Film Review: Last Action Hero (1993)

Also known as: Extremely Violent (working title)
Release Date: June 13th, 1993 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited), Zak Penn, Adam Leff
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, Austin O’Brien, Bridgette Wilson, Ian McKellen, Tina Turner, Rick Ducommun, Angie Everhart, Al Leong, Colleen Camp, Professor Toru Tanaka, Sharon Stone (cameo), Robert Patrick (cameo), Joan Plowright (cameo), Danny DeVito (voice), MC Hammer (cameo), Karen Duffy (cameo), Maria Shriver (cameo), Little Richard (cameo), Leeza Gibbons (cameo), Chris Connelly (cameo), James Belushi (cameo), Damon Wayans (cameo), Chevy Chase (cameo), Timothy Dalton (cameo), Jean-Claude Van Damme (cameo), Melvin Van Peebles (cameo), Wilson Phillips (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but you’re gonna live to enjoy all the glorious fruits life has got to offer – acne, shaving, premature ejaculation… and your first divorce.” – Jack Slater

Man, this was a film I really loved when it came out. It was imaginative, fun and truly balls to the wall, even for not being an R-rated movie.

While it is still pretty fun, it isn’t a movie that has aged very well. At its heart, it is still a great homage to over the top, high octane action films from the ’80s, much like the ones that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger. It features lots of explosions and a ton of gun action and great vehicle chases but it is pretty toned down for a PG-13 audience unlike the hard R-rating that these movies typically get. Overall, it is more like a tongue in cheek parody of the genre. Schwarzenegger and the director, John McTiernan, poke a lot of fun at themselves and the films that they were instrumental in creating.

One cool thing about this movie is the over abundance of cameos it has. Since it takes place in a fantasy world and also goes into the “real world”, we get to see a lot of stars playing themselves, as well as some of their most famous characters within the fantasy movie world.

The story sees a young boy get a magic golden ticket that was supposedly passed down from Houdini. The ticket whisks the boy away into the movie he is watching, a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a character named Jack Slater. The boy gets caught up in Slater’s in-movie adventure and gets to experience the fantasy fiction world of action films, which just so happens to overlap with other genres. Eventually, the big bad guy discovers the power of the ticket and uses it to go from world to world in an attempt to pull off heists and to gather other villains to stand against Slater.

The movie is full of late ’80s/early ’90s cheese but it is the best kind. Sure, the kid can get a bit grating at times but he’s not as bad as a lot of the kid actors from the time. This was also the young Austin O’Brien’s first movie. But ultimately, he is the eyes and ears of the audience, swept into this world and it was effective. Plus, I was the right age for this movie when it came out and he really just seemed like one of my peers from school.

Last Action Hero wasn’t a hit when it came out and critics weren’t kind to it. It’s a better picture than the experts would have you believe though, especially if the subject matter is something you’re a fan of. I grew up loving ’80s and ’90s action movies, so this is my cup of tea. Besides, Schwarzenegger is always great when he’s hamming it up. He really hams it up here.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Release Date: July 17th, 1987
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: Michael de Guzman
Based on: characters by Peter Benchley
Music by: Michael Small
Cast: Lorraine Gary, Lance Guest, Mario Van Peebles, Karen Young, Michael Caine, Melvin Van Peebles

Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Roar!” – Shark

Jaws: The Revenge isn’t just considered the worst Jaws film by fans, it is also considered one of the worst films ever made. Well, I guess I stray from the pack because I think that Jaws 3-D is much worse. Not to say that this isn’t also a hefty pillowcase full of donkey dung.

The premise for this film is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, I don’t know how the script was written with a straight face.

In this chapter, the final one for the series, the killer shark apparently has psychic powers and the ability to teleport. Apparently, Ellen Brody also shares a psychic link with the shark. I’m being totally serious.

Even though it isn’t explicitly stated, the shark is on a revenge quest where it can travel literally anywhere in an effort to specifically hunt down and kill members of the Brody family. How does it know who they are and where they are? Why does it want revenge? Is it just assumed that it is the offspring of one of the three sharks killed in the previous movies? How does it travel from New England to the Bahamas in a day? How does Ellen Brody have memories of events she never personally witnessed and how does she sense when the shark is around? Why is she so sure it is picking off the family on a personal revenge quest? Apparently, before this movie, Sheriff Brody died of a heart attack due to fear of the shark. Yet he stood up to two sharks like a total bad ass in previous movies. Was he psychically killed by the shark?

Jaws: The Revenge is a weird friggin’ movie when you start to analyze the crap out of it. That alone makes it infinitely more interesting than Jaws 3-D. Also, this is a Christmas movie, at least the first act, so it gets an edge there.

You also have the Last Starfighter himself, Lance Guest. Unfortunately, Mario Van Peebles gives a horrible performance as a Jamaican with a bad Jamaican accent. But props to him, as he did this two decades before Kofi Kingston showed up in the WWE. Anyway, the badness that is Van Peebles is at least offset by the awesomeness that is Michael Caine’s Hoagie, a pilot named after a fantastic sandwich.

One big positive, is that this film became the premise of the Jaws video game on Nintendo. In retrospect, it isn’t a fantastic game but when I was about ten years-old, I played the shit out of it. Who didn’t want to jump in a tiny yellow submarine and try to kill the giant shark while collecting crabs dropped from Hoagie’s plane? Frankly, I don’t know why Hoagie just didn’t give me the crabs before I went out to sea. I also don’t remember why collecting crabs was important. Anyway, back to this awful movie and not the awesome game.

Jaws: The Revenge is just about as bad as everyone says it is but at least it isn’t littered with horribly dated 3D effects like Jaws 3-D. Also, some of the action bits are better than those from the previous movies. I thought that the scene in the sunken ship was well done and certainly better than anything in the third movie.

The finale is also much better than the third film, even if thirty years later, I don’t understand the whole point about the strobe light causing the shark pain. Maybe it was a psychic strobe light or imbued with the power of a Bahamian warlock. I’m not really sure.

And even though everyone bitches about it, I don’t mind the shark having a roar. That’s way more plausible than psychic powers and teleportation.

Rating: 4.25/10

Film Review: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

Release Date: April 23rd, 1971
Directed by: Melvin Van Peebles
Written by: Melvin Van Peebles
Music by: Melvin Van Peebles
Cast: Melvin Van Peebles, Mario Van Peebles

Yeah Inc., Cinemation Industries, 97 Minutes

Review:

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song has done something that is very rare; it made me uncomfortable.

Now I have watched all sorts of movies, including some of the most messed up shit ever filmed. That being said, it is extremely rare for something to make my skin crawl. The opening scene of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song did just that. Seeing a nude 13 year-old Mario Van Peebles climb on top of a nude adult prostitute and being instructed by her to get moving was awkward as hell. Being that he is a minor laying on top of an adult and that the director behind the action is his real life father, is even stranger.

Moving beyond that, this proto-blaxploitation flick was pretty smut heavy. That’s not necessarily a negative but it only seemed to serve the purpose of allowing the director, also the film’s star, to be seen getting nasty with as many women as possible without making the film into a really bad homemade porn. Plus, his entire persona and nickname surround the fact that he has a monstrous penis. These aspects of the film make it come off as vain and make it hard to take the film’s message seriously.

What is the film’s message?

Well, it is the first of its kind, as far as I know. It isn’t a traditional blaxploitation movie but it set the stage for that genre. Essentially, it sees “the man” treat blacks like shit and the film’s self-titled hero fights back, as he should, given the circumstances of the abuse committed against him. Where this differs from the blaxploitation formula, is that it lacks the humor and the black superhero feel. Also, it doesn’t end positively for the hero and justice is never really served.

The film’s message did resonate, however. The Black Panther Party loved the film and considered it required viewing for their members. It also had an effect on white people, who, for probably the first time, saw a cinematic portrayal of the plight of African Americans from their point-of-view. Whether you love the film or not, it is a pivotal motion picture in American culture and it opened doors for other blacks to tell their versions of the same general story.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is far from a perfect film, it really isn’t even that good, from this reviewer’s perspective. The fact that it feels just as much self-serving for the director, writer, musician and star as it tries to showcase many of the atrocities committed against blacks, hurts the film. Where the character of Sweetback was a pimp, Melvin Van Peebles, the man that played him, was also his own pimp, trying to pimp out an image of him being a bad ass sexual tyrannosaur.

All negative critiques aside, it is still a film that should be experienced because of what it represents at its core and how it laid the groundwork for an entirely new genre of filmmaking in the 1970s.

Rating: 5/10