Film Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Also known as: T2 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 1st, 1991 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, William Wisher
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, Earl Boen, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley, Dean Norris, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Nikki Cox, Michael Biehn (cameo – Special Edition and Ultimate Cut)

Carolco Pictures, Pacific Western, Lightstorm Entertainment, Le Studsio Canal+ S.A., TriStar Pictures, 137 Minutes, 153 Minutes (Special Edition), 156 Minutes (Ultimate Cut)

Review:

“[narrating] The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” – Sarah Connor

When I was middle school aged, this film hit theaters. At the time, I thought it was just about the best movie ever made. At that age, it appealed to me more than the superior original but I think that’s because I was roughly the same age as John Connor and I was living vicariously through his experience in the film.

The thing is, this is still an utterly stupendous motion picture and one of the best that James Cameron has ever done. But, as an adult, I can’t put this over the masterpiece that is the original film.

Still, it is an incredible film and a great thing to experience, even for the 38th time watching it. Honestly, I may have seen it more than that as my VHS copy broke years ago.

It’s been a long time since I’ve revisited this classic, though. But this was the first time I watched the Special Edition, which added in new scenes and longer cuts. The most important of those is a scene where Michael Biehn returns as Kyle Reese in a dream Sarah Connor has while still locked up in the mental hospital.

There is also a cool scene that shows John defy his mother in order to spare the Terminator that is protecting them. It’s actually a good character building scene that probably should have been left in, as it shows John’s natural leader personality come through and it also amplifies Sarah’s paranoia about working with a Terminator.

The only other notable addition is a scene that shows Miles Dyson and his family. This probably should have been cut but it is nice to see him trying to balance his personal life and work life.

Everything in this movie still holds up today. While the special effects might not be as impressive in 2019, they don’t look bad and for the time, they were lightyears ahead of what anyone else was doing. And it was those great digital effects that made the villainous T-1000 exist and frankly, he is still one of the most terrifying villains in movie history. But I have to give credit to Robert Patrick for that, even if its the effects that allowed him to come into being.

All the practical effects are top notch too, from the opening sequence of the war from the future and all the makeup, prosthetic and animatronic work they had to do for Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in the second half of the film.

But getting back to the acting, it’s a mixed bag, really.

Linda Hamilton has never been better. Also, Schwarzenegger is pretty perfect but this version of the Terminator character is written in a way that doesn’t require much from him other than what is naturally present in his real personality. That’s not a knock against Arnold, as much as it is a nod of respect to James Cameron for giving us a more human cyborg that is trying to become something more than just a killing machine. The script and the dialogue written for Arnold enhance his strengths and don’t force him to have to deal with his weaknesses. Frankly, it enhances the overall experience.

Now Edward Furlong did okay, being that this is his first film but I felt like his performance could’ve been fine tuned more. When I was a kid, I didn’t give a shit, I thought he was cool. As an adult, I see some of the problems with his acting but at the same time, he’s far from terrible. Where it sometimes doesn’t work really isn’t his fault either. James Cameron should’ve just stepped in more and helped the kid. But then, I also don’t know how many takes were shot and its possible that these were just the best they could get and had to move on.

I mentioned that I like the first movie the best but this one does a much better job of world building and in that, this feels like the most complete and overall satisfying film in the franchise. Where the first film feels more like a sci-fi slasher movie with guns instead of knives, this feels more like something akin to the epic world building of Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings.

This film certainly has the most to offer in regards to the franchise as a whole. And since nothing after has really come close to its greatness, there isn’t much reason to watch the films that follow. Besides, they all start contradicting each other and this franchise has been rebooted three different times because it became a giant mess.

Eventually, I will get around to the other films just to review them. I already reviewed Terminator: Genisys when it came out back in 2015 but I haven’t revisited Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or Terminator: Salvation since they were in theaters. Plus, I’ve still got to watch the TV show but I’ve heard that it’s actually pretty good.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Terminator film. Ignore the sequels after this one.

Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.

Film Review: Fatal Fury: Legend of the Hungry Wolf (1992)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1992 (Japan)
Directed by: Hiroshi Fukutomi
Based on: Fatal Fury: King of Fighters by SNK
Music by: Toshihiko Sahashi, Toshio Masuda

Fuji Television Network, Nihon Ad Systems (NAS), Star Child Recording, 46 Minutes

Review:

There were Street Fighter kids, there were Mortal Kombat kids and then their were Fatal Fury kids.

I was a Fatal Fury kid and actually loved all the fighting games put out by SNK on the Neo Geo. And that’s not to say that I also didn’t play the shit out of the other two games but the style of those SNK fighters lured me in.

So when Fatal Fury animes started coming out, I bought them all and watched them almost weekly. I just dug the hell out of these films.

This one, the first of three, is the shortest and probably the worst but it’s still worth a watch for fans of the franchise that would evolve into the uber popular King of Fighters game series.

The story isn’t super exciting and it’s standard fighting game story fare. A bad guy, in this case Geese Howard, killed the two protagonists’ father. The two brothers decide to get revenge when they’re adults ten years later. They meet a Muay Thai ally and all three go to war with the scumbags ruling the city. They also kick ass in a big fighting tournament and draw the attention of the big bad guy.

The main issue I have with this film is that it’s too short. The story could have been better and richer but this just cuts to the chase, sets everything up quickly and then lets the characters duke it out.

If you aren’t familiar with these games, then this probably isn’t something you’ll give a shit about. If you are an old school Fatal Fury fan, this is worth checking out if only to build up towards the third film, which was pretty fantastic from my memory.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: the two Fatal Fury movies that follow.

TV Review: 8 Man After (1993)

Original Run: 1993
Created by: Carl Macek
Directed by: Yoriyasu Kogawa, Sumiyoshi Furakawa
Written by: Kazumasa Hirai, Jiro Kuwata
Based on: 8 Man by Kazumasa Hirai, Jiro Kuwata
Music by: Ryouichi Kumiyoshi

Discotek Media, 4 Episodes, 25-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This was a sequel to the original 8 Man anime series and manga, which came out in the 1960s. This was also released as a four episode OVA in Japan but there is also a movie edit of the material. I’m reviewing the episodes that were released as an OVA, as that’s the version I could stream via Prime Video.

While I’ve seen some of the original 8 Man series, it’s been a really long time and I barely remember it. I figured I’d check this out though because since revisiting Akira and Ghost In the Shell recently, I’ve been on a bit of a cyberpunk anime kick.

Now this is far from perfect and it almost borrows a lot from RoboCop but I guess one could say that RoboCop borrowed from the original 8 Man. That being said, I think that this couldn’t help but to borrow some of these ideas, as by the time this was being made, RoboCop was at its peak in popularity, had spawned sequels, comics, toys and television shows. Both are dystopian cyberpunk stories with cyborg heroes and baddies outfitted with their own unique tech.

At the same time, this is also influenced by the other cyberpunk anime like Akira and Megazone 23, at least aesthetically and tonally.

The story is interesting but there’s not enough of it there, even over four episodes. Ultimately, by the end, I wanted more. And maybe more episodes were planned and this just didn’t make enough money. It didn’t even come out in the States till years later, so that could’ve had an impact on it financially.

Overall, I really liked the animation and the character design but the thing that I really noticed and enjoyed about this series was the sound and the music. I loved the themes and the sound effects were pretty neat.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk anime: Akira, Ghost In the Shell, Megazone 23, Neo Tokyo, etc.

Film Review: Ghost In the Shell (1995)

Also known as: Kôkaku Kidôtai (original Japanese title), Armored Riot Police, Shell Mobile Force (alternative titles)
Release Date: September 23rd, 1995 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Mamoru Oshii
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Based on: Ghost In the Shell by Masamune Shirow
Music by: Kenji Kawai

Production I.G., Bandai Visual, Manga Entertainment, Shochiku, 82 Minutes

Review:

“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.” – Major Motoko Kusanagi

Many consider Ghost In the Shell to be a masterpiece of the anime genre and style. I can’t really disagree with that, even though it’s not my favorite. That will probably always be Akira. However, this has a lot of similarities to Akira but it’s certainly not a clone of it, which is why it stands so strong on its own.

Like Akira this is a cyberpunk neo-noir that focuses on human experiments, high tech labs, lots of action and just a rich, cool looking futuristic world. But the stories are still very different.

While the plot focuses on a cyborg security agent that fights cyber related crime, the real meat and potatoes of the story is about questioning future technology and the morals dilemmas that come with its implementation.

In a way, Ghost In the Shell serves as both a warning regarding tech run amok, as well as being an examination of a person or cyborg’s rights in a world where physical bodies can be augmented with material owned and controlled by corporations.

The film itself is only 82 minutes, which may not seem like a lot of time to really delve into these complicated concepts and ideas but this picture covers a lot of ground fairly well. Ultimately, it leaves you wanting more and the story feels incomplete but luckily, even if it took awhile, there was a sequel and a television series that dug even deeper.

As a standalone anime film, my only gripe is the fact that this feels unfinished. It’s presentation and plot structure makes it come across like the first OVA in a series that didn’t progress beyond one episode.

However, the animation and the ambiance more than make up for the film’s one main flaw.

Ghost In the Shell is still one of the greatest works in the anime medium and I’m pretty sure future generations will continue to hold it in high regard.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and television spinoffs, as well as Akira and other cyberpunk anime.

Film Review: Rescue Me (1992)

Also known as: Street Hunter (alternative title), The Infernal Venture (Belgium)
Release Date: September 11th, 1992 (Germany)
Directed by: Arthur Allan Seidelman
Written by: Michael Snyder
Music by: Joel Hirschhorn, Al Kasha, David Waters
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Stephen Dorff, Ami Dolenz, Peter DeLuise, William Lucking, Dee Wallace, Liz Torres

Cannon Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Now you kissed a girl, kid – the rest is all downhill.” – Daniel ‘Mac’ MacDonald

What happens when you take a teenage Deacon Frost, team him up with the American Ninja and have them hunt down dumb kidnappers that took Tony Danza’s daughter from She’s Out of Control? You get this movie.

But you also get Peter DeLuise as one of the bumbling criminals, as well as Dee Wallace as the always concerned but always aloof mom.

That being said, I love the cast and it actually shocks me that I didn’t know of this film’s existence until fairly recently.

Additionally, this was put out by Cannon Films, which explains the lead role for Michael Dudikoff. But this was also put out by Cannon very late in the company’s lifespan. And this shows, as it lacks the high octane magic that was always present in their ’80s films that featured any sort of action.

Still, this was enjoyable and it actually surprised me as it had real heart and charm.

Sure, it’s a dumb movie with a bad script, baffling decisions by the characters and it’s so over the top that it’s not believable even for a comedy. However, you do end up liking these characters and find yourself cheering for them. Well, Stephen Dorff’s Fraser and Dudikoff’s Mac. Ami Dolenz just plays a selfish rich girl that goes on to prove that she’s a dumb and shitty person.

The story follows Dorff’s Fraser, a high school photographer that pines over Dolenz’s Ginny. He witnesses a crime going down, Ginny ends up in the middle of it along with Mac. Ginny is taken hostage and Fraser wants to go save her. So he teams up with Mac and they go from Nebraska to Los Angeles in search of Ginny and a bit of revenge.

At it’s core, this is a coming of age story about young love, first crushes, first kisses and learning to accept that your first love is probably just going to break your heart. I like that this film didn’t go for the cookie cutter ending where the nerd saves the cheerleader and they live happily ever after. The fact that Fraser actually grows up through this experience and realizes he doesn’t need Ginny is actually refreshing.

Dorff was pretty damn good, even at this age. But the film is really carried by the chemistry and the friendship of Dorff and Dudikoff’s characters. I really liked Dudikoff in this and while I prefer him being a straight up action star, he got to really show his human side and his acting ability more here than he did in any American Ninja movie or Avenging Force.

What was also best about this leading duo is that they looked like they enjoyed being in this movie and that they actually clicked well together off screen. In retrospect, it must have been cool for the young Dorff to work opposite an ’80s action star and for Dudikoff it must have been satisfying working with a kid that had chops and a pretty bright future.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s road trip movies.

Film Review: Serial Mom (1994)

Release Date: April 13th, 1994
Directed by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterson, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Mink Stole, Mary Jo Catlett, Justin Whalin, Traci Lords, Suzanne Somers, Joan Rivers (cameo), L7, John Waters (voice)

Polar Entertainment Corporation, Savoy Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“If ever there was a time to go on record against the death penalty, wasn’t it that night? Capital punishment is already the law in the state of Maryland. So what are we waiting for, fellow Christians? Let’s just do it.” – Father Boyce

It’s been years since I’ve seen this but man, it was really refreshing seeing it again for probably the first time since it came out on video back in the mid-’90s.

I forgot how fantastic this movie was. But then it’s a John Waters film and his style of humor mostly works for me. And his ’80s and ’90s movies were a bit more palatable for mainstream audiences.

While Kathleen Turner is a damn fine actress, I don’t think she ever had a better time than she did making this movie. I mean, she looks like she is having a blast in every single scene. She commits to the bit wholeheartedly and gave us a stupendous and iconic performance in this film.

Granted, this wasn’t a big hit and is sort of a cult movie but that also kind of makes this cooler, as not a lot of people know about it and the few I brought it up to don’t even remember its existence. Although, I’m not sure how this went down the memory hole, as it’s an entertaining romp full of cold blooded murder and a solid critique on the celebrity status of serial killers in American culture.

It also peers beyond the facade of mainstream Americana. While this was a pretty common trope in the movies of the time, when it works, it works and Waters has a certain panache that others can’t match or attempt to replicate.

I love that this takes place in the ’90s but has a strong ’50s sitcom feel to it. But Waters was a master of channeling nostalgia from that era.

While Turner is the absolute centerpiece of this film and owns every scene, the rest of the cast is outstanding as well. Especially her family, played by Sam Waterson, Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard.

My only complaint about the film is that sometimes characters’ motivations are confusing. Like how Turner’s family supports her and wants her to get off from the six murders she’s being tried for but then are immediately fearful when she gets away with it and is coming home.

Also, the ending was just sort of okay and predictable.

Additionally, the first two-thirds of the movie are perfection. But things slow to a crawl and become less interesting once the trial starts.

Still, this was a motion picture that I was really happy to revisit. And ultimately, it made me realize that I need to go back and work my way through John Waters filmography again.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: pretty much anything by John Waters.