Ah, the '70s and '80s, the Golden Age of Slasher Horror Films, many of which were linked to holidays or other special days of the year. There was BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), HALLOWEEN (1978), FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) and PROM NIGHT (1980), among many others. HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY launched film franchises that are still going today while there were other "special day" themed horror films that came and went. Like BLOODY BIRTHDAY. The premise is a thin one. One night in 1970, two boys and a girl are born at a Southern California hospital during a solar eclipse. Ten years later, the three become killers for no really good reason other than that they were all born at the same time during an eclipse. The body count is a high one (including an ahead-of-it's-time school classroom shooting in which one of the boys guns down his teacher). One neighborhood boy and his older sister tumble to what's going on and confront the killer kids in the climax. Of course, they're far more capable than any of the adults depicted in the film including Jose Ferrer (the only name actor in the cast) as the doctor who attended the unusual births. He has very little screen time and looks like he wishes he had a better agent during his handful of scenes.
AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007) pairs Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe star in director Ridley Scott's meticulously crafted, based-on-a-true-story crime film set in the 1970s. Washington is Frank Lucas, a Harlem drug kingpin who is ferrying in highly potent heroin from Vietnam and selling it cheap on the streets of New York City. Crowe is ultra straight arrow narcotics detective Richie Roberts who heads up a task force to arrest and convict Lucas. Lucas is totally corrupt but a decent family man while Roberts is clean as a whistle and cannot be bought but his marriage is coming apart at the seams. Scott and screenwriter Steven Zaillian take their time to tell the story using parallel lines of action over the course of several years before Roberts finally makes his move on Lucas during a well-staged shootout sequence. Washington and Crowe finally appear together in interrogation scenes at the end of the movie and it's a treat to watch these two pros play off of each other. AMERICAN GANGSTER ranks as one of the best crime films I've seen in quite some time.
DC Comics does a much better job with their animated films series than their live action movies have thus far at accurately capturing the look and feel of classic comic stories and series. Take for instance BATMAN: YEAR ONE (2011), which manages to vividly bring to life Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's 1987 mini-series in a mere 64 minutes. The film is largely faithful to the comics (they can't include everything) and does a great job of depicting Bruce Wayne as a novice, street-level crime fighter who gets better the more time he spends on the job and on the mean streets of Gotham City. The look of the film matches the visuals by Miller and Mazzucchelli and the voice casting is superb with Bryan Cranston as Lt. James Gordan and Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne. This is a gritty, adult oriented animated film that perfectly captures the look and feel of the source material. And by the way, if you've never read Miller and Mazzucchelli's BATMAN: YEAR ONE 4-issue mini-series, you really should check it out. It's readily available in a trade paperback format. Read the book then check out this movie. They're both terrific.
DRACULA UNTOLD is more Robert E. Howard's Dracula than Bran Stoker's. There are impressive battle sequences between Vlad's armies and the Turks that look like they could have sprung from the pulp pages of a Howard story. Trouble is, with a PG-13 rating, they're far too bloodless and less visceral than they should be to truly convey the brutality and savagery of the time. Also, instead of turning into a single bat, here Dracula instantly explodes into a mass of fluttering, shrieking flying animals and just as instantly turns back into a human. The film looks great. The locations are spot on, the cinematography is dark and moody and the CGI effects are solid. Not a great film but I've certainly seen worse Dracula/vampire movies.
My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) and thoroughly enjoyed it. This sequel to 2011's RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (which I also liked), picks up a few years after the end of that film. Intelligent apes have established an outpost in the forests north of San Francisco. A small band of humans living in the ruins of San Francisco have discovered a dormant hydro-electric power generator and dam near the apes' habitat. The humans desperately need to get the generator up and running in order to send power to the city. Thus begins a back and forth struggle for diplomacy and mutual understanding. Can the apes and humans co-exist? It looks like an uneasy peace is possible until, of course, things go wrong.
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a triumph of CGI effects. You watch this film and wonder where the real world ends and the imaginary begins. It's seamlessly executed and worthy of the Oscar nomination it received for Best Visual Effects. A third installment, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is due to be released next summer. This new version of the durable POTA franchise is well conceived and executed and I have high hopes for the next installment in this compelling series.
More to come. Stay tuned.