Film Review: Dark City (1998)

Release Date: February 27th, 1998
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson, William Hurt, Bruce Spence, Melissa George, David Wenham

Mystery Clock Cinema, New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes, 112 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“First there was darkness. Then came the strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology. The ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this ability “Tuning”. But they were dying. Their civilization was in decline, and so they abandoned their world seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here they thought they had finally found what they had been searching for.” – Dr. Schreber

Dark City wasn’t a very successful film, upon its release. However, it has gone on to have a large cult following and deservedly so.

It is directed by Alex Proyas, the man who gave cinematic life to 1994’s The Crow, which is still the best film in its franchise. With this film, he teamed up with David S. Goyer, who penned the scripts for The Crow‘s first sequel, as well as Blade, which wasn’t yet made by the time that Proyas read it and decided to bring Goyer on to help write this project. It was a pretty good marriage, as Dark City is an incredible experience, overall.

This is a sci-fi neo-noir in a similar vein to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil but it is almost dark enough to be a horror picture. Plus, it has some pretty cool monsters in the alien race that serves as this villains of this story, the “Strangers”.

Dariusz Wolski handled the cinematography. He also worked on The Crow with Proyas and also had Romeo Is BleedingCrimson Tide and The Fan under his belt. His visual style was pretty consistent with what he did in The Crow but it was even darker and had a vivid richness with his use of neon and colorful lighting to accent the scenes.

The story follows a man (Rufus Sewell) who wakes up, not knowing who he is. We soon discover that he is wanted for the murders of several prostitutes in the city. Nothing is what it seems though, as the man has run-ins with the “Strangers” and discovers that he essentially has superpowers. He is assisted in solving his own mystery by his wife (Jennifer Connelly), a detective (William Hurt) and a strange scientist (Kiefer Sutherland). There is a big conspiracy that drives the film and it is uncovering the mysteries of the strange city they live in that leads to a fantastic narrative payoff and a great finale.

Dark City is visually stunning and impressive from a technical standpoint. It didn’t have a hefty budget but the effects of a moving city, more than a decade before Christopher Nolan did it in Inception, are well orchestrated and executed. All the other visual effects may look a bit dated now but they still work well within the context of the film. It’s a strange universe where Dark City takes us but it looks magnificent and has held up pretty well.

This is one of my favorite films of the late 1990s. It is effective emotionally and it sticks with you. In fact, it has stuck with me in a way that I’ve always hoped for a sequel, even if it’s a literary one. Proyas created an interesting world that needs further exploration. I’m surprised it hasn’t been revisited, actually.

I love Dark City. It’s dark, it’s bizarre, it’s unique and it’s my cup of tea. Plus, it is a real throwback to film-noir even if it is set in a futuristic sci-fi universe: a place that is hard to explain without spoiling important plot details.

Film Review: Devil In a Blue Dress (1995)

Release Date: September 16th, 1995 (TIFF)
Directed by: Carl Franklin
Written by: Carl Franklin
Based on: Devil In a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Don Cheadle, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney

TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“It was summer 1948, and I needed money. After goin’ door-to-door all day long, I was back again at Joppy’s bar trying to figure out where I was gonna go looking for work the next day. The newspapers was goin’ on and on about the city elections – like they was really gonna change somebody’s life. But my life had already changed when I lost my job three weeks before. ” – Easy Rawlins

You know what is refreshing? Seeing a black lead in a film-noir picture, even if it happened half a century after the height of the style. But who was a better choice than Denzel Washington for this picture? He’s handsome, debonair, classy and has the gravitas and charisma that a film-noir lead needs to have. He’s so good in this, actually, that I would have loved to see this character return in a series of films.

Even though this came out in the 1990s, it does feel like authentic noir, more so than a lot of the neo-noirs of that era. Washington is perfect in this, as is his charismatic buddy, Don Cheadle. Tom Sizemore also pulls his weight and gave life to an interesting character that pulls Washington’s Easy Rawlins into this noir web. Then you also have Jennifer Beals, who immediately makes an impact in anything she is in due to her natural beauty and solid acting chops. I never felt like Beals got as many good roles as she probably deserved. Here, she feels like a true woman of film-noir.

In this film, we see Easy Rawlins take a job form the mysterious DeWitt Albright (Sizemore). He is hired to track down Daphne Monet (Beals) and it is said that Albright was looking for her on behalf of Todd Carter (Terry Kinney). Daphne is suspected of hiding out somewhere in the black community of Los Angeles. As the film rolls on, you discover that Carter did not ask this of Albright and that Albright is not who he seems. And this is when the real noir twists come in.

Devil In a Blue Dress is a jazzy and energetic film that doesn’t have a dull moment. This was a film that really felt tailor made for Washington. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hugely popular and that is kind of disappointing, because this film could have given birth to a cool trend of long overdue black film-noir. Sadly, black Americans were hugely underrepresented in classic noir, even though they had a large presence and cultural influence on urban America, where most noirs took place.

This is one of the best neo-noirs of the 1990s, hands down. While it isn’t quite on the level of The Two Jakes, a film I love but the critics, not so much, Devil In a Blue Dress feels right at home next to it.

This is one of my favorite Denzel Washington films and it also features one of my favorite Don Cheadle characters of all-time. What’s not to love?

TV Review: Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995, 1997-1999)

Also known as: The Adventures of Batman & Robin, The New Batman Adventures (relaunched direct sequel series)
Original Run: September 5th, 1992 – September 15th, 1995 (original series run), September 13th, 1997 – January 16th, 1999 (sequel series run)
Created by: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski
Directed by: Kevin Altieri, Kent Butterworth, Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Eric Radomski, Dan Riba, Dick Sebast, Bruce Timm
Written by: Laren Bright, Alan Burnett, Sean Catherine Derek, Paul Dini, Steve Perry, Michael Reaves, Randy Rogel, Brynne Stephens
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane
Music by: Danny Elfman (theme), various
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Loren Lester, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin

DC Comics, Warner Bros., Fox, 109 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014. Also covers the sequel series, which is more or less now considered the final season of the show.

I’ve been revisiting this series lately, as it has been a long time since I’ve watched it in its entirety. Also, I wanted to do a list for this site that counts down the top fifty episodes of the series. That post will come in the near future.

In my estimation, this is probably the greatest animated series of all-time. Many will argue against that but I can’t think of any other that was as entertaining, epic, stylish, consistent, engaging or that had the quality of this series. There were a few hiccups with episodes drawn by lesser quality animation studios but those houses were quickly let go, as the show’s producers felt a necessity to maintain the show’s otherwise impeccable quality.

Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski created a unique world for Batman to play in and Paul Dini (who later went on to write amazing Batman comics) created some amazing scripts. In fact, their legacy and the influence of this show will live on forever, as many of the characters and situations created for the show, went on to live in the comic books.

Without this show, we would not have Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya and the awesome origin of Mr. Freeze, which was so awesome that it propelled him to being the greatest villain in this series and lead to him being featured as the main protagonist in the second animated film based off of this series.

Batman: The Animated Series was also innovative in the way that they produced it visually. As opposed to the industry standard of designing large set pieces and landscapes by coloring in white paper, they instead used light colors painted over black backgrounds. It provided this show with a dark atmosphere but not in a dreary way; it was more of an inviting film-noir style with very complimentary and carefully chosen colors added in.

The voice actors in this series were top notch. Mark Hamill, who was typecast after playing the iconic Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, was given a second life when he was cast to voice the Joker. Kevin Conroy was equally as good as Batman. Both men actually continued to voice these characters for years after this show went off the air. In fact, both voiced these characters as recently as the Arkham video game series and some of the animated movies.

For an American produced animated series, this show is about as perfect as you can get. There are very few shows that can maintain a level of quality this high for over 100 episodes.

Film Review: The Two Jakes (1990)

Release Date: August 10th, 1990
Directed by: Jack Nicholson
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Van Dyke Parks
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Eli Wallach, Rubén Blades, Frederic Forrest, David Keith, James Hong, Faye Dunaway (voice)

88 Productions, Paramount Pictures, 138 Minutes

Review:

“I’m used to seein’ the intimate details of people’s lives, but lookin’ at a guy’s x-rays is as intimate as it gets. It’s the kind of thing most guys don’t even tell their wives about.” – Jake Gittes

I have never seen The Two Jakes until recently. I feel like I was psychologically deterred for decades because I remember people bashing it ever since it came out. It is this film’s existence that pointed me towards Chinatown, the film it is a sequel too. Sure, I would’ve eventually discovered Chinatown but I saw trailers for The Two Jakes on the big screen when I was just eleven years-old, so I wasn’t quite up on my knowledge of neo-noir or 1970s crime dramas. I was big on Jack Nicholson, however, as he wowed me a year earlier as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman.

The Two Jakes has been treated unfairly, though. Is it as stellar as Chinatown? Not really but those are massive shoes to fill. However, it is one of the best, if not… the best, neo-noir film of the 1990s. Jack Nicholson directed this sequel and while he isn’t Roman Polanski behind the camera, he still had a great eye and knew what the hell he was doing, putting this second chapter of Jake Gittes life to celluloid.

The cast in this film really makes this thing work. I loved seeing Nicholson play opposite of greats like Harvey Keitel and Eli Wallach. It was cool seeing James Hong come back too. While Faye Dunaway was obviously missing from the film, despite lending her voice to a scene, Madeleine Stowe and Meg Tilly were really good as the two top ladies in the picture. Stowe was a hot drunken maniac in the best way and Tilly was a soft yet strong women with a good presence. David Keith, a guy I have always liked, shows up a few times and gets a real moment to shine alongside Nicholson and Wallach. Rubén Blades steals the show in his scenes and after really loving that guy on Fear the Walking Dead, it was neat seeing him so young, full of vigor and not so dissimilar from his character on that AMC zombie show.

Vilmos Zsigmond handled the cinematography. He was not the cinematographer on the original Chinatown but he had a lot of experience, his most notable credit at the time being Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His management of the film’s visual allure is worth some serious props, as he and Nicholson created a very authentic and lived in 1940s Los Angeles.

I feel that this film actually does rival its predecessor in its cinematography and overall ambiance. The tone isn’t as brooding and sinister as Chinatown but that’s film’s narrative went to some places that brought out that underlying darkness. The Two Jakes isn’t a cold and bleak tale wrapped in beauty and opulence like Chinatown was, but it is a perfect visual and narrative extension of what was established in the first film without copying it. I kind of respect The Two Jakes for being its own thing and not trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice… or at least, in the same way.

Robert Towne, who wrote both of these Jake Gittes pictures and won an Academy Award for Chinatown, had plans for a trilogy. Unfortunately, this film was not the success that Paramount Pictures had hoped for. The third film was cancelled, which is a shame. It was going to bring the story of Jake Gittes to a proper close, as it was to be focused on him later in life.

If you love Chinatown and have never seen The Two Jakes, you probably should. It isn’t as bad as some people have said and its lack of success upon its release was probably more of a reflection of the time and not the overall quality of the film itself.

Film Review: Sleepwalkers (1992)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers
Release Date: April 10th, 1992
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Stephen King
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick, Alice Krige, Ron Perlman, Glenn Shadix, Stephen King, John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, Mark Hamill

Columbia Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Stop looking at me! Stop looking at me you fucking cat!” – Charles Brady

I didn’t like this film when it came out way back in 1992. I was in middle school, at the time, and all the kids were obsessed with Stephen King. While I love many of the film adaptations of his work and did enjoy a couple of his stories, Sleepwalkers was not among King’s work that I found worthwhile. I did see it in the theater, after having my arm pulled by several friends and because I was crushing hard on Mädchen Amick back then, thanks to her character on Twin Peaks.

Seeing it all these years later was not a better experience. It didn’t age well, there wasn’t some sort of endearing or charming quality to the film and frankly, it was hard to sit through.

The special effects are pretty crappy. the transformation animations when the werecat characters’ faces shift is quick and fluid but just looks insanely hokey and bizarre. It is on par with something you would see in a music video from the same era. And while I’m aware that this movie had a modest budget, other similar horror films with modest budgets were doing better effects a dozen years earlier. Look at An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, for instance. Hell, look at the amazing effects in Fright Night, which came out in 1985, seven years before this.

The film also suffers from being completely bogged down by awful 1990s cliches. The fashion, the music, the overall style… it all just reeks of the worst things that decade had to offer. Sleepwalkers is teen horror at its worst and the 90s panache really just shovels a few extra pounds of shit into this gaping hole of a movie.

The creature effects, once the monsters appeared in their final form were okay. The werecat vampire monsters looked fairly cool but it wasn’t anything that could save the picture.

At least the film had cameos from several horror directors and also had small roles for Ron Perlman, Mark Hamill and Glenn Shadix.

So does Sleepwalkers deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? To quote the legendary professional wrestling manager Paul Bearer, “Ohhhhhhhh, yessssssss!” So the results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Film Review: Castle Freak (1995)

Also known as: Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak
Release Date: November 14th, 1995
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon
Based on: The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide, Jonathan Fuller

Full Moon Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t kill her, I fucked her, Okay?” – John Reilly

Anything that brings the Re-Animator team back together, usually ends with pretty good results. This is the one and only time that it didn’t. I loved the three Re-Animator films and From Beyond but this was pretty friggin’ awful.

Even the acting of Jeffrey Combs, who I usually love in everything, was just off the mark and a bit over the top. Barbara Crampton was fairly decent but not as good as she was in those other films. Jessica Dollarhide, who was only in this movie and had a few TV credits, was actually the high point on the acting side.

The plot, like the other films featuring this director and his cast, was taken from an H.P. Lovecraft story. The film is missing that insane otherworldly feel of the other films though. This is also missing the comedy. Essentially, what we have here is a serious attempt at creating a horror film from a crew that were maestros of really dark comedy movies. It just didn’t work on any level.

The score was exceptionally bad, which was surprising since the man behind the music, Richard Band, worked with this troupe before with fantastic results.

I’m not sure what was wrong with this movie. It was the one time that these people didn’t create magic. It is just so out of tune with their other work that it’s baffling. Maybe it has to do with Full Moon putting out the film, as they’ve made mostly schlock for decades.

Castle Freak unlike this group’s other films, is completely forgettable.

The makeup was decent though.

Film Review: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Release Date: August 5th, 1998
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Mom, I am not responsible for you. That’s it, I’ve had enough. I can’t take it anymore mom. He’s dead. Michael Myers is dead.” – John

When this film came out, I didn’t even want to see it. It looked awful, I assumed it was awful and when I did see it on video, a year later, I was left unimpressed. However, my tune has changed somewhat, seeing it almost twenty years later.

It isn’t wholly awful and in fact, it has some pretty strong positives.

On the negative end of the spectrum, the opening segment is decent but then the film drags and drags until you finally get to see Michael Myers hunt down his sister. You don’t really get some good Myers action until the last twenty minutes or so of the picture.

Then there is the issues with the Myers action itself. That issue being that half the killing, if not most of it, happens off screen. The majority of the film shows people getting cornered and then it cuts away. A few minutes later, someone stumbles across their dead friend. I assumed this had to be rated PG-13 but nope, it has an R rating but apparently no balls. Strangely, even though it cuts away from real violence and gore, the film is capped off with a decapitation that is actually shown. The way violence is handled in this movie is really friggin’ baffling.

Also, there are just so many bullshit jump scares that it was more irritating than surprising.

The cast in this is also pretty weak. There are really well-known stars in the film but this was before most of them broke out. Michelle Williams would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards and receive lots of other awards nominations but in this, she’s just teenie bopper eye candy. LL Cool J didn’t seem to have much to do and Josh Hartnett didn’t serve much of a purpose other than being the son of Laurie Strode (Curtis) and giving her a reason to finally hunt down Michael Myers herself.

But lets get to the positives.

Jamie Lee Curtis kills it in this. This is her best outing as Laurie Strode and twenty years later, she finally gets that Ellen Ripley moment, where she has had enough, grabs a weapon and hunts the hunter trying to kill her and her child. The final showdown between her and Myers is absolutely fantastic and it is the best final battle out of any Halloween film. She truly was Michael’s match in this and it was damn cool to see. It actually makes up for the boredom I felt for the first two-thirds of the picture.

Also, we get a nice cameo from Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis’ real life mother. She’s even got a car like the one from Psycho.

Halloween H20 may have an incredibly stupid name and fall victim to being a standard 1990s slasher, lacking the gravitas of the films from the previous two decades, but that final act is stellar. The moment where Laurie and Michael come face-to-face for the first time in twenty years is actually chilling. I wish they wouldn’t have wasted that shot by putting it in the trailer.

So I no longer have a severe dislike of this film, I actually like it a lot. Especially the final moment between Laurie and her murderous brother.