Film Review: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Release Date: January 19th, 1996
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Kurtzman
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Salma Hayek, Ernest Liu, Danny Trejo, Michael Parks, John Saxon, Marc Lawrence, Kelly Preston, John Hawkes

Los Hooligans Productions, A Band Apart, Dimension Films, Miramax, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I know what’s going on. We got a bunch of fucking vampires out there, trying to get in here and suck our fucking blood. And that’s it. Plain and simple. I don’t want to hear anything about “I don’t believe in vampires,” because I don’t fucking believe in vampires, but I believe in my own two eyes, and what I saw, is fucking vampires. Now, do we all agree that what we are dealing with is vampires?” – Seth

I should preface this by saying that I love the hell out of this movie and it’s probably my favorite out of the films that Robert Rodriguez has done. I also hadn’t seen it in a really long time so a revisit was certainly long overdue.

This movie also features my favorite performance by George Clooney, an actor I have always loved and thought was cool, since first seeing him on The Facts of Life and Roseanne, as a kid in the ’80s. I’m glad this cool sitcom guy I liked actually carved out one of the greatest acting careers of his generation and really, any generation.

The reason why I like Clooney in this so much is that it is the greatest departure from the roles he usually plays, which are calm, chill, often times heroic people. While he’s always been cool, this is him at his coolest, going full throttle with no fucks given. It’s a real sight to behold, especially if you consider yourself a Clooney fan and have never seen this.

The rest of the cast is also great with Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis and Quentin Tarantino, who surprisingly did a solid job as his character, a guy that’s pretty much a psychopath.

Additionally, the cast is loaded with other memorable but smaller performances from Salma Hayek, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Danny Trejo, John Saxon, John Hawkes, Kelly Preston, Michael Parks and Cheech Marin, playing three different roles.

The thing I like most about this movie is that it’s like two films in one. The first half feels like a Tarantino crime picture and since he wrote it, it makes it that much more akin to say Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown or True Romance. The second half of the film turns into an over-the-top, balls out vampire action movie that is reminiscent of exploitation horror. Being that this has Fred Williamson in it, it just adds to that motif.

My only real gripe about the movie is in its use of CGI special effects, which I thought looked shitty even way back in 1996. The film also uses some incredible practical effects done by maestro Tom Savini. Savini’s work is as superb as always and with Robert Rodriguez having that guy at his disposal, I don’t know why he didn’t let him work out the kinks and help design the more elaborate effects shots. The creature makeup just looks so incredible in this picture that when it resorts to using CGI for vampire transformations or deaths, it’s really fucking jarring and takes you out of this otherwise awesome flick.

Like Savini’s stupendous practical effects, I also thought that the set design and general costumes throughout the picture were incredible. This is such a finely crafted, cool film that unfortunately has the rug pulled out from under it due to the bad CGI moments. Honestly, the CGI really undermines the work that went into creating this unique and fun world.

In the end, though, From Dusk Till Dawn is still a solid fucking movie. The pros definitely outweigh the cons but it’s frustrating that those cons weren’t avoided in the first place.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Natural Born Killers (1994)

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Richard Rutowski, Oliver Stone, David Veloz
Music by: various
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg, Russell Means, Evan Handler, Balthazar Getty, Steven Wright, Marshall Bell, O-Lan Jones, Mark Harmon (uncredited), Adrien Brody (uncredited), Arliss Howard (uncredited), Ashley Judd (Director’s Cut), Rachel Ticotin (Director’s Cut), Denis Leary (Director’s Cut), Bret Hart (Director’s Cut)

Alcor Films, New Regency Productions, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes (theatrical), 122 minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Once upon a time, a woman was picking up firewood. She came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow. She took the snake home and nursed it back to health. One day the snake bit her on the cheek. As she lay dying, she asked the snake, “Why have you done this to me?” And the snake answered, “Look, bitch, you knew I was a snake.”” – Old Indian

Quentin Tarantino wrote the script for this film and sold it just like he sold the script for True Romance. At the time, he wasn’t an established filmmaker and he was initially trying to get money to make Reservoir Dogs. That money eventually came from a producer and he was able to obtain more for that film than just what he had selling some scripts for the bare minimum.

However, once this movie came out, Tarantino disowned it for various reasons and it’s been a pretty sore subject for him, ever since.

I’m not a big fan of it either, even though the vast majority of my friends in 1994 (and many today) seem to love this motion picture. Since I hadn’t watched it in at least fifteen years, I wanted to revisit it and try to look at it as objectively as possible, since I only remembered a few key scenes.

Overall, this isn’t a bad movie but it’s certainly not as good as many people have made it out to be. It’s kind of a mess, narratively. It has a broken, Tourette’s-like pace and it relies so much on wacky visuals that it looks more like a mish-mash of unrelated ’90s music videos trying to tell a coherent story.

I guess you could look at the film as being from the point-of-view of the two insane characters it features. So things may look wacky to them but that doesn’t mean that it can just be dismissed if it has more of a negative impact on the total package than a positive one.

I take Tarantino’s side in regards to him hating the sequence with Rodney Dangerfield. In that sequence, the movie turns into a sitcom with a laugh track. But it deals with the fact that Dangerfield’s character rapes his own daughter. It’s not edgy or cool, it’s actually quite distasteful and I say that as a guy that has loved exploitation movies since he was a kid. I know that it’s supposed to be unsettling but it makes the movie jump the shark and it never really comes back. Sadly, for the picture, this happens really early on.

The only sequence in the movie that I really liked was the one with the Native American. I also think it’s the most important scene in the film and ultimately, it leads to their arrest, after betraying the only figure in the story that potentially could’ve helped save them from themselves.

The film is really split into two very different hours. The first sees the characters meet, get married, go on a spree of murderous violence and come to the Native American that could’ve possibly given them a different path to walk in life. The second, sees these two in prison, now beloved by the violence-hungry media and with millions of fans that see them as some sort of fucked up folk heroes. With that, the television journalist that interviews them for his program, has a severely unhealthy obsession with them and ultimately joins their cause when a prison riot starts.

The movie was trying to paint a picture about the state of America and the media at the time. It was trying to show the media and the public’s obsession with violence and love of terrible people. While this is possibly true to some degree, the picture is so over the top with it that it’s not remotely believable. I grew up in this time, I was the most impressionable then too. I was a ’90s edge lord trying to say and do edgy, stupid shit because it’s what we did back then. And while many were fascinated by serial killers and violent crime, I still can’t believe that these characters would’ve been worshipped by millions. Sure, I could see some shitheads embracing them like the shitheads that embraced the Columbine shooters a few years later. However, these type of people are a very, very small minority in society and don’t necessarily reflect a widespread problem.

I guess I can look at the movie as more of a warning against these things because nothing in this film is presented in a way that should be taken literally. However, I think that Oliver Stone’s impression of the human race was extremely flawed and he was pretty fucking paranoid. In fact, by making this film, he contributed to that very problem, as it was something that the Columbine shooters looked at for inspiration. I’m not blaming Stone, though, as there’s no way he could’ve known this and he’s not responsible for the acts of other people.

Also, I’m not sure how much of this paranoia was due to Tarantino’s original story or how Stone interpreted it and pushed the envelope. But based off of how Tarantino felt about the finished film and specifically about the incestuous rape stuff, I’d have to lean towards Stone on this one.

Getting back to the television journalist, played by Robert Downey Jr., the moment that he so quickly flipped his switch to bonkers and joined the murderous duo in their prison escape, I mentally checked out, completely.

From that point on, it was hard to reel my brain back in and it jumped the shark a second time and even higher than the first. There should be a term for that. Maybe I’ll invent a new one in honor of Downey Jr.’s character and say they “pulled a Wayne Gale.”

Yeah, that probably won’t stick but whatever.

Anyway, I do think that the movie really is superbly acted from top-to-bottom. One person that I haven’t mentioned yet that really turned it up to eleven was Tommy Lee Jones. Fuck, he was intense in this movie and I believed his character, every step of the way. What a performance, man.

And with that, I have to tip my hat to Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Means, Tom Sizemore and even Rodney Dangerfield, who was exceptional in a sequence that was severely off-putting and cringe.

In the end, it’s the acting that really salvages the picture.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: Christmas Vacation (1989)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: November 30th, 1989 (Australia)
Directed by: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written by: John Hughes
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Miriam Flynn, William Hickey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest, Brian Doyle-Murray, Sam McMurray

National Lampoon, Hughes Entertainment, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

Worse? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell.” – Clark Griswold

I know that this is many people’s favorite Christmas movie but I also don’t trust people who say this. Seriously, this is the most beloved thing that you have to revisit every December? This?

Honestly, out of the Vacation films, I think that this one is, by far, the worst. It just doesn’t appeal to me and it’s full of really unlikable characters that are selfish and stupid.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Chevy Chase fan and think he’s rarely funny. He just makes dumb faces and fucks up all the time. But I guess dumb people need a dumb “comedian” to make them cackle.

The one thing working against this film is that it breaks the framework of what these movies should be, which is a vacation that takes the family on a trip. Here, they just host a bunch of unlikable assholes in their own home on a street that looks like it’s a festive matte painting, static and devoid of any real life.

Half the movie deals with Chase trying to get Christmas lights to work. This would’ve been fine as a one or two scene gag but it’s like half of the f’n film. The other half is him failing at everything else while also pissing off his ungrateful family and terrorizing Elaine from Seinfeld and her effeminate, yuppie, bitch boy husband.

I also hate the theme of this movie, which gets stuck in my head for weeks if I even hear a few notes.

Kids I always hated, always wanted to watch this movie. I was always like, “Let’s watch Scrooged or Gremlins or Die Hard!” And they’d be like, “This is my house! We watch Chebby Chabe! So funny!” These kids always had the shittiest Nintendo games too.

Anyway, I have to sort of grin it and bear it whenever this movie is on around the holidays, as my family tends to watch everything Christmas-y on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But then I usually pick that time to go outside and escape loud kids and drunk aunts, as I stare blankly at the lake pondering about how humans evolved from lake slime over millions of years and somehow, one of them evolved into Chevy Chase. It’s one of the cosmos’ greatest mysteries.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Film Review: My Stepmother Is An Alien (1988)

Release Date: December 9th, 1988
Directed by: Richard Benjamin
Written by:  Jerico Stone, Herschel Weingrod, Timothy Harris, Jonathan Reynolds, Uncredited: Richard Benner, Leslie Bricusse, Debra Frank, Susan Rice, Paul Rudnick, Carl Sautter
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Kim Basinger, Jon Lovitz, Alyson Hannigan, Joseph Maher, Seth Green, Ann Prentiss, Harry Shearer, Juliette Lewis

Weintraub Entertainment Group, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“I saw her drink the battery juice from your Honda!” – Jessie Mills

My Stepmother Is An Alien is not one of those beloved classic comedy films of the 1980s, even though it stars Dan Aykroyd. It also has Jon Lovitz but this was before he really found his comedic stride.

For some reason, I always liked it though. Maybe it is because I had the hots for Kim Basinger when I was a kid and was mesmerized by her in 1989’s Batman. Or maybe because I thought Alyson Hannigan was kinda cute. Hey, we were both kids then. In any event, I liked the movie. Although, I hadn’t seen it in a really long time.

Revisiting it now, I see a film with a plethora of flaws and major issues. However, I still kind of liked it. It had charm and it was lighthearted, fun and a safe mindless movie. It’s pretty much lowest common denominator 80s comedy schlock but sometimes that sort of schlock works for me.

No, I don’t want to watch this all the time or even revisit it in the near future but it has the right sort of vibe when you just want something cute and fun to lighten the mood and kill a few hours of your time.

The film is bizarre and hokey but everyone in this thing looks like they had a blast making it. Sure, the chemistry between Aykroyd and Basinger is weird but it’s supposed to be and ultimately, despite that weirdness, they seem genuine.

Alyson Hannigan, as a child actress playing in her first movie, does a dynamite job and is incredibly believable as a young kid in distress over her discovery that her stepmother is an alien. Unfortunately, she is quick to switch gears which sort of thwarts her performance from that point on but that’s the writing and not her fault.

If you don’t have high expectations and just want to lay back and chill with something goofy and fun, then give the film a shot.

Rating: 6.25/10