Film Review: Rambo III (1988)

Also known as: Rambo: First Blood Part III (Malaysia)
Release Date: May 25th, 1988
Directed by: Peter MacDonald
Written by: Sylvester Stallone, Sheldon Lettich
Based on: character by David Morrell
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna, Kurtwood Smith, Marc de Jonge

Carolco Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes, 87 Minutes (heavily cut VHS version)

Review:

“Yeah, well, there won’t be a victory! Every day, your war machines lose ground to a bunch of poorly-armed, poorly-equipped freedom fighters! The fact is that you underestimated your competition. If you’d studied your history, you’d know that these people have never given up to anyone. They’d rather die, than be slaves to an invading army. You can’t defeat a people like that. We tried! We already had our Vietnam! Now you’re gonna have yours!” – Colonel Trautman

While I will love any Rambo movie by default, there are some that aren’t as good as others. From memory, this one was my least favorite but I also hadn’t seen it in about fifteen years. Now that I’ve seen it again, it is pretty damn awesome even if it is the worst of the original trilogy of films. But out of the three, someone had to lose.

That being said, it is a damn solid ’80s action movie that is unapologetic, out to splatter the balls of lesser men and just a great conclusion to the Rambo story arc. Well, that is until we were allowed to check in on him twenty years later with 2008’s Rambo, a film no one ever really anticipated, as Hollywood wasn’t resurrecting everything under the sun by that point.

Anyway, this movie shows us that John Rambo has been living in Thailand where he is a pit fighter that whips ass for money. Granted, he gives the money to the nice monks that let him live in their monastery, where he also does some handyman work. Colonel Trautman then shows up with a new mission that will help free a region of Afghanistan from a Soviet tyrant who is pretty damn sadistic.

After September 11th, 2001, this plot was looked at as somewhat controversial, as Rambo aided the mujahideen, a group that was associated with Osama bin Laden in the real world. The ending of the film even had a blurb of text that said the film was dedicated to “…the brave mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan.” Since 2001, the film has been altered to say that it’s dedicated to the “…gallant people of Afghanistan.”

Apart from that issue, which really isn’t an issue when you consider the history of the United States, the Soviet Union and the politics of the Soviet-Afghan War, this is one badass movie. In fact, once Rambo gets going in this flick, he is a killing machine and the action only stops long enough to give you a breather a few times.

My only real gripe about the film is that it takes too long to really get to the good stuff. There is a great action sequence early on, which sees the Soviets in a Hind-D helicopter attack an Afghan buzkashi match but after that, there is a lot of talk, planning and scenes of Trautman (and later Rambo) in Soviet custody. The film isn’t overly slow in the first two acts but they probably could’ve lobbed off ten or fifteen minutes and made it flow at a better pace.

Out of the original three films, however, this has, hands down, the best climax. We get to see Rambo, driving a tank, play a game of chicken with the Soviet Hind-D helicopter. It’s fucking glorious and is one of the most masculine moments in the history of cinema. While the final sequence here doesn’t beat out the final sequence of Death Wish 3, it has made me develop a theory that the big finale of the third film in action franchises will always be tremendous. Ignore Lethal Weapon 3, though, otherwise it destroys my theory like a balsa wood house in a fire… like the one in the final fight in Lethal Weapon 3.

Rambo III is a spectacular action flick, a product of its time (a great time, mind you) and it stars one of the best actors of the action genre, in his prime, playing his second greatest character. Seriously, what’s not to love, here?

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: Alien From L.A. (1988)

Also known as: Wanda, Odeon (alternative TV titles)
Release Date: February 26th, 1988
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Regina Davis, Albert Pyun, Debra Ricci
Music by: Jim Andron, Simon LeGassick, Anthony Riparetti, James Saad
Cast: Kathy Ireland, William R. Moses, Richard Haines, Don Michael Paul, Thom Mathews, Deep Roy

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Bitchin’ left hook, Crassus!” – Wanda Saknussemm

Albert Pyun directed a lot of schlock but he directed a lot of wonderful schlock like The Sword and the Sorcerer (his debut), Cyborg, Captain America (1990), Kickboxer 2, Arcade and a slew of others. While his films won’t resonate with most audiences, schlock lovers would probably bask in Pyun’s schlock-y glory.

Alien From L.A. is a special film, though, even for Pyun. It’s a vanity project for Kathy Ireland. She had no real experience acting but she was at the height of her modeling career, was the top Sports Illustrated swimsuit model of the time and the movie was probably greenlit just so Cannon Films’ top dogs Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus could meet one of the hottest women on the planet.

The story is about an L.A. girl that goes to Africa, after she gets a letter saying that her father died from falling into a bottomless pit. She goes to the site of his fall and falls into the pit as well. However, it isn’t bottomless and what we get is an extremely loose adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth. So Kathy Ireland, in this situation, is actually the alien to a subterranean society – so I guess the weird title makes some sense.

While the acting is terrible and the script is even worse, the film isn’t all bad but as stated earlier, you’ve got to have a palate for schlock and in this case, overly cheesy schlock.

Kathy Ireland is certainly likable, for the most part. However, her soft cutesy voice can get grating at times and I’m not sure why they had her talk like this the whole movie. I think they thought it would make her less attractive, just like they thought her glasses, until they were destroyed, would make her an ugly nerd. No, it’s Kathy f’n Ireland in her prime, nothing is going to make her unattractive.

Ultimately, this is a film that would have withered away and been forgotten years ago. However, it was immortalized after being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. At the time, it was fairly current and cool to see on the show because of how modern it was when compared to the Roger Corman, Bert I. Gordon and Coleman Francis movies that played much more frequently.

While I love Cannon Films, this doesn’t fit with their branding, as they were mostly known for their over the top ’80s action films that starred two guys named Chuck, one named Jean-Claude, a Dudikoff, a Kosugi and an infinite supply of ninjas and bullets.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s celebrity vanity movies and it’s sequel 1989’s version of Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Film Review: Scrooged (1988)

Also known as: Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (original script title)
Release Date: November 17th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue
Based on: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, John Glover, David Johansen, Mary Ellen Trainor, Mabel King, John Murray, Wendie Malick, Brain Doyle-Murray, Lee Majors (cameo), Miles Davis (cameo), Robert Goulet (cameo), Paul Shaffer (cameo), Buddy Hackett, Mary Lou Retton, Jamie Farr, Anne Ramsey, Logan Ramsey

Paramount Pictures, Mirage Productions, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the one good thing about regret: it’s never too late. You can always change tomorrow if you want to.” – Claire Phillips

Scrooged is my favorite Christmas movie that doesn’t fit in the action or horror genres, even though it has a wee bit of those two things. It’s a comedy starring the legendary Bill Murray and it was directed by Richard Donner, coming off of Lethal Weapon, Ladyhawke and The Goonies.

The film also has an all-star cast comprised of a few legends, a few solid character actors and the always lovely Karen Allen and Alfre Woodard.

It’s a modernized adaptation of Charles Dickens’ most famous story, A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray essentially plays Ebeneezer Scrooge but in this story, he’s named Frank Cross and he is the president of a major television network, stressed out over the live televised adaptation of A Christmas Carol that he is producing.

As can be expected with adaptations of this story, Cross is visited by three ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Future. He is taken on a journey through his life and is shown his fate if he doesn’t wise up and change his ways.

There aren’t any shocking twists or deviations from the traditional story structure of A Christmas Carol, other than setting it in contemporary times and modifying some of the smaller details to fit what was ’80s pop culture society.

The film has a good bit of crude humor but it’s nothing that’s off putting or that takes away from the spirit of Dickens’ classic story. In fact, I love the update and frankly, for the time that this came out in and the inclusion of Murray, this was probably the most palatable version of the story that had been adapted. It’s not strict to the source material but it benefits because of that while keeping the original plot structure intact.

Scrooged may feel dated to some and like a product of its time but it is a classic Christmas film for many, myself included, and it doesn’t get old. I think a lot of that has to do with the charisma supernova that is Bill Murray while the kind nature of Karen Allen, as well as the fantastic cast around Murray, make this something unique, special and entertaining.

Plus, there is just something perfect about Danny Elfman’s score in this film. It sets the tone for the picture immediately and it just accents and enhances the movie like a great musical score should.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other great non-traditional Christmas movies of the ’80s like Trading Places, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Die Hard, Gremlins and Lethal Weapon.

Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Film Review: Demon City Shinjuku (1988)

Also known as: Makaitoshi Shinjuku (original title), Monster City (UK), Hell City Shinjuku (alternative title)
Release Date: October 25th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Written by: Kaori Okamura
Based on: Makaitoshi Shinjuku by Hideyuki Kikuchi

Japan Home Video (JHV), Video Art Co., Madhouse, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Men anger the gods with their pride, and in order to punish them, the gods looked on as Pandora opened her box letting chaos loose. And now here in Monster City, mythology will become reality. ” – Mephisto

I never knew that this was done by the same director that did Wicked City and Ninja Scroll. I guess I should have figured that out due to a similar visual style, especially in regards to the visual effects and flair.

The first time that I saw this was on the Sci-Fi Channel, late at night, in the late ’90s. Seeing it for the first time, I was immediately sucked in by the opening scene, which still, all these years later, looks so absolutely fucking pristine and perfect that it still gives me chills.

Sadly, the movie itself is far from perfect as a total body of work but the strengths far outweigh the negatives and its those strengths that bring me back to this movie every couple of years.

The story isn’t great and the character development is weak but this is such a cool looking anime that it’s hard to turn away.

love the art, the tone, the style and how it all creates a dreary and mystical atmosphere.

I guess my biggest gripe about the film is that the English voice acting isn’t good. While it’s not terrible, it lacks emotion and the characters’ accents are strange. I guess the girl is British aristocracy and the little roller skate dude is Mexican? I would assume that all the characters are Japanese but the voice acting really throws you off.

The real highpoint outside of style, is the action sequences. They are all well done, fluid and exciting. But with that, everything else that happens is sort of boring. There’s a lot of walking and talking and most of it seems like a waste of time, as you’re just waiting for more action or some other creepy demonic encounter.

Demon City Shinjuku has a lot going right for it though. It certainly needed to be fine tuned more and I guess I can blame the poor voice acting on the fact that English audiences hadn’t fully embraced anime when this came out. But, as I said, the positives keep this above water and it’s just a cool flick.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Wicked City, Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll.

Film Review: Action Jackson (1988)

Release Date: February 12th, 1988
Directed by: Craig R. Baxley
Written by: Robert Reneau
Music by: Herbie Hancock, Michael Kamen
Cast: Carl Weathers, Craig T. Nelson, Vanity, Sharon Stone, Thomas F. Wilson, Robert Davi, Bill Duke, Jack Thibeau, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams, De’Voreaux White, Miguel Nunez, Al Leong, Sonny Landham, Mary Ellen Trainor

Lorimar Film Entertainment, Silver Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“[turning a flamethrower on a bad guy] How do you like your ribs?” – Action Jackson

This was a film that was supposed to be the first in a franchise. That never happened and that could be due to the film being critically panned and for it being absolutely ridiculous and the type of cheese that induces a wee bit of cringe. But I still dig the hell out of Carl Weathers in this and it was cool seeing him step out from behind more famous action stars Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But this also was born from Weathers’ involvement in the Schwarzenegger starring Predator, as he and producer Joel Silver loved blaxploitation flicks. Silver told Weathers to come up with something and its that idea that became the basis for this film.

The plot is pretty simple, Jericho “Action” Jackson is a no nonsense cop that loves the ladies and hates yuppie scum that kills and destroys for their own selfish, greedy means. In this film, the scum is played by Coach star Craig T. Nelson. And we even get to see Coach do some kung fu trickery.

Similar to a Bond film and other films with macho gun wielding heroes, there are two hot chicks. In this we get a very young Sharon Stone, just before she reached superstardom, as well as Vanity, who was super popular at the time due to her relationship with Prince. We also get boobage from both, which from my perspective, is a strong plus.

But this film is also like a who’s who of cool character actors from the era. We get Bill Duke, De’Voreaux White, Miguel Nunez, Robert Davi, Thomas F. Wilson, Sonny Landham, Chino “Fats” Williams and ’80s action star/stuntman Al Leong.

Add in a sweet score by Herbie Hancock and you’ve just got a cool motion picture.

Overall, this is an action heavy film but it was the ’80s and all we really wanted back then was good, high octane, power fantasy escapism. You know, back in the day before that stuff was frowned upon and deemed as toxic masculinity, politically incorrect and insensitive. You know, back when people were happier and most of us got along regardless of political or social affiliation.

I really do enjoy the action in this and while it can be an ’80s cheeseball extravaganza in parts, who really gives a shit? Action Jackson actually drives a Ferrari-like supercar into Coach’s mansion, up the stairs and then smashes it through his bedroom door for the big final fight. Is that dumb? Of course it is! But that’s the appeal, people!

I can’t say that this has aged well but it might not have aged well in its current year. It’s noticeably more corny than similar films but I do like the humor, its lightheartedness and its insanity.

Action Jackson isn’t an ’80s action magnum opus by any means but it was a pretty enthralling and amusing flick with Carl Weathers being a badass, Craig T. Nelson being an evil shithead and lots of other actors that were at the height of cool at the time.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Cobra, Lethal Weapon, The Last Dragon, Showdown In Little Tokyo, Firewalker and Hurricane Smith.

Film Review: Akira (1988)

Release Date: July 16th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Katsuhiro Otomo
Written by: Katsuhiro Otomo, Izo Hashimoto
Based on: Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
Music by: Shoji Yamashiro

Akira Committee Company Ltd., Akira Studio, TMS Entertainment, Toho Co. Ltd., 124 Minutes

Review:

“Look at what they abandoned in their panic, they were afraid! They were too scared, so they hid it away from the public. They forgot all shame and honor, cast off the civilization and science we had created, and shut the lid of the Pandora’s Box they themselves had opened.” – Colonel Shikishima

This wasn’t the first Japanese animated film that I saw but it was the first one to have a lasting impact on me. In fact, this is the one anime film that I have seen more than any of the others, as it is damn near perfect and the older it gets, the better it ages. Plus, it really got me into what was then called “Japanimation” before Americans started properly calling it anime.

Akira really opened the floodgates for me. Even though I was already a fan of Robotech, Voltron and Star Blazers, I didn’t really know that they were Japanese properties retrofitted for American kids. But after seeing Akira, I started renting or buying almost every anime I could find. Many were bad but many were also good. It was a rabbit hole I really enjoyed going down, especially from the early to mid-’90s.

But what makes this film the best of the lot, at least from its era, is that it has a solid story, truly embraces the cyberpunk aesthetic and was just too damn cool to turn away from.

Now I might not of understood the film as a kid but I didn’t care. In my mind, this was the best animation I had ever seen and it made the American cartoons I enjoyed look drab by comparison. Also, being that it was animated, I could watch it without my parents suspecting that it might not just be some regular Saturday morning action cartoon. And that was cool because this was so adult and I hadn’t experienced that in anything animated up until this point.

Through adult eyes, I still can’t turn away. This picture is absolutely beautiful and Katsuhiro Otomo did a stupendous job in adapting his stellar manga into an animated movie. Granted, I wish that he would’ve gone on to continue to adapt the manga series, as this film doesn’t give you the rest of the lengthy story.

But as a standalone film and a self contained story, this works well, even if it opens a Pandora’s box by the end and leaves you with a lot of questions as to what the future holds for those living in this world.

It’s also a film that is good in both the subtitled and dubbed versions. While I typically prefer subs, the English language dub is better than most.

But the sound and the music really take this picture to another level. Sound was used to great effect through simple effects and audio cues that still sound cool and otherworldly regardless of how many times I’ve watched this film.

If someone where to ask which single anime is the best to show people to see if they’re into the style, Akira would be my answer. But I’m also a fan of cyberpunk sci-fi, neo-noir and youth gang movies.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the Akira manga series, as well as Katsuhiro Otomo’s other manga series. Additionally, Ghost In the Shell.