Film Review: End of Days (1999)

Release Date: November 16th, 1999 (US premiere)
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Written by: Andrew W. Marlowe
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, Rod Steiger, CCH Pounder, Derrick O’Connor, Miriam Margolyes, Udo Kier, Mark Margolis

Lucifilms, Beacon Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“How do you expect to defeat me when you are but a man, and I am forever?” – Satan

This may be the worst Arnold Schwarzenegger movie I have ever seen. It’s truly deplorable on just about every level. Granted, it did give the world that awesome “choir boy” line.

I’m sure there are a few worse Schwarzenegger movies, as he’s made a lot and a good amount of the later ones are shit, but I tend to stick to his ’80s and early ’90s stuff. There are still a handful (or slightly more) that I’ve never seen due to a lack of interest on my part. Honestly, everything after Eraser, kind of just blends into a big blur.

That being said, this is the first time that I’ve watched this film in its entirety, as I just didn’t have much interest in it back when it came out in late 1999, at the dawn of the new millennium.

Also, at the time, these “end of days” movies were coming out in droves, as the fear of Y2K and the new millennium in general spawned a huge resurgence in religious horror. From memory, none of them were all that good, except for maybe The Devil’s Advocate but it’s been so long since I’ve seen that one.

End of Days just sort of follows the trend of the time but throws in Arnold and tries to give it an action movie twist, as opposed to just being about religious horror.

The movie was originally written to be a vehicle for Tom Cruise. I assume that he read the script and ran because he eventually said “no” and then went off to film Magnolia, which was a really wise decision. There were also three casting changes with the lead female character. It eventually went to Robin Tunney, who I like in just about everything, but the role was first given to Liv Tyler and then Kate Winslet; both dropped out.

There were production issues in locking down a director too, as it was offered to both Sam Raimi and Guillermo del Toro but they turned it down to focus on their original projects. Marcus Nispel was hired, at one point, but he dropped out due to issues with the script. The studio finally brought in Peter Hyams, who was coming off of The Relic and two Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks: Sudden Death and Timecop but was probably most famous for directing The Presidio, 2010 and Outland, a space western with Sean Connery.

However, despite all these early production issues, they really aren’t the biggest problems with this movie.

The script is just detestable. It’s really bad. It’s cookie cutter, generic, “Satan comes to Earth” schlock of the cheapest and lamest caliber. It’s not a good story, it’s derivative as hell and simply wedging action into the plot doesn’t make it cool or even salvageable. Frankly, all the twists are predictable and you can sleep through most of the movie without waking up, feeling lost.

What’s even worse than the script are the special effects. This has some of the worst CGI effects I’ve ever seen in a big budget movie, even for the time. The stealth armor effects of Predator, which predates this by twelve years, blows this out of the water in regards to its “invisible” Satan scenes.

Additionally, the big CGI Satan is laughably bad and it completely wrecks the final battle within the movie.

There’s honestly a lot I could pick apart about End of Days but to put it simply and to wrap this up, it’s just lowest common denominator horseshit and even though Schwarzenegger has made some real crap in his career, the guy deserved better than this.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: all the other religious horror that was running rampant around the turn of the millennium.

Film Review: Mars Attacks! (1996)

Release Date: December 12th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Jonathan Gems
Based on: Mars Attacks by Topps
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Jack Black, Christina Applegate, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker, O-Lan Jones, Ray J, Joseph Maher, Frank Welker (voice)

Tim Burton Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“They blew up Congress! Ha ha ha ha!” – Grandma Florence Norris

While this isn’t one of Tim Burton’s most popular films, it is one of my favorites and I feel like it missed its mark because it’s not the type of film that would resonate with most people.

Mars Attacks! came out in late 1996, not too long after Independence Day ruled American culture that same summer. Maybe people were confused that this was a ripoff of it or that one big alien invasion movie was enough to digest but either way, I don’t think people realized that this was vastly different and sort of a parody of the genre while also being an incredible live action adaptation of the Mars Attacks trading cards that Topps put out in the 1960s. It’s like those who were kids in the ’60s no longer cared and the teens of the ’90s didn’t know the reference.

Still, this is a hilarious romp starring dozens of top notch celebrities where not a single one of them is actually safe. I mean, these Martians murder Congress, the President and even try to crush a troop of Cub Scouts with the Washington Monument. They are sick, sadistic and really, just friggin’ awesome. They are also voiced by Frank Welker, the guy who gave life to Megatron from the original and still greatest Transformers cartoon.

By the star power that this movie has, it’s clear that Hollywood got the joke and appreciated it even if audiences didn’t flock to see this. Still, it wasn’t a massive failure, by any means. It did fairly well but not as well as what Warner Bros. was probably hoping for with Tim Burton being a mega earner for the studio. While it took some time, the film did earn back the $100 million that was put into it. It was considered a box office bomb in the United States but it fared much better internationally.

This is one of the most hysterical films of the ’90s put out by a major studio. The humor is perfect, the tone is great and it pokes fun at so many different facets of Americana that it almost feels like it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The special effects look dated but they looked sort of cheesy in the mid ’90s. The film was supposed to have a hokey, old school vibe to it though. Really, the effects are great and they work for what this picture is. It’s not Independence Day and didn’t need to take itself as seriously in the visual effects department.

From a stylistic standpoint, the film really has a timeless feel to it. It merges modern style with ’50s and ’60s style in a seamless way that gives this film a magical quality.

Additionally, this picture boasts one of my favorite Danny Elfman scores of all-time. The theme is powerful and perfect and really fits that old school Elfman sound. Frankly, watching this film makes me appreciate and miss the quality of Burton and Elfman’s old school collaborations.

What really resonates with me is how this film balances comedy with how dark it actually is. It’s an absurd picture in the best way possible and shows that Tim Burton really has a dark sense of humor. Well, Beetlejuice was really effective in showing that aspect of Burton as well.

Mars Attacks! was underappreciated when it came out in 1996. It is still underappreciated today, as people that like to list out their favorite Tim Burton films always have this near the bottom of the list. Like I said, it isn’t for everyone but Burton fans, who understand Burton’s influences, should really love this picture.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Joe Dante’s Matinee and alien invasion B-movies of the ’50s.

Retro Relapse: Top 50 Spaghetti Westerns of All-Time

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Originally written in 2015.

Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.

The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.

I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.

This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
6. Django
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
12. Compañeros
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
15. Keoma
16. Sabata
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
28. Tepepa
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
33. Mannaja
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
43. Hellbenders
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt

Film Review: Duck, You Sucker (1971)

Also known as: Giù la testa, lit. Duck Your Head (Italy), A Fistful of Dynamite, Once Upon A Time… the Revolution
Release Date: October 29th, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Sergio Leone, Roberto De Leonardis, Carlo Tritto
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Rod Steiger, James Coburn, Romolo Valli

Rafran Cinematografica, Euro International Film, San Miura, United Artists, 157 Minutes

duck-you-suckerReview:

Duck, You Sucker is the last spaghetti western film to be directed by Sergio Leone. He was involved in the film My Name Is Nobody, which was a western that came out after this, but it was in a limited and uncredited capacity.

This is one of Leone’s most under-appreciated films. It doesn’t have the popularity of his Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) or the more critically acclaimed Once Upon A Time In the West but it does exist on a filmmaking level similar to those masterpieces.

Duck, You Sucker stars Rod Steiger and James Coburn and it is my favorite role for both actors. Steiger plays the leader of a Mexican bandit family and Coburn plays an ex-IRA explosives expert. The two happen to meet and team-up: building a strong bond.

The greedy bandit wants riches while the Irishman wants something much different. In a comedic turn of events, the bandit becomes a Mexican folk hero due to his unintentional part in the Mexican Revolution.

In scope, this may be Leone’s biggest film. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly had some massive scenes featuring Civil War battles and an enormous graveyard but Duck, You Sucker feels so much larger. Most notably, there is the sequence where our revolutionaries find themselves battling a tank in the desert. The scene obviously inspired the Nazi tank battle from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I wouldn’t call this Leone’s best film but it is hard not to have it in the conversation, as it takes what he has done previously in the western genre and expands on it artistically and in scope. The visual style and presentation is consistent with his other western films and you can imagine that all of these movies exist in the same world that he carefully crafted for several years, at the height of his career.

It is the lesser known cousin of his other spaghetti westerns but it doesn’t deserve to be. It is solid through and through and a great companion piece to Leone’s other work in the genre.

Rating: 9/10