THE THING (1982)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Directed by: John Carpenter

Written by: Bill Lancaster

(based on the novella WHO GOES THERE? by John W. Campbell Jr.)

Starring: Kurt Russell, A. Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis & Thomas Waites

Widely considered to be one of John Carpenter’s very best films and one of the best horror films of all-time, THE THING initially flopped at the 1982 box office as audiences clamored to watch a more family friendly extraterrestrial in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. Reviews weren’t exactly positive for THE THING in its original theatrical run as many critics wrote off this film as exploitative, cheesy, and overly gory as opposed to scary. Decades later, it’s baffling to look back on the mistreatment of THE THING and easy to see why this film has left a lasting legacy.

In a remote Antarctic research station, a group of rugged American scientists spot a Norwegian helicopter shooting at a dog. Being nice guys, the Americans welcome to the dog into their station with open arms and shoot the hostile Norwegian pilot. Something horrific happened at the neighboring Norwegian camp and a shape-shifting alien parasite has now infiltrated the American base. This evil extraterrestrial seems to ensure its survival by digesting animals and then imitating them with 100% accuracy. The Americans shouldn’t be worried about what this “thing” is. Instead, they become more concerned about who this “thing” has become.

Though its premise sounds like a simple creature feature on paper, THE THING is so much more than that. As the alien presence makes itself known, the film focuses on not just being a fantastic monster movie, but also weaving a paranoid mystery together. We know that at least two people have likely been infected by this mutating organism, but we don’t know their identities. The audience is aware that it’s only a matter of time before more people become infected as this monster seems hellbent on devouring/becoming anybody that comes near it. The film’s ever-growing suspense and extreme paranoia erupt from trying to figure out who is real and who is one of the “things.”

THE THING might seem like a vague movie title, but you’d be hard pressed to describe the monstrous forms that this “thing” takes on throughout this terrifying film. The tentacled, razor-toothed, and freakish shapes are brought to life through stellar practical effects that still hold up perfectly to this day. The frightening nature of these horrific “things” is amplified by tense build-ups to every reveal and the sense that one of these monsters might appear at any given moment. THE THING is riddled with classic scenes that have been lovingly referenced in plenty of other movies and TV shows. The blood test is easily one of the scariest moments, while rising paranoia between the researchers is just as dangerous as the monster itself.

The cast is made up of a few memorable faces and a lot of gruff beards. With so many grizzled guys in the same place, it might initially seem a little difficult to keep track of who is who. However, the film sets up certain characters early on and gives us a sense of who these people are. Kurt Russell is a big show-stealer as man’s man R.J. MacReady, while Keith David is intimidating as hot-tempered alpha-male Childs. The rest of the cast members stick out with individual characteristics, so we get an idea of when someone may have been changed into a “thing” and who seems totally normal. This character-building tactic puts the viewer in the same paranoid mental state as the film’s characters.

Though it runs at just under two hours long, John Carpenter makes each scene completely compelling, even during the slow-burn first third of the film in which we receive a few clues about the creature’s origin. Scientific explanations behind this monster don’t serve as mere exposition dumps either, because these informative moments amplify the viewer’s growing terror as we realize the magnitude of this hopeless situation. The film’s ambiguous ending leaves much to the viewer’s interpretation and concludes in an appropriately chilling fashion (pun fully intended).

THE THING is one of the greatest horror films of all-time! Its scares are very real. Its practical effects are nightmarish and hold up better than most modern effects. The monster designs look like something out of H.P. Lovecraft’s head, and Carpenter admitted that he was inspired by Lovecraft’s work. The acting is flawless, and thick suspense hovers over every single scene. THE THING is easily the best thing that John Carpenter ever directed. This movie isn’t just a masterpiece of horror, but it’s also a timeless classic that will keep scaring the hell out of people for decades to come.

Grade: A+

THE NICE GUYS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 56 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Sexuality, Nudity, Language and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Shane Black

Written by: Shane Black & Anthony Bagarozzi

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Murielle Telio, Keith David, Kim Basinger & Beau Knapp

If you only read the synopsis for THE NICE GUYS, it sounds like a dark crime-thriller. You’d be wrong in this assumption though, because this movie is written and directed by Shane Black. He’s the guy behind movies like LETHAL WEAPON, THE LAST BOY SCOUT and KISS KISS BANG BANG. In short, Shane Black seems to have a knack for making action clichés feel fresh, creating great characters, and incorporating lots of laughs into otherwise tense plots. THE NICE GUYS combines a neo-noir thriller and a buddy cop comedy into one hugely entertaining creation. Driven by a compelling mystery, riding on the shoulders of strong characters, and boosted by a 70’s atmosphere, THE NICE GUYS is a blast!

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Los Angeles, 1977. Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is an enforcer, willing to beat anyone to a pulp…as long as he’s being paid to do so. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is an inept private investigator, who isn’t above scamming his clients and getting drunk in the morning. Healy and March cross paths due to a strange girl named Amelia (Margaret Qualley). What begins as a simple missing person case quickly escalates into a conspiracy connected to a porn star’s mysterious death and murderous criminals. Soon enough, Healy and March are working together, dodging bullets, screwing up, and trying their best to get to the bottom of a complicated, dangerous mystery.

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THE NICE GUYS masterfully balances two very different genres. The film’s mood frequently shifts between laugh-out-loud hilarious to tense thriller territory, but never once feels like a mess. This multi-genre tone may sound difficult to execute, but Shane Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi make it look easy. Lots of laughs come from the undeniably witty dialogue, but there are over-the-top visual jokes too (e.g. a cigarette smoking bee). These moments are utterly ridiculous, but never seem to distract from the danger at hand. When this story gets dark, it gets downright bleak. This screenplay packs in a lot of surprises and one twist left me stunned for a solid five minutes.

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Besides having an excellent script, THE NICE GUYS also showcases one of the best actor pairings in recent memory. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling have great chemistry and play off each other in ways that feel completely natural. Each brings their own sense of comedic timing to the mix, but both are able to balance seriousness in their characters. March is a bumbling jerk with a drinking problem, but has genuine goodness in him and cares deeply for his daughter. Crowe is a hardened guy trying to do the right thing, but occasionally does very bad things along the way. NICE GUYS doesn’t pretty up these characters’ flaws or make light of them, which makes the serious moments work and the many humorous moments even more amusing.

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THE NICE GUYS follows the structure of a buddy cop comedy, but purposely goes out of its way to not follow the typical conventions of that formula. On a side note, there’s something to be said for a film that includes a child sidekick and does so in a way that’s not annoying in the slightest. This character is Holly, March’s daughter, and is played to perfection by Angourie Rice. Holly is able to see the goodness in both of these men and doesn’t hesitate to point out their problems. As a result, teenage Rice manages to steal a few scenes away from Gosling and Crowe.

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There is one exception to the story’s mostly non-conventional nature and that comes with a bit of revealing exposition. A couple of obvious clues give away surprises before they’ve fully been revealed. Every audience member might not immediately catch onto to these telegraphed bits, but one scene seems a bit too heavy-handed in laying them out for the viewer. However, THE NICE GUYS more than makes up for this with some of the most unlikable villains that I’ve seen in a long time. I was rooting for these bad guys to get seriously hurt as tense confrontations played out and the movie doesn’t disappoint in bloodletting as the comeuppances are beyond satisfying in their over-the-top violence.

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The 70’s atmosphere and great soundtrack are merely icing on the cake. THE NICE GUYS juggles multiple genres, rides on well-developed characters, and is bound to get you laughing. It’s simultaneously hilarious and suspenseful, which are two words that you don’t often hear in describing one film. The chemistry between Gosling and Crowe is perfect! I sincerely hope that we get to spend even more time with them in a potential sequel. If you want a mystery that doesn’t skimp on the suspense and a comedy that will keep you laughing from start to finish, THE NICE GUYS lives up to its title in being nice…and then some!

Grade: A

TRANSPORTER 2 (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violent Action, Sexual Content, partial Nudity, and brief Language

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Directed by: Louis Leterrier

Written by: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen

Starring: Jason Statham, Alessandro Gassman, Amber Valletta, Kate Nauta, Francois Berleand, Keith David & Jason Flemyng

2002’s THE TRANSPORTER was fun, simple, and stupid popcorn entertainment. TRANSPORTER 2 is wildly over-the-top, ludicrous, and separates itself from the original in many ways. You can tell this second installment had more of a budget behind it and packs plenty of wackiness into its short running time. Though Corey Yuen did not return to direct this sequel, he did help out with the fight choreography and it shows. TRANSPORTER 2 is every bit as enjoyable as its predecessor for reasons that you might not expect.

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After relocating to Miami, Florida, Frank Martin has taken on a different kind of transporting. He’s been hired to babysit Jack, the son of a rich government official. When a trip to the doctor’s office turns into a kidnapping, Frank finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jack’s family believes that Frank took their son and the real criminal mastermind behind Jack’s kidnapping is attempting to kill the bad-ass transporter. However, we all know that Frank Martin doesn’t go down so easily. It’s time for Frank to violently rescue Jack and stop a bigger, more sinister plot before it’s too late.

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As entertaining and well-made as the action in the first TRANSPORTER was, you could tell that movie was made with the most modest of expectations in mind. The plot was a threadbare excuse to pack in as many fights, car chases and explosions as possible and it functioned purely on that adrenaline-pumping level. TRANSPORTER 2 has slightly grander aspirations and more ridiculous notions in mind. This sequel’s plot starts off relatively simple and silly, but quickly morphs into something entirely more complicated (code for even sillier) than the viewer might expect. The visuals appear slick and glossy this around, which makes for an overall better film to look at.

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Jason Statham slips right back into the role of Jason Statham…er, I mean Frank Martin with ease. You get a sense that there’s a soft side to this titular bad-ass. He doesn’t avoid impaling a goon with a table in plain view of a small child, but he genuinely cares about Jack and his family. Frank is the gruff Transporter with a heart of gold. He’s essentially a low-rent, rough around the edges 007 type without an MI-6 behind him. As far as side characters go, Hunter Clary is okay as the kid-in-distress and Amber Valletta is decent enough as his worried mother. The villains are slightly more developed this time around too. Alessandro Gassman is enjoyable evil as the foreign-accented Gianni, but the real scene-stealer is Kate Nauta’s Lola (his second-in-command). She’s a sexy villainess who enjoys being scantily clad in revealing lingerie and firing dual machine guns at anything that moves. Besides being great eye candy, Lola is also a genuine threat to Frank.

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TRANSPORTER 2 is a full-fledged action-packed extravaganza from beginning to end. Galloping at a perfectly paced 87 minutes, the film only takes brief breaks between its stylized mayhem to offer up goofy exposition. Frank Martin continues to demolish the laws of physics by driving upside down through the air to rid his car of a bomb and using a fire hose to wipe out a gang of thugs. The film occasionally becomes eye-rollingly far-fetched in smaller details like bullets that somehow fail to penetrate through a wooden door. This utter desecration of believability becomes a hilarious benefit when a CGI plane hits the ocean at full force and manages to merely continue a fight sequence between an unscathed Frank and still alive Gianni. I actually had to pause the movie because I burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter when that sequence occurred.

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If you liked the first TRANSPORTER, you’ll probably have a great time watching this preposterously plotted sequel. Co-writer Luc Besson fully embraces the ridiculously silly potential in the TRANSPORTER series with this second outing. The tone is wackier this time around and the non-Statham characters are slightly more developed. The action is far more overblown (in a good way) and the script goes into insanely dumb places (also a positive quality in a movie like this). There is no logic to be found here and its absence makes for an unabashedly silly good time! This is my favorite TRANSPORTER film!

Grade: B

HERCULES (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: Ron Clements & John Musker

Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker & Barry Johnson

Voices of: Tate Donovan, Josh Keaton, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Susan Egan, Rip Torn, Bobcat Goldthwait & Matt Frewer

It happened. I had been on such a good streak for a while and I finally stumbled across some misguided nostalgia from my childhood yet again. I vaguely remember seeing HERCULES at the drive-in. I was six years-old at the time, Disney movies were pretty much the only films that I was able to see on the big screen. At the time, I loved this film. This was on repeat at my house after it hit its VHS release. Having watched this Disney take on mythology for the first time in a solid decade, I can safely say that I really don’t like this film anymore. I’ve heard people complain about HERCULES for Disneyfying Greek mythology or misrepresenting certain parts of the legend of Hercules. Neither of those are my complaints with this movie, instead my problems with Disney’s version of HERCULES stem from it feeling far too rushed with little to no character development, the dusty pop culture references, and interchangeable musical numbers. 1997’s HERCULES is a big mixed bag.

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Zeus and Hera have given birth to a new Greek god named Hercules. The baby has immeasurable strength and is loved by every god on Mount Olympus. However, the ruler of the underworld, Hades, decides to kill Hercules in order to secure an evil future plan for the control of Mount Olympus. The assassination attempt goes sour and Hercules winds up as a Demi-God. As an awkward misfit with superhuman strength, the teenage Hercules discovers his true identity and trains under the guidance of Phil to become a hero. Hoping that his good deeds will eventually earn him a place back in Mount Olympus, Hercules winds up falling for frequent damsel-in-distress Meg and draws the attention of Hades, who is more than a little pissed to find that Hercules is still alive.

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The biggest problems with HERCULES become apparent in the first five minutes of running time. We are introduced to the Muses who sing a gospel themed tune prologue about titans and gods. The song is forgettable and forced. The pacing of the prologue feels overly rushed and doesn’t give the viewer enough time to gander at the images being presented on the screen. It doesn’t get much better from that point, because the Muses reappear to sing more gospel tunes about Hercules’s progress throughout. Even when the Muses aren’t part of a musical number, the songs from Hercules (the best of the bunch, but only okay), Phil (way too forced) and Meg (a simplistic song about being in love) are pretty mediocre for the most part. The pacing of this film is messy. It feels like the filmmakers tried to cram all of the Hercules story into the space of 90 minutes while focusing too much on pop culture references.

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Since the script feels like it’s rushing by way too fast, this doesn’t exactly leave much room for character development. We get the whole conflict of a teenage Hercules in the space of 5 minutes and it’s mainly played up as a tired joke. I couldn’t feel much for Hercules, because he’s simply the bland hero. While Meg definitely has more attitude than your typical helpless damsel in distress, she’s not exactly likable and you might wonder what Hercules sees in her. Meanwhile, Danny DeVito is simply shouting his lines as Phil. James Woods’s Hades is the only character in HERCULES that I actually liked. The casting decision was pretty genius and he plays the God of the Underworld as a slick, slimy jerk with deadly intentions. He’s simply a blast to watch, but his moments (much like everything else in this film) pass by far too quickly. Though Hades is a solid villain, his two demon sidekicks, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer), perform a tired slapstick routine for the entire movie.

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If there’s anything that I can honestly praise in HERCULES, aside from James Woods playing Hades, it would be the animation style itself. The songs might be forced. The characters might be bland. The movie might move at a pace that’s too fast for its own good. In spite of all of these things, 1997’s HERCULES looks cool. There’s a combination of CGI and traditional animation on display. It blends together quite well, especially in a sequence when Hercules faces off against a many-headed Hydra. The odd animation style is creative and I liked it a lot. It’s really a pit that it’s being wasted on such a mediocre script.

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HERCULES has two qualities that could possibly make it worth recommending to certain people. You have James Woods playing Hades. That would sell me on morbid curiosity alone. The animation is really unlike anything that Disney has done before or since. It’s a very odd look and I enjoyed the visuals a lot. However, that doesn’t nearly make up for bland characters, shaky pacing, and forced musical numbers. I didn’t like HERCULES, but not because it put an overly Disney spin on Greek mythology. Instead, it’s simply because I found the film to be a mixed bag with two good qualities and a lot of bad ones. Overall, HERCULES is on the lower end of Disney’s animated spectrum (not including direct-to-video sequels, of course).

Grade: C

DELTA FARCE (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor

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Directed by: C.B. Harding

Written by: Bear Aderhold, Tom Sullivan

Starring: Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall, DJ Qualls, Keith David, Danny Trejo, Marisol Nichols

You might be wondering why I’m even bothering to review DELTA FARCE. The reason is simple. I actually have a little nostalgia set around this flick’s 2007 theatrical run. I was working at a movie theater (my first job) and on breaks/after work, employees would kill time by sitting in on whatever movie we fancied walking into. At the time, I was a big fan of Blue Collar Comedy tour and this film featured two of those comedians (Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy). I wasn’t expecting much out of DELTA FARCE and was pleasantly surprised into thinking it was a passable comedy. Years have gone by and my cinematic taste has evolved. I wondered how the film might look upon viewing it now. In short, I don’t know what I ever saw in this steaming pile of cinematic crap. This is a terrible excuse for a comedy that didn’t get a single chuckle out of me.

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A trio of rednecks use being Army Reserves as an excuse for a monthly guy’s weekend at the base. Unfortunately for them, things are about to change. The unsuspecting white trash idiots have just been thrown into duty. After being put through two days of boot camp, they find themselves being shipped off to Iraq, but things don’t go quite as planned. Through a mishap, the three awake in Mexico, believing it to be the Middle East. They act like idiots, get on the bad side of a local gang leader, and wacky hijinks ensue. There’s admittedly possible potential in the plot, but the film is a barren laugh-free wasteland of the comedy. Not a single joke worked for me and I can’t imagine them working for most audiences, with the exception of two groups.

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I really don’t mean for this to sound offensive (though it might). DELTA FARCE is a movie that will entertain junior high age kids and rednecks. That’s the demographic this movie is clearly aiming towards. When I relatively enjoyed this movie, I was making that awkward transition from junior high to high school. That’s my lone defense for me once not thinking that DELTA FARCE was dogshit. The humor frequently resorts to racial stereotypes and farts. I know this movie was made in 2007, but there’s an inordinate homophobic tendency around it too and the word “retard” is thrown around every other sentence. That word might be offensive to some, but I feel that it can be used well in comedy (like every controversial topic thrown into satire). For a funny use of the word, watch TROPIC THUNDER (a far superior comedy that has a similar premise to DELTA FARCE). The word is excessively thrown in though, as if the mere inclusion will get a laugh. Though judging from the trailer trash demographic this movie is squarely aiming at, it wouldn’t surprise me if a bunch of hillbillies were cracking up at this film. Every punch line feels obvious and cheap. You can see each one coming from a million miles away and nothing works.

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Speaking of cheap, the production values feel like they were thrown together at the last possible minute for release. Some of the dialogue doesn’t feel like it was in the script, but improvised by the comedians on the spot as an excuse to bring some of their stand-up comedy bits to the big-screen. The scene transitions are usually swiping across the screen, the kind of effect that can be found in any older version of PowerPoint. There’s no real budget on display to think of. This feels like a movie that should have gone direct to DVD and not have been released in Summer 2007. It appropriately tanked, but also made 8 million dollars too many at the box office.

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Bill Engvall is a funny comedian. I still enjoy listening to his stand-up, though I thought it was much funnier when I was younger. Jeff Dunham (making a brief cameo) can be funny on occasion, but is annoying here. Keith David is a good actor in the right roles, but seems to pretty much take anything he’s offered (which might be the case here). Danny Trejo is a formidable presence in anything, but comes off as wasted in the role of typical bad guy. Meanwhile, DJ Qualls and Larry The Cable have never really been funny for my taste. They still aren’t here. If the rest of the cast had included Jeff Foxworthy and Ron White (the rest of the Blue Collar group) and they had been in charge of the script, then things might have been slightly different. As it stands, DELTA FARCE is offensively bad and insults the intelligence of the audience at every possible turn.

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DELTA FARCE comes off as a cheap direct-to-DVD flick that somehow made it onto screens across the nation. Some scenes feel like an outlet for Larry the Cable Guy to unleash some of his stand-up bits on-screen. They’re just as unfunny visually as they are when he’s reciting them on stage. Bill Engvall is a funny comedian, but not as a comic actor. The rest of the Blue Collar boys are missing in action. The fan base of this movie should strictly be rednecks (not surprisingly) and Junior High age teens (again, not surprisingly). If there’s anything that the complete and utter failure that is DELTA FARCE taught me, it’s that there’s a “comedy” filmmaking crew worse than Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison. Indeed, that’s no small feat.

Grade: F