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: 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

Film Review: Devil In a Blue Dress (1995)

Release Date: September 16th, 1995 (TIFF)
Directed by: Carl Franklin
Written by: Carl Franklin
Based on: Devil In a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Don Cheadle, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney

TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“It was summer 1948, and I needed money. After goin’ door-to-door all day long, I was back again at Joppy’s bar trying to figure out where I was gonna go looking for work the next day. The newspapers was goin’ on and on about the city elections – like they was really gonna change somebody’s life. But my life had already changed when I lost my job three weeks before. ” – Easy Rawlins

You know what is refreshing? Seeing a black lead in a film-noir picture, even if it happened half a century after the height of the style. But who was a better choice than Denzel Washington for this picture? He’s handsome, debonair, classy and has the gravitas and charisma that a film-noir lead needs to have. He’s so good in this, actually, that I would have loved to see this character return in a series of films.

Even though this came out in the 1990s, it does feel like authentic noir, more so than a lot of the neo-noirs of that era. Washington is perfect in this, as is his charismatic buddy, Don Cheadle. Tom Sizemore also pulls his weight and gave life to an interesting character that pulls Washington’s Easy Rawlins into this noir web. Then you also have Jennifer Beals, who immediately makes an impact in anything she is in due to her natural beauty and solid acting chops. I never felt like Beals got as many good roles as she probably deserved. Here, she feels like a true woman of film-noir.

In this film, we see Easy Rawlins take a job form the mysterious DeWitt Albright (Sizemore). He is hired to track down Daphne Monet (Beals) and it is said that Albright was looking for her on behalf of Todd Carter (Terry Kinney). Daphne is suspected of hiding out somewhere in the black community of Los Angeles. As the film rolls on, you discover that Carter did not ask this of Albright and that Albright is not who he seems. And this is when the real noir twists come in.

Devil In a Blue Dress is a jazzy and energetic film that doesn’t have a dull moment. This was a film that really felt tailor made for Washington. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hugely popular and that is kind of disappointing, because this film could have given birth to a cool trend of long overdue black film-noir. Sadly, black Americans were hugely underrepresented in classic noir, even though they had a large presence and cultural influence on urban America, where most noirs took place.

This is one of the best neo-noirs of the 1990s, hands down. While it isn’t quite on the level of The Two Jakes, a film I love but the critics, not so much, Devil In a Blue Dress feels right at home next to it.

This is one of my favorite Denzel Washington films and it also features one of my favorite Don Cheadle characters of all-time. What’s not to love?

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1983)

Release Date: November 4th, 1985 (first airing)
Directed by: Douglas Williams
Written by: Corinne Jacker
Based on: a short story by John Varley
Music by: John Tucker
Cast: Raul Julia, Linda Griffiths, Wanda Cannon, Donald C. Moore, Louis Negin, Chapelle Jaffe, Jackie Burroughs, Maury Chaykin

RSL Productions, WNET, New Jersey Public Television (NJPTV), New World Video, 83 Minutes 

overdrawn-at-the-memory-bankReview:

What a bizarre experience this was!

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is horrendous but it is at least somewhat imaginative and unique. It also stars Raul Julia, who brings a lot to every role that he plays. Julia was the best thing about this picture but even he couldn’t make any of this work.

This film was actually made for public access television and really only got somewhat known due to Julia’s inclusion in it and the fact that it was featured in the eighth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

After the success that public television had in adapting Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven in 1979 and their adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Between Time and Timbuktu, they wanted to make more science fiction films. Unfortunately, the picture just did not work well and it was far from a critical success. It was, however, quite ambitious despite its flaws and its limitations.

Other than Julia, the film starred a Canadian cast, as it was produced by Toronto’s RSL Productions. Other than Linda Griffiths, who did the best she could with atrocious dialogue and nonsensical situations, the cast acted over the top. It was like the first table read for an inexperienced community theatre.

To give a quick rundown of the zany plot, a man in a dystopian future where art is prohibited, gets caught watching Casablanca at his workstation. He is sent to be rehabilitated by having his mind uploaded into a wild baboon. This leads to Julia basically narrating over a nature video until an elephant starts shaking the tree that he, the baboon, is in. He tries to escape back to his body but discovers that it is missing and he is trapped in a digital world. There was a mix-up and his body was sent for a sex change. While the corporation tries to locate his missing body, he creates his own digital reality based off of Casablanca. As time goes on, he gets more and more agitated and fights back from the inside.

The story itself is so wacky that it is almost hard to follow. In fact, from scene-to-scene I often times found myself lost but stayed with it in the hopes that it would make some sort of sense. It never did.

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank also looks like a bad 1980s novella with its visual style. It was shot on video because that made the inclusion of special effects easier. The problem is that the special effects were terrible. The film tries to do a lot with very little and I respect that but the digital effects in this film make old school Doctor Who look like Star Wars.

As painful as this movie is to get through, there is still something warm and cozy about it. A weird description, yes, but I can’t think of more appropriate words. Maybe it just reminds me of all the public television stuff I watched as a kid in elementary school in the 1980s.

There was passion behind this project and it is really apparent. It’s just unfortunate, for those involved, that it turned out so poorly.