Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror
It’s been nearly 10 years since the Halloween Returns To Haddonfield 25th anniversary convention celebrating the release of John Carpenter’s now legendary film took place in Pasadena, California, and I’m sure at the time the organizers couldn’t have possibly predicted that the event would be the impetus for the documentary Halloween: 25 Years Or Terror, nor that that documentary would kick start and pave the way for similar retrospective films on the making-of horror franchise classics. Feature length retrospective documentaries were not anything new at the time of Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror’s release. Filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau was already producing some of the best making-of docs for DVD and Laserdisc releases of famous titles such as Jaws and Psycho; but the Halloween doc was the first to offer a feature length retrospective packaged completely on its own as the disc’s main feature with hours of bonus materials for the die-hard Halloween fans to soak up afterwards. Because of its success, we got a string of other horror documentary releases such as His Name Was Jason, The Psycho Legacy, Never Sleep Again and even More Brains!, a documentary focusing primarily on the first Return Of The Living Dead film! But it’s fascinating to go back and revisit where this particular sub-genre all began, which was with Halloween: 25 Years Of Terror.
While the doc chronicles all the Halloween movies including its sequels in sequential order, it kicks off with the original and sets-up what was going on in the horror genre that led up to it; films like Night Of The Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and most importantly Black Christmas which paved the way for a film like Halloween to exist. A young filmmaker named John Carpenter was tapped by a pair of producers to direct a feature with the premise of “the Babysitter murders” and it was to be set on Halloween, a holiday that not only everyone could identify with since we all recognize it, but also one that hadn’t yet been fully exploited as the title of a movie. Paired with his writing and producing partner Debra Hill, Carpenter agreed to tackle the project as long as he had complete creative control and could have his name above the title. While Debra takes credit for writing the dialogue pertaining primarily to the teenage girls' conversations, she gives credit to John for creating Michael Myers and all the dialogue setting him up as evil incarnate. No one involved could’ve possibly predicted that Halloween would become the most successful and lucrative independent film ever made, maintaining that title for decades up until the release of The Blair Witch Project which came along and snatched the crown.
I have a confession to make. Spider-Man is the one movie I’ve seen in theaters more than any other in my life. I’m fairly certain that I caught it eight times in its original theatrical run and the first four times I saw it were all within the first 24 hours of its release. Before you declare me insane, let me explain.
Growing up, Spider-Man was my absolute favorite superhero. Never have I identified with a character as much as I did with Peter Parker; a shy, timid, smart, humble and good-hearted person who always seemed to get the short end of the stick. Then finally he’s granted this incredible power which he immediately takes for granted and that results in something terrible happening to someone near and dear to him. In other words, I learned a lot about morality and the differences between right and wrong from reading Spider-Man. All I ever wished for was a Spider-Man movie. Not surprising, there were in fact several previous attempts previous to bring Marvel’s most famous superhero to the silver screen. At one point, James Cameron, hot off of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Abyss, was on track to write and direct a Spider-Man movie, but with an inflating budget and a few radical changes to the source material, that version never materialized. Not too long before that, Canon Films was planning a film with Tobe Hooper at the helm (!), even going as far as creating a sales poster to help secure the financing. That version apparently would’ve sent the wallcrawler on a grand adventure in space, but alas, it never happened and that’s probably for the best.
The Running Man
It’s fairly fascinating to read the opening title crawl at the beginning of The Running Man and learn what the state of the world is like in the not-too-distant future. Here’s a portion of it: “By 2017 the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources, and oil are in short supply. A police state, divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand. Television is controlled by the state and a sadistic game show called The Running Man has become the most popular program in history. All art, music, and communications are censored.” Sheesh, for something that’s supposed to happen in about 5 years, it’s not too far off!
We are then introduced to the film’s star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who plays Ben Richards, a good police officer on a routine helicopter patrol hovering over the streets of Bakersfield where dozens of civilians are in search of food and shelter. He’s ordered by his superiors to open fire on the unarmed crowd and when he refuses, he’s knocked out by his crew and framed for the murder of hundreds of innocents and nicknamed by the press “the Butcher of Bakersfield.” 18 months have passed with Ben incarcerated and after meticulous planning, he teams up with two fellow inmates, Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) and Weiss (Marvin McIntyre), and makes a daring daylight jailbreak. Ben doesn’t seem to care about clearing his name or Weiss’s plans to meet up with the underground resistance, who plan to take control of the satellite feed that’s been broadcasting propaganda television for years to show the world the truth about what’s been going on with our government. Instead Ben just wants to hook up with his brother and escape out of the States.
Just to be up front and clear, the version of Green Lantern that I’m reviewing is the extended cut which is exclusive only to the Blu-ray release. The reason is that after seeing the theatrical cut, I feel that the extended cut is a more complete movie, both narratively and structurally, and probably far closer to the original vision and intent of director Martin Campbell than the one that played in theaters last summer which reeked of studio interference. That said, my initial reaction to that Green Lantern movie wasn’t predominantly positive.
I was never that big a fan of the character, although I was familiar enough with him considering his multiple appearances in the Justice League of America comics. I also felt that Ryan Reynolds (whom I like) wasn’t exactly the ideal actor I’d peg as his comic book counterpart Hal Jordon. Instead he seemed more in line to play the Wally West version of The Flash, something that was actually in the cards after Blade: Trinity when that film’s writer/director David S. Goyer was going to helm The Flash movie. It’s also a bit odd considering Reynolds is playing Deadpool over in the Marvel cinematic universe as seen in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine.Continue Reading
Growing up an avid comic book fan, I always fancied myself a Marvel kid over a DC kid. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the cinematic versions of both Superman and Batman, I loved those, but I often found myself relating more to the characters of the Marvel universe, in particular Spider-Man who was always my favorite superhero. Through Spidey, I of course discovered The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and the X-Men books to name a few, but I honestly never found myself into any of The Mighty Thor material. Sure, I read The Avengers and also dug when Thor would interact with the other superheroes of the Marvel Universe, but I never found myself a “fan” of the character or intrigued by his mythology, which in actuality is Norse. So with that in mind, when I watched the movie version of Thor, I had very little expectation or trepidation. I just wanted to enjoy it as a piece of straight-forward popcorn entertainment, and hope that it played to me the way it would to a general audience. Thankfully Marvel Studios managed to take a character that I’d never really been all that interested in and produce a thoroughly enjoyable action flick.
After a very brief introduction on Earth with Natalie Portman’s character Jane Foster, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and their assistant Darcy (Katt Dennings) first encountering Thor (a scene that will repeat itself later in the movie), we’re brought to Asgard, the home of Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins) and his people and given a short history of the great war between the Asgardians and the Jotuns aka the Frost Giants, a race of monster-like creatures determined to bring about a new ice age to the mortal world. Odin led the great battle which drove the Frost Giants back into their own world of Jotunheim with their great source of power taken by the Asgardians and brought back to Asgard, hence bringing about peace to the Nine Realms. Odin raised two boys, Thor and Loki, with the hope that one day one of them would ascend to the throne and take his place as the new king. Thor is the chosen one, but during his ceremony, a handful of Frost Giants manage to sneak into Asgard in an attempt to steal back their power source. Considering it an attack on their people, Thor rashly and arrogantly takes a small group of his finest and most trusted warriors to seek retribution on the Frost Giants' home.Continue Reading
Imagine this daunting task—you’re a young on-the-rise Australian filmmaker & devoted Hitchcock protégé with a handful of successful low-budget thrillers under your belt and you’re eagerly waiting a big break in Hollywood. You’re paired up with an actor-turned-screenwriter who only had a few modestly successful horror films on his resume. And then you’re asked to make a sequel to one of the most influential films of all time from a director you spent your entire life idolizing. That’s the position Richard Franklin was put in when he was asked to helm Psycho II for Universal Pictures in 1982 and, thankfully, he rose to the challenge and met it with full confidence, successfully re-introducing Norman Bates to a whole new generation of film lovers.
Ignoring the radical and bizarre direction that Robert Bloch’s sequel book took, writer Tom Holland (who at the time had penned Class of 1984, The Beast Within, and The Initiation Of Sarah) opted instead to tell a brand new story, picking up 22 years after the events of the first Psycho film. The film had ended with Norman Bates being arrested after a string of murders at the Bates Motel which he committed as his alternate personality, his crazed, wild-eyed mother. Psycho II actually opens with the shower scene since this moment from the original and the character of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) play so heavily into the plot of the sequel. After a brief credit montage, we’re in the court room where Norman Bates is declared to be restored to sanity and is officially set free, much to the dismay of Lila Loomis aka Lila Crane, Marion’s sister, once again reprised by actress Vera Miles. Despite her protests and her signed petition, Norman walks out of the courthouse a free man, is escorted by his doctor, Bill Raymond (Robert Loggia) back to his house and his motel, and is set up with a job at the local diner.
What About Bob?
It’s always been interesting to follow the cinematic career of Bill Murray, an actor and entertainer who, during the ‘80s, could do no wrong when it came to his comedic performances. Even during that period you could start to see his desire to make odd and unique film choices—The Razor’s Edge and Quick Change, for example—and those choices would eventually lay the foundation for the types of roles Murray would go on to play pretty much exclusively now. But there was one last great one-two comedic hurrah from Murray in the early ‘90s with the back-to-back films What About Bob? and Groundhog Day.
What About Bob? came first in 1991 and it stars Murray as a completely multi-phobic personality named Bob Wiley, a man incapable of doing even the smallest of tasks without completely panicking. Deep down, he’s a good-hearted person with the desire to do the right thing; he’s just petrified of everything and everyone around him. Hence, he works from his apartment by day, uses tissues to open doors or shake hands, and would opt to climb 44 flights of stairs rather than be confined in a claustrophobic setting like an elevator. He also starts off each day by repeating the phrase “I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful,” over and over again and the one and only companion he converses with is his pet goldfish, Gil. After a strong recommendation from a previous doctor, Bob meets up with Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss), a stern, serious, and fairly egotistical psychiatrist hot on the heels of a successful new book and on the cusp of superstardom via an upcoming appearance on Good Morning America.
The Incredible Hulk
After a long and rich 50-year history in the pages of Marvel Comics, The Incredible Hulk marks the second cinematic interpretation of the fan favorite titanic superhero. Abandoning all of what was established in Ang Lee’s 2003 version of Hulk, this version takes more of a cue from the original Incredible Hulk TV series of the late ’70s and is presented as a “reboot” rather than a sequel. Instead of spending an hour with exposition and showing a drawn out “origin” story like the other movie did (and as most superhero movies in general do these days), this version manages to encapsulate the birth of Bruce Banner’s alter ego in the span of a few minutes during a clever opening credits montage. Visually, it’s exactly what most casual fans of the TV show remember; Bruce is strapped down to a chair, the circular light beam from a giant machine shines down on his forehead and during his experimentation with gamma radiation he accidently over-exposes himself which turns him into the angry green goliath. As the credits unfold, Banner (Edward Norton) as the Hulk inadvertently hurts the love of his life, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her father General ‘Thunderball’ Ross (William Hurt). And much like the TV series, Banner is then on the run and in hiding by the second scene of the movie, desperately trying to come to terms with his anger, find a cure, and keep the beast at bay.
When we find Bruce, he’s in Brazil working at a bottle plant factory by day and meeting with a yoga guru by night trying to learn how to control his inner hostilities. Meanwhile, he’s communicating with a mysterious scientist simply known only as Mr. Blue via the Internet and exchanging theories and notes regarding his condition. Ever since the incident we witnessed during the opening credits, General Ross has been on the hunt for Banner and the Hulk, and when Bruce accidently pokes his finger at work and inadvertently sheds a drop of his blood into one of the soda bottles headed for America, it eventually reveals his whereabouts. General Ross puts together a military team fronted by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) to bring in Banner.
Needless to say, everything comes to a head when a group of Bruce’s co-worker thugs confront him at the plant just as the military team is prepping to make their move. They make him angry, he Hulk’s out and is yet again on the run, this time opting to find a way back to North America to track down Mr. Blue in person and hopefully come up with a cure based on both their expertise and research thus far. He reconnects with Betty and she fully insists on supporting him on his journey to New York to find Mister Blue and attempt to create a cure.
Blonsky is a truly passionate soldier, inspired by the thrill of the hunt, but perhaps a few years past his prime. When Blonsky reveals his obsession to track down Banner and the Hulk, General Ross enlists him for the “super soldier” program (originated by the original super soldier, Captain America during World War II!). It isn’t until Blonksy meets with Mister Blue, aka Samuel Sterns, that he gets the necessary dosage to transform him into the Hulk-like monster, “the Abomination,” who wrecks havoc and destruction on Harlem. With no choice, Ross sends in Banner as the Hulk to stop Abomination before he destroys the entire city.
The reason The Incredible Hulk works so well as a fun comic book movie should be credited to director Louis Leterrier, most well known for The Transporter movies starring Jason Statham. If you glance through his resume of films, it’s clear that the man knows how to shoot and stage his action set-pieces. The problem most filmmakers run into when it comes to making a movie of this magnitude is that the “Hulk” is primarily going to be an all CGI creation, so it takes a certain amount of meticulous planning and staging of the action to sell the illusion that the Hulk is interacting with the other characters and causing all the onscreen damage. Leterrier pulls this off in spades, not only with the fight sequence at the college campus but, in particular, the big climactic battle between Hulk and Abomination in the streets of Harlem. While the two fictitious characters are duking it out—hell, the Hulk breaks a police patrol vehicle in half and uses the pieces as boxing gloves at one point!—the surrounding action is real, exploding cars and all.
Also, this is the first Hulk movie to fully embrace the comic book counter-part of the character and give him worthy adversaries and challenges to fight! On the television show, the Hulk didn’t really do much other than come to the rescue when needed. In Ang Lee’s movie, if I recall correctly, he battles a tank an hour and a half into the movie? But in this, it’s several tanks and the freakin’ army. And finally he fights another creature of equal size and strength born from the same experimentation that he was born from. You get your full-on comic book-esque battle. You get your “Hulk Smash!” line of dialogue, and he does indeed smash. And you even get wonderful hints towards future villains like Mr. Blue, aka Samuel Sterns, slowly morphing into “the Leader,” a well known character in the comic book world of the Hulk. And for die-hard savvy fans, there are fun little cameos by the original Bruce Banner, Bill Bixby, via an old show on television as well as original Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, as the college security guard. Those always make for fun little nods to previous incarnations.
Casting-wise the film is pretty solid, especially considering we’d seen a lot of these characters played by other actors just a few short years back. But William Hurt as General Ross and Liv Tyler as Betty Ross are spot on and terrific in their respective roles, especially when showing the estranged relationship between the two. Edward Norton is not the ideal name I’d think of when it comes to casting Banner/Hulk, but he does a serviceable job of trying to evoke the same sympathy we felt for the Bixby version, which is why I think a lot of fans have always been drawn to the character. Looking at it now in retrospect, The Avengers proves that Mark Ruffalo was the perfect actor to play both Bruce Banner and the Hulk and, since this is intended to be the precursor to The Avengers, it’s a shame they didn’t cast Ruffalo sooner! But regardless, The Incredible Hulk manages to capture the fun and spirit of the original source material and it makes for a wonderful follow-up to Marvel’s other big hit prior, Iron Man.
Fun Fact: Both the Harlem battle with Abomination and Banner’s suicide attempt in the Arctic (an alternate opening provided on the DVD/Blu-Ray as a deleted scene) are both referenced by Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner in The Avengers!
Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel
Even if you’re a casual film fan, you must have a general knowledge of who Roger Corman is and how important he’s been to the movie industry. You need look no further than the impressive roaster of names that speak about the prolific filmmaker in the documentary Corman’s World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel. Jack Nicholson. Peter Fonda. Martin Scorsese. Peter Bogdanovich. Joe Dante. Ron Howard. Robert DeNiro. Bruce Dern. Dick Miller. William Shatner. And so on and so forth. Corman is responsible for helping to launch the careers of every one of those names I mentioned above and then some! So it’s somewhat of a surprise that a documentary of this type honoring the man and his large body of work has taken this long to come into existence.
Not that Corman hasn’t gotten due credit and praise in the form of supplemental material before. Over the course of the last year, Shout! Factory obtained the license for dozens of his famous films and has been putting out great special edition DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s with extensive retrospective documentaries covering the making of each of those individual movies. There was also the fantastic documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed released last year from filmmaker Mark Hartley (who also did Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation) which had a large segment talking about the low-budget “women in cages” movies that Corman produced in the Philippines, which also launched the acting career of Pam Grier. But as much as I thought I knew about Corman from the above mentioned sources, there was still plenty I learned from Corman’s World.
Punisher: War Zone
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wished for a proper Punisher movie. As a diehard comic book reader and collector, there was a point where I discovered the idea of vigilantism and The Punisher immediately became my favorite superhero (actually, more like an anti-hero and minus the “super” part since he has no legitimate powers other than being a complete and total badass). With over 30-some-odd years of history and through various directions that comic creators have taken the character, it would seem that there are plenty of great stories to cull from in order to make a solid movie adaptation. But for whatever reason, while all the Punisher movies have incorporated different aspects of the original source material, none of the cinematic translations have been 100 percent successful, either financially at the box office or critically among both reviewers and fans. However, if you’re well-versed in the run by writer Garth Ennis over the course of the last decade or so, then Punisher: War Zone comes pretty darn close to capturing the over-the-top gory lunacy of Ennis’s books.
The movie wastes little time in getting right into the violent action. After a brief title sequence, the film opens at a grand dinner gala with several heads of the mob congregating to discuss business and celebrate with Uncle G, the Godfather-esque elder of the East Coast mafia. But their dinner is cut abruptly short when the Punisher drops in and literally slaughters just about all 30 of these bad guys in the span of a few short minutes. The action is brutal, highly stylized, fast in pace, and so over the top that you won’t be able to process everything going on with just one viewing. The Punisher manages to cut a head off, break a neck, lodge his hunter knife into a skull, kick a chair leg into the eye of a thug, then hang upside down from the chandelier where he unloads a never-ending spray of bullets from his machine guns into whomever is left in the room, as well as anyone else stupid enough to enter it. Did I mention this is all just in the first 10 minutes?