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Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Retro Review: Into The Night (1985)

Into The Night
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dan Ackroyd, Bruce McGill, David Bowie
Genre: Comedy Thriller
U.S Box Office Gross: $7.5 million

Plot: Ed Orkin is an insomniac with a cheating wife & a dull job. His chances for excitement look hopeless until a mysterious blonde named Diana drops onto the hood of his car. Now, it's Ed's turn for some adventure & romance as Diana leads him on a merry & murderous chase where the payoff is dollars or death

'Unexpected Early Cult '80s Pfieffer & Goldblum Gem By John Landis'

Aerospace engineer and insomniac named Ed discovers his wife has been cheating on him with his coworker, & later he drives to the airport late one night, whilst bored and restless, and ends up helping out a woman, who is in deep trouble. Named Diana it turns out she is a jewel thief and that she is on the run from the murderous Iranians, who want the emeralds that Diana has smuggled.  

An early John Landis '80s offering post - Trading Places and The Blues Brothers and pre- Coming To America sees the team up of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jeff Goldblum in a plot that is eerily reminiscent to Robert Zemeckis's Romancing The Stone. The set up is played out akin to Romancing The Stone and Adventures in Babysitting with the heroes on the run from the Middle Eastern bad guys, but it is set in the city of Los Angeles and it functions more like a light thriller, with occasional F-words blurted. It is light, but it is far from being the comedy that this film has been touted. 

The first 10-15 mins are kinda boring, but once Pfieffer's character, Diana first appears onscreen, that is when it starts to heat up, briefly anyway. Both her and Jeff Goldblum as Ed are in top form and give understated and pleasant performances as the likeable and well-meaning leads; Michelle Pfieffer is one of my favourite actresses and whilst she hasn't had more of the successful A-list Hollywood movies under her belt, she definitely is one of the most established performers on the block and has talent, as well as beauty in abundance and I loved her roles in Batman Returns, Dangerous Minds, I Am SamAs Diana, she was great and a revelation in one of her earlier roles. & whilst he was never regarded as leading man material, Jeff Goldblum was rather good in this. Into The Night also features cameo appearances from the late David Bowie, John Landis himself as one of the Middle Eastern terrorists, oddly enough, Dan Ackroyd & directors David Cronenberg & the late Jonathan Demme. 

There are scenes of Pfieffer in the nude, there is an appearance by singer David Bowie as one of the villains of the piece. The tone and mood of the film are deft as it switches and shifts from one end to another: one minute there is a serious scene, the next, it is laid back and pleasant. Sometimes this doesn't do many wonders for the film. 

At almost 2 hours long, Into the Night feels overlong and could have been trimmed and the story is a bit tedious to sit through. Michelle Pfieffer, for me anyway, is the key to this movie and of whom makes it watchable. By taking her away, Into The Night would be instantly forgettable and even less memorable. Yet it has its charms and as overlooked as it was and still is, despite a few lulls, it's not too bad of an effort and the last 20 mins were fairly good. 

The casting and the movie could have and should have benefited with more momentum in the story and some of the writing lacks excitement and genuine moments that make me smile. But withstanding that, Into The Night is still an unearthed gem that deserves to be noticed.     

Final Verdict:

This is an ambitious and surreal film and one that is overlooked. Though it may not be amazing or completely perfect and the narrative isn't as entertaining and great as one expects, the individual performances, especially by Michelle Pfieffer and Jeff Goldblum, gain an extra half a mark & are sufficient enough to make up for the weak and not very well conceived plot and a few lull moments which are in-between all of that. 

More famous for the number of celebrity cameos which appear in this film, whilst it is not an absolute must-watch for some people, Into The Night is definitely a type of cult movie etched out of the 1980s that only the 1980s can accomplish. & one that is also decent. 


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Mini Retro Review: Insatiable Wives (2000) #badmovies

Insatiable Wives
Erotic Fantasy Drama 

This is a film about a woman who becomes sexually frustrated with her husband and as if by magic, she swaps places with her friends and has sex with their hubbies. As she does so, she is supposed to learn how to appreciate her husband more. Well, that is the idea but unfortunately, its actual intent, whatever that may be, is gone astray. This is nothing but a bunch of softcore sex scenes, drab and wooden dialogue and the acting performances by Z-list softcore porn performers are just pitiful and with an almost non-existent plot put together. I was so bored with the story, minus the sex scenes Insatiable Wives has virtually nothing going for it.

Is It Worth Seeing?

No, it is that bad


Monday, 28 August 2017

Retro Review: Blue Steel (1990)

Blue Steel
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ron Silver, Clancy Brown, Elizabeth Pena, Phillip Bosco, Richard Jenkins 
Genre: Action Thriller
U.S Box Office Gross: $8 million

Plot: A female rookie in the police force engages in a cat & mouse game with a pistol- wielding psychopath who becomes obsessed with her

'Vacuous & Half-Baked Crime Film With Shallow & Superficial Characters'

Originally shot and produced in 1989 and released worldwide in 1990 and with co-production by Oliver Stone, Blue Steel was co-written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow and is a cat-& mouse cop movie that after a potent start, it ultimately loses its way and despite some of the action and intensity this is all impeded by a poorly- written lead character and severely under-developed supporting and antagonist characters. 

Fresh out of the police academy, Megan Turner is a patrol cop when she finds herself involved in a robbery of a convenience store. After confronting the armed robber, she shoots him several times, with the revolver on the floor, which is then picked up by a stockbroker going by the name of Eugene. With Eugene leaving the scene of the crime with the weapon & lacking evidence, Megan finds herself suspended for a brief while. Eugene then obsessively begins a relationship with her, whilst he continues to kill his victims using bullets with Megan's name engraved on them. 

As I was watching this movie, it was near impossible for me to ignore the fact that she was a cop and yet at the same time, she could have so easily been the bad guy and yet it is the only by the virtue of her holding onto a position of responsibility and upholding the law, which she doesn't do as well, that lets Megan off the hook. 

I had little sympathy for Megan Turner and I was not particularly fond of that character: despite being absent-minded, I found her cold, almost emotionless and felt little to no attachment and empathy for her. & because of that, the film fails to make her sympathetic. She is just as- if no more guilty as the main killer and that by the end, she has shown disregard to the uniform and has no common sense, whatsoever. Megan even has the audacity to break protocol, as and when it suits her & I found most of the things she did to be irrational. Barely anything she said or did warrant sympathy and I just couldn't resonate with her; however, that doesn't excuse the violence being dished out to her, or of seeing her dad abuse her mother, whereas Ron Silver's antagonist & stock trader, Eugene is quintessentially a misogynist, slimy and a wacko as well. He doesn't much act but manages to hurl himself into every scene where he knarls, grinds his teeth and grins wickedly. 

Jamie Lee Curtis hasn't had as many ballsy and challenging roles in her career; I mostly remember her for Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda and True Lies, but here in Blue Steel, she was... not bad. Even in the role of the protagonist that I am supposed to root for in this film; yet despite the performance, I literally came away from this film feeling nothing towards Megan. I was thinking at one point: ''Is Megan really as dumb and more naive and incompetent, despite being a rookie cop?''. 

What makes Blue Steel different from many other action cop based films is there is a slight intensity and that it operates more like a standard thriller. The shootings are bloodier and nastier and Bigelow succeeded in making them seem more gritty and less flashy.

The other performances by Clancy Brown as Megan's partner, Nick and Phillip Bosco were good, despite that their characters have barely any characterisation and depth, as the film centres on Megan and the killer. The killer's background is not touched upon & he appears out of nowhere as a witness to a killing in a convenience store that Megan was in and later on shoots random people. But even on that note, neither of these characters are fleshed out properly and I sensed that Megan had nothing left of her, as the film went on. The sex scene towards the end was badly- timed and should have occurred during the middle of the movie, rather than towards the end of it. Yet the stupid twist right towards the end of it feels tacked on and needless, and it was one that, in large, had killed it for me. 

This so-called feminist arc that Bigelow was trying to invoke fell somewhat flat: if you substitute Jamie Lee Curtis with a male actor operating as the male lead, this film would be no different to what it is, through its tone and aggression. 

It beggars belief also that Eugene had shot and killed Megan's best friend in front of her, and after being caught, no sooner is he then let loose on the streets - all because Megan didn't see his face when she was standing a few feet opposite Eugene and that she was too caught up in seeing her die. How is that logic? I just didn't buy into this part, because it is nonsense & sheer idiocy, as far as plot-holes go. 

I really wanted to get on board with this film, but Megan's actions and her mannerisms as a cop (and she was a terrible cop) really rubbed me up the wrong way and I just didn't register on Bigelow's level, as much as I wanted to. Only for the movie to redeem itself during the last act. 

Blue Steel could have operated as a movie where a female police officer rises up the ranks and overcomes sexism and misogyny and becoming a badass cop; instead, though she is flawed, it was almost as if every decision Megan made got worse as the film went on & that I grew increasingly restless and annoyed with her. Sure, this is Bigelow's attempt at making a feminist statement and saying that female characters are as strong and powerful as their male counterparts, but at the same time, she chooses to undermine this intent by making the protagonist so incompetent and clumsy. 

This film is beyond dumb.

Final Verdict:

After getting off to a strong start, it then descends into moments where one scratches their head, losing its momentum, only for it to just about make it to the finish line. Add to this underdeveloped and no depth characters, an incompetent protagonist character who I couldn't and didn't like, Blue Steel is actually a wasted opportunity by Kathryn Bigelow and it's a bit of a shame as I do admire some of her other films such as Strange Days

Cited as the last movie she has written and is credited as the co-writer, Blue Steel's premise and synopsis sound intriguing on paper, far more so than its actual execution, which is a very underwhelming as this is also marred by its scripting flaws and silly characterizations that blight this movie.

A vacuous and sub-standard offering from Bigelow, for a film where I didn't really root for Jamie Lee Curtis's hero character, it's forgettable for me and doesn't add up to much. Alas, I was extremely disappointed.

*score last updated: 1 September, 2017*



Saturday, 26 August 2017

Mini Retro Review: A Kiss So Deadly (1996) #badmovies

A Kiss So Deadly
Made- For- TV Thriller

Middle-aged man/creep is obsessed with a younger woman & falls for his daughter's best friend. Film stars Charles Shaughnessy (The Nanny) playing against type as the married guy who falls for the girl. When she ends the affair, he becomes obsessed with her. Typical Lifetime TV movie that is slow paced and just by looking at the cover, one can figure out who the murderer is. It's also weird to see Shaughnessy making out with Charlotte Ross, given as he played her father on the soap, Days of Our Lives. The girl who plays the daughter is Dedee Pfieffer, the sister of Michelle Pfieffer. The plot twists become confusing and muddled and barely making much sense and the love scenes were far from steamy. Shaughnessy's character is too much of a sick perv and he was beyond irritating. Being a TV movie, the erotic scenes look timid and weak. There are better things to do and better movies to watch on a Sunday afternoon, and this isn't one of them. That, & I'd stick to watching Charles Shaughnessy on The Nanny, thanks.

Is It Worth Seeing?

Not unless you are a die-hard fan of Charles Shaughnessy 


Friday, 25 August 2017

Directorial Feature Spotlight: Joel Schumacher

'Too Many Box Office Bombs & Not Enough Movies I Genuinely Liked Of His, Schumacher's Output of Quality Is At Odds With The Poor Material & Creative Decisions He Makes'

Joel T. Schumacher is an American movie director, screenwriter, and producer, born in New York City, New York who rose to fame in the 1980s into the 1990s with hits in St Elmo's Fire (1985), The Lost Boys (1987) and Flatliners (1990). Schumacher's directorial debut was 1981's The Incredible Shrinking Woman starring Lily Tomlin. 

His subsequent Batman movies, Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997) were poorly received by critics and Batman fanatics and are cited for almost killing the franchise. After the furore and disappointments of those movies, Schumacher retreated from making Blockbuster movies and turned his attentions to lesser films, such as Tigerland and Phone Booth, with both of them starring Colin Farrell. 

The teen action drama Twelve (2010) about drug addiction, violence, and sex was referred to as the worst movie in the history of the Sundance film festival by New York Times writer Stephen Holden. It only grossed over $2.4 million worldwide on a $5 million budget that it took to make it. 

Out of the 23 movies, Schumacher has directed in total, there are only 3 of them that I thoroughly enjoyed or loved: A Time To Kill, The Client & Falling Down. Everything else is either not to my interest despite the impressive performances (The Lost Boys, Flatliners, St Elmo's Fire, Tigerland), come off as amateurish, too hokey (Batman Forever) or is just painfully dire and mediocre (Batman & Robin, Dying Young, The Number 23, Blood Creek). Recent efforts 8mm, Trespass which starred Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, Blood Creek, Bad Company and Phone Booth reek to me as straight to DVD, B-movie fare. Although 2002's Phone Booth was watchable, despite that I wasn't too enthused by the casting. 

Batman Forever wasn't completely horrific: I preferred Val Kilmer's Batman and Bruce Wayne to George Clooney's in Batman & Robin and that film just plain sucked and looked even more ridiculous and absurd. I was so looking forward to Jim Carrey's against type role in The Number 23, but despite his noble efforts, that film was frankly all over the place and is a total mess.

Joel Schumacher is a director, who for me when he is at his best, he is very good - which is not very often, and when his movies are that terrible, that reflects badly on him. Whereas with someone like Paul Verhoeven, his movies tend to be very, very good, despite his reliance on gratuitous violence, sex, nudity, misogynistic depictions of the female form (something that I have a major gripe with), Schumacher's output- whilst he has had a FEW (and I say a few) good movies, he, himself, is not a consistently good director. 

But the major problem with Joel Schumacher is that he is a director who attaches good actors and actresses to terrible scripts. Although to be fair, the actors are to blame for a) accepting the role & b) putting in poor and dire performances. 

But at least he apologised for Batman & Robin - just how often do you see other directors admitting their movies, which sucked, were bad? & for coming up with the idea to add rubber nipples & coloured cod pieces to the Bat suit? Not very, so kudos to him. 

Be that as I may, even with A Time To Kill, The Client, Falling Down and The Lost Boys, these alone do not make up for the rest of his filmography, which leaves a lot to be desired. His movies, with better and improved direction, would be 10 times better than what they are, or were. If we are saying not guilty because he made one great film in Falling Down when the rest have been duds, that just doesn't justify the fact that his output is still below par. 

Batman & Robin remains as the biggest stain on his resume, but so is tepid and monotonous dirge in Dying Young - another Schumacher bomb that is often overlooked -that also belongs in the crap heap

And so after all that, what is my overall opinion on Joel Schumacher's work? Well, clearly, I'm more than disappointed. As much as I or we can go on and on about how terrible his film output has been (and is), the truth of the matter is his inconsistency at delivering the goods is at odds with what he should have & could have achieved with far greater things. As people still hold him to account for the mediocre Batman films, besides the Batman stuff and his early 1980s work, everything else but for Falling Down and The Client, isn't really my bag. 

With fewer movie successes and movies that I have enjoyed of his, Schumacher's efforts for what it is worth just doesn't wash with me. 

Notable Favourites: A Time To Kill (1996), The Client (1994), Falling Down (1993)
Notable Non- Favourites: Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin (1997), Dying Young (1991), The Number 23 (2007), 8MM (1999), Blood Creek (2009), Bad Company (2002), Twelve (2010)

Grade I Would Award Towards Joel Schumacher: E

Retro Review: Top Secret! (1984)

Top Secret!
Cast: Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Christopher Villiers, Omar Shariff, Peter Cushing
Genre: Action Comedy Parody
U.S Box Office Gross: over $20 million

Plot:  An American rock & roll singer becomes involved in a Resistance plot to rescue a scientist imprisoned in East Germany

'Not As Funny As Critics Billed It As'

I am just going to get right off the bat and say that as a comedy film, Top Secret was very underwhelming and did not live up to its promise, nor do I agree fully with professional movie reviewers who claim this to be very, very funny. Because it is not. 

The film also marks the cinematic debut of Val Kilmer, who has since gone on to star in movies such as The Doors, Top Gun, Batman Forever and Heat to name. In one of his less serious offerings, Kilmer plays a pop star, Nick Rivers with a crooning voice akin to Elvis who is recruited to stop communism, whilst at a stop in East Germany. 

As a movie, nothing fell into place and the comedy and humour were so few and far between and not consistent. It was virtually flat. It tries to be a spy spoof, a bit like Paul Faris's Spy - only that film was far funnier, and here in Top Secret! with musical and dance numbers added. But as there was so little humour, everything else was played dead straight and the pacing was incredibly slow and quite frankly, this made the film extremely boring to boot, as the story wasn't that inviting either. 

I just wasn't feeling this one as much as I'd hoped I would do and thus, I am extremely disappointed that it's from the Zucker Bros and Jim Abrahams who did wonders with Naked Gun, Airplane, Hot Shots 1 & 2 and Ruthless People: comedies that I loved dearly. This was a misstep and thankfully, the rest of their efforts since this movie came out, went a couple of steps better.

Top Secret is a little different from Naked Gun and Airplane as it functions as a spy crime film, alongside the humour. The sight gags weren't as funny and didn't make me laugh hard, well, excluding the noughts and crosses gag and the French Black guy by the hilarious moniker/name of Chocolate Mousse - daft name for a character, and yet he was funny and amusing and it was a shame he didn't appear soon enough to provide more of those types of moments. He was like a skinnier version of Mr T from The A Team. But apart from that, Top Secret! was virtually flat. Val Kilmer's performance was not bad; his singing was really good, but beyond that, the film didn't go beyond that to keep me entertained, amused and invest interest. Although the abrupt ending didn't do the movie much justice, either. 

Top Secret! felt like all the scraps and least effective jokes that were left out of Airplane! that didn't make the cut were cut and pasted into this film. It was that type of movie and it just didn't measure up. 

One is better off skipping the rest and to watch the funny and best scenes on Youtube. For a film labelled as a parody comedy, this one was far from it.

Final Verdict

Very few laughs to be found and it just wasn't the laugh riot that I'd expected this to be, and I can understand now why this film hasn't caught on like with Naked Gun and Airplane & isn't up there along with those movies. The so-called rapid-fire comedy the Zucker Bros have been alluding to, never transpired and inconsistent berths; that, and it just never seemed to get going, right from the start. 

The Zucker Bros and Jim Abrahams struck comedy gold with Airplane & Naked Gun, but here, understandably given why it is overlooked Top Secret! sorely lacks any comedic timing and consistent hilarity that made those movies instantly memorable.  


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Directorial Feature Spotlight: Chris Columbus

'Direction is Pedestrian and A Tad Too Sentimental, But Otherwise, Columbus's Work Has Been Solid & Satisfactory'

Chris Joseph Columbus (no, not that Chris Columbus) is a movie director, born in Spangler Pennsylvania & raised in Champion, Ohio who did Home Alone 1 & 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potter films, as well as a movie version of the musical, RENT. A protege of Steven Spielberg, Columbus also directed the dramedy, Stepmom starring Julia Roberts & Susan Sarandon & made his directorial debut with The Adventures in Babysitting in 1987.

He's had two of the highest grossing action comedies of the 1990s in Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, which made a big star out of Macularly Culkin, well for a brief while, and an even bigger star out of Robin Williams, as his movie career in the 1990s surged upwards and continued to flourish. Columbus also produced the Arnold Schwarzenneger Christmas comedy caper, Jingle All The Way

Columbus's last couple of films, Percy Jackson & The Olympians, I Love You Beth Cooper and Rent all underperformed at the box office and received less than satisfactory reviews. Whereas his last effort to date, Pixels grossed nearly $245 million worldwide, but it was met with negative reviews from critics and movie reviewers alike & whilst they were not as big and were relatively low key movies, even Bicentennial Man (which I loathed) & Stepmom (which I enjoyed), mainstream Hollywood produced efforts, didn't do as well as one would have hoped.

If you grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, then you'd have come across Gremlins, which was a smash hit in the 1980s and The Goonies, which has now become a cult hit and of which Columbus had a hand in producing, followed by The Adventures of Babysitting starring a young Elisabeth Shue.

When I think of the name Chris Columbus, besides being the famous explorer, is with this Chris Columbus, he has carved a name for himself with his comedies and comedy dramas that incorporate sentimentally and melodrama. He typically creates films that young people and families can enjoy and appreciate and whilst his direction can be accused of playing things too safe for audiences and that it is not very excitable, his protagonist characters are likeable, sympathetic and appealing enough for me to enjoy the film. Thanks to performers such as Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Macaulay Culkin and Daniel Radcliffe. Now, it would be an entirely different matter altogether if all of his movies are generally terrible or bad, or annoying, but I wouldn't use any of those words to describe his movies because there is not a single film of his I hated. Okay, scratch that, but for Bicentennial Man: I didn't like that movie, whatsoever, it looked silly, seeing Robin in that role was so corny and it is also my least personal favourite Robin Williams film. But other than that awful blip, his movie output has been easy and pleasant on the eyes for me. Nine Months, however, wasn't completely crap; I found some of it amusing, but the actual film and the writing just weren't that entertaining. That, and I wasn't fond of Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore's performances in this one. 

His direction is generally bland, not very creative or daring enough and needs more work and though he is past his best nowadays, like with many other directors who have had hits in the 1980s and 1990s, his best days were the '80s and '90s, some of the best decades for movies, well, in my eyes. Columbus hasn't directed more than one film that I didn't like. Like I mentioned, even with the somewhat pedestrian direction he takes, there are films of his I still enjoy because of the actors' performances especially that impress me & of which help elevate the movie that makes up for it. 

Overall, I find Chris Columbus's output to be rather decent and solid, although with Mrs Doubtfire and Home Alone, as much as I enjoyed those films, he should have toned down the tooth-rotting sentimentality in them. 

But other than that, Columbus has done far more, which I enjoyed that fully outweighs the bad that I disliked in his other films, which are so few.

Notable Favourites: Adventures In Babysitting (1987), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Home Alone (1990), Stepmom (1998), Gremlins (1984), The Goonies (1985)
Notable Non-Favourites: Bicenteannial Man (1999), Only The Lonely (1991)

Grade I Would Award Towards Chris Columbus:  C+

Retro Review: Flesh + Blood (1985)

Flesh + Blood
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Jack Thompson, Nancy Cartwright, Bruno Kirby
Genre: Dramatic Adventure
U.S Box Office Gross: $100,000

Plot: In a chaotic, morally bankrupt Europe of 1510, a cold-hearted warrior, Martin leads his motley crew of mercenaries into battle to reclaim the castle of an ousted nobleman. But when the despot betrays them, Martin & his band of ruffians strike back by kidnapping the innocent young maiden betrothed to the nobleman's sona fearless renaissance man who must risk life & limb to rescue the woman he loves 

'So Hateful & Mean-Spirited With A Boring Story To Boot'

Paul Verhoeven's first Hollywood outing is in the form of a medieval epic that truly affirms the Dutch director's trademark style that is dark, hardcore and which doesn't hold back from his violent and extreme -yet unashamedly provocations, which he seeks to reinforce. 

To note, I watched the full uncut version with all the hardcore violence and sex intact.  

Set in the 16th Century middle ages in a part of Europe, a group of mercenaries end up being betrayed by a tyrant and their captain, and so they ambush another captain and kidnap the bride-to-be named Agnes. It is a tale told by the likes of Disney and many others before and after it, yet it is done in a way that is quite unlike any other. Much more so for people who aren't fans of Medieval and chivalry films, that they will find this to be as much of a chore, as it is not very entertaining.  

Like with all of Paul Verhoeven's other movies, the tonality of Flesh + Blood is crass and mean-spirited, which is untypical of a director of his reputation. This is hardly a feel-good movie of any kind and it basically takes all the main aspects of medieval films in general, adds in sex, nudity, including full frontal nudity, violence, cursing and some other unsavoury & repugnant scenes and thus, it becomes a different movie in itself. It was just so hateful that I couldn't bring myself to enjoy this one fully. The medieval setting enables Verhoeven to unleash his extremities in sex and violence that later on appeared in his American offerings. At most, the action here is adequate, & Verhoeven has delivered better in Robocop & Total Recall in that respect. The acting performances by the likes of Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruno Kirby aren't that memorable, nor very convincing that is one-note-ish and there are hardly any memorable scenes from the film to speak of. Because they are fighting with swords, there is always going to be massive bloodshed, and here, it looks way nastier. 

And as ever with most of Verhoeven's efforts, I didn't emphasize with or felt enough for the characters: they were all despicable, mean & shallow. Flesh + Blood is two hours worth of people cutting each other, slicing and dicing, people getting bludgeoned to death, together with a tepid and bleak story. This is amorality at its most extreme in the medieval context. Full of lust, some overacting and debauchery and the script is not very well-written, with little emphasis on character development, but rather characters acting and behaving awkwardly and crudely, with no intentions of changing for the better. There is a guy trying to tear the clothes off Agnes, with her bare breasts exposed whilst the young boy steals her necklace. In another scene, right after suffering a nasty head wound after it was sliced with a sword, we see a nun lying in bed, whilst she was in the nude. I can understand the first part, but when she was naked, I was like 'what?'. It wasn't just nudity- it was nudity without a point, and a needless one also. 

Flesh + Blood was a difficult watch with characters behaving in such deplorable ways and come to the 20th-minute mark onwards, it started to alienate me and the story became more cumbersome to endure. The cinematography by Verhoeven's patrons Basil Poledouris and Jan De Bont, who later went on to achieve even greater commercial success with Die Hard, Speed & Basic Instinct, was impressive, however.  

The main hero, Stephen is a bore and lacks personality, the dialogue is laughable at times one would assume Flesh + Blood was a dark parody of medieval movies. Ok, not quite, but this is hardly a love letter to them by Verhoeven. 

Flesh + Blood could have been an overly decent movie, had the tensions of the characters relationships been delved a little more and the so-called little moments such as Jennifer Jason Leigh's and Tom Burlinson's characters sharing a tender moment are shot down to pieces, as Verhoeven rams down the throat of the viewer plot twists and scenes that become more violent, but are also uncomfortable and verge on being vulgar. The rape scene involving Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rutger Hauer's characters where the mercenaries tear off her clothes and she gets raped, was unpleasant that I had to shut my eyes when he forced himself onto her. Thankfully, it was brief. 

But aside from the vulgarity, mean-spiritedness, not so likeable characters and action, there is very little else to enjoy from this film with the droning, downbeat and stale story that didn't set Flesh + Blood alight. It is so repetitive that it recycles the same beats of heavy violence and sex, whilst the rest of the movie continuously plods along.

Final Verdict:

With no genuine protagonist to root for, this is one medieval film that is as ugly as it is coarse and unabashed. It does have one or two watchable scenes that aren't filled with violence and sex, though aside from that, Flesh + Blood is in one way a realistically off-putting & depressing version of a medieval tale, minus the romanticism. That, & it has virtually nothing on Robocop and Total Recall

The story is overlong and boring and not engaging enough, along with characters one can barely root for.  

Flesh + Blood will interest cult movie fanatics, as well as those of Paul Verhoeven, but those of you who do not fall into either camp can skip this one. It's a film that, thanks to the medieval fantasy setting it is (so) easy to admire through its visual style, & yet it is also so spiteful and one that is equally difficult to muster up love for. 


Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Retro Review: Tin Men (1987)

Tin Men
Cast: Danny DeVito, Richard Dreyfus, Barbara Hershey, Bruno Kirby, JT Walsh
Genre: Comedy
U.S Box Office Gross: over $25 million

Plot: A minor car accident drives two rival aluminium-siding salesmen to the ridiculous extremes of man versus man in 1963 Baltimore

'Far From Barry Levinson's Absolute Best, Yet Thanks To Devito's Turn, It's Worth Seeing'

Tin Men is a film that was listed whilst I was looking on Barry Levinson's filmography, but it was also one that I was very unfamiliar with. I remember the last time I tried to watch this movie that after the first 15 mins, I gave up completely and turned it off because I just couldn't get into it, whatsoever. And so, I decided to try for a second time just today to see how it would fare and whether this time around, I'd manage to stick this one out to the very end. Fortunately, I did so and in doing so, I see to it that Tin Men touches on certain things and that it shows itself up to be a showcase on how two people who hate each other's guts, share a lot more in common than we originally thought. 

The second outing from Barry Levinson's Baltimore films, following on from Diner and was later preceded by Avalon and Liberty Heights, Tin Men tends to be a darker effort, but at the same time, it comes up short in certain areas and at best, I found it to be okay to reasonably good and that the story should have been a lot more dynamic. 

A pair of door-to-door Aluminium salesmen (which the title of the movie alludes to & is a slang term) from Baltimore, Earnest Tilly and BB Babowsky are involved in a minor car incident, which then blows up into a massive feud and they end up quarrelling against each other. Both Tilly and Babowsky blame one another for the fiasco and declare war - with Babowsky, stooping as low as stealing and seducing his rival's wife, who becomes increasingly unhappy with her marriage. Their actions incur the wrath of government officials; thus, leading to further investigation. Babowsky is a typical wheeler-dealer hustler type, whilst Earnest is tragi-loser who I felt sorry for and of who does his damn hardest to make things work, but whose efforts go unappreciated by his thankless wife. 

The feud is effective in advancing the film forward and as a plot device, it serves Tin Men rather well, but as it does so, it doesn't make the required and huge impact one expects it ought to do. I will say however that Tin Men is well-written and despite the comedy, which was deft and not being at the forefront as much, the performances by the main two, DeVito & Dreyfus, but more so by the former are what makes this movie worth sitting through. 

Richard Dreyfus's character was a meanie and a cad, whilst Danny DeVito's was more likeable and sympathetic and I couldn't stand Earnest's wife, who cheated on him with his rival. The subplot with Nora and BB falling for each other was totally unconvincing that it didn't work and I didn't feel any chemistry between Barbara Hershey and Richard Dreyfus. On the other hand, DeVito's performance was terrific and for me, he was the more compelling out of himself, Dreyfus and Hershey. Unfortunately, the script doesn't allow his character to grow and develop that well enough. That, and things do not get better for Earnest, which is a shame. Out of all the characters, DeVito's character was one that deserved a far happier ending than the rest. 

Whenever DeVito was onscreen, I became invested in the movie, and when he wasn't, I didn't find Tin Men as interesting and as watchable, and so I zoned out. Some of the banter was lighthearted and snappy, but it wasn't that funny and but for DeVito's character, everyone else was virtually charmless and they just seemed to be going through emotions. 

I liked how it ended, but Tin Men is far from entertaining and it could have been boosted with some more highly amusing one-liners, lines and occasional slapstick, which this film needed.  

Also look out for a cameo appearance by the British pop group, Fine Young Cannibals who perform, 'Good Thing' in a bar scene. 

Final Verdict:

Tin Men was and is a reasonable film and though it is not a high point in terms of commercial and critical success for Levinson, it does have something to say. But it also needed to be funnier in places and more dynamic also. 

Fortunately, in DeVito's Earnest and his performance as that character, in addition to the impressive 1960s set designs, it just about makes Tin Men watchable enough for me.


Monday, 21 August 2017

Directorial Feature Spotlight: Barry Levinson

'A Character-Driven Based Director Who Focuses On Telling The Story That Needs To Be Told'

Barry Levinson is an American film director & writer born in Baltimore, Maryland. He got his big break working as a comedy writer for Carol Burnett and Mel Brooks in the 1970s. His best-known movies are dramas and comedy-dramas that include Diner (1982), Good Morning Vietnam (1987) & Rain Man (1988). In addition to being his directorial debut, Diner was one of four films set in Levinson's birthplace of Baltimore: the other three are Tin Men with Richard Dreyfus and Danny DeVito, Avalon & Liberty Heights. He also served as an uncredited writer for the cross-dressing comedy, Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman, of whom he has worked with on four separate occasions as a director. Levinson has also received 3 Oscar nominations and in 1991's Bugsy, the film was nominated 10 times including best director and best picture. 

This is the man who went on to secure the Oscar as Best Director for Rain Man, although he should have also won for Good Morning, Vietnam as well, but Levinson is also the same man who studied Improvisational classes for comedy. & with Robin Williams, who was known for his improvisational skills, I'm sure he came in handy when working with Robin on that film. 

Known for his versatility in branching out towards different genres and not sticking to one subject matter or style, what I really appreciate about Barry Levinson's approach is how he tries to find a way to make each film work and to tell the story that needs to be told to the audience, without straying so far. It is also very observational, in terms of that his films tell stories and that the movies manage to observe what the characters are doing and saying and the significance of them. Levinson has a knack for blending both the visual and literate aspects in his movies. I may add also that there is a human interest aspect in most of his characters. He doesn't throw in scenes because they look good to the eye, but because they have something to tell as well. 

1992's Toys was and still is to this day a financial and critical disaster and is to many still the low point of his career. & I wasn't fond of Man of the Year. But at the same time, as surreal and strange as it is, with a bit more work and adding in humour, it would have turned out well. That film (by that I am referring to Toys) and Sphere are movies people don't tend to associate Barry Levinson with and though sometimes, it doesn't always work, there are some elements that stand out for me in those efforts. 

I do realise that there are people who find Levinson's directorial style to be lacking, maybe because it's not that exciting or action-packed as it should be. In the 1980s and 1990s, Barry Levinson was one of the world's most prolific and acclaimed directors and he worked with the likes of established actors such as Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

There isn't one film I would say I truly disliked or enjoyed least of all by Levinson that I have seen: Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Disclosure, Tin Men, even Sphere wasn't too bad. Good Morning, Vietnam has to be my ultimate favourite: not just an incredible performance by Robin Williams, but the direction, cinematography and execution by Levinson were practically flawless. I like Levinson's style and approach and they lend themselves well to the movies that he directs.

A director who has shown his capability in combining and choosing well-written stories and scripts and intelligent imagery for his films that are character-driven, Barry Levinson has produced very few bombs and I would count him as one of my personal favourite movie directors. 

Notable Favourites: Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Disclosure (1994), Toys (1992) & Rain Man (1988)

Notable Non-Favourites: Man of the Year

Grade I Would Award Towards Barry Levinson:  A

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Directorial Feature Spotlight: Paul Verhoeven

'Misogynistic & Terrible Depictions of Female & Hero Characters Hinder My Enjoyment Of His Movies'

Paul Verhoeven is a Dutch filmmaker originally hailing from Amsterdam, who is best known for the 1987 action sci-fi based cyberpunk offering, Robocop amongst other notable American films that became worldwide successes.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Paul Verhoeven shocked Hollywood traditionalists and directed a string of R-rated Hollywood mega-hits that really pushed the boundaries of sex and violence in more ways than one and in deeply provocative ways that lured audiences to their seats, as well as enraged and upset censors and moralists with his ideas. His first English language film was Flesh & Blood made in Paul's native country and was released in 1985, starring Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

All the American actresses Verhoeven had turned to to play the lead role of Elle in the 2016 self-titled movie, turned him down and in the end, he settled for a French actress, Isabelle Huppert. Similarly, a number of high-profile actresses turned down the chance to play and had refused to play the role of Catherine in Basic Instinct including Kathleen Turner, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan (who coincidentally went on to star in erotic thriller In The Cut), Julia Roberts, Kim Basinger and Demi Moore. With the role eventually snapped up by Sharon Stone, who had previously worked with Verhoeven on Total Recall.

He has a (deeply) disturbing interest/fetish towards rape from both the perspectives of the rapist and the victim: in Spetters, an early Dutch film, a young gay man is gang- raped by a group of bikers, in Flesh & Blood, Martin played by Rutger Hauer rapes Agnes (Jennifer Jason Lee), in Showgirls Nomi's best friend is brutally raped by a pop star, Basic Instinct's Michael Douglas's cop character attempts to rape his estranged wife and in Hollow Man, an invisible serial killer scientist in Sebastian enters a woman's house and rapes her as she lies on her bed. & in Elle, a French-language rape revenge thriller, the main character is raped by her attacker and goes on to stalk her attacker. The latter of which earned him several awards and is the most critically acclaimed movie of his career.

Verhoeven has made a career out of stirring and courting controversy by going beyond the boundaries and merging wit with excesses in sex and violence. His movies, particularly his sci-fi based outings, are typically violent, satirical and contain and conjure up highly provocative and sexual imagery, which each film having a heavily stylised aesthetic look and feel to them. Robocop, Basic Instinct, Total Recall, Starship Troopers, Showgirls are all satires that indulge in his morbid and warped take on socially immoral human behaviour. Verhoeven's portrayals and framing of the female characters, but for in Robocop and Total Recall, lean more towards being misogynistic. The guy loves women: he likes them strong but also in ways that their bodies attract the allure of their male aggressors and that they are used and get taken advantage of. Which is what worries and disturbs me about Verhoeven.

Sharon Stone once alleged the infamous leg crossing scene in Basic Instinct where her vagina was exposed during filming, was filmed without her knowledge. That once she saw the footage with a test audience that she became aware of this and Stone slapped Verhoeven in the face and left the screening. Verhoeven strongly denied this allegation. 

His fascination with sex and violence is given the hardcore treatment with nudity, gore, blood and guts aplenty, which is also glossy and somewhat well-crafted. I loved Robocop and think it is the best movie Paul Verhoeven has directed, followed by Total Recall, which was a brilliant follow-up. But after that, his follow-ups have been a mixed bag for me and not least because of the protagonist/good guy characters we or I am supposed to root for, are so dislikable, unsympathetic and lack redeemable qualities. Had many of his characters been as likable enough for me, then it would make me enjoy Verhoeven's movies even more. I don't watch movies just for the plot, story, casting, special effects, action scenes etc, but for the characters themselves. & having hero characters that come across as humane and likable is important in the viewing experience for me. It may not be a big deal for a lot of people, but it is to me.

But alas, minus points for the misogynistic female characters, for the male characters as being the aggressors and but for Robocop, Elle, Total Recall, his other movies that have dislikable protagonist characters that I can't root for, for various reasons.

I find his sci-fi movies more watchable; Basic Instinct was rather underwhelming for me, and but for the highly charged erotic sex scenes, it was absent of the tension needed to rile up the film. Showgirls is a guilty pleasure, Hollow Man was all right but Starship Troopers felt too much like a teen drama in the mode of Saved By The Bell with large blood-thirsty insects & not so interesting story. & again, all the hero-based characters in those movies lacked charm and I found them as equally detestable and not empathetic enough.

Visually, stylistically, aesthetically, Paul Verhoeven's movies look a treat and as much as his movies contain some sort of social message, this is often overlooked in some instances in favour of the nihilistic violence and sexual imagery they evoke. 

Therefore, as strong and heavy- laden as the sex and violence are by Paul Verhoeven, its lack of moralistic and honourable protagonist characters for me to root for, ruins what is otherwise an interesting showing by Verhoeven. He is a director that is not for everyone - which is fine, and though there are some things he does that I find intriguing, the rest is just for shock purposes. 

That, and that some of the rape scenes in his films are uncomfortable for me to sit through.

Notable Favourites: Robocop (1987) & Total Recall (1990)
Notable Non-Favourites: Starship Troopers (1997), Basic Instinct (1992), Flesh & Blood (1985)

Grade I Would Award Towards Paul Verhoeven:  C
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