// Movie Comments//
Original post: August
Last night I unwound from my rather
tiring day by watching one of the DVDs
I picked up the other day. I popped in the Director's Cut of Army
of Darkness, and it proved to be just what the doctor ordered. I love
the Evil Dead trilogy, and I'd never seen the original cut (which
was released overseas), though I'd heard about its more downbeat ending.
Yes, the ending's different, but apart from that there are few overt
departures from the theatrical release. The apocalyptic finale is more
in keeing with the no-one-here-gets-out-alive theme of the frist two
movies, and Bruce Campbell, who plays the zombie-beset Ash, has indicated
that the original ending runs with the notion that Ash is "basically
an idiot, and he asks for everything he gets." I like both endings;
the original one is more thematically consistent with the rest of the
trilogy, but the theatrical release ending had the great closing line
"Hail to the
Apart from the ending, other notable differences include a brief love
scene between Sheila and Ash (shown in silhouette in front of a fireplace).
Other sequences are expanded; for example, the struggle between Ash
and the Evil in the abandoned windmill (which also helps tie the movie
with the original two) contains some extra pratfalls. In a most satisfying
addition, the sequence during the climactic battle where Ash decimates
the army of Deadites with his Oldsmobile of Doom is a lot longer...in
the theatrical release, the Car of Death appears, wastes a skeleton
or two, then promptly explodes.
Aside from those expansions, Army of Darkness is the same movie
I've always loved, full of an aggravated Ash teeing off against abusive
zombies and medieval warriors and enduring much abuse in the process.
Although several portions of the film achieve some nice tension, AoD
is much more of a comedy than a horror film; slapstick abounds and director
Sam Raimi includes some not-so-subtle Three Stooges references.
DVD extras include a couple of deleted scenes that never made it into
either version of the film, complete with commentary by Campbell and
Raimi. In lieu of subtitles are images from the movie's storyboard superimposed
on a corener of the screen. The Director's Cut was appartently once
part of a two-disc Collector's Edition of AoD by Anchor
Bay Entertainment. Eventually I plan to pick up the theatrical version.
If Anchor Bay had included the theatrical ending among the extras, I
wouldn't bother, but I suppose that's exactly why they didn't.
By the way, the treacherous Dr. Freex of The
Bad Movie Report has a lengthy
essay that discusses the Evil Dead trilogy in light of the decline
of the American horror film.
And Bruce Campbell
has his own Web site in
which he debunks
Internet rumors and indulges in the occasional
// Gregory Harris 5:59 PM // link
Original post: July
...well, not really. I just concluded a very satisfying viewing of the
Golan-Globus ninja flick Enter the Ninja. My lovely wife didn't
show much interest, especially since she missed the opening ninja-training
scene. There are really only two scenes of what you'd call traditional
ninja fare--guys with masks and ninja suits sneaking around--and they
bookend the film, with the middle part being largely standard chop-socky
film stuff: Franco Nero and his mustache, having graduated from ninja
school by proving he can kill a whole platoon of red-shirts (they target
ninja really do wear red uniforms) out in the jungle withour getting a
speck of blood or dirt on his sparkling while ninja tunic, goes to hang
with his friend in the Phillippines. This worthy--an old army buddy, natch--owns
a plantation that's sought by greedy land barons with thugs who chase
away his workers, etc etc. There's also the obligatory unsatisfied wife
just dying for a touch of that ninja lovin'. The film's climax is pretty
neat, as ninja film veteran Sho Kosugi (wearing traditional black garb)
and fight coordinator/stuntman Mike Stone (who also wrote the original
story) face off in a duel to the death in a Manila sport arena. Tasty
I plan to write a review, but in the meantime you can chew on this
lengthy examination at Teleport City, which provides lots of juicy
history not only about ninja movies (key quote: "When your two best
entries in a genre both come from Cannon Films, you're in trouble.")
but their real-life inspiration. Check it out.
// Gregory Harris 5:15 AM // link
Original post: July
Film director John
Frankenheimer, who helmed the classic thrillers The
Manchurian Candidate and Seven
Days in May, died
Saturday of a stroke. He was 72.
Frankenheimer also directed the 1979 horror film Prophecy.
Although watching it again last Halloween, I realized it fell short
in the scare department, back in my Boy Scout days, it was the film's
camper-eating mutant bear and not ghost stories we used to scare each
Actually, Prophecy isn't a bad movie, it just isn't a very scary
one. There are strong performances by Richard Dysart and Armand Assante
(who, improbably, plays a Native American), and genuine dramatic tension
between the loggers and Indian activists the two actors represent. The
drama is heightened when members of both groups, who strongly distrust
each other, are forced to rely on each other to survive. Although the
film's environmental theme is unmistakable, it doesn't make the Dysart's
character, the head logger, a caricature. Frankenheimer was obviously
right at home directing the more political aspects of this "thriller,"
and the film would have been stronger had he stayed in that territory,
because as a horror film it frequently falls flat.
The film is rife with weaknesses, including unconvincing special effects
(remember the exploding sleeping bag?) and wooden lead characters. Star
Robert Foxworth, an inner-city doctor sent from New York City to mediate
the logging dispute (huh?) because "people relate to him" (huh?) almost
immediately sympathizes with the Indians and proves generally skeptical,
combative and condescending, and co-star Talia Shire delivers a nigh-comatose,
// spoiler alert //
It also contains one of the most egregious examples of what Ken at Jabootu's
Bad Movie Dimension would call the Hero's
Battle Death Exemption: despite the fact that the mutant bear
is consistently shown to kill with a single blow, Foxworth's character
is able to survive combat with it long enough to stab it to death with
an arrow. Indeed, Ken uses this very movie as the example to define
Watching it last Halloween, I told my wife (the fact that we were watching
it together should tell you how non-scary it was) that rather than running
with the mutant bear angle, the film would have benefited from a Scooby-Doo
ending: having the "mutant bear" wind up being a hoax perpetrated by
either the loggers or the Indians to scare the other side out of the
forest. That would have capitalized on Frankenheimer's strengths in
directing a politically concious thriller, and made the "surprise" appearance
of another mutant bear at the film's closing much more shocking.
Shoot...I didn't really mean to make this obit of Frankenheimer into
a rant against one of his lesser offerings. He was a fine director,
and The Manchurian Candidate is one of my favorite films. Check
it out some time.
// Gregory Harris 9:21 PM // link
Original post: June
Saturday morning started well for me. Naomi woke up at about quarter
after 5, but after I gave her a bottle she went back to sleep and let
me sleep until nearly 7—practically a miracle. Once we were both awake,
I fixed her breakfast and she watched some traditional Saturday Morning
Cartoons. As we went about our day—me cleaning house, she furniture
cruising and playing with her toys—I decided to recall the days when
I was a youngster and watched our local
then-independent station all day Saturday. It’d run kung fu movies,
Japanese kaiju (giant monster) flicks, old science fiction films and,
later in the evening, horror movies.
So I’ve had the VCR and DVD player going all day, showing stuff like
Godzilla vs the Sea Monster
(which obviously didn’t have much of a budget, as Godzilla stomps
not Tokyo but an Inept Evil Organization’s base on a tropical island;
but it’s the swankest of all the Big G films, with a dance marathon,
the mystic Mothra twins and swingin’ island rhythms) and a double-feature
DVD with Beast from Haunted
Cave and The Brain
that Wouldn’t Die. Today’s kung fu offering—admittedly too recent
to have appeared on WDRB—was Jackie Chan’s 1995 US breakthrough, Rumble
in the Bronx (official
This thoroughly entertaining movie made Chan—who had starred in dozens
of Hong Kong movies and appeared in Hollywood films like The Big
Brawl and Cannonball Run—a star in the US. Chan’s character
travels to New York (which appears only in second-unit establishing
shots; the movie was filmed in Vancouver) to help his Uncle Bill (Bill
Tung, who appeared with Chan in the Police Story series) sell a market,
and stays on to help the new owner (Anita Mui of The Heroic Trio).
He runs afoul of a multiethnic gang that travels around on brightly-colored
dirt bikes, complete with racing numbers, and despite his kung fu prowess
finds himself on the wrong end of a couple of beatdowns. Meanwhile,
he sparks a friendship and very tentative romance (the pair share exactly
one onscreen kiss) with Nancy (Franscoise Yip), the gang leader’s girlfriend—I
guess that’d be ex-girlfriend. Notably, Chan’s usual reaction to the
gang’s threat is to run away, which results in some breathtaking stunts,
including a leap from the roof of a parking garage to a fire escape
across an alley.
The gang goes too far, though, when it trashes the market. The fur
flies during a frenzied fracas in the gang’s headquarters—stocked with
presumably stolen property that gives Chan ample opportunity to exercise
a trademark flair for impromptu weaponry. Chan single-handedly dominates
the group and the leader gives up. Just then, word arrives that one
of the gang has been killed by a group of diamond thieves whose haul
was intercepted by another gang member, and the diamond thieves soon
trash the market again. All of a sudden, old rivalries are forgotten
as Chan tries to save some of the gang and nab the diamond thieves.
Rumble in the Bronx is full of goofy fun. During a fracas in the store,
Chan punches a gang member into a tall display of soda cans—which prove
to be empty as they clatter to the ground. Examples abound—the stage
where Nancy dances is encircled by a tiger cage complete with tiger;
the climactic chase occurs with the diamond thieves make their getaway
in a hovercraft; and the gang challenges a rival crew to a cycle race—over
the tops of parked cars. (As funny as it sounds, the stunt was no laughing
matter; the actress who played Nancy and two stuntpeople broke legs
filming it.) And notable exceptions depart from the film’s generally
lighthearted tone. Chan is beaten bloody on at least one occasion and
there are several murders by the diamond thieves; this and some strong
language gave the film an R rating.
As is traditional with Chan movies, outtakes appear under the closing
credits. They show numerous occasions where a particular stunt goes
awry, including one occasion when Chan broke or sprained his ankle during
a leap onto the hovercraft, which led him to perform some stunts in
a cast covered by a fake rubber sneaker.
Aside from being entertaining pratfalls, the outtakes make it even
more obvious that the preceding story is just a fantasy, a story. They
drive home the fact that the punches and kicks shown on screen can hurt.
They also make it clear that the people in the movie are just characters—several
times and stunt people stop fighting and rush to aid an injured colleague,
and the cameras catch actors breaking out of character and into applause
when a stunt is over.
I’ve ranted before about people who blur the line between fantasy and
reality. But in a way, the stories movies tell help shape our reality.
A culture’s stories give it context and a shared reference point. While
there’s been a lot of worry about the effect of onscreen violence, what
disturbs me is the fact that violence is often the first and only response
ever presented to resolve a conflict. And the violence that occurs is
often without cost and consequence.
Violence is not only the sole solution offered, it’s also almost invariably
the successful course of action, the thing that usually resolves the
conflict in the hero’s favor. It always works, and usually at little
cost to the hero (although best friends and love interests sometimes
become dramatic collateral damage), and innocents never get hurt except
by the despicable heavy.
I sometimes wonder if this subtext doesn’t pack much more influence
than the desire to imitate the moves one sees onscreen. Sure, after
seeing Star Wars you might pretend you have a light saber—but
after hundreds of these movies, most made with much less attention to
detail than Star Wars, a subtle message that violence is the
answer might be delivered. Then again, I think I’ve seen more violent
movies—and movies that are more violent—than the average guy, and I
think I know that the world doesn’t work that way. (At least, I hope
Rumble in the Bronx shares these tendencies, but after his victorious
battle, Chan tells them he regrets their being enemies, which makes
the gang’s eventual turnaround less surprising. And in a significant
departure form action movie tradition, the major villain—who’s responsible
for the deaths of several people—is not killed, but humiliated (and
But Chan’s character, who despite his obvious skills that ultimately
lead him to prevail against the entire gang, runs away whenever possible.
That tendency not only lends Chan greater credibility a martial artist,
but also renders his eventual resolve to fight the gang more dramatic.
Chan also isn’t always successful either in running away or fighting;
at times he’s injured, even when he wins (although his cuts and bruises
tend to vanish by the next scene).
Rumble in the Bronx doesn’t need heavy analysis, though. It’s
mostly goofy and good-natured, you get to see Chan and a team of expert
stunt players in action, and then there’s the lovely Franscoise Yip
and Anita Mui, so what’s not to like?
(A sad note: Mark Akerstream, who played gang leader Tony, died in
a 1998 stunt-related accident.)
Second opinion: Stomp
Omi and I are going to go grab some milk and then pick up her mother
and big sister from the airport. I’ll be good to have them both back.
// Gregory Harris 10:21 PM // link
Original post: June
Last night, I watched an little-known George A. Romero flick, The
Crazies. After a military virus infects the drinking supply
of a small Pennsylvania town, infected people become homicidal maniacs,
and a hasty military operation is launched to contain the outbreak.
Of course, not all the citizens appreciate the Army rounding them up,
and a few escape into the woods, where they must contend with soldiers,
infected townspeople and the spread of the disease among their own group.
I was expecting to like it, but I liked it even more than I expected--it
was excellent; it conveyed a lot of the paranoia and nihilism of Night
of the Living Dead and, like Night, it generated an incredible
amount of tension and suspense on a low budget (though this flick is
in color) and with a cast of mostly unknown actors (look for Richard
France, the guy who plays the scientist with the eyepatch in Dawn
of the Dead, here too as a scientist). I plan to write a review
of it, but until I do you can check out the ones at Teleport
Fusion Video Reviews and ZombieKeeper.
I was surprised my local non-Blockbuster video store carried a copy
of such an obscure movie (and the fact that it did is exactly
what I like about smaller chains).
// Gregory Harris 4:44 PM // link