Film Review: Kazaam (1996)

Release Date: July 17th, 1996
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Christian Ford, Roger Soffer, Paul Michael Glaser
Music by: Christopher Tyng
Cast: Shaquille O’Neal, Francis Capra, Ally Walker, James Acheson, Da Brat (cameo)

Touchstone Pictures, Interscope Communications, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“He’s A Rappin’ Genie With An Attitude… And He’s Ready For Slam-Dunk Fun!” – marketing tagline

I’ve never seen this until now. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s f’n terrible but it’s not 2.9 on IMDb terrible. More like a solid 4.

Anyway, the story is bad, the special effects are really bad and the acting may be even worse. But this is a film that has some charm to it.

At this point in his career, Shaq couldn’t act himself out of a wet paper bag and he’s not much better over twenty years later but man, he needed some acting coaches before jumping into this weird movie.

He was still really likable in this, however, but rapping half of his lines was probably unnecessary. Then again, this came out at the same time he was a few albums deep into his short rap career. I just felt like this movie and his rap albums were the result of people not being able to tell him “no” when he wanted to do other things outside of basketball.

I think the glue of this picture was the kid Max, played by Francis Capra, who wasn’t a one-off child actor, he still works consistently in Hollywood today. The kid had charisma and as a character, I cared about him, even if this was a stupid and strange movie. His East Coast, New York attitude kind of reminded me of Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid.

The premise is about this bullied kid who frees a genie from a magic boom box. Yes, you read that right. Genie Shaq then spends a lot of time trying to convince the kid that he is a genie but his magic never works. Then it starts working and the kid takes the whole damn movie to come up with his three wishes. Genie Shaq, in the meantime, starts a rap career in the movie. So he is literally a rapping genie. You also read that right.

So the kid is trying to connect with his scumbag, criminal father. Eventually, the biological dad decides to fix his life and do what’s right by his son. The son then also learns to accept his step father, who really is the better male role model in his life. Genie Shaq eventually gets free and leaves to have a life with some chick that’s into rapping genies the size of a Sasquatch.

Anyway, you could probably go your entire life not knowing that this film even exists but what fun would that be? Sure, it’s probably a waste of your time but sometimes wasting time is a good use of time… or so a fortune cookie said to me once. Granted, I was hammered on Zhujiang and tweaking from monosodium glutamate, so I could have read it wrong.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Steel with Shaq.

Film Review: Hardware (1990)

Also known as: M.A.R.K. 13 (alternate title)
Release Date: August, 1990 (Edinburgh International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Stanley
Written by: Richard Stanley
Based on: SHOK! by Steve MacManus, Kevin O’Neill (uncredited/plagarized)
Music by: Simon Boswell
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Stacey Travis, John Lynch, William Hootkins, Iggy Pop (voice), Lemmy Kilmister (cameo)

Palace Pictures, British Screen Productions, British Satellite Broadcasting, 94 Minutes

Review:

“[on radio] Kill! Kill! Kill! Today’s death count is 578.” – Angry Bob

For a movie that doesn’t really work when you put too much thought into it, Hardware is still a pretty intense picture that masterfully builds up tension and suspense. I have some issues with it but it brings a lot more good than bad to the table.

I guess my biggest gripe is that it takes way too long to really get into it. The first half is slow and actually pretty boring. However, once the killer robot is fully functional, at about the movie’s midpoint, things go nuts and you’re glued to the screen until it all plays out.

However, this robot is self repairing, covered in armor and locked in an apartment with an unprepared woman that falls asleep. She wakes up just in time to dodge the robot’s first attack but then this hardcore killing machine just chills in the shadows of the already dark apartment. I just assume that a killer robot would go full throttle into kill mode because this woman has no weapons, poses no real threat and flesh is soft and easy to tear apart. I never understood why the robot just laid back like he did. But hey, at least he picks off the creepy sleezeball dude.

What I really like about the film is the tone. It’s post-apocalyptic which was done to death by 1990 but this felt like a strong cocktail mixed with Mad Max and Blade Runner with a 151 Terminator floater. It has such a hard edge to it that it laughs at the word “gravitas”. And the woman does become quite the badass over the course of the picture. Plus, you’ve got Iggy Pop and Lemmy Kilmister in this. It’s punk, it’s metal, it’s rock and fucking roll, bay-bay!

I love the robot’s design in this film. I also liked that his skull started out as just a piece of art and it was painted with an American flag for its face. This was one of the coolest killer robots of the era.

Hardware is pretty much forgotten but it is still a solid sci-fi thriller with a nice amount of gory bits.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Incidents in an Expanding UniverseDeath MachineDust Devil and Saturn 3.

 

Film Review: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Also known as: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (full title)
Release Date: November 9th, 1994 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Written by: Anne Rice
Based on: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, Stephen Rea

Geffen Pictures, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“The world changes, we do not, there lies the irony that finally kills us.” – Armand

In the ’90s and early ’00s, I watched this film a lot. But I had seen it so many times that I actually haven’t seen it now for at least a decade. But that time off from it made me appreciate it even more.

This is the best vampire motion picture of the 1990s. It is pretty damn close to being a masterpiece. It is a beautiful adaptation of a book that really has become a literary classic, at this point. And it’s great to see that Anne Rice penned this script, as no one knows these characters better than she does.

There are a few minute changes from the book. The stuff with Louis’ wife was omitted and the character of Armand has a different appearance from the literary version. However, these minor alterations don’t matter within the context of this film. Had it actually gotten sequels (and it should have) the Armand thing might of been a bit problematic but I’m still okay with Antonio Banderas in the role for this one-off outing.

Anyway, Neil Jordan did a superb job directing this. He had just come off of The Crying Game, a film that earned him two Academy Award nominations for direction and script, and also had some experience with supernatural gore after his work on the barely remembered film The Company of Wolves. Both of those experiences would serve him well in this film, which had supernatural gore and also tapped into very light homo-eroticism between a few characters.

One thing that really stands out is the film’s score by Elliot Goldenthal. It has the makings of a great classical composition mixed with some very powerful and energetic flourishes that help accentuate the scenes in ways that a less capable score wouldn’t have been able to accomplish. The music also flows with the picture, it’s not distracting or in the way, it just exists to set the tone appropriately and really, that’s all a film score needs to do. But the craftsmanship of these classical tunes is what sets this film apart and gives it such a grandiose feel. There are just few scores that can make this sort of emotional and narrative impact in modern film.

The acting in this is also possibly the best you will see in any vampire movie. Tom Cruise, at first glance, just doesn’t seem to fit the role of Lestat but he was absolute perfection and this is still my favorite performance of his. This was also where I first noticed Brad Pitt. This is where his career was really born, in my opinion, as this was a turning point for him and his exceptional abilities. I could use those same words for Kirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas, as well. Both of them made such an impact in this that it really helped to set them off towards bigger and better things going forward.

Something else that stands out is the special effects handled by Stan Winston and his team. Most notably, the scene where Lestat is withering away to a corpse on the floor. That moment was masterfully crafted and has held up exceptionally well. It looks better than the vast majority of CGI effects that would have been used to achieve this today. Also, the amazing looking ash remains of Claudia and Madeleine were made by Winston and based off of photographs of victims from Hiroshima.

Interview with a Vampire is a perfect storm. It’s a film where everything, at every level, went right for the production. While there are some other good vampire films from the 1990s, this one takes the cake for me. It’s stellar from start to finish and it’s still an incredibly satisfying experience even after seeing it well over a dozen times.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Bram Stoker’s DraculaNear Dark and The Lost Boys.

Film Review: Bébé’s Kids (1992)

Also known as: Robin Harris’ Bébé’s Kids (video title)
Release Date: July 31st, 1992
Directed by: Bruce W. Smith
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Based on: characters by Robin Harris
Music by: John Barnes
Cast: Robin Harris (archive footage), Faizon Love, Nell Carter, Myra J., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tone Lōc, Wayne Collins, Jonell Green, Marques Houston, John Witherspoon

Hyperion Studio, Paramount Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“I am pissed off to the highest level of pissivity.” – Robin Harris

I saw Bébé’s Kids in the theater when I was thirteen. I watched it again a few years later but I haven’t seen it since the ’90s. But being that I always loved Robin Harris’ comedy act and having rewatched the first House Party recently, I wanted to also go back and revisit this, which took Harris’ most famous reoccurring comedy bit and turned it into an animated film. It was also written by Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director of the first House Party, a film where he worked with Harris.

While this isn’t a classic and it doesn’t boast animation worth praising, it still works for me. I thought the bits were still funny and even though Robin Harris died before this was made, I thought Faizon Love did a stupendous job of providing the animated Robin with a voice that encapsulated his unique spirit and energy. This was also the first credit to Love’s name and for him to be able to do this so well, is pretty impressive.

A funny thing that caught me off guard is that I forgot that Tone Lōc did the voice of the baby, Peewee. Lōc really steals the show in every scene that he’s in. You also get some voice work by Nell Carter and John Witherspoon.

This is a fun, silly movie but it has a good heart. It’s message and it’s purpose are noble and it actually hits you in the feels, which you just don’t expect when spending the majority of this film watching these jerk kids destroy a theme park while making everyone’s life hell.

Bébé’s Kids probably won’t resonate with most people in 2018 but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Maybe some of that is nostalgia or my love of Robin Harris but it still hits the right notes for me.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Reginald Hudlin’s House Party movies.

Film Review: Stargate (1994)

Release Date: October 28th, 1994
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, Erick Avari, John Diehl, French Stewart, Richard Kind, Djimon Hounsou

Centropolis Film Productions, Carolco Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Give my regards to King Tut, asshole.” – Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil

This is the first time that I have watched Stargate since the movie theater in 1994. I was a sophomore in high school when it came out and while I wasn’t blown away by it, at the time, I still thought it was a fun blockbuster that probably should have been a summer movie.

I think that other people had a much stronger impression of it than I did, as it would go on to spawn three sequel television series: Stargate SG-1Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, as well as two other movies related to the TV shows: Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum. Not to mention a web series, an animated series and lots of books and comics.

Because of how big this franchise has gotten and because I do enjoy Roland Emmerich’s work before 1998’s Godzilla, I figured I’d give this a watch again with the possibility of me finally giving the television shows a shot in the near future (assuming I can stream them for free somewhere).

Stargate was really enjoyable. While it does feel a bit dated, it’s a solid ’90s sci-fi action flick. It had a decent story that was interesting and really set the stage for something that needed to be much larger than this self-contained film. I guess it’s a good thing for the hardcore fans of this movie that it was expanded out into other forms of media.

Kurt Russell is a true man’s man and James Spader is always great to watch. Seeing them come together and having a big contrast in personalities here was a lot of fun. Spader didn’t play his typical role and was pretty much just a very brave scientist that often times jumped into the water without checking for sharks. Russell usually had to pull Spader’s ass out of trouble but it was a treat to watch.

I loved how this gives a sci-fi explanation for ancient Egyptian culture and the Egyptian styled aliens were just badass. The backstory was pretty simple but awesome and I really liked how this was just a simple tale with a lot of emphasis on action.

Emmerich did a great job of writing this alongside Dean Devlin. But his eye for style and his execution of action, while he sat behind the camera, was terrific. I really wish that Emmerich’s mojo didn’t get sucked out of him after Independence Day.

I also really enjoyed the film’s score. It was heavy handed but in the right way and frankly, I miss powerful scores like this in my blockbusters.

This is just a rollercoaster ride of a bunch of guys having fun in an alien desert, fighting stylish aliens with cool technology. What’s not to love? There’s even a bit of a love story but I was too captivated by the testosterone and the Egyptians with lasers to care about that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Independence DayThe Mummy and the various Stargate TV shows and related films.

Documentary Review: Action Heroes of the Cliffhanger Serials (1992)

Release Date: 1992

89 Minutes

Review:

Weirdly, even IMDb doesn’t have much info on this release, which is why I have barely any info in the credits section.

Also, this isn’t really a documentary like I had hoped it would be. It sort of starts out as one and then it is just a collection of trailers from old school action serials.

Now I love old school action serials and I have reviewed more than a dozen since starting this site back in November of 2016 but I would like to know more about them, their development and how the whole system worked from a production standpoint.

This “documentary” doesn’t tap into that and unless you want to watch 90 minutes worth of trailers, it’s sort of a waste of time. Honestly, I’d rather just watch the serials themselves.

So it’s hard to review this but I wanted to let everyone know what this is if they happen to come across it streaming for free on Amazon Video.

If anyone knows of a good documentary on old school action serials, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to see one and review it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: The actual serials it features.

 

Film Review: Mission: Impossible (1996)

Release Date: May 20th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: David Koepp, Robert Towne, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Mission: Impossible by Bruce Geller
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Henry Czerny, Emmanuelle Béart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Emilio Estevez

Cruise/Wagner Productions, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Can I ask you something, Kittridge? If you’re dealing with a man who has crushed, shot, stabbed, and detonated five members of his own IMF team, how devastated do you think you’re gonna make him by hauling Mom and Uncle Donald down to the county courthouse?” – Ethan Hunt

I wasn’t super fond of this when it first came out but I must have been stupid at 17 years-old. Revisiting this movie over two decades later was a real treat.

Full disclosure, I haven’t seen any Mission: Impossible movies since the second one and I haven’t watched any of them since that one came out in 2000. Friends always rave about them but I’ve always been like, “Meh, whatever.”

Since I’ve heard exceedingly good things about the last few, I figured that I’d start the series over and see how I feel about them now. Well, this one was a hell of a lot of fun and it resonated with me much more now than it did in 1996.

I really like Tom Cruise in this picture and Ethan Hunt really is the American equivalent to James Bond. However, he isn’t quite there yet, as far as being as cunning and as suave as Bond, but it is a work in progress. While this isn’t Ethan Hunt’s rookie mission, this story feels like the moment where he becomes more than human and actually evolves into a super spy or really, a superhero without a cape.

Brian De Palma did a nice job of creating an interesting and rich world. This is the smallest and most confined of the Mission: Impossible films, as they would get more and more grandiose with each release, but it is still a real big screen extravaganza. It feels and looks like a blockbuster. And while I’ve been a massive James Bond fan my whole life, I think it was the slightly more realistic approach with this series that didn’t allow it to click for me, as I had just come off of Goldeneye, a year prior. You see, Bond still had a good amount of cheesiness to it then.

Now don’t get me wrong, Mission: Impossible had some cheese too but it was less gadget-y and not full of sexy one liners and sexual tomfoolery every five minutes. That final confrontation where we see the helicopter go into a subway tunnel is absolutely insane and it bugged me in 1996 but in a way, it still kind of does because it didn’t feel like it fit the tone of the film. It felt like the movie jumped the shark there and even though I appreciate this more, that scene still made me cringe a bit in 2018.

But that’s really my only gripe about this motion picture. It had a very capable director and a solid cast, although I wish Emilio Estevez wouldn’t have gotten killed off so damn fast.

Most importantly, this gave birth to a massive film franchise and looking back, this wasn’t a bad launching pad.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Mission: Impossible sequels, the Bourne film series and the Kingsman movies.