Film Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Release Date: October 15th, 2003 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Marcus Nispel
Written by: Scott Kosar
Based on: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre by Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Music by: Steve Jablonsky
Cast: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski, David Dorfman, John Larroquette (narrator)

Radar Pictures, Focus Features, New Line Cinema, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Excuse me, you mind getting the fuck outta my way, son?” – Sheriff Hoyt

Very few horror franchise reboots are good. This is one of the few that are and because of that, it kind of started a trend where a new generation of filmmakers, inspired by the old, started trying to resurrect the most iconic horror franchises of their youth.

I know many people that actually prefer this movie to the original. I don’t but I also don’t think that those people are insane, either. I think there actually is an argument to be made about it and it’s one of my favorite horror debates to listen to between people that actually know and are passionate about these movies.

I think that in 2003, I would’ve rated this much higher. Seeing it 18 years later, I do find some of the dialogue to be a bit cringe and poorly written. I also find some of the director’s choices in how he shoots certain sequences to be a bit weak and trope-riddled.

The biggest highlight of the film for me was Jessica Biel and not just because she looked fucking magnificent but because she really dived into this and gave a convincing performance. So much so, in fact, that I hadn’t seen a “final girl” this good in a decade or more at the time that this came out. Honestly, I think in that regard, she actually exceeds the vast majority of “final girls” in horror. Granted, it’d be hard to put anyone in front of Jamie Lee Curtis or Heather Langenkamp.

I also immensely enjoyed R. Lee Ermey in this, as the town sheriff who is actually a part of the killer family and directly related to this franchise’s top monster, Leatherface.

Ermey gave a performance on the same level as his best work. He committed to this role so greatly that you really want to see him get what he deserves in the end. When he does, it’s beyond fucking satisfying. Without Ermey and Biel, this would’ve probably just been a standard, cookie cutter, forgettable slasher flick.

Now the rest of the cast is pretty bad and it kind of bogs the film down in the scenes where it focuses on them. In fact, the stuff in the van at the beginning was pretty awful and it almost wrecked Jessica Biel but luckily, they didn’t stick to that too long and the horror started almost from the get go.

This is also plagued by the cinematic style of the time, which I didn’t like back then and still don’t like now. It’s nothing I’ve started to feel nostalgic for as time passes. What I’m referring to specifically is the overuse of color filters, which makes all films look unrealistic and like a music video. This may have started with David Fincher in Alien 3 but it’s something that would be used to death in just about every “hip” film of the mid-’90s to mid-’00s from Fincher’s other movies, The Matrix films, nearly all horror that wasn’t Scream, as well as action flicks and crime movies. It’s not such a big deal when used sparingly but it’s not here. The film is either unnaturally bronze or bluish green in every scene.

Still, the positives outweigh the negatives and this is a movie carried by two solid performances and a version of Leatherface that is the scariest of them all.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens, Sean Whalen

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin

When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.

While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.

We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.

The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.

Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.

Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.

Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.

Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.

This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: Street Fighter (1994)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1994
Directed by: Steven E. de Souza
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: Street Fighter II the video game by Capcom
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen, Damian Chapa, Kylie Minogue, Wes Studi, Miguel A. Núñez, Andrew Bryniarski

Capcom, Universal Studios, 102 Minutes

streetfightermovieReview:

The Street Fighter video game series is still one of my favorites. It is the premier fighting game series of all-time, in my opinion. At the time that Street Fighter II was the current game on the market, the world was experiencing an obsession over the franchise. That obsession created mania and that mania created a slew of Street Fighter knockoffs. Some of them were good and created their own long running franchises. That mania, however, also gave birth to this film.

I saw the cinematic Street Fighter the day it came out in 1994. I had just turned sixteen and it was the first film my friends and I drove to ourselves. In fact, we drove to the theater after each blowing through twenty bucks or so playing Street Fighter II at the arcade close by. We were pumped. And in our defense, we all loved Van Damme back then (I still do).

Our experience ended up being a massive disappointment.

At the time, we were baffled by how wrong they got most of the characters. We were also distraught over how awfully cheesy it was. We expected a darker, more serious tone – similar to how all the Street Fighter animes played out when they were released after this movie. What we got was a daft and insipid cheese fest!

Street Fighter solidified my fears. It was the next film in the growing genre of video game movies that didn’t even come close to representing its source material. It rounded out an awful unofficial trilogy that included a couple unrelated video game pictures: 1993’s Super Mario Bros. and 1994’s Double Dragon.

Over twenty years later, despite my teenage broken heart, I finally decided to give the film a second chance.

Now that I know what the movie is and how badly it turned out in relation to the property it is based on, I have had a lot of time to process all of that and move on. I wanted to go into this fresh, without emotion and I did. I gave it an honest and pretty much unbiased viewing.

Well, I’m glad that I did.

To start, Street Fighter is absolutely ridiculous. It is a collage of everything good and bad about the 90s. It is also kind of magical in a weird way. Sure, it isn’t Street Fighter, at its core, but it is a fun movie with a ton of odd characters capped off by an intense and ludicrous final showdown between Jean-Claude Van Damme and the incredibly talented Raul Julia.

In fact, I didn’t appreciate it in 1994, but Raul Julia is actually pretty amazing in this film as the villainous M. Bison. He delivered his lines with a gusto and confidence that were unwavering despite the awful script he probably shook his head at when the cameras weren’t rolling. The scene where he is trying to woo Ming-Na Wen’s Chun Li is almost perfection.

Van Damme was bizarre as the American bad ass Guile. Sure, he was great in that JCVD sort of way that always makes him great but here we have an American colonel with a strong Belgian accent. Not to mention an obviously fake American flag tattoo on his shoulder.

Ming-Na Wen as Chun Li was decent but mostly because it was cool seeing her as a serious ass kicker two decades before her role as Agent May on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Kylie Minogue was passable as Cammy and quite cute. Wes Studi was a convincing Sagat but I have always appreciated his work. Jay Tavare played Vega and looked the part more than anyone else in the movie. But props goes to Miguel A. Núñez, who knocks every role out of the park. That’s mostly because I adored him in Return of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning.

Street Fighter is still a pretty dumb movie but it is an enjoyable dumb movie. It never gets boring like a bad movie should. There are a lot of poorly developed characters but most of them provide enough material to keep you engaged from scene-to-scene. Also, almost everyone in the film is fairly likable, even the bad guys.

Street Fighter is just a weird mixed bag. But it is a bag I have come to enjoy with age and without feeling like an angry teen whose heart was stepped on.

Rating: 5.5/10