Imagine a game of tug of water against an alien who’s holding onto your intestines like a rope while you struggle to keep them from further unravelling. That’s a horrific thing to even picture but in Eduardo Sanchéz’s Altered you get to see it happen in graphic detail and it ain’t fuckin pretty. Sanchéz is part of the creative team that pioneered the horror genre with The Blair Witch Project, he’s a guy that doesn’t mince his words with horror and always puts out quality disturbing content, this being no exception.
After a group of friends experience a collective alien abduction in their youth, they come up with a plan decades later to turn the tables: kidnap one of the extraterrestrials responsible for their trauma, take it to a remote cabin in the woods and exact some much deserved payback on the fucker. Their idea goes well for a bit but then naturally everything that can go wrong does when they discover that they’ve grossly underestimated their quarry and are in for quite the night from hell.
This is a minimalist premise and the execution reflects that but it’s tense, uncomfortably gory in all the right ways and you get a genuine sense of terror that emanates from these guys. You’ll understand why as well when the aliens show up, these aren’t cute and cuddly things or even feral beasts, they resemble cunning, sadistic warlords who are used to dominating other species and don’t appreciate these guys bearing arms against them. The late character actor James Gammon has a grizzled cameo as the local sheriff who when confronted with the knowledge that the intruders he was called to investigate are aliens, dryly replies with “Shit. That’s fucked up” and if you know Gammon you’ll be able to hear his gruff delivery of that line in your head and chuckle some. It’s good stuff and proves that Sanchéz wasn’t just a one hit wonder with Blair Witch, also going on to make the awesomely terrifying psychological chiller as well as this panicky, nasty creature feature.
Tony Scott’s Revenge is a difficult one to sit through, but it’s Aalto a good showcase of not only the late director’s inherent talent around a camera and staging of restless, brutally violent action, as well as one of the better, albeit off-putting entries in a sub genre I like to think of as ‘desert noir’ (Oliver Stone’s U Turn pioneered and set the good standard in my books). Sweaty, sleazy, excessively graphic, melodramatic and mottled out of those old school, primitive pulp laden love triangle bad blood archetypes, it’s relentlessly unpleasant but has a dark hearted charm that somehow sneaks in the back door and gives it an iota of likability, albeit in a weird way. Kevin Costner plays a hotshot navy pilot (Scott shamelessly plugging Top Gun) who heads to Mexico for a little down time, where he finds anything but. While on a visit to his old gangster friend (Anthony Quinn, that big ol’ sweaty Italian meatball), he meets the kingpin’s beautiful, shockingly young wife Miryea (Madeleine Stowe, back when she used to be in things), and naturally they fall in love. This ignites a volcanic conflict between them all that results in some of the most sadistic, sexist acts of violence and a giant rift in the brotherhood between Costner and Quinn, for you see, the pilot saved his life years before and there’s some vague blood debt owed, obviously now null in void when he tries to mow the guy’s lawn. There isn’t much to the story other than these Stone Age, chauvinistic games of betrayal, sex and retribution the three play, or at least the two while Stowe is so badly hurt she’s out of commission after the first act. Costner spends time moping about the backroads and flophouses of Mexico, befriending a dusty old shit-kicker (the late character actor James Gammon, credited simply as ‘Texan’), who helps him get back on his feet. He’s also aided in his vendetta against Quinn by two mercenaries, played by scene stealing Miguel Ferrer and John Leguizamo. The eventual final confrontation between them has the hollow howl of redundancy as both men sheepishly realize they’ve become a slave to their own emotions and ruined their lives, and especially Miryea’s. Ebert wrote of this “It’s such a good job of salesmanship that you have to stop and remind yourself you don’t want any.” Well, that’s Scott for you, who could take footage of a domestic dispute and whip it up into a frenzy of action and energy you can’t take your eyes off of. This is a dark, empty, unpleasant film bereft of gallows humour or tongues in cheeks. But there’s something about it’s lurid sense of danger, hot blooded anger and over the top, hide-behind-the-couch doses of extreme violence that draw you in and cast a dark spell.
The New Daughter is an odd one, a creepy Kevin Costner vehicle that almost seems like an M. Night Shyamalan idea that didn’t quite take flight from the drawing board. Nevertheless it’s a good enough time at the movies, and there’s genuinely skin crawling moments too. Costner, in solemn mode, plays a father who relocates to South Carolina with his kids. As if an obligatory adjustment period isn’t bad enough, soon his teenage daughter (Pan’s Labyrinth’s Ivana Baquero, skillful but an odd choice to play all American white boy Kevin’s daughter) starts acting strange, and I mean Stranger than your usual garden variety brand of pubescent restlessness. There’s something out there in those rural woods, something that’s drawing the girl’s attention and slowly start possessing her. Father Costner is creeped out and desperate, seeking help from anyone he can, including a professor of far flung urban legend mythology (Noah Taylor), the creepy previous owner of his new home (screen legend James Gammon in his last living film role) and his kid’s foxy local schoolteacher (Samantha Mathis). It’s a spooky enough little flick, albeit cobbled together from several other better movies. There’s creature effects later on that score some points, and atmospheric cinematography, but ultimately it’s average, middle ground material.
One Man’s Hero takes place during a conflict that doesn’t get all that much coverage in Hollywood, the Mexican American war. With a sweeping Patriot-esque vibe and a world weary starring turn turn from Tom Berenger, it’s an affecting tale that whether or not is based on truth, still packs an emotional whallop. Berenger is Riley, an Irish American who leads his mostly immigrant troupes through racial prejudice beset on them by their own American superiors, just one more obstacle thrown in with the already taxing war itself. Defecting from the troops, Riley is commissioned to lead his men on the opposing force, banding together with fiery, disillusioned Mexican revels leader Cortina (Joaquim De Almeida) and fight for acceptance and survival while navigating both sides of the conflict. Although there are a few impressive battle sequences staged here and there, the film is more about the private and personal wars fought amongst the ranks themselves, the notion that one army isn’t always just focused on the task and can get caught up in internal conflict, which often, including in this case, leads to unnecessary tragedy. Berenger and Almeida go at it fiercely in a love hate companionship constantly tested by the war and their mutual affection for beautiful fellow freedom fighter Marta (Daniela Romo). Underrated Patrick Bergin shows up in a severely powdered wig, Stephen Tobolowsky plays yet another one of his loathsome, letcherous roles and the late great James Gammon is the perfect embodiment of crusty yet compassionate General Zachary Taylor. Not a title that crosses many people’s vision when discussing war films, but a really solid effort despite a lower budget, a story that needed to be told and a star turn from Tom to remember.
Films about con men can go a lot of ways. They can be intelligent with a worthwhile and earned payoff (2004’s Criminal), they can be hollow, nonsensical, all flourish and no gravity (2003’s Confidence) or deviate any which way from these examples. Traveller takes the quaint indie route, meaning I’m probably the sole person on the planet who has even heard of it, despite Marky Mark Whalberg appearing on one of the starring roles. It’s a shame because this is a bona fide gem, a low key little charmer with a roguish lead performance from Bill Paxton, a plot that gets cleverer the more you ruminate on it afterwards, and an easygoing style to it. Marky Mark plays Pat, a young man descended from Irish ‘travellers’, who are essentially gypsy hustlers and live as such in a sleepy North Carolina community. Pat wants to reconnect with his roots, but his kinfolk are a tribal bunch who don’t really fancy outsiders, however distantly related they may be. Cousin Bokky (Paxton) is the only one to take him under his wing, showing the ropes of a very specific, time honoured idiosyncratic lifestyle. Pat is young, cocky and sticks out like a sore thumb in Bokky’s world, who himself is weathered and moves about with ease and experience, slowed down by the dynamic which his young prodigy presents, and also looking for a way out of this life, and even romance with gorgeous Julianna Margulies. As light as these proceedings are, the film doesn’t fail to show the give dangers that being a con man puts them face to face with. It’s all fun and games until… well until it isn’t, and we get to see some of that ugliness rear it’s head, for without it there would be no stakes. Joining them is grizzled and now deceased character actor James Gammon, playing a salty veteran grifter who crosses their paths more than a few times, causing as much trouble in the process. I’ve not a clue how close to real life fact and tradition this film gets, but I imagine fairly on the nose, as it just has that notion that it knows what it’s doing, it’s researched, capable, and does it all with ease and enjoyment.
Stephen King’s Silver Bullet is one of the most charming werewolf flicks in the stable, one that combines adult orientated, gory horror with the fable-esque, childlike sensibility that seems to permeate King’s work. It’s also quite funny, thanks to the presence of a boisterous, rotund and quite young Gary Busey. Young Marty (Corey Haim) lives in a sleepy little town where not much of anything happens, until a rash of brutal murders occur in the area. Attributed to a serial killer by townsfolk, Marty has other ideas, specifically that a werewolf has taken up residence among them, and is snatching victims in the night. Taken seriously only by his sister (Megan Follows) and kindly Uncle Red (Busey) he bravely stalks suspect number one, who happens to be the creepy town priest (an intimidating Everett Mcgill). Things escalate into a series of gooey, effects driven set pieces that drip with wonderful 80’s schlock and awe, as of course is the tradition with anything based on King’s work. Other notables include Terry O Quinn, Bill Smitrovitch, Lawrence Tierney, King’s own son Joe Wright, and late great character actor James Gammon in an opening sequence cameo. It’s not all that scary, but more about the beloved tropes of such stories as these, the timeless monsters that inhabit them, as well the the intrepid young heroes whose lives growing up and finding themselves equally as important and high stakes as the horror elements.
Point Blank takes a big, silly macho whack at the trashy action genre, and gives fans of such lowbrow, cheese saturated stuff a huge sloppy kiss. It’s so ridiculous you have to laugh, but you’re laughing with it because it sheepishly knows what an outlandish hoot it is, which is somewhat reassuring in this territory, because a lot of them play it dead straight and are oblivious to their own vapid density. Not this baby. It wears it’s stupidity loud and proud, and there’s many a moment that will have you howling. Mickey Rourke was in the height of his juicing heyday here, and he looks like Buffalo Bill covered the incredible Hulk in the tanned leather of some poor broad (should have put the lotion in the basket like he told you). He plays Rudy Ray, an ex special ops turned farmhand of few words and lots of action. Rudy’s brother (Wainegro himself, Kevin Gage) is mixed up with a nasty bunch of escaped convicts who have hidden out in a rural strip mall and taken multiple hostages. Rudy is summoned by the local Sheriff (Fredric Forrest), and with the resolute blessing of his crusty father (the immortal James Gammon) proceeds to go redneck John McClane on these whackos and basically tear the place apart. Gage is the leader of the pack, but the most dangerous one by far is a coked up, homicidal Danny Trejo, who terrorizes a poor female captive and basically empties clips at anything that moves. Throw in Michael Wright as a seriously intense war vet with a rocky past (he has a monologue that dips between scary and campy quite a bit) and Paul Ben Victor displaying acting so far over the top it’ll make your eyes and ears bleed, and you’ve got one inane B movie crew ready to fulfill your every schlocky need. It’s funny because there’s an ’emotional’ scene near the end where Rourke and Gage go brother to brother and it’s supposed to be touching. The writing is so godawful, and the music so beyond ludicrous, but the two of them are such good actors that they end up completely selling it without even trying, like they couldn’t turn in bad work if they wanted to. It’s basically Die Hard in the sticks, with Rourke instead of Willis, a mall instead of a skyscraper, and you know… the fact that it’s obviously not a good movie. It’s a hell of a lot of fun though, if you’re in the mood to get silly with it.