Film Review: Bates Motel (1987)

Release Date: July 5th, 1987 (TV)
Directed by: Richard Rothstein
Written by: Richard Rothstein
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Bud Cort, Lori Petty, Moses Gunn, Gregg Henry, Khrystyne Haje, Jason Bateman, Kerrie Keane, Robert Picardo, Buck Flower, Carmen Filpi

Universal Television, NBC, 90 Minutes

Review:

“[referring to the urn] Oh that’s not saki, that’s Norman.” – Alex West

Let me start off by saying that this television movie is terrible. However, I still kind of dug it and felt that it had some good seeds planted in what could have been a solid television series had this feature length pilot been picked up by NBC and developed into a full series. Granted, it needed some time and experimentation to find its footing but I think it could’ve gotten there.

The main thing I liked about this was the top three members of the cast: Bud Cort, Lori Petty and Moses Gunn.

Also, it was a really cool take and reinvention of the Psycho film franchise that could have stood on its own, given enough time to grow and find its groove.

What hurts this pilot “movie” the most is its editing and pacing. It’s clearly a mish mash of two episodes that don’t work when wedged together. On their own, they probably would’ve been fine but it ruins the three act structure and narrative flow.

I guess this is how it had to be presented though, as the show wasn’t picked up by NBC but they probably wanted to make their money back, so they stitched it together and sold it as a “movie of the week” release. Which, probably worked out, as Psycho fever was pretty strong in the ’80s once Anthony Perkins turned the classic film into a four movie franchise starting with 1983’s Psycho II.

I have always liked Bud Cort and I always thought Lori Petty was just a really cool chick. This didn’t change my opinion of either actor and I enjoyed their scenes and thought they had a fun chemistry.

In the end, this really is a dud but it is still worth a watch for those who love the Psycho franchise and haven’t seen it. It’s pretty rare and mostly forgotten but it is on YouTube, at least for the moment. Although, that version is a crappy VHS rip. I still found it watchable but I also have a high tolerance for thirty-plus year old VHS tapes.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: the ’80s Psycho sequels and anthology horror/sci-fi television shows of the era.

Film Review: Escape From New York (1981)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)

Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk

When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.

In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.

What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.

John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.

The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.

That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.

John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.

The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.

It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.

Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.

Film Review: The Ice Pirates (1984)

Release Date: March 16th, 1984
Directed by: Stewart Raffill
Written by: Stewart Raffill, Stanford Sherman
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman, Bruce Vilanch, John Carradine, John Matuszak, Carmen Filpi

JF Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid I have some bad news… well maybe its not that bad. The princess is pregnant.” – Wendon

I have weird memories of The Ice Pirates. I remember it being on TV a lot when I was a kid and I watched it all the time. But I didn’t have a nostalgic fondness for it like I do similar pictures. Watching it now, I did enjoy it but it just doesn’t connect for me in the right way.

It’s lighthearted, fun and amusing. You like just about all of the characters and it’s highly energetic. There’s not much of anything to dislike but even for all of its positives, it does fall kind of flat for me.

I guess my biggest gripe is that the pacing is really odd and sometimes you are just pulled along for the ride and it isn’t even all that clear as to what’s happening on screen. There is a disjointedness to the film that makes it hard to follow if you’re actually trying to take it somewhat seriously.

While the big conclusion that deals with rapid aging and time travel shenanigans is a neat sequence, it feels sloppily done and it feels like the gag is more important than the climax of the film itself.

Honestly, The Ice Pirates plays like a string of sketch comedy scenes, following a sci-fi theme with just a small plot thread holding them together in any sort of cohesive way.

I do like the performances though, everyone looked to be enjoying the production and because of that, it makes the movie more exciting. Plus, I’ll watch Bruce Vilanch in anything.

But, in the end, I have a hard time considering this to be a classic, as many would suggest.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Battle Beyond the Stars, The Black Hole, Spacehunter: Adventures In the Forbidden Zone, Space Raiders and Cherry 2000.

Film Review: Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)

Also known as: Alligator 2 (UK video title)
Release Date: March 28th, 1991
Directed by: Jon Hess
Written by: Curt Allen
Music by: Jack K. Tillar
Cast: Joseph Bologna, Woody Brown, Harlan Arnold, Nicolas Cowan, Brock Peters, Dee Wallace, Carmen Filpi, Voyo Goric

Golden Hawk Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

“It was about the size of an Eldorado.” – J.J. Hodges

Man, did this film miss the fucking mark.

How hard is it to make a movie about a killer alligator? Also, by 1991, there were enough killer animal movies to look at and see what works and what doesn’t. Frankly, nothing in this film works. Hell, I don’t even think the actors were working.

The film stars Joseph Bologna, who should have changed his stage name to Joey Bologney. We also get to see Brock Peters in this, who I always enjoyed in Star Trek films, but here he looks like he misses his Starfleet friends. Horror queen Dee Wallace is also in the picture but I think she was just scooping up paychecks by this point. Although, in all seriousness, it is always a delight to see Dee Wallace because she can brighten up the worst movies.

The first Alligator was a badass, fun, killer animal movie. It had great moments with the gator going banana sandwich on people too dumb or too slow to get out of its way. There are so many cool scenes in the original film that one would think that a sequel would try to top them all. But this dud of a motion picture fails… miserably.

Nothing exciting happens over the course of this entire film. Even the gator effects are shit and pale in comparison to some of the coolest gator spots from the previous outing.

I was bored watching this and to be honest, I had some high hopes for it, as I enjoy the first flick and I vaguely remembered enjoying this one as a kid. But maybe I only saw the first one and thought that I saw both of these.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: I guess, Alligator but by comparison it makes that movie look like Jaws.

Film Review: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Release Date: October 21st, 1988
Directed by: Dwight H. Little
Written by: Alan B. McElroy, Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner, John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Dennis Etchison
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Michael Pataki, Carmen Filpi

Trancas International, Galaxy Releasing, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Six bodies, Sheriff! That’s what I’ve seen between here and Ridgemont! A filling station in flames! I’m telling you Michael Myers is here, in this town! He’s here to kill that little girl and anybody who gets in his way!” – Dr. Loomis

After Halloween III confused audiences for being a film completely unrelated to the Michael Myers story, the franchise returned to its big moneymaker for Halloween 4. Michael Myers was back! Dr. Sam Loomis was back! Laurie Strode was not back, however.

To keep the story alive without the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis, the plot moves ahead ten years, bringing it up to 1988, the year it was actually released.

In 1988, Laurie is nowhere to be found but her young daughter similarly lives with a foster family. While she knows the dark family secret and knows who her mother is, she and her new family have to contend with the return of Michael Myers, her killer uncle.

Halloween 4 is a pretty standard slasher movie. The slasher shows up, bodies get stabbed and the young heroine has to try and survive the night. This one has a nice twist at the end, however.

It was great seeing Donald Pleasence return to the role of Dr. Loomis. He was still a madman but he wasn’t as batshit crazy as he was in Halloween II.

I like the tone of this picture and Danielle Harris was absolutely dynamite as the young and terrified Jamie Lloyd, the daughter of Laurie Strode. In fact, I like the duology of Halloween 4 and 5 almost as much as I like the duology that was parts 1 and 2. The people behind these two films did a pretty decent job, overall.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Halloween films.

Film Review: Ed Wood (1994)

Release Date: September 23rd, 1994 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Based on: Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, Max Casella, George “The Animal” Steele, Juliet Landau, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Korla Pandit, G.D. Spradlin, Carmen Filpi

Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?” – Orson Welles

Ed Wood is a magnificent film. It is also the greatest thing Tim Burton has ever directed, which says a lot considering his massive body of work. I have also never enjoyed Johnny Depp and Martin Landau more. Additionally, the film features one of the best roles of Bill Murray’s career.

Shot in black and white, to mimic the time that Edward D. Wood Jr. lived in and the films he made, Ed Wood boasts some fantastic cinematography. It doesn’t just feel like a period piece shot in black and white as a gimmick, it actually has warmth, depth and is a character itself, within the film. It gives the movie a perfect tone and it is also matches up to the actual filmmaking work of Ed Wood, the director. When we see scenes being filmed for Plan 9 From Outer SpaceBride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda?, Tim Burton’s sets and visual tone match those films pretty flawlessly.

Martin Landau won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ed Wood, as horror legend Bela Lugosi. It was a fantastic performance and the best of Landau’s storied career. While it was great seeing him recognized and this film as well, I feel like it was deserving of other nominations. It did also win for makeup, the only other category it was nominated for.

Everyone in the cast, top to bottom, gave some of the best performances of their careers. Johnny Depp was absolutely captivating and charismatic as the title character. He brought real life to the legendary persona of Wood. He connected with the audience, as well as long-time Wood fans and gave an exciting identity and character to the maestro of bad cinema. He was sympathetic and you wanted nothing more than for Wood to succeed, despite the odds being stacked against him and the limitations of his abilities. Depp’s Wood had passion and heart.

Bill Murray plays Wood’s friend, a transvestite wanting to be transsexual named Bunny Breckinridge. Breckinridge was a collaborator with Wood and played a role in his most famous film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Murray did a fine job with the part, committed to Bunny’s flamboyant personality and strong desire to become a woman. This is my favorite of Murray’s more serious roles. Granted, he still brings an element of comedy but this is the first real dramatic role I remember seeing him play. He had panache and delivered his dialogue brilliantly.

Jeffrey Jones was a perfect casting choice for the psychic conman Criswell. He looked the part, acted the part and conveyed him as a real showman. Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette both did good as the leading ladies: Parker for the first half of the film, Arquette for the latter. For the role of Tor Johnson, there really was no better choice than George “The Animal” Steele. Lisa Marie was a good Vampira and Max Casella was a nice addition to the cast, as he is a really good actor that I feel is still underutilized. Lastly, Juliet Landau plays a small role but she really nails it. She was quirky, smart and pretty mesmerizing.

Ed Wood is a film about imagination and creation. It is also about passion. While this is a very romanticized version of the director’s life and work, it makes one want to be a dreamer and to follow those dreams, despite the world standing in the way. It also shows Wood’s struggles with his identity and who he is and how it should be okay to embrace who you are and not be scrutinized for it. While Wood wasn’t a great filmmaker, he was still a man ahead of his time. Ed Wood, the man, shows that you can have artistic and creative brilliance, even if it isn’t executed in the best way. He is a hero for those with a creative intelligence that have a hard time cultivating it into something spectacular.

This is a great period piece and a stupendous showbiz biopic. It was some of the best work of every talented person involved in the picture. Ed Wood is a true classic and a perfect homage to the man, his life and his work. And frankly, it is one of my favorite films of all-time.

Rating: 10/10