Rad Review: Drive Angry (2011)

drive_angry_poster03

It seems impossible to tell if Nicolas Cage is a good actor. Instead of playing a character, he just controls how much of his inner lunatic he decides to let the camera see. Drive Angry from director Patrick Lussier (Dracula 2000, the My Bloody Valentine remake) lets Cage unleash the full flow of insanity as Milton, a guy who escaped hell to get revenge on cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke), who killed his daughter and snatched his grandaughter. Along the way he teams up with Amber Heard’s Piper, a tough young woman without much going on in her life aside from a cheating boyfriend and a crappy waitress job. As they operate their automobile in a perturbed fashion, Milton and PIper also have to stay several steps ahead of The Accountant (William Fichtner), an agent of Hell looking to bring back the escaped Milton.

amber heard drive angryLussier — who co-wrote the script with Todd Farmer (Jason X, the My Blood Valentine remake) — does a great job of having fun with this story. It’s not overly gory, but plenty of blood is spilled and bullets fired. The gore effects that do exist look just as gross as they should considering the wounds inflicted and the over-the-top style of the film. While the movie doesn’t get into hand-to-hand combat too often there’s plenty of excellent driving scenes, lots of gunplay and a few run-ins that show just how silly it is for regular ol’ humans to go up against supernatural entities.

drive-angry-3d-blu-rayblu-ray

Actually, Heard gets her fists dirty more than anyone else in the movie and does a pretty serviceable job going up against dudes much bigger than her. She smacks around the woman her boyfriend’s cheating on her with before trying to give him the business end of an ass kicking. Later on, she throws down with King on an RV. After saying he’s going to kill her she drops this fantastic bit of dialog: “Between now and then, I’m gonna f*ck you up.” You might not think it to look at Heard in her other roles, but she delivers it like she means it, then backs it up. Good for her.

When it comes to the chase scenes, of which there many, Lussier gets pretty inventive with the car-eography. After a lifetime of watching car chases on television and in movies, they can get a little boring, but this one uses a lot of fun elements like the Accountant driving a Hydrogen truck into a small army of cop cars, stepping out on a truck and Milton driving just so to avoid the explosion. Sure, it looks a little CGI-y on Blu-ray, but it’s over pretty quickly and the idea is cool enough to outshine some execution flaws.

Speaking of of the Blu-ray presentation, it’s possible this movie looks too good. This is completely subjective, but since the film takes a lot of its cues from the grindhouse flicks of the 70s,  you sometimes want it to look a little less clean and pristine. It’s kind of like listening to a completely remastered version of a live Ramones show. Everything’s still there, but the grit is gone. That’s not to say this is a clean movie, there’s lots of death, carnage and nudity to go around, it all just looks really crisp and clear.

A few other highlights from the film include Tom Atkinson’s role as a local police captain. That guy’s pure gold in everything. Speaking of being great in everything, watching Cage and Fichtner on screen together is delightful. The fact that this is an original story with some big stars and a fairly good effects budget is also cool and something we’re seeing less and less of at the movies. After being disappointed with how Parker didn’t add much to the revenge/heist genre, it’s good to watch something like Drive Angry that did as much as it possibly could with the materials available.

Finally, did anyone see this in 3D? It was shot that way, but the Blu-ray rental from Netflix didn’t have the option. Drop a comment and let us know.

Halloween Scene: Dracula 2000 (2000)

I believe I saw Dracula 2000 in the theaters with my friends. I would have been about 17 at the time and had been watching horror movies extensively for a year or so at that time. If memory serves it was the first feature length version of the Dracula story that I ever saw. I’d seen or heard enough through cartoons and TV to understand the basics: some people encounter Dracula who winds up surrounded by vampire chicks, but wants another woman who’s harder to get. Meanwhile, some humans of the Van Helsing family are trying to stop him. My problem with the Dracula movies I’ve seen is that they follow the template too closely. If you’ve seen the original–or even Nosferatu–then you’ve pretty much got the gist. I had this problem with the last two Drac movies I watched Count Dracula And His Vampire Bride and the 1979 Dracula. Just absolutely boring.

I did not have that problem with the unfortunately named Dracula 2000. Any movie with a year in the title, especially the year 2000, just comes off as gimmicky and corny, doesn’t it? Anyway, the story this time around is that Van Helsing trapped Dracula years and years ago, but when he did their blood mingled, granting him a portion of immortal life which he uses to make sure no one accidentally brings Drac back. Of course, that doesn’t work out as one of his workers winds up telling her boyfriend and his crew of criminals about Van Helsing’s secret vault. They break in and grab the casket, thinking it’s an elaborate safe, and wind up resurrecting the original vampire. From there Dracula (played by an almost unrecognizable Gerard Butler) amasses his trio of hot lady vamps (Vitamin C, Jennifer Esposito and Jeri Ryan) and stats stalking Mary who happens to be VH’s daughter. Joining Mary on the side of the angels is Johnny Lee Miller as Van Helsing’s young protege.

I like this flick because, while it does stand on the structure of a traditional Dracula movie, it also updates things, including setting and special effects. Those other two movies I mentioned were both made in the 70s but set in the Victorian era which is ultimately another boring trope you’ve seen several times. D2K is set in modern day London and then New Orleans, features some pretty impressive wire-fu stunts and takes advantage of technology without relying on it too much. There’s only one CGI scene I can remember that looked cheesy (when Dracula turns into a wolf), which is pretty impressive considering how bad some of the movies from this time look now.

Director Patrick Lussier, who also did My Bloody Valentine 3D, also seemed to have fun with the movie. I guess there was a bit of a trend of combining horror and action around this time with big budgets like Brothers Grimm and Van Helsing, neither of which I’ve seen. It’s fun to see some money put behind one of these classic stories set modern times with the inclusion of big technologically impressive prisons, smaller secret hiding places and an arsenal of vamp-killing weapons. It’s also fun to see such a well-known cast. Nearly every role is filled with a name or at least a “that guy.” The crew of bad guys alone includes Omar Epps, Danny Masterson, the drunk roommate from Dead Man On Campus, Sean Patrick Thomas who was also in Halloween: Resurrection as my favorite character and Esposito. Nathan Fillion plays a priest. IMDb tells me Shane West was even in the movie, but I can’t remember who he played! And, to add a connection to the flicks that came before it, Christopher Plummer plays Van Helsing.

I remember being pretty blown away by the reveal of Dracula origins when I saw this in the theater. SPOILERS I guess if you haven’t seen it. We’re shown that Dracula was actually Judas, the man who, according to the Bible, betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. This explains why silver hurts vampires. Kinda neat, right? I thought so, and still do, though I see a few problems with it now. If the whole eternal life thing is supposed to be a punishment from God, why does Dracula wind up causing even more trouble for humanity? Wouldn’t it have been better for him to just die and go to hell? On the other hand, maybe humanity was intended to be punished for allowing the son of God to be murdered? I’m not sure. Maybe it was better explained and I missed it, but I thought it was an interesting take on a story I’ve read and seen hundreds of times.

I highly recommend watching Dracula 2000. I’m usually pretty skeptical about these early 00 horror movies because most of them are pretty bad. Sometimes you stumble across something like Halloween: Resurrection that isn’t great, but not as bad as you thought it would be. I’d say that D2K is actually a good vampire movie, with a new spin on the Dracula mythos, a solid cast and enough fun on the screen to keep you entertained. I’d say it’s probably one of my favorite Drac movies ever! Has anyone seen the sequels? I know they’re by the same director, but I assume the budgets were nowhere near as high. I think that, like this one, they’re available on Netflix Instant so maybe I’ll give them a whirl.

Halloween Scene: Demons (1985), Halloween (1978), The Ring (2002), The Substitute (2007) & My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)

Even though the weather went from very Halloween to ridiculously sunny today, I frontloaded my week so that I could give myself a horror movie marathon day. Today I watched Demons, Halloween (the original of course), The Ring (US remake), The Substitute (dubbed, poorly I might add) and My Bloody Valentine 3D in 3D for the first time. So, let’s tackle these bad boys in order.

I actually watched Demons late last night, which is still technically today. I was catching up on emails and some links I wanted to read, so I wasn’t paying 100% attention and I don’t really understand what was happening. Considering this is an Italian horror movie, I’m not sure if I would understand even if I was sitting in a room by myself with just this movie to draw my attention. Far as I can tell, some people are in a movie theater and somehow the movie turns the viewers into demons. Once the demons are loose, they somehow create more demons, which kind of makes them zombies with a different look (glowing eyes, big claws).

Even though I don’t really know what was going on, I do know that the effects and kills in the movie were both awesome and cringe-worthy. You’ve got claws popping through a woman’s finger tips, a woman being scalped by a demon and razors near nipples among plenty of other things.

Aside from not making perfect sense (or at least being interesting enough to draw my attention away from the computer to pay attention which is obviously less of a sin than actually not making sense, but still not good), the movie also spends a lot of time with some cocaine-loving punks who (I think) only serve to show up at the movie theater later to become demons. It’s a weird choice, but I guess one that’s somewhat common when it comes to Italian horror (I’m not very well schooled in this subgenre). But, any movie that ends with a dude riding a dirtbike through a movie theater swinging a samurai sword to kill demons right before a helicopter falls through the roof is worth watching. It’s not a good movie, but it’s a fun story to watch.

Halloween‘s still my favorite slasher movie of all time. I reviewed the flick a few years ago, which you can read here. The sitting-up scene still gives me a charge. I don’t know if I’ve noticed this before, but I have no idea why Laurie’s friends with Annie. She’s SUCH a bitch. Man, what a jerk. Anyway, I love how Loomis’ decent into madness can be seen even in this first installment. Love that guy.

This was only the second time I’ve seen The Ring, but it’s still one of my favorite horror movies. The first time I saw it was in college at a date event my fraternity threw. We rented out a small room at the tiny theater in town called The Strand, everyone brought a date and we all sat there in the dark watching the movie. It’s my all-time favorite horror experience in a theater because, knowing everyone there allowed a lot of us to cut loose a little, so there was all kinds of screaming. You tend to hold that back when you’re in a theater with strangers, but this was a room full of friends. It was awesome. The only problem with the experience is that the missus swore off horror movies after watching the flick with me. Even worse, some of my fraternity brothers tried to scare us when we came back to my room later that night. Their plan was to have a tape sticking out of my VCR, the channel set to static and someone behind the couch to turn the TV on when we walked in. We stopped off to get some food, so we took longer to get back than everyone else which is good because, had they pulled the prank off, I don’t think the missus would have slept ever again. Or killed someone. By the time we got back to my room, some dudes were walking out, saw us and told us their aborted plan.

I had a wonderful time watching this movie again. I was worried that it would have lost a lot of its punch with me as I watched it by myself and during the day, but instead I was struck by how well put together the flick was. Gore Verbinksi did a great job with the visuals and mood of the movie. I also like that the Noah character seems to say the things that critics of the movie might say “It’s very student film” and “must have been scarier at night.” Those little bits give the script some self-awareness that I like without it being too in your face. Ring’s another slow burn type of movie, which I think I’m starting to appreciate more and I also like that there’s a mystery to the film. You think you get the answer and then that answer turns out to be completely wrong. I love when that happens in movies. You’re just trying to put the pieces together along with the Naomi Watts, but just because you’ve got a series of facts doesn’t mean you know the full story.

I was also struck by how many now-famous people are in small roles in the movie. Sara Rue (who was on BBT and those Jenny Craig commercials), Adam Brody, Amber Tamblyn and Pauley Perrette (the goth chick from NCIS) all have small parts. Plus, Samara is played by Daveigh Chase who voiced Lilo from Lilo & Stitch, which is kind of funny because the missus loves Lilo & Stitch and HATES The Ring.

In case you’re wondering, yes I’ve seen the original Ringu movies, but didn’t like them as much. I bought bootleg versions of them at a comic convention after seeing the movie in 2002, which was funny because, at the same time, the missus had bought me the legit versions for me for Christmas (the previous Christmas the same thing happened, but with the Jay and Silent Bob action figures). I don’t remember specifically why I didn’t like Ringu as much, but I would imagine it boils down to Americans not having the same weird cultural fears and hangups that Japanese folks do. Verbinski did a good job with the water and the kids, but those things don’t normally because I’m a grown man who can swim. I also remember having a problem with the subtitles which were white on often white backgrounds. I left these DVDs back home when I moved out here, so it’s been a while and I should definitely give them another watch.

Speaking of more watches, I watched The Substitute again and I think it’s the best Ghost House Underground movie of the bunch. It still reminds me of The Goonies but with an alien broad who can shrink people and control minds instead of the Fratellis and pirates. My only problem with the movie is that the dubbing is awful. Is it really so hard to get some actual kids to record voices instead of people who usually do cartoons? Seriously, pull a group of 16 year olds off the street and give them the script and it’d be way better than this. Just saying.

I finished things out by watching the copy of My Bloody Valentine 3D I picked up from Blockbuster and the pink and green 3D glasses I bought online. I’m not sure what to think about the experience of watching a 3D movie at home. This was the first time I ever did that and the first time I’ve used these kinds of 3D glasses. When I first put them on everything looked to be washed in those hues, but after a little while your eyes get used to it. As I’ve said, I tend to work on more than one thing at once which means every time I looked away from the screen or took the glasses off, it would take all that long to get back into the swing of things again. The other problem I had was that I couldn’t find a good angle to watch the movie. My usual seat isn’t directly in front of the TV but off to the side, so the 3D effects didn’t always hit me in the right way. Maybe I was too close or too far away. I tried some different angles, but never got a great view of things. There were a few things tossed at the screen that did make me flinch, but I missed the eye gag in the beginning because I was looking at email. I’m lame. The movie itself was the same as it was last time, though I remembered the twist this time around. I guess it still works and is a fun enough slasher flick to buy for $5.

Halloween Scene: My Bloody Valentine (2009)

Faithful Kicking It Old School readers will remember that I only recently saw the original My Bloody Valentine, so it’s not like I have a huge amount of love for the original, even though I did like it. I was actually pretty excited when I heard about the remake, mostly because it would be in 3D. I’m sorry to say that it wasn’t playing in 3D anywhere near me and I got the DVD through Netflix, so I still haven’t seen it in 3D, but you bet your ass I’m gonna see the Pirana 3D remake when it comes out.

I ended up liking about 75% of MBV. The kills were cool, the cast was good and unlike, say, Friday the 13th III, I didn’t feel like I was watching a lesser movie because it wasn’t in 3D. Yes there are some gags solely filmed for the 3D audience, but it’s nothing cheesy like a yo-yo at the camera. Oh, plus, the killer in this movie, and the original, has one of the coolest and creepiest designs of all time. Love that mask and the all-black suit.

Before getting into the negative, a few more notes on the good stuff. The cast was rad. I even liked Jensen Ackles’ performance, dry as it may be, it fits his character. I wouldn’t be surprised if that dude ends up playing a superhero soon. I could even see him as Captain America if they wanted a younger guy (but, Matt Damon’s still my number one pick, age be damned). Fellow CW/WB alumni (Ackles is on Supernatural) Kerr Smith (Jack from Dawson’s Creek) also does a good job as the cop who seems like the prime suspect throughout the flick (unless you count his deputy who seems thrown in just to be a kinda-sorta suspect). It was also nice to see Jaime King again. I can’t for the life of me remember where I remember her from, but I feel like she was involved with something on MTV when I was younger. She gives a serviceable performance, though I never buy her as a mom. I also got the feeling that she was overacting a little because she was in a remake of an 80s horror movie. Or maybe that’s just how she acts, I’ve got nothing to compare it to.

My favorite two bits of casting though are of the two main older guys in town. You’ve got Tom Atkins of Halloween 3, Night of the Creeps and Lethal Weapon fame. I just love that guy. Kevin Tighe is the other old guy in town that matters. It’s not a name you might recognize, but you’ll definitely recognize his face as Locke’s asshole dad from Lost and from one of the best movies of all time Road House. And, SPOILER WARNING, they both get pretty amazing death scenes. I’ve never wanted to see a jaw flying at my face in 3D more in my life!

I’ve also got to give credit to the screenwriters and director Patrick Lussier for using the original movie like you would use images from a magazine to make a collage. The good elements (suspense over who the killer is, the killer’s look, the relationships, the party scene at the mine, the hearts in the heart boxes, etc.) are all there, just not in the exact same order as they were in the original, which is nice, because otherwise there aren’t any surprises. There were two specific scenes I really hoped got carried over from the original and they were: a woman in a laundry machine (though not in the same manner as the original which was cool) and the scene where the killer walks down the mine shaft knocking out the lights. That’s an awesome scene and they even added their own special effect/edit to it to make it their own.

Which brings me to what I didn’t like and this is definitely SPOILER territory because it has to do with the reveal of who the killer is. Now, because I had seen the original, I knew there was a twist. I was never convinced it was Harry Warden (the guy who went crazy 10 years ago and killed people and whose body was never recovered), but that’s because I’d seen the original. So, it basically comes down to Ackles and Smith because everyone else is either dead or has been chased by the killer. Then we get a scene where Ackles gets attacked by the killer along with another guy down in the mine. So, you think it’s gotta be Smith unless it really is the red herring deputy. So, you spend a good chunk of the movie expecting it to be Smith (who is married to King, even though King and Ackles have history as lovers as seen in the opening “10 years earlier” scenes). At this point I’m thinking that this isn’t very suspenseful because Smith’s gotta be the killer, right? Then it turns out that Ackles is crazy and has absorbed/co-opted the Harry Warden persona and has been killing everyone without knowing it. They don’t explain it, but I’m guessing split personality or whatever. The problem with this reveal is that I have a hard time rooting for the mentally sick guy to get his just deserts. That’s not how I get my horror rocks off.

And, unfortunately, the ending kind of taints the rest of the movie for me, kind of like High Tension, though this makes a lot more sense after the reveal. I do wish we would have gotten a little more explanation about Ackles’ condition. We hear over the walkie talkie that he was in a mental institute and we see him popping pills throughout the movie, but his malady is never explained and it seems like the filmmakers could have easily done that in the aftermath scene. I’m usually not in favor of having things spoon-fed to me, but I think it would have been appropriate in this case. Plus, if a dude has been mentally unstable for years, would laywers really let him have control over a mine that his dead father owned? Who knows.

Overall, it’s an okay horror movie. I think I’d rather watch the original again even though this one looked really really slick on the nice TV. I would definitely watch it again if someone had the 3D glasses. Heck, maybe Lionsgate will release a 2-pack, that’d be rad. I’d buy that.