Film Review: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Also known as: Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen (original Japanese title), Gamera: Giant Monster Midair Showdown (Japanese English title)
Release Date: March 11th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani, Yukijiro Hotaru

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Toho Co. Ltd., 96 Minutes

Review:

Gamera movies are a lot of fun for hardcore fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks that want to go deeper than just the regular Godzilla films.

However, they were always sort of shit. That is, until this movie came out in 1995 and gave the world a Gamera picture that was taken really seriously and may actually be as good as the ’90s Godzilla movies. Hell, I’d say this is even better than some of them.

This has a darker tone than the jovial kids movies of the original run of films. Also, this has a harder edge and the monsters are more played up for scares than slapstick comic relief.

I like that the studio stuck to using actors in monster suits, as well as great miniature sets for them to wreck while duking it out over the course of the story.

In fact, the special effects for the time and budget are exceptionally good. Quality-wise, this is one of the best looking kaiju movies of the Heisei era.

Plus, I like the cast in this a lot more than what’s typical in these sort of films. The core characters stand out, have purpose and make the human part of the story a worthwhile one, which can often times just get in the way of what audiences really want to see, which is giant monster mayhem. 

This also sets up future films, which for this era in the Gamera franchise led to a pretty impressive trilogy.

From memory, I feel like each sequel improved upon its predecessor but since it’s been so long since I’ve watched these, I’ll refrain from actually stating that until I revisit and review them in the coming weeks.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Dazed and Confused (1993)

Release Date: June 4th, 1993 (Seattle International Film Festival)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Music by: various
Cast: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Sasha Jenson, Michelle Burke, Christine Harnos, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, Catherine Avril Morris, Matthew McConaughey, Shawn Andrews, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Christin Hinojosa, Parker Posey, Deena Martin, Nicky Katt, Esteban Powell, Jason O. Smith, Mark Vandermeulen, Jeremy Fox, Renee Zellweger

Detour Filmproduction, Alphaville Films, Gramercy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” – Wooderson

I always viewed this movie as a spiritual successor to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Mainly, because it is a coming-of-age high school movie but it is just as serious, as it is comedic. While it is goofy and funny, it’s a much better film than what it appears to be on a surface level, similar to Ridgemont High.

Also like Ridgemont, it has a stacked cast that features a ton of young stars. These stars would become big names as the ’90s rolled on and the turn of the new millennium took many of them to the heights of Hollywood. There are future Academy Award winners in this cast.

It’s also directed by Richard Linklater and it has similar beats to his other coming-of-age films, although it doesn’t have as hard of an edge as the really dark, SubUrbia.

The story starts on the last day of school and it follows several characters over the course of that day and night. Each one is faced with an uncertain future, new changes and challenges on the horizon but ultimately, everyone wants to forget about their problems and just enjoy the night.

The film takes place in the mid-’70s, even though it came out in the ’90s. But it’s also timeless and regardless of the timeframe in which it takes place, it’s also really true to what the ’90s were like. I know, because I was this age in the ’90s. I can’t speak on how this will play for modern high school students but the world is a weird, incredibly soft place now.

What makes this movie so much better than most of the films like it is the performances of the cast and how genuine everything feels. Linklater obviously wrote this based off of his own high school experiences and his personal intimacy with the material comes through in every scene. And frankly, there isn’t a single unnecessary or dull scene in the entire film.

Additionally, all the big plots are well-balanced and organized, as the night plays on and several characters weave in and out of the larger story, overlapping.

Dazed and Confused has stood the test of time incredibly well. I feel like it’s material will always be relevant and because of that, it is one of the greatest motion pictures of its type.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Richard Linklater coming of age films, as well as other good coming of age high school movies.

TV Review: Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Original Run: November 19th, 1994 – January 31st, 1998
Created by: John Semper, Bob Richardson, Avi Arad, Stan Lee
Directed by: Bob Richardson
Written by: John Semper, various
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Kussa Mahchi, Jeremy Sweet, Shuki Levy, Joe Perry, Shuki Levy, Kussa Mahchi, Udi Harpaz
Cast: Christopher Daniel Barnes, Ed Asner, Jennifer Hale, Roscoe Lee Brown, Mark Hamill, Hank Azaria, Joseph Campanella, Martin Landau, Richard Moll, Don Stark, Dawnn Lewis, Majel Barrett, David Warner, Earl Boen

New World Entertainment Films, Genesis Entertainment, Marvel Enterprises, Fox, 65 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of the early ’90s X-Men cartoon on Fox, it was natural for the network to ask for more Marvel properties to adapt for their Saturday morning audience. The Spider-Man series was the longest running and most successful of these animated spinoffs.

While the X-Men show still stands as my favorite of these animated Marvel series, Spider-Man is a very, very close second and nearly as good.

The stories are generally well written and even if they have to take some liberties and alter the plots from the comics. This was due to time constraints and by trying to wedge in the debut of Venom really early in the series, which changes the overall timeline of events in Spider-Man’s life, greatly. Also, the showrunners probably wanted to get as many villains added into the mix, early on, so that each new episode felt fresh.

Spider-Man has a massive rogues gallery and this show utilized the core villains really damn well.

The tone of the cartoon is pretty perfect. Sure, there are cheesy and hokey bits in every episode because this is a kid’s cartoon but it does stay pretty true to the tone and style of the source material. Most importantly, it’s true to the characters and the writers obviously knew the Spider-Man mythos well.

I love this show and it’s still fun to have minimarathons of episodes. Honestly, to me, it’s one of the highlights of Disney+.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other animated Marvel television series from the ’90s.

Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Release Date: January 30th, 1991 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Kasi Lemmons, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Frankie Faison, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, Roger Corman, Chris Isaak, Harry Northup, Daniel von Bargen, George A. Romero (uncredited)

Strong Heart/Demme Production, Orion Pictures, 118 Minutes, 138 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter

My memories of this film are as great as they could possibly be but after seeing this again, the first time in many years, I was still surprised by just how perfect it is. There are very few motion pictures that deliver so much and at such a high level that seeing this was incredibly refreshing and left me smiling from ear-to-ear, regardless of the dark, fucked up story.

That being said, as great as both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are as actors, I have a hard time thinking of anything else they were better in.

Sure, they’ve both had other legendary performances but man, they brought their best to this picture like their entire lives counted on it being a success. Plus, their chemistry is incredibly uncanny that in spite of knowing what Hannibal is, at his core, you almost kind of root for them in a sort of awkward, fucked up, romantic way.

I can understand why Jodie Foster didn’t want to return to the role with Hannibal, a sequel that took too long to come out, but I really would’ve liked to see this version of the characters come together again because the strange connection that they share deserved more exploration.

It would’ve been hard to live up to this masterpiece of a film, though, but I’ll save my added thoughts on Hannibal for that review in about a week.

Anyway, it wasn’t just Foster and Hopkins that were great. This film’s entire cast was perfect and this enchanting nightmare just sucks you in and doesn’t release its grip till well after the credits are over. This movie just lingers with you and a big part of that was the performances of every actor.

Credit for that also has to go to Jonathan Demme, who, as director, was able to pull the best out of this stupendous cast from the smallest role to the most iconic and pivotal.

Additionally, he really displayed his mastery of his craft in this like no other movie he’s directed. The tone, the atmosphere and the sound were perfect. This boasts some incredible cinematography, masterful shot framing, exceptional lighting and Demme employs some really interesting and cool techniques. The best being used in the finale, which sees Foster’s Clarice, terrified out of her mind, as she hunts the film’s serial killer, seen through the point-of-view of his night vision goggles, as he carefully stalks her through a pitch black labyrinthine basement.

That finale sequence in the house is absolutely nerve-racking, even if you’ve seen this film a dozen times. The tension, the suspense, it’s almost too much to handle and that’s the point in the film where you really come to understand how perfect this carefully woven tapestry is.

Plus, it really shows how complex Clarice is as a character. She’s brave as fuck but alone, up against a monster like Buffalo Bill, her senses and her primal fear overwhelm her. However, she still snaps out of it just quick enough to put him down, perfectly and exactingly. Foster is so damn good in this sequence too, that you truly feel yourself in her shoes.

Speaking of Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine was amazing in this role. Man, that guy committed to the bit so much that it’s impossible not to appreciate what he brought to the film. It could’ve been really easy to have been overshadowed by Foster and Hopkins but this guy rose to the occasion with them and excelled in this performance.

My favorite sequence in the film, after the finale, is the one where Hannibal Lecter escapes imprisonment. This is where you finally see how cold and vile he can be. It also shows you how damn smart he is at outwitting those who tried to cage this lion but took that cage’s security for granted. He exposes the flaws in their overconfidence and careful planning and leaves this story a free man, out and about in the world.

The Silence of the Lambs was an unexpected runaway hit and it’s easy to see why. I always thought that it was funny that this was released on Valentine’s Day, as it must have shocked many casual moviegoers just looking for a film to see on a date where they just wanted to smooch their lover. It makes me wonder how many married couples saw this on their first date.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Bowfinger (1999)

Also known as: Bowfinger’s Big Thing (working title)
Release Date: August 13th, 1999
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Steve Martin
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Terence Stamp, Robert Downey Jr., Jamie Kennedy, Adam Alexi-Malle, John Cho

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes, 85 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“Would you be willing to cut your hair?” – Robert K. Bowfinger, “Well, yeah, but it would probably be better if someone else did it. I’ve had a few… accidents.” – Jiff Ramsey

It’s hard to believe that Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy had never been in a film together until 1999. They crossed paths on Saturday Night Live, as Martin was a frequent host in the early ’80s and Murphy was there for a few seasons. However, the world had to wait a long time to see them on the big screen and man, what a treat this film was.

The plot is about a really driven film director that will stop at nothing to finally make a motion picture. He actually has similar tendencies to Steve Martin’s character from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is fitting as both films shared Frank Oz as director.

Martin’s Bowfinger tries to convince the world’s biggest action star to be the lead in his film but it doesn’t work out. Martin then comes up with a plan to film the actor without the actor knowing. Eventually, he needs a look-a-like and hires a man that suspiciously looks too much like the actor. We later find out that the impostor is actually the actor’s brother.

While the plot may sound overly complicated, it all works really well and the film moves at such a brisk pace that the plot’s layers and twists still happen pretty organically.

Steve Martin wrote this picture and it’s pretty damn funny and reflects his style of humor and reminds me of his earlier work, as opposed to his more subdued mid-to-late ’90s output.

Also, this showed that Eddie Murphy still had the it factor when put into the right project. The late ’90s started to get rough for Murphy after several missteps. Unfortunately, it was those missteps that probably prevented this movie from being a theatrical hit.

However, I’m glad that its fanbase has grown over the years and people have more love for Bowfinger nowadays than they did in 1999. It’s a solid, goofy comedy that features two legends doing some of their best work. Plus, the rest of the cast is pretty perfect.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other comedies starring either Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy.

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: Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: Paul Shaffer, various
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman, Joe Morton, J. Evan Bonifant, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, B.B. King, The Blues Brothers Band, Erykah Badu, Blues Traveler, Eric Clapton, Clarence Clemons, Bo Diddley, Issac Hayes, Dr. John, Lou Rawls, Paul Shaffer, Travis Tritt, Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Winwood, Kathleen Freeman, Frank Oz, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Nia Peeples, Darrell Hammond, Max Landis

Universal Pictures, 123 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, Willie, you gotta understand. Those goons are orphan remnants of the post-perestroika Soviet secret police apparatus, which, until 1991, carried out its twisted interpretation of the original well-intentioned Marxist-Leninist doctrine vis-a-vis state security, which was massively corrupted by Lavrentiy Beria in the ’30s. Of course, once a mass populace is coerced into such behavior as a permanent condition, a radical didactic, dialectic shift, such as glasnost, produces guys like these:…” – Elwood Blues

I never wanted to see this movie.

For one, the first one was perfect and should have been left alone. Especially, after the death of John Belushi. Had he not passed away at a young age and then wanted to do a sequel, I probably would’ve been fine with that. Something just seemed grossly inappropriate about this film even being made but Hollywood has no morals, shame or respect for anything so I can’t say that this movie’s existence didn’t surprise me.

I figured that I’d give it a fair shot, though. Mainly, I wanted to review it and because maybe I was initially too harsh on this and it’s possible that it might be a nice tribute to Belushi.

Well, I wouldn’t call it nice or even good, really. Now it’s not as terrible as other people have led me to believe, over the years, but it’s kind of a pointless movie.

The reason why it’s pointless is that it takes all of the famous beats of the original film and just reuses them… poorly. It’s like Dan Aykroyd and John Landis dusted off the script to the original, changed some character and location names, moved some scenes out of sequence and then tried to do some clever modifications. Unfortunately, these tricks were really transparent and what we’re left with is a lame, terribly derivative picture that doesn’t have a reason to exist. Well, except for maybe one reason.

That reason is the music itself. I know that Aykroyd and Landis love the blues and they, at the very least, were able to create some solid musical sequences that I enjoyed. Now none of them are as iconic as the ones from the original movie but these sequences are where you can see that the creatives involved in the movie were really trying their damnedest to make this something special.

So, I can’t knock the musical parts but if the threads holding these sequences together is made of shit material, well, the semi-attractive tapestry is just going to fall apart. And sadly, that’s what happens with this movie.

In the end, I don’t hate this but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: its far superior predecessor and other John Landis comedies.

Film Review: Casino (1995)

Release Date: April 3rd, 1995 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Based on: Casino: Love and Honor In Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi
Music by: various
Cast: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollak, James Woods, Alan King, L. Q. Jones, Dick Smothers, Frank Vincent, John Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs), Richard Riehle, Frankie Avalon

Syalis DA, Legende Enterprises, Universal Pictures, 178 Minutes

Review:

“Listen to me very carefully. There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way, and the way that I do it. You understand?” – Ace Rothstein

Casino was the longest of Martin Scorsese’s films until The Wolf of Wall Street came out nearly two decades later. More recently, The Irishman came out and took the title. Truthfully, this picture could’ve actually been shorter by about a half hour but it’s still pretty damn good.

I do like this movie but my review may still come off as overly critical or as if I don’t like it. Reason being, it’s far from my favorite Scorsese flick and I feel like it’s trying to be too much like the far superior Goodfellas and because of that, it’s hard not to compare it to its superior, more interesting and energetic, predecessor.

To start, the acting in this is superb from top-to-bottom. I’d say that this also features Sharon Stone’s greatest performance even if her character was completely unlikable. By the end of the film, however, you actually feel for her character and her dark fate. That’s honestly got to be a testament to how great she was in this and how Scorsese really maximized her talent in a way that few directors have.

Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci were also fabulous but this is also really familiar territory for them and they already had tremendous chemistry, by this point, as they had starred alongside each other in several films before this one.

Other standouts were Frank Vincent and John Bloom, who is known by most people as the legendary and charismatic Joe Bob Briggs. Both these guys shined in this and in regards to Bloom, I had always wished he’d been in more films, as he proves in this that he can act pretty well in the right situation.

The narrative structure is almost too much like Goodfellas, though, and I find it kind of distracting, as it continually makes me think of that film and if Scorsese is just relying on what seems to be a trope that worked exceptionally well for him half a decade earlier. At the same time, I’ve never been a fan of multiple narrators, specifically when some of the characters are dead. That’s my problem, though, and I know that it doesn’t bother most people.

Back to one of my earlier points, this could’ve been better overall with about a half hour edited out. There are sometimes too many details and side plots, as this wedges in several characters that kind of don’t matter when you boil this story down to its core elements.

Also, the film does drag on in some parts and I feel like it would’ve been a much stiffer punch in less time with just the truly important parts left in. This also would’ve given the film more energy.

Casino is still a film Scorsese should definitely be proud of, as well as all the actors featured in it. I like the story, most of the characters and thought that it was a worthwhile way to spend three hours.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Martin Scorsese crime films, as well as those by Brian De Palma and Michael Mann’s Heat, also from 1995.

TV Review: Silver Surfer (1998)

Original Run: February 7th, 1998 – May 16th, 1998
Created by: Larry Brody
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Silver Surfer by Jack Kirby
Music by: Shuki Levy
Cast: Paul Essiembre, Camilla Scott, Colin Fox

Marvel Entertainment, Saban Entertainment, Fox, 13 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This show came out in a time when I was way more interested in chasing girls than watching Saturday morning cartoons. Also, I was probably really hung over on Saturday mornings in 1998. Plus, this series was really short-lived that I didn’t even know it existed until years later.

I binged watched it online in an afternoon, though, as I wanted to see if it was as good as some of the other ’90s Marvel cartoons that were on Fox and existed as part of that X-Men ’92 animated Marvel canon.

I think that this is pretty decent but it didn’t pull me in like the X-Men or Spider-Man cartoons of the same era. Also, it relied heavily on CGI and with that, gave us a weird mix of traditional hand-drawn 2D animation with 3D CGI graphics. It’s not terrible, visually, but it’s a bit jarring at times and the two styles have never really worked together for me. Also, the CGI stuff looks really cheap, which is probably just because of the time when this was made, as CGI animation wasn’t as refined as it would become.

This is similar to the other shows it shares a universe with, as it adapts the comic book stories but takes tremendous liberties with the material due to the length of the episodes and trying to get the franchise off of the ground with lots of characters as quickly as possible. Considering that everything is condensed down to just 13 episodes, I’m okay with it.

I really liked the three-part origin episodes more than the rest of the series but it was cool seeing what characters they started to sprinkle in and a second season, had it been made, could’ve been an improvement with a much larger universe to explore and a richer mythos.

All in all, this was a fun way to waste a Sunday afternoon. It’s hard to tell what this could’ve been due to it not surviving a short, first season.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel animated shows from the ’90s.

Film Review: Double Dragon (1994)

Also known as: Double Dragon: The Movie (alternative title)
Release Date: November 4th, 1994
Directed by: James Yukich (as James Nickson)
Written by: Paul Dini, Neal Shusterman, Michael Davis, Peter Gould
Based on: Double Dragon by Technos Japan
Music by: Jay Ferguson, Tolga Katas
Cast: Robert Patrick, Mark Dacascos, Scott Wolf, Julia Nickson, Alyssa Milano, Leon Russom, Kristina Wagner, George Hamilton, Vanna White, Andy Dick, Cory Milano, Al Leong, Jeff Imada

Greenleaf Productions, Imperial Entertainment, Les Films du Scarabée, 96 Minutes

Review:

“I just want total domination of one major American City! Is that too much to ask for? Is it? Is it? Huh?” – Guisman

So out of all the “terrible” video game movies of the ’90s, this is one I hadn’t seen until now. While I loved the Double Dragon video game franchise, I never wanted to see this after the trailer for it dropped back in 1994. It looked horrendously bad, poorly adapted and like a hokey, steaming pile of shit.

That being said, I did enjoy the hell out of this even if it’s a pretty shitty movie. I know that I would’ve hated it when it was current, however. Especially, because I loved the tone of the Double Dragon games and in that regard, this didn’t just miss the mark, it wasn’t even aiming in the first place.

The film is bad from top-to-bottom but some of the big action sequences are actually kind of impressive in regards to how well this made the most of a moderate budget. It was able to give us a cool boat chase scene with good pyrotechnics and action. Plus, some of the sets, as corny as they are, were fairly large and well designed for the bizarre world that this film takes place in.

Sadly, the special effects took somewhat of a budgetary hit in the poor use of obvious matte paintings and the giant rubber suit the Abobo actor was forced to wear.

Additionally, the acting is pretty damn bad but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy how over-the-top and hammy Robert Patrick was in his role as the villain.

To put it bluntly, this is a bad movie but it’s weird as fuck. I really enjoy weird movies and because of that, I liked this. That doesn’t mean that I’ll ever watch it again or give it a positive rating but I’ve enjoyed other films that were far worse than this.

Granted, I would watch a RiffTrax version of this movie if one exists.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s video game film adaptations.