Film Review: Invasion U.S.A. (1952)

Release Date: December 10th, 1952
Directed by: Alfred E. Green
Written by: Robert Smith, Franz Schulz
Based on: a story by Robert Smith, Franz Spencer
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O’Herlihy, Edward G. Robinson Jr.

American Pictures, Mutual Productions of the West, Columbia Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“For every atom bomb dropped on our country, we have taken three to the enemy’s heartland and we have huge stocks of atomic weapons in reserve.” – The President

I already reviewed a film called Invasion U.S.A., but that one was a far superior ’80s Chuck Norris film put out by the best action studio of all-time The Cannon Group. I think that one is really a remake in name only of this film but they have the same general premise of the United States being invaded by a foreign power.

Mostly, this is a crappy film. But in its defense, it’s actually not that boring and some of it is interesting.

I like the premise and these sort of stories are always intriguing to me, as the United States, generally, feels like a place that is safe from foreign harm. The idea of the whole country being invaded seems insane and it is but that doesn’t mean it’s not an intriguing concept. It’s just that no one has made a great film about it.

The best parts of this film aren’t the bits that show actual invasion, instead, they are the simple scenes, like the ones in the bar with patrons having conversations about communism and war. While the dialogue isn’t good and the acting and directing leave a lot to be desired, it’s interesting to hear different viewpoints from the time, expressed and discussed.

Invasion U.S.A. sort of exists as a time capsule in how it captures the sentiment of different Americans from the 1950s, post-World War II and just as communism was becoming the enemy of the day.

There were a lot of paranoia films in this decade and this one is no different. Just instead of giant atomic monsters and science run amok, this channels fear around the idea that your safe haven might not be as safe as you perceive it. That’s unsettling however you want to present it.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: the far superior sort of remake, 1985’s Invasion U.S.A., also another film with a similar plot, 1984’s Red Dawn.

Film Review: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Also known as: RoboCop II (working title)
Release Date: June 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Tom Noonan, Belinda Bauer, Gabriel Damon, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Willard E. Pugh, Frank Miller, John Glover, Fabiana Udenio, Patricia Charbonneau (uncredited)

Tobor Productions, Orion Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes we just have to start over, from scratch, to make things right, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to build a brand-new city where Detroit now stands – an example to the world.” – The Old Man

Do you remember that time that RoboCop showed up on a WCW pay-per-view to rescue Sting from the Four Horsemen? Well, that was a stunt to promote this movie. That being said, it would have been a better stunt to promote the third film, as this one wasn’t quite as cheesy as that terrible professional wrestling segment. Spoiler alert: the third movie is terrible but I’ll review that one at a later date.

RoboCop 2 is no RoboCop but it is still a pretty solid sequel, all things considered, and it is still to this day the second best RoboCop film.

Now this isn’t, by any means, a classic. It is, however, a pretty good example of a sequel that can expand on an already established mythos and expand on it in a new way, enriching the world these characters live in and giving us new material that isn’t simply just a retread of the already proven formula.

Peter Weller is still excellent and I was glad that we got to see more of him playing off of Nancy Allen. They have a nice chemistry, which existed in the first movie but didn’t really flourish until the end of it. Sadly, this would be the last time they’d share scenes together, as Weller dropped out of the series before RoboCop 3 was filmed.

The real scene stealer in this film is Tom Noonan, who just plays creepy bad guys so damn well. This was the first time that I remember seeing him but he went on to be one of my favorite character actors of his day. Although, the scenes with the young Gabriel Damon, who plays the child gangster Hob, were pretty f’n great too. The villains here aren’t as great as Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox in the first RoboCop but they are still fantastic foils and gave RoboCop two new types of threats that he didn’t face in the first movie.

I also liked the girl, Angie, and the top level henchman that looked like a cross between Joe Bob Briggs and Elvis.

Additionally, I love that Tom Noonan’s Cain is made into a new cyborg, appropriately called “RoboCop 2”. This was the first time that we got to see RoboCop fight a big villain that was similar to himself and not just a human meatbag. Granted, he has two run ins with ED-209 in the first film but those were relatively easy confrontations for him.

I liked that they really embraced the dark humor a bit more in this film too. The use of kids as legitimate juvenile delinquents in an almost post-apocalyptic Detroit was damn cool. Especially when I saw this as a kid.

A real standout for me though was Willard E. Pugh. I talked about him a bit when I reviewed the severely lackluster The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 because he stood out in that film and was pretty funny and the same can be said here. In this film, he plays the mayor of Detroit and he’s just so enjoyable that it’s almost a crime that he didn’t come back for RoboCop 3. Other than this film, he is probably most famous for playing Trustus Jones in CB4.

My only real complaint about this film is that the score was all new. Basil Poledouris did not return so I guess they didn’t use his iconic themes. The score here is decent but it lacks the extra gravitas that the original RoboCop theme had. Poledouris would return for RoboCop 3, however.

RoboCop 2 is a sequel worthy of following its predecessor. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, or so they say, but this was much better than other sequels to sci-fi classics.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first RoboCop movie and the first two Terminator movies.

Film Review: RoboCop (1987)

Also known as: Robocop: The Future of Law Enforcement (script title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1987
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven, Monte Hellman (uncredited second-unit director)
Written by: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry

Orion Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!” – RoboCop

I put off reviewing RoboCop for a long time on this site because it’s one of my all-time favorite movies and I wanted to save it for a rainy day. Well, the day wasn’t rainy but I was suffering from my almost annual mini cold that all the snowbirds bring down to Florida every January.

It is hard for me to talk about this film and not get overly excited about it, which certainly gives me a strong bias towards it and also taps into nostalgia and the possibility that I can’t be as objective, as I don’t care about a single flaw in the movie. But there really aren’t many, to be honest, and this was absolutely one of the best action movies of the ’80s and really, it’s better than almost every action movie now, 32 years later.

This is a film that just has the right kind of magic. It is lightning in a bottle and even though I like the first sequel, that film doesn’t come close to what director Paul Verhoeven did here. Plus, the script by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner was absolutely superb. But the one thing that really brings everything together is the stupendous score by Basil Poledouris. His work on the Conan films and its themes were wonderful. Poledouris worked his musical magic again and gave RoboCop one of the best themes of all-time and the score is pretty incredible, overall. They just don’t quite make movie music this good anymore and without it, I don’t know if the movie has the same sort of energy and spirit.

All of those elements I just mentioned, created a film where the tone was perfect for the story that they needed to tell. And all of these solid pieces coming together so well still doesn’t account for how great the cast was. I mean, RoboCop truly is a perfect storm of badass sci-fi action.

Peter Weller is RoboCop and it will always be the role he is most remembered for but he has such a long and rich career of amazing performances that it isn’t hard to understand how he was so good in this and how he gave a robotic character a real sense of humanity. You feel his emotion, his pain and it is impossible to not root for Alex Murphy a.k.a. RoboCop.

The villains in this were so damn good though. They were kind of terrifying to me, as a kid, but the impact of who and what they are is still strong and it isn’t lost in a film where there is some of that famous ’80s movie cheese. The bad guys are well written with strong dialogue but they were also well cast between Kurtwood Smith, who steals the show, Ronny Cox, Ray Wise and even Miguel Ferrer, who isn’t specifically a villain but he is a reckless yuppie piece of shit.

I love Dan O’Herlihy in just about everything I’ve seen him in. He was creepy as hell as the villain in Halloween III and on the flip side of the coin, he was absolutely lovable as Grig, the alien co-pilot in The Last Starfighter. This is my favorite role he’s ever played, however. He was great as the old man running OCP, the corporation that pretty much owns all of Detroit. I also love that he continued to play the role after this film.

RoboCop birthed a franchise. While no other movie in the series has lived up to this one, which is a really tall order, it still spawned comic books, video games, a cartoon, action figures, sequels, a live action TV show, TV movies and a remake nearly three decades later. In fact, there is another RoboCop film in development now.

Many ’80s films don’t age well and while this is very much an ’80s motion picture, it doesn’t feel dated in quite the same way as other similar films from the time. RoboCop doesn’t have a dull moment and none of it slows down, it’s just balls out action and super violence of the highest caliber. Even critics love it and this is the type of thing that critics loathe.

If you’ve never seen this film, you’ve done yourself a disservice.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the RoboCop sequels and the first two Terminator movies.

Film Review: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Nancy Loomis, Jamie Lee Curtis (uncredited voice), Tommy Lee Wallace (uncredited voice)

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Debra Hill Productions, Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I do love a good joke and this is the best ever: a joke on the children.” – Conal Cochran

*written in 2015.

Prepare to be scared shitless. Okay, maybe not shitless. But prepared to feel really uncomfortable, unsettled and really creeped out by this unique and bizarre film that truly is one of a kind.

This film currently has a rating of 4.4 on IMDb. That’s some bullshit and I think that the only reason it rates so low is because it is a film with the name Halloween on it and Michael Myers is nowhere to be found. Had this been its own film with its own name, it would probably not have some weird stigma or Michael Myers fanboy backlash. Then again, had it been called something else, it might not have survived as long as it has, simply because its existence is an enigma.

So why is this a Halloween film when it doesn’t feature Michael Myers or anything related to those stories?

Well, back in the day, John Carpenter didn’t even want to do the Halloween II that we got. His original plan for the series was to have a different story each year for each new film in the series. The studio however, wanted more Michael Myers and an agreement was reached that Carpenter would give them more Michael Myers and he would be allowed to make a third film in the series any way he saw fit. What resulted was confusion. Confusion that led to a big hiatus between this film and the fourth film, which ultimately, brought Michael Myers back to the franchise and saw him go on to star in every sequel and remake thereafter. In the end, this film gets an unfair bad rap and is usually skipped over by those having a Halloween marathon or sneered at when it pops up on AMC during the MonsterFest season. In fact, AMC may be ignoring it now too, as I haven’t seen it in the TV listings this year.

The thing is, this film is great. It is actually one of my favorite horror movies of all-time. I can’t come upon the Halloween season and not pop this into the DVD player. Actually, I’m sure I will catch shit for this, but I prefer this movie over all other films in the Halloween series. Yes, even more so than the 1978 classic that introduced the world to Michael Myers.

This film has the absolute best atmosphere of any film in the series. It is beyond creepy and as a kid, this terrified me much more than some guy in a mask walking around silently and slowly with a knife. There is just something more sinister to a child viewer (me) seeing another child in a film put on a Halloween mask that turns their head into a pile of bugs, worms and venomous snakes in a very painful way. Sorry, this is way more effective than another slasher film. And no, despite claims from everyone, Michael Myers was not the first slasher and the concept of Halloween was lifted from the original Black Christmas and what its director wanted to do with his plan for sequels – an anthology of films all associated with different holidays.

Tom Atkins plays the lead in Halloween III and is as great as always. He’s never a likable character really, he is just a solid actor that doesn’t try to be a hero, he is usually just a typical human male caught up in an inhuman or extraordinary situation.

Dan O’Herlihy (best known as the head of OCP in the original Robocop) is awesome as the evil Conal Cochran, the man who wants to kill the world’s children and pretty much everyone else. His tool of destruction is his best-selling Halloween masks. And although his motivations are never really made clear and his sinister plot never really explained in a way that makes much sense, you know that you are looking at pure evil and he embodies an almost satanic presence.

This film almost has a Lovecraftian vibe to it, mixed with that magic John Carpenter touch and a bit of dark science fiction. Even though Carpenter only produced this film, it promotes his visual style well and it is only enhanced by his majestic and eerie soundtrack.

4.4 on IMDb? People have no fucking taste.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Halloween films.

Film Review: The Last Starfighter (1984)

Release Date: July 13th, 1984
Directed by: Nick Castle
Written by: Jonathan R. Betuel
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Lance Guest, Dan O’Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Norman Snow, Vernon Washington, Marc Alaimo, Wil Wheaton

Lorimar Productions, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Things change. Always do. You’ll get your chance! Important thing is, when it comes, you’ve got to grab with both hands, and hold on tight!” – Otis

The Last Starfighter might not be as remembered as Star Wars and it may have been very strongly inspired by it, as most sci-fi films from the 80s were, but there is something pure and endearing about it that somehow stands the test of time. Frankly, it’s a fantastic picture and it still looks beautiful, even if its special effects are comprised of very early CGI animation.

The film is lighthearted and downright hokey, at times, but it doesn’t fell like that outdated bad sort of 80s cheesiness. It has charm and heart and there really isn’t even a character in this film that isn’t likable. Well, except for the pretty gross bounty hunter Zando-Zan. But hell, even the villains are likable to a degree.

While Star Wars was every boy’s whole world back in the time of my childhood, I can honestly say that I watched The Last Starfighter more often. It was a shorter movie than any of the Star Wars episodes and it told its story and was done. It felt complete, even if it did leave things open for a sequel that never came but should have. It was also just a good straightforward movie without a lot of extra plot and characters beyond what it needed to tell its story. You weren’t distracted by vague references to other worlds and new and strange characters walking into frame every thirty seconds. I’m not saying that those are bad things but The Last Starfighter just focuses on the task at hand and doesn’t try to universe build in order to sell books, comics and toys.

Lance Guest was a really good choice to play our hero, Alex Rogan. He felt like every all-American teenager from a tiny town that just wants to live a much larger life. Catherine Mary Stewart was a perfect compliment to Guest, as the two just had a real chemistry and made you want to root for them to make it and to have a great future.

Dan O’Herlihy was well-hidden as the alien co-pilot Grig. However, his voice is very distinct and I always knew he was the old man that ran OCP in the Robocop movies and the evil Irish madman that wanted his Halloween masks to melt the heads of children in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Robert Preston was the real scene stealer, though. Every time he is on screen, he commands the attention of the audience and the other actors around him. He had a very strong charisma and likability.

The themes by Craig Safan created one of my favorite film scores of the 1980s. The main theme for The Last Starfighter still holds up well today and every time I hear it, nothing but fond memories and emotions return.

The special effects are made with CGI animation but it is a much more primitive style of animation than what audiences would come to see just a few years later. While the animation is clean, it has a unique and otherworldly look to it that still feels majestic. Even if it looks dated, it still compliments the film and it still works.

The Last Starfighter was fairly popular and has a big cult following. People like Seth Rogen and Steven Spielberg tried for years to buy the rights to it, in an effort to carry on the franchise into the future. However, Jonathan R. Betuel, the writer and creator, will not allow anyone to touch it. Honestly, that’s kind of bad ass.

It isn’t a perfect movie but it still feels perfect to me. It probably deserves more recognition than it has but those who know it, love it.