Film Review: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1986
Directed by: Brian Gibson
Written by: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Based on: characters by Steven Spielberg
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes, 130 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“You’re all gonna die in there! All of you! You are gonna die!” – Kane

Most sequels aren’t created equal and the general consensus is that this one isn’t very good. Hogwash! I love it! Not as much as the first but it’s still a great ’80s horror film and better than most movies like it.

What makes this a solid entry into the short lived film series is that it broadens the mythos. Really, in the first film, there wasn’t much of a backstory. All you knew was that the house was haunted by evil and as the movie rolled on you discovered that it was built on top of a graveyard. This film sort of ignores the generic graveyard under the house idea and puts something even worse under the house: Reverend Henry Kane and his dead followers.

Kane, as played by Julian Beck in this movie, is absolutely fucking frightening. He is, hands down, one of the greatest screen villains of the era and more of a horror icon of the time than modern history seems to remember. He was a pure force of evil in a time when slashers ruled the horror genre. He wasn’t a slasher, he was something more powerful and more cunning. Julian Beck played Kane so profoundly that it is impossible not to get chills during the doorway scene when he confronts the family on their front porch. Honestly, it is my favorite moment in this entire franchise.

The film also adds in Will Sampson as a Native American named Taylor, who is actually known as the Medicine Man and is Kane’s nemesis. Taylor arrives at the family’s new home, convinces them that he is there to help and then lives with them in an effort to keep them safe from Kane’s attempts at stealing away Carol Anne. I loved Sampson in this and it is probably my second favorite thing he has done after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The entire family returns for this film, except for Dominique Dunne, as she was murdered by her boyfriend in real life. But that’s just one of many tragedies that surround the cast of this film series, which some consider to be cursed.

Zelda Rubinstein also returns as Tangina, the clairvoyant that helped the family survive the first movie. Some of her lines in the film are pretty cringe worthy but I can look past this stuff in ’80s horror pictures. But it is probably worth noting that she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. She would also be nominated again for the same award for her part in Poltergeist III. However, she did win the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for the first Poltergeist.

Craig T. Nelson had more to do in this movie, as he took a bit of a backseat to JoBeth Williams in the first one. I thought he did really well and his emotion and doubt were conveyed pretty convincingly, as he just wanted the forces of evil to leave his family alone.

The special effects in this were also spectacular for 1986. While some of the cloud effects and matte painting work is very noticeable in modern HD, the CGI ghost effects were stellar and have held up well. The scene where young Robbie is attacked by his braces still looks incredible. Also, the practical creature effects used for the beast form of Kane, as he crawled through the bedroom without legs was stupendous. This definitely deserved the Academy Award nomination it got for special effects.

Lastly, Jerry Goldsmith’s score seems to come alive more in this chapter. His theme to the series is expanded on and presented in new ways. I miss movies that had scores like this. Movie music nowadays just isn’t as memorable.

Poltergeist II is not on Poltergeist‘s level but there is a part of me that enjoys it more because the villain was clearly defined and scary as hell. Plus, Sampson and the Native American influence were great additions to the proceedings.

And sure, the big final battle with Kane on “the other side” is ’80s cheese to the rind, but I still friggin’ love it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Gunmen (1993)

Release Date: May 21st, 1993 (Hungary)
Directed by: Deran Sarafian
Written by: Stephen Sommers
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Denis Leary, Patrick Stewart, Kadeem Hardison, Sally Kirkland, Big Daddy Kane, Kid Frost, Rakim, Eric B., Doctor Dré, Ed Lover

Davis Entertainment, Gary Gunmen Productions, Dimension Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Put the gun down? Put the gun down? I’m gonna put the gun down your fuckin’ throat!” – Dani Servigo

Gunmen is one of those ’90s action films that probably should have been a straight-to-video release but actually got a brief theatrical run. It wasn’t successful and sort of just came and went very quickly. While it’s not a very good movie, it is still decent and has a pretty solid early ’90s cast. Plus, it has cameos from a lot of legitimately good rappers from the era.

This is a buddy movie, where you never know when and if the buddies will turn on each other while seeking out the money they’re on the hunt for. They are also on the run from a drug kingpin’s minions, who also want the money for themselves. The buddies are played by Christopher Lambert and Mario Van Peebles. The drug kingpin is played by Patrick Stewart with his top minion being Denis Leary. Like I said, it’s an interesting and kind of cool cast.

For the most part, the film is fun but it also has a plot that just seems to be all over the place. It’s not well written and if it wasn’t for the charismatic cast, this film would be completely forgettable. It’s also minimal on the action. For something called Gunmen, I expected a movie similar to The Expendables or Predator without the alien or Commando with more than one buff badass.

The film does have a lot of good stunts though. There just wasn’t enough shoot’em up stuff for a film with a title that implies such. In fact, I don’t think Gunmen is an accurate title. And the poster implies a squad of badasses. But alas, we get a duo with a little help from Kadeem Hardison (a.k.a. Dwayne Wayne from A Different World).

I did like the location shooting and the look of the picture was good. It had a grittiness to it and where it was high octane, it really went for the gusto. I just wish it had more of those moments.

The finale was decent but nothing exceptional. The last twenty minutes of the film are the best, so at least it built towards something and delivered.

But ultimately, this is a run-of-the-mill ’90s action flick without a lot of flourish or much of anything to set it apart from the pack. But I really loved Leary and Stewart in this.

Lambert and Van Peebles would go on to co-star together in the third Highlander movie a year later.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Mean GunsPosseHighlander: The Final Dimension, Survivng the Game and Who’s the Man?

Comic Review: Daredevil: Guardian Devil

Published: November, 1998 – June, 1999
Written by: Kevin Smith
Art by: Joe Quesada

Marvel Comics, 180 Pages

Review:

I loved this Kevin Smith run on Daredevil back in the day when it was new. But it is shockingly twenty years old now, which makes me feel old as shit and even though it is still a pretty good story, it doesn’t resonate with me as profoundly as it did back in the day.

I guess I just don’t care about religion or mysticism anymore because I grew up and moved away from the heavy handed religious influence that stifled me in my youth. Also, decades later, I’m kind of over Kevin Smith’s commentary on Catholicism. And while Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil is bound by his Catholic beliefs, it just doesn’t make for an interesting story for me anymore.

I’m going to get into major plot spoiler territory here. So turn away if you want to read this.

The religious mumbo jumbo in this is just a big illusion created by Mysterio, who is mostly a Spider-Man villain. He gives his reasoning as to why he wants to screw around with Daredevil but it’s pretty fucking meh. Apparently, Daredevil has been drugged the whole time. I’m not sure how a drug can last for days on end but I guess this explains why he found it necessary to throw a baby off of a fucking roof. Sorry, but I wanted to throw this book when that happened… way before we got an explanation to Daredevil’s bat shit behavior several issues later.

Additionally, none of the characters really act rational in anyway. I guess, again, this is due to Daredevil being high as fuck but if I have to read six or seven issues before the explanation, I’m just going to assume that the writer doesn’t understand or know these characters. Had I been reading this as a new comic now, I would’ve quit on issue no. 1 or 2.

I’m not even really sure why I liked this story in 1999 or so, other than I thought Kevin Smith was a genius back then, I was still under the influence of religion and I thought that Dogma was Generation X’s Ben fucking Hur.

On to the positives.

I liked the art, I liked the villain lineup and I was really happy with the confrontation between Daredevil and Bullseye. Back in the early ’90s when I was hardcore into Daredevil, a big reason for that was Bullseye. I loved him just as much as Daredevil and maybe even a little bit more. He’s a complete fucking badass and underutilized by Marvel. Hell, he was completely shitted on in the 2003 Daredevil film. So when I can get some solid Bullseye shit, I’m a fan. So kudos to Smith for giving me the Bullseye I love.

Anyway, this was once a beloved book in my collection. Now I just stare at it wedged between the Frank Miller and Ann Nocenti Daredevil books on my shelf and feel like this doesn’t belong.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The Daredevil stories that followed, as well as Kevin Smith’s run on Green Arrow. I hope I don’t hate his Green Arrow story now too. I need to revisit it really soon.

Film Review: Rabid (1977)

Also known as: Rage (alternate title)
Release Date: April 8th, 1977
Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: David Cronenberg
Music by: Ivan Reitman (music supervisor)
Cast: Marilyn Chambers, Frank Moore, Joe Silver, Howard Ryshpan

Cinepix Film Properties, New World Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Potato man loves ketchup man.” – Murray Cypher

David Cronenberg has made some of the most disturbing films of the last half century. Well, really of all-time, as there weren’t anything like his films before he found his groove and started cranking out disturbing body horror movies quite frequently.

Rabid is only Cronenberg’s second film and while he hadn’t quite found his groove or style by this point, he was very close to it and nearly everything after this picture is regarded as a horror classic of its time.

Like his other films of the ’70s and ’80s (and several after) this definitely fits into the body horror subgenre. Also, this is kind of like a zombie movie even though the monsters aren’t technically zombies. It’s like how people say, “28 Days Later isn’t zombies it’s people with a virus.” Whatever, all this shit is zombies. If you want to be that fucking technical than none of this shit is zombies unless the monsters are being controlled by voodoo or Bela Lugosi.

Anyway, Marilyn Chambers, the first porn star that anyone cared about, is in a motorcycle accident and burned severely. She is then given this experimental treatment. That treatment turns her into this sex vampire thing where she throws herself at people and a penis looking appendage comes out of her armpit to drink the blood of whoever she’s latched onto. Her condition spreads and pretty much all of Montreal goes under martial law due to these zombie like people that are trying to spread this virus.

Overall, this is a pretty good and entertaining movie. It’s not exceptional and it isn’t Cronenberg at his best but it showed him growing as an artist and a storyteller. His style is apparent even if it hasn’t fully flourished by this point.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other early works by Cronenberg: Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome.

Documentary Review: Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’ (2013)

Also known as: American Masters: Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Directed by: Bob Smeaton
Music by: Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Kramer (mixer)
Cast: Jimi Hendrix (archive footage)

Eagle Rock Entertainment, WNET Channel 13 New York, PBS, 90 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’ was actually an episode of PBS’ long-running television series American Masters. Even though this is a single episode of a show that has been on for decades, it is itself a film. In fact, it is one of the best biographical documentaries of a musician that I have seen in recent memory.

Obviously the film goes through the life of one of America’s greatest musicians of all-time, some would argue the best. This film has some pretty candid interviews however. Some of the most important and intimate are the old interviews with his father and the more modern ones with his sister, as well as other rock & roll gods and top rock music journalists.

The film gives a lot of insight into the personal life of Jimi, more so than other documentaries that I’ve seen on him. It extensively goes into his time in England, which was some of the coolest stuff in this documentary. The archive footage and performances of Hendrix were pretty amazing and should, from a cultural standpoint, be deemed priceless.

This PBS produced film is definitely worth the 90 minute playtime. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other American Masters documentaries.

Comic Review: Batgirl: Strange Loop

Published: April 25th, 2018
Written by: Hope Larson
Art by: Minkyu Jung, Jose Marzan Jr., Mat Lopes, Dan Mora

DC Comics, 50 Pages

Review:

This story arc is featued in issues 22 and 23 of the current Batgirl series.

I haven’t read any of the solo Batgirl stuff since Rebirth started but I have always been a massive fan of Barbara Gordon, especially as Batgirl. This, however, was a pretty big disappointment. And maybe it wasn’t a good place to jump in but it was a small story arc and I wanted a morsel sized sample of where the series was at. Plus, I am really enjoying Nightwing, right now and the two characters are sort of tied together.

I should also mention that I found this hard not to buy because the Dan Mora cover on issue 22 was really friggin’ cool. I don’t know, I just really liked it and sometimes I will support a book with a magnificent cover.

I didn’t find the interior art to be anywhere near as good as the cover though. Granted, the art was pretty decent but it didn’t give me anything with a real “wow” factor.

The story is sort of pointless. Batgirl saves a mother and her kid from some bad guy ex-husband with a strange gun. However, Batgirl is blasted by it and ends up trapped in her mind. The story is called Strange Loop but it’s not really a loop, it’s more of an introspective hallucination. But nothing that happens in Batgirl’s mental maze is all that interesting. This seemed like a missed opportunity to see her truly overcoming past demons. Instead, we get her fighting jacked up female wrestlers.

Batgirl figures out what’s happening, she goes against her nature and breaks free from this “loop”. She then quickly takes out the baddie. The end.

This arc certainly didn’t make me want to read more but the issue after this story is also being taken over by a new writer, so I might give it another shot. But based off of this story, I’d rather just see her pop up in Nightwing for now.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Other modern Batgirl and Batman family stories, primarily the current Nightwing series.

Film Review: Rififi (1955)

Also known as: Du rififi chez les hommes (original French title)
Release Date: April 13th, 1955 (France)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Auguste Le Breton, Jules Dassin, Rene Wheeler
Music by: Georges Auric
Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Hossein, Magali Noël, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Marcel Lupovici, Robert Manuel, Carl Möhner, Marie Sabouret, Claude Sylvain, Jules Dassin (credited as Perlo Vita)

Pathé, 118 Minutes

Review:

“[to Tony about Cesar] For a job with you he’ll come. Cesar! There’s not a safe that can resist Cesar and not a woman that Cesar can resist.” – Mario Ferrati

Jules Dassin, a maestro of film-noir, was blacklisted from Hollywood. So he took his talents to France and made Du rififi chez les hommes or just Rififi.

Other Dassin fans have told me to watch this for quite a while now but I just got around to it because I have a giant laundry list of stuff that I need to watch. But I am glad that I did as this is now my favorite of Dassin’s crime pictures.

I think that this benefited from Dassin not being under the controlling eye of Hollywood execs. It felt more personal, much more gritty and allowed Dassin some creative freedom in an era where it didn’t really exist, at least in the United States.

The big heist sequence in this film was fantastic and one of the best I’ve ever seen. It takes up a big chunk of the second act of the picture but each shot was well crafted and every moment served a purpose and was interesting.

Seeing heists in film is really common nowadays but back in the mid-’50s it wasn’t. Dassin put great detail into this sequence and what makes it cool, seeing it all these years later, is that it isn’t high tech, it is much more hands on and displayed real cunning, as opposed to just some boffin on a laptop hacking cameras, lasers and safe codes.

I also thought that the acting in this was really good. All of the key players were able to express themselves without a lot of dialogue. You could read things on their face, which also made the experience more effective for English speaking audiences that have to see this film with subtitles.

The cinematography was top notch and a lot of that can be credited to the lighting. But ultimately, it was Dassin’s directorial prowess that brought all the pieces together in the right way, visually.

Between this film and Le Samouraï, I’m really digging French film-noir. For other fans of noir out there, or just Jules Dassin fans, this is certainly not a waste of your time and is pretty close to being a film-noir masterpiece.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other noir pictures by Jules Dassin: The Naked CityNight and the CityThieves’ Highway and Brute Force. Also, the French neo-noir Le Samouraï.