Film Review: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Release Date: May 13th, 1991 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: John Singleton
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr., Morris Chestnut, Larry Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Nia Long, Tyra Ferrell, Redge Green, Dedrick D. Gobert, Regina King, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Whitman Mayo

Columbia Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Why is it that there is a gun shop on almost every corner in this community?” – Furious Styles, “Why?” – The Old Man, “I’ll tell you why. For the same reason that there is a liquor store on almost every corner in the black community. Why? They want us to kill ourselves.” – Furious Styles

Boyz N The Hood was a movie that had a pretty big impact on me in my middle school years. I was going into 7th grade when it came out but by the time it hit video, I rented it a lot.

What lured me into it was the edge the film had with Ice Cube in it, a rapper I listened to almost daily back then. But beyond that, I was pulled into John Singleton’s unique knack for storytelling. While this is well acted, a lot of the story and emotion comes through in more of a visual way.

Unlike many of the “gangsta” films that came out after and were inspired by this and Marion Van Peebles’ New Jack City, this one is truly a masterpiece on just about every level. And, once seeing this, it is easy to understand how this film gave birth to a new genre in the early ’90s.

To start, the acting by just about everyone in this picture is superb. The main cast delivers their performances with passion and gusto.

I love how in your face Ice Cube can be but there is a subtle gentleness under the surface that really comes out in his final scene, which is still maybe the best he’s ever been onscreen.

Cuba Gooding Jr. gave a somewhat understated performance that worked really well for his character and when the point comes in the movie for him to show real emotion, it has an impact that might have been lacking without his cool and chill demeanor leading up to it.

I also like Morris Chestnut, who is mostly just a regular guy here. He’s got issues but he’s a guy with a bright future, which makes his fate in the film extremely tough to process no matter how many times you’ve seen this play out.

The real scene stealer is Laurence Fishburne and while that shouldn’t be surprising, this was pretty early in his career and even though he’d been in many films before this, it is his role here that put his career path on a strong upward trajectory.

It’s also worth pointing out how beautiful and perfect Stanley Clarke’s score is. The music conveys real emotion and it grounds the drama in a way that the mostly hip-hop soundtrack can’t on its own. There is a great balance between hip-hop, soul and the score itself. However, in contrast to what became typical of this style of film after Boyz N the Hood, this doesn’t use a ton of rap music. It’s there where it needs to be but this wasn’t a movie that was trying to sell soundtrack tie-ins like everything that copied it. And it’s not that that’s a bad thing and I didn’t even notice it back in the day but seeing this film now, it was kind of refreshing knowing that the filmmaker relied heavily on his composer to assist with the tone and the movement of the plot. Side note: Stanley Clarke’s first score was Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which got him an Emmy nomination.

This is a heavy and emotional film; it works because it feels genuine and real. It has aged tremendously well and is kind of timeless, even if it is set in a specific era that comes with its own stylistic and cultural tropes.

Singleton, with Boyz N the Hood, crafted a perfect motion picture that deserves to be called a masterpiece and is still above all the films that came along and tried to emulate it. Not bad for a first time director.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Menace II SocietySouth CentralColors, Baby Boy, Higher Learning and Poetic Justice.

Film Review: Blade (1998)

Also known as: Blade, the Vampire Slayer (working title), Blade: The Daywalker (Norway, Denmark, Finland), Blade: Cazador de vampiros (Mexico, Argentina, Brazil)
Release Date: August 19th, 1998 (premiere)
Directed by: Stephen Norrington
Written by: David S. Goyer
Based on: Blade by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff, N’Bushe Wright, Donal Logue, Udo Kier, Sanaa Lathan, Arly Jover, Traci Lords

Amen Ra Films, Imaginary Forces, Marvel Enterprises, New Line Cinema, 120 Minutes, 110 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill.” – Blade

Revisiting Blade has been long overdue but I’m glad that I finally did.

While I loved this movie, back in the day, I think I like it even more now. Maybe that’s because it is the least formulaic Marvel movie ever made and because it is just so balls to the wall badass that every time I watch it, I sprout another testicle.

Wesley Snipes is a man’s man and he’s got no time for some prissy ass bullshit. He just fucks shit up, does a cool pose, fucks up more shit, smiles and then fucks up whatever shit he hasn’t yet fucked up.

Also, this stars another man’s man in the legendary Kris Kristofferson. Add in Udo Kier, Donal Logue and Stephen Dorff being the best he’s ever been and you’ve got one hell of a cast. I also love the small role for Traci Lords, the coolness of Arly Jover and the loveliness of N’Bushe Wright.

Almost everything in this film feels right. The only real hiccup is some of the really dated CGI effects that didn’t look great even in 1998. But I can look past that, as this flick is one of the coolest comic book movies ever put to celluloid.

The script is great, the characters have real depth and the movie has perfect pacing.

There aren’t any dull moments and the action is aplenty, even with the story itself being pretty rich and layered.

Although, I don’t entirely understand Duncan Frost’s evil plan to turn the entire population of Earth into vampires because that would leave them without food. But hey, maybe the high tech vampires have a lab where they can clone and mass produce human blood. So my brain can just file that away as a plot point from a deleted scene I’ll never see.

One thing that really works well in this movie is the music. It hits the right notes, provides the right tone and propels the action sequences to another level. The soundtrack is mostly made up of hip-hop and techno or a hybrid of the two. In fact, I feel like this may have had an effect on the production of The Matrix, which came out a year later.

All in all, Blade is a fantastic comic book adaptation and in a lot of ways, I think it exceeds the source material, as the Blade character wasn’t all that popular before the movie and his interpretation in the film would go on to alter him in the comics themselves.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the Blade sequels, as well as other ’90s action films with Snipes.

Film Review: Brain Dead (1990)

Also known as: Paranoia (alternative title), Lobotomie (Canada, French title)
Release Date: January, 1990 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Adam Simon
Written by: Charles Beaumont, Adam Simon
Music by: Peter Rotter
Cast: Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, Bud Cort, George Kennedy, Nicholas Pryor, Patricia Charbonneau

Concord Pictures, New Horizons, 85 Minutes

Review:

“My brains are individuals – they’re special – they’re unique.” – Dr. Rex Martin

This film stars two of my favorite Bills but I had never seen it until now. I remember seeing the VHS box art at my local video stores though. It just never appealed to me back in the day and my appreciation for Bills Pullman and Paxton hadn’t completely blossomed in 1990.

Overall, this was a decent picture. I liked seeing both Pullman and Paxton in it, along with Bud Cort, who stole the scenes he was in, and the great George Kennedy. I also enjoyed Patricia Charbonneau, who I mostly only know as the kind scientist from RoboCop 2 but I was crushing hard on her in that movie when I was a wee little lad.

Anyway, this is a weird, trippy movie with a lot of mystery. Mostly, the story is a slow burn that builds up at the right speed but delivers just an okay conclusion.

This is one of those mindfuck movies though and they were really common at the time but unfortunately, this doesn’t come close to the better ones like Jacob’s Ladder or From Beyond.

The plot follows a neurosurgeon (Pullman) that specializes in brain malfunctions that cause mental illnesses. His high school buddy (Paxton), a yuppie businessman from a company called Eunice, asks for help in delving into the brain of a genius mathematician that turned into a psychotic. Really, they are trying to pry into his brain to reveal corporate secrets but the neurosurgeon starts to be effected by the horrors in the mind of the mathematician.

I wouldn’t call the ending satisfactory but the story was interesting enough to keep one engaged up to that point. But most of these mindfuck movies never really deliver anything profound and usually flounder at the climax.

This is a film that steadily builds suspense but comes up short in its final delivery. There’s nothing profound here and really nothing new either.

But this is carried by the performances of its leads and for that, it’s probably worth a watch for fans of this genre.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Altered States, From BeyondRe-Animator and Jacob’s Ladder.

Film Review: The Matrix (1999)

Release Date: March 24th, 1999 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano

Groucho II Film Partnership, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 136 Minutes

Review:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – Morpheus

I enjoyed The Matrix films back when they were coming out but I was never an immense fan of them, despite their cultural influence and how they were heavily ripped off for other action and sci-fi films from the early ’00s.

It’s actually been a long time since I’ve seen these, so most of the details have been lost to time and even though I remembered the gist of the story, I felt like I went into this with mostly fresh eyes.

This is the best film in the series or at least, it’s considered to be when looking at the critical and public opinion on this series. From my memory, I always liked this one the best and I’m assuming that the other two will still fall somewhere beneath this one when I revisit them over the next few weeks.

Overall, this film is pretty good in most aspects. However, there are some style choices that I don’t like, which actually bothered me back in the day too.

For starters, I’ve never been keen on the “bullet time” thing. I understand why certain moments were presented like this on screen but I always thought it was hokey looking in execution. Twenty years later, it looks dated and even more hokey. It’s also cliche but that’s really not this film’s fault as it was what brought that technique into the mainstream.

Also, I don’t like the movement during gunfights. The flipping off of walls with all limbs extended out is just going to make you a bigger target and for those who understand the physics of combat, it’s baffling and it shows off this film’s biggest weakness: style over substance (or practicality).

Plus, I don’t like how hard the film is trying to convince you that it is cool. Sure, it was cool in 1999 but the way coolness is achieved doesn’t quite work the same way in 2019. I’m not saying that the filmmakers should have predicted that because no one is an actual psychic but it dates the film.

I don’t like the use of filters in the movie either. The real world is shown in bluish hues while the Matrix itself is presented in a greenish tone. I understand the use of color to differentiate between the two spaces but it feels like the Wachowskis are trying to channel David Fincher and even though Fincher is a better director, I don’t like his overuse of color filters either.

In regards to the story, I have issues with that as well.

I guess my biggest gripe about it was the plot device where the Oracle told characters specific information about prophecies and whatnot and then later you find out she lied and it’s just brushed off with the line, “She told you what you needed to hear.” And why does this film have prophecies anyway? And where is the Oracle getting her info? And why does there need to be a “One”? It’s all kind of derivative, even by 1999.

Also, why does Agent Smith so badly want out of the Matrix? Why does he have emotions? He’s just a computer program, right? He should just follow programming without philosophizing about it. And can’t the Matrix fix his programming if it’s broken? Why does he care that the world within the Matrix is gross? How did he develop feelings and a personality? Why does he have such a grudge? Is all of this explained later because I don’t remember? Either way, it’s sloppy storytelling.

But all this criticism aside, I still like this movie. It’s hard to quantify why with all this baggage I just dumped on the floor but I think a lot of it has to do with the cast, their chemistry and how their performances propel the film forward. Also, if you don’t overthink it and just watch it as mindless entertainment, it is still a fun film with a lot of action and cool moments.

Some of the CGI looks bad in 2019 but this is still full of some incredible shots. That exploding helicopter scene still looks f’n fantastic.

It’s also best to ignore the limitations of technology for the time when this came out. Considering that everything in this film had to be done over hard wires, makes me wonder why this advanced artificial intelligence that wants to enslave humans weren’t using Wi-Fi. I mean, humans were using it pretty regularly less than a decade later. So in the year 2199 (or thereabouts) the evil robots hadn’t yet found a way to work around the hard wire problem? But again, the Wachowskis aren’t psychics.

Anyway, just ignore all the crap I just said in the previous 873 words and go into this film mindless with the intent of just enjoying some solid escapism from your own personal Matrix.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: Madhouse (1990)

Release Date: February 16th, 1990
Directed by: Tom Ropelewski
Written by: Tom Ropelewski
Music by: David Newman
Cast: John Larroquette, Kirstie Alley, Alison La Placa, John Diehl, Jessica Lundy, Bradley Gregg, Dennis Miller, Robert Ginty, Wayne Tippit

Boy of the Year, Orion Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry about me having dinner, I’ll just lick the crumbs off my filthy sheets!” – Beatrice

This isn’t one of the best comedies of its time period but I enjoyed the hell out of it as a kid and even now, in 2019, I still found the movie to be pretty endearing and charming. But I also know that my opinion is unique, in that most people have forgot about Madhouse and those who haven’t don’t have fond memories of it.

For me, this film works on the strength of its leads: John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley. The two of them had incredible chemistry, felt absolutely believable as a couple and they committed to the absurdity of the film with tremendous gusto.

The comedy style here is pretty typical of the time. It throws two normal people into a very abnormal situation while littering the proceedings with mostly crude and simple humor. But it works because of the charisma of the main cast and most of the supporting players.

I really enjoyed John Diehl, whose murder on Miami Vice still upsets me, and his overbearing wife played by Jessica Lundy. Alison La Placa was also great and we get Dennis Miller in a very minor (and his first) role.

The story follows a yuppie couple who get surprise house guests that are a total pain in the ass. However, as the film progresses, they get more and more house guests and no one will leave. Eventually, their new home has turned into a community of almost a dozen weirdos that push the couple to their breaking point.

What I love about this film is how we see Larroquette and Alley slowly break down and slip into madness. I thought the pacing of the film, in this regard, was perfect.

Also, there is a cat subplot that is a parody of Pet Sematary, which came out a year earlier. It sees the cat die, again and again, but it always comes back to create more chaos. You even get to see the cat die from a cocaine overdose.

This is a simple, fun comedy. But that’s what I like about it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other outrageous late ’80s/early ’90s comedies.

Film Review: Troll 2 (1990)

Also known as: Goblins, Trolls (working titles), Troll II (video box title), Monster Valley (Spain, Chile alternate title), The Return of Troll (Netherlands)
Release Date: October 3rd, 1990 (Germany)
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Written by: Claudio Fragasso, Rossella Drudi
Music by: Carlo Maria Cordio
Cast: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland, Deborah Reed, Jason Wright, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman

Filmirage, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Nilbog! It’s goblin spelled backwards! This is their kingdom!” – Joshua

It’s no secret that Troll 2 is a bad movie. With that, it has a pretty large cult following. Many people, however, don’t seem to understand that this is also intended to be a comedy and it seems like it is pretty self-aware. I think a lot of people hate it without understanding it and the intent of its creators.

Personally, I think that Troll 2 accomplishes what it set out to do and exceeds what its intent was. I also think that it wouldn’t have grown into a weird phenomena if audiences didn’t initially misinterpret that intent and thought that this was a serious attempt at low budget horror.

What’s funny about the film, is that the script was written by a husband and wife team and it started out as the wife expressing her anger over all of her friends becoming vegetarians. I think she definitely found a very creative outlet with a lot of good tongue and cheek humor to exorcise that frustration. As a devout carnivore, I understand and empathize with her pain.

Everything about this movie is bad in the text book sense.

The special effects, all of which are mostly practical, physical effects, are bottom of the barrel schlock. But that stuff works within the context of this movie.

Also, the acting is literally laughably bad and I’m not misusing “literally” when I say that. I think some of the poor line delivery was definitely intentional. I’m not saying that their is hidden genius at work but I think that some of the scenes and specific moments give away that this was meant to play out the way it did. But honestly, I don’t know how the actors weren’t ruining takes by laughing out loud. But maybe they were.

The plot is weird, nuts and so far out there that there is no point in trying to take it seriously. You’ve got a crazy witch lady with a troll army that transforms into town folk, who feed you green goo that transforms you into a plant and then another type of green goo so that the trolls can devour your remains. Also, this film has supernatural popcorn and moles in the shape of cloverleafs.

Troll 2 is a much better experience than I thought it would be. I actually put off watching it for years but once I finally did, for the first time a while back, I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Yes, it is still a bad movie regardless of it intending to be and I can’t give it a great rating. However, it is an entertaining watch for those of us who love being entertained by bad movies. In a lot of ways this is to fantasy horror what Tommy Wiseau’s The Room was to romantic drama.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: ’80s little critter films like CrittersMunchies and Ghoulies.

Film Review: Kull the Conqueror (1997)

Also known as: Conan the Conqueror (working title)
Release Date: August 29th, 1997
Directed by: John Nicolella
Written by: Charles Edward Pogue
Based on: Kull of Atlantis by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Kevin Sorbo, Thomas Ian Griffith, Tia Carrere, Litefoot, Harvey Fierstein, Karina Lombard, Roy Brocksmith, Pat Roach

Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“[with corpses around the throne] My heirs challenged me for the throne. So I’ve spared all my children any future disappointment!” – King Borna

This was originally written to be the third Conan film but the De Laurentiis family couldn’t get Arnold Schwarzenegger to commit to it. So after several years, they locked up Kevin Sorbo, star of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. However, Sorbo didn’t want to play a character that was already made famous by another actor, so the filmmakers retooled the Conan script and decided to use a different but similar Robert E. Howard barbarian character, Kull of Atlantis.

To be frank, I was really excited to see Kull get his own movie. While I love Conan, when I was a kid I read a few of the Kull stories and loved him as well. He was definitely a character worth exploring. Plus, his comics from Marvel were also in abundance in my collection.

For the most part, this is just an okay movie. It’s lighthearted, fun but it’s cheap and it shows. The story also isn’t very good but I guess it’s as good as the plot of Conan the Destroyer or other mid-tier sword and sorcery pictures.

What makes this film more enjoyable than it would otherwise be is the charisma of Kevin Sorbo and the vastly underappreciated Thomas Ian Griffith, who I have been a fan of since first seeing him in The Karate Kid, Part III. These two guys absolutely carry this movie on their backs. The opening scene between them is fantastic, as is every other scene that they share.

But in the end, I really wanted more from a Kull movie. Hopefully, someday, we can get a resurgence in sword and sorcery films and actually see Kull return to the big screen, preferably with a decent budget and stronger script.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other movies based on Robert E. Howard creations: the Conan films, Red Sonja and Solomon Kane, as well as the Beastmaster film series.