Tag Archives: adventure

Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing

Who loves the Hugh Jackman Van Helsing flick? I know plenty who hate on it pretty bad but they’re looking at it from too serious a perspective. This comes from Stephen Sommers, the same horror filmmaker to bring us stuff like The Mummy, Deep Rising, GI Joe and the 90’s Jungle Book with Cercei Lannister. This guy is in the industry to make films for fun and if you were expecting the subtlety and restraint of horrors like the source material he draws from well, jokes on you. His Helsing is a splendidly entertaining cornucopia of horror mythology given a juiced up boost of contemporary style and plenty of gothic, mist soaked atmosphere.

Jackman’s Van Helsing ditches the creaky old man archetype for something more virile and torqued up, careening around London like a steampunk Indiana Jones and sporting enough gnarly gadgetry to take on Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman in one film, which coincidentally he does. He’s sort of half sanctioned by the government but the London police force resents his far out methods, especially in a stunning opening romp as he chases Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (a scene stealing Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane) across rooftops and edifices like a supernatural parkour death match. Then it’s off to Transylvania to do battle with the big bad Vamp King himself, played to melodramatic, emo perfection by Richard Roxburgh. There’s a loose plot involving Dracula wanting to use Dr. Frankenstein’s corpse revitalizing technology to bring his unholy offspring to life, and as such his work poisons the land, pisses off the locals and prompts sexy monster hunter Kate Beckinsale to call for Helsing’s help. It’s an off the rails theme park ride of splatter effects, wild performances and extended chase sequences all over the land. Jackman makes a stalwart antihero, while Beckinsale looks amazing in leather and is surprisingly convincing as an Eastern European. David Wenham provides comic relief cast against type as Van’s trusty clergyman sidekick and the cast is rounded out by Shuler Hensley as The Monster, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp and Kevin J. O Connor as Igor in a cool black and white prologue that serves as the one sequence paying homage to these horror roots.

This was never going to be an awards season darling but it’s nowhere close to as bad as people say. Any film that has all three iconic monsters in it (plus quite a few others too) is going to have a lot to juggle and will just feel chaotic by default, but Sommers handles the pandemonium quite well and knows how to spin an absorbing popcorn yarn. There’s plenty of drop dead gorgeous landscape cinematography given the appropriately macabre touches, monsters running all about the place to give horror fanatics their fix and enough action to spawn a whole video game franchise. My favourite part is where Dracula’s babies finally hatch in spectacularly gooey fashion from Alien style eggs and start swarming the landscape like demonic infant bats. That sequence alone is worth the price of admission and showcases the kind of gung-ho, all or nothing spirit of horror adventure filmmaking offered here. Love this film.

-Nate Hill

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Peter Weir’s Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World

Many war films set in a different time period like to flaunt special effects, production design, pyrotechnics and swing their big budgets around like dicks, while somewhere in the commotion, things like character and story get lost. Peter Weir is one to intuitively avoid showboating and I was pleased to see that his Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World is a beautiful piece that integrates technical wizardry with good writing and performance for something that feels rich, balanced and realistic.

Set during the Napoleonic wars surrounding South America, Russell Crowe is Captain Jack Aubrey, a Naval Commander tasked with taking his vessel and crew in hot pursuit of the French ship Acheron on a search and destroy mission that could turn the tide of the whole war. Acheron is a much quicker and stronger warship with more guns, but Jack is a cunning, headstrong and impossibly stubborn leader who won’t back down in the face of defeat, even though his crew sometimes shows signs of doubt. The central relationship of the film is between him and the ship’s surgeon Maturin, played by Paul Bettany. He’s a significantly less hard edged man and being Jack’s best friend might as well be first mate as well, but it’s interesting to see that despite a great love for one another, their natures clash. Jack is a pragmatic, no nonsense soldier when it comes to game time, yet has the soul for music duets and great dinner table stories when the guns are put away. Maturin is a would-be naturalist with no mind for the strategies of war who would rather spend his days exploring new species on the exotic Galápagos Islands. Their dynamic is ultimately what drives the film and they’re both fantastic but also supported by the likes of Billy Boyd, Robert Pugh, James D’Arcy and many others.

The film exceeds two hours in length but doesn’t feel like it because of how engaging Weir makes everything. There’s only two ship battles, a opening banger and a climactic peak and they’re brilliantly done but for me the real magic is watching Crowe, Bettany and the others interact and live life day by day on the vessel. The food is prepared in detail, the logistics of navy protocol are studiously shown and the dialogue paints a dense, rich history for all the men aboard, each having his own special part of the story to impart. Another thing Weir specializes in is not making his tales feel overly doom laden, angsty or depressing. Many of his films deal with dark, challenging settings and themes but there’s always this matter of fact, optimistic lens he looks through that is a signature for him and a winning attribute. Not to say that this is necessarily a rollicking swashbuckler, but there’s an affinity for compassion and the lighter side of human nature, despite it being a war film by definition. Huge shoutout to Weir’s go to cinematographer Russell Boyd too, who shoots the imagery so vividly and magically it almost looks like paintings from that era itself. Loved it.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior

There’s always those films whose reputation is more widely known than themselves, where the stormy production or behind the scenes drama caused such a ruckus and eclipsed the final product, creating negative buzz whether or not the film is good. John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior is one of those, I haven’t read up exactly on what went wrong but I’ve always felt the film that was born out of whatever trouble there was is an excellent one.

Antonio Banderas stars as an unconventional version of the badass hero we’re used to, one who starts off as anything but that and has to earn his way to glory. He plays a Persian poet sometime around 900AD, a man who is sent away for macking on the sultan’s wife and captured by a roving band of Vikings. They are amassing an army of elite specialist warriors to bring back home in the north in order to defeat a near indestructible menace that is moving in on their land. Banderas finds himself caught up in the war, alone with the tribe and forced grab a sword, find his courage and take a few swings at this fearsome enemy. The plot is fairly simple stuff but it’s atmosphere and character development that win the day here, as well as epic production design. Banderas starts off as basically a pampered court jester who the Norsemen mock and ridicule, until he learns their ways and a bond of brotherhood forms, an arc from both parties that is handled with dignity and heart. The enemy they fight are an unseen horror who burn, kill and eat everything in their path, there’s a sense of genuine fear and threat when they show up and the battles are staged with smoke, mist and fire for ultimate atmospheric effect. A highlight is when they raid underground caverns used to hide out in via ships and you really get a sense of setting as well as budget on display. Banderas is supported by various people including Vladimir Kulich as the heroic Buliwyf, Diane Venora, Tony Curran, Richard Bremmer, Sven Wollter and a very brief Omar Sharif.

People can talk shit about this one all they want but I really feel like they’re thinking of the troubled production instead of the film itself and need to get their heads out of the sand, and refocus their gaze. This may be a fairly scrappy flick but it’s simply not a bad film. Banderas is a solid lead, there’s a tactile sense of wonder to the settings, both southern and northern and McTiernan mounts the sieges, battles, massacres and poetic revelry assuredly. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Joseph Losey’s Figures In A Landscape

A menacing black helicopter relentlessly pursued two mysterious escapees through the harsh landscape of an unnamed foreign land. Such is the slightly surreal setup for Joseph Losey’s Figures In A Landscape, a strange, forgotten allegorical adventure film starring Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell. Less is more storytelling takes charge with a screenplay by Shaw himself, as very little is told to us about who these men are, what the setting and political climate is or why that big black bird won’t stop gunning for them, at one point staging a maneuver so hair raising the propellers almost take someone’s head clean off. The unspecified region here is actually Spain, and the photography is flat out gorgeous, stunning wide shots and sweeping vistas seemingly shot from the chopper itself, sprawling vineyards, dry acrid valleys and snowy mountain peaks are all captured in a film that would work as a travelogue ad for Spain if the story wasn’t so grim. Shaw is the salty, old fashioned badass who can’t keep his mouth shut and gets his hands dirty when needed, McDowell the sensitive youngster in over his head and struggling with both the chase and the elements. As the film progresses their dynamics shift though, which is fascinating to see through their two excellent performances. The climax set high atop a mountain somewhere is bloody poetic bliss and serves as both a fitting end to a well mounted thriller and an ambiguous enough wrap up for a story that’s just ‘out there’ enough to defy genre expectations. This one really has been lost to the sands of time, but luckily Kino Lorber recently remastered it for Blu Ray and it’s really something to see if you’re a fan of Shaw, McDowell, oddball films that slipped through the cracks or high adventure. Definitely recommended.

-Nate Hill

Created in a Deluge: The Rising of Waterworld by Kent Hill

The future. The polar ice caps have melted covering the earth with water. The Universal logo spins as we watch the world change as the camera descends, through the atmosphere, and eventually we find the ‘new world’ where those who have survived have adapted. We are now in Waterworld.

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Then Costner takes a whiz and, after a pass through his handy filtration system, drinks it. Regardless, it was at this point of the movie my Mother checked out. See, in Australia, the term getting on the piss is connected with getting together with mates and drinking an inordinate amounts of cold beers. But it is Waterworld that took the phrase to a whole new level.

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I was just about done with my high school years – and whilst on a family vacation – when I first saw Waterworld. And I came to it, as I often did in those days, as an innocent, in a time before the ice caps melted and a media torrent covered the globe. I had no concept of the vortex of negative press that Waterworld carried with it like a cargo hold full of dirt ready for the traders.cec78fc510ba16e5f3a175fe4471509ee3212963 It was, at that time, the largest theatre I’d been to. This rendered Kevin Reynolds’ epic feat of film-making monolithic in scale. Of course Waterworld really doesn’t need the big screen for you to witness just how incredible the production is. It’s, aside from a few computerized flourishes, real for real. The action, the set pieces – CGI wasn’t quite there yet – so this monumentally impressive picture carries the imposing span of the ocean, which is its stage, and the blinding brilliance of sun, pouring its radiance over this bold new vision of the post-apocalyptic future.

I’m sure by this point dear reader, that there are few that are not acquainted with this out and out classic. But for those for whom the picture is a stranger like Costner’s Mariner, sailing out of the horizon, then you have picked the right time to stop and check it out – the common courtesy extended when two drifters meet.0760137198383_p0_v1_s1200x630 From Arrow, the home of splendid re-release packages of some of the more famous/infamous cult classics of the age, comes the definitive, limited edition Blu-ray extravaganza that is the tale of the search for Dryland. Here at Water’s End you’ll find the three restored versions of the film, a loaded treasure trove of extras; the crown jewel being Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, an enthralling documentary feature chronicling the birth, rise, fall and ultimately redemption of one of the truly awesome adventure movies in cinema history. It may be fortuitous that this release surfaces in the wake of another sea-going fantasy – the billion dollar triumph that is Aquaman. And while the DCEU’s latest opus is no Mad Max on water, they share the same enduring quality films of this type have in common. The world building is awe-inspiring, the joy experienced while watching them infectious and they both leave the stage set for voyages of astonishing proportions to be explored.

I love this movie. Think of me how you will. But Waterworld is outstanding in my book and I am thrilled, not only that this release exists, but that its supplementary material finally sets the record straight – as well as allowing fans and first-timers alike to really marvel at what it took to cover the earth with water and allow we, the movie-loving audience, to take a ride that you’ll never see made this way again. Such a magnificent event as this calls for an equally impressive effort on my behalf.

That being the case I have a trio of insightful interviews with my guests David J. Moore (co-author of the supplementary booklet), Daniel Griffith (the filmmaker behind the documentary I’ve waited for, Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld) and, get ready for it, the man without whom the film would not exist, the film’s creator and initial screenwriter, Peter Rader. So stretch out in your deck hammock with an extra-large cup of hydro and stare at the majesty of the horizon, where the land meets the sea and watch in wonder as Waterworld engulfs you in a wave of splendor; this Everest’s peak of action/adventure cinema you can’t help but sink into.

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David J. Moore has written articles for Fangoria, Filmfax, Ultra Violent, VideoScope, Lunchmeat, Flickering Myth, and L’Ecran Fantastique. Interviews he’s conducted can be found on OutlawVern.com. He has worked as a freelance film journalist, visiting movie sets around the world. His next book is called The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: Action Stars and Their Movies, and it will be published in 2015. He lives in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

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Daniel Griffith has produced and directed more than 35 bonus feature productions, as well as five feature-length documentaries, including “LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE ODYSSEY OF DARK STAR” and “THE FLESH AND THE FURY: X-POSING TWINS OF EVIL”. He is also the documentarian for Shout! Factory’s “MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000” DVD boxed sets. Recently, he produced and directed the one hour documentary on the legacy of Rod Serling’s celebrated TV series, “THE TWILIGHT ZONE”, for CBS Films. Griffith won the 2012 Rondo Award for best DVD Bonus Feature for his biography on Universal B-movie actor, Rondo Hatton. He is the owner/founder of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

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Peter Rader is a director and writer, known for Waterworld (1995), The Last Legion (2007) and Grandmother’s House (1988).arrow-vid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The King has risen: A Joyous Appraisal of AQUAMAN

Now the dude in the video above isn’t singing about the movie I caught today (and I’m not denying the fact that that is a damn tasty burger he has there) but his song along in the words of the film’s charismatic lead: “That was awesome,” is kinda how I feel right now.  Yes folks, despite any negative press you’ve heard, read, whatever – Aquaman is a feast – a thrilling adventure that really transported me. Not merely into the sumptuous and glorious undersea kingdoms created by the filmmakers involved – but back to the fun, exuberant times I ‘used’ to have at the movies – before the dark clouds engulfed us, trapping us in the forgotten seas where the dark creatures of the trench started forcing us to feed on one franchise after the next. Dark, moody, brooding, shit. That is not the joy I remember in that magnificent dark place we call the cinema – where worlds merge and the magnitude of the movie-maker’s vision takes me into it’s care, placing me, willingly, under it’s spell.

What a spell indeed, let me tell you. James Wan had me when I read his response to a question regarding the tone of Aquaman: “I’m a film fan, I’m a product of the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of people have said that  Aquaman has a very 1980s quality to it. Especially the high-fantasy of the 1980s, like Flash Gordon and Krull.”

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Flash Gordon meets Krull! Vibrant, fantastical, magical world building on a big canvas. I don’t chiefly give to much of a fiddler’s fart about the MCU or the DCEU and their never ending cavalcade of chicanery, but, when I read Wan’s response to that question I was, hands down, not missing this picture. And it’s become a common phrase of late – “see it on the biggest screen possible” – but, meh, they’re right. Aquaman is a big picture, so that’s the best advice I can give.

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The cast are wonderful in their parts, and I get the feeling they understand the kind of ride they’re crafting. The exposition is fluid like the oceans that dominate the movie. You feel carried along on a current if excitement and wonder as the story advances. But, one the best parts truly, in terms of constructing this film which Wan did so masterfully, is that he simply shunned the Marvel formula of tying it together with all that has come before – a line of dialogue sorted that out. It’s a freeing maneuver that allows this exciting director to do what he does best, which is to flex is visual muscles and take us into a world that makes anything James Cameron has done thus far seem a little flaccid. The production design, the gliding camera, the effortless action. Oh my God – I love it.

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Momoa brings a grand juxtaposition of the boy unwilling to take up his trident, mixed with a guy just playin’ it cool. His nonchalant approach is great, and I caught myself smiling at his delivery more than once. He is supported by strong players all. Patrick Wilson’s power-mad dictator, Dolph Lundgren on his seahorse (sorry, sea dragon). Willem Dafoe, always dependable, Nicole Kidman, getting better with age (love that fish suit), Amber Heard, feisty-sexy, badass Black Manta and hell, his dad is Jake ‘the Muss’ for Christ’s sake – and he can drink Fishman under the table.

It’s a whale of a tale I tell you lads, a whale of a tale that’s true. ‘Bout the flappin’ fish and a mother’s love – stoppin’ a deep sea war with the shores above. I’d swear by my tattoo if I had one but put simply – scintillating, sensational, spectacular. Home might be calling, but they’ll need to leave a message ’cause I’ll be out . . . watching Aquaman . . . again. GO SEE IT NOW!

As always, dig your movies . . .

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That Dude in the Audience.

The Fugitive

What motifs, when implemented well, make for an effective thriller? The wrongly accused man whom no one believes, the dogged pursuer who engages in ruthless indifference, the chaotic statewide manhunt, the methodical quest to clear one’s name, the righteous anger when the time for confrontation arrives. The Fugitive employs all of these and more almost effortlessly, and is as close to a perfect thriller as I can think of. It’s not just that the film is so exciting every step of the way, not just that the stunts are pulled off flawlessly or that every cog in the story’s mechanism turns believably, its simply that Harrison Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble as so relatable, so likeable and engaging that all the stuff I mentioned before, whether or not executed well, actually matters. The lynchpin scene that hooks us in occurs early on when a dipshit Chicago police detective (Ron Dean, who would go on to get shot in the face by Harvey Dent later in his career) bluntly interrogates Kimble after his wife is found murdered. Ford plays it it straight up, his raw reaction at being accused of something so unthinkable sears the screen, and as he pounds the table and pleads with them to “find this man”, we are immediately and unconditionally on his side, a lot to pull off in one scene but Ford is up to it and this may be his best performance ever. After that it’s a careening adrenaline rush of a chase film as the prison bus Kimble is on is hit by a speeding train, one of the finest pieces of blow-shit-up staging I’ve ever seen, propelling the man on a relentless ditch effort to find the mysterious one armed man who actually killed his wife (a far too short lived Sela Ward) and exact retribution. Tommy Lee Jones is a walking stick of C4 as US Marshal Sam Gerard, it isn’t so much his job to track down Kimble as it is his compulsion, the man is a calculating force of nature. Although put in Kimble’s path as the obstacle, the script treats him and his team with respect and intelligence, they’re not just mindless drones to keep plot and action sailing but fully formed human beings who start to unravel the mystery right alongside the good doctor. The film hurtles along from stunt to crash to chase to brutal fistfight and these sequences have since become iconic, especially that fiery sonic boom of a crash and the legendary standoff between Ford and Jones set in a storm drain leading off of a raging river dam hundreds of feet below. Everything just works in this film; Ford supplies charisma, subtle humour and inspires empathy all while kicking serious ass and evading capture in ways that would make Jason Bourne jealous, Jones chews scenery in the best way possible and is every bit the worthy adversary and eventual sympathizer, while Jeroen Krabbe, L. Scott Caldwell, Daniel Roebuck, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Tom Wood, Richard Rhiele, Nick Searcy and Jane Lynch all provide excellent work. Julianne Moore shows up in what appears at first to be a cameo as a suspicious nurse, but she was originally written in for a larger role as a new love interest for Kimble. The film cut her scenes and abandoned this subplot, a very wise move as it would have cheapened his arc and gone the cliche route. Simply put, this is a classic and a textbook example of the magic possible in the action/adventure/thriller genres. Brilliant.

-Nate Hill