Dead and Buried and Back Again (The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1988)

Taking inspiration from author Wade Davis’ book of the same name, Wes Craven explores spirituality and politics. This is not a direct adaption of the book, with Bill Pullman playing Dr. Dennis Alan. Alan is sent by his employer (a pharmaceutical company) too Haiti to investigate the stories of Christophe, a man who died in 1978, but has reappeared from the dead.

While there, Alan starts to work with Dr. Marielle Duchamp, who is treating Christophe. With her help, he is introduced to practitioners of Voodoo who are open to teaching him how to make the toxins that produce the zombie state. Dennis is convinced there are medicinal uses that would revolutionize medical care.

However, Haiti is in a state of revolution, and runs afoul of the local corrupt constable Dargent Peytraud (played with ominous relish by Zakes Mokae). After a threat to his life Alan realizes he cannot escape Peytraud’s grasp and returns to Haiti to help the friends he has made and confront Peytraud.

For the two thirds of the story, Craven plays things a bit coy. Any horror moments could simply be happening in his head, under the influence of hallucinogens. Up until the moment he returns to the United States, Voodoo is treated pretty respectfully. But then the film swerves into horror fantasy with a spiritual showdown between Alan and Peytraud.

The effects in the film are really solid with all sorts of creepy imagery. But what really stands out is the beautifully shot scenery. Filmed largely on location in Haiti, the cinematographer John Lindley takes full advantage of the environments.

Wade Davis has expressed some disappointment with the film for how it sensationalizes Voodoo, while the whole point of his book was to present it as a valid religion alongside the more popular and accepted religions of the world. He does not seem to lay this at Craven’s feet, whom he has suggested was trying to make something less in the horror vein (Davis had hoped for something more like the Year of Living Dangerously). He feels the studio kept the pressure on to provide them with a Wes Craven thriller.

While the film has some tonal flaws, it is still a very strong return to form for Craven, especially after Deadly Friend. This is Craven managing to bring his more intellectual ideas alongside his thriller instincts. And it works. This is an engaging film worth a watch.

Poison in the Well (Dark Waters, 2019)

Dark_Waters_PosterFrankly, companies do not care about you. Amazon does not care about you.  And chemical companies really do not care about you.  And Dark Waters is about the fight to not just expose this to the world, but to hold polluters accountable for the destruction they have caused.

Dark Water is a legal drama that somehow manages to pace itself like some sort of action movie. It does not spend a lot of time establishing Ruffalo’s Rob Bilot. He is a lawyer and has a family, and quickly he finds a farmer, Wilbur Tennant, in his office demanding his help. Wilbur is certain that Dupont chemicals have been destroying the earth and cattle of his farm.

Hesitant at first Bilot does a little research…it does not take long for him to suspect Tennant is on to something. His firm is unsure at first, as they normally defend companies like Dupont.  But as time passes and information comes in that seems more damning, top people in the firm start to share Bilot’s conviction.

One of the most effective aspects of this film is how they sell the paranoia and demoralizing nature that can be part of challenging the status quo. In one scene, a man Bilot believes he could trust tells him he is sending all their research.  It is so many boxes, as they pull away it feels defeating.  It is clear they were inundating Bilot with so much they hoped he would give up or never be able to process it all and therefore miss something.

Dark Waters spans over a decade, and sometimes the time jumps greatly between scenes.  This method of transition lulls the viewer a bit as you kind of expect maybe jumping a couple years here and there…and then around 2006, the screen stays dark as the title card jumps year by year.

Mark Ruffalo gives a great performance and you see the years of not getting justice take their toll, the fear that he and his family are in danger.

Dark Waters got kind of overlooked last year, but it is worth locating and watching.

 

Theeeeeeey’re Back (Independence Day: Resurgence, 2016)

independence_day_resurgence_posterTwenty Years between sequels is a long time.  There has been longer, but twenty years is nothing to sneeze at.  The reviews that proceed me have been harsh, many suggesting that this is the worst film of the summer.  But honestly?  It’s an OK film.  There are some decent quips.  The effects are good.  Goldblum slips into his role pretty seamlessly.  Spiner pops back up and gets a beefed up role.  Bill Pullman is the tortured Ex-President.  Sela Ward is thr tough current president.  Replacing Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller is his son Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher).  He is apparently annoyed with Jake (Liam Hemsworth) for almost killing him (accidentally) a few years before.  Jake is the hotshot risk taker who saves the moon base (but getting no thanks for it).  He is also engaged to President Whitmore’s now grown daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), who works for the current President and is a former pilot.  Then there is Floyd (Nicholas Wright, also one of the writers).  He is in love with Rain Lao (Angelababy) the top Chinese pilot.  Towards the beginning of the film, we are also introduced to Warlord Dikembi Umbutu (Deobia Oparei) and the standard sparring love interest for Goldblum, Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg).  If this seems like a long introductory paragraph?  It is a lot longer in the film.

One of the big problems this film has?  So much of the personal conflict feels entirely unnecessary.  The conflict between Dylan and Jake could be removed entirely and not impact the film at all.  Their relationship would not be lessened without it.    What makes it worse is that really, the new character lack charisma and have terrible lines.  The quips in the film are largely duds.

The movie follows the first film’s formula pretty closely.  We spend an hour being introduced, or re-introduced to the leads (or at least, it feels like a long slow hour).  We get a lot of destruction as the ship arrives.  An “exciting” battle that fails, heroes stuck in the alien ship, heroes flying alien ship.  A road trip with Judd Hirsch.  Sure, some it is a bit jumbled around and it is all amped up a bit, because, well, it is a sequel.

The creature design is surprisingly pedestrian.  The Alien Queen is suspiciously like the Alien Queen from Aliens, especially in her movements. The world building is a bit lazy.  Yeah, they have alien technology, but it seems to be mostly applied to weapons and vehicles.  How does it change other things?  Communication technology seems to basically be smart phones, laptops and tablets.  The world has been united since 1996, and I guess there might be some plausibility there, but the world is basically America, except for the continent of Africa, still run by Warlords.

The film also just ends very weirdly.  No big speech, Spiner just runs into frame to set up the next film.  And the screen goes black.  So, no, this is not the worst movie of the summer (surely we cannot make such a claim seven days into summer).  It is not the best either.  It is an okay and underwhelming sequel.

Taking Our Planet Back (Independence Day, 1996)

independence_day_poster24 Year old Me Reviews Independence Day: OMG!  That was awesome!  Cool Effects, funny quips.  Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum was great!  Bill Pullman plays the Version of a Democratic President Dean Devlina and Roland Emmerich wish Clinton was!  Cool movie!  Everyone should see it.

20 Years Later Me Reviews Independence Day:  Ehhhhhhh…this is a pretty dumb flick.  But in a weird way?  That is part of it’s charm.  Will Smith plays his standard Cocky Hero Guy, Jeff Goldblum is his standard nervous idealist guy, Bill Pullman is THE PRESIDENT, Randy Quaid is a version of his Uncle Eddie character (a version more deeply consumed by alcoholism), Mary McDonnell is the woman who must die to give Bill Pullman resolve (er, the First Lady) and Judd Hirsch plays Old Jewish Stereotype.

Visually, this film holds up pretty well.  Considering it relies on practical effects as digital (as Digital Effects were still in their infancy) the destruction still looks convincing.  The dogfights hold up and the aliens look quite good.

The writing is broad in the film.  Folks speak in quips and dramatic phrases.    Sometimes, as with Goldblum and Smith, this is effective.  They carry the burden of most of the humor, Though Brent Spiner (Star Trek’s Data) shows up briefly to play an amusing and socially awkward Area 51 Scientist.  Pullman plays earnest and plays it well.  There is a speech in the film that could have gone off the rails, but his delivery makes it seem better than it is.

Of course, the “Rah Rah America” gets overbearingly embarrassing.  The whole world was apparently sitting around waiting on America to come up with a plan to fight back against the aliens.  There is a moment where a British guy tells another soldier that the Americans have a plan and he pretty much says “It’s about time”.  The inspirational message to the world in the film? We are all America.

The overall cheesiness and goofy nature of the film does work to the film’s favor and it is the times when it takes itself to seriously that it feels like it will fall apart.  And even 20 years later it can be fun to watch, especially for the visual effects and the main performances.  And no matter who is in office, there are always going to be people happy to see the White House blown to bits.

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