Very suspenseful sci-fi action film is essentially "Assault on Precinct 13" in space, but while the story lacks originality, I'd consider it the most suspenseful sci-fi film film since "Alien" or "Aliens." From writer/director David Twohy (writer of "The Fugitive" and writer/director of "The Arrival" and the underrated WWII submarine ghost story "Below), the story involves a transport ships crash landing on a seemingly deserted planet. When they discover the planet has deadly creatures who only come out at night and that a month long eclipse is about to happen, our heroes are in for a lot of trouble. The heroes include a scrappy female pilot, the excellent Radha Mitchell, a bounty hunter, Cole Hauser, who is transporting an infamous killer, Richard B. Riddick, played by Vin Diesel in his star-making role. Diesel steals every scene and he deservedly became a star following this film's release, landing roles in "Fast and the Furious" and "xXx." Twohy's script has a number of unexpected twists I don't want to spoil, but the film has a bit of an Agatha Christie "And Then There Were None" vibe with a rogues gallery of characters that is a lot of fun. The most interesting of of the supporting characters is Keith David ("They Live" "The Thing" "Platoon") as a holy man. My main complaint about the film is the amount of time it takes to get to the dark (almost 60 minutes). I also didn't care for the harsh photography during the sunlit scenes, which were done to contrast to the later dark scenes, but I didn't care for the bleached blown-out look. However, those are fairly minor quibbles for what is otherwise a smart, suspenseful film that boasts a dynamite performance form Vin Diesel. A must see for sci-fi fans!
I'm not sure I'd have been all that excited about another nature-gone-wild film about killer alligators during a hurricane, except that this one was directed by Alexandre Aja, who helped usher in the French new wave of extreme horror with "High Tension" and then came to Hollywood to make some solid horror flicks, including the remake of "The Hills Have Eyes" and the surprisingly good "Piranha 3D." The story here follows a woman going into the center of a storm to help her father (Barry Pepper). She and her dad then find themselves trapped in a house that's quickly flooding and now infested with alligators. They're not radioactive, or 40-feet long, or mutated. They are regular ol' gator just looking for food, which helps the film with some of its credibility. It also helps that the film keeps it small and suspenseful. Almost the entire film is takes place within the flooding house and Aja builds suspense wonderfully. Aja creates a scenario where the audience can't help but think to themselves "What would I do in this situation?" and for the most part the characters act intelligently and make reasonable choices you would do in the same circumstances, which also helps to make this horror film more effective and draw the audience in. What hurts the film the most is the CGI alligators, which are distracting and take you out of the reality of a slowing flooding house in the middle of a category-5 hurricane. I'd have preferred a few animatronic alligators that are shown less on screen, ALA "Jaws" or "Alien," which would have felt more realistic and also more frightening. I recently rewatched the originally "Jurassic Park" and had the same feeling about the dinosaurs. The Stan Winston designed practical dinosaurs the actors could touch and interact with were far more compelling than the computer animated ones. But this is an old sticking point for me. CGI is only good when you don't notice it and it's unfortunately very noticeable here, but despite that, "Crawl" is nonetheless an enjoyable scary horror flick that's well worth watching. FUN FACT! Out of all the movies that were released in 2019, Quentin Tarantino has selected this one as his favorite.
Take a bunch of badass elder action heroes (well, more like a very cool second tier version of "The Expendables"), which includes Stephen Lang ("Tombstone" "Manhunter"), William Sadler ("Die Hard 2" "Trespass"), Fred Williamson ("Black Caesar" "Hell Up In Harlem" "From Dusk Till Dawn"), Martin Kove ("The Karate Kid" "Rambo: First Blood Part II"), and you have a low budget action film I defy Gen-X action film fans to resist. In addition to the aforementioned actors, you also get David Patrick Kelly ("The Warriors" "Dreamscape" "The Crow") and George Wendt ("Cheers" "House" "Dreamscape"), so the VFW heroes are a group it's hard not to root for. The story has these elder badasses hanging out at their local VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) lodge when they find themselves protecting a witness to murder from savage street gang, leading to a wildly brutal siege by the mutant gang members. The story is basically "Assault on Precinct 13" (which itself was a spiritual remake of "Rio Bravo"), but what the story lacks in originality is made up for by stylish and suspenseful direction by Joe Begos (lots of neon and low lights to hide wrinkles on vain aging actors, I'm guessing), a surprisingly strong subtext about aging and the treatment of our elder community, and terrifically fun gory retro special effects done practically and without CGI. In terms of film violence, "VFW" blows away contemporary siege films such as "The Purge" or "Dog Soldiers" in terms of gore and viscera, but while the film is utterly savage, it's done in a manner where the audience will laugh as much as cringing. Overall, "VFW" is pretty unoriginal, but also pretty hard to resist for fans of violent old school action flicks. FUN FACT! "VFW" was co-written by Max Brallier, who is best know as the author of the popular kids book series "The Last Kids on Earth" as well as some hilariously adult themed post apocalyptic choose-your-own-adventure books.
I'm a little late to the game when it comes to director Sergio Martino, who I was really only familiar with for his 80s Max Max ripoff movies, which were enjoyable if nothing exceptional (personally, I have the unpopular opinion that the Filipino Mad Max knockoffs by Cirio H. Santiago are the best of the low budget warriors of the wasteland flicks), but this Giallo/proto-slasher is pretty entertaining. It's a familiar set-up of a hooded killer strangling pretty college girls. Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth count this film among their favorites, but I'm not sure it quite grabbed me the same way. For Italian body-count proto-slashers I prefer Mario Bava's "Blood and Black Lace" but the mystery here is actually pretty good and the kills in the film are scary and at times shocking, which you'd expect from a 70s Giallo, so it's satisfying in that respect. Overall, it's not as smart or as elegant as Martino's "Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key" but it's never boring. Recommended for fans of these sorts of film. Others might want to pass.
I was familiar with Jillian Bell from the crass but super funny workplace comedy "Workaholics" and she gives a surprisingly sincere and genuinely moving performance as a young woman who decides to make positive health changes in her life by training for the NYC Marathon. The film is predictable and borders on cliche, but it has an honesty about it that you don't usually get in these sort of films which puts it above similar fare. Well worth watching.