Oct 081998
 
one reel

A year after dying in a car accident, a man (Michael Keaton) is reincarnated as a snowman and given a chance to be a better father than he was when alive.

Quick Review: In a way, I feel sorry for director Troy Miller.  With the basic concept, it was next to impossible for him to deliver a good film.  Perhaps if this project had been given to Tim Burton to turn it into a weird, gothic, pop-culture fable, it might have worked.  The fx snowman is halfway to goth-land already (he’s far too creepy to play a straight hero).  But no twist saved Jack Frost.  Instead Miller gives us jokes about melting and snowball fights and unbelievable snowman-son chats.  Jack returns from the dead and all his son can talk about is his hockey team.  How about “Gosh dad, what is it like being dead?  Are you OK?”  If someone escapes death in the form of a snowman, then that momentous event is going to trump scoring a goal for conversation.

 Christmas, Reviews Tagged with:
Oct 081998
 
four reels

A miss-matched group, including roguish John Finnegan (Treat Williams), his sidekick Joey (Kevin J. O’Connor), a beautiful jewel thief (Famke Janssen), a ruthless business man, and a band of mercenaries, are trapped on a disabled luxury liner with a giant sea monster.  They have a lot of guns and the monster has a lot of tentacles and a taste for people.  What more plot do you need?

Loud and fast, Deep Rising is old fashioned fun.  It’s boys with toys, blowing away monsters and getting eaten in turn, plus there’s a really hot chick in a white tank top.  It’s silly, and proud of it, and proves that editing is the most important part of filmmaking.  It doesn’t matter if there are huge plot holes, nothing is original, and the characters have the depth of a drained kiddy pool, as long as you cut it all together so that you’re never given a chance to breathe, or think.  Call it a masterwork of choreography:

Step two, kick two, twirl and leap.  Run two, joke two, machine guns fire and villain devoured.  Hide two, macho stance two, girl smiles and it all blows up.

It means nothing, but why does it have to?

Writer/director Stephen Summers has an acute eye for, and deep understanding of, spectacle, excitement, cultural icons, and joy.  Plot, he’s not quite so clear on.  And as for restraint, sense, focus, the difference between funny and silly, and the concept that more is not always better—those are beyond him.  Each of his films has the same general feel.  How well they work is a matter of the balance between his insights and his flaws.  In The Mummy he got it just about perfect.  In Van Helsing, the juvenile won out.  Here he’s in good form, turning up the volume with glee, but never going too far.

The characters may be cutouts, but they are identifiable cutouts, and easy to like or hate, as required.  Our hero is a close cousin to Hans Solo, a little calmer, but equally glib.  Treat Williams (in a part that was offered to Harrison Ford) demonstrates that he can be a charismatic leading man, given a director who understands fun.  Trillian, the leading lady/romantic interest/jewel thief/eye candy avoids the old woman-in-peril  cliché, instead going for the modern useful-smart-secondary-woman cliché.  Famke Janssen is gorgeous, with a smile that makes me feel good every time I see it.  She hits all the right notes, combining glamorous lady,  girl next door, and sex kitten.  Kevin J. O’Connor once again plays the comedy sidekick (as he did in The Mummy and Van Helsing) with better timing than in his other roles.  The villains (and there are many) are all stereotypically evil and I’ve no complaints.

Deep Rising was savaged by critics when it was released, many comparing it to Titanic, which was still at theaters.  Deep Rising is a lot more fun, but I can’t see any reason to judge those two together.  They both involve boats, and that’s about it.  Many, including Roger Ebert, wanted to group Deep Rising with Alien, and then denigrate it for not matching the tone and depth of the older film.  But they’ve missed what kind of film this is.  It isn’t a horror movie, nor is it a drama.  This is an adventure pic, pure and simple.  You could compare it to Raiders of the Lost Arc (although that’s a little unfair for any film), Romancing the Stone, or to a James Bond movie.  You aren’t supposed to be tense or feel real concern (did anyone get upset when Jill Masterson died from gold paint, or worry that James might not make it?).  Nor should you feel frightened or learn something about the darkness of the human soul.  This is a ride.  Grab some popcorn and hop on.

Oct 081998
 
two reels

Astronaut Patrick Ross (Justin Lazard) is infected on his way back from Mars with the same alien DNA that had been studied in Species. Now he has an uncontrollable urge to mate and create an army of partial aliens.  Assassin Press Lenox (Michael Madsen), Dr. Laura Baker (Marg Helgenberger), and astronaut Dennis Gamble (Mykelti Williamson) must stop him. Their only advantage is a clone of the original alien Sil, called Eve (Natasha Henstridge), that has a mental connection to Patrick.

While Species had a few stupid concepts, this one is all stupid concepts. Nothing makes sense, humans act in bizarre ways, nonsensical events happen on a regular basis, and the science is on par with ’50s giant turtle movies. A few winners:

  • Patrick, an incredibly famous and popular astronaut, can leave any destination with a new child and no one notices; women can scream from his room and no one comes and police can’t follow him even though he leaves each room tracking blood.
  • Patrick has an infinite quantity of prison smocks for his children in a country house (in all sizes).
  • After several years of research on how to harm the aliens, no one had ever thought of infecting them.  Didn’t these people watch War of the Worlds?
  • Genes are equivalent to viruses, so if you get stuck by a weapon with the blood of someone who has a genetic problem, you’ll get it.
  • Astronauts are taken on missions to kill aliens instead of using trained military personnel.
  • The most basic and overwhelming urge of an alien can be overcome by asking nicely.

And there are so many more. However, these are minor problems. The biggest flaw is that the story follows Patrick, not Eve. Patrick is a bland human and (except for a few moments of mental difficulties) a cold-blooded alien. I don’t care about him the way I did about Sil. Eve had potential, and since she’s played by Natasha Henstridge, she’s why anyone coming to Species II bought a ticket. Sure, there are lots of topless scenes, but of nonentity victims. And there’s lots of gore, but from the tentacles of Patrick. It’s OK, and if you liked the first film, you’ll enjoy this to a lesser extent, but an opportunity was missed.

Back to Mad ScientistsBack to Aliens

Oct 061998
 
three reels

Gabriel (Christopher Walken) is released from hell and sets out to stop Valerie (Jennifer Beals) from giving birth to a half-angel that will end the war in heaven. With attempted-suicide Izzy (Brittany Murphy) to aid him, the only ones standing in his way are Danyael (Russell Wong), the father, and perhaps, the archangel Michael (Eric Roberts).

It made no sense to bring back Gabriel. It was finished. He was in Lucifer’s hands and that was that. Saying that, I’m glad they did because Christopher Walken’s Gabriel is the reason to watch The Prophecy II. The story is standard save-the-baby stuff and I didn’t care about the child, the war in heaven, or Valerie (although Beals does an adequate job). Wong is forgettable and Roberts is miscast. The new vision of angels from The Prophecy is no longer new, and while seeing them perch is still entertaining, there isn’t anything breathtaking here. So that just leaves Gabriel.

Walken is outstanding. If you are a fan of his, this is a must. He’s weird in ways that are so hard to pin down but so easy to feel. The best bits are variations on routines from the first film: Gabriel talking to his sidekick. Here that sidekick is played by Brittany Murphy, and she’s up to the task of being his foil.

The Prophecy is a must see, must own original film. The Prophecy II is a pleasant time when you want a little more Christopher Walken.

It is followed by The Prophecy 3: The Ascent. and two additional films in the series are coming out in 2005.

Oct 051998
 
three reels

In a corrupt city, honorable Police Detective John Hobbes (Denzel Washington) watches Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas), the serial killer he captured, executed. Soon afterwards, another serial killer starts using Reese’s methods. Hobbes and his partner, Jonesy (John Goodman), investigate the murders, and Hobbes slowly realizes that they are not looking for a man, but a fallen angel that can jump from body to body with a touch. Additionally, there is a connection with a heroic cop who killed himself years ago and whose daughter, Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz), knows about the demon. However, Hobbes’s boss, Lieutenant Stanton (Donald Sutherland) warns him not to follow that line of investigation.

Does this really belong on the Christian Mythos list? It’s a close call. I like to see something a bit more Biblical in these films. This one has a demon, but by a small change, it could be any kind of dark spirit or ghost. However, everyone in the film keeps talking about God and fallen angels (note the title) and words in ancient Aramaic, so I put it at the edge of the list.

Fallen is a thriller wrapped in paranoia with a first class lead and a stable of excellent character actors filling in the rest of the cast. There are several inspired twists at the end, and it has one of the few voiceover narrations I’ve ever liked (though it is better the second time through).

Still, with all that’s right, there was no way to make this material fresh. The ’80s saw a crowd of body jumping serial killer flicks. A few, like The Hidden, were mindless fun, but most, like The Horror Show, were oozing boils on the history of film. Fallen may have shown the material some respect, but when it’s been trampled on and reused this many times, it is never going to look really good.

I didn’t use the word “respect” accidentally, as it suggests a larger problem. Fallen is almost reverent with its story, missing myriad opportunities to put some energy into the proceedings. It is edited so that the viewer can treasure every word, taking them in and repeating them once or twice before anything happens onscreen. Plenty of time is given for the viewer to chew over Hobbes’s pain as well. Often, it is enough time to go out and buy a beer or two. A re-edit would do wonders. There are other minor flaws, like the demon-vision used whenever we see what The Fallen sees, or the tendency to make everyone look suspicious, but those are insignificant next to the slow pacing.

The cast and the ending makes Fallen worth looking up on your cable movie channel, as long as you have some free time anyway.

Oct 051998
 
toxic

Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe say some lines about being freelance corporate spies.  Normally, I would name the characters (Fox and X in this case) and write that they were freelance corporate spies, but that would imply that there are characters in this movie.  There aren’t.  Walken comes up with a pseudo-plan to get a research scientist to switch companies by tossing a hot prostitute at him (Asia Argento).  Dafoe agrees, but whines a lot because he says he’s in love with her.  He doesn’t act like he loves her (I’m talking about Dafoe, not X), but he does recite lines indicating that he does.  The plan goes off perfectly (well, I assume it does because we don’t see it; we just see Walken and Dafoe hanging out in hotel rooms and bars), but then things fall apart.  Dafoe finds himself in a Japanese coffin hotel dwelling on what went wrong.  Hmmmm.  Let’s see: Only three people have more than four lines in the film, and we know that Walken didn’t betray Dafoe (a scene makes that clear), so who could be the traitor?  Three people.  It can’t be Dafoe because he’s doing the thinking and it can’t be Walken.  Hmmmmm.  Who could it be?  Tricky.  Since director Abel Ferrara isn’t good with math, he assumes we’ll never figure it out, so we’re presented with 20 minutes of flashbacks (in a 90 minute movie!!) to clear up this vast mystery.

It’s not a clever idea to make a Cyberpunk movie and leave out the “cyber” part.  That only leave the “punk,” and New Rose Hotel doesn’t even have a lot of that.  It has few characters, almost no outdoor scenes, and not much plot.  So what does it have?  Flashbacks.  Yeah, if you like flashbacks, and I’m talking about flashbacks of scenes you’ve already watched, then you’re going to be in heaven.  And if you enjoy rewatching scenes that were unnecessary and really, really dull the first time, then WOW!  I mean WOW!!  You’re going to absolutely love this film.  Yeah, this is THE flashback movie.

I’d rather have ignored that this is a Cyberpunk movie, because it isn’t one, but I can’t.  Every list puts it in the genre.  I’ve never heard anyone speak about New Rose Hotel without using the term at least once.  It’s based on a short story by William Gibson (Johnny Mnemonic), the father of literary Cyberpunk, and does contain conflict between powerful multinational corporations.  But I can’t even tell if the movie takes place in the future (which is pertinent in a science fiction sub-genre).  It might.  Nothing looks futuristic, and we’re given only a couple of brief stock footage shots of cityscapes.  The story (if it deserves that title) is set in old bars and hotel rooms, so who knows what year it is supposed to be.  The scientist’s research sounds sci-fi, but we’re not told enough to make that clear.  Perhaps the best way to classify New Rose Hotel is to say it is a three person non-character study based on a work of literary Cyberpunk.

OK, I’ve dealt with its pedigree.  Let’s get back to its sucking.  We see none of the important events.  Nothing.  Fox trains Sandii the prostitute on how to pick up the scientist, but that happens off screen.  Sandii does pick him up, but all we see is a text message.  When people die in the lab, there’s a few seconds of a grainy security cam picture.  That’s it.  What the movie focuses on is Fox and X talking, and occasionally them talking to Sandii.  None of them have anything interesting to say.  The conversations don’t develop their characters nor do they advance a plot.  It’s just chatter.  Walken is a master at delivering dialog in an entertaining fashion, but he’s given nothing to work with.  He’s far too “wacky” for the nothing he’s spouting, but what could the poor man do?  Well, I guess he could have followed Dafoe’s lead—he’s in somnambulist mode.  As for Asia Argento, she’s a beauty, but I’m not sure she knew what the words she was saying meant.  She’s not a native English speaker, and it shows.  I don’t mean that she appears to be playing a character who’s English is poor.  No, I mean as an actress, she’s sounding things out phonetically, and can’t quite work out what her part is.  She does bare her breasts and show off her impressive winged tattoo, but since that’s all the movie has to offer, might I suggest buying a poster of her.

Yeah, there’s much sucking, but at least for the first sixty-five minutes it is a movie.  It’s a bad, cheap-looking, amateurish, dull movie, but it is a movie.  Then it ends.  It runs out of what little story it has; you know, the story it doesn’t show onscreen.  But the film keeps going.  It’s time for 20 minutes of flashbacks (20 minutes for God’s sake!).  X dreamingly dwells on the events we just suffered through, and we get to see them again.  Oh boy, conversations that put me to sleep the first time are back.  There’s a few new scenes (of things we already knew about), and it’s all mixed with shots of Dafoe flopped on the floor, but mainly it is exactly what was shown before and wasn’t worth seeing once.

People, people, is this really the way to make a movie?  Was there brain damage involved in the planning stage?  Even technically the project is a mess.  The picture is grainy, looking like it was shot on super-eight or a cheap video camera.  The lighting and contrast are off so you can’t make out faces in the clubs and all the color is washed out the few times anyone enters the light.  But why worry about basic filmmaking skill when talent is so lacking.

 Cyberpunk, Reviews Tagged with:
Oct 031998
 
two reels

In the twenty years since Michael Meyers attacked his sister on Halloween, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) has changed her name, faked her death, had a son (Josh Hartnett), and become the headmistress of a private school in California. Now, with the school empty due to a field trip, Michael will show up to finish the job he started long ago.

Jamie Lee Curtis’s return to the Halloween franchise must have caused a fair amount of scrambling to fix the continuity errors her appearance would generate. As Curtis dislikes the sequels to her 1978 film, the decision was made to ignore the existence of Halloween 4-6 (and parts of 2). Considering what disasters those were (remember the druids? The clones? The hermit? The thumb of death?), this was the best decision possible. It brought up the possibility of doing a Halloween film right. And they almost did. Almost.

Without question, this is the most professionally made Halloween film, and the most stylish since the first. The camera work and lighting are all competent, and the gore is of a higher caliber than in earlier films, with a broken leg looking particularly cringe-worthy. The acting is the best of the series. The teens (Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams) manage their simplistic roles, LL Cool J has a relaxed, pleasant air as the comic relief, Adam Arkin is far better than the material as Laurie’s boyfriend, and Curtis has greatly improved her craft since ’78. Janet Leigh (Curtis’s mother) even shows up for an extended cameo as a bow toward the first Slasher, Psycho.

The story is also more complex with substantial character development. Laurie did not walk away unscathed from Michael’s attack; she’s an alcoholic with nightmares and is raising her son in an atmosphere of paranoia. While there’s a lot going on, the problem is, it isn’t enjoyable to watch. Every moment of onscreen family crisis drags, and I started longing for crazy old Doc Loomis to spring up and say “He’s evil, eeeevil!” just for the diversion.

With a lack of understanding of the sub-genre, director Steve Miner and writers Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg actually try to build up suspense, which has got to be someone’s weird idea of a joke. Here’s a note to all people involved in the Halloween franchise: THERE IS NO SUSPENSE IN A HALLOWEEN MOVIE. WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN, AND IT INVOLVES A BIG GUY IN A MASK KILLING PEOPLE. For this film (or any like it) to attempt anything approaching quality, it needs to make the preordained killings innovative. Long scenes of Jamie Lee Curtis gazing down roads and into windows wondering if Michael is going to show up doesn’t do it.

Slasher clichés abound. There’s the same sad splitting-up as in every other Slasher. And there are frequent jump-scares as someone pops menacingly out of the shadows, only to hug a girl or tap someone on the shoulder. Worse, we spend a minute watching a teen with his hand in a disposal only to have him successfully remove it.  Why did we need to watch him? Is that the most frightening thing Zappia and Greenberg could come up with? They even follow that with the old “car won’t start” scene. Sigh.

Normally, I laugh off other critic’s comments that one masked Michael is better than another, but this Michael is noticeably less frightening than his predecessors. He lumbers along, looking less like an insane killer than a drunken janitor.

But, things do look up two-thirds of the way through. Those painful character development scenes make the deaths more meaningful and I found myself rooting for Laurie and even her son. Curtis still has the scream queen in her, but it’s mixed with a bit of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley which makes the ending oddly satisfying. It’s odd because I’ve never left a Halloween flick feeling satisfied; mild annoyance at the loss of an hour and a half is the norm.

I do have a question for any paramedics or coroners out there: would you put someone in a body bag and zip it up while leaving the person in a mask?

Now I realize it would violate Slasher rules, but I would have liked a real ending to the story, one that explained a few of the whys and wherefores. While I didn’t get that, I got much more than I expected as the series was finally and completely finished. It’s unfortunate that Dimension films missed that, and made yet another sequel with a ridiculous explanation for Michael’s return.

Anyone who has read my other reviews (in case it isn’t obvious from this one) will know I’m no fan of even Halloween, much less its sequels. But this is a rare case where a sequel improves the original. If you must watch Michael Meyers, I suggest getting the 1978 picture and this one, ignoring that the others exist, and making an evening of it.

The other films in the series are Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween: Resurrection.

 Halloween, Reviews, Slashers Tagged with:
Oct 021998
 
three reels

A half-vampire (Wesley Snipes) hunts the undead with guns, swords, spikes, and drugs. When an upstart vampire gang leader (Stephen Dorff) decides to overthrow the old order of their society, Blade’s job gets a lot harder.

An early entry in the style-first monster film sub-genre (Resident Evil, Underworld), Blade, like those that followed, is exciting, rich in detail, skillfully made, and a bit brain-dead. This is a film where the hero stops to pose before each fight and no female vampire would be caught without a mini-skirt or cat-suit. It’s silly, but it looks great, and is a great deal of fun.

Based upon a comic, Blade is one of the few films that manages a non-embarrassing translation to the screen, thanks to screenwriter David S. Goyer (who scripted the impressive Dark City) and director Stephen Norrington (who tried to repeat the same feeling five years later with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but failed). Basically a “rogue cop vs. the mob” movie, the story is surprisingly captivating though the climax is disappointing, lacking the apocalyptic threat that is promised.

While there are vampires, this is a pure action film, not a horror film. There are no scares here, but a lot of over-the-top jumps, kicks, flips, and sword flourishes. Why do the evildoers charge one at a time to be cut down by Blade? Because it looks cool. Why does blade always reach for his sunglasses in a fight? Because it looks cool. That’s what the filmmakers were going for, and they succeeded. So watch it, because it looks cool.

It was followed by Blade II and Blade: Trinity.

Oct 021998
 
two reels

Waking from a coma, Jim (Cillian Murphy) finds that a disease has turned most of humanity into vicious zombies.  With a few other survivors, he escapes the city, but nowhere is truly safe.

This is a nicely done film, but it is so derivative there is no reason to put an effort into viewing it.  This is Day of the Triffids, The Omega Man, and Day of the Dead, tossed into a bag and shaken well.  A government designed virus has escaped, turning humans into zombies (The Omega Man).  Jim wakes up in the hospital, saved due to his accident, to find civilization destroyed (Day of the Triffids).   He travels about the  empty city (The Omega Man) until he meets a surviving warrior woman (The Omega Man—even the races are the same).  After fighting and running from zombies—even in a shopping mall (all of the Living Dead films), our heroes find themselves confined to a military base where the soldiers are more dangerous than the zombies (Day of the Dead).  They even keep a zombie there to study (Day of the Dead).

There are more rip-offs, but mentioning them would be giving away to much.  Writer Alex Garland admits those films were “inspirations” for his script.  I have to wonder why he didn’t try something new if he knew he was just stealing other people’s work.  But as I said, it is a decent film, and if those others didn’t exist, I’d rate this higher.  But they do, and all are better films (well, it’s a close call with Day of the Dead), so if you feel like seeing 28 Days Later, go see Day of the Triffids, The Omega Man, or Day of the Dead.  If you’ve seen those, and just want more of the same, then this will work for you as you know exactly what you are going to see.

Sep 291998
 
one reel

The three musketeers, Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich), and Porthos (Gérard Depardieu), now well past their prime, plan to replace the cruel king (Leonardo DiCaprio) with his imprisoned, and unknown twin brother (also Leonardo DiCaprio), who is hidden behind an iron mask.  Opposing them is their old friend, D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) who is the leader of the king’s guard.

When I watch a Swashbuckler, I like to see some “swashing,” or at least a bit of “buckling,” but none is to be found in The Man in the Iron Mask, an expensively produced, star-filled, train wreck, with a very, very slow train.

A major part of any good Swashbuckler is speed.  To quote myself: “These are fast films, in all ways. The plot whips along, the swordfights streak across the screen, and the dialog is rapid fire.”  But none of that is true here.  The story creeps, with no sign of adventure.  Its exceedingly long 132 minutes passes with barely a sword raised or gun fired.  Only in its final quarter do the musketeers start doing what all good musketeers should, but even then, there’s five minutes of meaningless, wit-free gabbing for each thirty seconds of swordplay.

Writer/director Randall Wallace got this gig due to his successful screenplay for Braveheart, so as a first time director, it’s no surprise that he has no skill with pacing.  But it is surprising that he is so lacking with dialog.  How can anyone take seriously “to love you is treason against France; but not to love you is treason against my heart”?  Or even worse “I wear the mask. It does not wear me”?  And we are supposed to take these seriously.  This is a heavy-handed melodrama that wallows in its importance.  Lacking in light moments and humor, Wallace must have thought he was transcribing the word of God.  Hey, it’s a Swashbuckler; it is supposed to be fun.

The cast, depending on your feelings on DiCaprio, should be good.  The talent is there, so I have to point again at Wallace, who doesn’t know how to use it.  For a start, he lets everyone use his own accent.  It is quite distracting to have Depardieu and Anne Parillaud (as the Queen Mother) speaking with French accents,  Irons chiming in with British, Byrne in full Irish mode, and DiCaprio displaying his Californian roots.  Shouldn’t they all speak with the same accent (whichever they’d like, I’m not picky)?  Choose a country.

But the accents make sense as none of these people are playing characters in seventeenth century France; they are playing themselves.  Malkovich is playing Malkovich.  Byrne is Byrne.  And DiCaprio is teen-heartthrob DiCaprio.  Never for a moment do I see them as musketeers, or as a king.  As such, I didn’t care what happens to any of them and am only annoyed that their eventual fate comes so slowly.

The sets and costumes are of a quality dreamed of by directors of far better films.  But the look of a castle and the draping of a gown are insignificant if the script and directing is flawed.  This should have been an exciting, edge-of-your-seat, adventure yarn.  It is a tedious melodrama.

Back to Swashbucklers

 Reviews, Swashbucklers Tagged with:
Aug 201998
 
3,5 reels

In Perfectlandia, where the perfect people live their perfect lives, the outside world upsets perfection when a damaged Data reveals a Federation spy mission. The Federation is working with the Son’a, an aggressive species that violates many Federation rules, to screw with the perfect folks. Captain Picard and company must discover why Data was damaged, what he was trying to protect, and what The Federation and Son’a are attempting to achieve.

Star Trek returns to its roots: An exciting science fiction tale that exists to wrap a message. The message this time deals with the problems of colonizing and taking the lands of “less powerful” peoples. The point isn’t made subtly, but is no less effective. And the personal stories are more than normally moving. It is the most romantic Star Trek film.

Insurrection is just a nicely done TV episode, and how you feel about that will determine how you would rank it. It tries less to be a big action epic, and more to be about ideas and character. It does not try to do anything radically new. I’d have liked it to be more than it is (but only The Motion Picture really tried to be something grander, and more isn’t better if you fail), but for what it is, it is pretty good. The focus on explosions gets pretty tiring in Star Trek films, so I am happy to relax with a quieter film that is the only Next Gen film not to mutilate the characters—the number of embarrassing things they do is way down from First Contact and miles away from Nemesis.

People who like their Star Trek to be loud tend to rank Insurrection much lower. This is the least flashy Star Trek film, but that appeals to me.

My ranking of all Star Trek movies is here.

Aug 131998
 
two reels

Mike, having found out that he is going to become an alien, or is already an alien, or is carrying an alien in his head (it’s not clear, and is never made clear) goes off on his own, chased, often in his dreams, by The Tall Man. Reggie tries to either rescue Mike or kill The Tall Man—again, it’s not clear.

The fourth outing in the Phantasm series is cobbled together from outtakes from the first film combined with new footage. The effect is what you’d expect. Things happen because they had old shots of those things. The new stuff is just as incoherent as ever, leaving a film that’s nonsense even by Phantasm standards. Some of that nonsense is fun, but it is still nonsense.

For much of the film, Reggie is on his own, running into the occasional zombie or monster. He journeys through empty towns and picks up a girl with peculiar breasts but for the most part does nothing related to the story for the first hour..

Mike spends this time in surrealist landscapes that sometimes are dreams and sometimes aren’t. He also develops telekinesis, which is later ignored, attempts suicide, and travels in time. The last is the strangest as it is a new power that comes out of nowhere, is then suggested to be the answer to everything, and then comes to nothing.

The plot, such that it is, doesn’t move much till the end. It is just “stuff happening.” With that stuff, the mythology of Phantasm gets switched around and any answers we’ve gotten the past are thrown out. The Tall Man is no longer an alien, a good guy is now a bad guy, Jody died in a car crash while his parents were still alive, and Mike’s alien side isn’t at all what it was implied to be in the last film. And Tim, one of the lead characters in that last film, is absent without comment. There could be multiple well considered reasons for all that, but I tend to think it is related to two of Coscarelli’s statements: First, that he’d run out of ideas after Lord of Death, and second, that he was only making another Phantasm film for the money.

Does all that make Phantasm IV weaker than its prequels? Not really. It is the same meaningless, flightless, surreal drug trip that any Phantasm fan should expect.

The ending is annoying, being even more open ended than in previous installments, but these films never left anyone with a sense of completion.

 Horror, Reviews Tagged with: