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Posts Tagged ‘The Running Man’

The HuntThe marketing for the movie The Hunt tells us: “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen”.  The studio, Universal Pictures pulled its release last summer.  It had already drastically scaled back the marketing following a mass shooting in America.  The Donald Trump (who I understand had, not, and has still not, seen the film) got involved accusing the producers of inciting violence.  Having now seen the film, it is neither inciting or provocative, it is actually a run of the mill action thriller within a sub-genre that crops up from time to time.  The modern twist is the hunters are “Woke” liberal elites who are truly horrible, and the prey are call “deplorables”, basically people who have expressed less than woke views.  the film is fun and has some interesting ideas, but isn’t cutting enough to be a true satire on modern society. The Hunt

The first film of the genre was probably The Most Dangerous Game (1932) based on Richard Connell’s short story of the same name.  Anyone who has seen Zodiac (2007) will remember the reference to this movie, if the events of that movie are to be believed it even provide inspiration for the real life Zodiac killer. It has also inspired filmmakers for nearly 90 years with numerous, copies imitators and remakes. The idea was even used for an episode of The Avengers (The Superlative Seven) and is spoofed in The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XVI).The Most Dangerous Game

Made in 1932 parts of the movie look dated, the most notable of these are the use of close-ups of exaggerated facial expressions, a clear hangover from the silent era. The movie starts onboard a ship, all exterior shots are clearly a model and not up to the standard of King Kong (1933) that it actually shares a lot with (including one of its directors, sets and cast). Other than this the movie stands up really well and is wonderfully atmospheric. Due to the relatively low production cost it actually made more money than the better known King Kong. Coming in at only a fraction over an hour the movie is incredibly short, but its stripped down simplicity is to its credit.

A Game of Death (1945) directed by Robert Wise is a direct remake of The Most Dangerous Game, shot towards the end of WWII, the madman is a Nazi, not Russian.A Game of Death

The Tenth Victim (1965) is an Italian Sci-Fi entry to the genre featuring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress.  “The Big Hunt,” is a televised competition with contestants who must survive five rounds as a hunter, and five as the prey. For years a hard to find obscurity, it is now available on Amazon Prime in the UK (complete with a terrible dub).  The Tenth Victim

One of the most interesting and controversial examples is the excellent Punishment Park (1971) shot as a bleak mockumentary. Punishment Park

Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle based on a Stephen King story (as Richard Bachman), The Running Man (1987) looks far more satirical and incisive in today’s world of reality TV than it did back in the day. The Running Man

One of my favourites of the genre: Hard Target (1993) is possibly the only Hollywood film by John Woo to live up to the bonkers fun of his Hong Kong movies.  Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a man down on his luck hired to find a missing man, he soon finds himself in the same “Most Dangerous Game” headed up by Lance Henriksen.Hard Target

This was closely followed by Surviving the Game (1994) with Ice-T as a A homeless man hunted by Rutger Hauer and Gary Busey. Surviving the Game

Battle Royale (2000), and its sequel (2003), Series 7: The Contenders (2001), The Hunger Games (2012-15), The Belko Experiment (2016) all take a slightly different angle, as the prey are also the hunters, forced to kill each other. 

While Predators (2010), features and extraterrestrial hunter, it fulfills most of the tropes of the genre, even more so than other films in the series.  Predators

Revenge (2017), is also worth a look.  The setup is very different, put it soon finds itself in familiar  territory with a few interesting twists along the way. Revenge

Finally, if you fancy a different medium, take a look at the Jack Reacher novel Past Tense (2018) by Lee Child.Jack Reacher Past Tense

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I have strange relationship with the writing of Stephen King.  I have always found his plots and world building to be really good, but don’t like his writing style.  This is why his stories can be so perfect for adaptation.  With The Dark Tower coming out last month and IT due out later this month, it seems like a good time to remember King is about more than horror and take a look back at my favourite big screen adaptations of his stories:

  1. The Shining (1980 – based on novel from 1977) – King famously doesn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation, WHY? I first saw it when I was a kid and was understandably creeped out by it, as much by Jack Nicholson’s performance as by the movie itself.  A couple of years ago I got to see it at the cinema in a sold out Halloween screening, it was even better shared with an audience.the shining
  2. Stand by Me (1986 – based on the novella The Body from 1982) – The geniuses of Rob Reiner is the way he has always been able to convey nostalgia without sentimentality, Stand by Me is his masterpiece.  It also helps that the young cast are all brilliant.Stand by Me
  3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994 – based on the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption from 1982) – #1 on the IMDb’s top 250 for as long as I can remember.  A totally faultless movie, with perfect acting and direction, it could easily have been higher on this list.The Shawshank Redemption
  4. The Mist (2007 – based on novella from 1980) – The second Frank Darabont movie to make my list.  A tense horror thriller that reminds us that humanity is more frightening than monsters.  An already great film is elevated by a perfect and devastating ending.  the mist
  5. Carrie (1976 – based on the novel from 1974) – There is something dark and seedy about Brian De Palma’s direction that is perfect for this story, as are the performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.Sissy Specek as Carrie
  6. The Dead Zone (1983 – based on the novel from 1979) – If you want a creepy and unnerving movie is there a better combination than David Cronenberg and Christopher Walken? Probably not.  Some of the political themes seem strangely relevant at the moment.   The Dead Zone
  7. Misery (1990 – based on the novel from 1987) – Rob Reiner again but with a very different film to Stand by Me.  You will remember the film for a couple of moments of real horror, but there are other things that make it great.  James Caan and Kathy Bates are both brilliant.  Reiner’s direction  manages to create an uneasy sense of dread without losing the ability to shock. Misery
  8. The Running Man (1987 – based on the novel from 1982) – I had the VHS of this when I was a kid, it was one of my most watched movies for a few years.  Successful on its original release but quickly dismissed as dumb action vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In the light of reality TV, The Hunger Games, and the current political climate it’s time to re-evaluate.   The dialogue is clunky, but the story is good and the direction is solid.The Running Man
  9. Apt Pupil (1998 – based on the novella from 1982) – Three of the four stories that made up Different Seasons have been adapted into movies, this third movie isn’t as good as Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption but is still a compelling movie.  Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro are both brilliant. Apt Pupil
  10. Cat’s Eye (1985 – anthology horror film based on the short stories Quitters, Inc. from 1978 and The Ledge from 1976 and one written specifically for the film).  Anthology  of three short films linked by a cat.  The best of the three features James Woods as a man who wants to quit smoking. Cat's Eye

To give context, the other Stephen King movies I have seen that didn’t make the list are:

Creepshow (1982 – five short films; based on the short stories Weeds from 1976, The Crate from 1979 three written for the film by King) – Christine (1983 – based on the novel from 1983) – Children of the Corn (1984 – based on the short story from 1977) –  Firestarter (1984 – based on the novel from 1980) – Silver Bullet (1985 – based on the novella Cycle of the Werewolf from 1983) –  Maximum Overdrive (1986 – Directed, very poorly by Stephen King, based on the short story Trucks from 1973) – Sleepwalkers (1992 – original screenplay) – The Dark Half (1993 – based on the novel from 1989) – Dolores Claiborne (1995 – based on the novel from 1992) – Dreamcatcher (2003 – based on the novel from 2001) –  Secret Window (2004 – based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden from 1990) – Carrie (2013 – Supposedly adaptation of the novel from 1974, but they clearly had one eye on the superior 1976 movie) – The Dark Tower (2017 loosely adapted from the novel series 1998 to 2012).

My most notable blind spot is The Green Mile (1999 based on the serial novel published in six parts in 1996) Directed by Frank Darabont who makes the list above twice. 

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When I was in my early teens I loved The Running Man (1987), it was my second favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie after The Terminator (1984) that at the time was one of my favourite movies (Total Recall (1990) and Terminator 2 (1992) were yet to be made and I didn’t appreciate Predator (1987) until I saw it again a few years later). I had avoided watching The Running Man for the last ten years through fear of been disappointed at the way it had aged. Should I have been worried? Well, yes and no. It is dated but it gets away with it surprisingly well. It is only dated in as much as you would expect any twenty-five year old sci-fi movie to be (even Alien looks dated today), but it still has its charms and its thrills. The costumes and the sets are very 80’s, but you would expect them to be. The acting is as good as you can expect from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. The action is plentiful, but not as bold, bloody or as violent as I remember.

Set in a future totalitarian/dystopian society, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is framed for a massacre he tried to prevent and sent to prison. He escapes but is recaptured and coerced into taking part in a bloodthirsty reality TV show, The Running Man.

Directed by Paul Michael Glazeer (best known as Starskey in the TV show Starsky and Hutch) it is by far the best of his handful of movies. Loosely based on a short story by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Legend has it that the filmmakers didn’t realise at the time they made the film that Richard Bachman was Stephen King. The dystopia is set in the aftermath of a failed world economy result in the world (or a small corner of southern California at least) having a wide gulf between rich and poor. The story is very different but a lot of the ideas and themes remain. There is an underlying ideal in the movie of truth, justice and overcoming oppression.

The sets and costumes look very dated as you would expect of a futuristic movie from the 80’s but if you look beyond that, the story is strangely prophetic with the ailing world economy and the obsession with reality TV. We also see the producers of the show misrepresenting the facts to the audience, something else that has been in the news recently with various TV scandals. There are lulls between the action scenes and Schwarzenegger’s woefully delivered one-liners, but again it gets away with it. The action scenes benefit from being real and not CGI, but they are also limited by this, leaving the feeling the battles should have been more epic. There is a knowing glint in Schwarzenegger’s eye as his reluctant hero of the revolution tells us: “I’m not into politics, I’m into survival.” By 1987 the future (now former) Governor of California had already expressed an interest in politics. Is this like the movie itself a lucky coincidence coupled with rose-tinted hindsight? I’m note sure but whether intention or not, the movie is far more satirical than I remember, although too light-hearted to be truly cutting or cynical.

It is very much Schwarzenegger’s movie, María Conchita Alonso is on hand as a bickering sidekick/love interest, but is given little to do beyond pouting and has no chemistry with Schwarzenegger. Real life game show host Richard Dawson has fun as Damon Killian, the Running Man TV show slimy producer/host. The “stalkers” who are sent out to hunt and kill the contestants include former NFL star Jim Brown and former professional wrestlers Charles Kalani, Jr. and Jesse Ventura.

Following The Hunger Games earlier this year other similar themed movies like this are been dusted off, while it isn’t in the same league as Battle Royale (2000) it is still worth checking out. I’m not sure how much new audiences will take from the move, but anyone who enjoyed it in the 80’s will probably be pleasantly surprised.

A note for those who haven’t noticed, Harold Weiss is played by Marvin J. McIntyre, better known as Truman Sparks in Fandango.

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Catching up on an old episode of The Matineecast got me thinking about movies set in dystopian futures. Ryan referred to dystopias that are not that far in the future, and via the movie Pleasantville (1998) he and his guest Sasha James Talked about how a nostalgic view of America in the 1950’s could be a dystopia for people from the present day. My first thought was that we could now be living in what would be the dystopian future that people in the 50’s feared. With dwindling natural recourses, and rising costs, losses of civil liberties and an over reliance on technology coupled with the threat of war and terrorism, we are probably closer to dystopia than utopia. With this in mind I have avoided movies set in an unrecognisable world to concentrate on dystopias that are not that different to the real world.

Movies like Gattaca (1997), V for Vendetta (2005) and In Time (2011) exist in a society that has adopted practices that oppress the masses and it is through rebellion that people are able to find a better life. There are other films like1984 (1984), Brazil (1985) and Code 46 (2003) that revel in their desperation and futility by pulling rug from under the hero, and the audience with it. Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and Children of Men (2006) find a happy balance where the despair is tempered by a glimmer of hope. The brilliance of Fahrenheit 451 the way we see a character comes to distrust what he has been taught to believe in and chooses to fight the system from within. We see a similar idea explored in the interesting if a little overrated Equilibrium (2002), set in a society where emotions are outlawed it also explores what it is to be human. Both these ideas are explored in the underrated and misunderstood RoboCop (1987). In there own way the characters in Rollerball (1975) and Death Race 2000 (1975). This is very different from District 13 (2004) and A Clockwork Orange (1971) whose protagonists are and remain outsiders. An interesting case is The Handmaid’s Tale (1990) whose main protagonists desire is only to escape the system but her desires bring her into the sphere of those who are trying to change things.

When you mention Mad Max many people think of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, in some ways the best film in the trilogy, but the original low budget Mad Max is actually equally as good in its own way. Set in a near future world were society is crumbling and law & order has begun to break down people will do what it takes to keep moving to stay on the road. It was relevant in its day but it has found new relevance in recent years. If we think about the glue that holds society together, it is not fear of prosecution, but a moral belief of right and wrong, if you take that bond away the world as we know it will crumble. We see the early days of this in Mad Max, and the subtlety with which this idea is displayed within a violent revenge thriller is why it is possibly the best dystopian movie. This breakdown of society is in the background of neo-noir Trouble in Mind (1985) and retro-future comic book inspired Streets of Fire (1984) but lacks the despair of Mad Max. The other movie that perfectly depicts society at a tipping point is Strange Days (1995). Made in the mid 90’s with LA’s troubles fresh in the memory and set just five years in the future, now more than a decade in the past, some would argue the world is a worse place now than what was depicted. Given the reality TV obsession of the last dozen years and current distrust of media and governments, The Running Man (1987) now seems strangely prophetic. Battle Royale covers some of the same ground but is all the more shocking in the way it casts children against society.

It is human nature to try and change and shape society, but some movies have taken this to an extreme. By travelling back in time from a dystopian future to change the present and reshape the future, their present. This is handled in different ways in different movies, the hero of Twelve Monkeys (1995) is haunted by memories of his own death and with it his failure to save the future. Millennium (1989) takes a different point of view as the characters from the future battle to hide the existence in the present through fear that it will change and potentially destroy the future with the effects of the paradox of time travel. While Millennium is afraid of the effects of paradox, The Terminator (1984) exists within a paradox. It is only within an effort to kill the hero who can save the world that he is conceived. The one thing all these movies have in common is the way they only give us glimpses of the dystopian future, a future created in the present.

One thing that is clear, there are as many differences as there are similarities within the genre, but the movies that are the best and that age the best are the ones that have a deeper relevance. This can be an overt plot, a subtle subtext or just a theme that anchors the story in reality.

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Whilst reviewing Warrior earlier this year Mark Kermode described its story as resembling “Gladiator, no not that Gladiator”, he was referring to Rowdy Herrington’s 1992 boxing movie and not Ridley Scott’s sword and sandals epic, see below. This got me thinking of other movies with the same or similar names that you wouldn’t want to mix up.

The Running Man (1963): After faking his own death Rex Black (Laurence Harvey) meets ups with his wife (Lee Remick) in Spain to live off the proceeds of the insurance payout until an insurance investigator (Alan Bates) shows up. Directed by Carol (the third man) Reed.

The Running Man (1987): Based on a Stephen King story and set in a near future totalitarian society; cop Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is framed in the cover-up of a massacre, he escapes but is recaptured and forced to appear on the most popular show on TV “The Running Man” where contestants are chased down and killed for the entertainment of the masses. Surprisingly good and prophetic given the trend for increasingly elaborate reality TV.

Sliver (1993): Taking its name from the New York “sliver” building in which it is set, new resident Carly Norris (Sharon Stone) learns that not only did the previous tenant in her apartment die in mysterious circumstances but that she bore a great resemblance to Carly. A unremarkable thriller best remembered for its controversial portrayal of female masturbation.

Slither (2006): Spelled differently but sounding very similar: A small town is overrun by slithering alien creatures that turn the population into a zombie like hoard. A small group of survivors including the town sheriff (Nathan Fillion) fight back. A lightweight but fun comedy horror.

Priest (1994): Some time in the mid/late 90’s I remember reading a headline on the front of a tabloid newspaper claiming that the then prime ministers son Euan Blair had appeared in a gay porn film. The truth was, he had a bit part in the movie priest (his grandfather Anthony Booth had a larger part) about a catholic priest who lives a conflicted existence thanks to his secret life involving a gay lover.

Priest (2011): Loosely based on Korean comic book priest is an action/horror/western about a vampire hunting priest (Paul Bettany) on the hunt for renegade vampires who have kidnapped his niece. Despite poor reviews, it is actually a decent and original vampire movie.

Crash (1996): David Cronenberg’s misunderstood and underappreciated movie about a man who following a car accident becomes strangely sexually aroused by car crashes victims and the bizarre sub-culture he discovers created by similar minded people.

Crash (2005): I have mixed feelings about Paul Haggis’ interweaving LA based story that explores race and racism in modern society. It doesn’t deserve its Best Picture Oscar, but it also doesn’t deserve the backlash that followed.

Deep Blue Sea (1999): A group of scientists searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s become the prey of the sharks the have genetically enhanced. A bonkers concept actually turns out to be a surprisingly watchable movie and easily the second best man eating shark movie.

The Deep Blue Sea (2011): Terence Davies’ yet to be released (in the UK) 1950’s set movie is based on Terrence Rattigan’s play of the same name, previously made in 1955 (also called The Deep Blue Sea). The wife of a Judge engages in a self-destructive affair with an RAF pilot.

Gladiator (1992): Tommy Riley (James Marshall) moves to a tough Chicago neighborhood before long he is drawn into the illegal world of underground boxing. It soon becomes clear that he is fighting for more than he thought.

Gladiator (2000): After his family is killed by the emperor’s corrupt son (Joaquin Phoenix) a Roman general (Russell Crowe) finds himself enslaved and fighting as a gladiator.

Also see: The Gladiator (1986): After his brother is killed in an accident caused by a crazed motorist, a mechanic (Ken Wahl) customaries his truck and sets himself up as a vigilantly against dangerous drivers. Made for TV and directed by Abel Ferrara.

Sky High (2003): Supernatural Japanese serial-killer movie. A murder victim becomes the guardian of the Gate of Rage, there she has to fight her own murder to prevent him form summoning daemons and darkness falling upon the earth.

Sky High (2005): Disney family fun involving a family of superheroes. (I haven’t seen it so can’t say much more about it)

I’m sure there are lots of others I haven’t thought of.

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