Movie Talk: The Sam Raimi Spider-Man Films Re-Visited [Part 2]

spiderman2posterRelease Year: 2004
Directed By: Sam Raimi
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy

When I re-visited the first of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, I was somewhat apprehensive, expecting the movie to have aged poorly. I didn’t have such doubts about the first of the two sequels though. Spider-Man 2 was always regarded as the best of the three movies for multiple reasons, and I certainly remember agreeing with this sentiment back in the day following the release of the divisive Spider-Man 3. I do have a small confession to make before I get into Spider-Man 2 though: I’m writing this review having also already re-watched Spider-Man 3. I’m not going to talk about the final Sam Raimi Spider-Man film in this review, but I will say that – having watched the whole trilogy – Spider-Man 2 is still by far the strongest of the three.

For starters, only two years separate this movie from its direct predecessor, yet the CG felt vastly improved with far fewer of those small, unconvincing moments from the original that served as reminders of the film’s age.

Secondly, the origin story was out of the way, leaving Spider-Man 2 to do its own thing.

The best thing about this film though, in my opinion, is that it nails the character of Peter Parker and depicts the consequences of his double life authentically in a way that fans of the comic will be immediately familiar with. He may have crazy super-powers but the man behind the mask is still just a normal dude with normal problems. In fact, Peter is besieged by personal problems, all of them caused by his need to be Spider-Man and spend so much time swinging around New York, pulling people from burning buildings, stopping thieves or saving kids from being hit by cars.

He lives in a slum of an apartment and is always behind on rent. He can’t hold down his pizza delivery job. His college grades are slipping. He can’t tell Mary Jane how he feels about her because of his need to keep her safe from his enemies. He can’t help letting people down all the time because his activities as Spider-Man cause him to consistently run late or not be where he says he will be.

Peter is torn between staying true to the memory of Uncle Ben – and the iconic power-and-responsibility philosophy – and having a life of his own. The first portion of the movie sees Peter getting beaten down by all of this heavy life shit until he decides that enough really is enough. Taking direct inspiration from the classic Stan Lee/John Romita “Spider-Man No More” arc, he bins the costume (literally) and turns his back on Spider-Man.

spidermannomore-1

Unfortunately, a new villain is on the scene: Doctor Octopus, played by Alfred Molina. “Doc Ock” is one of Spidey’s oldest and most popular adverseries but I’ve never really been a big fan, purely because of his look in the comics where he was always drawn as a tubby bloke with a bad basin haircut and terrible costume. Not so here in Spider-Man 2. Doctor Octopus was drastically reinvented and looks utterly badass, more in line with the version from the ‘Ultimate’ universe. His extra appendages in particular look much more threatening than in the comics and are animated believably, thanks to the primary use of physical tentacles and practical effects which were then “topped up” with CGI.

While I loved Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man, there can be no doubt that Doctor Octopus is the better villain overall, largely because there is so much you can do with him and his tentacles. This is shown in the fight sequences which are much more dynamic in Spider-Man 2 and an absolute blast to watch, especially when Spider-Man and Doc Ock are fighting in freefall.

Doctor Octopus is also a tragedy of sorts. While he is the villain who will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals, he is also the victim of the science-experiment-gone-wrong. His wife is killed in the disaster and the inhibitor chip on his harness destroyed, allowing the tentacles to fuse with his nervous system and “speak” to him, poisoning his mind. After a titanic battle with Spider-Man at the movie’s climax, Ock does manage to regain control and redeem himself by sacrificing his life to destroy another dangerous fusion experiment that could have consumed New York. Some might bemoan this conclusion – considering Ock’s ruthless nature in the comics – but I think it was a fitting way to conclude the villain’s story given the fact that he was a good man and husband at the beginning of the movie.

doc-ock-1

There’s also welcome closure to the will-they-won’t-they story of Peter and Mary-Jane as she finally discovers the truth about Peter. He still attempts to push her away but MJ decides that enough is enough and ditches her wedding to J. Jonah Jameson’s son, John, to be with Peter. So, Peter gets the girl at last but a vengeful Harry Osborn – armed with Peter’s secret and Daddy’s sanity-stealing serum – is waiting in the wings…

It sets the stage perfectly for Spider-Man 3 which is why it’s such a shame that the third film turned out the way it did.

But that should take nothing away from Spider-Man 2. The movie is perfectly-paced, authentic to the source material and packed with action. There are also some really fun supporting roles that help break up the bleakness of Peter’s life, such as the ever-brilliant J.K. Simmons as the Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson. I love the scenes at the Bugle as they are just so entertaining, thanks to Jameson’s ranting, Robbie Robertson’s (Bill Nunn) despair and the sharp Betty Brant (Elizabeth Banks). Comedy relief also comes from Peter’s landlord, Mr Ditkovitch (Elya Baskin) and his awkward-but-cute daughter, Ursula (Mageina Tovah). There are also the usual Stan Lee and Bruce Campbell cameos too.

Oh and there’s another wet t-shirt contest tribute for Kirsten Dunst’s character, making me wonder if these were being intentionally written in at this point. No complaints here, mind!

Spider-Man 2 is what I class as a perfect sequel. It picks up the dangling plot points of the original while upping the ante with the action and effects. More importantly, I feel like I am sharing the journey of the main characters and it’s the near-seamless transition between the two movies that I really appreciate. It really is the kind of movie that is best enjoyed as a double-bill with its predecessor.

Movie Talk: The Sam Raimi Spider-Man Films Re-Visited [Part 1]

spiderman-1Release Year: 2002
Directed By: Sam Raimi
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons

I’ll be honest: I was expecting the first of the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies to have aged terribly before I re-watched it yesterday. After all, this film is eighteen years-old at this point. EIGHTEEN. Where has all of THAT time gone? Since then, we have had many Spider-Man films, with the webhead played by different actors to much critical acclaim. So what was I expecting? Ropey CG? Dodgy acting? I don’t think it was unreasonable to have gone back into Spider-Man with low expectations. It had been a long time since I last watched it, for starters. Also, the movie has since gone on to inspire countless memes and inevitable criticism from a younger generation along the lines of, “Oh my God! Look how bad this looks compared to the new ones!”

Well, guess what? The film is still awesome. The end credits rolled and I was just as satisfied as when I first watched it back in 2002, as a twelve year-old. You can keep your newer Spider-Mans. I never fully bought into the whole crossover or ‘event’ thing, even in the comic books. I preferred Spider-Man to have his own self-contained adventures with his own supporting cast, as it used to be in the pre-millennium comics (guest appearances from other characters aside). That’s probably one reason why I still enjoy first Spider-Man.

Another is the casting, which was spot-on. I’ll admit that Tobey Maguire’s version of Peter Parker isn’t 100% satisfying (he occasionally comes off as just weird/creepy as opposed to nerdy and shy) but for the most part, I have no issues. Willem Dafoe is great as the billionaire industrialist, Norman Osborn, who becomes the iconic Green Goblin. I have to say that I really enjoy the look of the Goblin in this movie, especially that grinning, gargoyle-like helmet with the slide-up eye covers. Back in ’02, I was dubious but now? I’d say that I like it more than the Goblin’s classic costume from the comics. The glider is bad-ass too.

spiderman-2
Admit it: this was better than the rubber mask and messenger boy satchel from the comics.

Rosemary Harris and Cliff Robertson are perfect as Aunt May and Uncle Ben while J.K. Simmons couldn’t have done a better job portraying the Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson. Seriously, it’s a pleasure whenever he’s on-screen, shouting and puffing away on a cigar. I couldn’t help but smile.

Kirsten Dunst does a pretty solid job as Mary-Jane Watson, Peter’s high-school love interest, though I wish her character had been a little more fiery and bubbly as in the comics where she was first introduced as a party girl. Here, she is softer and an unlikely sympathiser towards Peter given their respective places in the high school social hierarchy. That aside, I’ve never been able to forget that alley scene in the pouring rain where MJ’s sodden top leaves nothing to the imagination. As I said earlier, I first watched this film as a twelve year-old and I can’t count the number of times I reversed and replayed those few seconds of the DVD. If it had been the VHS version then the tape would surely have worn out! It was gold for a sheltered adolescent, and – while I didn’t indulge in any reverse/replay shenanigans this time – I still appreciated the scene as an adult. I couldn’t see it getting through the censors in today’s uber-critical, Woke world without some photoshop-like post-production magic though. Nor would I be so confident about her super low-cut top from the movie’s start making the cut.

It’s another reminder that more time has passed than I realised since Spider-Man hit cinemas, and that the world has changed a lot in those eighteen years. This DVD I have is a further reminder. It’s my original copy – the same one that I stressed so much with all that reversing/replaying – from 2002 and it was the first DVD that I ever owned. It’s a ‘Special’ 2-Disc Widescreen Edition (remember those?) that I seem to recall costing about £20! The double-discs, thick booklet and solid plastic for the casing are a stark contrast to today’s DVD’s which usually have no special features and the flimsiest of cases.

spiderman-3
Would this make it into a 12-Rated superhero movie today? Somehow, I doubt it.

Back to the movie, I was able to appreciate the origin story and scripting far more this time around. When I first watched Spider-Man (and the few times after that), I questioned why they had skipped over Gwen Stacy and gone straight to Mary-Jane; why the Goblin and not one of the other villains that Spider-Man faced off against in the comics before Osborn? Obviously, I was just being a pedantic nerd but this stuff seemed to matter to me back then. Now, well…I’m still a nerd, but a more informed nerd at least. Everything about Spider-Man seems to be more closely aligned with the ‘Ultimate’ universe which hadn’t long kicked off back then and was a modern re-telling of the Spider-Man origin story with Peter a teenager in the new Millennium. It’s a great alternate universe to the ‘normal’ Marvel one because it brought Peter Parker bang up-to-date without getting too dark or edgy. That’s what the Spider-Man movie feels like and, while some may consider the tone to now be outdated, I think it remains a perfect halfway house between the 60’s original and the more current stuff.

I really enjoyed the final showdown with the Green Goblin too. The finale apes the comics when Norman discovered Spider-Man’s identity and made things personal by killing Gwen Stacey. Here, in the movie, Osborn attacks Aunt May before kidnapping MJ and making Spider-Man/Peter choose between saving the girl he loves or a cable car full of kids. It remains an exciting climax and the final, final battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin is fucking awesome. The two really go at it, punching one another through walls and all that cool stuff.

While I don’t think Spider-Man has aged as badly as some may have you believe, there are a few things that aren’t quite so hot. The CG for instance, is largely still convincing but there are those odd moments when Spidey’s web-swinging sequences look a bit rigid and unnatural. Then there are the few scenes with the Green Goblin on his glider that don’t look quite right, especially when there is other shit going on in the background. There are also a couple of really corny “imagination” sequences where Peter is thinking about something (buying a car to impress MJ, for example) and various images are floating about, overlapping and fading out. These bits look like they belong in a TV comedy from the 90’s – at least in my mind.

spiderman-4
Shit gets real at the very end.

These are pretty minor criticisms however and, honestly, I’d expect any CG to look dated almost twenty years later. Movies use so much of it now that the age of the tech is going to be a lot harder to disguise further down the line.

One final shout-out has to go to Danny Elfman’s superb score. There are several rousing pieces of music in Spider-Man that unmistakably belong to this movie and give it its own sound – a sound that I would recognise anywhere and immediately link it back to Spider-Man.

Overall, I still got a good kick out of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man effort. Natural aging aside, the movie still does a damn good job of capturing the source material’s magic and telling an origin story. I also can’t help but like Spider-Man that little bit more for the fact that it is a film from a more innocent time and is entirely self-contained without all the MCU bullshit and associated expectation. As an added bonus, it features the best Green Goblin and the best Jonah Jameson (in my opinion of course).

Movie Talk: Raw Deal (Schwarzenegger, 1986)

Raw-3Release Year: 1986   |   Directed By: John Irvin   |   Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathryn Harrold, Darren McGavin, Sam Wanamaker, Paul Shenar, Steven Hill, Ed Lauter, Joe Regalbuto, Robert Davi, Blanche Baker

“Raw Deal” is a fitting title for this Schwarzenegger action movie because that’s exactly what I have seen critics give it. Wooden acting on behalf of Ahnold and a non-dynamic plot were to blame but I think the standards of these critics must be too high because Raw Deal is just raw (pun totally intended) fun. Still with a 25% rating on the ever-reliable (lol) Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia entries such as,

Though the film doubled its production budget at the box office, its earnings were a disappointment.

you could be forgiven for assuming that Raw Deal is a blip in Schwarzenegger’s career that you shouldn’t waste your time on.

commando-1
 

“WRONG!”

 

This film is – critically speaking – a shit film but it’s one of those films that is entertaining because of how dumb it is and because of how stiff Schwarzenegger’s acting is. Look, not all movies need to be thoughtful or clever pieces of writing. Sometimes you just want to kick back and enjoy the kind of 1980’s menu that a movie like Raw Deal serves up: Arnie in his element as an unstoppable one man wrecking machine, bodies piling up by the second, a sexy big-haired 80’s girl with plunging cleavage, quotable one-liners galore and repulsive villains getting their just desserts.

To give the critics some due (but only some), the plot is pretty disposable and only really an excuse for Arnie to go around shooting gangsters and generally being a badass. He plays former FBI agent, Mark Kaminski, who was forced to unceremoniously resign from his post due to his heavy-handed approach to apprehending a scumbag child molester. Brown-nosing FBI prosecuter, Marvin Baxter, gave him the option to “resign or be prosecuted. Any way you want it”. Kaminski lands on his feet (sort of) with a Sheriff’s job in small middle-of-nowhere town where they have no friends and nothing ever happens, much to the misery of his wife, Amy, who has taken to drinking to blot it all out.

But then Kaminski is contacted by old FBI pal, Harry Shannon. Harry’s son, Blair, has been killed while protecting a witness crucial to a big case against Chicago gangster, Luigi Patrovita. Harry is determined to seek revenge and asks Kaminski if he will go undercover on an off-grid, privately-funded operation to infiltrate Patrovita’s organisation and destroy it from within. Additionally, it is also apparent that somebody within the FBI has been bought by Patrovita’s organisation hence why their witnesses keep getting assassinated. In order to be convincing, Kaminski has to fake his own death in a massive chemical plant explosion and not tell anybody else the truth, even his wife.

Raw-2
You’ll see this – a LOT. [Source]
The reason for agreeing to all of this? Reinstatement with the FBI. Though I can’t help but think that such extreme commitment for such a dangerous job on Kaminski’s end doesn’t quite equal Harry’s promise of “possible reinstatement”…for completing an unsanctioned operation! It’s a good job that Harry is his friend and that Kaminski wants to see Amy happy again…

The way that all of the backstory is told is fairly unimaginative too. Big in-depth recollections are simply brought up in conversation with Amy and then Harry and delivered monologue-style by Kaminski. But – as I said – you don’t watch a film like Raw Deal for a complex storyline and clever scripting.

You watch it for the resulting action. Kaminski goes undercover with a false ID, posing as Joseph P. Brenner, a convicted felon. He gets inside Patrovita’s organisation and then the fun begins. This is one of those classic 80’s action films where the hero guns down a never-ending supply of enemy goons that are seemingly unable to shoot straight. Arnie takes no hits at all as he blows away enemies. There are explosions and punches that sound like explosions for good measure. It’s just so entertaining. Especially when thugs are shot or punched and go flying silly distances, crashing through windows or into bar serveries. The fake blood is terrible and there are no end of conveniences such as when Kaminski steals a truck that just happens to have the keys left in the ignition. Or when he needs to escape a cemetery later on in the film and Monique roars up in a car with no explanation as to how she knew where he was!

Raw-1
Kathryn Harrold plays Monique, the staple big-haired, big-eyed sexy 80’s girl that every action film from the era needs. [Source]
It all leads up to one final massive shoot-out in Patrovita’s offices, preceeded (of course) by a dramatic tooling-up montage of guns being loaded to some heavy electric guitar sounds. You know that Arnie is going to decimate the enemy and walk out completely unruffled but who gives a fuck about realism? This is a tour-de-force of destruction and henchmen getting what they deserve. It’s feel-good justice and pure entertainment that doesn’t need to apologise for what it does.

So yes, Raw Deal probably isn’t a “good” film on critical terms. Heck, it’s not even one of Schwarzenegger’s greatest hits. But this is still 1980’s, one man army action at it’s silliest. You aren’t meant to take films like this seriously or analyse their plots. You sit back, shut the fuck up and switch your brain off for 105 minutes. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that.

Movie Talk: The Expendables 2 (2012)

E2-1Release Year: 2012   |   Directed By: Sylvester Stallone    Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Jean Claude Van Damme, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Yu Nan, Charisma Carpenter

The Expendables is one of my favourite movie action series’, partly because of what it is and partly because it represents that magic moment when OTT 1980’s-style action movies briefly made an explosive return to the big screen, spearheaded by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Several highly entertaining movies came about as a result of this very welcome resurgence including The Last Stand, Escape Plan, Bullet to the Head and, of course, The Expendables.

I’m only going to be reviewing The Expendables 2 however because this is the best of the trilogy in my opinion. The original is still a fantastic action movie but was unfortunately placed in the shade when the sequel turned everything up to eleven. The third film, meanwhile, is also an exciting thrill ride but the high points come from two fantastic action sequences which are – unfortunately – placed at either end of the picture. There’s a bit of a flat spot in the middle where Barney Ross’ (Stallone) team is replaced by a younger generation of Expendables who proceed to make Stallone’s character look like the 80’s dinosaur he is…before being so intelligent and high-tech that they get captured by Mel Gibson and require rescuing by the old guard.

The Expendables 2 hits a sweet spot somewhere in between and that’s why I’m only going to bother talking about this one.

 

E2-2
Ross: “I heard you were bitten by a King Cobra.” Booker: “Yeah I was…but after five days of excrutiating pain…the cobra died” [Source]
Sophisticated it ain’t but if you go in expecting otherwise then you’re a fool. Hulking, mens-men sit around in a bar smoking, drinking beers and shooting the shit before being given a suicide mission of a job. Said jobs in this series always take place in a fictional third-world country that riffs on somewhere real. The first film opted for South America while Expendables 2 surprised nobody by featuring Eastern Bloc countries such as Albania and Bulgaria. International arms dealer Jean Vilain (Van Damme) and his scumbag mercenary group are trying to steal five tons of refined plutonium, something that CIA agent, Church (Willis), doesn’t want to happen so he orders the Expendables team to stop them.

Having every action movie trope thrown into The Expendables 2 doesn’t hurt it though because the details exist purely as a vehicle for what this series is all about: an all-star group of big-screen action heroes blasting their way through a never-ending supply of enemy goons, none of which can shoot accurately to save their lives (literally) but all of which deserve to be iced.

Name another movie where you can watch Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Chuck Norris sharing the same screen and gunning their way through a room of enemies. It hadn’t happened before The Expendables 2 and unless there is a fourth installment in the series, we likely won’t see such a spectacle again. The Expendables 2 does sometimes get a bit too tongue-in-cheek to be taken seriously but that’s hard to consider a detraction when the stars are playing off of one another’s classic catch-phrases and one-liners. As far as I am concerned, the shootout scene in the airport at the movie’s climax is simply one of THE most entertaining sequences in any action film ever and never fails to raise a smile on this cynical face, no matter how many times I watch this movie.

[Trench (Schwarzenegger) and Church (Willis) are taking cover during the firefight]

Trench: I’m almost out; I’ll be back!

Church: You’ve been back enough. I’ll be back

Trench: Yippe-ki-yay…

[Trench (Schwarzenegger) is joined by Booker (Chuck Norris)]

Trench: Who is next? Rambo?

It’s absolutely brilliant and a love letter to old-school action movies like Commando. It’s big, loud and brash. You get mahoosive explosions and so much firepower that it’s almost like gun porn at times. It’s also nice to see a legend like Van Damme back in action in a decent, big-budget movie. His battle with Stallone at the end is a treat. You get Stallone dishing out some machinegun jabs, Rocky-style (I’d like to think that that was an intentional nod to Stallone’s boxing films), and Van Damme pulls off his famous helicopter kick.

E2-3
Just too awesome.

There are only two things that I don’t like about The Expendables 2. The first is how the film almost becomes a parody of the genre it is attempting to pay homage to but as I’ve already said, I think they just managed to not go too far and maintain that balance between fun and bloody comic-book action. The second is the introduction of a female member to Ross’s team, Maggie Chan (played by Yu Nan). My issue with this is how they implemented her. Ross is initially resistant to having a woman shoe-horned into his team by Church and there are all of these small scenes throughout the movie where Chan gradually impresses the rest of the crew and gains acceptance. It’s clear from the outset that Maggie is both badass and capable so why go through the bullshit of trying to make some sort of statement about a woman being able to hold her own with the guys? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not intrusive or in-your-face but I’m not sure it was really necessary. Thankfully, The Expendables 3 redresses this with the seamless inclusion of Ronda Rousey’s character.

If I have to sum up The Expendables 2 with a single word then I’d have to use “fun”. These films are the ideal antidote to pictures that focus on social commentary or promoting some kind of politically-correct agenda. They aren’t clever or dynamic but sometimes, that’s not what you want. The Expendables 2 is simply a great time and benefits from having the most stacked cast of action movie greats (past and present) that we are likely to ever witness. If you love your old-school action movies then you owe it to yourself to watch this.

Movie Talk: Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

hobo-1Release Year: 2011   |   Directed By: Jason Eisener   |   Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman

[to a group of newborn babies] “A long time ago I was one of you. You’re all brand-new and perfect. No mistakes, no regrets. People look at you and think of how wonderful your future will be. They want you to be something special like a doctor or a lawyer. I hate to tell you this, but if you grow up here, you’re more likely to wind up selling your bodies on the streets, or shooting dope from dirty needles in a bus stop. And if you’re successful, you’ll make money selling junk to crackheads. And you won’t think twice about killing somebody’s wife, because you won’t even know what was wrong in the first place. Or maybe you’ll end up like me – a hobo with a shotgun! I hope you can do better. You are the future.”

There’s nothing thought-provoking or “big” about a film like Hobo With a Shotgun but then, we don’t all want to coo over arthouse drivel or social commentary masquerading as entertainment. Sometimes we just want unrestrained fun, audacious violence and black humour without all that thinking man’s crap. This film certainly delivers on all those counts. The Hobo (Hauer) is a drifter travelling by rail who rides into Hope Town, a town with irony dripping from its name because there couldn’t BE a town with any less hope on display. Oppressive urban decay is everywhere as is flagrant, violent crime. Worse still, a psychotic crime lord self-styling as ‘The Drake’ (Brian Downey) rules the town with fear, routinely carrying out live executions in highly gruesome fashions. These killings take place in the streets for all to bear witness to and are dubbed “The Drake Show”. The Drake has his equally sadistic sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) on hand to help keep Hope Town dancing to his tune. Mess with The Drake or his business and you could well be The Drake Show’s next special guest.

All the Hobo wants is to keep himself to himself and scrape together enough money to realise his dream of purchasing a beat-up lawnmower from the town’s pawn shop. He quickly finds it difficult to turn a blind eye to the brutal, bloodthirsty acts taking place all over town however and his curiosity lands him on Slick’s radar when he intervenes in a struggle between The Drake’s favourite son and prostitute, Abby (Molly Dunsworth). The Hobo bucks the status quo by laying the smackdown on Slick and hauling him to the police station to make a citizen’s arrest. Unfortunately, Hope Town’s police force is in The Drake’s pocket and the Hobo finds himself on the end of a vicious retribution attack which he is lucky to survive, largely thanks to help from Abby.

The Hobo manages to obtain enough money for his lawnmower but upon visiting the pawn shop to make his purchase, he finds himself caught up in an armed robbery and despite the price paid for his previous intervention, steps in once more by seizing a shotgun and blowing away the criminal scum. He forfits his garden appliance to pay for said shogun instead and thus begins his vigilante quest to clean up the streets, delivering justice one shell at a time.

I said that this movie isn’t about the commentary but what I will say is that the Hobo’s desire to act and his subsequent killing spree speaks to that part of us that secretly wants somebody like the Hobo around; that person who can cleanse the streets of deviants and the very worst criminals when the justice system(s) has proved too soft and law ineffective. We want to see the monsters of society reap what they sow and not get off lightly. Of course, I wouldn’t go as far as to promote vigilantism but thankfully we have movies like this and I found immense satisfaction in seeing the utterly evil scourge of Hope Town first introduced through the Hobo’s eyes then blown away by his shottie.

hobo-2
[Source]
The other reason I really dig Hobo With a Shotgun is because it just doesn’t give a fuck. They went wild with the free-flowing gore, sadistic violence and generally fucked-up stuff here, firmly placing the movie in the Exploitation sub-genre with that crazy Grindhouse feel that you’ve seen in the likes of Planet Terror and Machete. There’s heads being crushed to a bloody pulp between two fairground bumper cars. There are heads being ripped off by barbed-wire nooses tied to cars. There are topless girls giggling as they beat the shit out of a human pinata with baseball bats and then squealing with delight when his blood sprays like a burst water main and soaks their naked bodies.

It’s disgusting, gratutious and extremely OTT but at the same time, it’s all so silly and comical that you can’t take it seriously and so all this highly creative violence is likely to coax out a smile from the viewer rather than a grimace.

Hobo With a Shotgun doesn’t just stop at the ultra-violence however. This is a no holds-barred movie that frequently shocks with the daring makeup of some of the scenes that fly in the face of our overly-sensitive society that wants everything banned. The paedophile santa for example who parks outside a children’s playground and spies on kids through binoculars, touching himself before speeding off with an unfortunate captive hammering on the back window of his car. Then there’s a scene where a school bus full of kids gets torched with a flamethrower to the tune of The Trammps’ Disco Inferno.

Nothing is held back and I got the sense that the director and writer of this film let their imaginations run riot without even considering putting their ideas through an acceptability filter in order to appease the “won’t somebody think of the children?” brigade. And I love them for it, I really do. It’s a fat dosage of mental, unpretentious FUN that absolutely rocks hence why I’ve watched this movie about four or five times since 2011.

I must also quickly mention the lovely Molly Dunsworth who plays Abby. All horror and bizarre exploitation films need a hot female lead who can kick ass as well as look sexy and Dunsworth more than succeeds here.

MD-1
[Source]
If I had to level any kind of criticism at Hobo With a Shotgun then I suppose I would have to wheel out the traditional “style over substance” trope and I can’t completely refute that observation. However, it’s also worth pointing out that you know exactly what you are getting into with a film like this just by looking at the poster, DVD cover or synopsis so I imagine it unlikely that you could expect anything other than what I’ve described in this review.

Movie Talk: Heat (1995)

Heat-Poster-1Release Year: 1995     Directed By: Michael Mann   |   Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Gage, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Trejo, Jon Voight

[Not to be confused with “The Heat” (2013) or Heat (1986), Heat (1972), Heat (1996 Australian TV film)…how many times has this name been used? Jeez…]

I’ll go ahead and begin by stating that Heat is my favourite movie of all-time. It hadn’t used to be; that honour tended to switch between Terminator 2 and the first Kill Bill. Each time I re-watched Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece however, it crept up the order until I decided that, fuck it, Heat may as well be my favourite movie. I can’t say enough good things about it.

The film centres on professional thief, Neil McCauley (De Niro) and determined LAPD homicide detective, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino). Both are dysfunctional individuals with their own code and the cat-and-mouse game between these two main players of the movie is one of its main draws. McCauley heads up a proven crew of organised thieves and is a loner by nature, living with the philosophy of not having anything in your life “that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner”. For McCauley, making the big scores is his life and all he wants to do. Hanna on the other hand is a workaholic cop that puts his job first at all times, even at the expense of his increasingly frustrated wife (Diane Venora) and step-daughter (Natalie Portman). Hanna is determined to take McCauley and his crew down and is unable to avoid putting the hunt aside to rescue his marriage.

The thing I absolutely love about Heat is that there are no irrelevant, filler scenes or dull moments – quite an achievement for a film that goes beyond the two-hour mark. Even the scenes that involve characters simply talking are enthralling because the writing and characterisation is brilliant. Obviously, the stars are De Niro and Pacino but the supporting cast are just an important. From the crazy Waingro (Kevin Gage) to the disillusioned Donald (Dennis Haysbert), there are so many memorable performances. Then there are the women who have to suffer for the actions and decisions of their other halves – just one of many subtle plot threads woven together to produce the epic tapestry that is Heat.

Another notable bit of genius is that it’s impossible not to like the characters no matter if they are good-hearted and innocent like Eady (Amy Brenneman), psychotic and violent like Waingro or greedy and unsavoury (most of the criminals). Heat is a character piece as much as it is a crime thriller or action movie and it feels natural to understand where everybody – good or bad – is coming from. Many of the characters blur the line between being wholly good or bad and this is probably what makes them so endearing as this is what it means to truly be human. We viewers may not partake in anything as dramatic as holding up armoured cars or putting big-time crooks behind bars but we can still relate to the characters and their motivations.

Heat-1
[Source]
The action scenes are another highlight of Heat, particularly the gun battle in downtown LA as McCauley’s crew attempt to escape following their carefully-planned bank heist gone wrong. This kind of scene just wouldn’t exist today for many reasons. First up, there are no unrealistic and unnecessary explosions or dynamic action shots. There’s no music either. What you get is a group of guys simply trying to get away, using cars as cover while shooting at the LAPD, deafening bursts of assault rifle fire echoing off the buildings. It’s exactly what a real-life version of this scene would sound like and I’ve even read that their tactical retreat was used as a reference for police or military training (though how true this is, I can’t say). The whole thing feels raw and natural and is totally immersive.

The final showdown between McCauley and Hanna is another scene that would never be permitted today. Hanna gives chase to a desperate McCauley across the runways of LAX, even running across the path of a taxiing passenger plane at one point. As I understand, this kind of filming is now strictly prohibited in a post-9/11 world which is a shame but completely understandable.

Heat is a masterpiece of scripting backed up by superb performances from all actors involved. Every set-piece, every action scene and every conversation is special. I know I’m probably gushing over this fim and I haven’t said anything bad about it but really, I can’t think of anything. If you’ve somehow missed it then you should really rectify that mistake because – as cliched as it sounds – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Movie Talk: Blade Runner (1982)

BR-1Release Year: 1982  |  Directed By: Ridley Scott  |  Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward Hames Elmos, Daryl Hannah

I don’t suppose that there’s much more to be said about Blade Runner by this point so this review is probably redundant (and certainly thirty-seven years too late) but what the hell. I fancied watching something the other night and chose this from the DVD collection that most certainly needs trimming as part of my ongoing battle against materialism. I watched the ‘Final Cut’ version, if that’s important. It’s the only version I have ever seen so unfortunately, I’m not privy to any knowledge on the changes/additions that were made over the original theatrical release. This is turning out to be a useless review isn’t it? *ahem*

Anyway, Blade Runner is set in the ‘future’ of 2019. Looking out of my window as I type this, I can’t see the flying police cars, towering buildings or giant neon advertising signs but then again, I don’t live in LA where Blade Runner is set so who knows. This future is loaded with technology and wondrous advancement but at the same time, the film depicts nothing but urban decay and slum-like living with the populance crammed into tight streets. Further, The Tyrell Corporation has developed bioengineered human-like beings known as Replicants to do the dirty/dangerous work of humans. The Replicants are a perfect mimicry of man and are even capable of developing human emotions over time. Explained in the movie’s intro, there is a rebellion amongst Replicants working on an off-world colony and they are thus made illegal back on Earth but a small group manage to steal a shuttle and successfully make it to Earth.

Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a special type of police officer known as a Blade Runner, whose role is to hunt down Replicants hiding in society and “retire” them.

As the plot progresses, Blade Runner explores several philosophical themes with the most obvious being the morality of playing God and creating life. There is also the question of whether it is right to create beings that are more or less human with their own personalities but then treat them as disposable appliances or slaves and kill (or “retire”) them without a second thought. It’s 2019 now and artificial intelligence/man-made “people” hasn’t quite happened yet as in the world of Blade Runner BUT we are getting there at a rapid rate and so I suppose these themes have turned out to be the most relevant since this movie released in ’82. In other words, the content of movies like Blade Runner and The Terminator aren’t necessarily just sci-fi entertainment anymore but real possibilities that throw up questions and potential concerns for the near future.

Looking at Wikipedia, there are (apparently) other themes running through Blade Runner including religion, Deckard’s morality, paranoia and even literary influences. I didn’t really pick up on most of these myself and I don’t mind because for me, Blade Runner is all about the visuals and world design.

BR-2
[image: BFI.org]
I mentioned the “urban decay” look before but Blade Runner really does paint a miserable, grim future. It’s always dark and pouring with heavy rain, tight streets are choked with people pushing past one another and seediness is around every corner. There is a police presence everywhere and corporations rule supreme with enormous advertising boards and airships with giant video screens beaming more advertising down from above. There is definitely a dystopian feeling to Blade Runner but I really like it and drank in the exhaustive detail of the sets. The Asian influence with the neon advertising boards and abundance of oriental-looking civilians wearing wide-brimmed conical straw hats doesn’t really make much sense to me but it kind of fits the futuristic vision somehow.

Blade Runner is one of the original influences of all things cyber-punk and many, many forms of entertainment – books, videogames, movies – have mimicked the dark, wet and neon look. This is where it all began however and the impressive thing is how believable the sets and special effects still look considering the age of the film. The take-off and landing of the flying “spinner” police cars for example look far better than you might expect them to for a 1982 film.

There are lots of things to like about Blade Runner but for me, the movie is all about the look and the vision of a technological future. It’s why I enjoyed it the first time round and why I still enjoy it now. The only negative in my opinion is the somewhat abrupt and open-ended conclusion that leaves the viewer to decide what happens next. I know that many appreciate these sorts of “thinking man’s” endings but I personally don’t. Other than that, Blade Runner is a sci-fi classic that deserves its status. I’m definitely interested in watching the recent sequel now too.