Film Review: Licence to Kill (1989)

Release Date: June 13th, 1989 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Wayne Newton, Benicio del Toro, Anthony Starke, Priscilla Barnes, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Señor Bond, you got big cojones. You come here, to my place, without references, carrying a piece, throwing around a lot of money… but you should know something: nobody saw you come in, so nobody has to see you go out.” – Franz Sanchez

Timothy Dalton was my favorite James Bond. I know that makes me strange and weird but he was the first Bond on the big screen for me and his movies had a bit more gravitas than those cheesy Roger Moore outings. They also had more gravitas than those later Brosnan films because those went back towards the route of cheese and eventually killed the franchise until Daniel Craig came along and stopped smiling.

Licence to Kill is a very divisive Bond film but then Dalton is a very divisive Bond. The film takes a turn for realism nearly two decades before the Daniel Craig starring Casino Royale. In 1989, that rubbed most people the wrong way. This was the first Bond film to get a PG-13 rating due to that realness and its use of violence. Some people also felt that the more violent bits were too much but I felt that it reflected a Bond franchise that was about to enter the ’90s.

The film boasts some solid action sequences. All the Key West stuff was fantastically shot and looks great by modern standards. The Mexico material also looks incredible, especially the Olympatec Meditation Institute scenes, which were filmed at the Centro Cultural Otomi. The cinematography was pretty standard but the locations didn’t need much razzle dazzle. They really only needed explosions, which there were plenty of.

Robert Davi plays the villain and I can’t think of another actor that could have played the role as well as he did. He had the right look, the right level of intensity and had a predatory presence like a reptile. His top henchman was played by Benicio del Toro in only his second film role.

We also get to see Wayne Newton in a role greater than just a cameo and honestly, I love Newton in this. The film also boasts a collection of other talented actors in supporting roles: Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Anthony Zerbe, Anthony Starke and Priscilla Barnes.

I thought that the Bond Girls were a mixed bag in this film. Carey Lowell was pretty badass and held her own. I liked her a lot and think that she doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great Bond Girls. She certainly had more to offer than the standard “damsels in distress” of the classic Bond pictures. Talisa Soto, however, was more like a useless damsel but to the nth degree. I thought Soto was fine with the material she was given but she didn’t serve much purpose other than being a pretty gold digger that probably deserved to be in a drug kingpin’s web. I don’t think that she was a character that anyone could relate to and really, wouldn’t care about because she’s a greedy woman that lays around all day.

The thing is, I love Timothy Dalton’s Bond. This is the better of his two pictures but sadly, we wouldn’t get anymore with him. Not because no one else liked him but because the James Bond franchise went into a state of limbo for six years, as the rights to the material were being battled over in court. By the time things were settled and GoldenEye was slated for a 1995 release date, Dalton decided to step away.

Licence to Kill is rarely on people’s lips when naming favorite Bond movies. But when someone else mentions it, it usually comes with a fist bump and a stoic, confident nod of admiration because I know that I just met someone with real taste.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The only other Timothy Dalton James Bond movie, The Living Daylights.

Film Review: Last Action Hero (1993)

Also known as: Extremely Violent (working title)
Release Date: June 13th, 1993 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited), Zak Penn, Adam Leff
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin O’Brien, Bridgette Wilson, Ian McKellen, Tina Turner, Rick Ducommun, Angie Everhart, Al Leong, Colleen Camp, Professor Toru Tanaka, Sharon Stone (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Joan Plowright (cameo), Danny DeVito (voice), MC Hammer (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Maria Shriver (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Timothy Dalton (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Wilson Phillips (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but you’re gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer – acne, shaving, premature ejaculation… and your first divorce.” – Jack Slater

Man, this was a film I really loved when it came out. It was imaginative, fun and truly balls to the wall, even for not being an R-rated movie.

While it is still pretty fun, it isn’t a movie that has aged very well. At its heart, it is still a great homage to over the top, high octane action films from the ’80s, much like the ones that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It features lots of explosions and a ton of gun action and great vehicle chases but it is pretty toned down for a PG-13 audience unlike the hard R-rating that these movies typically get. Overall, it is more like a tongue in cheek parody of the genre. Schwarzenegger and the director, John McTiernan, poke a lot of fun at themselves and the films that they were instrumental in creating.

One cool thing about this movie is the over abundance of cameos it has. Since it takes place in a fantasy world and also goes into the “real world”, we get to see a lot of stars playing themselves, as well as some of their most famous characters within the fantasy movie world.

The story sees a young boy get a magic golden ticket that was supposedly passed down from Houdini. The ticket whisks the boy away into the movie he is watching, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a character named Jack Slater. The boy gets caught up in Slater’s in-movie adventure and gets to experience the fantasy fiction world of action films, which just so happens to overlap with other genres. Eventually, the big bad guy discovers the power of the ticket and uses it to go from world to world in an attempt to pull off heists and to gather other villains to stand against Slater.

The movie is full of late ’80s/early ’90s cheese but it is the best kind. Sure, the kid can get a bit grating at times but he’s not as bad as a lot of the kid actors from the time. This was also the young Austin O’Brien’s first movie. But ultimately, he is the eyes and ears of the audience, swept into this world and it was effective. Plus, I was the right age for this movie when it came out and he really just seemed like one of my peers from school.

Last Action Hero wasn’t a hit when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It’s a better picture than the experts would have you believe though, especially if the subject matter is something you’re a fan of. I grew up loving ’80s and ’90s action movies, so this is my cup of tea. Besides, Schwarzenegger is always great when he’s hamming it up. He really hams it up here.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Rocky II (1979)

Release Date: June 15th, 1979
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Frank McRae, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams (uncredited)

United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“I feel like a Kentucky Fried idiot.” – Rocky Balboa

Rocky II picks up right where Rocky left off but that was how most of these sequels worked and why all of the original five Rocky films seem like a long continuing narrative. This is the only one though, that feels like a true continuation but that’s mainly because of its quality and its similarity to the first. Plus, Rocky goes head-to-head with Apollo Creed, one more time.

And not to take anything away from the other sequels, I like them all, but it is necessary to point out that this one is almost as good as the first and it really feels like the second half of one larger story.

The premise sees Apollo questioning himself, after a nobody went the distance with him for fifteen rounds. He is the world champ and he let some bum come in and nearly usurp him as the top dog in the sport. While Rocky wants to live a life after fighting, Apollo constantly baits him and berates him publicly until Rocky decides to take the rematch and see if he has what it takes to defeat Apollo and become the world champion.

John G. Avildsen didn’t return to direct this chapter, so Stallone took the directorial reins himself and he did a pretty fine job. This was his second time behind the camera after 1978’s wrestling film Paradise Alley and it is a much better film than that one.

The majority of the cast returns and it’s actually great seeing them back. I love all these characters and getting to spend more time with them is great, even Joe Spinell’s Gazzo, the neighborhood loan shark.

The film explores the life of a fighter after fighting. Sadly, Rocky can’t find his place in the world and ultimately goes back to what he knows best. But all the while, he marries his love, has a son and rises to the challenge put before him.

Rocky II might not be as good as the original but it’s damn close. I love how Bill Conti’s score evolved for this film and I love the banter between Rocky and Apollo. You see their admiration and respect for one another start to blossom, which would lead to a solid friendship in the films after this one.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Batteries Not Included (1987)

Also stylized as: *batteries not included
Also known as: Miracle On 8th Street (international)
Release Date: December 18th, 1987
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Mick Garris, Brad Bird, Matthew Robbins, Brent Maddock, S.S. Wilson
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Frank McRae, Elizabeth Pena, Dennis Boutsikaris, Michael Carmine, Wendy Schaal

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“The quickest way to end a miracle is to ask it why it is… or what it wants.” – Frank Riley

Batteries Not Included sort of came and went in the theater. At least, I wasn’t really aware of it until it popped up on HBO about a year later. Once I saw it though, I was captivated and would try to catch it every time it was playing on television. It is one of those movies I loved as a kid but hadn’t really seen since. So when I came across it on Netflix, I wanted to see how it played, thirty years later.

The film was actually intended to be an episode of Steve Spielberg’s awesome television show Amazing Stories. Spielberg liked the story so much that he wanted to have it expanded into a feature film. Also, this was Brad Bird’s first time writing for a theatrical release. He would go on to write and direct the beloved animated films The Iron GiantThe Incredibles and Ratatouille.

The movie tells the story of the residents of a rundown building in New York City. The area is being torn down and the residents forced out by thugs hired by developers who intend to build modern massive skyscrapers. The thugs go around destroying the resident’s homes and property. Two tiny alien spaceships show up and start fixing everything. The little spaceships are actually alien lifeforms that take junk and appliances and use them to repair and enhance themselves. They even give birth to three baby alien ships in the film.

The movie is really about miracles and how when you are pushed to your limit and all seems hopeless, sometimes things can happen to pick you back up. Batteries Not Included is about not losing hope and it is also about family and friends and turning to those around you who are good people. It’s interesting that it takes non-human lifeforms to bring the humans in the story together.

For 1987, the special effects are fantastic. The movie still looks stellar today and it held up really nicely.

The cast were all really good but the bulk of the picture rests on the shoulders of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (just a few years before her big Academy Award win for Driving Miss Daisy). It’s kind of nice revisiting pictures like this and Cocoon, as they feature elderly actors as the main characters. It is something that you don’t see very often anymore, at least not in major studio sci-fi releases. But the 80s were a magical time for film.

I was happy that I revisited this, so many years later, because I wasn’t disappointed, as I often times am with movies I once loved as a kid. It was actually just as I remembered it without any extra romantic flourish added to it from my memory.

Batteries Not Included is sort of forgotten today and it wasn’t a big hit in its day, anyway. It is a movie that probably deserves more recognition than it got, though. It just looks good, plays good and most importantly, feels good.

Film Review: Paradise Alley (1978)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1978
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Conway, Anne Archer, Joe Spinell, Armand Assante, Lee Canalito, Terry Funk, Frank McRae, Joyce Ingalls, Tom Waits

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

This film has been in my Netflix queue forever. I saw that it was getting pulled down in a few days, so I decided I had to watch it now or never. Granted I saw this film before but that was on HBO when I was like six years-old. I think I saw it again once on TBS or TNT in the early 90s at three in the morning. Regardless, I remember holding it in a special place, as it was very similar to the tone and style of the original Rocky.

Set in 1946, in Hell’s Kitchen, the small part of Manhattan made most famous by the Daredevil comics. This film follows three brothers played by Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante – in his debut role and Lee Canalito. Canalito is a giant of a man and is pressured by his brothers to become a wrestler, after he upsets the town legend in an impromptu match to make a quick $100. Stallone’s Cosmo and Assante’s Lenny feud throughout the film over what each thinks is best for their wrestler brother.

The film also features Joe Spinell, who worked with Stallone in Rocky as the infamous character Gazzo. Pro-wrestler Terry Funk plays the head thug of the mobster and the final opponent in the film’s climactic battle. Frank McRae plays an aging yet lovable fighter, Anne Archer plays a love interest that creates a bit of a love triangle with Cosmo and Lenny. Kevin Conway plays Stitch the mobster; he is a favorite of mine and can be easily remembered as the announcer (or barker) that you heard throughout the outside fairground scenes in Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse.

There are cameos from many well-known professional wrestlers: “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Bob Roop, “Dirty” Dick Murdoch, Dory Funk Jr., Don Leo Jonathan, Don Kernodle, Gene Kiniski, Dennis Stamp, Ray Stevens, and Uliuli Fifita.

This film, like Rocky, features the music of Bill Conti. In fact, this film felt like it was trying pretty hard to recreate the magic of the first Rocky film. Maybe after it fell a bit short, its lack of success inspired Rocky II, which came out a year later.

Paradise Alley was written and directed by Stallone and as a first real directorial effort, it isn’t a bad film at all. He would go on to direct most of the Rocky sequels, as well as many other films after this.

While I enjoy this movie overall, it falls a bit flat in comparison to the Rocky franchise. It also doesn’t really represent professional wrestling accurately at all because even in 1946, it wasn’t a straight up sport. Furthermore, it employed wrestling moves that were more commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s. 1940s professional wrestling was a totally different experience than what was shown in this film. Despite that, the visuals and the way the matches were shot, was pretty damned awesome. Stallone experimented with style, substance and texture and achieved something marvelous to look at.

From a plot standpoint, the film is disjointed and at times, dysfunctional. The characters motivations seem to flip-flop on a whim and there seems to be an underlying rivalry between the two older brothers that is never really explored and never really that important to the overall narrative once you get to the end. Additionally, the end of the film, mainly, the way the wrestling match ends, is confusing. I guess they won and the brothers are now at peace and I’m not sure how the conflict was really resolved.

This is a film worth watching but if you don’t, you’ll probably be okay.