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: Hercules Unchained (1959)

Also known as: Hercules and the Queen of Lydia (English literal title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci
Based on: Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Primo Carnera, Sylvia Lopez

Lux Film, Galatea Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

“I’m so sleepy, I can’t seem to keep awake!” – Hercules

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always loved to showcase old sword and sandal movies of the worst quality. Actually, nearly everything in the genre is of poor quality. However, you knew you were getting into something special when one of MST3K‘s sword and sandal selections was a Hercules movie. Okay, maybe not special… more like, slightly better but still not good.

At least this one stars Steve Reeves, the true Hercules of his era and the only one that really mattered in that iconic role.

While this isn’t as good as the first Reeves’ Hercules, it is better than nearly everything that came after it. Still, it’s a fairly crappy motion picture that doesn’t do much to capture the imagination and makes one wonder why these style of movies were so popular. I mean, at least in the ’80s there was ConanRed Sonja and my personal favorite, Beastmaster. But those were actually sword and sorcery movies and not sword and sandal ones. I guess sorcery pairs better with sandals on the big screen. I certainly enjoyed James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom, as a villain, much more than the many harlots and weirdos that Hercules got tangled up with.

This film is pretty boring overall. It’s less interesting than the zanier stuff like Hercules Against the Moon Men and it doesn’t have a cool Hydra like The Loves of Hercules. It may be a hair better than both of those due to Reeves giving the film some legitimacy but to be honest, these films all sort of blend together in my mind as a big stew of sand where Steve Reeves’ face occasionally pops up.

Hercules Unchained isn’t a painful experience, it is just a really dull one.

And it is also shitty enough that I must run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.” That’s a bit harsher than I thought but the machine never lies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Steve Reeves’ first Hercules movie.

Film Review: The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

Also known as: I Am an Eyewitness (Japanese English title)
Release Date: February 12th, 1971 (Milan premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bryan Edgar Wallace, Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, Luigi Collo
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak

Mondial Te.Fi., Seda Spettacoli S.p.A., Labrador Films, Terra-Filmkunst GmbH, Constantin Film Verleih GmbH, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing’s easy for me. I can’t even knock over a chair without getting caught.” – Gigi, the Loser

I love giallo movies and I have been a fan of Dario Argento since I first experienced Suspiria pretty early in life. For some bizarre reason, I have never seen The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It is part of Argento’s Animal Trilogy, which are three films released consecutively but are unrelated, other than being directed by Argento, having an animal name in their titles and having similar themes from a narrative and stylistic standpoint.

To be brutally honest, while I enjoy the film, overall, this was the slowest old school Argento movie that I have seen. There were aspects of the film that were interesting but it was a boring experience overall.

This has the same visual flair that Argento gave us in The Bird with Crystal Plumage but it seemed to be shot more straightforward and lacked the cinematography and lighting flourishes he employed so well in his previous movie. Where most Argento movies, especially the ones of the ’70s and ’80s, felt so majestic, this one feels very pedestrian for a giallo. Luckily, Argento would embrace his patented stylistic flourishes and give us some vivid nightmares after this picture.

The story is about a middle-aged blind man who helps a newspaper reporter try to solve a series of murders. The murders are connected to a pharmaceutical company’s secret research. The two men then become targets of the killer and must try to outwit the murderer while trying to find out the truth behind it all.

The narrative really is a solid murder mystery that almost has film-noir elements to it. There are those patented noir twists, turns and curveballs that keep you guessing. In some regard, it is an example of a relation between some giallo films and the American and British noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s. I’ve often called giallo a bridge between noir and slasher flicks and this is an example of how I came to that theory.

This isn’t one of Argento’s best and he even said that it was his least favorite film that he directed. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile, especially to fans of his work that want to see how he evolved from his earliest films to his more famous movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other two films in Argento’s Animal TrilogyThe Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies On Grey Velvet.

Film Review: Paris, Texas (1984)

Also known as: Motel Chronicles (working title)
Release Date: May 19th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: L. M. Kit Carson, Sam Shepard
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell, Aurore Clement, Hunter Carson

Road Movies, Filmproduktion GmbH, Argos Films S.A., 20th Century Fox, 147 Minutes

Review:

“I wanted to see him so bad that I didn’t even dare imagine him anymore.” – Jane Henderson

I haven’t seen much of Wim Wenders work but going into this, I had his film The American Friend on my mind, being that I had just revisited it the night before. This was also partially penned by Sam Shepard and stars underappreciated character actors Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell, as well as Klaus Kinski’s daughter, the very talented and beautiful Nastassja Kinski.

At its core, this is a story about redemption and about owning your problems and doing what needs to be done to set things straight. This film is dark yet it is very sweet. It deals with some serious issues from the characters’ pasts but pulls itself out of that muck, throws itself forward, pulls you through a lot of emotion and sadness but ultimately arrives at a satisfying and mostly happy ending.

This is an extraordinary and uncommon film. It almost works as a romance story in reverse. In fact, I guess this could be called an anti-romance. It shows you that even if two people really love each other but the damage is irreparable, they can still come together, non-romantically, to do what’s right for all parties involved.

As great as the legendary Harry Dean Stanton was, I don’t know if he ever put in a better performance than he did here. He was perfection, a real actor of the highest caliber and most of the time he didn’t have to say anything, his emotion and his words were conveyed on his face. In fact, he spends the first third of the movie completely mute. When he finally does start talking, it’s soft and very short. But once we get to the big scene where he has to finally open up and right his wrongs, he does so in such a genuine and beautiful way that you are drawn into his words and transported into his memories. Stanton’s performance in this movie is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen, period.

I also have to mention Nastassja Kinski’s performance, as she played opposite of Stanton in the film’s most pivotal moment. She held her own and helped to enhance Stanton’s performance by her reaction to his words and her response.

Dean Stockwell did a fine job in the first two-thirds of the film as Stanton’s brother but more in the role of being the eyes and ears of the audience, as he didn’t understand what the heck was going on with his brother and he wanted answers to the mystery of his brother’s four-year disappearance.

The look of this film is incredible and it boasts the cinematography of Wenders’ regular cinematographer, Robby Müller. The films uses that bright, electric, neon green that Müller is synonymous for, especially when used in contrast to dark backgrounds with accents of red and sometimes other colors subtly dropped in. The look here is very similar to Wender’s and Müller’s The American Friend, as well as another 1984 film Müller worked on, which also starred Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man.

Paris, Texas is a really emotional film and I don’t know how anyone could watch it and leave the experience untouched. Very few films have the ability to actually touch the soul and transform the viewer or to give them at least a new perspective on things. This film, at least for me, opened my eyes to some things and really sort of changed how I have viewed some of my own life experiences. Wenders, through the profound performance of Stanton, was able to create something here that speaks directly to the human core. It’s soothing in it’s sadness and it’s loving finale. And ultimately, it drums up hope where there isn’t any.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Wim Wenders’ The American Friend for their visual similarities. I also like watching this with Repo Man, as they share their star and cinematographer. Plus, 1984 was just Harry Dean Stanton’s year.

Film Review: The Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

Also known as: Il castello dei morti vivi (original Italian title), Crypt of Horror (alternate)
Release Date: August 5th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Warren Kiefer
Written by: Warren Kiefer
Music by: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Cast: Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy, Donald Sutherland

Serena Film, Filmsonor, Cineriz, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’ll watch anything with Christopher Lee in it. And even though he’s been in some dreadful pictures out of the 280 credits he has on IMDb, he is always a bright spot in them. This isn’t one of those dreadful pictures but it’s also not very good. It’s in a weird limbo.

The Castle of the Living Dead is also the first film with Donald Sutherland in it. He started his career playing triple duty, as he has three different roles in this. Maybe the studio could only afford five actors but they needed seven characters.

If the plot is anything, it is bizarre.

We have a group of carnival folk who arrive at Count Drago’s (Lee) castle to entertain him. What the carnies don’t know, is that he is a mad scientist that mummifies humans and animals with some mysterious liquid. The token carnival midget figures out something is shady and he tries to be the hero. Apart from a scene where the midget literally gets thrown off of a castle turret by a zombie, he does save the day in the end.

This was a film where the production was pretty much a clusterfuck. Directors changed, staff changed and it isn’t really known who should get credit for what. It’s possible that Mario Bava worked on some of the film’s special effects. However, things here certainly feel beneath Bava’s level of talent.

This is a dirty looking film with bad sound and a disorienting presentation. Scenes that I assume are supposed to be at night, are shot in daylight with a lot of shadows added in but the contrast between the darkness and obvious sunlight is strange.

The Castle of the Living Dead is only really worth checking out if you love Lee, Sutherland or gratuitous dwarf abuse. Even at ninety minutes, it is too long for a picture of its style and quality from its era.

 

Film Review: Le Samouraï (1967)

Also known as: The Samurai (worldwide English title), The Godson (US dubbed version and Australia)
Release Date: October 25th, 1967 (France)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by: Jean-Pierre Melville, Georges Pellegrin
Music by: François de Roubaix
Cast: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier

S.N. Prodis, 105 Minutes

kinopoisk.ru

Review:

“I don’t like forcing the pace to extract confessions or get information. I’m very liberal, a great believer in the liberty of the individual… in people’s right to live as they choose. Provided that the way of life they choose harms no one else… and is contrary to neither law and order nor public decency.” – Superintendent

What happens when the French and the Italians get together, take a bit of American film-noir and a bit of Japanese jidaigeki and meld them together into one solid thing? Well, you get this incredible film that gives us a character that is part noir-esque hitman and part drifter samurai.

To call Le Samouraï “unique” is a bit of an understatement.

The film starts by following Jef Costello (Alain Delon) into a jazz lounge. He murders a man there and is seen by a few witnesses, as he makes his escape. Suspects are rounded up by the police, Jef being one of them. The lounge’s resident piano player recognizes Jef but she doesn’t dime him out to the police. Jef then goes to get paid for the hit but he is double crossed and shot by his contact. Jef escapes but now he must uncover who it is that hired him and why his contact shot him, all while evading the Parisian police that are closing in on him and his girlfriend/alibi, Jane.

While this entire film is enhanced by rich and astounding cinematography, the film truly comes alive during the cat and mouse chase scene between Jef and undercover cops through the Paris Metro system. This is a superb sequence and one of the best cat and mouse games ever played out on celluloid. Jef is aware of his surroundings and the game being played and outwits and stays ahead of the law trying to get their hands on him.

This film has style and it has a great tone to match. The characters are cool, the places are cool and the film, itself, is really friggin’ cool. I put this up there with Tokyo Drifter as one of the coolest motion pictures I have ever seen. Strangely, they both came out around the same time, are both foreign films (from different countries) and both have a lot of narrative and atmospheric similarities. In fact, I’m going to have to watch these two movies as a double header one night.

Alain Delon is an attractive man but he plays the role cold and with a dead pan look on his face in every scene. He is too cool for emotion and he doesn’t need his looks and a sexy smile to generate charm and charisma. While he has a few women in his life, over the course of the film, like the jidaigeki samurai hero of Kurosawa films, he is a man of his own and drifts in and out, never getting too attached. However, in contrast to the cinematic samurai, Jef does succumb to his affections in the final moments of the film. But who can fault the French? They really are romantics.

Le Samouraï is damn close to being a masterpiece. It is fine in every aspect of filmmaking and is a great homage to its influences. While it taps into film-noir and jidaigeki, it also taps into a giallo style, which the Italians were yet to fully unleash on the world.

Film Review: The Black Dahlia (2006)

Release Date: August 9th, 2006 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Josh Friedman
Based on: The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Fischler, Rose McGowan, Troy Evans, Pepe Serna

Davis Films, Millennium Films, Nu Image, Signature Pictures, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“She looks like that dead girl! How sick are you?” – Kay Lake

For a modern noir picture with a cast this star studded, The Black Dahlia was a real disappointment. It had some positives but it mostly falls flat and is an example of style over substance.

This is not a good example of the work Brian De Palma can do. He is one of the best directors of his generation but this really misses its mark, which is unfortunate, as the subject matter is great and the talent he was able to get in this picture was impressive.

Josh Hartnett is the main star of the picture but his role feels pretty weak. I don’t feel like it is Hartnett’s fault, I feel like it is the direction of De Palma and the emotionless script. However, Hillary Swank, who is more talented than this film is able to show, is kind of just in this movie. It doesn’t really matter that it is her.

Although, everyone else does seem to work with the material. I thought that Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johansson were really good in their scenes and Patrick Fischler, a guy who is in everything but doesn’t get the notoriety he should, knocked his scenes out of the park. You also get to see Mike Starr and Troy Evans, two guys who do a lot of cop type roles but always bring their best to the table.

The real scene stealer however, is Mia Kirshner, an actress I’ve been mesmerized by since first seeing her in The Crow: City of Angels, a film where she was the only positive other than the murderous psycho biker played by Iggy Pop. Kirshner truly owns her role in this picture and it may have been the best she’s ever been. She’s really the only character in the film that you feel any emotion for. Honestly, it’s been eleven years since this came out and she should have gotten more prestigious roles but maybe her work was overshadowed by this being such a lackluster film.

Now, despite the overall film falling short, the visuals are top notch. The cinematography is unquestionably superb. Everything within the film feels true and authentic, even the bizarre K.D. Lang performance that pops up in the middle of the movie.

The narrative and the big reveal at the end were all pretty poorly strung together, though. It just made the film too bizarre and frankly, pretty fucking stupid and just really annoying after sitting through this two hour mess.

Typically, I like the work of Brian De Palma. This one just misses its mark.