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John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars

Ghosts Of Mars, there’s a title that better get lived up to with the film therein. John Carpenter has stated himself that he never meant to make something for people to take seriously and one need only look at the title to surmise that brainpower won’t be mandatory here and you essentially get an escapist space opera set to bangin’ heavy metal music without much of a brain in its head. I feel like had this been made back in the 80’s when most of the filmmaker’s flagship stuff came out it would have been received better. I mean, all of his films have headline grabbing, B movie titles and are essentially genre driven entertainment, but this being released in 2001, maybe people expected something a little different. Anyways I had a ton of fun with it, I mean how can you not enjoy a flick called Ghosts Of Mars for fuck sake.

As a nearly deserted freight train rolls into the Martian city of Chryse, Lieutenant Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) is the only survivor and recalls in flashback how she and her team encountered something nasty out there that crawled out of a mining tunnel and wreaked havoc on the surrounding towns. After some trigger happy demolition work a door was opened to an ancient tomb, awakening a red cloud of what can only be called John Carpenter’s The Martian Fog. In it are evil, restless spirits who take over dead bodies and reanimate them with all the style and energy of something like Uruk Hai Orcs crosses with Cenobites by way of Rob Zombie fans. Hordes of self mutilated, angry goth punk undead storm the deserted mining camps and Ballard is forced to team up with convict Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) to survive. They’re joined by other Martian PD including Pam Grier, Jason Statham and rookie Clea Duvall who was one of my first crushes in cinema, is always low key awesome and always steals the show. Her playing a Martian Cop with uniform and gun is the height of cool and attractiveness for me and I suspect half the reason I have such a soft spot for this film.

Anyways, call it what you will but don’t expect serous entertainment here and if you do and end up disappointed you’re only letting yourself down and shouldn’t blame it on this blast of a flick. Henstridge and Sir Cube actually have pretty good chemistry whether running around blasting guns or taking a few moments of downtime. Statham gets an overwritten, goofy horn-dog role but his presence is enough to justify such hammy characterization. Grier isn’t around for long unfortunately but her very name in the credits alone is enough to land some cool points. This film has a score that sort of rips through your sound system like a bat out of hell and feels nothing like Carpenter’s usual brand of ominous, rhythmic synths. The director does do part of the composing but most of the work is delegated to NYC heavy metal band Anthrax and the result is a balls out composition that really accents the film with an edge and fits right in with the costume/set dec work, all spikes, nails, piercings and rusty sharpened melee weapons flung about. This film apparently caused Carpenter to shun the Hollywood vibe and go into exile until he made 2010’s The Ward. I wish audiences had had their heads a little less up their asses in going into it and remembered why Carpenter is so special and prolific in the first place. He makes high concept horror/action/SciFi for dedicated fans of all genres, and Ghosts Of Mars covers all bases just damn fine, no matter what years of bad press or Ice Cube himself had to say about it. It’s pretty rich for someone to go on record saying this is the worst film they’ve been involved with when they also did hot garbage like Are We There Yet, Ride Along, XXX 2, Torque and I could go on. Get real. Anyways I digress but as you can tell I love this scrappy little gem, consider it highly undervalued and would definitely recommend it. Good times.

-Nate Hill

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Anaconda

Anaconda is great stuff, no matter what anyone says. Revered as a B Movie cheese-ball, it holds up far better than anyone remembers, and there’s a lot to love about it. Reminiscent of creature feature stuff like James Cameron’s Piranha 2, Lewis Teague’s Alligator and Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, it carved out its own nasty little adventure/horror story with neat characters, impressive effects for the snake and a knowing sense of fun. It sets the tone with a suspenseful prologue that sees poor poacher Danny Trejo stalked, attacked and killed by an unseen serpent, before the title card marches gloriously across the screen in true horror form. Then it follows a national geographic film crew led by intrepid Jennifer Lopez, whilst Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Vincent Castellanous, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson and sexy Kari Wuhrur tag along, pretty much for snake bait and for us to place drunken bets on who’s gonna get nabbed by the beast first. Along the way they meet the most engaging character of the film, a whack job big game hunter played to cockeyed perfection by Jon Voight and his greasy ponytail. Sputtering out ominous warnings in a warped, tailored South American accent, willfully misleading their party into danger and staring creepily at anyone in his scope of vision, he’s hilarious and clearly knew the right recipe of branded camp and genuine menace to put into the work. It’s a glorified B Flick for sure, but one that knows its place, showcases a big old fashioned movie monster and whisks the viewer away for some solid gold escapism. Do avoid the sequel though (Hunt For The Blood Orchid), it’s about as interesting as cardboard.

-Nate Hill

Walter Hill’s Trespass


Walter Hill’s Trespass could raise a pulse in a quiet graveyard, it’s so relentless. It’s one of those single location, breathless siege thrillers where two unlucky dudes, this time Bill Paxton and William Sadler, are barricaded in some unfortunate building while hordes of inner city criminals try to smoke them out. Billy and Willy are two firemen in the wrongest of places at the wrongest of times, led to a dilapidated St. Louis warehouse in search of a hidden cache of stolen gold. When one of them stumbles into a gangland assassination, the two are immediately branded as witnesses and hinted like dogs by boss King James (a snarling Ice-T), his lieutenant Savon (Ice Cube) and armies of their men. That’s pretty much the premise, and simple as it is, action maestro Hill turns it into a ballistic bloodbath that barely slows down for a second once it gets going. Paxton and Sadler are soon at each other’s throats in a feverish haze of adrenaline, whilst the two Ices argue amongst themselves about tactical logistics. Yelling, shooting, running, borderline parkour, cat and mouse games, beloved 90’s action tropes and fight scenes that almost wind the audience as much as the characters. This is a lean cut of a film, concerned only with thrilling the pants off the viewer, hurtling by at a locomotive’s pace without rest until that final shell casing hits the pavement. 
-Nate Hill