I know Uwe Boll’s reputation as a horror video game adaption filmmaker and I’ve seen a few of them so my personal expectations for Alone In The Dark were set pretty damn low, and yes it was a terrible godawful cheap mess but not… *quite* as bad as I was anticipating. Here’s the thing: I have years of watching B grade horror trash under my belt and when you’ve got that kind of buffer there’s not much, Boll’s output included, that can make you really, truly recoil, like I love trashy shit, it’s fun if it knows it’s place and fits it’s groove. This? This one is especially lowbrow and unapologetically so, as we see Christian Slater being a wannabe Blade/Van Helsing type monster hunter complete with an emo trench-coat, hilariously moody narration and a sexy/nerdy scientist sidekick played by Tara Reid who is about the farthest from nerdy scientist type you can get, which is great for a laugh here. Slater is embroiled in some murky supernatural hogwash involving human inter dimensional hybrid monster things that lurk around dark corners and disembowel people occasionally. He shoots some of them in between bouts of adorably sincere expository diarrhea dialogue and silly high tech gadgetry, and clashes with the gruff commander (Stephen Dorff) of a paranormal tactical squad and that’s about it. A weird subplot about an orphanage and the kids being used for experiments there back in the day went right over my head but I never played the game this is based on so that could be why, although I suspect it’s Boll’s haphazard direction and complete lack of focus in editing. I will hand it to the guy though for doing Vancouver proud, he not only films most of his stuff here in my city (and owns a restaurant in Gastown no less) but he actually sets it here too, so that Britannia Mines, Lions Gate Bridge and the Robson art gallery actually get to play themselves for once and not double for some hack USA location. This is cheap slipshod stuff, full of dodgy effects, indecipherably shadowy monster attacks and complete with an out of nowhere soft-core porn sex scene between Slater and Reid set to a giggle inducing emo lament by a group called ‘Nightwish’ who I’ve never heard of but outdo themselves in the Evanescence-lite department. This is one of the rare cases where there’s a sequel that’s way better than the original, they made a follow up with Lance Henriksen and Danny Trejo that actually attempts to do something worth watching, whereas this is just shameless, throw-in-the-towel dogshit.
Famed Canadian outlaw Bill Miner might have been the most soft spoken, polite, counterintuitive criminal in the annals of history and the late great Richard Farnsworth plays him as such with his trademark clear eyed, honest voiced, pure hearted charisma in Phillip Borsos’s The Grey Fox, a film of stunning quality, wonder and grandeur both great and small. Miner spent the early part of his life as a career criminal with a penchant for politeness and after a three decade stint in San Quentin, he meandered north to Kamloops, BC to reconnect with his estranged sister and start a new life. His old ways find him once again though and soon he carves out a new legacy as a notorious train robber and once again his life takes a turn for the adventurous. He falls back into this groove simply out of habit I suppose, and because he feels he isn’t meant for much else. He meets and romances early feminist artist Kate Flynn (Jackie Burroughs), mentors his dim witted partner in crime Shorty (Wayne Robson), does the odd shady rustling work for local magistrate and crime kingpin Jack Budd (Ken Pogue) and is pursued by an eerily placid Pinkerton detective (Gary Reineke). Farnsworth makes this character sing, he was a stuntman turned actor who was just born with a natural gift and lit up the screen with impeccable emotional truth and vivid vitality anywhere he appeared, and this (along with his beautiful work in David Lynch’s The Straight Story) may be the finest work of his career. He makes Bill a quiet, sweet, compassionate and honest man, the absolute antithesis of what we’ve been told a lifelong criminal must be like, he’s always the most comforting presence in the room, is a natural leader and trailblazer and his scenes of tenderness and love with Burroughs are blessedly open-hearted and kind. The film was shot in and around some keystone British Columbia locations that don’t often get to play themselves in cinema (American studios can’t just shoot in their own locations, they’ve always got to rip off ours with no due credit) including Kamloops itself, Cheakamus Canyon, Fort Steele, Lillooet, Cranbrook, Pemberton and of course Vancouver. This adds a rugged, authentic realism and elemental grace to Bill’s story as Farnsworth and his cast-mates wander about in the wild Pacific Northwest realm, captured wonderfully in its early days by cinematographer and set designers alike. The score intertwines with traditional Celtic melodies for a unique musical/visual experience as well, especially in a hypnotic opening sequence where a steam train makes its way around the bend of a mountain pass as the credits lope alongside it. From that gorgeous opening crawl until the final melancholic few moments where another train goes by, this time in the other direction and for a different reason, this is a mesmerizing experience, anchored by Farnsworth’s angelic, note-perfect character work and everything else mentioned above. Available for rental on iTunes for 99c.
There’s a lot of trash been talked about the Alien Vs Predator films and.. yeah, I’m not going to argue, they’re not the greatest thing in the universe, let alone the canon. But at least the second film, given the appropriate subheading Requiem, had the decency to actually be R rated and go for broke with gore, violence and ooze as we are accustomed to from each respective franchise and, as dutiful fans, no doubt deserve. While the first film was a lore-heavy, multidimensional Antarctic set SciFi horror with a ton of exposition, this one ditches all of that for a lush Canadian Pacific Northwest setting and a very thinly plotted slasher aesthetic wherein the residents of a quiet Vancouver suburb encounter both species when a predator research spacecraft carrying a bunch of alien face-huggers crash lands nearby. I won’t go too much into detail regarding the characters because they are just beyond cliched. Hot dumb blonde dating the asshole jock, underdog pizza delivery boy hopelessly in love with her, cue violent altercations blah blah who honestly cares, the writers literally put less than no effort into that arena. Tough guy town sheriff (John Ortiz) rallying the troops to fight these beasties and a mysterious army colonel (Robert Joy, adding the film’s only recognizable horror pedigree as far as cast goes) who has some egregious agenda connected to the Yutani corporation. Much of the film is shot in dim or dark settings like the first, so the action isn’t always discernible or legible, but there are a whole parade of Xenomorphs just crawling all over the place which is fun. One way this one succeeds is in its gruesome viciousness; the gore, kills, splatter and deaths here are an absolutely spectacular array of surprisingly nasty (we see kids and a pregnant mother in a hospital butchered by the marauding Aliens) set pieces and carnage, and when it comes time for the two species to have their WWE Smackdown the series of fights between them are brutal and not disappointing. The film has zero mythology and strips down all of that world building for a simple tale of one Canadian town being decimated by these two warring species as they beat each other senseless, and that’s pretty much it. I didn’t hate this film, and I didn’t love it but I sure as hell admired its willingness to go full on hard R like these franchises were always meant to be, unlike its pansy ass predecessor. And one more thing: this is the only film on record in either canon to feature an Alien/Predator crossbreed creature that seems to show up out of nowhere, and while that probably just means it was created in a lab by the Predator species who appear to be busy bees as far as experimentation goes here, I’d fondly like to think that at some point two of them fucked and had gnarly acid-lubed intergalactic alien sexy time, and I’ll leave you with whatever lovely mental image that may conjure up. Good bloody fun.
I expected Shadow Of The Hawk to be campy, cheesy or at the very least creaky, but this is a genuinely spooky, effective and quite earnest old school ghost story with three good natured lead performances, absolutely gorgeous Vancouver locations and eerie, atmospheric indigenous mythology. The great Chief Dan George plays a Native elder who voyages from his home in the British Columbia mountains to find his halfbreed grandson (the late Jan-Michael Vincent), to get his ancestral help in battling the ghost of an ancient sorceress who has put a deadly curse on their bloodline. Grandson is less than happy to be pulled into a facet of his life that he’s actively distanced himself from, but has no choice really as the dark magician and her evil minions are plaguing his life too. Together with a helpful reporter (Marilyn Hassett) they embark on a road trip into the sacred lands of BC to contend with these powerful dark forces amassing against them and cleanse their family lineage of this voodoo mysticism. Being an obscure 70’s horror flick theres naturally a touch of camp, most notably in Vincent’s doe eyed, slightly androgynous aura, but for the most part this plays it straight and spooky. The spirit of this witch first manifests as a legitimately terrifying masked phantom that haunts the characters wherever they go accompanied by some sound design that truly stood my hairs on end, then later she shows up in dreamy flashbacks as a snake charming witch-doctor played by Vancouver indigenous actress Marianne Jones. There are very well done set pieces here including a white knuckle suspension bridge crossing, an ongoing car chase between our three leads and a mysterious, supernatural black car that tails them all around the BC landscape. Vincent must fight a bear to death and as if that wasn’t strenuous enough then a Wolf as well *and* some masked cultist acolytes of the sorceress high atop a craggy bluff in a confrontation that has some Last Of The Mohicans vibes. It’s a fun film, with some really engaging visual atmosphere, very frightening score and a neat ‘modern world clashing with ancient spiritualism’ feeling as our characters venture from the cement and glass world of 70’s Vancouver out into the lush, elemental Pacific Northwest wonderland of British Columbia.
It can be jarring when horror sequels do something almost entirely different with their concept but still use that same franchise name as the first one, it either means bravely pioneering new ground or gravely deviating from an already solid blueprint into a morass of sideshow muck. In the case of White Noise 2: The Light I couldn’t tell you which of those two categories it fits into because it was such a confounding, nonsensical story I really didn’t make too much sense of any of it, so I suppose the second one if I had to say. Following the exploits of the excellent first film in which we saw Michael Keaton communicate with the dead, including his wife, via spooky VHS tape static, this one goes in a drastically different direction. Nathan Fillion plays a guy whose wife and child are murdered in the opening scene of the film by a disturbed, gun wielding maniac (perennial UK tough guy Craig Fairbrass) before the man blows his own head off. Lost in a pit of despair, Fillion attempts suicide himself and has a brief trip to the afterlife (cue the XBox 360 cutscene effects) before returning to make it a near death experience and discovering he has certain… abilities. Premonition, foresight, the power to sense impending catastrophes and save those in their path and the clairvoyance to know when certain seemingly benign people are going to perpetrate horrible acts of their own, kinda like the guy… well you can see where this going. He meets a friendly nurse played by the wonderful Katee Sackhoff and I must admit that their pairing is pretty much a casting match made in Heaven and the best thing the film has going for it, even if the script doesn’t do all that much with them together. The cast beyond them aren’t people I recognized except for a hilarious early career cameo from Jared Keeso, who Letterkenny fans will be just tickled to see here and may even do a double take. The film is set in Vancouver again and as always it adds a lot of atmosphere, but you can only do so much for a story that’s told as loosely and unconvincingly as this. There’s no real reference to the first film or it’s premise, this for sure didn’t even need to be called White Noise at all, it’s more a sequel to that Sandra Bullock flick Premonition than anything resembling a tie-in to the Keaton one, and it’s just not gripping, interesting, scary or affecting enough to recommend whatsoever. If you must give it a look to see Fillion and Sackhoff gently flirting for a few scenes then go for it, I don’t blame you, but just don’t expect anything close to an involving thriller here.
Shoot To Kill (aka Deadly Pursuit) is a spectacularly suspenseful, beautifully scenic thriller that knows how to stage action set pieces like nobody’s business. It’s also famous for the return of Sydney Poitier to acting after a near decade long hiatus, but that aside it’s just a crackling great film on its own. Part adventure, part chase flick, part psycho thriller, it could even serve as a nature documentary for all the breathtaking shots of Canadian Pacific Northwest wilderness. Poitier plays a big city cop who is on the trail of a homicidal, hellbent jewel thief who has covered his tracks by disappearing amongst a team of hikers venturing out into the mountains. Poitier is obligated to use the services of expert mountain man Tom Berenger to find the party before things inevitably get violent, and take down the maniac for good. He has his own stake in it as his girlfriend (Kirstie Alley) is the group’s guide. It’s a tense guessing game to see which one of the hikers eventually reveals himself as the killer, and since they’re all played by hard-cases like Richard Masur, Clancy Brown and Andy Robinson, it’s a gleeful toss up. Poitier and Berenger naturally butt heads, and it’s funny to see the straight city slicker and gruff outdoorsman archetypes clash. They pursue the killer up the Oregon belt and into the Cascade Mountains, eventually arriving in my hometown of Vancouver which actually gets to play itself for once instead of doubling for some yankee burg. This one holds up great and hasn’t lost a bit of its edge in the years since it came out. Tough, rugged, brutal but gorgeous piece of large scale thriller cinema.
There’s an expression around the campfire of film criticism called ‘Die Hard clone’, a residual effect of how influential that movie was on the action genre. Although that term certainly applies to the terminally goofy Heaven’s Fire (that title tho), I resist the impulse to always trace films back to their inspiration as a negative connotation, and view every story as it’s own encapsulated adventure. Now that aside, this one is pretty shitty on it’s own terms, as you can probably tell by the almost deliberately shabby DVD art. It’s worth it for two reasons only, if you’re a fan of either: Eric Roberts and Jurgen Prochnow, two charismatic genre players who are always so much fun to see, even in Fisher Price knockoff crap like this. Prochnow, for like the tenth time in his career so far, plays a terrorist who seizes a high rise building, planning to hold the city ransom or blow it up. Roberts, that charming bastard, plays an off duty treasury agent who happens to be on a tour through the facility with his family and gets caught in the middle. You can guess where it goes. Gunfire, cringy one liners, standoff’s, inept hostage negotiations, all the tropes are present and accounted for. The script is so bad it almost seems like an SNL parody concocted by fifth grade guest writers, you almost can’t even hate the film because it reaches levels of absurdity that are, dare I say, *adorably* terrible. Eric and Jurgen ham it up in their own special way and if you enjoy their work (I’m something of a fanatic) it’s worth tracking down just to see the two legends side by side. Oh and like so many two bit flicks of this nature, Vancouver is the home-base for filming, which is always a plus no matter how shitty your movie is, because I get to take in the scenery and spot landmarks I pass by every day. Silly, silly stuff, and I’m pretty sure it’s rated PG13 too as there’s no swearing and all the violence is Grade school play level.
Charlton Heston’s Mother Lode is one of those neat flicks that not only is filmed in my hometown of Vancouver (like every movie ever) and the surrounding British Columbia region, but is also set there as well. It’s an entertaining, if slight little adventure story that’s perfect to put on for a rainy afternoon on the iPad. Heston, in addition to both writing and directing, plays two roles here, but it’s a bit of a sly trick saying that because he mostly appears as one, and only briefly as the other, but no matter, the old pro works his butt off to steal every scene. He plays loner mountain man Silas McGee, an eccentric prospector whose stairs don’t quite reach the attic, living alone in the wilderness looking for that perfect gold strike. The excellent Nick Mancuso, in a role originally meant for James Brolin, is Jean Dupre, a cocky bush pilot who heads McGee’s way with his high strung girlfriend (Kim Basinger), looking for a fellow pilot who got lost and a little of the gold stuff for himself while he’s at it. As soon as they run into McGee it’s clear the old dog is crazy as shit and not to be trusted, creating a nice atmosphere of isolated paranoia and mystery as the man’s true intentions come to dark light. Mancuso is always terrifically intense and so great at subtle comic moments, this is one of his great early roles and not to be missed for any fan. Poor Basinger suffered a miscarriage while production was underway and as such seems understandably distracted, but she’s a trooper and carries her end well. Heston either does a brilliant Scottish accent, a slipshod one or a bit of both, it’s hard to tell with his rapid fire banter and eloquent, robust verbosity. He’s electric though, and freaky as all hell as the type of dodgy fellow you better pray you don’t run into out there. The action is pretty run of the mill and the film loses the tautness a thriller like this should have in parts, but it’s solid enough to not change the channel. For B.C. residents it’s an absolute treat though, especially as Mancuso’s rickety float plane arcs up over the Vancouver harbour towards the Cassiar mountains and we get to see what our city looked like back in the 80’s. Cool stuff.
Big. Loud. Dumb. Hollow. Notorious train wreck and box office failure. Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever is all of these things, and yet somehow I still got a kick out of it, albeit in the shallow end of the speedometer. I know what you’re thinking.. “wow, another turd that Nate is polishing up with multiple syllable words to make it seem like less of a piece of shit.” Well, you’re not wrong. I fully concede that this is one huge glorious, post Mexican food pile of shit, but there’s something about it that pulls me in every time it shows up on SyFy or some such channel. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s one of those rare films that not only is shot in my hometown of Vancouver, but actually set here too. Mostly Vancity just doubles for Chicago, New York or any other Yankee metropolis, but director Kaos (yes that’s his name) chose to tell the story right here in my little burg. Speaking of story, or lack thereof, it’s one big shredded mess of a plot involving Ecks (Antonio Banderas) and Sever (Lucy Liu) two former federal agents out to get each other, eventually working together and then both becoming chumps in some ludicrous government conspiracy involving arch villain Gant (Gregg Henry, hammy as ever). It makes little to no sense, it’s so convoluted it prompts the viewer to throw their hands up in exhausted defeat and give up hope on any cohesion, instead letting a wave of shitty early 2000’s special effects and over elaborate, unwarranted stunt work to wash over them like a tidal wave of rejected video game cutscenes. And poor Vancouver, looking like a ghost town, just gets blown to fucking smithereens by these trigger happy, matrix wardrobed, scowling lunatics. I’d probably stay off the streets too if Lucy Liu massacring hordes of VPD officers was in the forecast, or on second thought maybe not, that sounds kind of hot. I’m rambling, but any review of this film has the right to get sidetracked and ramble as much as this pile of wanton sound and fury does for the entirety of its scant runtime. It’s disastrous to be sure, but does that stop me picking up the remote and switching over to something else when it’s on? Not really. Plus, despite the actual film, this has to have one of the coolest looking DVD cover posters ever designed. I mean, look at it.
The 6th Day is a brash, in your face sci fi actioner with some deft scientific notions that it plays around with in near satirical fashion. It chooses to shoot most of its scenes in my hometown of Vancouver, including a set piece atop the spiral shaped Vancouver Public Library tat sends sparks raining down into the streets and choppers spinning wildly to their demise. I love when films shoot here, because it gives my city an exciting chance to be a part of escapism, and it’s amusing to watch them digitally maim all sorts of landmarks and then chuckle as I see them intact on my way to work the next day. Schwarzenegger, in one of his last great flicks before his deliberate hiatus (we shall not speak of the abomination that is Collateral Damage), plays Adam Gibson, a helicopter tour guide who has a strange blackout in mid flight while transporting the CEO of a swanky scientific corporation (slick Tony Goldwyn). He arrives back home to find a clone of himself living with his family, and things only get weirder from there. He has stumbled into the inner workings of extremely illegal experiments involving human replication, and Goldwyn & Co. are none too pleased about it. Goldwyn has secretly made human cloning an everyday thing for the company, hidden from the aging eyes of the moral upright doctor who founded the company (Robert Duvall). This is all enforced by a ruthless corporate thug for hire (Michael Rooker) and his foxy assistant (Sarah Wynter). Schwarzenegger is faced with the daunting task of taking down this un-sanctioned empire, reclaiming his family and blowing up some stuff along the way. It’s a terrific flick, and Arnie gets to say the best line he’s ever spoken, directed at Goldwyn, which I won’t spoil here but it’s pure gold. Goldwyn is hateable and malicious, the horrific third act prosthetics fitting him like a slimy glove. Duvall strikes a noble chord and almost seems to have wandered in from a more serious film. Rooker is intense, evil and scene stealing as always. Watch for Wendy Crewson, Michael Rapaport and Terry Crews as well. In a movie so committed to the trademark Ahnuld fireworks, it’s cool to get a whiff of actual thought provoking, Asimov-esque intrigue with the cloning, a concept which is fully utilized and really a lot of fun here.