Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Movie Review: Damien: Omen II (1978)

So, as madly in love with The Omen as I am, I figured it was silly of me having not given a fair chance to the sequels yet. I made the mistake of watching the remake and was hoping that the sequels wouldn't be as bad. And yet... not a fan. Not a fan of Damien: Omen II. Really not.

The Antichrist returns: Robert and Kathy Thorn are dead, and their son Damien is sent to live with an uncle, Robert's brother Richard and his wife Ann. He attends military school with his cousin Mark and soon starts to receive clues about his true identity. At the same time, several people try to warn Richard and Ann that the child they're raising is the Antichrist.

Bugenhagen makes a return at the beginning of the film, trying to convince a colleague of Damien's evilness. He takes him to an archeological dig that has revealed Yigeal's wall which clearly depicts a painting of the Antichrist looking exactly like Damien. However, the two men are soon taken care of by those evil forces that seem to protect Damien and in a great turn of events, they are first trapped in the dig by a cave-in and then are apparently suffocated by the sand that pours in on top of them. The end of Bugenhagen. Me is sad.

By the way, I love the name Bugenhagen. I might just change my last name to Bugenhagen. And then I will only want to be addressed as Bugenhagen.

Anyway. So as the movie's title is Damien, the entire movie seems to be only about Damien and him finding out who he is and killing everyone who knows who he really is. And that brings me to the question of "What the hell (pun intended) is the point of this movie?" My idea of a sequel is that it should move the original story forward and introduce some new element. But all we get from this movie is Damien's knowledge of his identity, which the audience ALREADY KNOWS. And I kept wondering where this story was going and it ended up going nowhere.

We've seen the first movie, we know Damien is evil and in fact, I always thought that Damien himself knew he was evil too. That smile he gives in the last frame always seemed to me like a smile of triumph. Like, "That's right, bitches, I'm the Devil. Recognize!" He's killed his future sibling, his mom, and his dad has been taken care of. He's only six years old and now he's more powerful than his father could ever have been.

And yet, only seven years later, the pre-teen Damien apparently has no recollection of these events and has no idea of the power he possesses. Why? Who knows. But as in the first film, there are plenty of Devil worshippers surrounding him and protecting him, including his commander at the military academy (Lance Henriksen) and one accomplice who isn't revealed until the end and is a pleasant surprise. It was a good revelation, but even that shock ending was just too... meager. I wanted more. I wanted a story that was more advanced and revealed more maybe about what Damien is supposed to DO here on Earth as the Antichrist. Just what his agenda is going to be. But like I said, by the end we still don't know much more than what we already knew from the original film. Little bit of a disappointment there.

Jonathan Scott-Taylor as the new Damien is an impressive young actor and pulls off his role with talent and ease. I'm also impressed that they found a child actor who actually looks a lot like the Damien from the first film and is therefore very believable as a grown-up version of that same person.

The movie is not without its gory out-of-place highlights, similar to the decapitation in the first movie. I watched the elevator cable slice that dude in half with such glee that I think I made my dad worried about my sanity. David Warner getting his head cut off by that glass pane in the original film was always a shock to me because Gregory Peck is the star of the movie, and Gregory Peck is not usually in movies where people get decapitated so beautifully. I honestly wasn't expecting this kind of carnage in the sequel, especially the elevator scene. But there is great suspense as the elevator first plunges several stories, then stops, then the cable coming flying down right toward it. Ohhhhhhhh, something awesome is going to happen! The cable cuts through the elevator itself and then - in slow motion - cleanly and bloodily cuts the guy in half at the stomach. Yes, there are intestines. Love it.

So Damien: Omen II is really about nothing new and doesn't come close to being nearly as awesome as its predecessor. It's not a bad movie, though. There are some interesting scenes and some unintentionally comic scenes. Do I even have to mention the ice skating part? The guy floating in the water underneath the ice? I should have been horrified, but instead I thought it was kind of funny. Maybe I'm the Antichrist, too. And the crow attack? Pretty cool, but also a little funny at the same time.

Sidenote: While doing some research on this movie, I read one link where some book had the original Omen listed as one of the "fifty worst movies of all time" (as of 1978). Whuhhh??? The rest of the movies listed were crap that I have never heard of or want to hear of, but to call The FREAKING Omen one of the worst films ever? I am appalled.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Movie Review: The Fury (1978)

Psychic teens are cool. So cool that Brian DePalma had to make another movie about them almost right after directing Carrie in 1976. Two years later he came out with The Fury, with Carrie co-star Amy Irving in one of the lead roles. And though Carrie herself had some pretty awesome power, the kids in this movie are capable of some dangerous stuff of their own.

Psyche out plot: Government agent Peter Sandza are on the run from former co-workers who betrayed him by kidnapping his young son, Robin, who is gifted with psychic powers. In Peter's pursuit to find Robin, he enlists the help of another psychic teen named Gillian, who seems to have a connection to Robin.

While Carrie was about telekinesis in relation to high school horrors, The Fury grows the concept up a bit because now the teens are thrust in the middle of the adult world, with adults who want to harness their powers for evil. In this way, The Fury also resembles another Stephen King book/movie - Firestarter - but in this one the kids don't know what kind of danger they are in. Neither do the adults for that matter.

There's almost two separate movies going on at the same time for most of the film. We start off on a beach in the "Mid East" where Peter - played by the always awesome Kirk Douglas - is enjoying the day with his son and his friend Ben Childress (John Cassavetes, who played the worst husband in the history of the world in Rosemary's Baby). Terrorists with machine guns storms the beach, spray some bullets, and Robin is left thinking that his father has been killed, while Childress whisks him away in a car. Peter is obviously not dead, knows Childress betrayed him, and gets royally pissed off.

The other story going on Gillian's, who has the same awesome power that Robin does. In fact, she's almost cooler because when she has visions while touching people, she makes them bleed out of old wounds, their eyes, and in one gross scene, their fingernails. Gillian wants to go to the Paragon Institute, a place that specializes in helping kids with special abilities. Hester is a woman who works there, and helps both Peter and Gillian to find Robin and keep Gillian from being used like he has.

Gillian is acted quite well by Amy Irving, obviously more well known as Sue Snell in Carrie. It's great to see her in a role with a little more meat to it because she is a pretty good actress. And she's actually well suited for a leading lady role. She must be both vulnerable and able to be manipulated by the people who run the Paragon Institute, but also she must be able to show the kind of power she possesses and how it could make those same people fearful of her.

Some reviews I've read have said that this movie was boring but I didn't get that at all. Kirk Douglas has some interestingly funny scenes early on (when he breaks into that apartment) and Robin and Gillian's displays of their power get more and more violent and revealing so you know that something really cool is going to happen eventually. Robin's shining moment is of course when he makes his girlfriend spin around in the air really fast with blood flying everywhere. However, where that blood came from, I shall never know. That's one thing I didn't catch on to.

Gillian's visions are well shot, although hokey by today's standards. The vision for the visions is there, if that makes sense. While in the Paragon Institute, Gillian sees Robin running up the stairs and either falling or being pushed out the window by the head honcho of that place. This is shown in the background with Amy Irving in the foreground, obviously in front of blue or green screen (see picture). Like I said, it's not as well done as could be done now, but for this movie it works and conveys the idea that it's supposed to. And this isn't the extent of the effects shots in this movie either, don't worry! The best moment ever comes at the very end.

That ending. THAT ENDING. Even if you hated the movie up until then, you can't watch that final scene and not go, "HOLY SHIT! That's awwwwwesome!" I don't know if Childress was as much of a sleazebag to deserve getting telekinetically blown up, but it looked freaking great. He explodes through his chest mostly, leaving his head intact to fly straight up in the air toward the camera. DePalma then makes the moment even more glorious by showing the explosion over and over again in slow motion from almost every angle possible. Thank you, Mr. DePalma, I truly enjoyed that. One of the best endings ever.

Although not as popular as its predecessor Carrie, The Fury is an underrated gem from a great director. There are great actors and some fantastic standout sequences that make it a must see for horror fans.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Movie Review: Battle Royale 2 (2003)

This movie was, like, the epitome of disappointment. Me and the first Battle Royale film are best buds. I seriously love that movie and the book, and while I was excited to see the sequel, Battle Royale 2: Requiem, I couldn't really imagine a rehash of the previous film's plot. But the two movies are actually quite different - and not in a good way.

Battlefield Plot: Shuya Nanahara, one of the survivors from the first film, has started a terrorist group against the adults in charge of the Battle Royale program. At the same time, another group of students has been chosen for the same program, but with a different objective. They are dropped off on the island where Nanahara's group, the Wild Seven, have their hideout and are told that they have three days to kill Nanahara or they will all be killed by the exploding collars around their necks.

The kids are perhaps not as innocent as the group in the first movie. They are described as being the most delinquent, put together in the same class for gosh knows what reason. And yet when they are forced into this war-like situation, the facades break down and they are just as terrified as anybody else would be. This is presented to the audience in a scene similar to that of BRI, when the students are locked in a huge cage and are told the rules of the game by their nutso, psychotic teacher. They freak out. But most reluctantly agree to play the game, mostly because they have no other choice - they could either die right there or maybe have the chance to survive later.

With this is in mind, I was expecting a more emotional film with the students being torn between whether to choose survival or to kill someone who is fighting the people who put them in this situation to begin with. There's also another layer of conflicted feelings with one of the BR students, Siori Kitano, because she is the daughter of the teacher from BRI, whom Nanahara killed. Kitano also drew that picture of Noriko, the other survivor and Nanahara's love interest, which made Siori jealous and which would make you think that she'd be all gung ho about killing Nanahara.

And yet, none of this potential emotional turmoil ever comes to fruition in this movie. Forty-two students participate in the game, same as last time. But instead of giving us the opportunity to explore how different people would react in this extreme situation, it seemed like the filmmakers just wanted to plow through most of them so they could leave us with the few they wanted to be the main characters. When the group first arrives on the island in motor powered rafts, they are ambushed by the Wild Seven who shoot them from towers and blow up a few boats. Then more of the group is mowed down as they storm the beach like at Normandy. Almost half of them are gone in those few minutes, before the game has even really begun.

Another element the filmmakers bring in to get through the unimportant characters more quickly is that their explosive collars are linked to each other. Each student has a "partner" of sorts, and if one of them dies, or strays too far from the other, then the partner dies too. A two-for-one deal, if you will. And while  there is some kind of message to be learned from the few surviving members of this film, it is not as interesting as the missed emotional opportunities and gets almost completely lost in the mayhem of the violence.

I swear I felt like I was watching a war film. And while I guess the kids have technically declared war on the adults, it is not executed all that well and gets extremely old. Fast-forwarding through the battle sequences is totally okay because trust me, you won't miss anything. It is unbelievable how these inexperienced kids could stand up in a battle against trained military or government agents and not get their asses handed to them in less than a minute. Just ridiculous.

People overact, almost everyone who dies has to make some kind of retarded final statement, and the charm, black humor, and emotion that made BRI so great is utterly and completely gone. There is no great showdown between Siori and Nanahara like we are pretty much promised. People die bloody and that's all well and good but I was really looking for more substance and less showy theatrics. Thumbs down. Watch BRI and forget about this one.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Catching Up On The Classics: The Changeling (1980)

Ugh. I really need my blogger mojo back. I always intended for this blog thing to be more than just a one or two post a week thing but seriously, lately I've lost my mojo. Hopefully I'll get it back over the next few days. The Changeling is a great movie so it's helped me get going again. Yea!

George C. Scott is John Russell, a professional composer who tries to get away from the grief caused by the death of his wife and daughter by renting a huge, isolated mansion in Seattle. The house hasn't been occupied in several years and John starts to figure out why as he experiences strange happenings in the house. Turns out it is haunted by the ghost of a young boy who died there and John works to find out the truth of what happened to him.

I sort of miss "adult" horror films like this, where actual adults are the protagonists and they are smart and capable of doing what needs to be done in the situation. Movies full of teens and twentysomethings chosen only for their looks seem to be the norm these days and most of them are just fine, but a different set of characters like this is a real breath of fresh air. Here we have a fantastic actor like George C. Scott in the lead role and he is both believable and sympathetic in his role as a broken man who is truly affected by the death of the boy in his new house.

The story, or the mystery, of this movie is what really drives it and makes it interesting. This is not just a ghost story where a person gets haunted, finds out who the dead person is, solves the mystery, and everything is hunky dory. This story is much different with the explanation of what "the changeling" means and how it relates to our ghost. It's a twisted story in that it is hard to tell who is really the bad guy and the person whom we're supposed to believe is the bad guy - the Senator - turns out to be the one with the real moral crisis at the end.

There are a few key scare moments in The Changeling which make it quite stand-out. The ghostly disturbances start out small - doors opening by themselves, loud banging noises at the same time every day - but that's the kind of thing I like about ghost movies (did I mention lately how much I love ghost stories?). It's those subtle, unnatural occurrences that make for a truly creepy atmosphere and is what scares me a helluva lot more than the common horror film villains and the things they do.

The best scene of the movie is probably the seance and the scene following it. The medium is creepy as crap, especially her voice. Her blank face with eyes unblinking and facing upward is enhanced by her monotone voice as it asks questions of the ghost in the house - asking it to identify itself and tell its story. "What is your name?" "Did you die in this house?" Automatic writing reveals the answers. Joseph is the name of the boy who died in the house and he wants to talk to John. Joseph attaches to John supposedly because he identifies with John's grief over his dead wife and child or believes that John will be more sympathetic to his story because of his love for his own child.

Perhaps more scary than the seance scene itself is the scene where John is playing back the tape made during the seance. We hear all the medium's same questions but as the tape is playing we hear something not heard during the seance - a child's voice whispering the answers and revealing cryptic clues about his death. Seriously, this part freaked me out! It was an unexpected turn of events and had me completely sucked into the story, wanting to find out more.

The Chessman House, or whatever it is known as in real life, was made to be in a movie like this. Lots of doors, lots of open spaces, but also lots of places for hiding and secret rooms. It is ornate and antique-y and immediately puts you in the "old haunted house" mood especially after the discovery of the secret room in the attic. This brings about probably the most famous part about the movie - Joseph's small wheelchair and how it later chases Claire Norman around the house and down the stairs. An empty wheelchair coming after you in a creepy old house? NOT COOL. But a very effective and amazing scene that also leads up to a stellar climax. With fire. Fire is always good.

The Changeling is a very awesome classic haunted house tale with superb actors and a unique story, not to mention some great specific scenes that are still inspirational to movies today.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Movie Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Alright, y'all, it's time to get down to brass tacks about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am one of the biggest fans of the Buffy TV show EVER. Seen every episode so many GD times it's hard to count. I love Joss Whedon and his other TV shows (well except Dollhouse, I could never really get into that even though I have a mad girl-crush on Eliza Dushku). I also know that he and most of his fans have perhaps never been too pleased with the original film that the show is based on. Me... I've actually always loved the movie for what it turned out to be and see it as separate from the show.

Vamp plot: Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is a vapid L.A. girl whose life revolves around cheerleading and shopping. Her priorities are almost nil until she's visited one day by a strange man named Merrick (Donald Sutherland) who tells her that she is the next in a long line of girls chosen to hunt and kill vampires - the slayer. But she better be ready to accept her fate, because the vampire king Lothos (Rutger Hauer) is in town and he's coming after her.

Buffy was different from other vampire movies. No longer was the girl the victim, helpless against the blood-suckers. She was the fighter, the one protecting the men, the one person in the world who had the strength and skill to kill vampires. This slayer in particular, Buffy, has her own life and her own way of doing things. She has the confidence and the cajones to be herself and live up to her birthright which in a weird way makes her a good role model. Van Helsing this girl is NOT.

This movie has an amazing cast, if only because of the careers these people would have or had, with maybe the exception of Kristy Swanson, whose other roles I can't immediately recall. I mean here we have Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, David Arquette, Hilary Swank, Paul Ruebens, Natasha Gregson Wagner, and even Ricki Lake and Ben Affleck in two small and uncredited roles.

As a teen comedy (maybe with a little romance thrown in there) the movie is successful. Quirky one-liners and pop culture references abound, all very quotable, of course. The comedy is perhaps dated - okay, it's A LOT dated ("Get out of my facial!" "What's the sitch?") but fans of Joss Whedon can probably still immediately recognize his signature wit and other crazy use of the English language.

There is nothing particularly genius or well done about the camera work or effects or anything. It's all what you would expect from a campy teen comedy with vampires, including the super-cheesy smoke/fog effect which I absolutely HATE. It doesn't look real, people, so please retire that ridiculous fog machine, it's really unnecessary.

The look of the vamps is straightforward: mostly human-looking save for the pointy teeth (which on some of them looks way too big for their mouths) and pointy ears. Rutger Hauer as Lothos perhaps acts a bit overly - I think Joss even called his performance ridiculous and goofy - but I found the fight sequences one of the biggest disappointments. Buffy is not nearly as strong as she should be and the choreography is sloppy.

Kristy Swanson pulls off the title role well, both as a vacuous Valley girl and as a young woman with new, enormous responsibilities. She has spunk and vulnerability at the same time. Luke Perry is okay, nothing different than what you remember from 90210, probably. Donald Sutherland is, well... he's Donald Sutherland. And he's got some great moments of comedy and suave in this movie. The best part is when he's talking to Buffy in the locker room right before he throws the knife at her and he does this weird move where he flicks up the ends of his mustache with his fingertips. I kinda loved that. Paul Ruebens as Lothos's sidekick Amilyn is the next biggest highlight, for while he's quite creepy looking as a vampire, he is also amazingly hilarious.

So I'm sorry, Joss Whedon, I love you and all but you can be a real prick when you talk about how much you hate this movie. From the ideas that were eventually explored on the TV show, I can see what you really had in mind for this movie to mean and it just didn't get there. I see that, I really do. But hindsight is 20-20, darling, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually turned out to be a great jumping off point for the art you really wanted to make so why can't you accept the film for what it is and how it represents the time? It started a great tradition and a fantastic TV show, so seriously, quit your bitching. The movie is hilarious and PeeWee Herman is a one-armed vampire with hair like the dudes from Poison. I like it, and gosh darn it, I'm going to keep liking it for the rest of my life probably.