Film Review: The Faculty (1998)

Also known as: The Parasite (Japanese English title)
Release Date: December 25th, 1998
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Kevin Williamson, David Wechter, Bruce Kimmel
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy, Clea DuVall, Josh Hartnett, Laura Harris, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Usher Raymond, Salma Hayek, Jon Stewart, Danny Masterson, Louis Black, Duane Martin, Daniel von Bargen

Dimension Films, Los Hooligans Productions, Miramax Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not putting that hack drug up my nose – it’s so eighties!” – Stokely, “Aliens are taking over the earth. Weigh it!” – Zeke

I thought I had seen this film before and maybe I did but watching it now, it was all new to me. Granted, at the time when this was a current movie, I was dabbling in extracurricular substances. Angsty Gen-X teen shenanigans, am I right?

And I guess this film isn’t too different from my head space in the era in which this came out. I was dabbling in the party hard lifestyle and all it had to offer like most of the kids in this movie.

Anyway, this film had everyone in it. Seriously, this cast was loaded with talent to the point that it is pretty unbelievable when watching it today. In fact, I’m surprised this wasn’t a hit or didn’t get a much larger cult following. It kind of came and went but it also came out in a time when there were a lot of films like it.

I also didn’t know that this was a Robert Rodriguez film. But when this came out, I wouldn’t have really known who he was yet even though I had seen From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado.

The story is pretty simple, an alien parasite is taking over the minds of people. Basically, it borrows heavily from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a lot of other similar stories. This takes place in a high school though and the aliens have pretty much taken control of most of the faculty and a lot of the students. As the film rolls on, a group of teens discovers what’s happening and they decide to stop the invasion.

This was a much better movie than I anticipated when I fired it up nearly twenty years after its release. I was surprised with how fun and nuts it was. There are some parts that don’t make a lot of sense, like the whole opening scene if you reflect on it after watching the rest of the movie. However, Robert Rodriguez gave it a certain spirit that made me think of one of his other films: Planet Terror. Now this wasn’t Planet Terror levels of insane but it was edgier and cooler than other films like it from the late ’90s.

This also had some really impressive special effects and visuals. The scene where the alien queen, in human form, is walking naked through the locker rooms and the shadows of her invisible intertwining tentacles cast shadows all over the room is so fucking cool. Seriously, I loved this moment in the film and it really legitimized the picture as something much better than its contemporaries.

The Faculty is a greater film than it needed to be and that is the mark of a great director. I feel like it was certainly held tightly under the studio thumb and that Rodriguez would have made something pretty insane if he made this later in his career but he was still able to put his unique stamp on it and turn out a film that was damn good.

The film also features the worst Josh Hartnett hairstyle ever captured on film.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Disturbing BehaviorTeaching Mrs. TingleUrban LegendIdle Hands and other late ’90s teen horror.

Film Review: Sin City (2005)

Also known as: Frank Miller’s Sin City
Release Date: March 28th, 2005 (Mann National Theater premiere)
Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Based on: Sin City by Frank Miller
Music by: John Debney, Graeme Revell, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Nick Offerman, Marley Shelton, Nick Stahl, Tommy Flanagan, Devon Aoki, Rick Gomez, Frank Miller (cameo), Robert Rodriguez (cameo)

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, Miramax, 124 Minutes, 147 Minutes (unrated recut)

Review:

“Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him. They woulda tossed him girls like Nancy back then.” – Dwight

When Sin City came out, it was a bit of a phenomenon. Well, at least with fans of comic books and especially those who love the work of Frank Miller.

I haven’t watched this in a really long time and I wanted to revisit it after spending a lot of time delving into classic film-noir, which this picture takes some major visual cues from. Well, the original comic this was based on used a lot of noir visual flair, so it was only natural that this film adaptation followed suit.

As an overall cohesive story, the film doesn’t work that well. I get that it is a linked anthology with overlapping characters but it feels like it is just running all over the place. Frankly, this would work better as a television show where all of these characters could be better developed and jumping around with the narrative would just seem more organic.

This is still a cool movie with cool characters but sometimes they feel more like caricatures of pulp comic and noir archetypes. There isn’t really any time to get to know anyone beyond what’s on the immediate surface. Nancy and Hartigan are the only characters with any sort of meaningful backstory and even then, it is pretty skeletal and doesn’t have the meat it needs to really connect in an emotional way.

The film is highly stylized and while it looks cool, it almost works against it, as the grit and violence almost becomes too comic book-y. But this is supposed to be the comic stories coming to life and it represents that with its visual style. And I like the visual style but this is still a live action motion picture and it sort of forgets that.

I’m not saying it can’t have immense and incredible style but it needs to have a better balance between what would exist on a black and white comic book page and what works best for the medium of film. Being that this is the first film to sort of use this visual technique, I think people looked past its faults. I also think that once it was done here, the initial surprise and awe was gone, which is why no one cared much when the sequel came out and why the visual flare didn’t work to hide the faults of Frank Miller’s very similar film, The Spirit.

Additionally, sometimes the comic book elements seem very heavy handed and forced. The scene where Marv escapes the SWAT team may work in the comics but it felt bizarre and goofy in the movie. It would have been more effective if it was toned down and reworked, as opposed to Miller and Rodriguez trying to copy the comic panel by panel. This never works well, which was also why 2009’s The Watchmen had a lot of problems. Personally, I’d rather just stick to the comics if the filmmakers want to just recreate everything panel to shot.

Another problem with directly adapting comics is that the dialogue that works in one medium sometimes sounds terrible in another. Some lines when delivered on screen were cringe worthy moments. Still, I mostly liked everyone’s performance in this despite the sometimes questionable direction and script.

Sin City didn’t blow my mind like it did when I first saw it thirteen years ago. That’s fine. It is still pretty damn good and enjoyable but at first glance, way back in the day, I probably would have given this a nine out of ten rating. But at its core, it just isn’t that good of a film, even if it caused me to fanboy out in 2005.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and The Spirit.

Film Review: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Release Date: August 5th, 1998
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Mom, I am not responsible for you. That’s it, I’ve had enough. I can’t take it anymore mom. He’s dead. Michael Myers is dead.” – John

When this film came out, I didn’t even want to see it. It looked awful, I assumed it was awful and when I did see it on video, a year later, I was left unimpressed. However, my tune has changed somewhat, seeing it almost twenty years later.

It isn’t wholly awful and in fact, it has some pretty strong positives.

On the negative end of the spectrum, the opening segment is decent but then the film drags and drags until you finally get to see Michael Myers hunt down his sister. You don’t really get some good Myers action until the last twenty minutes or so of the picture.

Then there is the issues with the Myers action itself. That issue being that half the killing, if not most of it, happens off screen. The majority of the film shows people getting cornered and then it cuts away. A few minutes later, someone stumbles across their dead friend. I assumed this had to be rated PG-13 but nope, it has an R rating but apparently no balls. Strangely, even though it cuts away from real violence and gore, the film is capped off with a decapitation that is actually shown. The way violence is handled in this movie is really friggin’ baffling.

Also, there are just so many bullshit jump scares that it was more irritating than surprising.

The cast in this is also pretty weak. There are really well-known stars in the film but this was before most of them broke out. Michelle Williams would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards and receive lots of other awards nominations but in this, she’s just teenie bopper eye candy. LL Cool J didn’t seem to have much to do and Josh Hartnett didn’t serve much of a purpose other than being the son of Laurie Strode (Curtis) and giving her a reason to finally hunt down Michael Myers herself.

But lets get to the positives.

Jamie Lee Curtis kills it in this. This is her best outing as Laurie Strode and twenty years later, she finally gets that Ellen Ripley moment, where she has had enough, grabs a weapon and hunts the hunter trying to kill her and her child. The final showdown between her and Myers is absolutely fantastic and it is the best final battle out of any Halloween film. She truly was Michael’s match in this and it was damn cool to see. It actually makes up for the boredom I felt for the first two-thirds of the picture.

Also, we get a nice cameo from Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis’ real life mother. She’s even got a car like the one from Psycho.

Halloween H20 may have an incredibly stupid name and fall victim to being a standard 1990s slasher, lacking the gravitas of the films from the previous two decades, but that final act is stellar. The moment where Laurie and Michael come face-to-face for the first time in twenty years is actually chilling. I wish they wouldn’t have wasted that shot by putting it in the trailer.

So I no longer have a severe dislike of this film, I actually like it a lot. Especially the final moment between Laurie and her murderous brother.

Film Review: The Black Dahlia (2006)

Release Date: August 9th, 2006 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Josh Friedman
Based on: The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Mike Starr, Fiona Shaw, Patrick Fischler, Rose McGowan, Troy Evans, Pepe Serna

Davis Films, Millennium Films, Nu Image, Signature Pictures, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“She looks like that dead girl! How sick are you?” – Kay Lake

For a modern noir picture with a cast this star studded, The Black Dahlia was a real disappointment. It had some positives but it mostly falls flat and is an example of style over substance.

This is not a good example of the work Brian De Palma can do. He is one of the best directors of his generation but this really misses its mark, which is unfortunate, as the subject matter is great and the talent he was able to get in this picture was impressive.

Josh Hartnett is the main star of the picture but his role feels pretty weak. I don’t feel like it is Hartnett’s fault, I feel like it is the direction of De Palma and the emotionless script. However, Hillary Swank, who is more talented than this film is able to show, is kind of just in this movie. It doesn’t really matter that it is her.

Although, everyone else does seem to work with the material. I thought that Aaron Eckhart and Scarlett Johansson were really good in their scenes and Patrick Fischler, a guy who is in everything but doesn’t get the notoriety he should, knocked his scenes out of the park. You also get to see Mike Starr and Troy Evans, two guys who do a lot of cop type roles but always bring their best to the table.

The real scene stealer however, is Mia Kirshner, an actress I’ve been mesmerized by since first seeing her in The Crow: City of Angels, a film where she was the only positive other than the murderous psycho biker played by Iggy Pop. Kirshner truly owns her role in this picture and it may have been the best she’s ever been. She’s really the only character in the film that you feel any emotion for. Honestly, it’s been eleven years since this came out and she should have gotten more prestigious roles but maybe her work was overshadowed by this being such a lackluster film.

Now, despite the overall film falling short, the visuals are top notch. The cinematography is unquestionably superb. Everything within the film feels true and authentic, even the bizarre K.D. Lang performance that pops up in the middle of the movie.

The narrative and the big reveal at the end were all pretty poorly strung together, though. It just made the film too bizarre and frankly, pretty fucking stupid and just really annoying after sitting through this two hour mess.

Typically, I like the work of Brian De Palma. This one just misses its mark.