Monthly Archives: December 2011

Under The Radar – “Red Hill”

After being shot on duty, cop Shane Cooper moves to the quiet Outback town ofRed Hill, where he finds himself up against an escaped convict. Shane’s first day on the job turns into the worst day of his life as he tries to track down the killer.

Victor – 8 out of 10

Red Hill, directed by Patrick Hughes and starring True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, is about a monster that comes back to town. A monster that is cold, calculating and relentless. A monster that has an agenda and will not let anything get in it’s way or stop it. This monster is called Jimmy Conway and he just escaped from an Australian Prison and has made a beeline for Red Hill. Why, you ask? Well you must watch this well directed, beautifully shot modern day western to find out why.

Kwanten plays Shane Cooper, who starts his first day on the job as the new deputy by misplacing his gun. Cooper is a new transfer to Red Hill from a nearby big city and has a wife who is expecting their first child. He walks to town and meets up with his co-workers at the Police house. Things go a bit frosty at first when Cooper tries to adapt and feel useful. He eventually pairs up with his superior “Old Bill”, played exceptionally by Australian actor Steve Bisley. Bisley’s Old Bill and Tough, smart and surly and he doesn’t take too kindly to young upstarts like Cooper. After the news of a prison break out gets out Old Bill rallies his available men and assigns each to a specific area. Not before telling them all that it is Jimmy Conway, a treacherous inmate that is free and extremely dangerous.

After the breakout, Jimmy slowly but steadily makes it back to Red Hill leaving in his wake a trail of death and barbarity. This is when the already well done film turns into a very well made film. It’s the photography, pacing and performances that solidify into a fun, tight modern western. Tommy Lewis is the draw here though as Conway. He is a quiet beast that stalks and prowls around the town exacting his revenge on those who have wronged him. Kwanten is very capable and even vulnerable in the role of Cooper. Kwanten also speaks with his natural Aussie accent which was refreshing to see hear. Bisley steals every scene he’s in as Old Bill and makes Cooper’s first day on the job one to remember.

Red Hill is fast, dreadful and packs a punch. A great modern western that is refreshingly shot and has an appropriate score. The three leads are incredible to watch especially after Conway escapes and tears through Red Hill like a force of nature. Enjoy!

Brian’s Review – “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes”

James Franco headlines the reboot of the immensely popular Planet of the Apes franchise, a prequel which boasts cutting-edge CGI effects and a gripping story set in modern-day San Francisco, where scientists are conducting genetic research on apes. The evolved primates, including Caesar (Andy Serkis), develop advanced intelligence and revolt against being used as lab rats, unleashing a war for dominion over Earth.

Brian- 8 out of 10

I’m really shocked I liked this film as much as I did. If you scour through the history of the Planet of the Apes films (I already did the work for you), you’ll find that there has been an original film, 4 sequels, and a remake. So, you’ll excuse me if I was less than excited for a 7th film. Not only a 7th film, but following the “Star Wars trend” and making a prequel. Well, my reservations were put to rest quickly when I found this to be by far the best film since the original.

The main element that worked was the human-animal relationship between James Franco and a near flawlessly executed CGI ape named Caesar, motion capture by Andy Serkis (King Kong). I noticed I became invested emotionally in what happened to the primate as he progressed through the story and actually became worried for his safety. By far, the best elements of this movie take place in the first half. We are introduced to not only the main 2 characters I mentioned above but also James Franco’s father, played typically spot on by John Lithgow, and realize there are real motivations behind the main characters’ scientific pursuits. It all culminates in an ending that seems somewhat detached from the emotional anchor the rest of the film provides. It’s dazzling stuff but doesn’t carry the film the way the character interaction did and keeps it in the very good but not spectacular category.

Brian’s Review – “Videodrome”

Sleazy TV executive Max Renn (James Woods) is looking for cheap, exciting programming for his fly-by-night channel when he fortuitously stumbles across a fuzzy satellite feed showing torture, punishment … and possibly murder. A conspiracy is afoot as two competing groups fight for the 20th century’s soul, using the airwaves as their battlefield. Renn searches for the truth, all the while obsessed by an on-air chanteuse (Deborah Harry).

Brian – 5 out of 10
I love weird movies and I love David Cronenberg. You would think that this film and me would be like peanut butter and jelly.. It contains some amazing and trippy imagery that I was intrigued by. Clearly, David Cronenberg knows how to blast us with interesting camerawork. From the neck stomp in “History of Violence to the head explosion of “Scanners” to the NC-17 rated “Crash”, he has always had a track record of pushing the envelope with both sex and violence. But, at some point, the story really starts to show its weaknesses and all the great technical work in the world can’t save it.

The film’s lead is anchored by a young James Woods who is excellent, as always. However, the supporting players are weak and add little to nothing to their characters besides cookie cutter caricatures. We have Deborah Harry(Lead singer of the band Blondie) reciting her lines like she’s reading from a textbook, Sonja Smits staring blindly during scenes where she’s supposed to be frightened, and Jack Creley reciting on videotapes like he’s mailing them in from a hidden Al Qaeda base. It all adds up to a twisted ending that felt too easy a cleanup for the story’s shortcomings and messy setup. I hate to trash it because there are some really great moments. But, at the end of the day, a film should be rated on how it gels together. And, with that in mind, Videodrome falls flat and stands out as one of the weaker Cronenberg titles.

Top 10 Most Under Appreciated Films Ever

By Brian Volke
This isn’t a list of the most underrated movies ever. I’ll save that for another time. This is a list of films that have been praised in certain circles but never have stood out because either the director has other work that is considered stronger or it came out during a year where other movies soaked up more of the attention. Here we go:

10) “Big Trouble in Little China” Directed by John Carpenter

Long before Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tarantino’s Kill Bill graced movie screens came this eastern inspired bit of fantasy from the legendary director of Halloween. It was a box office disappointment at the time but has since found a devoted group of cult followers. You’ll rarely see a film that combines so many elements from other films and contains as much originality and action as this little gem. Kurt Russell also turns in his funniest performance ever as Jack Burton. It’s hard to put this in a genre because it’s so original and different. I guess it would be an eastern inspired science fiction Kung-Fu Western comedy.

9) “Road To Perdition” Directed by Sam Mendes

I think Oscar voters were just getting tired of seeing Tom Hanks films get so much attention but Road To Perdition is an incredible film. The cinematography won the Oscar and rightly so. The film oozes authenticity with spot on period detail. However, that’s just the backdrop to a beautiful film about how a father’s devotion to his son can be both wonderful (as in Tom Hanks’ character) and destructive (as in Paul Newman’s character). If you’ve never seen it, add it to your Netflix Queue.

8)  “Blow Out” Directed by Brian De Palma

Carrie, The Untouchables, and Mission Impossible are some of the first films that come to mind when thinking of Brian DePalma but Blow Out is the finest film he’s ever done. The performances by both John Travolta and Nancy Allen are excellent, the suspense builds and builds to the amazing climax, and DePalma’s use of sound as well as the incredible camera work throughout are first rate.

7) “I Vitteloni” Directed by Federico Fellini

Fellini has a body of work that other directors would dream to have: The heartfelt “La Strada”, the beautiful “La Dolce Vita”, and the mesmerizing 8 ½.” So, it’s normal that most people would gravitate to his most well known work because it is amazing. However, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you missed “I Vitteloni.” It’s every bit as good as his surrealistic works and was a major influence on all male ensemble pieces done afterward. As a side note, this is Stanley Kubrick’s favorite film of all time. If that’s not praise, I don’t know what is.

6) “Casino” Directed by Martin Scorsese

I can understand why many critics and viewers dismissed Casino when it came out. It was a reaction of “Here we go again: another Scorsese movie with Deniro and Pesci. Been there, done that.” But, to dismiss it simply because he used the same actors and genre again would be doing it a disservice. Goodfellas was a crime epic about a young man’s dream to make it in the world of organized crime and how they were a family. Casino’s story is one of utter distrust and paranoia of everyone and everything including one’s own family. The technical wizardry of the camera is better than any other Scorsese effort. We get to know the surrounding of Las Vegas in a very personal way by the time the film is over and with an understanding that money and power can buy you almost anything…almost.

5) “THX 1138” Directed by George Lucas

Before George Lucas was the multi-bllionaire creator of Star Wars, he created a student film at USC film school called “THX 1138” as a short. His close friend Francis Ford Coppola saw it, loved it, and gave him the financing to create it as a feature length movie and the results are amazing. His use of camera, his vision for the future, and a potent story packed with metaphors all come together to create one of the great science fiction films of all time.

4) “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” Directed by Terry Gilliam

My brother hates this film. It’s a normal reaction that is warranted and I understand. It’s not the kind of movie that unites people together but tends to separate viewers into the “Love it or hate” variety. For those that love extreme film making that pushes your sense to the edge, Terry Gilliam delivers. The scenes of drug users, their paranoia, and the limited world they inhabit was clearly a labor of love for all involved and it’s my favorite Gilliam film not named “Brazil.”

3) “Ikiru” Directed by Akira Kurosawa

The king of the Japanese samurai films also had a soft side and shows it here with an amazing story of a man diagnosed with terminal cancer who decides it’s never to late to leave your mark on the world. This movie really moved me and I not only consider it one of Kurosawa’s best but one of the greatest films ever made at showing the power of the human spirit.

2) “Eyes Wide Shut” Directed by Stanley Kubrick

I remember when this film came out, the majority of the attention was focused on Cruise and Kidman, who were married at the time, and how their off screen life affected the film. At the time, Stanley Kubrick had not made a film in 12 years and had been largely forgotten by mainstream audiences. Audience reaction was mixed at best and it was thought of as an inferior entry in a stellar career and I couldn’t disagree more. The visuals in Eyes Wide Shut are some that will stay with me all my life. The look of it, the interaction between the characters, and the pacing are unforgettable. I’ll never think of this as anything but the masterpiece that it is.

1) “Blade Runner” Directed by Ridley Scott

Nowadays, Blade Runner is thought of in much higher regard and with more appreciation than when it was released back in 1982. It grossed a “mere” 30 million dollars and was largely panned by critics despite the high star power of Harrison Ford attached. I supposed at the time most viewers saw Harrison Ford in a science fiction film and thought it would be another space opera like Star Wars and instead they got a slower paced film noir detective story. It took years to find its audience but even today when you think of Ridley Scott, Gladiator, Alien, and Robin Hood may come to mind but none of them can hold a candle to what he accomplished with Blade runner. It’s the greatest film he ever made.

Vic’s Review – “The Thing” 2011

This terrifying prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic of the same name tells the story of a team of Norwegian scientists who find an alien ship frozen in Antarctica. When the organism inside awakens, blood flows across the frozen landscape. Leading the group is pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton), who allies with paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in a desperate attempt to rally the paranoid workers to combat the deadly threat.

Victor

Rating 7 out of  10

As a standalone Sci-Fi creature feature The Thing would have played out as an average straight forward monster movie. But as a Prequel to one of the most highly regarded Sci-Fi/Horror films of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing, the film fares better. Is it a love letter to Carpenter’s film? Yes. Is it almost a play by play of Carpenter’s film? Yes. But these little distractions aside the film plays out very well as a, if by the numbers, sci fi beastie film.

The set up is fast, interesting and straightforward. It begins, obviously, with the discovery of the alien saucer, the one we see in the beginning of JC’s movie, by Norwiegan explorers. The scene is a bit gripping as we see the vessel in near pristine condition. It answers the question of how it would have looked like pre-thermite. We then are introduced to Kate Lloyd, played rather convincingly and capably, by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (McClane’s Daughter in Live Free Die Hard). She agrees to help with investigation into the saucer discovery, Headed by a stern and aloof Professor. The rest is rather predictable fare if anyone has seen Carpenter’s version. It almost plays out like a remake. They dig up and cart the remains of an alien life form back to the base, it thaws (the scientists in Hawks’ version had the brains to keep it in a cold room at least), it gets loose, tries to assimilate a camp member, it fails, they examine the remains, they take samples of the blood and determine that the alien is trying to imitate them in order to survive. The rest is where the film, much to it’s credit actually thrives, but only because it has Carpenter’s version as a template.

The suspense, paranoia and solid acting are all on display here and the characterizations are well fleshed out. We gravitate towards Joel Edgarton as the group pilot, Carter, whom we trust and like as he helps Kate take charge of the fearful and paranoid camp members. The creature effects are deep, dark and very weird. Yes, they are CGI but the shots never linger long and we get creeped out by the contorted and sinewy creatures that are spawned by the The Thing. Kate, obviously is the MacCready of the picture and she figures things out accordingly and does a good job of being the hero of the piece. What I enjoyed the most in the film are all the references and connections to JC’s film. If you observe and watch with a keen eye all the pieces of the end of this film and Carpenter’s version come together nicely. Even as to where “The Axe” came from. The ending is a bit of a let down  but it is oblique and appropriate so I wasn’t as annoyed since they began to piece things together. All in all a decent homage to Carpenter’s visionary film and a nice and welcome companion piece to it. I recommend it to all fans and even non-fans (who may watch this one first then watch JC’s film) of Carpenter’s masterpiece.

Vic’s Classic’s – Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat”

Using a story by John Steinbeck as inspiration, master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock stages a gripping World War II drama by cramming eight survivors of a German torpedo attack into the hull of a tiny lifeboat. Among them are a journalist (Tallulah Bankhead), a radio operator (Hume Cronyn) and a woman (Heather Angel) clutching the corpse of her dead baby. But the real trouble starts when one of the survivors (Walter Slezak) reveals he’s a Nazi.

Victor

Rating  10 out of 10

All of the fantastic elements that Director Alfred Hitchcock manipulated so well during his reign in films are on full display here in his 1944 war drama, “Lifeboat”  Written by brilliantly by John Steinbeck, the drama tells of a wartime maritime disaster that thrusts a diverse band of strangers, from a Radio Operator to a U-Boat Captain,  together in of all places …a lifeboat. It features an incredible cast that consists of Tallulah Bankhead, Hume Cronyn, William Bendix, Mary Anderson and Walter Slezak.

The film takes place on on set. The lifeboat. The ocean, a set onto itself, is expansive and menacing, is shown using some good rear projection. The characters while enduring the harshness of the open ocean in their limited setting, distrust the U-Boat Captain that does not seem to understand them and has a way with navigating the lifeboat on the open sea. As they get hungry, thirsty and desperate the paranoia increases. Here Hitchcock shines as we get to know each of the characters flaws and fears. One survivor claims to be holding a bundle which she thinks is her dead baby.

When Walter Slezak reveals that he is indeed a nazi is when things go sour. The film becomes, shocking, thrilling and even cerebral as it teaches a lesson about fear, paranoia and survival. Hitchcock wonderfully controls the environment with wonderful medium close ups and perfect composition. The film is full of natural and believable performances that outshine even by today’s standards.

Hitchcock and Steinbeck both were nominated for Oscars. Hitchcock his second and Steinbeck his first. This is a classic film that cannot come more highly recommended.

Full Movie

Vic’s Classic’s – “The Hidden”

A string of cold-blooded murders puzzles diligent Los Angeles detective Tom Beck (Michael Nouri), who can’t figure out why regular people keep turning into merciless killers. When mysterious FBI agent Lloyd arrives (Kyle MacLachlan), Beck learns his problem is from another world. Soon, Beck is the human caught in the middle of an extraterrestrial showdown that’s playing out on the streets of Los Angeles. Jack Sholder directs this sci-fi cult classic.

Victor

Rating 8 out of 10

Jack Sholder directs this 1987 sci fi-action film that is my retro pick of the week. It is a film that oozes 80′s buddy cop charm but with a neat “Terminator meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers” twist. The Hidden stars Micheal Nouri and Kyle MacLachlan as two law enforcement agents paired up to investigate why regular people are turning into wicked killers that rob, flirt, attack, drive very fast and love to shoot civilians. MacLachlan’s character is not all that he seems and he seems to know many things regarding the perps. Nouri of course is in the dark for most of the film as he is lead around the city trying to figure all this out.

The Hidden, besides it’s charm, sports great make-up/alien FX and some great shootouts and car chases that solidify it as a fast action film. Also, just about every conceivable character actor from every 80′s action film is in this. The film also has plenty of great humor and plays out with many nods to early classic sci fi films of the 50′s and 60′s. And the X-Files type storyline doesn’t feel dated either.

The Hidden easily rates a retro classic with it’s amusing amalgam of sci fi heart and action. Mouri and MacLachlan are the meat of the film as we watch them take on some nasty alien slugs that cause mayhem and destruction throughout. A fun, under-rated movie, The Hidden is a must watch. Enjoy.