8.18.2016

Midnight Confessions Episode 98: "3rd Annual Summer Sextravaganza"


It's that time of year again. In this double stuffed summer sextravaganza edition of Midnight Confessions we take a look at some WIP film (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRD CAGE) and some nunsploitation (KILLER NUN and SCHOOL OF THE HOLY BEAST).

We also discuss Stranger Things, and I give the scoop on the summer movies of 2016. 

Plus music by: Wendy O. Williams, Ozzy Osbourne, The White Stripes, Dwarves, Twisted Sister and Nasty Nuns.






 




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[Animal Summer '16] Snakes on a Plane (2006)

DIRECTED BY
David R. Ellis

STARRING

Samuel L. Jackson - Agent Neville Flynn
Julianna Margulies - Claire Miller
Nathan Phillips - Sean Jones
Flex Alexander - Clarence Dewey
Rachel Blanchard - Mercedes Harbont
Kenan Thompson - Troy McDaniel
Bobby Cannavale - Agent Hank Harris
David Koechner - Rick Archibald
Lin Shaye - Grace Bresson

Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/B-Movies/Action/Bad Animals/Snakes


Running Time - 109 Minutes




This review can also be found at the awesome That's Not Current



2006’s SNAKES ON A PLANE celebrates its tenth anniversary this week, still remembered for one line of dialogue that has become a meme that will live forever as long as there is an internet. I still remember when this movie with the silly, yet straightforward title was announced. As it starred A-lister Samuel L. Jackson in the lead, as well as other familiar faces in the cast, many people weren’t sure what the deal with this film was. Was SNAKES ON A PLANE a serious film with a dumb title? Or was SNAKES ON A PLANE a B-movie schlock-fest with big time actors dumbing it down for a paycheck?


SNAKES ON A PLANE had a ton of hype going for it that almost rivaled 1999’s THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT at times. The legend that the film was actually a drunk idea to see what would be the worst film idea ever created, yet greenlit by New Line Cinema, is just fascinating. The silly trailers added to it. The music video starring Cobra Starship, Maja Ivarsson of The Sounds, and Travie McCoy of Gym School Heroes captured the cheesiness of the film. Even Samuel L. Jackson and director David R. Ellis (FINAL DESTINATION 2, CELLULAR, SHARK NIGHT) promoted the hell out of the film, endorsing fan made trailers, parodies, and anything that seemed to be honoring the film’s existence. But despite a massive theater count opening weekend, a large internet buzz, and even a surprising 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, SNAKES ON A PLANE was a massive disappointment for New Line Cinema as it only made $62 million on a $33 million budget. While the famous line of dialogue had a life on its own, the film itself has been pretty much forgotten by many due to recent B-movies like SHARKNADO and LAVALANTULA.


Many have claimed SNAKES ON A PLANE failed because it’s a terrible movie with an awful title. But does this film deserve the venom some have given it, or is it a misunderstood masterpiece?


PLOT

While having a holiday in Honolulu, Hawaii, adrenaline junkie Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) witnesses a mob hit led by Eddie Kim (Bryon Lawson). Sean escapes, but is now a target and a leading witness to put Kim behind bars. During an attempted murder, FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) saves Sean, putting him under his protection. Wanting to stop Kim, Flynn decides to take Sean back to Los Angeles, commandeering the first class portion of a flight to protect him.

Unfortunately, Flynn and Sean are unaware that Kim’s men have planted a lot of venomous snakes as cargo aboard the plane. Using a pheromone, the snakes are unleashed mid-flight, destroying the control panel and attacking anyone aboard on the plane. Now in peril, Flynn must find a way to stop the snakes, save the passengers, and land the plane while keeping Sean safe enough to testify.


REVIEW

Despite its dumb title and silly premise, SNAKES ON A PLANE has a lot going for it. The film never tries to be what it isn’t, constantly being entertaining whether it tries to be somewhat serious or hilariously chaotic. The screenplay by Sebastian Gutierrez and John Heffernan embraces all the silliness you’d expect out of a film like this, while never trying to insult one’s intelligence and actually trying to tell a good story. While the script does attempt at some serious moments of character development and tension, SNAKES ON A PLANE is at its best when it throws all logic and sense out the window. Once the snakes appear, the film never lets up. Watching CGI snakes stop a couple from experiencing the Mile High Club, bite a man’s penis, and caressing a woman’s leg while she sleeps with arousal definitely earns its humor. Plus snakes in barf bags, snakes in oxygen masks, snakes eating small dogs, and snakes squeezing the life out of jerks we hated anyway is always a fun time. Gutierrez and Heffernan went all out taking a concept that was meant to be terrible to begin with and turn it into something charming, fun, and entertaining. Unlike another disaster film that was released around the same time, POSEIDONSNAKES ON A PLANE takes the sub-genre into a B-movie territory and doesn’t feel ashamed about it.

Of course, the screenplay has some funny bits of dialogue. How can you not laugh when a man pulls out his penis and asks it, “How’s my big boy?” We also get a makeshift pilot towards the end, with the audience believing he took actual lessons – but in reality, this character learned how to fly by playing video games on his Playstation 2. And of course, we get that line by Samuel L. Jackson, which has become bigger than the film itself.




Even after ten years, I still laugh at it. So great.



Speaking of Samuel L. Jackson, SNAKES ON A PLANE would be a massive failure without his presence. Many people wondered why Jackson signed on to a film like this, considering he’s a huge A-list star who could probably do any film he pleases. But Jackson knows exactly what film he is, acting seriously during the serious moments, and hamming it up when the film calls for it. He keeps the film grounded and makes for a great lead in a silly film like that. The other actors are a mixed bag, only because I’m not sure if some of them are being intentionally bad, or just are. Julianna Marguiles plays it straight, adding a bit of quality to the acting. Same with Bobby Cannavale, who plays it seriously in a way that he tries to go against the cheesiness of the script while coming across just as cheesy. Not many actors can do that. Kenan Thompson is a highlight, playing the film for laughs and has some good one-liners. Flex Thompson and Rachel Blanchard come across as really terrible actors, but I think it may be intentional. And it’s cool to see Lin Shaye, David Koechner, and Taylor Kitsch on board. Considering the kind of film this is, SNAKES ON A PLANE has a pretty cool cast of people we know.

David R. Ellis is the perfect director for a film like this. Ellis knows exactly what type of film he’s making, directing everything firmly tongue-in-cheek and having fun doing so. The snake attack sequences, even after all these years later, still work surprisingly well. I found them to be full of tension and suspense even throughout the chaotic comedy. The CGI snakes haven’t dated well, as you can really tell which snakes are real and which ones aren’t. But compared to recent films like SHARKNADO, the effects are still slightly better. And we get the usual disaster film cliches with the plane almost crashing, and the survivor’s guilt that turns the characters into fighters. Ellis knows he’s making a big budget schlock film, but still manages to infuse it with charm and class, caring about turning a stupid script into a good film.



Ten years after the fact, it’s quite obvious that SNAKES ON A PLANE desperately wanted to be a modern cult film. In fact, it tries a bit too hard at times. Just the famous Samuel L. Jackson line alone gives that fact away. And what about that film title? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I prefer my cult films to earn that respect organically. SNAKES ON A PLANE is a great title and a damn original premise for its time, I won’t fault the producers for that. But you can tell that New Line Cinema was banking on the internet hype to make this film a cult classic, rather than just letting us viewers decide that for ourselves.

I also felt that while Bobby Cannavale’s performance was good, his more serious hunt-and-chase scenes ruined the film’s fun flow. These scenes are important for the film’s final act and its resolution, but transitioning right from comedy to a dramatic scene is a bit jarring. Plus, these scenes weren’t particularly interesting or fun to watch. Like I mentioned, I get why they exist. But these scenes felt like they belonged in another movie, rather than the main SNAKES ON A PLANE film.


I also felt the film slowed down towards the end, losing steam by the final act. The middle portion of the film is full of snake action, but we don’t get much of it near the end except for a few moments. Say what you will about those SHARKNADO films, but you’ll most likely always get shark action even during the more serious scenes. SNAKES ON A PLANE needed more snakes doing more things on a plane, in my opinion. You went all out with the premise and the film’s title. You might as well do the same when it comes to the story and direction on film.


THE FINAL HOWL

Look, if you’re going to watch a film like SNAKES ON A PLANE  you can’t expect some Academy Award level filmmaking here. While it’s not perfect, SNAKES ON A PLANE is a really fun movie for the most part and still holds up very well ten years later. Samuel L. Jackson is still great, the snake action and direction still works, and it’s nice for a bigger budget film to embrace it’s B-movie status without a care. SNAKES ON A PLANE gives you what you’d expect, and that’s more than fine with me. It’s an entertaining movie and nothing more. 



SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4




8.01.2016

The B-Movie Bungalow Presents - Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens (2016)


Directed By: Anthony C. Ferrante

Starring: Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, David Hasselhoff, Tommy Davidson, Gary Busey, Cody Linley, Stacey Dash

Genre - Science Fiction/B-Movie/Action/Adventure/Bad Animals/Sharks

Running Time - 90 Minutes


Plot (from IMDB): Five years after the East Coast was ravaged in 'Sharknado 3,' Fin (Ian Ziering) and his family have been blissfully sharknado-free, but now sharks - and 'nados. - are being whipped up in places (and ways) that are completely unexpected.


Review: Another year, another SHARKNADO movie on SyFy. Who would have believed that a really stupid B-movie from 2013 would become one of the biggest film franchises of the modern era? I think I’ve been one of the biggest supporters of this franchise, reviewing each installment year after year, hoping to get it out there that these films can be fun if you just sit back and enjoy them. I re-watched the previous three films prior to seeing SHARKNADO 4: THE FOURTH AWAKENS, realizing that the first film wasn’t really as good as I remembered it, but loving the second film for knowing exactly what it was, and the third film - which does the same, but tries a bit too hard at times. Even with its clever title and known cameos, I wasn’t expecting much out of this sequel. By this point, I figured the well was very dry and the series had peaked with the second one. But color me surprised - as I found this fourth installment to be the most fun and quicker paced film of the entire franchise.

The story is what you’d come to expect with a SHARKNADO film. The characters are still the same, even though some of them have gained extra perks and arcs that could lead to interesting future developments. I liked the film had taken place five years in the future, with the shark problem finally solved - at least when it concerned water sharks. The idea of having a variety of sharknadoes that involved sand, oil, electricity, radioactive chemicals, and so on kept the narrative going for me. It’s a dumb plot and doesn’t make a lick of sense, but I’m glad the filmmakers tried to give us an evolution of what had been established and tired by the third film. The sharks became more of a threat and I kept being amused by the different types of storms that threatened our heroes. I also enjoyed that the film was centered mainly on the Shepard family, bonding them stronger as a unit against these sharks. It sucks April survived [damn you, viewers], but she did have some chuckle-worthy moments in her new character. Plus, seeing a five-year-old with a chainsaw is not something you see everyday. The ending pretty much tells us where the series is going in the fifth film, which I’m kinda hoping is the last one. I mean, what else can you do by this point?

I think the best part of the script for me were the throwback to famous pop culture moments or dialogue that fit well with the situation. We get the obvious STAR WARS homages, including the classic opening in SHARKNADO form and a character begging to “Stay on target!”. We get a few TERMINATOR references for April. Lloyd Kaufman makes an appearance to “Nuke ‘em high”. There’s an Action Comics #1 cover homage. The awesome Baywatch reunion with David Hasselhoff, Alexandra Paul, and Gena Lee Nolin is great. Christine, the car, makes an appearance with Steve Guttenberg’s LAVALANTULA character. Gary Busey is wearing the same glasses he wore in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. And the best stuff was with Caroline Williams, speaking in her heavy Stretch accent from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, claiming that “the Saw is Family” and that “it wouldn’t be Texas without a chainsaw massacre”. Clever stuff that worked better than it had any right to.



The direction by Anthony C. Ferrante, who has directed every single one of these films, is what you’d expect from this series - except I felt the pacing and flow was a long quicker for the better. I’m sure this was done to compensate for a weird script, but SHARKNADO 4 had the most visual energy and style of the four films. There was never a lull in the film like in the previous three. We’d get certain character stuff really quickly before an action sequence pops up. I also felt some scenes looked really cool. In particular, the pirate ship scene at the start looked inspired by Dario Argento with its red, blue, and green vibrant colors. The final act resembled a Saint’s Row video game, as it was visually chaotic - but again, I liked that. The CGI is still as cartoony as before, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I felt Ferrante was very inspired with this installment, sort of directing with the same energy he had while filming the second film in New York City.

The acting isn’t the greatest per usual, even though I felt the quality was a bit above the other films. Ian Ziering is still the same straight man as Finn, playing a wannabe superhero that gets to do cool stuff. Tara Reid is back and she didn’t annoy me as much as she had in the previous films. I think it’s because I could tell she was having more fun with her new role and being more comfortable. She seemed more engaged this time around. David Hasselhoff is still one of the coolest dudes in the room. Cody Linley seems to be having fun starring in a SHARKNADO movie. Tommy Davidson seemed to forget he was in a SHARKNADO movie, actually acting well in his role and really standing out amongst the other actors. Gary Busey halts the crazy, playing his role a bit more subtle than expected. Stacey Dash uses her current pop culture persona to her advantage as the mayor, leading to an awesome WIZARD OF OZ moment [there are a lot of those here]. The cameos here are pretty cool as well. We get Seth Rollins, Gilbert Gottfried, Carrot Top, Adrian Zmed, Lloyd Kaufman, Caroline Williams, Dr. Drew, Corey Taylor, the Chippendales dancers, the Millionaire Matchmaker, Steve Guttenberg, and Gena Lee Nolin and Alexandra Paul from Baywatch. Plus Christine, the car, makes an appearance! I thought the cameos really worked here.



SHARKNADO 4 continues the level of CGI violence we’ve come to expect. The sharks seem weaker this time though, exploding pretty easily from just simple punches, kicks, and pelvic thrusts. We get the regular decapitations, sharks sliced in half with chainsaws, sharks squashing people, etc. We also get other animals doing some damage as well, such as cows and whales. The final act alone is chaotically violent in a cartoon way.

The sexuality in SHARKNADO 4 is standard. Chippendale dancers, Tara Reid shows her enhanced cleavage, and the Baywatch babes. There’s something for everyone.

The cheesiness is off the charts here. Nukenado? Oilnado? Firenado? Sandsharknado? Tara Reid as a cyborg with a battery pack? People with superpowers? Sharks with spikes? A lot of funny one-liners from famous films? We even get a space segment that starts with the classic STAR WARS opening. Yep, cheesy as hell.



The Final Howl: Look, if you’re not on the SHARKNADO bandwagon by now, you will never be. If you love SHARKNADO, you’ll really enjoy SHARKNADO 4: THE FOURTH AWAKENS. If you don’t like SHARKNADO, don’t bother and don’t try and ruin it for the rest of us. Bad acting, bad special effects, a silly narrative, and just a great sense of fun, amusement, and campiness. I personally feel that SHARKNADO 4 is the best of the series, as it went by super fast and genuinely made me laugh and mark out over certain pop culture references. Sometimes I want to watch serious movies. Other times, I just want to escape in the bizarre world of SHARKNADO. This was a lot of fun. Bring on the fifth one!


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4




7.30.2016

Jason Bourne (2016)


Directed By: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Stiles, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

Genre - Action/Adventure/Suspense/Thriller

Running Time - 123 Minutes


Plot (from IMDB): The most dangerous former operative of the CIA (Matt Damon) is drawn out of hiding to uncover hidden truths about his past.


Review: After the boring and uninspired THE BOURNE LEGACY, JASON BOURNE is a welcome addition to the BOURNE franchise that started in 2002. Matt Damon returns to the role he made famous, stepping into his brooding, investigative shoes as if he had never left 9 years ago. Damon’s age is also an asset, as he’s now wiser, more disgruntled with his life, and no longer confused about his spy past - but rather why he really joined Treadstone all those years ago. The reason for Bourne’s return could have been really dumb and seen as nothing but a cash grab [which JASON BOURNE really is, to be honest]. But the mystery that Bourne is trying to figure out this time around is a much more personal and quite clever, considering I had no idea what reason they would give to have Bourne come out of hiding to begin with. The twists and turns are pretty good, and you’re kept invested in this sequel.

Paul Greengrass returning is also a good thing, as his visual style connects this perfectly to SUPREMACY and ULTIMATUM. We get that shaky-cam style we’re used to by this point, with Greengrass really highlighting some cool action sequences in Greece, and especially the entire final act in Las Vegas. Even the quieter moments feel important again, even though the script could have been better at times.

While JASON BOURNE is definitely a good action movie and better than LEGACY, it’s not quite as good as the first three films. JASON BOURNE is pretty much the same film we’ve seen in the other Matt Damon films. A contact of Bourne gets killed in the beginning. There’s a CIA boss who always seems evil and wants Bourne eliminated to keep secrets hidden. One of the CIA people want Bourne alive to help him get the answers he needs. There’s a hired assassin after Bourne. Every huge action sequence is in a crowded place, usually involving cars and jumping off roofs. Plus we get flashbacks giving us reason to why this film exists. All these elements work for the most part, but it does feel tired by this point. Considering ULTIMATUM was released 9 years ago, you’d think things would get changed up a bit.



And while the film has great actors in it, their roles are very underwritten. Tommy Lee Jones plays a great villain, but I wasn’t really sure what he real deal was. He was more involved in a sub-plot involving some internet security scandal, which was refreshing but should have been more fleshed out and felt more important. Alicia Vikander has an even lesser role to portray, just mainly staring at screens and computers until the final act, where she really begins to flesh out her character. By that point though, it feels a bit late. Julia Stiles returns and fares a bit better as Nikki, showing us what she has been up to and why she’s still protecting Bourne. And Vincent Cassel has a stereotypical vengeance sub-plot to work with, but does it amazingly well and comes off an as actual threat to Jason Bourne. In fact, out of all the assets in this franchise, Cassel was by far the best and most interesting one. I wish there was more interaction between him and Damon though.

Plus, I felt the ending was a bit flat for some reason. I wish the ambiguity had remained to set up some intrigue for a future sequel, but everything was given away - making you wonder why Jason Bourne would ever return to deal with these CIA people.



The Final Howl: JASON BOURNE was a good, but not great installment in the BOURNE franchise. Matt Damon is great as usual as the title character, with the other actors doing their best with underwritten characters. Paul Greengrass brings his shaky-cam visual style back, which really give the same kenetic energy to the action sequences - especially the sequences involving Greece and Las Vegas. I just wish that after nine years, the usual beats we’d expect from this franchise were turned upside-down or something. Instead, we get the same evil CIA agents, an assassin wanting to kill Bourne, and flashbacks that just happen to pop up to present us with a mystery to give reason for this film’s existence. It’s an entertaining summer movie for sure, but JASON BOURNE feels “been there, done that” after all these years. 


SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4




7.29.2016

The Bourne Legacy (2012)


Directed by: Tony Gilroy

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Scott Glenn, Corey Stoll, Oscar Isaac, Dennis Boutsikaris, Zeljko Ivanek, David Strathairn, Albert Finney, Joan Allen

Genre - Action/Adventure/Science Fiction/Thriller

Running Time - 135 Minutes


Plot (from IMDB): The events in this movie take place around the same time as the events in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. When a British reporter (Paddy Considine) was writing an expose about Black Ops operations Treadstone and Black Briar, and the ones responsible for them are concerned. And when Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), former Treadstone operative got the file on Treadstone and Black Briar and gave it to Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) who then passed it to the media. When the men behind Treadstone and Black Briar learn of this, they're concerned how this will affect other ops they have. They decide it's best to shut down all ops and make sure make everyone involved disappears. They try to take out Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) who is part of another op called Outcome, but he manages to survive. He then seeks out Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who worked on him when he began. It seems part of the program is for all subjects to take medications but he has run out, which is why he seeks her. But someone tries to kill her. He saves her and she tells him, he should have stopped taking the medications long ago. They go to Manila so that she can help him. Later the men behind Outcome learn that Cross and Shearing are still alive. They try to get them.


Review: As you can tell from reading the reviews of THE BOURNE IDENTITY, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, I’m huge fan of the Matt Damon “Jason Bourne” films. I thought they were great spy thrillers with a fascinating lead character, interesting supporting characters, and shaky cam direction that enhanced the action rather than distract from it. ULTIMATUM pretty much ended the story in 2007 [even though we’re now getting JASON BOURNE in 2016 - making me wonder if it’s really necessary or not]. But in 2012, Universal Pictures wanted to continue [or milk] the franchise - thus, THE BOURNE LEGACY.

Four years after its release, I finally sat down and watched the Jeremy Renner led BOURNE LEGACY. And man, I probably could have saved myself almost 2 hours of my time doing something else. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s a film that’s pretty pointless because it doesn’t really add all that much to the original story. Because LEGACY takes place simultaneously with ULTIMATUM, a lot of the first act retells much of ULTIMATUM and how the actions of Jason Bourne affect the government agency who wanted to destroy him after creating him. This would have been great if these scenes were remotely interesting in any way, which unfortunately they’re not. It also hinders a lot of the character development for the main characters, as they aren’t able to create their own story and history because they’re still attached to the old one. Instead of focusing on the mystery, the action, and thrills of the previous film, we’re forced to watch government officials have long talking segments that are nothing more than expository to explain why LEGACY even exists. Nothing that’s said grabs at you or makes you want to find out more about Black Briar or Treadstone, or even the Outcome program that barely gets a focus because the filmmakers are so focused on reminding you of things that happened in the much better BOURNE films. It was nice to see the aftermath of Pamela Lundy’s actions in ULTIMATUM, as the guys behind Black Brair and Treadstone went on trial. But for an action-thriller, LEGACY is extremely wordy and not overly exciting, as if it enjoys hearing itself speak for its own benefit instead of ours.

The main characters aren’t all that interesting either in LEGACY. Aaron Cross is no Jason Bourne, which is a good and bad thing. It’s good because LEGACY isn’t trying to copy the previous hero, giving Cross his own identity from the start. Cross knows who he is. He remembers why he became an operative and has no moral qualms about it. Yet because of this, the intrigue is gone from the franchise. The first three films were about Bourne trying to remember his past and find out what he did that the government wanted him dead. We would get twists and turns in each film, making us question whether Bourne is a victim, or maybe a villain who was given mercy by getting amnesia. All Cross seems to want to do is find some medicine to maintain his abilities, feeling sicker when he’s not getting them. And much of the film is about this worldwide adventure to find drugs. Seriously? Who thought this was a good idea? The lack of a true central conflict with the lead character is what ruins the film for me.



The other characters aren’t any better. Dr. Marta Shearing could have been an interesting character, if she wasn’t there just to be the love interest/damsel-in-distress character that should be tougher than she actually is. But if you enjoyed a frightened character who likes to hide and scream a lot, she’s the one for you! Eric Byer is no better, as he has to be the least charismatic villain is not only this franchise, but in other films of this type. He just stares at screens the entire time. Oooh threatening. The other characters are mainly extended cameos, not really displaying any sort of depth or anything. It’s unfortunate because the script could have been a lot better, considering how ULTIMATUM ended. But the screenplay is just lazy, dull, and uninspired. Total cash grab.

The direction by the series’ writer, Tony Gilroy, is okay at best. Paul Greengrass’ visual touches are sorely missed here, as his kinetic shaky cam style really added to the previous sequels. Gilroy has a more laid-back approach, not really providing tension or suspense in his visual presentation. Even the action scenes aren’t all that exciting, even though these are the more livelier parts of the film. I enjoyed the last chase scene in the Philippines, as well as a great fight scene in Shearing’s house and inside of a lab. But the massive editing tends to take away from these scenes somewhat, and these scenes don’t seem to really mesh with the quiet scenes. More action stuff was necessary here, as 85% of the film is just dialogue. But it was a nice attempt and Gilroy should have either directed or wrote, not both.

The acting is the best part of BOURNE LEGACY. Jeremy Renner is a good actor and tries to make the most out of Aaron Cross. He doesn’t really get anything deep to do, but he has a charm about him that makes you continue to watch. Rachel Weisz is also great, even though her character of Marta Shearing is badly written. She tries to give the character depth and motivation, even if you can tell that doesn’t exist on paper. Edward Norton is wasted as Eric Byer, as all he does is stand and look at screens. Oscar Isaac has a nice small role as one of the Outcome members. Stacy Keach brings some intensity in a small role as well. Nice to see David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Scott Glenn return as their previous characters. The script didn’t really offer any of these actors anything to really sink their teeth into, but they did what they could with their roles and made the film more watchable than it had any right to be.



The Final Howl: THE BOURNE LEGACY is a letdown compared to the three films that were released prior to it. The acting is really the film’s saving grace, as the screenplay is a boring, uninspired mess and the direction is okay at best. I really wanted to enjoy this film more than I did, but I just ended up doing other things while the film was playing on my television. And that only happens when I’m bored out of my mind. Not sure if JASON BOURNE will be any better - I hope it is because Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass are returning - but THE BOURNE LEGACY will barely leave an imprint in your mind. This is one film Jason Bourne could leave forgotten.


SCORE
1.5 Howls Outta 4



7.27.2016

[Animal Summer '16] Alligator (1980)

DIRECTED BY
Lewis Teague

STARRING
Robert Forster - David Madison
Robin Riker - Marisa Kendall
Michael V. Gazzo - Chief Clark
Dean Jagger - Slade
Sydney Lassick - Luke Gutchel
Jack Carter - Mayor
Perry Lang - Officer Jim Kelly
Henry Silva - Col. Brock
Bart Braverman - Thomas Kemp

Genre - Horror/Slasher/B-Movie/Bad Animals

Running Time - 94 Minutes



I wonder if Steven Spielberg knew that so many movie studios and producers would take what he did with his 1975 blockbuster JAWS to create their own versions of the same story. Movies like 1976’s MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH, 1977’s ORCA, 1978’s PIRANHA, and even JAWS’ own three sequels “ripped offJAWS’ success to create their own fame/infamy for many audiences. Who knew a story by Peter Benchley would help create its own “animals-run-amok” horror sub-genre?

One of the many films considered to be a “rip-off” of JAWS is 1980’s ALLIGATOR. ALLIGATOR is a film that I hadn’t watched since I was a kid, liking it enough that I wanted to a reason to watch it again as an adult. Now with Animal Summer, I have my reason to see if ALLIGATOR is as good as I remembered. Fortunately for my adult eyes, ALLIGATOR ended up being better than my memory provided.


PLOT
During a vacation in Florida, Marisa’s family allows her to bring home a baby alligator as a pet. Once home in Chicago, her animal-phobic father gets rid of the alligator by flushing it down the toilet. Landing in the sewers, the alligator feeds upon lab-experimented cadavers to survive.

Twelve years later, random killings have plagued Chicago. Severed body parts are found through the sewer system, creating a panic amongst the city. To figure out what’s been going on, brooding detective David Madison (Robert Forster) is made in charge of the investigation. With the help of an older Marisa (Robin Riker), now a popular animal researcher, Madison figures out the killer is a giant alligator - who has decided the sewers aren’t enough, making it up to the surface to continue his rampage.

REVIEW
ALLIGATOR is one of the best “rip off” JAWS films ever filmed. Like PIRANHA, which is also quite good in its own right, ALLIGATOR is a smart, fun, and well-made movie that captures the spirit of why JAWS was so successful. It was obviously inspired by urban legends and news stories from the early 20th century, where tales of alligators appearing out of the sewers were big talking points about the dangers of alligators in big cities, while wondering how the alligators got into the sewer system to begin with. It’s a slasher film with an animal as the killer, while also providing a certain social commentary that makes you question whether the alligator is a villain, or a heroic victim of people’s ignorance.

It’s not surprising that ALLIGATOR’s script is so well done. The screenplay was written by PIRANHA scribe John Sayles, who was asked to change a script that involved a sewer alligator in Milwaukee who grew large in size after drinking large amounts of beer! I’m surprised SyFy hasn’t used this idea yet for their upcoming classic, BEER GATOR. Drunk alligators are dangerous, especially behind cars, yo! Seriously, Sayles classes up the original premise - turning a really silly premise and making it pretty serious and thrilling for its time [and even today, to be honest]. New World Pictures was known for their silly and funny [intentional or not] B-movies, but ALLIGATOR takes itself seriously as a creature feature that has a budget behind it to really capture the full extent of the terror.

The character development in ALLIGATOR is pretty solid. Detective David Madison is our hero - a disgruntled man who is haunted by the losses of his past, which affects his future relationships yet motivates him to solve this alligator case to protect the city he loves to make up for the past. He’s the only one who believes the gator threat from the start, having seen it for his own eyes, while the rest of the city, his co-workers, and reporters just think he’s losing it. He also makes the first connection to the local pharmaceutical company with the alligator, showing how smart and active he is. Marisa Kendall, an animal researcher, comes across as a strong, independent woman who, like David, is haunted by her past. Not only does she fall for David [maybe looking for a father figure that her own father wasn’t], but she’s an indirect reason for the alligator threat when she was a young girl. Then you get the rambunctious Chief Clark, who is torn between his loyalty and friendship with David and his professional ties to the city’s Mayor. Speaking of the Mayor, he suffers from JAWS-itis as he would rather make money than protect his citizens. Slade and his lackeys are the stereotypical evil scientists who have the government backing to protect them from any wrongdoing, even though they’re the reason why there’s trouble to begin with. And we have Thomas Kemp, your typical nosy reporter who ends up in trouble. And you even get a big-game hunter whose cockiness leads to more bad than good. These characters are all pretty similar to characters done in other animal-run-amok films, especially JAWS and PIRANHA. But they all work well here in ALLIGATOR, helping the flow the film when the title character doesn’t appear on screen to steal the spotlight.

Not only are the characters strong, but John Sayles doesn’t hide the fact that he wants his social commentary to be heard. In many ways, ALLIGATOR is a criticism on vivisection, the government when it comes to class and social issues, and the media’s twisting of true stories into more scandalous ones. All these institutions enable the murders that the alligator causes throughout the city. The experimentation on live animals with chemicals and tossing the cadavers away when the lab results aren’t positive leads to the growth of the alligator. The media would rather disapprove David rather than listen and take him seriously about the giant alligator, which would have saved more lives. And the Mayor would rather protect an upper-class wedding to support the pharmaceutical company in exchange for money rather than protect his citizens. The alligator is less of a serial killer, and more of an avenging angel - going after the evil people who made him the way he is while getting rid of people who stand in his way. Yes, the gator does kill some innocent people because that’s what gators do. But he’s pretty much focused on who Sayles considers the sinners of his story. It’s an interesting storytelling tactic, making the viewer sympathetic towards the alligator rather than most of the human beings in the story. I, personally, root for the gator to get rid of these bastards, which is probably what Sayles had intended. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to watch an animal kill bad and/or stupid people in movies. So for that, the script is a success.

The special effects in ALLIGATOR are very impressive, considering it was filmed around 1979 or 1980 and the budget the film had to use. Richard O. Helmer did a nice job alternating designs for a fake crocodile head seen from the side during chase scenes that looks pretty realistic, to a real-life giant crocodile design that breaks out from underneath the sewers to attack people. The gore is minimal, but the blood adds to the effect of this alligator murdering dumb folk. Nowadays, this would have all been done with CGI, making the attacks look really silly. With these practical effects, you’d really think there was a giant alligator terrorizing actors on a set. I really enjoyed it.

The direction by the awesome Lewis Teague really makes ALLIGATOR stand out from the rest of the JAWS imitators. Teague, while having fun with the script at times in terms of tone and pacing, still manages to take the visual presentation of the narrative seriously. Instead of a cheesy B-movie imitator, ALLIGATOR plays out mostly as a detective/police drama with a man hunting down a serial killer - in this case, an alligator. There are also obvious slasher elements at play here, with the alligator kept mainly in shadows and silhouettes for half the film - just shots of his eyes and mouth to give you a feel of the size of the animal. We also get first person point-of-view shots, in red tint, through the alligator’s perspective. The scene where the gator finally reveals itself out of the sewers is a memorable visual, as well as the fun and chaotic final act where the alligator pretty much destroys a wedding. It’s no wonder Stephen King would hire Teague to direct both CUJO and CAT’S EYE after this film. Teague knows how to balance fun, drama, and terror.

The acting is also pretty great here. Robert Forster is the real reason why ALLIGATOR is highly regarded by those who have seen this film. Any other actor would have treated the premise as a joke and winked at the audience, but not Forster. As David Madison, Forster plays a serious cop who is haunted by his past and is determined to eliminate the ghosts by saving the city that he loves, but doesn’t really love him. Forster constantly shows remorse and a social awkwardness in his character that makes us feel for him and want him to succeed. He’s the reason why the film is an easy watch, because our lead character is someone we are invested in. Robin Riker is also pretty great as Marisa. She plays a smart, independent woman who rushes into action rather than shy away from it. Her banter and relationship with Forster is believable and she makes a great sidekick for him. Character actors Michael V. Gazzo, Dean Jagger, and Sydney Lassick do well in their roles, especially Gazzo as the neurotic Chief. Henry Silva has fun as the big-game-hunter, Col. Brock. And Bart Braverman is wonderfully snarky and sarcastic as the nosy reporter. It’s just a nice cast of actors who play their roles seriously and all elevate what could have been a silly script.


THINGS I’VE LEARNED WHILE NEVER FLUSHING ANYTHING IN MY TOILET AGAIN

  • A young Marisa named her pet alligator Ramon. With its razor sharp teeth, say hello to the Bad Guy!
  • Ramon was flushed by Marisa’s animal-phobic dad, landing him in the sewers - where he’s been feeding on radioactive cadavers. And that’s how the Ninja Turtles’ nemesis, Leatherhead, was born.
  • After dumping dead animals that had been experimented on in a sewer, pet owner Gutchel was eaten by Ramon. That’s for making fun of Carrie White’s opinion of Tommy Ross’ poem, you jerk!
  • A suicidal bomber enters the police station, saying that the voices told him to do it. Randy Orton is a huge fan of this guy.
  • Ramon wouldn’t come out of the sewers when the police unit was banging metal to make noise. Probably would have helped if the noise was in the tune of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”.
  • Two kids pushed another kid into a swimming pool, not seeing the clearly visible alligator in there with led to the kid’s death. And that’s how the Melendez Brothers got started.
  • Ramon crashed a wedding, killing and eating folks. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson would be proud.

THE FINAL HOWL
I honestly did not expect to love ALLIGATOR more as an adult as I had 25 years ago. For a JAWS imitator, Lewis Teague and John Sayles manage to craft a smart, fun, silly, and extremely watchable police drama/slasher film starring a giant fake alligator that terrorizes a city. The social commentary makes you question whether the alligator is a hero or a villain, the special effects are well done considering the budget, the visuals are more than solid, and the acting [especially Robert Forster] is just fantastic. It’s not as good as JAWS, but it still manages to stand out and be its own thing. ALLIGATOR is definitely one animal-run-amok movie you shouldn’t miss.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4


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