TV Review: Blackadder (1983-1989)

Also known as: The Black Adder (Series 1), Blackadder II (Series 2), Blackadder the Third (Series 3), Blackadder Goes Forth (Series 4)
Original Run: June 15th, 1983 – November, 1989
Directed by: various
Written by: Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson, Ben Elton
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rik Mayall (cameos)

2entertain, BBC, 24 Episodes (plus 3 specials), 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Rowan Atkinson is pretty much a comedic genius. Add in Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Richardson, Brian Best and a bit of Rik Mayall and you’ve got a dream team of British comedic talent.

This is one of the best sitcoms ever produced. It is also quite unique in that each series was different and completely new. Series 1 took place in the British Middle Ages, Series 2 was set during the reign of Elizabeth I, Series 3 takes place during the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, while Series 4 takes place on the Western Front during World War I. The one thing connecting all the shows is Rowan Atkinson’s character Edmund Blackadder or just “The Blackadder”, who is a different character each series, although each incarnation is a part of the same lineage. Many of the characters on the show are also different people within their own long lineages.

Out of the series, I really enjoy the fourth series the best. All of them are good but for some reason, in the fourth, they really hit their stride and knocked it out of the park in each episode. Going backwards, I also loved series 3, as it brought Hugh Laurie in full-time and gave the show a new and permanent dynamic that really upped the ante. Series 2 is my least favorite overall but it is still a level above the majority of televisions shows from that same era. The first series is pretty fantastic too and as good as Atkinson is in it, Brian Blessed really brings something exceptional to the show.

To this day, the show still feels timeless, is pretty damned hilarious and never really seems to get old. Maybe the the fact that each series is its own period piece, helps this show have that timeless vibe. I probably watch through each series almost annually. I feel like Atkinson’s Mr. Bean has become a more popular character, at least in the United States, but his greatest work comes here, as Edmund Blackadder.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: A Bit of Fry & Laurie and The New Statesman.

Film Review: Hard Rain (1998)

Also known as: The Flood (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1998
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Graham Yost
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Richard Dysart, Betty White, Ricky Harris

UGC-PH, Tele-Munchen, BBC, Nordisk Film, Marubeni, Toho, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Look! We just want the money! You guys can walk away, we won’t kill you!” – Jim

This film has more studios, distributors and countries involved in its creation than I have ever seen. Okay, maybe not ever but there is a whole shit ton of people behind this little action movie.

It also has a pretty big cast for a movie about a town vacated due to massive flooding. But the big cast of characters was actually a benefit as this movie has so many twists, turns and character morality shifts that at its core, this is very much film-noir.

Christian Slater plays an armored truck guard. He and his older mentor, played by Edward Asner, get stuck in the flood waters as they are transporting three million dollars from the small town’s bank to safety. They are quickly overcome by a group of thieves, led by Morgan Freeman. Asner’s character is killed in the initial confrontation but Slater escapes and hides the money away in a tomb. As the water rises further, Slater is on the run from Freeman’s gang, who have acquired boats and jet skis to more easily navigate the flooded city streets.

The town is also protected by a three man police force led by Randy Quaid. They seem like a heroic lot but as the film progresses and greed takes over the hearts of nearly everyone in the film, we see the worst come out in those tasked with keeping the peace.

Minnie Driver is thrown into the film because you need eye candy and someone for the hero to try and hook up with. You also have an elderly couple who stayed behind, played by the great Betty White and Richard Dysart. There is also the town’s dam operator, played by Wayne Duvall.

Hard Rain is a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it isn’t a good movie but it is great, mindless fun for ninety minutes. The action is good, there are a lot of layers to the story and there really isn’t a dull moment. I can’t say that the script is good either but at least the plot moves swiftly, offers up some decent surprises and is interesting enough to keep one engaged.

The highlight of the film is the three male leads, all of whom played their parts well and seemed to be having fun with the material.

This is a quintessential ’90s mid-budget action picture. It doesn’t try to do too much and stays pretty grounded in reality. The premise made for an ambitious picture, especially in regards to how much water was needed to create the scenes, but it never felt over the top or ridiculous. The shootout inside the church is marvelously executed and still looks good today.

This is just a fun movie with a good cast that I have to revisit once in awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Broken Arrow, another Christian Slater action film from the same era.

Film Review: Razorback (1984)

Also known as: Razorback: Destructor (Argentina)
Release Date: April 19th, 1984 (Australia)
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Everett De Roche
Based on: Razorback by Peter Brennan
Music by: Iva Davies
Cast: Gregory Harrison

Greater Union Film Distributors, Warner Bros., Umbrella Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“There’s something about blasting the shit out of a razorback that brightens up my whole day.” – Jake Cullen

Razorback is like the Australian Jaws. Well, it is nowhere near as good as Jaws and it also takes place on land but there is just something frightening about a giant human eating boar. Plus, the Australian Outback is pretty intimidating on its own without having to worry about a killer pig the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

The film has a bit of an original Mad Max vibe to it but that’s more about the atmosphere and geography than anything else. It’s dusty, barren and has some shady Outback Australians running around doing shady stuff.

Razorback also has a bit of an artistic element when the hero is walking back to civilization through the desert and starts hallucinating. This is the coolest sequence in the entire film and it feels like a nod to Salvador Dalí, in its surrealist and bizarre style where vivid colors and strange animals take over the desert landscape.

The rest of the film is interesting enough to keep you engaged but it is still fairly slow at points. I liked the good guy characters and didn’t want to see harm come to them, so that’s a bonus for this being a horror movie where people would typically just be fresh meat for the monster.

The monster itself is mostly in the shadows. They don’t reveal the beast a lot, similar to what they did in the original Jaws, as it keeps things more suspenseful, makes you use your imagination and most importantly, hides the aesthetic imperfections of the creature’s model. The scenes where you do see the big ass boar are pretty well crafted. The editing isn’t superb but he does look terrifying when cut into the action.

Speaking of the editing, in general it is pretty shoddy. It’s not so bad that it takes you out of the picture but it is noticeable at times. I think with some shots and cuts they were trying to make this more artistic and creative but usually it missed the mark.

Razorback is a decent film with some primal scares but it’s mostly forgettable in the massive ocean that is natural horror featuring killer animals. Not to say that it isn’t unique, it is. It just doesn’t offer up anything all that captivating that would want to make you go back and watch this a second time.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Long Weekend and Road Games.

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: The Loved Ones (2009)

Release Date: Septmeber 23th, 2009 (TIFF)
Directed by: Sean Byrne
Written by: Sean Byrne
Music by: Ollie Olsen
Cast: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee

Screen Australia, Madman Entertainment, Mars Distribution, Optimum Releasing, Paramount Pictures, Insurge Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna go to your house now and stab your mummy just like you did my Daddy. Then I’m gonna go find Holly and stab her in the heart just like you did to me.” – Lola

I mostly wanted to check out The Loved Ones because I really liked Robin McLeavy in Hell On Wheels. She’s a damn good actress that I feel should be getting a lot more work now that she isn’t tied up in that fantastic show. Also, I’ve always loved Australian movies and I am a fan of horror, in general. Plus, people have talked this film up quite a bit since it came out.

When I first saw the trailer for this a few years back, I wanted to see it. Unfortunately, it did not show up in my town and then it got lost in the shuffle of the million other movies that came and went. I always have a lot that I want to see on my list and if I am not vigilant enough, the tide of new stuff washes away the old. Luckily, I saw a post about this on a blog and made it a point to watch it that day.

While I’m glad that I have now seen the movie, I wouldn’t consider it anything exceptional. Enjoyable, sure… but not exceptional.

The trailer really gives too much away and while there are a few extra layers of madness thrown into the narrative towards the end, this is pretty predictable and doesn’t really do anything to set it apart from other psycho killer family hostage torture movies. Maybe I’ll just start referring to this sub-genre as PKFHT.

In the story, we see a girl named Lola ask a boy named Brent to the school dance. Brent declines, as he has a girlfriend and is going with her. Brent is then abducted and wakes up tied to a chair at a dinner table with the girl, her father and her father’s lobotomized love interest referred to as “Bright Eyes”. The rest of the film features torture, power drill lobotomies, some moderate gore, a lot of hints at incest and a creepy surprise in the hidden cellar. I’d prefer not to give away too much, as the trailer does just that.

The Loved Ones is only 84 minutes, which is short but you really don’t need more time than that. In fact, it could have been even shorter and still have been effective. There’s a whole side story about Brent’s friend and the girl he takes to the dance, which is mostly unnecessary other than to show she is emotionally broken due to her brother being one of Lola’s victims. Without this side story, you could cut a third off of the film.

The acting is solid, especially from McLeavy and Xavier Samuel and it really is up to them to carry the picture. Despite their best and great efforts, there just isn’t much here that you haven’t seen before. I was sort of expecting some big twist or surprise, considering that the trailer mapped out the entire plot and because the Australians typically surprise me.

The Loved Ones is a better than decent horror flick but it doesn’t deliver anything new or fresh. Although, it is worth your time if you like these sort of pictures.

Film Review: The Babadook (2014)

Release Date: January 17th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Based on: Monster by Jennifer Kent
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Ben Winspear

Causeway Films, Entertainment One, IFC Films, Icon Productions, 94 Minutes

the-babadookReview:

When you live in a world where horror films are designed for preteens and there is a complete void of originality left in the genre, it is always nice to find a diamond in the rough. The Babadook isn’t a perfect diamond but it is certainly a nice shiny jewel in a mountain of coal.

The film follows a single mother still grieving over her husband, who was killed the same night her son was born. The son is very troubled and fearful of monsters. He is shown early on to be a bit of a terror but you can only assume he has some sort of mental illness. While it is hard to watch him at his worst, you can’t help but sympathize and feel for him and his mother. She has to deal with the world that is pushing them away and a family that despises her child.

We are then introduced to a scary children’s book about a boogeyman called the Babadook. Upon reading the book, everything for this mother and son duo gets much worse. The boy constantly sees the Babadook while everyone else thinks he is slipping into insanity. The boy warns his mother that she will die and she begins to fall into madness due to still grieving, her son getting worse and a severe lack of sleep because of the boy’s night terrors.

Eventually, the monster gets more active and starts truly terrorizing the mother and son. This film barely shows the monster however and relies more on suspense and letting the viewer’s imagination run wild. This method allows this film to play like old classic horror gems such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and those Vincent Price Edgar Allan Poe films of the 60s.

This is not a movie about gore, jump scares and shoving a monster down your throat. The film is primal, it is unsettling and uncomfortable and it slowly builds up to where you genuinely feel terrified when the monster does physically manifest.

The Babdook is great storytelling, incredibly suspenseful and it provides the kind of scares that are incredibly rare in today’s films.

I don’t think this has a lot of replay value but it doesn’t need to. It packs an emotional punch and the true tenderness of the two characters relationship, despite the madness that develops, is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The bond between the elderly neighbor and this family, when everyone else has written them off, is also beautiful. In the end, it is a film about loss, grieving, coming to grips with reality and most importantly, love.

The film is truly effective. It isn’t often that I feel a bit apprehensive about turning the light off at night after a horror movie.

It isn’t a picture that should appeal to modern horror audiences. It is a throwback, for sure. But maybe this is the start of a new trend and we are finally getting to a much needed horror renaissance.

Documentary Review: Electric Boogaloo – The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Release Date: August 2nd, 2014 (Melbourne International Film Festival)
Directed by: Mark Hartley
Music by: Jamie Blanks

Film Victoria, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Screen Australia, Screen Queensland, Umbrella Entertainment, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

electric-boogaloo-cannonReview:

Growing up in the 1980s and into the 1990s, I was treated to some really awesome things in pop culture. The films of those times were fantastic. Sure, I was really impressionable at that age but trips to the video store were almost as great as trips to Disney World.

Cannon Films was a small independent company that grew into one of the best studios of that era. They were low budget but they had an imagination and a gritty bad ass quality that big studios couldn’t match. Many of their films left a huge impression on me at the time and that impression was certainly long lasting.

Unfortunately, the company fell apart in the 90s. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t leave behind an astounding legacy that impacted the motion picture industry.

Electric Boogaloo – The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is one of the best film industry documentaries I have seen in quite some time. It is also a lot of fun and revisiting the Cannon catalog was pretty cool.

The film interviews many of the people who were involved in these movies and also showcases the films themselves. It runs through the company’s history and describes the creative process and how they worked around having little-to-no money. If you are a fan of Cannon Films work, this is a “must-see”. Hell, if you are a fan of film, this is a “must-see”.

Electric Boogaloo is a high energy and exciting documentary about an awesome time in film history. If anything, it made me appreciate their contribution to motion pictures even more than I already did.