Film Review: Freeway (1996)

Release Date: January, 1996 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matthew Bright
Written by: Matthew Bright
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Brooke Shields, Michael T. Weiss, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy, Conchata Ferrell

The Kushner-Locke Company, August Entertainment, Davis-Films, 104 Minutes (uncut), 102 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“Holy shit! Look who got beaten with the ugly stick! Is that you, Bob? I can’t believe such a teeny weeny little gun made such a big mess out of someone! You are so ugly, Bob! And, hey, I heard you have one of those big poop bags that’s like attached to where the shit comes out the side, you’re just a big old shitbag ain’t you, Bob! You just think of me every time you empty that motherfucking thing, motherfucker!” – Vanessa Lutz

Freeway is a batshit crazy movie. I’m not a massive fan of it as many others are and honestly, I wasn’t even sure what to think about it when it came out back in 1996. I was in high school at the time but I found it hard to grasp, as it feels more like a sequence of ideas wedged into a singular film. It also has a disjointed tone and a weird narrative structure.

I never hated the film but it wasn’t my cup of tea when it came out. I’m able to enjoy it more now but that’s also because an extra two and a half decades of life experience and film watching has made me more open to experimental and nontraditional filmmaking.

I mostly liked the film now, seeing it for the first time since it hit VHS. I never had much urge to revisit it but I figured I’d check it out because it’s been so long and my tastes have changed. Plus, I like Reese Witherspoon when she’s not in romantic comedies and I’ve always dug Kiefer Sutherland.

Additionally, this boasts a strong cast that wouldn’t have meant as much to me as a teenager. We’ve got Dan Hedaya, Brooke Shields, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy and Conchata Ferrell.

The story is a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s vastly different, though, as Witherspoon plays a trashy teen brought up by a speed addicted prostitute and pedophile stepfather. She’s essentially Little Red Riding Hood while Kiefer Sutherland plays the Big Bad Wolf, trying to hunt her down on the way to grandma’s house. The Wolf in this case is a famous (and still at large) Interstate serial killer.

Along the way, Sutherland’s Bob picks up Witherspoon’s Vanessa, after the car she stole broke down. They spend some time together but things get weird as the trip rolls on. Eventually, Vanessa discovers that Bob is the I-5 Killer. She is able to escape and puts several bullets into him. Vanessa ends up getting arrested and Bob survives, although he is severely disfigured.

In the second half of the movie, Vanessa is locked up in juvenile jail while the media makes Bob out to be a victim and heroic survivor. Vanessa eventually escapes juvie and makes her way to her grandma’s house where Bob is waiting for her, disguised as her grandma in bed ala the Big Bad Wolf.

While the film is tapping into the famous Brothers Grimm story, it definitely takes tremendous liberties and only seems to channel Little Red Riding Hood where it is convenient. In a lot of ways, the films plot is all over the place. It’s not hard to follow but it doesn’t follow any sort of structure. Frankly, there really isn’t a three act structure, either. You can break it out into four parts. I’m also not saying that this is a bad thing as it makes for a film that isn’t formulaic or predictable and in some regard, that’s refreshing. I’m actually glad that I forgot most of the plot details over the years since first seeing this.

Furthermore, Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland are both tremendous in this. Witherspoon, in only her fifth film, shows that she’s got real chops. Sutherland also brings his A-game and he’s so nuts in this that he really makes the movie better than it should have been on paper. He does crazy well and this may be the most bonkers role he’s ever played.

I’ve also got to point out the musical score by Danny Elfman. I dug the hell out of it and it’s one of the most unique Elfman scores of all-time. While it has the Elfman aesthetic, it’s different and unusual enough that had I not seen his name in the credits, I might not have realized it was him.

Freeway is nowhere near a perfect film but it’s a damn interesting one that’s carried by two solid performances and a story that takes you on an unexpected and wild journey.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as two other ’90s Reese Witherspoon movies: S.F.W. and Fear.

Film Review: The Lost Boys (1987)

Release Date: July 27th, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joel Scumacher
Written by: Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, Jeffrey Boam
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Edward Herrmann, Barnard Hughes, Dianne Wiest, Alex Winter, Jamison Newlander, Kelly Jo Minter

Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

Review:

“One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach; all the damn vampires.” – Grandpa

The Lost Boys might not have been the biggest film of 1987 but it was still a pretty huge deal. Every kid and teen wanted to see it. It starred the two Coreys, both of whom were really hot commodities at the time, and it was a teen vampire movie that had comedy and charm.

When I was a kid, I thought David, the vampire played by Kiefer Sutherland was the coolest guy in the film and I was cheering for the vampires to win because who didn’t want to join an undead gang that looked like an ’80s goth band?

This was directed by Joel Schumacher, years before he put nipples on Batman’s suit. Say what you will about the man’s Batman films but this came out when he was at the top of his game and it’s probably his best movie, although I also liked Flatliners and Falling Down.

Schumacher mixed all the elements together really well but the decade of the ’80s sort of had it’s own cinematic magic too. But what you have here is a film that can tap into a child’s imagination, deliver amazement, wonder and still give us something that’s very adult in a lot of respects. This has a lot of lighthearted, funny moments but it also conveys a real darkness and dread that goes beyond other teen or kid horror comedies of the decade. There’s just something primal about this movie that puts it ahead of great films like Fright Night and Monster Squad.

I can’t say that this is a film that boasts great acting but it doesn’t need to. All the actors play their parts really damn well though and they all feel authentic. Unlike a lot of ’80s films featuring young people, this doesn’t try to lump its characters into archetypes or caricatures and I think that’s why this works so much better than other films like it.

The Lost Boys truly is a magical and fantastical experience. It might not play as well for modern audiences lacking the nostalgia for it but I’d much rather watch this than something like Twilight. Full disclosure, I don’t even want to watch Twilight to review it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: For ’80s teen horror comedy: Fright NightNight of the CreepsNight of the Comet and Monster Squad. For the Coreys: License to Drive and Dream A Little Dream.

Film Review: The ‘Young Guns’ Film Series (1988-1990)

Young Guns was kind of a big deal when it came out in 1988. It had hip young stars and it was a western in a decade where they weren’t too popular. It was like a gritty, Brat Packy action flick that saw our heroes face off against one of the greatest western villains of all-time, Jack Palance.

And then there was a sequel, which brought in some other young stars on the rise.

Since it has been awhile since I’ve seen these two movies, I felt like it was time to revisit them.

Young Guns (1988):

Release Date: August 12th, 1988
Directed by: Christopher Cain
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Anthony Marinelli, Brian Banks
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Casey Siemaszko, Terry O’Quinn, Jack Palance, Terence Stamp

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, Peppin. I see you got Charley Crawford down there with you.” – Billy the Kid, “Yeah, that’s right, Bonney. We got a whole…” – Peppin, [Bonney goes to the window and shoots Charley Crawford] “Hey, Peppin. Charley Crawford’s not with you anymore.” – Billy the Kid

While I still enjoyed this movie, so many years after I had seen it last, it isn’t a film that has aged well. Still, it has a lot of high adrenaline moments and a great young cast of up and coming talented actors. It just feels very ’80s and kind of hokey, at points.

Emilio Estevez is the star of the picture but he is surrounded by Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, who would also join him in the sequel, as well as his brother Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney and Casey Siemaszko. There is also Jack Palance as the villain, Terence Stamp as the mentor and John Locke himself, Terry O’Quinn, as an ally of sorts.

It is cool seeing these guys come together for a real balls to the wall adventure but the writing was pretty weak. This chapter in Billy the Kid’s life was interesting to see on screen but the movie does take some liberties, albeit not as many as its sequel.

Estevez is really enjoyable as William H. Bonney and he made the historical figure cool, even if he was a killer and not a very good person. He embraced the role, ran with it and gave it a lot of energy that someone else probably wouldn’t have been able to muster. At least not quite the same way Estevez did. Plus, I always like seeing him act with his brother. Sadly, Sheen doesn’t last too long and obviously didn’t return for the sequel after meeting his demise in this one.

Problems aside, Young Guns is still entertaining and a really fun movie. This one is considered the superior of the two but I actually like Young Guns II a hair bit more.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Young Guns II.

Young Guns II (1990):

Release Date: August 1st, 1990
Directed by: Geoff Murphy
Written by: John Fusco
Music by: Alan Silvestri, Jon Bon Jovie
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, William Peterson, Alan Ruck, Balthazar Getty, James Coburn, Jenny Wright, Robert Knepper, Viggo Mortensen, Tracey Walter, Bradley Whitford,

Morgan Creek Productions, 20th Century Fox, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Yoohoo. I’ll make you famous!” – Billy the Kid

Young Guns II was a good sequel to the first. It’s far from a perfect film and has its share of issues but it feels consistent with its predecessor and I liked the additions to the cast in this one. And then there is the sexy bare ass scene with Jenny Wright that really got me excited when I was an 11 year-old in the movie theater seeing her majestic bum on a thirty foot screen. It was one of those special moments in life where you truly believe that God is real and he’s your best friend.

The soundtrack by Jon Bon Jovi makes the film feel dated but the instrumental versions of his pop rock song are still enjoyable and give the film an extra level of hipness that the previous picture didn’t have.

I really like the addition of Christian Slater here and he is my favorite character in this film series. I also liked seeing Alan Ruck and Balthazar Getty join the gang. Another plus for me was seeing Bradley Whitford get a small but important role, as I always liked him, even if I only knew him as being a dirtbag in several ’80s teen comedies. Whitford would go on to have a pretty nice career where he could show off his acting prowess much more effectively than his earlier roles.

While the big finale in the first film was bigger than anything that happens in this one, this film has a grittier feel to it, which I liked. I also liked that it told the Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett story, even if it took some big liberties.

The film also entertains the Brushy Bill Roberts story, where an old man back in the ’40s claimed that he was Billy the Kid and that he actually wasn’t killed by Garrett in 1881. Emilio Estevez also plays the older Bill, where Whitford plays the guy interviewing him.

Both films have some scatterbrained writing but that doesn’t make them hard to follow and not enjoyable. This chapter is more disjointed than the first but its positives give it an edge, in my opinion. The returning cast seemed more in tune with their roles and Slater was fun to watch.
Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Young Guns.

Film Review: Dark City (1998)

Release Date: February 27th, 1998
Directed by: Alex Proyas
Written by: Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, David S. Goyer
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson, William Hurt, Bruce Spence, Melissa George, David Wenham

Mystery Clock Cinema, New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes, 112 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“First there was darkness. Then came the strangers. They were a race as old as time itself. They had mastered the ultimate technology. The ability to alter physical reality by will alone. They called this ability “Tuning”. But they were dying. Their civilization was in decline, and so they abandoned their world seeking a cure for their own mortality. Their endless journey brought them to a small, blue world in the farthest corner of the galaxy. Our world. Here they thought they had finally found what they had been searching for.” – Dr. Schreber

Dark City wasn’t a very successful film, upon its release. However, it has gone on to have a large cult following and deservedly so.

It is directed by Alex Proyas, the man who gave cinematic life to 1994’s The Crow, which is still the best film in its franchise. With this film, he teamed up with David S. Goyer, who penned the scripts for The Crow‘s first sequel, as well as Blade, which wasn’t yet made by the time that Proyas read it and decided to bring Goyer on to help write this project. It was a pretty good marriage, as Dark City is an incredible experience, overall.

This is a sci-fi neo-noir in a similar vein to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil but it is almost dark enough to be a horror picture. Plus, it has some pretty cool monsters in the alien race that serves as this villains of this story, the “Strangers”.

Dariusz Wolski handled the cinematography. He also worked on The Crow with Proyas and also had Romeo Is BleedingCrimson Tide and The Fan under his belt. His visual style was pretty consistent with what he did in The Crow but it was even darker and had a vivid richness with his use of neon and colorful lighting to accent the scenes.

The story follows a man (Rufus Sewell) who wakes up, not knowing who he is. We soon discover that he is wanted for the murders of several prostitutes in the city. Nothing is what it seems though, as the man has run-ins with the “Strangers” and discovers that he essentially has superpowers. He is assisted in solving his own mystery by his wife (Jennifer Connelly), a detective (William Hurt) and a strange scientist (Kiefer Sutherland). There is a big conspiracy that drives the film and it is uncovering the mysteries of the strange city they live in that leads to a fantastic narrative payoff and a great finale.

Dark City is visually stunning and impressive from a technical standpoint. It didn’t have a hefty budget but the effects of a moving city, more than a decade before Christopher Nolan did it in Inception, are well orchestrated and executed. All the other visual effects may look a bit dated now but they still work well within the context of the film. It’s a strange universe where Dark City takes us but it looks magnificent and has held up pretty well.

This is one of my favorite films of the late 1990s. It is effective emotionally and it sticks with you. In fact, it has stuck with me in a way that I’ve always hoped for a sequel, even if it’s a literary one. Proyas created an interesting world that needs further exploration. I’m surprised it hasn’t been revisited, actually.

I love Dark City. It’s dark, it’s bizarre, it’s unique and it’s my cup of tea. Plus, it is a real throwback to film-noir even if it is set in a futuristic sci-fi universe: a place that is hard to explain without spoiling important plot details.

Rating: 9.25/10