Film Review: Gunhed (1989)

Also known as: Ganheddo (original Japanese title), Robot War (Germany), Killer Tank (Philippines)
Release Date: July 22nd, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Masato Harada
Written by: Masato Harada, James Bannon
Music by: Toshiyuki Honda
Cast: Masahiro Takashima, Brenda Bakke, Yujin Harada, Kaori Mizushima

3D, Bandai Entertainment Inc., Graphical Corporation Crowd Inc., Nippon Sunrise, Kadokawa, Imagica, Toho Co. Ltd., 100 Minutes

Review:

Gunhed is a movie that I’ve wanted to watch since first seeing a trailer for it on a VHS tape I rented in the early ’90s. None of my local video stores ended up getting a copy and once I got a job at one of those stores, I wasn’t able to order it because, by then, it was out of print.

It also never saw print in the US after that, as far as I know. I would’ve bought it on DVD but I never came across one.

However, I finally stumbled across this streaming on an old movie archive site. So without hesitation, I figured I should watch it while I had the opportunity because who knows how long it could last there before being pulled down.

Gunhed not only piqued my interest with its trailer about thirty years ago but I had heard James Cameron mention that it was a favorite movie of his. Being that he was once one of my favorite directors, especially in the era that this film came out in, made me want to check it out even more.

Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations but looking at it through rose-colored glasses for three decades probably didn’t do it any favors.

That being said, I did still like it and thought it was a cool flick with pretty solid special effects, considering the budget and the era in which it was made. 

I mostly liked the characters but I was distracted by how bad the dubbing was in the version that I watched. Honestly, it might have not been perfectly synched due to it being uploaded in mediocre quality.

The film is also a bit slow, at times. However, the big action sequences do pay off and if you dig cyberpunk shit, you’ll probably enjoy the high points of this movie.

This was cool and interesting enough that it probably could’ve been adapted into a manga series or an anime film or show. Then again, there are already a lot of cyberpunk options in those mediums. Plus, super tanks and mecha are a dime a dozen in late ’80s/early ’90s Japanese fiction.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk films from the ’80s and ’90s, specifically those from Japan whether live-action or anime.

Film Review: L.A. Confidential (1997)

Release Date: May 14th, 1997 (Cannes)
Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Written by: Brian Helgeland, Curtis Hanson
Based on: L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Ron Rifkin, Graham Beckel, Matt McCoy, Simon Baker, Brenda Bakke

Regency Enterprises, The Wolper Organization, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“Go back to Jersey, sonny. This is the City of the Angels, and you haven’t got any wings.” – Capt. Dudley Smith

I’ve seen parts of L.A. Confidential over the years and I knew enough about the story before even watching it but yes, this is my first viewing of the film in its entirety.

While that may seem odd for a fan of film-noir, I didn’t become a true lover of noir fiction until I got past my teen years. Sure, I always liked crime movies but the noir aesthetic didn’t truly penetrate my psyche until my late 20s and really didn’t make me do a deep dive into the cinematic style until my mid-30s.

Now L.A. Confidential is a modern neo-noir that takes its narrative and stylistic cues from classic film-noir but it has this pristine razzle dazzle about it and that’s not simply because of the star power. It’s visual allure is just breathtaking and while other films in the ’90s tried to encapsulate the noir look, albeit in color, there is just something fantastical about how this comes off on screen.

On one hand, the movie feels like a dark fairytale of a time long gone and a world that doesn’t exist in the same way. On the other hand, there is a gritty realness to it that makes the darker parts of humanity come across as genuine and frightening.

That being said, this is still great because of its star power on top of the film’s visual look. You really have a solid cast between Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger and Danny DeVito. Everyone does a perfect job with the script and the story.

However, I think the glue that holds everything together so well is director Curtis Hanson. While not having a prolific name like Scorsese, Coppola or De Palma, he takes the crime fiction material and makes it work, incredibly well. He got the most out of his cast while having a great eye for mise-en-scène. The film boasts stupendous cinematography and shot framing.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith is also pretty close to perfect.

My only real complaint about the film comes in regards to its pacing. While mostly energetic, there are a few points in the film that drag a bit more than they need to. I didn’t find it to wreck the movie or even be much of a distraction, though.

The ’90s produced a lot of neo-noir motion pictures but L.A. Confidential certainly deserves its place in the upper echelon.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’90s neo-noir films: Heat, The Two Jakes, The Usual Suspects, Mulholland Falls, Seven, Red Rock West, Devil In a Blue Dress, Dick Tracy, etc.

Film Review: Gunmen (1993)

Release Date: May 21st, 1993 (Hungary)
Directed by: Deran Sarafian
Written by: Stephen Sommers
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Denis Leary, Patrick Stewart, Kadeem Hardison, Sally Kirkland, Big Daddy Kane, Kid Frost, Rakim, Eric B., Doctor Dré, Ed Lover, Brenda Bakke

Davis Entertainment, Gary Gunmen Productions, Dimension Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Put the gun down? Put the gun down? I’m gonna put the gun down your fuckin’ throat!” – Dani Servigo

Gunmen is one of those ’90s action films that probably should have been a straight-to-video release but actually got a brief theatrical run. It wasn’t successful and sort of just came and went very quickly. While it’s not a very good movie, it is still decent and has a pretty solid early ’90s cast. Plus, it has cameos from a lot of legitimately good rappers from the era.

This is a buddy movie, where you never know when and if the buddies will turn on each other while seeking out the money they’re on the hunt for. They are also on the run from a drug kingpin’s minions, who also want the money for themselves. The buddies are played by Christopher Lambert and Mario Van Peebles. The drug kingpin is played by Patrick Stewart with his top minion being Denis Leary. Like I said, it’s an interesting and kind of cool cast.

For the most part, the film is fun but it also has a plot that just seems to be all over the place. It’s not well written and if it wasn’t for the charismatic cast, this film would be completely forgettable. It’s also minimal on the action. For something called Gunmen, I expected a movie similar to The Expendables or Predator without the alien or Commando with more than one buff badass.

The film does have a lot of good stunts though. There just wasn’t enough shoot’em up stuff for a film with a title that implies such. In fact, I don’t think Gunmen is an accurate title. And the poster implies a squad of badasses. But alas, we get a duo with a little help from Kadeem Hardison (a.k.a. Dwayne Wayne from A Different World).

I did like the location shooting and the look of the picture was good. It had a grittiness to it and where it was high octane, it really went for the gusto. I just wish it had more of those moments.

The finale was decent but nothing exceptional. The last twenty minutes of the film are the best, so at least it built towards something and delivered.

But ultimately, this is a run-of-the-mill ’90s action flick without a lot of flourish or much of anything to set it apart from the pack. But I really loved Leary and Stewart in this.

Lambert and Van Peebles would go on to co-star together in the third Highlander movie a year later.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Mean GunsPosseHighlander: The Final Dimension, Survivng the Game and Who’s the Man?

Film Review: Death Spa (1989)

Also known as: Witch Bitch (alternate title)
Release Date: December 1st, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Michael Fischa
Written by: James Bartruff, Mitch Paradise
Music by: Peter D. Kaye
Cast: William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Merritt Butrick, Robert Lipton, Karyn Parsons, Ken Foree

Maljack Productions, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

Death Spa is a film that feels like it was made five years earlier than it actually was. It feels like something from 1984 and not 1989. I know that’s not a big passage of time and the ’80s are the ’80s but it had a sort of mid-’80s pizzazz to it, which was working its way out of cheap horror films by the time this came out and really, it didn’t hit the U.S. market until 1990.

It also feels like it was made by an Italian director on the cheap. It has the same sort of visual vibe as something by Lamberto Bava. It reminds me of his first two Demons movies in its aesthetic, even though it isn’t as gross as those films. This still has some killer gross out moments though, just nothing as utterly insane as Bava’s Demons pictures.

This is also notable for being the final film of Merritt Butrick, who most people will remember as Capt. Kirk’s son David from Star Trek‘s II and III. Weirdly, he is also named David in this. Additionally, this picture has a very small role for Karyn Parsons, who would be best known as Hillary Banks on the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and as Kid’s girlfriend in Class Act. We also get to see Ken Foree strut his stuff but this is no Dawn of the Dead.

Death Spa isn’t a classic, by any means, but it is strange and bizarre. It has a sort of endearing quality because of its uniqueness.

The threat in the film is this health spa that is haunted by what seems like ghosts living in the club’s high tech system. But then we learn about this dead sister character and she has some sort of witchy powers. I don’t know, it’s a mess and kind of confusing but I don’t watch pictures like this for any sort of coherent anything. Death Spa is really just a total mind fuck.

There are good gory bits like a chick being melted by some sort of acid stuff and a guy whose stomach area starts spraying blood because a workout machine crushes his arms or something. The physics and general anatomy rules that apply in the real world just don’t apply here. It’s very apparent that the filmmakers slept through school, probably flunked out and stole a camera and the keys to a gym to make this picture. The cast was probably just paid in cheap beer and Quaaludes.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Killer WorkoutChopping Mall and Hide and Go Shriek.

Film Review: Demon Knight (1995)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (complete title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1995
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Music by: Edward Shearmur
Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, C. C. H. Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, Dick Miller, John Schuck, Gary Farmer, Charles Fleischer, Chasey Lain, Traci Bingham, John Larroquette (cameo), John Kassir

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck this cowboy shit! You fucking ho-dunk, po-dunk, well then there motherfuckers! All you had to do was give me the goddamn key! Then we could get on with our lives. [cuts his hand to make new creatures] Alright… this house is hereby… condemned…” – The Collector

As a horror loving kid in the ’80s, I used to watch the shit out of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. So when the show ended but they turned to producing movies, I was saddened but also kind of stoked.

I saw Demon Knight when it first came out in my local theater and I even got a copy of it on VHS when it was released later that year. It has been a really long time since I’ve seen it, however. Actually, the last time I saw it was when I still had a working VCR. Seeing it now, I forgot how absolutely insane and fun this movie was.

The film is directed by Ernest Dickerson, who started his career doing the cinematography in Spike Lee’s earliest films. Before directing this, he was in the director’s chair for Juice and Surviving the Game, two films I really liked as a teen and still enjoy today. Dickerson was a young, up and coming filmmaker when he got this gig. I feel like his work on Demon Knight enriched his oeuvre.

It didn’t hurt that Dickerson had an all-star cast in this thing. The two top roles went to William Sadler and Billy Zane. To be frank, this is still my favorite role that Zane has ever played. The film is rounded out by Jada Pinkett, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, Dick Miller, Brenda Bakke and Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer. As a huge Dick Miller fanboy, I love him in this and he got his just desserts, at this point in his long career, as he gets to star opposite of a horde of big breasted naked ladies in his final scene.

This is a film that pulls no punches and just goes for it and that’s why it works so well, has held up nicely and is infinitely more fun and entertaining than 99 percent of modern horror. The demons are cool, Zane is cool, Sadler is cool, Dick Miller is Dick f’n Miller and this is just a bonkers movie in the greatest regard. In a lot of ways, Dickerson out Joe Dante’d Joe Dante.

I’m glad that I revisited this, which also has got me enthused about revisiting that other Tales From the Crypt movie, Bordello of Blood.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything related to Tales From the Crypt.