Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bangers n' Mash 72: What is Horror?

When you've been in the horror fandom for as long as my co-host and I have, you start to think about certain questions. Why do I like this stuff so much? Why does the horror genre, and all the grotesque and macabre qualities that come with it, appeal to me so much? Before answering these questions, we have to decide on what horror even is.

These were the sort of things on our minds when we agreed to do this episode. The resulting forty minutes that followed digressed in some interesting ways. JD and I even found ourselves talking about big philosophical issues like death, the afterlife, the existence of the human soul, and hands ghosting through walls. It's an interesting episode and a digression from the sort of thing we usually do. Give it a listen!


Monday, August 24, 2015

Bangers n' Mash 71: Horror Hosts

Halloween is getting closer. This may seem like an absurd sentence to some of you reading this. "But Zack," you may say, "Halloween is over two months away!" But anybody who has been reading this blog for any period of time knows that my Halloween festival begins on the 18th of September. It's so close now that I'm beginning to get really excited, despite the summer heat still lingering on outside.

In order to commiserate the ever-approaching Halloween season, the Bangers n' Mash Show will be returning to more strictly horror-esque topics. The first of which is a short and sweet episode about horror hosts. You know, those people who present the monster movies that used to be shown regularly on TV. We discuss the likes of Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, Svengoolie, Mister Lobo, and even Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the Crypt Keeper. It's a good time.


Friday, August 21, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables 3 (2014)


Part of the fun of “The Expendables” series is dreaming about who will show up in these movies next. Nobody does this more then Sylvester Stallone. For “The Expendables 3,” he threw out many names he had no intention of following through on. Nicolas Cage, Steven Seagal, and Clint Eastwood were all mentioned at one point. Despite these unfulfilled promises, the film did deliver on some big stars: Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, and the baffling Kelsey Grammer. Most of the excitement for the third entry in the all-star series was bungled when its rating was announced. The sequel was going to be rated PG-13. Fans lost their shit. Further controversy arose when the film leaked to the internet early. Basically, a number of factors combined to make “Expendables 3” the lowest grossing film of the series and jeopardize the future of the franchise.

After rescuing an original member of the Expendables, known only as Doctor Death, the team of mercenaries get a new mission. They are tasked with capturing a weapons dealer, selling illegal weapons to warlords. Barney Ross gets a surprise when he spots the seller though. It’s Conrad Stonebank, an old friend turned sworn enemy. Stonebanks injuries a member of the team. Fearful for his friends’ life but determined to have revenge, Ross recruits a new generation of Expendables. When they are captured, he and the old team most reunite.

By the third film, the cast of “The Expendables” has bloated up to 16 central characters. Some established members get the shaft. Terry Crews is written out early on. Dolph, Randy Couture, and Jet Li aren’t given much to do. These are the flaws of an ever-growing ensemble. Some additions, however, are worthwhile. Crews’ part was originally written for Wesley Snipes. Now free of debtor’s prison, his addition to the cast feels natural. Snipes’ brings a lot of crazy energy to the part, livening the film, and has a cute rivalry with Statham. Antonio Banderas similarly peps up a thin part with some eccentricities, making Galgo a motor-mouth who likes to dance and seduce women, even in the heat of battle. Harrison Ford, stepping in for a greedy Bruce Willis, proves surprisingly fun. Not once does Ford seem like a grouchy old man. He seems to genuinely be having a good time. Lastly, Mel Gibson plays Conrad Stonebrooks. Gibson oozes hatred and wild-eyed bitterness, commenting on his real life troubles. Though he’s no Jean Vilain, he’s still one of the better villains the series has produced.

When focused on the old guys doing their thing, killing hordes of nameless henchmen, “The Expendables 3” works reasonably well. However, a lengthy section in the middle of the film focuses on Sly recruiting a new team. Since the whole point of the series is watching established action icons together, focusing on new-comers seems counter-intuitive. Worst yet, most of the new kids are not up to their mentor’s standards. Glenn Powell, as arrogant tech expert Thorn, is totally worthless. Victor Ortiz adds nothing to his character, who is the most thinly defined one in the bunch. A part presumably written for Milla Jovovich went to Ronda Rousy. Rousy has since become especially famous for beating the shit out of people. Sure, she’s good at that. But Rousy has no charisma. She’s stiff as a board, reading her lines monotonously, while her muscled body lacks screen presence. Really, the only member of the New-spendables that’s interesting at all is Kellen Lutz’ Smilee. Lutz already has some action credits to his name. Out of the new guys, he gets the coolest stunts, like flipping a dirt bike through the air. Lutz also has a molecule of acting talent, making him more compelling. Still, “The Expendables 3” is too focused on these new guys. Their recruitment and first mission take up far too much screen time.

Once the kids gets captured, and the old guys are reassembled, “The Expendables 3” finds its footing once again. With so many damn characters, the film has no shortage of things to do in its last act. Isolated in an abandoned hotel, the expanded team faces off against a literal army. Statham punches a guy into a wall. Rousy falls through the ceiling while spinning fools through the air. Dolph and Couture drive a fucking tank. Snipes assassinates baddies with his blades. Banderas joyously dances while capping enemies. Ford pilots his helicopter in improbable ways and Arnold tosses a guy into a wall. Through it all, there’s Sly, doing his thing. He screams, fires his pistol, and makes a daring leap onto a helicopter. His climatic fist fight with Mel is a bit short. However, the sheer number of guys killed in “The Expendables 3” is impressive. Honestly, the bloodless carnage doesn’t bother me any. Is it any better or worst then the CGI blood-fest the first two were? The film is no less thrilling.

“The Expendables 2” was satisfied with filling its margins full of in-jokes. And that was fine. Part three has its fair share of in-jokes too. Schwarzenegger commands people to get to the choppa’. Just by playing a pilot, Ford recalls Han Solo. Mel’s character is quite mad while Snipes is said to have been put away for tax evasion. My favorite joke is one of the most out-of-the-blue. Zooming pass decades of gay subtext, “Expendables 3” seemingly makes two of its heroes literally gay. I’m surprised that didn’t get more press. Yet the film has thematic concerns as well. The plot, of old Sly recruiting a bunch of younguns to replace his team, is ripe with real world echoes. Age and becoming irrelevant is definitely on the film’s mind. That the new team aren’t nearly as interesting or effective as the classics is something the script seems unaware of addressing.

On one level, I understand while fans were so antagonistic towards this one. Sly’s continued attempts to appeal to a wider audience, with the younger cast and the softer violence, seems misguided. For its’ flaws, I still had a good time with part three. Though its’ opening weekend numbers were dispiriting, “Expendables 3” still made money. There has been talk about continuing the series. I won’t regale you with my “Expendables 4” wishlist. (Nic Cage, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and Michael Jai White are all near the top, I assure you.) If a fourth is even made is currently unknown. But I’ll see it. What the hell else am I suppose to do? Getting a bunch of washed-up action heroes together hasn’t lost its appeal to me, at the very least. [7/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Isolated Mercenary]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling 




Aside from the possibility of an "Expendables 4," Stallone is now more focused on returning to his other trademark characters. Sly continues to enthusiastically discuss a fifth and final Rambo movie, even going so far as to actually title it "Last Blood." If that gets made probably depends on the performance of his next movie. "Creed," the unexpected Rocky spin-off, hits theaters this fall and looks surprisingly good. Is watching Stallone still do his thing as he gets further into his old age still exciting? Actually, kind of, yeah. That's the thing about Sylvester Stallone. The man never gives up. The man will keep fighting, keep trying to find the eye of the tiger and go the distance, until the day he dies. There's something to be admired about that.

Thus concludes the Sylvester Semester. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables 2 (2012)


Before the first “Expendables” came out, some people wondered if it would be a success at all. Sure, Stallone had pulled off something of a come-back in recent years. But would people really march out to the theaters to see a bunch of washed-up action stars and a few action unknowns? “Yes” is apparently the answer to that question, as “The Expendables” became a hit. Almost immediately, Stallone went to work on “The Expendables 2.” Promising more eighties icons and bigger action, the sequel corrected many of the mistakes the first film made. The result was a more fun and satisfying flick.

The Expendables are still up to their old tricks, rescuing a kidnapped millionaire from some banana republic in the opening action beat. They have a new teammate, a young sniper named Billy - wait for it - the Kid. Mr. Church isn’t done with Barney Ross though. He drafts him for another mission, to retrieve a computer containing sensitive information from a crashed airplane. After carefully rescuing the computer with the help a female agent, a mysterious villain steals the box. He also kills Billy. This time, it’s personal! The Expendables plan to track, find, and kill Vilain for revenge. Along the way, they may stop the bad guy’s plot too.

My biggest reservation about the first “Expendables” was the shaky action and overly grim tone.  Sylvester Stallone traded directing duties with Simon West, the “Con Air” filmmaker. The result is a film with much clearer action and a much lighter tone. With the exception of an overly chaotic plane crash, the action scenes are shot in the classic style. Henchmen are blasted away, punches land brutally, explosions result, and we can all tell what’s going on. The opening tank chase through the town is rightfully ridiculous. A motorcycle landing in a helicopter is only the most absurd moment. My favorite beat is Jet Li fighting off guys with frying pans. The following plane chase is fantastically orchestrated. A shoot-out in an empty town is clear and fun, as is a scuffle with goons in the European village. The action is as huge as the first film’s but it’s far more satisfying to watch.

The sequel also juggles its ensemble cast better then the original. Despite adding more cast members, the original Expendables are given more to do. Barney and Lee’s friendship is developed more. We see Ross teasing Christmas about his girlfriend. The camaraderie among the Expendables is focused on more. His betrayal of the team seemingly forgotten, Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner evolves into the goofball of the team. Lundgren’s real life history as a chemist is brought up, paying off nicely. Terry Crew’s Hale and Randy Couture's Toll were underserved last time. Crew becomes a boisterous body-builder who is slightly unhinged. Couture becomes somewhat sensitive and brainy. Though Jet Li exits the movie early on, even he seems better utilized. Over all, it seems Stallone and his team had a stronger understanding of the characters and the cast.

The additions to the cast are mostly welcomed. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis only had cameos last time. In part two, they graduate to proper cast members. Arnold and Willis get involved in the action, helping the main heroes out and telling jokes. Speaking of jokes! Chuck Norris drops in as Booker, a mysterious uber-badass who helps the team out. Despite Norris being in his seventies, the character plays into his Internet legend as the ultimate badass. When not killing people, Norris shows the easy-going charm that has always been his appeal. Newcomer Yu Nan plays Maggie Chan, a part I suspect was written for Michelle Yeoh. Despite being a complete unknown, Nan works well with the team, bringing humor and humility to her part. Really, the only newcomer I don’t care for is Liam Hemsworth as Billy. A performer I’ve taken to calling the Lesser Hemsworth, he's performance is flat. The biggest question is, “Why is he here?” What business does a teeny-bopper heartthrob like him have doing here? Furthermore, it is obvious Billy was born to die. The character might as well have a target on his back.

Of all the actors added to the cast, the bad guys are the most important. Stallone courted Jean-Claude Van Damme for the original “Expendables” but he declined. Obviously realizing he was missing out, Van Damme signed up for the sequel. Perhaps it was for the best. Jean-Claude plays the villain, Jean Vilain. The part plays to JCVD’s strengths. He brings an eccentric quality, dancing and making dramatic hand gestures, while maintaining an intimidating body language. Considering Van Damme’s evolution into a fine dramatic actor, he makes the character sadistic, intellectual, and just cold enough not to care about the people he kills. He provides a distinct villain to the piece and really helps bring “The Expendables 2” together. Another fine addition is Scott Adkins as Vilain’s main henchman. Adkins may be the modern equivalent to what Van Damme was back in the late eighties so it’s a smart choice.

Though action-packed throughout its run time, “The Expendables 2” really piles it on in the last act. The heroes corner the villains in an abandoned airport. At this point, the movie explodes into an unrelenting celebration of action movie violence. Everyone gets a stand-out moment. Stallone, Arnold, and Bruce Willis blast away bad guys together, fulfilling a dream action nerds have shared for decades. Later, there’s a great gag between Arnold and Bruce involving a tiny smart car. Dolph kicks a guy off a balcony. Terry Crews and Randy Couture employ tossed razor blades. Statham and Adkins share a bloody, immensely satisfying fist fight. Norris swoops in and takes a few more names. The final fight between Sly and Van Damme could have gone on longer but still provides some awesome moments of ass-kickery. I mean, JCVD does two spinning roundhouse kicks!

“The Expendables 2” is the movie the first one should have been. It’s a light-hearted action-fest that piles on the callbacks and in-jokes, while nicely balancing its extensive cast. Not only does it feature many stars of eighties cinema, it actually feels like something that could have been made in the eighties. Perhaps it’s not high art. Yet it’s hard to deny a film that is this much pure fun. [8/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 3 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables (2010)


When “The Expendables” was announced, I happily declared it the Best Idea Ever. It was an all-star action epic, strictly in the eighties mold, and featuring legendary action heroes of yesterday and today. As a fan of eighties explosion-fest, it was an idea I gladly supported. When I saw the film, it was in the middle of an all-day movie marathon. Sandwiched between “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and a midnight screening of “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” the film came off as a disappointment. Maybe it was because I got lousy seats. Maybe it was because the friend I saw it with was acting like an asshole all day. Now that “The Expendables” is an established series, and seen in the comfort of my own home, the first film plays slightly better.

Barney Ross is the leader of a team of super bad ass mercenaries called the Expendables. When hostages need rescuin’, regimes needs topplin’, or bad guys need killin’, these are the guys you call. Yet the team has its problems. Gunner is an unstable drug addict. Lee is trying to mend his relationship with his ex-wife. Yang wants a pay raise. And Barney is beginning to question the morality of what he does. When a mysterious agent offers him a job – stop a rogue CIA agent running a drug empire out of a central American dictatorship – Ross thinks it's just a job at first. When he becomes involved with a beguiling woman there, he realizes more might be at stake.

“The Expendables” professes to be a throwback to eighties action movies. I mean, it’s obviously meant to be. Stallone even grabbed Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis for cameos, getting the three biggest action stars of the decade on-screen together. A retro-style flick was clearly Sly’s goal. Then why does “The Expendables” look like a modern film? The action scenes are frequently shaky and hard to follow. The opening shoot-out on the boat cuts between rough zooms and distracting inferred shots. A car chase veers and crashes all over the place, making it difficult to follow. There’s a three-way kick fight between Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Gary Daniels. That should’ve been awesome. But the direction is so incoherent, it’s hard to know who is kicking who. Aside from the shaky action, the movie is shot with a drab, dark, moody color palette. “The Expendables” neither looks nor feels like an eighties action film.

Action films aren’t known for their deep character work. In an ensemble action flick, characters generally have a single defining trait. Some members of the Expendables don’t even get that. Terry Crews’ Hale Caesar really loves his gun and his straight razor. Randy Couture’s Toll Road is seen reading a book once, mentions a shrink, and talks about his cauliflower ears. Jet Li’s Yin Yang gets picked on for being short and wants a pay raise. Aside from their awesome names, that’s it. The characters are mostly just there to raise the body count and add to the action. Crews is funny in his brief role but Couture is obviously more of a fighter then an actor. (It doesn’t help knowing those guys were last minute replacements for Wesley Snipes and Van Damme.)

There are some upsides to the ensemble though. First off, it allows Sly more people to bounce off of. He has a decent rapport with Jason Statham. Both are best known for being movie murder machines but have better chops then that. Occasionally, they’ll get to show it. The expanded cast also gives some room to the bad guy. Eric Roberts, himself a veteran of eighties action, plays the delightfully sleazy villain. Roberts is a classic action bad guy, wearing a suit, pointing guns at innocents, and generally being a greasy bastard. It’s hard to balance action and character development. Maybe because of the bigger action or the bigger cast, “The Expendables” doesn’t do it the best.

Then again, maybe too much character development is also a flaw, at least for movies like this. “The Expendables” is hassled with some truly useless subplots. Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner is a recovering drug addict who betrays the team. This leads to an extended action scene, where he chases Barney and fights Yang in a factory. Admittedly, seeing the towering but slow Lundgren fight the small but agile Li is fun. But the subplot ends up adding nothing to the film. Also adding nothing to the film is Statham’s relationship with Charisma Carpenter. He goes and beat up her abusive boyfriend on a basketball court. Again, it’s unrelated to the main plot and does nothing to develop either character. Lastly, the girl Sly endeavors to rescue is the daughter of the dictator. Sly the Director tries to incorporate a theme here, about fighting for something versus fighting for yourself. It’s clumsy though and, again, seems like another needless distraction.

Now, not all the action in the film is poorly framed. A rough-and-tumble scuffle Sly and the Stath have with some baddies is decently put together. This leads to a daring airplane escape, which climaxes in a massive explosion. That is probably the most fun scene in the film. The last act rotates between incoherent action and clearer violence. Crews exploding two watch tower is amusing. So is the utterly ridiculous scene where Sly blows up a helicopter with a hand-tossed cannon shell. The fight between Couture and Steven Austin’s Paine was obviously designed to answer the debate of who would win a fight between a wrestler and a MMA fighter. The last half hour of “The Expendables” is an orgy of explosions, muzzle flash, and bloody squibs. I’m not made of stone, people. It could be more clearly directed but there’s still some awesome stuff there.

“The Expendables” plays better separated from my initial expectations. It’s not the ultimate action throwback. At times, it feels distressingly modern. Sly’s pretensions about making the movie something more then an in-joke filled battle collection also drags the final product down. Still, it’s not all bad. Any movie that gets Stallone, Willis, and Arnold on-screen together can’t be all bad. As a series debut though, it could’ve used some more work. [6/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Music, film and photography on Clowdy.com

Monday, August 17, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Avenging Angelo (2002)


“Eye See You” wasn’t the only Sylvester Stallone movie to go straight-to-video in 2002. That same year, “Avenging Angelo” was unceremoniously dumped on DVD with little press and no fanfare. Unlike “Eye See You,” where there’s some information on what when wrong with the movie and how it ended up released like it was, there’s no behind-the-scenes info on “Avenging Angelo.” No one involved with its production, including Stallone, have much to say about it. Nowadays, it may be the least talked about thing the actor has ever appeared in. This side of “The Party at Kitty and Stud’s,” “Avenging Angelo” seems to represent the lowest point in Stallone’s career.

Crime boss Angelo Allieghieri has a secret. Years ago, he fathered a daughter. Fearful for the girl’s life, due to all the people trying to kill him at the time, Angelo gave her up for adaptation. For years, Angelo has observed Jennifer’s life from afar. The man doing that watching is Frankie Delano, a mob tough guy and Jennifer’s unnoticed body guard. Once Angelo is murdered by some hitmen, Frankie decides to inform Jennifer of her secret parentage. Together, the two go off on a journey to survive the world of organized crime.

This is it, guys. We’ve hit the bottom. “Rhinestone” was more goofy then bad. “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” was fascinating for its grotesque miscalculations. Even “Driven” had some moments of unintentional comedy. “Avenging Angelo,” meanwhile, is entirely worthless from beginning to end. The film is a dire mob comedy in the mold of “Married to the Mob” or “Mickey Blue Eyes.” There’s a bunch of lame jokes, like a scene of Sly disposing of a flatulent dead body or him scarring off the girl’s unfaithful husband. One moment that you can see coming a thousand yards away is when Jessica attempts to seduce an elderly mob boss. The movie is startlingly free of laughs. There’s seems to be moments that are meant to be jokes. Yet none of them register. Furthermore, the film says nothing new or interesting about the mob genre.

In addition to being a limp attempt at the mafia comedy, “Avenging Angelo” is also a romantic/comedy. It’s only slightly better as a rom-com. From the moment Frankie and Jessica appear together on-screen, you know they’re going to end up together. Despite the obviousness of this, the movie slowly forces the two together. Frankie likes Jessica but is too respectful to pursue her. Jessica slowly warms up to the guy, touched by his devotion. Madeleine Stowe is alright as Jessica. She’s decently charming, even if the script gives few chances to show her comedic skills. About the only saving grace of the film is the mildly amusing romantic chemistry Stowe has with Sly. There’s nothing compelling about the romance. The pay-off is assured and the characters are too thin to care about. Yet, in the ocean of crushing mediocrity that is “Avenging Angelo,” it's something.

Since nobody gives a shit about it, I went into “Avenging Angelo” knowing nothing about it. The DVD cover art makes it look like a normal crime flick. Even the title is misleading, as you assume Stallone is the Angelo, doing the avenging. In truth, the character is avenging Angelo’s death. Despite being an oppressively lame comedy for most of its run-time, the film still gets weirdly serious at the end. The plot is a collection of convoluted mob movie clichés. There’s a web of grudges and murders driving things. It’s not really important. Anyway, the movie has a barely worth mentioning subplot about a romance novelist Jessica likes. It brings the two plots together awkwardly at the end. Turns out the romance novelist is the film’s true antagonists, Sly rushing in to save the day soon after the reveal. These moments are completely sincere and feel totally at odds with the film’s overall tone.

As a comedy, “Avenging Angelo” is never funny. As a romance, its love story is entirely functionary. As an action movie, it provides nothing thrilling. Finally, Sylvester Stallone seems incredibly bored throughout the entire thing. This is something he has in common with the audience. “Avenging Angelo” isn’t a fiasco. It is something worst then that. It’s a sleep-inducing apathy machine, a film totally lacking in anything interesting, entertaining, thoughtful, or compelling. It's my official vote the worst movie Sylvester Stallone has ever made. [3/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 3 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Sunday, August 16, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Eye See You (2002)


I first read about “Eye See You” on a long-gone website called UpcomingMovies.com. The movie had a troubled production. There were re-shoots. It was re-titled a few times. Its original title, “D-Tox,” is the name it was released under in most of the world. Domestically, the whodunit sat on the shelves for three years before finally being released straight-to-video. I remember the VHS popping up on my local video store’s walls. It was both kind of sad and somewhat inevitable that Sylvester Stallone would wind-up headlining direct-to-video movies. This was where his career had been heading for a while. Because of its video exclusive releases, “Eye See You” is probably one of Stallone’s least seen works. Is it any good?

Jack is a FBI agent getting ready to propose to his long-time girlfriend. He is currently on the trail of a brutal serial killer. The killer executes what he sees as the dregs of humanity, mutilating the corpse’s eyes. The killer murders one of Jack’s friends before claiming his fiancée. Traumatized, he starts to drink himself to death. His boss shifts him off to an icebound rehab center for trouble cops. As a harsh blizzard rolls in, people at the facility start to turn up dead. Jack soon realizes the murderer has followed him to his new location, looking to settle the score.

“Eye See You,” or “D-Tox” or whatever you want to call it, is not as dire as its direct-to-video release suggests. It’s actually a mildly clever fusion of a cop thriller, a whodunit, and a slasher flick. The rehab center is located in an old military bunker, which makes for a cool setting. The wintery backdrop is used well, creating a good sense of isolation. The scenes of the killer stalking and attacking people in the snow, while wearing a face-concealing parka, hits this slasher fan’s sweet spot. A shot of a knife dripping blood onto the snow is pretty cool, for example. The gruesome surprises the killer leaves behind are straight out of any slasher, as well. (The director, Jim Gillespie, previously made “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” So he was clearly experienced in this territory.) As a whodunit, the movie is alright too. The story keeps you guessing who the killer is until just about the reveal. “Eye See You” is never scary and I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be. However, it’s mildly satisfying as a gory murder mystery.

Since “Eye See You” is essentially a slasher film, it has a fairly large cast. Stallone doesn’t even do much in the first third of the middle section. Instead, that time is spent developing the rest of the cast. Charles S. Dutton has some fun as Stallone’s eccentric superior. Kris Kristofferson plays the owner of the facility and brings his expected crusty charm to what winds up being a small part. Robert Patrick has one of the showier parts as Noah, a shouting asshole with a mustache. Jeffrey Wright, looking skinnier then we’re used to seeing, plays an especially unhinged addict. Wright and Patrick both go over-the-top, playing their characters rather broadly. Robert Prosky plays a kindly old Mountie while Stephen Lang shows off his crazy eyes as the film’s most blatant red herring. There’s even more cast members, most of them with even less development then this.

As a Sylvester Stallone movie, “D-Tox” is alright. The early scenes of him bonding with his wife don’t affect the audience much, since we know she’ll be dead soon. At least it allows Sly to show his humorous side for a bit. After spending the next half-hour brooding silently, he finally gets to do some stuff again. I like the scene of him snooping around a room with a book of matches, putting the pieces together. After most of the supporting cast is slashed through, “Eye See You” develops into a game of wills between Sly and the psycho. At this point, the movie begins to resemble “Cobra” or some of Sly’s other cop vs. psycho movies. The super sweaty climax was apparently the result of reshoots and that’s obvious. However, there’s still something satisfying about watching the hero so effectively dispatch the bad guy.

I’m not saying “Eye See You” is a masterpiece or anything. Lowered expectations will probably help you appreciate it more. As a snow set slasher, it’s relatively amusing. As a murder mystery, it keeps the audience’s attention. As a Stallone vehicle, it doesn’t give the thespian too much to do but will probably satisfy. The supporting cast has got some decent actors in it. I don’t blame anyone for overlooking the film but, given the right circumstances, you might have a good time with it. [7/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Traumatized Alcoholic]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling


Saturday, August 15, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Driven (2001)


I think “Driven” was the moment when even Sylvester Stallone realized he was washed-up. I remember seeing the trailers for the film and thinking it looked lame as hell. A movie about open wheel racing? Who gives a crap about that? Stallone’s presence did not make the movie any more exciting. To teenage me back in 2001, it seemed like an attempt by an actor far pass his peak straining to stay relevant. When the film failed spectacularly, all of these thoughts seemed confirmed. Even the video game version was bad. While my thoughts back then were unfair towards the star, they weren’t entirely wrong. “Driven” may well be the low point of Stallone’s long career.

Jimmy Bly is a hot-shot, up-and-coming race car driver. Bly’s manager, who is also his brother, is counting on his brother’s success. His team owner, Carl, is worried about the boy’s driving skills. Bly’s biggest rival, Beau Brandenburg, is determined to regain his lead. Jimmy also harbors feelings for Sophia, Beau’s on-again/off-again fiancée. Entering into the middle of this is Joe Tanto, a retired driver Carl brings in to mentor him. Tanto attempts to bring the best out of his protégé, as the racers head into a hard season full of drama and tension.

Stallone wasn’t the only person involved in “Driven” hoping for a come-back. The film was directed by Renny Harlin. A former top action director, Harlin was now stained as the man who made monster-bomb “Cutthroat Island.” “Driven” did not resurrect Harlin’s flagging career. And there’s good reason for that. What the fuck is wrong with the direction in this thing? The film is full of melodramatic slow-motion, distracting quick cuts, tacky overlaid graphics, and ridiculously overdone composition. The movie is packed full of off-putting music, blaring nu-metal and rap/rock songs that frequently drown out what’s happening on-screen. Worst yet, Harlin and his team frequently employ some incredibly soft CGI. A quarter, manhole covers, dislodged wheels, and raindrops smash into the screen, floating through the air in obviously fake ways. Not only is “Driven” immediately dated as an artifact from 2001, it is poorly put together and hilariously overwrought.

Not helping matters is the soap opera worthy screenplay. Jimmy Bly is a horribly unlikable main character. Entitled, moody, and cocky, he comes off like a spoiled teenager. The quiet moment he has, such as admiring his girlfriend while she’s in a pool or recovering from a broken leg, seem utterly unearned. Kip Pardue is deeply unappealing in the part. The romantic triangle between Beau, Bly and Sophia is hackneyed stuff. I did not care which driver the woman ended up with. Estella Warren, though lovely, seems utterly lost with the material. Another disposable subplot is about Sly’s ball-busting ex-wife, played by Gina Gershon. Every time she saunters on-screen, the film screeches to a halt, overwhelmed by cheesy drama. The bathroom confrontation between Gershon and Stallone’s current love interest is horribly bitchy. Even Burt Reynolds is horribly unlikable, as the wheelchair bound team manager, who spends the whole movie sniping at people.

It would seem like the race car sequences should be the saving grace of a movie like this. Sometimes they are. When the camera is positioned behind the car’s steering wheels is the only time Harlin’s frantic direction comes even remotely close to working. The few times the movie has real cars smashing into each other, spinning around or exploding, it generates some decent cheap thrills. Too often though, “Driven” relies on terrible CGI to bring its car crashes to life. When a car smashes into a wall, it becomes bad CGI. Another time, a shitty CGI car flips head-over-heel across the field. Later, two vehicles collide, one flying over the other. Again, the worst kind of rubbery, flippy-floppy computer graphics are employed to create these stunts. Car stunt enthusiasts frequently bemoan the lack of actual car stunts in modern movies. “Driven” is a good indicator of how CGI can rob on-screen car crashes of their danger or excitement.

In the middle of it all, there’s Sylvester Stallone. He plays Joe Tanto as a variation on latter-day Rocky. The driver is totally washed-up. When introduced, he’s been away from racing for quite some time. Many people on the field dismiss him as out-of-place, a loser past his prime. Despite the lame screenplay and the tawdry direction, Sly maintains his dignity. There’s even a certain grace to the character of Tanto, who accepts defeat so a younger racer can win. After a ludicrous race through the streets of Chicago, Stallone delivers an overdone but thoughtful speech to Bly, about winning and loosing. I even kind of like the romance between Joe and Lucretia, the sports-writer sent to profile him and played by the cute Stacey Edwards. If Joe had been the main character of “Driven,” it might have been salvageable. Despite his top-billing, Sly is only a supporting character, one of many faces lost in the chaos.

It’s not Stallone’s fault that “Driven” bombed. If anything, Sly is probably the best thing about it. His fading star power certainly didn’t help the movie at the box office. But even if it had starred a blockbuster actor in their prime, I don’t think “Driven” would have been successful. The script is drippy. The effects are laughable. The direction is hideous. The music is intrusive. I’d make some racing pun, something about waving a checkered flag or the movie not making it across the finish line, but the film doesn’t even inspire me that much. It’s a flop, through and through. [4/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 3 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Washed-Up Race Car Driver]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Friday, August 14, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Cop Land (1997)


By 1997, Sylvester Stallone had a few high-profile flops to his name. His days of ruling the box office were behind him. And he knew it. Around the same time, flashy but gritty crime dramas began to become something of a cultural phenomenon, especially among indie movies. Blame that one on Quentin Tarantino. Stallone’s desire to re-invent himself and the public’s sudden desire for crime stories collided with “Cop Land.” Sly was so serious about proving his acting chops, that the action icon did what many actors do when they want to show off their abilities: He put on weight, about forty pounds. Though “Cop Land” received a nice critical reception, with Stallone’s performance being especially praised, it didn’t win him any major awards and didn’t lead to a career revival.

Just outside New York City resides the small New Jersey town of Garrison. Founded and mostly occupied by NYC cops, the town and its residents frequently feature in cover-ups of police corruption. One such event happens when officer Murray Babitch, a beloved member of the local community, kills two unarmed black youths. The local cops at first seem more then willing to cover up the crime until the situation gets too hot. Even Murray’s uncle, Ray, wants him dead. Out of this ugly situation, an unlikely hero emerges. Freddy Heflin, the pudgy and partially deaf Sheriff of Garrison, slowly finds himself standing up to the town’s powerful occupants.

For a small production, “Cop Land” has a truly impressive cast. Aside from Stallone, the movie is headlined by two of Martin Scorsese’s favorite actors, Harvey Keitel and Robert DeNiro. Keitel engineers so much quiet intimidation. Ray Donlan is one of Keitel’s most frightening characters, as he quietly calculates betraying and murder those around him. DeNiro is cast slightly against type as an internal affairs agent attempting to sniff out the rats. He brings a lot of vulgar swagger to the part. Meanwhile, there’s an unhinged Ray Liotta as Gary Figgis, the sweatiest of the dirty cops who shows a surprising integrity. Robert Patrick, sporting an incredibly cheesy mustache, plays another remorseless killer. Michael Rappaport shows off all his ability for nervous energy, as the fleeing Babitch. There’s even bit parts from Janeane Garofalo, as Stallone’s typically incredulous deputy, and Cathy Moriarty, as a typically bitter ex-wife.

For all the recognizable names in its cast, Sylvester Stallone emerges as the definite protagonist. It’s not immediately clear. Freddy Heflin is introduced playing a pinball machine, not even being the most important person in the bar. He drives while intoxicated, slipping off the road, and breaking his nose. The character sports either a bandage or a long scab for the rest of the film. The next morning, we see Freddy awaken in bed, his gut hanging out of his tank-top. This is not the Sylvester Stallone of “Cobra” or “Demolition Man.” Freddy is a loser. He peaked as a teenager, after rescuing a girl from a car wreck. The event cost him his hearing and, thirty years later, he still harbors romantic feelings for the married woman. At the beginning, Freddy is happy to kowtow to the demands of the dirty cops. If you believe that Sly’s films reflect his career, this is the actor realizing he had his chance and missed it. It’s surprising to see the actor, the same muscled god that murdered all of Vietnam, in such a humanizing role. Stallone bares his soul here and plums the depths of his acting ability. He proves that he still has the chops.

Freddy goes for a surprising transformation throughout the film. As he realizes the depths of the local police corruption, he begins to have doubts. Soon, the palooka sheriff emerges as the most principled man in the entire town. In a weird way, “Cop Land” turns many of Sly’s role as a renegade cop on its head. Heflin is soft-spoken but soon finds himself standing up against the rest of the department. In the incredible last act of “Cop Land,” the character silently marches through the town, shotgun in hand, his good ear ringing from a gunshot. Bullet flies and blood splatters. Freddy is not a glorified killer. He’s a normal guy, forced into a hard corner, doing what he must to survive and uphold the law. During those final minutes, “Cop Land” truly comes together, becoming an excellent thriller with a surprisingly deep layer of pathos.

As an ensemble picture, “Cop Land” has a lot of story lines and subplots to juggle. A subplot about Keitel’s wife cheating on him with another police officer, who later gets tossed off a cliff by a crazed criminal, doesn’t amount too much. Similarly, a storyline about Liotta and his prostitute girlfriend never comes into focus much. “Cop Land’s” dark tone, paired with its deliberate pacing, is almost strangling at times. The film is a worthy watch but not always the most inviting.

Perhaps “Cop Land’s” good-not-great reception can be blamed on its distributor. Miramax was behind the film and seemed to position it as their next “Pulp Fiction.” That was a goal the moody, dark film couldn’t live up to. The theatrical release ran 104 minutes while James Mangold’s director’s cut runs nearly two hours. This seems to suggest that Harvey Weinstein got his Scissorhands on the movie, perhaps affecting its critical greeting. Stallone would soon drop the weight and return to the mediocre movies that sunk his box office clout in the first place. Though not discussed much, “Cop Land” remains a respected entry among Stallone enthusiasts, one of his best performances, and a well executed film in its own right. [8/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 3 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Loser Sheriff]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling


Thursday, August 13, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Judge Dredd (1995)


Superhero movies were different in the nineties. The huge success of Tim Burton’s “Batman” proved that comic book adaptations could be box office successes. However, Burton’s film was eccentric and proved difficult to emulate. Furthermore, many of the truly iconic superheroes were tangled up in legal snafus. This is how “Tank Girl” ended up with a movie before “Spider-Man.” Thus, many of the characters who did get film adaptions weren’t from the big two of DC and Marvel. Pulp era stalwarts like the Shadow and the Phantom or indie publications like the Rocketeer and the Mask proved easier to license. Falling in here somewhere is “Judge Dredd.” A popular and long-running character in the UK, Dredd has never caught on much in the States. This is mostly because of the 1995 film adaptation, starring Mr. Stallone. A critical and financial dud, the film stained the property in American eyes and quickened Sly’s descent from the A-list.

In the post-apocalyptic future, Mega-City One is one of the last bastions of civilization. Barely. The crowded streets are choked with crime and unhappy citizens. The only thing holding society together is the Judges: Super-cops that are trained to be judge, jury, and executioner. The strictest and best of the judges is Dredd. Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Rico escapes prison. He frames Dredd for murder, forcing the officer of order to clear his name. Rico, it turns out, is Dredd’s brother and both are the result of cloning. While the officer is exiled, his brother wreaks havoc in the city. Dredd must return to Mega-City, clear his name, and stops Rico’s villainous plot.

Die hard fans of the original “Judge Dredd” comic books were quick to criticize the film adaptations. I’ve only thumbed through a few issues myself but even I realize the movie is far removed from the source material. The satire is replaced with campy humor. The subversive sci-fi plot is replaced with a generic good-guy-vs-bad-guy scenario. The movie has little interest in the comic’s world-building. Infamously, Stallone’s Dredd takes off his helmet within minutes and keeps it off. Comic book Dredd never removes his helmet. Make no mistake though, “Judge Dredd” is a big budget comic book flick. The set design is expansive and impressive. Mega-City, though obviously indebted to “Blade Runner,” looks fantastic. The score, provided by Alan Silvestri, is fantastic, with bold, recognizable themes. The film’s budget is right on-screen in its fantastic production design. Even the Judges’ uniforms aren’t bad. Yeah, the codpiece and spandex aren’t flattering but the helmets and shoulder-pads look pretty good.

In interviews, Sly has admitted that everyone making the film had difficulty deciding on a tone. Indeed, “Judge Dredd” snaps back and forth between goofball comedy and typical action scenes. Like many attempts to adapt comic books, the film ramps up the campy jokes. Dredd is given the catchphrase of “I knew you would say that.” Early on, we are introduced to a robot peddling “recycled food.” The absurdity of the Judges’ absolute law is noted occasionally, such as when Dredd blows up a guy’s car. Too frequently, the humor becomes broad and obnoxious. Rob Schneider plays Fergee, Dredd’s comic relief sidekick. As we would all soon realize, Rob Schnieder is annoying. The character does not help the hero’ out and never made me laugh. A lengthy sequence in the middle is devoted to the Angel Gang, cannibal rednecks living in the wastelands. These guys are also broad, goofy, and overly jokey. Mostly, the film’s attempts at humor come off as hammy and far too goofy.

As an action flick, the film fares slightly better. The grim sequences of Rico’s vengeance, which involves blowing up a shit ton of innocent people, contrast badly with the humor. However, when the focus is one Dredd and his allies leaping around and shooting people, it’s alright. The opening shoot-out in the apartment building is good. The scuffle in the wastelands with the mutants and other cops is solid enough. A hover-bike chase through the city works reasonably well. One pursuer being caught up in a holographic advertisement is clever. The finale, where Dredd confronts his brother, positively recalls “Demolition Man.” If nothing else, the film features some cool special effects. The ABC Warrior, another “2000 AD” character, is brought to life with some fantastic robotic effects. I even like the white, slimy half-formed clones that put in an appearance.

A major problem facing “Judge Dredd” is its lack of a decent villain. Armand Assante, who could pass for Stallone’s brother if you squint, overdoes it as Rico. And not in a fun way. Assante is convincing as a psychopath. Combined with his theatrical acting, it leaves the audience with a bad taste in their mouths. The character is mostly kind of lame too. Why, oh why, couldn’t they have used Judge Death instead? There’s some talent in the supporting cast though. Max von Sydow puts in an appearance as Dredd’s mentor, bringing plenty of gravity to a flimsy part. Diane Lane is decent as Hershey, the female lead. Though the attempted romance between her and Sly goes nowhere. Jurgen Prochnow is also decent as a higher ranking judge plotting against Dredd.

“Judge Dredd” is never quite satisfying but just entertaining enough to squeak by. Completely divorced of its source material, it’s a mildly amusing action riff. Stallone has some campy fun delivering silly one-liners, while shouting and gunning. The special effects and set design are fantastic. If the film had been any longer, it probably would have clatter apart from its conflicting tones. Coming in at 96 minutes, it generates enough good will to keep the audience from hating it. By the same accord, it’s unlikely to be anyone first pick for either a Stallone movie or a “Judge Dredd” adaptation. [6/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Loner Future Cop]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Specialist (1994)


Sylvester Stallone spent most of the nineties latching onto whatever cinematic fad was popular. He had already appeared in a “Die Hard” rip-off and would soon star in a superhero movie and a disaster flick. You get the impression that, in a post-“Rocky,” post-“Rambo” world, Sly didn’t quite know what to do with himself. Few movies are more representative of Stallone’s desperate need to stay relevant then “The Specialist.” The film was made at the peak of popularity of the “erotic thriller." It co-starred Sharon Stone, the genre’s sole superstar. The typical explosion-filled Stallone-style thrills and soft focus sex scenes made for an awkward combination.

Back in the eighties, Ray Quick and Ned Trent were bomb specialists for the CIA. After Ray got cold feet during a mission, he quit the organization and made a life-long enemy out of Ned. Years later, Ray is hired by a sexy woman, May, to take out the mob bosses who killed her family. Unbeknownst to Ray, May is a double agent working for Trent, who still holds a grudge against Quick. As their relationship quickly becomes physical, Ray begins to wonder about the girl’s loyalties.

“The Specialist” is based off a series of novels by the prolific John Shirley. The books belong to the “men’s adventure” genre, books devoted to stories of tough men bedding beautiful dames and killing bad guys. While that style suggests cheap thrills, “The Specialist” takes itself awfully serious. The tone is grim and determined. Much of the movie is devoted to Stallone glaring ahead stoically while explosions go off around him. The pace is turgid, the movie slowly rolling forward as its self-serious plot bends and twists itself in various directions. The script’s attempts to create a tone of heaviness and importance makes the film a slog to get through. The biggest crime “The Specialist” commits is being boring.

The erotic thriller is a disreputable type of film beloved by late night masturbators and most no one else. Those looking to “The Specialist” for fap fodder will likely be disappointed. The film is definitely focused on the thriller side of the genre. There’s plenty of explosions. Bad guys are tossed out windows, out of cars, and over pool tables. There’s no fewer then a dozen kabooms over the protracted two hour run time. One especially laughable sequence occurs when Ray’s bomb cuts a building in half, the people inside falling into the ocean. The effects composition in this scene is badly organized. Only during one scene, when Sly roughs up some punks inside a bus, does the action in “The Specialist” ever amuses.

The movie does, eventually, deliver on the steamy sex scenes. Stallone’s character listens back to his phone conversations with Stone, imagining her writhing in lingerie or tight dresses. Stone, similarly, takes her top off in one scene for no reason. The film stops dead in the middle for a lengthy sex scene between the two characters. If you want to see Sly’s disturbingly veiny body contort in the shower around Sharon Stone’s boobs, “The Specialist” delivers. It’s too melodramatic to be sexy. Truthfully, the tackiness of the direction combined with the sight of Sly’s butt makes the scene more laughable then spankable. Sharon Stone isn’t much my type either, not even during the peak of her notoriety, so the scene provides me with nothing. Killing any erotic tension is the complete lack of chemistry between Stallone and Stone.

Sly and Sharon’s overly serious performance doesn’t provide “The Specialist” with much amusement. About the only saving grace the film has is its heavily tanned supporting cast. James Woods plays Trent. Woods goes wildly over-the-top, screaming and foaming at the mouth. When he gets angry at a room full of explosive experts, threatening them with a pen, it’s amusing. When he looses his cool while on the phone with Ray, destroying the room and vulgarly berating those around him, it’s glorious. “The Specialist” may be solely recommendable to fans of Woods’ going nuts on camera. Also among the cast is a slumming Rod Steiger. As a Mexican crime boss, Steiger hams it up while sporting a hilariously unconvincing accent. Rounding out the cast is a super-sleazy Eric Roberts as the secondary villain, the guy who killed Stone’s parents.

“The Specialist” is probably one of the dullest of Stallone’s flicks. The plot is needlessly convoluted. The overly long runtime is exacerbated by the sluggish pacing. Its star don’t seem much invested in the material. Not even the thrills of big explosions and high-gloss sex scenes can make the film interesting. Only Woods’ ridiculous performance livens things up. Though a decent money-maker, the film’s moribund critical reception didn’t little to slow Sylvester’s fading star power. [5/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Loner Hitman]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Demolition Man (1993)


1993 brought two Sylvester Stallone movies to the big screen. The first of which, “Cliffhanger,” was a bigger commercial success and showed that the Italian Stallion could still open a flick in the nineties. The second still made money but seemed the lesser of the two films, at the time. History has been kind to “Demolition Man.” Repeated cable showings along with a funny, quirky screenplay has made the film into a cult classic. In retrospect, it may be Stallone’s best film during the shifty nineties era.

In the near future of 1996, Los Angeles is a hell hole. Psychotic crime boss Simon Phoenix is part of the reason for that. Only renegade cop John Spartan can take Phoenix down. That duel gets both men toss in a future-jail, where convicts are cryogenically frozen. In the actual near future of 2032, the world has been pacified into a profanity and junk food free utopia. It’s the perfect world for the newly reawaken Phoenix to wreak havoc in. Realizing only a maniac can stop a maniac, the woefully unprepared future police thaw out John Spartan. While attempting to take down the psychopath, Spartan has to navigate a future at odds with his attitude.

“Demolition Man” is a clever genre fusion. As an action flick, the film isn’t far removed from the sort of stuff Stallone had been making since the eighties. John Spartan is a hero largely in the same mold as Marion Cobretti and John Rambo. The movie is also a science fiction satire. The future of “Demolition Man” is inspired by dystopian novels like “Brave New World.” It’s not a world where the government crushes the individual’s will with totalitarian oppression. Instead, people happily comply with silly laws in order to make the world a nicer place. In short, “Demolition Man” is a piss-take on the dystopian novel. Though every vice is outlawed, the future of the film still seems… Kind of nice. It’s clean, simple, and harmless. Eventually, a dark underground is revealed. But even it is more whimsical and goofy then out-right ominous. The movie creates a future that is a funny satire of accepted sci-fi tropes while being compelling in its own right.

What really makes “Demolition Man” endure is its quirky sense of humor. One of several writers who worked on the film was Daniel Waters. The odd dialect of the future, which is a mixture of ultra-polite speech and Orwellian doubletalk, recalls the surreal high school slang Waters created in “Heathers.” There are many small, funny bits in “Demolition Man.” All swearing is fined. Whenever a character swears, a machine can be heard clinking out a fee in the background. This is a running gag the movie employs without fail. I love the bit where Spartan unleashes a spree of swears, emptying the paper in the machine. There are other brilliantly odd bits that have been quoted countless times. Such as Taco Bell winning the Franchise Wars or the mystery of the three seashells. Less well-remembered bits include the self-encouragement booth or the love of commercial jingles. Film Thoughts favorite scribe Fred Dekker apparently did some uncredited work on the film to. His creative, irrelevant spirit runs through the film as well, such as the details of the underground society or the direct way Phoenix deals with the conspiracy manipulating him.

“Demolition Man’s” very funny screenplay calls on Sylvester Stallone’s rarely well-utilized ability for comedy. Sly’s utter bafflement at the future around him makes for some good comedy. His reaction to the city’s mayor inviting him to dinner at Taco Bell is priceless. So is his joy at discovering a cheese burger and a classic car. Mostly, Sly’s granite-slate face makes him a perfect straight man. His deadpan reaction to Sandra Bullock’s character mangling 20th century slang is a good reoccurring gag. So is his sudden revelation that he can sew. The action stuff is great for Stallone too, as he gets to dangle off a moving vehicle, leap through the air, fire two guns at once, and whoop some serious ass.

“Demolition Man” was also an important film in the evolution of Wesley Snipes. A future action star in his own right, the film was only Snipes second true action credit. Simon Phoenix is perfectly catered to Snipes’ charms. His sadistic delight at being a bad guy is infectiously fun. This is first displayed when he awakens in the future and begins insulting a computer. His direct way of dealing with problems, such as thick glass in a museum, is amusing. Snipes has a certain swagger that works great in the part. When taking people out with a shotgun or effortlessly firing a machine gun, he always seems to be having fun making chaos. Snipes also gets to show off his considerable martial arts skill, like when he’s flipping dudes and cracking necks. For a brief shining period, Snipes would become an action superstar and “Demolition Man” can be partially credited for that.

For all its impressive humor and imaginative science-fiction, “Demolition Man” is still a bad ass action flick too. Director Marco Brambilla didn’t do much before or after this but the guy knows how to ramp up the visual tension. The action sequences are stylish, with the right mixture of dramatic and fun. Many of the fights between Sly and Snipes are noteworthy. The shoot-out in the museum stumbles into the tunnels below, which features plenty of fun leaping and dodging. Stallone even gets to show off his fighting skills, during the confrontation with the rebels outside the Taco Bell. The battle on a moving vehicle is also note-worthy, for the way Phoenix keeps dropping threats even while attempting to kill Spartan. The final battle in the CryoPrison is huge but well orchestrated, involving giant claws, laser blasts, and freezing fluid.

You know how good “Demolition Man” is? I like Sandra Bullock in it! The romance between her character and Stallone’s is funny and kind of sweet without distracting from the ass-kicking. Hilarious supporting turns from Dennis Leary and Glenn Shaddix are just the frosting on the cake. Though the script is slightly underdeveloped, and it’s clear many deleted scenes got cut out, “Demolition Man” remains a smart-ass action classic. Now, excuse me, I have to take a taco break. [9/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [A Man Out of Time]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling



Monday, August 10, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Cliffhanger (1993)


Two trends that characterized blockbuster cinema in the nineties was a mid-decade revival of the disaster movie and the “Die Hard on an X” story type. The latter, where terrorists or criminals hold an isolated location hostage while a single hero fights back, was especially prevalent in the action movies of the time. Some times Hollywood’s thinking is sound. When two separate ideas make money, a combination of those ideas will make even more. “Cliffhanger” is essentially “Die Hard” on a mountain during an avalanche. It began life as “Gale Force,” which was “Die Hard’ in a coast town during a hurricane. Furthering the connection, “Die Hard 2” director Renny Harlin helmed the project. Instead of Bruce Willis, an even sturdier action icon was drafted to star: Sylvester Stallone. “Cliffhanger” would become the last huge hit Sly would have for a while, grossing 232 million in 1993 dollars. The movie was even popular enough to be referenced in another Forgotbuster, 1995’s “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.”

Mountain climbing expert Gabe Walker fails to rescue his best friend’s girlfriend during a climbing accident. Her death affects him greatly. Eight months later, a gang of criminals hi-jack a federal reserves plane. The mission goes wrong and three suitcases full of millions of dollars are lost among the Rocky Mountains. The crooks wind up taking Gabe’s friends hostage while they search the mountains for the loot. Gabe has to breach the avalanche-stricken peaks in order to rescue his friends and stop the bad guys.

In a world where “Gridlock” and “Skyscraper” exists, “Cliffhanger” is far from the most blatant “Die Hard” rip-off. By taking the story entirely out of a fixed location, it avoids many comparisons with the iconic flick. However, a few are unavoidable. The lone hero sneaking around, picking off the gang of bad guys one-by-one definitely brings John McClane’s adventures to mind. At least the movie forgoes the villainous robbers pretending to be anything but villainous robbers. What distinguishes “Cliffhanger” is its unique location. The many sweeping views of the mountains are gorgeous. It also provides a sense of genuineness and danger. When you have real people dangling from great heights, the severity of the situation is imposed on the audience. The avalanches adds an interesting angle to the film as well. The constant threat of the heroes and villains alike being buried in snow makes the movie stand apart from similar action flicks.

What also distinguished “Cliffhanger” is, of course, Stallone. Gabe Walker is a Type 1 Stallone hero, closer to Rocky Balboa or Deke DeSilvo then Marion Cobretti or Ray Tango. The opening death weighs heavily on Gabe’s conscious. His guilt ostracizes him from his friends. His confidence in his abilities as a climber are shaken. At the beginning, he’s crossing huge gaps while laughing and joking. Afterwards, Sly is grim and depressed throughout most of the film. He’s more vulnerable, which is shown in the scene where a henchman kicks the shit out of him. Throughout the film, Gabe recovers his strengths and heals his relationship with his friends. By the end, he’s even kicking the baddies in the face and quipping one-liners. Though the part is not exactly nuanced, it allows Sly to stretch his acting skills as well as his biceps.

Helping matters is an above average supporting cast. On a writing level, there’s nothing especially deep about the bad guys. However, some eccentric performances make them memorable. John Lithgow is in “Raising Cain”-psychopath mode as Qualen. Lithgow’s ridiculous British accent slips in and out of existence but he remains intimidating throughout. Rex Lin foams at the mouth while the singularly named Leon glares crazily as two of Qualen’s flunkies. Playing Sly’s love interest is the adorable Janine Turner, who proves useful but still gets captured at the end. Michael Rooker brings some huskiness to a thankless part. The movie even sneaks in reliable character actors Paul Winfield and Bruce McGill in tiny bit parts.

Renny Harlin is not exactly a genre genius but he has a certain likable style. The action remains at a fairly over-the-top level throughout. Within its opening minutes, a guy dives between two airplanes, for example. There’s more then a few dramatic dives between cliffs. Sly rides a guy down a mountain slope, scourging his face. One of the best action beats occur when, after getting kick around by a baddie, Stallone bench-presses him into a stalactite. The movie’s level of violence proves that R-rated tent poles still existed in 1993. Machine gun fire usually results in bloody squibs. Sly later blows holes in a guy with an illogical bolt gun. A final scuffle atop a floundering helicopter is nicely visceral. It’s worth seeing just for the unlikely sight of Dick Solomon putting John Rambo in a stranglehold.

“Cliffhanger” is a decent bit of action movie popcorn, nothing more and nothing less. The characters get the job done without being super unique. The story is strictly stock-parts. The action is bloody and creative while the direction is stylish and exciting. The score is also pretty good. Despite countless cable showings, the movie is far from a classic. The recent announcement of a remake was honestly baffling. It’s not like “Cliffhanger” holds much cultural cache. Nevertheless, it’s a fun Stallone vehicle and action thriller. [7/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Traumatized Mountain Climber]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling


Sunday, August 9, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)


The decade was only a few years old but it was already apparent: Action movies were changing in the nineties. It would take most of the decade before the changes became obvious. The eighties action brigade was still popular at the box office and even a few new stars, like Steven Seagal, would emerge. However, Arnold Schwarzenegger had started appearing in wacky comedies, like “Twins” or “Kindergarten Cop.” Perhaps fearful of falling behind his biggest rival, Sylvester Stallone would make his own stabs at goofy comedies. Unlike Arnold’s attempts, which were popular in their day and remain beloved as campy classics, Stallone’s comedies were less well received. “Oscar” was a critical and commercial failure while “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” immediately became an embarrassing punchline. Stallone himself has called it one of the worst movies ever made. Twenty years later, the question must be asked: Is it really that bad?

Joe Bomowski is a L.A. cop with problems. He doesn’t get much respect in his precinct, especially after his partner gets shot in the ass. He just broke up with his girlfriend, who happens to be one of his commanding officers. Joe’s problems are crystallized when his mother suddenly drops into town. Mrs. Bomowski is a smothering mother who takes over Joe’s apartment, tells everyone near-by about his embarrassing childhood, and immediately begins micro-managing her son’s life. Bomowski’s angst only intensifies when Mom witnesses a murder, making them both the target of a weapons smuggling ring.

The entire joke behind “Kindergarten Cop” came from contrasting tough guy actor Arnold Schwarzenegger with a room full of precocious little kids. “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot,” henceforth referred to as “SOMMWS,” functions on a similar gag. Let’s bounce tough guy actor Sylvester Stallone off of a precocious old lady! Unfortunately, this joke is not as durable. The movie trots out a number of predictable, groan-worthy gags. Joe’s Mom shares photos of him as a little kid with everyone, when she’s not telling them about his bed-wetting days. She makes him a six-course breakfast. She cleans his apartment and, in an especially embarrassing sequence, his gun. This leads to the awful scene of the old lady buying a smuggled machine gun. Eventually, the movie builds towards the revelation that this annoying old lady is right about everything. The movie’s central joke is best expressed during a nightmare Sly has. In the middle of a tense shoot-out, he’s wearing a diaper and being chastised by mom, while surrounded by cops. Even Alan Silvestri’s score is mawkish, full of Mickey-Mousing and painfully obvious motifs.

It’s not that Stallone can’t be funny. He’s just not funny in this. He seems to find the material as eye-rollingly lame as the audience does. Stallone mostly seems to be suffering throughout the film. His embarrassment is clear to the viewer. Even when singing country music with Dolly Parton, he maintained some of his action movie dignity. None of that is to be found here, as the star shuffles his feet and mumbles through the dire screenplay. The romantic subplot, which features JoBeth Williams as Joe’s beleaguered girlfriend, is also fairly lame. JoBeth’s Gwen badgers Joe until he takes his mother’s advice. However, Sly at least seems more invested in Willliams while she at least finds some humor in the script.

Which brings us to Mom. Estelle Getty was a comedy veteran. For years, she managed to get laughs out of the broadest material possible on “The Golden Girls,” helping make the show some sort of weird ironic cult classic. Getty’s appeal lied in her timing and whatever ribald thing that came out of her mouth. Sticking her in the role of a smothering mother suffocates these talents. It’s doesn’t help that Mrs. Bomowski is quite an annoying character. She carries around a tiny rug dog, emotionally blackmails her son, manipulates the people around her, and gets the movie’s hero into trouble. Worst yet, we’re suppose to like the character for all of this. The script definitely agrees that Mom is always right. It seems impossible but Estelle appears embarrassed by the material too. She does not look proud when it comes time for her to tuck a giant pistol into her apron strings.

The movie awkwardly attempts to fuse comedy and action. The stakes are harmlessly low. The film’s villain is a limp corrupt business tycoon played by Roger Rees. Rees even puts on a ridiculous upper-crust accent. His team of henchmen, which include a fat guy who constantly sneezes, aren’t intimidating. A subplot about a group of burly bikers selling the stolen guns only muddles the story further. There are two honest-to-God action scenes in the film. The first comes when Joe has to carry his mom out of a building that’s falling down. Director Roger Spottiswoode, never one for subtly, shoots this scene via melodramatic close-ups and slow-mo. The finale, where Stallone plays chicken with an airplane while inside an eighteen wheeler, is mildly diverting and probably the best scene in the flick. Which isn’t saying much.

“SOMMWS” concludes with Stallone rolling his eyes, making a goofy grin, and looking at the camera, which then freeze-frames on his face. Is this a cop movie or an early nineties sitcom? Despite being a lumbering embarrassment for everyone involved, “SOMMWS” became a minor commercial success. But it says a lot about the film’s quality that it makes “Kindergarten Cop” seem like a masterpiece in comparison. In conclusion: Yes, “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” is really quite bad. Whether or not it is the nadir of Sly’s career remains to be seen but it’s certainly not a good movie. [4/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 3 outta 5]
[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Bullied Cop]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling