This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Agony Booth review: Bubble Boy (2001)

My latest Agony Booth review looks at a movie that could have been good.
The list of films with great potential that end up at the bottom of the barrel are too numerous to list. One of the major ones is the movie Bubble Boy. The film was a spoof of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. That movie starred John Travolta and was first broadcast in 1976, the same year that Travolta had his first substantial movie role with Carrie. The TV movie would get four Emmy nominations and, along with Carrie, would be the start of a winning streak for Travolta. While Travolta’s clout has lessened in recent years, it’s not hard to see why he was arguably the best of the best for a time.

Bubble Boy, on the other hand, is such a misfire all around that it should be considered a medical nightmare.

Our story begins with our title character, Jimmy Livingston, as a baby being transported through a hospital in a plastic bubble because he was born without immunities. He’s being pushed along by a nun who Jimmy’s narration describes as a bird.

Jimmy is officially brought home at age four, living in a sterilized dome in his bedroom. His Bible-thumping mother (Swoozie Kurtz) wastes no time ensuring that her stamp is on him so that Jimmy is forever pure. Her tactics include reading her own version of Rapunzel where the title princess dies in the end after escaping from her bubble. She also makes him cookies in the shape of such religious symbols as crucifixes and the Jesus fish, and teaches him that Native Americans willingly moved to reservations to build casinos and “stay out of the white man’s way”. Mom has also told Jimmy that Land of the Lost is the only TV series in existence (well, at least she didn’t pick Andromeda).

Oh, and where is Jimmy’s dad (John Carroll Lynch)? The only times we see him are when he actually attempts to show his son that there’s more to life than what his mom has told him. This is why Mom goes apeshit on Dad when she sees Jimmy on a bike Dad gave him.

By age 16, Jimmy (now played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is playing the electric guitar and quickly becoming smitten with new neighbor Chloe (Marley Shelton). His mom is onto this, of course, and quickly discourages it by reading to Jimmy that Pinocchio died after escaping his plastic bubble and touching “the whore next door”. Soon, the presence of Chloe causes Jimmy to get his first erection, which freaks him out. His mom states that the way to get rid of something as horrible as this is to recite the Pledge of Allegiance until it goes away.

Despite the insults thrown at Jimmy by her sleazy boyfriend Mark (Dave Sheridan), Chloe decides one day to go to Jimmy’s house to make friends with him. His dad is clearly all for this, as he simply invites her in and returns his attention to his newspaper while laughing at whatever he’s reading.

When they officially meet, Jimmy quickly tells Chloe that he knows her as “the whore next door”. When she asks who told her that, Jimmy says his mom. To which Chloe replies that she’s actually more of a bitch than a whore. No one can say Chloe can’t roll with the punches.

They bond over their shared love of Land of the Lost, and soon, we see them spending time together playing guitar and sunbathing. Jimmy’s mom apparently doesn’t mind this new development, as she just vacuums around Chloe, even though she’s surely corrupting Jimmy by wearing a bikini in front of him.

One night, Chloe arrives drunk and attempts to get into Jimmy’s bubble (in every sense of the word). But she thankfully passes out before that can happen. Jimmy then finds out that Chloe is dating Mark (yes, the guy who insulted Jimmy). This eventually leads to Chloe announcing her engagement to Mark, with the wedding set to happen in three days in Niagara Falls.

When she asks Jimmy if this is the right thing to do, Jimmy replies by telling her to take back the pet guinea pig she once gave him (and, yes, the little guy is encased in his own bubble). Chloe angrily takes it and leaves behind a present she made for Jimmy, and then darts off.

Jimmy looks at Chloe’s gift, which is a snow globe with the message “I Love You!” So, she’s set to marry one guy, even though she clearly loves another? (Ironically, in real life, Ms. Shelton was later caught playing tonsil hockey with her Planet Terror co-star Josh Brolin, even though she’s married to Bubble Boy producer Beau Flynn.) Well, Chloe’s inability to marry someone she loves prompts Jimmy to go to Niagara Falls to stop the wedding. To accomplish this, Jimmy builds a special bubble suit (how he learned to do something like this is anyone’s guess, unless Land of the Lost had its equivalent of Scotty), while Bill Conti’s classic music from Rocky plays in the background. Hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

Our hero’s odyssey begins with Jimmy going to a bus depot, where he tells the attendant (Zack Galifinakis) that he has to get to Niagara Falls, but unfortunately, he has no money on him. He then gets hit by a bus full of members of an Up With People-like singing group that turns out to be a religious cult, led by Fabio, of all people. The cultists soon toss him off their bus after he laughs at their beliefs.

However, the group changes their tune when Fabio shows them ancient cave drawings of their messiah, describing him as the “round one”. They set out to find Jimmy again so they don’t burn in hell for rejecting him, though frankly, if I were them, I’d worry more about agreeing to do this movie.

Back at the homestead, Jimmy’s mother can’t get help from the police about her missing son. So it seems Plan B is to get Jimmy’s dad to write a fake ransom note. It states that Jimmy will be held captive by “the Jews” until they get paid $100,000. Jimmy’s mom goes apeshit on his dad again, but the joke is that she’s only outraged because “the Jews” would want a lot more than $100,000.

Next, Jimmy encounters a biker named Slim (Danny Trejo). They hit it off and exchange their life stories, including the loves they lost, and Slim talks about a woman named “Wildfire” who broke his heart, which is of course accompanied by the ’70s song of the same name. They then head off to Las Vegas to earn money. Fabio’s cult also arrives in Vegas and is promptly threatened by Slim, who gets his motorcycle crushed by their bus for his trouble.

In the midst of this chaos, Jimmy obtains a scooter and continues his journey. After a brief run-in with his parents, he winds up in a train occupied by a traveling freak show, which includes (among others) Wack Pack member Beetlejuice in a rare film role. Jimmy then meets their leader Dr. Phreak (Verne Troyer), who beats Jimmy up with a bar after being called “mini”. I swear the only thing that could make this movie worse now is if Mike Myers appeared to complement its disgusting sense of humor with his own.

Jimmy manages to KO the not-so-good doctor. His freak show troupe asks if they can go with him, a request that Jimmy respectfully declines.

Dr. Phreak is soon found and subsequently cared for by Jimmy’s parents. Jimmy’s mom then calls Chloe, who’s naturally watching Land of the Lost, and tells her that Jimmy is on his way to stop her wedding, and blames Chloe for exposing Jimmy to the horrors the world has to offer (when the horrors she has to offer are more preferable, I guess). After Jimmy’s mom hangs up, Chloe has a “what was that all about?” look on her face. Well, doll face, you just ran off to marry a sleazebag, leaving Jimmy behind with a gift saying you love him. You do the math.

Jimmy finds himself in a restaurant, where he meets an Indian ice cream man named Pushpop (Brian George). The patrons are harassing Pushpop, but then they see Jimmy, and they all panic when he explains he doesn’t have immunities. This proclamation, I must add, is interpreted by the crowd as “He’s got munities!” Okay... Native Americans, Jews, and now Southerners. This movie is definitely on a roll with its insults.

Pushpop agrees to take Jimmy to Niagara Falls. Jimmy then has a Land of the Lost-esque nightmare about losing Chloe because he doesn’t have immunities. His anguished cries upon awakening cause the ice cream man to lose control of his truck and hit a cow. With that, we now add Hindus to the list of groups insulted by this film when Pushpop kneels in the presence of the roadkill and begins praying for forgiveness. He then politely tells Jimmy to piss off by giving him ice cream, and assuring him it doesn’t contain germs, because it’s “frozen”.

For the next few scenes, we get painful intercutting of Slim and the others pursuing Jimmy on the same road, spreading the poor cow’s guts over the asphalt, while Pushpop claims he’s going to hell. Believe me, that cow is the lucky one.

Jimmy next finds himself at a casino. It’s here that we now add Chinese people to the insult list when the casino’s proprietor loudly asks Jimmy “you wantta win 500 dollar?” After playing along, Jimmy realizes that winning this money involves mud wrestling with bikini-clad girls, because when it’s your job to insult your own ethnic group, you make your own fun.

Jimmy wins the money and is now finishing his journey in a taxi driven by a really old guy named Pappy. But when they get close to New York, Pappy apparently dies behind the wheel overnight, and Jimmy is forced to abandon the moving car in another lame comedy scene.

After getting to a telephone, Jimmy tries to call Chloe, but reaches Mark, who tells him to forget about being with her. This leads to Jimmy accepting defeat as he’s reunited with his parents (whose car had been previously apprehended by the freak troupe). But Jimmy’s old man silently encourages him to not give up by allowing him to escape to resume his journey.

Jimmy somehow gets to an airplane piloted by Pappy’s brother Pippy (what are the odds?), who tells Jimmy that he and his brother are estranged because two Asian sisters named “Poon Tang” and “Poon Nanny” came between them.

Jimmy’s mom tries to stop the plane from taking off, only to be stopped herself by Slim, who recognizes her as (of course) his former flame Wildfire. I’m guessing that next, we’ll learn that when Jimmy’s mom isn’t riding motorcycles, she dons a bustier to fight crime as Wonder Woman.

To further drive home this movie’s point that blood is thicker than water, Pippy dies at the wheel of his plane, which leads to Jimmy miraculously surviving a fall over Niagara Falls.

Finally, Jimmy reaches the wedding just as Chloe is about to say “I do.” He tells her he loves her and removes his bubble suit so he can touch her in what would be a poignant scene in a better movie. Jimmy then collapses as his parents, Slim, the freaks, and the zealots all arrive at the church. Oh, good, the gang’s all here.

Chloe mourns for Jimmy, until his dad forces his mom to confess that Jimmy’s fine. In fact, he’s actually had immunities since the age of four. Naturally, Jimmy wakes up at that moment, and his mom apologizes for ruling him with an iron fist, and he and Chloe embrace.

The film ends with Jimmy and Chloe getting married, while Pushpop provides ice cream cake for the reception and has acquired the cultists as his own disciples. The happy couple also get $500 from those casino guys, forcing us to hear “500 dollar!” once more. Our newlyweds also offer a toast “to friendship”, something I doubt they’ll find from this movie’s audience.

Jimmy’s parents bid farewell as they go off with Slim dressed in biker garb. Those crazy Bible thumpers; one minute they’re president of the Land of the Lost fan club, the next they’re having threesomes while auditioning for Easy Rider. Jimmy and Chloe get a final bonus as Pappy and Pippy (who are both somehow still alive) and Poon Nanny drive them off on their honeymoon.

This movie received criticism at the time of its release for poking fun at people with deficient immune systems. Truthfully, I don’t see any evidence of that. If anything, the movie should be taken to task for insulting pretty much anyone who isn’t Caucasian, or Californian.

This film certainly had the potential to be touching, but its main failure is that it resorts to juvenile, insulting humor. On top of that, despite the main character’s disease, events don’t really play out much differently than in any routine, teenage comedy. None of the supporting cast stands out, with Shelton playing the same dim bulb she played in Valentine, although this time, she isn’t required to scream.

This brings us to our lead. Jake Gyllenhaal was pretty much unknown at the time, and for all of this movie’s flaws (which are numerous), he at least tries to bring some enthusiasm to the proceedings. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s gone on to bigger things, just like Travolta after his bubble boy movie.

The only other positive thing I can say about this movie is that its failure ensured we wouldn’t have to suffer through the sequel, Bubble Baby.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Clue turns 30!

Thirty years ago this month, Clue, a film based on the popular Parker Brothers game, opened in cinemas. The movie didn't make much of an impact initially (for reasons I will get to shortly), but, as the home video market was booming by the mid-1980's, got an audience even bigger than I'm sure the film's participants could have imagined once it made it on VHS.
This article pretty much sums up why the movie is now regarding an a comedy classic, so I will attempt to add my two cents in for its birthday.
The game itself was introduced to the public in 1949 and, along with Monopoly, is probably Parker Brothers' most successful product. For the few who don't know how to play it (and why not?), the object of the game is to find out which of the six suspects (one of which you play) murdered Mr. Boddy, along with where in his mansion and with which murder weapon.
By the 1980's, John Landis thought a movie version of the game would be a good idea. He co-wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Lynn, and initially planned to direct it, but became too wrapped up in his movie Spies Like Us, and subsequently relinquished the director's chair to Lynn.
The movie takes place in 1954 New England. Like an Agatha Christie novel, the story begins with assorted people meeting at a mansion, where they are greeting by a man named Wadsworth (Tim Curry), who identifies himself as the butler. He informs his six guests-Col. Mustard (Martin Mull), Prof. Plum (Christopher Lloyd), Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren), Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Mr. Green (Michael McKean) and Mrs. White (Madeline Khan)-to not reveal their true names and that their host Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) is en route.
However, when the host arrives, it is revealed that it was Wadsworth who arranged the gathering in order to inform his guests that Boddy is blackmailing them.
When he is threatened with police action, Boddy gives the six weapons-a candlestick, a wrench, a lead pipe, a rope, a knife and a revolver-to the six guests (gift-wrapped, of course) and says that their reputations will not be ruined if one of them kills Wadsworth. However, Boddy is the one that is murdered. As Wadsworth and the guests attempt to solve the mystery before the police arrive, others soon fall victim to foul play, including the house's cook, Mrs. Ho (Kellye Nakahara) and the maid, Yvette (Colleen Camp).
It is later revealed that all the victims had a link to at least one of the six guests and that Wadsworth requested their appearance to help in their case against Boddy.
The film's climax is probably the reason why the movie didn't do well when it was initially in theaters. This is because there are not one, but three climaxes. One of them states that Miss Scarlet is the murderer, the second reveals Mrs. Peacock as the perpetrator and the third reveals that all the guests are responsible for at least one murder and that Wadsworth is actually Mr. Boddy.
When the movie was in theaters, only one of these endings was played. The filmmakers' idea behind this tactic was to encourage multiple viewings and have a different ending each time, much like playing the game itself. But this tactic ended up confusing most people, including film critics, as they felt each ending, viewed alone, resulted in confusion.
Happily, the film would contain all three endings once it came to home video (a fourth ending was written but not filmed although it can be found in the movie's novelization). This allowed the movie's fan base (which includes yours truly) to grow.
The film's cast could not be better as they all proved they could do comedy prior to this movie. Lynn would go on to direct the equally classic comedy My Cousin Vinny (1992). The scene-stealer is Curry, who is every bit as theatrical here as he was in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).
Like Rocky Horror, Clue is now shown in theaters across the country with audience members reenacting the movie as it plays. But I find Clue the more enjoyable of the two as it has more laughs and, despite a plot hole or two, a tighter script.
Clue's enormous cult following may have also indirectly led to later movies-based-on-games, such as Super Mario Bros. (1993) and Battleship(2012), neither of which are fondly remembered now.
One could also say that the multiple endings have since led to alternate endings from other movies being available on DVD.
Perhaps the movie's greatest legacy, though, is that it inspires people to want to play the board game of the same name, and understand why a movie could be made of it.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

"I only know I have this power. I have always had it. I can feel it burning within me, driving me on. It is here inside me. It is in my hands. And I warn you, I warn you all, that I, Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, intend to use it. The power is mine and I will use it as I please."
-Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin.

The title character of this movie is one of the most fascinating in history. He began as a monk who was later expelled from his monastery because of his excessive drinking and womanizing as well as his volatile temper (one could call Rasputin an inspiration for Sonny Corleone). By 1915, with Russia deep in World War I and on the brink of revolution, he managed to become the close confidante of Tsarina Alexandra. The reason she allowed him into the inner circle of the Romanov family was because of how Rasputin managed to heal her son, Alexis, who was hemophiliac. His healing ability remained a mystery to doctors. The influence Rasputin had over her, especially with Tsar Nicholas personally at the battlefront, led to others close to the royal family to plot his demise.

This attempt was successful in December 1916. However, even details of Rasputin's assassination are mysterious. Felix Usupov, who married the Tsar's niece, Irina, first attempted to poison Rasputin with cyanide-laced pastries. When those had no effect, Usupov resorted to shooting Rasputin. Usupov and his fellow conspirators then deposed of the body in the nearby Malaya Nevka River. However, an autopsy later revealed that the cause of Rasputin's death of drowning.

Prior to his death, Rasputin wrote to Alexandra that, should anyone take his own life, then the Romanov family would soon follow. As it turns out, Nicholas was overthrown shortly afterward and, along with Alexandra and their children, were imprisoned in Yekaterinburg, where they were executed on July 17, 1918.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous movies about Rasputin. Of the ones I've seen, my favorite is probably Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny(1996), which deservedly won Emmys for Alan Rickman's performance in the title role and Greta Scacchi's performance as Alexandra.

This film, which Hammer made back to back with Dracula-Prince of Darkness using some of the same sets and cast members, takes some liberties with the historical account of Rasputin, but is still entertaining.

Lee's Rasputin is first seen coming at an inn for something to drink. The innkeeper (Derek Francis) agrees to throw a party after Rasputin heals his ill wife. During the party, his romp in the hay with a girl is interrupted by a man who resents his luck with the ladies. The ensuing fight leads to Rasputin being disciplined by an Orthodox bishop. After the innkeeper defends him, Rasputin, despite accusations from the bishop that his power is from the devil, announces that his power is his and he will continue to use it.

After arriving in St. Petersburg, Rasputin engages in a drinking contest with Dr. Boris Zargo (Richard Pasco) in another inn. That same night, Rasputin encounters Sonia (Barbara Shelley), Vanessa (Suzan Farmer) and her brother Ivan (Francis Matthews), who are all associates of the royal family. Rasputin is angered when Sonia laughs after burping, interrupting his dancing.

The next morning, Rasputin takes a passed out Zargo to his home, where he then hypnotically calls Sonia. When she arrives, Rasputin slaps her but his anger with her lessens when she reveals her link to the Tsarina. After sending Zargo off, the two make love. Afterward, Rasputin hypnotizes her into injuring Alexandra's son Alexei, so Rasputin can be sent for to heal him. Before Zargo can object, Rasputin also instructs Sonia to make him the family's doctor.

Not surprisingly, Rasputin's subsequent influence with the Tsarina leads to even more womanizing. He renounces an anguished Sonia and hypnotizes her into committing suicide.

This leads Zargo plotting Rasputin's demise with Ivan and Sonia's brother Peter (Dinsdale Landen). Upon hearing of his sister's death, Peter confronts Rasputin, who kills him by throwing acid in his face.

Zargo and Ivan lure Rasputin to a meeting, offering poisoned wine and candies. Although the poison ravages his body, Rasputin still has enough strength to fight Ivan before Zargo takes a knife the monk meant for Ivan. This sacrifice allows Ivan to toss Rasputin out a window to his death.

I must confess, this film skips over some historical aspects that would have been nice to see. For instance, I would have like the climatic struggle between Rasputin, Ivan and Zargo to be even longer. For once, we would actually have a real-life monster getting up over and over again. As silly as this sounds, I also think those Esther Price candies Zargo poisons aren't as appealing as the Krispy Kreme doughnuts Usupov used.

But as nice as the supporting cast is, Lee is the one who makes the movie work. He was known for being as historically accurate as possible when it came to playing real-life figures. Sir Christopher was also known for being quite tall, while Rasputin, like Hitler and Charles Manson, was physically small. Despite the height difference, Lee's work was praised by none other than Maria, Rasputin's daughter, whom he met shortly after the film's release. She noted that Lee captured her father's expression, which is simply another testament to how great Sir Christopher was.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

"Whatever happens, death is not the end!"
-Lucien Celine.

The recent passing of legendary director Wes Craven prompted me to take another look at some of his films. I'd say that The Serpent and the Rainbow is his most underrated work. It is based on the non-fiction work of Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist from Harvard whose studies while in Haiti basically unlocked the secrets of zombies.

In the film, Dr. Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) travels to the same country to investigate the death of a man named Christophe (Conrad Roberts), who presumably died and was buried seven years earlier.

Alan also experiences horrifying visions while after obtaining herbs from a shaman. These images include Haitian authority Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae). Alan's American citizenship initially protects him from Peytraud until Alan's refusal to leave Haiti prompts him to take stronger measures.

Despite the help of witch doctor Mozart (Brent Jennings) and voodoo priest Lucien Celine (Paul Winfield), Alan and his associate Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson) soon find themselves at Peytraud's mercy. Mozart and Celine are both killed and Alan falls victim to the zombie powder and is buried alive. But Christophe rescues Alan, who then saves Marielle. Using Celine's teachings, they are able to vanquish Peytraud.

This film didn't make the same impact as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or Scream (1996), which is a shame as it has many eerie moments (one of my favorites is Alan's vision of a zombie hand in the soup he's about to eat).

No doubt this film has drastic differences from Davis's book, but, for those who like zombies, this one is sure to please.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Agony Booth review: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

I've beaten this point to death numerous times already, but I'm finally letting it all out in my latest review for the Agony Booth.
Like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula generated buzz when it originally premiered and won Oscars for its technical achievements, but as the years have gone by and the buzz has died down, it’s now regarded as simply inferior to the 1930s original.

In the case of Coppola’s film, that indifference is more than justified. The reason for this is because, for all the claims by both Coppola and screenwriter James Hart that this would be the definitive screen adaptation of Stoker’s 1897 novel, the end result is no more faithful to that great book than many of the other movie versions. Hence, this film has an even more misleading title than Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. (I think it says it all that this supposedly faithful adaptation deviated so far from the original book that it merited its own novelization.) But the crimes Coppola’s film commits don’t stop there.

The movie begins in 1462 at the height of the Crusades. Vlad Tepes (Gary Oldman) AKA Vlad the Impaler, the real life figure who Count Dracula was partially based on, returns to his castle after fighting (and impaling) the Turks only to discover that his wife, Elisabeta (Winona Ryder), has killed herself because she was told that he died in battle.

A priest (Anthony Hopkins) tells Vlad that because his wife has taken her own life, her soul is now damned (almost like watching this movie). Vlad then renounces God, and somehow, this causes the cross in the chapel to bleed, and him to become a vampire called Dracula as he shouts out in a hammy manner.

Jump forward to 1897, and we see British solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves; yes, Keanu Reeves) on a train bound for Transylvania to meet Dracula to arrange real estate that the Count has recently purchased in London. We also learn that Harker’s colleague, Renfield (Tom Waits) was committed after he had previously met with Dracula.

Harker meets Dracula, with Oldman now wearing old man makeup and a bizarre gray wig reminiscent of Mickey Mouse. Before long, Dracula sees a picture of Harker’s fiancée Mina (also played by Ryder) and believes that she’s the reincarnation of his beloved Elisabeta. Dracula remains outwardly calm about this revelation, but his apparently autonomous shadow lacks a similar amount of self-control. The Count then leaves Harker at the mercy of his three vampire brides while he sails off to England. Bogus, dude!

As Dracula arrives in England, Renfield goes ranting at the asylum, which is near Dracula’s new property at Carfax Abbey. His ravings attract the attention of the asylum’s Dr. Seward (Richard E. Grant).

Meanwhile, the Count transforms himself into a young man again, and tracks down Mina, and soon courts both her and her friend Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost). One stormy night, the two ladies seductively dance with each other before Dracula transforms into a wolf and bites and rapes Lucy.

Her later, bizarre behavior leads Seward, Lucy’s former beau, to send for his mentor Professor Van Helsing (also played by Hopkins). The professor deduces that Lucy has been attacked by a vampire. At the same time, Mina receives word that Jonathan has escaped the castle and is at a convent. She goes to Romania where she marries him, while Dracula wallows in self-pity.

Shortly after Lucy dies, Van Helsing, Seward, her other former flame Quincey Morris (Billy Campbell), and her fiancée Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes) head to her grave. Naturally, they find her glass coffin empty, and Lucy has now become one of the undead. All but Van Helsing are startled by her vampiric ways, but the quartet manages to drive a stake through her heart, and also decapitate her.

Mina and Jonathan return and are brought up to speed by Van Helsing. As the men hunt the Count, Dracula enters Seward’s asylum and kills Renfield. Not that it matters much, since we hardly knew this movie’s version of the guy.

Dracula next pops in on Mina and they annoyingly make goo-goo eyes at each other. She then pathetically goes apeshit on him for killing Lucy, before turning on a dime and telling him she loves him. Geez, if I wanted stupid romantic turnarounds, I’d watch Friends, thank you very much.

This scene leads to the movie’s lowest point, where Mina lovingly implores Dracula to turn her into a vampire. As anyone who’s read the book can tell you, Mina becomes a vampire against her will. However, the filmmakers seem to think that having this be a consensual act in their movie is faithful to the book. Mina’s line “Take me away from all this death” is as painful as Anakin Skywalker saying that Padme is not rough like sand in Attack of the Clones.

Happily, this awful attempt at a moving love scene is interrupted by Van Helsing and his cavalry. In the movie’s only genuinely scary moment, Dracula startles both them and the audience by popping out in his giant bat form. Van Helsing shoves a cross in his face, but Dracula is able to somehow set it on fire. I guess we shouldn’t wonder how, since the movie doesn’t. He then says Mina is now his bride before bolting.

Mina begins her transformation into a vampire, and this prompts Van Helsing to hypnotize her to find out where Dracula is going. His fellow hunters head for the Bulgarian province of Varna, although the Count manages to outwit them thanks to his connection with Mina.

As Van Helsing and Mina continue to the Borgo Pass, the Count’s brides (remember them? Didn’t think so) arrive. Their influence overwhelms Mina to such an extent that she attempts to seduce and convert Van Helsing, but he manages to outsmart them by forming a ring of fire around the two of them, which keeps the brides at bay. The next morning, they arrive at the castle, where Van Helsing decapitates all three of the brides.

Dracula, with the other vampire hunters in hot pursuit, arrives at the castle as the sun begins to set. After a brief fight with the gypsies who were transporting the Count, Morris heroically sacrifices himself by getting stabbed in the back before he thrusts his bowie knife into Dracula’s heart.

This is how the Count meets his demise in the book, and after he turns to dust, Mina, Jonathan, Van Helsing, Seward, and Holmwood spend the last couple of pages mourning Morris. Mina even notes that she and Jonathan named their son after him.

However, this is further proof that screenwriter Hart read a different book than the rest of us, because this movie completely forgets about Morris after he heroically dies. Why? Because the pathetic Dracula/Mina love story is what the book is really about, at least, according to the filmmakers.

The final scenes of this film have the dying Count crawling in the chapel where he somehow became a vampire at the beginning of the movie. Mina follows him inside and tearfully grieves, calling him “My love.” They kiss before she puts Dracula, the tragic romantic hero, out of our misery by shoving that knife through his heart and into the floor. Mina then yanks the sucker out and decapitates the count.

The final shot of the film is Mina staring up at the ceiling at a painting of Vlad and Elisabeta, symbolizing that they’re now together. Personally, I’m wondering how she and Jonathan will be able to enjoy any future wedding anniversaries after all this.

Many say that Keanu Reeves’s attempts to sound English were the worst part of the film, but, trust me, he’s the least of this movie’s problems.

Someone once called The Godfather Part III Coppola’s Phantom Menace, meaning that both films were highly anticipated but rightfully ended up being disdained. With that comparison in mind, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is Coppola’s Attack of the Clones. Both films have a horribly acted love story, and even more damningly, basically say that everything we were told about their primary characters over the decades is now suddenly wrong.

Prior to Clones, we were led to believe that Anakin Skywalker was once a noble figure who tragically became the frightening Darth Vader. However, Clones makes Anakin an annoying prick and nothing more, which is why his transformation into Vader in Revenge of the Sith isn’t tragic at all. Likewise, Stoker’s book paints its title character as a monster that must be stopped. Both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee made their careers by playing the Count in this manner. But Hart and Coppola claim that Dracula is simply a misunderstood hero who’s the victim of a tragic love story and is simply seeking love and redemption (by the way, in real life, Vlad’s wife didn’t kill herself out of anguish, but because she didn’t want to be taken prisoner by Vlad’s enemies, who were closing in on them). Hell, the tagline of this movie was “Love Never Dies”, which doesn’t exactly make me expect a horror movie.

Defenders of this movie claim that humanizing Dracula in this manner makes the film unique. I might go along with that, were it not for the fact that Coppola and Hart stated numerous times prior to the movie’s release that this would be the most faithful adaptation of Stoker’s book ever, which creates certain expectations that we assume will be met.

In fairness, this film makes more use of Morris than any of the previous movies (I don’t even recall seeing Morris in any previous Dracula film, myself). Other pluses include Hopkins’s Van Helsing, which is every bit as terrific as Peter Cushing’s (although, was the priest at the beginning of the film supposed to be Van Helsing’s ancestor?). The movie also won Oscars for makeup, costume design, and sound effects editing, and they were all well-deserved.

But these pluses are ultimately overshadowed by the movie’s own hypocrisy. Having a different take on the Count is one thing, but explicitly stating that this Dracula will be the most faithful to its source and then having the finished product showcase something else makes a critical analysis imperative.

If you want a movie that does justice to Stoker’s book, watch the classic movie versions Nosferatu, the 1931 Dracula, or Horror of Dracula. They may take liberties with the book, but they’re all nicely atmospheric, and like the book, they don’t portray the Count as the precursor to Edward in Twilight.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Victim (2011)

"I saw a film once where this guy says, 'I don't deserve to die.' And this other dude looks at him and says, 'Deserving's got nothing to do with it.' Then he blows his head off. That's what I believe. Deserving's got nothing to do with it."
-Kyle Limato.

While making Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez suggested to one of his stars, Michael Biehn, that he make his own grindhouse movie.
Biehn would oblige by writing and making his directorial debut with this movie. He also stars as loner and ex-con Kyle Limato, who simply wants to live a secluded lifestyle (so it may be a bit ironic that his first scene in the film is of him paying for a meal he just enjoyed at a restaurant).
Alas, this solitary life ends one afternoon when a woman named Annie (Jennifer Blanc, Biehn's real-life spouse) frantically knocks on his cabin door begging to be let in. Although skeptical, Kyle obliges and manages to get Annie to tell him that she's on the run from policemen James Harrison (Ryan Honey) and Jonathan Cooger (Denny Kirkwood) who have just murdered her best friend Mary (Danielle Harris).
Much of what follows are flashbacks, which show Annie and Mary taking a break from their jobs as strippers by having a romantic time in the woods with the two cops. As Cooger and Annie get cozy, Mary and Harrison are in another area having sex until Harrison gets a little too rough and snaps her neck. He desperately tells Cooger and they agree to bury the body, along with Annie. But Annie overhears them and bolts.
As it turns out, both killers arrive at Kyle's door shortly afterward. Kyle manages to convince them that Annie is not at his place, but he wants to know what's going on as the cops revealed that she has an arrest record. She insists, though, that she can't go to the police because of the cachet Harrison carries with them.
Annie agrees to take Kyle to where Mary was murdered. As they drive, she flashbacks to hanging out with Mary before their tragic date. As they catch up on news reports of missing girls, Annie asks if Mary wants to double date with her with Cooger and Harrison.
But, upon arriving at the crime scene, Kyle and Annie don't find Mary's body, as the killers buried it.
Eventually, the killers catch up with them and briefly beat up Kyle before he and Annie manage to kill them.
As they still haven't found Mary's body, Kyle decides to bury the bodies before slightly going off on a rant about serial killers and even tossing a quote from Unforgiven (1992) as you'll note in the above quote.
This film is certainly reminiscent of films such as The Last House on the Left(1972) and, indeed, Annie uses a method seen in that film to distract Cooger before killing him in the climax. There's even an obligatory love scene between Annie and Kyle.
Happily, this film, with its lively cast and kinetic violence (and even sexy scenes between Blanc and Harris) is entertaining, even more so than Grindhouse basically because its tongue isn't too much in its cheek like that film's was.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Agony Booth review: Hollow Man (2000)

My latest Agony Booth work looks at a film that's at the bottom of the list you'll find The Invisible Man (1933) at the top of.

I previously expressed my disappointment with Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. But I also noted how it’s understandable why that movie has the following that it does. The same cannot be said for Verhoeven’s follow-up to Starship Troopers, Hollow Man.

Its plot, concerning a scientist taking a serum he’s invented that renders him invisible and eventually goes crazy because of it, made comparisons to H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man inevitable. That book was made into an equally classic film in 1933 starring Claude Rains, and the movie was an intense thriller, with Rains proving a scary yet somewhat pitiable presence throughout using mostly his voice. Add to that some subtle humor, and it doesn’t take long to see why that movie, along with Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, remains one of director James Whale’s masterpieces.

Now, remove all traces of thoughtfulness from the story and add a heavy layer of Verhoeven-esque sleaze, and you come up with Hollow Man.

Our film begins with a mouse being dropped into a maze. The creature runs around a bit before being picked up by an invisible hand. We then see the mouse being ripped to shreds as the bloody outline of teeth is seen.

Next, we see Dr. Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) at home on his computer, attempting to work on computations for what we’ll soon see is a serum to reverse the effects of another serum he’s already invented, which has been able to cause invisibility in animals. He’s both frustrated at how his work isn’t progressing and how his attractive neighbor (Rhona Mitra) closes her curtains shortly after arriving home (and shortly before undressing).

But that frustration is short-lived when Sebastian goes back to his computer and manages to make whatever he’s working on come up right. He calls himself a genius before phoning his colleague and former flame Linda McKay (Elisabeth Shue). After taking note via their webcam conversation that she’s now sleeping with someone else, Sebastian informs her of his progress, and asks her to alert their colleague Matt Kensington (Josh Brolin) to meet them at their lab. As it turns out, it doesn’t take long for Linda to fill Matt in, since he’s the guy she’s now sleeping with.

In the lab, we see many animals in cages, some of which are invisible. Matt tries to calm an invisible gorilla into going with him to the lab, but gets bitten on the hand for his trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian gets chewed out by the vet assigned to their project, Sarah Kennedy (Kim Dickens). Their fellow doctor Frank Chase (Joey Slotnick) jokingly announces on the intercom that he’s God, and they’ll all be punished for “disturbing the natural order of things” like this. Sebastian shows how egotistical he is when he tells Frank, “You’re not God. I am!”

With their other colleagues Carter Abbey (Greg Grunberg) and Janice Walton (Mary Randle), they put the gorilla under and inject the new serum into her. After some moments requiring the use of a defibrillator, the gorilla becomes visible again, starting with the internal organs, then the skeleton, and slowly moving out layer by layer until the entire gorilla becomes visible.

The group then goes out to dinner to celebrate their achievement, although Sebastian is somewhat down, since this means their work is officially at an end now. And his failed attempt to get things going again with Linda is not helping him much.

The next day, we see Sebastian at the Pentagon explaining to his boss Dr. Howard Kramer (William Devane) and various generals how he and the others have been working on making someone invisible and then visible again for four years now. The hard part, he says, has been to bring the subjects back to being visible again. When Kramer asks if the team has achieved the next step, Sebastian, to Linda and Matt’s dismay, says they haven’t, but they’re close to doing so.

After Dr. Kramer threatens to replace Sebastian if he doesn’t deliver results soon, Linda and Matt confront Sebastian about hiding the truth. Sebastian counters that the Pentagon is going to take away the project once they get knowledge of what they’ve accomplished. To that end, he proposes that they go to the next step themselves, which is to make a human invisible.

Back at the lab, Sebastian lies to his remaining colleagues that the Pentagon approved this next phase, and that they allowed him to be the first test subject. Linda and Matt know the truth, but they keep it to themselves. Though, they do voice their concerns later that night, while making out with each other.

The next morning, Sebastian prepares for the procedure, and attempts to lighten the unease by telling a dirty joke involving Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Invisible Man that we all heard in junior high.

Sebastian strips down, and personally injects the serum into himself. Cool special effects take center stage as Sebastian slowly dissolves layer by layer and slips into unconsciousness. Sebastian awakens later, completely invisible.

Over the next couple of days, he amuses and even startles his colleagues. At one point, he peeps on Janice while she’s using the bathroom, and later gropes Sarah when she dozes off.

After three days, the team attempts to bring Sebastian back with their restoring serum. However, it fails, and he’s stuck being invisible. Linda and Matt try to find ways to bring him back. In the meantime, a latex mask is created for Sebastian, giving him the “Hollow Man” look of the title.

Soon, Sebastian has been invisible for 10 days and is becoming more and more agitated. He angrily tells Carter that he’s going crazy and has to get out of the lab and leaves, despite Carter’s protests.

As Carter informs Linda and Matt of this, Sebastian drives home and chills out in his apartment for a while. And that’s when he sees his hot neighbor return again. He briefly, as in for a second, puts away any thoughts of spying on her, before finally deciding to strip down and pay her a visit. But then it seems he’s not content with just looking, and decides to brutally rape her.

Linda arrives at Sebastian’s place, but only sees his mask. She meets up with the others at the lab to try to track him down, although Carter briefly protests. But their plans stop there as Sebastian appears, saying he just needed time away from the lab. Linda then threatens him, saying if he does this again, she’s going to reveal what he’s done to Dr. Kramer, her own career be damned. Sebastian angrily darts off to his room. Sarah figures out that the generals at the Pentagon have no idea what they’re up to, and they’ve been lying to them all along, but Linda begs her to keep her mouth shut.

Even though Sebastian is clearly disturbed and capable of almost anything, no one is doing much to keep track of him or keep him locked down, because he’s able to leave again later by rigging the thermal video camera over his bed to make Frank think he’s still in the lab.

Sebastian goes to Linda’s place, where he gets pissed off at seeing her make out with Matt. This prompts him to smash the window of their bedroom before darting off. Linda calls Frank, but he tells them that Sebastian has been in the lab all night, because he can see him on the video feed.

Sebastian is next seen angrily pacing in the lab, thinking about Linda and Matt. A nearby invisible dog is barking in its cage, which is also pissing him off. This leads to thermal footage of Sebastian picking the poor thing up and smashing it against the cage wall, as if we needed more gratuitous violence to prove that Sebastian is now a bad guy.

I don’t know how much time passes between this and the next scene, because we next see Linda in the lab, where she figures out that Sebastian has rigged the thermal camera, and is apparently gone again. Linda then tells the team that she and Matt are going to alert Dr. Kramer and the other big shots, with, once again, Carter protesting. When Sarah reminds him that Sebastian killed a dog, Carter retorts, “Oh, you were here to see that?” (Well, the only other thing that could have done it is your lousy acting, pal, and since you weren’t around at the time, I’d say that narrows it down.)

Unbeknownst to the group, however, Sebastian is eavesdropping on them, and he follows Linda and Matt to Dr. Kramer’s house. Kramer tells the couple that they’re fired, and that he and the generals will handle Sebastian. After Linda and Matt leave, Kramer attempts to call the Pentagon, but Sebastian cuts all the phone lines before tossing Kramer into his pool, and holding him down and drowning him.

The next day, everyone is at the lab, with Sebastian calmly saying, “It’s going to be a busy day.” Linda and Matt soon learn that Kramer is dead, and then Sebastian cuts the phone lines at the lab, preventing Linda from calling anyone else. They join the other (visible) members of the group in the main lab, where Frank discovers that everyone’s access to the elevator (the only way to leave the lab, of course) has been cut off except Sebastian’s. They go to his room to confront him, but Janice lags behind the rest of the group, and Sebastian springs out and strangles her.

Of course, the others don’t hear her screams as they reach Sebastian’s room and find his discarded mask. Linda then gets on the PA system to tell Sebastian to stop. Sebastian replies, also via the PA, that he now loves the freedom he gets from being invisible, and doesn’t want to let it go, and that he killed Kramer before he could alert anyone.

The gang then realizes that Janice isn’t around and goes back to the lab to look for her, only to find her dead body in a closet. This prompts Sarah to give Linda a hard slap across the chops for allowing things to go on for this long. Once again, Carter (albeit indirectly now) jumps to Sebastian’s defense by saying that laying blame isn’t important, just rectifying the situation.

But Linda announces that they aren’t going to give up without a fight, and soon they bring out the tranquilizer guns, as well as thermal goggles. With Linda tracking him via a motion detection system, Matt and Carter set out to find Sebastian. After a false alarm involving a heating vent, Sebastian is seen on top of a steampipe, where he grabs Carter, throwing him down onto a steel bar, which tears the hell out of his neck. Matt then tries to shoot Sebastian with a tranquilizer, for some reason discarding his goggles in the process, but Sebastian escapes.

Sarah and Frank tend to Carter, who’s rapidly losing blood. Sarah tells Frank to keep pressure on his neck wound while she gets blood (I thought she was a vet?). She goes to a freezer where bags of human blood are conveniently stored, but then sees a door close. This prompts her to tear open most of the bags she’s carrying, throwing blood everywhere, and with tranquilizer gun in hand, she dares Sebastian to take one step. When nothing happens, she hears him comment on the mess she made before he slaps her. Sarah tears another bag, tossing blood on him. A brief struggle breaks out, ending with Sebastian shooting Sarah with the tranquilizer, and then breaking her neck, and then groping her one last time for good measure.

In the meantime, Frank is hovering over Carter, telling him not to die. Of course, it may have helped if Frank was still keeping pressure on Carter’s wound like Sarah told him to do. Linda and Matt arrive and tell Frank that it’s no use, and Carter is dead, and then they go off to find Sarah.

Given the tone the film has taken by this point, I’m sure this was completely unintentional, but I can’t help but note a certain irony that the one person who was willing to give Sebastian the benefit of the doubt the entire time ends up suffering such a gruesome, deliberate death at his hands.

In the lab, they find blood all over the floor and the open freezer door. As Frank keeps a lookout for Sebastian using a fire extinguisher, Linda and Matt find Sarah’s body in the freezer. When Frank turns to look, Sebastian sneaks up behind him and impales him with a crowbar. He then embeds the bar into Matt’s side before locking him and Linda in the freezer.

Sebastian then dresses himself while Linda bandages Matt’s wound with duct tape (sure, that stuff is kept in a freezer, and can be used as a bandage). After wallowing in self-pity for a minute, Linda manages to come up with an escape plan: She uses their defibrillator, which I guess is also kept in the freezer, as a magnet to pull the lock open and get them out of the freezer.

At the same time, Sebastian prepares to destroy the lab with a timer-activated device full of nitroglycerin. Just as he reaches the elevator, however, he’s stopped by Linda, who blasts the hell out of him with a flamethrower she pulled out of her ass.

This burns Sebastian’s clothes off, but doesn’t keep him from darting away. Linda then uses her flamethrower on the sprinklers, but doesn’t see him until he attacks her from behind. Fortunately, Matt shows up just in time to save her by smacking Sebastian with another crowbar. In true slasher film form, Matt tosses his weapon aside, leaving Sebastian to pick it up, but he misses his targets and the bar ends up in a light socket, electrocuting him and causing him to materialize, but only up to the muscle layer.

Assuming Sebastian has been killed, Linda and Matt head to the lab, where they find Sebastian’s bomb about to go off. Matt says they can’t stop the thing (why they can’t, I’m not sure) so they head off for the elevator. They still don’t have access to it, so they get up on the roof of the elevator and climb up the ladder in the elevator shaft.

The bomb then goes off, causing flames to travel through the lab until it reaches the elevator, which causes the elevator to rocket past them. They dodge it, although it tears off a bit of Linda’s arm. The elevator then comes back down, but gets wedged in the wall just before crushing them. Our heroes climb around it, only for the partially visible Sebastian to suddenly reappear and grab Linda’s leg.

He forces one last kiss on her, “for old time’s sake.” She then grabs an elevator cable and tells him to go to hell, sending him and the elevator plunging into the raging inferno below as she hangs on (with her wounded arm, I might add).

The film ends with Linda and Matt, I guess, making it to the top of the elevator shaft, and they’re soon outside as convenient ambulances arrive to help them.

This is basically The Invisible Man redone as a slasher film, containing all the stupidity that this genre (unfairly or not) is associated with. In respect to the acting, Kevin Bacon has always been an underrated actor, and to his credit, he seems like he has fun with this role. What’s disheartening, though, is that we know that he, Shue, and Brolin have all proven elsewhere that they’re capable of better work.

In his review of this film, the late Roger Ebert claimed that the setup of the movie is somewhat reminiscent of The Fly, in that it involves a scientist who becomes trapped by using his invention on himself. But Ebert added that what made Cronenberg’s film special was the curiosity that story generated. Hollow Man has no such curiosity in its narrative, with scientists who could have only have secured jobs in this profession if they had emerged from the womb with diplomas clutched in their tiny hands. Once Sebastian becomes invisible, the movie resorts to pathetic clichés like having the monster get up over and over again like he’s superhuman, and having the people we’re supposed to root for doing stupid things in order to increase the body count.

Amazingly, this film got a direct-to-video sequel in 2006, which starred Christian Slater in the lead role. Not that it mattered much, since Slater’s tired Jack Nicholson-lite shtick and his run-ins with the law had kicked him off Hollywood’s radar by this point, and was a big reason no one gave that film the time of day.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sir Christopher Lee 1922-2015

Yesterday morning, my brother-in-law texted me the sad news that Sir Christopher Lee died. As readers to this site know, I've reviewed a number of films that were graced by his presence. To that end, I wrote an article honoring this man. Farewell, sir! You shall be missed, and please tell Vincent and Peter we say hi!

Legendary actor Sir Christopher Lee passed away Sunday at age 93. News of his passing was announced Thursday by the Guardian.

The actor passed away from heart failure at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, where he was being treated for respiratory problems.
Lee began his career in the late 1940s following service in the British military during World War II. His first notable role was as the Frankenstein Monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) the first Frankenstein movie made in color. The success of that film led its studio, Hammer, to produce the first color Dracula movie the following year, Horror of Dracula. As the title character in that movie, Lee would find his signature character. He would go on to reprise the role in seven more films.

His success as the Count would lead to other horror movie roles for the actor, including The Mummy (1959) and To the Devil…A Daughter (1976). Many of these films were produced by Hammer and co-starred Peter Cushing, whom Lee would remain life-long friends with until Cushing’s passing in 1994.

However, Lee made it a point throughout his career to show the world that he could do more than monsters. To that end, he was in such diverse films as The Devil Rides Out (1968), The Bloody Judge (1970), The Three Musketeers (1973), The Wicker Man (1973) and the title character in the James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). Lee, a cousin of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, would even host a 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live.

As his career went on, Lee found himself in great demand, working with such directors as Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Tim Burton, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese.

Lee’s acting career would eventually land him in the Guinness World Records as the actor who had taken part in more movie sword fights than any other (17). These include the lightsaber fights Lee took part in as Sith Lord Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005).

But it was director Peter Jackson who would ensure that Lee was introduced to a new generation of fans when he cast the actor as the wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Lee’s talents were not restricted to acting. He would lend his distinctive voice to several albums, such as the 2010 heavy-metal collections Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, and Charlemagne: The Omens of Death. In 2013, Lee released the single Jingle Hell, which entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 22, making Lee the oldest living artist to enter the charts.

Lee was knighted for his illustrious career in 2009.

He is survived by his wife of over 50 years, former Danish model Birgit Kroencke and their daughter Christina.

“He was the last of his kind - a true legend - who I’m fortunate to have called a friend. He will continue to inspire me and I’m sure countless others for generations to come,” praised Burton, who directed Lee in five movies.

Lee’s final film is the soon-to-be-released Angels of Notting Hill, where he will portray an immortal looking over the universe.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Agony Booth review: 5 reasons the TNG movies weren't that good

I've stated more than once that the four movies Star Trek: The Next Generation spawned were disappointing. My latest article for the Agony Booth goes into more detail as to why that is.
I think it’s safe to say that Star Trek fandom was at its height in 1994. The original series movies had ended on a great note with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Next Generation had ended its seven-year run on a high with its final episode “All Good Things...” (which won Trek the last of its four Hugo Awards), Deep Space Nine concluded its successful second season, and the first TNG movie was in the wings.

That movie, Star Trek: Generations, also had the added bonus of teaming Captains Kirk and Picard together on the big screen in the first of what everyone thought would be a successful run of films for TNG.

After all, with the exception of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, all of the movies featuring the original series cast were first-rate (I admit, I found The Motion Picture enjoyable, if slow). So everyone was counting on TNG to reproduce that same kind of magic on the big screen.

There were a total of four Trek movies with the TNG gang. Alas, none of them managed to truly capture the spirit or success of TNG the TV series. Here are five reasons as to why these movies just don’t hold up as well as the TOS films.

1. The need to “pass the baton”

Let’s start with the first movie: Generations. This was a gimmick by Paramount to “pass the baton” from TOS to TNG on the big screen. As far as fans were concerned, the baton was already passed with the lovely final shot of the Enterprise-A sailing off into the stars at the end of Undiscovered Country. Still, the chance to see Kirk and Picard share the screen could have been something special.

Alas, the final product proved anything but. There was some good stuff in Generations, such as Picard’s torment over the deaths of his family members, the Duras sisters returning, and Data getting used to his new emotions; And while everyone knew Kirk was going to die even before the film was released, the destruction of the beloved Enterprise-D was quite shocking, even if it lacked the drama of the destruction of the original ship in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

But the movie’s main selling point, Picard teaming up with Kirk, is handled in such a sloppy way that it basically started the whole TNG movie franchise off on a sour note. In the end, it would seem Kirk’s death ended up hurting TNG more than it did the character of Kirk himself.

2. No character development

One of my colleagues on this site wrote an article which noted that TNG made an effort to give the spotlight to all its regular characters, not simply Picard and Data. At the time of the release of Generations, there was a monthly magazine called Star Trek Communicator, and around that time, I read a letter from a reader in one issue that sadly turned out to be prophetic.

The author expressed concern that the TNG movies would basically leave no room for the character moments that were TNG’s hallmark, such as Picard and Crusher having tea together, or Data and LaForge being BFFs. TNG’s final season also gave us the beginnings of a Picard/Crusher romance, as well as a Worf/Troi/Riker triangle (I know some people disliked the latter, but it’s no worse than the Worf/Dax romance on DS9). However, Generations, like the following three TNG movies, is mainly focused on Picard and Data, pushing the other characters aside. This brings me to my next point.

3. The reinvention of Jean-Luc Picard

One of the biggest reasons that the TNG films don’t live up to the series is that they’re more interested in being action flicks, TNG’s legacy (and in some cases, common sense) be damned. In all four of these movies, there seems to be a tendency to recreate Picard as a swashbuckling hero, engaging in fisticuffs with each of the movies’ villains.

I can accept this in the second TNG film, Star Trek: First Contact, given the character’s history with the Borg, but having him do so in the other three movies in such a contrived manner had me questioning more than once if this was the same man we enjoyed watching on TV for seven seasons.

At the same time, there was an attempt to make Picard more of a romantic figure by giving him pseudo-love interests in both First Contact and the third film, Insurrection. The former involves the character of Lily (Alfre Woodard), Zefram Cochrane’s assistant who’s brought aboard the Enterprise and fights the Borg alongside our heroes. This character is unnecessary, because she does what Crusher had often done on the show: talk sense into Picard.

In Insurrection, we see Picard and his crew inexplicably side with a race of people who, when you really look at the story, are just a bunch of selfish jerks. One of these people, Anij, played by Donna Murphy, proves to be another replacement for Beverly, in that she gets bonding scenes with Jean-Luc. Patrick Stewart got an associate producer credit for Insurrection, so many blame him for trying to make Picard into an action/romance star in this movie, but if the previous two films are any indication, Paramount would have encouraged this direction anyway.

The reason Picard’s heroics worked in episodes like “Starship Mine” and “Gambit” is that, unlike the films, those circumstances didn’t compromise what we knew and loved about the character.

4. All self-contained stories

Although most dislike the slow pace of the movie, The Motion Picture nonetheless did its job of introducing Kirk and his crew on the big screen in a grandiose way. However, it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that ensured their big screen exploits would be as beloved as their small screen ones. A major reason for this was producer Harve Bennett taking a good look at the series before production began, and making two key decisions: he wanted to recapture the character moments between the crew, and bring back a strong antagonist for them.

This decision basically led to how Star Treks III, IV, and VI would play out (it’s an interesting coincidence that the much-hated Final Frontier is the only film of the bunch to not follow upon Wrath of Khan’s storyline). As a result, the way the movies tied in together is part of why they nicely complemented the show itself. In contrast, all four TNG films were simply self-contained adventures with little ongoing significance, much like Voyager and Enterprise would later turn out to be.

Even First Contact suffered from this, from the beginning of the movie when it was revealed that a single Borg ship was launching an attack on the Federation, which was a rehash of the same battle in TNG’s classic “The Best of Both Worlds” two-parter. You’d think that suspense would have increased tenfold if the Borg had sent more than just one vessel this time around. I know some will argue that the attack in the movie was just a ruse to get the Borg’s time travel scheme underway, but then, why didn’t the Borg just use their time travel further away from Earth, so no Federation ships could follow them?

Granted, we saw the Borg in the series, but as DS9 was on the air at the time the first three TNG movies were in theaters, I think the Borg should have been tied in with the Dominion, much the same way that the TOS movies eventually tied in Khan’s storyline with the Klingons.

5. Constantly trying to compete with Khan

Another thing all four TNG movies have in common is their attempt to have the crew battle a specific, evil villain. This was understandable in First Contact, but even that ended up hurting the movie in the end. As unnecessary as Lily is, even more so is the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), a character who appears to be strong proof that First Contact is as much a movie by committee as the other TNG films. What made the Borg unique is that they were all one hive mind, and hence, not like other villains. Giving them a single leader made them simply just another generic foe.

Insurrection didn’t fare any better in this department, as the person we were supposed to hate (played by F. Murray Abraham) turned out to be hammier than a can of Spam (watch how he screams the patented Star Wars “NOOOOOOO!” and you’ll see what I mean).

Rolling Stone had an article discussing the fourth TNG movie Nemesis several months before it premiered. In that article, they mentioned that Nemesis would have a villain to rival Khan. Right at that moment, my mind was screaming for this not to be. Putting aside the fact that TNG already had, for all intents and purposes, its counterpart of Khan with the Borg, this article was basically saying that the film wanted to go the action route again, just like its three predecessors.

That villain turned out be the Reman leader Shinzon (played by Tom Hardy), who via plot contrivance had been surgically altered to resemble a younger Picard. Other nonsense this film gives us is yet another android who resembles Data, which is as bad an idea as giving Spock a brother in Star Trek V. There’s even a big climatic battle in the finale of the movie meant to generate the same emotion as the one in Star Trek VI. Sadly, this film reinforced the fact that “All Good Things...” would have been a better sendoff for the TNG gang.

To summarize, the four TNG movies had some good ideas, but those were sadly overshadowed by the studio’s desire to turn TNG into something it wasn’t, hence invalidating the series the same way Alien 3 invalidated its predecessors. Or to look at it another way, if TNG ended with “All Good Things...”, those stupid “Troi can’t drive” jokes wouldn’t exist.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Interview with Haley Scarnato

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Haley Scarnato, a singer who is known for appearing on the sixth season of American Idol.

1. Haley, when did you first realize that singing was your passion?
-I started at a very young age. I took voice lessons at 12 and started developing more of a style & joined a theater group called Show Stoppers. That’s when I discovered my love for singing.

2. Who are your inspirations, music-wise?
-Celine Dion. In country, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and I love how Shania Twain transformed country music into something more pop and edgy.

3. Is there a specific type of music you like to sing?
-I sing country, that’s what I’ve been doing.

4. You’ve obviously performed before crowds numerous times. Was it daunting at first?
-It was nerve-wracking. Singing in groups was one things, but alone, I was nervous. I had a nice but strict teacher. She encouraged me saying ‘go out & you’ll be fine.’

5. Did you ever think you’d appear on American Idol?
-Not really (laughs). You don’t really think you’ll be on it but the show came to my home town and my friends encouraged me to audition, so I did.

6. Have you kept in touch with any of the American Idol people?
-Yes, I’m good friends with Faith Lewis and Laksiha Jones, who I do a show with. We just kept in touch here and there.

7. Since then, you’ve written your own music. Of your own music, do you have a favorite?
-One song, “Girls Night Out,”that’s a fun, edgy song that fun to do live.

8. You are currently touring with Symphony Idol. What is that like?
-It’s pretty neat. We do a bunch of different variety song. We do some Broadway stuff, harmonies and duets. You’ve got all these amazing musicians. We are going out on the road to Louisana in two weeks for another show.

9. Are there any events or places you’d like to sing for?
-I don’t know. I guess it depends on the environment. You have a good event with musicians and sounds. Bad ones, not so much (laughs).

10. Can you tell us about what songs you have coming up?
-I have one song, a duet, which I recorded with my friend Roger Ballard in Nashville. It was written about a woman’s point of view and a man’s point of view. It’s kind of neat to see that, so that you can’t blame the man. It should iTunes and my website by the summer.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Agony Booth review: Planet Terror (2007)

This Agony Booth review focuses on the first half of Grindhouse (2007).

A while back, one of my colleagues on this site wrote a review of Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s double-feature homage to low-budget horror and action flicks of the 1970s. I’m now going to look at Grindhouse’s first half, the enjoyable (if overblown) zombie flick Planet Terror, which was written and directed by Rodriguez.

We begin at a go-go club in Texas one night. Already, Rodriguez is hammering in the homage to drive-in flicks of the ‘70s, because he makes damn sure that the film has that grainy look, with visible scratches to complete the effect. And in the sleazy spirit of its predecessors, the go-go club owner encourages his dancers to make out on stage. One of the dancers, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan), decides to follow through on her oft-repeated threat to quit, just like many heroines of horror flicks past.

As Cherry walks off into the dead of night, a convoy of trucks almost runs her over, knocking her down and causing her to cut her leg on a garbage can. We then follow this convoy to a nearby military base. An engineer named Abby (Naveen Andrews) gets out and banters with a nameless scientist, then shows off a container that turns out to be filled with amputated testicles. And just for the sake of gratuitous violence for shock value, Abby has his men use a knife to relieve the nameless schmuck of his own balls.

The sinister Lt. Muldoon (Bruce Willis) then appears and asks Abby, “Where’s the shit?” No, he’s not asking about all that Hudson Hawk merchandise nobody wanted. Rather, he’s talking about a special chemical that Abby has engineered. Muldoon pins him down and repeats his question as boils appear on his face, which we later learn means that he’s becoming a zombie. Abby responds by shooting at a tank full of the chemical, releasing it into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, a car drives up to a restaurant called the Bone Shack. Its driver Tammy (played by Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson) tells the Bone Shack’s owner J.T. Hague (Jeff Fahey) that her car is overheating. As they talk, Cherry limps past her toward the restaurant. When Tammy asks if Cherry’s fine, she replies, “I’m just cherry.” (I guess Michael Caine would have sued her if she said she was just peachy.)

Elsewhere, we meet Dr. Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) and her husband, fellow doctor Bill (Josh Brolin) as they get ready to work the night shift at the hospital. Bill sits down to eat with their son Tony (Rebel Rodriguez), who’s got a box of a Lucky Charms-esque cereal called Great White Bites. I wonder if its slogan is “Just when you thought it was safe to reach inside for the prize”?

While this is going on, Dakota secretly texts her lover, to say that Bill has discovered their illicit affair and is on to them.

Back at the Bone Shack, Cherry meets up with her former flame El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez). She tells him that she’s no longer a go-go dancer, and plans to be a standup comedian. El Wray tells her that she isn’t funny, to which Cherry replies that people tell her she’s hilarious. Which I guess means that El Wray didn’t see Scream. They engage in typical love/hate banter before El Wray agrees to give Cherry a ride to wherever she wants to go.

Meanwhile, Dakota and Bill arrive at the hospital, and she tells him goodbye. He replies, “Don’t you mean, ‘See you later’?” To which she responds, “Of course.” These two put the Kardashians’ dysfunction to shame.

Bill then examines a guy named Joe (Nicky Katt) who has a wound on his arm. Bill and his disinterested partner look at the wound, and then also notice Joe’s puss-filled tongue. They inform Joe that his arm needs to be amputated before the infection spreads to his chest. Bill sternly calls in Dakota, who arrives with a pocketful of multicolored syringes that she calls her “friends”.

She explains that her first “friend”, the yellow one, takes the sting away. The second, the blue, is something he’ll barely feel. When she injects Joe with the third, a red-capped syringe, Dakota quietly tells Joe as he loses consciousness, “You’ll never see me again.” Dr. Kevorkian has nothing on this girl.

Next, we see Tammy having car trouble again, and as fate would have it, she’s near that military base. After failing to hitch a ride, she’s grabbed by zombies, who proceed to make her their dinner. El Wray and Cherry drive past the carnage, with El Wray simply blowing this zombie attack off as roadkill being dragged away, even though it was quite obviously a person.

Suddenly, human forms appear out of the darkness, and El Wray violently swerves his truck in order to avoid hitting them. The truck rolls over and gets attacked by zombies, who rip off Cherry’s leg before being chased away by El Wray’s gunfire.

El Wray takes Cherry to the hospital and explains to Dr. Bill how the zombies took her leg. He says that shooting them didn’t slow them down, adding, “I never miss!” Get used to that line, by the way, because El Wray keeps repeating it, hoping it’ll become his own personal “Go ahead, make my day”.

Then we meet the sheriff (Michael Biehn). He and his deputy (Tom Savini) arrive at the hospital, and begin to give El Wray crap because of their vague past dealings. El Wray notices that more people in the hospital are displaying those same zombie boils on their faces, and more wounded people start pouring in. But this doesn’t stop the sheriff from handcuffing El Wray for unclear reasons, and hauling him off to the station.

Down at the station, we meet another officer named Earl McGraw, a shared Rodriguez/Tarantino character previously seen in From Dusk till Dawn, Kill Bill Vol. 1, and of course Death Proof, played once again by Michael Parks. A phone call then reveals that the sheriff happens to be the brother of J.T., proprietor of the Bone Shack. Over at the Shack, J.T. wonders why there are so many people outside his restaurant door, not realizing that they’re zombies hoping to make him their next blue plate special.

Meanwhile, Cherry wakes up in her hospital room, and is shocked that one of her legs is now gone.

As it turns out, one of the wounded in the hospital is Tammy, whose brain has been ripped out of her head. In a lame moment, an orderly describes her as a “no-brainer”. Bill makes a point of showing Dakota the body, which horrifies her.

Bill traps Dakota in a back room, and uses her own syringes on her. As she starts to go numb, Bill grabs her cell phone, compares it to Tammy’s cell phone, and confirms that Tammy is the person she was having an affair with. Just as he’s about to do her in with the red syringe, the orderly barges in to report that all the bodies have disappeared.

At the police station, Deputy Savini runs in, pissed off because one of the zombies chomped off his ring finger. According to him, the zombie is still sitting in his patrol car. This prompts the sheriff to send another nameless deputy out to check, but there’s nobody in the car.

Zombies then appear and make short work of the nameless deputy as quickly as if he were wearing a red shirt. Savini and the sheriff shoot other random undead down as more police arrive. El Wray helps out, and tells the sheriff that he’s going back to the hospital to get Cherry. A moment later, the sheriff’s car randomly blows up, so he decides to join El Wray in his big truck.

Despite the fact that there are now zombies roaming around the hospital, Bill calmly walks back to where he left Dakota. Along the way he encounters Joe, now a one-armed zombie who proceeds to wipe puss and crap all over his face.

To demonstrate how far the zombie virus has spread, we visit Earl McGraw in his home as he feeds his elderly wife some soup. After the sheriff calls him to ask him to bring ammo to the hospital, Earl realizes that his wife now has a taste for something a little different than soup, and she lunges at her husband, who’s presumably forced to take her out.

The next scene is where the film really starts becoming too bonkers for its own good. Dakota escapes from the hospital by crashing through a window and landing two stories down. Amazingly, she walks away without so much as a scratch on her (at least when the heroine of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did the same thing, she was covered with cuts and bruises). She then attempts to get into her car with her still numb and useless hands, breaking her wrist in the process. Then sloppy editing shows her just getting into the car, as an explosion from who-knows-where is heard.

Dakota drives off as El Wray and the sheriff arrive at the hospital. Wray does some kung fu on the zombies, while the hospital goes up in flames. He meets up with Cherry, who’s mourning her lost leg. She says, “I’m going to be a standup comedian? Who’s going to laugh now?” Nobody watching this movie, that’s for sure.

El Wray has an equally lame retort: “Would you quit crying over fucking spilt milk?” Somehow, that lacks the punch Indiana Jones brought to the line “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” In Evil Dead style, El Wray sticks a table leg on her, somehow allowing her to walk. They head back to the truck, and as El Wray fights off zombies, Cherry limps around and delivers the understatement of the film with, “This is ridiculous!”

We then see why Dakota makes for great Mother of the Year material, when we meet her babysitters and see that she’s entrusted her son’s care to bitchy, sex-crazed twins (Electra and Elise Avellan). Dakota arrives and kicks them out after they complain that Tammy didn’t show up when she was supposed to.

Dakota plans to drive her son to safety, but first we get to watch as the kid packs up his turtle, scorpion, and tarantula. As they drive away, the car is suddenly attacked. Except it’s not zombies, but rather those two pissed-off twins. Eventually, Dakota gets away.

Back at the Bone Shack, the sheriff deputizes the gathering crowd, except for El Wray. Sure, that’s logical.

Meanwhile, Dakota takes her son to her estranged father’s home, and it turns out her father is Earl. But before Dakota goes to meet him, she gives her son a gun for protection, and tells him to shoot anyone he sees. The kid asks, “What if it’s Dad?” To which Dakota replies, “Especially if it’s your dad.”

Unfortunately, just as Dakota gets out, the kid ends up shooting himself in the head. His zombie dad Bill then shows up, with more zombies in tow. Luckily, Earl lets her inside just in time.

Back at the Bone Shack, El Wray and Cherry do the same thing every couple does when the world is going to hell: have sex. This ends with more grainy-looking film and, mercifully, a “Missing Reel” card.

When we return from this interlude, the Bone Shack is up in flames, zombies are approaching, and the sheriff has been shot by one of his own incompetent underlings. Dakota and Earl also arrive together with those crazy twins (what’s a smashed car between friends, right?).

As the sheriff is dying, he says that they should give all their guns to El Wray. Well, I feel better already. The zombies burst in and rip Savini to bits. Our heroes then blast their way through more zombies before they pack up the survivors and head out.

Our intrepid bunch gets a few miles away, but are stopped at a bridge by more zombies. The sheriff says that they don’t have enough ammo to deal with all of them. Fortunately, they get rescued by Lt. Muldoon and his men, who take them into custody.

Next thing we know, our heroes are in a prison cell with Abby, who explains that the substance in the atmosphere is part of something called “Project Terror”. He also explains that constant inhalation of the gas delays mutation.

Cherry and Dakota are taken into an elevator by two soldiers. As the elevator heads down, we see one of the soldiers is played by Quentin Tarantino. He taunts Cherry, and this conversation proves once again that, as an actor, Tarantino’s an awesome director. And oh yeah, boils are developing on his face, too.

Upstairs, El Wray shoots the guards watching over his cell. He and Abby then track down Muldoon. During this conversation, Muldoon has a bizarre monologue that includes him explaining that he secretly killed Osama bin Laden, and his story is eerily similar to the actual assassination that didn’t happen until four years later.

Bad editing and grainy film take over the narrative again, as Muldoon transforms into the most ridiculous looking zombie ever. Finally, El Wray shoots him.

Meanwhile, Cherry and Dakota engage in girl talk. Tarantino returns to give Cherry more shit, so she snaps off a piece of her wooden leg and jams it into his eye. Being a zombie, however, he shrugs this off and takes off his pants so he can presumably sex her up, but it turns out his junk has been affected by the virus and is melting off. Dear God. Dakota then regains the use of her hands, and pulls out syringes she had stashed away and uses them to incapacitate Tarantino. So I guess that broken wrist healed itself.

El Wray and Abby arrive, and now El Wray attaches an M4 Carbine assault rifle to Cherry’s leg. And not only is she able to walk around on the rifle, but she’s also somehow able to fire it without pulling a trigger. I guess the thing reads her mind?

The four break out the other survivors. J.T. says that there are helicopters nearby they can use to escape, and he and the sheriff stay behind to heroically sacrifice themselves.

Our band fights their way out of the facility, with Abby getting his head blown off. We then get a moment where Cherry launches herself into the air with an M203 grenade launcher attached to her gun leg, in a gag that’s even dumber than that “nuke the fridge” thing.

Zombie Bill arrives to threaten Dakota one last time, before Earl does the fatherly thing and kills him. But it seems El Wray is mortally wounded. He tells a crying Cherry not to worry though, because she won’t be alone. He then points to her (presumably now pregnant) belly and again says his awful “I never miss” line. Geez, enough already!

The film ends with our survivors setting up shop on a beach in Mexico, for all the good that’ll do them, and sure enough, Cherry is now a mom. A quick post-credits scene shows Dakota’s son alive again, and playing with his turtle, scorpion, and tarantula. Because why not?

Planet Terror is certainly entertaining, with Rodriguez’s love for zombie films shining through in the same way that Sergio Leone’s love for westerns shined through in his movies. The cast is game as well, with Biehn and Fahey being their usual dependable selves, and McGowan and Shelton playing more appealing characters than the ones they respectively played in Scream and Valentine.

The only weak link is Freddy Rodriguez, who tries to make El Wray an Eastwood-esque rogue, but instead comes off as an annoying prick.

The real problem with the movie is that its tongue is a bit too firmly in its cheek. The zombie films of George Romero were flamboyant, to say the least. But those are beloved films (well, the first three, anyway) because there’s just enough seriousness injected into the proceedings to make audiences want to follow things through to the end.

I also disliked the zombie makeup of Planet Terror, which was way too over the top. In fairness, monster makeup can be a tricky thing to pull off, but instead of being scared, my first thought at seeing the zombies was to pity the actors buried under all that silly putty.

I know there will be people who will argue that the film’s flaws are intentional, in that they’re supposed to resemble similar Z-grade films of the ‘70s. But homages can only carry a movie so far before they overwhelm the narrative of the movie itself.

For example, I know that many will point out that those films of the ‘70s also had that grainy look, and that it’s part of their charm. And I would actually be inclined to agree with that sentiment. However, I wonder if it ever crossed Rodriguez’s mind that the grainy film and “missing reel” scenes of such movies were not put in there intentionally.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Heart Like a Wheel (1983)

-Shirley Muldowney when a reporter asks "What's a beautiful girl like you doing on a racetrack like this?".

This uplifting true story depicts how Shirley Muldowney (Bonnie Bedelia) became the first woman to be successful in the world of drag racing.
Her quest begins in 1956 New York when she convinces her husband Jack (Leo Rossi) to let her drive her sportscar on deserted roads at night, which is something Jack does in his spare time.

By the mid-1960s, Shirley prepares to officially enter the National Hot Rod Association. She goes through difficulty in getting the necessary signatures for her NHRA license in the male-dominated sport. But fortune smiles on Shirley when she encounters racer Connie Kalitta (Beau Bridges), who helps her get her license, and, later on, propositions her, despite the fact that they are both married.

Shirley's success on the road, naturally, prompts her compete year round. This desire leads to her divorce from Jack, although their son John (Anthony Edwards) continues to support his mom.

Eventually, Shirley and Connie become lovers and he becomes her fuel chief. But even their relationship becomes strained after he is suspended by the NHRA. Connie later gets reinstated and the film ends with the two competing in a 1980 race, which Shirley wins.

The film has a nice cast, with Bedelia giving a nice performance in the lead. Ironically, the real-life Muldowney, who was a consultant on the film, didn't much care for Bedelia's portrayal of her, citing how, in interviews, the actress stated her dislike for racing.

Regardless, Bedelia was rightfully nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her performance, but, today, she is best known for her roles in Die Hard (1988), Presumed Innocent (1990) and the TV series Parenthood.