There are religious films that are faith based preachy garbage (anything Kirk Cameron makes) and there are religious films that are fiction based and just happen to be structured around theology like that (The Omen, End Of Days). I can’t stand the former, but the latter has made for an interesting sub-genre in Hollywood, mostly horror centric but sometimes otherwise. Carl Schultz’s The Seventh Sign is one that carefully and delicately walks the line between these two types, but because it’s so atmospheric, well made and acted it works on any level including the religious themes.
Demi Moore and Michael Biehn play a young couple who rent their laneway house out to a mysterious stranger (Jurgen Prochnow) who isn’t who or what he says he is. Moore is expecting her first child, but there seems to be complications with the pregnancy and Prochnow shows a suspicious amount of interest in the child. Coincidentally, scary apocalyptic signs start showing up around the world like storms, dead fish in the sea and a blood moon, heralding some sort of widespread cataclysm. There’s also a sinister Vatican priest (Peter Friedman) wandering around getting in people’s business too.
The plot itself is essentially just your standard end of days gobbledygook, but that’s not what matters anyways. Moore is fantastic here, soulfully embodying a mother’s love coupled with mounting depression and making you feel for her character strongly. Biehn shows the same fierce charisma he did in The Terminator and this time brings on even more emotion to his role, particularly in the final minutes of the film that could be his best work. Prochnow has had a long and consistent career playing all kinds of nasty terrorists, crime bosses, nazis, poachers, pimps and any other kind of asshole you could imagine. It’s really rare to see him in a non villain role let alone one where he gets to show such grace and subtlety, he nails it and I won’t say much about the character except that it’s a tricky balancing act of shadowy portent and compassion that he deals with wonderfully. Watch for a quick, lively cameo from John Heard as well.
The atmosphere here is so well done that you often forget about story and get lost in the dreamy scenes that flow into each other in an almost subconscious way. The way the ambience lingers in the filmmaking reminds me, of all things, of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Odd comparison and this is by no means a horror movie but the two share the same sort of elongated, off kilter aesthetic that seems removed from reality, helped a lot here by journeyman composer Jack Nitzsche and his score. The third act brings the narrative to an affecting close and lets the three leads land their arcs on a quiet, sorrowful note, it’s the key sequence in making this a great film.
The first film I thought of while the early moments of Tiger Mountain played before me was THX 1138. This was a trip, dragged forcefully against one’s will and plunged into a murky pond which is a kind of metaphoric representation of being removed from the light and air and smothered by naked oppression and placed under the rule of the hive mind. And it is a mesmerizing submersion into these terrifying depths that are as much about the myth of control as they are the misuse of it. Another part of the allure for me to tackle this movie is the treat of seeing Bill Paxton back on the screen. I remember watching Edge of Tomorrow and delighted in his presence – a kind of measured version of his character from Weird Science. The man was talented – even though he made it all look far too easy. But as I spoke to Tom Huckabee, (Paxton’s longtime friend and collaborator) I quickly was made to understand that this easy-chair nature I’d seen and enjoyed in Paxton was in fact a ruse. Turn’s out Bill was a lot more Near Dark than most people really knew.
Tiger Mountain is a passion project that has survived because of the enthusiasm shared by two buddy’s who were looking for a way into the movie business. It is a product of it’s time, topical to that period and perhaps in some ways even more relevant as a kind of looking glass held up to the world of today, indeed more so than it was then. The journey has taken since 1974 to come before an audience at last in the best and most complete version of the film that exists. It is a picture that has crossed continents and indeed space and time to arrive like some strange and miraculous time capsule which stands as an epitaph to the exuberance of youth and a yearning for greater self expression. So this is the first time since 1983 that you’ll have to witness this compelling cinema experience influenced by William Burroughs – which is then counter balanced with the writings of Valerie Solanas. Portions of text coming from a Burroughs’s novella whose title had already been taken by a chap named Ridley Scott.
This 4K transfer is beautiful and the journey, although sold as the brainwashing of an American draft dodger by militant feminists in order to assassinate the Welsh minister of prostitution, Tiger Mountain is an experience, a fascinating making-of tale to hear and a parable of sorts which speaks of the possibilities that growth and recognition are always achievable as long as art is never abandoned.
Tom Huckabee is a writer, director, producer with over 40 years experience in entertainment. As a student at UT Austin he studied under Tom Schatz, Loren Bivens, and Edward Dymytryk, directed “The Death of Jim Morrison,” nominated for a student academy award, and “Taking Tiger Mountain,” starring Bill Paxton and co-written by William S. Burroughs. He has been a staff producer at Landmark Theaters, a writer of non-fiction TV for Disney and Discovery, a story analyst for 21st Century Films, and a staff researcher for The History Channel’s Modern Marvels. In 1987 he produced and co-wrote “Martini Ranch’s Reach,” a long-form music video directed by James Cameron, starring Kathryn Bigelow, Bill Paxton, Phil Granger, Bud Cort, Judge Reinhold and much of the cast from “Near Dark” and “Aliens.” In 1997, he was associate producer of post-production and music supervisor for “Traveller,” starring Paxton, Mark Wahlberg, and Julianna Margulies. From 1998 – 2001, he was vice president of American Entertainment, underwritten by Walt Disney Studios, where he created and/or oversaw development of feature projects with Touchstone, Universal, Imagine, Image Movers, HBO, Sony, and Revolution Studios. In 2001 he executive-produced Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty, starring Paxton, Powers Boothe and Matthew McConaughey. Also in 2001, he produced and directed a live event, Arthur C. Clarke: Beyond 2001 at the Playboy Mansion, featuring James Cameron, Patrick Stewart, Morgan Freeman, and Buzz Aldrin, He was an uncredited script consultant on Twister, Mighty Joe Young, Vertical Limit, U-571, Thunderbirds, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and The Colony and a quality control supervisor for Lucasfilm (1990-2004), working on films by Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathryn Bigelow, etc.. In 2005 he was a producer/writer on 75 episodes of National Lampoon’s An Eye for an Eye. In 2007 he was the artistic director for the first annual Lone Star International Film Festival. His sophomore feature Carried Away (2010) won three first place festival awards and is available on Amazon Instant View. Recently, he directed the documentary short “Confessions of an Ecstasy Advocate,” story-edited Ghostbreakers, a 20-part syndicated TV series starring Joey Greco, set to debut in 2016 on The Family Channel, co produced The Starck Club, a documentary feature and The Price, a drama starring Randy Travis and James Dupre. In 2014-15, he was the artistic director of the Wildcatter Exhange literary festival, while his short film “The Death of Jim Morrison” (retitled “Death of a Rock Star”) was included in the omnibus package, Jonathan Demme Presents Made in Texas, which premiered opening night 2015 at SXSW and is distributed by UT Press. He teaches screenwriting workshops and offers a wide-range of freelance development services. Upcoming projects include feature films Hate Crimes, ReCharge!, and The Attachment, full length stage plays, Dr. Zombi, PhD and The Reversible Cords; and Great Lives, a live theater festival of one-person historical shows.
Streets Of Blood more like Streets Of Crud. Maybe I’m being a little harsh but from what I remember this thing is a huge, huge whack of disappointment when you look at the capable, wasted cast and the premise ripe with potential. Val Kilmer and Curtis 50 Cent Jackson are slick New Orleans cops investigating the corruption and death in their department following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sounds cool eh? Not so much. Most of it is noisy, incomprehensible shootouts in soggy, dilapidated warehouses and faux intense verbal standoffs in dank interrogation rooms that have no payoff because they had no discernible setup or pacing. It’s not the actors faults, they’re not even half bad. Kilmer does a flashy Orleans drawl that echoes his famous Tombstone accent. Sharon Stone even shows up as an ice queen DA,
looking like a forgotten First Lady. These fine talents just can’t rise above the muck of a half assed script that’s more hollow than the waterlogged buildings they chase suspects through. Not even the great Michael Biehn can save the day, showing up as a nasty, accusatory FBI agent that you just know will turn out to be part of the conspiracy later (I’d feel sorry spoiling that if it weren’t so blatantly obvious right off the bat). It’s a shame no one remakes B movies and gives what could have been a cool concept another shot, because they blew this one pretty bad, and produced a bigger mess than Katrina herself did.
The Insatiable, like droves of other vampire flicks, attempts to cover new ground and build on established formulas to create something memorable, and despite having the direct to video stigma working against it’s notoriety, works pretty well for the most part. Sean Patrick Flanery plays a timid fellow who, after being targeted by a sexy, devilish bloodsucker (Charlotte Ayana), seeks help anywhere he can, broadcasting his predicament via HAM radio (maybe not the most effective outlet) to anyone who will listen. It just so happens that there is a grizzled old vamp hunter out there played by Michael Biehn, a jaded hardass who’s just waiting for signs of these creatures. Ayana likes to play with her prey, and taunts both of them throughout the film in some amusing cat and mouse games, forcing Flanery to great lengths of survival including building one hell of a cage in his basement to trap the bitch. The material is treated mostly head on with just a smidge of smirking deadpan, especially in the sly ending. Biehn is awesome as the cranky, high strung vamp slayer, really having fun in the role. A fun, if slight little flick.
I hear a lot of talk about how weird Nicolas Cage can get in films, and I’m always seeing top ten craziest Cage compilations on YouTube and such, but people often seem to neglect the veritable cherry on top, the big cheese of nutso Cagery, a terrible conmen flick from back when called Deadfall. This is a film directed by a member of the Coppola family, and anyone who’s done their base research knows that Cage is a member of the brood, which is the only reason he ever broke into the industry in the first place. Now as to why and how he was allowed to give the unapologetically certifiable ‘performance’ we see here, well that remains a mystery. Needless to say, this is Cage unchained, off the leash and out of the Cage, an unnecessarily clownish banshee cry of a turn that derails the entire film, eclipses every other actor and puts a big dark stain on everyone’s career. The protagonist here is Michael Biehn as a shit-outta-luck hustler who accidentally kills his own father (James Coburn, who also does double duties to play the man’s brother), and ends up in the criminal doghouse, reprimanded by his boss (Peter Fonda) and left to flounder in small time stings. Enter Eddie (The Cage) another small-potatoes loser who clashes with anyone and everyone around him, a true lunatic of a character whose left empty of any sort of engaging qualities or charisma thanks to Nic’s utterly bombastic histrionics and lunatic ravings. If I sound like I’m overselling just how fucked up his performance is or making mountains out of molehills, please feel free to jaunt on over to YouTube, type in ‘Nic Cage Deadfall’ and see for yourself. If bad performances were represented as train wrecks, this would be the infamous explosion escape scene from The Fugitive, and even that doesn’t do it justice. This is a giant schoolyard tantrum, an inexcusable, near fourth wall busting bag of uncomfortable verbal utterances and bodily contortions that make you want to call an exorcist for the poor spastic, I really don’t know how the film ever got released with such fuckery on display. Anywho, all that just drowns out literally *everything* else about the film, and when one of your actors acts out so much that they smother work from heavy hitters like Biehn and Coburn, you know your filmmaking process is handicapped beyond repair. As such, brief appearances from Michael Constantine, Talia Shire and Charlie Sheen are subsequently lost to the abyss of Cage’s deafening orbit. A mediocre film without him as it is, but add what he does to the mix and you have a true stinker, the cinematic equivalent of a spittoon filled feces. Don’t bother.
Everyone loves a Wesley Snipes flick. If it’s decent, that is, and these days he’s been churning out some sewer muck. Back in the day, however, he had some bangers, which includes The Art Of War. Wesley heads up an elite tactical team here, secretly employed by the United Nations, hired to do all kinds of cloak and dagger stuff, including securing trade deals, eliminating potential threats and maintaining cooperation from all sides. Run by a well spoken Donald Sutherland and Anne Archer, it’s a low key ‘fight fire with fire’ situation, until it all goes tits up and Snipes is framed for the murder of some bigwig Chinese dirtbag. Forced to contend with Triads, government factions and his own former partner gone rogue (Michael Biehn steals every scene, as usual), it’s a nice set up for a serviceable, above average action yarn. That Oriental influence always seems to make these thrillers seem cooler (ever seen Black Rain or Rising Sun?) which helps as well. Snipes and Biehn are livewires though and have a fantastic silenced pistol duel late in the third act, which is one slick showcase of a sequence. Not a whole lot to this one, but as an entertaining garden variety actioner, it holds up just fine.
Before Angelina Jolie blew up front and centre, she got her start in some wild and wacky b movies and genre stuff, the weirdest of which has to be Mojave Moon. It’s one of those low rent flicks where not much of anything happens, the characters meander in and out of a non-story and almost everyone is completely nuts. ‘B movie dramedy’ I suppose would be the specific sub-genre. The ‘story’, as it were, follows drifter Al (Danny Aiello), who meets pretty young Ellie (Jolie) in a diner and hitches a ride out to the desert for seemingly no reason at all. As Ellie takes a shine to him, he begins to fall for her mother (Anne Archer). Only problem is, her mom has a boyfriend played by Michael Biehn who is quite possibly one of the weirdest characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Volatile, berserkly unstable and constantly in near hysteria mode, it’s an odd performance that off-sets the quirky tone straight into the twilight zone. That seems to be the idea here though, the dreamy desert climate having a strange effect on these folks, causing all kinds of outrageous behaviour and scenarios. The town offers a rogue’s gallery of characters including Michael Berryman, Alfred Molina, Jack Noseworthy, Peter Macnicol, John Getz, Michael Massee and others, all of whom don’t really do much other than show up, act weird for a bit and then wander off again. I like this type of film though, purposeless other than to languish about with characters who don’t want much, their arcs sputtering in a flatline of small town doldrums and behaviour that only makes sense to them. It’s not for everyone, which is why no one really gives credit to this stuff, but it’s enjoyable once in a while, when you’re in as strange a mood as the residents of this one horse sideshow of a town.