Phantom – This Means War! week

Phantom is currently available on instant Netflix.

Phantom

 

Phantom (2013) – Rated R

A Cold War Soviet submarine captain struggles with a rogue KGB group trying to seize control of the ship’s nuclear missile. Meanwhile, he secretly suffers from seizures that affect his grip on reality.

One Line Review: Exciting though dated premise makes for a surprisingly lifeless movie.

Todd Robinson is writer, director, and producer on this film so this is clearly a labor of love for him. I like submarine movies and I love submarine movies that are filmed on an actual submarine. Phantom is filmed aboard an actual decommissioned sub and the setting is great, showing off the cramped quarters.

Ed Harris is always a welcome presence and he does a good job here as Demi, in spite of the ludicrous pro-U.S. speech he has to give in the movie. Wonderful character actor William Fichtner is his second-in-command Alex. Lance Henriksen has a vital, if minor, role as Markov. All three of them do the best they can with the material. David Duchovny is less successful as a Spetsnaz commando with an agenda. None of the rest of the cast are particularly memorable.

We have three good actors in a submarine film based on a real life or death incident that could bring about the end of the world and it’s all filmed in a real submarine. So what went wrong? Apparently everything else.

The real life incident took place in 1968 but the film gives us no feel at all for the time that it is set in (except obviously prior to the fall of the Soviet Union). The Hunt for Red October handled a different situation aboard a Soviet submarine with quite a bit of flair. More recently (2002), K-19 Widowmaker was released dealing with a potential calamity aboard a Soviet submarine.

The real problem is that Phantom commits a cardinal sin: it is actually boring. There is no sense of tension in the movie, in spite of several incidents that were ripe for suspense. Nothing is handled artfully and everything is as predictable as possible. All the life is sucked out of the film. The only exception is the end sequence which will have you scratching your head in befuddlement.

Near Dark

Near Dark is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Near Dark (1987) – Rated R

“A young man reluctantly joins a traveling “family” of evil vampires, when the girl he’d tried to seduce is part of that group.”

“What you people want? ” – “Just a couple more minutes of your time, about the same duration as the rest of your life. “

Please note that I have used some of the older poster art for this film. The new art is absolutely ridiculous. They spend a good deal of time trying to make Near Dark look like Twilight, even going to the extent of making you think that the man is the vampire by changing his skin color. I seriously laughed out loud the first time I saw that art.

Near Dark was directed and co-written by Kathryn Bigelow. Yes, the Kathryn Bigelow who would become the first female to win an Oscar for Best Director (The Hurt Locker). Bigelow’s writing creates complex characters and gives you that wonderful feeling that this world existed before the movie began.

One of the best things about Near Dark is the mini-Aliens reunion. The main vampires are Lance (Bishop) Henriksen as Jesse Hooker, Jenette (Vasquez) Goldstein is Diamondback, and Bill (Hudson) Paxton is Severen. Near Dark is not as good as Aliens but Near Dark is quite good and those three actors work great together.

Honestly the three of them are the best thing about Near Dark. The leads are not bad but any time the vampire family is not on screen, you miss them. The Aliens veterans really chew up the scenery. James Cameron suggested she use his cast and Cameron and Bigelow would later (briefly) marry.

Adrian (Heroes) Pasdar is our protagonist, Caleb, who really gets to pay for hitting on the wrong girl. The quirky Jenny (Young Guns II) Wright has mixed feelings as the newly vampirized Mae. Joshua John Miller is cute as an eternally too young vampire, Homer. Genre veteran Tim Thomerson has a brief role as Caleb’s father.

Near Dark makes wonderful use of the American southwest, even more so than John Carpenter did in Vampires. Bigelow creates some incredible set pieces here, particularly a grueling yet humorous bar scene and a daylight assault on a hotel room. Action is quite good and the only thing I found lacking was the romantic plot. Tangerine Dream contributes a decent score but it is not iconic like the ones for Sorcerer or The Keep.

People Watch: James Cameron has a cameo as the man who flips off Severen.

Aliens – Second Verse Same as the First week

This week I have decided to cover the unjustly derided vehicle known as the sequel. This is Second Verse Same as the First week. Aliens is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Aliens (1986) – Rated R.

“In this acclaimed sequel, the only survivor from the first film, Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), finds her horrific account of her crews fate is met with skepticism — until the disappearance of colonists on LV-426 prompts a team of high-tech Marines to investigate. This special edition features an introduction by director James Cameron, commentary by cast and crew members and both the theatrical and special edition versions of the film.”

“Game over man, game over.”

Please note that the description refers to the disc version. The instant version is the theatrical release.

Alien and Aliens are two of my all-time favorite films. While Alien is the better film (by just a smidge), it takes a long time to set up the story and mythos and even once the action starts, the movie moves in fits and spurts. Aliens with its extreme emphasis on action is the more enjoyable film.

James Cameron is an incredible director. He made three of the best action films ever made (Aliens, Terminator, and Terminator 2) as well as the blockbusters Titanic and Avatar. Every thing he touches since Piranha 2: The Spawning is apparently made of gold.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) completes her transformation here from Alien. Besides being the main character of a wonderful ensemble, she is also central to the theme woven throughout the film. Cameron visits and revisits aspects of motherhood throughout the production (more so in the extended version). There is a wonderful initial scene of the face of a sleeping Ripley that fades into a scene of the planet Earth.

Comedian Paul Reiser plays wonderfully against type as friendly corporate representative Burke. Genre veteran Lance Henriksen is genuinely creepy as Bishop. This is the only film child actor Carrie Henn appeared in and she is quite good (she is a schoolteacher now).

The soldiers are all great. The underrated Bill Paxton has a field day as the panicky Hicks. Michael Biehn is the quiet but ultra-competent Hudson. Jenette Goldstein steals many a scene as the uber macho Vasquez. Even William Hope is good as the hapless Lt. Gorman.

While all of the film is impressive, I think the thing Cameron does best is that he knows how to properly pace the film. After a lot of buildup (and a couple false scares to keep us interested), Cameron brings us to the best action setpiece in the movie. It is an incredibly tense confrontation between the marines and the Aliens.

The important part is that right after that is over, there are a few character beats so we can catch our breath before the next action sequence. After the following sequence, we get some very humorous dialogue especially from Hudson and then more buildup as the survivors prepare for a siege.

It is hard to believe that Cameron only had a half-dozen alien suits to work with. It seems as though there are a never-ending swarm of aliens, particularly in a sequence involving the auto sentries in the extended edition.

Well it can hardly be a surprise that I heartily recommend one of my favorite films of all time. While Cameron does spend some time setting up the story, it is like the long climb of a roller coaster before you go over the top. Once you hit the peak, the ride is utterly thrilling all the way to the end.

Thankfully Netflix presents this movie in HD. While not without flaws, the 720p image looks so much better than my DVD. This has me eagerly awaiting the 1080p Alien Blu-Ray box set due this fall.

Trivia: Kathryn Bigelow, first female to win a Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, directed Near Dark. Near Dark features Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Bill Paxton (Hudson), and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) from Aliens as vampires and in one scene, the movie Aliens is playing in the background. It is an interesting film – just ignore the ridiculous new cover they gave it to make it look like Twilight.

People Watch: Mark Rolston, who plays Drake here, played Dan Erickson in Saw V and Saw VI.

Alone in the Dark – Videogames are bad for you week

Well I hated to see last week’s ‘Don’t Get on That Boat week’ end but it’s time to move to a new topic. This week is ‘Videogames are bad for you week’. All of the movies will be about videogames or are based on videgames. Alone in the Dark is currently available on instant Netflix.

Alone in the Dark

AVOID: Alone in the Dark (2004) – Rated R for violence and language

“Private sleuth Edward Carnby (Christian Slater) specializes in weird supernatural phenomena, and he’ll be forced to work with his archaeologist ex-girlfriend (Tara Reid) to defeat the demonic ancient Abskani tribe, which is set to wreak havoc on Earth. But Carnby already has experience with the evil beings, which also attempt to infiltrate his mind. Stephen Dorff co-stars in this sci-fi thriller based on the popular video game series.”

Ha ha ha – I hardly know where to start. Let’s begin by revising Netflix’ information. All of the above is wrong. The Alone in the Dark they have on instant play is Alone in the Dark II not the film listed above even though that’s the information they have for it. The corrected listing is below.

Alone in the Dark 2

AVOID: Alone in the Dark II (labeled Alone in the Dark) – Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and brief drug content.

“When a 100-year-old witch (Allison Lange) hatches a horrid plot to sacrifice a young girl with a mystical dagger, a team of witch hunters led by Edward Carnby (Rick Yune) set out to stop the killing and retrieve the terrible blade. But soon they discover that anyone who touches the knife falls under the power of the witch’s vengeful bloodlust. Michael Roesch and Peter Scheerer direct this horror film that co-stars Lance Henriksen.”

“This is radioactive solution…makes you invisible to the other side. It cancels out the aura.”

I’m not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed that I won’t have to watch Uwe Boll’s original film. This direct to video sequel replaces Christian Slater with Rick Yune as Edward Carnby. It is written and directed by Michael Roesch and Peter Scheerer.

First off I have to say that I’m glad this wasn’t a theatrical release. The combination of shaky cam, jump cuts, shifting camera angles and out of focus photography would probably have made me very ill. It is still almost headache-inducing to watch.

It really has no connection to the first film except that one character is called Edward Carnby. The film revolves around a group of hapless Ghosthunter-wannabes. They might as well be wearing red shirts or bullseyes.

The film is ridiculously heavy-handed. You see everyone hiding in an electrified cage so you know the power is going to go out. It does so almost immediately. You see a device with a large spike so you know someone will get impaled on it. Lo and behold, moments later someone is impaled on it.

Hilariously there is a door that opens partway up from the ground. Clearly Carnby can crawl through but Natalie (Rachel Specter) declares only she can squeeze through. Later on the door closes and the heroes spike it to keep it from closing completely. When it opens to about the same height as before, Carnby removes the block (even though he could go through and leave it there) and crawls through. The door promptly tries to shut on his foot. Then another character says that they’ll go get the car jack – something that would have made the whole sequence moot.

It is a shame that this movie isn’t any good. They assembled a genre fan’s dream cast which is surprising for a direct to video feature. It is not surprising that these people would be in a DTV movie – it is just surprising that so many of them are in the same one.

In addition to the always wonderful Lance Henriksen, Michael Pare (Bad Moon, Gargoyles) pops up briefly as Willson. Danny Trejo (Grindhouse, From Dusk til Dawn) and Ralf Moeller (best known as the giant German from Gladiator). Also putting in appearances are Zack Ward (Freddy vs. Jason, Transformers), Bill Moseley (Grindhouse, The Devil’s Rejects), Natassia Malthe (DOA, Elektra) and Jason Connery (son of Sean).

In spite of the ineptitude the film almost ends well and then we have a cheap cop-out. After the cheap cop-out, we have an obligatory second cheap cop-out which makes absolutely no sense given what went on throughout the entire film. Sorry to keep that vague but I hate spoiling even the bad films.

People Watch: Who should pop up as Lance Henriksen’s wife but P.J. (Carrie, Halloween) Soles.

Dog Day Afternoon – Al Pacino week

This is Al Pacino week. Dog Day Afternoon is currently available on instant Netflix.

Dog Day Afternoon

WATCH: Dog Day Afternoon (1975) – Rated R

“To get money for his gay lover’s sex-change operation, Sonny (Al Pacino) — who’s married with kids — teams up with Sal (John Cazale) to rob a New York bank on a scorching-hot summer day. The stickup goes awry when the press gets wind of the circus sideshow-esque story. Chris Sarandon, Charles Durning and James Broderick co-star in this classic Sidney Lumet-directed film based on an actual event from the 1970s.”

As with all Sidney Lumet films, this is more of a character study than an action or crime film. As mentioned at the opening of the film, this is based on an actual event that occurred on August 22, 1972. The plot follows the incident fairly closely with the major exception that the real bank haul was $213,000.

Lumet does a fantastic job of staging the movie in a naturalistic fashion. He eschews the use of a musical score. There is almost no makeup apart from omnipresent sweat. You can see lots of people eating in the background as the siege drags on. There are no flashy camera tricks, stunts or special effects and extremely little gunfire.

The acting is wonderful – Lumet really knows how to get performances from his actors. Al Pacino is incredible and was nominated for Best Actor. While the vast majority of screen time belongs to Pacino, three of the supporting actors give riveting performances. Chris Sarandon does not smirk at all during the film (a later trademark of his) and gives his best ever performance. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. John Cazale is just as good and deserved a nomination as well. Charles Durning is great but his character arc doesn’t have enough meat to be as good as Sarandon and Cazale.

In a terrible moment of irony, Sal (John Cazale) mentions that the one thing he is afraid of is cancer. John Cazale died three years later of bone cancer at the age of 42. He only made 5 films in his career – most notably assaying the role of Fredo in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. All 5 films that he starred in were nominated for Best Picture Oscars. At the time of his death, he was engaged to be married to the divine Meryl Streep.

I very highly recommend this film. The first few minutes, you’ll be thinking “what a bunch of idiots” and not think much of the film. As the situation degenerates, the film quickly ratchets up in intensity. This is definitely one of Al Pacino’s best performances even if Michael Corleone and Tony Montana are more iconic.

People Watch: Look for a young Lance Henriksen briefly as Murphy.