Film Review: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1986
Directed by: Brian Gibson
Written by: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Based on: characters by Steven Spielberg
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes, 130 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“You’re all gonna die in there! All of you! You are gonna die!” – Kane

Most sequels aren’t created equal and the general consensus is that this one isn’t very good. Hogwash! I love it! Not as much as the first but it’s still a great ’80s horror film and better than most movies like it.

What makes this a solid entry into the short lived film series is that it broadens the mythos. Really, in the first film, there wasn’t much of a backstory. All you knew was that the house was haunted by evil and as the movie rolled on you discovered that it was built on top of a graveyard. This film sort of ignores the generic graveyard under the house idea and puts something even worse under the house: Reverend Henry Kane and his dead followers.

Kane, as played by Julian Beck in this movie, is absolutely fucking frightening. He is, hands down, one of the greatest screen villains of the era and more of a horror icon of the time than modern history seems to remember. He was a pure force of evil in a time when slashers ruled the horror genre. He wasn’t a slasher, he was something more powerful and more cunning. Julian Beck played Kane so profoundly that it is impossible not to get chills during the doorway scene when he confronts the family on their front porch. Honestly, it is my favorite moment in this entire franchise.

The film also adds in Will Sampson as a Native American named Taylor, who is actually known as the Medicine Man and is Kane’s nemesis. Taylor arrives at the family’s new home, convinces them that he is there to help and then lives with them in an effort to keep them safe from Kane’s attempts at stealing away Carol Anne. I loved Sampson in this and it is probably my second favorite thing he has done after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The entire family returns for this film, except for Dominique Dunne, as she was murdered by her boyfriend in real life. But that’s just one of many tragedies that surround the cast of this film series, which some consider to be cursed.

Zelda Rubinstein also returns as Tangina, the clairvoyant that helped the family survive the first movie. Some of her lines in the film are pretty cringe worthy but I can look past this stuff in ’80s horror pictures. But it is probably worth noting that she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. She would also be nominated again for the same award for her part in Poltergeist III. However, she did win the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for the first Poltergeist.

Craig T. Nelson had more to do in this movie, as he took a bit of a backseat to JoBeth Williams in the first one. I thought he did really well and his emotion and doubt were conveyed pretty convincingly, as he just wanted the forces of evil to leave his family alone.

The special effects in this were also spectacular for 1986. While some of the cloud effects and matte painting work is very noticeable in modern HD, the CGI ghost effects were stellar and have held up well. The scene where young Robbie is attacked by his braces still looks incredible. Also, the practical creature effects used for the beast form of Kane, as he crawled through the bedroom without legs was stupendous. This definitely deserved the Academy Award nomination it got for special effects.

Lastly, Jerry Goldsmith’s score seems to come alive more in this chapter. His theme to the series is expanded on and presented in new ways. I miss movies that had scores like this. Movie music nowadays just isn’t as memorable.

Poltergeist II is not on Poltergeist‘s level but there is a part of me that enjoys it more because the villain was clearly defined and scary as hell. Plus, Sampson and the Native American influence were great additions to the proceedings.

And sure, the big final battle with Kane on “the other side” is ’80s cheese to the rind, but I still friggin’ love it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Explorers (1985)

Release Date: July 12th, 1985
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Eric Luke
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Amanda Peterson, James Cromwell, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Meshach Taylor

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“It’s asking for coordinates on x-, y- and z-axes to locate a point in space relative to its terminal. How did you dream this?” – Wolfgang Müller

The Explorers was one of my favorite movies in the mid-’80s. It kind of fit in with all those other kid adventure movies like E.T. the Extra-TerrestrialThe Goonies and Monster Squad. These kid films did really well back then and they all sort of just tapped into something that films didn’t do as good before the decade. I guess that’s why Stranger Things and the modern It movie have built up solid fan bases off of the nostalgia for these sort of films and stories.

This movie is no different and it also came from the imagination of Joe Dante. Ultimately, this feels like a Spielberg film too but he wasn’t even involved but maybe Dante’s experience working with Spielberg on Gremlins, a year earlier, kept that magic mojo going.

The plot follows three boys and their attempt at building a spaceship. Yeah, it is really fantastical and unrealistic but the movie is more about imagination and childhood than the going to space bit. Granted, they do go to space and meet aliens but even then, this is still about youthful imagination, living your dreams no matter how ridiculous they may be and never losing hope in yourself. It’s a metaphor, y’all!

What makes this movie so fantastic is that you do see this through the eyes of children but you also see it through the eyes of an adult, in this case the super talented and underutilized Dick Miller. Miller’s character, an old man that once had dreams and aspirations similar to the kids, discovers what these kids are up to and when he witnesses them succeed, he is living vicariously through them and tapping into something he hasn’t felt in decades. It’s pretty f’n touching and Miller really conveyed the right emotions in playing this part. While Miller’s role in the movie isn’t very big, it’s central to the most pivotal message this film tries to communicate to its audience.

The special effects in this are really good and I loved the sets and the creature effects on the aliens, once these kids journeyed to their spaceship.

Spoiler alert, the aliens are friendly and as the film rolls on, you come to discover that they’re just kids to. So the Earth kids and the alien kids meet and you see that they’re not too dissimilar. The alien kids are also driven to go on adventures and discover the universe with childlike enthusiasm. Plus, Robert Picardo was awesome as the male alien, even if you couldn’t see him under the bulky costume.

I like watching this film as an adult because it keeps me grounded by making me remember the ideals and view of the universe I had when I was a kid. Watching this as an adult is similar to being in the shoes of the Dick Miller character.

This is one of Joe Dante’s best pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Flight of the NavigatorE.T the Extra-TerrestrialD.A.R.Y.L., The Goonies, Monster Squad.

Film Review: Poltergeist (1982)

Release Date: June 4th, 1982
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Richard Lawson, Martin Casella, James Karen, Michael McManus

SLM Production Group, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] [talking to the television] Hello? What do you look like? Talk louder, I can’t hear you! Hey, hello! Hello, I can’t hear you! Five. Yes. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know.” – Carol Anne Freeling

Poltergeist was a massive hit back in 1982. I was too young to see it in the theater but once it hit TV, it was on all the time. It was also one of the few horror movies to actually scare the shit out of me. While those scenes aren’t as effective to my 39 year-old brain now, throughout the ’80s, I was terrified of clown dolls, creepy trees and the possibility of my face falling off just by washing it. Hell, I was afraid to turn the television off when there was snow on the screen. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that haunted infernal machine.

There was just something about the styles of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper coming together that created a special kind of magic that complimented the two men’s styles even more. Granted, there was a lot of friction during the production of this film and bad blood formed between the two men but the end result is quite exceptional and still carries that magical quality today, thirty-six years later. In fact, the sequels didn’t come close to capturing lightning in a bottle like the original did and I really feel like that is due to Hooper not directing them.

The special effects in this are damn good for the time and the movie does feel like its a big budget affair when compared to other ’80s horror. This is much closer in special effects quality to Ghostbusters or Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters than say Friday the 13th or Halloween III.

Poltergeist also has a really solid cast with Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Beatrice Straight. I also love that James Karen is in this, even if he isn’t as over the top as he was in Return of the Living Dead.

On paper, if you ignore the two capable directors behind this, Poltergeist is really just a run of the mill haunted house story. This is a tale that’s been told a million times but something about this film is just different and better. I wish I could define it with words but for fans of ghost stories, you just sort of have to experience this. I’d hate to keep using the word “magic” but there really isn’t another word to fit what this is.

I love this movie. Even if it scared the everliving crap out of me as a kid, I still watched it… a lot. As an adult, I still throw it on every couple of years and never grow tired of it.

Plus, for those ’80s horror aficionados that love those rotating room scenes in A Nightmare On Elm Street, this movie did it first. And it did it nearly three decades before Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Also known as: Star Trek X (working title)
Release Date: December 9th, 2002 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Stuart Baird
Written by: John Logan, Rick Berman, Brent Spiner
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Kate Mulgrew (cameo), Wil Wheaton (cameo), Whoopi Goldberg (cameo), Bryan Singer (cameo), Majel Barrett (voice), Stuart Baird (voice)

Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“We supported you, Shinzon, when you assassinated the Senate. You told us the timing was perfect for an attack on the Federation. I don’t understand why now you delay.” – Commander Suran

A lot of people despised this movie. Well, good thing I don’t really care about what most people think because this is one of my favorite Star Trek films of all-time. I certainly have some issues with the plot but I’ll discuss that as the review rolls on.

To start, this was a really dark chapter in the Star Trek film franchise, which was definitely welcomed at the time, as the previous film, Insurrection, was a pointless romp and almost felt like a nice vacation for the Enterprise-E crew. This mirrors First Contact in its level of darkness and even eclipses it, as there aren’t a lot of funny scenes like all the Earth stuff from that movie. I guess some people didn’t like how “doom and gloom” this picture was but I dug it in the same way I really dug The Wrath of Khan, twenty years earlier than this.

The thing that really made me like this picture too was that it featured the Romulans heavily. It took ten Star Trek motion pictures to get a Romulan story and this one really setup what could have been a good trilogy of films surrounding the oncoming storm of Romulan civil war.

So many things happened in this film that changed the playing field for not just the Romulans and the Federation but also the crew of the Enterprise. I feel like this should have kicked off a trilogy within the film series, sort of like how The Wrath of Khan started its own trilogy of films surrounding the Genesis Project. I really, truly wanted to see the Enterprise with Picard fighting alongside the Titan with Riker with good Romulans on one side and bad Romulans and Remans on the other. This could have lead to massive, epic things but the film series ended with this picture. I heard that the novels that covered Riker’s time as captain on the Titan were pretty good though. I should check those out.

Anyway, I also really liked Tom Hardy as the villain Shinzon, even though I didn’t like his backstory. Shinzon was a clone of Jean-Luc Picard and was there to sort of challenge the core of who Picard is. Could he be this psychotic evil man under different circumstances? At the same time, could Shinzon be a noble and heroic character if he were raised under similar circumstances as Picard. I like how this plays out even though I felt that the clone part was incredibly cheesy and friggin’ strange.

But this also tapped into Data sort of having his own clone in the movie too, as the crew discovers an older model of Data on a remote planet. Data spends time trying to help the new android evolve and adapt beyond his simple programming and B4, this new android, is even given Data’s memories at one point and essentially carries Data inside of him.

It’s interesting that Brent Spiner, the man who plays Data, helped write the script, as this is very much a picture where Data is the focus and his journey here is his most important in the character’s history. I feel that Spiner’s inclusion in the writing process helped to enrich this part of the story in a more personal way.

I also thought that the special effects were a big step up from Insurrection, which was the first Star Trek movie to go full CGI instead of using models for the ships. This film didn’t feel as cheap as its predecessor, which came off like a “made for TV” movie for the SyFy channel.

I also loved the design of Shinzon’s battleship. That thing was sick and is one of my favorite Star Trek vessels of all-time.

I really like this film but unfortunately, it didn’t give fans the right sort of closure that they should have gotten with this exceptional cast. And for me, it left me hanging, wanting to see where the Romulan storyline could have gone.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection.

Film Review: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Also known as: Star Trek IX, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek: Prime Directive, Star Trek: Rebellion, Star Trek: Stardust (working titles)
Release Date: December 10th, 1998 (Cinevegas Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Michael Piller, Rick Berman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Anthony Zerbe

Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“If a court-martial is the only way to tell the Federation what is happening here, Admiral… I welcome it.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This is my least favorite Star Trek film of all-time. Yes, I even like The Final Frontier more than this. The problem is that this just doesn’t work as a story or an event worthy of a Star Trek motion picture.

When you get to the end of this film, you realize that it is almost worth forgetting. It really just feels like a mediocre episode of The Next Generation TV show. It has some grandiose moments but it is a very small story when compared to the scale of what all the other Star Trek movies were. I mean, you just saved the Earth from a time traveling Borg invasion and now you’re off to La La Land to protect a mere 600 people from being tricked by a villain to live in a Holodeck that is made to resemble their village. I mean, really? This was the story? It felt like a rejected script for a filler episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

I liked that F. Murray Abraham was the villain and he did do a tremendous job in the role, fully committed to playing an insane person with a face that looked like beef jerky stretched over a basketball. But it wasn’t anywhere near enough to save this picture from being a lame and stale bore.

Star Trek films’ special effects have always been pretty amazing. However, even that area lacked in this picture. This was the first Trek movie to go full CGI instead of using models for its starships. The Enterprise-E looked good for the most part but the ship with the sails looked bad, the effects of the nebula weren’t well refined and then the attack drones on the planet’s surface looked terrible. It was like watching a cheap TV movie on SyFy from twenty years ago.

This film was also heavy handed with the lightheartedness and humor. Most of it was hokey and weird. There was an entire subplot about Lt. Worf going through puberty. He had a big zit, an angry teenage temper and pretty much just constantly reminded us that his body was going through some changes.

They also emphasized the relationship between Riker and Troi, which was actually fine but most of the scenes seemed out of place and sort of interrupted the flow of things.

Picard also had a love interest in the form of a 300 year-old woman that looked like she was forty-five.

The producers wanted a lighthearted movie after the doom and gloom of First Contact. They admitted to the fact that they were trying to do their generation’s version of The Voyage Home. It just didn’t work nearly as well, as The Voyage Home felt organic and natural where Insurrection felt odd, strange and incredibly dull.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the death knell of the franchise. We would still get one more movie from The Next Generation‘s cast after this one.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Nemesis.

Film Review: Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Also known as: Star Trek VIII, Star Trek: Borg, Star Trek: Destinies, Star Trek: Future Generations, Star Trek: Generations II, Star Trek: Renaissance, Star Trek: Resurrection (working titles)
Release Date: November 18th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Written by: Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Rick Berman
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith, Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Neal McDonough, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, Alice Krige, Robert Picardo (cameo), Adam Scott, Majel Barrett (voice)

Paramount Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“[Quoting “Moby Dick”] And he piled upon the whale’s white hump, the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

After the torch was passed from one generation’s crew to the next in the appropriately titled Star Trek: Generations, it was only a matter of time before The Next Generation‘s cast got their own film series. This is the first movie that is wholly theirs.

This is also the first and only movie to utilize the Borg as a threat on the big screen. Really, the next film should have probably followed this up with a bit more Borg stuff instead of whatever the hell Insurrection was supposed to be. However, the Borg would be used a lot on Star Trek: Voyager where things got more intense and the Borg mythology was greatly expanded.

I love that this film added in a bunch of talented actors other than just the standard crew. Alfre Woodard and James Cromwell are both great in this and are two of my favorite Trek characters because of this film. Cromwell would reprise his role again on television but Woodard sadly never returned for more. Also, you have a very young Neal McDonough in this. I wish he would have gone on to continue to appear in these films but he met a bad end. Then there is Alice Krige as the Borg Queen and while this is probably her most famous role, she’s had a great career in the horror and sci-fi genres. You also get to see Adam Scott and a cameo by Robert Picardo, which was a nod to his Star Trek: Voyager character.

The plot of the film sees the Borg go back in time to prevent humanity from inventing warp drive and thus, attracting the first alien contact with Earth. The reason behind this was that the Borg would have an easier time assimilating Earth and its population. The Enterprise crew also goes back in time to prevent this from happening.

The story is pretty good and although this isn’t the first Star Trek movie to utilize time travel as its main plot device, this all still takes place in the future, so the “fish out of water” shtick that made Star Trek IV so friggin’ great, wasn’t rehashed. But that’s good because this wasn’t trying to be Star Trek IV, it was certainly its own thing and the film worked on its own merits.

While this is considered to be the best of The Next Generation set of films, I’m the weirdo that really likes Nemesis. But that’s probably because I had been yearning for a movie featuring Romulans since around the time of Star Trek IIIFirst Contact is still really damn good and my favorite after Nemesis.

I like that Jonathan Frakes got to direct this, which followed the path of the original cast’s films where Nimoy and Shatner both got chances to direct.

First Contact is in the upper echelon of Star Trek movies. It is much better than its followup, Insurrection, and it had an edge over Generations.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: Insurrectionand Star Trek: Nemesis.

Film Review: The Shadow (1994)

Release Date: July 1st, 1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, James Hong, Al Leong, Frank Welker (voice)

Bregman/Baer Productions, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll be there… around every corner… in every empty room… as inevitable as your guilty conscience…” – The Shadow

The Shadow wasn’t shy about what it was trying to be. It was Universal’s answer to Warner Bros. massive success with Batman and Disney’s pretty popular Dick Tracy. It is almost like a blend of the two and I guess The Shadow was the right property to adapt at the time, if you wanted to marry both of those other franchises into one thing. Granted, it also throws in some Asian mysticism but ninjas and Oriental magic were pretty popular back then too.

I wouldn’t call the finished product a big success though. This film pretty much bombed, critics didn’t like it and it felt like it was trying too hard to be those other things that it wasn’t. It’s sad because The Shadow could have actually been a really great movie. It has so many things working for it that you almost have to try to make it not work.

Granted, this film is far from terrible and I like it quite a bit more than I dislike it. It’s just that those bad elements really held this motion picture back.

For starters, Alec Baldwin was boring as hell as the Shadow. He was dry, tried to come off as overly manly and sexy and it just felt silly. His Bela Lugosi illuminated eye trick when he was using his psychic shtick just didn’t work and I’m a huge fan of that method when used correctly. But maybe that only worked well in old black and white Universal Monsters pictures. His weird facial prosthetics also didn’t work for me and just made him look strange.

I also didn’t like John Lone as the villain, who is essentially a resurrected Genghis Khan. At least I think he was, his explanation was kind of weird and confusing. He kind of sounded like Tommy Wiseau with a little Asian flourish to his accent.

I did like the rest of the cast. Penelope Ann Miller was alluring as hell, Ian McKellen was delightful and Tim Curry stole the show, as he always does.

I also liked the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was made to sound a lot like Danny Elfman’s scores for Batman and Dick Tracy but it wasn’t a total ripoff, it had a very strong Goldsmith vibe to it.

The look of the film was nice but it really was just an amalgamation of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and The City from Dick Tracy. It was actually New York and had the iconic landmarks but the night shots used sweeping cameras weaving around building’s ala Burton’s Batman and featured gargoyles with waterfalls coming out of their mouths and other things that didn’t seem very 1930s New York.

The film did its best to be exciting but it just wasn’t. It was as bland as Baldwin’s performance and to be honest, unlike similar films of the era, I never had the urge to go back and watch this until now. I have seen Batman and Dick Tracy and even The Rocketeer a few dozen times.

Although watching it now, I really liked the sequence during the final showdown in the hall of mirrors. It was a bit hokey but it still looked beautiful and was the best visual moment in the picture.

The Shadow isn’t a complete waste of a film. It’s less than two hours and is a decent time killer, especially if you’ve never seen it and are a fan of similar pictures and 1930s style.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The two films it borrows heavily from: 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Dick Tracy.