Saturday, December 31, 2011

365 Movies Day #203 "Scanners"

So here's some more Cronenberg for you. I started out awhile back talking about "EASTERN PROMISES" and just finished writing about "VIDEODROME" so how could I not cover "Scanners". I recently tracked this film down because a friend said a script I am working on reminded him of the film. Now that I watched it, I can't say that I had ever seen it before, so here is is in the blog! Oh, and it is similar to the script I am working on, but different enough where both can exist carrying on.

"Scanners" is basically about a government sponsored project to weaponize psy. However, one of the top psions or SCANNERS in the world has turned against the program in the form of Darryl Revok portrayed by cult film legend Michael Ironside. I first remember Ironside from the original "V" series. He was truly badass in "EXTREME PREJUDICE", "Total Recall" and "Starship Troopers" and was also featured in the blog for "THE MACHINIST". Ironside is a gifted actor and knocks out a badass performance as Revok. The hero of our story is played by Stephen Lack who hasn't done much else since film-wise. The film also features the lovely Jennifer O'Neill and the late Patrick McGoohan. Though made in 1980, the film does an excellent job of holding up. It still features one of the coolest head explosions ever captured on camera. Some great plot twists and an interesting take on the psychic phenomenon make it even more fun to watch. Classic sci fi and a must see for anyone who calls themself a fan of the genre.


365 Movies Day #202 "Videodrome"

Just started getting more exposed to Cronenberg's older work and loving it! His last film I covered on the blog was one of his newest with "EASTERN PROMISES". "Videodrome" may be one of the trippiest films I have ever seen and the effects are golden and hold up though the film was made in 1983! James Woods stars as a partner in a controversial cable network looking to push the envelope on sex and violence. When he discovers a show called "Videodrome" by happenstance that entails torture and other madness, he becomes hooked...and it becomes his undoing on a journey into madness. It's also part of the Criterion collection.

I've been a fan of Woods for years. Some of my favorite films of his are "Cat's Eye", "Vampires" and "Casino". He's definitely one of those actors that brings his own flare to a film. The film also features Debbie Harry who is better known for her extensive music career. She's great here and fans may want to know that she is rather exposed in a few scenes.

Again, this is a trippy encounter with weaponized television, madness, creppy effects work and some truly surreal stuff. Cronenberg delivers on this flick and I was so surprised at how well it holds up. It's one of the few that I recommend a very careful remake of since technology has come so far since then. Might be an adventure to bring it back. Perhaps they could get Woods to take the O'Blivion role in a newer version.


365 Movies Day #201 "Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil"

I've wanted to see this since it came out and guess what just hit Netflix instant. Not exactly what I was expecting, but in that regard so much better! Basically the film is a giant misunderstanding that pits a group of college kids against two friendly hillbillies. What follows is extreme comic violence and accidental deaths of a graphic nature that will keep you in stitches. Yep, funny gore!

Our two hillbilly heroes are played by Tyler Labine ("Invasion", "Reaper") and the amazing Alan Tudyk. Yes I'm a browncoat and Tudyk will always be Wash to me...well that and Tucker. Katrina Bowden of "30 Rock" plays one of the kids who causes all of the confusion when she gets injured in a tragic skinny dipping accident. Horror vet Jesse Moss is also fun to watch.

A truly funny film with great suspension of disbelief and Tudyk and Labine are both charmingly innocent. Very excited to see Eli Craig do more stuff. He's like a Sam Raimi but with more conventional comedy tempering his violence. Classic horror comedy destined to become a cult classic.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Top Films of 2011

Well, if you've been paying attention to the blog then you may actually care what I rank as the top films of the year. Granted this is limited to what I have actually seen this year, which rules out most anything that's in theaters right now. But, I still managed to put together a list of 10 films that I think you should see from 2011.

I broke down and watched "Thor" in support of "The Avengers" movie that's coming out (not soon enough). I've never been what I consider a Thor fan, but I really like Branagh's films to include his take on "Frankenstein" and some of his other films that I've covered in the blog like "OTHELLO", "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING" and "DEAD AGAIN". The only thing I had really seen Hemsworth in was the new "Star Trek" film and I've always been a fan of Portman (grr). I was very surprised by how much I loved the film. I think I enjoyed it more than any of the other Avengers installments and that's saying something! It's big, it's fun and Hemsworth's take on the God of Thunder is refreshing and fun. Nods as well to Hopkins, Skarsgard, Hiddleston, and Clark Gregg! Gregg has become one of my favorite things about the Avengers films!!!

I have always loved Gibson and I respect the fact that he is an emotionally troubled man who has made some serious mistakes in judgement. The sad thing is that if his infractions would have just included overdosing on perscription meds we would be arguing over whether it was right to make a film about his life right now instead of lining up to crucify him. Come on people! He's an actor! He's supposed to be an emotional basketcase. Now, what I liked about this movie is that it could have easily just been Gibson playing himself a la Van Damme in "JCVD". He plays it with such a raw intensity that it's almost like a confession. Jody Foster as director and actress in the film doesn't hurt at all either and Anton Yeltchin is a GENIUS in front of the camera. I think he may be one of the greatest actors out ther working today. So if you're in the mood to forgive Gibson, this is a definite must see form 2011.

When I saw "Faster" in 2010 I was blown away. I think it was one of Johnson's best characters and one of the best vengeance films I have ever seen (and I LOVE vengeance films). I was intrigued that the same production folks at CBS films were following it with a Bronson remake in the form of "The Mechanic". Thanks to the folks at, I got to see an early release of the film and was incredibly impressed. The film stars Jason Statham as one of the world's greatest hitmen or "Mechanics" as they are called. When things go south, he is forced to take on his boss's (Donald Sutherland) somewhat shiftless son as a protege. Ben Foster does an OUTSTANDING job (as usual) as Statham's star pupil. Tony Goldwyn ("Ghost") does an amazing job playing a company goon. Some of the best action sequences I've seen on camera. Very gritty and Statham at his finest. This is what the "Transporter" films should have been. Statham needs more films like this.

Rutger Hauer has been hit or miss over the years. But with brilliant performances in films like "Blade Runner", "Ladyhawke", "The Hitcher", "SPLIT SECOND", "Surviving the Game" and so many others, he's so easy to love. "Hobo" makes it easy in this case. If you'll remember, we talked about "Hobo" awhile back HERE and I had the pleasure of meeting director Jason Eisner at Texas Frightmare Weekend this year. Originally conceived as a fake trailer for the Grindhouse films by Rodriguez and Tarantino, "Hobo actually achieves what both of the other films fell somewhat short of. It is a ruthless gore fest and a celebration of exploitation films while still being fun and exciting to watch. One of my favorite films period, though not for the feint of heart. This is a great one for 2011.

Here is an exceprt from the blog I posted awhile back on "I SAW THE DEVIL":
Korean cinema has a fantastic way of using incredibly graphic violence in conjunction with a powerful story. Directed by Jee-woon Kim (who we'll be talking about in future posts) this is the ultimate tale of vengeance in a way that American cinema can't seem to tap in recent years (with few exceptions).

The film stars Byung-hun Lee (who my film geeks will recognize as Storm Shadow from the recent GI Joe film...that I was also in) as a special agent who's fiancee is brutally murdered by psychopath Kyung-chul (played by Min-sik Choi of "Oldboy" fame). In response he sets out on a dangerous game to torture the man responsible that leads him down a road to damnation.

The compelling parts of the film are the mix of graphic violence (I physically cringed three times) and very human characters to produce a wonderful film that deals with the psychological side of vengeance. I kept thinking of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" as the lead puts off what needs to be done until it's too late to make it out in tact. I would also compare it with Fincher's "Seven".

Min-sik Choi's performance rivals Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" as a truly twisted villain. Granted his character in "I Saw the Devil" is a bit more insane, but the portrayal of the madness was flawless. One of the best performances I've seen in years. Reminded me of Tucci in "The Lovely Bones" as well. Hats off to Choi.

Here is an excerpt from my blog on "KILL THE IRISHMAN":
Jonathan Hensleigh, the man that gave us the 2004 Punisher flick, which aside from being set (for some damned reason unbeknownst to me) was a great film with a very cool Punisher in Thomas Jane. Ray Stevenson is a wonderfully underrated actor who is best known for his work on the TV series "Rome", but also knocked out some wonderful performances in "King Arthur", "Book of Eli" and previously mentioned "OUTPOST". He does wonders as Danny Greene, "The Irishman" in this flick (an coincidentally replaced Jane in "Punisher: War Zone" which was abysmal despite Ray being a cool Frank Castle). So, why the heck did this film sneak by the theaters with barely a whisper? It deserved a lot more.

"Kill the Irishman" is a fabulous mob biopic of the charismatic, real life Danny Greene. It covers his rise and fall in a compelling story and the mix of news reel footage in with the film is a great touch. Hensleigh is proving he belongs listed among names like Walter Hill. The cast he pulled together for this one is fantastic.

For starters, Christopher Walken, who's filmography needs no telling here (though he was in previously mentioned "THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD" back on day 6!). Walken covers all his typical bases as a dangerous yet friendly mobster who tells great stories in typical Walken fashion. Vincent D'Onofrio gives one of his best performances in years as a mob smartguy and best friend to Greene, though he also proves to have a killer's hands. Val Kilmer is underused as Detective Joe Manditski, but not nearly as much as Vinnie Jones (the Juggernaut bitch!), who appears in a very small cameo role as one of Greene's toughs. Mobster staples like Robert Davi (best known for his role in "Goonies"), Paul Sorvino ("THE ROCKETEER" and Mike Starr ("BLACK DYNAMITE" make appearances as well.

If you like true mob stories or seeing a grown man slap the crap out of someone, or if you just want to hear some of the hilariously witty things that come out of Stevenson's mouth during the film, or if you just want to watch Hensleigh pull off a star-filled period mob piece with only a $4million budget, you definitely need to check this out on DVD. Maybe then you can be equally stunned at it's tiny theatrical release.

This one was surprisingly brilliant. Jake Gyllenhall gives a wonderfully impressive performance and is joined by acting talents such as Vera Farmiga ("Up in the Air", "The Departed", "Orphan" and "RUNNING SCARED"), Michelle Monaghan ("Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang", "Gone Baby Gone") and Jeffery Wright (Bond's latest Felix Leiter). A wonderful film about time, dimensional travel, government experimentation and hope, this is one of the bright shining stars of 2011. Directed by Duncan Jones, the genius that gave us "Moon"

Here is an excerpt from my blog on "WRECKED":
Adrien Brody ("The Brothers Bloom")stars in this "BURIED"-like film called "Wrecked". This first feature from Canadian director Michael Greenspan is a pretty solid twister. Basically, Brody plays our "hero". He wakes up trapped in a car that has crashed in the middle of the forest with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. I say it's like "Buried" because nearly all of the film takes place right around the car and there are only 1-2 other characters in the film with any real screen time. It's primarily about one guy stuck in one location and trying to puzzle out what's happening. Also, like "Buried", it's driven by an incredibly talented actor who will keep you glued to the screen.

As you can tell from the blog, I am always excited by films who can use limited cast, locations and effects to produce a compelling story. Hats off to Greenspan for pulling it off with "Wrecked". Also a shout out to Brody's co-stars Caroline Dhavernas ("DEVIL" and who worked with Brody prior to this film on "Hollywoodland") and Ryan Robbins (Raiden from the new "Mortal Kombat: Legacy" webseries and Charlie Connor from "Battlestar Galactica")

I love films with badass chicks. This has become one of my favorites. Here is an excerpt from my blog about "HANNA":
Director Joe Wright did so much right with this it's unreal. Honestly I felt his "The Soloist" was trying too hard to shoot for an Oscar nod. THIS is the kind of film I expect from the director of "Atonement".

Basically, the plot is a young girl, raised in the wilds of Finland to be a perfect killing machine by her former CIA father finally comes into the real world to seek vengeance for the murder of her mother. Saoirse Ronan plays the title character. She also worked for Wright on "Atonement" but this is sure to be a breakout role for her. She is spectacular. Similar to the chops he showed in "CHOPPER" (pun intended), Eric Bana is phenomenal as Hanna's father, while Cate Blanchett (probably the greatest living actress and the female Gary Oldman) kicks serious ass as the film's villain.

Kudos to anyone who recognizes Blanchett's sadistic Aryan henchman Issacs as Cutler Beckett from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. Tom Hollander plays a decidedly less refined role in this flick. It also had a hard time placing Olivia Williams, though I knew her from something. She was the female lead in "The Postman" (one of my favorite Costner flicks) and "The Sixth Sense". Jason Flemyng plays her husband in the movie and has been in so many of my favorite flicks. He is a Ritchie staple from "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", "Snatch" and he was Azazel in "X-Men: First Class" (WHAT?!). You might also recognize him as Calibos from the newer "Clash of the Titans" film.

Besides the badass fight sequences (knife work is beautiful), this film also sports a wonderful immersion into culture. A globe-hopping adventure, Wright does a great job of dragging you into the culture and helping you lose yourself in the film. You feel like you are wherever Hanna is. Also, the soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers is seemlessly integrated into the experience. The haunting, throbbing, industrial tones definitely are a strong contributor to the film's badassery.

Probably the best assassin film I've seen since "The Professional".

I've been wanting Kevin Smith to direct something serious ever since I read his run on Daredevil several years ago. "Red State" delivers in spades. A great film about a Westboro-like religious group that becomes violent and the Waco-esque way in which the government attempts to cover it up are masterfully handled by Smith and his cast. Stand-out cast include Melissa Leo ("The Fighter") and Michael Parks ("Kill Bill", "Smokin Aces 2", "Death Proof") as the core of the religious nuts and John Goodman ("MOTHER NIGHT" and so many others).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

365 Movies Day #200 "What if..."

So it's Christmas time and what better time to talk about an amazing faith-based film than today! How about one staring Hercules, Buffy and Cliff Claven? What about one that's actually a GOOD movie?! If there is one thing I've learned about faith-based film is that much like horror films, they tend to be truly bad films that still appeal to a niche market. "What If..." and director Dallas Jenkins (son of "Left Behind" author Jerry B. Jenkins) other fantastic faith-based film and blog feature "MIDNIGHT CLEAR" are examples of films that bridge the gap.

Basically, Kevin Sorbo plays a wealthy business mogul who is successful in every sense of the word. One day, he wakes up to find he is a small town minister, married to Kristy Swanson (so far so good) and a father. It's everything counter to what he is after in life! Yeah, it's a lot like Nicholas Cage's "Family Man", which I also enjoyed, but with enough interesting twists to make it a great watch. John Ratzenberger makes an appearance as an angelic tow truck driver who helps Sorbo figure out his destiny a la "It's a Wonderful Life". The thing that makes the film great is it's subtle use of faith to drive the film, it's high entertainment value, a great cast and a fun story. It's good from beginning to end (no cheating at the end) and will leave you feeling blessed...unless you're a soulless monster (I won't tell if you cry).

Some trivia you may not know, but Ratzenberger has been quite busy since "Cheers" and his brief appearance in "Empire Strikes Back" (finally got an action figure for it awhile back). As a voice actor, you've heard him in "Cars", "Up", "Ratatouille", "Wall-E", "The Incredibles", "Finding Nemo", "Monsters Inc.", "Captain Planet", "A Bug's Life" and of course as Hamm in all the "Toy Story" films. Pretty much every great animated film of the new millennium. Impressive. Swanson has appeared on the blog before in "SOUL ASSASSIN" and this is Sorbo's first time on the blog.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

365 Movies Day #199 "CA$H"

So this is one of those netflix films that loomed on my queue for a long time. Sean Bean, as badass as he is doesn't necessarily equal a great film, but the presence of Chris Hemsworth finally convinced me to give it a chance. What followed was probably the most compelling performance and character arc I have EVER seen Bean do. His chilling portrayal of numbers obsessed Pyke Kubric (as well as his twin brother Reese) may be one of the coolest villains I've ever seen in a film.

The story is fairly simple. A couple criminals ditch a case of cash while running from the cops. The case falls on the hood of a normal, everyday guy's car (Hemsworth) and he and his wife find themselves suddenly blessed with mana from heaven. In the meantime, Bean comes in to track down the money and what follows is a very interesting take on a crime drama full of characterization, references to Stockholm Syndrome and, as I said, a FANTASTIC performance by Bean.

I definitely want to see more from writer/director Stephen Milburn Anderson after seeing this (hasn't done another film since this 2010 flick). Bean has been on the blog before with "EQUILIBRIUM". This is Hemsworth's first time and though I raved about Bean, Chris totally delivers here too, as does Victoria Profeta who plays his wife. This should have been a breakthrough role or her. She deserves more work based on what I saw here. Mike Starr, veteran character actor, is here too and we've talked about him before with "KILL THE IRISHMAN", "BLACK DYNAMITE" and "THE LAST DRAGON".

If you want to see a smart crime film with a great cast, then this is the flick for you!


The Other Side of the Casting Process

Had a fantastic experience recently as a First Assistant Director to Mr. Brian Jaynes on his latest film "Patient Zero". He was also gracious enough to let me do some acting work as well. One of the most eye-opening experiences for me came when we were looking at video auditions for a key role for the film.

Now I have always held to the notion that casting is a very interesting process where the CD is faced with multiple videos of great folks and one of them just leaps out among the others for whatever reason. In other words, you come in with your game face on as an actor, give your all and still don't get the role, but not for anything you did wrong.

I got to see it first hand and was amazed. Two of the videos were from people I have worked with and greatly respect as actors. One delivered a great read. It wasn't in line with the sinister nature we were looking for as the character, but the read was interesting enough that the role could have been redefined. The other read was wonderful, with some great moments. Finally, there was a read from the guy. I mean, he was the character we were looking for. After that, I personally didn't even bother to finish videos from other actors. Everyone got compared to how perfect this guy was for the role. In the end, he booked it.

The most important thing I learned was how important the slate is. Especially, if it's the first thing on the video. You need to look like the character, talk like him and give the CD/Director that punch immediately. The guy in question nailed it from the beginning and even the way he said the character's name in the slate screamed "I AM THE GUY!". Sometimes the slate is all you get before the CD skips to the next one. It's important that they see the character right away.