Film Review: Escape From New York (1981)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)

Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk

When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.

In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.

What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.

John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.

The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.

That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.

John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.

The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.

It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.

Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.

Film Review: Joysticks (1983)

Also known as: Video Madness (alternative title)
Release Date: March 4th, 1983
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Al Gomez, Mickey Epps, Curtis Burch
Music by: various
Cast: Joe Don Baker, Leif Green, Jim Greenleaf, Scott McGinnis, Jon Gries, Corinne Bohrer, John Diehl, John Voldstad, Logan Ramsey

Jensen Farley Pictures, Citadel Films, Liberation Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

“If you’re half the leader I think you are…” – Joseph Rutter, “I am half the leader you think I am!” – King Vidiot

Greydon Clark has made a lot of B-movies in multiple genres. Just before this one, he did Wacko, which I wasn’t a fan of other than the Andrew Dice Clay scenes. Where that one was a teen sex comedy with a horror theme, Joysticks is a teen sex comedy that primarily takes place in and around a video arcade. Also, it’s a more amusing movie than its slasher predecessor.

Like Wacko, this one stars Joe Don Baker, which, in my book, is always a plus. But he’s a much more engaging character and really gets to ham it up in great ways here. His best bits are when he plays opposite of the always fantastic Jonathan Gries, who plays a punk rock moron named King Vidiot.

The plot is about a video arcade that is deemed troublesome by the older busybody community. Basically, take Footloose and switch out dancing for video games… and then add a lot of crude humor and boobies. Baker’s Joseph Rutter is a rich guy that wants to shut the arcade down, so he employs his dimwitted nephews and King Vidiot to help him in his quest.

Now Baker and Gries steal every scene that they’re in but Corinne Bohrer is so entertaining in this as a ditzy, rich Valley girl that it’s hard not to love her over the top performance. Her voice was great in this and she had a lot of charm and charisma that would help her carve out a decent career in the ’80s between this film, Vice VersaPolice Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol, Zapped!, some solid sitcom work and her fairly memorable role opposite of Mark Hamill’s Trickster in the 1990 Flash TV show.

Joysticks is a dumb movie but I mean that in the best way possible. As unwatchable as Clark’s Wacko was a year earlier, this really rights the ship and it worked for me. If you’re into films like Porky’s and Meatballs and also like retro video games, then I’m sure you’ll probably like this too.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’80s teen sex comedies.

Film Review: Madhouse (1990)

Release Date: February 16th, 1990
Directed by: Tom Ropelewski
Written by: Tom Ropelewski
Music by: David Newman
Cast: John Larroquette, Kirstie Alley, Alison La Placa, John Diehl, Jessica Lundy, Bradley Gregg, Dennis Miller, Robert Ginty, Wayne Tippit

Boy of the Year, Orion Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry about me having dinner, I’ll just lick the crumbs off my filthy sheets!” – Beatrice

This isn’t one of the best comedies of its time period but I enjoyed the hell out of it as a kid and even now, in 2019, I still found the movie to be pretty endearing and charming. But I also know that my opinion is unique, in that most people have forgot about Madhouse and those who haven’t don’t have fond memories of it.

For me, this film works on the strength of its leads: John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley. The two of them had incredible chemistry, felt absolutely believable as a couple and they committed to the absurdity of the film with tremendous gusto.

The comedy style here is pretty typical of the time. It throws two normal people into a very abnormal situation while littering the proceedings with mostly crude and simple humor. But it works because of the charisma of the main cast and most of the supporting players.

I really enjoyed John Diehl, whose murder on Miami Vice still upsets me, and his overbearing wife played by Jessica Lundy. Alison La Placa was also great and we get Dennis Miller in a very minor (and his first) role.

The story follows a yuppie couple who get surprise house guests that are a total pain in the ass. However, as the film progresses, they get more and more house guests and no one will leave. Eventually, their new home has turned into a community of almost a dozen weirdos that push the couple to their breaking point.

What I love about this film is how we see Larroquette and Alley slowly break down and slip into madness. I thought the pacing of the film, in this regard, was perfect.

Also, there is a cat subplot that is a parody of Pet Sematary, which came out a year earlier. It sees the cat die, again and again, but it always comes back to create more chaos. You even get to see the cat die from a cocaine overdose.

This is a simple, fun comedy. But that’s what I like about it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other outrageous late ’80s/early ’90s comedies.

Film Review: City Limits (1984)

Release Date: October, 1984 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: Aaron Lipstadt
Written by: Don Opper
Music by: Mitchell Froom
Cast: Darrell Larson, John Stockwell, Kim Cattrall, Rae Dawn Chong, John Diehl, Don Opper, Pamela Ludwig, Tony Plana, Dean Devlin, James Earl Jones, Kane Hodder

Film Ventures International (FVI), Island Alive, Sho Films, Atlantic Releasing, 86 Minutes

Review:

“If you kill me, someone just like me – or worse – will become my replacement. I am inevitable!” – Carver

How the hell did James Earl Jones fall so low that they got him to agree to be in this movie just a year after Return of the Jedi? Sure, he bounced back but I can’t imagine many actors bouncing back after this film. Maybe he just had the benefit of no one seeing this.

This also had Kim Cattrall and Rae Dawn Chong but this was before either of them got more famous going into the late ’80s. It also features John Diehl, a guy I loved on Miami Vice until they ruined the show by killing him off, and a small role for Kane Hodder, who would become the longest running Jason Voorhees actor just a few years later.

City Limits was written by Don Keith Opper, who also has a small role in the film. He didn’t write a very good script here but he would follow this up with the Critters film series, which has had some longevity over the years since the first one came out and it even spawned a new television series just this year.

This is a post-apocalyptic film, one of probably hundreds in an era where these things were being made faster than McDonald’s can print Monopoly game pieces. It’s a genre and formula I like but this is like most of those films, unfortunately, a boring, bland dud that borrows so heavily from other places that it doesn’t have an identity of its own.

City Limits was featured on Mystery Science Theater and for good reason. It’s also probably one of the MST3K films that featured a pretty well known cast. It’s a film rife with material for riffing though.

As bad and vanilla as this is, it’s certainly not the worse that the post-apocalyptic genre has to offer. It’s pure ’80s, low budget, sci-fi schlock but it’s a bit endearing because of that. However, City Limits will probably only be enjoyed by people that are into that sort of thing.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other early to mid ’80s post-apocalyptic schlock.

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.