Film Review: Red Dragon (2002)

Release Date: September 30th, 2002 (premiere)
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frankie Faison, Anthony Heald, Bill Duke, Ken Leung, Lalo Schifrin, Frank Langella (deleted scene), Ellen Burstyn (voice, uncredited), Frank Whaley (uncredited)

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Think to yourself that every day is your last. The hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise. As for me, when you want a good laugh, you will find me in fine state, fat and sleek, a true hog of Epicurus’s herd.” – Hannibal Lecter

In my quest to revisit and review all of the Hannibal Lecter movies, I’ve finally reached Red Dragon, the last film with Anthony Hopkins in it as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. It’s also interesting in that it is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and a remake of 1986’s Manhunter, which was the first Hannibal Lecter movie that saw the famous character portrayed by Brian Cox in a chilling performance.

Having seen this again for the first time since theaters, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Especially, since it came out a year after the pretty mundane Hannibal.

Still, I think that Manhunter is the better film due to the visual style and pacing of its director, Michael Mann, as well as the performances of its cast. I thought that Tom Noonan’s version of the serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, was a lot more intense and scary than Ralph Fiennes version in this movie. That’s not to take anything away from Fiennes, though, as he’s pretty damn good too.

As much as I like Edward Norton in everything, I also prefer William Peterson’s version of Will Graham.

Where Red Dragon does take the cake, though, is in the chemistry between Norton’s Graham and Hopkin’s Lecter. The scenes they shared together were really great. While it’s not on par with the exchanges between Jodie Foster’s Clarice and Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, it still propels the film and it’s the primary factor in this film redeeming the series after it’s severely underwhelming predecessor.

Also, this is just a good story, all around. I’m not sure which is the more accurate film to the source material between this and Manhunter but the plots are very much the same with a few details being different.

I’d also consider this Brett Ratner’s best movie. In recent years, his career has been derailed by sexual harassment allegations and with that, this will probably remain his best film, as he most likely will never work in Hollywood again.

All in all, this is pretty good and it didn’t let the Anthony Hopkins trio of movies end on a sour note.

Now there’s also the prequel film that came out after this but I’ve never seen it and it actually isn’t currently streaming anywhere. I want to watch it and review it as well but I’ll have to wait for it to pop up on a streaming service I already have, as I don’t think it’s worth buying based off of the things I’ve heard about it over the years.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Hannibal (2001)

Also known as: The Silence of the Lambs 2 (working title)
Release Date: February 9th, 2001
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Mamet, Steven Zaillian
Based on: Hannibal by Thomas Harris
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Frankie R. Faison, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Gary Oldman, Željko Ivanek, Mark Margolis, Ajay Naidu

Dino De Laurentiis Company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“People don’t always tell you what they are thinking. They just see to it that you don’t advance in life.” – Hannibal Lecter

As much as I just came off of loving Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs in their reviews, a part of me was dreading having to sit through Hannibal again, as my original assessment of it was pretty poor. Granted, that assessment came in 2001, the last time I saw the film, which was on the big screen, opening night.

I have never had much urge to go back and revisit this and honestly, it kind of soured me on the franchise, including the masterpiece that is this movie’s direct predecessor, The Silence of the Lambs.

Watching this, almost exactly twenty years later, didn’t help the film.

Sometimes, I don’t like a movie but when I give it another shot, years later, I find things in it worth appreciating. This especially happens nowadays when modern movies are mostly just corporate, unartistic shit. Hannibal still failed and the only real positive is the performances from the core cast members.

Julianne Moore was fine but it’s still odd watching this and seeing someone else as Clarice when Anthony Hopkins is still playing Hannibal Lecter. Frankie Faison even returns in his smaller role but Jodie Foster wanted nothing to do with this. I know that she hated how this story ended but they changed the ending in the script and the final film to appease her. Still, she couldn’t be lured back. If she actually read the script, I can understand why.

Reason being, the script is terrible but then, so is the story. Granted, I haven’t read the book, so I’m not sure if that was bad too or if the script was just a really poor adaptation of it. Either way, this was predictable as hell for the most part and it was also incredibly dull.

I just didn’t care about the story, the people in it and the big changes to the ending felt off. Honestly, though, I know how the novel ends and I’ve always thought of its ending as really uncharacteristic of the Clarice character. But then who am I to argue with the author that created the characters in the first place.

Anyway, this also had some intense gross out moments. There’s one where a character uses a piece of a broken mirror to skin his own face. There’s another scene where Hannibal is cutting morsels out of the exposed brain of a human man and then feeding it to him.

The thing is, these moments were pretty gratuitous for cheap shock value. While The Silence of the Lambs was dark as fuck and had some gross out parts, it wasn’t done for shock and it wasn’t over the top schlock like it was in this film. The brains scene actually wrecks this movie more than it already was by that point. I don’t know why a well-versed director like Ridley Scott thought to go that route, creatively, but it felt cheap and made me roll my eyes so hard I pulled a muscle in my face.

Sure, the scene could’ve been in the film and worked but the problem was with how it was shot. Sometimes it’s better to imply something horrific without showing it in frame. This would’ve worked much better if they let the viewer’s mind fill-in the blanks.

The cinematography was good and I thought the music in the film worked. But other than that and the actors making the absolute best out of a shit script, this is just a really, really meh movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Release Date: January 30th, 1991 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Ted Tally
Based on: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Kasi Lemmons, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Frankie Faison, Tracey Walter, Charles Napier, Roger Corman, Chris Isaak, Harry Northup, Daniel von Bargen, George A. Romero (uncredited)

Strong Heart/Demme Production, Orion Pictures, 118 Minutes, 138 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter

My memories of this film are as great as they could possibly be but after seeing this again, the first time in many years, I was still surprised by just how perfect it is. There are very few motion pictures that deliver so much and at such a high level that seeing this was incredibly refreshing and left me smiling from ear-to-ear, regardless of the dark, fucked up story.

That being said, as great as both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are as actors, I have a hard time thinking of anything else they were better in.

Sure, they’ve both had other legendary performances but man, they brought their best to this picture like their entire lives counted on it being a success. Plus, their chemistry is incredibly uncanny that in spite of knowing what Hannibal is, at his core, you almost kind of root for them in a sort of awkward, fucked up, romantic way.

I can understand why Jodie Foster didn’t want to return to the role with Hannibal, a sequel that took too long to come out, but I really would’ve liked to see this version of the characters come together again because the strange connection that they share deserved more exploration.

It would’ve been hard to live up to this masterpiece of a film, though, but I’ll save my added thoughts on Hannibal for that review in about a week.

Anyway, it wasn’t just Foster and Hopkins that were great. This film’s entire cast was perfect and this enchanting nightmare just sucks you in and doesn’t release its grip till well after the credits are over. This movie just lingers with you and a big part of that was the performances of every actor.

Credit for that also has to go to Jonathan Demme, who, as director, was able to pull the best out of this stupendous cast from the smallest role to the most iconic and pivotal.

Additionally, he really displayed his mastery of his craft in this like no other movie he’s directed. The tone, the atmosphere and the sound were perfect. This boasts some incredible cinematography, masterful shot framing, exceptional lighting and Demme employs some really interesting and cool techniques. The best being used in the finale, which sees Foster’s Clarice, terrified out of her mind, as she hunts the film’s serial killer, seen through the point-of-view of his night vision goggles, as he carefully stalks her through a pitch black labyrinthine basement.

That finale sequence in the house is absolutely nerve-racking, even if you’ve seen this film a dozen times. The tension, the suspense, it’s almost too much to handle and that’s the point in the film where you really come to understand how perfect this carefully woven tapestry is.

Plus, it really shows how complex Clarice is as a character. She’s brave as fuck but alone, up against a monster like Buffalo Bill, her senses and her primal fear overwhelm her. However, she still snaps out of it just quick enough to put him down, perfectly and exactingly. Foster is so damn good in this sequence too, that you truly feel yourself in her shoes.

Speaking of Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine was amazing in this role. Man, that guy committed to the bit so much that it’s impossible not to appreciate what he brought to the film. It could’ve been really easy to have been overshadowed by Foster and Hopkins but this guy rose to the occasion with them and excelled in this performance.

My favorite sequence in the film, after the finale, is the one where Hannibal Lecter escapes imprisonment. This is where you finally see how cold and vile he can be. It also shows you how damn smart he is at outwitting those who tried to cage this lion but took that cage’s security for granted. He exposes the flaws in their overconfidence and careful planning and leaves this story a free man, out and about in the world.

The Silence of the Lambs was an unexpected runaway hit and it’s easy to see why. I always thought that it was funny that this was released on Valentine’s Day, as it must have shocked many casual moviegoers just looking for a film to see on a date where they just wanted to smooch their lover. It makes me wonder how many married couples saw this on their first date.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films.

Film Review: Manhunter (1986)

Also known as: Red Dragon (original script title), Red Dragon: The Curse of Hannibal Lecter (US TV title), Manhunter: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter (US video box title)
Release Date: August 15th, 1986
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Michael Mann
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Michael Rubini, The Reds
Cast: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, Michael Talbott, Frankie Faison, Chris Elliott, Marshall Bell

Red Dragon Productions S.A., De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 120 Minutes, 124 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 85 Minutes (video edit)

Review:

“And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.” – Hannibal Lecktor

Many people just dismiss Manhunter as the earlier version of Red Dragon that’s not as good because it doesn’t have Anthony Hopkins in it as Hannibal Lecter. That’s a pretty shitty assessment, though, as I feel like this is a better film and deserving of more notoriety than it’s gotten over the years.

Hannibal also isn’t in the story as much as one would expect but when he is, Brian Cox did a superb job with the character and gave the audience one of his best and certainly most chilling performances.

Beyond Cox, this movie has a pretty stacked cast between the underappreciated William Petersen, as well as Dennis Farina, a really young Stephen Lang and the enigmatic Tom Noonan. The film also has smaller roles for Frankie Faison, Marshall Bell, Chris Elliott and Miami Vice‘s Michael Talbott.

Speaking of Miami Vice, this was directed by that show’s creator, Michael Mann. I assume that this was shot between seasons of that show and this is also probably why a lot of it was shot in the southern half of Florida. Some of it was shot in Atlanta too.

With that, this has a very similar visual style and tone to Miami Vice when it was in its prime before jumping the shark in later seasons with weird storylines and a somewhat aimless creative direction.

Petersen is great as this film’s version of Will Graham. I liked him better than Ed Norton’s version of the character in Red Dragon and I say that as a big Norton fan.

It’s really Tom Noonan that steals the show, though, as the serial killer that Graham is trying to take down. Noonan does creepy so damn well and I feel like he’s been typecast in his career because of how terrifying he was in this movie. That’s also not a bad thing, as the guy is just so damn good at these sort of roles and he never disappoints. Frankly, he deserves more notoriety than he’s gotten too.

Manhunter is so much better than most people probably realize. I get that everyone loves Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter but that also doesn’t mean that the film that came before his debut should be dismissed and forgotten, as some B-movie, bad version of the Red Dragon story.

As I’ve said, I prefer this to the 2003 Red Dragon movie. It’s moody, stylish and wasn’t made just to capitalize off of Hannibal Lecter’s popularity in pop culture.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films, as well as Michael Mann’s hit ’80s crime show, Miami Vice.

Film Review: Exterminator 2 (1984)

Also known as: Dominator (Italy)
Release Date: September 4th, 1984 (UK)
Directed by: Mark Buntzman
Written by: Mark Buntzman, William Sachs
Based on: characters by James Glickenhaus
Music by: David Spear
Cast: Robert Ginty, Deborah Geffner, Frankie Faison, Mario Van Peebles, Reggie Rock Bythewood, Kenny Marino, Irwin Keyes, Arye Gross

Cannon Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You want to clean out the streets? I am the streets!” – X

It could be possible that I’m the only person that likes this movie more than its predecessor but I thought it took the concept of the original, upped the ante quite a bit, gave us a much better villain and it truly felt like a Cannon Group movie because it was.

I love that Cannon secured the rights to make this sequel and while I don’t know whether that deal was just to make one film, I really think this could’ve been a franchise that ran on for several installments like Cannon’s Ninja trilogy, Missing In Action films or American Ninja series.

Robert Ginty is so enjoyable in this role and I really enjoyed how this one was more of a buddy movie with Frankie Faison by his side. They had good chemistry, felt like real buds and I’ve been a fan of Faison since first seeing him as the landlord in Coming to America when I was a kid.

The evil scumbag gang in this movie is led by a very young Mario Van Peebles. In some regard, it draws parallels to his villain role in the third Highlander movie but I like him in this much better. He looks great, intimidating and he took the role seriously enough to come across as a real bastard. His final showdown with the hero, while mired down by clunky editing, was a great cat and mouse game between a cold-blooded killer with an Uzi and a vigilante hero with a fucking flamethrower! This final showdown always stuck out in my mind as one of the best when I was a kid.

I also like the villain’s look and the whole gang’s vibe. I liked how they painted red “X”s on their victims and that whole psychotic aesthetic. They sort of felt like a mix between a gang from The Warriors and the sadistic serial killer cult from Cobra.

This is just a balls out, badass action flick that further reinforces why Cannon Films was so damn good and why they excelled in the best decade for action movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as other ’70s and ’80s vigilante flicks.

Film Review: Coming to America (1988)

Also known as: The Quest (working title)
Release Date: June 26th, 1988 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, Eddie Murphy
Music by: Nile Rodgers
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Shari Headley, Paul Bates, Eriq La Salle, Frankie Faison, Vanessa Bell, Louie Anderson, Allison Dean, Sheila Jackson, Jake Steinfeld, Calvin Lockhart, Samuel L. Jackson, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Cuba Gooding Jr., Don Ameche (cameo), Ralph Bellamy (cameo)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Do not alert him to my presence. I shall deal with him myself.” – King Jaffe Joffer

I’ve reviewed a lot of films lately that I know inside and out but hadn’t seen in their entirety in well over a decade. This is one of those films and after rewatching it, I realized how much I missed the good feelings that this generates, as well as how infectious Prince Akeem’s optimism is. This is really something that I hope is not lost in the sequel, which comes out in a few months.

At it’s core, this is a modern fairytale romance. While it doesn’t feature magic and mythic creatures, it does feature a great quest that sees its protagonist travel to a strange, foreign land in an effort to find treasure.

This treasure is his true love and in seeking her out, he defies his father, the King of Zamunda, as well as centuries of tradition. But in the end, love conquers all and this film conveys that message so splendidly that I feel like it’s impossible not to adore this motion picture.

Eddie Murphy is at his absolute best in this classic but his performance is maximized by Arsenio Hall, his real life best friend and a guy that plays off of him so perfectly well that it feels like they’ve been a comedy team for years when this is actually, their first movie together.

Beyond the two leads, this film is perfectly cast from top-to-bottom. It’s frankly an all-star cast that features a lot of the top black talent of the time, as well as Louie Anderson in what’s still his most memorable role.

I love the scenes with Murphy and John Amos, as well as the ones with his storyline father, James Earl Jones. Murphy holds his own alongside these legends and this is the one film where he really proves that he is the prime time talent that most assumed he was.

Also, this is the first picture where Murphy, as well as Hall, play multiple characters. This worked so well that it would go on to be a trope in several Eddie Murphy movies in the ’90s and beyond. I can only assume that many of these extra characters will also make their returns in the upcoming sequel. I hope we see the old guys from the barber shop again, even though it’d be shocking if they were still alive 33 years later.

The most important thing that needed to work in this film was the relationship that develops between Akeem and Lisa. It’s a great, simple love story and the two had dynamite chemistry and the emotion of their best scenes shined through, making this a much better picture than it really needed to be.

One thing that really jumps out, that I didn’t notice or appreciate until now, is the music. Nile Rodgers orchestrated an incredible score full of memorable pieces that make certain scenes and sequences, magical. In fact, his King Jaffe Joffer theme is so damn good it’s iconic in my book.

All in all, this is a film where everything went right and I feel as if it exceeded the expectations that even its producers had. John Landis was truly a master of ’80s comedy and this is one great example of how good of a comedic director he was.

As much as I have always loved this movie, I don’t think that I ever had the appreciation that I have for it now. It’s a pretty close to perfect romantic comedy, which is a genre I’m not a massive fan of. But when you make one so great, the genre doesn’t matter and the end result is something that far exceeds the label of “chick flick”.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as Eddie Murphy’s ’80s and early ’90s films.

Film Review: Cat People (1982)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1982
Directed by: Paul Schrader
Written by: DeWitt Bodeen, Alan Ormsby
Music by: Giorgio Moroder, David Bowie
Cast: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., Frankie Faison, John Larroquette

RKO Radio Pictures, Universal Pictures, 118 Minutes, 93 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“Oliver doesn’t love you. He loved the panther. He wants you because he fears you. Let Alice have him. She thinks his fear is courage. And he thinks his fear is love. Well, they were made for each other.” – Paul Gallier

It’s probably strange that I had never seen this until now. I grew up in the ’80s on a steady diet of horror and fantasy and in the time since, I’ve adored the original Cat People series of films put out by RKO Radio Pictures and producer Val Lewton in the 1940s.

This stars Malcolm McDowell, one of my all-time favorite actors, especially in darker roles, as well as Nastassja Kinski, daughter of Klaus Kinski, who enchanted me in the Wim Wenders masterpiece, Paris, Texas.

The cast is rounded out by John Heard, Annette O’Toole and smaller roles for Frankie Faison, Ed Begley Jr. and John Larroquette.

Cat People‘s plot is very similar to the film it’s a remake of but it’s a much darker twist on that film and it also explores the mythos quite a bit more. It also adds in a steady helping of gore and eroticism. I wouldn’t quite call this exploitation but it’s probably as close as “high art” can get to that.

The cinematography is haunting and effective and director Paul Schrader did a great job of staging and capturing just about every scene and shot in the film. It certainly looks incredible and the atmosphere really becomes a character within the picture.

Overall, this is pretty good but I did find it a bit slow at times. But almost everything in it feels necessary and I can’t imagine how disjointed the 93 minute cut of the film must feel. Hopefully, those who have judged this harshly in the past didn’t watch the shortened version without realizing that there was a more developed version of the movie.

I really liked the characters in this and how each one felt like they were alone in their own way, exploring and discovering parts of themselves where the overlap of knowing one another created a dangerous situation for all parties involved.

Ultimately, though, the real highlight was getting to see the werepanther transformation. The effects worked extremely well.

All in all, this was a cool movie that was made even cooler by the use of different versions of David Bowie’s “Cat People” mixed with interesting and moody cinematography.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other were-creature movies from the time like An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, as well as the film it is a remake of and it’s sequel/spinoffs from the ’40s.

Film Review: Freejack (1992)

Release Date: January 17th, 1992
Directed by: Geoff Murphy
Written by: Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett, Dan Gilroy
Based on: Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Banks, David Johansen, Esai Morales, Frankie Faison

Morgan Creek, Warner Bros., 110 Minutes

Review:

“Get the meat.” – Victor Vacendak

Freejack isn’t a good movie but it’s one of those cool ’90s action, sci-fi flicks that just hits the right notes for me. But you probably need to be a fan of these sort of films for this one to resonate.

It has a very Philip K. Dick style to it in plot and visual flourish.

I guess the coolest thing about the movie is that this has a really cool ensemble cast that features two rock and roll legends: Mick Jagger and David Johansen. But it also stars Emilio Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Jonathan Banks, Frankie Faison and the seemingly underappreciated Esai Morales.

Estevez stars as a Formula 1 driver that dies in a pretty spectacular crash. However, his body is plucked away just before the moment of death and he wakes up in the future, confused, lost and distraught. He is also being hunted by Mick Jagger and his posse, as Jagger has been tasked with capturing Estevez so that some rich guy can steal his body by uploading his brain into it.

The movie follows Emilio on the run where he finds out that he can’t trust any of his old friends. Overall, the film is action packed, high octane and balls out fun.

The chase sequence with Emilio driving a champagne delivery truck with Jagger following in a SWAT tank is pretty damn good. It’s accented by the great and booming score by Trevor Jones, who also provided good scores for The Last of the Mohicans, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Cliffhanger, From Hell and Dark City.

For me the real highlight was Mick Jagger. The guy looked like he was having a great time filming this movie. Now I don’t know if he actually had fun but he certainly looked to be eating this film up. But the guy has infinite levels of charisma and he was entertaining as hell in this.

Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, felt like he was dialing in his performance. He later went on to bash this film and maybe he had a sour taste for it when he was still making it.

All in all, this was actually better than I remembered. In fact, I wasn’t too enthused to revisit it but I wanted to watch something in this film’s style. I’m just glad that I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the original Total RecallThe 6th Day and Timecop.

Film Review: Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Release Date: July 25th, 1986
Directed by: Stephen King
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Trucks by Stephen King
Music by: AC/DC
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Christopher Murney, Yeardley Smith, Frankie Faison, Giancarlo Esposito, Stephen King

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Adios, motherfucker!” – Bill Robinson

At the height of the 1980s Stephen King movie craze, you knew the man himself would eventually have to direct his own feature. Well, this is that film.

For some reason, Emilio Estevez, at the height of his career, when he was becoming a huge Hollywood star, decided to take the starring role in this. I’m not saying it was a bad choice but it was a surprising one, considering where his career had already been and where it seemed to be going. At the same time, I’m glad he did this because it is a fun and bizarre picture and working with King had to be a neat experience, especially at the time.

The story for this film is really bizarre. A comet comes close to Earth and the planet passes through its tail. All of a sudden, machines come to life and go on a homicidal rampage. A drawbridge causes some havoc, a soda machine goes berserk and attacks a Little League team, lawn mowers get hungry for human flesh and every motor vehicle on the planet turns into a crazed murderer. The cast of this picture are trapped inside a big gas station outside of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Maximum Overdrive actually has a cast of a lot of notable actors. Along with Estevez we get Pat Hingle, most beloved for me as Commissioner Gordon in the Tim Burton Batman films, Yeardley Smith a.k.a. Lisa Simpson, Frankie Faison, a guy I’ve loved since Coming to America, Giancarlo Esposito, who is probably most known as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad and as Buggin’ Out in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Stephen King, himself, even has a small cameo.

The film does have some slow moments but the action is pretty high octane, pun intended. Ultimately, people are trapped by evil killer semi trucks and have to feed them gas or face death. The heroes devise a plan, outwit the murder machines and are able to escape while destroying most of them. Granted, there is one final showdown between Emilio and the Green Goblin faced semi to close out the picture.

The acting is far from great. King’s work as a director isn’t bad but it isn’t good either. The film is shot pretty straightforward without a lot of artistic flourish. But this isn’t the type of film that needed to get artistic or sneak in the Dutch tilt. Maximum Overdrive is supposed to be a balls to the wall extravaganza and it mostly is.

This is one of those late night movies I loved as a teenager. It was featured on Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs and in constant rotation on cable in the 90s. There isn’t a whole lot to dislike and Maximum Overdrive is just a lot of fun and pretty cool, despite the ridiculous premise.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Do The Right Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 19th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee
Music by: Bill Lee, Public Enemy
Cast: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, John Savage, Roger Guenveur Smith, Rosie Perez, Joie Lee, Steve White, Martin Lawrence, Robin Harris, Paul Benjamin, Frankie Faison, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Park, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Turturro, Miguel Sandoval

40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Universal Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

In the summer of 1989 I was in Brooklyn visiting family for a few weeks. Being a big film buff, even at ten years-old, I had already seen every big summer movie that year. My cousin was driving us around and he asked if I wanted to see a movie. I did. He asked what I wanted to see. Thinking he would say “no”, I still replied “Do The Right Thing.” Being the cool nineteen year-old kid that he was, he smirked and said, “Well, alright.”

Leading up to my seeing Do The Right Thing in a movie theater in Brooklyn, not far from where the movie took place, I was mesmerized by the trailers and footage I saw on television. Living in Southwest Florida, I didn’t have a lot to do during summer days, except hang with friends, play video games or watch TV. I often times spent hours watching a cable channel called Movietime, which was actually E! Entertainment Television before it re-branded itself. On that channel, they always showed trailers, over and over again, and also went behind the scenes on films in development or coming out. It was a cool channel that taught a young film fan a lot about the industry and art he loved. But it is there, where I saw trailers and other footage for Do The Right Thing. Something about it just drew me in.

I always cherished the experience of seeing this film, so close to where it was made, at a time when I hadn’t quite experienced a real adult film in the theater. It was exciting but at the same time, it was a lot more than that. Do The Right Thing had a profound effect on me and how I saw other people. When I watch it now, much later in life, it is a reminder of that experience and the lessons I learned from it. It also is one of the first films that I saw to really cultivate my love for the art of motion pictures and filmmaking itself. This, alongside Cinema Paradiso, made me see movies differently.

Having just revisited Do The Right Thing for the first time in several years, it is kind of sad. Not because of the film itself but because it took away some of my optimism in regards to people. When I saw it was a kid, I truly believed that society was headed in the right direction. I thought that as time rolled on, the struggle of black people and the prejudices in America would improve. Yet, this film is almost thirty years old and its message is maybe even more relevant today than it was in 1989. Will it be even more relevant in another 30 years?

Spike Lee did a fantastic job with Do The Right Thing and it is, still to this day, my favorite Lee film (Malcolm X is a very close second). Maybe it is due to the experience it gave me when I should have been too young to have to see the world for what it is. But out of all his films, this one has the strongest message not just for African-Americans but for all Americans. And again, it is still a message that needs to be heard today.

The cinematography is stellar. The film really captures the people, the scenery and Brooklyn life in that era. The technique of using first-person perspective, which gets more prevalent as the film progresses and racial tensions increase, is masterfully shot and presented. The breaking of the fourth wall, as characters’ inner monologues come to life, directed at the audience, is effective in understanding their deepest inner prejudices and in helping escalate the tension from a narrative standpoint.

The use of Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” throughout the film is perfect and really gives an anthem to the attitudes of many of the characters. It represents, what this film, at its core, is all about. The character of Radio Raheem was the perfect vessel within the film to deliver the song to the masses, as he walked up and down the street, all day, blasting the song from his radio. He wasn’t just a vessel for the message though, he was also a symbol, a physical embodiment of it. Bill Nunn did a fine job as Raheem and made him into an iconic figure for many.

There are several really standout performances in the film. I think a lot of props need to go to Giancarlo Esposito as Buggin’ Out. Most people know Esposito as the villainous Gus from Breaking Bad. It was his role in this film, that put him on the map for me. Then years later, when I did see him on Breaking Bad, playing one of the greatest villains in television history, I was ecstatic because this was a guy who I had followed since seeing him on the big screen as a ten year-old in a Brooklyn movie theater. I’ve always thought Esposito was an underutilized actor but those who regularly work with him know his talent. In Do The Right Thing, Esposito is so committed to the role that he really stands out above everyone else. And we’re talking about a movie that has Samuel Jackson, Rosie Perez, John Turturro, Robin Harris, Frankie Faison, Ossie Davis, Danny Aiello, Martin Lawrence, Frank Vincent and so many other faces that own the screen when they are on it.

Roger Guenveur Smith’s performance as Smiley is also superb. You couldn’t not feel for the guy and when he lost his shit, you were right there with him. It’s also heartbreaking to see how others in the film treat him, even his friends, due to his handicap. Smith  has played a lot of great characters over the years but Smiley is the one I most fondly remember.

There are few films that illustrate a sense of human brotherhood as much as Do The Right Thing. While it shows cultural clashes and tensions boiling over into violence, it also provides hope and displays a lot of wisdom. Most of the characters try to maintain order but the few who keep pushing each other bring the whole neighborhood to its breaking point. And then the cops show up to screw it up even more.

Do The Right Thing isn’t just a great film, it is an important film, maybe even more so today than in 1989.

Rating: 9.5/10