Monday, May 26, 2014


Pompeii is a mish-mash of disaster movie and sword and sandal epic with only moderate success in either pursuit. Then again, I freely admit I only watched this for two reasons: Spectacular destruction and to gaze upon Kit Harrington's equally  spectacular abs. 

The film itself is a combination of well-worn tropes we've seen many times before. For the first two-thirds, the film is a gladiator epic, mainly ripping off Gladiator and subbing Kit Harrington for Russell Crowe. He plays slave turned gladiator Milo, seeking revenge against Senator Corvus (played by the woefully miscast Kiefer Sutherland). We also have Atticus, (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) as his slave/gladiator sidekick in a role shamelessly ported over directly from the aforementioned film. 

In addition to this, Milo also finds himself in a star-crossed love affair with a woman from a higher class (Titanic, anyone?). In this case, she's Cassia (played by Emily Browning). Of course, she also catches Senator Corvus's eye therefore allowing Kiefer Sutherland to pull double duty by playing Billy Zane's role from Titanic as well. Of course, all this is just filler until Mount Vesuvius finally blows it's top. It's a long hour or so for us to get there though.  

Once the eruption does start, the film somehow dramatically improves as the entire city descends into chaos as everyone tries to save themselves. Images of people running through the streets, trying to escape the city either through the port (which, ahem, didn't exist in the real Pompeii, which was not located on the coast) or other means. The effects are well rendered for the most part, creating a convincing recreation of the eruption. Of course, the film isn't particularly accurate to the real Pompeii at all. For example, the real Stadium (which still stands today), fared a lot better than the movie version. 

In the end, Pompeii is what we would get if we took Gladiator, Titanic, and Dante's Peak and put them in a blender. The film shamelessly rips off what came before wholesale and presents it as new in a poorly researched, although with convincing effects, film based on a real historical event. The real shame is it had the potential to be better than it was. Still, it's not a total waste as long as you're watching it for the right abs er, reasons.

Broken Arrow

"Would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?!" -Deakins (John Travolta)

"You know, you can't arm real nuclear weapons by dialing 1-800-Blow-Up into them." -My friend Jessica, illustrating perfectly how wonderfully silly this film is.

Every summer, I start craving a need to watch action movies. It's always been one of my favorite genres ever since I was a teen and ever since Broken Arrow came out, it's been one of my favorites. 

The film stars John Travolta as Deakins, a disgruntled Air Force pilot who is plotting to steal a pair of nuclear weapons and hold them for ransom. Standing in his way is his co-pilot, Hale (played by Christian Slater). To cover his tracks, Deakins ejects Hale from their plane, parachutes the bombs out and ejects himself over the Utah desert. 

Deakins hooks up with his cronies, including his sidekick Howie Long and the whiniest villain ever, Pritchett (played by Bob Gunton). Meanwhile, Hale gains the assistance of Park Ranger Terry Carmichael (played by Samantha Mathis).

The film is one long chase as Hale and Terry try to steal the nukes back from Deakins and Company. This includes a car chase through the desert between two humvees, an extended shoot out in an abandoned copper mine, and an extended fight on a moving freight train. This film also includes four seperate helicopter explosions, which seems a bit excessive, even to me.

At the end of the day, Broken Arrow is Travolta's show, playing the baddie Deakins with such an infectous over the top glee. Slater does his best in the hero role, as does Mathis and the two share the same chemistry they had in Pump Up the Volume. But still, it's Travolta that dominates the film and is easily one of the most memorable things about the film.

Hans Zimmer's score is one of the other memorable aspects of the film, providing a group of memorable themes, especially Deakins theme, a twangy guitar riff contributed by the great Duane Eddy. This theme even found a second life a year later as Dewey's theme in Scream 2. The theme was used in the temporary soundtrack when they were editing that film and it fit so well, they licensed the music and kept it in the finished film.

The film is directed by John Woo, and while it's one of his more minor efforts his trademarks are still all over the film, from the use of slow motion to his heroes brandishing dual handguns. He takes the film up a notch, giving it some style and wit to set it apart. 

Broken Arrow doesn't pretend to be anything more than a shoot 'em up action picture, with perhaps a bizarre helicopter bias. In it's own unambitious way it's a thoroughly entertaining, if quite silly, action film that I personally have always enjoyed. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Wet Hot American Summer

"You taste like a burger! I don't like you anymore."

Wet Hot American Summer was released in the summer of 2001 to little notice, almost as if no one got the joke. At the time, the headlining stars of the film were Janene Garafalo, David Hyde Pierce and Molly Shannon. However, the rest of the cast is a collection of future stars, including Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Marino, and a very young Kyle Gallner.

The film takes place on the last day of camp in 1981 at the summer camp "Camp Firewood". The camp is populated with an array of oddballs including the Drama directors, played by Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper, the camp director, played by Janene Garafalo, David Hyde Pierce as an Astrophysicist who lives next door to the camp, the horndog counselor played by Ken Marino, Michael Showalter as the sad sack, love lorn counselor Coop, the slacker counselor/lifeguard Andy played by Paul Rudd and Michael Ian Black as fellow camp counselor McKinley. Each actor plays their parts perfectly, creating great comic characters. I have to give special props to Christopher Meloni as the crazy camp cook who carries on conversations with a can of mixed vegetables (voiced by H Jon Benjamin, no less) and spouting off such crazy lines like he has to go to his cabin to fondle his sweaters, only to quickly cover it up and deny saying it.

The film is a parody of early eighties summer camp films, with rapid fire gags coming one after another, each more absurd than the last. No cliche is left untouched, from the climactic championship game (which turns out to be anti-climatic in this case), the training montage, and the various summer romances among many other things. To add to it, there is also a renegade piece of Skylab on a direct course to hit the camp, just to take the absurdity to another level. 

The film also has it's share of darker comedic moments, just so you know what type of comedy this is. Andy is a terrible lifeguard and finds himself having to cover up two sepereate drownings over the course of the day. There is also a montage of a group of counselors journey into town that quickly escalates from shoplifting to mugging little old ladies and shooting heroin. Of course, each of these scenarios is presented with the same level of nuttiness as the rest of the film.

Over the past thirteen years, Wet Hot American Summer has gone from an obscure little comedy to a bonafide cult classic. The array of future stars that are part of this film shows what a dynamite cast they really had. While the film may have been ahead of it's time when it was first released (most of the reviews were dismissive to negative). However, over time it continues to find a growing audience enjoying the hilarious silliness at Camp Firewood.

Monday, May 12, 2014


"This isn't where I parked my car..."

When EuroTrip was first released, I was sure it was going to be one of the dumbest movies ever. I will admit I was right, it was dumb. But, it was also one of the shamelessly funny movies I have ever seen. 

The movie focuses on Scotty (played by Scott Mechlowicz) and his three friends, Cooper (played by Jacob Pitts), Jenny (Michelle Trachtenberg), and Jamie (played by Travis Wester) as they travel through Europe, with plenty of wild misadventures in their wake.

Scotty and his friends are graduating from High School when Scotty's girlfriend, Fiona (played by Kristen Kreuk), dumps him because she feels he's too predictable. This is made worse at the graduation party later that night when the band performs a song, "Scotty Doesn't Know", detailing in detail their exploits with Scotty's ex. It's an incredibly catchy song that reappears several times in the film as well as every road trip playlist I've ever made, often to the bemusement of my friends.

Returning home that night, extremely intoxicated, he finds an email from his German pen pal, Mieke (played by Jessica Boehrs), that he has mistaken for a guy. When she expresses interest in getting together with him, Scotty tells her to stay away. In confusion and anger, she blocks his email address. Cooper convinces him the should go to Europe and track her down. They take the cheapest flight they can get, which gets them to London. From there, they get shanghaied by Soccer hooligans, led by Vinnie Jones, and make their way to Paris where they catch up with their friends, twins Jenny and Jamie.

From there, the four get caught up in crazy adventures across Europe including a fight with a robot impersonator outside the Louvre, sharing a train compartment with a creepy, weird European guy (played by Fred Armisen), Cooper's wild night with a Dominatrix played by Lucy Lawless in Amsterdam, culminating in a reign of terror throughout the Vatican in Rome. 

The movie is a barrage of gags, all of them absurd and the height of silliness. Nothing is sacred as every culture is skewered, but somehow, none of it is mean spirited. 

For me, Jacob Pitts steals the show as Cooper. He views the trip as his "crazy, European sex odyssey" and spends the entire trip trying to get laid, which leads him into nothing but trouble. His performance provides many of the laughs as Cooper is often the either the cause of or utterly clueless, lacking any sort of tact  in any social situation. 

EuroTrip is a movie that started off rather modestly, but has grown over the past ten years into a bit of a comedy cult classic. It's certainly one that I underestimated when it was first released only to be pleasantly surprised at just how funny it really was. If you haven't seen it and are craving a movie with plenty of hearty, silly laughs, I can definitely recommend it. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fright Night: Old vs. New vs. Newer

"Welcome to Fright Night...for real."

I've always had a certain affinity for the Fright Night films. There is just something about how it takes a classic monster and transposes it to a contemporary setting that has always been appealing to me. Before you ask, I also very much enjoyed The Lost Boys. But while there has only been one Lost Boys film (yes, ONE!), there have been three different versions of Fright Night over the years, as well as one sequel to the 1985 original film. I decided to take a look at the original film, the sequel, the 2011 remake, and the 2013 remake masquerading as a sequel.

The 1985 original film burst onto the horror film scene like a breath of fresh air. The genre had been overrun by the slasher film craze when Fright Night came along, cleverly bringing the vampire out of Victorian Europe and into present day suburbia. 

Charlie Brewster (played by William Ragsdale) is an average, if somewhat nerdy suburban teen who discovers one night that his new next door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (played by Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. Naturally, no one believes him when he tries to get help.

Charlie first turns to his friend "Evil" Ed (played by Stephen Geoffreys) and his girlfriend Amy (played by Amanda Bearse). They recruit the local late night monster movie host, Peter Vincent (played by the great Roddy McDowall) to help convince Charlie his neighbor is not a vampire. The plan doesn't go quite as planned when by accident Peter discovers Jerry doesn't cast a reflection. Terrified, Peter retreats to his apartment. 

Meanwhile, our three intrepid teens eventually split up, with Charlie and Amy heading for her house and Evil Ed heading off alone. Jerry catches up with Evil and seduces him into becoming a vampire. To make matters worse, Jerry has become quite enamored of Amy, who has a strong resemblance to a woman he used to know a long time ago. The film finishes in a confrontation between Charlie and Peter and Jerry, his ghoulish roommate, Billy Cole (played by Jonathan Stark), and Evil Ed.

While the film has not aged as well as I would like to think, it does retain a certain charm to it that still shines through. I also admire that there is a certain undeniable sexiness to the film, especially a strong homoeroticism to certain scenes, especially between Jerry and Billy and the aforementioned seduction of Evil Ed. It's certainly not something I found offensive, and I felt it was an interesting flourish, especially for a film made in 1985.

Following the original, Fright Night Part 2 was released in 1988. It was a solid sequel that has gained a similar cult following to the original film. Both Roddy McDowall and William Ragsdale returned for the sequel. 

The film opens with a brief recap of the first film narrated by Charlie. He is finishing three years of therapy dealing with the events of the first film. He has convinced himself that Jerry was a serial killer who adopted the persona of a vampire and that there are no such things as vampires. He is quickly proven wrong as Peter has a new neighbor occupying the Penthouse of his apartment building, a mysterious woman named Regine, played by Julie Carmen. It is soon revealed she is Jerry Dandridge's sister and is plotting her revenge against both Charlie and Peter.

Also new to this outing is Charlie's new girlfriend, Alex (played by Traci Lin). She is a psychology major and believes Charlie's past was a hallucination as well until she's pulled into the current vampire mayhem as well. I really liked her character, she adapted well and wasn't a damsel in distress, fully willing to grab a stake or cross and play her part in saving the day.

The sequel is certainly campier than the original with a lot more humor, some parts working better than others. I appreciated the vampire was a female this time, adding an interesting twist on things. It was also a fun twist having, albeit briefly, Charlie be the skeptic and Peter knowing about the vampires. Overall, it's a strong follow-up that only doesn't quite match the original. Part of me still wishes we had gotten a Fright Night Part 3

Note: This one is incredibly hard to find on DVD, but luckily is available to view in good quality on YouTube all in one part. 

When they first announced they were remaking Fright Night, I was skeptical. So many of the remakes that had been churned out were mediocre rehashes at best. But as details trickled out, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued. Clearly, they would be going for something different than the original and for the most part they succeeded. 

This one moves the proceedings to Las Vegas, which makes sense. If there was one city in the US that would attract vampires, it would be the 24/7 neon of Vegas. 

The eternally adorable Anton Yelchin plays Charlie this time out. He lives with his mom, Jane, played by Toni Collette (who sticks out in a "wow, how'd they get her?!" sort of way not unlike Dianne Wiest in The Lost Boys). Living next door is new neighbor Jerry Dandridge, played with some genuine menace by Colin Farrell. 

In a nice twist on the original, this time around, it's Evil Ed (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who clues in Charlie that his neighbor is a vampire. Of course, Jerry catches up with Ed shortly after and he disappears from the film for a long time, one of the few detriments of this otherwise strong remake.

Imogen Poots gives a good turn as Charlie's girlfriend, Amy. This film thankfully drops the plot point of Amy looking like Jerry's lost love and actually shows more interest in Charlie's mom. She also gets her fair share of badass moments, including dousing Jerry with Holy Water and clocking Evil Ed with a rather heavy looking mace.

For my money though, it's David Tennant as Peter Vincent that really steals the show. Of course, part of it may be that I'm a hard core Doctor Who fan. He is clearly having a ball playing a Criss Angel type magician, replacing the late night monster movie host from the original films. 

Aside from having the same general framework as the original, this is an entirely new film. It contains some genuinely tense moments, including a great chase scene along a desert highway with Jerry chasing down Charlie, Jane and Amy. I also appreciated that this film gives Charlie's mom more to do as opposed to being largely forgotten about in the original film. She even gets a good shot in, impaling Jerry with one of her real estate signs in one of the film's more surreally funny shots.

The script was written by longtime Buffy writer Marti Noxon, who infuses the film with a similar wit, including a nice nod to Buffy with Peter stating he didn't want to be part of Charlie's Scooby Gang, the nickname for Buffy's group of supernatural fighting buddies.

The one big detriment to the film is the sub-par CGI that is employed far too much throughout the film. It is far from convincing and can be a distraction at times. 

That said, Fright Night is a rare remake that equals, if not surpasses, it's original with well developed characters, a fantastic cast and a witty script. If only the same could be said of the one that follows.

I am still a little baffled by Fright Night 2: New Blood. It presents itself as a sequel but is actually another remake, while incorporating the female vampire from Fright Night Part 2.

The plot plays out similarly to the previous films except this time around Charlie (played by Will Payne), Evil Ed (played by Chris Waller) and Amy (played by Sacha Parkinson) are studying abroad in Romania where they end up in an art history class taught by Gerri Danridge (played by Jaime Murray with a sexy menace that is probably the best thing about this movie). Soon enough Charlie discovers she's a vampire and, in an interesting twist, possibly Elizabeth Bathory. 

Apparently, to be free of her vampiric curse, she needs to bathe in the blood of a virgin born on the night of a blood moon or some such nonsense. Of course, Amy is the desired virgin. 

From here, it pretty much follows the plot of the previous film beat by beat. Charlie seeks the help of Peter Vincent (played by Sean Power), this time a monster hunter reality TV show host and the two team up to rescue Amy from the vampire Gerri. 

The main problem with the film is that aside from it's more exotic locale, the film offers little that's new and, ultimately, that's where it suffers. By offering up the exact same movie we've seen twice now with a third rate cast, except for Jaime Murray who's the film's saving grace, the film has very few surprises. I'm at a loss as how it was decided to essentially remake Fright Night for the second time in two years and then attempt to pass it off as a sequel, but it all feels a little...pointless. Still, this one has it's moments and I can't completely hate a movie that has one character pressing a vampire's face against a large crucifix tattooed on their chest while exclaiming, "Kiss the cross, bitch!" 

Overall, I'd say the 1985 original and the 2011 remake are both well worth seeking out. The 1988 Fright Night Part 2 is also a good time and a decent, campy follow-up. The 2013 Fright Night "2" is an occasionally entertaining mess that has it's moments but in the end is but a shadow of what came before.