Film Review: Donnie Darko (2001)

Release Date: January 19th, 2001 (Sundance)
Directed by: Richard Kelly
Written by: Richard Kelly
Music by: Michael Andrews
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Duval, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Daveigh Chase, Arthur Taxier, David St. James, Jazzie Mahannah, Jolene Purdy, Stuart Stone, Gary Lundy, Alex Greenwald, Seth Rogen, Beth Grant, David Moreland, Ashley Tisdale, Jerry Trainor

Adam Fields Productions, Flower Films, Pandora Cinema, 113 Minutes, 134 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.” – Donnie

This movie had a profound effect on me when I saw it in a movie theater, alone, in 2001. Once it was released on VHS and DVD, I had a copy of both. In fact, I had a version of the VHS that was released in blue plastic, as opposed to the traditional black.

Once I owned the movie, I watched it a lot. Mainly because it was so damn good and I was so damn intrigued by the vague concepts and ideas in it. There was this whole deep, mystical yet science-y mystery, which captivated my psyche.

Beyond that, the film connected with me in a way no other film has. I think that has a lot to do with my age, at the time, and because the title character and myself had similar issues. I liked seeing this character and how he was portrayed, as it felt genuine as hell and like it came from a real place from someone with similar experiences. I’m not saying that Richard Kelly is as “fucked up” as Donnie Darko but it’s clear that he knew what he was writing quite well.

I also liked how this sort of critiqued the Americana lifestyle and was set in the late ’80s, a time where American ideals seemed like they were winning and the middle class were relishing in a time of affordable opulence. Not that any of that is specifically negative, I just thought that this film looked at and examined it in an interesting way.

This is the first time I have watched the movie in probably a decade. I used to watch it so much, it was pretty much burned into my brain. Having that much time away from it, though, allowed me to see it with somewhat fresh eyes and in fact, I was a bit apprehensive about it, as I thought it might not stand up to the test of time and play as well.

Luckily, that apprehension was quickly absolved because this was just as good as I remembered it. Also, in some way, it was like rediscovering it because there were some neat details and nuance that I had forgotten about. I mean, I am starting to get old.

The film is pretty close to perfect and it is so well acted that you get ensnared by it. It’s beautiful visually and narratively and it certainly deserves more recognition than it gets, even if it did establish cult status and a slew of fans over time.

In recent years, though, it feels like it’s being forgotten, as new generations come along and prefer movies with less heart and simplistic, rapid storytelling that deliver constant gratification while moving so fast that nothing in a film older than fifteen minutes seems to matter. Look at the ninth Star Wars saga film and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s sad that Donnie Darko sort of feels like a relic now. At the time, I had hoped it was a bright beacon at the beginning of a new millennium that would help inspire smarter, more original movies but the Michael Bays and J. J. Abramses won out.

And sadly, Richard Kelly tried but was never able to capture the magic he had here with his feature length debut.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: this is pretty unusual but I’d say Richard Kelly’s other films: Southland Tales and The Box.

Film Review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Also known as: Burned to Light (working title)
Release Date: May 15th, 2000 (Cannes)
Directed by: E. Elias Merhige
Written by: Steven Katz
Music by: Dan Jones
Cast: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, John Aden Gillet, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, Ronan Vibert

Saturn Films, Long Shot Pictures, BBC Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Death of centuries! Moonchaser! Blasphemer! Monkey! Vase of prehistory. Finally to Earth, and finally born.” – F. W. Murnau

I don’t know what it is about Nosferatu but every film within its grasp is great, whether that’s the original 1922 silent film, the 1979 remake or this, a movie that appears to be a biopic about F. W. Murnau and the production of the original Nosferatu but is actually a fictional reimagining that makes Murnau a vicious tyrant behind the camera and his star a real vampire.

Obviously, this isn’t the true story of the making of Nosferatu but it is one hell of a fun ride through an alternate dimension. It’s also well written, stupendously acted and features incredible makeup, great set recreations, as well as several tropes and techniques from the silent era reworked with great care into this modern picture.

I love this film and from the moment I saw it in 2001 or so, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite vampire pictures. It also solidified my love and respect for the talents of John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. In fact, Dafoe would get an Academy Award nomination for this role. The film was also nominated for makeup.

Beyond those two, the rest of the cast is also superb. I especially liked Udo Kier in this and it’s one of my favorite roles he’s played over his very long and storied career. Additionally, Eddie Izzard, Catherine McCormack, Cary Elwes and Aden Gillet all put in memorable performances, each adding so much complexity and nuance to the overall production.

The director, E. Elias Merhige, hasn’t done a whole lot over the years and the only other film of his I’ve seen is Suspect Zero. I remember enjoying it at the time but this movie is certainly his magnum opus. I’m not sure why he doesn’t make more movies but as great as this one is, his lack of motion pictures feels like a great loss for cinema.

Shadow of the Vampire is pretty close to perfect from top-to-bottom and it’s just a neat, clever story featuring one of the best monsters that has ever graced the silver screen. Dafoe actually is perfect and the brightest spot in this already bright film. Malkovich is damn good, as well, and the two have incredible chemistry. They’re both villainous and it’s just interesting watching this play out, trying to see which one is the greater villain, overall.

In real life, however, Murnau was said to be great to work for and a very sensitive artist. Also, Max Schreck wasn’t a blood sucking murderer, as he’d go on to live a married life while enjoying success in many films outside of just Nosferatu.

Despite this not being real, it makes me wish that there were more movies like this. Films that would take something really cool from history and just do something bonkers but respectable with it.

Although, I guess that’s what makes this motion picture so unique and so special. It truly feels like one of a kind and it was crafted with a genuine love of the original film it tapped into.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the two Nosferatu movies, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Documentary Review: Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006)

Release Date: October 13th, 2006
Directed by: Jeff McQueen
Written by: J. Albert Bell, Rachel Belofsky, Michael Derek Bohusz, Adam Rockoff, Rudy Scalese
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Ed Green (narrator), Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Malek Akkad, Greg Nicotero, Amy Holden Jones, Stan Winston, Rob Zombie, Sean S. Cunningham, Tom Savini, Betsy Palmer, Harry Manfredini, Felissa Rose, Robert Shaye

Candy Heart Productions, thinkfilm, Starz, 88 Minutes

Review:

For being one of those film history documentaries made by Starz, it’s pretty good.

Granted, this isn’t great and there are much better documentaries on ’80s horror, slasher films and many of the specific movies this one discusses.

As can be expected, this is a series of talking head interviews edited and presented to tell a narrative. In the case of this film, it goes through the history of slasher films from the ’70s and up to more modern times. I kind of lost interest once it got midway into the ’90s but that’s when Scream came out and kind of wrecked the genre.

This does miss a lot and doesn’t even really touch on the things in film’s history that inspired and paved the way for slasher cinema.

It felt like a missed opportunity to examine Italian giallo and how that subgenre of horror (and neo-noir) laid some groundwork for what would become the American and Canadian slasher flick empire.

Still, this was entertaining and I enjoyed it even if I didn’t learn much of anything new.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on ’70s and ’80s horror.

Film Review: Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Also known as: Trick or Treat (alternative spelling)
Release Date: December 9th, 2007 (Butt-Numb-A-Thon Film Festival)
Directed by: Michael Dougherty
Written by: Michael Dougherty
Music by: Douglas Pipes
Cast: Dylan Baker, Rochelle Aytes, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Quinn Lord, Lauren Lee Smith, Britt McKillip, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Samm Todd, Leslie Bibb, Tahmoh Penikett, Brett Kelly

Bad Hat Harry Productions, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 82 Minutes

Review:

“Werewolves, zombies and demons of every variety. They’ve all descended on the normally sleepy town of Warren Valley, OH. Where the holiday and all of its strange traditions are taken very seriously. It’s only 8:00 and the streets are already packed with costumed visitors. Some to show off, others to blend in, but all to celebrate the magical night of Halloween. The one night a year where we can pretend to be the scariest thing we think of.” – Reporter

It’s been a hell of a long time since I last watched Trick ‘r Treat and I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t reviewed it yet, as this is already the fourth Halloween season since Talking Pulp started. Not to mention all my other blogs that predate this one where reviewing movies was part of the regular output.

I like this movie quite a bit, especially because it truly is a love letter to Halloween and while we have a lot of horror movies in the universe, we don’t have enough that feel like they’re Halloween specific.

This is an anthology but all the stories are connected and happen in the same town on the same night. The plots overlap a bit and the movie is shown out of order ala Pulp Fiction but it isn’t hard to put the pieces together and it keeps you guessing as the multiple plot threads develop.

My only real complaint about the film is that it felt like it needed one more story thrown in to help pad out the running time and to take the picture to the next level. It’s short, moves really quick and the flick ends before you’re really ready to say goodbye to it. But I guess that’s also a testament to how entertaining it is.

I had always hoped that this would’ve kicked off a franchise of annual or semi-annual Halloween anthologies that exist in this same universe. Michael Dougherty, the film’s writer and director, has said he’s wanted to make more but it’s been thirteen years since this was originally shown and not much has happened since.

Well, Dougherty did do another holiday themed horror movie with 2015’s Krampus and I did enjoy that as well. But still, this deserves more love, more chapters and with that, I feel like it could evolve into a franchise strong enough to rival John Carpenter’s Halloween series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror anthologies, as well as movies about Halloween.

Film Review: Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)

Also known as: Gojira tai Mosura tai Mekagojira: Tôkyô S.O.S. (original Japanese title), Godzilla, Mothra, Mechagodzilla: Battle for Tokyo (US complete title)
Release Date: November 3rd, 2003 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Masaaki Tezuka
Written by: Masaaki Tezuka, Masahiro Yokotani
Music by: Michiru Oshima
Cast: Noboru Kaneko, Miho Yoshioka, Mitsuki Koga, Masami Nagasawa, Chihiro Otsuka, Kou Takasugi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akira Nakao

Toho Co. Ltd., 91 Minutes

Review:

This is actually the last Godzilla film I had left to review. Sadly, it kind of sucks that I saved this one for last because it’s from the Millennium era and is kind of drab.

I think the big reason for this one not being that enjoyable is that it’s the umpteenth time we’ve seen Mothra and it’s about the sixth time we’ve had a version of Mechagodzilla.

Also, this picks up where the previous film left off but it’s more of the same and done about half as well.

I watched it just to complete my mission of reviewing every Godzilla film ever made. That mission is accomplished and I can rest now.

Honestly, though, this just reinforced my opinion on the Millennium era being the worst series of Japanese Godzilla movies.

It has the worst the effects, the worst soundtracks and plots that feel like they should’ve been thrown in the shredder.

This was hard to sit through and it just made me wish that I had closed out this kaiju-sized task by saving something from the Shōwa era for the grand finale.

I guess this era does have its fans but there are also people that think jenkem is a good time.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Godzilla films of the Millennium era.

Film Review: Hulk (2003)

Also known as: Big Green (fake working title), The Hulk (working title)
Release Date: June 17th, 2003 (US premiere)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: James Schamus, Michael France, John Turman
Based on: The Incredible Hulk by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, Nick Nolte, Cara Buono, Lou Ferrigno (cameo)

Marvel Enterprises, Valhalla Motion Pictures, Universal Pictures, 138 Minutes

Review:

“You know what scares me the most? When it happens, when it comes over me… and I totally lose control, I like it.” – Bruce Banner

I haven’t watched this since around the time that it came out and with good reason. Despite liking the cast, this was a boring dud of a film that ran on for way too long and didn’t really give us a whole lot to care about.

Which is probably why a sequel was never made and the character of the Hulk was rebooted for the Marvel Cinematic Universe just half a decade later.

I did like Eric Bana as the title character and I thought that he was a solid choice. However, the script just made him completely vanilla. And I guess I can say the same for everyone else other than Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte.

Elliott was perfect as Thunderbolt Ross. But, then again, he’s perfect in just about everything.

Nolte was also damn great and committed to the role so well, that he was the only character I truly felt anything emotional from. The character was awful, though. He was sort of like the Absorbing Man but he was a different character, altogether and his story just didn’t work for me. That’s not to say that Nolte didn’t nail the part, he did. It’s just to say that the part was pretty shit.

The story was also shit and that’s really the main issue. The script and the plot were both uninspiring and slower than a mentally handicapped snail trying to compete at Monaco.

Additionally, Ang Lee wasn’t a wise choice for the director. It was a baffling decision to me in 2003 and even more so in 2020, looking back at this green turd sandwich and being annoyed by his visual style and his failed attempts at trying to give this some sort of artistic merit, inspired by his more beautiful Hong Kong pictures.

The audience wants to see Hulk smash, not kung fu masters magically flying over bamboo forests or gay, emotionally conflicted cowboys staring at meadow grass blowing in the wind. While Lee has an action background with his Hong Kong pictures, those movies are such a vastly different style than this one. Additionally, his style of really emotional human drama is great in the right picture but it’s not necessary in something like this.

Ultimately, this felt like a weird amalgamation of all things Ang Lee mashed together in the most non-Ang Lee style of motion picture.

Other than a few performances, the only other thing I really liked were the special effects.

What sucks, is that I really wanted to like this but I knew before even seeing it that it was destined to be a strange misfire.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel movies before the MCU was established in 2008.

Film Review: Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002)

Also known as: Gojira X Mekagojira (original Japanese title), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 3 (alternative English title)
Release Date: November 2nd, 2002 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Masaaki Tezuka
Written by: Wataru Mimura
Music by: Michiru Oshima
Cast: Yumiko Shaku, Shin Takuma, Kou Takasugi, Yuusuke Tomoi, Kumi Mizuno, Akira Nakao

Toho Co. Ltd., 88 Minutes

Review:

“You gave me strength. So did the others. No life is worthless. I believe you now.” – Akane Yashiro

The Millennium Era of the Godzilla franchise is definitely my least favorite. However, the films aren’t bad, they’re just kind of meh, overall.

While people seem to really like this film’s direct predecessor, I actually liked this one a wee bit more. I think it had a lot to do with feeling less convoluted and not bogged down by so much fantastical mysticism.

This is just a sci-fi action flick with a giant beast and a giant robot. Even though the Mechagodzilla gimmick had already been done to death, by this point, this version of that type of story felt like it worked. I also love the redesigned version of the robot, now called Kiryu.

The plot also feels like it was lifted from an Ultraman series more than it feels like a rehash of previous Godzilla plots. Although, the duo of Mechagodzilla films from the Heisei Era had similar plot setups.

The reason I liken this to Ultraman is that it features a government task force that is fighting the kaiju threat. Instead of calling on Ultraman and various suped-up vehicles, the ace pilot in this story controls Mechagodzilla (or Kiryu).

The human elements of the story are pretty boring, though. The action scenes and monster battles are good, however.

But if I am being honest, this is almost completely forgettable in the grand kaiju-sized scheme of Godzilla things. Honestly, this whole era, other than the series’ finale, Final Wars, is pretty forgettable.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Godzilla films of the Millennium era.

TV Review: Wrestling Gold: Before They Were Famous (2002)

Released: 2002
Cast: Jim Cornette, various

VCI Video, 120 Minutes

Review:

I’ve already reviewed the regular Wrestling Gold series of classic matches. This one-off release, though, features slightly more modern footage, as it showcases the earliest marquee matches of some of wrestling’s biggest stars from around the turn of the millennium.

Everything here is taken from Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Jim Cornette’s promotion from the early ’90s. Because of that, he also hosts this DVD, just as he hosted the other Wrestling Gold releases alongside Dave Meltzer. There is no Meltzer here, however.

This is a compilation of about twenty matches and segments of some of the biggest stars at the time of this DVD’s original release. A lot of big stars worked in SMW, so this is essentially a greatest hits of that promotion’s biggest stars.

The match quality is fairly decent but the overall collection is a bit of a mixed bag. Still, it’s worth checking out if you’re into wrestling history and seeing some of the top wrestlers of all-time before they were mainstream names.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the Wrestling Gold DVD series and other wrestling compilations of the territories in the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

Also known as: Gojira, Mosura, Kingu Gidora: Daikaijū Sōkōgeki (original Japanese title), GMK (abbreviated title)
Release Date: November 3rd, 2001 (Tokyo International Film Festival)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Keiichi Hasegawa, Masahiro Yokotani, Shusuke Kaneko
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Chiharu Niiyama, Ryudo Uzaki, Masahiro Kobayashi, Shiro Sano, Takashi Nishina, Kaho Minami, Shinya Owada, Kunio Murai, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Shingo Katsurayama, Takeo Nakahara, Toshikazu Fukawa, Hideyo Amamoto

Toho Co. Ltd., 105 Minutes, 89 Minutes (US TV version)

Review:

“[recalling his encounter as a child with Godzilla in 1954] The sky was blood red and filled with smoke. And through it a devil appeared, its face was twisted with rage and hatred. When it was over my parents were gone. I will never forget the wretched cries of the dead…” – Adm. Tachinaba

This is the one Godzilla film that many fans seem to love the most from the Millennium era. I disagree with that but it’s still okay and features some of the franchise’s most iconic monsters. Although, I don’t like how it sort of reinvents them.

Essentially, this is another reboot that ignores all of the films except for the 1954 original. It tried to introduce new concepts and play around with the mythos but it doesn’t work for me.

Honestly, my favorite thing about the picture is the inclusion of Baragon, a long-time favorite kaiju monster of mine but one that is rarely used and underappreciated.

Outside of the Baragon stuff, my brain starts to check out.

Sure, there’s kaiju action but this spends more time than necessary on human characters and new concepts than it does just trying to give us a massive kaiju battle royale. But I guess that’s why I like Final Wars so much, as it has the human element and story but it mainly features monsters fighting.

GMK is just boring to me, bogged down by too much fluff and experimentation. It loses sight of what a Godzilla movie should be and tries to take itself too seriously while also failing at that.

Maybe the more serious reinvention Shin Godzilla was so great because it was bare bones, simple and not overly complex.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Godzilla movies from the Millennium era.

Film Review: Elektra (2005)

Release Date: January 8th, 2005 (Las Vegas premiere)
Directed by: Rob Bowman
Written by: Zak Penn, Stuart Zicherman, Raven Metzner
Based on: Elektra by Frank Miller
Music by: Christophe Beck
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Will Yun Lee, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Terence Stamp, Bob Sapp, Jason Issacs (uncredited), Ben Affleck (cameo, scene cut)

Marvel Enterprises, Regency Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 97 Minutes, 100 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I like your bracelet, by the way. Do you know what those are? Here. They’re warrior beads. They’re from Indonesia. Centuries ago, you had to be the best fighter in your village to earn them.” – Elektra, “Wow. I bought’em off eBay.” – Abby Miller

I never wanted to see this because the trailer was a complete turnoff that made this film look like absolute schlock of the highest and worst caliber. Not good, cheesy schlock but the kind that’s so drab and pointless that it’s shocking it even got a theatrical release and wasn’t used to torture terrorists.

Having finally seen this, I wasn’t wrong. This is definitely a terrible movie, littered with atrocious special effects, generic and lifeless characters, as well as wasting the talents of the few good actors in it.

What’s even worse is that this doesn’t feel like it belongs in the same universe as 2003’s Daredevil, which was a pretty decent movie if you watch the Director’s Cut instead of the theatrical version. Hell, even Ben Affleck filmed a cameo scene to tie them together and for whatever reason, it was cut from the final version of this film.

What this does feel like is a made-for-TV SyFy movie of the week. It’s duller than a plastic knife left too close to an open flame with about as much personality and charm as a lobotomized sloth.

The only real silver lining in this is that Jennifer Garner looks absolutely stunning. But she’s always pretty stunning and one shouldn’t have to suffer through this deplorable production just to see her kick the shit out of people while being super hot.

Elektra is bad, really bad. I mean, I guess it’s better than 2004’s Catwoman but at least that film had some memorable moments. Everything in this film is completely forgettable.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: the 2003 Daredevil movie, as well as other superhero films from the mid-’90s through mid-’00s.