Saturday, September 30, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Matango (1963)

A few thoughts: With much less of an emphasis on the monsters than on the human side of the equation, this is a surprisingly effective bottle drama of sorts that pits a group of friends and acquaintances against each other when confronted with a desert island scenario. I enjoy movies that demonstrate the crumbling of social structures, and while this isn't in the same league as something like 'The Exterminating Angel', the fact I can even bring it up in comparison with it is exceptional enough. Most of Honda's kaiju/monster movies use the human stories to essentially fill gaps, but this is one that works perfectly well on its own, but uses the monsters to aid the human story. I was very impressed, and the character interactions were dynamic and well-constructed. Watching people's survival instincts kick in in these different ways feels natural, and the acting is pretty solid as well. The mushroom people are just the icing on the cake. I never thought I'd be praising this movie so much, but it's really an intriguing watch.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Space Amoeba (1970)

A few thoughts: The highlight of these kaiju movies is generally the monsters themselves, which puts this movie in the class of entertainment that does a great job at offering fans what they want but still somehow comes up a little short. There's a giant squid monster, a giant crab monster, and a giant turtle monster in this movie, with a scene involving a fight between the latter two, but without a decent human story to make it all mean much of anything, it all feels incredibly frivolous. Does that mean it isn't entertaining? Absolutely not, but the human parts are severely lacking. I like the effects here, though the lack of Eiji Tsuburaya's contribution to the rubber suits can definitely be felt here, particularly during the squid monster scenes. If you just want to see giant corny monsters stomp around and smash things, it may all be on a jungle island, but this movie offers plenty of that. If you want a little more in-depth of a story, this won't be the one I'd recommend. It's second-grade Honda, but I still enjoy it.

200 Items Or Less: Q - The Winged Serpent (1982)

A few thoughts: There are few types of movies I hate more than the kind that don't deliver on a promise. With a title like this and with a supposed decent amount of emphasis on the titular winged serpent, I felt terribly lied to when I watched this movie and found myself bored to oblivion with a focus on a lead character with some kind of speech impediment and relatively little fun monster action. This was meant to be the movie that helped me to decide whether or not I liked Larry Cohen. Turns out I don't like him. The acting in this movie is really rough, with a lead character who is barely ever understandable and seems to have flunked out from the Al Pacino school of acting, where you're taught that screaming = good acting. He was an annoying menace in a movie I already wasn't enjoying. The pacing is awful, at just over 80 minutes I felt like I was watching it for hours. The only reason I'm not giving this movie an 'F' is because I liked the winged serpent itself -- but its lack of screentime made waiting for it to show up all the more tedious. Lousy movie.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

200 Items Or Less - Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

A few thoughts: While the first two in the series saw Paul Kersey take on individual thugs, and the third film had him taking on an entire residential block of criminals, it only made sense for the fourth to be the story of Kersey taking on and defeating drugs. Drug cartels, individual dealers, users, you name it. If drugs are near you, he's gonna shoot you. Pretty much a perfect example of the excess and violence found in Cannon films of the Golan-Globus era, there's really not much to say about this movie to set it apart from a good deal of the stuff they were producing at the time. Charles Bronson looks pretty tired of playing this role by this point, and with the series departing so heavily from its origins, there isn't much to say about the message or emotions of the story anymore. The third one, glorious as it may be, was the beginning of the end for this franchise. I enjoyed some of the corniness and the action is appropriately over-the-top, but the series was clearly stetched pretty thin by the time it came out. Still, solidly entertaining.

Monday, September 25, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Death Wish 3 (1985)

A few thoughts: After the well-rounded first entry and its slightly less restrained sequel, it only made sense for the third movie to take it a step further. Oh, sorry, did I say "a step" and not "50 miles"? This is where the series flies off the rails and then blows up the rails with a bazooka. Instead of avenging the rape and murder of a loved one, this one finds Paul Kersey falsely accused of the murder of an old friend, after which he becomes enlisted by a local policeman to help clean up the streets (particularly a specific apartment complex) as a vigilante. The ensuing plot is riddled with messy violence and a total glorification of bloodshed. It's glorious. Watching Bronson wander from place to place deliberately making himself look like a prime subject for mugging, only to whip out a massive handgun and blow people away is both hilarious and oh-so satisfying. The third act gunfight is among the most ridiculous and entertaining I've ever seen, as it escalates to insane levels and ends with some badass 'splosions. As insanely stupid as it is, I kinda love this movie.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Death Wish II (1982)

A few thoughts: One of those rare examples where, in spite of the original being a solid film, the sequel took everything from the first one and just amped it up to the next degree in a way that really works. The set-up is basically the same, only this time we have an entire movie worth of establishment between Paul Kersey (Bronson) and his skowly recovering daughter, which makes her (incredibly ridiculous) death hold extra weight. But this movie gets the Cannon treatment, which basically means the sex and violence are glorified, but Bronson gives a grounded enough performance to prevent this from reaching the uber-macho status that would reach critical mass by the 3rd entry in the series. Due to how emotionally distant the first film was, I don't see this over-the-top sequel as any kind of betrayal of the original, but rather an extension of it: an extremely bloody and satisfying extension. It still stays true to his character, but definitely treads some ground. Because of this, it doesn't particularly stand out above the first one, but at least it isn't pretending to be a hard--hitting drama. This is a cold-blooded revenge actioner through and through.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Death Wish (1974)

A few thoughts: Not the most action-heavy movie out there (I have rules!), but if I'm going to write about Death Wish movies, it's best to start from the beginning. For anyone who doesn't know, this movie is about a mild-mannered architect taking revenge on a group of low-lives who killed his wife and raped his daughter. It doesn't take long at all for this one to get going, and that's probably for the best, because connecting to the audience in an emotional way isn't Charles Bronson's strong suit. Far more time is spent with Bronson struggling to decide what to do and cope with the outcome of his actions than is spent establishing and fleshing out his relationships. It still works this way, but certainly lessens the emotional impact. At times ludicrous (just how many muggers are there in NY? 4 billion?), but never as over the top as the sequels -- I'll let you decide whether or not that's a bad thing. When it comes to vigilante crime dramas, this is definitely among the most memorable, but it's understandable if it leaves you a little cold. Either way, you gotta love that final shot.

Friday, September 22, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Escape From L.A. (1996)

A few thoughts: You know how reserved and generally understated Escape From NY is? Well let's just toss that out the window for the sequel, a movie so nuts it features scenes involving life or death basketball, surfing onto cars, and plastic surgery mishaps who basically feed on getting new operations. It's all so crazy, it's hard for me not to like it. But there is a limit to how much I can enjoy something like this. It's weird to me that this movie even exists, considering how John Carpenter movies are generally more subtle than this, but I think he went slightly mad in the '90s. The acting is fine, the sets are much more intricate than the first film, but with the '90s came lousy CG, which this movie has in good supply. Not quite the craziest action movie of its time, but seeing Snake Plissken back and as "tough and cool" as ever is still fun. If it weren't so exaggerated, the movie would feel a lot like a remake of the first movie, but because of this wild tone, it definitely comes across as a sequel that tried to one-up the original -- and that failure is fun to witness.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

A few thoughts: I'm not an Italian horror historian by any means, but that doesn't mean I don't know that this is one of the most important of its variety. Often credited as the first giallo film, or in the very least the movie that helped establish the sub genre, 'The Girl Who Knew Too Much' (re-edited and released as 'The Evil Eye' in the United States) may not be one of my very favorite Bava films, but is an entertaining and clever thriller nonetheless. Built around a series of murders a tourist becomes entangled in, the Hitchcock influence can definitely be felt here, but with Bava's visual style it takes on an identity of its own. Though it's shot in black and white, the heavy use of shadows and great lighting often featured in his movies is still on display here, though I still do prefer his color films. The acting is a bit stilted but it's honestly what I've come to expect in this sort of movies. I don't think it matters much which version you watch, but the music in the US version is very American, if that matters to you at all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

A few thoughts: It's always funny to me that Wes Craven started out making movies like this and Last House On The Left - violent, rough, and trashy - and would later reinvent the slasher franchise as slick, humorous, and slyly self-aware. An incredibly violent and exploitative horror movie that sort of plays like a home invasion slasher revenge story, this is one of those difficult to rate cult movies that's not even remotely pleasant or professional, nor does it ever pretend to be. It's not a fun movie to watch, the production quality is weak, the editing is choppy, and the acting is almost exclusively over-the-top, but it's still weirdly hard to look away from. There are definitely some disturbing moments, but the characters are so poorly developed, it's difficult to ever become totally invested in them. I wanted to root for the good guys, but I had trouble doing it because the villainous inbred hillbilly mutants were so much more interesting. It's not bad, but as pure exploitation, I think I actually prefer the 2006 remake.

Monday, September 18, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Vampires (1998)

A few thoughts: A lesser effort from John Carpenter, this is a sort of horror-western hybrid that's fallen through the cracks, and I can sort of see why. Apart from some cool visuals and an incredibly driven performance by James Woods, there isn't much to this movie that feels particularly fresh or original. In the '80s and '90s, there was a big push to reinvent the classic vampire, but between The Lost Boys, From Dusk Till Dawn, Near Dark, and Buffy, this didn't leave much room for John Carpenter's vision. Following a group of vampire hunters, the story feels very comfortable with itself, which works well for James Woods whose committed performance steals every scene. He's an incredibly natural actor, and this movie let's him really cut loose. I love the way vampires burst into flames in the sun as if they were packed with flares and gun powder, and I enjoy the grubby contemporary western setting, even if it's familiar territory. All-in-all, this movie didn't break any ground, but it's fun enough and is worth watching if even just for Woods.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Spaceballs (1987)

A few thoughts: Cornball barely begins to describe how goofy and childish this movie is, but it's they brand of overly silly cheesy humor that's hard not to enjoy, particularly if you have seen or are a fan of Star Wars. Mel Brooks has always been great at poking fun and making ridiculous parody movies, and while this doesn't stand up on the level of Young Frankenstein (which is practically perfect), this is definitely better than his Dracula parody. Meta before meta was cool, Spaceballs often picks the low-hanging fruit, but is a sharp and concise satire that lets a good joke simmer and does a solid job at establishing punchlines. Not every joke lands, and some are almost exceptionally stupid, but there is a charm and occasional depth to the jokes that makes it all the better. Mostly just targeting Star Wars, there are a few Trek and other sci/fi shows and movie jokes that slip in there, and for the most part they're used well. This isn't a perfect comedy, but it hits its marks and holds up pretty well within Brooks' filmography.

Friday, September 15, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Horror Of Dracula (1958)

A few thoughts: One of the first Hammer horror movies shot in technicolor with a heavy gothic aesthetic (the first being The Curse Of Frankenstein), this was the movie that started me in on really appreciating Peter Cushing -- who I now consider my favorite actor. He is the perfect Van Helsing, combining wisdom with physicality in an unexpected way. Christopher Lee plays Dracula, a much more frightening performance than Bela Lugosi, with a lot more emphasis put on his look than on his words. He barely speaks in this movie, which was a good choice helping separate itself from the 1931 version. The set design, lighting, and costumes are all excellent, using a lot of muted colors to help the bright paint-like blood stand out even more. No, the gore isn't realistic, but is catches your eye, which is the entire point. A major departure from the versions of this story that we all know, which I enjoy and appreciate. This isn't a remake, it's a reimagining, and one of the most important horror movies of its time.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Top 25 Star Trek Supporting Characters

Star Trek is such a massive universe, so making a list like this was bound to be tough for me. I had considered making a top 40 or 50 favorite characters list overall, but blending characters with 170 appearances onto a list with ones who only showed up a single time was way too hard for me. So, I've decided to do top 25 favorite lead and supporting characters lists. For this, I'll be counting any characters that appear in the TV shows or movies that aren't part of the main crew. Any number of appearances, but I'll not include any characters exclusive to games or books, for obvious reasons. So here we go.

25. Professor Moriarty

Portrayed by Daniel Davis
2 appearances: TNG - 'Elementary, Dear Data' (1988), 'Ship In A Bottle' (1993)

Species: Human Hologram

The best TNG villain who also happens to be Sherlock Holmes' greatest foe. First appearing in a season 2 episode as a villain programmed by Geordi to defeat Data in the Holodeck, this show's take on Moriarty allowed him to develop beyond being a simple villain, a character with depth and self-awareness who wanted to experience life outside of a program. His second appearance adds to that, while also proving how dastardly he can be to get what he wants.

24. Rom

Portrayed by Max Grodenchik
36 appearances: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)

Species: Ferengi

Quark's dopey and always-suffering little brother, Rom started off the show as basically a standard Ferengi but slowly began to develop a personality of his own. One of the most complete arcs in all of DS9, Rom took on the task of trying to bring about change within Ferengi culture, eventually landing himself a pretty great position to make these changes. Though he easily could have come across as preachy, this never was the case. He was a sweetheart.

23. Kruge

200 Items Or Less: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

A few thoughts: One of the most notable of Hammer's non-sequels, this is one of the earlier movies to explore the occult and satan worship, which became fairly standard for horror by the 1970s. One of the things I find most impressive about this movie come from how quickly it starts in on the plot and keeps things going without ever really slowing down or becoming exhausting. There are very few things about this movie that don't work, with the major standout being a laughably poor car chase scene with some of the worst rear-screen projection/composite shots (or whatever the hell you want to call it) I've ever seen. Christopher Lee is great as the main protagonist, keeping a level head around all these strange goings on, but Charles Gray is the guy who really steals the show. For an actor with relatively few major roles, I'm always impressed with him and this is probably the best he ever did. This isn't a terrifying movie, but it's got some creepy moments and a really cool overall production. I didn't like it the first time, but it's grown on me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Dogora (1964)

A few thoughts: A story about diamond thieves, secret agents, and double-crosses meets a giant alien jellyfish monster that feeds on carbon (particularly found in diamonds and coal). Definitely sounds like it could have been a huge mess, but Ishiro Honda does a great job at combining these two stories and making them complement each other instead of just sharing the same space. The special effects in this one are a bit of a mixed bag. Some shots look great, but others are pretty weak. The creature itself generally looks pretty awesome, but the use of miniatures ranges from effective to cornball -- very true to form for a kaiju movie of the '60s. The story hits a few dry patches, but is mostly fun to sit through, as I found myself thinking this should be a lot more popular. I guess not putting Godzilla in every movie sometimes hurt Honda's lasting success, but I applaud how much he branched out and tried new things for the genre like this. It's a unique monster, and overall a pretty solid movie.

Monday, September 11, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Alien Apocalypse (2005)

A few thoughts: If I was lying on my deathbed and given only 90 minutes to live, this might be the movie I would put on. Is it because it's so good, I want it to be my last memory? Hahahahaha, no. The reason I would pick it is because I know those 90 minutes would never pass, since this movie felt like I was watching it all day. I'm not as forgiving of lousy Bruce Campbell movies as his hardcore fans might be, so not even his effortless charm (which he does have in large quantities) was enough to keep this movie from being virtually unwatchable. I can stand bad dialogue, plot, CG, blah blah blah, but it's gotta be more fun than this. This wasn't so bad it's good, it was just bad bad. Maybe I needed to be drunk to enjoy it, but I really can't imagine putting this on again to find out if that would help. I would go into the plot, but it doesn't really matter. Nothing matters. I think this movie turned me into a nihilist. But seriously, it's not good at all, even in an ironic sense. Some awful pacing issues, and it looks terrible, too. But it could've been worse.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

200 Items Or Less: My Name Is Bruce (2007)

A few thoughts: I'm not a huge fan of Bruce Campbell, but I enjoy him enough. He's the kind of actor who's able to sustain a marginal script, but you have to enjoy his exaggerated acting and swaggerific personality. His best performances are usually just extensions of himself, so it makes sense for this shamelessly self-promoting and satirical autobiography to not only be directed by Campbell himself, but featuring Campbell playing himself as well. But don't be mistaken, this isn't an autobiography in the traditional sense, but rather a cheesy action horror fantasy about the aging actor being enlisted to help fight an ancient Chinese ghost. It's pretty dumb and you can definitely tell the script was trying to pull off Bubba Ho-Tep, but sadly lacking the humor and charm. Many of the jokes here fall flat, are incredibly predictable, and never really build up into anything. It's just lousy one-liners, one after the other. Ted Raimi is in it, too, in case I haven't made it sound unappealing enough already. I enjoyed bits of it, but it was lazy and too meta for its own good.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

200 Items Or Less - Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)

A few thoughts: Hey, remember how First Blood was really powerful, understated, and wasn't fill with dozens of people being exploded and turned into Swiss cheese? Well, forget all of that crap. All you need to know about this movie going in is that Rambo = badass, and everyone else = bullet receptacle. It's a mindless action movie that doesn't care about keeping true to the character of John Rambo, but chooses to take him down the route of killing machine. I love the villain's confusing accent, which flips back and forth between German and Russian, but either way we know he's a bad guy because he's foreign and says things like "zem" and "comrade", so who even cares? This isn't a movie you even bother to question the logistics of. There are double-crosses, tons of explosions, generic dialogue, and more shots fired than could be found in most wars. I love the first movie, and this one is a total betrayal of it, but that doesn't keep this from being a fun thing to watch, in that cheesy, macho '80s sort of way. It's a perfect example of lousy, fun action.

Friday, September 8, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Ghostbusters (1984)

A few thoughts: An all-time classic genre comedy, Ghostbusters balances humor, science fiction theory, fantastical elements, and some light horror in a way that blends together perfectly. Quite possibly Bill Murray's funniest performance, as well as the best from Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, a trio of unique and hilarious lead characters who play off each other perfectly. Not only has this movie aged well (apart from a few of the special effects are not so special anymore), it is one that still holds a special place in the hearts of people who were raised watching it. Maybe this is just my nostalgic bias or my love of '80s movies, but if I were to name the greatest comedies of all-time, this could very well find a place in my top 10. It's filled with great quotes and funny moments, and even after watching it dozens of times I can still sit down and enjoy it in new ways every time I put it on. I haven't seen the remake (no interest in it), but I can say you'd be better off just sticking with the original. It's a classic and I love it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

200 Items Or Less - Friday The 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

A few thoughts: It may have taken a few movies, but the Friday The 13th franchise finally found the perfect combination of shocks and humor with this one. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't watch slasher sequels expecting some deeply terrifying experience, so the fact this one takes a decidedly more comedic, satirical approach to the genre was a very welcome change of pace. From the very beginning when Jason is resurrected with a bolt of lightning, you know you're in for something special. Throwing in cornball humor and over-the-top kills, Jason Lives isn't just the best in the series, it's one of the most entertaining horror movies of the 1980s, and one of my all-time favorite slashers. I enjoy how they managed to work a tight story around the mindless killing, moving form set piece to set piece fluidly and without a ton of wasted time. The characters are written much better here than normal, and having a lead who is fully aware of Jason being on the loose from the beginning helps keep this from repeating itself. Tons of entertainment to be found here.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

200 Items Or Less: 13 Ghosts (1960)

A few thoughts: If you believe in ghosts, look through the red viewer -- if you don't, look through the blue. Welcome back to the wonderful world of William Castle's gimmicky horrors. And when I say wonderful, I really mean it, as his are some of the most entertaining and light-hearted horror movies of the era. Unlike several of his more popular films, this isn't one that could ever really scare anyone or even creep them out, but stands out for the creativity of the gimmick alone. The acting, cinematography, story, etc. are all pretty average, with the major standout component (apart from the blue/red ghost scenes) being the lighting, which I always enjoy the look of in his movies. Obviously this isn't on the same level as House On Haunted Hill or The Tingler, but this was never intended as a standalone movie. It relies heavily on audience participation, which does make it suffer when watching it at home. I would strongly suggest trying to get your hands on a few pairs of old red & blue 3D glasses and watch it that way, but it's not required.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Escape From New York (1981)

A few thoughts: An entertaining and surprisingly reserved action movie directed by one of the kings of the genre film: John Carpenter. Set in the future world of 1997, starring Kurt Russell as one of the most overly macho action leads of all-time, this is one of those movies that still puzzles me after a half dozen viewings whether or not it's meant to be taken seriously or not. It wouldn't be out of character for Carpenter or Russell to be tongue-in-cheek, but I don't honestly know. Either way, it's a fun and intriguing movie with an absolutely incredible cast (Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Donald Pleasence, Ernest Borgnine, and Lee Van Cleef), and a smoothly understated musical score recorded by the director himself. The set-up is simple, the action is sparse, and the set designs are often very minimalist, but the dystopian world it creates is perfect in how stark and dirty it feels. This movie feels very lived-in; it isn't pretty to look at, but not so grubby it isn't able to show off some cool scenery. Insanely rewatchable.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Sixth Sense (1999)

A few thoughts: Proud owner of one of the most famous plot twists of all-time, this is one of those gateway horror movies that was just too creepy for mainstream (and unsuspecting) audiences of the time, leading it to be considered a much more frightening movie than it really is. But it's still a really solid and occasionally chilling drama, with some career-best performances by Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, and (of course) Haley Joel Osment. Though the twist and certain moments don't hold up too well to scrutiny, this is still a very clever and competent script with great cinematography and an incredible musical score. James Newton Howard always elevated Shyamalan's films, and this was one of the best examples of that. It didn't just rely on jump-scares to be creepy, but built up tension through well-constructed scenes that allow the performances and music to suck you in. There's definitely a bit of that wispiness that would take over his later movies, but it doesn't get in the way of this fantastic drama with some genuinely creepy moments.

Friday, September 1, 2017

200 Items Or Less: No Holds Barred (1989)

A few thoughts: If I were to name just one movie that should be totally unwatchable but I love it anyway, this might be it. I don't care for pro wrestling, the acting is abominable, the script is almost astoundingly stupid, and as a WWE production it's almost insulting to its target demographic (portraying fans of wrestling as brainless idiots and psychopaths), but the way everything comes together is like a perfect storm of awful. I find it hilarious, but I could understand how someone else might have more trouble with it. Hulk Hogan is every bit as terrible of an actor as you might expect, but as entertainingly bad as he is, Kurt Fuller steals the show here as a seedy network executive. It's the kind of over-the-top acting that masochists like me feed on. The action scenes are shockingly bad, and a good portion of the movie is spent lingering on them. Oh, the glorious ineptitude! You had one job to do, movie, and you blew it. Not much else to say here, it's just a bad movie that winds up being really funny in spite of itself.