Film Review: Explorers (1985)

Release Date: July 12th, 1985
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Eric Luke
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Amanda Peterson, James Cromwell, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Meshach Taylor, Dana Ivey

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“It’s asking for coordinates on x-, y- and z-axes to locate a point in space relative to its terminal. How did you dream this?” – Wolfgang Müller

The Explorers was one of my favorite movies in the mid-’80s. It kind of fit in with all those other kid adventure movies like E.T. the Extra-TerrestrialThe Goonies and Monster Squad. These kid films did really well back then and they all sort of just tapped into something that films didn’t do as good before the decade. I guess that’s why Stranger Things and the modern It movie have built up solid fan bases off of the nostalgia for these sort of films and stories.

This movie is no different and it also came from the imagination of Joe Dante. Ultimately, this feels like a Spielberg film too but he wasn’t even involved but maybe Dante’s experience working with Spielberg on Gremlins, a year earlier, kept that magic mojo going.

The plot follows three boys and their attempt at building a spaceship. Yeah, it is really fantastical and unrealistic but the movie is more about imagination and childhood than the going to space bit. Granted, they do go to space and meet aliens but even then, this is still about youthful imagination, living your dreams no matter how ridiculous they may be and never losing hope in yourself. It’s a metaphor, y’all!

What makes this movie so fantastic is that you do see this through the eyes of children but you also see it through the eyes of an adult, in this case the super talented and underutilized Dick Miller. Miller’s character, an old man that once had dreams and aspirations similar to the kids, discovers what these kids are up to and when he witnesses them succeed, he is living vicariously through them and tapping into something he hasn’t felt in decades. It’s pretty f’n touching and Miller really conveyed the right emotions in playing this part. While Miller’s role in the movie isn’t very big, it’s central to the most pivotal message this film tries to communicate to its audience.

The special effects in this are really good and I loved the sets and the creature effects on the aliens, once these kids journeyed to their spaceship.

Spoiler alert, the aliens are friendly and as the film rolls on, you come to discover that they’re just kids to. So the Earth kids and the alien kids meet and you see that they’re not too dissimilar. The alien kids are also driven to go on adventures and discover the universe with childlike enthusiasm. Plus, Robert Picardo was awesome as the male alien, even if you couldn’t see him under the bulky costume.

I like watching this film as an adult because it keeps me grounded by making me remember the ideals and view of the universe I had when I was a kid. Watching this as an adult is similar to being in the shoes of the Dick Miller character.

This is one of Joe Dante’s best pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Flight of the NavigatorE.T the Extra-TerrestrialD.A.R.Y.L., The Goonies, Monster Squad.

Film Review: Reality Bites (1994)

Release Date: January, 1994 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Helen Childress
Music by: Karl Wallinger
Cast: Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Swoosie Kurtz, Joe Don Baker, John Mahoney, Renee Zellweger, Andy Dick, Keith David, David Spade (uncredited), Anthony Robbins (uncredited), Jeanne Tripplehorn (uncredited)

Jersey Films, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living shit outta you ’cause you know I’m the only real thing you got.” – Troy Dyer

This was a coming of age movie that I loved when it came out back in 1994. Watching it nearly a quarter of a century later, I hate most of these characters and just see them as the typical “I’m such a cool counterculture ’90s slacker” type. But the reality is, I watched this film about struggling twentysomethings before I was even twenty. Now, being in my thirties and having survived my twenties, it has a very different effect on me now.

All the philosophical rantings are just nonsense. However, what I may have thought were good points when I was an angsty teenager (but I laugh at now) can’t simply be dismissed as shitty dialogue. If anything, this film is a product of ’90s Generation X culture. It certainly isn’t an inaccurate portrayal of it. These ideas, these philosophies and the living hypocrisy of those who espoused it was real. It’s what a big portion of that generation felt and how they saw the world, as they entered it as adults with a very different point-of-view than their Baby Boomer parents.

If anything, this film serves as a real time capsule to the ’90s. And really, are these young people different than those of other generations?

Everything I’m saying isn’t really criticism, it’s just my understanding of these things now. Sure, every young person thought Ethan Hawke was cool in this movie and Winona Ryder was sort of this elven looking ’90s girl next door that everyone was crushing on hard. However, seen outside of twentysomething eyes, they’re not likable characters. They’re selfish, narcissistic, egotistical and complete hypocrites. I couldn’t find myself cheering for them to make it as a couple. In my thirties, I found that I was more interested in Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn’s characters, as they actually had more interesting stories, seemed more grounded and were infinitely more likable. I knew that they would turn out okay.

Going back and seeing the things I wrote or put on social media when I was in my twenties is always a cringe worthy experience. So I can’t imagine what these characters would think now, looking back at the documentary Ryder’s Lelaina was creating out of their lives. I hope they all evolved well beyond where they were at this point in their lives.

Primarily, the point of this film is to show what it is like for Gen Xers to be leaving college and trying to make it in the real world. Yeah, it’s tough out there, we all get that if we’ve lived through it without uber rich parents. But that is where I can relate to the film. And also because these were people that weren’t too dissimilar from my friends at the same age. Those who I am still friends with evolved and grew into better people. Those I am no longer friends with stayed the same and still rant on about the same crap that neither makes them cool anymore and just makes them come off as poorly aged turds.

But I still like this movie. I like it because it actually is accurate… scarily accurate. Ben Stiller did a good job behind the camera, especially since he had to split his time with acting duties in this as well. But it is kind of sad to relive life through the experiences of these fictitious characters, now realizing that we were all full of shit.

We had high hopes, all this optimism, we thought we’d change the world and fix the wrongs of our parents generation. However, our parents thought the same thing and so did their parents. “Down with consumerism!” “Hey, let’s order Domino’s!” “Don’t be a fucking sellout, man!” “Hey, some major network wants to buy my show!” And in the end, the world is the same. Maybe a bit worse, actually.

This is definitely more of an analysis of this film’s philosophies and characters and less of an actual review but whatever. I can write what I want because I’m not selling my soul to some corporate sponsored publisher that murders whales and dumps crude oil on the heads of Third World infants, maaan!

Someone pointed out to me that the script was written by a 19 year-old girl. Of course it was. Granted, props to her 19 year-old self (who would be in her forties now) for accomplishing such a feat. Seriously. It’s a film that felt truly authentic. It sadly just shows you that young people mostly suck because life hasn’t made them better yet.

I kind of think Troy just stayed a total starving artist douchebag though. And despite the “happy” ending, he probably still sneaked out the next morning.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: SinglesSubUrbiaEmpire RecordsS.F.W. and Clerks.

Film Review: The Purge (2013)

Also known as: Vigilandia (working title)
Release Date: May 2nd, 2013 (Stanley Film Festival)
Directed by: James DeMonaco
Written by: James DeMonaco
Music by: Nathan Whitehead
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Chris Mulkey

Platinum Dunes, Blumhouse Productions, Why Not Productions, Universal Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Incoming reports show this year’s Purge has been the most successful to date, with the most murders committed.” – Newscaster

*written in 2014.

I watched this film and its first sequel back-to-back. I will follow up with my review of the sequel shortly.

As for this film, the first in The Purge series, it was pretty mediocre and the premise was so unbelievable that I had a hard time buying into it.

For those who don’t know the premise, basically ten years from now the United States government is run by some douchebags called the New Founding Fathers and they implement a thing called “The Purge”, which is an event where one night per year from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., all crimes including murder are legal. Why would the government do this? Well, it cuts down on crime the rest of the year, as people are allowed to get their built-up aggression out for one night. Also, it somehow solves all of our economic woes and makes America some utopia. The writers must have no clue about how economics works. Also, almost everyone buys into this insanity like it is a new religion.

Frankly, this film is trying to make a political statement but what that statement is, I am not sure. It is basically Hollywood liberal propaganda taken to such an extreme level that I wouldn’t be surprised if the studio stole this whole premise from an eleven year-old’s LiveJournal account. If this could happen in America, which it never would, more people would rise against it than support it. Reason being, even if this country is in bad shape and there is extreme polarization on almost every issue nowadays, most people are still inherently good and wouldn’t condone such savagery. Especially people with kids, which is nearly most adults.

I’d hate to keep harping on the bad premise but in no way does it work. Now if it was a scenario like Escape From New York or Arkham City or this premise was some response to a major natural disaster or a zombie outbreak, I could’ve bought into it a little better. Also, if it were more than just ten years in the future, I probably would’ve taken the bait. In the end, it is just an adolescent’s ill-plotted wet dream on screen.

And for a film that was basically guaranteed to be a murder-spree, this film wasn’t. Sure, a bunch of people do end up getting killed but it takes a hell of a lot of time to get to that point and when it happens, it is basically just the home invaders. The premise and the setup had you waiting for bloody chaos. What you got was a family hiding in closets with television sets.

The acting was okay, the villain kid was actually not bad and I liked his style and overall presentation, the cinematic style was effective and the kid actors weren’t horrible. The plot thread about the bum hiding in the house was annoying and more than half the film was spent searching the house for a hobo.

There was a plot twist at the end. It sucked and just added to the bullshit insanity of this whole shitshow. It’s as if the filmmakers thought that they were being clever. They weren’t.

I tried to forget about the premise and lose myself in the film and just accept what was playing out from scene-to-scene but nothing made sense. It was a film made to shock people… unintelligent people. Like the people who liked Paranormal Activity and all these other slew of modern horror films that would be better suited making coasters than actual playable DVDs.

I didn’t hate this movie; I just couldn’t take it seriously. It wasn’t cringeworthy; it was just an 85 minute waste of my time.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Other Purge movies.

Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Release Date: July 17th, 2017 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson
Based on: Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

EuropaCorp, Fundamental Films, BNP Paribas Fortis Film Finance, Universum Film, Gulf Film, River Road Entertainment, Belga Films, STX Entertainment, 137 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t come here to get a makeover.” – Laureline

Going into this, I had no expectations either way. Part of me wanted this to be a true spiritual successor to Luc Besson’s classic The Fifth Element, which is twenty years old this year. Another part of me sort of expected this to follow the trend of Besson’s modern work, which has been hit or miss but mostly miss. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is both of these things.

Is it on the level of The Fifth Element? No. But it does channel that film in its subject matter, visual flair, bizarreness and creativity.

The film starts out strong and really gets you into the spirit of what it’s trying to do. Unfortunately, once the main actors show up, it takes you out of the picture. I don’t necessarily blame them but the quirky dialogue that they had to work with was pretty awful. They also completely lacked chemistry and just looked like two fish out of water when they were forced together. It was like watching two young kids trying to be witty and cool while trying to be into each other but you knew they were probably just dating because of social pressure from kids cooler than them.

I’m not sure why but Dane DeHaan just doesn’t do anything for me. People seem to love this guy but I don’t get it. Most of the time, he talks like he is trying to channel some sort of cool inner bad ass but it just sounds like a teenager trying to act tough. His voice sounds like it isn’t even confident in its delivery. It’s like he’s a weakling playing the part of a bad ass and that he’s terrified that he’ll be exposed at any second for not being a cool tough guy. It brings me back to when he played Harry Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I kind of just want to smack him and tell him to go to his room. And if you want to compare this to The Fifth Element, he doesn’t have a tenth of the presence or personality of Bruce Willis.

Cara Delevingne is better than DeHaan in this but she still needs more experience before taking over the reigns of a film. However, my favorite part of this movie was when DeHaan was briefly taken out of the picture and Delevingne took over in an effort to find him and rescue him. I’d actually prefer her in a solo film, to be completely honest.

The biggest problem with this movie is not the acting, dialogue or the directing. What killed this movie for me is that it seems like a collage of really cool visual shit mixed up in a nonsensical way. The story was all over the place and just seemed like it was there to string together a bunch of random scenes that would have worked better as shorts or music videos. The plot was confusing and hard to follow throughout most of the picture. When you get to the end, there is a lot of over-explanation as to what is going on in an attempt to make sense out of the two hour mess before the big climax.

Valerian is absolutely beautiful and imaginative but that is all it is. It is a film that showcases so much potential but fails to do anything with it. It was poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted and poorly executed. Even Clive Owen and his iron gravitas could not save the picture.

And ultimately, the best thing about the movie is the opening sequence which features humans and aliens coming together over generations, set to the tune of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.

I also find it odd that this film completely whitewashes the Avatar aliens and no one cares.

Rating: 5/10