was way back when it came out in 2010. Weirdly, I hadn’t revisited since that initial viewing. Going back to it now was refreshing, as there hasn’t been a whole lot that I’ve liked in the horror genre, as of late. Especially in regards to comedy horror.

The premise of this film is great and it kind of makes you rethink horror films from the past. This is a movie that is about a series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations based on preexisting biases and well, other horror movies.

Tucker and Dale are two hillbillies that are driving to their vacation home in the woods. On their way, they meet a group of college kids and Dale is smitten with a girl in the group named Allison. He tries to talk to her but is nervous and comes off to the kids as a crazy, creepy, backwoods redneck. The kids are on the immediate defense because they’ve obviously watched too many horror films about killer rednecks in the woods.

Following the setup, the rest of the film is full of other misunderstandings that convince the college kids that these two hillbillies are trying to murder them. In reality, they are two nice and chill guys. The college students try to save a friend that the hillbillies have in their house, as she is recovering from an injury. As the college kids swarm the house, some of them end up killing themselves accidentally in the chaos. Tucker and Dale are left thinking that these kids are trying to kill Allison and have some sort of suicide pact. The surviving kids continue to think that Tucker and Dale are savage killers.

While the premise is fantastic it wouldn’t survive without good and clever writing and without some surprises thrown in. Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson penned a stellar script and Craig also did a fine job behind the camera, directing the action.

Tucker and Dale are incredibly likable characters, as is Allison. Other than that, it’s great seeing all the other kids get maimed, disfigured and killed in a myriad of interesting ways. I also loved seeing how freaked out Tucker and Dale were, as they couldn’t make sense out of what was happening.

Alan Tudyk played Tucker and he’s fun to watch in any role. However, Tyler Labine really stole the show as Dale. He was a true everyman and was just good at it. He wanted to win the girl, he didn’t look the part but through his heroics, bravery and loyalty to those he cares about, was able to win in the end.

There have been rumors about a sequel for years. In fact, a script was written but it was terrible and they decided against making it. So kudos to the filmmakers and actors for not just trying to cash in and ride the wave of success from the first movie. Besides, this is a very satisfying film on its own and doesn’t need a sequel just to have one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other good recent horror parodies: Cabin in the WoodsShaun of the DeadZombieland and What We Do In the Shadows.

Film Review: The New Barbarians (1983)

Also known as: Warriors of the Wasteland (alternate), Metropolis 2000 (West Germany)
Release Date: June 10th, 1983 (West Germany)
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Tito Capri, Enzo G. Castellari
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Fred Williamson, Giancarlo Prete, George Eastman

Deaf International, 91 Minutes

Review:

“The world is dead. It raped itself. But I’ll purify it with blood! No one is innocent! But only we, the Templars, are the ministers of revenge!” – One

Between 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape From the Bronx, Enzo G. Castellari made this terrifically badass flick. And like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, this film stars Fred Williamson in a supporting but show stealing role.

This is one of ten dozen Mad Max ripoffs but the post-apocalyptic genre of film was at its height in the ’80s thanks to the surprise success of Mad Max. There were ripoffs galore, some good, some atrocious, but some of them at least brought something new to the table. I can’t call this a good film but I like it a lot because it takes an oversaturated formula and gives it some sweet style.

The Italians could have really taken what they did with spaghetti westerns and started a whole spaghetti apocalypse trend. While they made films like this, as this is one of them, they never quite took off like the spaghetti western trend in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Enzo G. Castellari really made his mark in spaghetti westerns and dabbled in some horror. The two really prepared him for making post-apocalyptic movies, as they share similar qualities: barren wastelands, gunslingers, violence and terror. And hell, trade out the horses for motorcycles and you’ve got a spaghetti apocalypse movie, as I call these pictures.

The New Barbarians or Warriors of the Wasteland, as it is also called, is an energetic and engaging picture for what it is. It wasn’t intended to be a game changer or exceptional, it was just made to cash in on a genre craze but still had enough of its own originality and style to stand apart from its primary influences.

Castellari was the master of these sort of films and The New Barbarians just solidifies that. It is well executed with awesomely shoddy effects and surreal action. It has weird dialogue, weird characters and weird costumes. It’s like some sort of bizarre European post-apocalyptic themed fashion show from the ’80s. I don’t really know how else to sum it up in a single sentence.

This film, along with Castellari’s Bronx movies sort of form an unofficial trilogy in my mind. They have similar themes, similar style and are cool to experience. This is a better film than the two Bronx movies: slightly beating out the first and completely surpassing the second, which actually isn’t very good.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape From the Bronx. It also has a lot of similarities to the more modern film Turbo Kid.

Film Review: Family Plot (1976)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film, Deceit, Deception, Missing Heir (working titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1976 (Filmex)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Based on: The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane, Ed Lauter

Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“[to Fran] We’re gonna have to kill these two ourselves.” – Arthur Adamson

Family Plot has the distinction of being Alfred Hitchcock’s last film. It also proves that even in old age, the director was a true auteur that never lost his mojo. This is an engaging and entertaining motion picture that while it isn’t Hitchcock’s best, probably deserves more recognition than it has gotten over the years.

The plot is about one giant misunderstanding. Unfortunately for the nice duo, it becomes a big mess, as the other duo locked in this cat and mouse game aren’t nice people and in fact are pretty evil and dangerous.

Barbara Harris plays a fake psychic that swindles rich old ladies out of their money. She partners up with a crafty cab driver played by Bruce Dern. The two of them are given a job that will reward them with $10,000 upon completion. That job is to find a long lost heir to a family fortune and return him to the fold. What they don’t know is that this heir is a career criminal and conman. The conman thinks that he is being pursued by the duo because of something heinous from his past. The heir is teamed up with a often times reluctant accomplice played by Karen Black. The film becomes a chase where the mostly good guys keep finding themselves in over their heads and the bad guys are running in fear of what these do-gooders may have on them.

The plot is well structured and executed marvelously for the most part. My only real complaint about the film is that it seems a bit too drawn out. Hitchcock loved a two hour-plus running time and frankly, this could have been 100 minutes and been just as good.

I loved seeing a younger Ed Lauter in the movie and with Bruce Dern and Karen Black, this just has a really cool cast. The fact that these actors also got to work with Hitchcock is kind of impressive. Not because they aren’t capable, they certainly are, but because it’s a teaming of great talents from different generations.

Speaking of which, it was also really neat that John Williams got to score a Hitchcock picture. Two different artists that defined two different generations in very different ways came together and made something that worked to benefit both parties. Williams score here isn’t anywhere as well known as those that he’d do for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg but it enhanced the overall experience of Hitchcock’s Family Plot and gave it some life it might not have had with a less capable composer.

I really enjoyed Family Plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it exceeded any expectations I could have had, even if I knew more about it before diving in.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: A lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s later work from the late ’60s into the ’70s.

Film Review: The Shadow (1994)

Release Date: July 1st, 1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, James Hong, Al Leong, Frank Welker (voice)

Bregman/Baer Productions, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll be there… around every corner… in every empty room… as inevitable as your guilty conscience…” – The Shadow

The Shadow wasn’t shy about what it was trying to be. It was Universal’s answer to Warner Bros. massive success with Batman and Disney’s pretty popular Dick Tracy. It is almost like a blend of the two and I guess The Shadow was the right property to adapt at the time, if you wanted to marry both of those other franchises into one thing. Granted, it also throws in some Asian mysticism but ninjas and Oriental magic were pretty popular back then too.

I wouldn’t call the finished product a big success though. This film pretty much bombed, critics didn’t like it and it felt like it was trying too hard to be those other things that it wasn’t. It’s sad because The Shadow could have actually been a really great movie. It has so many things working for it that you almost have to try to make it not work.

Granted, this film is far from terrible and I like it quite a bit more than I dislike it. It’s just that those bad elements really held this motion picture back.

For starters, Alec Baldwin was boring as hell as the Shadow. He was dry, tried to come off as overly manly and sexy and it just felt silly. His Bela Lugosi illuminated eye trick when he was using his psychic shtick just didn’t work and I’m a huge fan of that method when used correctly. But maybe that only worked well in old black and white Universal Monsters pictures. His weird facial prosthetics also didn’t work for me and just made him look strange.

I also didn’t like John Lone as the villain, who is essentially a resurrected Genghis Khan. At least I think he was, his explanation was kind of weird and confusing. He kind of sounded like Tommy Wiseau with a little Asian flourish to his accent.

I did like the rest of the cast. Penelope Ann Miller was alluring as hell, Ian McKellen was delightful and Tim Curry stole the show, as he always does.

I also liked the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was made to sound a lot like Danny Elfman’s scores for Batman and Dick Tracy but it wasn’t a total ripoff, it had a very strong Goldsmith vibe to it.

The look of the film was nice but it really was just an amalgamation of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and The City from Dick Tracy. It was actually New York and had the iconic landmarks but the night shots used sweeping cameras weaving around building’s ala Burton’s Batman and featured gargoyles with waterfalls coming out of their mouths and other things that didn’t seem very 1930s New York.

The film did its best to be exciting but it just wasn’t. It was as bland as Baldwin’s performance and to be honest, unlike similar films of the era, I never had the urge to go back and watch this until now. I have seen Batman and Dick Tracy and even The Rocketeer a few dozen times.

Although watching it now, I really liked the sequence during the final showdown in the hall of mirrors. It was a bit hokey but it still looked beautiful and was the best visual moment in the picture.

The Shadow isn’t a complete waste of a film. It’s less than two hours and is a decent time killer, especially if you’ve never seen it and are a fan of similar pictures and 1930s style.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The two films it borrows heavily from: 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Dick Tracy.

Film Review: Bug (2006)

Release Date: May 19th, 2006 (Cannes)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: Tracy Letts
Based on: Bug by Tracy Letts
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Lynn Collins, Brian F. O’Byrne, Harry Connick Jr.

DMK Mediafonds International, Inferno Distribution LLC, L.I.F.T. Productions, Lionsgate, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I guess I’d rather talk with you about bugs than nothing with nobody.” – Agnes White

William Friedkin is most associated with directing The Exorcist. This film, however, leaves you with a similar sense of disgust and dread.

In this picture, we meet Agnes, a lonely Oklahoma woman that works in a gay bar and lives in a rundown hotel. She does drugs and fools around with a lesbian, has a psycho ex-husband that just got out of prison and is still emotionally wrecked from the loss of her child.

Agnes is introduced to Peter and immediately develops in infatuation with him. Peter and Agnes get very close and intimate, even though Peter “isn’t into women” or anyone for that matter. Soon, we learn that Peter believes in all sorts of crazy conspiracies and even thinks that he was implanted with flesh eating bugs as some sort of military experiment.

As the film rolls on, Peter gets more erratic and insane and Agnes follows suit, believing him every step of the way. She starts seeing what Peter is seeing.

The film is magnificently shot. The opening scene that pans over a dark and barren landscape, slowly moving towards a small hotel in the distance, is beautiful and haunting. The cinematography in the last twenty minutes or so, showing these two insane people in a confined space of tin foil walls glowing from bug zappers is eerie and enchanting. This film certainly looks spectacular.

Bug also benefits from the tremendous performances by both Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, who sell their characters to the point that their slip into madness feels organic and terrifying.

Despite the solid acting, though, the characters aren’t nearly developed enough in the script and it is hard to feel anything deeper for them beyond their psychotic surface. Sure, your heart aches in a way but you don’t necessarily like these two people or find them to be that interesting. Watching anyone slip into a horrible state of mental health is always engaging to some degree but this film lacks the soul it needs to really make it as profound as it was trying to be.

Besides, everything just sort of happens and once the crazy ball gets rolling, we’re off to the races and it goes from 0 to 60 in record time.

Bug is a film that has a lot of strengths but doesn’t do much to capitalize on them other than just throwing them on the screen and hoping it works on its own. It’s hard to say whether or not the script was lacking, although it seems as though it was, or if Friedkin failed to bring it all together. I think the blame is really on both of those things, though.

Plus, you’re supposed to wonder if Peter is actually telling the truth and isn’t just nuts. I never once thought he was anything but nuts and saw this all as a shared delusion. I know that I was supposed to question it but that just didn’t work for me.

Additionally, the ending is pretty terrible and didn’t add anything to the narrative. Things just sort of end very badly and very blandly.

This is a creepy and disturbing movie that will certainly make you uncomfortable but it is just as much unsatisfying as it is mesmerizing.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other body horror films: The BroodThe Fly, etc.

Film Review: Alien³ (1992)

Release Date: May 19th, 1992 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Vincent Ward, David Giller, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henriksen

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 114 Minutes (Theatrical), 145 Minutes (Assembly Cut), 138 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“[to the Alien] You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” – Ripley

Alien was such an incredible movie that it was damn near impossible to follow up while hitting that same level of grandeur and artistry. Aliens happened to achieve this, however. Many people even debate which of the two films is better. So when a third Alien film came along, it couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle for a third time could it?

It didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t good. It is still one hell of a ride and it certainly isn’t short on terror and dread.

Also, this was the directorial debut of David Fincher, a young man who got his start as an assistant cameraman and a matte photography assistant on films like Return of the JediIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The NeverEnding Story.

On paper, this probably looked like it was setup to fail. However, the young Fincher made it work and helped establish his own style enough to whittle out a pretty prolific Hollywood career for himself. He followed this movie up with Se7enThe GameFight Club and since the turn of the millennium he’s done Panic RoomZodiacThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social NetworkThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. Without Alien³, those other films either wouldn’t have existed or they would have been adapted by people with a very different visual style.

And that’s the thing, Fincher has a unique style. Some love it, some don’t. Regardless of how you feel about it, the Fincher visual style is on full display in Alien³. In a way, it’s kind of impressive because Fincher had his own stylistic stamp out the gate. One could argue that he is an auteur. I wouldn’t quite call him that but you could argue for it and maybe in another decade he will be able to achieve that status.

In this chapter in the franchise, we see Ripley’s escape ship crash land on a prison planet. It picks up from the ending of Aliens, as Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop are still floating in space, asleep. When Ripley comes to, she realizes that everyone else died and soon after that, she comes to discover that an alien xenomorph stowed away on the ship. The rest of the film is about Ripley and the male prisoners trying to kill the alien that wants everyone for lunch. There is one catch, however… Ripley’s body is playing host to an alien queen. It’s almost Shakespearean in how the aliens get the last laugh in regards to Ripley’s fate.

One really cool thing about this film that actually blew my 13 year-old mind was that I saw the xenomorph emerge from a dog as it’s incubator/host. The alien took on characteristics of that animal, making it different and unique. My mind started exploding with ideas as to what would happen if the alien egg was incubating in other creatures. I guess toy makers got a similar idea because in the ’90s, there were a slew of Alien toys featuring all sorts of weird hybrid xenomorphs. My cousin had a really cool xenomorph rhino action figure.

The special effects in this film looked really good for 1992. However, now that this thing has been remastered in modern HD, it’s a mixed bag. Some of the shots that once worked don’t look so hot now but they’re not terrible, they’re just really noticeable. But one of the things I really loved about this picture was the first-person POV used for the xenomorph when hunting prisoners. These sequences are still really cool and it almost feels like a nod to first-person shooter games, which were just becoming the rage in this era. It’s also very similar to playing as an alien in the Alien Vs. Predator games.

Alien³ is not the grand spectacle that Alien and Aliens were. It is still a solid followup and helps enrich the mythos instead of bastardizing it like the fourth Alien film did.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The first two Alien movies.

Film Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Release Date: August 11th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: F. Gary Gray
Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus
Music by: Joseph Trapanese, N.W.A.
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr.

Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Cube Vision, Crucial Films, Broken Chair Flickz, Universal Pictures, 147 Minutes

Review:

“They want N.W.A, let’s give em N.W.A.” – Eazy-E

*Written in 2015.

I have been waiting for this film to come out since I first heard about its development a few years ago.

N.W.A. is a group that I listened to almost since their inception and they had a big influence over me as a kid. Sure, my parents didn’t like me listening to them when I was in middle school but I really didn’t care and record stores didn’t really police their sale of explicit products to minors in the early ’90s. Well, some stores did but I avoided those.

This film was pretty fantastic. In fact, I’m going to go on and say that this is my favorite film of the year thus far. It was, by far, F. Gary Gray’s finest work as a director. Being that he has been a long time collaborator with the men who were the subject of this film, made it feel real personal and he had legitimate insight into the relationships of these guys. Additionally, with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube consulting heavily on this film, we got one of the most accurate music biopics ever made. Granted, I’m sure they filtered in their own bias.

This, above all else, was a film about friendship – even more so than the history of N.W.A., Ruthless Records and Death Row. It showed five close friends coming up together and challenging a corrupt and oppressive system. It showed how they fought for freedom of speech and how they became the voice of a generation that was fed up – transcending their neighborhood and their race: effecting millions of people all over the world. Even when friendship dissolved, in the end, the love was still there and through all the bullshit and really bad blood, they were still brothers.

The acting was on point. Ice Cube was played by his real life son and he looked and sounded exactly like his father. In fact, most of the time, you only see him as Ice Cube and get lost in the performance. Pretty damn impressive for a kid who has never acted. Jason Mitchell was perfect as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti was a great choice for Jerry Heller and Neil Brown Jr. truly felt like DJ Yella. Corey Hawkins was good as Dr. Dre but was the weakest of the main actors. Aldis Hodge was okay as MC Ren but I felt like Ren really got the shaft in this film, as he was just in it. He wasn’t shown as a character of significance and someone of Ren’s presence, which he has a hell of a presence, should have been featured more. This film makes MC Ren just seem like the odd man out of the group and maybe that is because he never found the individual success of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.

Arabian Prince was completely shafted. He wasn’t even mentioned in the film. But if you remember the cover of the “Straight Outta Compton” album from 1988, there were six men in the photo. He was the sixth man, lost to history and forgotten. And I guess his role was so minimal, they really didn’t need to include him in the movie.

I did like how they featured the D.O.C., Warren G, Snoop Dogg, 2pac and mentioned Bone Thugs. I like how they tied in the Rodney King beating and the L.A. Riots, showing how N.W.A.’s music was almost prophetic without the film beating you over the head with it. The scene featuring the unity between the Bloods and Crips against the police was beautifully shot and executed.

Moving on, there are a few things I have to nitpick about with the film. For one, in 1986, Eazy-E is wearing a black White Sox cap. Well, the White Sox didn’t wear the black uniforms until 1991 or so. In another scene, which takes place in 1993, Eazy-E is using a cordless phone model that didn’t come out until around 2000. I know, because I owned that same phone. Also, 2pac was recording “All Eyez On Me” in the studio with Dr. Dre while Eazy-E was still alive in the film. Eazy died in early 1995 while “All Eyez On Me” was recorded late in 1995 and released in early 1996. There were a few other weird discrepancies but I’ll stop being an asshole.

Besides, the film’s narrative was strong. The movie told a great story and that is the most important thing.

While I do feel that the film shows both the good and bad of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, I feel like this is through the eyes of Dre and Cube, which it is. I wish Eazy would’ve lived and would’ve been able to consult and flesh out his side of the story in the same way that Dre and Cube were able to do with the director. But to be fair, despite Eazy’s faults, he is still shown as a loveable yet tragic character and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube honored him for who he was.

The only big plot point that I felt was missing, was showcasing how heated the beef got between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. For those that experienced it, it was a big deal at the time and from a fan’s perspective, the beef felt irreconcilable. Dre and Eazy both expressed regret about it in the film but it wasn’t shown or discussed in any sort of detail.

Also, the film jumps over the whole NWA & The Posse era.

I feel that it is also important to point out how funny this film is. It isn’t a comedy but there are so many great comedic moments throughout the picture. Yes, it is a serious film that has very dark moments for each character but their is a light-hardheartedness about this film that really showcases the soul of these men.

In closing, Straight Outta Compton is a spectacular film whether or not you even care about hip-hop. For those that do care about this group, it gives you an intimate look into their lives and shows how everything went down, as accurately as can be portrayed on film. And being that I am a person that lived through all of this and remember it from the perspective of a fan, it is impossible to not fall victim to nostalgia. But in that nostalgia, one walks away feeling more intimately connected to something that has been a part of your life for a long time. This was a film just as much about those of us who rode along with N.W.A. from 1988-1992, as it was about the band itself.

F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube truly have a piece of work to be proud of. Don’t take your family though, unless you want Little Jimmy yelling “Fuck the Police” as he walks out of the theater. Then again, I was once Little Jimmy and I turned out just fine.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any top tier music biopic, really. This is just as good as the best of them.