Friday, December 8, 2017

Worth Mentioning - The Folly of Men

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Seagal, Van Damme, and dinosaurs.


Fourteen years passed between the releases of Jurassic Park III and the fourth film in the Jurassic franchise, Jurassic World, but that wasn't due to a lack of interest on the part of Universal or the producers in making another Jurassic movie. It was always a certainty that there would be another sequel, they just needed to find the right approach to it. When development on a Jurassic Park IV began, it was very soon after the third movie had been released, and after three movies coming out over the course of eight years where the characters ran into dinosaurs on islands, the filmmakers felt that they couldn't just make another movie about people going to a dinosaur island. They had to shake things up. So after William Monahan tuned in a script, John Sayles was brought on to write up an idea that would have really shaken things up. An idea so gleefully nuts that it's hard to believe it was ever really considered: Sayles' story dealt with a corporation based out of a castle in the Swiss Alps where a maniacal CEO was creating dinosaurs that could be controlled through radio signals to go on special ops missions. They wouldn't all be regular looking dinosaurs, through genetic manipulation and splicing, there would be all-new species, including a "Raptorman" human hybrid with a cyborg gun arm. That is absolute madness that I would have loved to see make it to the screen.

Vague elements from Sayles' script did eventually make it into Jurassic World, which was directed by Colin Trevorrow from a screenplay he crafted with Derek Connolly, Amanda Silver, and Rick Jaffa, but weapon-toting dinosaurs did not. In fact, by the time World was made, it was decided that moviegoers would be okay with another Jurassic movie that was just about people running into dinosaurs on an island.

Spinning out from the idea of the original Jurassic Park without paying much heed to The Lost World or JPIII, Jurassic World finds that wealthy businessman Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) has made the late John Hammond's dream of a theme park where the main attraction are living dinosaurs come true, following Hammond's advice to "spare no expense". The disaster of Jurassic Park has been left twenty years in the past and Isla Nublar is now home to the theme park called Jurassic World.

Jurassic World has been operating for long enough now that the chance of getting to see dinosaurs seems to be losing its thrill for the audience. Park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is scrambling to find a way to substantially boost attendance and revenue. There's an uptick whenever the park adds a new species of dinosaur - they now have twenty species roaming the island - but what if they give the people something new? A genetic hybrid creature even bigger than the T. rex? That would really draw attention to Jurassic World.

Claire's push to get Verizon Wireless to sponsor this new Frankenstein's Monster of a dinosaur happens to coincide with the arrival of her young nephews Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), who she hasn't seen in seven years because she's been too busy with her career. She's still busy, so any warm reunion is going to have to wait. She sends the kids out to look around the park while she does her business. An assistant is supposed to be watching them, but of course they ditch her for an unsupervised cruise around the island in one of the nifty gyrosphere vehicles the park provides their visitors.

So the genetic hybrid dinosaur is reminiscent of the things in Sayles' script, and there are more elements reminiscent of that script over at the Velociraptor pen, where we see that former military man Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has found a way to train the raptors to follow commands. The raptors would still love to munch on some people, but they listen to Owen. He has trained them so well that security chief Vic Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) thinks raptors should be sold to the military to carry out special ops. This is a plan Owen strongly disagrees with, but if it means I could get a sequel with hybrid dinos carrying guns I wouldn't mind if Hoskins got what he wanted.

The hybrid dinosaur in this film is called the Indominus rex. Created in the lab by Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong), a character returning from the first movie, the Indominus is made from a hodge-podge of T. rex, Giganotosaurus, Rugops, Majungasaurus, Carnotaurus, Velociraptor, tree frogs, and cuttlefish DNA. I don't know what most of those things are, but the result is a huge, highly intelligent killing machine with the ability to camouflage itself. Escaping from its paddock, the Indominus proceeds to go on a cross-island killing spree, killing any person or animal that crosses its path. It's not killing because it's hungry, either. It kills for sport. It enjoys it.

The characters are different, the situation at the park is different, but inside this shiny new wrapping Jurassic World is a lot like the first Jurassic Park. The rampaging Indominus takes the place of the original's rampaging T. rex and it destroys the vehicle that Gray and Zach are in, forcing them to try to traverse the island on foot. Finally tapping into her love for her family, Claire goes out to search for her nephews with the help of Owen, and during this search they end up at the crumbling remains of the original Jurassic Park buildings, where even the old Jeeps have been abandoned.

The "dinosaurs run amok" aspect is the same, but this one goes bigger than the original, having more people get eaten by a wider variety of dinosaurs. Hybrid dinosaur! Flying dinosaurs! Aquatic dinosaur!

We also have some heroic dinosaurs in here, as the Velociraptors are set loose so they can have Owen try to track down and subdue the Indominus. Indominus also has a strong competitor to contend with on the island: a battle-scarred T. rex who is the same Tyrannosaurus from the 1993 film.

Jurassic World is very much "more of the same", but it's an entertaining variation on more of the same that comes closer to capturing feel of Steven Spielberg's original Jurassic Park than either of the previous sequels did, even though one of those sequels was also directed by Spielberg. After such a long time of getting nothing Jurassic at all, World brought the series back in a major way. Although it has gotten a lot of backlash for being a retread and having characters that are kind of lacking, it appears to have been the right Jurassic movie at the right time, judging by $652 million+ it made in the domestic box office alone, and the extra billion it pulled in from other territories. I haven't felt the need to rewatch it much in the last two years, but I left the theatre in 2015 feeling satisfied with it.

Now that the series has been revitalized with a sequel that plays on familiar scenarios and nostalgia, I'm looking forward to seeing what fresh ideas might be presented in future sequels.


1996 was the busiest year of Steven Seagal's acting career to that point, as he added three new credits to his résumé. Unfortunately, none of those were a high point, as far as I'm concerned. He made an appearance on the sitcom Roseanne, which was a great show overall, but his appearance came in an episode of the disastrous season 9. He also had a small role in a film that would seem to be one of his most prestigious, the hijacked airplane film Executive Decision. Directed by Stuart Baird, Executive Decision cast Seagal as the leader of a special forces team that is sent in to board the hijacked plane in mid-air. While the rest of the rescue team make it on to the plane, there is an accident during the boarding process and Seagal's character is killed off. It works as a shocking twist, but then not even the fact that Kurt Russell plays the lead character can make the rest of the movie watchable. For me, Executive Decision is 133 minutes of tedium - I don't know how an action/thriller directed by an editor and starring Steven Seagal and Kurt Russell could turn out to be so dull.

The Glimmer Man was aiming lower than Executive Decision appeared to be, but it's still the best thing Seagal got out in '96.

Directed by John Gray from a screenplay by Kevin Brodbin, this has your standard buddy cop set-up, with a pair of LAPD detectives being forced to work together to solve the case of a serial killer who has committed multiple ritualistic murders in the last eight months. You might think that the title of the film is the nickname that has been given to this killer, but it's actually the nickname of Seagal's character, who was once a government agent who could dispatch targets with speed. "There'd be nothing but jungle. Then a glimmer. Then you'd be dead." It seems to me that whoever came up with this nickname was trying too hard, it's not often that you hear a fast-moving person described as a glimmer.

Cole's assassin days are behind him now. He has found spirituality and chilled out, which comes through in Seagal's performance. The guy is very soft-spoken and sounds half asleep. His Buddhism prohibits him from fighting, but if pushed he will fight and leave enemies a bloody (often dead) pulp.

Spirituality and religion play a major role in The Glimmer Man, beyond being the reason for Cole's calm demeanor. At one point, the police are called to a Catholic school when a student named Johnny and played by Johnny Strong holds his class at gunpoint and threatens suicide. Cole brings this situation to an end in an unconventional way, and we'll eventually come to learn that this scene wasn't just an excuse to work in some excitement. Johnny becomes an important character.

The religious aspect is also seen the M.O. of the serial killer, who has been dubbed The Family Man because he wipes out entire families all at once, leaving their bodies crucified to walls and wearing thorn crowns. Of course, it's not likely that there would be a Steven Seagal buddy cop movie where the only villain is a single serial killer, and that's not the case here. There are some interesting twists and turns to the case that allow for Cole and his new partner to take on plenty of bad guys. The way things play out reminded me of Dead On: Relentless II, although the two films are different enough from each other.

Cole is partnered on the case with Keenen Ivory Wayans as Detective Jim Campbell, an opinionated man who has no time for stuff like spirituality. He puts on a tough guy act, but in private he likes to watch classic films and cry his eyes out. Cole's ways grate on him, yet when the evidence at the crime scenes start to point in Cole's direction he gets disturbed but doesn't turn against him. He even continues working with him when it jeopardizes his job to do so.

I don't hear people mention The Glimmer Man when discussing Seagal movies, but it's an enjoyable movie; an intriguing murder mystery detective story spiced up with action and fight scenes. Cole and Campbell are likeable characters and it's fun to watch them work together.

The internets tell me that The Glimmer Man was a compromised film, with bigger action sequences having been cut at the script stage, which I don't mind so much, and character moments between Cole and Campbell as well as between Cole and his wife being dropped in the editing to make the movie roll along at a faster pace. It does have the feeling of being not quite what it could have been. It doesn't match up to earlier Seagal vehicles, but in the end I would say that it still deserves to be part of the conversation.


The Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies The Glimmer Man and Maximum Risk were released in theatres just three weeks apart, and sometime in early 1997 my father and I rented both films on VHS to watch on the same night. It's a night that has stuck with me for several reasons. My father was a truck driver, and he and I had just returned from delivering something in Texas. I had gone along with him because I was fascinated by Texas at the time, thanks to watching movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Dazed and Confused, Urban Cowboy, and others. For years, I had been looking forward to Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, a sequel that was filmed in 1994 but took four years to get a proper release. During our trip to Texas, I hoped to spot the Pflugerville house Next Generation had been filmed in, despite the fact that I hadn't even seen the movie yet. That quest wasn't quite successful, but I had an unexpected reward waiting for me after we left Texas.

On our way back home to Ohio, we stopped by my paternal grandmother's house in Indiana, and while staying with her we rented The Glimmer Man and Maximum Risk from the local video store. Although I was nursing an extremely bad toothache that night, I sat down to watch the movies with my father and grandma. I can't remember which we watched first, but my favorite thing about that night was a trailer that played before Maximum Risk. It was a hell of a coincidence - the Maximum Risk trailer featured the trailer for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.

The VHS had to go back the next day, and I couldn't tell you how many times I watched that trailer before Maximum Risk made its way back to the video store. I watched it over and over and over again. I was so hyped for that movie. The chance to see the Chainsaw trailer was worth the price of rental alone, but the movie that followed wasn't too bad, either.

This was the first of three times Jean-Claude Van Damme and director Ringo Lam have worked together, and their collaborations got off to an awesome start. Maximum Risk begins with Van Damme getting chased through a town in France, being pursued down streets, through an apartment building, jumping onto an unsafe balcony, then leading his pursuers on a car chase that ends with a shocking crash. Less than five minutes into the movie, Van Damme's character is dead.

Luckily, Van Damme plays twins in this film, as he did in the great Double Impact. The dead guy is Mikhail Suvorov. His twin is local police officer Alain Moreau, who had no idea he had a brother - his mother confesses that, in an effort to survive, she sold one of her twin boys when he was just three months old. Having confirmed that the dead man was his sibling, Alain sets out to learn more about his look-alike. The personal investigation takes him far out of his professional jurisdiction, all the way to New York, where he discovers that Mikhail was in with the Russian mob and had in his possession evidence proving the corruption of several FBI agents with ties to the mob. He was going to use this evidence to get out of the mob himself. Since Alain and Mikhail are identical, Alain now has the mob and the corrupt agents on his trail.

Alain's face even fools Mihail's fiancée Alex (Natasha Henstridge), who ends up being his only ally as he struggles to survive and escape all those people firing bullets in his direction. As they go on the run, Alex gradually falls for Alain as well.

There are some good fights and chases along the way, but the "action" scene I've remembered for twenty years is the one in which Alain and Alex give in to the attraction and have sex in a hotel bathroom, not caring that there are a couple of those corrupt FBI agents right outside the door to hear what's going on. Remember, I was watching this movie with my father and my grandma. As the intimacy begins, Alex unbuckles Alain's pants and pushes them down to his knees, then uses her foot to push the pants further down his legs. My grandma, who wasn't usually one to reference sexual matters, commented, "I never would have thought of that." Good, grandma. Don't think of things like that.

Maximum Risk is a well made, entertaining "mistaken identity" chase film, one of the better films Van Damme starred in during the second half of the '90s. And thanks to its VHS release I saw that Texas Chainsaw trailer, for which I was exceptionally grateful. The pairing of trailer and feature was more fitting than you might imagine, since the climax of this film involves a villain wielding a chainsaw in a meat locker.

RAPTOR (2001)

Producer Roger Corman chose to end the Carnosaur franchise as a trilogy, but if you're familiar with his filmography you won't be surprised to know that he didn't just leave the dinosaur footage crafted for the Carnosaur movies sitting in a vault. Five years after the release of Carnosaur 3, Corman decided to produce a new dinosaur movie that is built around clips and effects from the Carnosaurs.

Directed by Jim Wynorski (under the name Jay Andrews), Raptor is widely considered to be an unofficial Carnosaur 4, but when watching it you can see why it wasn't given that title. The only way this had any shot at satisfying a viewer is if they watched it as a standalone film, since there is so much recycled footage. If you watch it as a sequel, you're only getting things you've seen before.

It's not just shots of effects that were re-used, either. This movie starts off with a whole scene that was lifted straight out of the first Carnosaur, with some joy-riding teens getting attacked and killed by a prehistoric creature. This creature has escaped from a laboratory run by Corbin Bernsen as a Dr. Hyde, who chooses to ship the other dinosaurs made in his lab as part of Project: Jurassic Storm to a different facility. This leads to another clip from Carnosaur to show us that this shipment goes very wrong. More clips follow.

Small town sheriff Jim Tanner (Eric Roberts) works with wildlife expert Barbara Phillips (Melissa Brasselle), with whom he has a history, to figure out what's causing the mutilated bodies that are turning up around the area, and the investigation becomes personal for Tanner when his own daughter is hospitalized after a dinosaur attack that ends with a truck crash that was lifted from the Corman-produced film Humanoids from the Deep.

Tanner's daughter Lola is played by the late Lorissa McComas, who was just 14 years younger than Roberts and got to show off her large, fake breasts during the lengthy sex scene she engages in before the attack. Wynorski has made a lot of softcore movies for late night cable, and those sensibilities really shine through in this sex scene, which lasts for around 7 minutes. 7 minutes of Lola riding the guy. 7 minutes you can skip right over, depending on your reasons for watching the movie.

Tanner and Phillips eventually crack the case, of course, leading to a climactic raid of Hyde's laboratory that allows for clips from Carnosaur 2 and 3 to join the clips from the original.

Wynorski and co-writers Frances Doel and Michael B. Druxman put in a strong effort to make a watchable movie out of the concept of splicing new scenes with stock footage, but in the end Raptor didn't turn out to be very good at all. I don't like being shown so much footage from other films; when even the final action moments are lifted from another movie, and you know what movie it was, you've seen this before, it's not satisfying to see it used all over again. It doesn't help that the new footage is mediocre and cheesy. And that sex scene is ridiculous.

While it is surprisingly enjoyable for a cobbled together clip show, that's really the best thing I can say about it: "I can't believe they actually made that work!" I can only marvel at the audacity of the whole endeavor.

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