Film Review: The Faculty (1998)

Also known as: The Parasite (Japanese English title)
Release Date: December 25th, 1998
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Kevin Williamson, David Wechter, Bruce Kimmel
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy, Clea DuVall, Josh Hartnett, Laura Harris, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Usher Raymond, Salma Hayek, Jon Stewart, Danny Masterson, Louis Black, Duane Martin, Daniel von Bargen

Dimension Films, Los Hooligans Productions, Miramax Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not putting that hack drug up my nose – it’s so eighties!” – Stokely, “Aliens are taking over the earth. Weigh it!” – Zeke

I thought I had seen this film before and maybe I did but watching it now, it was all new to me. Granted, at the time when this was a current movie, I was dabbling in extracurricular substances. Angsty Gen-X teen shenanigans, am I right?

And I guess this film isn’t too different from my head space in the era in which this came out. I was dabbling in the party hard lifestyle and all it had to offer like most of the kids in this movie.

Anyway, this film had everyone in it. Seriously, this cast was loaded with talent to the point that it is pretty unbelievable when watching it today. In fact, I’m surprised this wasn’t a hit or didn’t get a much larger cult following. It kind of came and went but it also came out in a time when there were a lot of films like it.

I also didn’t know that this was a Robert Rodriguez film. But when this came out, I wouldn’t have really known who he was yet even though I had seen From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado.

The story is pretty simple, an alien parasite is taking over the minds of people. Basically, it borrows heavily from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a lot of other similar stories. This takes place in a high school though and the aliens have pretty much taken control of most of the faculty and a lot of the students. As the film rolls on, a group of teens discovers what’s happening and they decide to stop the invasion.

This was a much better movie than I anticipated when I fired it up nearly twenty years after its release. I was surprised with how fun and nuts it was. There are some parts that don’t make a lot of sense, like the whole opening scene if you reflect on it after watching the rest of the movie. However, Robert Rodriguez gave it a certain spirit that made me think of one of his other films: Planet Terror. Now this wasn’t Planet Terror levels of insane but it was edgier and cooler than other films like it from the late ’90s.

This also had some really impressive special effects and visuals. The scene where the alien queen, in human form, is walking naked through the locker rooms and the shadows of her invisible intertwining tentacles cast shadows all over the room is so fucking cool. Seriously, I loved this moment in the film and it really legitimized the picture as something much better than its contemporaries.

The Faculty is a greater film than it needed to be and that is the mark of a great director. I feel like it was certainly held tightly under the studio thumb and that Rodriguez would have made something pretty insane if he made this later in his career but he was still able to put his unique stamp on it and turn out a film that was damn good.

The film also features the worst Josh Hartnett hairstyle ever captured on film.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Disturbing BehaviorTeaching Mrs. TingleUrban LegendIdle Hands and other late ’90s teen horror.

Film Review: Demolition Man (1993)

Release Date: October 7th, 1993 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Marco Brambilla
Written by: Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, Peter M. Lenkov
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthrone, Benjamin Bratt, Denis Leary, Bill Cobbs, Glenn Shadix, David Patrick Kelly, Jack Black, Jesse Ventura, Rob Schneider (uncredited), Adrienne Barbeau (voice)

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 115 Minutes

Review:

“We’re police officers! We’re not trained to handle this kind of violence!” – Erwin

I remember liking Demolition Man a lot but I haven’t watched it since its theater run in 1993. Really though, I never had much urge to revisit it, even though, on paper, it should certainly be my cup of tea and because it stars Stallone and Snipes.

It’s just not a very good movie. Where it works it works well but 75 percent of it is pretty weak and dull.

I do love the action but there isn’t enough of it. There is just too much filler and too many gags in this. It’s really a comedy with some action even though it’s not technically labeled a comedy.

The premise sees a cop and a criminal from the future of 1996 (keep in mind this came out in 1993, not far from 1996) get cryogenically frozen only to wake up in the 2030s. The film then uses almost every breath to poke fun at stupid mutton head Stallone because he’s from a time of testosterone Neanderthals and a total fish out of water in a bullshit utopia where people wipe their asses with sea shells and have sex without physical contact. Some of the bits are funny but the film just beats this shtick over your head at every possible turn. It’s amusing for the first fifteen minutes but then it’s like, “Okaaay! I fucking get it! Move on!”

The best thing about this picture is that it pits Stallone against Snipes. Stallone was already a megastar and in 1993, Snipes was just on the cusp. And frankly, this really helped to give Snipes some serious credibility just because he got to face off with the great Stallone.

Additionally, Sandra Bullock was virtually unknown when she was in this and it is probably the role that opened doors for her. A year later, she was in Speed and then a year after that she starred in The Net.

This movie really didn’t need to be 115 minutes. It should have been more like 95 with twenty minutes of the filler and redundant humor left on the cutting room floor. It would have then had a better balance between the action and the story. It also could have whittled down on the number of characters.

Also, for an R rated film, other than a glimpse of nice boobies, this felt like it was PG-13. This would have been a much better film if someone like Paul Verhoeven directed it, as he could have brought that original Robocop or Total Recall tone to it. This felt like it wanted to be similar to the tone of those movies but it was more like The Running Man but with extra layers of cheese.

Still, this is an entertaining movie. It just isn’t great, isn’t a classic and hasn’t aged very well.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Stallone’s version of Judge Dredd. Also The Running Man and Robocop 3, which is a terrible movie but also deals with a faux utopian future with poor people living under the streets.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.

Film Review: Disturbing Behavior (1998)

Release Date: July 24th, 1998
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Scott Rosenberg
Music by: Mark Snow
Cast: James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, William Sadler, Bruce Greenwood, Steve Railsback, Katharine Isabelle, Ethan Embry

Village Roadshow Pictures, Beacon Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Meet the musical little creatures that hide among the flowers.” – Betty Caldicott

My, god, man… look at that poster. It’s such a ’90s cliche. But then so is this entire movie.

I saw this in the theater way back in 1998 on a date. She picked the movie but I agreed, even though I thought this looked like teeny bopper pop horror bullshit. Luckily, horror hadn’t completely turned to shit by 1998 but I also had no idea that it would get so bad. But this film, in retrospect, showed me that the writing was on the wall for the sterilization of the horror genre. I probably saw the trends then but also didn’t think it could get much worse. A few years later, everything went PG-13 and theaters were full of middle schoolers screaming over half assed jump scares and CGI ghost arms.

This film’s plot is incredibly derivative. It borrows ideas from The Stepford WivesVillage of the DamnedChildren of the Corn and a bunch of other similar pictures. Basically, what you have is a town full of teens being brainwashed out of being angsty, rebellious youth. Okay, maybe it’s like Footloose where religion is replaced by science and dancing is replaced by sex and drugs. It’s also hard to ignore the narrative similarities to the much more recent and super successful Get Out. But that’s obviously not this film’s fault, as it predates Get Out by 19 years.

Anyway, a lot of horror is derivative. There isn’t a whole lot of innovation in the genre but that’s fine. Those of us who love horror don’t care so much about ideas being recycled, as long as it gives us something with a new twist or a new perspective. This film doesn’t really do that though.

I still find it enjoyable to watch however, in that sort of late night, nothing to do, mindless fun as I puff on a joint and drink painkillers (the cocktail not the pills from my Uncle Terry’s medicine cabinet).

This follows that mid-to-late ’90s trend where instead of populating a horror film with mostly unknowns, we get a studio trying to wedge in as many hot, trendy, TV teen actors as possible. This one unites Katie Holmes of Dawson’s Creek, James Marsden from the short lived Second Noah and Nick Stahl, who wasn’t a TV darling but was a young, hot commodity at the time. You also get Ethan Embry and Katharine Isabelle, both of whom had blossoming careers at the time. But you have to have a good veteran to kind of steer the ship in these sort of movies and that man was the always enjoyable William Sadler. Sadler was the best part about this picture.

One thing I like about the film is the tone. It had a ’90s grunge/industrial look, which was popular in the music videos of that decade. But also like ’90s music videos, it used overzealous editing techniques that made the movie a bit of a headache to watch for 83 minutes.

Speaking of which, 83 minutes?! Really? This film was so short and really, it could have been fleshed out a bit more. Would it have hurt to develop these characters more and enhance the story for an extra ten to fifteen minutes? This thing goes by like a flash and you don’t really feel connected to any of it.

Also, what’s the deal with that “shocking” ending? It makes no sense and I’m not sure what it was supposed to convey. Okay, one of the brainwashed kids survived and he’s a substitute teacher in a rough school. So does he have the ability to brainwash these kids? I mean, the evil doctor died. Did he program his minions with the knowledge of his work? It was a cheap attempt at trying to be surprising and clever and it was neither of those things. Maybe it was there to setup a pointless sequel with terrible writing that wouldn’t have been able to explain the asinine twist.

Disturbing Behavior definitely isn’t a bad time but it isn’t a great time either. It’s watchable, it’s enjoyable, it’s barely fun though. But I almost forgot how cute Katie Holmes was back in the day before Tom Cruise hid her away in a cave somewhere for like a decade.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The FacultyTeaching Mrs. TingleUrban LegendIdle Hands and other late ’90s teen horror.

Film Review: The Craft (1996)

Release Date: April 26th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Andrew Fleming
Written by: Andrew Fleming, Peter Filardi
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, Cliff DeYoung, Christine Taylor, Breckin Meyer

Columbia Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Girls watch out for the weirdos.” – Driver, “We are the weirdos, mister.” – Nancy

Man, I hadn’t seen this in a long time but I used to take a copy home to watch a lot when I worked at a video store in the ’90s. I’ve also seen it on television a bunch of times. But I came across it on my Starz app and thought, “Hmm… I haven’t seen that in ages.” So I decided to fire it up.

The Craft is about four teenage girls that dabble in witchcraft, which was pretty normal for some high school girls when this came out. I went to a few schools and there was always some sort of neo-pagan clique hanging about. I don’t know if that’s still the case because if I hung out around high schools now, I’d get arrested.

These girls take their dabbling to all new levels and their magic starts to work pretty effectively. The jerk guy at school obsesses over one girl, the racist mean girl starts losing her hair, the burnt girl gets healed and becomes a slut, the psycho girl just starts magic murdering people and ocean life. It all culminates in the psycho girl embracing her psycho tendencies and getting into a magic cat fight with the only rational character in the entire group.

The movie is cheesy but it’s the right kind of cheese and now it’s well aged and has a thick layer of nostalgia around the edges. Point being, this was still enjoyable and I was pretty tuned in from start to finish.

The four main actresses all did a good job and Fairuza Balk owned her character’s insanity and gave one of the most memorable performances of her career. In fact, she still kind of frightens me because of this movie.

I thought Robin Tunney also gave one of her best performances, as she was the one beacon of light in the evil witchcraft storm. She had a good presence and was still able to offset some of Balk’s over the top antics and keep things mostly grounded.

The Craft has its hardcore fans. Or, at least, it used to. I don’t hear people talking about it much these days. I was never a hardcore fan but I always thought it was a solid way to spend 101 minutes of my time.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Other ’90s teen horror movies: Idle HandsScream and The Faculty.

Film Review: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Also known as: Star Trek IX, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek: Prime Directive, Star Trek: Rebellion, Star Trek: Stardust (working titles)
Release Date: December 10th, 1998 (Cinevegas Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Michael Piller, Rick Berman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Anthony Zerbe

Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“If a court-martial is the only way to tell the Federation what is happening here, Admiral… I welcome it.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This is my least favorite Star Trek film of all-time. Yes, I even like The Final Frontier more than this. The problem is that this just doesn’t work as a story or an event worthy of a Star Trek motion picture.

When you get to the end of this film, you realize that it is almost worth forgetting. It really just feels like a mediocre episode of The Next Generation TV show. It has some grandiose moments but it is a very small story when compared to the scale of what all the other Star Trek movies were. I mean, you just saved the Earth from a time traveling Borg invasion and now you’re off to La La Land to protect a mere 600 people from being tricked by a villain to live in a Holodeck that is made to resemble their village. I mean, really? This was the story? It felt like a rejected script for a filler episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

I liked that F. Murray Abraham was the villain and he did do a tremendous job in the role, fully committed to playing an insane person with a face that looked like beef jerky stretched over a basketball. But it wasn’t anywhere near enough to save this picture from being a lame and stale bore.

Star Trek films’ special effects have always been pretty amazing. However, even that area lacked in this picture. This was the first Trek movie to go full CGI instead of using models for its starships. The Enterprise-E looked good for the most part but the ship with the sails looked bad, the effects of the nebula weren’t well refined and then the attack drones on the planet’s surface looked terrible. It was like watching a cheap TV movie on SyFy from twenty years ago.

This film was also heavy handed with the lightheartedness and humor. Most of it was hokey and weird. There was an entire subplot about Lt. Worf going through puberty. He had a big zit, an angry teenage temper and pretty much just constantly reminded us that his body was going through some changes.

They also emphasized the relationship between Riker and Troi, which was actually fine but most of the scenes seemed out of place and sort of interrupted the flow of things.

Picard also had a love interest in the form of a 300 year-old woman that looked like she was forty-five.

The producers wanted a lighthearted movie after the doom and gloom of First Contact. They admitted to the fact that they were trying to do their generation’s version of The Voyage Home. It just didn’t work nearly as well, as The Voyage Home felt organic and natural where Insurrection felt odd, strange and incredibly dull.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the death knell of the franchise. We would still get one more movie from The Next Generation‘s cast after this one.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Nemesis.

Film Review: Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Also known as: Star Trek VIII, Star Trek: Borg, Star Trek: Destinies, Star Trek: Future Generations, Star Trek: Generations II, Star Trek: Renaissance, Star Trek: Resurrection (working titles)
Release Date: November 18th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Rick Berman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith, Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Neal McDonough, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, Alice Krige, Robert Picardo (cameo), Adam Scott, Majel Barrett (voice)

Paramount Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“[Quoting “Moby Dick”] And he piled upon the whale’s white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

After the torch was passed from one generation’s crew to the next in the appropriately titled Star Trek: Generations, it was only a matter of time before The Next Generation‘s cast got their own film series. This is the first movie that is wholly theirs.

This is also the first and only movie to utilize the Borg as a threat on the big screen. Really, the next film should have probably followed this up with a bit more Borg stuff instead of whatever the hell Insurrection was supposed to be. However, the Borg would be used a lot on Star Trek: Voyager where things got more intense and the Borg mythology was greatly expanded.

I love that this film added in a bunch of talented actors other than just the standard crew. Alfre Woodard and James Cromwell are both great in this and are two of my favorite Trek characters because of this film. Cromwell would reprise his role again on television but Woodard sadly never returned for more. Also, you have a very young Neal McDonough in this. I wish he would have gone on to continue to appear in these films but he met a bad end. Then there is Alice Krige as the Borg Queen and while this is probably her most famous role, she’s had a great career in the horror and sci-fi genres. You also get to see Adam Scott and a cameo by Robert Picardo, which was a nod to his Star Trek: Voyager character.

The plot of the film sees the Borg go back in time to prevent humanity from inventing warp drive and thus, attracting the first alien contact with Earth. The reason behind this was that the Borg would have an easier time assimilating Earth and its population. The Enterprise crew also goes back in time to prevent this from happening.

The story is pretty good and although this isn’t the first Star Trek movie to utilize time travel as its main plot device, this all still takes place in the future, so the “fish out of water” shtick that made Star Trek IV so friggin’ great, wasn’t rehashed. But that’s good because this wasn’t trying to be Star Trek IV, it was certainly its own thing and the film worked on its own merits.

While this is considered to be the best of The Next Generation set of films, I’m the weirdo that really likes Nemesis. But that’s probably because I had been yearning for a movie featuring Romulans since around the time of Star Trek IIIFirst Contact is still really damn good and my favorite after Nemesis.

I like that Jonathan Frakes got to direct this, which followed the path of the original cast’s films where Nimoy and Shatner both got chances to direct.

First Contact is in the upper echelon of Star Trek movies. It is much better than its followup, Insurrection, and it had an edge over Generations.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: Insurrectionand Star Trek: Nemesis.