Film Review: Death Wish 3 (1985)

Also known as: Death Wish III (working title)
Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Don Jakoby (as Michael Edmonds)
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page, Mike Moran
Cast: Charles Bronson, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Alex Winter, Marina Sirtis, Barbie Wilde

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like killing roaches – you have to kill ’em all. Otherwise, what’s the use?” – Paul Kersey

Some people are going to wonder why I gave this film a really high rating and why I place it above the original. Well, I can’t give it a 15 out of 10 for just the last twenty minutes, so when I average everything out, the big climax pulls the rating up to a 9 out of 10.

Why?

Because the violent, explosive finale of this motion picture is the best big action sequence in the history of American filmmaking. It’s incredible, it’s badass and it force feeds you so much testosterone that some people have sprouted extra testicles.

As a total body of work, this isn’t a better movie than the first one. But the massive action-filled crescendo of a one man army against a city infested with human cockroaches is the stuff of legend! In fact, for fans of action movies, especially from the ’80s and made by Cannon Films, this is an absolute treat and a pillar of perfection for the genre.

Additionally, this chapter in the franchise has a great ensemble that works well with the great Charles Bronson. You’ve got Ed Lauter as the dickhead cop that allows Bronson to go Bronson on New York City, Martin Balsam as a tough old guy who has done some fine movies in his day, Barbie Wilde who was once a Cenobite, Marina Sirtis from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Alex Winter from the Bill & Ted movies and Lost Boys, as well as the always underappreciated Gavan O’Herlihy as the shitball, scumbag gang leader.

This is one of those movies where guns only run out of ammo if it suits the plot. Bronson literally shoots the damn machine gun for what feels like an eternity. Then when that actually runs out of ammo, his pistols are seemingly powered by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas cheat codes. Plus, he uses an impractical but insane .475 Wildey Magnum. It’s like he’s got fucking Megatron in his hand! Scratch that, it’s like he’s got a handheld fucking battleship! The developers of the video game series Doom need to rename “God Mode” to “Bronson Mode”.

The film then ends with Bronson running into his apartment to finally reload, after twenty minutes of turning New York City into a carnage filled lead mine. He is then ambushed by Gavan O’Herlihy wielding a gun. But what’s Bronson do? He shoots him, in his own living room with a fucking bazooka! And he stands there after the walls explode into the street, completely unscathed while the corpse of the shitball, scumbag gang leader burns in the street below, covered in the rubble of what used to be Bronson’s apartment.

I remember watching this as a kid and thinking that it was the most epic thing I had ever seen in an action movie. I wasn’t wrong. But sadly, nothing has come along since and lived up to this movie’s stupendous finale. Sure, there are a lot of incredible, high octane action pictures, especially from Cannon Films, but this one took the cake and no one else has ever been able to get a slice.

Death Wish 3 needs more recognition for its greatness. I think it’s dismissed because it’s the third film in a long running series. The first one is beloved but everything after it doesn’t get the same sort of adoration. I mean, I can understand that in regards to parts 4 and 5, but 2 and 3, especially 3, deserve to be shown on a large screen in the center of every town for the rest of eternity.

If you consider yourself an action movie fan and you’ve never experienced the third act of Death Wish 3, you’re an absolute fucking fraud.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: Missing In Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

Also known as: Battle Rage (Australia, New Zealand, UK), Braddock 2: O Início da Missão (Brazil)
Release Date: March 1st, 1985
Directed by: Lance Hool
Written by: Arthur Silver, Larry Levinson, Steve Bing
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Chuck Norris, Soon-Tek Oh, Steven Williams, Bennett Ohta, Cosie Costa, Joe Michael Terry, Professor Toru Tanaka

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You really didn’t think I’d leave… without making sure you were dead?” – Colonel Braddock

Originally, this was supposed to be the first Missing In Action movie. And that makes more sense in regards to the title because in this film, Chuck Norris and his crew actually go “missing in action”.

The first two Missing In Action films were filmed back-to-back but to evade a lawsuit regarding the fact that Golan-Globus pretty much ripped off the premise from a treatment of the Rambo: First Blood Part II script, they flip-flopped the films’ releases and changed their titles so that they could get the original second film into theaters before that Rambo movie.

So even though this film was intended to come out first, it didn’t and then got labeled a prequel.

Anyway, I actually like the first movie a wee bit more but they are both pretty badass even if they are very different. Sure, they deal with very similar subject matter and are Hollywood critiques on US soldiers that were prisoners of war in Vietnam, after the war, but this movie doesn’t really give you any action until the third and final act.

The story here is slower but it is more personal and the dramatic elements of the film work in a way that is kind of surprising considering that no one in this film is known for giving great dramatic performances. And while the performances aren’t great, they are still convincing and drum up the right type of emotion as the plot rolls on.

The story starts with Braddock’s (Norris) small squad in Vietnam getting their helicopter shot down. They are then taken to a POW camp. The film jumps ahead an unknown amount of time but you can assume that it’s been at least a few years. Braddock and company have been imprisoned and forced to work in the camp, where it is run by a Vietnamese colonel that acts like a sadistic tyrant. He wants to force Braddock into confessing to war crimes and his method is to make Braddock’s soldiers suffer through various forms of mental and physical torture. The film actually spends an hour on this but none of it is dull and it only makes the action that much better once Norris gets a gun in his hand.

At its core, this is a revenge movie, but it’s a damn good one that has more narrative and context than similar films, including the other ones in this series. When Braddock succeeds and kills the evil scumbag, it is a pretty satisfying moment, after watching his madness unfold for 90 minutes.

Missing In Action 2 is a film that is better than it should be. It probably won’t appeal to those who aren’t already fans of intense ’80s action movies but it tells a good story, is well paced and ends just as it should. There’s no subversion of expectations, this is pure escapism and entertainment and what an action movie should be.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Missing In Action movies, as well as the Delta Force film series and pretty much anything by Cannon Films.

Film Review: Wheels of Fire (1985)

Also known as: Desert Warrior, Pyro, Vindicator (German alternate titles), Fuego (Spain), Guerreros infernales (Peru)
Release Date: April 11th, 1985 (Philippines premiere)
Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago
Written by: Ellen Collett, Frederick Bailey, Cameron Frankley, Keith Mortimer, Joseph Williams, Frank Wolfe
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Gary Watkins, Laura Banks, Lynda Wiesmeier, Linda Grovenor

Rodeo, Concorde Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the matter, sweetheart? You don’t like my looks?” – Scourge, “Maybe as a corpse!” – Arlie

Roger Corman didn’t direct or directly produce this film but he put some money into it. When his previous company New World Pictures refused to distribute the movie, that was more fuel to the fire that became a big lawsuit between the two parties.

Also, Lee Ving was supposed to star in this as the villain Scourge. However, he quit just before shooting. Honestly, it would have been cool as hell to see Lee Ving in this. I was always a fan of the guy even if his roles were always kind of small. But he stands out in both Clue and Streets of Fire. Plus, his punk band Fear was one of the most badass bands of all-time.

This is one of dozens of Mad Max ripoffs. While none of these films are as good as the material they are stealing from, some of them are at least fun and have enough gravitas to justify their existence. This is one of those films.

The good guy is a black leather clad, shotgun wielding badass with a black muscle car and two big balls that each have their own V8 engine. He takes no shit, gives the evil bastards of the wasteland hell and doesn’t care whose car he has to wreck in order to make a point.

Now the acting is pretty awful and this film is also riddled with other issues but this flick is just rough and tough enough to make me not nitpick it apart, as I would with something that didn’t serve up as much testosterone as this.

Ultimately, this is a solid, no budget action movie that doesn’t need to hide its weaknesses, because its strengths are so good.

But if I’m going to pull something negative out of this, I didn’t like how they sped the frame rate up during car scenes to make the vehicles look like they were moving faster. Its kind of jarring but luckily, it doesn’t break the film as it isn’t overused to the point of madness.

If anything, this movie just makes me want to build a beat up, black muscle car and head to the desert with a camera. Point being, this film had to be fun to make and everyone looked like they were having a good time.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs: Battletruck, Metalstorm and Megaforce.

Film Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Also known as: Mad Max 3 (working title), Mad Max III (Philippines)
Release Date: June 29th, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: George Miller, George Ogilvie
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dyin’ time’s here.” – Dr. Dealgood

I always thought of this as the worst of the original Mad Max trilogy. However, revisiting it now, just after watching the first two, I think I enjoyed it more than the original. In fact, I have a lot more appreciation for this film after watching it this time. Plus, it was the first time I had seen it since before Mad Max: Fury Road came out four years ago.

Now this doesn’t have the hard edge of the other films and it does feel like a Hollywood recreation of the franchise with a bigger budget, the addition of Tina Turner (a huge star at the time) and the larger scope of the movie. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, though, and I think that Hollywood sort of legitimizing this film series with a larger, more polished production, is probably what gave it the cultural longevity it’s had.

You also have to keep in mind that these films are really all that Mel Gibson was known for in 1985. Lethal Weapon and a much more lucrative, mainstream career didn’t come until 1987.

What makes this work so well, is the fact that Mel Gibson is so comfortable in this role by this point. Even though we got to know him in the first film, everything changes when his family dies and then in the second picture, he was sort of an unemotional husk with just a glimmer of humanity shining through. Here, that hard, outer husk is torn away and we’re left with a man that has found a way to live again. At least, he’s found a surrogate family and something that he must fight for. While that’s similar to the second film, it’s a much more fluid and human journey here. You don’t feel like he’s just playing the hero because it’s something to do and he hates scumbags, you actually sense love growing inside of him.

However, as much as I love Tina Turner in this, her being the primary villain also tames this movie when compared to the others. She kind of likes Max throughout the picture and she’s just a tough woman trying to maintain order in a town full of shady degenerates. She’s not pure evil like Lord Humongous, Toecutter or Immortan Joe and that kind of makes the threat in this film feel like a minor one.

Granted, the big finale which sees vehicle mayhem and the inclusion of a train car is still quite good. I don’t enjoy it as much as the finale from The Road Warrior but it is very close in quality to that one. In fact, this finale is better shot, looks crisper and has some stellar stunts. However, it is less gritty and thus, not as badass as the finale from the previous film. But it is fun seeing the kids in the film get in on the action during this big chase.

Speaking of the kids, there are a lot of them in this movie. But all the ones that have lines and are key characters are really good. This movie could have gone south really quickly with its overabundance of child actors but they certainly add more to the film than they take away.

This is definitely a film with three acts and each act has a very distinct feeling and tone to it. From a narrative standpoint, this is the best structured film and tells the best story out of all four Mad Max pictures.

Beyond Thunderdome gets a bad rap from some and while I wish it had been more of an R rated film than a PG-13 one, I’m still pretty satisfied with it and I think it’s aged pretty darn well.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: Back to the Future (1985)

Release Date: July 3rd, 1985
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, George DiCenzo, Frances Lee McCain, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jason Hervey, Maia Brewton, Courtney Gains, Huey Lewis (cameo)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour… you’re gonna see some serious shit.” – Dr. Emmett Brown

Back to the Future is a classic, which makes it kind of hard to review. It’s a film I’ve put off reviewing for awhile because I can’t really come up with anything other than paragraphs of praise. It’s perfect.

Do I need to run through all the regular tidbits about it having a great story, script, director, cast, composer, cinematographer, special effects department and everything else under the sun?

I’m reviewing this right after I reviewed RoboCop, which I also gave a 10 out of 10. But don’t take that score lightly, it is really hard for me to give out 10s but this film certainly deserves it and maybe even a score slightly beyond that. The only other movie from my childhood that can really compete for this as the best film from that era is Raiders of the Lost Ark.

While the Roger Eberts, Gene Siskels and Pauline Kaels have their Citizen KaneVertigo and Seven Samurai, I have Raiders of the Lost ArkEmpire Strikes Back and Back to the Future. These are my generation’s classics and even though they are much more modern, their greatness can’t be denied. Well, unless you’re completely devoid of taste.

This film was a perfect storm, even if it had some major production issues early on. But those issues led to this and it’s hard to imagine that a film with a slightly different cast would have been as good as this ended up being.

If you haven’t seen this film already, I don’t understand what you’ve been doing with all of your time on this planet. If you have seen it and don’t like it, we probably won’t be friends.

This is, hands down, one of the absolute best films of the 1980s, regardless of genre or style. There are other movies that one can refer to as “perfect” but how many are actually this fun?

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: A View to a Kill (1985)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1985 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Michael G. Wilson, Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Roger Moore, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Christopher Walken, Patrick Macnee, David Yip, Alison Doody, Dolph Lundgren, Maud Adams (cameo), Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Robert Brown

Eon Productions, United Artists, 1.. Minutes

Review:

“You slept well?” – Max Zorin, “A little restless but I got off eventually.” – James Bond

From memory, this is a cheesy, goofy James Bond film. Having now revisited it for the first time in nearly a decade, this may actually be one of my favorites of the Moore era and of all-time. Quite simply, this is really f’n fun!

But then Moore’s films have always been fun and I am being reminded of that, as I have recently rewatched all of his ’80s era stuff. Something about this movie puts it ahead of the other two ’80s Bond pictures he did though.

This is a really good cocktail that also features the always fantastic Christopher Walken, as the villain, as well as Grace Jones, who commands everyone’s attention whenever she appears in anything. I friggin’ love the duo of Walken and Jones in this and they are one of the best villain tandems in Bond history. They have a strange but amusing relationship that is accented by both actors’ unique personalities. I almost wish they would have survived and been around in more than one movie but unless you’re Blofeld or Jaws, that just doesn’t happen in classic Bond-lore.

Tanya Roberts was far from the most memorable Bond Girl ever but she was really good here. She just fit in well with everyone and did her job, quite solidly. She wasn’t a complete damsel in distress but she also wasn’t some KGB badass either, she just felt more like a real, normal woman when compared to most of the other Bond Girls.

It’s also worth mentioning that this has one of my favrotie title sequences in the franchise. I have just always loved Duran Duran though, probably because I was a kid of the ’80s and heavily under the influence of the pop culture of the time.

Additionally, I really like the scheme in this picture. It’s nutty and ambitious but it just works for a Bond film of the classic era and it was probably the perfect plot on paper in the mid-’80s when the tech industry was blossoming and booming.

Another highlight was the San Francisco setting in the latter half of the film. The Golden Gate Bridge finale was top notch and a high point of the Roger Moore era.

The only thing that really bothered me about the film was that incredibly cheesy moment in the opening sequence, when Bond is trying to evade the Soviet enemies on skis and “California Girls” starts blaring. It’s a jarring moment that pulls you out of the movie and the gag wasn’t that funny.

I know that a lot of people look down on this chapter in the Bond franchise and see it as a low point. I don’t. This movie has a special place in my heart but it also might be that it is hard to push down nostalgia and see things more clearly. This was the second Bond film I ever saw in its entirety and I rented it a lot as a kid.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Roger Moore James Bond movies.

Film Review: Explorers (1985)

Release Date: July 12th, 1985
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Eric Luke
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Amanda Peterson, James Cromwell, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Meshach Taylor

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“It’s asking for coordinates on x-, y- and z-axes to locate a point in space relative to its terminal. How did you dream this?” – Wolfgang Müller

The Explorers was one of my favorite movies in the mid-’80s. It kind of fit in with all those other kid adventure movies like E.T. the Extra-TerrestrialThe Goonies and Monster Squad. These kid films did really well back then and they all sort of just tapped into something that films didn’t do as good before the decade. I guess that’s why Stranger Things and the modern It movie have built up solid fan bases off of the nostalgia for these sort of films and stories.

This movie is no different and it also came from the imagination of Joe Dante. Ultimately, this feels like a Spielberg film too but he wasn’t even involved but maybe Dante’s experience working with Spielberg on Gremlins, a year earlier, kept that magic mojo going.

The plot follows three boys and their attempt at building a spaceship. Yeah, it is really fantastical and unrealistic but the movie is more about imagination and childhood than the going to space bit. Granted, they do go to space and meet aliens but even then, this is still about youthful imagination, living your dreams no matter how ridiculous they may be and never losing hope in yourself. It’s a metaphor, y’all!

What makes this movie so fantastic is that you do see this through the eyes of children but you also see it through the eyes of an adult, in this case the super talented and underutilized Dick Miller. Miller’s character, an old man that once had dreams and aspirations similar to the kids, discovers what these kids are up to and when he witnesses them succeed, he is living vicariously through them and tapping into something he hasn’t felt in decades. It’s pretty f’n touching and Miller really conveyed the right emotions in playing this part. While Miller’s role in the movie isn’t very big, it’s central to the most pivotal message this film tries to communicate to its audience.

The special effects in this are really good and I loved the sets and the creature effects on the aliens, once these kids journeyed to their spaceship.

Spoiler alert, the aliens are friendly and as the film rolls on, you come to discover that they’re just kids to. So the Earth kids and the alien kids meet and you see that they’re not too dissimilar. The alien kids are also driven to go on adventures and discover the universe with childlike enthusiasm. Plus, Robert Picardo was awesome as the male alien, even if you couldn’t see him under the bulky costume.

I like watching this film as an adult because it keeps me grounded by making me remember the ideals and view of the universe I had when I was a kid. Watching this as an adult is similar to being in the shoes of the Dick Miller character.

This is one of Joe Dante’s best pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Flight of the NavigatorE.T the Extra-TerrestrialD.A.R.Y.L., The Goonies, Monster Squad.