The Empty Balcony: End of Watch

End of WatchGritty New York City cop dramas are stylistically different from gritty Los Angeles cop dramas. It’s only partly due to setting. It would be hard for a film to ignore the differences between the coasts, but as far apart as the Eastern Seaboard and SoCal are, geographically and culturally, these differences are not what set cross-continental police flicks and television series apart. Just doing a loose word association, when I think NYC cop drama, my first thought is Law & Order and all of its iterations — police procedurals that follow detectives. After that I drift back to films from the past like The French Connection, Serpico, Fort Apache the Bronx, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Across 110th Street, even Bad Lieutenant. These films represent my own personal biases, but they all adhere to a palate of sorts that is broadly representative of New York City cop films.

Across the farmlands, the plains, the mountains and the deserts, Los Angeles has been building its own mythos regarding the LAPD on film. After decades following the cop as superman (think Lethal Weapon, Cobra, etc.), that model looks set to be replaced by episodes of Cops. I’m not joking. Some of the best work regarding LAPD officers of late hasn’t involved huge explosions and guns that never run out of ammo. It hasn’t been the lone detective doggedly pursuing the impossible murder case. It hasn’t been buddy movies. It’s been the uniformed officer. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: End of Watch”

The Empty Balcony: Dredd

“Let’s finish this.” Really? Still, it’s good. Trust me.

Blink and you would have missed it. Dredd, written by Alex Garland and directed by Pete Travis, went in and out of movie theaters so quickly this fall that by the time I realized it had been released, it was already gone. Maybe it was a failure of marketing, maybe it was a lack of interest in the characters, maybe it was just fatigue after a summer filled with overwrought comic book adaptations which kept viewers away. And, it has to be said, maybe it was the hard ‘R’ rating the film earned. Whatever the reasons, one or a combination of all of these and more, Dredd was a flop. Which is too bad, because it was the best of the comic book films released this year, and one of the best comic book films I’ve ever seen. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Dredd”

The Empty Balcony: Runaway Train

1985’s Runaway Train is a very unique film. It’s American made, filmed in the white wastes of Alaska, but in a blind taste test, cinephiles would swear it was a Russian film. The film stock, the cinematography, set designs, costumes, etc., all scream that the film was made on the other side of the Iron Curtain. That’s not by design, but a result of the film being helmed by Andrei Konchalovsky, who, until the 1980s, was a Soviet filmmaker. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Runaway Train”

The Empty Balcony: Savages

SavagesTaylor Kitsch just had a bad year. He starred in three major release films. How can that possibly be bad? The three films were Battleship, John Carter, and Oliver Stone’s latest ham-fisted effort, Savages. Three films, three disappointments, and Mr. Kitsch has suddenly moved into Ryan Reynolds territory as the latest bankable star that turned out to be not so bankable. It isn’t all his fault, though. John Carter was doomed from the start, and Battleship was so awful, a cavalcade of thespians from the Royal Shakespeare Company couldn’t have saved it.

Which leads us to Savages.

Occasionally Oliver Stone gets an itch to make an over-the-top movie full of extreme violence and outrageous criminality. When that has happened in the past, he gave us Natural Born Killers and the screenplay to Scarface. This year it was Savages, adapted from the novel by Don Winslow, which tells the tale of a California airhead and the two drug dealers who love her. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Savages”

October Horrorshow: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Halloween III was a big bust. A successful horror franchise ditched its most marketable characters because series creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill were tired of the idea. I suppose it was a laudable decision from a creative standpoint, but if you’re going to ditch Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, perhaps the greatest on screen villain/scream queen pairing in Hollywood history, it’s probably a bad idea to name your new film like it’s a sequel. Carpenter and Hill learned the hard way that the Halloween brand was in its characters, not its name. Halloween III is not a bad movie. It’s just not a Halloween film. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers”

October Horrorshow: Psycho III

...And then there was Psycho III. Part of the appeal of the first two films in the franchise was that there was a fair amount of ambiguity to events. There were murders, but it wasn’t at all clear until the end who had been committing them (of course, a person would have to be living under a rock to not have picked up on Psycho’s twist at some point in their lives). Not so in Psycho III. Norman Bates is doubtlessly the bad guy in this one, so it just remains to be seen how he will get his comeuppance. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Psycho III”

October Horrorshow: Psycho II

I like Psycho II better than Psycho.

— Quentin Tarantino

Slow your roll, Quentin.

I’m taking that quote out of context. It is possible to like one film more versus another, while recognizing that film A is not as good as film B. For example, I have a short list in my head of my favorite movies. Star Trek II is on that list. I can watch that film at anytime. I love it because it’s a wonderful sci-fi flick, with lots of action and a comprehensible story. I also love it because if there had never been any other Star Trek film made, if there had never been any of the television series, it could stand on its own with none of the decades-long backstory. But I will never, ever, say that it is a better film than, say, A Prophet, or Jiro Dreams of Sushi, to name two better films I saw this year. Those two films are better, but they will never come close to attaining the same level of appreciation I have for Star Trek II. It just cannot happen. So I understand how Quentin Tarantino, who has a much more thorough understanding of cinematic history than I, could like Psycho II more than Alfred Hitchcock’s original classic. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Psycho II”

October Horrorshow: Of Unknown Origin

Man vs. beast, a perennial narrative for as long as there have been narratives. Rich, fertile ground for storytellers. Combine that with the creepy-crawly subgenre of horror, and you get Of Unknown Origin. Directed by George P. Cosmatos way back in 1983, Of Unknown Origin tells the tale of Bart Hughes (Peter Weller), an investment banker of some sort, and the confrontation he has with a rat. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Of Unknown Origin”

October Horrorshow: Quarantine 2: Terminal & [•REC] 2

Quarantine 2: TerminalAnyone who has a fear of flying knows that it is not just the flight itself that causes anxiety. It’s not something that creeps up on a person in the line for security at the airport, or even back at home packing bags. It can begin weeks or even months before a person is supposed to step on a plane. It can begin at the mere thought that it might be time to plan a vacation, or with the realization that it’s been awhile since the last visit to the west coast office, and it’s only a matter of time before the boss shoves some airline tickets and an itinerary into a folder and puts it right on top of the inbox. Just the thought of flying can add an extra layer of tension to a person who hasn’t been on a plane in years, and has no intention of doing so.

After booking a flight, strange omens can be seen almost everywhere. Patterns emerge. One night there’s a dream of a plane crash, followed by an entire week of seeing plane crashes in movies, television shows, and on the news. It’s surprising just how often we see a plane crash, whether in fiction or in reality, if one really pays attention. Of course, reason battles constantly with such irrational, emotional considerations, and those of us who aren’t truly crippled with a phobia suck it up and fly when we have to, sometimes aided by some chemical bravery. After all, flying is the safest way to travel. What’s there to worry about? Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Quarantine 2: Terminal & [•REC] 2″

October Horrorshow: Resident Evil

I’ve seen Resident Evil four times. Each time, it gets worse. Don’t ask me why I’ve dedicated five precious hours of my life to this dog. I have no answer. I wish I could swear this last viewing was the final viewing, but who knows? Maybe it will be, now I’ve bothered to write a review. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Resident Evil”