Film Review: TRON (1982)

Also known as: Tron: The Electronic Gladiator (Australia – promotional title), Disney’s TRON: The Original Classic (re-release title)
Release Date: July 9th, 1982
Directed by: Steven Lisberger
Written by: Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird
Music by: Wendy Carlos
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, Dan Shor, Michael Dudikoff

Walt Disney Productions, Lisberger/Kushner, 96 Minutes

Review:

“On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.” – Kevin Flynn

I’ve been wanting to re-watch and review the TRON films for awhile now but I figured that I’d hold out till Disney+ dropped, as I assumed that these would be there, along with a bunch of other films I’ve held off on for the streaming service’s launch.

Well, now that Disney+ is here, you can expect a lot of reviews of sci-fi and fantasy Disney flicks that I’ve been putting off until now.

This is one of my all-time favorite films simply because of its visual aesthetic. Honestly, there is nothing like it and that includes it’s big budget, modern sequel that relied on modern CGI effects, as opposed to the dreamlike matte paintings and primitive computer effects that this original film employed.

TRON is such a unique and bizarre picture that it wasn’t initially successful. It developed a cult following as time went on and eventually, Disney made a sequel, albeit 28 years later. But it was considered a financial disappointment, despite being their highest grossing live-action film in over five years. This actually led to Disney writing off some of its budget.

In the years since 1982, the film found its audience thanks to home video and television. In fact, almost all the kids I knew, back in the day, liked the film, even if its concepts felt like they were a bit over our head.

It was TRON that really generated my interest in programming when I was a kid and I would go on to excel at computers in a time when they weren’t really owned in very many homes yet. I always took computer programming classes throughout school and even designed my first video game in 1991 because of how I was inspired by this film.

Seeing it again now, the first time in at least five years, I still absolutely love this picture from its look, its cool and original story and also because of its musical score and sound effects. TRON truly is an otherworldly experience in a way that the sequel couldn’t quite replicate.

However, being older and having a more refined palate, without sounding like a pretentious asshole, I can see the faults in the film. And even though it’s hard not to become overwhelmed by nostalgia, having some distance from this allows me to see it more clearly and with somewhat fresher eyes.

To start, the acting isn’t terrible but Jeff Bridges really has to carry the picture. It’s not his best effort but I almost don’t feel as if he’s really acting. I think that he was having a blast making this movie and it shows. But luckily, for the character he was playing, it fits and it works well.

Additionally, I thought that David Warner did a solid job too, as did all of the main players. But you can’t not see the hokiness in all of this and at certain points it pulls you out of this fantastical adventure. However, I think that some of this is the script’s fault, as there are some weird lines thrown in. Like the little observational joke that Dr. Gibbs gives when you meet him. It was a cute, whimsical way to explain the technology he was working with but it was just an odd moment. As a kid, I was like, “Shut up old man! You’re being weird!”

I don’t feel like the direction was necessarily good either but it wasn’t bad. Honestly, it seems kind of nonexistent, which is fine for what this is but I think that there was more emphasis on lining up the action on large sets without the actual world around the characters existing. I mean, this was made well before green screen was a major thing in Hollywood and the film feels kind of emotionless and cold at times because so much detail was given to the visual side of the film. But if the visuals didn’t work, TRON would’ve been a disaster.

The things that do work though are the art direction, the special effects, the post-production manufactured sets and the film’s sound from its imaginative score and computer world sound effects.

I’d like to think that this is a picture that has stood the test of time but it will certainly feel dated to younger audiences. It’s a strange movie by any standard and it’s not going to be a lot of people’s cup of tea. But that doesn’t discount that it did once speak to a generation of kids that were inspired by its coolness and uniqueness and thus, embraced a brave new world of emerging technology.

TRON is a special film. It’s amazing that it even got made in the first place because it was a massive risk. In 2019, I don’t think a studio would have the balls to try something this far outside of the box.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel: TRON: Legacy, as well as other sci-fi films of the era like The Black Hole, The Last Starfighter, Flash Gordon and The Explorers.

Film Review: Red Rock West (1993)

Release Date: May 14th, 1993 (Italy)
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, Timothy Carhart, J. T. Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, Robert Apel, Dan Shor

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, Roxie Releasing, 98 Minutes

Review:

“You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat.” – Lyle

John Dahl started out making neo-noir films in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This was the second one of three and comparing it to its predecessor, Kill Me Again, I’d say that the films are very consistent.

Two of the most intense actors of the last few decades, Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper, face off in this film and man, it is really entertaining to watch.

These are my favorite types of roles for Dennis Hopper. I love it when he’s a murderous psycho or just a twisted bastard in a neo-noir cinemascape. It is hard to watch him here and not have your mind make connections to his roles in The American Friend and Blue Velvet.

I thought the cast in this was pretty good, other than Lara Flynn Boyle. I’ve never really been keen on her, even though I know she was popular with a lot of filmgoers and Twin Peaks fans at the time. She just doesn’t work as a noir-esque femme fatale for me. I can’t really peg why but when I compare her to Joanne Whalley’s femme fatale in Dahl’s Kill Me Again, there is no comparisson. Whalley nailed the role, Boyle didn’t. Also, Whalley looked like a goddess, Boyle looked like a small town mayor’s wife. Sure, that may seem incredibly superficial but this is a femme fatale we’re talking about. The trope is the trope and here it wasn’t convincing.

Red Rock West seems a bit more refined than Dahl’s previous picture but I preferred the story of the first one better. This excels because of the scenes with Cage and Hopper playing off of one another. While I thought Val Kilmer and Michael Madsen also had a good rivalry in Kill Me Again, the two male leads here take the cake.

Overall, the two films are very similar and pretty much equal. Where one lacks, the other gains. It’s almost as if you could cherry pick the good bits of each and make one incredible movie out of them.

I can’t yet compare these two films to Dahl’s The Last Seduction, as I haven’t seen it yet. But it is on the docket and I’ll probably review it very soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: John Dahl’s other neo-noir films: Kill Me Again and The Last Seduction.

 

Film Review: Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go to College (1991)

Also known as: Ghoulies Go to College (video title), Ghoulies III (France)
Release Date: August 19th, 1991 (Germany)
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Written by: Brent Olson
Based on: characters by Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Music by: Michael Lloyd, Reg Powell
Cast: Evan MacKenzie, Kevin McCarthy, Eva LaRue, John R. Johnston, Patrick Labyorteaux, Billy Morrissette, Hope Marie Carlton, Jason Scott Lee, Matthew Lillard, Marcia Wallace, Dan Shor, Kane Hodder (uncredited), Richard Kind (voice)

Lightning Pictures, Taurus Entertainment Company, Vestron Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

The Ghoulies movies only work for a certain type of film aficionado. I know that these are bad movies but for fans of horror, comedy, practical effects and the right kind of ’80s and ’90s cheese, these movies just seem to hit all the right notes.

I haven’t seen this chapter in the franchise since it came out on video in 1991. It sort of disappeared and was out of print for a really long time. I believe you can get it on DVD now but I checked it out on Amazon Video.

I was surprised to discover that I actually liked this one better than the original. However, it’s a tad bit lower on the scale than Ghoulies II, which stands as my favorite in the series. But what’s most amazing is that over the first three films, this series pretty much maintained its status quo quite well.

This came out when there were a slew of college comedies. Maybe it was at the end of that era, which peaked in the ’80s, but it fits nice and snugly in the college sex comedy subgenre.

The Ghoulies themselves are larger in this movie but not as big as whatever the hell those troll things were in the fourth film. They also talk in this one. Strangely, Richard Kind provided the voice for one of these creatures.

Another neat addition to the series is that they actually make the toilet matter in this one. Some people incorrectly remember the Ghoulies as little monsters that come up through the toilet because of the imagery used in the previous movies’ posters and because there was one toilet scene in each of those films. This is the first movie where the toilet is more central to the plot, as it’s their portal into our world.

Apart from Richard Kind, who I mentioned earlier, this also has some other notable actors. It is the first film appearance of Matthew Lillard and also features another well-knwon ’90s actor, Jason Scott Lee. Marcia Wallace, most known for sitcom and comedy work and for providing the voice of Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons, appears in this as well. It’s also worth mentioning that Kane Hodder appears too, although he is uncredited and used for the stunt where the janitor is riding in the mop bucket.

This is a really enjoyable, mindless horror film. The jokes and the absurdity work. The terrible and hokey soundtrack is perfect in its own way. Frankly, I can’t say anything bad about this really, without having to peer intently through a more academic lens. But this isn’t a movie that deserves the same kind of examination as a Kubrick or Fellini film. Just enjoy it for what it is and what it is, is a fuck ton of fun.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The other three Ghoulies films, the Munchies films, Hobgoblins and Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

Film Review: The ‘Bill & Ted’ Film Series (1989-1991)

The Bill & Ted series was pretty enjoyable when I was a preteen. I’ve owned the box set for several years, since it first came out on DVD. I rewatch through the two films every couple of years or so and hope that the rumors of a third film, which has supposedly been written, are more fact than fiction.

In the meantime, I wanted to revisit this series again, in an effort to review them and because they are still enjoyable popcorn movies to kill some time over a weekend.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989):

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Robert V. Barron, Clifford David, Hal Landon Jr., Bernie Casey, Amy Stock-Poynton, J. Patrick McNamara, Frazier Bain, John Karlsen, Diane Franklin, Kimberley LaBelle

Interscope Communications, Nelson Entertainment, Orion Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.” – Ted

The first film in the series follows Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), as they have to ace a history report in order to not flunk out of school. If they flunk out, Ted gets shipped off to military school in Alaska and their band The Wyld Stallyns will never exist and bring peace and harmony to the universe. In order to make sure that they fulfill their destiny, Rufus (played by comic legend George Carlin) shows up in a time traveling phone booth – sending them off on their journey.

Taking a few pages from Doctor Who and Back to the Future, both big franchises at the time, these films add in some good old school rock and roll and two dimwitted heroes who are lovable characters with big hearts and a thirst for fun and adventure.

Excellent Adventure is far from a perfect film. It has its flaws and most of my fondness for it is out of nostalgia but it is still entertaining and funny.

As Bill and Ted traverse through time and abduct several noteworthy historical figures, the adventure unfolds and seeing these figures interact with one another, as well as the heroes, is pretty hilarious.

The special effects are good for the time, the plot doesn’t really matter other than creating a cool scenario and despite its wackiness and complete implausibility, the film just works.

Additionally, the sequence where the historical figures discover the mall is one of the best moments in film from the 1980s. Napoleon taking over the water park is also a classic moment that still plays great today.

The end of the film is their over the top history report and it is pretty friggin’ bad ass. It plays more like a rock concert than a report and helps build the mythos of these two characters becoming rock and roll legends.

Ultimately, this film is exciting, it encompasses many of the things that were awesome about entertainment in the 80s and it has George Carlin in it.

And who doesn’t want to replay the scene where Genghis Khan trashes Oshman’s Sporting Goods again and again?

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991):

Release Date: July 19th, 1989
Directed by: Pete Hewitt
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, William Sadler, Joss Ackland, Pam Grier, Annette Azcuy, Sarah Trigger, Hal Landon Jr., Amy Stock-Poynton

Interscope Communications, Nelson Entertainment, Orion Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“A hit. You have sank my battleship!” – Grim Reaper

Bogus Journey picks up a few years after Excellent Adventure. At this point, Bill and Ted haven’t yet fulfilled their destiny of bringing peace and harmony to the universe.

This film also introduces a villain in De Nomolos and his evil Bill and Ted robots who are sent to kill the real Bill and Ted. The robots succeed and Bill and Ted’s “Bogus Journey” is their trip through Hell and then Heaven, as they are essentially resurrected and gain allies in the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) and a pair of great alien scientists called “Station”.

This film is even more over the top than its predecessor and that works fine but overall, the film isn’t as good. It is still enjoyable and adds more to the building tale of these two future legends but it is missing some of the magic that made the first film work as well as it did.

It is a much darker film and maybe the tone distracts from the lighthearted heroes. Bill and Ted are still Bill and Ted and the Grim Reaper is a fantastic character but the film just feels off.

There just isn’t anything as memorable as what was in the first film. Granted, the sequence where Bill and Ted play the Grim Reaper in several board games in an effort to escape Hell is pretty damned good.

The film ends positively and it shows Bill and Ted on the cusp of greatness. But it leaves you wanting more, as you want to see the next step in their progression. Still, twenty-six years later, we haven’t gotten a sequel.

Well, according to Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, it is finally on its way.