Film Review: Trading Places (1983)

Also known as: Black or White (working title)
Release Date: June 7th, 1983 (limited)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliot, Paul Gleason, Kristin Holby, Bo Diddley, Jim Belushi, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Frank Oz, Giancarlo Esposito

Cinema Group Ventures, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house, Penelope hated me, and it was all because of this terrible, awful negro!” – Louis Winthorpe III

Since I watched The Blues Brothers a week ago, I wanted to revisit this movie, as well. I’ve been on a John Landis comedy kick, as of late.

Like The Blues Brothers, this was one of my favorite comedies, as a kid, because it featured two comedic actors I loved and still do.

While these aren’t my favorite roles for either Dan Aykroyd or Eddie Murphy, they’re still iconic and the guys had tremendous chemistry. So much so, I had always whished for a sequel to this. I kind of hoped it would happen after this film’s villains had cameos in Coming to America, which saw them potentially get their lives back.

Speaking of the villains, played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, they were superb and charismatic for being total pieces of shit. They contributed just as much to the greatness of this picture as the two leads.

However, I also have to give a lot of credit to Denholm Elliot and Jamie Lee Curtis. The two of them rounded out the group of protagonists and formed a solid team alongside Aykroyd and Murphy, as they fought to take down the two rich bastards that were going to completely destroy them.

The story sees a commodities broker have his life ruined by his two bosses over a one dollar bet. That bet sees someone from the furthest end of the social hierarchy take his place to see if he can overcome his environment and succeed at the level that a man born into privilege could.

Essentially, Aykroyd and Murphy play switcheroo but neither are aware of why. Once they find out, they decide to work together to teach the villains a hard lesson. In the end, they outwit them at their own game and walk away with their fortune, leaving them broke.

The film does a pretty amusing job of analyzing “nature versus nurture”. While it’s not a wholly original idea and has similarities to the classic The Prince and the Pauper story, it at least makes the switching of lives involuntary and with that, creates some solid comedic moments.

Even though this isn’t specifically a Christmas movie, it takes place over the holiday, as well as New Year’s, and it’s a film I like to watch around that time of year.

Trading Places has held up really well and it feels kind of timeless even though it is very ’80s. It’s story transcends that, though, and the leads really took this thing to an iconic level, making it one of the best comedies of its time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as other films with Dan Aykroyd or Eddie Murphy.

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: Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

Also known as: Gamera tai Daimaju Jaiga (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Monster X (US TV title), Monsters Invade Expo ’70, War of the Monsters, Gamera vs. Giger (alternate worldwide English titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1970 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Nisan Takahashi
Music by: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Cast: Tsutomu Takakuwa, Kelly Varis, Katherine Murphy

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 82 Minutes

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a Gamera movie but I do have a few left from the original run of films that I haven’t yet reviewed. I already did all the movies that were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but there are still three left that never made it on that show.

This one is mostly more of the same but it does have an interesting bit where Gamera, after a defeat, is essentially dead with a pale head. His body is left half submerged in the bay near the World Expo ’70 site, a world’s fair type of festival that takes centerstage in this movie.

With Gamera out of commission, two kids use a small submarine to enter his mouth and try to resuscitate him. While in there, they have to survive the heroic mission while outwitting killer parasites in the giant creature’s body. It’s weird, it’s neat and it’s pretty cool if you’re a fan of this sort of awesome cheese.

Other than that, there’s not much more to say. Everything is on par with the other sequels but this at least stays afloat and has an edge over some of the other chapters because of the sequence with the kids inside of Gamera’s body.

All in all, a decent flick for Gamera fans but if you’re not a diehard kaiju or tokusatsu viewer, you’ll probably be scratching your head for eighty-two minutes.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

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.

Film Review: The Blues Brothers (1980)

Also known as: The Return of the Blues Brothers (original script title)
Release Date: June 20th, 1980
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, John Landis
Music by: various
Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson, John Candy, Kathleen Freeman, Twiggy, Frank Oz, Charles Napier, Steven Spielberg, Steven Williams, Paul Reubens, Chaka Kahn, John Lee Hooker, Steve Lawrence, Jeff Morris, Joe Walsh, Armand Cerami

Universal Pictures, 133 Minutes, 148 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” – Elwood, “Hit it.” – Jake

This was a favorite comedy of mine, as a kid. It also probably helped develop my love of music, as it exposed me to styles that weren’t simply the standard pop tunes of the day. Given the film’s name, one could assume that this is full of blues music but it also features some soul, jazz, rock and a bit of country and western.

The Blues Brothers also solidified John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as two of the coolest guys working in Hollywood. Sadly, Belushi died two years later but my exposure and love of this movie led me down the path of watching everything Dan Aykroyd did for well over a decade. It also made me appreciate and love the work of director, John Landis.

A movie like this reminds of what movies used to be. It came out in a stupendous era for film and provided audiences with legitimate escapism from the harsh realities of the real world. This didn’t try to preach to you or force fed you some lesson, it was just a hell of a lot of fun, featured incredible music, didn’t take itself too seriously and offered up a tremendous dose of comedy when you didn’t have to worry about offending a small percentage of people that don’t buy anything, anyway.

This reminded me of why I watch so many retro movies and why I don’t really give a shit about new stuff coming out. At least for the most part. I’m am really intrigued by the newest adaptation of Dune, even if it is only going to be relegated to the small screen. But I digress, as I’ve gotten side tracked here. I just thought that it was necessary to explain what sort of feeling and thoughts this movie generated, seeing it in 2021 for the first time in quite awhile.

The Blues Brothers features dozens of great cameos of legitimate musicians essentially playing fictional versions of themselves. Strangely, this works. I think that also has to do with the film jumping around a lot and by putting the bulk of the acting work on Belushi and Aykroyd, who proved that even at their young age, they could certainly carry a motion picture and entertain just about everyone through their brand of comedy and music.

That being said, it also made me miss the really old days of Saturday Night Live. I was born after that show started but I did have access to a lot of those classic episodes growing up thanks to my uncle’s massive VHS library.

Anyway, this is just an energetic, lighthearted movie with soul and personality. It’s the type of picture that brings people together and leaves them all with a smile. I fucking miss movies like this.

I should also get the soundtrack on vinyl because not owning it should be a crime and I’m disappointed in myself for not having it.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other comedies by John Landis, also those by Ivan Reitman, as well as comedies starring Dan Aykroyd.