Film Review: Spaced Invaders (1990)

Also known as: Martians!!! (working title)
Release Date: April 27th, 1990
Directed by: Patrick Read Johnson
Written by: Patrick Read Johnson, Scott Lawrence Alexander
Music by: David Russo
Cast: Douglas Barr, Royal Dano, Ariana Richards, Gregg Berger, Fred Applegate, Wayne Alexander, J. J. Anderson, Patrika Darbo, Tonya Lee Williams, Tony Cox, Orson Welles (voice – archive footage)

Silver Screen Partners IV, Smart Egg Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Look, when a vastly superior alien culture comes all this way to take over your world, certain basic laws of planetary conquest apply. For example, when someone points a Quad Vectored Hypo Thermic Cosmo Blaster at you, it’s a fair bet you are about to become toast.” – Giggywig, “Will you please sit down and be quiet?” – Mrs. Vanderspool, “[Mrs. Vanderspool is rather overweight] Or perhaps in your case, a whole loaf of toast!” – Giggywig

Some movies just don’t age well. This is one of them.

Granted, I was a kid when I saw this and even though I loved it when I saw it in the theater and then on VHS, a dozen times, it was always a cheesy and goofy movie.

That being said, I still found the movie entertaining enough to sit through for 100 minutes and I loved the practical effects, especially in regards to the animatronics of the Martians.

The story sees a small group of Martians miss the fleet going to war. While searching for the fleet’s signal, they intercept a broadcast from Earth, falsely interpreting that as a news report that the Martians have invaded their insignificant neighboring planet. So these Martians head to Earth to help an invasion that isn’t actually happening.

I can’t quite call this an outright parody, even though it’s an obvious homage to alien invasion science fiction like War of the Worlds, which is actually the broadcast that they perceived to be a legitimate news report in the same vein that many humans did in 1938.

This is almost a stoner comedy for kids but without the drugs. It kind of reminds me of 1986’s Howard the Duck in a lot of respects. I’m also one of the few people on Earth that like that movie, even though George Lucas has since disowned it.

While the film does have a plot, it’s a pretty simple one and the majority of the movie is just a series of humorous gags and jokes with a lot of crude, juvenile humor. You know, the best kind of humor from the best time that kind of humor existed.

I really like Royal Dano in this and I feel like that guy doesn’t get enough credit. He’s a solid and fully committed character actor that, at the very least, brightens any production he’s ever been a part of.

Additionally, I really connected with Ariana Richards in this. She’s most famous for being the young girl in Jurassic Park but, as a kid, I connected with her love of aliens and science fiction. The fact that she spends 75 percent of the film dressed like a xenomorph from the Alien franchise made my day back in 1990 and it’s still kind of cool. I also really enjoyed the little kid dressed like a duck the whole movie, who only removed his duck bill for the film’s big finale.

This is bizarre and borderline corny but I wouldn’t call it a waste of time. It was a decent way of wasting 100 minutes. I don’t think I’ll watch it again in the near future, or ever, but it was fun revisiting all these years later, even if it didn’t live up to my memories of it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other juvenile sci-fi comedies of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Film Review: Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

Release Date: May 25th, 1994
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: characters by Danilo Bach, Daniel Petrie Jr.
Music by: Nile Rodgers
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Hector Elizando, Theresa Randle, Timothy Carhart, John Saxon, Alan Young, Gilbert R. Hill, Bronson Pinchot, Stephen McHattie, Michael Bowen, Al Leong (uncredited), Al Green (cameo), George Lucas (cameo), Joe Dante (cameo), Ray Harryhausen (cameo), John Singleton (cameo)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[his last words] Axel, you on a coffee break? Go get that son of a bitch.” – Inspector Todd

The words “they waited too long” definitely apply to what was Beverly Hills Cop III.

This was one hell of a dud that lost many of the key players and only brought back Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Gil Hill… just so they could kill him in the opening sequence, and Bronson Pinchot, who only appeared in the first movie in two very minor scenes.

Additionally, this closing chapter in the franchise was mostly devoid of any real humor, as Eddie Murphy barely told any jokes, barely did his signature laugh and kind of just zombie walked through his scenes giving one of the flattest performances of his career.

In fact, his scenes with Bronson Pinchot actually show how dry Murphy is in this, as Pinchot steals the scenes right out from under him.

Judge Reinhold was made to look like a total doofus and they ignored what was established with his character in the previous film, which saw him open up and reveal that he was a gun nut similar to Eugene Tackleberry from the Police Academy movies. Here, he just carries a tiny pistol, looks the opposite of badass and pretty much just acts like a total dope.

Being that this was directed by John Landis is absolutely baffling. Landis is a top notch director that made several classics over the course of a decade and a half before this movie. I’m not sure if the script ended up getting butchered or if a lot was left on the cutting room floor but this is, hands down, one of the worst things Landis has ever had attached to his name.

Harold Faltermeyer didn’t return to score this film and man, it really shows. The score is generic as fuck and the famous Axl Foley theme is reworked and completely destroyed by brass instruments, completely taking away from the funky synth grooves that we got in the first two pictures.

In fact, when the brass gets real heavy in the score, it almost sounds like its trying to emulate a James Bond movie. I guess that’s fitting as Bronson Pinchot essentially plays a ripoff of Q and Axl Foley has a bunch of weird gadgets to use ala Bond.

I think that the franchise should’ve just ended with two. This proves that it’s really, really hard to catch lightning in a bottle for a third time.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Beverly Hills Cop movies, as well as the 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon films.

Documentary Review: Beyond the Mat (1999)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Barry W. Blaustein
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, New Jack, Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Darren Drozdov, Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, Dennis Stamp, Tony Jones, Mike Modest, Roland Alexander, Dave Meltzer, Chyna, Spike Dudley, Koko B. Ware, Jesse Ventura

Universal Family and Home Entertainment, Imagine Entertainment, Lions Gate Films, 102 Minutes, 108 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I could never get over the fact that guys could beat the crap out of each other in the ring, and be friendly outside of it. Some of Terry’s most famous matches were against a man twenty years his junior: Mick Foley. Over the years, Mick and Terry had traveled the world, setting each other on fire, tossing each other into barbed wire. Yet outside the ring, they were truly at peace with one another.” – Barry W. Blaustein

Considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest wrestling documentary of all-time, it’s almost a crime that this wasn’t, at the very least, nominated for an Academy Award. Watching this all these years later, it still holds up and is damn compelling, top to bottom.

Beyond the Mat is intriguing on just about every level and every story featured in this documentary is well told, well presented and edited into the larger tapestry so neatly that I feel as if this would be a great watch even for those who aren’t all that interested in professional wrestling.

One of the most engaging things about it is that it really shows you the behind the scenes stuff from the WWF corporate offices, as well as what goes down backstage during a massive, flagship pay-per-view event. In this case, the film features the main event of the 1999 Royal Rumble, a brutal “I Quit” match between Mick Foley and The Rock.

That being said, it does feel like some parts of this documentary are heavily sensationalized, like the reactions of Foley’s wife and small kids during the Royal Rumble match. Of course the kids are going to cry when the mother is freaking out in an over the top way when she knows the cameras are on her. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a legitimate reaction but it was definitely captured and then sold to the audience as something much worse than it needed to be.

While it is obvious that this wanted to pull the wool over Vince McMahon’s eyes, initially, it’s fine in that it wanted to expose the darker sides of the business. Those darker sides exist, especially back then, and showing the underbelly beyond the lights and pageantry is why this probably did a lot more good than bad in how the business has evolved and tried to improve over the years since this came out.

Ultimately, this isn’t perfect but it’s damn entertaining.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other professional wrestling documentaries, most notably Wrestling With Shadows.

Film Review: Another 48 Hrs. (1990)

Release Date: June 8th, 1990
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: John Fasano, Jeb Stuart, Larry Gross, Fred Braughton
Based on: characters by Roger Spottiswoode, Walter Hill, Larry Gross, Steven E. de Souza
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Nick Nolte, Brion James, Ed O’Ross, Andrew Divoff, Kevin Tighe, Bernie Casey, Tisha Campbell, Frank McRae

Lawrence Gordon Productions, Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Let me tell you something, Jack. If shit was worth something, poor people would be born with no asshole.” – Reggie Hammond

This was a film that was most likely wrecked by post-production issues. Mainly, it had about 40 minutes of its running time chopped off. In fact, actor Brion James once said that he was really the third major star of the movie but a lot of his bigger scenes got cut. Which kind of sucks, as he’s a solid character actor and an integral part of so many movies I love.

Considering that the film really lacked a coherent plot, the massive edits could’ve really fucked the whole thing up. Sure, there’s a chance that the whole film was an incoherent mess and the edits actually helped it but it does feel like there is a lot of context missing. Maybe I can compare the script with the final film one of these days, assuming the script is online somewhere.

Looking at this as a complete and final body of work, though, means that I have to be honest and say that the film is a real disappointment.

On the positive side, Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte are great, once again, as are Brion James, Ed O’Ross, Kevin Tighe and Tisha Campbell, whose role was way too small and makes me think that she had a lot of material cut from the final edit.

I kind of liked the villains, as well, but they pale in comparison to how great James Remar and Sonny Landham were in the first movie.

And since I am speaking about things that pale in comparison, I also have to point out that the action in this chapter is weak and underwhelming. The first movie was mostly a non-stop ride of great action sequences, broken up with comedic scenes in-between. While this film has action, other than the prison bus sequence and the final showdown, it’s all pretty forgettable.

That being said, this movie just feels like director Walter Hill either had his hands tied or he was betrayed by his own studio, who potentially butchered his work in the editing room. The is the least Walter Hill feeling movie out of all his action heavy pictures.

At the end of the day, though, this is still watchable and amusing. If you like these characters and their bond in the first movie, you’ll probably like seeing them again. Unfortunately, everything around them kind of sucks.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon movies.

Documentary Review: Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998)

Release Date: December 20th, 1998
Directed by: Paul Jay
Written by: Paul Jay
Cast: Bret Hart, Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Stu Hart, Helen Hart, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Triple H, Brian Pillman, Blade Hart, Julie Hart, Diana Hart, Keith Hart, Tammy Sytch, Georgia Hart, Dave Meltzer, The Honky Tonk Man, Earl Hebner, Vince Russo, Mick Foley, Dustin Rhodes, Pat Patterson, Leon ‘Vader’ White, Ellie Hart, Alison Hart, Michael P.S. Hayes, Savio Vega, Harry Smith

High Road Productions, National Film Board of Canada (NFB), TVOntario, Vidmark/Trimark, 93 Minutes

Review:

Wrestling with Shadows is, hands down, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen on any subject. Luckily for me, it’s on a subject I love: professional wrestling.

When this came out back in the late ’90s, it was a mega hit! Well, as much as it could be, as Vince McMahon used his influence to try and stop it from being seen. I remember that they did end up broadcasting it on A&E in 1999, which was the first time I saw it.

As a wrestling tape trader in the ’90s, this was one of those holy grail things that was being passed around, as well as the screener copies of 1999’s Beyond the Mat.

For those that don’t know, this was supposed to be a simple documentary about a year in Bret Hart’s life. What it ended up being is an intimate peek into one of the biggest scandals in professional wrestling history: The Montreal Screwjob.

The documentary is more intimate than most on the subject of professional wrestling. It truly delves into the personal lives of not just Bret Hart but the entire Hart Family. While Bret is certainly the focus, we get to hear from several family members and even see what family dinners looked like. We get an intimate look at the famous Hart Family Dungeon and even get to spend time with his parents, most notably his mother Helen. The Hart matriarch talks about how she truly feels about the wrestling business and how what was only supposed to be temporary became her family’s all-consuming legacy.

Beyond that, this starts to tell the story about how WWE owner Vince McMahon offered Bret Hart a twenty year contract worth a ton of money and how he decided he needed to renege on that deal and let Bret Hart leave for greener financial pastures with Ted Turner’s WCW, the company that was taking WWE to the woodshed at the time.

Eventually, this all leads to Vince lying to Bret and double-crossing him in front of the world.

The last twenty minutes or so of this documentary are damn compelling and it still holds up, twenty-three years after the incident.

Whether you give a crap about professional wrestling or not, this is still a fascinating documentary that started out as one thing and then evolved into something much, much more.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries but most notably Beyond the Mat and 350 Days.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)

Also known as: Lethal 4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 7th, 1998 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Channing Gibson, Jonathan Lemkin, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Chris Rock, Jet Li, Kim Chan, Calvin Jung, Eddy Ko, Conan Lee, Richard Riehle, François Chau, Al Leong (uncredited)

Donner/Shuler Productions, Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

Well, I’ve reached the end of my Lethal Weapon reviews. From memory, I thought that the third one was my least favorite but having re-watched them all now, so close together, I’d say that this is the worst.

That being said, I still like Lethal Weapon 4 a lot.

I think that the problem with this one is that we get to check in with characters we’ve grown to love but the Murtaugh-Riggs Family has grown so much that the dynamic between the core characters is kind of watered down and subtracted away from, due to the additions of so many new faces.

This does setup a really sweet ending for the final scene in this, the final film (for now), but the core dynamic worked best when it was just Riggs, Murtaugh and sometimes Getz, when you needed to throw in some comic relief.

Moving past that, I think that this film also suffers from the same thing that the third one did, it lacks the chutzpah of the first two films. Those movies were written by Shane Black, at the top of his game, and even though he is still credited for creating these characters, these last two films don’t have the same girt or energy as their predecessors.

Now Lethal Weapon 4 still boasts some stupendous action sequences. It’s certainly not lacking in that regard, I’m grateful that it still brought the fire and frankly, Richard Donner just knows how to shoot and present action better than most directors.

After analyzing the four films in this series with a sharper eye than I’ve given them, previously, I can see that Donner has a certain style in regards to action. Everything just looks organic and real and it’s edited to maintain a quick, flowing pace but not so quick that it becomes choppy and disorienting like modern action films. In fact, a lot of modern directors should take notes from these pictures.

Speaking of action, I really enjoyed the opening of this film. It’s the second best opener in the series, after Lethal Weapon 2, and it really gets things moving and off to a bang. However, the sequence that immediately follows with the Chinese boat, stifles the momentum.

Additionally, there are too many things that happen within the plot that just seem way too convenient to be real. This was a problem that started in the third film but it’s much more apparent here.

As far as the plot, it’s okay. It’s definitely a bigger scheme on par with the first two movies but it’s not that interesting. I guess it works to shed light on the fact that some Chinese are treated like modern slaves in an effort to buy their way into the United States but it’s presented pretty heavy handedly and also quite cheesily.

There are two saving graces in this film that keep it from sinking too far down in the muck. The first is the great action, which I already mentioned, and the second is the characters. The camaraderie is generally really solid and this movie does generate some real feels, especially towards the end in a scene with Riggs and Getz and then the big finale at the hospital, where two babies are born, expanding the family even more.

In the end, this is a “feel good” movie in how it closes things out for these characters. You kind of hope that you’d get to see them again but for now, this is the conclusion of the series. Granted, the television reboot did fairly well and stayed on TV for three seasons but that version of the characters is different. However, due to the show’s popularity, they have been talking about a Lethal Weapon 5 for the first time in years. So, maybe, just maybe… this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the real Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

Release Date: May 11th, 1992 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Robert Mark Kamen
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Kenneth Tigar, Stuart Wilson, Delores Hall, Miguel A. Nunez Jr.

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes, 121 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is where the Lethal Weapon franchise started to fall off a bit but it is still a pretty solid movie and it does keep the film series moving forward. This just isn’t as great as the first two but it is hard to be as good as those films were for a third time. In fact, it’s actually incredible that they captured lightning in a bottle twice.

That being said, this is still one of the greatest buddy cop movies of all-time because anytime Riggs and Murtaugh get together, you can almost guarantee that the end result will be a film with a lot of heart, that’s a lot of fun and full of great action sequences.

And it’s the action sequences that make this one great. They’re all pretty solid here, especially the multiple vehicle chases and the big showdown in the housing development that isn’t yet constructed. While burning wood frames in the shape of houses was probably a good way to keep the budget down, it was a great idea, executed well and it made for a good looking and unique finale.

While this one brings Joe Pesci back into the fold, it adds one more permanent member to the family in Rene Russo’s Lorna Cole, an internal affairs cop that starts a romance with Martin Riggs, who has had terrible luck with the previous women in his life.

I think the one thing that makes this film weaker is the villain and the criminal plot. He’s an ex-cop turned property developer that funds his empire by stealing guns from police evidence lockups in order to sell them to street gangs. It’s not very original and it’s pretty topical for the time when this was made. Sure, street gang violence still exists today but it’s not an issue of the magnitude of any of the criminal plots from the three other Lethal Weapon movies. I mean, these guys just took down a South African diplomat.

Anyway, I think this film also loses some steam because it wasn’t written by Shane Black, who penned the first two films. While he may have been busy and Richard Donner may have wanted to give someone else a shot at writing, this film is missing that special touch that Black had in the second half of the ’80s.

Overall, this is still a good outing, it’s just my least favorite of the four.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.