Film Review: Brain Dead (1990)

Also known as: Paranoia (alternative title), Lobotomie (Canada, French title)
Release Date: January, 1990 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Adam Simon
Written by: Charles Beaumont, Adam Simon
Music by: Peter Rotter
Cast: Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, Bud Cort, George Kennedy, Nicholas Pryor, Patricia Charbonneau

Concord Pictures, New Horizons, 85 Minutes

Review:

“My brains are individuals – they’re special – they’re unique.” – Dr. Rex Martin

This film stars two of my favorite Bills but I had never seen it until now. I remember seeing the VHS box art at my local video stores though. It just never appealed to me back in the day and my appreciation for Bills Pullman and Paxton hadn’t completely blossomed in 1990.

Overall, this was a decent picture. I liked seeing both Pullman and Paxton in it, along with Bud Cort, who stole the scenes he was in, and the great George Kennedy. I also enjoyed Patricia Charbonneau, who I mostly only know as the kind scientist from RoboCop 2 but I was crushing hard on her in that movie when I was a wee little lad.

Anyway, this is a weird, trippy movie with a lot of mystery. Mostly, the story is a slow burn that builds up at the right speed but delivers just an okay conclusion.

This is one of those mindfuck movies though and they were really common at the time but unfortunately, this doesn’t come close to the better ones like Jacob’s Ladder or From Beyond.

The plot follows a neurosurgeon (Pullman) that specializes in brain malfunctions that cause mental illnesses. His high school buddy (Paxton), a yuppie businessman from a company called Eunice, asks for help in delving into the brain of a genius mathematician that turned into a psychotic. Really, they are trying to pry into his brain to reveal corporate secrets but the neurosurgeon starts to be effected by the horrors in the mind of the mathematician.

I wouldn’t call the ending satisfactory but the story was interesting enough to keep one engaged up to that point. But most of these mindfuck movies never really deliver anything profound and usually flounder at the climax.

This is a film that steadily builds suspense but comes up short in its final delivery. There’s nothing profound here and really nothing new either.

But this is carried by the performances of its leads and for that, it’s probably worth a watch for fans of this genre.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Altered States, From BeyondRe-Animator and Jacob’s Ladder.

Film Review: Trespass (1992)

Also known as: The Looters (working title), Die Rap-Gang (Germany)
Release Date: December 25th, 1992
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Bill Paxton, Ice-T, William Sadler, Ice Cube, Art Evans, De’voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson, T.E. Russell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, John Toles-Bey, Byron Minns

Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the beauty of gold. It never tarnishes. Lasts forever, too. You can twist it, pound it, even piss on it but it’s always the same gold. It was here long before we were and it’ll be here a long time after we’re gone. I bet you a lot of men have died for the gold that’s just in this one piece.” – Bradlee

Man, I used to have a really high opinion of this film circa 1993 when I copied the VHS tape after I rented it. I mean, you’ve got two of the best gangster rappers of the era along with Bill Paxton and William Sadler, who forever won my admiration after playing Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, a year or so earlier.

Plus, this was directed by Walter Hill, the guy that did The Driver, The Warriors, The Long RidersStreets of Fire48 Hrs., Another 48 Hrs. and Red Heat. Additionally, the film was produced and written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the creative force behind the Back to the Future trilogy.

But strangely, this just isn’t that great. Sure, it’s definitely okay for killing some time on a rainy day when you want an action film to help you with your low T. I don’t have low T though, my plums are solid and full of octane.

I do like this as more of a novelty thing though. You get to see both rappers named Ice come together at a time when they were both effectively breaking into movies. Ice-T killed it in New Jack City and Ice Cube gave a tremendous performance in Boyz N The Hood. You also get a solid cast of other up and coming black actors from the time: Tiny Lister, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson and De’voreaux White. Also, I have always liked Art Evans, he was great in Fright Night, and this may be my favorite role he’s done.

But still, this just falls really flat.

The plot is about these Arkansas firefighters that acquire a map to a stolen religious treasure. The treasure is hidden in an abandoned factory in East St. Louis. They travel there to look for the long lost gold but quickly find themselves in over their heads as they witness a gang murder. The two firefighters then find themselves holed up in a locked room with a hostage, the head gangster’s little brother, and a homeless man. The rest of the film is mostly a standoff that plays out in a lot of different ways but ultimately, the building is set on fire and we get some solid gun play.

Trespass is certainly watchable and makes for a better than decent early ’90s action flick but there isn’t much to make you care about it. It’s not a classic, by any means. But my problem with it, is that it should have been a classic. Look at the talent in front of and behind the camera.

I do still like this film but for Walter Hill, it’s one of his weakest.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’90s hip-hop heavy action films: Judgment NightGunmenSurviving the Game and Deep Cover.

Film Review: Predator 2 (1990)

Release Date: November 19th, 1990 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Morton Downey Jr., Adam Baldwin, Kent McCord, Calvin Lockhart, Elpidia Carrillo (cameo), Kevin Peter Hall

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, Davis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 108 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t see the eyes of the demon, until him come callin’.” – King Willie

I know a lot of people that don’t like Predator 2. Those people are assholes and their opinion doesn’t matter.

Predator 2 isn’t as perfect as its predecessor, which was a true masterpiece of ’80s action filmmaking. It is impossible to follow up perfection with more perfection. Well, not impossible but incredibly hard, especially in Hollywood where chasing the money usually leads to shoddy results.

Still, Predator 2 is a damn fine picture that is true to the spirit of the original while being its own thing, in a different setting and expanding on the Predator mythos in new ways.

Most of what we know about these alien creatures came from this film. It’s the first to really sort of showcase the psychology of the alien. You understand why it is doing what it is doing a bit more, you come to see that it isn’t just a cold blooded killer. The alien has rules and just appreciates a good hunt and going toe to toe with good game. It also shows that they are a society of respect for those they hunt against, if they just so happen to be bested in battle. Plus, it throws in an Easter egg to the Alien franchise, letting us know that these different alien species exist in the same universe.

Like its predecessor, this film also boasts a large cast of really talented people: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Morton Downey Jr., Adam Baldwin and Calvin Lockhart, as an evil voodoo drug kingpin that is maybe more chilling than the Predator itself.

I think that doing a sequel in a different environment was a good idea. I also feel as if the film took its cue from the success of Robocop and other ’80s films that took place in a near future urban environment with extreme crime and chaos. This is set in Los Angeles but it very much feels like the Detroit of Robocop 12. Frankly, I love the setting and I love seeing the Predator come between a massive gang war and drawing the attention of the LAPD, most notably the task force led by Danny Glover’s character.

We also get Gary Busey and Adam Baldwin as FBI agents that know about the alien and are trying to capture it alive in an effort to study it and steal its advanced technology. Busey’s group are a real thorn in Glover’s side but the two do get into a really cool sequence where they fight the Predator in a meat packing plant.

Alan Silvestri returned to score this picture, which was fantastic, as he did such an incredible job with the first movie. All of his iconic Predator themes are here but he adds in some new stuff and tweaks some of the other themes and presents them in new ways, which works really well.

I also want to point out that by Bill Paxton being in this, he is the only actor to be killed by both a Predator and a xenomorph from the Alien franchise. That’s a pretty significant honor.

This is just a cool movie. For people that grew up in the ’80s loving the action movies put out by Cannon, this is like a balls to the wall Cannon film but with a much larger budget.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Predator and Predators.

Film Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

Release Date: September 5th, 2014 (TIFF)
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Bold Films, Open Road Films, 117 Minutes

Review:

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.” – Lou Bloom

Nightcrawler was a film that the critics loved. It was on several top ten lists at the end of 2014 and it even won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. I went into it with a lot of enthusiasm because it was a modern noir-esque picture that had high praise and accolades and starred Jake Gyllwnhall, an actor, who when he is on his A-game, is one of the best working today.

Sadly, I was severely underwhelmed by the movie. It wasn’t due to bad performances, bad direction or lackluster cinematography; all that stuff was good. I just couldn’t connect with the film in the one aspect that was the most highly regarded: the story.

There is no one in Nightcrawler that I care about. Even the Riz Ahmed character sells his soul despite his moral compass and his reservations about his job and how truly evil his boss is. Rene Russo started out strong and was somewhat admirable but ultimately, she sells her soul too. Everyone sells there soul. And the puppet master pulling all the strings is Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.

The thing that makes the narrative hard to digest or connect with is that you just see Bloom on the surface. He’s a selfish, despicable, greedy madman that doesn’t care what horrible actions he has to take, as long as he is the best at what he does and he makes a lot of money. I can deal with a character like this but there needs to be some sort of context, something beneath what’s immediately apparent by his actions. He’s a reptilian human being and this film exists as a sort of satirical commentary on the media and nightcrawlers in general but it is missing a soul and some meaning.

Maybe this works for the Hollywood types living in L.A., as they witness these nightcrawler vultures taking over the streets at night, in an effort to be nightly news paparazzi, capturing violent crimes and carnage in an effort to generate ratings and revenue. To someone that doesn’t live in a big city, a little more narrative meat is needed. Maybe people in L.A. are just okay assuming that the people who do this job are blood thirsty jackals and that’s all the context they need for this story to work. Still, it’s rather one-dimensional.

To me, this is a film that fails to capture any sort of real emotional connection. Sure, you feel the tension in the heat of the moment when some big action sequence is going down or when you’re sitting in the bushes with Bloom, waiting for something bad to pop off. It’s just that everything between these moments doesn’t establish anything worthwhile.

Gyllenhaal played the part as best as he could but I feel like the script, despite winning the biggest of all film awards, wasn’t worthy of the performance. Gyllenhaal deserved more and he should have had the narrative to tell us more. He conveys what is on paper well but its like he doesn’t have all the material he needs to make the character truly live.

The film is still incredibly well acted, especially the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo, as well as Gyllenhaal and Ahmed. It also has some incredibly cinematography thanks to the eye and style of Robert Elswit, who also worked on There Will Be BloodMagnolia and dozens of other pictures.

I can’t completely trash the film due to its great technical execution and the talent of its cast. I just don’t feel like it is something I would ever want to watch again.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Streets of Fire (1984)

Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Larry Gross
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, E.G. Daily, Richard Lawson, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Stoney Jackson, Robert Townsend, Grand Bush, Mykelti Williamson, Ed Begley Jr., John Dennis Johnston, Lynne Thigpen, Peter Jason

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it looks like I finally found someone who likes to play as rough as I do.” – Raven Shaddock

I have always looked at 1984’s Streets of Fire as a sort of spiritual successor to 1979’s The Warriors. They share the same director, some of the same themes, some of the same acting talent and take place in a vivid and surreal fantasy version of urban America.

While music often times drove the narrative and the action of The Warriors it takes over Streets of Fire and propels this picture forward as a perfect balance between the action and musical genres. Granted, this isn’t a traditional musical, it is mostly a string of live performances setting the tone, as the action flows around it. It is a movie full of energy and it is incredibly kinetic.

The film also has a neo-noir look, which was becoming popular in the 80s thanks to films like Blade Runner and slew of independent movies employing the visual style. While made in the 80s, the picture mostly looks like an homage to the 1950s and the rockabilly scene of that decade. The movie is a hybrid of 1950s and 1980s culture but the 50s were on a comeback in the 80s and this film really embraces that.

Streets of Fire also crosses over into the biker gang genre of film and Willem Dafoe’s Raven Shaddock seems to channel his character Vance from his debut film The Loveless, a biker gang picture that was also Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut.

The film also stars Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan.

Paré was a good hero and it is unfortunate that he didn’t do a whole lot after this movie. His acting was a bit better than average, at this point in his career, but he had a presence and just epitomized cool. Diane Lane was beautiful and did great with the musical numbers, even if it wasn’t her voice. Rick Moranis was incredibly unlikable but even then, who doesn’t like Moranis? This film was Amy Madigan’s coolest role and second only to her part in Field of Dreams. I wish she would have got more roles like her character McCoy.

There are a lot of cameos by up and coming actors, as well as Walter Hill regulars. We get to see a young Bill Paxton, as well as Ed Begley Jr., Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lynne Thigpen, Lee Ving of the punk band Fear, as well as small roles played by Stoney Jackson and Robert Townsend, who were members of the band The Sorels.

For the most part, the acting is not exceptional and the script is often times cheesy and bare bones but for this picture, it works. This is exactly what it markets itself as, “A rock & roll fable.”

The film is exciting and fast paced and never has much downtime. Sure, the plot might not be as developed as many would like but this isn’t that sort of movie. It is a roller coaster ride of bad ass tunes and bad ass characters where two manly men duel in a fairly original fashion. Plus, Dafoe’s presence adds so much to the picture, despite his lack of experience when this was made.

Streets of Fire was a true throwback when it came out and it still fits that mold, over thirty years after its release. It doesn’t need to be set in a defined space and time. It is imaginative and well executed and it has gone on to become a cult favorite among film aficionados.

Rating: 7.75/10

Film Review: Commando (1985)

Release Date: October 4th, 1985
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke, Dan Hedaya, Bill Paxton, Drew Snyder

Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“These guys eat too much red meat!” – Cindy

Commando is the quintessential 80s Schwarzenegger flick. This is the standard bearer for any motion picture featuring Arnie, where he isn’t a Terminator or a barbarian. It is straight up action with the right balance of Arnold’s style of comedic delivery. I mean, you could really even make the argument that this is a comedy – not to take away from the fact that it is balls to the wall bad ass.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix, a swollen and hard manly man that is a purebred killing machine. However, Matrix loves his daughter, the very young Alyssa Milano – before she was every 80s boy’s crush on the sitcom Who’s the Boss?

Matrix’s home is attacked and his daughter is kidnapped by bad men that have ties to his past. The bad men want Matrix to carry out an assassination. However, Matrix doesn’t take any shit whatsoever and he evades the bad guys and starts picking them off, one by one, in a race against time to save his daughter before the baddies discover that he didn’t carry out his mission.

What we get with this film is a big beefy charming bad ass with great one-liners and an arsenal that would make the Punisher weep in shame. In fact, just about everything in this movie explodes. Even Rae Dawn Chong, his cutesy fish out of water sidekick, gets to fire a rocket launcher a few times.

This movie also has a plethora of great actors. The evil and very homoerotic Bennett is played by Australian heavy Vernon Wells, probably most known as Wez from Mad Max 2 a.k.a. The Road Warrior and a parody of Wez in John Hughes’ Weird Science. You also have Bill Duke, who got to star alongside Schwarzenegger as Mac in Predator. Then there is the always enjoyable David Patrick Kelly, the leader of the bad guys in The Warriors and known for his time on Twin Peaks. The cast also includes Dan Hedaya, a guy who never gets enough props, and a small role by a young Bill Paxton.

Commando has just about everything you want in an 80s action flick without a lot of the stuff you don’t want. It isn’t an artistic masterpiece, per se. That is, unless you consider an intense crescendo of exploding buildings and flying bodies to be fine art: I friggin’ do. If that’s the case, this is true art in a classical sense that rivals the Sistine Chapel. Director Mark L. Lester is Michael-friggin’-angelo and Arnold is Adam reaching out to touch the finger of God.

The film is also only ninety minutes, so a bunch of boring character development and filler doesn’t get in the way of Schwarzenegger waving his peen around like a lasso trying to capture the hearts of 80s action fans.

The plot is simple, that is all you need to blow up an island fortress. Movies today try to get overly complicated and seem to have a guilty conscious about gratuitously shooting bullet holes in everything and everyone. Commando doesn’t have time for that horse shit. It throws its dick on the table and says, “Yeah, let’s fuckin’ rage!”

Commando was the perfect template for all Schwarzenegger movies going forward. Predator took it and added in a bad ass alien killer. The rest of his movies fell a bit short and tried to fill up the running time with annoying things like plot and character development.

If you watch Commando and you don’t have a fun time, we probably can’t be friends. Growing up in the 80s, this is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me that didn’t involve Harrison Ford or ninjas. It is actually a good thing that this didn’t have Harrison Ford or ninjas because it would have literally shattered the Earth’s crust with its intensity and the weight of its gargantuan gravitas.

Rating: 9/10

TV Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013- )

Original Run: September 24th, 2013 – present
Created by: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Bear McCreary
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell, John Hannah, B.J. Britt, Mallory Jansen, Ruth Negga, Adrian Pasdar, Kyle MacLachlan, Powers Boothe, Mark Dacascos, Blair Underwood, Constance Zimmer, Patton Oswalt, Bill Paxton, Gabriel Luna

ABC Studios, Marvel, Mutant Enemy Productions, Walt Disney, 88 Episodes (so far), 41-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I remember watching the pilot to Marvel’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it premiered and I wasn’t a fan of it. I immediately lost interest but as that first season rolled on, I started to hear good things. When the series entered into the phase of setting up Captain America: The Winter Solider, people couldn’t stop talking about it.

So once the first series came to an end, I binge watched it. I have now also watched season two in its entirety.

One thing I can say about this show is that it took about half a season to find its footing but even then, it is pretty inconsistent.

The show has high points and it has some very low points. If you are a fan of Joss Whedon’s style, you will probably love the show. I’m not a Whedon fan however and I find the style to be superfluous, predictable, forced and tedious at times.

The characters are likable enough but no one stands out. You don’t truly care for any of them and as great as Phil Coulson was in the movies that came out before this series, in the show he just becomes an uninteresting one-dimensional character. In fact, each episode almost serves as a way to forcibly remind the audience of how cool Coulson is supposed to be.

Most of this show just rides on by and none of it feels as important as the producers and many of its fans make it out to be. I get that it is used as a vehicle to develop more background to the plot of upcoming Marvel films but in that it falls victim to itself and feels more like a show on rails than something free to go its own way. It gets distracted from dealing with its own separate narrative, as it is forced to tie into the plots of the films. While that worked well the first time around with Captain America: The Winter Soldier it didn’t work so well with Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The second season was pretty uninteresting and the highlight of the series was the last third of the first season, which dealt with the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the aftermath of that. While the show is now establishing the mythos of the Inhumans, who will be getting their own Marvel movie several years from now, the plot and the execution hasn’t been as cutting edge and exciting as the showrunners have anticipated.

This isn’t a bad show, there are things I like and I will continue to keep watching in an effort to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe continue to unfold but I would almost rather binge watch the seasons after they end than force myself to sit down and watch this religiously every Tuesday night at 9 p.m.

At its very best, this show has had great moments. I just hope that there are more of those in the future and less filler and drawn out plots that could be dealt with much quicker. I also hope that at some point Patton Oswald becomes a full-time cast member because his contribution to this show is the best thing about it. I also hope we haven’t seen the last of Kyle MacLachlan’s Mr. Hyde, as he was the highlight of season two.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has promise and potential and if it fulfills that, it could become a stellar show. As of right now, it falls below its superior sister show Agent Carter and it can’t hold a candle to CW’s The Flash or Netflix’s Daredevil.

Update:

I have now gotten through four seasons of this show. Season three was really slow and just a bore overall. However, season four introduced Ghost Rider to the Marvel cinematic mythos and things really got interesting. Season four was broken into three parts, where the middle bit wasn’t interesting but the end caps were stellar. In fact, the last third of season four, titled Agents of Hydra, was the absolute high point of this show and you actually discover that you care about these characters more than you realize. If the momentum can continue on from the last portion of the fourth season, then this show could be one of the best on television. Unfortunately, it has a long history of inconsistency.

Rating: 7/10