Film Review: Ghost in the Machine (1993)

Also known as: Deadly Terror (working title)
Release Date: December 29th, 1993
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Written by: William Davies, William Osborne
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Karen Allen, Chris Mulkey, Ted Marcoux, Wil Horneff, Jessica Walter, Rick Ducommun

Twentieth Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Excuse me… a little stiff. Caught a bitch of a virus.” – Computer Ghost of Karl

I never had much urge to see this way back when it was a current movie. Even though I was a fan of horror and cyberpunk concepts, I knew that it was directed by the same woman that did Freddy’s Dead, which murdered that once great franchise. I also figured that this would be full of computer graphics fuckery and that’s probably why she was hired, after she gave us that abysmally bad CGI 3D sequence in that previous movie.

However, I’m also a fan of the worst ’80s and ’90s cheese, especially in the realms of horror and sci-fi, so I figured that I’d finally give this a watch, as it’s on HBO Max. Plus, it starred Karen Allen and Chris Mulkey and I like both of them quite a bit.

So to be upfront, I didn’t hate this and even though it was a bad movie, there was enough to enjoy in it and the “virtual reality” stuff was every bit as awful and wonderful as it is in other movies from the same era like The Lawnmower Man and Brainscan.

The CGI is primitive as hell and it dates the movie but seeing it in the 2020s, nearly thirty years later, makes it much cooler than it would have been experiencing it back then. Frankly, it made me really nostalgic for this stuff and the early days of computer animation, the Internet and the sort of unknown wonderous world of what technology could be.

I even enjoyed the pixilated killer ghost whenever he appeared in the real world and thought that they utilized the CGI well for what they were trying to achieve.

So the story is about a serial killer that works in a computer and software shop. He steals the address books of clients after his boss uses them to show those clients how his address book software works on common PCs. The killer takes out everyone on the address books before finally killing the person who owns it. However, he is killed in a car crash. Upon getting an MRI, weird shit happens to the power at the medical facility and he is essentially copied onto a hard drive and is essentially now a digital copy of the killer’s brain (and I guess soul) that can travel the Internet and effect any electronics he possesses.

While it’s an interesting concept, I feel like you could easily just trap him in a toaster, unplug him and toss it into the furnace. Also, he is able to manipulate electronics in impossible ways, like using a small microwave to essentially turn an entire large kitchen into a microwave oven.

Plot holes, plot conveniences and ridiculousness aside, some of the kills in this movie are really damn good, such as the microwave kill. The killing sequences also have a bit of a Final Destination vibe to them, as you know the person will die but it’s interesting seeing how it’s all going to unfold. Kind of like watching a Rube Goldberg machine of death.

In the end, though, this is still pretty bad. Most people will hate it and dismiss it as unpalatable schlock but for me, it had enough cool stuff in it to hold my attention and to make me appreciate the effort.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: The Wanderers (1979)

Release Date: July 4th, 1979
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Written by: Rose Kaufman, Philip Kaufman
Based on: The Wanderers by Richard Price
Music by: various
Cast: Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Jim Youngs, Tony Ganios, Alan Rosenberg, Dolph Sweet, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Price (cameo), Wayne Knight (uncredited)

Film Finance Group, Polyc International BV, Orion Pictures, Warner Bros., 112 Minutes

Review:

“It’s a shame to see kids beatin’ each other’s brains out, especially when there’s no financial advantage.” – Chubby Galasso

This movie’s been in my queue to watch and review for a really long time. I’m glad that I finally got around to it, though, as it’s pretty damn enjoyable. Especially, if you like teen gang movies that take place in the ’50s and ’60s.

The Wanderers kind of feels like one-part The Outsiders mixed with one-part The Warriors but then it meets somewhere in the middle.

Mostly, this is a dramatic, coming-of-age story that just happens to be set in the Bronx in 1963, which was overrun by youth gangs. It also reflects a time when America was just about to head to Vietnam and the civil rights movement was starting to make significant changes in American culture.

I liked most of the characters in this movie a lot, except for the one kid that was always causing all the problems for the gang because he was tiny and couldn’t shut his mouth. I had a friend like that in my high school crew and when he thought he could talk shit and then hide behind us, we let him get his ass kicked. That cured his short man’s syndrome really quick.

Anyway, I like that all of the gangs have unique identities and that many are segregated by race. It allows the story to show the racial tensions between the different groups of kids but ultimately, it shows many of them from various backgrounds, coming together to fight the biggest asshole gang of the bunch. Through that unity, the kids of different cultures gain each other’s respect and a broader sense of brotherhood.

All of the young people in this were really good. I was really impressed with Ken Wahl and Tony Ganios’ performances, as they’re the two that really stood out. Karen Allen also held her own and was as sweet and charming as always. I also thought that Toni Kalem was really good and your heart kind of breaks for her, witnessing what she goes through in this.

I also have to point to the incredibly intimidating performance of Dolph Sweet. As a kid of the ’80s and ’90s, I only really knew Sweet as the loving police chief father on the sitcom Gimme A Break. Here, he essentially plays a 1960s Tony Soprano. Honestly, he’s like a proto-Tony Soprano that gives such a powerful performance that I wouldn’t be surprised if James Gandolfini didn’t look at it and take some pointers. The scene with the bowling ball was an absolutely chilling but perfect sequence.

I like that this movie also included a side plot about a shady Marine recruiter that dupes a bunch of drunk youth into joining up, just as America is one the verge of war.

There are a lot of characters in this and they’re all pretty well-balanced. You mostly care about everyone and there are just so many good sequences that they all get their moment to shine in some way.

The Wanderers isn’t a film that people talk about today. It feels kind of lost to time. But I think that fans of The Outsiders, The Warriors, Rumble Fish, etc. will find a lot to love in this picture.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other youth gang movies of the ’50s through ’80s.

Film Review: Animal House (1978)

Also known as: Laser Orgy Girls (original script title)
Release Date: July 27th, 1978 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: John Belushi, Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, Thomas Hulce, Donald Sutherland, Peter Riegert, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes, Douglas Kenney, James Daughton, Mark Metcalf, Kevin Bacon, Karen Allen, Sarah Holcomb

Stage III Productions, Oregon Film Factory, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the fucking Peace Corps.” – Bluto

Animal House is a cult comedy that came out before I was born but was beloved by the generation slightly ahead of mine. I grew up hearing older people quote the movie constantly but I never actually saw it until the ’90s in my teen years. It’s also been that long since I’ve seen it, as although I love John Belushi, the film never hit the mark for me.

I feel like I did enjoy it more now, though, but that’s probably also because comedy is dead in the 2020s and everything in this film would be considered grossly offensive by modern snowflakes and “cancel everything” dweebs. Simply watching this felt like an act of defiance against Generation Bitch Made and everything their weak knees wobbly stand for.

Still, I can’t consider this a great movie, even if it spoke to an entire generation of slackers. However, it was never intended to be a great movie. This was made to entertain horny young folks that toked grass and drank a lot of beer. It also helped pave the way for a slew of mindless, funny films that did the same thing. Escapism is important to the human brain and National Lampoon’s Animal House provides solid escapism from your problems and your world for 109 minutes.

The film is also full of a lot of actors that would go on to have long careers, many of whom moved on to bigger and better things.

In the end, Animal House is goofy, obnoxious and reminds me of simpler times when people were still allowed to laugh and enjoy life.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other John Landis comedies, as well as the films of Ivan Reitman.

Film Review: Malcolm X (1992)

Also known as: X (poster title)
Release Date: November 18th, 1992
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Arnold Perl, Spike Lee
Based on: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Haley
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al Freeman Jr., Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee, Theresa Randle, Kate Vernon, Christopher Plummer, Lonette McKee, Giancarlo Esposito, Wendell Pierce, Roger Guenveur Smith, Debi Mazar, Karen Allen, Peter Boyle, David Patrick Kelly, Mary Alice, Nicholas Turturro, Michael Imperioli, John David Washington, Ossie Davis

Largo International, JVC Entertainment Networks, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Warner Bros., 202 Minutes

Review:

“[Witnessing Malcolm’s control over a mob] That’s too much power for one man to have.” – Captain Green

Every great director has their magnum opus and this is Spike Lee’s.

Malcolm X is pretty perfect from top-to-bottom and for a film that is nearly three and a half hours, it mostly moves at a really good pace. I thought that the first act was too drawn out but it takes up less than an hour of running time and the film really finds its groove once Malcolm goes to prison and first encounters the lessons and ideas around The Nation of Islam.

From that point forward, this is a truly exceptional motion picture that is bolstered by the legendary performance of Denzel Washington. In fact, despite him winning the Academy Award for Training Day, I would say that this is the best performance of his career.

Beyond Washington, everyone else in this film is superb from the smallest parts to the largest. There really isn’t a weak link in the entire cast and Lee did a phenomenal job in picking who he did for each role.

This also boasts the best cinematography out of all of Spike Lee’s movies. Sure, he has a stupendous eye and employs wonderful visuals in every film but this felt so genuine and rich. It was like a true time capsule back to the 1940s through 1960s and nothing about it felt staged or inauthentic.

Having read the book, years ago, I’ve always seen this as the most perfect interpretation of it. In fact, if anyone were to try and attempt a Malcolm X biopic in the future, I don’t know how they could really make anything better or even as close to great as this is. As far as I know, it’s never been attempted and frankly, it shouldn’t be.

Watching this, it was hard not having my mind try to compare the incidents and the social climate in the 1960s to today. A lot of people love quoting Malcom X and for good reason. However, I think that a lot of people who cite him don’t fully grasp the context and cherry pick what fits their narrative. I think it’s important to understand the man’s full journey and to see what he went through, what he learned and how he applied all of that to his actions and his message.

Unfortunately, Malcolm was gunned down in the prime of his life and we never got to see how he would’ve continue to evolve and how he would’ve worked together with other black leaders and leaders of all races in the following decades.

Malcolm’s death was an absolute tragedy but his life is certainly worth knowing and celebrating. With that, this film is really special in how it captured the man, his personal struggles and growth. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington made a biographical picture that is as good as they get.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Spike Lee’s other films of the late ’80s and into the ’90s.

Film Review: Scrooged (1988)

Also known as: Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (original script title)
Release Date: November 17th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue
Based on: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, John Glover, David Johansen, Mary Ellen Trainor, Mabel King, John Murray, Wendie Malick, Brain Doyle-Murray, Lee Majors (cameo), Miles Davis (cameo), Robert Goulet (cameo), Paul Shaffer (cameo), Buddy Hackett, Mary Lou Retton, Jamie Farr, Anne Ramsey, Logan Ramsey, Delores Hall, Joel Murray

Paramount Pictures, Mirage Productions, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the one good thing about regret: it’s never too late. You can always change tomorrow if you want to.” – Claire Phillips

Scrooged is my favorite Christmas movie that doesn’t fit in the action or horror genres, even though it has a wee bit of those two things. It’s a comedy starring the legendary Bill Murray and it was directed by Richard Donner, coming off of Lethal Weapon, Ladyhawke and The Goonies.

The film also has an all-star cast comprised of a few legends, a few solid character actors and the always lovely Karen Allen and Alfre Woodard.

It’s a modernized adaptation of Charles Dickens’ most famous story, A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray essentially plays Ebeneezer Scrooge but in this story, he’s named Frank Cross and he is the president of a major television network, stressed out over the live televised adaptation of A Christmas Carol that he is producing.

As can be expected with adaptations of this story, Cross is visited by three ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Future. He is taken on a journey through his life and is shown his fate if he doesn’t wise up and change his ways.

There aren’t any shocking twists or deviations from the traditional story structure of A Christmas Carol, other than setting it in contemporary times and modifying some of the smaller details to fit what was ’80s pop culture society.

The film has a good bit of crude humor but it’s nothing that’s off putting or that takes away from the spirit of Dickens’ classic story. In fact, I love the update and frankly, for the time that this came out in and the inclusion of Murray, this was probably the most palatable version of the story that had been adapted. It’s not strict to the source material but it benefits because of that while keeping the original plot structure intact.

Scrooged may feel dated to some and like a product of its time but it is a classic Christmas film for many, myself included, and it doesn’t get old. I think a lot of that has to do with the charisma supernova that is Bill Murray while the kind nature of Karen Allen, as well as the fantastic cast around Murray, make this something unique, special and entertaining.

Plus, there is just something perfect about Danny Elfman’s score in this film. It sets the tone for the picture immediately and it just accents and enhances the movie like a great musical score should.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other great non-traditional Christmas movies of the ’80s like Trading Places, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Die Hard, Gremlins and Lethal Weapon.

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Also known as: Indiana Jones 4, Fourth Installment of the Indiana Jones Adventures, Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, Raiders of the Lost Ark Sequel, The Untitled Genre Project (working titles)
Release Date: May 18th, 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: George Lucas, Jeff Nathanson, David Koepp
Based on: characters by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 122 Minutes

Review:

“Leave it to Ox to write a riddle in a dead language.” – Indiana Jones

After this film came out, people seemingly hated it. Well, I hate those people because the hate for this film is pretty silly.

Okay, I get it, there are some really goofy things in this picture and you could argue about the stupidity of a few bits but ultimately, this was still a great adventure and a lot of fun. Yes, this is the worst of the Indiana Jones movies but that’s like saying sirloin is the worst cut of steak. It’s still friggin’ steak, man.

I like the fact that the film’s setting was in line with Harrison Ford’s increased age since last being seen as Indiana Jones in 1989’s The Last Crusade. Sure, you want to see Indy punch Nazis in the face but the Soviets were a good replacement as were the Cold War fears of the time.

I enjoyed Cate Blanchett’s Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko as the villain. She wasn’t as good as René Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Mola Ram from Temple of Doom but I thought she definitely had the edge over Walter Donovan from The Last CrusadeIndiana Jones movies have always had great villains though and Blanchett lived up to that task, being one of the absolute high points of this movie.

I also loved that the older Indy wasn’t focused so much on chasing tail and that he, for the first time on the big screen, was reunited with a love from the past. Marion Ravenwood was nearly everyone’s favorite “Indy Girl” of them all and it was really cool seeing them reunited and there being a romantic happy ending for both characters. I’ve always loved Karen Allen and her return makes almost all of the bad shit in this movie worth it, especially since we got to see her and Indy ride off into the sunset.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the Shia LeBeouf addition to the cast and the whole bit about him being Indy’s kid but he did okay with the material and really, I don’t think another actor could have salvaged some of his poor dialogue anyway. But I am glad that he wasn’t given the reins of the franchise.

I guess the hardest pill for me to swallow as a fan is that Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies aren’t in the picture. I get that Connery didn’t want to do it and that Elliot had passed away since The Last Crusade but even a cameo by Rhys-Davies would have been awesome. Especially, for the wedding of Indy and Marion, as he was good friends with them both.

Most people didn’t like the alien twist and I get that. However, looking at what Indiana Jones is supposed to be, which is a modernization of the old school cheesy movie serials of the 1940s, it sort of fits the style. Sure, I would have rather gotten those long rumored Bermuda Triangle or Atlantis plots but I didn’t hate the premise of this film. It did feel strange and somewhat out of place at first glance but hey, there was a vampire story in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and that show is canon.

I, like almost everyone I’ve talked to about this movie, rolled my eyes at the refrigerator scene, the Tarzan homage and the giant ants. But looking beyond those weird bits, this film still has a lot more good stuff than bad or cringe inducing stuff. And none of it was as bad as dancing Emo Spidey from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the best summer blockbuster of 2008 after The Dark Knight and Iron Man. There weren’t many films that were more fun than this one was that year.

Harrison Ford was still great and his chemistry with Karen Allen was perfect. I also thought that John Williams did a fine job with the score and the tone of the film was just right.

The first three Indiana Jones films were all given a perfect score here at Cinespiria. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect ten but all things considered, I’d say it’s a solid eight. But I also really love Indiana Jones.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Indiana Jones films.

Film Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Also known as: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (after the release of sequels)
Release Date: June 12th, 1981
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliot, Alfred Molina, Pat Roach

Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.” – Dr. René Belloq

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the greatest films ever made. It was kind of cool seeing it on the big screen for the first time, which leaves Temple of Doom as the only Indy film I haven’t seen in the theater now. Indiana Jones is also my favorite film series of all-time. Yes, I even loved that Crystal Skull one that everyone feels the need to bitch about.

While Temple of Doom is my personal favorite (and an unpopular opinion), I can admit that Raiders is actually a better film. Everything about it is just right.

The casting was perfect and I can’t imagine how the film would have turned out had George Lucas had his first pick, Tom Selleck. Indiana Jones is Harrison Ford’s role and unlike James Bond, no one would probably ever accept someone else as the character. Granted, several actors played a young Indy but both River Phoenix and Sean Patrick Flanery did a fine job as the character outside of his normal form. Harrison Ford will always be the adult Indiana Jones but I am sure that Disney will somehow milk the franchise into oblivion at some point and then forever.

The chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen is wonderful and out of all the Indy ladies, she was the only one to eventually come back and marry America’s favorite adventurer. Rightfully so, by the way, as the relationship between Indy and Marion is, by far, the greatest romance in the series and a natural fit for both characters and both actors. While Karen Allen has been in several great films, she will always be Marion to me and probably to everyone.

Paul Freeman is perfection as Indy’s adventuring archaeologist nemesis René Belloq. It is unfortunate that Belloq dies, as he would have been a great villain to carry on in the series. In fact, there was a planned origin story for Belloq in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the 90s TV series, but the show was cancelled before those stories were filmed.

Ronald Lacey was another villain and possibly the most frightening in the entire series as the reptilian-like Toht. He was a Gestapo interrogator dressed in black and always ready to torture Marion in vicious ways. Luckily, she is spared from anything that the evil Toht had planned.

Raiders also introduces us to John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah and Denholm Elliot’s Marcus Brody, two characters that would return and get more screen time in The Last Crusade.

This is the perfect adventure film. While it is obviously inspired by the serials of old, it brings that formula into the modern era and reinvigorates what was a dead genre, at the time. This, alongside the original Star Wars trilogy, tapped into the great storytelling style of those seemingly ancient serials. It would have been cool to see what other films from the old school serial style that Lucas and Spielberg could have done in addition to Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Maybe something along the lines of a superhero series like the Phantom or the Shadow could have worked well before their not-so-great 90s versions came out.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is what going to the movies is all about. At least in the summer blockbuster sense. They don’t make movies like this anymore and even though this was a massive film in 1981, it is much smaller than the grandiose CGI spectacles of today. The practical special effects keep the film grounded in reality and make it feel much more authentic and genuine than say, the Transformers film series, the Marvel stuff, a Zack Snyder flick or a Roland Emmerich “destroy the world” type of picture. The most recent version of The Mummy, which is close in subject matter, pales in comparison to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A lot of the film’s magic isn’t just the work of Spielberg, Lucas and the wonderful cast, a lot of credit goes to the score that was composed by the movie music maestro John Williams. Say what you will but movies today just don’t have soundtracks and iconic themes like those composed by Williams. Can anyone even remember the theme from Iron Man? At least Wonder Woman had a pretty unique theme that stands out but it is just one film in a sea of modern movie making mediocrity.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a motion picture that did everything right. It should always be held up, above the vast majority of tent pole movies, as an example of what films like this should be. It shouldn’t be copied but it should be cherished and looked at for inspiration. Everyone from my generation knows it but as new generations are born and as movies are becoming nonsensical extinction level event CGI festivals, the greats like Raiders aren’t as appealing to younger generations that want bigger, louder, faster, more, more, more!

Rating: 10/10