Film Review: Trading Places (1983)

Also known as: Black or White (working title)
Release Date: June 7th, 1983 (limited)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliot, Paul Gleason, Kristin Holby, Bo Diddley, Jim Belushi, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Frank Oz, Giancarlo Esposito

Cinema Group Ventures, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house, Penelope hated me, and it was all because of this terrible, awful negro!” – Louis Winthorpe III

Since I watched The Blues Brothers a week ago, I wanted to revisit this movie, as well. I’ve been on a John Landis comedy kick, as of late.

Like The Blues Brothers, this was one of my favorite comedies, as a kid, because it featured two comedic actors I loved and still do.

While these aren’t my favorite roles for either Dan Aykroyd or Eddie Murphy, they’re still iconic and the guys had tremendous chemistry. So much so, I had always whished for a sequel to this. I kind of hoped it would happen after this film’s villains had cameos in Coming to America, which saw them potentially get their lives back.

Speaking of the villains, played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, they were superb and charismatic for being total pieces of shit. They contributed just as much to the greatness of this picture as the two leads.

However, I also have to give a lot of credit to Denholm Elliot and Jamie Lee Curtis. The two of them rounded out the group of protagonists and formed a solid team alongside Aykroyd and Murphy, as they fought to take down the two rich bastards that were going to completely destroy them.

The story sees a commodities broker have his life ruined by his two bosses over a one dollar bet. That bet sees someone from the furthest end of the social hierarchy take his place to see if he can overcome his environment and succeed at the level that a man born into privilege could.

Essentially, Aykroyd and Murphy play switcheroo but neither are aware of why. Once they find out, they decide to work together to teach the villains a hard lesson. In the end, they outwit them at their own game and walk away with their fortune, leaving them broke.

The film does a pretty amusing job of analyzing “nature versus nurture”. While it’s not a wholly original idea and has similarities to the classic The Prince and the Pauper story, it at least makes the switching of lives involuntary and with that, creates some solid comedic moments.

Even though this isn’t specifically a Christmas movie, it takes place over the holiday, as well as New Year’s, and it’s a film I like to watch around that time of year.

Trading Places has held up really well and it feels kind of timeless even though it is very ’80s. It’s story transcends that, though, and the leads really took this thing to an iconic level, making it one of the best comedies of its time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as other films with Dan Aykroyd or Eddie Murphy.

Book Review: ‘Indiana Jones and the Dance of the Giants’ by Rob MacGregor

This second book in the ’90s Indiana Jones novel series was better than its predecessor and Rob MacGregor seems to have found his groove a bit more with this one.

Like its predecessor, it feels more like an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, as opposed to feeling like a story as epic as the film series. That’s fine but I hope these start to get more grandiose in scale.

This book also goes to less places than its predecessor, as the entire story is confined to the United Kingdom, only seeing Indy in London, rural Scotland and Stonehenge.

That being said, if you ever wondered what it’d be like for Indy to have a story take place around Stonehenge, well… this is it!

Even more than the first book, I liked the characters in this a lot. Especially, Indy’s returning college buddy, who got to be much more involved this time around. I also liked the love interest and her role in the bigger picture.

What I really liked, though, was the villain. He was a young, ambitious but evil member of British Parliament. He had his eyes set on unlocking the secrets of Stonehenge and Merlin in an effort to rule the world.

This story takes place after Indy has left college as a student and started his first teaching job in London. This aspect of the story was cool, as you get to see him uncomfortable and a bit out of his element, even though it’s well-known that he becomes a successful archeology professor. It’s these parts of the books I like though, as they serve to enrich the character and fill in some of the blanks from his long, adventurous life.

All in all, this was a lighthearted and exciting read.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Indiana Jones novels from Bantam Books’ run in the ’90s.

Film Review: Soldier (1998)

Release Date: October 23rd, 1998
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: David Webb Peoples
Music by: Joel McNeely
Cast: Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Sean Pertwee, Connie Nielsen, Michael Chiklis, Gary Busey, Jason Issacs, Paul Dillon, Wyatt Russell 

Jerry Weintraub Productions, Morgan Creek Entertainment, Warner Bros., 99 Minutes, 91 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Brave. It means that even when you’re scared you control your emotions. You make the fear be really small and tiny.” – Sandra

I have to thank this film’s existence and Kurt Russell’s part in it for giving us Event Horizon, a far superior film and one of the greatest sci-fi/horror movies ever made. The reason being, this was supposed to be made earlier but Russell requested and extra year to get super diesel. To kill that time, Paul W.S. Anderson went off and directed the best film he’s ever made.

Plus, we still got this, which I also like quite a bit and it shares a couple of actors with 1997’s Event Horizon, the always awesome and underappreciated Sean Pertwee and Jason Issacs, who has a hell of a presence in every film he finds himself in.

In this, we also get Gary f’n Busey and Jason Scott Lee, who is the other super soldier that Kurt Russell ultimately has to face off with. Lee was also jacked as fuck in this and their big battle at the film’s climax is like swimming in Niagara Falls if the water was liquid testosterone.

Strangely, and something I didn’t know until reading up on this film before revisiting it, Soldier is an unofficial, spiritual sequel to Blade Runner. In fact, there are some Easter eggs sprinkled throughout that I didn’t catch the first time I saw this in the theater back in ’98.

The reason for this is that this film’s writer, David Webb Peoples, was one of the writers on Blade Runner, so he sprinkled some things in to tie it back to that legendary movie (and the original Philip K. Dick story). I guess I’ll always think of it as Blade Runner 1.5 from now on.

Anyway, the story sees an old super soldier get dumped like trash on a trash planet. He soon discovers a discarded civilization there and has to fight to protect them, as the government that threw him away brings war to their doorstep. With that, they bring their updated, newer super soldier model, which Kurt Russell has to face, testing his mettle and proving that sometimes newer isn’t better.

While this film has some apparent budgetary limitations, everything still looks pretty damn good for the time. I also really like the story and think it’s something that’s relatable to most people. Especially those of us that have lived a little while and may feel like changing times and younger blood may try and push us out of our spots, specifically in a professional setting.

Soldier is just a good, balls to the wall, popcorn movie. It’s the type of great manly man film that we’re not allowed to have anymore. Sure, it’s far from perfect and there are many movies that hit similar notes and do it better but this is still an awesome way to spend ninety-nine minutes.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi action films of the ’80s and ’90s like Enemy Mine, Stargate, Escape From L.A., Event Horizon, etc.

TV Review: The Transformers – Seasons 3 & 4 (1986-1987)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 15th, 1986 – November 11th, 1987
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 33 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I wanted to review this portion of the classic Transformers television show separate from the first half of the series, simply because these two seasons take place after the cinematic film, which completely changed the landscape, characters and settings of the franchise.

In this era, Optimus Prime is dead and the Autobots are led by Rodimus Prime, formerly Hot Rod. Many other Autobots died, as well. And the same can be said about the Decepticons, who are now led by a suped up Megatron renamed Galvatron, as well as Cyclonus, Scourge and the Sweeps, as opposed to Starscream and the Seekers.

Additionally, Spike is older, married and has a son named Daniel, who is a big character on the show.

We also see just about every episode taking place in outer space, as opposed to Earth. The overall landscape and scope of the series has grown much larger and there is a new villain group that often times plays the Autobots and Decepticons against each other like chess pieces.

When I was a kid, this was my favorite era of the series and aesthetically, it still is. I do really enjoy the better episodes but unfortunately, there are some really bad ones too. The one with the musical aliens is nearly unwatchable. But the good things still greatly outweigh the bad.

I like the altered mythos, the newer character designs and the show just feels darker and more bleak. Granted, by the end, Optimus Prime does come back and there is even a moment of peace between him and Galvatron.

This stretch of the show also has some cool Easter eggs that officially connect it to G.I. Joe in the animated series canon. One major human character is the daughter of Flint and Lady Jaye. We even get a cameo from Cobra Commander, as an aged weapons dealer, no longer with an army to rule over.

The end of this era also debuts the Headmasters and Trigger Masters concepts. While the show didn’t continue on beyond their debut, it was a cool way to end the show. Especially, for those of us that were still buying the toys at that point. 

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

Also known as: Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Monster X (US TV title), Monsters Invade Expo ’70, War of the Monsters, Gamera vs. Giger (alternate worldwide English titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1970 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis, Katherine Murphy

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 82 Minutes

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Gamera movie but I do have a few left from the original run of films that I haven’t yet reviewed. I already did all the movies that were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but there are still three left that never made it on that show.

This one is mostly more of the same but it does have an interesting bit where Gamera, after a defeat, is essentially dead with a pale head. His body is left half submerged in the bay near the World Expo ’70 site, a world’s fair type of festival that takes centerstage in this movie.

With Gamera out of commission, two kids use a small submarine to enter his mouth and try to resuscitate him. While in there, they have to survive the heroic mission while outwitting killer parasites in the giant creature’s body. It’s weird, it’s neat and it’s pretty cool if you’re a fan of this sort of awesome cheese.

Other than that, there’s not much more to say. Everything is on par with the other sequels but this at least stays afloat and has an edge over some of the other chapters because of the sequence with the kids inside of Gamera’s body.

All in all, a decent flick for Gamera fans but if you’re not a diehard kaiju or tokusatsu viewer, you’ll probably be scratching your head for eighty-two minutes.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Comic Review: Daredevil by Bendis and Maleev – Ultimate Collection, Book 1

Published: June 23rd, 2010
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Alex Maleev

Marvel Comics, 411 Pages

Review:

Following the Guardian Devil and Parts of a Hole storylines, Brian Michael Bendis began his Daredevil run. While I had read much of this twenty or so years ago, I had forgotten just how good it was and that Bendis was once an exceptional comic book writer when he still obviously had the passion burning inside of himself.

This big collection of multiple story arcs didn’t have any weak parts to it.

The first story dealt with a young kid going through some serious trauma after witnessing a fight between his father and Daredevil, which left his father dead. While Daredevil was a minor character in his own story, something I tend to hate, I excused it here, as the four issue arc was so solid and brought a lot of emotion into the series to kickoff Bendis’ run. Plus, it featured Ben Urich as the main character and I’ve always loved that guy.

Following that, we get a few arcs that are really connected as one larger narrative. We see the Kingpin get taken out by a new guy in his organization’s ranks. This new guy tries to take Kingpin’s spot but ultimately pays a price for it courtesy of Vanessa Fisk, Kingpin’s wife, who has been absent for years.

Additionally, this wannabe Kingpin discovers Daredevil’s identity and with that, the world soon finds out. Matt Murdock with several of his allies has to try and fix this problem, convincing the world, somehow, that Murdock is not the masked vigilante.

All in all, this beefy volume is packed full of absolute greatness. Add in Alex Maleev’s incredible art and you’ve got one of the best Daredevil collections ever printed: a near perfect masterpiece.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Daredevil comics from his Marvel Knights run.

Film Review: Gone with the Wind (1939)

Release Date: December 15th, 1939 (Atlanta premiere)
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Written by: Sidney Howard
Based on: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, George Reeves, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen

Selznick International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 238 Minutes, 223 Minutes (1969 re-release), 234 (1985 re-release), 233 Minutes (1989 re-release), 224 Minutes (1994 re-release), 226 Minutes (copyright length)

Review:

“No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.” – Rhett Butler

Gone With the Wind is considered one of the all-time greatest motion pictures ever made. However, everyone should already know that.

It also came under fire last year when it was announced that it would be featured on HBO Max. Why did it come under fire? Well, because people these days are offended by the art people made generations ago. In regards to this film, it had to due with racial stereotypes and how the black characters were used. I wrote about this retro-censorship crap back in July, though. That article can be found here, so I won’t harp on it too much again while reviewing this classic.

When it comes to this film, it is as good as people have made it out to be for over 80 years. In fact, it may be even better.

Sure, it’s a long, slow, very drawn out story but it covers a lot of ground and it certainly has a lot to say.

Women, historically, have loved the film because of its romantic side and how it doesn’t follow the beats of a stereotypical “happily ever after” story, which was definitely rare for its time.

Men seem to love it because of the war related parts of the film. Mainly, this picture focuses on a few key characters but it really showcases what life was like for those on the losing side of the American Civil War. Regardless of what the war was or was about, the message here is eternal, as it really gives the viewer a true understanding of the actual devastation of war, specifically after the fighting is over.

Beyond the great story, the movie has stunning and legendary performances throughout and it may be the best acted film up to its release. Clark Gable is an absolute man’s man and Vivien Leigh was absolutely incredible. The range of these two just in this film is fantastic and impressive.

The film is also superbly directed by Victor Fleming, who pulled these performances out of his cast while also displaying his phenomenal level of cinematic craftsmanship. Some of the shots in this are breathtaking and still hold up marvelously, all these years later. A lot of credit also has to go to the cinematographer, Ernest Haller.

Going back to Fleming, though, it’s hard to believe that he released both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in the same year! That has to be the greatest single year of work by any director. Sadly, though, he only made five more films after this and died ten years later.

It’s hard to really put into words how majestic and epic this film is. It really should be seen by all lovers of film. I can get why it might not appeal to many in the 2020s and because it’s so damn long but it’s hard to really experience the best that the art of motion pictures has to offer if you haven’t seen this.

It deserves its status and from a visual and storytelling standpoint, it still has a lot to teach future filmmakers and lovers of the artistic medium.

Rating: 10/10

Comic Review: Deathstroke: The Terminator, Vol. 4: Crash or Burn

Published: May 15th, 2018
Written by: Steven Grant, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman
Art by: Will Blyberg, Steve Erwin, Gabriel Morrissette

DC Comics, 196 Pages

Review:

The last volume of Deathstroke: The Terminator really took the wind out of my sails. However, this chapter in the series was a return to form.

This gets back to being a little smaller in scale and more like a street level story, which is where I like my Deathstroke stories to be. I don’t mind them getting somewhat grandiose but the third volume was too over-the-top and crammed full of ’90s comic book cliches.

Here, we see the Pat Trayce version of the Vigilante come back into the story and I didn’t realize how much I liked her until she was absent from the last installment.

This also felt fresh and I think a lot of that had to do with the writing. While Deathstroke is Marv Wolfman’s creation, we also got scripts from the great Len Wein, as well as Steven Grant. These two kept things pretty consistent with the better parts of the Deathstroke series, thus far. They understood the character, the tone and also did a superb job with not just Deathstroke but the other core characters, as well.

I also really liked the art and while it has been good since this series started, it stood out to me a bit more here. Although, some of the new one-off characters looked a bit wonky. But, it was the ’90s and new comic book characters often times looked goofy for the sake of unrestrained edginess.

In the end, this reinvigorated my love of this series and I can’t wait to get into volume five.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other volumes in the original Deathstroke: The Terminator series from 1991 to 1996.

Film Review: THX 1138 – Director’s Cut (1971)

Also known as: THX-1138 (alternative spelling)
Release Date: March 11th, 1971
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas, Walter Murch
Based on: Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB by George Lucas
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe, Sid Haig

American Zoetrope, Warner Bros., 86 Minutes, 88 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 81 Minutes (1971 Studio Theatrical Cut)

Review:

“Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.” – OMM

I had to review the Director’s Cut edition of THX 1138, which is unfortunately the only version the world has access to anymore. It’s similar to the original Star Wars trilogy after George Lucas altered those films. Frankly, I’d rather see and review this film in its original form but I don’t have this on a VHS tape from the ’80s or a working VCR.

For the most part, this film isn’t altered too greatly and the bits that have been updated are obvious due to them employing modern CGI, which sticks out like a sore thumb. But I can’t really examine the skill of George Lucas’ special effects prowess because those things have been wiped clean and replaced with modern tweaks.

Anyway, this is obviously inspired by some of the most famous dystopian novels and motion picture adaptations. However, even if it dips into Brave New World, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, it still has it’s own identity and look. Frankly, despite heavy narrative similarities to what it was inspired by, this is still a unique and really cool film.

Being George Lucas’ first feature length movie, it’s damn impressive. This is also why I’d rather see it in its original form and not altered for modern eyes.

The film also benefits from the performances by its core cast members. While Robert Duvall is stellar in this, he’s backed up by Maggie McOmie’s memorable performance, as well as the always enjoyable Donald Pleasence.

Additionally, it’s impressive how much Lucas was able to achieve with so little. The sets are very minimalistic but nothing about this picture feels cheap. The world feels real, authentic and lived in, even with its generic, sterile, hospital hallways looking appearance.

I like this motion picture quite a bit and I always have. Seeing it in HD is pretty glorious but I still wish I had the ability to see it as it was original seen.

Lastly, this film features one of the coolest cars in motion picture history, which is featured in the big chase scene at the film’s climax.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other dystopian science fiction films of the late ’60s through the ’80s.

Documentary Review: Grey Gardens (1975)

Release Date: September 27th, 1975 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
Cast: Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale 

Portrait Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn’t know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there’s anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman… S-T-A-U-N-C-H. There’s nothing worse, I’m telling you. They don’t weaken, no matter what.” – Little Edie

Grey Gardens is very much a product of its time but it was a pretty highly regarded documentary for its day.

While I’ve known about it for years, I hadn’t watched it till now, as I figured it’d be a really depressing look into the lives of two women who went from the height of American society to living pretty much in squalor in their decrepit Long Island mansion, reflecting on their past days of glory.

The film, at its core, is an interesting character study into these two real women. There isn’t really a structure to the film and the directors just let the cameras roll, filming their day-to-day life like a reality television show. Although, more like the early days of reality television, before producers tried to manipulate their subjects into manufactured hostility to grab ratings.

That being said, this is still a sad picture but at the same time, the two women, even in their situation, are endearing and quite likable. But this also shows their naivety about the world that they live in. They’re the products of high society, no longer a part of it and they just don’t seem to have the same instincts as regular people in similar impoverished situations.

We also discover their strange but kind of innocent philosophies about life, love and family.

My only real complaint about the film is that it’s really slow. However, this complaint probably exists because I saw it nearly half a century after it was made and documentary filmmaking has evolved, greatly.

Regardless of that, it’s still interesting, stepping into these two women’s world for an hour and a half.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and the film of the same name that is based on the women, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.