Film Review: Election (1999)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1999 (limited)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Based on: Election by Tom Perrotta
Music by: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Phil Reeves, Molly Hagan, Colleen Camp, Nicholas D’Agosto, Holmes Osborne, Matt Malloy, Frankie Ingrassia

Bona Fide Productions, MTV Films, Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Larry, we’re not electing the fucking Pope here. Just tell me who won.” – Jim McAllister

I didn’t know much about this movie the first time I saw it but I liked it quite a bit.

Back in 1999, it didn’t come out with a lot of fanfare or really much promotion and sort of just came and went in the theaters quickly. I saw it once it came out on VHS and thought it deserved more recognition than it initially got. Luckily, it did become a bit of a cult classic fairly quickly.

When I see this now, my brain can’t help but to think of this as the origin story of Hillary Clinton. I don’t mean that to be an asshole but there are a lot of similarities between what we know about her now and how the character of Tracy Flick was played in the film by Reese Witherspoon in one of her best early performances.

The film also stars Matthew Broderick and at the time, this was the first time I saw him and thought of him as old. He really wasn’t but he had matured quite a bit since his most iconic roles in Ferris Bueller and WarGames. Regardless of that, this is my favorite performance of his career, as he plays a good guy that becomes corrupted by the power he wields and his burning desire to stop a future political monster before she really has the chance to effect the real world. He’s also approaching his midlife crisis point and makes some poor life decisions because of that.

You also have Chris Klein in this as the third main character. While I’m not a big fan of Klein’s, he’s really good in this and it’s almost like the role was tailor made for him. He’s good as a popular but nice, optimistic jock that genuinely cares about all the people around him. This is my favorite thing that he’s done, as well.

The film’s plot is really good and well constructed. There are a lot of layers and several characters to balance but the movie does that rather well while also making you care about the lives of the core people involved.

This isn’t a predictable film and it takes some interesting turns with some of the smaller subplots. The main story is pretty straightforward and while you can guess where it’s going, it’s still got a few surprises.

The film’s director, Alexander Payne, would go on to have a pretty impressive career. He followed this film up with the Jack Nicholson starring About Schmidt and then one of the Academy Awards’ darlings of 2004, Sideways.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other quirky ’90s comedies, as well as other films by Alexander Payne.

Film Review: Godzilla (1998)

Release Date: May 18th, 1998 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio
Based on: Godzilla by Toho
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Kevin Dunn, Michael Lerner, Harry Shearer, Doug Savant, Vicki Lewis, Richard Gant, Nancy Cartwright, Frank Welker (voice)

Centropolis Film Productions, Fried Films, Independent Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Toho Co. Ltd., 139 Minutes

Review:

“What the hell’s the matter with you people? You’ve caused more damage than that goddamn thing did!” – Mayor Ebert

Yes, Mayor Ebert… you’ve got a fucking point, as most of the actual destruction in this movie is committed by the moronic military and not the giant monster.

I’m not sure if that’s because Roland Emmerich wanted to paint the military and the government as incompetent assholes or because he’s just a shitty director that didn’t have the talent to replicate the success of Independence Day. But his first big mistake was making this story’s heroes the absolute antithesis of those from that much better movie.

Whatever the reason though, this movie is so fucking stupid that it’s painful to watch, which is why I have never actually sat down and watched this in its entirety in one sitting. Sure, I’ve seen the whole film in increments thanks to cable television but as a lifelong Godzilla fan, I had no urge to see this in the theater when it came out and all the footage and sequences I’ve seen over the years has only solidified my disdain for this big budget kaiju-sized abortion.

Many people have claimed that this isn’t a true Godzilla film and that it is the worst one ever made. Those people aren’t wrong, as I’d rather be stuck in a room for 24 hours being forced to watch Godzilla’s Revenge, over and over, than have to watch this film ever again.

It’s completely incompetent from top-to-bottom with brainless characters, impressively bad dialogue and a story that feels like it was freestyled from the mind of a child playing with kaiju toys in the bathtub.

There is no traditional three act structure and this is just a string of sequences where some of them feel like they don’t even fit within the same movie. It also gets so far away from the core of what Godzilla is that it truly isn’tGodzilla movie, it’s some sort of generic kaiju flick trying to borrow more from Jurassic Park than its own namesake.

Had this not been given the Godzilla name and branding, it may have been more palatable but there is nothing about this that can win over the fans they assumed they’d lure in just by using the name of the world’s most famous giant monster. While that may have been a run-on sentence, 1998’s Godzilla was a run-on movie.

About two-thirds of the way into the film they “kill” Godzilla, after destroying half of Manhattan. Then suddenly we’re sucked into a different movie where baby Godzillas are chasing the heroes idiots through Madison Square Garden like an army of velociraptors in a cheap attempt at trying to one-up the far superior Jurassic Park movies. Once the babies are killed, Godzilla miraculously rises from the ashes like, “Fuck you, hoes! Ain’t dead!” It’s a clusterfuck that shows that Roland Emmerich doesn’t have time for any sort of traditional narrative structure. And no, that’s not an artistic choice it’s just the incompetence of a moron that cares more about mass destruction than actually making cinematic art.

I haven’t even talked about the special effects yet, which are a mixed bag but mostly shit. Where practical effects are used, things actually look quite good but where the film employs CGI, it looks terrible even for 1998. Hell, this movie came out two years after Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day and it looks significantly cheaper than that film. This is really where big studios started to rely on CGI too much and it killed the immersion into the cinematic world onscreen. I never feel that way when watching Independence Day or Jurassic Park but here, it’s fucking distracting.

The action sequences with dozens of Apache helicopters flying through the canyon-like streets of New York City like swarms of insects just look cartoonish and buffonish. In fact, all these big action sequences between the military and Godzilla look more like a video game than a motion picture. Maybe modern HD makes it look worse than it did in 1998 but the digital flaws are really apparent and it looks like the studio cut corners in post-production or just rushed this out too soon.

Based off of the final product, Roland Emmerich could’ve just invented his own kaiju creature. But I guess less people would’ve gone to see that, so bastardizing something beloved was the easiest route to go when you can’t actually rely on talent.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other Roland Emmerich schlock that cost way too much to make.

Film Review: WarGames (1983)

Also known as: The Genius (working title)
Release Date: May 7th, 1983 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes
Music by: Arthur B. Rubinstein
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Michael Madsen, Maury Chaykin, Eddie Deezen

United Artists, Sherwood Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Which side do you want?” – Joshua, “I’ll be the Russians.” – David Lightman

In preparation for the release of the film version of Ready Player One, I have been reading the novel. WarGames plays a significant role in the story, at least in the book anyway, and reading about it got me all nostalgic and wanting to revisit the film. So I did.

I haven’t seen this in quite awhile but my fondest experience of this film was watching it in computer programming class in middle school. I had seen it before that but I didn’t have the computer knowledge to properly grasp the film when I was really young. Or at least the computer programming experience gave me more of an appreciation for the film, even if it was hokey and unrealistic.

Sure, the movie feels dated but it’s the best kind of dated. It’s chock full of ’80s-ness and backed up by a talented cast. The threat feels legitimate and the suspense and tension still work really well when experienced today. Maybe it’s because we now live in a time where our world leaders threaten each other with nukes over Twitter. The thing is, Cold War fears didn’t just go away with the Cold War itself, they just evolved in different ways and attached themselves to newer boogeymen.

WarGames isn’t what I would call an exceptional film but it tapped into societal fears, similar to Red DawnThe Day After and hell… Rocky IV. It is effective in that regard. It sort of exploits those feelings for its story but it does it in a cool and hip way, presented for teen audiences that were just starting to grasp their modern world, at the time.

It doesn’t just tap into Cold War fears though, it also taps into fears surrounding emerging technologies like home computers and the Internet. While everyone wishes they could hack their school and change their grades like Matthew Broderick in this film and in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there was real concern over what these technologies could do in the wrong hands. It also looks at the potential negative effects of technological automation, where certain tasks and decisions are taken out of the hands of human beings and given over to computers. It’s possible that this movie had some influence on James Cameron, who was making the first Terminator film at the time of this picture’s release.

This film was a good vehicle to really launch the careers of Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. Both had done a bit of work before this but WarGames quickly cemented them as teen stars, as the ’80s moved towards teen movies and MTV was becoming a household name: changing pop culture forever. There are also small but good roles here for a young Maury Chaykin, character actor Eddie Deezen and eventual ’90s badass Michael Madsen.

The adult cast is rounded out by the great mix of Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin and John Wood. All brought some good veteran leadership to the film and each was likable in their own distinct way, even if Corbin was a hot headed general that didn’t want to deal with Broderick and his brainy youthful antics.

WarGames is still pretty damn good and I was glad that I fired it up for the first time in several years. If you ever wanted to have a fun double feature, this pairs well with Real Genius.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Real GeniusFerris Bueller’s Day Off