Film Review: Just One of the Guys (1985)

Also known as: I Was a Teenage Boy (working title)
Release Date: April 26th, 1985
Directed by: Lisa Gottlieb
Written by: Dennis Feldman, Jeff Franklin
Music by: Tom Scott
Cast: Joyce Hyser, Clayton Rohner, Billy Jacoby, Toni Hudson, William Zabka, Leigh McCloskey, Sherilyn Fenn, Arye Gross, Robert Fieldsteel, Stuart Charno, Kenneth Tigar

Summa Entertainment Group, Triton, Columbia Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Budmeister, are you okay?” – Terry, “No, Terry, I’m not. Mom and Dad come home Monday. I’ve had two weeks of total freedom. The closest that I’ve come to sex was a girl who took her top off to seduce my sister. What’s wrong with me?” – Buddy

This used to be one of those movies that was good to watch on a rainy weekend. Plus, it was on cable TV all the time in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s goofy but charming and it’s also kind of endearing because of how ridiculous the premise and the execution is while having actors fully committed to the bit.

I really liked Joyce Hyser in this and it’s actually strange to me that this didn’t lead to a lot more work, as she’s pretty good dramatically, as well as comedically. She was also believable and you just liked her and rooted for her, even if it wasn’t entirely clear what the hell was going on from scene-to-scene. You just had her trying to play a teenage boy to prove a point to the teacher that didn’t take her journalistic prowess seriously because she’s a girl. It’s really awkward and quirky but it’s supposed to be.

William Zabka is also in this, showing that he was pretty much Hollywood’s go-to guy for high school/college bullies. In fact, I consider this to be the second part of an unofficial trilogy of films I call the Zabka Trilogy. The other two films being 1984’s The Karate Kid and 1986’s Back to School. Needless to say, he was just good playing a jerk and he’s definitely on his A-game here, as Greg, the popular douche that wears weightlifting gloves and jacks up lunch tables causing nerds to lose their lunches to the cafeteria floor.

The film also features a young Sherilyn Fenn before she’d go on to enchant males of all ages in Twin Peaks.

Another interesting tidbit is that one of the writers on this was Jeff Franklin. For those who don’t recognize his name, he was the creative mind behind Full House and was also a writer on 1987’s Summer School. He also wrote scripts early in his career for The Bad News Bears TV show, as well as Laverne & Shirley and the Tom Hanks starring Bosom Buddies, which may have inspired the story for this film to some degree, due to similarities.

Ultimately, this isn’t a must-see film but it’s still funny, amusing and lighthearted. You can just sit back, kick up your feet and enjoy the ’80s nostalgia and well-aged cheese.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other goofy ’80s teen comedies.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

Release Date: May 11th, 1992 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Robert Mark Kamen
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Kenneth Tigar, Stuart Wilson, Delores Hall, Miguel A. Nunez Jr.

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes, 121 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

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

This is where the Lethal Weapon franchise started to fall off a bit but it is still a pretty solid movie and it does keep the film series moving forward. This just isn’t as great as the first two but it is hard to be as good as those films were for a third time. In fact, it’s actually incredible that they captured lightning in a bottle twice.

That being said, this is still one of the greatest buddy cop movies of all-time because anytime Riggs and Murtaugh get together, you can almost guarantee that the end result will be a film with a lot of heart, that’s a lot of fun and full of great action sequences.

And it’s the action sequences that make this one great. They’re all pretty solid here, especially the multiple vehicle chases and the big showdown in the housing development that isn’t yet constructed. While burning wood frames in the shape of houses was probably a good way to keep the budget down, it was a great idea, executed well and it made for a good looking and unique finale.

While this one brings Joe Pesci back into the fold, it adds one more permanent member to the family in Rene Russo’s Lorna Cole, an internal affairs cop that starts a romance with Martin Riggs, who has had terrible luck with the previous women in his life.

I think the one thing that makes this film weaker is the villain and the criminal plot. He’s an ex-cop turned property developer that funds his empire by stealing guns from police evidence lockups in order to sell them to street gangs. It’s not very original and it’s pretty topical for the time when this was made. Sure, street gang violence still exists today but it’s not an issue of the magnitude of any of the criminal plots from the three other Lethal Weapon movies. I mean, these guys just took down a South African diplomat.

Anyway, I think this film also loses some steam because it wasn’t written by Shane Black, who penned the first two films. While he may have been busy and Richard Donner may have wanted to give someone else a shot at writing, this film is missing that special touch that Black had in the second half of the ’80s.

Overall, this is still a good outing, it’s just my least favorite of the four.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

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: Phantasm II (1988)

Also known as: Phantasm II: The Never Dead Part Two (Australia)
Release Date: July 8th, 1988
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Christopher L. Stone
Cast: James Le Gros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar, Michael Baldwin (archive footage), Phil Fondacaro (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You think that when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us!” – The Tall Man

I saw this in the theater way back in 1988. I was 9 years-old. I about shit myself and my older cousin thought that the whole fiasco was hilarious. But really, I had already seen the first Phantasm before this and I thought I was pretty prepared. But that scene with the creature thing in the girl’s back really freaked my little brain out. But I’ll explain as I get into the review.

Phantasm II is a fairly good sequel, especially considering that there were 9 years between this and its predecessor.

To get this out of the way, I didn’t like the recasting of Mike but I understand why a larger studio like Universal did it, as Michael Baldwin (who would play Mike in all the other films) didn’t have a lot of acting experience. Still, he was good in the original movie and decent in the ones that followed this. I hold no ill will towards James LeGros but he just sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s not his fault and he did a good job here but he just doesn’t feel like Mike.

At least Reggie and the Tall Man weren’t recast though because I love both of the characters and they are the highlights of this film. Well, Reggie and his four-barreled sawed off shotgun and the Tall Man and his larger collection of killer spheres and minions.

What’s strange about this film, however, is that it was produced by a larger studio than the first film and therefore had a more substantial budget but a lot of the effects didn’t seem to be as good as the original film. The bits with the killer spheres had noticeable wires and the camera work wasn’t as clean. Also, the rehash of the sphere murder from the first movie didn’t look as good and it cut away at certain parts that the original didn’t. I don’t know if this was to save money on effects or if Universal was trying to tone down the gorier bits. Whatever the reason, the scene didn’t have the effectiveness as the original. And really, this is a sequel, you need to up the ante not tone it down.

There were some violent and gruesome reveals, like when the guy is turned over to reveal a buzzsaw sphere stuck in his mouth, but these were all just effects without the flourish of the gore happening in the moment.

I thought the best effect in the film was the one I mentioned in the first paragraph about the creature in the girl’s back. Basically, Mike finds a girl that’s been tortured, notices something moving on her back and then pulls back her shirt to reveal a demonic head that rises up out of her body. It was a message left for Mike by the Tall Man but it was probably the highlight of the film, other than the big final battle. The animatronics were fantastic and this is the moment that scared the crap out of me, sitting in a theater back in 1988.

Overall, this film is pretty solid and it enriched the Phantasm mythos. It added some new elements and kind of just solidified how cool these films are.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Phantasm movies.

Film Review: The Avengers (2012)

Release Date: April 11th, 2012 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Paul Bettany (voice), Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton, Ashley Johnson, Kenneth Tigar

Marvel Studios, Paramount, Walt Disney Studios, 143 Minutes, 173 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“The Tesseract has awakened. It is on a little world. A human world. They would wield its power, but our ally knows its workings as they never will. He is ready to lead. And our force, our Chitauri, will follow. The world will be his. The universe yours. And the humans, what can they do but burn?” – The Other

There was a time when this was the big culmination of all of Marvel’s achievements in their cinematic universe. I don’t think any of us realized how small the universe was then. It felt grand but now, in 2018, things have grown to a monstrous size, to the point where it’s hard to imagine how the upcoming Avengers movie is even going to work. I mean, this had six heroes in it, plus a few more characters. The next Avengers movie has to balance roughly sixty characters. It’s gotten insane.

Anyway, this was the first time we saw a big group of these characters crossover.

In this film, we see Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo replacing Ed Norton as Hulk, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. We also get Sam Jackson returning as Nick Fury, Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson and Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, all important SHIELD characters and support for the Avengers team.

On the villain side, Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki and he has an army of Chitauri aliens gifted to him by The Other, who is a minion of Thanos.

The story does a decent job of uniting these heroes against a common and very large threat. The first act of the film is very good and I enjoyed it. The final act is also better than decent, even if the aliens are generic and unexciting. The middle act is what really soured me on this picture and it brings down all of the other parts that are actually good.

The middle of the film is pretty much just the heroes hanging out and gabbing on the SHIELD Helicarrier. Some shit pops off and we get to see the Avengers go into action… to fix a damaged propeller. The fact that a gazillion dollar SHIELD helicarrier doesn’t have some sort of emergency protocol for a failed or destroyed propeller is a gross mismanagement of government funds. You’re going to build a vehicle that costs more than the entire GDP of most countries and you don’t have emergency parachutes or balloons to guide the vehicle down to Earth? Good thing Iron Man was there to fly in circles and Captain America knew how to flip a switch.

Joss Whedon helmed this picture though and I’ve never been a fan, even though he is like Jesus to nerds. Does he know how to handle an ensemble cast? For the most part, but his experience is mostly in the realm of cheesy teen TV drama or the severely overrated Firefly.

While the last act of the film gets things back on track and exciting, I hate the Chitauri aliens. They’re drab, boring and ride around on some flying Sea-Doos shooting shit lasers. Then there are the giant flying worm creatures that didn’t do a damn thing other than chase Iron Man and crash into shit. What were they supposed to be doing? Couldn’t they have had aliens on their armored hulls and been more like weaponized battleships? Kinda like living Star Destroyers? I mean, a six year-old could have made them more interesting. In the end, the aliens should have been the Skrulls or even the Kree. I know that Marvel lost the movie right to the Skrulls, at least at the time, but damn, give us something more imaginative and cool.

The Avengers has its problems and I’m spending more time pointing them out than anything else but it is still an enjoyable film. It’s not as good as the best solo hero movies but it is hard to balance an ensemble and to focus on developing and enriching characters when there are so many. But that’s why the solo films are better movies, as these big team-up pictures are just spectacles or special events, the Royal Rumble of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But making this work was a giant undertaking and a tough challenge. It’s more positive than negative and the real highlight is seeing these characters exist in the same space at the same time.

Plus, it has Harry Dean Stanton in it.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Phase One films from the Marvel Cinematic UniverseIron Man 1 and 2The Incredible HulkThor and Captain America: The First Avenger.