Film Review: Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Also known as: Deadly Terror (working title)
Release Date: December 29th, 1993
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Written by: William Davies, William Osborne
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Karen Allen, Chris Mulkey, Ted Marcoux, Wil Horneff, Jessica Walter, Rick Ducommun

Twentieth Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Excuse me… a little stiff. Caught a bitch of a virus.” – Computer Ghost of Karl

I never had much urge to see this way back when it was a current movie. Even though I was a fan of horror and cyberpunk concepts, I knew that it was directed by the same woman that did Freddy’s Dead, which murdered that once great franchise. I also figured that this would be full of computer graphics fuckery and that’s probably why she was hired, after she gave us that abysmally bad CGI 3D sequence in that previous movie.

However, I’m also a fan of the worst ’80s and ’90s cheese, especially in the realms of horror and sci-fi, so I figured that I’d finally give this a watch, as it’s on HBO Max. Plus, it starred Karen Allen and Chris Mulkey and I like both of them quite a bit.

So to be upfront, I didn’t hate this and even though it was a bad movie, there was enough to enjoy in it and the “virtual reality” stuff was every bit as awful and wonderful as it is in other movies from the same era like The Lawnmower Man and Brainscan.

The CGI is primitive as hell and it dates the movie but seeing it in the 2020s, nearly thirty years later, makes it much cooler than it would have been experiencing it back then. Frankly, it made me really nostalgic for this stuff and the early days of computer animation, the Internet and the sort of unknown wonderous world of what technology could be.

I even enjoyed the pixilated killer ghost whenever he appeared in the real world and thought that they utilized the CGI well for what they were trying to achieve.

So the story is about a serial killer that works in a computer and software shop. He steals the address books of clients after his boss uses them to show those clients how his address book software works on common PCs. The killer takes out everyone on the address books before finally killing the person who owns it. However, he is killed in a car crash. Upon getting an MRI, weird shit happens to the power at the medical facility and he is essentially copied onto a hard drive and is essentially now a digital copy of the killer’s brain (and I guess soul) that can travel the Internet and effect any electronics he possesses.

While it’s an interesting concept, I feel like you could easily just trap him in a toaster, unplug him and toss it into the furnace. Also, he is able to manipulate electronics in impossible ways, like using a small microwave to essentially turn an entire large kitchen into a microwave oven.

Plot holes, plot conveniences and ridiculousness aside, some of the kills in this movie are really damn good, such as the microwave kill. The killing sequences also have a bit of a Final Destination vibe to them, as you know the person will die but it’s interesting seeing how it’s all going to unfold. Kind of like watching a Rube Goldberg machine of death.

In the end, though, this is still pretty bad. Most people will hate it and dismiss it as unpalatable schlock but for me, it had enough cool stuff in it to hold my attention and to make me appreciate the effort.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: Cherry 2000 (1987)

Release Date: November 10th, 1987 (Austria)
Directed by: Steven De Jarnatt
Written by: Michael Almereyda, Lloyd Fonvielle
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Melanie Griffith, David Andrews, Tim Thomerson, Pamela Gidley, Harry Carey Jr., Jennifer Mayo, Brion James, Marshall Bell, Laurence Fishburne, Michael C. Gwynne, Jack Thibeau, Robert Z’Dar

ERP Productions, Orion Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“So, your robot is gone, pal. Why don’t you try some real women?” – Bill

This is one of those movies that’s been in my queue for years and since I had never actually seen it before, I thought that watching it was long overdue.

I liked that this film sort of blends the post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk subgenres in a cool way and it was also made at the height of those two great branches of the sci-fi tree.

The plot is about a guy whose love android dies, so he sets off into the post-apocalyptic wasteland to find the same model. He hires a badass chick played by Melanie Griffith, who guarantees that she’ll help him find the same robot lover.

As the film rolls on, they get into several mishaps, meet different groups of wasteland people and are almost always in danger. However, something starts to blossom between the two and by the end of the film, even though they succeed in finding a new robot lover, the guy is torn between his “love” of the machine and his love of the real woman he just went on a hell of an adventure with.

The movie is pretty action packed and even though it’s littered with cheese, it’s a deliberately campy movie made to be over-the-top and fun.

The film also has a lot of cool character actors in it like Brion James, Robert Z’Dar and Marshall Bell. It also features a young Laurence Fishburne and the robot girl is played by Pamela Gidley, who was the hot girl from the Josh Brolin starring Thrashin’.

All in all, this isn’t a great film but it’s an entertaining one for those who are into these genres and campy, action-filled adventures.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Escape from L.A. (1996)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. (complete title)
Release Date: August 9th, 1996
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Kurt Russell
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Shirley Walker
Cast: Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Pam Grier, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Peter Jason, Paul Bartel, Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Breckin Meyer, Robert Carradine, Shelly Desai, Leland Orser

Rysher Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Got a smoke?” – Snake Plissken, “The United States is a no-smoking nation. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. No women – unless of course you’re married. No guns, no foul language… no red meat.” – Malloy, “[sarcastic] Land of the free.” – Snake Plissken

Full disclosure, I hated this movie when it came out. And frankly, it’s still a fairly bad film for reasons I’ll get into in this review.

However, like other ’90s cringe, such as Batman & Robin, I’ve kind of accepted the movie for what it is and with that, there are things I like within it due to my evolved perspective.

But let me hammer on the negatives first.

To start, the film looks like shit. From the CGI, to digital matte paintings and other computer generated effects, this looks cheap, artificial and since 1996, has aged incredibly poorly.

The CGI effects were bad for the time even but since that technology advanced rather quickly, it all looks so much worse now. And this film is a great argument as to why practical special effects are better in a lot of ways, especially in regards to the era in which this was made.

John Carpenter has had amazing practical effects work in most of his movies before this one but I guess he had to embrace the emerging technology, despite it being a really poor choice for this picture, which should’ve been dark, gritty and real.

The film is also full of terrible dialogue for the most part. While I still love Snake and he has some solid one-liners, most of the movie’s dialogue is just shit. I think that the good actors in this also underperformed and I guess I’d have to blame Carpenter for that, as he was directing them and then accepting the takes he was getting.

Expanding on that point, though, it looks like the performers are clunkily acting off of nothing. It’s as if there was so much greenscreen work and strangely composited shots that the performances were just off and didn’t match up in the way they were supposed to. This issue could also be due to the fact that this greenscreen style of shooting was still pretty new when used this frequently in a single production.

Additionally, the story just wasn’t good or that engaging. Other than Snake, I didn’t care about any of the characters and while it was cool seeing Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Cliff Robertson and Bruce Campbell pop up in this, they were used too sparingly.

As far as positives go, I did find the makeup and prosthetics work to be really good. But this gets back to my point earlier about the overabundance of digital effects. When Carpenter and his effects team employed practical effects in this film, they looked solid.

Also, I really liked Snake in this, as previously stated, and he got some solid, badass Snake Plissken moments that we would’ve missed out on had this film never been made. As awfully hokey as the surfing scene was, we still got to see Snake “hang ten” with Peter Fonda and then jump onto an escaping car. It was an awfully crafted sequence in the movie but it’s also hard not to love it in spite of its very apparent issues.

In the end, I don’t hate this movie, as I once did. But I do have a hard time trying to get myself to watch it. Honestly, I only watched it this time to review it.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as other John Carpenter sci-fi movies.

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: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Also known as: JM (Japan)
Release Date: April 15th, 1995 (Japan)
Directed by: Robert Longo
Written by: William Gibson
Based on: Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson
Music by: Brad Fiedel, Mychael Danna (Japanese release)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Ice-T, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Kitano, Denis Akiyama, Henry Rollins, Udo Kier, Tracy Tweed, Don Francks

Alliance Communications Corporation, Cinévision, TriStar Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t shoot me.” – Johnny Mnemonic, “Not in the head.” – Takahashi

I saw this in 1995 and thought it was a cool movie, even if it was a bit wacky. Watching it in 2021, the year that the film’s story takes place, I can say that it hasn’t aged very well.

Also, they definitely didn’t come close to predicting an accurate 2021.

Still, this is a cool movie, even now, and the fact that it is outdated makes it somewhat endearing.

If I’m being honest, it’s hard not to like Keanu Reeves in anything. But then add in the always alluring Dina Meyer, the badass Dolph Lundgren, punk legend Henry Rollins, gangster rap legend Ice-T, Udo Kier, Takeshi Kitano and set it in a dystopian cyberpunk future and you have what should be a winning formula.

The problem (and for some, a benefit) of the movie is that it is the epitome of ’90s sci-fi action.

For someone like me, that’s a pretty good thing. But with that usually comes strange, experimental special effects, as CGI was really still in its infancy. Plus, there is a certain stylistic panache that makes this seem clunkily crafted with garish, fantastical tech and old tech retrofitted to seem futuristic.

Through modern eyes, films like this can be described “retro futuristic”. With that, it’s near impossible, once dated by a long passage of time, for these movies to not come across as hokey and kind of silly.

Regardless of all that, I still like the movie for the most part. The actors are all fine in their roles, even if a few of them hammed it up a bit too much. But I also don’t blame the actors for that, as the real issues from the movie seem to come from its direction.

It’s hard to really see what the director’s vision was, as the picture is kind of sloppy, confusing and poorly edited. While other people were involved in these aspects of making this film, it still falls on the director to take all these elements and make his vision come through. Johnny Mnemonic, from an artistic standpoint, just feels amateurish.

In the end, this is fairly entertaining if ’90s cyberpunk flicks are your thing. However, without Keanu Reeves, I think that this is a really forgettable movie that probably would’ve never gotten the cult following it obtained had Reeves never been in it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Runaway (1984)

Release Date: December 14th, 1984
Directed by: Michael Crichton
Written by: Michael Crichton
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, G. W. Bailey, Joey Cramer, Chris Mulkey

Delphi III Productions, TriStar Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You screwed up good, Ramsay. We got two dead officers, do you understand me mister? Two. Dead. Cops! We got two wounded – one of them your own partner – and we got two dead guinea punks! And no one knows why or what the hell its all about!” – Chief of Police

This was one of those movies that used to be on HBO or Showtime all the time when I was a kid. I probably saw it a dozen times back then but it’s eluded me ever since and sort of fell down pop culture’s memory hole.

Watching it now was kind of cool, as it wasn’t as cheesy as I thought it would be and even if there is a bit of hokiness in the movie, it’s still pretty serious and a much better than decent sci-fi thriller.

While there aren’t cyborgs or dystopian metropolises glowing from infinite neon lights, Runaway still has a really strong cyberpunk vibe to it. I think this is due to the amount of robots in the film, the wacky inventions like AI-controlled bullets and the general visual aesthetic of the picture.

Tom Selleck is damn solid in this and it makes me wish he was in more action and crime films. He plays a complex cop character that specializes in community service calls dealing with malfunctioning robots. Sometimes the jobs are easy and straightforward but other times, they’re deadly dangerous. What makes him complex is that he’s a tough guy but he also has a severe fear of heights. Plus, he’s a single dad, raising a son and still emotionally recovering from the death of his wife while also wooing the two ladies in the movie: his partner and a woman that’s in way over her head with the story’s villain.

Speaking of which, the baddie in this is Gene Simmons from KISS. While I can’t say that his acting is good, he still has a presence and really hams it up in a great way. When he finally gets what’s coming to him, it’s a damn satisfying momenty.

The cast is rounded out by Selleck’s female partner played by Cynthia Rhodes, the corporate damsel in distress played by Kirtstie Alley, Joey Cramer of Flight of the Navigator fame playing Selleck’s son and the always entertaining G. W. Bailey as the cantankerous Chief of Police.

It’s also worth mentioning that this was written and directed by Michael Crichton before he became a much more prolific writer when Steven Spielberg made a little film franchise out of his novel Jurassic Park.

Overall, this is still a really entertaining picture that has a pretty basic but interesting tech crime story. It certainly feels like it’s straight out of the ’80s and while the special effects may appear dated by today’s standard, I appreciate the work that went into this. The robots all look pretty cool and function well. 

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi or cyberpunk films of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Heavy Metal (1981)

Also known as: Universo en fantasía (original Spanish language title)
Release Date: July 29th, 1981 (premiere)
Directed by: Gerald Potterton
Written by: Daniel Goldberg
Based on: original art and stories by Richard Corben, Angus McKie, Dan O’Bannon, Thomas Warkentin, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, various
Cast: Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis, Susan Roman, Richard Romanus, August Schellenberg, John Vernon, Zal Yanovsky

Canadian Film Development Corporation, Guardian Trust Company, Columbia Pictures, 86 Minutes, 90 Minutes (premiere cut)

Review:

“A shadow shall fall over the universe, and evil will grow in its path, and death will come from the skies.” – Narrator

Fuck, this movie is so damn cool!

However, it does lack in the “heavy metal” department, as far as the music goes. That’s not to say the music is bad, this is just a lot less heavy than the title implies. Still, this developed a really strong cult following and for very good reason.

I love the rock and pop tunes in this, though. I mean, where else can you see a sword and sorcery story with sci-fi elements playout to a Devo song? Nowhere!

This entire movie is an animated anthology. The various segments were inspired by some of the stories and art that appeared in the pages of the Heavy Metal comic magazine. This is also a very adult cartoon, as it features nudity, sex and violence. There really isn’t anything here for kids but I saw it as a kid and it blew my mind. The ’80s were a different era, though. Kids today can’t watch Gremlins without needing the light on till they turn thirty.

Anyway, this was produced by Ivan Reitman and it featured a lot of his regular actors in voice roles. It’s kind of neat watching this for the first time in years and hearing John Candy, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty. It almost needed Bill Murray in there to round it out but it was still pretty dope hearing these comedic legends voices pop up in something like this.

That being said, this is just a really unique experience and it still conjures up a sort of magical feeling when watching it.

Despite the action and violence, the film has a calming, chill vibe to it and I think that has a lot to do with its visual style, tone and the superb use of music to season the already flavorful meal.

Heavy Metal is a weirdly comforting movie that reminds me of a time when filmmakers were still daring and experimental and with that, often times gave us movies that were really interesting, wonderfully eccentric, bizarre and special.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other late ’70s and ’80s adult animated films.

Film Review: Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Also known as: Super Mario Brothers: The Movie (original script title)
Release Date: May 28th, 1993
Directed by: Rocky Morton, Annabel Jankel
Written by: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, Ed Solomon
Based on: Mario by Nintendo
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Fiona Shaw, Richard Edson, Mojo Nixon, Dana Kaminski, Lance Henriksen, Frank Welker (voice), Dan Castellaneta (narrator)

Allied Filmmakers, Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, Hollywood Pictures, 104 Minutes, 90 Minutes (Japan), 87 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“[bathing in mud] Do you know what I love about mud? It’s clean and it’s dirty at the same time.” – King Koopa

Super Mario Bros. was one film in a string of a few that helped to build the reputation that video game movies suck. Looking at the picture in comparison to the video game series it’s based on, I get it. And frankly, it irked the shit out of me when I saw it in 1993. 

However, seeing it with pretty fresh eyes nearly three decades later, I have a very different view of the film now. Especially, when I just look at it as its own weird body of work apart from the video game franchise.

Removing the source material from the equation, I can still see why this would be viewed as a bad film by most but for me, a lover of really weird shit, everyone in this cast and late ’80s/early ’90s cyberpunk shit, this is kind of a feast of awesomeness!

Additionally, the Alan Silvestri score is great, lively, playful and boisterous. It reminds me of his score to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which was, honestly, what really set the magnificent tone for that movie. Here, Silvestri’s work is just as effective and man, I miss scores like this.

This movie also feels like a time capsule into the heart of the ’90s. It embraces the wonky tropes of the decade and it completely misses the mark it should’ve been aiming for. Although, in retrospect, I really like that this just did whatever the hell it wanted to and provided the world with something so damn bizarre and zany.

I really liked the bond between Mario and Luigi, even if trying believe that Hoskins and Leguizamo are supposed to be real brothers is maybe the most unbelievable thing in the film. That kind of doesn’t matter, though, as nothing in this needs to make any sort of logical sense. It’s actually cooler that it doesn’t. Now that’s something I’d typically be highly critical of but this movie with its flaws is still so much fun and overly ridiculous that it adds to its charm.

I guess Dennis Hopper was miserable working on this due to behind the scenes clusterfucks and severe delays but honestly, it probably worked to the movie’s benefit, as he truly comes off as an insufferable prick and it just makes his character that much more sinister and entertaining to watch.

Additionally, I really liked Samantha Mathis in this, as she played Princess Daisy, the apple of Luigi’s eye. Her and Leguizamo had nice, believable chemistry and she really was a highpoint of the picture. In fact, her final scene where she returns as a gun toting badass really made me wish a sequel had been made.

That being said, I actually wouldn’t be opposed to having more things made from this version of the Super Mario IP. I get it, it was a bomb and most people hated it but it’s also unique and kind of special in its own odd way. Plus, it’s developed a good cult following over the years and I think many people are like me, where seeing this decades later really allows you to separate from what it should of been and wasn’t to seeing it as its own cool thing.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other few ’90s movies based on video games, as well as other early ’90s cyberpunk films.