From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

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From Dusk Till Dawn still entertains me today. Over a decade later, I will come back every so often to this movie for it’s originality, abrupt twist, and George Clooney’s sheer acting ability. Before his peak with Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino was at his best in the 90’s delivering fresh aura to cinema along with his indie buddy filmmakers wave. His crime caper vibe and cheesy hamburger dialogue married perfectly with friend Robert Rodriguez’s cool, rock and roll direction. These two combined a stylish crime nightmare that blended genres into one satisfying bite.

Straight off the stake this may not be for everyone. Not exactly a happy movie but an absolute brutal thrill ride. An entertaining punch to the chest that dishes out unexpected laughs and shock. The biggest diss I can find  the audience dislikes so much is the twist (and probably the gore). By the cover you can guess this isn’t your normal “escape the authority, brother, we just robbed a bank” type of flick. This I personally loved. My favorite bit of the movie is when it snaps your neck at a 180 degree turn and ship-shapes into a mythical monster. Some say this is when the movie loses it’s grasp. I say nay. From Dusk Till Dawn never loses sight of what it wants to be. From A to B the goal is always prominent.

Who doesn’t like a good heist film? Well, this is the aftermath of a bank robbery and you never get to see it like Tarantino’s classic Reservoir Dogs. However, you don’t have characters named after the colors of the rainbow.  From Dusk Till Dawn follows the Gecko brothers who must take the cash across the Mexican border without being caught and meet at the Titty Twister, leaving trail of fire and dead carcasses. Seth (Clooney) is the oldest brother with a temper but keeps it under a cool veil. This is a guy who has a book, a cool book, and you want to be in his cool book. This role here jumped Clooney’s stardom because of his on screen presence and cool demeanor. Although, I think Seth is almost as dimwitted as his younger brother, Richard, leaving him in a room with a woman alone. Richard (Tarantino) is a psychotic sex offender who has a knack of grinding his teeth. He is perfect in this role for being simultaneously weird and awkward. The two leads play well, but Tarantino is surpassed by Clooney’s espresso experience in acting. You can see this alone, clear as day, when Clooney forces Tarantino up against the wall in anger, skewing Tarantino’s glasses and Clooney keeps him from fixing them. Tarantino is not prepared for this and you can see his cowering bewilderment. It’s quite impressive to see. Speaking of impressive, Salma Hayek is a goddess. A sexy introduction for her as she steps on stage with a boa wrapping her seductive body and the music serenading and accenting her curves. Even this experienced actress leaves Tarantino with a foot in his mouth.

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Everyone does there part. From the young Juliette Lewis as a daughter of faith to Harvey Keitel, a father who has lost faith. And lets not forget those two guys we randomly meet and start rooting for at the Titty Twister. Tom Savini as Sex Machine who fancies a whip and a secret weapon in the formation of his privates. Then we have Fred Williams as Frost who has an endless supply of cigars and talks about ‘Nam back in ’72.

Acting wouldn’t be without it’s writing and Tarantino has a script that not only makes us laugh but is cheesy. Like when Jacob (Keitel) is talking about his spirituality with his kids or when Seth is discussing how his .45 will answer questions. Tarantino’s writing can easily be put into a 24 episode anime or it’s own manga series. At times it’s delectable but sometimes it’s nonsensical and dare I say somewhat juvenile; however, his odd ideas ‘trademark cliches sticks out like a stylish smile with vampire fangs.

From Dusk Till Dawn will always be a movie I come back to, no matter how long. From the opening bad-a** credits to the closing. The last 45 minutes when the twist manifests itself is a total switch up and pushes the question “What if?” in cinema. A great throwback to grindhouse flicks and a great film in general.

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***Spoiler***

On a side note, despite rather two lackluster sequels, my latest viewing made me realize this original could have a proper direct sequel. One focused on Lewis’s character, Kate. Her life takes a turn as a monster hunter after the events of this film. She eventually goes out to seek Seth for help, whether or not he helps or not, I think there is a sequel here. A monster hunt sequel, more than vampires. From Dusk Till Dawn can venture into other mythological territory with different storylines than stay with one tone. Then again, maybe that’s what makes this film so unique as a standalone.

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Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Lucas, Lucas, Lucas, what have ye done? Taken your beloved franchise and downgraded it you have. This child-like installment had a positive force surrounding it’s premier showing, bringing back humanity’s favorite universe. Phantom Menace takes us to the beginning, to when there was balance in the force, to where we meet a young pod-racing slave, Anakin Skywalker, who contains too much “midichlorian” for his own good. Qui-Gon Jinn, a jedi master, informs young Annie the power he holds, that he is to be taught in the ways of the Jedi and is, in fact, the chosen one. This starts an epic journey across the galaxy of hardship and a dark personage with a sinister agenda.

We don’t just follow Skywalker’s first steps to becoming a Jedi, but we witness the start of a secretly planned, and I must say it is cleverly planned, that shadows this first trilogy. The Trade Federation becomes greedy, taxing resources higher, fueling a war with Naboo. The Republic’s army is weak and rumors of a Sith Lord has spread throughout the galaxy. This starts an unforeseen chain reaction throughout Episodes I, II, and III that only the unsaid mastermind himself could stop if only it didn’t benefit him in the future. The over arching story is subtle in its manifestation where it’s aftermath, the second trilogy, is more straight forward, which all can be described into one word: EPIC.

Another pro for this installment is some of the characters that were created. Like Qui-Gon Jinn who is Obi-Won Kenobi’s master during his young apprenticeship. Qui-Gon, played by Liam Neeson, as one of the best Jedi Knights and masters in Star Wars history. Most notable mention is Darth Maul, possibly the scariest, most badass, and most underused character in the whole universe! This, needlessly to say, ticked me off. Darth Maul has the awesome double sided lightsaber and horns erupting from his black, fire-like face. Oh, and really bad teeth. He had an onscreen presence that would soak up more light than Darth Vader. Although I wouldn’t go as far to say he was more powerful than Vader but definitely had the moves. Now an additional character I thought was rather sloppy and gave a childish aura was Jar-Jar Binks. As a child, myself, I thought he was funny, but now i don’t find him quite amusing as I did before. After recently watching this, I would have preferred his friend, who’s name escapes me, but you can spot him helping Jar-Jar in the Naboo scenes rocking a Fu Man Chu mustache. I would’ve liked to see him have more screen time and Jar-Jar, not erased, but less time so his comedic effort isn’t so overwhelming. And finally the wonderfully played Anakin *cough*. Again, on my first viewing i was about his age and everything was fine. But dear me, his acting would’ve been better in a Disney Channel original. However, let’s not piss this guy off, alright? He’s got enough emotions to deal with…

When Phantom Menace was released in 1999, it was during an era where almost every movie was trying out this wondrous thing that got rid of prosthetics and do this impressive thing called CGI. The CGI usage is strong with this one, and lemme tell you it’s not that impressive. This first edition to the beloved saga could have used a bit more authentic special effects. Although the pod racing scene is definitely one to check out.

I remember my dad purchasing this movie on a double VHS special edition. It had an intro before the film by George Lucas and had a Making of featurette. Good memories. Watching this movie years later and understanding the backstory and noticing the subtleties has given a whole new outlook and understanding on the second renowned trilogy. Although flawed and cringe worthy dialogue moments, this and it’s two sequels are worth watching for it’s in depth story and amazing fight scenes that range from duels to epic battles among the stars.

Bargain Bin 1

With so many movies releasing every year it’s hard to keep up. A lot of time is spent on which one to watch?  Hoping you wouldn’t regret your decision after the two hours are up. You may choose one through networking because a friend told you to watch it. Or this other flick was hailed by a bunch of critics. Or perhaps you decided not to listen to anyone and watch some random movie out of the mainstream or whatever the case may be. Well, here’s someone else not to listen to: me.

I have compiled a small list that shouldn’t take up much of your time to skim through; a random selection of movies on different budgets, languages, genres, and other rubbish you may find amusing. Whether whatever weather outside, you sit on fur or leather, this is your chance to be pickey-choosey for your pleasure.

Here you go:

Hunter Prey (2010)

This small film caught me off guard. Whilst i was binge surfing on Netflix I decided to give this movie a try. I knew nothing about it and was rather impressed. A small squad is traveling with a cloaked prisoner on a distant planet when he gets loose and they must find him. Simple right? Hunter Prey is really well done for what it sets out to accomplish. Even though the soldiers’ costumes look like they were borrowed from the Clone Trooper sweat shop, it’s easy to write off for it’s still believable and the make up is also well done. Just please, do not watch the trailer. You are better off not knowing anything since the trailer somewhat ruins the twist and makes it seem more like an action movie.

PS: If you liked Enemy Mine you’d like this.

13 Assassins (2010)

I love Japanese culture and their art style. I love samurai movies even more. Takashi Miike gives himself a break from his outrageous horror/gangster films and brings us a story about thirteen samurai who are set on taking down a corrupt, evil leader. And he is evil. The film is set up in two parts basically, the first is build up. This is when Shinzaemon Shimada collects the twelve other samurai on a suicide mission and in contrary, the evil lord shows us just how evil he is. For some, the first hour may seem slow as it really lets us get to know a little bit about each character. Those who are patient, however, will be rewarded. The last hour is nothing but blood shed as the thirteen face off the many in epic fashion.

PS: I love the wide range of colors presented in every frame. Most notably when Japan’s landscape is shown. 

Session 9 (2001)

A little known horror film that came across my way through a friend. This wasn’t a movie i thought he would even like in the first place so when i watched it I was surprised that HE was the one who found it. Session 9 doesn’t need jump scares, no need for gore, just the real Danvers Mental Hospital to film in. At first, everything seems easy enough for our asbestos cleaning crew in an eerie, haunting asylum. But not everything is what it seems in this psychological horror. Hiding secrets can result in brutal fatalitie. Brad Anderson’s editing, shots, and music is what really creeps up your nerves. As well as the session tapes. There’s something about this place that will leave you feeling mental.

PS: Even though the movie isn’t widely known, those who have seen the ending and were left scratching their skull were not satisfied for it’s rather ambiguous. This is a movie worth watching with some people who are open for conversation. I, myself, loved this film for it will have you thinking for days to come.

The Fisher King (1991)

What to say about this delightful movie? I blessed myself when i purchased this without giving it a first look and  it was the one of the best decisions i ever made. It’s a story about fate and moving on from the past. When a radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) who lost his fame due to assisting a woman’s suicide, crosses paths with a looney hobo (Robin Williams) with a tragic past, becomes a comedic tale of redemption and love. Jack (Jeff) befriends the bum hoping he can help him find his true love and aid his past. All performances  are top-notch giving Robin enough room to be weird and heart warming, and letting Jeff be the down-beat cool guy. A favorite of mine from Terry Gilliam.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

I’m a little butt hurt this movie isn’t more well known, or to my knowledge it is not. You have a kick a** cast and amazing one liners. Scrap that, the whole script must be heard. Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr are perfect together, seeing that Val nearly steals the show in every scene.  Their chemistry and delivery couldn’t be any more pluperfect. The story line is a little everywhere which will take you a couple times to re-watch this. That’s not a complaint though, do yourself a favor and have fun solving this jazzed up mystery. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

PS: Still reading? Stop, i found your movie. 

Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015) IMDb

The park is open, welcome to John Hammond’s dream come true, Jurassic World! It’s bigger and badder and has more teeth – well than the third installment at least. It’s hard to top the first Jurassic Park but where this one suffers from predictability and lacks emotional depth, it is far superior than Jurassic Park 3 and possibly The Lost World. Jurassic World offers two hours of solid entertainment and wonderful CGI, along with some nostalgia to tie in with the first.

It’s a rather simple story and doesn’t waste time to start. We’re introduced to Zach and Grey, the children this time around who get the fortune of seeing the dinosaurs up close in person, thanks to their parents who send them off for the weekend to visit their Auntie Claire, the park director, for some relationship bonding. Too bad she’s wrapped up in her work showing off the new park attraction to the investors. Apparently, the park attendants are becoming accustomed to seeing dinosaurs like seeing an elephant. According to the investors, park visitors are becoming bored and they need to re-inject the thrill and create something new (but they’re DINOSAURS for crying out loud). So they splice several DNA traits to create something that will wow the crowd. Something monstrous and dangerous so they will remember. Once again, the mad scientists succeed. Didn’t they learn the first time? As long as it’s cool and exciting, profit and crowds keep flooding in, what’s to worry? One can only imagine what Ian Malcolm and Alan Grant would say to this irresponsibly blind decision.

Like other Jurassic films, chaos ensues. At times, Jurassic World is predictable and it can feel messy like towards the end. But it’s a fun ride nonetheless. The raptors move more like their descendants, reacting like birds. The scene in which they are introduced with Chris Pratt’s Owen, is believable and most interesting to see these animals obey commands and why. The CGI is by far the best out of the series, making the dinosaurs more life like and detailed. It was hard to tell the difference between animatronics and CGI. The genetically cross bred monster is scary and fierce. They did a great job constructing this killing machine but it still doesn’t have the same presence the T-Rex did in the original. I didn’t feel for any of the characters except Owen who I’m sure everyone will root for. He doesn’t have the same presence as Grant or Malcolm, but who wants the same guy? He’s a different character and doesn’t try to be like who they were. Owen carries most of the comedic weight (and brains for that matter). The ending fight scene is a blast and a lot more satisfying than Jurassic Park 3, even though it is total Hollywood. The theater I was in even began to clap…yea, I did, too.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Universal decided to make another Jurassic themed ride or even park. The movie, for the most part, was believable. The park itself felt real with it’s product placement and an original layout that seems like a blueprint for something we can one day have the pleasure of walking through ourselves.

This is Colin Trevorrow’s first big budget film, before this he hasn’t done much except Safety Not Guaranteed. I’d consider this a great feat. It’s a quick, entertaining film i can see him doing more of. What I found cool was that they brought back some ideas from previous installments that were scrapped. One I noticed and I was happy for was the pterodactyl scene. Originally, in the Lost World, how it was going to end was the survivors were escaping via helicopter and they get attacked by a couple pterodactyls. This scene was revived here in this feature and even kept an unfortunate pilot getting stabbed by a beak. I am not happy with the end sequence of The Lost World: Jurassic Park because I felt it was self indulgent. Given, it’s cool to see a T-Rex roaming the city streets, watching Asian people running from a giant prehistoric lizard, and crew cameos getting eaten; but it was typical Hollywood and Spielberg really just wanted to see what it would be like to release this dinosaur in public. I’d prefer that to have waited for another installment. Perhaps I will eventually divulge myself into reviewing The Lost World and further explain. But at least it was not forgotten and found it’s way here.

This 4th installment reminds me even more of the Alien films than the previous efforts. Their is a hidden motive, or agenda if you will, for Hoskins. This made me love this franchise that much more because Alien is one of my all time favorites as in story and where it has gone. Once you witness Jurassic World for yourself, you can almost see where the next will follow, it has my curiosity, since it’s a believable solution. Either the military takes control for war disposal, or worse, creates human-dinosaur hybrids.

Jurassic World is not perfect. Regardless though, you will be entertained and have forgotten or wished there never was a 3. The lack of patience it had resulted in a loss of emotional depth and some showmanship, and the writing quickly covers up the deep themes the original talked about. This sequel did what it was supposed to and kept things different without swaying too far from the core Jurassic experience. Maybe next time the scientists will think twice before bio-engineering something not naturally existent, that’s if Ingen doesn’t get in the way. There are even easter eggs littered throughout, like a woman reading Ian Malcolm’s book on the bus or the mosquito caught in the amber from the first movie is made into a larger monument. I think this is the sequel Jurassic deserves without trying to be a brainless copy. It’s a fun adventure that is refreshing, believable, and possibly the best to come out since the original Jurassic Park.

Welcome to the park of Jurassic World.

The Raid 2 (2014) – IMDb

via The Raid 2 (2014) – IMDb.

Like the rest of the audience who has seen The Raid: Redemption, I was excited to see the sequel The Raid 2: Berandal. When I first found out it was showing at a local theater in my territory for a limited time with few showings to offer, I just had to get a ticket. I walked in the dark, empty theater which the movie has just begun and grabbed my seat, looking at the screen the whole way. Once I sat, a voice to my left says: “out of the whole theater you had to sit next to me?” I didn’t even notice someone was there, the man moves and I say “my bad”. I just wanted to see this film with the best seat. This epic, bloody and complex film Gareth Evans, writer and director, originally conceived before The Raid 1.

The first movie is much simpler than the second. It was straight forward with amazing fights and stunts. The sequel takes off just moments after, already introducing a major villain. We’re then brought to the attention our hero from the previous movie, Rama, that he’s being sent in to the underground world by a secret organization who seeks out corrupt cops. He is to help a dangerous gang member, Uco, who is in jail and earn his trust so he is accepted into their clan on the outside. Once he earns their respect and trust he is to cut the head off the snake so the gang wars will come to an end. But it becomes more than what Rama was expecting, he is caught into a web of distrust, betrayal, and an all out war. The beginning of The Raid 2 is a bit confusing at first, you’re introduced to a number of characters and backgrounds. It’s a little hard to keep up because of the pace it is presented but eventually you move on after the first half hour with a deadly brutal fight scene in the muddy courtyard inside the jail.

The movie doesn’t kid around when it comes to violence, neither is it shy. It is raw and can rival the darkest of horror. It’s an all in your face, no holds bared, adrenaline pumped two and half hour movie. I felt bruised and exhausted after the first movie which was an hour shorter; this one has more to offer as to do with the storyline, which is somewhat reminiscent of The Godfather series. The Raid 2 is relentless in depicting violence but the choreograph is superb. Most notably is the kitchen scene which is Gareth’s favorite, and mine, too. You can feel the momentum and impact in all the fight sequences, they have a way of feeling dynamic. No fight scene is used just to have a fight, everything has lead up to that point where there is reason to fight and makes it feel that more impactful. Much like Gareth’s directing which is also dynamic, it flows with the story and movement of the characters like a punch to the face or grinding a head to the wall. I do have one suggestion, or minor complaint, with all the brutality in the air I was looking for a different fight scene to change pace. There is a scene which leads outside from a club to the snowy streets. The tempo is slowed for a little and our character is faced with another villain, The Assassin. The snow is falling, you still have the dark atmosphere, but the brutality persists. I was hoping for this scene to have a beautifully crafted fight in the snow, without an overdose of blood shed and a ballet like fight. It may sound corny but wish Gareth switched the fighting style. A death like that should be beautiful not torn away meaninglessly. Although, the car chase sequence is awesome and increases the heart rate and is well shot.

Other than the Assassin, two icons have emerged here as if ripped from a comic book. You have a deaf mute, Hammer Girl, who wields two hammers and delivers heavy damage. And her brother Baseball Bat Man who carries a bat and his trusty baseball. The two together are the most interesting characters here who could have their own movie covering their background. Which Gareth Evans did discuss during the awkward Q&A in the special features. Either way, their child-like manners don’t get in the way of them hammering down or hitting their victim from afar with a baseball.

There is a lot that happens in The Raid 2 , although a little confusing first time round, it has a good storyline with unforgetful fight sequences. It’s either just as good as it’s predecessor or better, up to you, but I think it’s just as good. Gareth Evans has filmed a very dynamic and visually artistic action-gangster-epic. He has kept most of his crew from his past couple projects; you will notice stuntmen and characters reprised, and some even from his segment in V/H/S 2 (which was quite shocking and down right creepy). I like it when sequels are different from the first and can still entertain, keeping things fresh. I look forward to the next installment, hoping it will bring a little more to the table. The first two had a dash of subtle dark humor, but very little, perhaps the next Raid will provide more and add some emotional depth. What do you think?