If one ever said that eclectic indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch would make a zombie film, or Bill Murray would make two, one would initially be thought mad…but here we are. Flick takes place in the small, rural town of Centerville where a group of eccentric characters including Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are dealing with a bizarre situation. The Earth has been thrown off it’s axis and now the dead are returning to life. As the town population dwindles, Robertson and Officer Ronald Peterson (Adam Driver) must battle the increasing army of the flesh eating living dead.
Flick is written and directed by Jarmusch and is filled with atmosphere and the director’s trademark dry humor. There is a lot of strange stuff going on and a host of oddball characters, but the film doesn’t always click and it does have the pace of, well…a funeral. There are some amusing moments and some bloody ones, too. The familiar tropes are present and Jarmusch does play with them a bit. The cast is quite impressive and amusing, such as Tilda Swinton’s sword wielding Scotswoman, but the movie on a whole never really seems to find it’s footing and rambles on like one of it’s zombies. Considering that it’s Jim Jarmusch actually making a zombie film, one would expect something a bit more special. Also stars Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez, Danny Glover, Chloë Sevigny and Tom Waits as “Hermit Bob”.
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“No flesh shall be spared” – Mark 13:20
Richard Stanley supposedly based his cult classic on a short story called SHOK! that ran in the British 2000 AD sci-fi comics, but it seems equally inspired by The Road Warrior, The Terminator and the Japanese live-acion Manga flick Testsuo. This midnight movie was released in late 1990 and while some action flicks were still very 80s, at this time, Hardware had a darker, more nihilistic tone and grungier look that would be more distinct to the 90s.
The story is set in a post apocalyptic world where most of the planet is ruined and people live in industrialized cities and scavengers roam the wasteland for anything salvageable/sellable. One such scavenger is Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) or ‘Mo’ who happens upon another scavenger selling parts of what appear to be a maintenance drone. Mo buys the parts for his artist girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) who specializes in metal sculptures. But unknown to Mo or Jill, the parts are actually from a M.A.R.K. 13 combat robot who, while Jill sleeps, rebuilds itself from the parts and the miscellaneous junk Jill uses in her art. Upon a rude awakening, Jill finds herself locked in her own apartment with a lethal and unstoppable killing machine who is carrying out it’s only order…exterminate!
Despite a lot of obvious inspirations and influences, writer/director Richard Stanley uses them wisely and makes Hardware his own as he sets heroine Jill against the self-repairing juggernaut inside a fairly confined space. He gives the flick a lot of atmosphere and despite having a quirky sense of humor at times, the film is very dark toned, though, also oddly comic book as well. Like something out of the legendary Heavy Metal magazine. The film is populated with some very comic book-ish characters too, such as Jill’s perverted neighbor (Batman’s William Hootkins) who breaks into her apartment and is too infatuated with getting in her pants to take her warnings of her homicidal robot guest too seriously. The film can be both cartoonish and very gruesome at times and Stanley gives it a very MTV music video style with a really effective assortment of industrial and metal songs…including Stigmata from Ministry…that blend perfectly with Simon Boswell’s electronic score and the visuals. The look of the film, though somewhat derivative, is also very effective at giving the film it’s post-apocalyptic mess atmosphere and it is bathed in stark colors and well captured by Steven Chivers’ cinematography. If Stanley’s fun and sometimes very intense and brutal film has any flaws, it is that sometimes the more comic book aspects of the flick and some of the offbeat, humorous moments don’t quite always gel with the darker moments and tone. The film also is somewhat moderately paced and takes pretty much halfway through for our robotic slaughterhouse to get going. Then things move with a more accelerated pace. The film also stops it’s picked-up momentum dead in the last act for a psychedelic sequence brought on when the murderous robot injects a character with it’s lethal venom. It’s well staged, but stops the film in it’s tracks for a few moments while it plays out and takes a few more moments for it get going again. There is also some stilted dialog as well, but there isn’t a lot of talking once things get started, so it isn’t overly hurtful to the proceedings.
The small cast are fine with Travis making a very resourceful and tough heroine as she must use her wits and tenacity to outwit her virtually indestructible opponent. McDermott is also fine as Mo, but was slightly wooden in his line reads though his character obviously steps aside for most of the film’s middle to let Travis’ Jill take center stage. Hootkins is really creepy as the perverted Lincoln and the supporting cast play their eccentric characters just fine, too. Rounding out is an amusing cameo by Motorhead’s Lemmy as a cab driver and a vocal performance by punk legend Iggy Pop as a radio DJ named Angry Bob.
I liked Hardware and remember it’s dark and nihilistic tone getting under my skin a bit when I first saw this at the Stanley Warner theater back in 1990. The film has it’s flaws and wears it’s influences proudly on it’s sleeve, but it is an effective sci-fi chiller that can be brutal, gruesome and yet very comic book all at once. Sometimes that blends well, at other times not so much. But overall it is a cult classic and one of the first generation of films to break from the 80s style of filmmaking and embrace the more grim and less over-the-top tone of the 90s, though it does have it’s over-the-top moments, especially when it comes to the gore. A cool and enjoyable little sci-fi/horror…though a little dated at this point…and sadly Stanley never really made good use of the attention the flick got him and this was his only hit, though, he still works proficiently on documentaries and short films.
This week’s double feature needs little explanation. The first Crow flick is a classic and simply a great comic book movie and it’s first sequel, City Of Angels is actually a decent film on it’s own and kind of underrated as it gets a lot of flack for simply having the audacity to be a Crow film without Brandon Lee. It has it’s flaws but, is still entertaining if you cut it a break for trying to tell a new story with a new central character and actor. Together with the first flick they make a cool night of dark themed heroics from beyond…
THE CROW (1994)
The Crow is a bonafide film classic and one of my all time favorites and one whose story of revenge from beyond the grave is made all the more haunting by the tragic on-set death of it’s leading man Brandon Lee. Though, I think this would have still been a great flick without the notoriety of Lee’s accidental demise but, you can’t deny it adds a chilling effect when watched.
Based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr, this supernatural superhero flick tells the ill-fated story of rocker Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancé Shelly Webster (Sophia Shinas) who are murdered the night before their Halloween wedding when Shelly’s well-intentioned battle against tenant eviction gets the attention of bizarre crime boss Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). His thugs T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Tin-Tin (Laurence Mason), Skank (Angel David) and Funboy (Michael Massee) kill Eric and then brutally rape and beat Shelly who dies a day later. But, Eric and Shelly’s love ran ran deeper then life itself and on the first year anniversary of their murders, Eric returns from the grave as an invincible avenger guided by a black crow and one by one starts to hunt down and slay the the fiends responsible for the death of he and his true love. But, Top Dollar has otherworldly assistance of his own and when he finds the source of Eric’s power, it now becomes his weakness and possibly the end of his quest for justice and revenge.
The script was written by David J. Schow and John Shirley and they really captured the essence and tone of O’Barr’s tale. Then when you add director Alex Proyas to the mix, you get a visually stunning and atmospheric adaptation that really nails the graphic novel’s look and feel. Proyas also gives us some great action sequences choreographed by star Brandon Lee and master stuntman, martial artist and stunt co-ordinator Jeff Imada, which make this a gritty, violent comic book come to life. But, it’s not all visuals and action as Proyas also gives this movie a heart and soul. Despite all the gunfire and explosions, the film is about eternal love and we are treated to flashbacks of Eric and Shelly’s relationship so, we get the full effect of how much these two meant to each other and it really is what makes this work so well. We believe Eric loved her so much that he would cheat even death to avenge the wrongdoing of those responsible for ending his happy life with Shelly. We are right along with him rooting for him to take out the despicable villains and once we realize Eric has an exploitable Achilles’ Heel, it adds some tension and suspense as our hero can be made vulnerable and be stopped by those he seeks to destroy.
The film is populated by some colorful characters, brought to life by an eclectic but, strong cast. Lee shows that he could act as well as kick ass and he had the charm to be a leading man had his life not come to such a sad and early end. His Eric is charismatic, strong and sympathetic as well. Despite his being driven by rage to avenge Shelly’s cruel death, there is still a melancholy that makes him as sad a figure as he is imposing as a vengeful force. Perfect casting and sadly proof of a potential that will never be realized. Shinas is seen briefly in flashbacks but, her Shelly is sweet and kind and we see why Eric loves her. Wincott makes a strong and very eccentric villain, sort of a modern day pirate with a taste for the supernatural provided by his spooky half-sister and lover Myca (Bai Ling). He makes a formidable foe as do Kelly, Mason, David and Massee as his detestable yet, oddly likable gallery of rogues that one by one meet Eric’s wrath. Rounding out is fan favorite Tony (Candyman) Todd as Top Dollar’s bodyguard Grange, Jon Polito as dirtbag pawnshop owner Gideon, the always good Ernie Hudson as Eric’s only ally, a cop named Albrecht who investigated the couple’s death and got busted down for it, Rochelle Davis as a young girl named Sarah who was a friend of Eric and Shelly’s and provides an emotional ground for the avenging rocker, and Anna Levine as Sarah’s mom and Funboy’s girlfriend, Darla. All really give their supporting characters three dimensional life and it all adds up to what makes this comic book movie a classic.
On the production side, there are some really effective visual effects on a moderate budget that give us a gritty and rundown near future Detroit where the film is set. It is a no man’s land of crime and violence bathed in darkness, shadows and almost endless rain. The cathedral setting for the climax is especially noteworthy as it gives the final act a Phantom Of The Opera-ish feel and… in my opinion… far better utilizes the setting then Batman did five years earlier in it’s similar climax. Finally, while Alex Proyas certainly gives this flick a heavy gothic tone, we get a really effective score by Graeme Revell which includes some great songs, from various artists, producing a film score and soundtrack that are as equally classic as the movie they represent. The music and songs interact with the story to a point of being almost another character.
Overall, I could pick out some of the film’s minor flaws but, what’s the point. The film is a classic and it is no small feat that the filmmakers where able to craft such a solid flick when their leading man was killed with weeks of filming yet to go. Considering how the film was reconstructed and the FX crew used alternate scenes to extract their star and include Lee in footage he was not there to film, I think we can cut it some slack that there is a film at all and it wasn’t scrapped as was one considered option. But, it would have ben a crime to not let the film world see Lee’s last and best work and like his on-screen hero and the legacy of the man who played him, this flick will live on. A great movie that remains strong and entertaining even now.
The film also has some personal resonance with me, as well, as Brandon Lee and I were the same age when he died and it impacted me deeply for reasons I, even today, can’t fully explain. There is now talk of a remake but, I can’t seeing it having the impact this one has had, even if it turns out to be a good flick.
4 classic crows.
THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS (1996)
This review is of the director’s cut and not the original theatrical version which is 7 minutes shorter…
In hindsight, it might have been best to leave the success of The Crow as a testament to Brandon Lee’s legacy and let it go but, money talks and a sequel was made, opting to tell the story of a new character then try to recast a part already immortalized by Lee. The film gets a lot of flack for trying to continue the Crow series without Brandon Lee and Eric Draven but, while the film does not come close to matching it’s predecessor, I think it is actually pretty entertaining and succeeds in having it’s own personality and feel. Given a chance, it’s not as bad as it’s bitterness fueled reputation makes it out to be.
This film takes place years later in an equally seedy Los Angeles and tells the story of single father Ashe Corven (Swiss actor Vincent Pérez) who is gunned down along with his son Danny (Eric Acosta) when Danny mistakes gunshots for Day Of The Dead fireworks and runs straight into an execution being carried out by the four henchman of crime boss Judah Earl (Richard Brooks). The story also includes a now grown up Sarah (Mia Kirshner)… who, aside from Eric and Shelly’s cat Gabrielle, is the only character to return from the original… who is a tattoo artist living in L.A. and has premonitions of Ashe and his impending return accompanied by the crow. She is there to guide him when he rises from his watery grave to exact revenge on Earl and his minions Curve (punk icon Iggy Pop), Nemo (Thomas Jane), Spider Monkey (Vincent Castellanos) and Kali (ex-Power Ranger, Thuy Trang). But, Ashe’s quest for vengeance has complications as Earl has also discovered the secret and weakness of the crow’s power and Ashe is starting to fall for Sarah, knowing that the completion of his mission will return him to the realm of the dead. Will being torn between wanting to stay with Sarah and yearning to see his boy again give his adversaries a deadly edge over the undead avenger?
The sequel was this time written by frequent comic movie scribe David Goyer and directed by feature film newcomer Tim Pope who does a good job in giving the film it’s own distinctive look and feel despite glaring plot similarities. The film follows what is now the basic Crow formula with a wrongfully murdered person returning to avenge a loved one and battling a foe with an interest in the supernatural. The original had Draven battling Top Dollar and his weirdo half sister Myca, while here it is Ashe going against Earl and his sooth-sayer Sybil (Tracy Ellis). The only real difference is Earl is far more sadistic then the brutally practical Top Dollar and Sybil more of a pawn than a willing participant unlike the gleefully sadistic Myca. The film uses the same ‘kill the crow, kill the man’ plot device to weaken the invincible Ashe as in the last film, as it also again presents Sarah as hostage bait to lure our hero in… and it is already wearing out it’s welcome. But there is a lot of pluses too, the film does give us another cast of colorful villains and there are some very well done sequences of Ashe taking them on one by one, including his battle with the vicious martial arts expert and she-devil that is Trang’s Kali and his mythology laced showdown with Iggy Pop’s wacko Curve. Pope’s action scenes are styled differently and help give the film it’s own flavor. The director also gives the film a lot of strong atmosphere, it has an even spookier edge then the previous film as this one is also set at Halloween but, focuses more on the Latin “Dia de Los Muertos” which gives it a far more spiritual tone and aura. The original was centered around the destructively festive ‘Devils’ Night’ but, here it is the mournful Day Of The Dead celebrations that add a more somber tint to Pope’s canvas.
The cast are fine, though, not all as lively as those Proyas had to work with. Vincent Pérez certainly looks the part especially with the face paint and his brown leather outfit and motorcycle. His accent does get in the way and he tries hard to give Ashe his own personality and while he isn’t as memorable as Lee, he actually does OK on his own. Kirshner is pretty but, bland as the grown-up, emo Sarah. Her delivery is very monotone and her gloominess kind of goes against the feelings of hope given her by Eric at the end of the first movie. Our bad guys are fun with Brooks making a strong villain whose Earl actually echos his Jubal Early character from Firefly that he would play six years later. But, Early had more restraint and an odd whimsy despite being an equally dangerous man. Pop and Thrang’s baddies stand out the most among the thugs while Castellanos and Jane really aren’t given much to do aside from meeting their doom at Ashe’s hands. Pop’s Curve is delightfully demented while Thrang’s Kali is a sadistic dragon lady with a taste for sadism and twisted nursery rhymes. Last but, not least, is the late Ian Dury as the cantankerous Noah, the owner of the tattoo parlor where Sarah works.
As for the rest of the production, the film looks really cool yet, drastically different then the first flick and the model work and visuals are more then satisfactory. Graeme Revell contributes another strong score that echos the first film’s just enough yet, adds more haunting choral vocals and it also comes with a really good soundtrack of music from various artists that is a good listen on it’s own.
Overall, I like The Crow: City Of Angels, it’s got it’s flaws and was never going to live up to the instant classic that the first became. But, especially with it’s director’s cut, it is actually a decent enough flick on it’s own and has enough of it’s own style in telling the classic Crow story of revenge after death. Sure it’s ending is a little overblown but, when all is said and done, when cut some slack for not being what it couldn’t possibly be, it is an entertaining enough sequel that doesn’t dishonor what it follows. Give it a chance if you haven’t seen it. Followed by two direct to home media sequels, the weak The Crow: Salvation with Eric Mabius and Kirsten Dunst and the abysmally awful The Crow Wicked Prayer with Edward Furlong and Angel’s David Boreanez.
Heavy Metal is a Canadian animated, sci-fi anthology inspired by the classic magazine of the same name. It’s a series of stories, some based on tales originally from the magazine, others written for the film, that are each directed by a different filmmaker and animated in different styles and techniques based on the work of the artists who drew for the magazine, like Bernie Wrightson, Moebius and Angus McKie. At the center of the stories is a powerful and evil force in the form of a glowing green orb called the Loc-Nar. The effects of this evil and the desire of those who wish to possess it’s power are the common theme throughout the film that links all the stories together. And true to it’s name, the film is filled with songs from bands like Cheap Trick, Blue Oyster Cult, Devo and Sammy Hagar.
Heavy Metal is a real blast, filled with some really cool animation and a diverse selection of stories that are filled with the same elements of sex, drugs, horror and sci-fi fantasy that have made the magazine famous. Some of the stories are more humorous, like the fantasy Den, where a nerd (voiced by the late, great John Candy) is thrust to an alternate dimension where he becomes a Conan-like hero, or, the amusing Captain Sternn (Eugene Levy) who is basically a smug jerk whose bad deeds are catching up to him. Then there are more serious stories like the Dan O’Bannon written B-17, about a WWII bomber with a zombie problem, and the bloody fantasy Taarna about a female warrior who is the last of her race and faced with saving her planet from an evil tyrant and his Lok-Nar empowered mutant army. Heavy Metal is a classic and it is sure to bring out the horny teenage nerd in all of us with it’s big breasted heroines, muscular heroes, ample amounts of sex and nudity and plentiful blood and gore. There are some great vocal talent, such as the before mention Candy and Levy, along with Joe Flaherty, Percy Rodriguez and Richard Romanus, that add life to the colorful and varied characters that populate the numerous stories. Add to that one hell of a soundtrack, which I proudly own as well and you’ve got a fun night at the movies.
A favorite of mine since I first saw it in 1981 and a deviously fun cartoon for adults and the teenage geek that we all have within us. A classic!
Our second feature is appropriately also a Canadian animated flick with a great soundtrack, that tells the story of a future where humans are gone, but animals have evolved to take their place. In Ohmtown, Omar (voiced by Greg Salata in the original version and Paul Le Mat in the US release, sung by Robin Zander) and Angel (voiced by Susan Roman, sung by Deborah Harry) are a boyfriend and girlfriend who are also in a rock band trying to achieve every musician’s dream of stardom. But when the band is heard by mega-rock star Mok (voiced by Don Francks, sung by both Lou Reed and Iggy Pop), he wants Angel to become a solo star and leave the band behind. She refuses, but he kidnaps her anyway and hypnotizes the band, making them think she’s abandoned them. Soon Omar finds out the truth and even worse, that Mok actually has a far more sinister plot in mind, to use Angel’s voice to unleash a demon and now Omar and his band-mates must race to Nuke York to rescue angel and defeat Mok’s plan, saving both Angel and possibly the world.
Rock & Rule is a fun animated rock and roll adventure that would be a good time even without the top notch vocal talent. But adding to a fun story, we get some memorable songs sung by the legendary likes of Cheap Trick, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry…that’s an awesome line-up in most any music lovers book and their voices perfectly compliment the characters and story-line. The film moves at a fast pace and is filled with an entertaining assortment of colorful characters brought to life by equally colorful and vibrant animation.
The film was hard to find for a while and then was available on DVD and Blu-ray, but now seems to be out of print again. Availability issues aside, it’s a fun, colorfully entertaining animated flick with a lot of great music by some classic artists giving us a nice ear candy coating with a classic good vs evil story at it’s center. A cult classic and a real treat.