Film Review: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

Release Date: July 5th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Shane Black, Warren Murphy
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O’Connor, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Jenette Goldstein, Dean Norris, Kenneth Tigar

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 108 Minutes (cut), 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is my favorite Lethal Weapon movie and in fact, it’s pretty close to perfect on every level.

While most people probably see the first film as the best, I enjoy this one slightly more because it builds off of that foundation and makes it better. Also, this is the film that added in Joe Pesci, who had an amazing dynamic with Gibson and Glover and made this power duo a superpowered trio.

I also prefer the criminal plot in this movie and it takes more of a front seat, as the first film was primarily about dealing with Riggs’ personal problems and overcoming them.

That’s not to say that Riggs’ emotions don’t get the better of him in this film, they do, but the story and the context as to why are much more apparent and the tragedy that befalls his character actually happens in front of your eyes in this chapter. It makes more of an emotional impact on the viewer and because of what he’s already overcome, you understand his drive in the third act of the film and you root for him, and Murtaugh, in a way that you didn’t in the first picture.

Additionally, the villains are fucking superb. Joss Ackland is at his all-time best in this movie as the villainous, racist, South African diplomat, hiding behind legal red tape. I also like Derrick O’Connor as the top henchman. He isn’t quite on Busey’s level from the first movie but he is much better than the standard henchman from most action films of a similar style.

Overall, Lethal Weapon 2 takes the formula that was already established and perfects it. It adds to the series without taking anything away while having a swifter pace that doesn’t leave room for unnecessary filler. The characters are developed more in this chapter and all that is done organically as the story progresses. This is a finely written motion picture that understands the balance it needs between the action genre, comedy, drama and character building. It masters this in ways that other similar films have struggled.

There isn’t a bad thing I can say about the movie, really. It’s just awesome, top to bottom. It has everything I want in a Lethal Weapon movie and none of the stuff I don’t.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Also known as: T2 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 1st, 1991 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, William Wisher
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, Earl Boen, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley, Dean Norris, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Nikki Cox, Michael Biehn (cameo – Special Edition and Ultimate Cut)

Carolco Pictures, Pacific Western, Lightstorm Entertainment, Le Studsio Canal+ S.A., TriStar Pictures, 137 Minutes, 153 Minutes (Special Edition), 156 Minutes (Ultimate Cut)

Review:

“[narrating] The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” – Sarah Connor

When I was middle school aged, this film hit theaters. At the time, I thought it was just about the best movie ever made. At that age, it appealed to me more than the superior original but I think that’s because I was roughly the same age as John Connor and I was living vicariously through his experience in the film.

The thing is, this is still an utterly stupendous motion picture and one of the best that James Cameron has ever done. But, as an adult, I can’t put this over the masterpiece that is the original film.

Still, it is an incredible film and a great thing to experience, even for the 38th time watching it. Honestly, I may have seen it more than that as my VHS copy broke years ago.

It’s been a long time since I’ve revisited this classic, though. But this was the first time I watched the Special Edition, which added in new scenes and longer cuts. The most important of those is a scene where Michael Biehn returns as Kyle Reese in a dream Sarah Connor has while still locked up in the mental hospital.

There is also a cool scene that shows John defy his mother in order to spare the Terminator that is protecting them. It’s actually a good character building scene that probably should have been left in, as it shows John’s natural leader personality come through and it also amplifies Sarah’s paranoia about working with a Terminator.

The only other notable addition is a scene that shows Miles Dyson and his family. This probably should have been cut but it is nice to see him trying to balance his personal life and work life.

Everything in this movie still holds up today. While the special effects might not be as impressive in 2019, they don’t look bad and for the time, they were lightyears ahead of what anyone else was doing. And it was those great digital effects that made the villainous T-1000 exist and frankly, he is still one of the most terrifying villains in movie history. But I have to give credit to Robert Patrick for that, even if its the effects that allowed him to come into being.

All the practical effects are top notch too, from the opening sequence of the war from the future and all the makeup, prosthetic and animatronic work they had to do for Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in the second half of the film.

But getting back to the acting, it’s a mixed bag, really.

Linda Hamilton has never been better. Also, Schwarzenegger is pretty perfect but this version of the Terminator character is written in a way that doesn’t require much from him other than what is naturally present in his real personality. That’s not a knock against Arnold, as much as it is a nod of respect to James Cameron for giving us a more human cyborg that is trying to become something more than just a killing machine. The script and the dialogue written for Arnold enhance his strengths and don’t force him to have to deal with his weaknesses. Frankly, it enhances the overall experience.

Now Edward Furlong did okay, being that this is his first film but I felt like his performance could’ve been fine tuned more. When I was a kid, I didn’t give a shit, I thought he was cool. As an adult, I see some of the problems with his acting but at the same time, he’s far from terrible. Where it sometimes doesn’t work really isn’t his fault either. James Cameron should’ve just stepped in more and helped the kid. But then, I also don’t know how many takes were shot and its possible that these were just the best they could get and had to move on.

I mentioned that I like the first movie the best but this one does a much better job of world building and in that, this feels like the most complete and overall satisfying film in the franchise. Where the first film feels more like a sci-fi slasher movie with guns instead of knives, this feels more like something akin to the epic world building of Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings.

This film certainly has the most to offer in regards to the franchise as a whole. And since nothing after has really come close to its greatness, there isn’t much reason to watch the films that follow. Besides, they all start contradicting each other and this franchise has been rebooted three different times because it became a giant mess.

Eventually, I will get around to the other films just to review them. I already reviewed Terminator: Genisys when it came out back in 2015 but I haven’t revisited Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or Terminator: Salvation since they were in theaters. Plus, I’ve still got to watch the TV show but I’ve heard that it’s actually pretty good.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Terminator film. Ignore the sequels after this one.

Film Review: Near Dark (1987)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1987
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Eric Red, Kathryn Bigelow
Music by: Tangerine Dream
Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Joshua John Miller, Marcie Leeds, James Le Gros

Dino De Laurentiis Group, 95 Minutes

near-darkReview:

With the passing of Bill Paxton, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite roles that he played. In fact, this is my favorite Paxton character after Hudson from Aliens.

The problem with Near Dark is that other than Paxton’s great performance as the vampire Severen, there isn’t much else to really get behind.

This film is beloved by many and some have even called it one of the greatest vampire movies ever made. I disagree with that.

Near Dark is dreary and for the most part, not exciting to look at. It is a marriage between the horror and western genre and its setting makes it a dirty, dusty and desolate looking film. It is marred by pretty lackluster cinematography that doesn’t really add any life to it. Sure, it is a contemporary western with vampires, so being dark and dirty makes sense. But it doesn’t need to be nor should it be. The result is a movie that is aesthetically dull.

It also doesn’t help that the story isn’t very interesting and that things happen in it that don’t make a lot of logical sense. There are multiple times where the vampires are outside, then a minute or two later, sunlight is all of a sudden beaming in and burning them. The passage of time is nonsensical and it just exposes the film as being poorly written.

The music by Tangerine Dream is pretty awful. But even that isn’t as bad as the performance by Jenny Wright. Her acting was amateurish and it didn’t help that she had some horrible dialogue.

I do have to point out that the special effects were pretty good though. The scene where the vampire kid is burning while running down the street was well executed, especially for the time. The makeup was also well done, as well as the knife slashing and gunshot effects.

The interesting thing about this movie is that it has three actors from Aliens, which was released just a year prior. The vampire gang is led by Lance Henriksen’s Jesse, his girlfriend is played by Jenette Goldstein and of course you have Bill Paxton.

Near Dark is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who would have a lot of success later on with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. She was also, for a brief time, married to Aliens director James Cameron. Near Dark was the first feature film she directed on her own.

The film also has another James Cameron connection through the Terminator franchise, as Paxton had a small role in the first film and one of his victims in this movie had a small role in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Goldstein also appears in the second Terminator as John Connor’s foster mother.

Regardless of all the negatives, Near Dark certainly isn’t unwatchable. Most people seem to enjoy it. But again, I only really like it because of Bill Paxton’s presence.

Honestly, with as strong as Paxton was, I felt like he should have done more in the film. His character was the only thing fun about the picture.

Film Review: Aliens (1986)

Release Date: July 18th, 1986
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein

20th Century Fox, 137 Minutes

aliensReview:

Aliens is a movie that I have seen at least a few dozen times. It was a staple in my movie diet when I was a kid in the 80s. I never got to see it in the theater because it is rated R and I was seven when it came out. But I did see it when it hit video, probably a year later. Then I watched it all the time and as an adult, at least once a year. But I am now reviewing it because I finally got to see it on the big screen and man, what an experience it was!

Seeing Aliens in a large theater made one thing very clear, it has been a really long time since I have seen something as good as this while at the movies. It made me nostalgic and I went back to a place where I haven’t been since I was a kid, in a decade where there were so many amazing blockbusters. It also made me sad, simply because there really isn’t anything in the modern era of filmmaking that even comes close to the big tent pole pictures of 1980s summers. I mean, it really was the decade that made summer movies a thing in the first place.

This is James Cameron’s greatest film. Sure, many will argue for TerminatorTerminator 2: Judgment DayThe Abyss, True Lies, the incredibly overrated Titanic or the derivative CGI lovefest AvatarAliens is simply his best, period.

I’ve always sat on the fence over which is better between Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. I still do. They are both equally as brilliant and fascinating but for very different reasons, as both are very different films. And I’m fine with that, because both pictures are special and exceptional and one doesn’t have to be better than the other. They are perfect companion pieces that are, I would have to assume, impossible to replicate because no other chapters in the franchise have come close to the pure magic of the first two films.

What still makes Aliens work, is the effects. They are practical, everything you see is real, apart from the wonky landing sequence of the dropship. The use of animatronics, real slime, luscious matte paintings, massive physical sets and meticulous physical detail are why this film stands the test of time. It is also why it carries a sense of realism that just alludes you when you watch something like the Star Wars prequels or Cameron’s most successful picture, Avatar.

The cinematography is perfect. The sets are incredible, the lighting is superb and the world truly feels like a dreadful and cozy home for the viscous alien xenomorphs that have overrun the fairly large settlement of humans sent to terraform the planet.

Just about every character in Aliens serves a purpose. Sure, there are a few grunts solely there to be immediately exterminated upon discovering the alien threat. However, after that, each character is pretty dynamic or at the very least, very entertaining, as is the case with Bill Paxton’s hilarious Hudson and Jenette Goldstein’s big gun-toting Private Vasquez.

Sigourney Weaver has never been better than she was in this movie. She’s played a version of Ellen Ripley four times but this is where she was on another level. She took control of a horrible situation and became the savior of those who survive, primarily the young girl Newt, who lost her entire family to the xenomorphs. Ripley became the ultimate bad ass mother figure of the 1980s. Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Aliens, which is pretty unheard of for a sci-fi or horror film, at least in the acting category.

Paul Reiser truly owned it as the corporate weasel Burke. Michael Biehn was good as Hicks, even if he felt like an extension of his Kyle Reese character from The Terminator, two years earlier. The real standout in the supporting cast was Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop. This is one of the absolute best roles Henriksen has ever played and my favorite character in the Alien franchise after Ripley.

Aliens is as close to perfection as you can get minus a few minor hiccups, mainly just the one or two effects that didn’t hold up to the test of time. But considering that it is now over thirty years old, nitpicking a slight visual issue with a scene isn’t really fair to its legacy and what it was at the time of its release.

I was glad that I got to see this on the big screen. It made the film come alive in a way that I have never experienced. Yet, we live in a time where people watch movies on their phones. It makes me feel like the love of movies I grew up with is dwindling away. We need to find a way to get back to creating motion pictures that can generate the emotions and feelings and visual awe of a movie like Aliens. I guess that’s my challenge to any up and coming filmmakers that may just stumble across this review.