Film Review: Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995)

Also known as: Die Hard 3, Die Hard: New York, Simon Says (working titles)
Release Date: May 15th, 1995 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Based on: Simon Says by Jonathan Hensleigh, characters by Roderick Thorp
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Colleen Camp, Larry Bryggman, Sam Phillips

Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Yippie-kai-yay motherfucker.” – John McClane

The original trilogy of Die Hard films might be the greatest trio of action films ever made. While the solid Die Hard brand would become diluted with sequels, over a dozen years later, this third (and once final) film closes out the trilogy with a fucking bang!

This also teams up Bruce Willis with Samuel Jackson, one of the actors he has worked best with over the years due to their chemistry and both men’s energy and charisma. The film also pits them against Jeremy Irons in one of the greatest roles he’s ever played, as the terrorist brother of the first film’s Hans Gruber (played by the great, late Alan Rickman).

Irons’ Simon Gruber isn’t just looking for revenge on Willis’ John McClane, he is also using the opportunity to steal the gold from New York City’s branch of the Federal Reserve. There are a lot of layers to the plot but this film does a great job of telling its story, slowly revealing new layers and twists as it rolls on and escalates from scene-to-scene.

This calls back to the first film, a legitimate masterpiece of the action genre. But it doesn’t just do that by using a villain that is the brother of the original film’s, it also brings back that film’s director, John McTiernan. For those that don’t know, McTiernan is the heavyweight champion of cinematic action storytelling between his two Die Hard films, Predator, The Hunt for Red October and Last Action Hero, which has been unfairly crapped on since it came out. Maybe I’m in the minority but I love that film. We should all ignore his Rollerball remake though.

Anyway, this film is literally a non-stop action bonanza that is able to balance those sequences with a good, layered plot that isn’t predictable and provides some real surprises.

Setting this in the middle of New York City also propels it to a new level of scale when compared to the two films before it. The entire island of Manhattan is the playground for the movie’s villain and it’s incredible watching John McClane and Zeus Carver constantly race against time, rushing from location to location in an effort to prevent as much collateral damage as possible. And the whole time, the game is a ruse to cover up what the criminal’s real plan is. Furthermore, his plan also doesn’t align with all of his allies and that just leads to another great plot shift.

This is a superb movie on every level. While it isn’t on the same level of perfection as the first, it’s pretty damn close and it should satisfy those who have loved other chapters in this five film series. But I would say that this is the last of the great ones.

I’ll review the final two in the near future, as I haven’t seen four since it came out and I’ve never actually seen the fifth in its entirety.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Die Hard movies, as well as other Bruce Willis action films of the era.

Film Review: D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)

Release Date: June 14th, 1985
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Written by: David Ambrose, Allan Scott, Jeffrey Ellis
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Barret Oliver, Mary Beth Hurt, Michael McKean, Danny Corkill, Josef Sommer, David Wohl, Colleen Camp, Steve Ryan, Amy Linker, Kathryn Walker, Robert Arden

Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“General, a machine becomes human when you can’t tell the difference anymore.” – Dr. Ellen Lamb

I used to love D.A.R.Y.L. when I was a kid. I think it is mostly because I liked the premise and I liked Barret Oliver after seeing him in The NeverEnding Story.

Watching it now, not through kid eyes, it is still heartwarming and you care for the characters but it is much blander than I remember. I wouldn’t call it boring but it lacks energy and isn’t exploding with ’80s style and charm like similar films.

The plot revolves around Daryl (or D.A.R.Y.L. a.k.a. Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform) and how he loses his memory, is found in the woods, given to a foster family, makes friends and is then whisked away back to a government lab. All he wants is to be close to his new family and friends but some douchey Army general has other plans. Eventually, Daryl steals an SR-71 spy plane in an effort to fly back to the home and people he yearns for.

Daryl isn’t really a robot per se. He is an organic lifeform like a normal human being, however his brain is a supercomputer. Most of the story deals with the morality of the situation. Is Daryl human? What kind of rights does he have? Is he life? Is he just government property that can be disposed of? Is killing him actually murder? This was all heavy stuff for my six or seven year-old brain back when I first saw this.

Surprisingly for a film about a “robot”, there isn’t much need for special effects. The only major effects shots are when Daryl is piloting the SR-71. The stuff that was shot was done very well and although you can see the flaws in it, due to its era, it has held up well.

Barret Oliver had to carry this whole picture, just as he did with the real world parts of The NeverEnding Story. He does a fine job and was a child actor with much more skill than most of his peers.

It’s a bit sad that this wasn’t as great as I remembered it but that happens a lot when revisiting ’80s pictures that one hasn’t seen for a few decades. I still liked it though and even if the writing is too convenient and simplistic, it has a satisfying ending.

I’m just still waiting for the sequel where the government discovers that he’s still alive and flips on his murder switch.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: WarGamesReal GeniusFlight of the Navigator and The Boy Who Could Fly.

Film Review: Last Action Hero (1993)

Also known as: Extremely Violent (working title)
Release Date: June 13th, 1993 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited), Zak Penn, Adam Leff
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin O’Brien, Bridgette Wilson, Ian McKellen, Tina Turner, Rick Ducommun, Angie Everhart, Al Leong, Colleen Camp, Professor Toru Tanaka, Sharon Stone (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Joan Plowright (cameo), Danny DeVito (voice), MC Hammer (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Maria Shriver (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Timothy Dalton (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Wilson Phillips (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but you’re gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer – acne, shaving, premature ejaculation… and your first divorce.” – Jack Slater

Man, this was a film I really loved when it came out. It was imaginative, fun and truly balls to the wall, even for not being an R-rated movie.

While it is still pretty fun, it isn’t a movie that has aged very well. At its heart, it is still a great homage to over the top, high octane action films from the ’80s, much like the ones that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It features lots of explosions and a ton of gun action and great vehicle chases but it is pretty toned down for a PG-13 audience unlike the hard R-rating that these movies typically get. Overall, it is more like a tongue in cheek parody of the genre. Schwarzenegger and the director, John McTiernan, poke a lot of fun at themselves and the films that they were instrumental in creating.

One cool thing about this movie is the over abundance of cameos it has. Since it takes place in a fantasy world and also goes into the “real world”, we get to see a lot of stars playing themselves, as well as some of their most famous characters within the fantasy movie world.

The story sees a young boy get a magic golden ticket that was supposedly passed down from Houdini. The ticket whisks the boy away into the movie he is watching, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a character named Jack Slater. The boy gets caught up in Slater’s in-movie adventure and gets to experience the fantasy fiction world of action films, which just so happens to overlap with other genres. Eventually, the big bad guy discovers the power of the ticket and uses it to go from world to world in an attempt to pull off heists and to gather other villains to stand against Slater.

The movie is full of late ’80s/early ’90s cheese but it is the best kind. Sure, the kid can get a bit grating at times but he’s not as bad as a lot of the kid actors from the time. This was also the young Austin O’Brien’s first movie. But ultimately, he is the eyes and ears of the audience, swept into this world and it was effective. Plus, I was the right age for this movie when it came out and he really just seemed like one of my peers from school.

Last Action Hero wasn’t a hit when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It’s a better picture than the experts would have you believe though, especially if the subject matter is something you’re a fan of. I grew up loving ’80s and ’90s action movies, so this is my cup of tea. Besides, Schwarzenegger is always great when he’s hamming it up. He really hams it up here.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Clue (1985)

Also known as: Clue: The Movie, Cluedo (France)
Release Date: December 13th, 1985
Directed by: Jonathan Lynn
Written by: Jonathan Lynn, John Landis
Based on: Cluedo by Anthony E. Pratt
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, Lee Ving, Jane Wiedlin, Howard Hesseman

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Communism was just a red herring.” – Wadsworth

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to see Clue on the big screen. I never did get to see this in theaters, as a kid, but it was one of my favorite films to watch around the time that it first hit video store shelves. Seeing this in the theater was a lot of fun and it made me remember just how much I love this movie. I own it but I haven’t actually watched it in probably a decade.

The one thing that stands out, watching it now as an adult, is how great the writing is. Jonathan Lynn and John Landis made a hilarious movie that was well thought out, well constructed and had multiple endings, all of which were great in their own way.

And that is one of the cool and unique things about this film. In the theater, you only got to see one of the multiple endings. Which ending you got was pretty much random. So if you saw this in one theater and then watched it again in a different theater, you would have seen a different conclusion. When this came out on home video, all three endings were included and the way that they edited these together was really kind of cool. The version I just saw in the theater, handled the ending like the home video release. The true and final ending is the best, by the way, even though all three scenarios were good.

This movie makes use of a great ensemble of actors. Everyone was good in their role and there wasn’t a weak link. Each actor owned the character and gave them depth and personality that even enhanced the board game experience after this film came out. Instead of randomly picking characters before the film came out, all the kids I played with that saw this movie, would base their character selection off of who they liked from the film. I was usually Professor Plum because I loved Christopher Lloyd. Although, I really wish they would have added Wadsworth to the game.

I also liked that this was a bit of an homage to House On Haunted Hill, as the film starts out the same way and the mansion is called “Hill House”, making the comparison a bit more obvious. The film was also produced by Debra Hill, most known for her collaborations with horror director John Carpenter.

Clue proved that you could make a good movie based off of a board game. Granted, that doesn’t mean that it should ever be attempted again. Years later, Battleship was adapted into a film and it was awful but I don’t know how that game could’ve been adapted into something decent.

For years, several other board games have been in development hell. I’ve read stories about movies for MonopolyLifeCandyland and a bunch of other board games. There has even been a Clue remake that has been discussed for years and seen many incarnations come and go without actually going in front of the camera.

Clue was a perfect storm that had the right talent assembled at every level of the production. It probably isn’t something that could be successfully replicated again. Besides, Clue was initially a failure at the box office. It wasn’t until it hit home video that it really became somewhat of a cult classic.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The ‘Police Academy’ Film Series, Part I – The Mahoney Years (1984-1987)

As a kid, no comedies brought me as much replayable joy as the Police Academy films. Yes, they are cheesy and the humor is crude and low brow with slapstick thrown in but to a kid in the 1980s, that is what I liked. And it may have been the first film where I saw boobs.

Still to this day, I enjoy it. And even though this comedy method is generally used poorly in most modern films, it worked in these movies and for the time they were current.

This series spawned a new movie every spring from 1984 through 1989 and then gave us an unwatchable seventh film in 1994. Up until the end though, this was a great series. I’m not sure how new audiences would take to them today but from 1984 to 1989, the Police Academy franchise was adored by fans even if it was generally panned by critics.

Police Academy (1984):

Release Date: March 23rd, 1984
Directed by: Hugh Wilson
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Hugh Wilson
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Kim Cattrall, Bubba Smith, George Gaynes, Donovan Scott, Michael Winslow, Andrew Rubin, David Graf, Bruce Mahler, Marion Ramsey, Brant von Hoffman, Scott Thomson, G.W. Bailey, Leslie Easterbrook, George R. Robertson, Debralee Scott, Doug Lennox, Georgina Spelvin

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Good speech.” – Carey Mahoney

The first film in the series introduces us to many of the characters we will see over the course of several films. Most importantly, this movie gave the world the comedic talents of Steve Guttenberg. Guttenberg’s Sgt. Carey Mahoney would be the central character of these films over the first four installments.

We also got to meet Michael Winslow’s Larvell Jones, Bubba Smith’s Moses Hightower, David Graf’s Eugene Tackleberry, Leslie Easterbrook’s Sgt. Callahan, Marion Ramsey’s Sgt. Hooks, G.W. Bailey’s Lt. Harris and George Gaynes’ iconic Commandant Eric Lassard. Other major characters would come in other films but these characters lasted over most of the series and each one of them are memorable and lovable in their own way. The Police Academy series is an example of large ensemble comedies done right.

This film in the series had the most overall narrative and is considered by most to be the best film. Later films in the series were full of long-running jokes chaining back to this film, as well as being structured by a series of gags and funny bits that were only lightly threaded together by an actual plot. This one was an adult comedy, full of a large cast of kooky characters – in many ways it was similar in style to Slap Shot, Caddyshack and in some regards, MASH. The great use of this formula in Police Academy also inspired a slew of knock-off films throughout the mid 80s.

The plot is about a bunch of screw ups who join the Police Academy after the mayor declares that anyone can join the academy and be given a fair shot. It concludes with a sequence that sees these screw ups go into the field with minimal training and finding themselves in the middle of a downtown riot.

As stupid and absurd as this film can be, it does create a solid sense of camaraderie among the characters. You care about them, their relationships with one another and the crazy situations they find themselves in. This is why this movie became a hit and why this series lasted for seven pictures. You wanted to see more of these people and their antics.

Police Academy was a huge hit at the time and deservedly so. Each subsequent film dropped of a bit in success but they all still did pretty well through the 80s.

Rating: 8.5/10

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985):

Release Date: March 29th, 1985
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Bruce Mahler, Colleen Camp, Art Metrano, Marion Ramsey, Howard Hesseman, George Gaynes, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, Rich Hall

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t make me flare my nostrils!” – Zed

The first sequel quickly followed the original film.

In this one, we see our beloved officers take their first job at a precinct ran by Howard Hesseman’s Pete Lassard, younger brother to Commandant Lassard. Also, Lt. Harris is replaced as the main antagonist by Art Metrano’s Lt. Mauser. This creates a lot of debate between Police Academy fans as to who was the better series antagonist: Harris or Mauser. I will say that they are both awesome.

We are also introduced to Lance Kinsey’s Lt. Proctor, who went on to become one of the funniest and most iconic idiots in cinema history. This is also the first of three films featuring Bobcat Goldthwait as Zed and Tim Kazurinsky as Sweetchuck. Zed is the big villain of the film and he is fantastic. He is also Goldthwait’s most recognizable character and plays much better as a goofy bad guy in this film than as a cop in the later ones.

This movie is still a great continuation of the Police Academy series and expands on the characters enough to where you enjoy seeing them growing up and taking on new roles.

Also, the big finale at the abandoned zoo was really cool. It was an awesome location for the gang’s hideout.

Rating: 7.5/10

Police Academy 3: Back In Training (1986):

Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Art Metrano, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, Bruce Mahler, Lance Kinsey, Scott Thomson, Brant von Hoffman, Debralee Scott, Brian Tochi, George R. Robertson, Ed Nelson

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Mahoney must think he’s as dumb as we are.” – Captain Proctor

The third film rehashes the formula of the first Police Academy but doesn’t do it as well.

Here we have a new class of cadets joining the academy but now the cadets from the original film are there to train them. It is a passing of the torch to a new generation but the new generation didn’t give us many new characters to sink our teeth into. Zed and Sweetchuck return and become cops in this one but they are the brightest spot by far of the new cast of recruits.

The film is still funny, it employs a lot of the same gags and it ends with a pretty decent water action sequence for a film that is a low budget 80s comedy.

The main plot focuses on two academies going head-to-head in a competition, as the worst of the two is going to be shutdown due to budget cuts. The evil academy is ran by Mauser from the previous film. Mauser and Proctor, when together, are comedy gold.

Rating: 7.25/10

Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol (1987):

Release Date: April 3rd, 1987
Directed by: Jim Drake
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Sharon Stone, Colleen Camp, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Brian Tochi, Scott Thomson, Billie Bird, David Spade, Brian Backer, Tab Thacker, Corinne Bohrer, Tony Hawk

Warner Bros. Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t touch those! Don’t you ever touch my balls without asking!” – Captain Harris

In an effort to not completely redo the plots of the first and third movie, this film sees Commandant Lassard start a new program that allows citizens to train at the academy with real police officers in an effort to build up a better relationship with the community. Essentially, it is a rehash of the first and third films but the little twist makes it a bit more interesting.

Billie Bird steals the show here as the elderly Mrs. Feldman. She is a tough as nails, take no shit, bad ass old lady that is the perfect compliment to the big gun-toting maniac that is Sgt. Tackleberry.

Sharon Stone is in this film too but you’ll barely notice. You can also enjoy the small roles played by a young David Spade, Brian Backer and a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo by Tony Hawk.

Also, due to a bad back injury that Art Metrano suffered, Mauser was out of the picture and G.W. Bailey’s Capt. Harris was brought back as the antagonist of the series. Harris and Proctor together were even better than Mauser and Proctor in the two previous films.

The gags are great, the pranks are awesome and this film embodies the spirit of the installments before it. Unfortunately, it is the last film to star Steve Guttenberg and a drop off in quality over the course of the next three films was a result. We also lost Goldthwait and Kazurinsky after this chapter in the series and they were definitely missed.

The highlight of this movie is the big action sequence at the end, which featured biplanes, hot air balloons and a whole lot of mayhem.

Rating: 7.25/10