Film Review: Wolf (1994)

Release Date: June 17th, 1994
Directed by: Mike Nichols
Written by: Jim Harrison, Wesley Strick
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Plummer, Eileen Atkins, David Hyde Pierce, Ron Rifkin, Prunella Scales, David Schwimmer, Allison Janney

Columbia Pictures, 125 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve never loved anybody this way. Never looked at a woman and thought, if civilization fails, if the world ends, I’ll still understand what God meant.” – Will Randall

Back when this came out, I initially wanted to see it. However, everyone that did really trashed it and since I was still a young teen and my time and funds were limited, I passed on it. But over the years, I did wonder why people seemed to dislike it so much.

I saw it streaming on one of my many services, so I figured that I’d check it out to see what people took issue with. However, I really couldn’t find anything glaringly negative and thought that Wolf was rather good. And I guess the opinion of the public has changed over the years, at it seems to be viewed fairly favorably these days.

I mean, how bad could a film be with this cast?

You’ve got Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and James Spader and all three give good performances. As does the talented supporting cast that includes Christopher Plummer, Richard Jenkins, Prunella Scales and Ron Rifkin. You’ve also got smaller roles for up and coming actors like David Schwimmer, David Hyde Pierce and Allison Janney. Between all of them, there isn’t a weak link in the bunch.

Plus, this is a werewolf movie! And not just that, it is a werewolf movie featuring Jack f’n Nicholson and James f’n Spader as feuding werewolves! Granted, they start as friends but as the story rolls on, you learn that the young, opportunistic Spader is willing to crush his friends for his own personal benefit. James Spader has always made a great bad guy and it’s kind of refreshing seeing Jack Nicholson playing a very good, moral character that is victimized by his own power hungry protégé.

Speaking of werewolves, the practical special effects here are handled by Rick Baker, who is the greatest werewolf effects guy of his generation after working on both An American Werewolf In London, as well as the original Howling. He also crafted effects for other werewolf related projects like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video and the Fox television show Werewolf, which scared the bejesus out of me when I was too young to watch it.

Baker’s effects in this are top notch and he really takes the best of what he’s learned from his other werewolf projects and utilizes them to great effect, here.

I also liked the story, as it focuses on the rivalry of two literal alpha dogs in the corporate world. However, even the romance stuff was pretty decent. The love story isn’t by any means the greatest ever told onscreen but Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, despite their age difference, felt like they had a natural connection and it just works.

Now I thought the ending was a bit strange but it doesn’t wreck the film. The actual finale was pretty well done but the the closing moments, after the awesome werewolf fight, were presented oddly. It’s like this went from a pretty straightforward werewolf movie to something overly stylized and artistic in it’s closing sequence. It just felt weird and out of place and I audibly muttered, “Huh?”

Still, Wolf is pretty solid and damn enjoyable.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Pretty In Pink (1986)

Release Date: January 29th, 1986 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Michael Gore
Cast: Molly Ringwald, Harry Dean Stanton, Jon Cryer, Annie Potts, James Spader, Andrew McCarthy, Kate Vernon, Andrew Dice Clay, Kristy Swanson, Alexa Kenin, Dweezil Zappa, Gina Gershon, Margaret Colin, Maggie Roswell

Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You couldn’t buy her, though, that’s what’s killing you, isn’t it? Steff? That’s it, Steff. She thinks you’re shit. And deep down, you know she’s right.” – Blane

While this John Hughes written movie isn’t as good as the ones he directed, first-time director Howard Deutch did a pretty good job at capturing the Hughes magic and making a film that still felt like it existed in that same universe. I guess Deutch’s ability to adapt Hughes’ script impressed Hughes enough to hire him back for other movies Hughes didn’t direct himself.

Like most of Hughes’s other teen films of the ’80s, this one stars Molly Ringwald. But luckily, this isn’t all on her shoulders, as she had help from legendary character actor, Harry Dean Stanton, as well as Jon Cryer, Andrew McCarthy, Annie Potts and James Spader. There were also smaller roles in this that featured Andrew Dice Clay, Kristy Swanson and Gina Gershon.

This was a movie that I liked a lot in my youth but it does feel pretty dated now and the whole rich kids versus poor kids thing just seems incredibly forced and really extreme, even for an ’80s teen movie. But that’s the centerpiece of this plot, as it creates a Romeo and Juliet story about two young lovers whose social circles try to tear them apart due to their stark, cultural “differences”.

The cast in this is really good, though, and it’s hard not to enjoy these characters even if this is a pretty flawed movie. I liked James Spader and Jon Cryer in this a lot, even though one of them played a real shithead.

Unfortunately, the weakest scenes are the ones that needed to be the strongest. These are the scenes between Ringwald and McCarthy, which just play as pretty uneventful and unemotional. As someone that is caught up in the drama of this story, you want Ringwald’s Andy to make the right decision when it comes to love but ultimately, she doesn’t.

The ending of this movie kind of upset John Hughes, so he essentially had this remade with the same director, a gender swapped cast and the ending he preferred, just a year later. That film is called Some Kind of Wonderful and while it’s not as good as Pretty In Pink, it’s definitely a good companion piece to it, as it provides a more satisfactory conclusion.

Still, I really like this film and it’s one of those things you throw on when you want something light and with a fun, youthful energy. My opinion on it may have soured a little bit over the years but Ducky will always get me through it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Some Kind of Wonderful and other John Hughes film, as well as other ’80s teen comedies.

Film Review: Wall Street (1987)

Release Date: December 11th, 1987
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Oliver Stone, Stanley Weiser
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen, Hal Holbrook, Terence Stamp, John C. McGinley, James Karen, Sean Young, James Spader, Saul Rubinek, Sylvia Miles

Amercent Films, American Entertainment Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.” – Lou Mannheim

I wrote pretty extensively on this film several years ago for a politics and economics site that I used to run. That article also made it into one of the books I published. That article was called Gordon Gekko, the Hero?

I won’t spend too much time rambling on about the morality, themes and messages within this film, as that lengthy article already does. This is a movie review, so I’ll focus on the things that make it great beyond just the story and my interpretation of its core characters and their real motivations.

To start, this is hands down one of my favorite Oliver Stone movies. It may, in fact, be my favorite but it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen Platoon and JFK.

This is also one of Charlie Sheen’s best performances and he held his own and wasn’t overshadowed by the stupendous cast around him, especially Michael Douglas, one of the greatest actors of his generation.

I did find Daryl Hannah to be kind of weak, though. I don’t necessarily blame her for that, as her character barely got time to develop or to allow you to care for her. I feel as if she was more than a predatory gold-digging shark but that’s pretty much all we got to see from her.

Additionally, I felt like Sean Young was really underutilized and honestly, the women just seemed like they were put on the backburner. Also, this wasn’t really their story but it felt like their efforts were a bit wasted for what they potentially could’ve brought to the film.

Anyway, the story is solid but the pacing can drag a bit, here and there, and I think that’s the main reason why I don’t see this as more of a masterpiece. That’s not to say it’s dull but a lot of scenes felt like padding, as if Stone wanted to hit a two hour mark on the running time.

The film is also full of so many great character actors in smaller roles and it’s sort of like a who’s who of cool ’80s dudes that were in everything. I especially liked James Karen and Hal Holbrook in this. John C. McGinley also stole the show in the scenes he was in.

Being an Oliver Stone picture, one should expect this to be technically sound and beautiful and it is. Wall Street doesn’t disappoint and it features some stellar cinematography and a few iconic shots that have been burned into my memory since I first watched this picture as a kid in the late ’80s.

Also, the music is perfect from the film’s score by Stewart Copeland and the pop music tracks sprinkled throughout. It’s been so long since I’ve last seen this that I forgot how much I loved that motorcycle sequence to Brian Eno’s “Mea Culpa”.

All in all, this is still a fantastic motion picture where just about everything goes right. There are those few minor flaws but they hardly detract from how great this movie is, as a whole.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as Boiler RoomThe Wolf of Wall Street and Rogue Trader.

Film Review: Stargate (1994)

Release Date: October 28th, 1994
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Kurt Russell, James Spader, Jaye Davidson, Viveca Lindfors, Erick Avari, John Diehl, French Stewart, Richard Kind, Djimon Hounsou

Centropolis Film Productions, Carolco Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Give my regards to King Tut, asshole.” – Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil

This is the first time that I have watched Stargate since the movie theater in 1994. I was a sophomore in high school when it came out and while I wasn’t blown away by it, at the time, I still thought it was a fun blockbuster that probably should have been a summer movie.

I think that other people had a much stronger impression of it than I did, as it would go on to spawn three sequel television series: Stargate SG-1Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe, as well as two other movies related to the TV shows: Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum. Not to mention a web series, an animated series and lots of books and comics.

Because of how big this franchise has gotten and because I do enjoy Roland Emmerich’s work before 1998’s Godzilla, I figured I’d give this a watch again with the possibility of me finally giving the television shows a shot in the near future (assuming I can stream them for free somewhere).

Stargate was really enjoyable. While it does feel a bit dated, it’s a solid ’90s sci-fi action flick. It had a decent story that was interesting and really set the stage for something that needed to be much larger than this self-contained film. I guess it’s a good thing for the hardcore fans of this movie that it was expanded out into other forms of media.

Kurt Russell is a true man’s man and James Spader is always great to watch. Seeing them come together and having a big contrast in personalities here was a lot of fun. Spader didn’t play his typical role and was pretty much just a very brave scientist that often times jumped into the water without checking for sharks. Russell usually had to pull Spader’s ass out of trouble but it was a treat to watch.

I loved how this gives a sci-fi explanation for ancient Egyptian culture and the Egyptian styled aliens were just badass. The backstory was pretty simple but awesome and I really liked how this was just a simple tale with a lot of emphasis on action.

Emmerich did a great job of writing this alongside Dean Devlin. But his eye for style and his execution of action, while he sat behind the camera, was terrific. I really wish that Emmerich’s mojo didn’t get sucked out of him after Independence Day.

I also really enjoyed the film’s score. It was heavy handed but in the right way and frankly, I miss powerful scores like this in my blockbusters.

This is just a rollercoaster ride of a bunch of guys having fun in an alien desert, fighting stylish aliens with cool technology. What’s not to love? There’s even a bit of a love story but I was too captivated by the testosterone and the Egyptians with lasers to care about that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Independence DayThe Mummy and the various Stargate TV shows and related films.

Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Release Date: April 13th, 2015 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Brian Tyler, Danny Elfman
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 141 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Avengers: Age of Ultron further solidified the main takeaway that I had after seeing The Avengers three years ago. A film this big, with a multitude of characters strong enough to carry their own film, is not necessarily a good formula. This wasn’t a bad movie, but like the first film featuring all the Avengers, it ranks below most of the solo films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Yes, I did enjoy the movie but nowhere near as much as the recent films that preceded this one: Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Solider. I even enjoyed Thor: The Dark World more than this. The fact of the matter is, this film is just too busy.

In its busyness, Avengers: Age of Ultron lacks a good balance between the characters. There seems to be more focus on Black Widow and the Hulk, which is fine, as neither seem to be getting their own film anytime soon, but it makes things somewhat lopsided and there’s just a bunch of dudes in superhero garb one-lining each other to death from start-to-finish. And while Tony Stark witticisms are funny and the camaraderie of all these actors is generally pretty great, it has gotten to the point where it is starting to feel like a caricature of itself. The joke is wearing thin and it seems less organic now. The banter has gotten too predictable and thus, somewhat mundane. Much of it seemed forced and the back-and-forth between them over their radios during big battles, didn’t come off as natural. It felt like actors reading lines to a room full of strangers and a green screen.

Ultron, the main villain of the story, was created way too quickly, conveniently and easily. I feel like he should have been something brewing in Stark’s lab for a very long time. Something in the shadows that had been watching this whole time. Maybe there should have been seeds planted throughout other movies. I mean, the studio had to know they were going to do a film with Ultron, right? Right?!

The execution of Ultron was half-assed and the character, in this film, just didn’t feel like the unbeatable and nearly omnipotent Ultron of the comic books. Additionally, his personality was bizarre. While he was a cold and calculated killing machine, ready to wipe humanity away, he subjected himself to his own witticisms and his own weird sense of humor. Also, his powers were pretty limited compared to his comic book version, which they did because it is harder to write a story where the heroes are essentially fighting a god. That is a pretty weak cop out. Isn’t Thor a god? And then you have the Scarlet Witch, Hulk and Vision, so…

In a nutshell, Ultron came across as a bulked up General Grievous. But at least Grievous had four lightsabers. Ultron just had an army of flying robots that have been used to death since the second Iron Man film, which was eight Marvel movies ago.

And what was the point of Baron Strucker? He should have been just some random unimportant Hydra commander. He was made to look extremely weak and then just brushed aside and murdered off-screen. It was a waste of an iconic character that had potential and probably should have been used as a major villain on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Also, his eye piece looked retarded.

Yay, Nick Fury shows up! And then he just talks a bunch.

The CGI at certain points in this film was just ridiculous. In the opening scene, everything felt too sped up and the movements of the Avengers came off as pretty cartoony. Call me old fashioned but what’s wrong with using some practical effects? It isn’t a bunch of Avatar creatures fighting a Tolkien dragon, it’s a bunch of human beings in costumes. So they all move like Jedi on cocaine now? And what’s the point of Quicksilver, if every other character comes off as almost that fast? The opening scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron just reminded me of that awful snow mountain sequence from last year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Speaking of Quicksilver and while I’m at it, the Scarlet Witch, both of them had horrible accents. Sometimes it was there, sometimes it wasn’t. I guess that’s okay though, since Black Widow, a Russian character, sounds like she is from New York City. Also, Joss Whedon recently poked fun at how X-Men: Days of Future Past handled their version of Quicksilver. Whedon’s a boring jackass, as his version was one-dimensional, uninteresting and didn’t have a single moment nearly as notable as the amazing prison break scene from last year’s X-Men film.

Oh yeah, and Quicksilver dies. You see, there had been a rumor around for awhile that an Avenger would be killed off in this film. A rumor that was pretty much confirmed. But what Whedon did was go the easy route. The guy who loves killing likable characters, didn’t have the balls to commit this round. Maybe that was Marvel’s call, maybe it was Whedon’s, no one will ever really know but it was a pointless and shallow end to a pointless and shallow character.

The plot was nothing special. You can take away almost everything you need from the trailers. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the set up. Essentially, bad guy is born, bad guy fucks shit up, good guys fight him and then win. There are no surprises, no big twists, nothing great and unexpected. It is a pretty straightforward story and predictable. But at least they weren’t standing around talking on a Helicarrier for a third of the film like the last one. And at least the big enemy wasn’t a giant propeller or generic aliens on flying jet skis.

And the big evil plan? Ultron lifts some eastern European city into the sky with underground boosters, in an attempt to drop it back down to Earth like a meteor. And people think Whedon is a genius? Ultron was mentally handicapped for a super computer but at least they explained that the giant rock wasn’t crumbling as it was being lifted due to some magic magnetic field. Never mind that this super strong magnetic field wasn’t stopping small pieces from crumbling off the edges during the very lengthy sequence. And I wasn’t sure how the city lifting didn’t turn the city itself into a crumbled mess pretty instantaneously. Were the buildings protected by the magnetic field too? And when Thor saved people falling off the floating city, why did he drop them off on the floating city destined to crash and not the fucking ground below?

And with the giant floating rock, was Whedon inspired by Superman Returns. Visually, this idea felt like a reverse of the major villainous plot from that film.

Then there was the ongoing joke of the film, that started with the first dialogue exchange. Stark says “shit” and Cap points out his potty mouth, to which every five minutes someone has to poke fun at Cap about how lame he is. Because if you forgot, he’s from the World War II era and must be an old coot.

And why did Black Widow have a tactical outfit that lit up like a character from Tron? How the fuck is she supposed to sneak up on bad guys and take them out stealthily if you can see her body outline glowing in the dark? Then again, neon Scarlett Johansson boobies would probably distract anyone long enough for her to get in a punch.

As far as positives, I like the seed planted for the upcoming Black Panther film. I also like how the arms dealer, played by Andy Serkis, is Klaw. They even went as far as to make him lose an arm in the film. I also liked how they made the Hulk v. Iron Man in Hulkbuster armor battle happen. I thought it would be handled poorly and was a bullshit attempt at fan service but how they made it work in the film was pretty awesome. Granted, I don’t understand why people were standing around gawking during the fight but that’s Hollywood for ya.

I also like that Hawkeye actually had a presence in this movie and wasn’t just some Loki zombie for 90 percent of the film. The look into his life and the fleshing out of his character was good. I liked the casting of Linda Cardellini as his wife.

I liked the tension between Captain America and Iron Man, which is a nice set up to what will happen in next year’s Captain America: Civil War.

I like that the Infinity Stones were finally explained and that Thanos acquires the Infinity Gauntlet in the mid-credits scene. Although that scene was bizarre and it seemed like Thanos was breaking the fourth wall. I don’t like that there wasn’t a post-credits scene.

However, the greatest thing about this film was Vision (I’ve always hated calling him “The Vision”). Paul Bettany, who has been the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. since the first Iron Man film in 2008, was brought to life in the form of Vision. Bettany was the perfect choice and not just because his voice was Tony Stark’s assistant over the years, he just had a very serious yet calming presence that made him perfect for the part.

I’m fairly excited for where this series can go but I am more optimistic about the future than the present, as the next set of Avengers films will not be helmed by Joss Whedon. To be frank, I don’t understand the insane amount of fans that guy has.

Well, next up is Ant-Man. I’m hoping its smaller scale, pun intended, is a refreshing experience because this film was too large for its own good.

But what the hell do I know? Billions of fan boys will love this without question because Marvel can apparently do no wrong and Joss Whedon has a golden penis.

Rating: 4/10