Film Review: Total Recall (1990)

Release Date: May 31st, 1990 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Written by: Ronlad Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill
Based on: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox, Mel Johnson Jr., Marshall Bell, Roy Brocksmith, Ray Baker, Michael Champion, Rosemary Dunsmore, Robert Costanzo, Marc Alaimo, Dean Norris, Debbie Lee Carrington, Lycia Naff

Carolco Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Sorry, Quaid. Your whole life is just a dream.” – Lori

Paul Verhoeven has made some of the most iconic and entertaining sci-fi action movies of all-time and Total Recall is no different. While I don’t put it on the same level as RoboCop, a near masterpiece, or Starship Troopers, it is still a fun, badass, sci-fi action flick that stars one of the top action stars to ever walk on Earth (or Mars for that matter).

The film is a very loose adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, but then so were most of the earlier films based on his work.

In this, we see an average guy go to a company that has the technology to enter his brain and send it on a vacation, tailor-made to his personal preferences. However, things suddenly go nuts and we’re taken on a journey where we never really know if what we’re seeing is a dream or reality. While there are clues sprinkled into the film, unintentional or not, it’s still left pretty ambiguous.

Honestly, I don’t care if it’s a dream or not, I just like rolling with the movie and letting it play out, regardless of what the truth is. And frankly, I’m not going to devote much time to over-analyzing the hell out of it like other people have done for decades. There are much better, smarter films to ponder the mysteries of.

Anyway, this is a well cast picture with a lot of people that were either stellar character actors or people just on the verge of breaking out like Sharon Stone.

Additionally, the special effects were really good, especially for this coming out just before the CGI-boom. The effects were best in regards to the animatronic and physical model work. The scenes with heads about to explode in the Martian atmosphere, as well as the mutant effects, were top notch stuff for the time.

In fact, this was one of the most expensive films of its day, as far as production costs went. It’s uncertain if it broke the record or not but it was definitely in the running.

However, the weird thing about that, is I thought the sets looked pretty cheap and generic. I’m not trying to knock them but the Martian city stuff looked weak. This isn’t just me seeing it through 2020 eyes, I actually felt this way when I saw it as an eleven year-old kid in 1990.

Now the sets aren’t terrible, they just aren’t impressive or very creative. I felt like more money definitely went into the animatronic effects and that they tried to trim some of the budgetary fat by making the world these characters inhabit a little too basic.

Also, I think that the lighting didn’t help the sets either, as everything was lit really, really well. Even the scenes in the mining caves. I feel like some of the cheapness could’ve been easily obscured with more subdued lighting that felt more natural and not like these characters were on a stage or a sitcom.

Complaints aside, I still love this movie and none of the flaws really wreck it.

All in all, this was and still is an exciting film. It did really well when it came out and a sequel script, based off of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report was written. It never got made, however, but Minority Report would eventually become a film by Steven Spielberg, who used a very different script.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Paul Verhoeven sci-fi movies, as well as other Arnold Schwarzenegger action films.

Film Review: Starship Troopers (1997)

Also known as: Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine (original script title), Invasion (some Spanish speaking countries)
Release Date: November 4th, 1997 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven
Written by: Edward Neumeier
Based on: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Muldoon, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Seth Gilliam, Bruce Gray, Marshall Bell, Amy Smart, Dean Norris, Rue McClanahan

Big Bug Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“[to Rico] I need a corporal. You’re it, until you’re dead or I find someone better.” – Jean Rasczak

I shouldn’t have slept on this movie in 1997 but I missed it in the theater, as the marketing for it made it hard to peg what it was. As it picked up a cult following, however, I eventually got intrigued enough to check it out and I was really surprised by it.

I also didn’t know that it was directed by Paul Verhoeven. Had I been aware of that, I probably would’ve seen it on the big screen, as RoboCop is one of my top films of all-time and I also really liked his interpretation/loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s story that became Total Recall.

Now I hadn’t seen this in a really long time, so I wasn’t sure how well it would hold up. While it does feel very ’90s, it’s still fun as fuck and I had a great time revisiting it and honestly, it made me wonder why I didn’t revisit it more often.

This is over the top and pretty damn nutty, at times, and in fact, it almost plays like a comedy while also being a much smarter, layered commentary film than one might expect. But Verhoeven has proved, with his sci-fi pictures, that he can take what could be easily written off as hokey bullshit and turn it into something with real merit that sticks with you, makes you think but also checks all the boxes under the cool, badass and entertaining categories.

Starship Troopers is unique and cool but it’s also so unique and cool that it’s a really hard formula to replicate, which is probably why the sequels are looked at, by most, with disdain. It’s kind of similar to RoboCop in that the formula only seems to be really effective once.

Beyond just Verhoeven’s work, the film is carried by its characters and their stories. You care about these people in this batshit universe and you want to see them succeed and crush the invading insects that want to conquer mankind and use Earth as just another one of their many hives.

People for years have debated the meaning of the movie and while some might take issue with the fact that it’s not made abundantly clear, I think that it’s a lot more effective and interesting that its kind of left open for interpretation and I think that its message isn’t made clear because Verhoeven was really just exploring his own thoughts on the subjects presented in the film.

Besides, that shit isn’t even that important, as this is just a fun movie about space marines blowing up giant bugs and it can be enjoyed as simple, mindless entertainment without trying to over-analyze the fuck out of it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other releases from the Starship Troopers franchise, as well as other sci-fi films by Paul Verhoeven.

Documentary Review: Scream, Queen!: My Nightmare On Elm Street (2019)

Release Date: April 5th, 2019 (Cleveland International Film Festival)
Directed by: Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen
Written by: Michael Beard, Clint Catalyst, Leo Herrera, Justin Lockwood
Music by: Alexander Taylor
Cast: Mark Patton, Robert Englund, Jack Sholder, David Chaskin, Robert Rusler, Marshall Bell, Kim Myers, Clu Gulager, JoAnn Willette, Linnea Quigley

The End Productions, 99 Minutes

Review:

I was pretty excited to check this out when I first saw the trailer pop up. I’m a big fan of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise and I was probably one of the few that actually liked the second movie, before everyone else figured out how “gay” it was.

Granted, I kind of saw the film’s gay subtext for myself and despite this documentary claiming that the gay innuendo was widely known when this came out, I don’t recall many people talking about it until the late ’90s or so. Then again, I was also a young kid and didn’t reach my teen years until the ’90s, so maybe my peers were a bit behind in picking up on the cues.

Anyway, I actually thought that this was just sort of meh. I wouldn’t call this documentary a disappointment but it just didn’t live up to the hype around it and to my own excitement after first hearing about it.

I guess the thing I liked most about it was that I finally got to see what became of Mark Patton, who sort of fell off the face of the Earth for a long time because of what he perceived as backlash from this picture and because he felt that it somewhat exposed him as being gay in a time when there was still a lot of misinformation and fear of AIDS, as well as a lot of homophobia in mainstream Hollywood.

Most importantly, this really goes into Patton’s personal life, showing the viewer what hardships he went through during and after this film. I don’t want to give too much away, as this is worth watching for those who also love the Elm Street movies.

It was also cool seeing the cast of the second Elm Street movie finally reunite after all these years. It’s obvious that Patton’s cast mates cared for him and had missed him during his self-imposed exile from the business.

Overall, this was a decent piece on the man and his life but I wish it would’ve gotten more into the movie itself and actually tried to show it more as a somewhat beloved film by a small minority of Elm Street fans. It was the most bizarre and weird of the Elm Street pictures and that’s without looking at the subliminal homophobia that was written into the script.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent horror movie documentaries.

Film Review: Twins (1988)

Also known as: The Experiment (working title), Twiins (alternative spelling)
Release Date: December 8th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: William Davies, Timothy Harris, William Osborne, Herschel Weingrod
Music by: George Delerue, Randy Edelman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston, Chloe Webb, Bonnie Bartlett, David Caruso, Marshall Bell, Maury Chaykin, Tony Jay, Frances Bay, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman, Heather Graham

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“My name is Julius and I am your twin brother.” – Julius Benedict, “Oh, obviously! The moment I sat down I thought I was looking into a mirror.” – Vincent Benedict

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the absolute top of the action film world, he decided to be in a comedy. At first, that may have seemed crazy. But the end result was this great picture that in my opinion, is a true comedy classic of its era.

Granted, this also had Danny DeVito in it, who never disappoints, and it was directed by Ivan Reitman, who was a great comedy director at his creative peak.

I think this film has actually aged really well too. Sure, it’s definitely a product of the ’80s but it is still a very human story that is carried by the charisma and chemistry of its two stars.

Schwarzenegger and DeVito just felt like a natural pair and even if they aren’t really brothers and don’t look the part, as that’s part of the gag, they just clicked and their connection and relationship felt truly genuine. And maybe Schwarzenegger doesn’t get enough credit as an actor but this allowed him to show his range and he did stupendously well in the role. It’s damn near impossible not to love him in this. And even if DeVito is a shithead for most of the film, you understand why he’s broken and I find it hard not to sympathize with his character and sort of grow into loving him as well.

At its core, this is just a feel good movie and it came out in a time where family dynamics were changing. I think that for a lot of people, it gave them hope that even if their upbringing might not have been the ideal, cookie cutter situation, that maybe, in some way, they could find the people in their life that would become family.

It’s really hard to peg but this is just a film that resonated with me at an early age and it still does. I don’t really think that has to do with nostalgia and for me, at least, it has to do with how good this is top to bottom from the characters, the story and their emotional journey.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Ivan Reitman comedies.

Film Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mary Woronov, Marshall Bell, Robert Costanzo

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice

I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.

In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.

Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.

And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.

The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.

The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.

Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.

Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.

The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.

Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?

It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.

Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.

My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ Film Series, Part I (1984-1987)

A Nightmare On Elm Street was my favorite horror film series, as a kid. Today, it still ranks up there and I consider it to be the best of the big horror franchises of the 80s. Sure, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser and several others are great but nothing is as imaginative and as creative as the world Freddy Krueger lives in.

Freddy Krueger is a force of nature, in the films and in reality. He went on to be a pop culture icon and even had the highest grossing independent film of all-time.. twice!

In this review, I will cover the first three films in the franchise.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984):

Release Date: November 9th, 1984
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Robert Englund, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, Robert Shaye (voice, uncredited)

New Line Cinema, Media Home Entertainment, Smart Egg Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

The original film was written and directed by the series creator, Wes Craven. This is the film that cemented Craven as a horror maestro. While he had some solid successes before A Nightmare On Elm Street, this film was his first massive hit.

Being created during the height of practical effects, this film features some technical marvels from a filmmaking standpoint. Craven and his crew used several rotating sets to achieve a few different effects and it turned out to be pretty stellar. Also, they were very inventive on how to achieve things visually on a film with such a small budget. This film is a must-see for any film student just for the special effects alone.

In regards to the horror, this is the scariest film out of any of the Elm Street movies. It is dark, it exudes terror and Freddy is a lot more sinister in this. He gets funnier as the series rolls on and almost becomes a twisted anti-hero.

In the first film, he is still frightening. Robert Englund was the perfect actor for the role of Freddy Krueger and he would get more comfortable with the character in each installment. But whether it was Englund not being too comfortable yet, Craven’s direction or both – the character of Freddy is on a different level of dread in this chapter.

Heather Langenkamp was great as Nancy and was always a delight every time she showed up in one of these movies. Johnny Depp was pretty decent as Glen and this was his first film. Amanda Wyss did good in the role of Tina. The film also featured John Saxon, formerly from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and the Canadian slasher film Black Christmas, as Nancy’s dad and the top cop on the Springwood police force.

While this film is a technically savvy and paved the way for a lucrative franchise, I found the ending to be odd and kind of pointless. Nancy basically wins by telling Krueger that she takes away any power she gave him and he disappears into a cloud of dissipating photons.. or something. Her mother then sinks into her bed as a skeleton, waving goodbye. It was probably fine for the time but it plays horribly today. It just feels obvious that Craven hadn’t really thought the ending through before shooting it. Besides, Nancy defeating Freddy by ignoring him wasn’t really effective, as we got five more sequels in the regular series, A New Nightmare, Freddy vs. Jason and a remake years later.

Rating: 9/10

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985):

Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Jack Sholder
Written by: David Chaskin
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell, Robert Shaye (uncredited)

New Line Cinema, Smart Egg Pictures, Heron Communications, 85 Minutes

Review:

Freddy’s Revenge or as it should be retitled, Freddy’s Big Gay Hilarious Gangbang, is a bizarre movie. It ignores the rules established in the first film in an effort to be completely different and to not retread the same story. While I respect the filmmakers’ efforts in not making a clone film, all it did was create a lot of confusion about the established rules and mythos.

The main character is Jesse Walsh (played by Mark Patton). Jesse is a loner and an outcast but weirdly, the hot ginger girl in school likes him.. a lot. In fact, she deals with way too much of his shit and Freddy’s shit just over her high school crush. Besides that, Jesse wants to spend more time with his new guy friend, Ron. He even runs away to Ron’s house after he freaks out about the girl being ready to bang him.

Many consider this to be the gayest horror film of all-time and rightfully so. It is amazing at just how gay it is and that’s not a knock, it is actually pretty fucking cool.

From Jesse and Ron wrestling each other’s pants off, to Jesse’s flamboyant sexual dance while cleaning his room, to the leather bar, to the school coach getting murdered while being tied to shower pipes as his ass is repeatedly slapped by a towel, to Jesse constantly whining about Freddy being “inside him”, to Jesse wanting to sleep in Ron’s room, to Jesse screaming like a girl, to Freddy emerging from Jesse’s body during one of the most obligatory gay exchanges in cinematic history, this is certainly a pretty gay but extraordinarily fabulous movie. Wikipedia has more information on the homoerotic subtext here.

The film lacked almost everything that made the first film scary. However, it had some of the best effects. For instance, the aforementioned scene where Freddy emerges from Jesse’s body was insane and still plays pretty well today. Even if Jesse’s body was replaced by a robotic dummy, it was there, on the set, and it looked more real than anything modern CGI can do.

Freddy’s Revenge is a bizarre installment to the series but the bizarreness is what makes it special, unique and definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 7/10

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987):

Release Date: February 27th, 1987
Directed by: Chuck Russell
Written by: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti, Dokken
Cast: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, John Saxon, Priscilla Pointer, Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Bradley Gregg, Ira Heiden, Penelope Sudrow, Dick Cavett, Zsa Zsa Gabor

New Line Cinema, Smart Egg Pictures, Heron Communications, 96 Minutes

Review:

Dream Warriors is my favorite film in the series. Wes Craven came back to write the story, which was then tweaked and fleshed out by Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and so many other projects).

This chapter pretty much ignores the second film, it goes back to the rules and mythos of the first movie and expands on it. It brings back old characters, introduces new characters and blends them together well. You care about the old, you care about the new and there is almost perfect harmony with the cast.

This is my favorite group of teens out of any of the films. Actually, they are my favorite group of any teen group from any horror film ever. They were all unique, interesting and had a great dynamic.

The film introduced us to Patrica Arquette as the lead heroine Kristen. It also brought back Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon as Nancy and her father. Laurence Fishburne shows up in this as an orderly at the rehab center where the teens are.

This movie introduces the concept of being able to control dreams in an effort to combat Freddy. Each teen also has a special power or skill set that makes their interactions with Krueger more interesting.

The one thing this film did, that set the stage for every film after it, is that the dream sequences got really elaborate and a lot more creative. We didn’t just have some guy taking teens to a boiler room in their mind in an effort to slash them to bits. We now had Freddy using their fears and things about them to torture them in unique ways. You like puppets? Well, you get strung up by your tendons like a puppet. You like TV? Well, you get killed by a TV. You like titties? Well, titties lure you to Freddy.

Dream Warriors is the perfect Elm Street film. It has everything and it also stars the most iconic characters in the series and opens the door for the future of the franchise.

Rating: 9.5/10

*Continued in Part II.