Film Review: Top Gun (1986)

Release Date: May 12th, 1986 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Top Guns by Ehud Yonay
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell, Barry Tubb, Rick Rossovich, Tim Robbins, Clarence Gilyard, Whip Hubley, James Tolkan, Meg Ryan, Adrian Pasdar

Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“That was some of the best flying I’ve seen yet. Right up to the part where you got killed. You never, never leave your wing man.” – Jester

If you weren’t around when this movie originally came out, it might be hard to understand how much of an impact it had on pop culture. As a kid and a big fan of G.I. Joe and movies like Iron Eagle and Red Dawn, I thought it was cool as hell. The coolness was also maximized through the casting of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, as well as the Kenny Loggins hit song “Danger Zone”.

Also, to my little mind, Maverick was about the coolest f’n name ever!

Anyway, I used to watch this a lot. It’s been years since I’ve seen it though but I wanted to get a fresh take on it before its long-awaited sequel comes out later this year, assuming it’s not delayed again.

While I actually don’t see this as a great film or have the crazy amount of love for it as many from my generation do, it’s still entertaining as hell and it’s really cool simply for the insane visuals of all the fighter jets just doing their thing. The aerial stunt work is f’n phenomenal! That being said, there just wasn’t anything like this when it came out and many have tried to replicate it with less success. Nowadays, they just opt out and go the CGI route but everything you see in this movie is real.

Apart from that, the story is just decent. It doesn’t really grab you or pull you in and it feels like its all just to set up the aerial parts of the movie. While I do like the characters, they also feel grossly underdeveloped. You spend all this time with them but it’s hard to connect to them. Sure, it’s tragic when Goose dies and you understand Maverick’s heartbreak but it doesn’t have as much impact and meaning had we seen these characters fleshed out more.

I think that the movie actually suffers from having a little too much of its best part: the aerial stunts. If that was trimmed down a bit or the film was a wee bit longer and just spent more time developing the core characters, it could’ve been something much better.

Still, it is a cool and energetic movie that’s well acted and superbly executed. And despite what I feel is a lack of character development, it does hit me in the feels when Iceman finally accepts Maverick at the end.

Also, I f’n love James Tolkan in everything.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Tom Cruise movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: The Sender (1982)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Roger Christian
Written by: Thomas Baum
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Kathryn Harrold, Željko Ivanek, Shirley Knight, Paul Freeman

Kingsmere Productions Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

Every now and again, I find an ’80s horror movie that somehow slipped through the cracks, even though I used to spend countless hours perusing the aisles of mom and pop video stores in the ’80s. Maybe I saw this at some point and the VHS box art just didn’t grab me. Whatever the reason, it was awesome to discover this now because The Sender is an exceptionally good sci-fi/horror flick that is grossly underappreciated and I guess, kind of lost to time.

The film stars Kathryn Harrold, who is really damn good and probably should’ve been in more than just a handful of movies I’ve seen in much smaller roles. Also, she has a kind of classic old Hollywood beauty to her.

This also stars a pretty young Željko Ivanek, whose work I’m familiar with is all much more recent. Fans of True Blood may recognize him as The Magistrate. He was also more recently in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. It was really cool seeing him in this, so young, as he’s a character actor I’ve grown to enjoy over the last decade or so.

Rounding out the cast is Paul Freeman, most recognized for his role as René Belloq, the primary villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Frankly, I love Freeman in everything and he doesn’t disappoint here. And just when you think he’s playing an annoying character trope, he surprises you in this.

The story is about a young man who is institutionalized after trying to drown himself in front of dozens of people at a lake. As the story rolls on, we discover that this young man has exceptional psychic power that he can’t control. He effects everyone around him but the good therapist at the hospital tries her damnedest to save him. As the film progresses things get more and more crazy and the movie really gives us some cool shit.

In fact, the film is damn impressive considering the things they achieved with the special effects. This came out in the heyday of practical effects in horror movies and this really just stands well above what was the standard quality of the time.

Additionally, this is surprisingly really well acted. At least, more so than you’d expect from a forgotten horror flick from 1982.

I don’t want to spoil too much because I’d rather people check this out. It deserves a hell of a lot more love and recognition than it’s gotten over the years.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The Hidden, Carrie, The Fury and Scanners.

TV Review: Galaxy Express 999 (1978–1981)

Original Run: September 14th, 1978 – March 26th, 1981
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Nobutaka Nishizawa
Written by: Hiroyasu Yamaura, Keisuke Fujikawa, Yoshiaki Yoshida
Based on: Galaxy Express 999 by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Nozomi Aoki
Cast: Masako Nozawa, Masako Ikeda, Kaneta Kimotsuki

Toei Animation, Fuji TV, 113 Episodes, 24 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Out of Leiji Matsumoto’s big three series, this is my least favorite. One of them has to be the odd one out, I guess, but it never appealed to me in the same way as the Captain Harlock stuff or Star Blazers a.k.a. Space Battleship Yamato.

This is a much smaller story and even though it has some action and adventure, it isn’t on the same epic scale as the other two franchises. But they all do exist in the same universe and crossover and because of that, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for this series, as well.

I also hadn’t seen anything Galaxy Express 999 related in decades, so it was kind of cool revisiting it. A lot of Matsumoto’s stuff is actually free to watch on Tubi for those interested.

Overall, I’d say that I actually like this even less now. I’d check it out when I had access to it in my younger days because it was pretty imaginative and was full of a lot of cool visuals and ideas.

However, the animation doesn’t hold up very well. I guess it’s fine for the time but it just doesn’t feel like it is in the same ballpark as Star Blazers or Harlock. I recently revisited both of those series too and I didn’t seem to really notice any glaring problems with the animation like I do with this. Mostly, it just feels kind of choppy and not as fluid.

The story is interesting enough but I was only able to watch about a dozen episodes and couldn’t commit to the entire run, which I did with the other series. Still, I will probably review the film versions that came out in the same era and see how I feel about those.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Galaxy Express 999 films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

 

Film Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Also known as: Into Thin Air (working title), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (complete title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1956 (Cannes)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes, Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles, Christopher Olsen, Daniel Gelin, Reggie Nalder, Carolyn Jones

Filwite Productions, Paramount Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, you will only have time for just one shot. If you need another, the risk is yours.” – Edward Drayton

I think that the 1950s were my favorite decade for Hitchcock movies and this is another really enjoyable one that just adds to that hefty pile of cinematic greatness.

This one also stars two of my mum’s favorite leading stars: James Stewart and Doris Day. That being said, this is also the first really dramatic role I’ve seen for Doris Day, as I mostly saw her comedies and musical movies as a kid.

This is also the second film that Alfred Hitchcock made with the name The Man Who Knew Too Much. This isn’t a remake of the black and white ’30s version of the picture, as both are very different. I’m not sure why we reused the name and it probably creates some confusion for those who haven’t seen them. I plan to watch that ’30s one in the near future though, so I can compare the two and because it features Peter Lorre, a favorite actor of mine.

Anyway, this is a story about a husband and wife traveling to Morocco with their son. They initially get confused for another married couple, who are there as spies. In this confusion, a good guy is murdered and the husband is taken into the police station for questioning. The couple leaves their son with another couple they met on the trip but soon realize that this was a grave mistake and that their friends were actually the spies. The son is held hostage, as the couple does everything they can to try and get him back.

This is a great thriller in the way that any fan of Hitchcock’s work should expect. While it’s not my favorite of this era or with James Stewart, it’s still a damn fine picture that keeps you on the edge of your seat once the real plot kicks in about a half hour into the proceedings.

It’s superbly acted but that should go without saying. Doris Day was really impressive in this and I’m glad that I got to see her outside of the type of roles she’s most known for. I also really liked Stewart kind of being a real fish out of water but rising to the occasion and being a real hero to his son.

1956’s version of The Man Who Knew Too Much was a solid ride that wasn’t predictable and ended up giving the viewer a very satisfying and emotional finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Alfred Hitchcock thrillers.

Film Review: The Fifth Estate (2013)

Also known as: The Man Who Sold the World (working title), The 5ifth Estate (alternative DVD spelling)
Release Date: September 5th, 2013 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Josh Singer
Based on: Inside WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg; WikiLeaks by David Leigh, Luke Harding
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Moritz Bleibtreu, Peter Capaldi, Dan Stevens, Alexander Siddig

Participant, Reliance Entertainment, Dreamworks Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. But if you give him a mask, he will tell you the truth. Two people, and a secret: the beginning of all conspiracies. More people, and, more secrets. But if we could find one moral man, one whistle-blower. Someone willing to expose those secrets, that man can topple the most powerful and most repressive of regimes.” – Julian Assange

Wow! This movie was an utter disappointment and honestly, a fucking disaster!

I should be clear from the get go that the performances were good and the shitty end result of this picture didn’t really fall on the shoulders of the actors. Hell, this film actually has a tremendous cast and that’s why I finally decided to give it a watch despite all the bad things I’ve heard about it since it came out.

I haven’t read the books that were used to write this film’s script but I know enough of the WikiLeaks story to know that this was a lot of bullshit. Also, I’m not sure how you can take such an exciting story and turn it into something this fucking dull! I mean, it’s got to take a real cement brained dullard to make the WikiLeaks and Assange story this damn boring!

Yes, I expected it not to be up to snuff but I at least expected the cast to kind of make up for the film’s technical and narrative shortcomings. Again, the cast is good but everything else is so bad that it barely even matters that they’re there.

In fact, I have to give this film a low score and the final tally is still going to be well below average, even though I gave it two bonus points for the actors.

This was a long, sloppy, boring film. It didn’t look that great and visually came across as really pedestrian. There weren’t any shots that stand out in my mind, as everything seemed to be shot like a television show that was on a tight schedule.

I don’t know how you can make a completely uninspiring movie out of a very inspiring person. But kudos, I guess.

This is shit.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other films and documentaries about cypherpunk culture and whistleblowers.

Film Review: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Release Date: December 11th, 1975 (London premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on: The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray
Music by: Leonard Rosenman, Ralph Ferraro (uncredited)
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Diana Koerner, Gay Hamilton, Steven Berkoff, Andre Morell, Anthony Sharp, Philip Stone, Pat Roach

Peregrine, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 185 Minutes

Review:

“Well then, look you now… from this moment, I will submit to no further chastisement from you. I will kill you, if you lay hands on me ever again! Is that entirely clear to you, sir?” – Lord Bullingdon

This is the only Stanley Kubrick film I had never seen, apart from his early documentary work. I always wanted to see this but I was intimidated by its length and usually, once I start thinking about Kubrick, I tend to go back to watching one of my three favorite films by him: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange or The Shining. I often times mix in Dr. Strangelove and Eyes Wide Shut, as well.

I thought that I needed to see this, greatly, and that not having seen it already was a bit of a crime against myself, as I consider Kubrick to be one of the three men in my personal Holy Trinity of Directors. I do think I need to expand that to a Mount Rushmore of Directors, though, as there are really four at the highest level of craftsmanship that I always go back to, again and again. However, this isn’t about that.

This is a long, epic film but man, it’s pretty exceptional.

While I found it slow in parts and there were chapters in the story that weren’t as interesting as the best bits, I really enjoyed this and thought that if it were ever remade, it should definitely be expanded into a limited television series, as there’s just so much story. I have never read the book, though, so I’m not sure how much of it this film actually covered.

Still, this shows the entirety of a man’s adult life where he initially starts out as pretty likable but then slowly dissolves into a real piece of shit. The picture does a great job of showing you all the major events and turning points in his life, however, and it builds towards something quite incredible.

As should be expected, the cinematography is magnificent, as is the acting and the use of music.

In regards to the film’s score, Kubrick went a similar route to what he did with A Clockwork Orange in that he uses many classical masterpieces but often times uses distorted versions of them, which give off their own unique feel that does more for the tone of specific scenes than the visuals and the acting. If you’ve never seen this but are familiar with A Clockwork Orange, you probably know what I’m talking about. However, his use of altered classical works is more limited here and less noticeable, initially.

There is one character in this that you do grow to care about, as Barry Lyndon devolves into a pure prick, and that’s his stepson. Their hatred for each other climaxes in an old fashioned duel. It’s a fucking tragic scene where you can’t guess what’s going to happen and every single frame of film adds to the building tension in a way that I haven’t felt in a film in a really long time. It’s actually a breathtaking sequence that’s impossible to look away from.

They really don’t make movies like this anymore and honestly, it truly makes me appreciate this near masterpiece that much more.

Barry Lyndon is as great as I had always hoped it would be.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stanley Kubrick films, as well as other epic, fictional biographical movies.

Film Review: Soldier (1998)

Release Date: October 23rd, 1998
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: David Webb Peoples
Music by: Joel McNeely
Cast: Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Sean Pertwee, Connie Nielsen, Michael Chiklis, Gary Busey, Jason Issacs, Paul Dillon, Wyatt Russell 

Jerry Weintraub Productions, Morgan Creek Entertainment, Warner Bros., 99 Minutes, 91 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Brave. It means that even when you’re scared you control your emotions. You make the fear be really small and tiny.” – Sandra

I have to thank this film’s existence and Kurt Russell’s part in it for giving us Event Horizon, a far superior film and one of the greatest sci-fi/horror movies ever made. The reason being, this was supposed to be made earlier but Russell requested and extra year to get super diesel. To kill that time, Paul W.S. Anderson went off and directed the best film he’s ever made.

Plus, we still got this, which I also like quite a bit and it shares a couple of actors with 1997’s Event Horizon, the always awesome and underappreciated Sean Pertwee and Jason Issacs, who has a hell of a presence in every film he finds himself in.

In this, we also get Gary f’n Busey and Jason Scott Lee, who is the other super soldier that Kurt Russell ultimately has to face off with. Lee was also jacked as fuck in this and their big battle at the film’s climax is like swimming in Niagara Falls if the water was liquid testosterone.

Strangely, and something I didn’t know until reading up on this film before revisiting it, Soldier is an unofficial, spiritual sequel to Blade Runner. In fact, there are some Easter eggs sprinkled throughout that I didn’t catch the first time I saw this in the theater back in ’98.

The reason for this is that this film’s writer, David Webb Peoples, was one of the writers on Blade Runner, so he sprinkled some things in to tie it back to that legendary movie (and the original Philip K. Dick story). I guess I’ll always think of it as Blade Runner 1.5 from now on.

Anyway, the story sees an old super soldier get dumped like trash on a trash planet. He soon discovers a discarded civilization there and has to fight to protect them, as the government that threw him away brings war to their doorstep. With that, they bring their updated, newer super soldier model, which Kurt Russell has to face, testing his mettle and proving that sometimes newer isn’t better.

While this film has some apparent budgetary limitations, everything still looks pretty damn good for the time. I also really like the story and think it’s something that’s relatable to most people. Especially those of us that have lived a little while and may feel like changing times and younger blood may try and push us out of our spots, specifically in a professional setting.

Soldier is just a good, balls to the wall, popcorn movie. It’s the type of great manly man film that we’re not allowed to have anymore. Sure, it’s far from perfect and there are many movies that hit similar notes and do it better but this is still an awesome way to spend ninety-nine minutes.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi action films of the ’80s and ’90s like Enemy Mine, Stargate, Escape From L.A., Event Horizon, etc.

Film Review: Gone with the Wind (1939)

Release Date: December 15th, 1939 (Atlanta premiere)
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Written by: Sidney Howard
Based on: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, George Reeves, Hattie McDaniel, Oscar Polk, Butterfly McQueen

Selznick International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 238 Minutes, 223 Minutes (1969 re-release), 234 (1985 re-release), 233 Minutes (1989 re-release), 224 Minutes (1994 re-release), 226 Minutes (copyright length)

Review:

“No, I don’t think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.” – Rhett Butler

Gone With the Wind is considered one of the all-time greatest motion pictures ever made. However, everyone should already know that.

It also came under fire last year when it was announced that it would be featured on HBO Max. Why did it come under fire? Well, because people these days are offended by the art people made generations ago. In regards to this film, it had to due with racial stereotypes and how the black characters were used. I wrote about this retro-censorship crap back in July, though. That article can be found here, so I won’t harp on it too much again while reviewing this classic.

When it comes to this film, it is as good as people have made it out to be for over 80 years. In fact, it may be even better.

Sure, it’s a long, slow, very drawn out story but it covers a lot of ground and it certainly has a lot to say.

Women, historically, have loved the film because of its romantic side and how it doesn’t follow the beats of a stereotypical “happily ever after” story, which was definitely rare for its time.

Men seem to love it because of the war related parts of the film. Mainly, this picture focuses on a few key characters but it really showcases what life was like for those on the losing side of the American Civil War. Regardless of what the war was or was about, the message here is eternal, as it really gives the viewer a true understanding of the actual devastation of war, specifically after the fighting is over.

Beyond the great story, the movie has stunning and legendary performances throughout and it may be the best acted film up to its release. Clark Gable is an absolute man’s man and Vivien Leigh was absolutely incredible. The range of these two just in this film is fantastic and impressive.

The film is also superbly directed by Victor Fleming, who pulled these performances out of his cast while also displaying his phenomenal level of cinematic craftsmanship. Some of the shots in this are breathtaking and still hold up marvelously, all these years later. A lot of credit also has to go to the cinematographer, Ernest Haller.

Going back to Fleming, though, it’s hard to believe that he released both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in the same year! That has to be the greatest single year of work by any director. Sadly, though, he only made five more films after this and died ten years later.

It’s hard to really put into words how majestic and epic this film is. It really should be seen by all lovers of film. I can get why it might not appeal to many in the 2020s and because it’s so damn long but it’s hard to really experience the best that the art of motion pictures has to offer if you haven’t seen this.

It deserves its status and from a visual and storytelling standpoint, it still has a lot to teach future filmmakers and lovers of the artistic medium.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: THX 1138 – Director’s Cut (1971)

Also known as: THX-1138 (alternative spelling)
Release Date: March 11th, 1971
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas, Walter Murch
Based on: Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB by George Lucas
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, Don Pedro Colley, Maggie McOmie, Ian Wolfe, Sid Haig

American Zoetrope, Warner Bros., 86 Minutes, 88 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 81 Minutes (1971 Studio Theatrical Cut)

Review:

“Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy. And be happy.” – OMM

I had to review the Director’s Cut edition of THX 1138, which is unfortunately the only version the world has access to anymore. It’s similar to the original Star Wars trilogy after George Lucas altered those films. Frankly, I’d rather see and review this film in its original form but I don’t have this on a VHS tape from the ’80s or a working VCR.

For the most part, this film isn’t altered too greatly and the bits that have been updated are obvious due to them employing modern CGI, which sticks out like a sore thumb. But I can’t really examine the skill of George Lucas’ special effects prowess because those things have been wiped clean and replaced with modern tweaks.

Anyway, this is obviously inspired by some of the most famous dystopian novels and motion picture adaptations. However, even if it dips into Brave New World, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, it still has it’s own identity and look. Frankly, despite heavy narrative similarities to what it was inspired by, this is still a unique and really cool film.

Being George Lucas’ first feature length movie, it’s damn impressive. This is also why I’d rather see it in its original form and not altered for modern eyes.

The film also benefits from the performances by its core cast members. While Robert Duvall is stellar in this, he’s backed up by Maggie McOmie’s memorable performance, as well as the always enjoyable Donald Pleasence.

Additionally, it’s impressive how much Lucas was able to achieve with so little. The sets are very minimalistic but nothing about this picture feels cheap. The world feels real, authentic and lived in, even with its generic, sterile, hospital hallways looking appearance.

I like this motion picture quite a bit and I always have. Seeing it in HD is pretty glorious but I still wish I had the ability to see it as it was original seen.

Lastly, this film features one of the coolest cars in motion picture history, which is featured in the big chase scene at the film’s climax.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other dystopian science fiction films of the late ’60s through the ’80s.

Documentary Review: Grey Gardens (1975)

Release Date: September 27th, 1975 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
Cast: Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale 

Portrait Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn’t know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there’s anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman… S-T-A-U-N-C-H. There’s nothing worse, I’m telling you. They don’t weaken, no matter what.” – Little Edie

Grey Gardens is very much a product of its time but it was a pretty highly regarded documentary for its day.

While I’ve known about it for years, I hadn’t watched it till now, as I figured it’d be a really depressing look into the lives of two women who went from the height of American society to living pretty much in squalor in their decrepit Long Island mansion, reflecting on their past days of glory.

The film, at its core, is an interesting character study into these two real women. There isn’t really a structure to the film and the directors just let the cameras roll, filming their day-to-day life like a reality television show. Although, more like the early days of reality television, before producers tried to manipulate their subjects into manufactured hostility to grab ratings.

That being said, this is still a sad picture but at the same time, the two women, even in their situation, are endearing and quite likable. But this also shows their naivety about the world that they live in. They’re the products of high society, no longer a part of it and they just don’t seem to have the same instincts as regular people in similar impoverished situations.

We also discover their strange but kind of innocent philosophies about life, love and family.

My only real complaint about the film is that it’s really slow. However, this complaint probably exists because I saw it nearly half a century after it was made and documentary filmmaking has evolved, greatly.

Regardless of that, it’s still interesting, stepping into these two women’s world for an hour and a half.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and the film of the same name that is based on the women, starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore.