Film Review: Alienator (1990)

Also known as: Aliennators 2 (Japanese English title)
Release Date: February 8th, 1990
Directed by: Fred Olen Ray
Written by: Paul Garson
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Jan-Michael Vincent, John Phillip Law, Ross Hagen, Dyana Ortelli, Teagan, P. J. Soles, Leo Gordon, Robert Quarry, Joseph Pilato

Amazing Movies, American Independent Productions, Majestic International Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

I never knew of this movie’s existence and my life was probably better not knowing. I only discovered it, as it was part of a box-set I bought on the cheap just to get a different movie. I figured that I’d check out everything in the box-set, though, as I’ll review anything for this site, even the worst films ever made.

Well, at least this isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen but it’s definitely way down at the bottom of the barrel.

The story is about an alien that escapes a prison ship in space. He makes his way to Earth but is then pursued by a cyborg alien hunter. The space dude comes across a group of young people vacationing in the woods and we essentially get a sci-fi slasher movie where instead of knives and gardening tools, the killer has a laser cannon arm.

The special effects in this are beyond deplorable and the acting isn’t much better, even with known faces in this like John Phillip Law, Leo Gordon, Robert Quarry, Jan-Michael Vincent and P. J. Soles.

The cyborg outfit looks like a bad wrestling costume from a small independent promotion in the ’80s. A costume that would need to be mostly removed before the actual match because it’d be too dangerous to wear and too limiting for actual movement in the ring.

This is a really forgettable movie and my brain will probably expunge all knowledge of it after I publish this review. 

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other deplorable straight-to-video sci-fi action movies circa 1990.

Film Review: Pump Up the Volume (1990)

Release Date: August 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Allan Moyle
Written by: Allan Moyle
Music by: Cliff Martinez, various
Cast: Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Scott Paulin, Ellen Greene, Mimi Kennedy, Ahmet Zappa, Seth Green

SC Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?” – Mark

Yes, Mark… I do.

Although, it’s infinitely more fucked up than it was in 1990 and that year seems like a much, much better time to be alive than 2021. However, I get the sentiment now, as I did back then and a lot of what was wrong then, gave birth to the extreme bullshit we have to live with now.

Wow! Jesus! I went on a tangent there. Let me stick to reviewing the film and not go too deeply down the dark, hopeless 2020s rabbit hole.

Pump Up the Volume was a favorite film of mine for a few years after it came out. Granted, I had just entered middle school in 1990 and wasn’t quite the age of a high schooler when this came out but it did have a fairly profound influence on me, as did many other coming-of-age Generation-X flicks of the era.

In 1990, we were exiting the opulent “everything is fine” 1980s and entering into the peak Gen-X decade, which brought grunge and a cultural edginess to the table where PC culture was vehemently shunned by the youth, unlike the complete 180 we’ve got in the 2020s. But there I go again, trashing this dumb decade.

Anyway, Christian Slater’s Mark was kind of a stand-in for the average person in this movie’s audience. He was awkward, unsure about himself, had a hard time expressing his thoughts face-to-face but discovered his voice through his creativity and anonymity. And what he expressed was a lot of the thoughts and sentiments of his generation, going into a seemingly bleak and potentially pointless future where what’s been mapped out for you might not be what’s best for you.

Most importantly, the film shows that teen angst and the insecurity about moving into adulthood isn’t just a generational issue. But hey, at least back then, the kids questioned the state and mainstream society’s narratives and attempts at control.

All that being said, this might be a difficult movie for new and modern fans to connect with. I think it defines my generation pretty well for its time but some of the movie may be seen as too farfetched or cheesy through modern eyes. And honestly, some of Mark’s rants may seem childish and immature but that doesn’t mean that they’re not genuine and a reflection of what kids were thinking at the time.

Pump Up the Volume is a weird time capsule into the minds of Gen-Xers being pushed into adulthood by their Baby Boomer parents who grew up with very different priorities and values. This encapsulates that generational clash quite well and I say that as someone who lived through these things and had similar issues with parents and authority. Despite their best interests, I knew that what was best for them was not necessarily what was best for me.

I’ll probably always love this movie because of all the points I just outlined, even if, yes, it does come off as a bit cheesy and dated in many regards. Still, its heart and soul comes across as pure and Christian Slater absolutely gives one of his best performances.

Side note: I still adore the hell out of Samantha Mathis in this.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other more serious coming of age movies from the Gen-X era.

Film Review: Almost an Angel (1990)

Release Date: December 19th, 1990
Directed by: John Cornell
Written by: Paul Hogan
Music by: Maurice Jones
Cast: Paul Hogan, Elias Koteas, Linda Kozlowski, Doreen Lang, Douglas Seale, David Alan Grier, Larry Miller, Charlton Heston (cameo)

Ironbark Films, Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“From time to time, worthy people are chosen to be Angels of Mercy. But these are difficult times, Mr Dean. In this century you’re the first scumbag we’ve sent back.” – God

As enjoyable as Crocodile Dundee and Crocodile Dundee II were, Paul Hogan was never able to replicate that success in the United States again. Which kind of sucks, as I’ve always loved the guy and his sense of humor.

Like his Dundee movies, this one also featured his real life wife, Linda Kozlowski. Granted, they met on the set of the first Dundee movie and married after but she was always a presence in Hogan’s films, which I’m actually fine with, as she does a decent job onscreen and has solid chemistry with Hogan.

This movie also stars Elias Koteas, fresh off of his role as Casey Jones in the original live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In this, he plays a handicapped guy that Hogan’s Terry Dean befriends.

The plot sees master thief and cool gadget maker Terry Dean get released from prison. He immediately goes back to his criminal ways and robs banks dressed as Willie Nelson and Rod Stewart. However, after meeting God (played by Charlton Heston), he is made an angel in training. He has one last chance to do something right with his life and if he succeeds, he’ll be a full-fledged angel and earn his wings.

Sadly, most of the movie is kind of slow and boring. There are a few good, comedy sequences, like when Dean convinces drug dealers outside of a youth center that they pissed off the local mob or when he does his Rod Stewart and Willie Nelson schticks. However, most of the film is dry and you never really know what the point of anything is, other than Dean needs to become a legit angel for some reason that doesn’t even seem that important.

I like Paul Hogan and he’s a charming guy. That’s still apparent in this movie. However, this just doesn’t connect with the viewer in the same way that the first two Dundee movies did. And I guess that’s fine because those are classics to some degree and Hogan definitely left his mark.

I can imagine that Hogan didn’t want to just play Mick Dundee for the rest of his life and that’s understandable. I just don’t think that this film really maximized his talent and didn’t do him any favors in trying to transcend his greatest role.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the Crocodile Dundee movies.

Film Review: Home Alone (1990)

Release Date: November 10th, 1990 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: John Hughes 
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Roberts Blossom, Angela Goethals, Devin Ratray, Gerry Bamman, Hillary Wolf, John Candy, Larry Hankin, Kristin Minter, Kieran Culkin, Billie Bird, Bill Erwin

Hughes Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Down here you big horse’s ass, come and get me before I call the police.” – Kevin McCallister

I’m just going to come out and say it immediately, this is a perfect film: a true masterpiece.

I hadn’t seen this in-full in a few decades, actually, but I was quickly reminded as to why I loved this movie so much, as a middle school-aged kid back in 1990.

The film has that special John Hughes charm but it’s turned up to eleven. I think that had a lot to do with Chris Columbus’ direction and his ability to seemingly magnify Hughes’ effect into something magical, charming and so heartwarming that it’s impossible not to love.

The cast is perfect from top-to-bottom, which is difficult with big ensemble pieces. However, most of the scenes feature the trio of Macaulay Culkin, in his first starring role, as well as great actors regardless of genre, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

These three main players had immense chemistry and they looked like they enjoyed the hell out of making this movie. I’m sure they had no idea that this would blossom into a cultural phenomenon but it did and their great work paid off, immensely.

What surprised me most about this was how much heart it really had. It’s a film with soul and while I picked up on that as a kid, I see it much differently now, as an adult that has lived a much fuller life. In that time, I’ve lost several people close to me and had a deeper understanding of family that you don’t fully grasp as a child.

Home Alone really does hit you in the feels in a really profound way and I guess I can understand why my mom cried every time she saw it. I just thought she was weird but I was also a little shit obsessed with Nintendo, comics and G.I. Joe.

It’s actually kind of hard to review a perfect film. I can’t really pick anything apart or point out negatives because there aren’t any.

So I guess that’s it.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: its direct sequel and other John Hughes holiday movies.

Film Review: The Godfather, Part III (1990)

Also known as: The Death of Michael Corleone (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1990 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, Sofia Coppola, Raf Vallone, Franc D’Ambrosio, Donal Donnelly, Richard Bright

Zoetrope Studios, Paramount Pictures, 162 Minutes, 170 Minutes (VHS Special Edition)

Review:

“I, uh, betrayed my wife. I betrayed myself. I’ve killed men, and I ordered men to be killed. No, it’s useless. I killed… I ordered the death of my brother; he injured me. I killed my mother’s son. I killed my father’s son.” – Michael Corleone

Godfather, Part III gets a lot of shit from just about everybody but I think the general hatred for it is asinine and people dismissing it mainly do so because it doesn’t live up to the bar set by the two films before it. That doesn’t make it a bad movie on its own, though. And honestly, if you look at it, as its own body of work, it’s a pretty compelling and interesting picture.

I like that it takes place at the end of Michael Corleone’s life and it shows how much power he’s amassed for the family, decades after the first two films.

Michael also tries to sort of legitimize everything and wash the blood off of his hands from the past. You also see how certain decisions he’s made have haunted him, such as killing his brother Fredo. However, it’s hard to change one’s nature and its influence and as much as Michael struggles to make things right, old habits die hard and the family finds itself in another war.

This time, the Corleone Family is so powerful that they have a scheme going with powerful people within The Vatican. I don’t want to spoil too much about the plot details but all of this I found really damn interesting. Even if you don’t agree with Michael’s methods, it’s hard not to respect what he’s accomplished with what he convinces himself are noble intentions.

I love that the movie takes this guy, at the end of his life, and exposes his flaws, his doubts and explores how haunted he is and how it’s changed him while still keeping him cold, callous and calculated. It’s a damn masterpiece in how this film showcases his inner conflict and both sides of his character. This is a testament to how good Al Pacino is as an actor, as well as how great of a writer Mario Puzo was and how well Francis Ford Coppola understands these characters.

Additionally, the relationship with Michael and his children has a massive impact on his evolution. I think that Coppola, also coming from a large, close Italian family understood these dynamics quite well and was able to pull from his own experiences as a father and make them fit for the Corleones and their unique situation.

Everything between the core characters’ relationships felt genuine and real. You could sense the pain and the regret between Michael and his ex-wife, Kay. You felt the tension between father and son, as wells as the love between father and daughter. Frankly, with this being as strong as it was, it made the final moments of the picture truly gut-wrenching.

Now I can’t call this movie perfect, as the criticisms of Sofia Coppola’s performance over the years are pretty accurate. Well, the real criticism, not the cruel criticism from those that hate the movie just to hate it. Originally, this role was meant for Winona Ryder but she dropped out of the film and I think that it suffered quite a bit because of this.

Also, the pacing is a bit slow at times and even though this is the shortest of the three Godfather films, it feels like it’s actually the longest.

Other than those two things, I don’t really see any other negatives.

Coppola’s direction is stellar and his eye for visual perfection is uncanny. Cinematographically, this is one of his best films. Everything and I mean everything looks absolutely majestic and flawless. This is a beautiful film from the opening frame to the last and there isn’t a moment that isn’t visually breathtaking.

The score by Carmine Coppola is also superb but then, so is all the film’s music from the party scenes to the big opera house finale.

As I stated in my first paragraph, I don’t get the amount of shit that this picture receives from fans of the series. It’s a damn fine film with minimal flaws and it gives a satisfying ending to a massive family saga. It’s like the third act to a Shakespearean tragedy and when you look at the whole body of work, over the course of three great movies, it’s a tale worthy of rivaling some of literature’s greatest epics.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its predecessors.

Film Review: The Witches (1990)

Release Date: February 16th, 1990 (Orlando premiere)
Directed by: Nicolas Roeg
Written by: Allan Scoot
Based on: The Witches by Roald Dahl
Music by: Stanley Myers
Cast: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jason Fisher, Rowan Atkinson

Jim Henson Productions, Lorimar Film Entertainment, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Real witches are very cruel, and they have a highly developed sense of smell. A real witch could smell you across the street on a pitch-black night.” – Helga

While this film has grown into a cult classic over the last thirty years, I hadn’t seen it since it first appeared on VHS. Back then, no one really knew about it but I wanted to see it because Jim Henson worked on it. Plus, my mum wouldn’t take me to the theater to see it because she had some weird religious reason not to take me to anything “promoting witchcraft or Satanism.” Funny, as she ended up becoming a massive Harry Potter fan a decade later.

What really stands out about this film is how unique it is. Also, for a kid’s movie it’s damn dark. The director actually had to tone it down after he showed it to his own kid in order to get his reaction. As a kid, I wasn’t scared by it but the imagery was so haunting and over the top that it left a mark on my psyche.

My memory of the film was a fond one and I’m glad to say that my youthful opinion on the film still held up, seeing it now.

Anjelica Huston is pretty close to perfection in this and man, her performance is still damn effective. While this is adapted from a Roald Dahl children’s novel, it feels like the role was tailor made for her. It highlighted her strengths, her ability to intimidate and her intensity. She also got to ham it up and act over the top, which only benefited the movie and her role.

The kid actors are okay, nothing special, and the rest of the acting is fairly average but once the kids become mice, the film almost shifts into a state of otherworldly-ness and that’s after the incredible witch convention sequence.

The special effects in this are incredible from Anjelica Huston’s full witch makeup and prosthetics to the boys’ mice forms. Even knowing how talented Jim Henson was and how great his studio is, the effects work and puppetry still blew my mind for what they achieved here, thirty years ago.

I’m glad that this did become a cult classic, it deserves that status because of how good it is, how much craftsmanship went into it and for it’s uniqueness.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other children’s horror from the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Also known as: Captive Women (Philippines title), Stab In the Dark (alternative title), Night Light (original script title)
Release Date: September 7th, 1990
Directed by: Sally Mattison
Written by: Catherine Cyran
Music by: Jamie Sheriff
Cast: Keely Christian, Brittain Frye, M. K. Harris, David Greenlee, Hope Marie Carlton, Maria Ford

Concorde Pictures, 87 Minutes, 75 Minutes (R-rated)

Review:

“I don’t wanna play this game anymore!” – Ken

The original Slumber Party Massacre didn’t need a sequel, as it was incredibly derivative of the slasher genre and also re-used the neat killer concept from the movie Driller Killer.

However, the second film was very different and had more personality and cool rockabilly charm, setting it apart and making it a unique slasher flick experience.

This third movie, sadly, is just derivative of the derivative first film and lacks the musical flair and uniqueness of the second one.

This is cookie cutter shit at its worst that’s both highly predictable and doesn’t offer up anything new to the genre or even its own series.

Although, by 1990, the slasher genre was becoming passe and horror was trying to get smarter and more introspective. I wouldn’t say that slashers were dead but they had definitely been made in abundance over the course of the previous decade and to stand out, you really needed to do something different.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike this film. I just don’t have much love for it when there are dozens of better slasher flicks to watch and re-watch.

The characters are simple archetypes devoid of real personality and the mystery of who the killer is, is made quite obvious in the film’s opening. Sure, there’s a red herring but I even found that to be predictable as hell.

Being that this was produced by Roger Corman, it probably made money. So the fact that there wasn’t a fourth one is kind of interesting. But maybe Corman saw the writing on the wall and knew that this film was one too many in the Slumber Party Massacre series.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in the Slumber Party Massacre series, as well as other teen slasher flicks.

Film Review: Total Recall (1990)

Release Date: May 31st, 1990 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Written by: Ronlad Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill
Based on: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox, Mel Johnson Jr., Marshall Bell, Roy Brocksmith, Ray Baker, Michael Champion, Rosemary Dunsmore, Robert Costanzo, Marc Alaimo, Dean Norris, Debbie Lee Carrington, Lycia Naff

Carolco Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Sorry, Quaid. Your whole life is just a dream.” – Lori

Paul Verhoeven has made some of the most iconic and entertaining sci-fi action movies of all-time and Total Recall is no different. While I don’t put it on the same level as RoboCop, a near masterpiece, or Starship Troopers, it is still a fun, badass, sci-fi action flick that stars one of the top action stars to ever walk on Earth (or Mars for that matter).

The film is a very loose adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, but then so were most of the earlier films based on his work.

In this, we see an average guy go to a company that has the technology to enter his brain and send it on a vacation, tailor-made to his personal preferences. However, things suddenly go nuts and we’re taken on a journey where we never really know if what we’re seeing is a dream or reality. While there are clues sprinkled into the film, unintentional or not, it’s still left pretty ambiguous.

Honestly, I don’t care if it’s a dream or not, I just like rolling with the movie and letting it play out, regardless of what the truth is. And frankly, I’m not going to devote much time to over-analyzing the hell out of it like other people have done for decades. There are much better, smarter films to ponder the mysteries of.

Anyway, this is a well cast picture with a lot of people that were either stellar character actors or people just on the verge of breaking out like Sharon Stone.

Additionally, the special effects were really good, especially for this coming out just before the CGI-boom. The effects were best in regards to the animatronic and physical model work. The scenes with heads about to explode in the Martian atmosphere, as well as the mutant effects, were top notch stuff for the time.

In fact, this was one of the most expensive films of its day, as far as production costs went. It’s uncertain if it broke the record or not but it was definitely in the running.

However, the weird thing about that, is I thought the sets looked pretty cheap and generic. I’m not trying to knock them but the Martian city stuff looked weak. This isn’t just me seeing it through 2020 eyes, I actually felt this way when I saw it as an eleven year-old kid in 1990.

Now the sets aren’t terrible, they just aren’t impressive or very creative. I felt like more money definitely went into the animatronic effects and that they tried to trim some of the budgetary fat by making the world these characters inhabit a little too basic.

Also, I think that the lighting didn’t help the sets either, as everything was lit really, really well. Even the scenes in the mining caves. I feel like some of the cheapness could’ve been easily obscured with more subdued lighting that felt more natural and not like these characters were on a stage or a sitcom.

Complaints aside, I still love this movie and none of the flaws really wreck it.

All in all, this was and still is an exciting film. It did really well when it came out and a sequel script, based off of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report was written. It never got made, however, but Minority Report would eventually become a film by Steven Spielberg, who used a very different script.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Paul Verhoeven sci-fi movies, as well as other Arnold Schwarzenegger action films.

Film Review: Problem Child (1990)

Release Date: July 26th, 1990 (Dallas premiere)
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Music by: Miles Goodman
Cast: John Ritter, Michael Oliver, Amy Yasbeck, Michael Richards, Gilbert Gottfried, Jack Warden, Dennis Dugan (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes, 93 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“We’ve adopted Satan!” – Little Ben Healy

This is another movie I liked a lot as a kid. However, I didn’t think that I’d enjoy it as an adult. I was wrong.

Problem Child weirdly impressed me, as there is real heart to the story when you look past all the absurdity and goofiness of the picture. Sure, it’s hokey, cheap and what many would consider low brow but it’s also a really human story about a terror of a kid that just never knew love and finds it in the one person that truly doesn’t want to just throw him away.

The film is also infinitely made better by just how good the entire core cast is.

John Ritter was perfect as the all-American guy that just wanted to be a dad and was willing to take this kid in and try to be a good father figure to him in spite of the kid’s antics and terrible track record.

Amy Yasbeck was superb as the mother character, who didn’t really want the kid as much as she wanted the neighborhood status that came with being a middle class suburban mommy.

We also get Jack Warden, as the asshole, selfish grandfather that cares more about his mayoral campaign than his family, and Michael Richards, as a deranged serial killer that the kid idolizes and wants to run away with. Gilbert Gottfried also shows up in a few scenes and he’s perfect, simply playing himself in the most Gilbert Gottfried role of all-time.

I was really impressed by Michael Oliver as the kid, though. He’s just a natural when it comes to comedy, timing and facial expressions. He also has a great, evil laugh that makes his character even better. Most kid actors wouldn’t have been able to do half as well as he did and I’m surprised that he didn’t do much beyond the first two Problem Child movies.

On the surface, this is a cheap comedy that is mostly just a series of gags with a thin narrative holding it all together. However, within that thin narrative, the movie still finds a way to connect with the audience in an emotional way. It’s kind of cool, actually, as it keeps this from being just some outdated, pointless, crude comedy relic.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as UHF for some great pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards shenanigans.

 

Film Review: Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990)

Also known as: Roger Rabbit: Roller Coaster Rabbit (alternative title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Rob Minkoff, Frank Marshall (live-action part)
Written by: Bill Kopp, Kevin Harkey, Lynne Naylor, Patrick A. Ventura
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, Lou Hirsch, April Winchell, Corey Burton, Frank Welker, Charlie Adler (uncredited)

Amblin Entertainment, Silver Screen Partners IV, Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 8 Minutes

Review:

“Save me. Save me.” – Jessica Rabbit

Like Tummy Trouble, this Roger Rabbit animated short was released theatrically and paired with a big live-action Disney movie. In the case of this film, it was originally released in 1990 with Dick Tracy.

I don’t like this one as much as its predecessor but it’s still a quick, amusing animated short that does a pretty good job of using Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman and Jessica Rabbit.

The plot follows Roger, as he once again has to babysit Baby Herman. Except in this cartoon, they find themselves at a theme park with dangerous carnival games, an angry bull, a roller coaster and other obstacles. We also get another Droopy Dog cameo.

Overall, the plot and the gags aren’t as good as Tummy Trouble but it’s still effective and hits the right notes.

From a production standpoint, the animation looks like it’s a bit of a step down. The colors and shadowing look muted and more simplistic but that could also be due to where this takes place. Regardless, I can’t look at this after Tummy Trouble and not feel like this one was rushed out.

It’s still fine for what it is and honestly, I wish Disney would have made more of these than just three.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Rabbit shorts, as well as the fill-length Who Framed Roger Rabbit.