Quick Takes: Videodrome, Stereo, Crimes of the Future

Videodrome-posterVideodrome (1983)

Starring James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner, Reiner Schwarz
Directed by David Cronenberg

Videodrome is probably my favorite Cronenberg film from what I’ve seen so far, and I doubt anything could replace it. It’s an intoxicating descent into the media and what lengths our desensitized, media-obsessed culture will go to for entertainment. It’s probably more relevant now than ever. James Woods is fantastic, but I was surprised and impressed by Blondie singer Debbie Harry, who really pulled her weight and inhabited her character perfectly. The makeup FX work by Rick Baker is ultimately what sealed the deal for me, though, and moments like Woods communing with the pulsating TV are beyond amazing. What a movie! I don’t even know what to say. Watch it!

stereoStereo (1969)

Starring Ronald Mlodzik, Jack Messinger, Iain Ewing, Clara Mayer, Paul Mulholland, Arlene Mlodzik, Glenn McCauley
Directed by David Cronenberg

Stereo is technically Cronenberg’s first feature, but due to the experimental nature of the work, it’s hard to truly think of it in this way. I give those honors to his first “traditional” film, Shivers, but this is beside the point. I’m sure Stereo was very informative and necessary to Cronenberg’s growth as an artist, but as a viewer it is not an experience to relish. The film is mostly silent, with only a sparse, dry commentary chiming in now and then. Stereo is meant to be a series of educational films documenting the experiments of Dr. Luther Stringfellow (who is never seen) at the Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry. There Stringfellow was trying to give telepathic abilities to his subjects. Like actual educational films, Stereo is very dry and hard to stay awake through (and it’s only an hour). For me, its only saving grace is the stunning B&W cinematography capturing the architectural beauty of the University of Toronto Scarborough campus where the film was shot. Cronenberg may not have embraced narrative and entertainment at this point, but he clearly already knew how to frame an exceptional image. I do like the overall premise of the film, and the conceit of filming fake educational materials for a fictional doctor’s sci-fi experiments is inspired, but I can’t really recommend Stereo. If you are so inclined, though, the film is readily available on the Criterion edition of Scanners (or the Blue Underground release of Fast Company, in lower quality).

crimesCrimes of the Future (1970)

Starring Ronald Mlodzik, Jon Lidolt, Tania Zolty, Jack Messinger, Paul Mulholland, William Haslam, Willem Poolman, Stefan Czernecki
Directed by David Cronenberg

Crimes of the Future can be seen as a companion to Stereo, in that it’s also silent (with sparse commentary) and very experimental. But this film is in color and Cronenberg employs some limited sound design work to spice the soundtrack up a bit. Despite these “advancements,” Crimes of the Future is an even more boring film than Stereo, and the color cinematography doesn’t dazzle nearly as much (although there are some very nice shots throughout). The story centers around a doctor named Tripod, who wanders between various groups of men and tells us about his mentor Antoine Rouge, who somehow created a disease that spread through cosmetic products and wiped out Earth’s entire female population. Again, I have to give credit to Cronenberg for coming up with quite an interesting premise, but this is one hard film to watch. Just excruciating. Like Stereo, I can’t recommend Crimes of the Future, but if you’re a determined Cronenberg fan, the film is available on the Criterion edition of The Brood (or the Blue Underground release of Fast Company, in lower quality).

The 6th Day (2000)


Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Rapaport, Tony Goldwyn, Michael Rooker, Sarah Wynter, Robert Duvall, Terry Crews, Rodney Rowland, Wendy Crewson, Taylor Anne Reid, Jennifer Gareis

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

Expectations: Cloned Arnold? The more Arnolds the merrier!


[I spoil the end of the movie below. Read at your own discretion.]

I gotta say: for the amount of fun I had re-watching The 6th Day, it feels a bit cruel to slap it with a meager 2½-star rating. But as much as I enjoy this one, I am aware the entire time that I’m enjoying it despite its flaws. The 6th Day is also trying fairly hard to resurrect an older style of Arnold movie with less-than-perfect results. There’s a lot about this one that screams Total Recall, but recalling Total Recall while watching The 6th Day only drives home the fact that The 6th Day isn’t Total Recall. It’s also not an action movie, but at times it tries to be, so as the film progresses it never quite scratches the itches it gives you. But whatever, it has two Arnolds! That’s gotta count for something!

The 6th Day tells the story of Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an everyman who operates (and presumably owns) a helicopter charter service. One day he receives a job to take cloning billionaire Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn) to the top of a snowy mountain. Don’t ask why. I don’t know, and I’m not sure if the screenwriters knew either. Perhaps Drucker wanted a drink of water and only fresh mountain snow would do. Anyway, it’s also Adam’s birthday, so his partner Hank (Michael Rapaport) tells Adam to take off early and let him take Drucker to the top of the mountain to get his snow water. Adam agrees, setting into motion a series of events that will change his life forever.

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Police Story (1985)

PoliceStory_1Police Story [警察故事] (1985)
AKA Police Force, Jackie Chan’s Police Force, Jackie Chan’s Police Story

Starring Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Bill Tung, Chor Yuen, Charlie Cho Cha-Lee, Kent Tong Chun-Yip, Mars, Lam Gwok-Hung, David Lau Chi-Wing, Kam Hing-Yin, Wan Fat, Fung Hak-On, Tai Bo

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: It’s Police Story! It’s awesome!


To make this review more exciting, listen to Jackie’s dope Police Story theme song while you read!

Police Story is one of the most influential and important Jackie Chan films, and it was always one of my favorites during my teenage obsession. But I hadn’t seen it in 15 or so years, and to be completely honest I found Police Story to be less thrilling than my memories of it. Part of my problem was that I incorrectly remembered that a bunch of stuff from Police Story 2 was in this one, but the root of my disappointment stemmed more from forgetting that Police Story, like most Jackie Chan films, contains a lot of humor. Those are my problems, though, and they shouldn’t sully the legacy of Police Story.

The film opens in amazing fashion, as Jackie and a team of cops are tasked with staking out a shantytown where a drug lord (played wonderfully by the great Shaw Brothers director Chor Yuen) is making a deal. The tone is immediately very serious and the film feels markedly different from all the Sammo Hung-directed films that Jackie had been in previously, even Heart of Dragon (which is actually a great bridge between the two tones). The feel is also distinct because Jackie is a very different style of director than Sammo, crafting films that are less visually exciting (from a framing/camera placement/editing standpoint), but yet, thanks to the incredulity of the stunt work, are also intensely more visually arresting. I think these days I prefer Sammo’s style, but Jackie is more of a visionary dreaming up insane stunts to consistently push himself and that is worthy of major respect. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Jackie — at least up to this point — was a director more focused on the planning and staging of elaborate spectacles, where Sammo was more down to Earth and traditional.

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The Incredible Genie (1999)

incrediblegenie_2Starring Matt Koruba, Tom Fahn, Stacie Randall, Biff Manard, George Miserlis, Amanda Fuller, Dean Scofield, Justin Brown

Directed by Alexander Cassini

Expectations: Alakazam! I wish for a good movie!

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

I doubt there’s ever been a genie-based film that didn’t cover the “Be careful what you wish for!” adage, so when The Incredible Genie hits those notes it’s expected. What came as a surprise is that I would genuinely enjoy The Incredible Genie for its reckless, independent spirit AND for its message of friendship and putting the best version of yourself forward. They hit the message pretty hard towards the end of the film, but in this movie it’d still be easy to miss amidst all the insanity being thrown at the screen. The Incredible Genie is essentially a family film, so don’t expect anything traditionally associated with B-Movies and “insanity,” although you can totally look forward to a Snake Man being skewered on a collapsing spiked wall in a booby-trapped jail cell. Gather ’round, kids… it’s time for a Moonbeam movie!

The Incredible Genie opens with Peter Dopler (George Miserlis), a researcher, and his Egyptian guide out a-hunting for tombs. Guess what? They found one! And you’ll never guess how they get in — Peter leans up against the stone door and it just collapses! Wow, what luck! This stone has stood tall and strong for thousands of years, warding off tomb raiders and the sands of time, only to fall when one oafish dude takes a breather. This is merely the tip of the B-Movie iceberg, and within a few minutes we’ve been introduced to “Aura-Detecting Goggles” rigged to view mystical power sources, a magic lamp, and a mummy who tries to hug Peter to death but instead has his burial wrappings unfurled and used as a rappelling line so Peter can make a quick exit from the tomb.

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The Blood Brothers (1973)

BloodBrothers_1The Blood Brothers [刺馬] (1973)
AKA Dynasty of Blood, Chinese Vengeance

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching-Ho, Tin Ching, Yeung Chak-Lam, Fan Mei-Sheng, Danny Lee

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.


Immediately following the Shaw fanfare, The Blood Brothers explodes out of the gate. A man yells that Officer Ma has been assassinated. Oh no! This is definitely an attention-getting opening, but The Blood Brothers is actually a MUCH more reserved film than this opening would suggest. After the credits have played and the dust has settled, we learn that the assassin is Chang Wen Hsiang (David Chiang), and he asks the court to allow him some paper and ink to write down his tale. Chang doesn’t dispute that he killed Ma Hsin I (Ti Lung), but he insists that his reasoning will make sense once his full story has been told.

Nine years previous, Chang and his sworn brother Huang Chung (Chen Kuan Tai) are staking out a remote road in hopes of robbing whoever should pass their way. It’s been a slow day, but as they argue about possibly going elsewhere, a horse approaches. On it rides one Ma Hsin I, and soon Huang and Ma are trading blows. Ma is too formidable an opponent for this to be just a simple robbery, and Ma also challenges the two men with questions about the nature of the lives they lead. Ma makes an impression on them, as he is a natural leader with ambition, so the three become blood brothers and vow to join forces against the Taiping Army AKA the Long Hairs AKA the Hair Bandits. If I didn’t know the film was based on actual events, I might be inclined to think this was some kind of attack on hippies. :)

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Heart of Dragon (1985)

HeartoftheDragon_1Heart of Dragon [龍的心] (1985)
AKA Heart of the Dragon, The First Mission, Powerman III

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Emily Chu Bo-Yee, Melvin Wong, Lam Ching-Ying, Mang Hoi, Chin Ka-Lok, Yuen Wah, Corey Yuen Kwai, Peter Chan Lung, James Tin Jun, Chung Fat, Dick Wei, Phillip Ko Fei, Anthony Chan Yau, Lam Ying-Fat, Wu Ma

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: I remember not liking this one at all, but I’m sure I’ll be more open to it than I was as a teenager.


Heart of Dragon is one of the few Jackie Chan films that isn’t a traditional action film, and this makes it a hard sell to many fans. Director Sammo Hung wanted to stretch out the acting chops of both himself and Jackie, so the action was scaled back to allow the story’s drama to take the center stage. They even shot two fight scenes that were cut from the film, which should give you a pretty good indication of how dedicated Sammo was to making a more serious film that his previous work with Jackie. It also gave them the right to say, “We threw away better fight sequences than [insert movie title here] had!” :)

Heart of Dragon is actually more tonally mixed than all that makes it sound, and this really surprised me. I saw this film once before during my teenage obsession with Jackie, and the only thing I remember is Sammo in overalls and how bored I was. I honestly didn’t remember there being any action at all. This time I found Heart of Dragon to be a delicate mix of serious drama and lite comedy, with sprinkles of action and romance. Often the tones would mix together, too, which is always challenging for a movie to pull off. The scene when Sammo masquerades as his friend’s father to visit the school principal comes to mind. It’s funny as an isolated scene, but when you consider the entire situation it’s heartbreaking how vulnerable Sammo’s character is.

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Grotesque (1988)

grotesque_1Starring Linda Blair, Tab Hunter, Donna Wilkes, Brad Wilson, Nels Van Patten, Sharon Hughes, Michelle Bensoussan, Guy Stockwell, Charles Dierkop, Chuck Morrell, Lincoln Tate, Robert Z’Dar, Robert Zoller

Directed by Joe Tornatore

Expectations: I hope it’s… grotesque!

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

Grotesque is not a good movie. It’s quite hard to get through, and even a cast boasting genre favorites like Linda Blair and Robert Z’Dar can’t spice it up past bland. I could barely stay awake, and took multiple breaks to slap myself in the face. Part of the film’s problem is that it has almost no tension whatsoever, plus it’s one of those movies that can’t decide what it wants to be. I’m chuckling to myself as type this, though, as the film’s identity crisis is also why I ultimately didn’t end up completely hating Grotesque.

Grotesque doesn’t obscure how boring it’s going to be either; right from the first second I immediately wanted to snuggle into a pillow and count some sheep. An elderly woman dreamily narrates while we take in a dark, nighttime exterior shot of a house. This lasts nearly three minutes and by the end of it I felt ready to start collecting Social Security. But Grotesque has a trick up its sleeve; this Gothic, dreamy opening was all a big ruse! We were actually watching a rough cut of a film being shown to some studio execs, and now the real movie can begin!

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