The Believers

Directed by: John Schlesinger
Category: Thriller

What I'll remember most about this film more than anything is the year 1989. 2 years after this film was released, an Austin, TX college student by the name of Mark Kilroy vanished while on Spring Break vacation with some friends. While bar hopping one night in Mexico, he got separated from his friends and vanished. Despite massive searches, he was never found. Some time later a high speed chase from the border checkpoint ended on a farm in Mexico, where it was soon discovered that Kilroy, along with 14 other victims, were buried on the premises, the result of human sacrifices by drug dealing cult members who practiced Santeria and Brujeria, often mutilating, eating and cooking the body parts of their victims for their rituals. After a shootout, the cult's leader was killed, along with an accomplice, and his second-in-command (Sara Aldrete) was arrested along with the others.

After their arrest, it was discovered that their favorite movie was The Believers. As soon as this was made public, every video store in Texas took this film off their shelves indefinitely. I live in deep South Texas, roughly about 30 minutes from where all this went down on the other side of the border. So this hit close to home. It was a huge deal here and is still considered folklore in this area. From what I recall, once the film  was pulled off the shelves, it would be many, many years before it would become available again. It's crazy to think that after 25 years, I still remember the name of that kid. What's even crazier still is that when I finally decided to revisit this recently, I didn't really see anything that would cause any normal human being with a rational thought process to think that doing anything this film depicts would actually result in.......well anything that wouldn't put your ass in jail for the rest of your life. Honestly, nothing is plausible in these voodoo rituals. But apparently this drug gang believed it all enough to copy them.

After the shocking and sudden death of his wife, psychiatrist Cal Jameson (Martin Sheen) moves to New York City to start over. He's soon recruited by the police force to help them with one of their own officers, who's being held on a psychiatric hold after having what appears to be a nervous breakdown. Jameson soon discovers that this officer was involved in something much more sinister, as his own world is turned upside down as he's unwittingly sucked into a world of voodoo and Santeria, culminating in a shocking conclusion. 

Written by Twin Peaks co-creator and co-writer Mark Frost, director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man) infuses this thriller with enough bravado and class that through his sure-handed brand of filmmaking, you stay invested, even if it isn't the most exciting thriller you've seen. What sells it is Martin Sheen's conviction. It's rare when we come across a film where he's the star, and not a villain or supporting actor. This was his first foray back into theatrical films after 3 years of exclusive television made-for-tv work, and thankfully Sheen didn't miss a beat. He's just excellent in this, and I don't think the film would have been as strong without him. With that being said, while it was nice to revisit this, it wasn't exactly the nail-biter I was hoping it would be. It's got some great things going for it, but it often felt a bit too long and dull in some areas, and when you consider that this film seemed to inspire some delusional people into doing some pretty atrocious things, there wasn't anything in it that was so far fetched that I would have ever believed it would be so controversial. Yet it was, and all because of a handful of idiots.

I haven't seen a lot of what director John Schlesinger has done, but I know he's regarded rather highly for his craft. I did enjoy Marathon Man immensely. And I remember being creeped the fuck out by Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights, but I don't think I've seen anything else he's done. In any case, solid filmmaking all around. I just wasn't thrilled, I should say, as much as I was hoping to be. A solid thriller, with some mystical overtones that doesn't quite grab you fully, yet slightly makes up for it in the end.


Snow White and The Huntsman

Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Category: Fantasy

Something about this film never struck me as one that I needed to rush to see. I don't know why, maybe it was the whole Snow White theme, or the fact that Kristen Stewart (rolls eyes) was the star, but needless to say, I never had the itch or desire to check this one out. Yet recently, I decided to revisit Ridley Scott's Legend, and well, I suppose I was in the mood for a fantasy again.

Snow White and The Huntsman surprised me at almost every turn, and on every level. What I assumed would be another humdrum big budget retelling of Snow White, complete with overdone sloppy CGI, turned out to be an exceptionally well made and stylish dark fantasy that was able to capture a certain niche in the film industry that's been sorely missing for quite some time. This film was good, and quite the welcome surprise. What's sad is that whenever anyone hears the name Rupert Sanders, nobody is ever going to mention what an outstanding job he did directing this thing. Nope. What will more likely be mentioned is his affair with his star Kristen Stewart, who was with Robert Pattinson at the time, while Sanders himself was a married man with a family. Funny how one bad decision can totally ruin your life. His entire life got flipped upside down, all for a tryst with Kristen Stewart of all people? Makes no sense to me. But I'm getting off track here. Sanders is arguably one of the biggest reasons why this film works so well. His lush visual's create a world that bring's back memories of Scott's Legend. That's a bold statement, I know, but I honestly stand behind it. As I sat back and watched this, after a good 30 minutes the biggest thing I noticed was how much Sanders particular style resembles Ridley Scott's in his heyday.

I'll also admit something else. Stewart's usual droll acting came off a lot less annoying in this, so much so that I was able to enjoy the film and not want to reach into the screen and strangle some life back into her, just so I could get some kind of emotion out of her. I won't get into it, but I honestly don't see the appeal of Kristen Stewart. She's about as dull as they come, even when she's hitting the red carpet. No emotion, no substance, and no presence. Am I alone in this? Yet, I found her more tolerable in this than in anything I've seen her in up till now.

What's surprising to me is that I know this film did well, so well in fact that a sequel is coming with none other than Frank Darabont coming on board as director. And with all that's been said about this film, I'm probably more shocked than anything else that nobody ever takes the time to comment on Sanders outstanding visuals, or the creature, production and costume design. Artistically, SWatH is an outstanding achievement. Even when we get down to the CGI, it's near flawless and not overdone or shoddy as we've been accustomed to this past decade. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But it's disturbingly true. You'd think in this day and age of outstanding CGI work, the day where we joked about how fake CGI looked was well behind us, but it seems more relevant now than ever. So when a film like this comes out, and you're not pre-occupied with the shoddy effects work, well that's a rare treat indeed. But it all comes back to Sanders aesthetically pleasing work as a visual director. It's hard not to compare the guy to Scott, as they share a very similar visual style. I'm surprised no one has picked up on that, or is it just me who thinks that?

There's a lot to like in this Snow White interpretation if you give it just half a chance. It's dark, moody and incredibly atmospheric. The cast is pretty great, and a visual knockout. And let's face it, nobody does evil quite as effortlessly as Charlize Theron. The effects work is top notch, and it's all rounded out with a better than you'd expect quality. Believe it or not, I'm actually looking forward to the sequel.



Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Category: Horror/Thriller

As I scratch my early 80's horror itch, I realized that I never got around to ever watching this one. Strange, since I'm a big fan of the director, Mark L. Lester, who gave us such gems like Commando, Class of 1984, Class of 1999 and Showdown in Little Tokyo. So yea, I'm a fan.

Released in 1984, Firestarter came out in a time when practically every single Stephen King novel was being made into a movie. Carrie, Christine, The Shining, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Creepshow, Cat's Eye, Children of the Corn, Pet Semetary and so on. It's different now, but when a Stephen King novel got the movie adaptation, it was a pretty big deal. It was almost a guarantee that a SK movie would be a bonafide hit, and believe it or not, practically every single one was. Once the 90's came around though, that all started to change. Sure, we did get a few gems like Misery, Sleepwalkers - though I'll admit that one is not for everyone - and some really good drama's like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. But the 90's was the beginning of the decline of King's rule at the box office in the horror genre as a lot of his novels turned into films were becoming of less quality than we'd become accustomed to. I think the nail in the coffin was when most of his stuff just started going straight to video and made for television. Nowaday's it's extremely rare when a King film is a hit, let alone comes out in the theaters.

One of the things that surprised me right off the bat with this one is the stellar cast. Martin Sheen, David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Louise Fletcher, Art Carney, and a wonderfully evil turn from George C. Scott. Everyone is just fantastic in this; all delivering knockout performances. But it's really Barrymore's show here. This was her first film after the massively successful E.T. and I have to say, casting kids in lead roles is extremely tricky. Pick an annoying kid and it can certainly ruin the film experience for you. A good example is that kid in Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars remake. While I still loved the film, that kid was just flat-out terrible and I've heard several times how his performance pretty much ruined the experience for a lot of others. It almost did for me. But Barrymore is a solid actress, no doubt. You saw what she had to offer in E.T. 2 years earlier, but here her range is on full display and quite honestly, she's one of the best child actors I've ever seen.

I really liked this film. It starts off strong, and ends with a bang. Director Mark L. Lester's restrained camerawork feeds into the films overall early 80's aesthetic, keeping things simple, yet effective. It works remarkably well. Take into consideration that this is an early 80's production, and you have that immediate "old school" look. It's awesome. I sincerely doubt that if this would be remade today, it would never, or could ever, have the same visual impact and ambiance that this film presents. There's just no way. Then when we get to the third act, and all hell breaks loose, Firestarter becomes a technical marvel. The pyrotechnics involved are nothing short of astonishing, and hell, even I was surprised at some of the stunt work involving Barrymore. They certainly make films differently these days. Most of the stuff presented in the final act would never be attempted today. It's a guarantee that it would all be done with CGI, and would never have the same organic feel that this film is able to accomplish.

If I had any gripes, it would be that most of the cool fire action doesn't happen until the very end. But you know, I half expected that, so it's not that much of a bummer. There are plenty of moments where Charlie (Barrymore) and her father Andy (David Keith) display their particular talents, but it's really not until the last 30 minutes where she really let's loose and well, it's a flat-out awesome display.

By no means a film that will blow you away, yet an exceptionally well made film that perfectly captures the aesthetic of the early 80's. It has it's lull's, but recovers in it's final act to deliver one helluva finale. I'm so glad they never attempted to remake this.