Category Archives: Cult Classics

Darkman (1990): A Masterpiece Exploring the Transformative Nature of Revenge

Darkman

    “Darkman” is a fantastic film and really gave me a huge appreciation for Sam Raimi’s work outside of the first two “Spider-man” films. This is a film that has depth to it’s characters, fascinating villains and a protagonist who is one of the more original to be created in fiction. Darkman is a character who changes over the course of the film and his creation is tragic, which lends strength to the story’s narrative and kept me watching.

     Sam Raimi directed the film and wrote it along with Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin and Joshua Goldin. It was produced by Robert Tapert.

    The story involves Dr. Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) who is scarred when Durant (Larry Drake) the mobster attacks his lab to steal a document his girlfriend Julie (Francis McDarmond) was planning to use to explore city corruption. He survives the experience and goes underground becoming Darkman and seeking revenge against the mobsters who killed his assistant and scarred him.

The Pros: The World – The world reminds me of Gotham with there always be darkness and smoke over everything and the mob being in bed with big business as they pretty much do a takeover of the city. It makes sense why Darkman isn’t an idealistic hero, this city has no room for idealism.

The Transformation – The transformation is dark and powerful as Peyton is dropped into a vat, has his arms burned and loses his ability to touch. This leads to him getting super strength and also making him mad.

The Cinematography – Bill Pope did an amazing job on the cinematography. The scenes are clear and there is great use of shadows and light to give the tone of the world and our characters. This is a dying city.

The Soundtrack – Danny Elfman did a fantastic job on this soundtrack! His haunting score captures the horror of what Peyton Westlake goes through and captures how his desire for hate and revenge transforms him.

The Characters – The characters are all solid and have reason behind what they do, even the villains who would be lesser under different direction and actors.

Louis Strack Jr. – Is the corrupt billionare who wants to rebuild the city with the stolen money from the mob. He’s ambitious and was a man who came from nothing. He is also smart too and figures out when Darkman has taken the identity of Durant to get close to him and to rescue his girlfriend. He is tough to beat and his words about Westlake losing himself are proven correct. Colin Friels did a good job.

Robert Durant – Durant is the mobster who has a pretty great team. He works for Strack and is the man who nearly kills Darkman on multiple occasions, once when he is still Westlake and he kills Westlake’s assistant, the second when he targets Darkman’s hideout. Larry Drake was great.

Durant’s Minions – The minions are a lot of fun. One of them is a curly haired nerd, another has an artificial leg that works as a machine gun (and is used to kill a rival gang at the beginning) there is the muscle who looks like the Kingpin and the brains who survives until the end.

Julie Hastings – Frances McDormand is awesome! I really liked her in this where we see her see past Westlake’s appearance even when he can’t…and the fact that she was the one trying to reveal the corruption in the city. She’s a great character and I wanted to see more of her in action.

Peyton Westlake/Darkman – Liam Neeson is a wonderful hero. As Westlake he plays an eccentric mad scientist who is a strong empath and who loses all of that when he is burned making him a man who lives only for revenge. He is lost in it even as he is able to get his face back due to him being a scientist creating artificial skin…in the end that can’t change how his actions of revenge against Durant and Strack have changed him. In the end he becomes Bruce Campbell and disappears into the crowd knowing he can only be the avenger as his humanity is lost.

How Revenge Transforms – In the beginning Westlake is holding onto who he once was, but when he goes to Hastings in the pouring rain she runs away and fear and he sees his appearance and blames that and not the fact that he couldn’t speak, from here he seeks revenge and we see how the manipulation and his anger come to consume him to the point that he reacts at a a Carnival and attacks a man, which later leads to him going underground as he fears what his anger will make him do to good people like Julie.

   There really isn’t much that can be said that this film does wrong. It has a unique feel and flavor to it, our characters change over time and have to make choices that advance the plot, and in the end it sticks to the tragic tone as Westlake is forever alone when he realizes the person he has become is a danger to everyone. The only reason I didn’t give it 10 is I wish Strack had been less slimey and that we’d gotten more time with Julie doing her job before the transformation. Regardless, I highly recommend it and find it to be one of the best superhero films I have ever watched. I am going to be checking out more of Raimi’s work later. I really like his style.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

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Re-Animator (1985): Doesn’t Quite Work, Though Good is There

Re-Animator Poster

    I like Jeffrey Combs, I’ve even found a that I enjoy camp bloody horror like “Hellraiser” or “The Thing” the thing is this film is unlike either of those in storytelling. There are certianly aspects of the film I liked, but the focus is all wrong. We follow the most uninteresting couple when there is the prime candidate to tell an interesting story right there…Herbert West.

     The film was directed by Stuart Gordon who also co-wrote the script along with William J. Norris and Dennis Paoli. Brian Yuzna produced the film and it is based off the story Herbert West-Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft.

     The story involves a medical student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) taking in Herbert West as a roommate. Things soon get more complicated as his fiance Megan (Barbara Crampton) is the daughter of the Dean of the College as Dan finds himself pulled into Herbert’s experiments in reanimation of the dead.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is pretty cool. Any movie with a mad scientist immediately has potential to explore the depths of mortality and why a person would want to bring back the dead or escape death…sadly we don’t get any reasons behind why Herbert West does what he does, but the premise gives us the potential for more.

The Special Effects – The Special Effects are great! We get to see a re-animated cat, head and a few zombie bodies as well. This is really where the movie works and I wish we’d gotten more of it since the writing is really bad when things aren’t being brought back to life.

Herbert West – Jeffrey Combs can make anything good, even a poor script. We never get his motivation but his passion shows why even he could see the smallest of roles in “Star Trek” and make them interesting. His character is the reason to watch this and his acting owns this film.

The Ending – Dan the bland leads using re-animation to resurrect his dead fiance. That’s actually a pretty neat ending as the film establishes that being brought back warps your mind.

Cons: The Antagonists – Whether it’s the Dean or Dr. Hill these are men who only live to control and the reasons behind their insecurity and bullying is never explored in any way. They are crappy villains that bring down the story.

Megan – All she does is scream and she is only written into this film to be creeped on by all the male characters. She is nothing more than a prop that drives the protagonist (Dan) and antagonists’ (The Dean and Dr. Hill) actions.

The Structure of the Film – The structure begins with the past and Herbert West trying to bring back his mentor Gruber. It is so different from the rest of the film I am not sure why it was put in as West shows on multiple occasions he doesn’t care about people just what he can do with them after they are dead. From here we follow Dan’s story and it just goes down from there…so West’s motivations aren’t fully established and we have a weak lead…the hook fails causing the rest of the film to be weak in the process.

  This is a film that is alright and worth checking out if you are a fun of Jeffrey Combs and Lovecraft as I am. Sadly neither are given the chance to fully be in a masterpiece of his work as the film falls flat on a few occasions and the blandness of the leads and the antagonists only being one-dimension really brings the film down. For what it is worth though, I am curious if the other sequels are better.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10

Shoot ‘Em Up (2007): A Dark Comedy Satire of Action Films

Shoot Em Up

       “Shoot ‘Em Up” is a film that is a lot of fun. When watching it was hard to know what was purposeful satire and what was what the director actually believes, but like “Lucy” it was one of those films that takes you on a ride and doesn’t stop until the end. There aren’t really likable characters in this film and each of them are a different action cliche, but they are each fascinating in their own ways as I would have hated this film if they weren’t actual characters and if the point was only satire. If you can’t tell an interesting story, you at least need enjoyable characters to watch.

     The film was written and directed by Michael Davis and produced by Susan Montford, Don Murphy and Rick Benattar.

      The film involves Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) protecting a baby after he is unable to save the mother was being hunted by a group of mercenaries lead by Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and seeks help from Donna (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute who is the closest thing he has to a friend. Together they must find out who is hunting the baby and why, before they and the child are killed.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography reminded me of Lucy and has a unique color feel to it. It feels vibrant and alive and has a great contrast of dark and light. It fit the feel of the film really well. Peter Pau did a great job on it.

Cliche Awareness – There is a level of cliche awareness in this film, which is why I call it satire. Hertz yells the hero is really good or they really suck at shooting after he’s lost 2 armies of men to Smith. He and who he works for also explain their plan to Smith rather than just killing him and forgetting about the baby as the plot was redundant after Smith killed the Senator.

The Action – The action is really great! It reminded me a Tarantino or Rodriguez film where the color of the blood splatters in such a way as to compliment the colors around. The use of rock and metal worked in this instance too to compliment the action.

Mr. Smith – Clive Owen is good at playing the anti-hero and even though we don’t learn much about him in this besides his eventually carrying about the Kid and Donna is that he like carrots and hates most people and things. In this way he is hilarious as he satires the tough guy macho role that appears in a lot of these flicks.

Hertz -Hertz is a creepy mastermind who is also a family man. We see him making a card for his kid and talking to his wife at multiple times throughout the film. He also is genre savvy and figures out where the hero will be running to next really fast. He’s the creepy average joe and seeing his downfall is rewarding. Giamatti created a great bastard with this guy who can’t see beyond himself, his ego and making his plans work.

Okay: Donna – Monical Bellucci does alright but she isn’t given much to do beyond call Smith out for being an ass and taking care of the baby. I don’t know if Davis knew what to do with her character, but when she does do stuff she is at least compelling. There was so much more they could have done! She could have been his partner and the one making connections on the outside when he went to take out the expendable army of mercenaries.

The Cons: The Writing – Just as I enjoyed the action cliches, there are things that could have been done better. Donna never gets the chance to fight for herself and always has to be protected, and we never learn Smith’s backstory or why Hertz’s wife left him (we have no idea if she knows what he does). So the story felt incomplete and rushed even within the guidelines it followed for itself.

The Other Villains – The Senator and gun manufacturer were two men I cared nothing about. They were blank slates and were empty suits compared to the charisma that Giamatti brought to his role. They weren’t even needed as characters and that brought down the script as they could have just been referenced by Herst but never seen.

Lack of Character Arcs – This is a film where no one really changes. We learn more about them and feelings that they had all along (Donna and Smith) are revealed but we don’t learn anything new. Our characters are exactly the same at the beginning of the film as they are at the end, so nothing has changed beyond them just being out of harms way.

    If you like dark comedies and action films that are mostly focused on action but have enough self awareness to satire themselves, you will probably enjoy this film. It wasn’t a favorite but I won’t deny that I enjoyed the ride. This would be a great film to see with friends who like this genre and with the added addition of drinks would be a really fun time.

Final Score: 7.4 / 10. Enjoyable but not great.

The Blues Brothers (1980): A Celebration of Blues and Satire of Music and Crime Films

The Blues Brothers

   Comedy is an interesting thing. There are sketches, stand-up, satire, slapstick and more and most films tend to take a combination of these minus stand-up. “The Blues Brothers” is a cult classic inspired by the SNL “Blues Brothers” sketch and you can tell it was once a sketch show. There isn’t enough characterization or characters here to really make it a great film for me, as comedy needs purpose and this one the purpose is mostly the music and not the characters as shown by which part of the film is truly great.

     The film was directed by John Landis who also co-wrote the film with Dan Aykroyd and was produced by Robert W. Weiss.

     The story involves the Blues Brothers, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) bringing back their blues band after they have a religious experience that has inspired them to save the orphanage they grew up in. In order to do get there they will face Nazi, the band and the Police to try and succeed in their “Mission from God.”

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is really amazing. we get intimate shots of the brothers as well as some beautifully filmed action sequences along with some good use of comedic timing through how different shots are done. Stephen M. Katz did a great job.

The Action – The action sequences are a lot of fun and very much over the top. You have police and army men raiding buildings to get the Blues Brothers and huge police car pile ups that show just how insane the situations have become. Not to mention some well done car chases.

The Soundtrack and Stars – The soundtrack is beautiful and Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and the other stars of Blues and Soul do a fantastic job! As do Aykroyd and Belushi. Franklin and Charles had some of my favorite songs in the film.

The Blues Brothers – Belushi and Aykroyd have a great dynamic and the Brother’s relationship is the one thing that feels real. Jake is the one who gets into trouble and goes all out while Elwood is the simple guy who is always there and just wants to do the right thing. This leads to their belief on being from a mission from God as their belief in one another sustains them through the trials.

Okay: The Plot – The plot is simple, it’s the Blues Brothers getting the band back together to save the orphanage they were raised in. Sad thing is we learn nothing about their relationship to the band members except that they owe them a lot of money. We don’t get any history or anything and it brings down the plot.

The Cons: The Supporting Characters – Whether it is Carrie Fisher as a jilted lover of Jake, John Candy as the head cop tracking them or any of the other cameos…they are just there and don’t really serve a purpose beyond being a recognizable face. They don’t change our characters in any way and aren’t changed by them either.

Cameos – I loved the music but having big name stars appear just to sing songs does not make a good or memorable story. That makes me think more of a variety show or even “Sesame Street” not a big budget comedy or satire.

   I get why this is a cult classic and it is a film I’d recommend even though it isn’t a favorite and I wouldn’t call it great. The music in it is great and Belushi and Aykroyd are great…but they can’t carry the script Aykroyd helped write as he depended way too much on the comedic elements rather than letting character create drama and let the circumstances of story set up the comedy. These aspects and the fact that it is one giant cameo takes away from scenes that could have built the plot up or used the guest stars to better enrich the plot. It still feels like a giant sketch that is trying to be a film and not a film fully.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Blood Simple (1984): The Consequences of a Murder

blood_simple_ver3_xlg

“Blood Simple,” is the first of the Coen Brothers. The Coen Brothers are two of my favorite film writers and directors…”Fargo,” being one of my all time favorite films. This film has all of the themes that make Coen Films so great…the bleakness, tension, dark, mystery along with well fleshed out characters. I’ll go into the details in the assessment.

The premise of “Blood Simple,” is a rich bar owner named Julian Marty (played by Dan Hedaya) hires a private investigator (Loren played by M. Emmet Walsh) to kill his wife (Abby played by Frances McDarmond) and the man she is cheating on him with (Ray played by John Getz), from here nothing goes as planned and the drama unfolds.

Here is the assessment:

The Pros: The music – The music is amazing! Especially the opening theme. It has a haunting piano melody to it that adds tension throughout the film. The use of western music adds to the “No one must live,” theme of the picture.

The Cinematography – Is fantastic! There are some of their shots that they would use later (night drives where the character’s paranoia and desolation are captured), as well as famous bullet holes through the wall at the very end and the details of the crime…from shattered glass to scattered paper…and the use of dark rooms and shadows to create tension in the lead up to murder attempts and murders. It captures the moments of never quite knowing if what the characters are seeing is real.

The script – The script has all the Coen brothers’ themes as well. The witty and intelligent dialogue mixed with dark humor and people reacting to desperate situations and lack of information (“Burn After Reading,” is a great example of this). The story never felt boring or long and it was constant action throughout.

The characters – The characters each capture the darker side of humanity in their different ways (with only a few exceptions), which make them compelling to watch besides the talent behind the characters in the actors.

Julian – Is a despicable human being, who when he finally dies is really rewarding (he tries to rape his wife). He is the silent, controlled fury for most of the time he is around who hits on people even after they say “no,” and puts down his employees for no reason. He is still played as a fully dimensional person though, just a very bad person.

Investigator Loren – Is the primary antagonist in this film in the end. He’s the one who uses Julian in order to get his money before trying to kill him, which sets off the whole chain of events that leads to him trying to kill Abby and succeeding in killing her lover Ray…who he had originally let live along with her. He holds most of the humor in the picture…joking about being mistaken for a swinger and mocking Julian about being cheated on. He is the main driver of the action once he shoots Julian which eventually leads to him later hunting down Ray and Abby before Abby ends him.

Ray – Ray is a lot like Julian but a decent human being. His biggest problem is how quick he is to trust his enemies…he begins to distrust Abby the moment Julian says she will cheat on him too…It is this that leads to his separating from her and accusing her throughout the film (he believes she shot Julian since Loren left her gun at the scene of the crime). They eventually resolve things but not before he is killed by Loren.

Abby – Is the main character and the most likable character in the whole film besides the barkeep Meurice. She is tough and fights off her husband when he attempts to rape her and is the one to finally kill Loren (she believes it is her husband since she keeps hearing that he is still alive). This film is really about her defeating her abuser and finally finding freedom in the desolate world. I love this actress…she was part of what “Fargo,” a favorite for me.

Meurice – Is the one good character in the film, which is partially because he is ignorant of the truth of events. Regardless if he’d been listened too Ray would still be alive (he tells him to leave since he believes Julian thinks he stole the money) and generally offers good advice to Abby too while putting him with Julian’s crap.

The Ending – Is perfect. Abbey kills Loren believing him to be her abusive husband…Ray meets his end as they reach some sort of resolution and we are left with the possibility of the future. It is dark and bittersweet.

The Coen Brothers, have yet to disappoint me with one of their films and I look forward to getting to the ones I’ve seen before and the ones I have not. I highly recommend this film, especially if you are looking for a good dark, thriller, western and drama.

My final score for this film is 9.8 / 10. One of my favorites after today.