Film Review: Death Spa (1989)

Also known as: Witch Bitch (alternate title)
Release Date: December 1st, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Michael Fischa
Written by: James Bartruff, Mitch Paradise
Music by: Peter D. Kaye
Cast: William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Merritt Butrick, Robert Lipton, Karyn Parsons, Ken Foree

Maljack Productions, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

Death Spa is a film that feels like it was made five years earlier than it actually was. It feels like something from 1984 and not 1989. I know that’s not a big passage of time and the ’80s are the ’80s but it had a sort of mid-’80s pizzazz to it, which was working its way out of cheap horror films by the time this came out and really, it didn’t hit the U.S. market until 1990.

It also feels like it was made by an Italian director on the cheap. It has the same sort of visual vibe as something by Lamberto Bava. It reminds me of his first two Demons movies in its aesthetic, even though it isn’t as gross as those films. This still has some killer gross out moments though, just nothing as utterly insane as Bava’s Demons pictures.

This is also notable for being the final film of Merritt Butrick, who most people will remember as Capt. Kirk’s son David from Star Trek‘s II and III. Weirdly, he is also named David in this. Additionally, this picture has a very small role for Karyn Parsons, who would be best known as Hillary Banks on the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and as Kid’s girlfriend in Class Act. We also get to see Ken Foree strut his stuff but this is no Dawn of the Dead.

Death Spa isn’t a classic, by any means, but it is strange and bizarre. It has a sort of endearing quality because of its uniqueness.

The threat in the film is this health spa that is haunted by what seems like ghosts living in the club’s high tech system. But then we learn about this dead sister character and she has some sort of witchy powers. I don’t know, it’s a mess and kind of confusing but I don’t watch pictures like this for any sort of coherent anything. Death Spa is really just a total mind fuck.

There are good gory bits like a chick being melted by some sort of acid stuff and a guy whose stomach area starts spraying blood because a workout machine crushes his arms or something. The physics and general anatomy rules that apply in the real world just don’t apply here. It’s very apparent that the filmmakers slept through school, probably flunked out and stole a camera and the keys to a gym to make this picture. The cast was probably just paid in cheap beer and Quaaludes.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Killer WorkoutChopping Mall and Hide and Go Shriek.

Film Review: Kickboxer (1989)

Also known as: Karate Tiger 3 – Der Kickboxer (Germany)
Release Date: April 20th, 1989 (West Germany)
Directed by: Mark DiSalle, David Worth
Written by: Glenn A. Bruce, Mark DiSalle, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Music by: Paul Hertzog, Stan Bush
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Michel Qissi

Kings Road Entertainment, Cannon Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“[to Kurt during final fight] You bleed like Mylee. Mylee… good fuck!” – Tong Po

Way back in 1989, it was Kickboxer that turned me into a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan. I loved Bloodsport too but that’s just about all I had to go on. This film proved that Van Damme wasn’t a one-off success and had something that gave him an edge over the other martial arts action stars at the time.

Kickboxer follows two brothers. One is an American kickboxing champion, the other is essentially his water boy. When the champion gets paralyzed in a fight with the sadistic and evil Thai champion, Tong Po, the younger brother, Kurt, swears revenge. Kurt seeks out a Muay Thai master to teach him the art. In what seems like two weeks, he is suddenly a master himself and he crushes some chump in the local arena and calls out Tong Po.

What I remembered most about this film from my youth was that Tong Po was legitimately a scary ass MFer. I remember the rumor that floated around with middle school aged males that Tong Po was real. It didn’t matter that an actor was listed as playing him, every eleven to thirteen year-old boy was convinced that this guy existed as he did on screen, that’s how convincing he was.

Another thing that I remembered were the sweet training montages. It feels like half of this movie is training montages accented by Stan Bush songs. When I was young, like every boy, I wanted to be as badass as Van Damme. It was never about seeing what you could do in a real fight because let’s face it, no one wants to actually get kicked in the face, it was about whether or not you could train your body to emulate what Van Damme did in his training montages. Because if you could do a split or drop coconuts on your abs or kick up straight in the air at 180 degrees without tearing your groin or falling over, you were pretty sure you could conquer some 8th grade bully.

I know I am going on some tangents here but I think it is important to understand the context of what early Van Damme films were to a culture of prepubescent boys that rented these movies weekly circa 1990 or so.

Kickboxer is one of the absolute best things Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever done. It isn’t an acting clinic by any means but its masculine and goofy spirit is something special. It hasn’t particularly aged well but it is still a really fun film to revisit and it is better than most films like it. Hell, I’d take any Van Damme picture over a Steven Seagal movie. Seagal is the guy our out of shape dads watched and lived vicariously through. Van Damme was the guy we lived through because he had an amazing physique and could do some impressive, athletic shit. We didn’t care that he was into ballet before fighting. It kind of made him even more badass, actually.

This, along with Bloodsport, spoke to a generation of boys needing an icon. Sure, we had Schwarzenegger and Stallone but those guys couldn’t do martial arts for shit and Van Damme came on the scene when martial arts films were dominating the action genre, at least at video stores. The early to mid-’80s gave us stellar ninja movies and after that we got Van Damme, who was like a ninja that finally took his mask off and said, “Let’s do this!” before kicking some douchebag in the teeth.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other early Van Damme films: BloodsportLionheartDouble Impact, etc.

TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – The DiC Era (1989-1992)

Release Date: September 2nd, 1989 – January 20th, 1992
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Stephen James Taylor
Cast (voices): Kevin Conway, Chris Latta, Sgt. Slaughter, Ed Gilbert, Maurice LaMarche, Morgan Lofting, Dale Wilson, Scott McNeil, Garry Chalk, Ted Harrison

DiC Entertainment, Hasbro, Claster Television, 44 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“What am I paying you for, anyhow?” – Cobra Commander, “You’re not paying me! I haven’t seen a dime from you in months!” – Destro, “…Minor detail.” – Cobra Commander

I recently reviewed the feature length miniseries that kicked off this era. I didn’t think that G.I. Joe could sink to lower depths than Operation Dragonfire but this series that followed proved me wrong.

Sure, I had seen these episodes before but not since I was in middle school when I didn’t have a refined palate.

The DiC era of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is an example of what can happen when you take something perfect and try to replicate it with less money and shoddy resources. It’s not even like a Chinese knockoff it’s more like a North Korean knockoff. And for some reason, even though “American” is still int he show’s title, G.I. Joe are now presented as “international heroes”. So are they a U.N. thing? Or is that because the United States has a base in nearly every country anyway and this cartoon was pointing that out in a tongue and cheek sort of way? I doubt that it is the latter, as the people behind this show don’t seem smart enough to know how to flush a toilet let alone create some sort of clever, subtle and sarcastic “fuck you” to U.S. foreign policy and the military.

Well, this is an inadvertent “fuck you” to the military regardless, as it takes once heroic and badass soldiers that defended Old Glory and turns them into the Three Stooges with laser rifles. I have never seen dumber characters fighting for freedom than the ones represented here. And really, it’s a big “fuck you” to all the fans that loved G.I. Joe because the quality of the stuff before this (excluding The Movie) was friggin’ solid.

The biggest complaints I have about this era of G.I. Joe are the same as those I discussed in my Operation Dragonfire review. But to summarize, the character designs are ugly, the dialogue is atrocious, the animation looks like shit and the writing is painful and baffling.

Granted, Hasbro is probably to blame for the character designs but this show does nothing to make them better and in fact, it enhances the vibrant colors and goofy flourishes.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was once my favorite thing on television. Then DiC Entertainment came along and took a giant f’n shit on it.

And my god, man… that theme song they did is enough to make your eyeballs melt and your ears explode.

I must run this turd pile through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: Nothing good.

 

Film Review: G.I. Joe: Operation Dragonfire (1989)

Release Date: September 2nd, 1989 – September 6th, 1989 (first run syndication, 5 parts)
Directed by: Michael Maliani
Written by: Doug Booth
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Rob Walsh
Cast (voices): Sgt. Slaughter, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Michael Benyaer, Jim Byrnes, Kevin Conway, Ian James Corlett, Lisa Corps, Lee Jeffrey, Maurice LaMarche, Dale Wilson

DiC Entertainment, Hasbro, Claster Television, 5 Episodes (first run syndication), 22 Minutes (per episode), 102 Minutes (movie cut)

Review:

If G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero jumped the shark with G.I. Joe: The Movie, than this is where they decided to just jump right into the shark’s mouth wearing a suit made out of chum and a sign around the neck that read, “I’m your tasty lunch, Mr. Shark Dude!”.

DiC Entertainment took over animation duties from Marvel/Sunbow. Apparently, Hasbro couldn’t reject their offer to take over the show, as they promised to do it for much cheaper than what Marvel/Sunbow could offer.

Well, I once bought a generic knockoff G.I. Joe in a baggy from a one dollar bin at Rite Aid when I was an idiot seven year-old. I discovered that the figure didn’t even come with accessories or elbows that bent. The thing is, you get what you pay for and what the fans got was the cartoon version of cheap Chinese G.I. Joe ripoffs. This era of G.I. Joe was to the first two seasons what Gobots were to The Transformers.

So what’s wrong with it? Well, just about everything.

The animation is terrible and I mean, super f’n terrible. It’s so bad when compared to the first two seasons of G.I. Joe that it almost gives you a headache. Plus, the character designs are appalling. Granted, this could be due to Hasbro reworking the action figures for their 1989 line but the colors of the uniforms were ugly and the new look compared to the classic characters was unnecessary and a total waste of resources. Hasbro could have created more new characters or altered existing figures colors in a way that wasn’t so vibrant, gaudy and goofy.

Operation Dragonfire was the five episode miniseries created to kickoff this awful era. It was done in the same vein as the original G.I. Joe: An American Hero miniseries, The Revenge of CobraThe Pyramid of Darkness and Arise, Serpentor Arise! And while it’s said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, imitation without soul is pretty much just dickish thievery.

At least this story tried to fix some of the problems with G.I. Joe: The Movie by wiping the slate clean, doing away with Serpentor (who should have been dead, actually) and reestablishing Cobra Commander as the leader of Cobra. And at least it had Copperhead in it, a favorite Cobra character of mine, and it gave us Python Force, one of my favorite things to come out of the toy line. However, the story used to establish Python Patrol was so stupid and asinine that it made me kind of hate those toys now.

Operation Dragonfire is, without a doubt, the worst of the feature length G.I. Joe stories. It’s dreadful and sitting through it in one sitting was a tremendous feat. I should be given a damn medal.

As horrible as this piece of shit is, I must run it through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Nothing good.

Film Review: Licence to Kill (1989)

Release Date: June 13th, 1989 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Wayne Newton, Benicio del Toro, Anthony Starke, Priscilla Barnes, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Señor Bond, you got big cojones. You come here, to my place, without references, carrying a piece, throwing around a lot of money… but you should know something: nobody saw you come in, so nobody has to see you go out.” – Franz Sanchez

Timothy Dalton was my favorite James Bond. I know that makes me strange and weird but he was the first Bond on the big screen for me and his movies had a bit more gravitas than those cheesy Roger Moore outings. They also had more gravitas than those later Brosnan films because those went back towards the route of cheese and eventually killed the franchise until Daniel Craig came along and stopped smiling.

Licence to Kill is a very divisive Bond film but then Dalton is a very divisive Bond. The film takes a turn for realism nearly two decades before the Daniel Craig starring Casino Royale. In 1989, that rubbed most people the wrong way. This was the first Bond film to get a PG-13 rating due to that realness and its use of violence. Some people also felt that the more violent bits were too much but I felt that it reflected a Bond franchise that was about to enter the ’90s.

The film boasts some solid action sequences. All the Key West stuff was fantastically shot and looks great by modern standards. The Mexico material also looks incredible, especially the Olympatec Meditation Institute scenes, which were filmed at the Centro Cultural Otomi. The cinematography was pretty standard but the locations didn’t need much razzle dazzle. They really only needed explosions, which there were plenty of.

Robert Davi plays the villain and I can’t think of another actor that could have played the role as well as he did. He had the right look, the right level of intensity and had a predatory presence like a reptile. His top henchman was played by Benicio del Toro in only his second film role.

We also get to see Wayne Newton in a role greater than just a cameo and honestly, I love Newton in this. The film also boasts a collection of other talented actors in supporting roles: Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Anthony Zerbe, Anthony Starke and Priscilla Barnes.

I thought that the Bond Girls were a mixed bag in this film. Carey Lowell was pretty badass and held her own. I liked her a lot and think that she doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great Bond Girls. She certainly had more to offer than the standard “damsels in distress” of the classic Bond pictures. Talisa Soto, however, was more like a useless damsel but to the nth degree. I thought Soto was fine with the material she was given but she didn’t serve much purpose other than being a pretty gold digger that probably deserved to be in a drug kingpin’s web. I don’t think that she was a character that anyone could relate to and really, wouldn’t care about because she’s a greedy woman that lays around all day.

The thing is, I love Timothy Dalton’s Bond. This is the better of his two pictures but sadly, we wouldn’t get anymore with him. Not because no one else liked him but because the James Bond franchise went into a state of limbo for six years, as the rights to the material were being battled over in court. By the time things were settled and GoldenEye was slated for a 1995 release date, Dalton decided to step away.

Licence to Kill is rarely on people’s lips when naming favorite Bond movies. But when someone else mentions it, it usually comes with a fist bump and a stoic, confident nod of admiration because I know that I just met someone with real taste.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The only other Timothy Dalton James Bond movie, The Living Daylights.

Film Review: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Release Date: June 9th, 1989
Directed by: William Shatner
Written by: William Shatner, Harve Bennett, David Loughery
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Laurence Luckinbill, David Warner

Paramount Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Damn it, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” – Captain James T. Kirk

There’s no bones about it (pun intended), Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the worst Star Trek film featuring the original crew. I could argue that maybe Generations and Insurrection are worse but this is probably the worst film in the entire franchise. I actually liked Nemesis but I’ll get to the reasons why when I eventually review that one.

The problems with this film are immediately noticeable when it starts with a cold opening like its some procedural cop show on television. We also get an opening on a dusty, sand planet where things are visually obscured. It looks like one of a billion Mad Max ripoffs and a film with little to no budget. Well, the budget on this chapter was incredibly tight and caused some problems. In fact, William Shatner, who directed this chapter, claims that the film was to have a much larger, interesting and impressive ending but his hands were tied by the producers. In reality, this film was so bad and the producers dropped the ball that the franchise almost didn’t recover. Had Star Trek: The Next Generation not have been a hit, two years earlier, this film could have been Star Trek‘s swan song.

With all of its problems, do I dislike this film? Well, not really. In fact, it is still enjoyable and has some positives that I feel, outweigh the myriad of negatives.

For one, I’m huge on camaraderie in an ensemble cast and especially with crew members of Star Trek, regardless of movie, show, crew, actors, etc. The Final Frontier has some of the best scenes in the entire franchise in regards to camaraderie. All the stuff with Kirk, Spock and McCoy is absolute perfection and something that was the culmination of working so closely together for over two decades by the time this was made. I love the camping scenes but all their stuff working together on the ship to stop a mutiny was really good too.

The villain, Sybok, was a fresh and new antagonist for the crew to face. He was a Vulcan for one and he was also Spock’s half-brother. Sybok was on a spiritual pilgrimage to the center of the galaxy to find God. In order to do so, he had to create a scheme where he would be able to lure in a spaceship to his remote area of the galaxy. Once he acquired a ship, he could make his pilgrimage to God, “The Final Frontier”.

I thought Laurence Luckinbill was exceptional and very likable as Sybok. He had an interesting backstory that wasn’t explored nearly enough and ultimately, he wasn’t a bad guy and redeemed himself after realizing his foolishness. I really wish we would have gotten to see more of the Sybok character and that he wasn’t just a one off creation for this bad chapter in Trek history. Maybe there was a book on his character that I can read, as I read a lot of Star Trek books back in my preteen years. I never saw a Sybok book on the shelves though.

One cool thing about this movie, is that every crew member gets a moment. Scotty executes a sweet jail break, Uhura gets to perform a sexy dance and lure enemies into a trap, Chekov gets to play captain and trick the villain and Sulu gets to attempt a daring manual landing of the shuttle into the shuttle bay at blazing speed.

When it comes to the mountain of negatives, the most glaring is the budgetary constraints. The Enterprise hallways are very obviously the same sets used on The Next Generation. Also, the effects are pretty bad. God, for instance, looks like some hokey Doctor Who entity that Tom Baker’s Doctor would have sonic screwdrived into some electric prison. And no offense to classic Doctor Who, I loved the show’s effects in the context of what it was but The Final Frontier is a summer blockbuster that needed to compete with BatmanGhostbusters II and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

The fight choreography was also really bad but that probably falls on Shatner, who had Kirk duke it out more than he needed to and most of his “killer moves” are pretty ineffective blows in the real world. I’ve never seen a hulking thug get taken out with a hip toss or a standard neck flip. For a guy that used to frequent the WWE, Shatner couldn’t at least give us some Sweet Chin Music or the Cobra Clutch?

Additionally, I love Klingons but the Klingons in this chapter were really weak. I think the problem wasn’t the actors, both looked the part, but Klaa and Vixis didn’t get any sort of character development and didn’t have much else to do than play caricatures of what we saw with Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge in Star Trek III.

Lastly, the story is pretty terrible. I guess it is an interesting concept but it creates more questions than it can answer and there are a lot of plot holes and illogical situations.

I don’t think that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the abomination that many people try to make it out to be. It is a story that would have worked much better as a television episode, especially after the epics that were the first four movies. Plus, coming off of the Genesis Trilogy (parts IIIII and IV) of films, anything following would have had its work cut out for it. Star Trek IV was a perfect movie and this coming right after it probably meant that it was doomed to fail in some regard. Luckily, we did get a Star Trek VI and that film was an incredible send off for the original crew.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other Star Trek films featuring the original cast but this will be the low point of any pairing.

Film Review: Batman (1989)

Release Date: June 19th, 1989 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Danny Elfman, Prince
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter

Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – The Joker

Sure, there are several movies that had a major impact on me, as a young kid. However, none of them, except maybe Star Wars, quite hit me like 1989’s Batman. This was the cinematic event of my childhood that probably shaped my life for quite some time and is responsible for me still being a massive Batman fan today.

After seeing this, I got into comic books a lot more, started drawing my own and even had a comic publishing company in middle school with some friends. And to this day, Batman is still my favorite hero and he also has the coolest villains, hands down.

I was so excited to see this, being that I was ten years-old. I bought the novelization when it went on sale and read it in a day. Then I read it a few more times before the film actually came out. Was I worried about spoilers? Nope. Seeing it come to life in the flesh was all I really cared about, even if I knew the story, inside and out.

All these years later, this is still my favorite Batman film and Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman. Adam West is a very close second though, as I discovered him and the ’60s show alongside this film.

As a ten year-old, I had never seen anything as perfect as this. When it came out on VHS, my cousins and I watched it three or four times in a row, until we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we probably watched it another half dozen times. This was the cherry on top of the summer of 1989, which is still one of the best summer movie seasons of all-time.

Watching it in 2018, I still absolutely love this film. Sure, I see some of the minor flaws it has, like a sometimes nonsensical plot and weird developments that don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this is a comic book come to life and for the time, it was some top quality stuff and it has aged really well.

The film sort of has a film-noir and a German Expressionist style. Gotham City looks timeless because of the film’s style and that style helps to keep this grounded in its own reality. While some things are over the top, it feels much more plausible than most of the comic book films today. Batman and the Joker could both exist in some way because no one here has super powers. This is really a crime thriller where the hero of the story just has a lot of money for cool gadgets and a sweet jet.

Over the years, some people have complained that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker is corny or just a retread of the ’60s Cesar Romero incarnation. I think Nicholson was fantastic and it is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, right alongside Jack Torrance (The Shiningand Jake Gittes (Chinatown and The Two Jakes). Maybe Nicholson didn’t look like the perfect comic book version of the character but he made up for it in his madness and his ability to come off as convincing, scary and cool.

Michael Keaton is my Batman simply because he was my first and well, he is the perfect balance of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne wasn’t the best but it was acceptable while his Batman was exceptional. In later years, we got Val Kilmer, who I thought was too dry, and George Clooney, who did a great Wayne but a not so good Batman. Christian Bale was grunty and just sort of there and Ben Affleck hasn’t really wowed me, although he hasn’t disappointed either.

1989’s Batman is still a perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. Within the context of what it is, a living comic book, there isn’t a whole lot that one could nitpick about. Then again, some writers and critics over the years have tried to call the film out for not being as good as it is remembered. But some people on the Internet survive by posting clickbait articles and whining. Some people just think they need to show how cool they are by trashing something they will never be as cool as.

While I would also go on to love the direct sequel to this, Batman Returns, this chapter in the Tim Burton Batman duology is the best. While I am a fan of directors being able to convey their vision and Burton had more control with the sequel, I like how this one turned out compared to its followup. It’s more of a studio movie, sure, but it has just enough of that Burton touch to make it fairly unique. Plus, the score by Danny Elfman mixed with the sweet tunes of Prince created one of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time.

Batman has a few problems but they pale in comparison to a lot of the blockbusters today. The film didn’t try to be too big, which is what every contemporary blockbuster does. It also has a dark edge to it, coming out of a decade where Reaganomics and new wave music had most people acting cheery and cheesy. This was a precursor to the edgier ’90s where darker indie films and grunge music became the pop culture of the time.