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.

Video Game Review: RoboCop 2 (Arcade)

I reviewed the first RoboCop arcade game awhile back and intended to review the sequels, as well, but that task fell down the memory poop chute.

Anyway, while playing my RetroPie, I came across this and was then reminded of the task I failed at. So I immediately fired this one up and then realized, I had never actually played it, even way back in the day.

The action and mechanics are pretty close to the first arcade game, except you are able to move up and down the ground area and it’s not like your stuck walking on a rail.

The graphics and sound quality are about the same and the game is actually fairly quick if you’re pretty good at it. But the learning curb isn’t steep and playing this through MAME, you never run out of quarters.

My only real gripe is that the jumping and shooting combo you need to use on the harder bosses is kind of wonky and annoying. Also, the bonus stages are kind of cool but pointless and somewhat tedious. If you can get anything close to a perfect score, you are the greatest gamer that ever lived.

Overall, not a bad followup to the first RoboCop arcade game but I still like its predecessor a bit more.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling shooters and beat’em ups from the era.