Film Review: The Burning (1981)

Release Date: May 8th, 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Written by: Brad Grey, Tony Maylam, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Peter Lawrence
Music by: Rick Wakeman
Cast: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter

Miramax Films, Filmways Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“You’re crazy.” – Karen, “Yeah, I know. Crazy for you.” – Eddy

Sure, The Burning was made to cash in on the success of the previous year’s smash hit, Friday the 13th. In fact, the whole 1980s slasher genre was just riding on the coattails of Friday the 13th and Halloween but that doesn’t take away the fact that The Burning is a pretty good film in its genre and I would dare say, a classic.

Sadly, it is underappreciated today and maybe it wasn’t even that appreciated when it came out, as it was one of many Friday the 13th clones lost in a sea of teenage blood.

In this slasher picture, there is a summer camp caretaker named Cropsy. Some teenage boys decide to play a prank on him late at night. The prank has disastrous results, as the frightened Cropsy accidentally sets himself and his home on fire. He nearly burns to death but falls into the river. Years later, he returns to the camp to get murderous revenge. Of course, he doesn’t just look for the teens who pranked him, he just goes on a killing spree of all teenagers because that’s what you do in a slasher film.

There are a few highlights to this film. The first being the cast.

Several people here would go on to be pretty notable stars. George Costanza himself, Jason Alexander, is in this, slimmed down and with a full head of hair. It is actually weird seeing him very un-Costanza-like. He is almost a cool jock type, which is pretty amusing.

The film also features Leah Ayres, who might be more recognizable as the leading lady in the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport. There’s also Brian Backer, who I will always love for his role as “Rat” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and his one-off appearance in Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol. You have Fisher Stevens, who would star in the two Short Circuit movies and play the villain in Hackers. Ned Eisenberg, a guy who is in just about everything, plays the generic teen asshole that exists in every proper slasher flick. I also have to point out Carrick Glenn, who didn’t do very many movies, but really steals the show in this and not just because of her bare boobs. The biggest star of this thing, other than Alexander, is Holly Hunter. While her role here is far from massive, she would go on to have a hell of a career.

Another highlight is the special effects and the makeup. This thing was essentially made on a limited budget but the practical effects are absolutely top notch. I actually think the effects in this are superior to the much more famous Friday the 13th. The burnt flesh of Cropsy is fantastic and his face is truly disgusting without looking cheesy or having to be visually obscured to hide some sort of cosmetic imperfection. The raft murder scene is particularly well done, especially the killer’s point-of-view shot where he chops off Fisher Stevens’ fingers.

While so many slasher flicks miss the mark, The Burning just gets it. I’m kind of surprised that this didn’t generate sequels, as Cropsy was a spectacular slasher, his origin story was simple but well-handled and the overall vibe of the picture was a good balance of creepy and fun.

That final pursuit scene, through the woods, is one of the best in the genre, even if Brian Backer was the intended victim and not a damsel in distress. Granted, he was still a damsel in distress and required rescuing from the bad ass male hero. But the ending does make it rather unique, as there isn’t a scream queen present.

The Burning is a remarkable picture for what it is. While it isn’t as beloved, to me, as the entirety of the Friday the 13th film series, I do enjoy it more than the first couple movies in that franchise. It is kind of hard to top Friday the 13th parts IV and VI. However, The Burning is an example of how good a slasher picture can be, even if the vast majority of them are just rehashes of a few that came early in the genre.

Film Review: Hackers (1995)

Release Date: September 15th, 1995
Directed by: Iain Softley
Written by: Rafael Moreu
Music by: Simon Boswell
Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Penn Jillette, Wendell Pierce, Felicity Huffman

United Artists, 107 Minutes

hackersReview:

When I first saw Hackers in 1995, I thought it was enjoyable. I also thought it was really ridiculous in several ways.

At the time, I saw it as incredibly implausible and way too stylized and cartoony. Having now watched it for the first time in two decades, I enjoyed it more than I did when it first came out.

To start, I’m not sure if this film was meant to be taken seriously or if the director intended it to be some sort of fantasy world parody of the technological and cultural changes of the times. Seeing it now, I view it as similar to Walter Hill’s The Warriors. It deals with some real shit but ultimately it is presented in a sort of fantastical world different from the reality we live in – highly stylized with an abundance of visual embellishments. It also embraces all the things that were pretty annoying about mid-90s Gen X culture, which twenty years later, makes me feel like I’m trapped in a time capsule full of things I hated at the time. Having had two decades worth of distance, I’m more amused than annoyed now.

The film stars Angelina Jolie’s worst haircut, Matthew Lillard’s worst haircut, roller blades and some kid that Jolie married for a few years and then dumped. It also has Wendell Pierce as a special agent; I love him in everything he does. Then there is the villain, known as “The Plague”, who is a ridiculous prick and more annoying than cool. Also, Lorraine Bracco plays a villain character and she’s just as horrible as ever.

I did like the music for the time and it still plays great in the film. It fits the insane style of the movie and helps enhance its bizarre tone.

I’m glad I rewatched this though, after all these years and no fond memories of it. It is a very dated film nowadays but that also adds to its modern appeal, at least for me. And being that I saw this as a completely different film than I did when I was 16 years-old, makes me want to go back and watch some other films from that era that I haven’t seen in awhile.

This film is unique and that alone makes it worth a watch. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did on the second viewing. And I’m sure I’ll watch this again in less than twenty years time.

Film Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Release Date: February 1st, 2016 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: The Coen Brothers
Written by: The Coen Brothers
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Wayne Knight, Christopher Lambert, Fisher Stevens, Patrick Fischler, Clancy Brown, Robert Picardo, Dolph Lundgren, Michael Gambon, Peter Jason

Working Title Films, Mike Zoss Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

hail_caesarReview: 

The Coen Brothers always peak my interest when they have a new film coming out. Granted, I’m not a nut like the hardcore Coen loyalists but I am a legit ordained minister of Dudeism, a relgion based off of their film The Big Lebowski.

Hail, Caesar! is a motion picture littered with stars. For the most part, everyone other than Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich and George Clooney feel like they are just glorified cameos. Ehrenreich isn’t even on the poster. But then you have Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill on it, while they are only in a handful of scenes.

The film is beautiful to look at but it is lacking in just about every other regard. Sure, the acting is top notch but when you have a cast full of talent like this, where most of them are limited to just a few scenes, they all probably had their best stuff because they weren’t bogged down by a rough shooting schedule and didn’t need to focus on anything longer than a few pages of dialogue, if that.

It is an enjoyable movie, don’t get me wrong, it just wasn’t as exciting or as interesting as it would lead you to believe. The introduction of Johansson’s character was magnificently shot and executed but I feel like her character was just brought into the film so that the Coen Brothers had a reason to create their own old school Hollywood synchronized swimming extravaganza. And I feel like that is the true purpose of this film, that the Coens wanted to try their hand at old school filmmaking techniques and to do it while working with all their friends.

Additionally, where we saw footage of films within the movie, they never really looked like pictures from 1951, where this is set. The films, even if they were black and white, were too sharp and too clean. The typefaces used looked out of place and not of that era.

There was just too much going on in the movie. I know that the plot is about Brolin’s Eddie Mannix and how he has to manage all these Hollywood superstars. However, it would have been a more interesting movie had it really just focused on one of his situations. Sure, the others could have been included but too much time was given to things that distracted from the narrative. The only real interesting plot thread was Clooney’s Baird Whitlock being kidnapped and held for ransom by communist writers. In fact, I adored the dialogue in those scenes between Clooney and the commies.

Hail, Caesar! is fun, to an extent. It just feels very empty and although it created a world that truly feels lived in, it didn’t explore it deeply enough.