Sunday 28 August 2011

Fire Down Below (1997)

First of all, let me just say that I was annoyed to find out I had missed Under Siege 2 in my exciting quest to view every Seagal movie in chronological order. That will be the next viewing and then normal service will resume. But for now ........
Yes, the child in me went into this movie secretly hoping that it was a film all about Steven Seagal suffering from cystitis but I knew that was unlikely to be the case. Instead, Seagal puts himself once again in the role of environmental warrior (as he did in On Deadly Ground).

The pony-tailed one plays EPA officer Jack Taggart, sent out to a small community that is being poisoned by a local big shot (played by Kris Kristofferson). While he’s there, Jack befriends a local man (Harry Dean Stanton), gets close to a local lady (Marg Helgenberger) and divides the rest of the populace right down the middle. As he starts causing more problems for the greedy polluters he starts putting himself in a lot more danger.

Director Felix Enriquez Alcala has a filmography chock full of TV work but he doesn’t do all that badly with his movie work. It’s a lesser Seagal movie but it’s still quite a distance removed from the worst that the man has starred in.

Jeb Stuart and Philip Morton provide a predictable and uneven script (it’s part ho-down sappiness and part gritty action flick with neither aspect really satisfying for viewers).

Thankfully, the cast has some great actors in there. Seagal isn’t one of them but he is Seagal so that’s that. Kristofferson is enjoyable if a bit too polite in the role of the big, bad polluter. Helgenberger gets by on likeability more than any great characterisation and Harry Dean Stanton is always a welcome addition to any movie but it’s Stephen Lang who steals the show as the brother of Helgenberger’s character.
Watch it, enjoy it and never feel the urge to seek it out again. 

Friday 26 August 2011

The Skulls III (2004)

The second sequel to The Skulls (as I’m sure you already gathered from the title) improves slightly on the previous movie thanks to one significant difference – the protagonist this time around is female.

Clare Kramer plays Taylor Brooks, a determined and smart young woman who finds a loophole allowing her to be considered for acceptance by The Skulls, a secret society that’s not really all that secret. If you have seen the previous movies then you know the drill by now – someone gets to join The Skulls, things become a bit strained, deceit and/or death occurs, everything goes sour for the new recruit, a plan is hatched to fix everything and cancel the lifetime membership.

J. Miles Dale directs this time and he does just what you’d expect with a second sequel to a middling teen thriller. Joe Johnson’s script tries to surprise but savvy viewers will always know exactly what’s coming.
Kramer isn’t too bad in the lead role and her character is easier to root for than the previous protagonists as she overcomes extra adversity and discrimination due to her gender. Bryce Johnson sneers capably enough, Steve Braun is just fine in the role as supportive fellow Skull newbie and Dean McDermott and Maria del Mar are both pretty bad as two detectives trying to solve a case that is revealed as the movie progresses (the main character is telling her side of things to the police as the movie gets underway). Barry Bostwick fans may be pleased to see . . . . . . . . . . Barry Bostwick in a prominent role. He does okay but it’s more of a fun performance than anything remotely realistic and  believable.

The Skulls III shouldn’t exist but it does and it’s actually quite watchable. It’s not really all that good but it’s not really all that bad either. Which is why it gets such an average rating. 

Thursday 25 August 2011

The Skulls II (2002)

A sequel to the teen movie that revolved around a secret society that seemed to be the world’s worst secret, The Skulls II almost slavishly follows all of the rules governing how to make a lesser sequel. No stars but a leading man who looks a bit like the leading man in the first movie? Robin Dunne looks enough like Joshua Jackson in a certain light to tick that box. A plot that covers similar ground to the first movie, and includes a number of scenes that feel like carbon copies, while missing any tension and excitement this time around? Yep, that box is ticked. A further lack of care for anything resembling consistency and/or plausibility? Ohhhhh yes.

Robin Dunne plays Ryan Sommers, a young man who gets received into The Skulls but who doesn’t really care for their traditions and rites. He’s only there because his older brother (played by James Gallanders) was there. When Ryan spots what he thinks is a fatal accident it isn’t long before The Skulls are doing what they seem to do best – covering up mischief, ruining lives and blackmailing everyone that they have to.

There’s just nothing of interest here for those, like myself, who didn’t think that the first movie was more than one or two steps above average. We get one gratuitous bit of T & A but nothing more to make the film as “sexy” as it seems to want to be, the twisted situation spiralling out of control isn’t as well handled here and the actors just aren’t as good. Dunne doesn’t really have the charm for the lead role, though he tries admirably, but Lindy Booth brightens up the screen whenever she’s on it and Nathan West and Aaron Ashmore portray their characters with satisfying smugness and more than a hint of menace.

A couple of people wrote the lacklustre script before Joe Chappelle decided to direct the thing without any hint of enthusiasm for the material. In fact, as unbelievable and stretched as the central concept is I’d have to say that I was most disappointed with a second half that piled conspiracy theory clich√© upon clich√© before turning its back on many of the rigid rules set out from the opening of the first movie. 

Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Skulls (2000)

This teen thriller about a powerful secret society hidden within the walls of a top Ivy League institution is a lot of fun despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it starts off being quite unbelievable and just gets more and more implausible with each scene.

Joshua Jackson is the young lad with no family fortune who finds himself lucky enough to be joining “The Skulls”. His friends, played by Leslie Bibb and Hill Harper, don’t view this as a good thing. “If it's secret and elite, it can't be good”.
There is one fellow being initiated at the same time (played by Paul Walker) who thinks it is a good thing indeed . . . . . . . . until something goes a bit wrong and it starts to become clear just how far-reaching and powerful this secret society really is.

Written by John Pogue, and directed by Rob Cohen, The Skulls has a decent cast and lively pacing to carry an audience through the preposterousness from start to finish. This is a secret society that has a large symbol stuck on top of a main building. It’s a secret society easier to infiltrate and mess with than Wikipedia entries. For goodness sake, its members are BRANDED. But part of the fun to be had from this movie is derived from laughing at those involved. The film may want to sell itself as some sleek teen thriller but, really, it also points and laughs at those who will go to ridiculous lengths just to join some exclusive club that will have them as a member.

Joshua Jackson, Leslie Bibb, Paul Walker and Hill Harper are all good enough in their respective roles but the real treat for film fans comes from having support from Craig T. Nelson (brilliant as the ruthlessly ambitious father of Paul Walker’s character), William Petersen and Christopher McDonald. Steve Harris is also excellent as Detective Sparrow.

Nothing to seek out and see immediately, The Skulls would fit the bill if you were stuck indoors on a rainy evening and it came on TV. Arguably more entertaining for all the wrong reasons than for all the right ones, it’s still entertaining.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Poltergeist III (1988)

That spooky, nasty reverend Kane is back (this time played by Nathan Davis after the death of actor Julian Beck) and he still wants Carol Anne, despite the fact that she now lives in a sleek, ultra-modern highrise building with her uncle and aunt (Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen). Thankfully, this big building has lots of mirrors and reflective surfaces that can become portals for Kane’s particular brand of evil.

You can try to be all deep and meaningful about it and put it this way – Poltergeist was about the insidious nature of television and how too much exposure to it can literally eat up the life of your child, Poltergeist II: The Other Side was about the family unit and how important and difficult it was to stay united against outside pressures and obstacles, Poltergeist III is about the perils of complete modernisation that leads to alienation and far too many opportunities for wrongdoing. Or you could just say that Poltergeist was a great ghost flick, Poltergeist II: The Other Side was a decent ghost flick with a definite baddie to focus on and Poltergeist III was the movie that went back to the well one time too many.

The acting is okay from all involved but everything is undermined by a poor script (that should have simply been titled “Carol Anne” due to the number of times that her name is called out) and mediocre execution. Director Gary Sherman (who also shares the blame for co-writing the thing) seems happy to go along with everything that is wrong with many modern horror movies. You know what I mean: people keep running off alone, nobody seems to notice while lots of other folk disappear, one jump scare is repeated so often that it ends up being ineffective, etc.

It’s a shame that this was the last movie for young Heather O’Rourke (her death after this movie completed a trio of deaths that people referred/refer to as “The Poltergeist Curse”) because it’s just not a very good film. On a lighter note, it’s the first film gig for a young Lara Flynn Boyle so fans may want to check it out for that reason. 

There are still a few decent moments here and there but, overall, this is a poor end.