Movie Review: The WATCHER

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the watcherUniversal
2000
R

“Hello, I am Lutenant Hollis and welcome to my crime scene. Can I help you with anything, or are you just looking?”

FBI agent Joel Campbell, burnt-out and shell-shocked after years spent chasing serial killers, flees L.A. to begin a new life for himself in Chicago. But five months later, Joel’s best laid plans are abruptly cut short when hi new hometown becomes the setting for some particularly gruesome murders–murders that could only have been committed by one man: David Allen Griffin. One of Joel’s most elusive and cunning nemeses, Griffin has followed his former pursuer to Chicago in order to play a sadistic game of his intended victims and leaving his crime scenes meticulously free of clues in order to keep the police at bay. Griffin derives as much pleasure out of watching Joel react to every movement as watching his victims die. But when Griffin moves into Joel’s inner circle, Joel must quickly find some way to stop him before someone close to him becomes the next one to die.

And here we are, with the movie that Keanu Reeves would rather forget ever happened. And one that I would rather pretend I never watched in the first place. But I did. And review it I must.

Keeping in mind that Reeves had just come from making a little movie called The Matrix, his name was (and still is, really) a hot commodity when it came to big Hollywood movies. Hindsight being what it is, it’s pretty much common knowledge now that Reeves wanted nothing to do with The Watcher from the get-go:

“I never found the script interesting, but a friend of mine forged my signature on the agreement…I couldn’t prove he did and I didn’t want to get sued, so I had no other choice but to do the film.” [source]

What’s more, it appears that the script was re-written to capitalize on Reeve’s sudden popularity after The Matrix, but he still got substantially less than co-star James Spader. I can’t recall any time James Spader was considered the bankable name on a movie. Anyway, Reeves did the movie, but demanded that he be kept from doing any publicity for the film, as well as keeping his image off of any product placements. Which is why the poster image is in silhouette rather than obviously being the big mug of Keanu.

Anyway, this little trip down amnesia lane aside, I recall going to see The Watcher on opening night–that’s right, in the theater–due to my buddy Nex wanting to check it out, and there not being much else to do that evening. And, I was bored to tears. It was a sub-standard noir flick, with your standard predictable cat-and-mouse mystery and a laughable performance by both big names on this. There’s a scene where Reeve’s character is getting hisself pumped up for evil doings with a rather loud Rob Zombie song (Rob Zombie songs being standard issue for movies like this at the time). Other than that, I remember hardly anything from this movie, and I wasn’t about to re-watch it now to do a proper review for it. It’s a forgettable crime “thriller” that you won’t be missing much from if you decide not to include it in your Keanu Reeves theme night. Pass…

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Movie Review: BRIGHT

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brightNetflix
2017
R

“This is like a nuclear weapon that grants wishes.”

In an alternate present day, humans, orcs, elves and faeries have been coexisting since the beginning of time. Two police officers, one a human, the other an orc, embark on a routine night patrol that will alter the future of their world as they know it. Battling both their own personal differences as well as an onslaught of enemies, they must work together to protect a young female elf and a thought-to-be-forgotten relic, which, in the wrong hands, could destroy everything.

When discussing with my friends movies of the past that are remembered fondly, but would agree could probably do with an updated redux, one that always springs to mind is Alien Nation. One of my many favorites from my youth, it’s a buddy cop sci-fi flick in which a human cop and a space alien cop who find themselves caught in the midst of shenanigans between other humans and the space alien refugees who are acclimating to human society. Yeah, it’s pretty heavy-handed with the social commentary, but I love it, and think it should be redone, especially in this political climate.

The reason why I bring this up is because I was getting some serious Alien Nation vibes while watching the Netflix original movie bright. I hate to say this, but Bright may be the closest we’ll get to a modern retelling of Alien Nation (sorry, District 9). And this one doesn’t even have space aliens.

Pause for a moment…is it bad that I feel the need to specify space aliens, and not just say “aliens”? I digress…

Bright takes place in a modern society where the folklore creatures of old have always existed, and dwell side-by-side with humans, giving rise to a different kind of class struggle, but still similar: the Elves are the rich upper-class, the Orcs are the lower class, while the humans are somewhere in the middle. And since the social commentary is about as subtle as a wrecking ball with the word “SUBTLE” spray painted on it, the regular prejudices between species abound.

So, anyhoo, the story of Bright involves a couple of LAPD cops–one human that’s just got back from leave after being shot by an orc while on duty, and the other an orc rookie–who come across an Elvin Bright and a magic wand. A “Bright” is essentially any being–human, orc and elf alike–that can wield magic and, most importantly, can hold a magic wand without being immediately atomized in the process. Now, the two cops who don’t really like each other to begin with have to survive the night protecting the elf and the wand from crooked cops, gang bangers, orc gang bangers, renegade elf cultists and the Magic Feds. Wackiness.

So far, since its release, Bright has been getting some divisive reviews, from those who praise it as a great gritty urban fantasy movie, and those who deride it as the worst movie to ever be released in 2017, if ever. I have yet to stumble across a review speculating that perhaps Brightis threatening The Lord Of The Rings as the most ambitious fantasy movie of the 21st Century, but then again the group of online reviewers and vloggers of movies is kind of limited. Anyway, let me throw in my paltry two cents on Bright.

I rather enjoyed Bright. Sure, it comes off as if someone just took two random genres and smooshed them together — “What if, like, Training Day or Lethal Weapon had, like, orcs and elves and other fantasy creatures?” — but for what it is, it’s a well-made multi-genre smooshing. Yes, the story follows the same beats as the other police drama thrillers that David Ayer has made — S.W.A.T., Street Kings, the aforementioned Training Day — and Will Smith once again plays Will Smith as a fill-in-the-blank. And did I mention the not-so-subtle social commentary? But, despite all this, the movie works on a level that I don’t think anyone was expecting. The dynamic between the main characters Ward and Jakoby works, as they don’t really like each other, but find themselves in a situation where they have to have each other’s backs. Mind you, the story is rather predictable, but at no point did things get stale along the way. Admittedly, at first I thought this was another adaptation of a comic book series, as the premise does seem custom-made for one. But no, this was an original script (in a matter of speaking). By far, my favorite character is the orc Jakoby, who refuses to succumb to stereotypes and try to do some good in a world that doesn’t seem to care for his type.

Overall, though the flaws are evident, I would recommend checking out Bright. You may like it, you may not, but it’s definitely not the worst thing ever to come out of 2017.

Movie Review: DEAD WEST

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dead westRLJ Entertainment
2017
NR

A charismatic serial killer embarks on a murderous cross-country road trip in search of true love. Along the way he meets and kills several women whom he deems unworthy, eluding capture from the authorities by moving from one town to the next. When the brother of one of his victims decides to track the killer down to get vigilante justice, a revenge-fueled chase ensues. Along the way, the killer finally meets the girl of his dreams; but will they live happily ever after?

This is the third movie that I picked out going strictly by the cover art itself (the others being Abattoir and Candiland, in case you’ve clicked on this one first), and the one of the three I completely regret renting. I mean, judging solely by the cover art above, you can understand why I was expecting something in line with a horror western hybrid. Look at it. The skull on the cowboy hat. The fact that the movie is titled Dead West. I was hoping for some fun undead wild west wackiness. Instead, not only did I discover that the cover itself is several shades of misleading, but the title itself is as big of a lie as is the promise of cake.

So, apparently Dead West originally had the working title of Lady Killer, but was changed to Dead West because reasons. It would have been logical to leave it with the title that would have made more sense to the plot, but whatever. My grievances run deeper than the title and DVD artwork, though (I do wish to get the fact that, at no time during the movie, does the main character wear a hat, let alone one with a skull on the front, out of the way before proceeding).

What we have here is a kind of low-budget neo-grindhouse flick about a serial killer who favors the classic 50s look of leather jacket, white t-shirt and blue jeans, slicked back hair and traveling around this great country of ours in a muscle car with rock n’ roll cranking out of the stereo. He’s on a road trip to find the perfect girl. And he figures he’ll find ’em in the seedy bars in the small towns in the American south. And every time he discovers the perfect girl in fact has a flaw he deems unworthy (usually smoking, or having a less than virtuous reputation, or something he’s surprised to find at a roadhouse bar, those bastions of family values and all that) he kills them with his pocket knife and dumps the bodies. Somehow, he’s able to not get a drop of blood or anything onto himself–let along that pristine white t-shirt of his–in the process. He’s being pursued by the brother of one of his victims, each stop they make bringing him closer to confronting the slayer to get his revenge…which happens around the middle of the film, to which the Serial Killer wins and spends the rest of the movie’s running time meeting and talking a lot with a former call girl, to which he falls in love with, takes out her former pimp that goes by the name Sug White (gads), where they then get married by an Elvis impersonator…and he kills her on their wedding night. The end.

As you can probably imagine, Dead West was quite the slog to sit through. The setup is decent enough…only that’s pretty much dashed when you get around to the acting itself. Yes, it’s what you would expect for an ultra-low budget movie of this sort. The biggest insult is when you realize that this movie is attempting to be a much deeper movie than what it is, and is failing miserably.

Dead West sucks. It’s forgetable, and a complete waste of your time. Pass on this one.

Movie Review: ICHI THE KILLER

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ICHI THE KILLERMedia Blasters
2001
R

“Just a little torture, nothing special.”

Kakihara is a sadomasochist yakuza enforcer who enjoys giving and receiving pain in about equal measure. One night, his boss winds up missing, everyone presumes he’s dead, but Kakihara doesn’t. He goes out searching for his boss, and the guys responsible for his disappearance. This leads him to discovering Ichi, a man even more disturbed than he is; a confused and apparently psychotic individual who is normally unassuming and cowardly, but becomes homicidal when enraged (and who has crying fits when committing his murders). Trippy, gore-fueled wackiness ensues…

As it goes, the exploitation / torture sub-genre of horror ranks rather low on my list of preferences. The reason being its not truly scary; the on screen mutilations and torture may make you squeamish, but what it boils down to usually is going for the gross-outs.

Ichi The Killer, borrowed from my cousin Rosa (who also has a taste for the dark stuff), was, I’m told, one of the sickest movies to come out of Asian theater, and was supposed to traumatize me so to the point of completely desensitizing me to violence and mayhem in general. Maybe I’m already completely dead inside, because after watching this movie, I find myself less disturbed and more amused.

Mind you, there were several scenes that made me squeamish, involving the torture and kills. What amused me was mainly the use of British voice-overdubs. I was in hysterics whenever someone said “wanker” and various other forms of British slang. The torture scenes felt a bit arbitrary…like the pattern was Plot-Plot-Torture-Plot-Plot-Torture-Comedy Relief-Plot…you get the idea.

Fact is, that actually worked in this movie’s favor. Most exploitation movies have no plot to speak of. Ichi The Killer (“Ichi” means “One”, which explains the yellow “1” on the back of Ichi’s Power Ranger suit) is really a hardboiled gangland movie with some heavy doses of gore and torture thrown in. The main…protagonist? Is that right? Can you really have a protagonist in a movie where everyone’s pretty much on the muck and mire end of the moral spectrum? Anyhoo, the bleach-blonde guy with the extend-o-matic cheeks and a taste for the smacky-smack is a hoot to watch. The set- I’m assuming most of Tokyo was used- lent to a very claustrophobic feel, with the photography and the editing used lending a very psychedelic, trippy vibe to it.

Ichi The Killer is, in my not-so-humble opinion, is one of those curiosity movies that I’ll watch once, just to see what’s going on. Not something I’d watch again or add to my collection, but not because it’s so disturbing to watch. Then again, that’s just me…dead inside…I guess. More for the fans of Hostel and other torture exploitation flicks…

Movie Review: DISK JOCKEY

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DISK JOCKEYBalistic Entertainment
2005
NR

Usually, whenever I delve into these no-budget films that I usually get with those multi-movie packs for $20 from Mill Creek, I brace myself for a certain level of pain. Really, these things can run the gamut between mildly painful to make-the-hurting-STOP levels of excruciating pain. I try to get some kind of research behind the movie I’m about to watch, but more often than not, because of the independent nature of the flicks, there’s not much to go on outside of the websites dedicated to trash like these.

With a movie like Disk Jockey, which is part of the 50 movie Tomb Of Terrors pack I got not too long ago (it’s a tradition; every October around Halloween, I pick up some kind of cheep multi-movie horror pack to indulge my masochistic tendencies for bad genre movies), I must say it wasn’t really that bad. The story revolves around a couple of hitmen trying to get a disc with incriminating evidence, which has been surgically hidden inside the torso of the sister of the guy who has this information on them. And apparently they aren’t the only ones after the disc, as the wackiness ensues.

Disk Jockey is only an hour long, so the pace is rather brisk and gets to the point quickly. The film tries for that post-modern action technique that has been used by the likes of Guy Ritchie’s films, like breaking the fourth wall, characters understanding that they’re in a film (once it’s actually mentioned that there’s only an hour to the movie, so they’ve got to hurry up), freeze-framing for a bit of narrative dialogue between a main character and those watching the movie, that kind of thing. Problem is, mixed with the laughable acting and lame attempts at interjecting slapstick comedy in with the goings on, it fails rather miserably. One thing’s for certain, though, it’s short in the viewing, and doesn’t lag as badly as it could have. In the end, Disk Jockey is forgettable. Good for maybe one viewing, just for kicks and giggles. That’s it.