Saturday, June 26, 2010

Big Trouble in Little China

One of my all-time favorite adventure films from the 1980's is John (Halloween) Carpenter's deliriously wacky Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Starring Kurt Russell as a swaggering doofus hero named Jack Burton, and Kim Cattrall as his near-girlfriend, the story is a delightful mishmosh of kung fu, mystical battling wizards, and "It was a dark and stormy night" scary ghost story.

I never tire of watching it. The script is replete with wonderful snatches of dialogue. For instance, ever wonder what's in a Six Demon Bag? "Wind, fire, all that kind of thing!"

Big Trouble in Little China is just that good.

If there was ever a movie that cried out for a sequel (or two) it was this under-rated lark from the master John Carpenter.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, June 26, 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut

I like the films of director Richard Donner. Films like the classic Lethal Weapon and its follow-ups.

When Donner made the original Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, he also shot much of what he intended as Superman II. But then he was fired. And replaced with UK director Richard (A Hard Day's Night) Lester.

Superman II came out in 1981 and was a smash. But it was not what Donner had in mind. Lester's film had a very different tone from the first. While it was OK, it felt too jokey to me. I remember not liking it. It didn't feel right. It wasn't true to the spirit Donner had created in the first film.

Fast forward to 2006, and the Richard Donner cut of Superman II was released. I finally saw it tonight.

While the film is a somewhat strange result, cobbled together as best they could from footage found in a vault, I am so glad they made the effort. The Donner cut features a wonderfully moving performance by Reeve and has brought back the heart that Donner had invested in the first film.

In fact, that's what Donner is about: heart. The heart of human relationships. Look at the connection between Murtaugh and Riggs in Lethal Weapon.

In the Donner cut of Superman II, the scenes between Superman and his ghostly father Jor-El (played by Marlon Brando), where the son is torn between his mission to care for humanity and his love for a mortal woman, will bring a tear to your eye.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, June 24, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Fall

Today is Father's Day. At my son Kevin's insistence, this morning I watched director Tarsem Singh's 2006 movie The Fall. A film that, in essence, is about becoming a father.

What a wondrous visual feast! It reminded me of The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, and the Arabian Nights, somehow blended with a story of early Hollywood in a hospital near the orange groves of 1920's Los Angeles.

The Fall is teaming with interesting actors, but not one that I recognized. Actor Lee Pace stars as an injured Hollywood stuntman who is contemplating suicide rather than live as a cripple. Another patient in the hospital, a young immigrant girl (played by a remarkable child actress named Catinca Untaru) who broke her arm picking oranges, is drawn to him when he tells her an epic story of a team of friends seeking revenge against an evil governor.

And what a colorful team of heroes! I especially liked the mud-covered mystic wildman who emerges from a smoldering tree. Tarsem's band puts many other superhero films to shame. I even had the thought that Tarsem should be in the running to direct The Hobbit now that Del Toro has stepped down.

Though the lavish visuals nearly overwhelm the story, the director never loses sight of the heart of this story, the relationship between the forlorn stuntman and the fatherless child.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, June 20, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cross of Iron

Continuing my rediscovery of forgotten Sam Peckinpah movies, I rented Cross of Iron, his 1977 film set on the Russian Front during World War II, featuring a dynamite international cast headed by James Coburn, Maximilian Schell, David Warner, James Mason, and Senta Berger, but teaming with excellent supporting players.

In Cross of Iron, Peckinpah takes the viewer to the hell of war, and there is no escape. Even the hero, German soldier Rolf Steiner (wonderfully played by under-rated actor Coburn), beloved by his men and decorated for bravery, is unable to escape the unrelenting savagery, even though he has a chance when he is injured in a ferocious battle with the Russians and sent to hospital where he meets the gorgeous nurse Eva (played by lovely Senta Berger). Unable to abandon his men who are still waging war with the overwhelming Russian army, Steiner leaves her and returns to the front line where more horror awaits.

Though a box office dud at home in the U.S., Cross of Iron was a huge success in Europe.

While watching this forgotten masterpiece from American original Peckinpah, I found myself thinking of Quentin Tarantino's excellent WWII film Inglorious Basterds. Knowing that QT is a total film geek, I wonder if he had Cross of Iron in mind as he crafted his fantasy film about the war?

Tarantino's entertaining film feeds our wish fulfillment by depicting an alternate ending to the war, while Peckinpah, the grim realist, gives us mud, blood, agony, and death.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, June 10, 2010

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Review of Splice

Imagine your most dysfunctional family. Got it? Now go see Splice, the new horror/sci-fi flick from director Vincenzo Natali. This mother, father, and daughter will send you to bed with shivers and nightmares.

When I heard about this film back when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, I knew I had to see it. And wow wee, it's good! If you like your sci fi and horror to go over the top and then some, you will like this.

I had heard from some other reviews that there are "eewww" scenes of gross-out horror (yes, there are), as well as "whoa hey now" scenes of highly inappropriate sex (yes, there are). So be prepared. This is NOT, I repeat NOT, a film for children. So get a baby-sitter, people.

The opening night audience that I saw Splice with, at the Loews in Edison NJ, was very appreciative, hooting and yowling at all the right spots as Natali pushed our buttons good.

Usually in films of this sort, the actors are beside the point. But not here. Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody as the husband-and-wife scientists who "birth" a cute little chimera named Dren, deliver terrific performances that veer from Dr. Frankensteinish glee to Biblically resonant insanity.

The film I was most reminded of while watching Splice was David Cronenberg's masterpiece of horror/sci fi The Fly. And it seems that Natali was nodding to The Master in several scenes.

So, I'm giving it a B+ because I kept thinking, "Gee. This is really good, but . . . What if David Cronenberg had made this?"

Posted by Terrence Seamon, June 5, 2010