Film Review: Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998)

Also known as: Phantasm IV: Infinity (alternate title), Phantasm: Phorever (working title)
Release Date: July 31st, 1998 (Canada – Fantasia International Film Festival)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Christopher L. Stone
Cast: Reggie Bannister, Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy

Orion Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t abandon you Mike. I was taken.” – Jody

When I reviewed the third film in this series, I mentioned about how it relied too heavily on the audience knowing the details of the previous films. Well, this one is probably completely unwatchable to those that don’t know any of the backstory. Even then, this is pretty confusing and hard to follow unless you are a true Phantasm die hard.

So if you aren’t a hardcore fan that has seen everything before this, you probably don’t want to waste your time on this picture and frankly, it could just turn you off from the series.

For the rest of us, this is a really intriguing movie. It unveils a lot of the mystery but in answering questions, it really just creates more. Nothing is settled in this film and it ends fairly anticlimactically. For a long time, this was how the franchise ended but the fifth film was finally made and released in 2016 but that made things even more confusing; I’ll get to that once I review it.

The biggest problem with this film is that it is the most interesting in the franchise from a narrative standpoint but it is also the most boring. Even though things are revealed and we start to understand this bizarre mythos on a deeper level, there isn’t a whole lot that happens otherwise.

This is mostly devoid of action and just features Mike wallowing in a desert with suicidal tendencies and Reggie driving around a lot. And then there is just some random weird shit thrown in without much expanation: like the zombie cop, the hot chick with killer spheres for tits and poorly written and nonsensical fights (like the one with the zombie cop).

I really wanted to know more about the Tall Man’s backstory. This gives you a lot to think on and digest but mostly just leaves you hanging.

I like this movie, overall. Like I said, it is the most interesting in the series but it is also the hardest to get through. And again, if you aren’t familiar with the story, up to this point, you’d be wasting your time and your experience might inspire you to never check out the incredible first film.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Phantasm films.

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: 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: 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: Hard Rain (1998)

Also known as: The Flood (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1998
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Graham Yost
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Richard Dysart, Betty White, Ricky Harris

UGC-PH, Tele-Munchen, BBC, Nordisk Film, Marubeni, Toho, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Look! We just want the money! You guys can walk away, we won’t kill you!” – Jim

This film has more studios, distributors and countries involved in its creation than I have ever seen. Okay, maybe not ever but there is a whole shit ton of people behind this little action movie.

It also has a pretty big cast for a movie about a town vacated due to massive flooding. But the big cast of characters was actually a benefit as this movie has so many twists, turns and character morality shifts that at its core, this is very much film-noir.

Christian Slater plays an armored truck guard. He and his older mentor, played by Edward Asner, get stuck in the flood waters as they are transporting three million dollars from the small town’s bank to safety. They are quickly overcome by a group of thieves, led by Morgan Freeman. Asner’s character is killed in the initial confrontation but Slater escapes and hides the money away in a tomb. As the water rises further, Slater is on the run from Freeman’s gang, who have acquired boats and jet skis to more easily navigate the flooded city streets.

The town is also protected by a three man police force led by Randy Quaid. They seem like a heroic lot but as the film progresses and greed takes over the hearts of nearly everyone in the film, we see the worst come out in those tasked with keeping the peace.

Minnie Driver is thrown into the film because you need eye candy and someone for the hero to try and hook up with. You also have an elderly couple who stayed behind, played by the great Betty White and Richard Dysart. There is also the town’s dam operator, played by Wayne Duvall.

Hard Rain is a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it isn’t a good movie but it is great, mindless fun for ninety minutes. The action is good, there are a lot of layers to the story and there really isn’t a dull moment. I can’t say that the script is good either but at least the plot moves swiftly, offers up some decent surprises and is interesting enough to keep one engaged.

The highlight of the film is the three male leads, all of whom played their parts well and seemed to be having fun with the material.

This is a quintessential ’90s mid-budget action picture. It doesn’t try to do too much and stays pretty grounded in reality. The premise made for an ambitious picture, especially in regards to how much water was needed to create the scenes, but it never felt over the top or ridiculous. The shootout inside the church is marvelously executed and still looks good today.

This is just a fun movie with a good cast that I have to revisit once in awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Broken Arrow, another Christian Slater action film from the same era.

Film Review: Smoke Signals (1998)

Release Date: June 26th, 1998
Directed by: Chris Eyre
Written by: Sherman Alexie
Based on: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Music by: B. C. Smith
Cast: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal, Perrey Reeves, Tom Skerritt

Miramax, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes it’s a good day to die, and sometimes it’s a good day to have breakfast.” – Thomas Builds-the-Fire

For a film that’s title is written across the screen in Papyrus, this isn’t a bad little picture despite its poor choice in typeface.

This is a coming of age story but it is also about shifting into manhood. The interesting twist, is this is told from a Native American perspective. In fact, the entire film, top to bottom, is a Native American production. Sherman Alexie, the writer, did this to properly convey Native American culture, as Hollywood has typically misinterpreted Native life in the United States.

The core of the story is about two young men going on a road trip together, as one of their fathers, who left years ago, passed away in his trailer outside of Phoenix. The two young men travel on a bus from their reservation in Idaho down to Arizona. The young men have never really been off the reservation or experienced life in the world outside of their tiny bubble.

What really holds this film together is the performances of Adam Beach and Evan Adams. The two actors were very much different characters but they had a good chemistry that propelled the picture forward. I have really come to like Beach over the years and this may be the earliest example of his work that I’ve seen.

Gary Farmer plays Beach’s father and he does so with such grace. He’s shown being abusive to his son and his wife, as he is an angry alcoholic. But as the story unfolds and we see his regrets and understand the weight on his shoulders, which ultimately pushed him towards the bottle, we see a different man, a soft, caring, guilt ridden human being that can’t face the wreckage he caused. And like his son, we have to find a way to accept the man for who he is and make peace with him.

Smoke Signals isn’t a great film but it is unique and even though it is heavy in the emotion department, it is sweet and relatable to any man that has grown up having issues with their father, Native American or not.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Powwow Highway.

Film Review: The Replacement Killers (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Ken Sanzel
Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jürgen Prochnow, Danny Trejo, Clifton Collins Jr.

Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, WCG Entertainment Productions, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Hostage etiquette: kidnapper pays the incidentals.” – Meg Coburn

I haven’t seen this since it was in theaters twenty years ago. I liked it back in the day, especially because it gave American audiences a look at the great Chow Yun-fat, a guy I loved in several Hong Kong gangster films. Plus, back in the late ’90s, I was crushing hard on Mira Sorvino. I probably still am, truth be told.

This is a pretty fast paced film with a fairly short running time. But that’s good, as it doesn’t really let up once it gets going, which is almost immediately.

The story follows John Lee, a hitman hired by a Chinese mob boss to kill the young child of a police officer who killed the boss’ criminal son. Lee has the young kid in his crosshairs but decides not to murder the child. In doing so, he is marked by the mob boss for betrayal all while replacement killers are hired to kill Lee and finish his mission. Fearing for his own family’s safety, Lee goes to Meg, a master at forging passports. All Lee wants is to get back to China to protect his loved ones. While at Meg’s place, he gets her caught up in his drama and she is then pulled along for the ride. They have to try and survive and also do everything they can to prevent the cop’s kid from being killed.

This film was made early in Antoine Fuqua’s career. He did a good job with it, as it matches the tone and intensity of a lot of those Hong Kong gangster films that Chow was in, especially the ones directed by John Woo.

In addition to Chow Yun-fat and Mira Sorvino, we are also treated to the talents of Michael Rooker, who excels in action movies. Rooker plays the cop and the father of the kid who is the mob boss’ target. While he gives the heroes some difficulty, initially, he changes his tune when he realizes their situation and sees them risk their lives for his kid.

This isn’t close to being the best Chow Yun-fat movie out there but it is still pretty damn enjoyable and a great English language vehicle to help make the guy a household name in the English speaking markets.