Starring Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright, Geoffrey Lewis
Directed by Brett Leonard
Distributed by Scream Factory
Adapting a novel to the big screen comes with its own set of inherent challenges, not the least of which is remaining faithful to the source material while also translating the written page in such a way that it is treated respectfully. There are those adaptations that stray far from readers’ hopes yet there is some semblance of the story’s core present. Then, much further down the chain of faithfulness, there are those films that use a work for its title or major plot points, but the resulting film bears little reflection to the printed page. Such is the case with The Lawnmower Man (1992), a high-tech cyber-thriller that was initially sold by New Line Pictures as being “from the mind of Stephen King” because back in 1975 he published a story under that title in “Cavalier” magazine. Later, it was added to his short story collection, Night Shift.
But New Line’s film, co-written and directed by Brett Leonard, had only two things in common with King’s short tale: the title, and a throwaway line about police finding remains in a birdbath. That’s it. In fact, the film began life as a script called “Cyber God” and, in typical Hollywood fashion, it was re-titled for the marquee value and nothing more. Still, New Line marketed the film using King’s lucrative name. And they got sued. And lost. The details of the story can be found easily enough but, point being, despite this film being remembered in the cultural consciousness as a King property it is not. What began life as a short story about a grass-eating man who follows behind his autonomous lawnmower and worships Pan became a generic ‘90s tech thriller with “cutting edge” CGI and commendable ambition.
Virtual Space Industries has been conducting virtual reality (VR) experiments on chimps, using drugs and a virtual environment to turn them into ruthless soldiers. Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) runs the division, though as a person of non-violence he has more interest in the brain-boosting power of these tests than the production of a killing machine. After one of his chimps escapes using trained techniques, Angelo is ready to quit the project. The government has other plans, however, and Angelo soon finds himself conducting tests again – only this time with a human subject: Jobe (Jeff Fahey), a dimwitted gardener who is a ward of the local church. His guardian, Father McKeen (Jeremy Slate), flagellates Jobe when he fails to perform his chores. Much of the work Jobe does involves landscape maintenance, which he performs alongside his boss, Terry (Geoffrey Lewis), brother of Father McKeen.
Jobe takes to Dr. Angelo’s testing with incredible retention, improving his mental abilities by an exponential degree. His mind is evolving past known human capabilities, giving Jobe the ability to “hear” the thoughts of others. When the government strongly suggests Dr. Angelo continue his experiment using a controversial aggression drug, he refuses and tries to end the program himself, going so far as to tell Jobe his sessions are over. This does not sit well with the knowledge-hungry Jobe, who takes to self-injecting his improvement drugs. As Jobe’s mind expands its powers continue to increase, making him capable of delivering deadly force simply by thinking it. His ultimate goal is to ditch this human vessel and go all-digital, uploading himself into cyberspace. Only Angelo can hope to reach the old Jobe within this virtual god and reason with him before he is unleashed upon an unprepared world.
My one previous viewing of this film came when the VHS was released, and although the film didn’t look all that great I rented it for one reason: Stephen King. Little did I know at the time… All I can recall is the film being a bore and the computer graphics looking “decent” by 1992 standards – of which there were none. Catching up with it again 25 years later, in a restored director’s cut, Leonard’s intended scope and direction are much more apparent; unfortunately, many of the added scenes, while adding character development, only serve to slow a film that is already lacking in agency. Exposition can be delivered in greater concentration without requiring numerous scenes to deliver similar points. For example, in the opening scene of the film, in the theatrical cut, the chimp is shot before exiting the facility. In the director’s cut the chimp escapes and shacks up with Jobe, where the agents of The Shop track it and eventually kill it during a shootout. The scene shows viewers Jobe is a simple, kind man with a wealth of empathy, while also highlighting Dr. Angelo’s attachment to his subjects and research. But these points are also apparent without the inclusion of the extended opening. Leonard’s lengthier cut enriches the film but also overstays its welcome.
Jeff Fahey has a knack for playing eccentric types and his performance here is definitely a career highlight. Fahey plays Jobe as a compassionate man of limited intelligence, someone who wants to believe everyone is good and life is full of magic. As his intellect increases Jobe becomes more attuned to the harsh realities of life; he sees humanity as a primitive society intent on its own destruction. Knowledge and understanding have elevated him above even the most revered minds, and his new objective view is that of disdain. Fahey doesn’t simply flick a switch on Jobe’s personality; this is a progression that is slowly revealed over the course of his sessions. Jobe’s encounters with a local bully can be used as a barometer for his abilities, with their final encounter being very final indeed.
Let’s not talk much about the CGI, ok? This was 1992, a year before Jurassic Park (1992), and no film had done much to impress in that department. The animated scenes look like something out of a half-finished PC game and only serve to remind viewers why they should be thankful technology has advanced to where it is now.
A noted preceding the director’s cut states that Scream Factory used an interpositive of the theatrical cut along with negative footage of the additional scenes, so a jump in quality may be experienced. Some frames were removed to smooth out the transitions. Honestly, I hardly noticed much of a visual difference when viewing the 1.85:1 1080p image. Both versions of the film were given a 4K scan and the results are impressive. Clarity is razor sharp, offering up a picture with minimal film grain and attention to minute details. Colors appear natural and well saturated, with blue being a predominant hue splashed across many key scenes. The CGI is still laughably bad but, to be fair, most of it is shown in a computer environment and thus it does not appear as conspicuous as the moments when it blends with the real world.
Scream Factory has included English DTS-HD MA tracks in both 2.0 and 5.1 options. I only watched the DC but it would stand to reason the audio quality on both cuts is comparable. The multi-channel track adds a little more power to the mix, allowing moments of activity some room to breathe and fill out the rear speakers with subtle additions. Much of the film features front-end audio, with good separation of the sound effects and dialogue. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut
There is an audio commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett included, carried over from the old Laserdisc.
“Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man” is a retrospective documentary featuring interviews with director Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey, editor Alan Baumgarten, and more. This piece looks at the production of the film from the perspective of several different departments.
A reel of deleted scenes runs for nearly thirty minutes, though these play consecutively and are not available to watch separately.
The film’s original EPK, “Edited Animated Sequences” (some of the film’s computer footage cut together), a theatrical trailer, and a TV spot can also be found here.
An Easter egg (easily found) shows a promo for the film’s Super Nintendo game release.
DISC TWO: Director’s Cut
The audio commentary with Leonard and Everett reappears here, only now their discussion has been expanded to include comments on the added scenes, too.
Still galleries make up the bulk of the features here, including “Conceptual Art & Design Sketches”, “Behind the Scenes & Production Stills”, and “Storyboard Comparison” (footage from the finished film is shown alongside the sketches used during production).
Another Easter egg can be found here, this one featuring a promo for a prize giveaway contest.
Disc 1 – Theatrical Cut:
- NEW 4K scan of the interpositive
- NEW Cybergod: Creating The Lawnmower Man – featuring interviews with co-writer/director Brett Leonard, actor Jeff Fahey, editor Alan Baumgarten, make-up effects artist Michael Deak and special effects coordinator Frank Ceglia
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett
- Deleted Scenes
- Original Electronic Press Kit with cast interviews and behind-the-scenes footage
- Edited animated sequences
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spot
Disc 2 – Director’s Cut:
- NEW 4K scan of the interpositive with additional “director’s cut” footage from the original camera negative
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Brett Leonard and writer/producer Gimel Everett
- Conceptual art and Design sketches
- Behind the scenes and production stills
- Storyboard Comparison
The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation
Written by Marcus Sabom
I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat
Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.
To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.
With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.
One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.
The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.
However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.
An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.
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