Film Review: Color Out of Space (2019)

Also known as: The Color from Out Off Space (working title)
Release Date: September 7th, 2019 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Written by: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Based on: The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Colin Stetson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Elliot Knight, Madeleine Arthur, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong

SpectreVision, ACE Pictures Entertainment, XYZ Films, 111 Minutes

Review:

“What touched this place cannot be quantified or understood by human science. It was just a color out of space. A messenger from realms whose existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the gulfs that it throws open before our frenzied eyes.” – Ward

Many films are called a “mindfuck” but that might actually be an overstatement when those films are compared to Color Out of Space, which takes the viewer on a maddening ride into a very unique and different Hell.

This movie is absolutely batshit crazy but I loved it. It’s a modernized adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story and it was directed by Richard Stanley, who was a pretty accomplished indie filmmaker before leaving his craft after the drama that was 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. I’m really glad that Stanley came back to making cinematic art, though, and I’d have to say that this is his best movie. That’s kind of incredible when you think about it too, as it’s his first picture in a quarter of a century!

This movie also has both Nic Cage and Tommy Chong in it, which just adds to the bonkers story and the performances it needed to pull out of its cast. That being said, everyone in this is pretty damn good and I especially liked Cage and Chong, as well as the actress who plays the daughter and the actor who plays the scientist that’s trying to save the family from their bizarre and horrific fate.

It’s actually kind of hard to define the story or give it a proper synopsis and I also don’t want to spoil too much. However, in a nutshell, a strange meteor lands in a family’s front yard and with it, strange things start happening to the people and the Earth around the meteor site. Unfortunately for the family, they are a dozen or more miles away from anyone else.

This film is also visually stunning, almost unbelievably so. Richard Stanley brought this twisted, strange tale to cinematic life and everything he did from the lighting to the special effects that he managed, just turned out perfect. As unbelievable and surreal as the picture is, you’re never really pulled out of it and that’s a testament to Stanley’s skill and how well this was all executed.

Color Out of Space, at times, can feel like sensory overload but there’s still a vibrant beauty about it all.

Going into this, I was pretty sure I’d enjoy it, but it exceeded those expectations a bit and I found it hard to look away. Also, this film just flew by.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Richard Stanley’s earlier films, as well as Mandy with Nicolas Cage.

Film Review: Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Also known as: Burned to Light (working title)
Release Date: May 15th, 2000 (Cannes)
Directed by: E. Elias Merhige
Written by: Steven Katz
Music by: Dan Jones
Cast: John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Cary Elwes, John Aden Gillet, Eddie Izzard, Udo Kier, Catherine McCormack, Ronan Vibert

Saturn Films, Long Shot Pictures, BBC Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Death of centuries! Moonchaser! Blasphemer! Monkey! Vase of prehistory. Finally to Earth, and finally born.” – F. W. Murnau

I don’t know what it is about Nosferatu but every film within its grasp is great, whether that’s the original 1922 silent film, the 1979 remake or this, a movie that appears to be a biopic about F. W. Murnau and the production of the original Nosferatu but is actually a fictional reimagining that makes Murnau a vicious tyrant behind the camera and his star a real vampire.

Obviously, this isn’t the true story of the making of Nosferatu but it is one hell of a fun ride through an alternate dimension. It’s also well written, stupendously acted and features incredible makeup, great set recreations, as well as several tropes and techniques from the silent era reworked with great care into this modern picture.

I love this film and from the moment I saw it in 2001 or so, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite vampire pictures. It also solidified my love and respect for the talents of John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe. In fact, Dafoe would get an Academy Award nomination for this role. The film was also nominated for makeup.

Beyond those two, the rest of the cast is also superb. I especially liked Udo Kier in this and it’s one of my favorite roles he’s played over his very long and storied career. Additionally, Eddie Izzard, Catherine McCormack, Cary Elwes and Aden Gillet all put in memorable performances, each adding so much complexity and nuance to the overall production.

The director, E. Elias Merhige, hasn’t done a whole lot over the years and the only other film of his I’ve seen is Suspect Zero. I remember enjoying it at the time but this movie is certainly his magnum opus. I’m not sure why he doesn’t make more movies but as great as this one is, his lack of motion pictures feels like a great loss for cinema.

Shadow of the Vampire is pretty close to perfect from top-to-bottom and it’s just a neat, clever story featuring one of the best monsters that has ever graced the silver screen. Dafoe actually is perfect and the brightest spot in this already bright film. Malkovich is damn good, as well, and the two have incredible chemistry. They’re both villainous and it’s just interesting watching this play out, trying to see which one is the greater villain, overall.

In real life, however, Murnau was said to be great to work for and a very sensitive artist. Also, Max Schreck wasn’t a blood sucking murderer, as he’d go on to live a married life while enjoying success in many films outside of just Nosferatu.

Despite this not being real, it makes me wish that there were more movies like this. Films that would take something really cool from history and just do something bonkers but respectable with it.

Although, I guess that’s what makes this motion picture so unique and so special. It truly feels like one of a kind and it was crafted with a genuine love of the original film it tapped into.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the two Nosferatu movies, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Film Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Also known as: Ghost Rider 2 (working title)
Release Date: December 11th, 2011 (Austin Butt-Numb-A-Thon)
Directed by: Neveldine/Taylor
Written by: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer
Based on: Johnny Blaze by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Christopher Lambert, Idris Elba

Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, Hyde Park Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“[voiceover] Why does the devil walk on human form anyway? I have no idea. Maybe he doesn’t know either. Maybe he passes on from body to body, down through history, waiting for the perfect fit. But I know one thing, on Earth, he’s weak. His powers are limited. He needs emissaries to do his dirty work, so he finds them or makes them, using his greatest power, the power of the deal.” – Johnny Blaze

I dreaded going into this, as there was no way it could be better than its predecessor, which was a pretty big pile of cinematic shit.

However, I was wrong.

Granted, I may be alone in my assessment of this picture but I found it to be more palatable than the first Ghost Rider film because it just went batshit crazy from the get go and Nicolas Cage was fully unchained and allowed to be the insane madman he can be when he turns his performance up to eleven.

This is still a terrible film and I doubt I’ll ever watch it more than once but I didn’t find myself wanting to fast-forward like I did with the previous one.

I think it also helped the movie that Idris Elba was in it, even though he should never have to be a part of a production this atrocious. He was a bright spot in this turd, however.

Elba couldn’t save the movie, though, as it had a bafflingly bad script, not a very good story to begin with and then was littered with horrendous CGI special effects and awful acting.

Honestly, based off of the first film, this one should’ve never been made and I think that it was only greenlit, at the time, in order for the studio to try and hang on to the intellectual property rights. I mean, it’s obvious that no one associated with this film gave a shit about it.

Well, except maybe Nicolas Cage, who dedicated himself to the insanity so much that it’s only worth seeing because the level that Cage performs at here, must be seen to be believed.

At the end of the day, the movie feels like cocaine that somehow became sentient and then sniffed itself.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: the Ghost Rider film before it.

Film Review: Ghost Rider (2007)

Also known as: El vengador fantasma (several Spanish speaking countries)
Release Date: January 15th, 2007 (Ukraine)
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Written by: Mark Steven Johnson
Based on: Johnny Blaze by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Mike Ploog
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Wes Bentley, Sam Elliott, Donal Logue, Peter Fonda, Brett Cullen, Rebel Wilson

Relativity Media, Crystal Sky Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes, 123 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“Any man that’s got the guts to sell his soul for love has got the power to change the world. You didn’t do it for greed, you did it for the right reason. Maybe that puts God on your side. To them that makes you dangerous, makes you unpredictable. That’s the best thing you can be right now.” – Caretaker

Even though 2003’s Daredevil received pretty bad reviews, under-performed and left most moviegoers feeling disappointed, it’s director was still given the character of Ghost Rider to adapt into another live-action Marvel movie.

While I liked the Director’s Cut of Daredevil for the most part, Ghost Rider is an atrocious motion picture from top-to-bottom. Honestly, this came out when Nicolas Cage seemed to run out of gas and saw his career trending downward fast. Honestly, this and its sequel could’ve been the nail in the coffin.

This is terribly acted, except for the scenes with Sam Elliott and the minimal appearances by Peter Fonda. They can’t save the rest of the movie, however, as Cage, Eva Mendes and Wes Bentley don’t really seem to give a shit about anything. Even Donal Logue severely under-performed and he’s a guy that I tend to expect a lot from, as he’s proven, time and time again, that he’s a more than capable actor with good range and convincing performances.

The special effects can’t save the film either, as they’re generally pretty generic mid-’00s CGI shit. Hell, the villains don’t look the way they’re supposed to look and it just adds to this movie’s cheapness.

It’s a vapid, shit film, a complete waste of time and could only be upstaged in its awfulness by its even worse sequel.

I guess I’ll have to review that flaming turd soon.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and other terrible comic book adaptations of the era.

Film Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Release Date: December 6th, 2018 (Singapore sneak preview)
Directed by: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Written by: Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli
Music by: Daniel Pemberton
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Lake Bell, Marvin Jones III, Stan Lee (cameo), Cliff Robertson (archive recording), Oscar Issac (cameo), Donald Glover (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, Marvel Entertainment, Arad Productions, Lord Miller Productions, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, 117 Minutes, 143 Minutes (Alt Universe Cut)

Review:

“That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.” – Stan Lee

I intended to see this in the theater but the holidays are really busy for me and I didn’t get around to it or any other movies around that time. I heard great things about this movie though, so I rented it as soon as it was available.

Full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of animated films. At least I haven’t been in my adult life. I still love a lot of the old cartoons and anime I watched as a kid but due to the overwhelming positive fan response to this and my love of Miles Morales, I wanted to give this a chance.

Overall, it’s a mighty fine motion picture and the best Spider-Man movie since Spider-Man 2.

I thought that the CGI animation was really well done. I prefer traditional animation and have never found CGI animation to be that interesting but this shows how great this animation style can be when pushed to the max and utilized for its strengths while being meticulously crafted with heart.

The story doesn’t really follow the comics but how many comic book film adaptations do? Still, it was engaging, it captured who Miles is and it examined a lot of different aspects of heroism. I absolutely love how it presented and handled the life of an aged Peter Parker. And ultimately, the bond between Miles, Peter, Gwen Stacy and the other heroes was strong and everything human and emotional felt natural.

I was really excited to see Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham, especially. I loved Gwen’s earliest stories and I’ve been a Spider-Ham junkie since childhood.

This also features a lot of villains and even does a gender bending twist to Doctor Octopus that worked for me.

I think that this movie definitely did exactly what it set out to do which was to launch Miles Morales into the minds of normal moviegoers and kids that don’t pick up the comics while incorporating a nice array of other Spider-heroes in a fun and unique way. It also humanizes the vilest villain and makes this a more emotional and touching movie than most of the live action Spider-Man adaptations.

I’m definitely excited for the multiple sequels and spinoffs that Sony seems to have planned for the very near future.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: I’d assume, the future sequels and spinoffs. As well as Miles Morales Spider-Man comics.

Film Review: Red Rock West (1993)

Release Date: May 14th, 1993 (Italy)
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, Timothy Carhart, J. T. Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, Robert Apel, Dan Shor

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, Roxie Releasing, 98 Minutes

Review:

“You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat.” – Lyle

John Dahl started out making neo-noir films in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This was the second one of three and comparing it to its predecessor, Kill Me Again, I’d say that the films are very consistent.

Two of the most intense actors of the last few decades, Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper, face off in this film and man, it is really entertaining to watch.

These are my favorite types of roles for Dennis Hopper. I love it when he’s a murderous psycho or just a twisted bastard in a neo-noir cinemascape. It is hard to watch him here and not have your mind make connections to his roles in The American Friend and Blue Velvet.

I thought the cast in this was pretty good, other than Lara Flynn Boyle. I’ve never really been keen on her, even though I know she was popular with a lot of filmgoers and Twin Peaks fans at the time. She just doesn’t work as a noir-esque femme fatale for me. I can’t really peg why but when I compare her to Joanne Whalley’s femme fatale in Dahl’s Kill Me Again, there is no comparisson. Whalley nailed the role, Boyle didn’t. Also, Whalley looked like a goddess, Boyle looked like a small town mayor’s wife. Sure, that may seem incredibly superficial but this is a femme fatale we’re talking about. The trope is the trope and here it wasn’t convincing.

Red Rock West seems a bit more refined than Dahl’s previous picture but I preferred the story of the first one better. This excels because of the scenes with Cage and Hopper playing off of one another. While I thought Val Kilmer and Michael Madsen also had a good rivalry in Kill Me Again, the two male leads here take the cake.

Overall, the two films are very similar and pretty much equal. Where one lacks, the other gains. It’s almost as if you could cherry pick the good bits of each and make one incredible movie out of them.

I can’t yet compare these two films to Dahl’s The Last Seduction, as I haven’t seen it yet. But it is on the docket and I’ll probably review it very soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: John Dahl’s other neo-noir films: Kill Me Again and The Last Seduction.

 

Documentary Review: The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)

Release Date: April 30th, 2015 (limited)
Directed by: Jon Schnepp
Written by: Jon Schnepp
Music by: Frederick William Scott
Cast: Nicolas Cage (archive footage), Tim Burton, Kevin Smith

Super Skull Ship, 104 Minutes

Review:

Superman Lives was a film that never happened but I have always been intrigued by what it could have been.

Years ago, there was a picture of a long haired Nicolas Cage in a Superman costume with his eyes half shut; it looked really bizarre. Most fans of superhero films have probably seen this famous picture at some point or another. But that really set the stage for what this bizarre interpretation of Superman was.

Hearing that Tim Burton was working on the movie and that Kevin Smith had written a script for it, made this project even more bizarre. Burton had a falling out with the studio after issues arose during the production of what would have been his third Batman movie and Smith was a comic book fanboy that was mostly known for his stoner comedies that featured Jay and Silent Bob.

No one seemed to know much else about this strange project though. So once I heard about this documentary, I had a very strong desire to check it out, especially since we got to hear the details from the mouths of Burton and Smith.

On one hand, this was a truly strange motion picture but on the other hand, it wasn’t as insane as one might think if they saw that photo of Nic Cage.

This documentary was pretty solid and it covered a lot of ground from a lot of different angles. Everyone has their own version of the events and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle but this was an interesting story, nonetheless.

I’m actually glad that the film didn’t get made and that we got Superman Returns instead of this, even if it’s far from a perfect film. Superman Lives wasn’t really in tune with what Superman is. It could have been an insane and awesome motion picture in its own way and maybe the creators should revisit this concept as a movie for a new character that isn’t one that already comes with 80 years of his own lore built in.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about superhero filmmaking or films that never materialized: Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four or Jodorowsky’s Dune for instance.

Film Review: Mandy (2018)

Release Date: January 19th, 2018 (Sundance)
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Written by: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn
Music by: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke, Richard Brake, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouere, Sam Louwyck, Hayley Saywell

SpectreVision, Umedia, Legion M, XYZ Films, RLJE Films, 121 Minutes

Review:

“You are a vicious snowflake.” – Red Miller

Everyone is raving about Mandy. Most of the comments I’ve seen have painted this as a modern surreal horror masterpiece. Well, it’s definitely not a masterpiece but it was a serious mindfuck and pretty enjoyable.

It’s almost two movies though, perfectly split down the middle and broken into two solid hours.

The first half of the film is romantic, sweet and then very fucked up and disturbing. It tells the story of Red and Mandy, shows their love for one another but also brings in the evil Jeremiah Sand and his cult. Sand has an obsession with Mandy, after seeing her walking through the woods.

The second half of the film deals with Red, having watched his woman burn alive due to the actions of Sands’ cult, walk into the mouth of hell for a one man revenge killing spree. And as enchanting and mesmerizing as the first half of the film was, this is where shit really hits the fan and it’s a balls to the wall blood feast.

What makes the film so surreal is the mixture of it’s bizarre plot and evil characters along with the use of color, lighting and overall cinematography. This mixture of narrative and visuals makes this feel like early David Lynch meets recent Nicholas Winding Refn. It’s a pretty interesting marriage of styles but at the same time, that alone can’t carry a film and this thing is more drawn out than it needs to be.

There isn’t as much action as the trailer might imply but the action is pretty good where it occurs. This is a bloody film and it really hits a raw nerve in several places. But one could make an argument that this is style over substance. I won’t necessarily say that but I will point to the fact that the things I found most interesting weren’t really expanded on or fleshed out enough, in my opinion. I definitely felt like I needed to know more about Sand and his minions.

The film’s score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, this was his final film, was a perfect compliment to the film’s visual and dark allure. Jóhannsson’s work here magnified the effect of key scenes.

This is definitely a memorable film that I know I will watch again in the future but it isn’t so compelling that I’ll fire it up again anytime soon. I do, however, wish that I could have seen this on the big screen.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow.

Film Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Also known as: Fast Times (working title, informal title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Based on: Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story by Cameron Crowe
Music by: various pop bands
Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston, Amanda Wyss, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli, Lana Clarkson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, Taylor Negron, Lana Clarkson, James Russo, Pamela Springsteen

Refugee Films, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Why don’t you get a job, Spicoli?” – Brad Hamilton, “What for?” – Jeff Spicoli, “You need money.” – Brad Hamilton, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli

Teen sex comedies were all the rage in the early 1980s. However, unlike all the others, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was much more than just a teen sex comedy. It was a film with purpose, heart and characters that you actually cared for and felt connected to. It had high drama, human emotion but it was still true to the spirit of the genre it was actually better than.

There were several factors that contributed to this movie being better than one would expect at first glance.

First, the story came from a book written by Cameron Crowe, who spent some time undercover in high school to capture the real lives of the teenagers around him. The book was full of true stories, which got adapted into this fictional movie tale. Crowe’s work gave this film a sense of realism and human emotion that other films like it were lacking.

Also, this was directed by Amy Heckerling and even though it was her first feature film, she was young, hip and connected to a lot of cool people at the time. She gave this picture a sort of life and energy that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. She also pulls off similar magic with 1995’s beloved teen comedy Clueless.

Additionally, this film benefits from having an incredible cast for its time. It has Sean Penn, just before he became a superstar, as well as Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the best actresses of her generation. The shy kind of nerdy character was played by Brian Backer, who had already won a Tony Award the year before for his leading role in Woody Allen’s The Floating Light Bulb on Broadway. You’ve also got quintessential ’80s cool guy Judge Reinhold, the always lovable Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, future Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Amanda Wyss, Kelli Maroney, Scott Thomson, as well as veterans Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli. How many other ’80s teen sex comedies can boast a lineup that impressive? And this didn’t even have a single person from the Brat Pack in it.

The film is well balanced between all of its main characters. It also doesn’t showcase the token stoner as just a token stoner. The chemistry between Penn’s Spicoli and Walston’s Mr. Hand is fabulous and makes for some of the best moments in the film. Seeing Walston go that extra step for a student that most teachers would just roll their eyes at is both sweet and refreshing. I could’ve watched a spinoff movie of just Spicoli and Mr. Hand and been happy, even if it had a lackluster script.

I also loved the chemistry between best buds Mark Ratner (Backer) and Mike Damone (Romanus). The shy Ratner needs Damone’s help in getting with the ladies and their exchanges are hilarious and entertaining. Life throws these best buds a curveball though but it was great seeing real friendship conquer all.

There are several good stories sprinkled throughout this ensemble piece. And it is sort of timeless in that the jokes still work, the characters are amusing and even though this gets very serious at points, it is never short on laughs and keeps things generally lighthearted.

It also has one of the best soundtracks of its decade.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a perfect template on how to create a teen coming of age movie. Sure, it is sex heavy, as it was the ’80s, but it’s light-years more mature than similar films like Private School and The Last American Virgin.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Dazed and ConfusedThe Last American Virgin and Private School. Also, Gremlins, as that features both Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold. Plus, Clueless, another teen coming of age comedy directed by Heckerling.