Film Review: Fear City (1984)

Also known as: Border, Ripper (alternative German titles)
Release Date: May 16th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Nicholas St. John
Music by: Dick Halligan, Joe Delia
Cast: Tom Berenger, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Scalia, Melanie Griffith, Michael V. Gazzo, Rossano Brazzi, Rae Dawn Chong, Janet Julian, John Foster, Maria Conchita Alonso, Joe Santos, Ola Ray, Tracy Griffith, Jan Murray

Rebecca Productions, Zupnik-Curtis Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[as Rossi drives off] There’s nothing I hate more than guineas in Cadillacs.” – Al Wheeler

I never saw this film but man, it was pretty damn cool. But when it stars Tom Berenger and Billy Dee Williams as two badasses at odds but hunting the same scumbag, why wouldn’t it be pretty damn cool?

It also stars Melanie Griffith during the best era of her career, just before things took off for her. The reason I like this era for her is that she did a lot of really cool flicks between this, Brian De Palma’s Body Double and the dystopian cyberpunk delight, Cherry 2000.

Griffith plays a stripper being hunted by a slasher type serial killer but she’s also joined by other good up-and-coming actresses also playing her stripper pals. Alongside her we get to see Rae Dawn Chong and Maria Conchita Alonso, two women that would go on to have a pretty good run throughout the ’80s and into the early ’90s.

At it’s core, this is a slasher flick. However, it’s not really a horror movie, as much as it is a crime thriller. It’s directed by Abel Ferrara, who previously directed the cult classic Driller Killer but would later go on to do The King of New York and Bad Lieutenant. This movie actually feels like a natural bridge between his gore littered slasher flick and his more serious crime dramas. Honestly, it mixes the best of both worlds and in my opinion, is probably Ferrara’s best movie even though most people have slept on it – myself included, until now.

If I’m being completely honest, I’ve actually never been a big fan of Ferrara’s work but this film is pretty solid. Granted, I need to revisit The King of New York, as it’s been a few decades since I’ve seen it.

Fear City is just energetic, provocative and ballsy. That’s what I love about it. It’s similar to the tone of a lot of the action movies that Cannon Films was putting out in the ’80s. It has that unapologetic grittiness to it with just a thick layer of cool.

I wish Abel Ferrara had made more movies like this.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Cherry 2000 (1987)

Release Date: November 10th, 1987 (Austria)
Directed by: Steven De Jarnatt
Written by: Michael Almereyda, Lloyd Fonvielle
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Melanie Griffith, David Andrews, Tim Thomerson, Pamela Gidley, Harry Carey Jr., Jennifer Mayo, Brion James, Marshall Bell, Laurence Fishburne, Michael C. Gwynne, Jack Thibeau, Robert Z’Dar

ERP Productions, Orion Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“So, your robot is gone, pal. Why don’t you try some real women?” – Bill

This is one of those movies that’s been in my queue for years and since I had never actually seen it before, I thought that watching it was long overdue.

I liked that this film sort of blends the post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk subgenres in a cool way and it was also made at the height of those two great branches of the sci-fi tree.

The plot is about a guy whose love android dies, so he sets off into the post-apocalyptic wasteland to find the same model. He hires a badass chick played by Melanie Griffith, who guarantees that she’ll help him find the same robot lover.

As the film rolls on, they get into several mishaps, meet different groups of wasteland people and are almost always in danger. However, something starts to blossom between the two and by the end of the film, even though they succeed in finding a new robot lover, the guy is torn between his “love” of the machine and his love of the real woman he just went on a hell of an adventure with.

The movie is pretty action packed and even though it’s littered with cheese, it’s a deliberately campy movie made to be over-the-top and fun.

The film also has a lot of cool character actors in it like Brion James, Robert Z’Dar and Marshall Bell. It also features a young Laurence Fishburne and the robot girl is played by Pamela Gidley, who was the hot girl from the Josh Brolin starring Thrashin’.

All in all, this isn’t a great film but it’s an entertaining one for those who are into these genres and campy, action-filled adventures.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Body Double (1984)

Release Date: October 15th, 1984 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Robert J. Avrech
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz, Al Israel, Barbara Crampton, Slavitza Jovan

Delphi II Productions, Columbia Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“I do not do animal acts. I do not do S&M or any variations of that particular bent, no water sports either. I will not shave my pussy, no fistfucking and absolutely no cumming in my face. I get $2000 a day and I do not work without a contract.” – Holly Body

Having now seen all three movies in Brian De Palma’s neo-noir trilogy from the early ’80s, I’d have to say that this one is the weakest but it is also the most fun. But I’ll explain what I mean.

The first two movies in De Palma’s noir thrillers came out back-to-back. This third film, however, came out after he did Scarface. I feel like I need to mention that, as this feels like a weird amalgamation of the style from the other noir pictures, as well as the style from Scarface, which was poppier, livelier and had an early ’80s neo-noir aesthetic in its own way due to its use of lighting, shadows and neon accents. Scarface almost had vibrant giallo tones and they carried over into this movie.

I’ve talked about De Palma also tapping into Alfred Hitchcock for these films and honestly, this might be his most Hitchcockian of the lot, as it channels parts of Rear Window and Vertigo.

As simply as I can state it, Body Double channels Rear Window in how it explores voyeurism and it channels Vertigo in how it features two women appearing as one with some noir styled trickery.

This might also be tapping into Dial M for Murder due to the use of the phone as a narrative prop when the girl that the protagonist is obsessing over has a killer in her midst.

There’s really a lot going on in this movie and it’s a solid homage to all of these great things but it is very much its own film that taps multiple creative wells but still comes up with something refreshing and unique.

I thought that the plot was well conceived and executed and even if you can start to put it together fairly early, there is still a bit more to the big reveal than you’ll anticipate.

While this might be the worst acted of De Pama’s neo-noir flicks, no one in it is bad and the performances kind of add to the bonkers proceedings. I feel as if the performances are a bit hammy because the tone of the film called for that. And that’s not to say that this isn’t a serious movie, it is, but it seems pretty self aware that it is tapping into schlock territory while still being real cinematic art.

The film also uses some gore and it works well here. De Palma has used gore before; look at Sisters for instance, as that had some brutal moments in it. But the use of gore really adds something to the dreamlike quality of the film. While this takes place in the real world, there is something fantastical and magical about the look and feel of the picture.

On a side note: I love the use of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” in this film. It briefly turns the film into a bizarre ’80s style MTV music video with a bit of sexploitation thrown in. It may sound odd for someone who hasn’t seen this film but it’s the moment where I realized that I love this picture. And it’s that moment where the film really commits to the bit and shows you that despite the harsh moments and violence, this is a film that’s really having fun with itself. It’s like cinematic masturbation of the highest regard.

And thinking about that moment, it really helps to set this film apart from the other two that are so closely associated with it. Where the first film was really dark and gritty, the second one started to let some light into it and then this third picture, really embraces the bright lights and becomes somewhat chipper, creating a lot of contrast from the beginning to the end of De Palma’s neo-noir work. In fact, the visual tones also remind me a bit of De Palma’s very lively Phantom of the Paradise.

Due to the length of this review, it seems that I have more to say about this picture than the other two, which I still feel edge it out. But I think that’s due to the fact that this gave me the most to chew on and it feels like the most Brian De Palma film of all-time, as he calls back to a lot of his previous work and his main influences.

Despite this being my least favorite of the three noir thrillers, it’s still a damn fine film and honestly, it’s probably the one I will revisit the most.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other neo-noir thrillers from this era: Dressed to Kill and Blow Out.

Film Review: The Disaster Artist (2017)

Release Date: March 12th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: James Franco
Written by: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, Megan Mullally, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bob Odenkirk, Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Zach Braff, J. J. Abrams, Lizzy Caplan, Kristen Bell, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, Danny McBride, Kate Upton, Kevin Smith, Ike Barinholtz, Randall Park

New Line Cinema, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures, Rabbit Bandini Productions, Ramona Films, A24, 103 Minutes

Review:

“No, no! Very necessary. I need to show my ass to sell this picture.” – Tommy Wiseau

This was one of the most anticipated film sf 2017. It wasn’t just anticipated by me, though. Anyone who had seen Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic The Room was probably in line on opening night. Plus, it was directed by and stars James Franco, a guy with a deep personal connection to Wiseau who probably still doesn’t get enough credit for his talents.

The film also stars little brother, Dave Franco, as Greg Sestero, Tommy’s best friend and the author of the book this is based on, also titled The Disaster Artist. The book is a pretty exceptional look into The Room and into Wiseau’s life and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Because even though I did like this film, the book has so much more that Franco couldn’t fit into a two hour movie.

In fact, there are a lot of things in the book that I wish had made it into the movie but I understand why time wouldn’t permit it. I really would have liked to have seen Sestero’s experience working on a Puppet Master film or all the stuff in the book surrounding The Talented Mr. Ripley and how Mark in The Room was named after Matt Damon but Wiseau mistakenly called him “Mark”. But the fact that we got the James Dean bits, was pretty cool.

Both Franco brothers did a great job of bringing Wiseau and Sestero to life. While James will get most of the acting props in this film for his portrayal of Wiseau and how he mastered his accent and mannerisms, I want to be the one person to actually put the focus on Dave. You see, Dave was the actual glue that held this picture together and made it work. He is the real eyes and ears of the audience and we really take this journey with him, as we did in the book. Dave Franco put in a better performance here than he has in his entire acting career. That isn’t a knock against his other work, it’s just great to see him evolve as an actor and display that he has the skills his older brother does. Hopefully, this leads to bigger and better things for the younger Franco and I assume it will.

This film is littered with a ton of celebrity cameos. Bryan Cranston even plays himself back when he was still working on Malcolm In the Middle, before his big breakout on Breaking Bad. The one cameo I loved and had actually hoped to see more of, as the character was more prominent in the book, was Sharon Stone’s portrayal of Iris Burton, Sestero’s agent. I also loved Megan Mullally as Sestero’s mother but who doesn’t love Mullally in everything?

You also get a lot of other celeb cameos, as they introduce the movie. Having known about it and having read the book, I didn’t need the intro but it serves to educate people going into this film blindly and it was still nice hearing some famous people talk about their love of The Room and its significance.

The Disaster Artist serves the story of the book well and the film was a delight. It didn’t surprise me in any way and it was pretty much exactly the film I anticipated. That’s neither good or bad, as Hollywood biopics are usually very straightforward.

Even though there weren’t surprises in the film, this is a fantastic story, that at its core, is about a man not giving up on his dream and forging his own path against those that held him back and told him “no”. The real story behind it all, is that Wiseau’s tale is an underdog tale and it’s a true story, not a Hollywood fabrication. Wiseau did something incredible and although the reception he got might not have been what he initially wanted, he did rise above all the adversity and became a star in an arena where he wasn’t welcome.

The lasting power of The Room isn’t just about how incredibly bad it is, it is that once people know its story, it is hard not to feel an intimate connection to Tommy Wiseau, a guy that should serve as an inspiration in spite of his bizarre personality and tactics.

Rating: 8/10