A Look Back at On Deadly Ground

Way back in 1994, Warner Bros. released the action movie On Deadly Ground which marked the directorial debut of its star Steven Seagal. The movie had a poster that easily attracted the attention of avid Steven Seagal fans and eventually the film lured quite a lot of moviegoers to the cinemas.

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Even though it had a boring design, this image at cinemas excited Steven Seagal fans and moviegoers craving for action.

I never saw it in the cinemas due to a lack of time and money. Instead I saw On Deadly Ground on VHS format (and later on cable TV) in the comfort of home. That comfort however turned into disappointment after watching it.

For starters it’s a Steven Seagal movie which guarantees lots of hard-hitting action with lots of swearing. What makes it feel unique was its focus of the environment and its very forced concept about a very greedy top executive of an oil company is creating danger towards the environment as his team rushes to complete an oil rig called Aegis One in Alaska.

The execution of the movie, to say the least, is rather poor. Just about every character in the movie is one-dimensional. When it comes to action, it is typical (and very predictable) Seagal as the star gets to fight lots of bad guys without ever being hurt by them! Ironically Seagal in the film expresses pain over the treatment of his wounds.

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Star-director Steven Seagal and the film crew working on an action sequence.

And then there is the emphasis on the environment. The movie narrowly portrays the fictional oil company as the force of danger to nature and threat to indigenous people of Alaska because it is led by Michael Jennings (played by Michael Caine) who is too greedy and desperate to beat a deadline  and prevent the oil rights from reverting back to native Alaskans.

That’s right! Jenning’s Aegis had the oil rights for twenty years and all they could do is try to launch an oil refinery so near the end of the time period. Does it really take that long to construct an oil rig? What exactly did Jennings do during those twenty years? I mean, he acquired the oil rights from the natives and I could speculate he did not prioritize the construction of any oil-related business project using those same rights. Perhaps Jennings spent years touring the world, suddenly was advised that his corporation has financial trouble and only then did he go to work to make oil rig.

More on the environment, Steven Seagal plays Forrest Taft who initially serves Jennings. He eventually checks the computers of the company to find out that faulty equipment has been used and the delivery of better and more reliable equipment is coming in way too late. Taft even asked Jennings (who eventually learned about Taft’s unauthorized computer access) how much money is enough and this predictably leads to a scene in which Taft gets set up to die in an explosion.

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Michael Caine and Steven Seagal.

Unfortunately for Jennings and the other bad guys, Taft survived and got assistance from native Alaskans. Very predictably, he makes a comeback, collects weapons, performed a few destructive operations before proceeding to Aegis Oil’s rig to cause further destruction and kill bad guys!

Then the film ends with Taft giving a speech at the Alaska State Capitol focused on uncontrolled pollution, environmental destruction and big businesses’ contribution to environmental decline.

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Chinese actress Joan Chen pretending to be a native American tribe member.

It’s funny how Taft got to deliver his speech. He was not arrested for causing the oil rig’s devastation nor was held accountable for killing other people. Where are the local authorities who could have initiated an investigation? Even without Michael Jennings, the oil company could have gone to the local authorities or the federal government to accuse Forrest Taft for murder and even acts of terrorism! Also where in the world are those staunch, loudmouth environmental activists and climate change activists? The damage caused by Taft on the oil rig clearly caused damage to the natural environment with those toxic fumes from the explosions! Logic was clearly thrown out for the sake of senseless violence.

When it comes to performances, this movie is a showcase of shallow acting and cinematic expressions. Not only are the characters one-dimensional and the script really had no character development, the actors really had no where to go as far as acting is concerned. Chinese actress Joan Chen plays Masu who only serves as the English-speaking expository dialogue delivery person to help the audience understand the norms and concerns of a Native American tribe. Shari Shattuck  (who is an author and has her own Facebook page) played the pretty, bland and straight-forward special assistant to Michael Jennings. R. Lee Ermey, who is best known for playing military officers, plays the leader of a group of mercenaries who got defeated too easily by Seagal.

In terms of directing and overall presentation, this movie is clearly nothing more than a vanity project of Steven Seagal. There were many moments in the film that looked like it suggested viewers to worship and idolize Seagal. The pacing of the film is very lackluster overall.

Poorly directed scenes? One of them is the excessively violent torture scene of Hugh Palmer (played by a then 73-year-old Richard Hamilton) which showed no restraint on the part of filmmakers. The scene, which was clearly designed to make moviegoers see the evil of Michael Jennings through his henchmen’s act, would have worked better had the on-screen torture been reduced and shortened.

More on the movie’s violence, the scene showing Forrest Taft easily beating up multiple oil workers in response to the mistreatment towards a Native American man was unnecessary and overly long. Taft looked more like a senseless superhero who does not care about humanity and laws. And then there was that hand-slap game between him and “the man’s man” Big Mike (Mike Starr). The presentation of violence and bloodily injuring a man as means of enlightenment is senseless.

Ultimately On Deadly Ground is a worthless action to film to watch and I believe only die-hard Steven Seagal fans will love it. It was a very bad movie back in 1994, it’s even worse by today’s standards. On Deadly Ground is filled with bad ideas turned into film. A pro-environment concept presented as a senseless action film is a big waste. And then there is the old stereotype that a giant corporation’s head is unabashedly evil, inhuman and greedy (note: not all corporate heads of billion-dollar corporations are like that).

As such, I should say that you should never waste your time nor your money on this piece of crap.

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Note: This retro movie review was originally published at my old blog Geeks and Villagers. What you just read was the updated and expanded version. As such, this retro movie review is the most definitive version.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

 

Carlo Carrasco’s Movie Review: Joker

Let me make it clear to all of you readers. The movie Joker is NOT a superhero movie at all even though it is a cinematic adaptation focused on one of DC Comics’ biggest super villains. It is also not a movie to watch for fun and enjoyment, but it is still engaging in a very different way.

The truth is, Joker is a large art film made to shock viewers with darkness, deep grit and some graphic violence. The good news here is that the movie is very engaging and easily reminds me of two certain movies that Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese worked together on. It’s a victory for Warner Bros. and DC Comics.

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Joaquin Phoenix as the new cinematic Joker will be remembered for a long time.

Joker follows the exploits and Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a struggling man who is hardly surviving working as an entertainer (a clown, specifically) supporting his mother and dealing with the hard life of Gotham City which was stylistically made to look like 1970s New York City. Arthur, who is living with a condition of uncontrolled laughter, looks up to TV show host Franklin Murray (played by Robert De Niro) as an inspiring figure to try out comedy and hopefully make it big to free himself and his mother from poverty.

While performing as a clown surrounded by children in a hospital, Arthur accidentally drops a gun he just received from a co-worker. Because of this, he gets fired and learns that the man who gave him the gun lied to their boss. While riding the subway still looking like a clown, he gets beaten up by three business executives who were drunk. In response, Arthur kills them with the gun and gets away. This incident starts a chain of events that causes friction between the upper class and the lower class, and then protesters wearing clown masks multiply.

On face value, Joker is clearly inspired by character-driven films of the 1970s. While it is not necessarily based on any particular comic book, it carried some slight elements from Batman: The Killing Joke. What is more obvious is that it took inspiration from De Niro-Scorsese films Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

As a psychological thriller, Joker is a great portrayal of how low a desperate man could go only to strive and survive. Arthur Fleck is greatly played by Joaquin Phoenix who carefully blends drama, anger, violence and even humor altogether. He really made the cinematic Joker his own and along the way, his Joker laught is more effective than that of Heath Ledger and the Joker physical appearance is almost as memorable as that of Jack Nicholson’s. The movie is indeed very violent but it is not overly violent. To be specific, there are a lot more deaths, acts of violence and shooting in Brian De Palma’s Scarface than this movie.

Joker also has a lively portrayal of the conflict between social classes. The scenes of the clown-masked protesters filling the trains and the streets still resonate with the socio-political rallies that happened in modern society. There is also the aspect of poor and desperate people depending on government for survival and they are easily vulnerable to getting cut off whenever resources run out.

Desperation is also a solid theme in the narrative. To see Arthur Fleck look up to Franklin Murray and imagine sharing the stage with him on TV reminds me a lot about some real-life people (who don’t have too much money) I encountered in Cebu City who can’t help but stop studying (even the older ones quit their legitimate jobs) and get into local entertainment hoping that fame and fortune will lift them up. Of course, when things get worse, desperate people would either get back to what they can live with or, worse, turn to a life of crime just to survive. With regards to Arthur’s attempt to become a comedian on screen, that easily reminds me of similar people in real life who thought they are very talented to be the next great superstars but ended up failing.

Conclusion

With its very solid direction by Todd Philips, great dramatic performances, nostalgic presentation and in-depth characterization, Joker is a must-watch movie mainly for moviegoers who want to be engaged with psychological thrills and bouts. As a DC Comics movie that is NOT connected with Warner Bros.’ current franchise of superhero movies (that started with Man of Steel in 2013), Joker works as an adulterated, standalone movie. To compare it with comic books published DC, I should say Joker is very much like an Elseworlds story. For the new comers reading this, Elseworlds was a franchise of comic books published by DC Comics that had stories using established characters but were told outside of DC universe canon.

Joker is highly recommended. Just don’t expect to see the usual superhero movie elements in this very solid DC Comics movie.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back At Friday The 13th (1980)

Since the successful release of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, the slasher horror sub-genre grew dramatically and made its mark in Hollywood. The 1980s saw the release of multiple low-budget films that shared lots of common elements with Halloween. Among them was a cheaply made flick (distributed by Paramount Pictures) that made almost $60 million worldwide.

The film was Friday The 13th which was released on May 1980. Unsurprisingly the Sean Cunningham-directed movie was poorly received by movie critics but moviegoers still flocked to the theaters to watch the cinematic horror unfold not in a suburb but in a summer camp.

This is my review of the movie.

Story

The film begins way back in the past. The late 1950s to be precise. During one night at Camp Crystal Lake, a male and female councilor attempt to make love only to find out that someone had been watching them. Both councilors got killed setting the stage for Camp Crystal Lake’s dark legacy.

Decades later, an effort was launched to reopen Camp Crystal Lake. A cute lady named Annie (played by Robbi Morgan) travels alone to the camp and along the way, people in the small town warn her about the camp’s history of murder. After hitching a 2nd ride, Annie realizes that the driver (off-camera) did not take the path to the camp. Realizing that the driver has no intention of letting her go, Annie desperately jumps off the speeding vehicle injuring herself in the process. To her horror, the driver went back, got down the vehicle and chased her into the woods. After getting caught, the driver slashes Annie’s neck.

At Camp Crystal Lake, teenagers (including a very young Kevin Bacon) arrived to take part in the reopening. What they don’t realize is that someone vicious is watching them from a distance and stalking them.

Quality

In my honest opinion, Friday The 13th is not worthy of being called a classic even though its commercial success added greatly to the slasher horror sub-genre and led to the production of multiple sequels eventually establishing Jason Voorhees (a victim in this movie) as a horror icon. By today’s standards, this movie is generic at best.

The script written by Victor Miller is serviceable. The characters are, unsurprisingly, mostly written to be killed off. What makes the movie bad is that the story is dragging for the most part and what saved it from turning into a disaster was the use of suspense, gore and shock when Alice (played by Adrienne King) got isolated on-screen.

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The characters during the snake scene. At left is Adrienne King as Alice.

As mentioned above, Jason Voorhees is the NOT the cinematic killer here at all and those who discovered the character in the later films (and wanted to go back to the beginning of this film franchise) will be disappointed to realize how irrelevant he was in this old movie.

For the sake of those discovering this movie, I won’t say who the killer is but I can say that screenwriter Victor Miller’s concept of NOT using a masked killer is creatively unique.

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Kevin Bacon in trouble!

In terms of performance, the clear standouts are Adrienne King as Alice and another actress (note: I won’t name her here due to spoiler potential) as the killer. Alice was decently built-up from the early part of the film while the killer, who arrived late in the film, was well presented to be evil, even psychotic (clearly inspired by a certain 1960 slasher movie).

With regards to stunts and kills, this movie is pretty tame when compared to its sequels. This should not be a surprise at all because nobody anticipated the movie would be a box office success to kick start a franchise. The film crew used a really small budget and they did what they could with it although they excelled with some of the gore effects (read: Tom Savini). The physical struggle between Alice and the killer was pretty raw which worked well in the context of the film since the protagonist was no fighter. The killer’s man-like aesthetic in terms of physical appearance added nicely to the suspense and horror as Alice struggled.

When it comes to cinematic concepts, Friday The 13th was written to emphasize how vulnerable people are to getting murdered in an isolated location far away from the reach of the local police and even farther away from the security of the American suburb. At Camp Crystal Lake, the teenagers had a whole lot of freedom to exploit the facilities, to engage in casual sex, make fools of themselves and the like. This is clearly the one factor that defined it and the film franchise went on to establish its legacy with the “horror at the summer camp” concept.

Conclusion

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Robbi Morgan as Annie cornered by the killer.

This is tricky. I would recommend Friday The 13th to moviegoers who are willing to endure slow-paced, mystery and suspense-filled horror flicks, and also to die-hard fans of the film franchise. However, if you discovered Jason Voorhees in the sequels and thought about watching this film (the very beginning of the franchise) to see him do what he is known for (read: killing), you will be disappointed.

As a horror movie, Friday The 13th is the product of its era and at the time of its release, the slasher horror sub-genre was just taking off. I would not recommend this movie if you are searching for more Jason but rest assured, you will get to know the complete backdrop regarding what happened to Jason, why the killings happened in the years that followed and so on. This movie also showed, in my opinion, one of the most definitive depictions of Camp Crystal Lake on the big screen.

Overall, Friday The 13th is serviceable. Not a classic, just serviceable. Nothing special at all. It’s a wonder why moviegoers back in 1980-1981 spent almost $60 million to watch this movie.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back At Dr. No

Every great movie franchise starts small and as the decades pass by, its place in history will be marked and revisited.

This is my review of the first-ever James Bond movie Dr. No.

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Ursula Andress and Sean Connery as Honey Ryder and James Bond respectively. 

Released in 1962 based on the sixth novel written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, Dr. No brought Agent 007 to the big screen worldwide and its success led to a series of big moneymaking sequels, merchandise, novels, comic books, video games and other forms of contributions to pop culture. This movie also marked the beginning of Sean Connery’s journey towards becoming a cinematic icon as, arguably, the best cinematic James Bond ever.

The movie begins when British agents in Jamaica get killed off by henchmen who eventually retrieved highly confidential files. In England, the secret service sends Agent 007 to Jamaica to do detective work and he gets armed with a Walter PPK. Once in Jamaica, Bond starts talking to people, gathering clues and traveled to different places to find out who is responsible for killing his fellow British intelligence operatives. If you want to know more, you just have to watch the movie.

If you are a newcomer to the James Bond franchise or if you never saw this movie before, then you have to keep in mind that this very old movie is NOT an action film but rather it is a detective story laced with suspense and some action that follows James Bond performing his mission for Queen and Country.

Chances are, you must have seen many other James Bond movies that are heavy on action, stunts and explosions. As it was the first of the film franchise, Dr. No is nothing like those other movies of Agent 007.

Being a detective story, Dr. No is character-driven and laced with mystery and suspense. To describe it without spoiling the story, the narrative shows Bond searching for answers and as the suspense builds up, something or someone gets revealed which adds to the deepening of the plot. There is some action, stunts and explosions to spice up the movie which were pretty enjoyable for the early 1960s. However the car chase is very outdated and never believable. Naturally, the spectacle is tame by today’s standards but still, this movie is not boring at all for me.

The movie is nicely paced and makes clear what is going on. There is sufficient build-up leading to the next revelation or the next part of the chain of mystery or the next twist. By the time James Bond encounters Dr. No himself well after the 60-minute mark into the movie, I became oriented with both characters as their conflict finally starts. This will work for you if you take time with the movie’s pace and pay close attention to details.

Sean Connery as Agent 007 is charming, cool and cruel. The filmmakers and Ian Fleming himself really oriented the actor on how to portray the literary Bond in cinematic form. Connery’s Bond is charming and the filmmakers make it very believable on-screen that ladies would fall for his charm which in turn would give him the opportunity to advance in his pursuit of accomplishing his goals in the line of duty.

Ursula Andress, who had to be dubbed in post-production due to her accent, caught the world’s attention wearing the bikini on the big screen (in color, no less) as Honey Ryder who came out from the water with her equipment and sea shells. This was a daring scene to show back in the early 1960s. Of course, Honey is not just a pretty face but also a brave lady with a history of adventure and exploring. This makes her believable as a Bond girl who has what it takes to keep up with Agent 007 in the story, even going face to face with Dr. No.

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Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No.

Joseph Wiseman‘s performance as Dr. No is subtle and yet he remains creepy as a cinematic villain. When compared to other villains in the James Bond film franchise, he does not do much action but his portrayal as a very powerful sinister human being who controls a loyal group of personnel still makes him a competent franchise villain in by today’s standards. Having seen all the James Bond movies, I find Wiseman’s Dr. No a more engaging villain compared to Col. Moon (the dreadful Die Another Day), Hugo Drax (Moonraker), Kamal Khan (Octopussy), Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye) and the 21st century Ernst Blofeld (Spectre) to name some.

In terms of production values, Dr. No is a mixed bag. There are some props that looked fake and cheap. The rear projection in the car chase is so fake looking. Ironically, the film shines with the sets designed by Ken Adams. The big room visited by Professor Dent to communicate with Dr. No, the hotel-like lair of the villain (where Honey and Bond are treated like special guests) and the elaborate room of the table meeting with Dr. No all are visually striking.

When it comes to presentation, Dr. No marked the beginning of many things that would later become cinematic traditions – the gun barrel opening, “Bond, James Bond”, the James Bond theme music, the mission meeting between Bond and M. (plus the nice chat between Bond and Moneypenny),  the appearance of Felix Leiter during the mission etc.

The screenplay written by Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkley Mather has quality in it not just with the narrative but also with the dialogue.

I love this exchange of words between Bond and Dr. No.

Dr. No: I’m a member of SPECTRE.

James Bond: SPECTRE?

Dr. No: SPECTRE – Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power headed by the greatest brains in the world.

James Bond: Correction – criminal brains.

And there was also this exchange.

Dr. No: The Americans are fools. I offered my services; they refused. So did the East. Now they can both pay for their mistake.

James Bond: World domination. The same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they’re Naploeon. Or God.

Overall, Dr. No is a classic movie and it is the kind of film that filmmakers today don’t make anymore because they know people won’t be satisfied without excessive action and spectacle. It is a James Bond flick in the form of a detective story which has a good amount of mystery, suspense and some action.

For sure, people who have gotten used to action-heavy James Bond movies won’t feel engaged with Dr. No. The best way to enjoy this film is to treat it the way it is meant to be – a piece of cinematic history that built the James Bond film franchise in the very first place.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com