Film Review: Black Rain (1989)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Craig Bolotin, Warren Lewis
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw, Luis Guzman, Stephen Root, Richard Riehle

Paramount Pictures, Jaffe-Lansing, Pegasus Film Partners, 125 Minutes

Review:

“I usually get kissed before I get fucked.” – Nick Conklin

Ridley Scott has done some great films. While Black Rain isn’t often times in the discussion of Scott’s best works, it is one of his best looking motion pictures.

Being that this is pretty much neo-noir, it shares a lot of the same visual style as Blade Runner. However, instead of seeing a futuristic Los Angeles on the screen, we are given modern day Osaka. Or what was modern day in 1989.

Sure, this doesn’t have Replicants and flying cars but it does show us how late ’80s metropolitan Japan wasn’t too far off from Scott’s vision of the future.

The story follows two cops played by Michael Douglas, in maybe his coolest role, and Andy Garcia. They witness a Yakuza hit in New York City, capture the criminal and then have to escort him to Japan, where he escapes and they then have to work with the Osaka police in an effort to catch him and bring him back in.

What the cops soon find out, once their stay in Japan is extended, is that the Yakuza guy they caught is in a massive gang war. Now these two find themselves in the middle of it all while the local Osaka police are slow to act due to their hands being tied by their strict laws.

This is also like two buddy cop films in one, as Douglas’ Nick Conklin works with his New York partner for the first half and then has to work with his assigned Japanese partner for the remainder of the film. But unlike your typical buddy cop formula, we’ve got two guys from very different cultures, clashing but ultimately finding respect for one another. It’s kind of like what we would get with the Rush Hour movies nine years later and with less comedy and more testosterone.

The thing that I really like about this flick is not only the clash of cultural styles but the mixing of genres. You’ve basically got a neo-noir Yakuza biker movie. It also has a pretty hard edge to it and is unapologetic about its violence and what modern critics would deem “toxic masculinity”.

Black Rain is a cool fucking movie, hands down. While it is sort of a Yakuza movie seen through Western eyes and made for that audience, it really isn’t too dissimilar from the best films that genre has to offer. Ridley Scott doesn’t specifically try to replicate Japanese gangster cinema, so much as he just tries to make a film within his own style that just happens to take place primarily in Osaka. And frankly, it all seems to fit pretty well together.

Unfortunately, Scott had issues filming in Japan due to the budget. He actually had to shoot the big finale back in California. I really would have loved to have seen a sequel but I’m assuming that Nick Conklin only got one outing because of the financial strain of going back to Japan for another movie.

Then again, Scott didn’t really have much interest in sequels to his films until more recently. So maybe we can get Black Rain 2? Assuming Michael Douglas can still go at 75 years-old. But hey, Sylvester Stallone is bringing Marion Cobretti back, so why not?

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Blade Runner, Someone to Watch Over Me, Rising Sun and ’80s neo-noir.

Film Review: The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 12th, 1989
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Cuthbert, Grant Morris
Based on: Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Dick Durock, Monique Gabrielle

Lightyear Entertainment, Batfilm Productions, Millimeter Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Immortality? Yuck! What did you do, sell your soul to the devil?” – Abby Arcane, “More like a lease with an option to buy.” – Dr. Anton Arcane

A friend of mine thought I was harsh on the first Swamp Thing and its director, Wes Craven. But my opinions are my opinions. He was also confused as to why I remembered this one more fondly.

Well, having now seen it again, the first time in about three decades, I still have the same opinion. While this is far from a classic and a pretty mediocre comic book adaptation, it’s still a fun, stupid, popcorn movie.

What makes this one work better for me, which seems to be why others dislike it, is the added comedy element. It’s not trying to take itself too seriously. This film is pretty self-aware, so it hams it up.

I think that the first one was made in an effort to be taken seriously. Craven has only successfully achieved that with the first A Nightmare On Elm Street, his reinvention New Nightmare and his voodoo thriller, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Jim Wynorski, this film’s director, seems like the just wanted to have a good time making something somewhat lighthearted and goofy in a charming way. The scenes with the kids in this movie are hysterical and they’re more brilliant than anything in the first flick.

I also like that this is Dick Durock’s second time playing the title character and he seems a lot more comfortable and is allowed to let his personality come through. I also liked the return of Louis Jourdan’s Dr. Anton Arcane, even though he got killed in the first picture. This is a wacky, over the top, sci-fi movie… so why couldn’t he come back?

The supporting cast was also decent. Sure, the acting here shouldn’t be used as an example for students in drama class but everyone in the movie looked like they were having a ball and there were three pretty enchanting women in this between Sarah Douglas, Monique Gabrielle and Heather Locklear, who was surprisingly the one I found least attractive. Sarah Douglas has had my heart since Superman II and Monique Gabrielle became the woman of my dreams once I saw her shooting a machine gun.

In conclusion, I guess I understand why most people like the original more but fuck it, this is a lot more fun, has extra babes, extra cheese, extra charm, better effects and two kid actors that should’ve got their own spinoff movie trying to photograph cryptids in the swamp.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Swamp Thing movie, as well as the TV show that came just after this film.

Film Review: C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud (1989)

Also known as: C.H.U.D. 2 (France)
Release Date: May 5th, 1989
Directed by: David K. Irving
Written by: M. Kane Jeeves
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Brian Robbins, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Bianca Jagger, Gerrit Graham, Bill Calvert, Robert Vaughn, Sandra Kerns, June Lockhart, Norman Fell, Priscilla Pointer, Clive Revill, Robert Englund (uncredited cameo)

Lightning Pictures, Vestron Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Meet Bud, party animal of the living dead.” – tagline

Where C.H.U.D. is more of a serious horror film, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud is a straight up teen comedy that doesn’t have much of a connection to its predecessor.

While most people seem to have a severe dislike of C.H.U.D. II, I find it to be the superior film. The reason being is that it is a funny, stupid movie and the original “serious” picture is mostly a boring dud that only excels when the actual C.H.U.D. is onscreen.

In this film, the C.H.U.D.s are just standard zombies. And since the main zombie is Gerrit Graham, this film gets an extra edge it wouldn’t have otherwise had.

But this isn’t completely carried by the great Graham, you’ve also got Robert Vaughn in one of his most hilarious and badass roles of all-time. He’s a military general here and he just goes around blowing shit up. At one point, he fires a f’n bazooka into a diner full of zombies and it creates a massive explosion. The dude just doesn’t give a shit in this flick and it’s fantastic to watch him ham it up and blow shit up.

This also features Brian Robbins of Head of the Class fame. I always liked him as a kid, as he was a cool, smarmy fuck that had quick comebacks and charisma.

C.H.U.D. II is also full of cameos by people as diverse as June Lockhart, Norman Fell and Robert Englund.

While the comedy here is cheesy and may feel very dated, it’s standard, low brow ’80s fare and for fans of the decade, it works.

I also like how creative the ending was. This kills off the zombie horde in a pretty imaginative way, even if it is over the top and completely implausible. Plus, that moment where Bud the C.H.U.D. rips out his own heart to give it to the girl he loves is pretty awesome and quite romantic.

A lot of people see this movie as a joke when compared to the original film but that’s the point. It’s supposed to be a joke and frankly, it’s a joke that works well and thus, this film accomplishes what it set out to do.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other horror comedies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Also known as: Grounded, Teenie Weenies, The Big Backyard (working titles)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1989
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Ed Naha, Tom Schulman, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, Kristine Sutherland, Thomas Wilson Brown, Jared Rushton, Amy O’Neill, Robert Oliveri, Mark L. Taylor, Kimmy Robertson, Frank Welker (voice)

Walt Disney Pictures, Silver Screen Partners III, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Nick, I’ve got six hours to get home, get big and get to the mall. Now get moving.” – Amy Szalinski

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that one of the writers of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is Brian Yuzna, the guy behind Re-Animator and its sequels, as well as From Beyond and Society. In fact, this film came out in the same year as the over the top and insane Society. Talk about two extremes.

Anyway, this family classic was one of many reasons as to why the summer of ’89 is probably the best summer for movies of all-time. I loved this as a kid and it has held up pretty well.

Some of the effects look a bit dated, as this came out just before the CGI boom that came with Jurassic Park in 1993, but the use of green screen and stop motion effects pretty much comes off without a hitch and these special effects are top of the line for 1989. Disney crafted an incredible world for this movie and all the physical sets still look fabulous by 2019 standards.

The movie is also kind of timeless and the humor still works. This isn’t a film that’s chock full of ’80s cliches. Okay, maybe the clothes the kids wear are very ’80s but this is written in a way that the jokes and humor aren’t as dated as other films from the time.

Additionally, all the kid actors are pretty solid, as are the parents. The parents of course get top billing in this movie but the bulk of the film is focused on the children and their adventure, trying to get home from the other side of their backyard. Of course there are several challenges that stand in the kids way, which just makes this adventure a lot of fun and actually provides a good amount of real tension.

Rick Moranis is as good as he always is but the real scene stealer was Matt Frewer, who owned the character of Russ Sr. Frewer can do drama and comedy well but here he was so committed to the bit that he was the biggest bright spot in the film.

I’m glad that I revisited this and I’ve just realized that it’s approaching its thirtieth anniversary. Man, I can’t believe it’s been that long since the epic summer of ’89.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the sequels but each one gets worse and worse, as well as other late ’80s family sci-fi movies like *batteries not included and Cocoon.

Film Review: Society (1989)

Also known as: The Shunting (original script title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Woody Keith, Rick Fry
Music by: Mark Ryder, Phil Davies
Cast: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards, Ben Meyerson

Wild Street Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Is it really that boring being rich? I guess you’re just naturally fucked up.” – Sergeant Burt

Do you like feeling disgusted? Do you like being uncomfortable? Do you sometimes wish that you could replace your butthole with your face? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, you’ll probably really dig Brian Yuzna’s Society.

In the same vein as Yuzna’s other body horror films, this one really pushes some boundaries but it does so with the element of sex thrown in. For many, this will be a challenging film to sit through. For fans of Yuzna’s other pictures, this is just a quaint Saturday afternoon with a bucket of popcorn in your lap.

The film is made as a sort of critique on high society, specifically the super rich and their super rich culture, detached from the reality that 99 percent of the people on Earth live. It follows a high school kid from a super rich family with super rich friends and all the baggage that comes with that stuff. Add in that this also comes with a hearty helping of ’80s Hollywood teen yuppie shenanigans and the setup to this picture isn’t too dissimilar from the standard ’80s teen comedy.

However, as the film rolls on, really weird things happen. I don’t want to spoil any plot details but this ends with a pretty insane finale that features the most bizarre orgy you will probably ever see. In fact, if you’ve seen an orgy more bizarre than this, no one needs to know about it.

For ’80s horror fans that love practical effects, this film is absolutely fucking impressive. Yuzna takes his horror effects experience from Re-Animator and From Beyond and then sexualizes it. But he doesn’t just sexualize it, he ups the ante in unfathomable ways, which have to be seen to be believed.

Now I’m not trying to over hype the insanity but I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of horror movies and there is nothing quite like this.

But with all that being said, there isn’t much more to this film than it’s incredibly disturbing payoff. It builds suspense fairly decently but the film feels dragged out in parts. Maybe it works better if you don’t have an idea of what’s coming. But if you’re aware of what the story leads to, which will be ruined by the trailer or anyone talking about this film, then you kind of just want the movie to hurry up and get to the craziness.

I do like Society and its special effects are superb but it’s not in the top tier of Yuzna’s work. While it may be more shocking, which I know is saying a lot, it just lacks the story and the likable characters of his other films.

Lastly, how the fuck did this come out at Cannes?!

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Brian Yuzna films: Re-Animator and its sequels, From BeyondReturn of the Living Dead IIIDagon, etc.

Film Review: Pet Sematary (1989)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (full title)
Release Date: April 21st, 1989
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Michael Lombard, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Stephen King (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes, dead is better.” – Jud Crandall

With a Pet Sematary remake just a few months away, I wanted to revisit the original 1989 film, as it has been a really long time since I’ve sat down and watched it.

I wasn’t a big fan of it, back in the day, but I did remember that it was legitimately eerie. I wanted to see how it aged and if maybe I missed something when I was younger.

One thing that this movie does really well is suspense. It has a very slow build and it takes time to get to the good stuff but there really isn’t a wasted moment in the movie and it wasn’t too slow or boring. It just crawled forward, scratching away at the surface as it crept closer and closer.

The payoff isn’t fantastic but it isn’t bad either. I’d say that this hasn’t aged well. Even though Miko Hughes made a great creepy kid, the way that his more vicious attacks are shot and edited is pretty shoddy. The moment where he lunges out of the hole in the attic onto his father is pretty cringe even for 1989 standards. I always liked Miko Hughes though and he would go on to be in a lot of stuff in the early ’90s. He was damn good on Full House and he was a pretty capable child actor in things like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

The big positive of the film is Fred Gwynne, most famous for playing Herman Munster. It’s hard to really peg him and who he is but the film slowly reveals more and more about his past and what he knows about the strange proceedings. Seeing him die in a horrific way was pretty effective, as you do feel pretty bad for the guy.

I also liked that Denise Crosby was in this just coming off of her short stint as Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I haven’t seen her in much outside of Star Trek related stuff but she did a good job here, as she tried to transition into film from television.

Overall, this isn’t a bad film. I enjoyed coming back to it all these years later and I certainly have more of an appreciation for it now but it isn’t in the top tier of Stephen King adaptations for me.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage), Mary Ellen Trainor (uncredited)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.