From Dusk Till Dawn The Series

From Dusk Till Dawn, From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter, and From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series are all currently available on instant Netflix

From Dusk Till Dawn

 

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (2014) – Rated TV-14

Bank-robbing brothers encounter vengeful lawmen and demons south of the border in this original series based on Robert Rodriguez’ cult horror film.”

I am not sure how I feel about From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. Robert Rodriguez has taken the 1996 movie he made from Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay and adapted it into a television series. There are certainly some differences but he has taken a 108 minute film and turned it into a 450 minute television season.

While the movie is quite a hoot, the vampire action doesn’t actually come around until the third act. Rodriguez certainly attracts a good cast. George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, and Salma Hayek do the heavy lifting. Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin (playing three roles), Danny Trejo, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, John Saxon (blink and you’ll miss him), and Fred Williamson also appear.

From Dusk Till Dawn’s success was followed up by a quick direct-to-DVD sequel (Texas Blood Money) and prequel (The Hangman’s Daughter). These did not have Rodriguez’ wonderful touch with action made on the cheap and did not have Tarantino’s quirky dialogue but were serviceable enough.

Texas Blood Money starred Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins. Danny Trejo and Bruce Campbell put in appearances as well. The Hangman’s Daughter features Michael Parks, Temuera Morrison, and Rebecca Gayheart as well as another appearance by Danny Trejo.

Now, almost two decades after the first film, Rodriguez has made a series out of his cult classic. He has packed it with hispanic and non-hispanic actors and premiered it on the new El Rey Network. It is mostly in English with some Spanish bits here and there.

His timing is quite good as not only are hispanic shows in short supply but horror is very hot on television right now with The Walking Dead having been joined by The Strain, American Horror Story, Sleepy Hollow, The Vampire Diaries, and Penny Dreadful. True Blood just ended a seven year run. Constantine premieres in about a week.

Being a fan of the original movie, the television series does drag a bit as we do not have the big bar scene until episode 8. Rodriguez keeps the pace moving fairly well, although everyone seems to have a ton of backstory.

D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz star as Seth and Richie Gecko. I liked the change to their dynamic. The TV Seth thinks he is the movie Seth but is nowhere near as in charge as he was in the movie. The character of Richie is considerably fleshed out and is no longer just the amusing hallucinating sociopath played by Tarantino in the movie.

Eiza Gonzalez is no Salma Hayek but her character is also quite a bit different. Jesse Garcia plays Texas Ranger Freddie Gonzalez, a character who is far more important than his equivalent character in the movie.

Don Johnson plays Earl McGraw, taking over from Michael Parks. Fun fact: The character of Earl McGraw first appears in From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Despite his unfortunate fate in the opening minutes of that movie, he appears in Kill Bill as the lawman who discovers Kiddo’s body after the Wedding Chapel Massacre and is in both halves of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof).

Robert Patrick returns from Texas Blood Money, this time taking over the role of Jacob Fuller from Harvey Keitel. Wilmer Valderrama is almost unrecognizable as Carlos. Jake Busey, Adrianne Palicki, William Sadler, and James Remar all put in welcome guest appearances. I guess Rodriguez is saving Danny Trejo for the second season.

I have to assume that violence is limited by the television rating/network but, while it isn’t the complete bloodbath that the movie was, it still impresses in the gore category. There is less nudity and the language is definitely toned down.

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series takes awhile to get going and may be a bit of a slog if you remember the movie but there are quite a few (welcome) creative differences and by the end, it is definitely its own show. I liked it, albeit with reservations, and look forward to what they do in season two.

Aliens Attack! The Faculty Edition

With every movie I see in the theaters being a variation on Aliens Attack! (The Avengers, Battleship, Men in Black III, and Prometheus being the last four movies I’ve seen), I thought I would check out the Netflix equivalents. I will say that I hope the rest of the summer movies can do without aliens (Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises).

The Faculty is currently available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: Aliens attack The Breakfast Club (with fun results).

The Faculty (1998) – Rated R

“Many teens think their teachers hail from another planet — but what if it’s true? Herrington High students notice that faculty members aren’t quite themselves, and discover an alien infection they might not be able to stop.”

Robert Rodriguez is a vastly fun director. He is always very kinetic and edits his own films. There is no such thing as a slow-paced Rodriguez film. He knows how to make the most out of a shoestring budget and has a good eye for gore effects.

After a brief scene to establish that The Faculty is a horror movie, Rodriguez introduces us to our jock Stan (Shawn Hatosy – physically a bit miscast), nerd Casey (Elijah Wood), popular girl Delilah (Jordana Brewster), head case Stokely (Clea Duvall), punk Zeke (Josh Hartnett) and new girl Marybeth (Laura Harris). If those archetypes seem familiar, the first five are lifted from The Breakfast Club.

Rodriguez’ trades in on Robert Patrick’s former role as the T-1000. His inherent oddness makes him seem alien and sinister and he does a good role of playing that up. Rodriguez regular Salma Hayek has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as the school nurse. Famke Janssen has a lot of fun as a wallflower teacher but you can see that she’s just a removal of glasses and hair flip away from being the Hollywood hottie.

Rodriguez gets fun (not good but fun) performances from everyone including Bebe Neuwirth and Piper Laurie as other faculty members.

While Rodriguez normally writes, edits, and directs, here he wisely turns the writing chores over to Kevin Williamson. Rodriguez writes efficiently but Williamson really knows how to write young people. He throws in the usual pop culture references including a hilarious one about Invasion of the Body Snatchers ripping off Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (which it did). The Faculty is essentially the same story.

Note to wife: there is a wonderful “you own nothing” scene midway through the movie.

As usual for this scenario, the first two acts are creepy but the script and direction are too fun to get a real feeling of paranoia. The third act turns into more of a monster movie (obvious from the previews). As usual for Rodriguez, the action is well-handled and several of the scenes are memorable (and a bit wince-inducing).

I know I have used the word ‘fun’ too often but that is definitely the theme here. The Faculty is a fun gory horror movie.

People Watch: Look for Daily Show pundit Jon Stewart in a brief role as a science teacher.

Terminator 2 – 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. Terminator 2 – Judgment Day is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Rated R for strong sci-fi (not Syfy) action and violence and for language.

“In this sequel, director James Cameron delivers scene after scene of action-packed thrills. A bigger, better Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is gunning for a shape-shifting T-1000 who is out to kill John Connor (Edward Furlong), the son of Sarah (Linda Hamilton), the original Terminators nemesis”

As with Alien/Aliens, Terminator is a better film than Terminator 2 but Terminator 2 is the more enjoyable film. Cameron is a master of wonderful cuts. In the opening he segues from children playing on a playground to a rather stark vision of the future.

As he did with Aliens, Cameron has also interwoven a theme here. In T2, the overall theme is an examination of what it means to be human. This is more pronounced in the extended version which I was surprised to discover this was. This version contains a scene with Sarah talking to Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), an extra scene with Arnie being worked on, an extra scene with workaholic Miles Dyson, and others.

Cameron loves to have strong female protagonists in his films. This is one of the things I love about Cameron as the action film genre often has a “Men Only” sign on it. Here Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is very buff and capable if somewhat psychologically screwed up. Linda Hamilton does a fine job of grounding many fantastic sequences.

Besides his genius at pacing that I mentioned yesterday, Cameron also excels at injecting appropriate humor into deadly, often grim, encounters. I say “appropriate” because the humor is funny without detracting from the seriousness of the situation.

The opening action sequence where Arnie acquires clothing has great action and humor. Unfortunately if you stop to consider it, the scene makes no sense. For an example of what The Terminator series looks like without humor, watch Terminator Salvation.

Arnold returns as a different T-800 and all jokes aside about his robotic delivery, he makes an excellent Terminator. In the first film he was the ultimate Terminator but here he is practically obsolete next to the new T-1000 model.

Robert Patrick plays the new liquid metal Terminator and the smoothness of his face really lends credibility to the changes. Of course a large part of the new Terminator are the special effects used. It seems with every film, Cameron graphically pushes the envelope of what can be accomplished.

Edward Furlong plays John Connor, future leader of the human race. Unfortunately John Connor at this stage is just a juvenile delinquent. Furlong is pretty good but it is often difficult to see where his leadership qualities will spring from.

Joe Morton has a small but meaty role as Miles Dyson, whose discoveries lead to Skynet and ultimately armageddon.

It can be no surprise that I wholeheartedly recommend one of the greatest action films of all time. The special effects hold up quite well.

Netflix presents T2 in high-definition for those of you with adequate internet connections. The picture is better than DVD quality but a bit shy of the Blu-Ray.

People Watch: Xander Berkeley (Mason in 24) and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez in Aliens) have brief roles here as foster parents to John Connor.

Die Hard 2 – 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. Die Hard 2 – Die Harder is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Die Hard 2 (1990) – Rated R for adult content.

“Bruce Willis reprises his role as John McClane, an off-duty cop gripped with a feeling of déjà vu when on a snowy Christmas Eve in the nations capital, terrorists seize a major international airport, holding thousands of holiday travelers hostage. Renegade military commandos led by a murderous rogue officer (William Sadler) plot to rescue a drug lord from justice and are prepared for every contingency except one: McClanes smart-mouthed heroics.”

A character in Scream 2 argues, ironically, that sequels are by definition inferior products. I do not believe that to be the case. Many sequels surpass their originals in part because they do not have to waste so much exposition time. However I will grant you that most sequels are inferior to their originals.

Unfortunately this is guilty confession time. I saw Die Hard 2 and liked it better than Die Hard. Die Hard 2 is by no means a better film but I saw Die Hard 2 under the ideal circumstances (a theater) and Die Hard on VHS in a room with a bunch of my friends chatting. So clearly environment was a factor. It was only much later that I realized how wonderful Die Hard was.

Renny Harlin takes over the directing reins from John McTiernan. His first big film (his previous film was Nightmare on Elm Street 4) is chock full of action and wonderful setpieces obviously inspired by the Hong Kong films of John Woo.

Die Hard 2 is based on the novel 58 Minutes by Walter Wager with the events altered to fit and, in some cases, shoehorn in the Die Hard characters. The screenplay was written by Steven E. De Souza and Doug Richardson. The script and events are exciting but quite a bit more over the top than Die Hard. Not having read 58 Minutes, I am unable to tell if that is the author or the screenwriters.

Bruce Willis reprises his role as wisecracking cop John McClane. Die Hard made Willis an action star and he would reprise this role twice more. He manages the fine line of being witty while performing daring feats of fighting and marksmanship.

Unfortunately they stretch incredulity by not only having Holly McClane (Bonnie Bedelia) in one of the airplanes circling Dulles but also having Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) on the same plane. My eyes did roll when John McClane needs to get help (again) from Sgt. Powell (Reginald VelJohnson).

Since our villains were unlikely to return for a second film, we have William Sadler as Colonel Stuart and, in a brief role, Franco Nero as General Ramon Esperanza.

Dennis Franz essentially plays a cross between his cop in Hill Street Blues and his cop in NYPD Blue but he is always fun to watch. John Amos rounds out the cast as Major Grant.

I heartily recommend Die Hard 2 for Bruce Willis as John McClane and some wonderful over-the-top action. It is definitely not the classic that Die Hard was, in part because it trod the same ground and in part because Alan Rickman was incredible in Die Hard.

Trivia: There is a great scene in one of the trailers for Die Hard 2 that is not in the movie. John McClane is crawling around some ducts with a light and mutters “This is how I spent last Christmas”. There is a somewhat sim ilar line used in a different place in the movie.

People Watch: Wow a veritable smorgasbord of later known actors in small parts. Colm Meaney (Chief OBrien on Star Trek TNG & DS9) is the pilot of the Windsor plane. Robert Patrick (Terminator in T2) plays OReilly. John Leguizamo (Sid in the Ice Age movies) plays Burke. Last but not least yes that is Senator Fred Thompson lending gravitas to the role of troubled airport controller Trudeau.

Cop Land – Robert De Niro week

This week I’d like to celebrate one of our great American actors – Robert De Niro. Netflix has a slew of instant movies featuring De Niro including Cop Land.

Cop Land

WATCH: Cop Land (1997) – Rated R for adult content, brief nudity, graphic language and violence.

“When a local patrolman is implicated in a controversial shooting in a small New Jersey town, put-upon sheriff Freddy Heflin teams up with Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) to investigate a connection between the mob and the NYPD officers who live in the town. Sylvester Stallone delivers an effective dramatic performance in this arresting crime thriller as Freddy. Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta also star.”

“Being right is not a bullet-proof vest Freddy!”

Sylvester Stallone was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Rocky. His role as a down-on-his-luck boxer who gets a shot at the big time was heartwarming. After decades of action stardom, his role here is as a poor schlub, Freddy Heflin, who couldn’t achieve his dream of being a big city cop because of an injury suffered during a heroic rescue.Freddy is now a small cop-town sheriff.

Stallone does a stellar job underplaying his role here. It looks like he put on quite a bit of belly weight for the role. Depression and disappointment have beaten him down but he’s still a good if a bit obtuse man. Next to Rocky, this is probably his best role.

Stallone gets stellar support from a good cast even though it is clearly his show. Ray Liotta plays twitchy very well here. Robert De Niro is authoritative but doesn’t have much to do here as an Internal Affairs investigator. The always wonderful Harvey Keitel is the calm boss trying to keep everything from unraveling. Robert Patrick has a big cheesy mustache and hot temper so you won’t remember that he was the T-1000 terminator.

This is not a great film – there are way too many coincidences. A character whose motto seems to be – “If in doubt, rub them out” would be unlikely to hold the position that he does in this movie. Freddy finally realizes that he can’t trust the cops he has consistently palled around with and then trusts other people because the script tells him to. The painfully obvious voice-over postscript seems like beating a dead horse.

On the other hand there is much to appreciate in the script. There is a tender yet revealing moment between Freddy and Liz (Annabella Sciorra) and then a second one later in the film. Freddy makes a wonderfully human confession about his heroic deed. The climax of the film handles Freddy’s injury quite well.

People Watch: Look for Edie Falco and a serious Janeane Garofalo here in small roles.