Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)

piranha2_2Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)
AKA Piranha II: Flying Killers, The Spawning

Starring Tricia O’Neil, Steve Marachuk, Lance Henriksen, Ricky Paull Goldin, Ted Richert, Leslie Graves, Carole Davis, Connie Lynn Hadden, Arnie Ross, Tracey Berg, Albert Sanders

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: Very low.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Piranha Part Two: The Spawning was the feature directorial debut of James Cameron, so if nothing else it’s worth a look for that alone. But fans of the famous director of sci-fi action classics will find little that resembles anything of the Cameron style in Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. According to that grand Internet resource Wikipedia, Cameron was only in charge of the production for a few weeks before the producer fired him and took over, editing whatever footage Cameron had shot into the final release of the film. Makes sense, but for discussion let’s just assume that Cameron is the director largely responsible for the shooting.

While Piranha Part Two: The Spawning is a sequel to the original Piranha film, it’s pretty much a sequel in name alone. There is some mention of the previous film’s events, and in a way the sequel does go down the path alluded to in the stinger that ends Piranha, but these are thin connections at best. At the same time, the surface of the story is somewhat similar in overall structure, so you could almost argue that this sequel is also something of a complete rehash. But that’s probably being too reductive, as it makes this film sound like it shares a kindred spirit to the original film, which is totally untrue.

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The Terminator (1984)

terminator_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Rick Rossovich, Bess Motta, Earl Boen

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: Super high. Can’t wait to see it again.

fourstar


Everyone already knows that James Cameron’s second feature The Terminator is an incredible, groundbreaking film. Even if you don’t like it (for shame!), you still have to give it credit for the undying fan support it has garnered over the years; as Elvis would say, “50,000,000 fans can’t be wrong.” I’ve seen this film and its sequel more times than I could possibly count, yet it remains a perennial favorite.

This time around I noticed a few things I never had before. The most notable thing is that the film is almost purely visual during its first half. Hell, even a good portion of the second half is largely driven by pure action and carnage too, but its the first half that I want to focus on. The film begins with a quick scene of the future war. These scenes have always had a deep effect on me; I remember being absolutely riveted to them as a child. This ultimate manifestation of the post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged city ignites the fires of imagination, and even though we have little context for what’s happening on-screen, we cannot deny the power of the imagery being used. I mean, who saw this as a kid and didn’t remember the tank treads crushing human skulls?

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AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

Starring Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, Tommy Flanagan, Joseph Rye, Agathe de La Boulaye, Carsten Norgaard, Sam Troughton

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Expectations: Super low. There’s no way this can be good.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Yes, you saw those stars right. No one messed with my graphics. Against all odds, AVP is a highly enjoyable film. It successfully brings together the elements necessary, all while still feeling somewhat connected to the Alien and Predator franchises. I wouldn’t call it canonical, and it definitely doesn’t feel like it matches up with previously established timelines, but when you’re dealing with a film that hinges on two killer aliens battling for supremacy, none of those things should matter. There’s some shit in this movie that is so audacious that I have no choice but to give it a hearty laugh and enjoy the shit out of it. I’d love to say what my favorite of these moments was, but the big reveal is kind of a big deal in the film, so I wouldn’t want to rob anyone of the pleasure it delivers.

In terms of story, AVP is mostly clichéd, mercenary filmmaking. This works to the advantage of AVP as our minds aren’t bogged down trying to understand some heady plot. We also don’t need to worry about remembering the characters, as they don’t really matter either. What does matter is that scientists at the Weyland corporation have picked up a strange heat signature in the ice in Antarctica, and they quickly determine it’s emanating from a pyramid 2,000 feet under the surface of the water. So Lance Henriksen, playing some ancestor of Bishop’s creator, brings together a kick-ass team to go investigate it. As expected, shit goes down something fierce and the audience is there to lap it up every step of the way.

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Near Dark (1987)

Starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Joshua John Miller, Marcie Leeds, Kenny Call, Troy Evans

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Expectations: High, been looking forward to this for a while.


Well, this is apparently the week of movies that don’t fit into the standard mold of what you’d generally expect from a horror movie. With the exception of Tales from the Hood, everything I’ve done this week has had some strange twist on the genre, or tried to subvert it to fit whatever artistic goals the director had in mind. Near Dark does both, and as the hype would have me believe, it does both incredibly well. Near Dark might not be a traditional horror movie, but it is unique, interesting and absolutely gorgeous to look at.

The story isn’t anything especially new to the genre: a young vampire rashly turns a mortal into a bloodsucker, and now said mortal must learn to cope with his new skills. But while the story itself is average and kind of done to death, the execution here is anything but. Director Kathryn Bigelow specifically set out to make a western film, but when she was unable to secure funding, she decided to jump onto the vampire hype wagon and make a revisionist vampire western. Sounds like a tall order for sure, but she pulls it off with the utmost style.

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Alien³ (1992)

Alien³ (1992)
AKA Alien 3

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henriksen, Christopher Fairbank, Carl Chase, Leon Herbert, Vincenzo Nicoli, Pete Postlethwaite

Directed by David Fincher

Expectations: High, but guarded. There’s no way this can hold up to my love of it as a teenager.


Alien³. I remember seeing this in the theater very vividly; I was 11 and it rocked my world. I’ve since seen it a couple of times, but those were all before I cracked 20 and my tastes changed a bit. I’ve been eagerly awaiting Alien³ with nostalgia and a lot of trepidation, and now I can honestly say that I understand why everyone’s so hard on this film. It really doesn’t live up to its predecessors, and it’s much too drama-heavy, but I gotta say, I still greatly enjoyed it. David Fincher may have disowned the film because it was such a horrible experience for him, but I have always — and apparently will always — harbor a great love for this one.

Alien³ immediately pisses off every giant Aliens fan in the room by informing us during the credits that everyone in the pod except for Ripley has died. I imagine they were about as mad as I was at Cameron’s complete disregard for the atmosphere and feeling of Scott’s Alien. Anyway, I was never very attached to any of these characters so I’ve never cared that they decided to go this route, but it is a definite point of contention for many. To this I say: PRISON PLANET, and rest my case. I have such a love for the sci-fi idea of a prison planet that it easily overrides any discomfort or ill feelings the questionable reveal brings on. And like I said, I was never too fond of any of them anyway. OK, I did like Bishop quite a bit, but he actually does get to come back for a bit. Besides, the deaths of the characters allows Alien³‘s story to move in some interesting and intriguing ways, and it gives the film its somber tone.

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Aliens (1986)

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, William Hope, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross, Colette Hiller

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: Y’know, it’s Aliens. It’s good.


As I often say in reviews where I know I’m treading on hallowed ground: I’m just calling it like I see it. I’ve always wanted to burn (or re-burn) through the Alien films in one fell swoop, as until now I’ve only seen them with multiple years in between. Watching Aliens only a few days after Alien, with its tight, restrictive corridors and masterful atmosphere firmly rooted in my mind, was a completely different experience. Instead of purely enjoying the more action-packed take on the xenomorph, I found myself disappointed at the almost entire lack of the look and feel of Alien. I understand that this series is unique in that it has multiple creative forces behind it, but I couldn’t help but think that Aliens was far inferior to Alien. Obviously, this debate has been going ever since this sequel dropped, and ultimately it comes down to what type of movie you prefer, but for my money I have always (and apparently will always) prefer the original Alien to James Cameron’s loud, crammed-full-of-shit sequel.

Harsh words, I know, and honestly I don’t mean them to come off like they probably sound. I love Aliens, I truly do, but my undying love for Alien, coupled with the fact that its memory was as fresh as a newly hatched facehugger, led me to notice the trashy, mainstream-leaning nature of this film like never before. But I recognize that I’m being overly harsh and bringing in a hard-lined bias toward the atmospheric horror of the original. Where Alien transported you into the future and into a derelict alien ship, Aliens feels like you’re watching a movie. It delivers some fucking awesome visuals, but it fails to cohesively feel like a real place to me. At the end of the day, Aliens is a dope sequel to a much doper movie, aimed directly at those in the audience that prefer military clichés and the axiom “Bigger is Better” than silent terror and careful plotting. It’s a throw everything at the canvas sort of deal; James Cameron is clearly the Michael Bay of his era.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Hard Target (1993)

Starring Jean Claude Van-Damme, Lance Henriksen, Yancy Butler, Wilford Brimley, Kasi Lemmons, Arnold Vosloo, Willie C. Carpenter

Directed by John Woo


To the seasoned viewer of early 90s action films there are only two things wrong with Hard Target. One, there are like twenty dudes trying to kill Van Damme at any given moment and Al Leong is not one of them. Two, the painfully obvious musical selection “Born on the Bayou”, which could have made any scene in this film infinitely more awesome, is not played until the end credits. Despite these two obvious flaws, the movie was a pleasant experience to return to since I had last viewed it over 15 years ago.

Hard Target is forever cemented in history as the film that brought John Woo to Hollywood. Language barriers as well as unfamiliarity with the Hollywood system were obvious concerns. The brass over at Universal Pictures were apparently shitting themselves so badly over letting John Woo take the reins of this film that they hired producer Sam Raimi to babysit the production. Woo was working in horrendously stifling conditions, being given only two months to shoot the film, and was relentlessly hounded by studio execs to go easy on the violence, which ironically is the very reason he became such a desired Hollywood import in the first place.

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