Film Review: Heathers (1989)

Also known as: Fatal Game, Lethal Attraction, Westerberg High (working titles)
Release Date: January, 1989 (Sundance)
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
Written by: Daniel Waters
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford, Glenn Shadix, Renee Estevez

Cinemarque Entertainment, New World Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Teresa?” – Heather Chandler

When I saw this around 1990, when it hit VHS for the first time, I was pretty blown away by it. I was also eleven years-old and this was some pretty heavy stuff. But by that point, I already saw Christian Slater and Winona Ryder as two of the coolest young actors in Hollywood.

I probably watched Heathers a half dozen times in my youth but it’s now been decades since I’ve revisited it.

Seeing it with pretty fresh eyes, I think the film has aged really well and it is still effective, even if it was made as a sort of “fuck you” to the overly positive and cliche high school movies of the ’80s, specifically the John Hughes ones.

I can’t quite say that this is as good as my memory’s impression of it but I definitely enjoyed it and thought that it was a really well executed black comedy about teen angst in a decade that tried to gloss over some of the real issues young people faced at the time. But it is also a critique on the young yuppie lifestyle that was promoted in lots of the teen films of the era.

That’s not to say that this film was an original concept. These ideas have been explored before its existence but Heathers does it so well that it is the one film people seem to remember the most when it comes to expressing these ideas.

The first act of the film is damn near perfection. However, the second act is a bit of a slog and it seems to lose some of its momentum.

As an adult, you also see Winona Ryder’s character much differently. Where I found her relatable in my youth, you kind of see that she’s pretty much just an evil asshole like her boyfriend. She could’ve gone to the cops, she could’ve stopped him pretty early on in the story. However, she goes along for the ride and somehow turns out to be the hero in the end. Additionally, a lot of the moral dilemmas weren’t things I really dwelled on as much at eleven years-old when watching an edgy movie that felt cool.

The finale was decent but I feel like the climax sort of doesn’t live up to the amount of chaos this picture tried to build up. However, I don’t know how keen ’80s audiences would’ve been on a film that blows up a school with all the kids still inside.

Heathers is really good though, despite my more adult take on it, thirty-ish years later. It resonated with its fans for a reason and even if it bombed in the theater, it definitely deserves the cult status it quickly achieved after it came out on VHS and the word spread. 

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: things that ripped it off like Jawbreaker and Mean Girls.

Film Review: Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 (complete title)
Release Date: February 5th, 1993
Directed by: Gene Quintano
Written by: Don Holley, Gene Quintano, Tori Tellem
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Samuel L. Jackson, Kathy Ireland, Frank McRae, Tim Curry, William Shatner, Jon Lovitz, Lance Kinsey, Denis Leary, F. Murray Abraham, Danielle Nicolet, Beverly Johnson, Ken Ober, Bill Nunn, Lin Shaye, James Doohan, Erik Estrada, Larry Wilcox, Corey Feldman, Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Gleason, Phil Hartman, Richard Moll, J. T. Walsh, Rick Ducommun, Vito Scotti, Charles Napier, Charles Cyphers, Denise Richards, Allyce Beasley, Joyce Brothers, Charlie Sheen, Robert Shaye, Chirstopher Lambert (deleted scene), Bruce Willis (uncredited)

National Lampoon, 3 Arts Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Nice weather? You think we’re having… nice weather? I guess you didn’t lose the only one that meant anything in your life. I guess you don’t feel burned out by the human misery and despair perpetrated by the criminal vermin that infest every pore of this decaying city, forcing you to guzzle cheap wine and cheaper whiskey to dull the pain that shatters your heart, rips at your soul, and keeps your days forever gray. What flavor Icee you got today?” – Colt

Regular readers of this site probably already know that I’m not a big fan of parody movies outside of Mel Brooks’ work. However, ever now and again, I discover a parody film that is actually quite good.

I never saw National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 because I didn’t have much interest, even when it came out in 1993 and I was a huge Lethal Weapon fan. These films tend to be predictable, lame and lowest common denominator humor. While this is pretty low brow and a bit predictable, it wasn’t lame and it was actually really well done and executed.

I think this stands above other films like it because it has a really solid cast with several heavy-hitters that just commit to the material so convincingly, it makes everything work. You buy into the goofy jokes and the absurdity of it all and frankly, Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson had good chemistry. I wouldn’t say that it was on the level of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but they played off of each other nicely and looked like they were having a blast playing these characters.

WIlliam Shatner and Tim Curry were both enjoyable as villain characters. Shatner went into this with no fucks given and it just made his performance that much more entertaining. I loved his accent, his facial expressions and the guy isn’t just a sci-fi legend, he’s a master of comedic timing.

This ridiculous film is just a lot of fun. If you like buddy action films and have a sense of humor, you’ll probably dig this.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the Lethal Weapon films and the dozen other movies this parodies, as well as other parody films of the time.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 2

Published: June 24th, 2009
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers

Marvel Comics, 298 Pages

Review:

While this isn’t the peak of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby 100-issue run on the Fantastic Four, they really start to slide into their grove here, as the larger Marvel universe has expanded and this is the first collection that sees the Fantastic Four meet other heroes.

In this volume, we get to see them meet the Hulk, Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Wasp for the first time in Fantastic Four titles. The Hulk issue is particularly important, as it is the first time that Stan Lee created heroes crossed over in Marvel continuity.

In addition to that, we get more stories featuring Namor, Doctor Doom, the Puppet Master, as well as new villains like the Super Skrull, the Impossible Man, Molecule Man, the Mad Thinker and Rama-Tut, who would later become Kang the Conqueror, one of Marvel’s greatest and most powerful baddies.

This is simply a fun and entertaining read. As hokey as the earliest Stan Lee era stuff can be, it’s just enjoyable as hell and pretty endearing. He was one of the greatest creatives in the comic book medium and it’s really apparent here, as he travels in a lot of different directions, from issue-to-issue and covers a lot of ground, laying the foundation for the Marvel comic book universe, as a whole.

Incorporating the heroes of other titles into this, really sets the stage for the broader continuity. We also get to see a Watcher for the first time, which kind of propels things forward in the cosmic realm for future Marvel stories.

Where the first ten issues felt kind of random and like they were trying to find their way, these ten issues (plus an annual) seem to be building towards something. While I’m not sure if Stan Lee already had Galactus in mind, the man has definitely cleared the path for that massive introduction, which wouldn’t happen for another two years.

I also have to give props to Jack Kirby, who had an incredibly consistent art style his entire career but definitely looks as if he found his grove with these characters and their world. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Film Review: Live Free Or Die Hard (2007)

Also known as: Die Hard 4.0, Die Hard 4, Die Hard: Tears of the Sun, Die Hard 4: Die Hardest, Die Hard: Reset (working titles), WW3.com (original script title)
Release Date: June 12th, 2007 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Len Wiseman
Written by: Mark Bomback, David Marconi
Based on: A Farewell to Arms by John Carlin; characters by Roderick Thorp
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant, Cliff Curtis, Maggie Q, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kevin Smith, Tim Russ

Cheyenne Enterprises, Dune Entertainment, Ingenious Film Partners, 20th Century Fox, 129 Minutes

Review:

“You know what you get for being a hero? Nothin’. You get shot at. You get a little pat on the back, blah, blah, blah, attaboy. You get divorced. Your wife can’t remember your last name. Your kids don’t want to talk to you. You get to eat a lot of meals by yourself. Trust me, kid, nobody wants to be that guy.” – John McClane

When this came out, I liked it but it didn’t quite blow me away in the same way as the original trilogy of films did. I haven’t seen this since it was in the theater, however, so I was pleasantly surprised by it this time around, as it was better than I remembered. I still wouldn’t put it on the same level as the first three but it is a much better action movie than the majority of action flicks since the turn of the millennium.

One thing that I like about this series, besides the awesomeness that is Bruce Willis, is that each film takes place in (or around) a different major city. The majority of this picture is set in Washington DC It gives it a fresh look but at the same time, it has the same problem that a lot of the more modern action flicks have and that’s that it looks too polished.

While metropolitan DC is cool, it is kind of a sterile and generic looking city when away from the famous monuments and iconic government buildings. Also, I don’t think that the film really utilized how batshit crazy DC’s streets are in that there are big diagonal avenues that cut through the standard grid system that most large American cities have.

I typically get annoyed by Justin Long after about five minutes. However, there are a few films where he is really good and this is one of him. While he starts to grate on you pretty early on, he grows as a character and you end up really liking him. But like other Die Hard characters, he’s sadly a one-off and doesn’t ever return to fuck shit up with John McClane again.

Side note: I’d love a spinoff of John McClane sidekicks meeting up at a John McClane sidekick convention that is taken over by terrorists and they have to team-up without McClane there. That’ll never happen but a kid can dream. But if anyone ever gets the comic book publishing rights to the Die Hard franchise, this should be a miniseries.

Anyway, Timothy Olyphant is a decent villain but he just isn’t on the level of the villains from the three previous films. I actually found Maggie Q’s character to be more interesting and engaging but she’s sort of just thrown away in the second act, which is just used as fuel to make Olyphant go over the edge and sort of self-sabotage his own plan due to wanting revenge specifically on McClane.

Additionally, as good as most of this film is, it jumps the shark once John McClane has to fight a fucking F-35 fighter jet around a maze of bridges. Is it badass? Sure, but it is also so far removed from the rest of the picture that it’s no longer grounded in reality and feels more like some bonkers Michael Bay bullshit. Then I also remembered that this was directed by the guy behind the Underworld films, which really feels like a weird fit when you think about it.

Still, this is a good, solid way to waste a few hours with some mindless action and a character that has become beloved in American culture.

This is definitely weaker than the three previous entries but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. It’s really good, has a good pace and just gives you more of John McClane being an absolute badass.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Die Hard movies, as well as other Bruce Willis action films.

Film Review: Maniac (1980)

Release Date: May 10th, 1980 (Cannes)
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: C. A. Rosenberg, Joe Spinell
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Tom Savini, William Lustig

Magnum Motion Pictures Inc., 87 Minutes

Review:

“I told you not to go out tonight, didn’t I? Every time you go out, this kind of thing happens.” – Frank Zito

William Lustig made some really interesting horror films in his heyday. While I knew about Maniac Cop first, I spent a lot of my time in mom and pop video stores in the ’80s and discovered this at a pretty young age. It was one of those horror movies that left a lasting impact on me because I was much more scared of the real and plausible than I was of supernatural monsters or ghosts.

I definitely saw this film at a much younger age than I should have but us ’80s kids didn’t have great supervision and a lot of video stores would rent anything to anyone because society wasn’t overly pussified back then.

Anyway, this always had a special place in my mental nostalgia locker due to its impact on me, the fact that it has the mesmerizing Caroline Munro in it and because Joe Spinell was one of the coolest actors of his era. That could also be because I knew Spinell from the Rocky films and because he just has a very unique and memorable appearance. He, along with Dick Miller, were the two character actors that I started to notice in all the cool movies.

The one thing that is really cool about this picture is that it is American but it really has an Italian giallo style to it. Granted, it’s not as vivid, visually, and relies more on the gritty realism of New York City, at the time, but it still feels like it belongs in that very specific, short-lived genre.

I’ve talked before about how giallo kind of gave birth to the American slasher movie. This might actually be the best example of that. And while this isn’t specifically a slasher flick, as the killer uses guns and other tools, it really sort of bridges the gap between the two genres or styles.

Honestly, it just feels like it is both parts, a product of it’s influences and something that was a wee bit ahead of the cinematic horror trends. I don’t think any of that was something that Lustig thought about or planned for but it’s the way I see it and it really cements this film as one that is eternally relevant due to its significance to the larger picture.

Plus, this also has an awesome cameo by special effects maestro Tom Savini. The scene where he blows up his own head is one of the absolute best head splatter shots in motion picture history.

Also, this has an ending that is absolutely bonkers and kind of surprising.

Maniac isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but it is a culturally significant one for those who love these sort of flicks.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other William Lustig films, as well as late ’70s/early ’80s slasher flicks and Italian giallo.

Retro Relpase: A Generation of Men Raised by Women, Volume 3: The Past and the Future

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2016.

*This is the third part of an ongoing series where I am building off of what was discussed in the previous parts.

It has taken me quite some time to get to the third part of this series but here we are.

One thing I wanted to touch on was some of the reasons for why we are a generation of men raised by women and what can be done to prevent that in the future.

To start, many males from my generation were raised by mothers. Fathers were either part-time, minimal or completely absent in our lives. I’m not 100 percent sure if it was the effects of our parents’ “free love” generation or just advancements in women’s rights and the politics and social climate of the times but for whatever reason, these are the cards that many of us were dealt as young boys.

I know that in many instances, many of us had to deal with dead beat dads. Men who either just didn’t give a fuck about their responsibility in creating a life or who were just general pieces of shit that our mothers didn’t want around for our benefit. Regardless of which, there were a lot of shitty sperm donors.

A great number of us have grown up without a true rite of passage into manhood or a strong male figure to teach us and guide us in life. Regardless, we have gone on to survive.

Many of us have also gone on to be great men and good people despite the challenge of having to learn everything on our own. Sure, some have faltered, some have continued their dead beat dad’s shitty ways and some are just complete weaklings but I would say that most of us turned out pretty solid. And maybe that self-reliance and self-teaching actually benefited those of us adept enough to learn and see things clearly.

The point is, those of us aware of our situation and the challenges we had to overcome, who are no longer a big ball of angst about it on most days, can use our knowledge, our skills and our compassion for others in a similar situation to not make the same mistakes our fathers did. Empathizing with others who have walked a similar path can keep us on track of doing the right thing when it comes to our children and future generations of other little humans, male and female.

We know what it is like to have no one there or at the very least, just part of the time. We can relate to only having one side of the parental coin. Many of us didn’t have that strong male presence we needed and we know what kind of path that forced us down.

Our generation can choose to not be the shitty generation that birthed us.

The son of an abusive father can either carry that abuse on to his children or he can be smart and compassionate and strive to be nothing like his father. And while historically, abuse has trickled down through the ages, we are getting smarter. We see the forest for the trees better than any generation before us and we know that certain behaviors are absolutely not acceptable. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be bad apples in the mix but being a bad apple is a choice.

I don’t currently have children but if and when I do, it is my duty to be a father. Even if the mother and I aren’t a couple, it is still my duty and my responsibility to make sure that the child has a proper father figure.

We may not have had the rite of passage into manhood that we all wanted but that doesn’t mean that our children should be subjected to a similar fate. The truth is, we are actually stronger than the fathers who weren’t there – well, those of us aware of our situation and the broader picture.

If you’ve grown up and gotten your shit together, despite the challenges you faced, you are better off than most people. Additionally, you should be teeming with confidence at this point. You have had a different path to adulthood and turned out just fine.

If you still have a lot of pent up angst, get over it. In the real world, Project Mayhem would be treated like terrorists.

Besides, we had better get it right because snowflake Millennials are already starting to have kids and that is pretty fucking scary.