Review: “Hard Rain” (Film)

Since I was still in the mood for watching films from the 1990s, I thought that I’d review an action/crime/thriller/disaster movie from 1998 called “Hard Rain”.

I have vague memories of watching this film on VHS (I can’t remember if it was a rental, ex-rental or recorded off of the telly) when I was about thirteen or fourteen, but I couldn’t remember that much about it. So, after finding a cheap second-hand DVD of it, I thought that it was worth rewatching.

Note: In the time between preparing and posting this review, there has been a fairly recent scandal about one of the film’s main cast members.
After some thought about what to do with this review, I’ve decided to remove any references to celebrities (in general) and to focus only on the film’s story, pacing, writing/scripting, special effects, lighting etc… This slight change in focus will not affect the film’s review score.
This seemed to be a good balance between current sensibilities regarding these types of scandals and the principle that creative works should be primarily judged on their own merits (eg: judgments about a creative work should be made separately from judgments about those involved in making it).

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Hard Rain”. I’ll try to avoid major spoilers in this review. But, the original trailer for this film spoils one of the film’s main twists (so, don’t watch the trailer before you see the film).
——-

“Hard Rain” is set in the small American town of Huntingburg, Indiana and it begins with two security guards called Tom and Charlie who are collecting money from banks in their armoured truck during the early parts of a gigantic rainstorm.

What could possibly go wrong? Oh… this.

After a while, their truck gets stranded in the middle of a flooded road. So, they radio headquarters and are told that the national guard will arrive in a few hours. Then, a while later, a car shows up.

Well, that was a rather short film. What? There’s more….

However, the car belongs to a group of criminals (led by a man called Jim) who are after the money in the truck! After a short gun fight, Charlie is shot and Tom flees with the money, in the hope of hiding it somewhere until the authorities arrive. Needless to say, the criminals quickly give chase….

They even use jet skis at one point. Jet skis!

Soon, the local police and one or two of the townspeople also end up getting drawn into these events too. But, with the floodwaters rising and the town’s dam in a precarious state, who will survive and what will happen to the money?…

One of the first things that I will say about “Hard Rain” is that it’s an even better film than I remembered. Like with “Broken Arrow“, it’s just fun to watch. The film is a wild rollercoaster of suspense, plot twists, humour and action that reminded me again of how much fun action/thriller films made after the end of the Cold War and before 9/11 were.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, the people writing action and thriller movies during the 1990s couldn’t just rely on current events for story ideas – so, action/thriller films from that decade often tend to be a bit more imaginative and often also have a somewhat lighter emotional tone too. In other words, they’re more “fun” than “serious” and they tend to have a bit more uniqueness and personality.

Plus, unlike many action movies, “Hard Rain” isn’t some grand drama about saving the world or anything like that. Virtually all of the events in the film take place within a single flooded town and, surprisingly, this focus on smaller-scale events really helps to add a lot of extra drama and suspense to the film.

Yes, modern films could learn a lot from this. Small-scale drama is more dramatic than large-scale drama.

This is also helped by the fact that this film has a reassuringly lean running time of about 93 minutes (seriously, I miss the days when films had editors).

But, although the film has a sensible running time, there are still a few points where the narrative feels a little bit unfocused as it jumps between events happening in different parts of the town. This isn’t a major issue, since these scenes are all extremely compelling, but the pacing doesn’t feel as thrilling as usual during a few brief parts of the film. Even so, most of the film is a lean, focused action thriller that is absolutely crammed with suspense.

Seriously, this film’s suspense elements are absolutely brilliant! Not only are all of the characters constantly threatened by the rising flood waters (and other environmental hazards), but this film also contains a few surprising plot twists that help to add to the suspenseful atmosphere too.

There’s also a surprising amount of humour in this film that really helps to complement the thrilling suspense and fast-paced action. Interestingly though, most of this humour is “cynical old man” humour – which still works surprisingly well.

However, as the film progresses, the amount of humour drops slightly as the narrative focuses more on drama and suspense, even including a couple of genuinely creepy moments (eg: when one of the townspeople is menaced by an extremely creepy guy).

But, for the most part, the emotional tone of this film never strays too far towards “grim”, “disturbing” or “depressing”, and the film’s overall emotional tone can best be described as “suspenseful” and “fun”.

And did I mention the jet skis? Seriously, these were so cool during the 1990s! I mean, I even remember playing a jet ski-themed videogame back then.

Although this film is surprisingly timeless, it also contains at least a small amount of 1990s nostalgia too – such as CRT computer monitors in some scenes and a scene involving an audio cassette.

The characters in this film have realistic motivations and, occasionally, some degree of moral ambiguity. Both the heroic and villainous characters (and everyone in between) come across as being actual characters, rather than just stock characters or anything like that. Although the film is still a gloriously silly action movie and doesn’t contain any seriously deep characterisation, the characterisation that is there works really well.

Virtually all of the special effects in this film (except for some obviously CGI/super-imposed fire effects in one scene) are really good too.

Unfortunately, the DVD I bought didn’t have a “making of” feature, but I’d be really interested to see how the makers of the film managed to create an entire flooded town. Seriously, pretty much all of the effects in this film not only stand the test of time but still look fairly impressive in a “how the hell did they do that?” kind of way.

Seriously, the flooding scenes look really realistic. I’m guessing that they must have used a very large swimming pool or something.

Likewise, the lighting in this film is absolutely superb! As I’ve said so many times before, people certainly knew how to use lighting well during the 1990s and this film is no exception!

As well as lots of awesome gloomy lighting and/or high-contrast lighting, one interesting thing in this film is that the lighting will often have an orange/blue colour scheme. This is one of the most visually-appealing colour combinations and, although it is over-used by Hollywood these days, it’s kept fairly subtle in this film.

Seriously, the lighting in films from the 90s is AMAZING 🙂

Although it’s a bit of a visual cliche these days, the blue/orange lighting in this film still works reasonably well.

In addition to this, the film’s music is also fairly good too. The stand-out piece of music in the film is probably the dramatic (and thoroughly “cinematic”) tune that accompanies the opening credits. But there are also a couple of good musical moments in other parts of the film too.

All in all, this is a really fun and suspenseful film. I’m not sure whether I prefer it to “Broken Arrow” or not, but it’s another stellar example of how great the action/thriller genre could be during the 1990s. It contains some really cool lighting, special effects and action sequences. Plus, the characters, humour and emotional tone of the film are really great too.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five. They don’t make films like this these days!

Review: “Broken Arrow” (Film)

Well, I’m still in a “1990s cinema” kind of mood. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a film that I first heard about when I was a lot younger, but somehow only eventually got round to watching over twenty years later. I am, of course, talking about a John Woo film from 1996 called “Broken Arrow”.

So, let’s take a look at it. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

And, yes, I got this film on DVD. Since, unfortunately, I don’t have a functioning VCR.

“Broken Arrow” follows two elite US air force pilots called Hale and Deakins (played by Christian Slater and John Travolta) who are test-flying an experimental stealth plane that is also carrying two nuclear weapons.

Night-flying with doomsday devices…. What could possibly go wrong?

As the plane passes over the Utah deserts, a man dressed as a park ranger approaches two campers and, without warning, shoots them. Soon, several trucks filled with heavily-armed men show up. Of course, a few miles away, a real park ranger called Terry Carmichael (played by Samantha Mathis) gets a message over the radio about suspicious activity and decides to investigate.

Back in the air, the test flight is going well until Deakins suddenly pulls a gun on Hale and begins to mess with the weapons controls. After a scuffle, Deakins launches Hale’s ejector seat.

Pictured: A scuffle.

After this, he jettisons the unarmed nukes before bailing out and leaving the plane to crash into a mountain. Meanwhile, Deakins’ accomplices on the ground below watch the nukes slowly parachute down to earth and begin to recover them.

When Hale eventually lands (the next day, for some reason), he is apprehended by Carmichael – who initially mistakes him for a criminal of some kind. Of course, they peacefully resolve this initial misunderstanding with a jovial conversation…

Who am I kidding? It’s an action movie. Even the good guys can’t meet each other without at least one fight scene.

After a tense stand-off, they realise that they’ve made a mistake. So, they decide to head back to Carmichael’s truck and radio the air force to warn them about the stolen nukes. However, when they get to the truck, they are suddenly attacked by a helicopter (piloted by one of Deakins’ henchmen) and the truck is destroyed.

And, yes, the truck explodes dramatically. Again, it is an action movie.

So, outnumbered and outgunned, it is up to Hale and Carmichael to foil Deakins’ evil plot….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s one of the most fun action movies I’ve seen in a while. Yes, fun. Unlike grittier or more serious films in this genre, this film actually has a sense of humour and it also gleefully revels in it’s own silliness too. And, wow, this is so refreshing!

One of the great things about both the thriller genre and the action genre during the 1990s was that they had to be a bit more imaginative. Because the cold war had ended and 9/11 hadn’t happened yet, film-makers couldn’t just look at the news whenever they needed inspiration. So, things in the action genre back then tended to be a bit sillier and more imaginative. And they were all the better for it!

Interestingly, even though the film briefly mentions the after-effects of the cold war, the story of this film is still a somewhat timeless (and mildly silly) story about the villain trying to hold the US government to ransom via an elaborate and convoluted evil scheme.

But, before I talk about the humour and the characters, I should point out that this film still works extremely well as an action movie too. By stranding the two main characters in the desert and putting them up against a large number of well-trained and well-equipped villains, this film has a thrilling sense of drama and suspense. Yes, you can probably guess that the good guys are going to win, but you don’t know how they will win.

The action scenes in this film are extremely well-choreographed, with a good variety of gunfights, explosions, car chases and elaborate fist fights that help to keep the film interesting.

Plus, as highly-stylised as the action scenes are, they are at least mildly more “realistic” than the slick, eerily bloodless, videogame-like action scenes in many modern action films. This extra realism works really well and it really helps to increase the film’s suspense and drama too.

Likewise, the film’s pacing is also astonishingly good – with the film’s thrilling action being counterpointed by both suspenseful scenes set in the desert and tense scenes set in both the Pentagon and a nearby military base:

And, no, these scenes aren’t just filler. They show the wider impact of the events of the film, as well as making the action scenes seem more thrilling by contrast.

But, as great as the action/thriller/suspense elements of this film are, the thing that truly makes it stand out from the crowd are the characters and the humour.

Although humourous dialogue is nothing new in the action genre, this film handles it in a much better way than the more self-conscious humour of many modern superhero-style action movies. Even though there are so many funny lines in this film, they all fit organically into the context of the film and it never really feels like the screenwriters are trying too hard.

A lot of the humour in the film comes from the rivalry between Hale and Deakins, both before and after Deakins puts his evil plan into motion. In addition to this, there is also some slapstick humour, some dark comedy and some amusing exchanges between other characters too.

The rivarly between Hale and Deakins also helps to add some depth to the film, since they are both similar characters who have very different outlooks on life. One interesting narrative device in this film is that it both begins and ends with a fist fight between these two characters. At the start of the film, this consists of a friendly boxing match and, near the end of the film, this consists of a dramatic fight to the death.

The characters in this film are absolutely brilliant too. Hale is a rugged, charming and slightly cheeky hero who isn’t really an obnoxiously macho action hero, but more of a classic heroic character (and a somewhat idealised military character).

And, he doesn’t really do the “lone action hero” thing that often either. Seriously, movies and TV shows from the 1990s often included a surprising amount of teamwork.

Carmichael is somewhat out of her depth at first, but soon becomes an even more determined and resourceful character as the film progresses. Needless to say, there is also something of a slight romantic sub-plot between Hale and Carmichael (and they make a really cute couple), but this never gets in the way of the events of the film.

Yes, there’s the obvious romantic sub-plot. But, a surprisingly small amount of time is devoted to it.

But the stand-out character is, by far, Deakins. He’s a witty, handsome, intelligent, charming, calculating, ruthless and thouroughly villainous villain. Not only are his henchmen a formidable threat to the main characters, but he often uses his mind almost as often as he resorts to violence (eg: relying on scientific knowledge to defeat a military gunship that tries to stop him at one point). Likewise, he often also gets the best – and most hilarious- lines of dialogue in the film too.

And, yes, he even wears cool-looking shades too. Interestingly though, this ISN’T one of the scenes where he actually has to tell his henchmen “Don’t shoot at the nuclear weapons!”.

In terms of the special effects and lighting, this film is pretty much timeless. Pretty much all of the special effects (except possibly one scene involving a crater) seem to be good old-fashioned practical effects (rather than CGI) and this really helps to make the film’s many action scenes seem at least somewhat more realistic.

Ok, at least 30-50% of the special effects consist of melodramatic explosions. But, would you expect anything less?

Plus, although a lot of film is set within a bright desert, the film still manages to include lots of cool 1990s-style gloominess and high-contrast lighting.

I’ve said it many times before, but people certainly knew how to use lighting well during the 1990s!

Likewise, the vaguely film-noir style lighting in this train carriage looks really cool too.

And check out the dramatic composition and lighting in this scene too 🙂

The film’s soundtrack is surprisingly good too. Although it is often fairly understated, one notable musical element of this film is that a really cool-sounding guitar piece plays during several scenes. Although this is nothing more than a few notes, it goes really well with the desert settings of the film (and has a slightly “wild west” kind of sound to it too).

All in all, “Broken Arrow” is an absolutely great action movie. Not only is it timelessly compelling, but it is also fun too. It is an action movie from an age before slick, superhero-style action movies and “topical” modern action movies. It is an action movie with a brilliant cast of characters that manages to blend humour and thrilling drama perfectly. Seriously, I’m annoyed that it’s taken me this long to get round to watching it.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get five.

Review: “A Nightmare On Elm Street” (Film)

Although I’m not a fan of *yawn* slasher movies, there is at least one exception to this rule. I am, of course, talking about Wes Craven’s “Nightmare On Elm Street” series. And, although I’ve seen the first and the fourth films in this franchise before, I ended up finding a cheap second-hand DVD boxset of all seven “Elm Street” films a while before writing this review.

It’s also a fairly hefty thing that rattles ominously when moved.

Even though I don’t know how many of these films I’ll watch or review, I thought that I’d take another look at the very first film in the franchise today. I have vague memories of watching it about a decade or so ago but, apart from a few scenes, I couldn’t remember a huge amount about it. So, this seemed like the perfect time to re-watch and review it. So, let’s get started.

Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

“A Nightmare On Elm Street” is a horror movie from 1984 which sets itself apart from the more generic slasher films of the time with a really clever twist- the “monster” kills people in their dreams. This allows for all sorts of psychological horror, “unreliable reality” and surrealist elements to appear in the film, making it considerably more imaginative and scary than the average slasher movie.

The film begins with some shots of a man fashioning a bladed glove in a workshop, whilst a terrified teenager – Tina – runs through the corridors of an abandoned building. There’s a jump scare… but it’s only a sheep.

More “baaaa!” than “booo!”, really.

Soon, however, the man with the bladed glove is chasing her. But, as he corners Tina, she suddenly wakes up screaming. It was just a dream!

And, thus concludes this film. As a cautionary tale about eating stilton after 9pm, it excels perfectly – 5/5. What, No? Only joking…

But, when she sees claw marks on her clothes, she isn’t so sure. The next day, Tina meets up with some of her friends from high school and they begin to talk about her nightmare. Although her friends laugh it off as just a dream, Tina is still somewhat freaked out by it.

Horror? In suburban America? You must be joking!

That evening, they end up hanging out together at one of their houses. Tina’s uncouth boyfriend shows up too, and they spend the night together. But, once Tina falls asleep, she has another nightmare. This time, however, she doesn’t wake up in time!

Hmmm… I wonder why?

With Tina’s boyfriend suspected of murder (and having had similar dreams herself), Tina’s friend Nancy decides to investigate…..

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that, even more than three decades after it was made, it still has the power to scare. But, in a good way. Unlike some horror films that can leave you feeling uneasy for hours or days after you’ve watched them, this film focuses more on nail-biting suspense and unpredictable drama. The surreal and unrealistic elements of the film keep the drama unpredictable, whilst also ensuring that any fear doesn’t linger for too long after the credits roll.

The pacing in this film is, in a word, superb. Not only is this film from the days when films actually had editors (hence the film’s lean 92 minute length 🙂), there is also often just enough of a lull between the more suspenseful scenes to keep things unpredictable. Not only that, there are a few cleverly-placed “fake” scares, and a few “fake” scares that unexpectedly turn out not to be so fake. Unpredictablilty is a key part of the horror genre, and this film gets it absolutely right.

This is a good example of the kind of unpredictable thing this film does so well.

Not only that, one thing that surprised me when I rewatched “A Nightmare On Elm Street” is the fact that, aside from the ending and a few brief moments, this film contains relatively little of the dark humour that the series is so famous for. In this film, the killer (Freddy Krueger), is often more of an “ordinary” monster than a wise-cracking fiend. This lends the film more of a “serious” tone than I expected, which also helps to add to the suspense too.

On the plus side, it does include a rather cool “Evil Dead” reference.

And there’s a little bit of dark humour involving Freddy too. But, not as much as I expected.

The film’s tension is further heightened by the fact that, for a lot of the film, no-one believes Nancy and her friends. Although this is something of a common trope in the horror genre, it still works fairly well here. Likewise, because relatively few people see Freddy Krueger during the earlier parts of the film, at least a few other characters begin to question Nancy’s sanity too. Again, this is a common trope in the horror genre, but it still works here.

The only well-established trope that doesn’t make the film more effective is the old “puritanical morality” trope. Basically, in 80s slasher movies, the only characters that survived were the “wholesome” celibate, teetotal, non-smoking, drug-free etc… ones. Although this film tries to subvert this slightly by showing a “good” character (eg: Nancy’s boyfriend) being killed, it’s still a major part of the film and it makes some parts of the story seem slightly old-fashioned and slightly less unpredictable than they should be.

No prizes for guessing who survives this film…

However, this trope is examined in a very clever way in another part of the film. When we learn more about Freddy’s backstory, a certain level of moral ambiguity is introduced into the film. Basically, Freddy was a serial killer who walked free from court due to a technicality. This then prompted the “morally upstanding” members of the town to track him down and exact cruel vigilante justice, by burning him in a furnace.

So, the film is basically about one especially evil murderer versus a town of mildly less evil murderers. Now, THIS is how to write a horror movie!

So, yes, this film is the perfect mixture of familiar tropes and innovation. Whilst you might think “it’s just an old horror movie“, it manages to set itself apart from other horror films of the era in all sorts of clever ways.

In terms of set design, lighting and special effects, this film is reasonably good. Not only are there a few expertly choreographed blood-drenched scares, but even with the special effects technology of the time, the “nightmare” sequences mostly still manage to be very immersive and dramatic. Likewise, the film’s horror elements also allow for some really cool lighting and set design too:

Seriously, if there’s one thing that old movies are great at, it’s lighting!

And set design too!

Most of the special effects still work well, although this one looks a little silly by modern standards.

All in all, this is a classic horror movie that has aged surprisingly well. In addition to being timelessly suspenseful, it is also – as I mentioned earlier – an example of horror done well. Whilst you’re watching the film, you’ll be on the edge of your seat for large parts of it. But, thanks to some clever writing and storytelling, the fear doesn’t outstay it’s welcome once the credits have rolled.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “The Thirteenth Floor” (Film)

A couple of months before I wrote this review, I was in a bit of a cyberpunk mood (well, more so than usual) and amongst other things, I ended up buying a second-hand DVD of a film called “The Thirteenth Floor” after seeing it recommended online. I then… left the film in the middle of a pile of DVDs for several weeks.

However, since I seem to be in a “watching films” kind of mood at the moment, I finally got round to watching it and, wow, what a film it is! So, let’s take a long and rambling look at “The Thirteenth Floor”….

But, before I go any further, I should warn you that this review will contain MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS. Sorry, but there’s no way to talk about this complex and intelligent film properly without spoilers.

If you don’t want it spoiled (and it’s really best if you don’t), then all I’ll say is that if you like films like “Blade Runner”, “Ghost In The Shell” (1995) etc.. then this one is worth watching too! Seriously, watch it!

Interestingly, the DVD cover art depicts a moment that is only implied through dialogue in the film. But, the film’s tagline is a massive spoiler though.

“The Thirteenth Floor” is a cyberpunk film noir from 1999 starring Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Dennis Haysbert and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

The film begins in a swanky hotel in Los Angeles, 1937, with a rich old man called Fuller (Mueller-Stahl) writing a letter and handing it to a bartender.

I say! This is quite the evening!

He tells the bartender to give the letter to a man called Douglas Hall, before taking a cab home to his antique shop and falling asleep. As soon as he falls asleep, he wakes up… in 1999. Fuller is, after all, the inventor of a pioneering virtual reality device (that also contains highly advanced artificial intelligence).

Yes, videogames really WERE better in the 90s!

However, something is on Fuller’s mind. He goes to a bar and makes a phone call. But, before he can finish his call, the back door opens and he sees someone outside. He talks briefly with this mysterious man, who then promptly stabs him to death.

The next morning, Douglas Hall (Bierko), a senior member of Fuller’s company receives a call from Detective McBain of the LAPD (Haysbert). McBain has questions about Fuller’s death and considers Hall to be a suspect in the case.

Naturally, their first meeting looks very “Blade Runner” like.

Things become even more complicated when, upon arriving at the company’s offices, Hall and McBain meet Fuller’s daughter Jane (Mol). A daughter that Fuller has never mentioned before.

And, yes, this scene is also fairly “film noir”-like too.

Suspected of murder and puzzled by Jane’s sudden appearance, Hall decides to take a look inside the virtual reality program for some answers…..

One of the first things that I’ll say about this film is… wow! Where do I even begin?

Just like in “Blade Runner”, this film blends cyberpunk and film noir elements in a really interesting way. Not only is the film a really great blend of “classic-style” 1930s noir and gloomier late 1990s film noir, but this is complemented by some great acting, plot twists, set design and hardboiled storytelling. The idea of a man trying to clear his name is a classic staple of the noir genre, and this film puts a really great cyberpunk twist on it.

Fun fact: The computer voice-over in this scene was probably the inspiration for GLADoS from “Portal” (2007). Seriously, their voices sound eerily similar.

Which brings me on to the cyberpunk elements. At it’s core, this is a film about both the ethics of artificial intelligence and the nature of reality. Not only are the AI characters in the virtual 1930s world shown to be just as human as anyone else, but they can also occasionally swap consciousnesses with people in the “real” world too.

The “real world” of 1990s Los Angeles, of course, being another virtual reality simulation run by a couple of people from the 2020s. And, yes, this film came out the same year that “The Matrix” did.

And, despite using less CGI, it still manages to look cooler than “The Matrix”

The idea of swapping consciousnesses is central to this film. Since, when a human isn’t connected to the virtual world, their “character” reverts to their own pre-programmed personality and leads their own (very different) life, often experiencing the change as a disturbing bout of amnesia.

This also allows for some “Jekyll and Hyde”-style storylines later in the film (which is foreshadowed by, for example, how a mild-mannered IT guy’s virtual 1930s character is actually a violent criminal).

Yes, this guy is much better offline than online…

In addition to all of this, the consciousness swapping also allows the film to introduce elements of “the uncanny” too by, for example, having a “good” character suddenly get taken over by an evil personality (without the other characters realising until a little while later).

Like “Blade Runner” and “Ghost In The Shell” (1995), this is a film about the nature of humanity. It poses the question of whether a suitably advanced computer program really is that different to human consciousness. But, it even goes further and suggests that it may even occasionally be better than human consciousness. The film’s main villain, of course, being a person from the 2020s who treats the simulation like it’s.. well… a videogame.

Likewise, at one point, another character from the 2020s comments that the film’s version of 1990s LA is the only simulation where the characters have made their own simulation. This taps into the idea that creativity is an essential part of humanity. This theme is later explored through the fact that the film’s main villain has become drunk with the power that this offers him. Likewise, the last line of dialogue from the 1990s is when McBain tells the people from the future to leave the simulation alone – as if the computer program is actually a real, living, place.

Plus, the first text in the film is a famous quote from Descartes.

In addition to all of this, by being a film about a simulation within a simulation, this film taps into the idea of an “unreliable reality“. Whilst this trope is used more often in the horror genre, it is used to great effect in this film too. This includes things like an AI character from the 1930s freaking out slightly when he realises that his world isn’t real (which also foreshadows the film’s main twist too).

Seriously, I cannot praise the plotting in this film well enough! There so many clever little hints towards the main twist (like an old arcade game with a broken part etc…).

Likewise, even the film’s artificial 1930s setting contains some very subtle and intentional “modern” anachronisms too – such as a man from 1937 talking about how he served in “World War One” (even though the second world war hadn’t happened yet). Or the fact that the panel of judges at a lindy hop competition is briefly shown to be more diverse than they probably would be in pre-civil rights America.

Seriously, at the time of writing, I’ve only seen this film once and I’ve probably missed loads more subtle stuff. Seriously, I’d bet that there’s probably some subtle 2020s-style stuff hidden in the film’s 1990s locations.

Hmm… maybe it’s “hiding in plain sight”?

Another interesting thing about this film is that, although it is very much a cyberpunk film, it also subverts the tropes of the genre slightly too. When we eventually glimpse the future world of 2024, it isn’t a grimy, neon-lit futuristic dystopia. Although it is visually implied that climate change has caused sea levels to rise, the future is presented as a bright, happy utopia.

Well, I wasn’t expecting THIS…

In the cyberpunk genre, virtual reality is often presented as an escape from the grim realities of life. It is also something that gives power to the downtrodden (eg: “hacker” protagonists etc..) and it is often something that is shown to be “better than life”. However, in the utopian future of this film, virtual reality just seems to be a way for people to add a bit of thrilling danger and grittiness to their otherwise happy and peaceful lives. It’s a really clever twist on a familiar element of the cyberpunk genre.

In terms of the lighting and set design, this film is brilliant! Whilst the set design is mostly more “film noir” than “cyberpunk”, there are some really cool location designs.

For example, Hall’s apartment is quite literally a homage to Deckard’s apartment from “Blade Runner” – even down to the old photos and the Ennis House-style tiles on the walls (plus, the fact that Hall isn’t a “real” person could also be a reference to the “Deckard is a replicant” theory about Blade Runner too. HOW did I not notice this foreshadowing?!).

As soon as I saw those tiles, I knew that I was going to love this film! I can’t believe it’s not “Blade Runner” 🙂

And the lighting! Seriously, there’s everything from ominous red and blue lighting to more futuristic green lighting. People certainly knew how to use lighting well in the 1990s!

And just take a look at this gorgeously vintage hotel!

Whilst it lacks the complex, neon-drenched futuristic locations of a film like “Blade Runner”, the set design here is still absolutely gorgeous. So is the lighting too. Seriously, this film may not be the artistic masterpiece that “Blade Runner” is, but it certainly comes close at times!

All in all, this is an intelligent, well-made, complex cyberpunk film that manages to cram more into it’s lean 96 minute running time (seriously, I miss the days when films actually had editors) than many films could even dream of.

Like with many great works in the cyberpunk genre, it is filled with philosophical complexity, emotional complexity and narrative complexity. Yes, it isn’t quite as good as “Blade Runner”. But, this is like saying that an amazing piece of art isn’t quite as good as the Mona Lisa.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “John Carpenter’s Vampires” (Film)

Back when I was a young teenager, I tried to watch as many horror movies as I could. Since I didn’t really look old enough to buy them on VHS/DVD and since I could hardly ever convince anyone to buy them on my behalf, I often just ended up recording them off of the TV with my VCR. Amongst many of the rebellious late-night horror movies that Channel 4 had to offer back then, there was a film called “John Carpenter’s Vampires”.

Needless to say, when I was in a bit of a nostalgic mood recently, I vaguely remembered this film. After a quick look online, I noticed that second-hand DVDs of it were going ridiculously cheaply on Amazon. And, since my VCR doesn’t work any more (and the tape with “Vampires” on it seems to be lost to the mists of time), I decided to get it on DVD.

So, let’s take another look at “John Carpenter’s Vampires”:

Seriously, this cover art is really cool 🙂

“John Carpenter’s Vampires” is an action/horror movie from 1998 (Wow! It’s 20 years old already!) starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee. As the title suggests, it is also directed by renowned horror director John Carpenter.

The film focuses on a group of rough, tough American vampire hunters, led by Jack Crow (Woods), who have been hired by the Catholic church to track down and kill the master vampire, Valek.

And, yes, they are that gloriously ’90s combination of “badass” and “silly”.

Initially, things seem to be going fairly well. After the hunters successfully battle a nest of vampires in New Mexico, they immediately rush to the nearest church to pray for… Ha! Only joking! In true ’90s action hero fashion, they travel to a nearby motel to have a wild party. However, as the party gets into full swing, an uninvited guest shows up….

You honestly weren’t going to have a decadent party without a vampire, were you?

After the ensuing bloodbath, only Jack Crow, his buddy Montoya (Baldwin) and a party guest called Katrina (Lee) manage to get out of the motel alive. Well, mostly.

Katrina has been bitten by Valek and is slowly turning into a vampire. Although Montoya wants to shoot her before she turns, Crow realises that she has a psychic link with Valek. A psychic link that will allow them to track down Valek and get their revenge…….

*sigh* If only the American government had invested in decent public transport for rural communities…

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is probably more of a gritty action movie than a horror movie. However, this really isn’t a bad thing – since it seems to have a vaguely Robert Rodriguez-esque style, tone, setting and atmosphere. Although it was directed by John Carpenter, this film is at least vaguely reminiscent of some of Rodriguez’s greatest hits from the 90s (like “Desperado” and “From Dusk till Dawn).

In addition to this, this film is a vampire film from the 90s! This decade produced so many amazing things in the vampire genre, including films like “Bram Stoker’s Dracula“, “Blade“, “From Dusk till Dawn“, “Interview With The Vampire” and “Dracula: Dead And Loving It“, to novels like “Lost Souls” and TV series like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel“.

Back in the 90s, vampires weren’t sparkly romantics – they were usually either fearsome monsters or really handsome goth guys. In this film, the vampires mostly fall into the “fearsome monsters” category.

The only “Twilight” here is the time of the day when the vampires rise from their graves to feast upon the blood of the living.

Like with many vampire movies, this film has it’s own unique interpretation of the vampire genre too. Not only is the film’s main villain, Valek, given some backstory – but Crow and his team usually kill vampires by harpooning them with a crossbow bolt before dragging them out into the sunlight (where they burst into flames in the traditional fashion). Interestingly, the vampires in this film are also totally unaffected by things like garlic, crosses etc.. too .

Yes, these vampires are literally standing right next to a giant cross!

The film’s pacing is reasonably good too, alternating between blood-spattered action scenes and more suspenseful scenes. Likewise, the film’s lean 100 minute running time helps to ensure that the story moves along at a decent pace too.

The film’s writing is very much from the Quentin Tarantino-style school of writing too. But, although it lacks much of the wit that Tarantino’s films have, the dialogue here is suitably gritty and irreverent for a film of this type.

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Crow and Montoya are the kind of morally-ambiguous, rough characters who are only distinguishable from common criminals by the fact that they also fight vampires.

Katrina is something of an under-developed character though – and she spends a fair amount of the film having visions, trying to stop herself turning into a vampire and occasionally being treated roughly by Crow and Montoya.

Seriously, upon rewatching “Vampires” these days, I realised that I’d forgotten how misogynistic this old film can occasionally be. Although the vast majority of the film doesn’t really have this problem, there are at least a small number of scenes that will raise eyebrows. Still, given that Crow and Montoya are meant to be “unlikeable anti-heroes”, this might explain these elements of the film. Even so, a few moments of this film will be more “disturbingly dated” than anything else when seen these days.

Valek, on the other hand, is a really great villain. Not only does he have a suitably interesting backstory, but he’s able to be both menacingly sophisticated and fearsomely vicious.

Nooo! WHY won’t anyone join my Cradle Of Filth tribute band?!

The only real criticism I have of his character is that he really doesn’t turn up often enough. Still, given that he’s meant to be a mysteriously elusive villain, then his relatively few appearances probably add to the mystique.

Likewise, the Catholic priest who ends up joining Crow, Montoya and Katrina about a little under halfway through the film is a reasonably good character too. However, he does the usual silly Hollywood thing of suddenly turning from a slightly bookish archivist into a badass action hero within a relatively short amount of time.

Seriously, he goes from a nervous, nerdy guy who Crow dislikes so much that he actually violently bullies him at one point….

…. to being an expert member of the vampire-hunting team within the space of about a day or so!

The fight scenes in this film are fairly well-choreographed and the special effects are also suitably splatterific too. Since this film is from just before the time when CGI effects began to become common, all of the special effects here are good old practical effects – which helps to lend the horror-based scenes a bit more realism. Not only that, the film even manages to squeeze in a (somewhat unrealistic in context) badass explosion too:

And, yes, James Woods walks away from it in the classic action movie fashion too.

In terms of the lighting and set design, it’s reasonably good too. Although most of the film takes place in abandoned parts of rural New Mexico, these run-down buildings and deserts are sometimes enhanced by some really cool lighting, which occasionally seems to involve some kind of red filter being placed on the top of the camera lens.

Seriously, the lighting is really cool in some parts of this film.

Plus, there are some really cool contrasts between light and darkness.

Not to mention that this location reminded me a little bit of the old “Silent Hill” games too.

All in all, this is a really good action/horror movie. Not only is it another great example of why the 1990s were the golden decade of the vampire genre, but it’s also thrilling, suspenseful and dramatic too. Yes, the dialogue could have been slightly wittier in some parts, and the film is occasionally somewhat misogynistic, but – despite these faults – it’s a great example of how awesome the vampire genre used to be.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would maybe just about get a four.

Review: “Guardians Of The Galaxy” (Film)

Well, although I first heard of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” a few years ago and thought that it looked vaguely interesting, I only finally got round to actually watching it a while before writing this review (ridiculously far in advance of publication) since it happened to be shown on TV a few days earlier and I had time to set up the DVR.

One thing that made me slightly wary about this film is the fact that it was made by Marvel. But, thankfully, it isn’t really that much of a *groan* superhero movie. In fact, it’s more of a sci-fi movie 🙂

But, is it any good? Let’s take a look. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy” is a sci-fi/comedy/action film about a group of intergalactic outlaws and a mysterious metal sphere. The film shows how these outlaws meet and the story mostly revolves around various characters trying to get hold of said sphere, in addition to a small amount of galactic politics.

For a “fun” action movie, the plot is slightly more detailed and complex than you might expect and it would probably take me quite a while to describe it in detail – hence the short summary.

Although the film shoots along at a surprisingly fast pace, it never really feels rushed and – to my surprise – the two-hour running time didn’t seem to be anywhere near as bloated as I had initially expected it to be. Likewise, despite the film including a ridiculous amount of multi-million dollar CGI, most of the film’s many action set pieces never really feel like empty drama either. This film had the potential to be another generic CGI-filled modern Hollywood movie, but it’s something significantly better. Why?

Simply put, it has an actual personality.

In addition to a lot of humour, the film actually takes place in a distinctive sci-fi universe that is reminiscent of “Farscape“, “Firefly” and “Blade Runner“. Space is shown to be a lawless place filled with criminals, bounty hunters and dens of iniquity. It also looks really bloody cool too:

This film was released in 2014. Although this awesome 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk aesthetic reappeared in 2017 (eg: the “Ghost In The Shell” remake, “Blade Runner 2049” etc…), it was a fairly rare thing in the year when this film was released.

Seriously, this could almost be a really cool-looking heavy metal album cover!

And I just LOVE this ancient temple location and cool-looking lighting in one of the early parts of the film.

In addition to including a really, really cool-looking 80s cyberpunk-inspired “used future” aesthetic and lots of awesome high-contrast lighting in many scenes, the setting of the film has a real “wild west” atmosphere to it too that is reminiscent of the cyberpunk genre. The galaxy is shown to be a truly lawless and alien place, in a similar way to “Farscape” albeit with it’s own unique backstory and fictional world.

Like in “Farscape”, the main characters are a group of human and alien outlaws. However, unlike “Farscape”, the main human character (Quill) isn’t exactly new to the galaxy.

Yet, despite the slight resemblance to “Blade Runner”, this isn’t really a cyberpunk film. It’s an action comedy film (with a vaguely “Star Wars”-like swashbuckling science fantasy tone) and it excels at both of these things for different reasons. The many action scenes in the film “work” fairly well for a number of reasons.

The first is that they sometimes use the futuristic nature of the settings to full advantage (eg: when the characters break out of a prison on a space station, they cut the artificial gravity at one point) and the second is that most of the action scenes in the film usually take place for a clear reason that is actually relevant to the plot.

Thirdly, there’s the occasional epic spaceship battle. Since these are one of my many favourite parts of classic sci-fi TV shows from the 1990s/2000s, it’s always great to see them getting the large-budget Hollywood treatment. However, the final spaceship battle (which takes place above a city) does get a little bit too over-dramatic for it’s own good (although this is mitigated somewhat by fight scenes that take place within one of the spaceships) and occasionally comes across as more of a CGI tech demo.

Fourthly, because the characters aren’t quite immortal superheroes (with the possible exception of a tree-like alien called Groot, and one part of the ending), there is an actual sense of suspense and tension during many of the action scenes.

Yes, they’re the main characters. But, when they are outnumbered or outgunned, they occasionally have to rely on their wits rather than just their weapons in order to prevail. This helps to stop the action sequences from becoming mindless or meaningless and it helps to avoid the “God Mode” -like boredom that comes from superhero movies (and some superhero-like action movies, like “A Good Day To Die Hard).

Yes, there’s a lot of traditional combat. But, sometimes, the characters have to actually use their brains to get out of difficult situations… what a novel concept!

Fifthly, the film gets the pacing of the action scenes right. Although there are a lot of them, they never really get tiring because they’re interspersed with non-action scenes in a way that neither type of scene gets too much screentime. Unlike some action movies, this allows the film to include lots of action without leaving the audience feel jaded or bored. The only other example of a film I can think of that manages to sustain so many action scenes over a relatively short space of time is “Dredd” from 2012:

Not to mention that some of the set designs in “Guardians Of The Galaxy” also remind me a little bit of “Dredd” too.

As for the humour, it works fairly well for the simple reason that the characters are surprisingly well-developed. Although the film only contains a few carefully-chosen moments of serious emotional drama, these carry a surprising amount of weight and they really make the audience care about the characters. Likewise, since the characters are a band of outlaws who are forced together due to circumstance, there are lots of hilariously sarcastic interactions between them.

One other thing that really helps with the humour in this film is that it relies on several different types of humour. Yes, there’s lots of hilarious irreverence and sarcasm, but there’s also slapstick humour, eccentric background details (like the dog that the Soviets sent into space), jokes that reference earlier moments in the film, occasional 1980s pop culture references and a couple of random cameos (eg: Stan Lee, Howard the Duck etc..) too. This mixture of humour types and the mixture between serious drama and comedy helps to ensure that the film is fairly consistently funny in a slightly unique way.

Plus, I don’t know why, but there’s something inherently hilarious about characters drinking from fountains, hoses etc..

All in all, despite being made by a company that has a reputation for making *groan* superhero movies, “Guardians Of The Galaxy” is actually a surprisingly good sci-fi, comedy and action movie. All three elements of this film go together absolutely perfectly to produce something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Even though it’s two hours long, it crams about three hours worth of storytelling and world-building into that time. Not only that, but the film is also worth watching just for the beautiful set designs too – seriously, some parts of this film are a work of art!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “Jack Hunter And The Star Of Heaven” (Film)

Well, after reviewing the first and second films in the “Jack Hunter” trilogy, I thought that I’d take a look at the third (and final) one – “Jack Hunter And The Star Of Heaven”.

This film, like the other two films, is not a self-contained film and it should be watched in the correct order. This is because the trilogy was apparently originally a TV mini series that aired in America in 2008-9. Like with the other two films, I got it as part of the “Jack Hunter Trilogy” DVD boxset that I found cheaply second-hand on Amazon.

So, if you’re going to get this film, get it as part of this.

So, is the ending to the trilogy any good? Let’s take a look. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS for this film and the previous two films.

The film begins with the NSA tracking Albert Litmann to Bulgaria, where they plan to assassinate him. However, Jack Hunter has also tracked him there as part of his investigation into the Star of Heaven. Needless to say, a gunfight ensues and Litmann gets away.

Either that, or the command centre’s screensaver needs changing…

Although Liz is furious at Jack for messing up the NSA’s mission, she agrees to keep him on side since she needs him to get in touch with Nadia again because Nadia’s ex-partner (Fuad) is the son of an antiques dealer who once sold the Star Of Heaven to an undisclosed buyer.

I was at a British university in 2009. I’m pretty sure that our university web pages were in colour back then…

Whilst all of this is going on Litmann is threatened by his superiors in the Russian mafia and told that he has two days to find the Star Of Heaven or they will kill him. So, with the stakes high on both sides, the chase is on….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s somewhere between the slightly slower-paced first film and the action-packed second film. This film is probably the most “serious” of the three and it contains a fairly good mix of detective work, thrilling action, spy drama and emotional drama. Yet, this also means that it doesn’t really set itself apart as it’s own thing in quite the same way that the previous two films did.

Still, there are some good moments here, such as a suitably dramatic car chase through a Turkish city, a gloriously epic final battle and lots of cool night-time city locations. Not to mention that the return of Nadia’s ex-partner leaves her feeling somewhat conflicted. Likewise, Fuad’s feelings about her also play a large role in the story too.

But, as cool as this car chase is, the editing seems a little bit too quick and abrupt in some parts.

The best way to describe this film is that it’s less “Indiana Jones” and more “low-budget Dan Brown”, albeit without the cryptic puzzles. The tone of the film (both stylistically and visually) is slightly more on the “modern” side of things, and the few old church buildings shown in the film don’t really compare visually to the dramatic ancient temples in the previous two films.

Some parts of the film are, as you would expect, a little bit on the predictable side of things too. Still, there are some surprises…

Oh, Tariq! You loveable rogue!

Surprisingly, Albert Litmann is one of the best characters in this film. He may be a heartless villain, but he gets a few really cool moments here- such as demonstrating his linguistic expertise by, amongst other things, delivering a Russian (?) insult in a suitably badass manner. Likewise, he also gets to use one of the coolest weapons in the series:

Well, this ancient super-weapon has been mentioned in all three films. It’s not so much Chekhov’s gun as it is Chekhov’s BFG.

Likewise, whilst Tariq doesn’t get quite as many funny moments as he does in the previous film, he’s still a much-needed source of comedy in this film. This is especially true given the amount of heavy emotional drama in the rest of the film – especially in many of the scenes involving Fuad, who often comes across as something of a tragic figure.

The special effects in this film are, naturally, the best in the trilogy. Although the CGI is still a bit obvious, the final battle between Jack, Nadia and Litmann more than makes up for this by the epic nature of the confrontation. Likewise, this film also manages to cram in more explosions than either of the previous two films.

Plus, if you look closely, Tariq is giving the explosion the finger. LOL!

All in all, this isn’t a bad film. But, it is a little bit predictable and – barring one or two spectacular scenes – isn’t quite as gripping or distinctive as the previous two films.

Despite combining the slower-paced thriller elements of the first film and the action movie elements of the second film, it somehow ends up being slightly less than the sum of it’s parts. Even so, it’s still a reasonably decent send-off to a film trilogy that was a lot better than I expected.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about maybe almost get a four.