Film Review: Escape from L.A. (1996)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. (complete title)
Release Date: August 9th, 1996
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Kurt Russell
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Shirley Walker
Cast: Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Pam Grier, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Peter Jason, Paul Bartel, Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Breckin Meyer, Robert Carradine, Shelly Desai, Leland Orser

Rysher Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Got a smoke?” – Snake Plissken, “The United States is a no-smoking nation. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. No women – unless of course you’re married. No guns, no foul language… no red meat.” – Malloy, “[sarcastic] Land of the free.” – Snake Plissken

Full disclosure, I hated this movie when it came out. And frankly, it’s still a fairly bad film for reasons I’ll get into in this review.

However, like other ’90s cringe, such as Batman & Robin, I’ve kind of accepted the movie for what it is and with that, there are things I like within it due to my evolved perspective.

But let me hammer on the negatives first.

To start, the film looks like shit. From the CGI, to digital matte paintings and other computer generated effects, this looks cheap, artificial and since 1996, has aged incredibly poorly.

The CGI effects were bad for the time even but since that technology advanced rather quickly, it all looks so much worse now. And this film is a great argument as to why practical special effects are better in a lot of ways, especially in regards to the era in which this was made.

John Carpenter has had amazing practical effects work in most of his movies before this one but I guess he had to embrace the emerging technology, despite it being a really poor choice for this picture, which should’ve been dark, gritty and real.

The film is also full of terrible dialogue for the most part. While I still love Snake and he has some solid one-liners, most of the movie’s dialogue is just shit. I think that the good actors in this also underperformed and I guess I’d have to blame Carpenter for that, as he was directing them and then accepting the takes he was getting.

Expanding on that point, though, it looks like the performers are clunkily acting off of nothing. It’s as if there was so much greenscreen work and strangely composited shots that the performances were just off and didn’t match up in the way they were supposed to. This issue could also be due to the fact that this greenscreen style of shooting was still pretty new when used this frequently in a single production.

Additionally, the story just wasn’t good or that engaging. Other than Snake, I didn’t care about any of the characters and while it was cool seeing Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Cliff Robertson and Bruce Campbell pop up in this, they were used too sparingly.

As far as positives go, I did find the makeup and prosthetics work to be really good. But this gets back to my point earlier about the overabundance of digital effects. When Carpenter and his effects team employed practical effects in this film, they looked solid.

Also, I really liked Snake in this, as previously stated, and he got some solid, badass Snake Plissken moments that we would’ve missed out on had this film never been made. As awfully hokey as the surfing scene was, we still got to see Snake “hang ten” with Peter Fonda and then jump onto an escaping car. It was an awfully crafted sequence in the movie but it’s also hard not to love it in spite of its very apparent issues.

In the end, I don’t hate this movie, as I once did. But I do have a hard time trying to get myself to watch it. Honestly, I only watched it this time to review it.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as other John Carpenter sci-fi movies.

Film Review: Se7en (1995)

Also known as: Seven (alternative spelling), The Seven Deadly Sins (working title)
Release Date: September 15th, 1995 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Roundtree, Richard Schiff, Mark Boone Junior, Michael Massee, Leland Orser, Hawthorne James, Reg E. Cathey, Charles S. Dutton (uncredited)

Cecchi Gori Pictures, Juno Pix, New Line Cinema, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” – John Doe

I was blown away by this movie when I first saw it, back in the ’90s. I would watch it pretty regularly for about ten years. However, it’s been at least a decade since I’ve seen it and even though I knew I loved it, I somehow underestimated it and forgot how great it actually is.

Fincher made a solid trio of movies in a row in the mid-to-late ’90s between this, The Game and what I consider his magnum opus, Fight Club. Being that I still hadn’t reviewed these films, I figured I’d start with the first.

Fincher had a very distinct look with his movies and while it might not appear distinct and unique nowadays, that’s because a lot of less capable directors came in and stole his aesthetic. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say. I would also add that theft is the weakest form of creativity but if you’re going to steal, steal from the greats.

While I’m not a massive Fincher fan, his later ’90s work is pretty fucking exceptional.

Se7en is well acted, well directed, looks incredible and features a story so dark, fucked up and mesmerizing that it’s hard to turn away from the screen, even if you’ve seen the movie a dozen times.

This motion picture is the result of having all the right people from top-to-bottom, behind and in front of the camera. As far as the actors go, they all played their parts perfectly. They felt like real people in a real situation. The relationships between the characters come across as genuine. I loved that the new partners were at odds with one another but knew they had a job to do in spite of their personal issues and differences in their approach to police work and their philosophies on the universe and our place in it.

The score by Howard Shore is one of the composer’s best and when you really look at his body of work, this included, he’s such a versatile composer that it’s sometimes hard to tell that you’re listening to his music. It’s always good but it never takes over a film and just blends in with it, accenting it in a great way.

Additionally, the songs used throughout the film are great, especially the tracks that were used by David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails, as they both fit absolutely perfectly within this picture’s atmosphere.

There’s nothing bad I can really say about this film. My only really gripe is that I’m not a huge fan of the ending. But I’m a traditionalist that doesn’t want the bad guy to win. While he meets his demise, his plan is executed to perfection and while I knew that Brad Pitt’s character was flawed by his emotions and idealism, there’s still that part of me that wishes he would’ve been stronger. Granted, I’ve never had my wife’s head put into a box. Also, this came out in the edge lord ’90s.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: David Fincher’s other ’90s films not named Alien 3.

TV Review: Ray Donovan (2013-2020)

Original Run: June 30th, 2013 – January 19th, 2020
Created by: Ann Biderman
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Paula Malcomson, Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok, Steven Bauer, Katherine Moennig, Pooch Hall, Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby, Jon Voight, Susan Sarandon, Graham Rogers, Susan Sarandon, Elliott Gould, Peter Jacobson, Denise Crosby, Frank Whaley, Hank Azaria, James Woods, Rosanna Arquette, Sherilyn Fenn, Wendell Pierce, Ian McShane, Katie Holmes, Leland Orser, Aaron Staton, Fairuza Balk, Embeth Davidtz, Richard Brake, Lisa Bonet, Stacy Keach, Tara Buck, Ted Levine, C. Thomas Howell, Donald Faison, Lili Simmons, James Keach, Adina Porter, Jake Busey, Sandy Martin, Zach Grenier, Alan Alda, Lola Glaudini, Kerry Condon, Kevin Corrigan

David Hollander Productions, The Mark Gordon Company, Ann Biderman Co., Bider Sweet Productions, CBS, Showtime, 82 Episodes, 45-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Lots of people talked this show up for years like it was the second coming of The Sopranos. I wanted to wait for it to end, as I typically binge things in their entirety. With this show, that was probably the best way to view it, as so many things happen with so many characters, that it would’ve been hard remembering all the details over seven years.

I wouldn’t say that this is anywhere near as good as The Sopranos and I also don’t have as high of an opinion of that show as most people do. Granted, I did still like it quite a bit when it was current.

Ray Donovan follows Ray Donovan, a badass uber masculine guy that works as a Hollywood fixer. However, his entire family is complex and interesting and this isn’t so much about Ray being a fixer, as it is about his family’s criminal behavior and their turbulent personal lives.

The show does a remarkable job of pushing its characters to the point of you hating them but then finds a way to make you realize you love them. It’s a show that actually has a lot of mini redemption arcs but it also shows, within that, that people tend to surrender to their nature even if they want to work on themselves.

Ray is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen on television but that can also be said about several other core characters, here

I think in the end, my favorite character ended up being Eddie Marsan’s Terry, the eldest Donovan brother, as he was always trying to do the right thing by his family, even if they often times found themselves doing really shitty things.

I also liked Bunchy a lot but by the end, his constant bad luck and terrible decisions became exhausting.

The first five seasons are really solid, even if the fourth was a bit weak. The show kind of lost me in season six, where it moved from Los Angeles to New York City and didn’t feel like it had much of a point. Plus, there are things that happened in season six that made the show jump the shark for me.

The only thing that really saved the last two seasons was how damn good Sandy Martin was once she entered the show.

Overall, I enjoyed watching this and if anything, it showcased incredible performances by stellar actors playing really fucked up but endearing characters.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Sopranos, Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Justified.

Film Review: Daredevil – Director’s Cut (2003)

Also known as: Daredevil: A Daring New Vision (Director’s Cut title)
Release Date: February 9th, 2003 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Written by: Mark Steven Johnson
Based on: Daredevil by Stan Lee, Bill Everett
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Joe Pantoliano, Jon Favreau, David Keith, Leland Orser, Erick Avari, Ellen Pompeo, Paul Ben-Victor, Robert Iler, Coolio (Director’s Cut only), Mark Margolis (uncredited), Kane Hodder (uncredited), Frank Miller (cameo), Kevin Smith (cameo)

Marvel Enterprises, Horseshoe Bay Productions, New Regency Pictures, 103 Minutes, 133 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“[Director’s Cut version/Narrating] Violence doesn’t discriminate. It hits all of us… the rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick. It comes as cold and bracing as a winter breeze off the Hudson. Until it sinks into your bones… leaving you with a chill you can’t shake. They say there’s no rest for the wicked. But what about the good? The battle of Good vs. Evil is never-ending… because evil always survives… with the help of evil men. As for Daredevil, well… soon the world will know the truth. That this is a city born of heroes, that one man can make a difference.” – Matt Murdock

My review of this film is specifically for the Director’s Cut. It’s a far superior version of the movie and frankly, it’s the version that should have been released in theaters.

The theatrical version was kind of shit and a major disappointment. The Director’s Cut, however, showed that the director had made a much better film that was unfortunately butchered by the studio, probably due to its running time. In fact, the theatrical version chopped off thirty minutes from director Mark Steven Johnson’s preferred body of work.

If I’m being honest, though, Johnson is not a great director and this film, even in its superior Director’s Cut presentation, still has a lot of flaws and feels kind of dated, even for its year of release. Although, comic book movies hadn’t really found their proper groove yet, as Nolan’s first Batman movie was still two years away and the first MCU movie was still half of a decade out.

Daredevil also didn’t have the budget that other comic book movies would get just a few years later, as it was made by a smaller studio that had to offset the licensing fees they paid to acquire the character and his pocket of the Marvel Comics universe.

Still, the performances mostly make up for the weaker things in this film. I really liked Ben Affleck as Daredevil and Jennifer Garner did well as Elektra. Most importantly, the two had tremendous chemistry, which I guess was pretty natural and genuine, as they got married a few years later and stayed together for thirteen, which is a lifetime in Hollywood.

I also really liked Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson Fisk and Jon Favreau was a great Foggy Nelson.

My only real issue with the cast for the larger roles was Bullseye. Colin Farrell is a good actor but this version of the character was baffling and if I’m being honest, stupid. Bullseye should have been a bit nutty but he also should’ve been in his proper costume and not looked like a guy selling codeine at a rap-metal concert. But I guess Marvel editor Joe Quesada suggested to the director that Bullseye shouldn’t wear his traditional outfit. I guess that’s just another reason to dislike Quesada on top of his large part in destroying his own industry because of politics, hiring unproven talent for diversity reasons and lashing out at customers on social media. But I digress.

The film has a decent enough story, even if it feels pretty bare bones and paint by numbers. The Director’s Cut actually expands on the story, adding in more context and nuance, as well as a side plot that makes the overall experience a much better one than the theatrical version.

I especially liked the origin stuff about Daredevil as a kid. The scenes between the kid actor and his dad, played by the always underappreciated David Keith, are damn good.

Another thing I don’t like, though, is the style of the fighting in the film. It’s fine when everything feels grounded and real but it gets ruined by relying too heavily on the Hong Kong style of martial arts filmmaking. There are too many moments where it is obvious that the characters are on wires and you see them move in ways that don’t make sense in regards to actual physics. That shit doesn’t work for this sort of film. But I get it, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a massive hit a few years earlier and Hollywood tried to emulate the Hong Kong style but kept failing miserably outside of The Matrix movies.

Daredevil – Director’s Cut is still pretty enjoyable, though. Age didn’t really improve it or ruin it. It’s mistakes are pretty clear but they were also clear in 2003.

However, I still really like the cast, for the most part, and it would’ve been interesting seeing how this could’ve continued had sequels bee made. Instead, the studio stupidly opted out of that and went with an abominable Elektra spinoff, a film that I still haven’t been able to stomach in its entirety. But I guess I should review it soon, as I work my way through all of the Marvel movies ever made.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel comics films before the Marvel Cinematic Universe started in 2008.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Erick Avari, Leland Orser, Lyman Ward, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.

Film Review: Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Also known as: Alien 4 (working title)
Release Date: November 6th, 1997 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Written by: Joss Whedon
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: John Frizzell
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Michael Wincott, Dan Hedaya, Brad Dourif, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Kim Flowers, Raymond Cruz, Dominique Pinon, Leland Orser

Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 109 Minutes, 116 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“[voiceover] My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are.” – Ripley

Alien: Resurrection is a film that shouldn’t have been made. At least not in its existing form. Ripley died but they bring Weaver back as some sort of clone made from her DNA that conveniently has her memories and is basically Ripley. It’s a terrible f’n attempt at keeping the franchise’s star at the forefront instead of just moving in a new direction, which was needed but didn’t happen until 2012’s Prometheus.

For the most part, this is a terrible film that at least has some good actors and a few cool bits in it. The stuff featuring Brad Dourif and his xenomorph captives is pretty well done. I also liked the look of the standard xenomorphs in this chapter.

People everywhere love Joss Whedon like he’s some sort of golden boy. Well, he wrote this script and the story and this is one of the prime examples I give when battling it out with Whedon fanboys. Did he have a few good ideas, sure. However, even the good ideas were pretty unrefined and made this feel more like a fan fiction fantasy than anything that fits cohesively within the already established Alien mythos.

The Ripley stuff was just dumb, the human/xenomorph hybrid was strange and bizarre and not in a good way and the whole tale just seemed like a pointless side story in some pocket of the Alien universe where I just didn’t care about a single character or their mission, even if Earth itself was in imminent danger.

It’s hard to believe that I didn’t care about anyone. I like Weaver, Ryder, Perlman, Dourif and Wincott a lot. They have all done things that have spoke to me and had me invested in their characters. I don’t in any way blame them, I blame Whedon’s weak script and the director, who was the first in the franchise that I am not even remotely familiar with. Okay, upon checking he did Amélie but that was after this and I haven’t seen it in a long time, so I can’t judge it. I kind of liked it back in 2001 or so, though.

Alien: Resurrection is an example of a major studio turning a property into their whore that has to keep turning tricks to keep making the pimp money.

The underwater sequence was kind of cool, so I do give this film some props for that. Usually underwater stuff comes off as terrible. But then, maybe this film should’ve focused on its strength and taken place entirely underwater. I’m being facetious, that would’ve been shitty.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Other films in the Alien franchise but this one is one of the weakest.