Film Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Release Date: September 29th, 2003 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: RZA
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Michael Bowen, Jun Kunimura, Kenji Ohba, James Parks, The 5.6.7.8’s

Super Cool ManChu, A Band Apart, Miramax, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Do you find me sadistic? You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right now, if I wanted to. You know, Kiddo, I’d like to believe that you’re aware enough even now to know that there’s nothing sadistic in my actions. Well, maybe towards those other… jokers, but not you. No Kiddo, at this moment, this is me at my most… [cocks pistol] masochistic.” – Bill

The Kill Bill films are my favorite movies from Quentin Tarantino, which makes me happy that there are two of them. I felt that reviewing them was long overdue, so I had myself a little marathon with these two movies and some of the classic Pai Mei flicks I’ve already reviewed on this site.

The two films work really well together even though the first one plays more like a martial arts/Yakuza flick while the second is more akin to a spaghetti western. I think this is probably why they were split into two parts, as opposed to giving us one big epic film. Granted, I’m still waiting for the combined version that Tarantino promised years ago. Hell, I think it’s also about time for the third film, which he also promised years ago.

Anyway, this is a review of the first movie, so let me get to it.

The film is just great from top-to-bottom from the opening scene to the big, action-packed, blood-soaked finale.

My only reservations with it, seeing it for the first time in quite a damn while, is that some of the dialogue came out fairly cringe. The scene with Uma Thurman and Vivica Fox exchanging pleasantries seemed a lot less cool and a lot more forced and unnatural for me. It never really bothered me before but it set them film up poorly and because of that, I thought I was going to be disappointed and discover that this just wasn’t as good as I thought it was when I was a lot younger.

I’m glad to say that even though there is more dialogue cringe, it doesn’t really wreck the film or its dramatic effect. Quentin Tarantino is always getting props for the dialogue in his movies but I’ve never been as big of a mark for it. It’s almost always compelling but it tends to be an example of something that sounds great on paper but doesn’t work as well onscreen. And honestly, I think that’s what happened in some of these scenes and I don’t blame the actresses for it.

That gripe aside, everything else is pretty much perfect and the film moves at an incredibly brisk pace, leading to the big showdown with one woman against an army of Yakuza’s wielding samurai swords.

While Tarantino’s films always look fantastic and cinematically impressive, this one really takes the cake for me. Especially, during that final fight, as the film goes from color, to black and white, to just silhouette. The changes work really damn well and the visual tone helps to set the narrative tone, as it shifts during the battle. It also helps break it out into segments, keeping it fresh, as it does run on for a really long time.

Also, I love how after the fight, it switches back to regular color, where it reveals a giant hall full of downed Yakuza, blood absolutely everywhere and limbs just randomly dropped throughout the set. This whole sequence gives you pure, ultraviolence but you don’t actually see the sum of all its (body)parts until that final moment and its kind of breathtaking.

Additionally, the one-on-one final fight between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii is a beautiful, artful and calculated confrontation that works in contrast to the massive fight before it while also being a stunning exclamation point on the film.

The movie is also full of stupendous dramatic scenes and places where the dialogue is so damn good that it sort of washes away the cringe from earlier in the film. The scenes between The Bride and Sonny Chiba’s Hattori Hanzō are fucking beautiful, sweet and intense.

The closing moments of the movie, where The Bride explains her plan to Sofie is ominous as hell and spectacularly effective, as is the big reveal and twist, delivered by Bill, as the final line of the movie.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is pretty close to being Tarantino’s greatest masterpiece. But then, it is slightly edged out by its sequel, which I will review in about a week.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Kill Bill films, as well as other movies by Quentin Tarantino, as well as the many films this homages.

Film Review: Forbidden World (1982)

Also known as: Mutant (Australia, France, Canada), Subject 20 (Germany)
Release Date: May 7th, 1982
Directed by: Allan Holzman
Written by: Tim Curnen
Music by: Susan Justin
Cast: Jesse Vint, Dawn Dunlap, June Chadwick, Linden Chiles, Fox Harris, Raymond Oliver, Scott Paulin, Michael Bowen, Don Olivera

Jupiter Film Productions, New World Pictures, 77 Minutes, 85 Minutes (VHS cut), 82 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Welcome to the Garden of Eden. We play God here.” – Dr. Cal Timbergen

At this point, I’ve probably reviewed more films produced by Roger Corman than any other producer in the motion picture industry. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that he was my favorite and the fact that he literally has hundreds of pictures, means that I’ll probably still be reviewing his work for several more years. And that’s assuming that I can ever actually see all of his films.

Forbidden World came out in a time when Corman was making a lot of sci-fi space-centered movies. Where Battle Beyond the Stars was his Star Wars ripoff, this one was his Alien ripoff.

There were many movies that were “inspired” by Alien, however, and some of them are pretty good. This one, is actually one of my favorites but let me get into why.

To start, I love the overall vibe of this movie. It’s stylistically cool and it has pretty impressive practical effects from something in this era that wasn’t made by George Lucas or Steven Spielberg and for having such a small budget.

I thought the monster was pretty cool and while this takes several beats from Ridley Scott’s Alien it is still original enough to be a pretty unique experience. Plus, it’s disturbing in its own way and you can’t predict what’s instore just based off of what it’s ripping off.

I also think that the cast in this is pretty decent and better than what’s typical for a Roger Corman production. The lead, Jesse Vint, was a good, heroic everyman. I also enjoyed Dawn Dunlap and June Chadwick because… well, you probably know why. Dunlap is especially gorgeous and damn near perfect. Although, her screaming got to be a bit much.

Something interesting about this movie, which I discovered while researching it, is that James Cameron worked on the set design. Granted, these sets were built for another Corman produced Alien “homage”, Galaxy of Terror. However, many of those set pieces were recycled and reconstructed for this movie. I think it’s probably safe to assume that Cameron’s work on these productions helped him when he directed Aliens, the official sequel of the film this one tried to emulate.

Forbidden World is better than what one would probably expect. It has that patented Corman touch, borrows heavily from a better movie but it all comes together rather well and should entertain fans of ’80s sci-fi, practical special effects and Corman flavored cinematic craftsmanship.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman produced films of the late ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

Release Date: May 25th, 1994
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: characters by Danilo Bach, Daniel Petrie Jr.
Music by: Nile Rodgers
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Hector Elizando, Theresa Randle, Timothy Carhart, John Saxon, Alan Young, Gilbert R. Hill, Bronson Pinchot, Stephen McHattie, Michael Bowen, Al Leong (uncredited), Al Green (cameo), George Lucas (cameo), Joe Dante (cameo), Ray Harryhausen (cameo), John Singleton (cameo)

Eddie Murphy Productions, Paramount Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[his last words] Axel, you on a coffee break? Go get that son of a bitch.” – Inspector Todd

The words “they waited too long” definitely apply to what was Beverly Hills Cop III.

This was one hell of a dud that lost many of the key players and only brought back Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, Gil Hill… just so they could kill him in the opening sequence, and Bronson Pinchot, who only appeared in the first movie in two very minor scenes.

Additionally, this closing chapter in the franchise was mostly devoid of any real humor, as Eddie Murphy barely told any jokes, barely did his signature laugh and kind of just zombie walked through his scenes giving one of the flattest performances of his career.

In fact, his scenes with Bronson Pinchot actually show how dry Murphy is in this, as Pinchot steals the scenes right out from under him.

Judge Reinhold was made to look like a total doofus and they ignored what was established with his character in the previous film, which saw him open up and reveal that he was a gun nut similar to Eugene Tackleberry from the Police Academy movies. Here, he just carries a tiny pistol, looks the opposite of badass and pretty much just acts like a total dope.

Being that this was directed by John Landis is absolutely baffling. Landis is a top notch director that made several classics over the course of a decade and a half before this movie. I’m not sure if the script ended up getting butchered or if a lot was left on the cutting room floor but this is, hands down, one of the worst things Landis has ever had attached to his name.

Harold Faltermeyer didn’t return to score this film and man, it really shows. The score is generic as fuck and the famous Axl Foley theme is reworked and completely destroyed by brass instruments, completely taking away from the funky synth grooves that we got in the first two pictures.

In fact, when the brass gets real heavy in the score, it almost sounds like its trying to emulate a James Bond movie. I guess that’s fitting as Bronson Pinchot essentially plays a ripoff of Q and Axl Foley has a bunch of weird gadgets to use ala Bond.

I think that the franchise should’ve just ended with two. This proves that it’s really, really hard to catch lightning in a bottle for a third time.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Beverly Hills Cop movies, as well as the 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon films.

TV Review: Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

Original Run: January 20th, 2008 – September 29th, 2013
Created by: Vince Gilligan
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks, Laura Fraser, Jesse Plemons, Steven Michael Quezada, Charles Baker, Matt Jones, Krysten Ritter, Mark Margolis, Michael Bowen, Bill Burr, Raymond Cruz, Jere Burns, John de Lancie, Larry Hankin

High Bridge Entertainment, Gran Via Productions, Sony Pictures Television, AMC, 62 Episodes, 43-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I came to the Breaking Bad party pretty late but after multiple seasons of people raving about it, I ended up binging through it all just before the last season premiered.

I also almost quit the show, as the beginning of the first season drags. But once I got to the end of Season One, everything just sort of clicked and I was hooked. But even then, I thought that it would be good but that it would slowly lose steam, as all shows do and eventually, I wouldn’t care about it.

Breaking Bad did something that almost no other show has been capable of doing, though. It continued to improve and get better as it rolled on.

Just when you thought the show reached its peak, it’d throw a curveball or shock you in a way that television shows before this were never able to do. And most importantly, it either gave you satisfying resolutions to plot threads or it subverted expectations and actually gave you something better and surprising.

Frankly, I hate the “subvert their expectations” bullshit that creatives in Hollywood seem to be clinging onto because 99 percent of the time, it’s just an indicator that they’re out of ideas and their only solution is to take a big shit and go, “Ha! You fans didn’t see that coming! I’m a genius! Adore me!”

No. Breaking Bad subverts expectations and gives the viewer something better. And it didn’t just do this once or twice, it did it quite often and it was consistently really fucking good at it. More than anything, that’s what made this show so great.

Additionally, very extreme things happen on the show but it never jumps the shark or takes you out of reality. Everything feels real and plausible and it does a superb job in staying grounded and not taking a turn for the ridiculous, as many shows have done that started out really strong.

I’d have to say that the best thing about this, though, is the cast. Everyone, top to bottom, is perfection.

Almost every character in the show starts at one end of the spectrum and finds a way to make it to the opposite side. All of this happens slowly and naturally. Characters you like become ones you despise and ones you might not have liked become lovable. There are secondary characters that stay the same throughout but many of them are there to be measuring sticks, to show you how every main character evolves in their own way over five seasons.

I know that there has been a ton of hype about this show for years but it is one of the few that lived up to it and actually, in my opinion, exceeded it. Breaking Bad is as close to a perfect show that you can get for a crime drama with neo-western and neo-noir flavors.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other modern crime dramas but this is the best of the lot.

Film Review: Iron Eagle (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Kevin Alyn Elders, Sidney J. Furie
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Louis Gossett Jr., Jason Gedrick, David Suchet, Larry B. Scott, Caroline Lagerfelt, Tim Thomerson, Shawnee Smith, Melora Hardin, Lance LeGault, Jerry Levine, Robbie Rist, Michael Bowen

Delphi Films, Falcon’s Flight, TriStar Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I wonder what a Cessna looks like splattered all over those rocks?” – Packer

This doesn’t survive on nostalgia points for me. Honestly, I didn’t even like this film as a kid. I mean, I enjoyed the last half hour, as that’s where the action comes in but everything leading up to that was really damn boring.

Seeing this now, and it has been at least thirty years, I was surprised that I wasn’t pulled into it a bit more as it features two teen actors from the time that I really liked: Larry B. Scott and Jerry Levine.

But the real problem with this movie is that it’s too damn long. I mean, this is nearly two full hours and only the last half hour is actually somewhat enjoyable. And to be honest, they could’ve lobbed 30 to 40 minutes off of this thing and no one would’ve noticed.

Additionally, even though the actual mission at the end is fairly fun, it’s full of flaws and errors that are distracting.

The main thing that sticks out is the editing. There are multiple moments in the movie where the video loop behind the pilots’ heads resets. So you’re looking at closeups of pilots in the cockpit talking and the background goes from a clouded sky to a quick jump of clear sky.

Plus, there are mistakes in how the action is edited that don’t make sense from a logistic and physics standpoint.

I think the thing that may irritate more than the shoddy editing is the models used for the planes, as every time one explodes, it is obviously a miniature and made of wood. Fighter jets don’t splinter like a balsa wood chair in a Chaplin movie. But I get it, it’s the ’80s, CGI didn’t exist like it does now and the film had a modest budget. But no one could call in a favor to one of the guys that worked on model making for the Star Wars or Star Trek films?

The acting is pretty bad too. And even though Louis Gossett Jr. has shown that he has chops, I think that it is this movie that actually wrecked his career. He went from An Officer and a Gentleman to this? But hey, at least it allowed him to have his own franchise, which he would then have to rely on over the course of three shitty sequels.

Seeing Iron Eagle now, I don’t hate it. It just would have been much better with a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor and a bit more refinement in the film’s action packed climax.

I’m going to completely ignore the fact that the plot is stupid because this is the ’80s and it was escapism for kids, trying to capitalize off of the popularity of movies like Red Dawn. But in case you don’t know what the plot is, it’s about a decorated Colonel that helps a teenager steal an Air Force fighter plane to attack an enemy country in an effort to save the kid’s dad. Let that marinate for a minute.

So if I ever do watch this again, I’ll just skip to the finale and ignore the plot details.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: probably its subpar sequels and other ’80s and ’90s teens movies that throw kids into war or combat like Red Dawn, The Rescue and Toy Soldiers.