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.

Film Review: Spacehunter: Adventures In the Forbidden Zone (1983)

Also known as: Adventures In the Creep Zone (working title), Spacehunter (short title)
Release Date: May 20th, 1983
Directed by: Lamont Johnson
Written by: David Preston, Edith Rey, Daniel Goldberg, Len Blum, Stewart Harding, Jean LaFluer
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside, Andrea Marcovicci

Delphi I Productions, Zone Productions, Columbia Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I lied, nobody goes free! Chemist, prepare the Fusion Tube!” – Overdog

For those of you that always wanted to see Molly Ringwald in a cyberpunk, almost comedy, space western, this is your movie!

For the rest of us, this is a forgettable relic lost to the sands of time but regardless of that, it’s still an enjoyable, mindless movie that’s sort of fun if you like ’80s sci-fi cheese and visually cool practical special effects.

I didn’t even know about this film until I stumbled across it while working in a video store. I fired it up in the store and thought it was pretty cool. I ended up taking it home and giving it a proper watch and found myself intrigued over the sets, the style and the more complicated effects like the villain’s body harness and cyborg appendages.

I also really loved the matte paintings and how well-crafted the larger world was for a film that had a pretty small budget.

In a lot of ways, this has a Mad Max vibe to it, as well, in its use of post-apocalyptic motor vehicles, as well as the characters’ style of dress.

Michael Ironside was the best part about the film, as his Overdog character was just a site to behold whenever he came onscreen. His costume was incredible and Ironside seemed to be really enjoying the role, hamming it up to the nth degree and putting in a performance that I can only assume eventually led to his villain role in the much more modern but very retro Turbo Kid.

Overall, there are much worse ways to spend 90 minutes. If you’re into campy sci-fi from the best decade for campy movies, you’ll probably like this weird, obscure flick.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other campy and cool sci-fi films of the ’80s like The Ice Pirates, Cherry 2000, Battle Beyond the Stars, etc.

Film Review: Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

Also known as: Highlander 2 (unofficial title)
Release Date: January 31st, 1991 (Germany)
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: Peter Bellwood, Brian Clemens, William N. Panzer
Based on: characters by Gregory Widen
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside, John C. McGinley, Allan Rich

Davis-Panzer Productions, Harat Investments, Lamb Bear Entertainment, 91 Minutes, 86 Minutes (DVD), 100 Minutes (both theatrical versions), 109 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Most people have a full measure of life… and most people just watch it slowly drip away. But if you can summon it all up… at one time… in one place… you can accomplish something… glorious.” – Ramirez

How do you follow up a pretty awesome and unique film that didn’t need a sequel?

Well, you completely fuck everything up and produce a cheap, trashy, nonsensical, unnecessary clusterfuck and release it on the world!

Highlander II: The Quickening is a complete bastard of a motion picture and one of the worst sequels in history. But I’ll explain, as there is actually a lot to pick apart with this piece of rabid, foaming horseshit.

The biggest problem with this, more than anything, is the plot. Instead of the Immortals just being an unknown cosmic mystery that just exist, this film turns them into space aliens from a far off planet. The ones on Earth were basically exiled away for whatever reason and they must fight until “there can be only one”. That “one” then wins “The Prize”, which is now, essentially, a trip back to their home planet. I mean, what in the absolute fuck?

And that doesn’t even get into how secondary that whole plot point is, as the film spends more time focused on trying to take down an energy shield that was created by MacCleod to replace the o-zone layer, which was destroyed by pollution. Never mind that the Earth looks even more polluted and somehow this energy shield wrecked the world’s economy because it’s convenient for the plot, which needed this film to be set in a cyberpunk dystopian future.

I think I’m retelling this right but this picture had an effect on my brain where it made me feel completely smashed without actually sipping a drop of alcohol. I’m still immensely hungover from this cinematic swill.

It honestly feels like the filmmakers were given a script about o-zone layers and energy shields that wasn’t even related to the Highlander mythos and they decided to rework it just to throw the Highlander name on it and to bank on getting Sean Connery in this flaming turd.

The second worse thing about this picture is the acting. Almost every character in this, especially the baddies, acts absolutely and utterly insane. And not in a good way that the film calls for. It’s like they rounded up all the villain actors and locked them into a prison cell made out of cocaine, which they then had to snort their way out of. Well, except John C. McGinley, he’s actually really dull by comparison when looking at Michael Ironside and those flying, primal weirdos that look like they’re from an ’80s Norwegian industrial band.

On the flip side of that, Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery are also really dull. Lambert plays this like he’s a charisma vacuum while Connery makes sure that the audience understands that he doesn’t endorse this film and just needed to buy his wife a new house.

I guess Virginia Madsen is the most likable person in the movie but she’s completely drowned out by all the fuckery going on around her.

The third worse thing is the special effects and the general aesthetic of the movie. They’re deplorable by 1991 standards and this looks a lot cheaper than the first film. I mean, they’re embarrassingly bad. Almost every sequence in this film looks like a cutscene from an early ’90s cyberpunk PC game. You know, back when they would hire really inexperienced actors to act out live action scenes with terrible effects and dystopian sci-fi sets all around them.

I could go on and keep picking out more negatives but this motion picture doesn’t deserve to have a novel written about it.

I’d talk about the positives but honestly, there aren’t any. And that’s not me being a dick, there really isn’t anything I can pull out of the bottom of this Port-O-Let and say, “Well, this little nugget here isn’t total shit.”

In the end, it was really hard to sit through this and I honestly don’t know if I can get myself to sit through the three sequels after this one. From memory, this was the worst in the series but I don’t have very fond feelings for the others, either.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: the other Highlander sequels, none of which come close to the cool and original first film.

Film Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Release Date: May 25th, 2011 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
Based on: X-Men by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Oliver Plat, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Jason Flemyng, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Michael Ironside, Ray Wise, James Remar, Hugh Jackman (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, Ingenious Film Partners, Twentieth Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t stop thinking about the others out there, all those minds that I touched. I could feel them, their isolation, their hopes, their ambitions. I tell you we can start something incredible, Erik. We can help them.” – Professor Charles Xavier

While I haven’t seen this picture since it was in the theater, it left a great impression on me and gave me hope for the future of the X-Men franchise in film. Granted, we’d get two pretty good movies and two mostly poopy ones, but the weak whimpering farts of the second half of the prequel series of films didn’t take away my satisfaction with this one and its followup, Days of Future Past.

It was nice to revisit this, all these years later, as it holds up fairly well, even if I’m not as optimistic about the franchise now.

To start, this was much better than the last of the first run of films, X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie left such a bad taste in my mouth that anything better would have made me happy. Luckily, this was a lot better but I think that my original impression was a bit over-inflated due to the precedent set before it.

That’s not to say that this isn’t solid, it is. This is, in fact, a damn good superhero film and one of the best in the schizophrenic X-Men series.

What really sets this one on a pedestal is that the story was pretty good and the acting, at least from the core actors, was convincing and impressive. I didn’t know much about Michael Fassbender, before this, and I wasn’t yet sold on James McAvoy, but this picture cemented both men as two of my favorites over the last decade.

On the flip side of that, you also had some really weak performances from January Jones, who felt out of place and awkward, as well as the younger actors in the cast. A few of them would become better actors over time but they all mostly felt green, here.

I did like the inclusion of Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt in this, as well as character actors Michael Ironside, James Remar and Ray Wise. While the character actors had small roles, they added an extra level of legitimacy and coolness to the picture.

I loved that this took place in the ’60s, tied to the Cuban Missile Crisis and also went back into Nazi Germany to establish the relationship between Magneto and Sebastian Shaw. The general look and aesthetic of the film were really good and it actually fits with the previous X-Men films, despite those being set over thirty years later. One thing Fox did well, while they managed the X-Men movie franchise, was that they kept everything sort of visually consistent.

My only real gripe about the film is that there isn’t enough emphasis on the actual “first class” of students, which this film is named after. They all felt generic and disposable, cast to play archetypes and nothing more. Sure, some of them are major comic book characters but they didn’t feel that way in this movie.

Overall, this was a good, fresh, soft reboot of the series. It eventually ties to the older films and the series becomes an even bigger continuity clusterfuck but at least this generation of the franchise started out on the right foot.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Fox X-Men films.

Film Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

Also known as: Terminator 4, Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins (working titles), T4, T4: Salvation, Project Angel (working titles)
Release Date: May 14th, 2009 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: McG
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Based on: characters by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Jane Alexander, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Ironside, Linda Hamilton (voice – uncredited)

The Halcyon Company, Wonderland Sound and Vision, Columbia Pictures, 115 Minutes, 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“This is John Connor. If you’re listening to this, you are the resistance. Listen carefully, if we attack tonight, our humanity is lost. Command wants us to fight like machines. They want us to make cold, calculated decisions. But we are not machines! And if we behave like them, then what’s the point in winning? Command is going to ask you to attack Skynet. I am asking you not to. If even one bomb drops on Skynet before sunrise, our future will be lost. So please stand down. Give me time to protect the future that all of us are fighting for. This is John Connor.” – John Connor

While this is the best Terminator movie since the outstanding Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the franchise has had a pretty low bar since that 1991 masterpiece.

Terminator Salvation isn’t necessarily a bad motion picture, it’s just an absolutely dull one with no substance to speak of.

At this point, I guess they decided to finally have a movie take place after Judgment Day. This was also supposed to kick off a new trilogy with stars Christian Bale and Bryce Dallas Howard, contractually attached to two sequels. None of that panned out, however, as Bale wasn’t this franchise’s savior, despite The Dark Knight coming out less than a year before this.

I remember people being stoked when Bale was cast as an adult, war-weathered John Connor. But the fact of the matter is that he was boring as hell, way too dry and looked just as bored in the film as the audience did watching it. Where was that emotion from his famous meltdown from the set that became a massive meme during this movie’s production?

No one else really seemed like they wanted to be there either, except for Anton Yelchin, who actually put some passion into the role of a young Kyle Reese. Yelchin was the best thing in the film and unfortunately his role was greatly cut down from the original script, as Bale joined the cast later and had the film reworked to feature him more.

Sam Worthington, a guy I don’t like in anything, was so lifeless that it was fitting that his character was actually already dead.

The film looks as dull as its actors’ faces. It was filmed in a boring desert with late ’90s style edgy boi lens filters that tried to add some grit but the film ended up looking like a straight-to-DVD low budget ’00s Jean-Claude Van Damme flick instead of a tent-pole blockbuster with a 200 million dollar budget.

The big finale sends John Connor into a Terminator factory where he faces off with a Terminator that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It isn’t really Arnold, however, it’s just another actor with a really bad Arnold CGI face superimposed over his visage. This shit looked so bad that they shouldn’t have done it or wasted money on it in the first place. Just use the jacked actor to play the big cyborg. It was distracting as hell, takes you out of the movie and it looked worse than facial CGI effects from almost a decade prior.

I’m done. Fuck this movie. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. I only watched it this time in an effort to review it before going on to the latest film in the shitty saga, Terminator: Dark Fate. I’ll watch and review that one in the fairly near future.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other shitty Terminator movies, so everything after Judgment Day.

Film Review: Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)

Also known as: Prom Night 2 (shortened title), The Haunting of Hamilton High (Germany)
Release Date: May 11th, 1987 (Cannes)
Directed by: Bruce Pittman
Written by: Ron Oliver
Music by: Paul Zaza
Cast: Michael Ironside, Wendy Lyon, Justin Louis, Lisa Schrage, Richard Monette

Simcom Limited, Allarcom Limited, British Columbia Television, Norstar Releasing, Alliance Atlantis, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 97 Minutes

Review:

“It’s not who you come with, it’s who takes you home.” – Mary Lou Maloney

Surprisingly, I had never seen this movie before. But thanks to it being featured on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, I finally got to check it out. I also had no idea that this wasn’t an actual sequel to the first film and was it’s own thing that only took the Prom Night title after it was filmed. I guess that was to market it better.

Originally titled The Haunting of Hamilton High, this cheap Canadian horror film stands out well on its own and maybe would’ve had more of a cult following had it stuck to that original title. And even though its premise borrows quite heavily from Carrie, it’s different enough to not just be a simple ripoff of that film.

Also, like Carrie, the girl with the magical powers that ruins the prom is an innocent victim. However, she is played up here as evil because I guess sluts are bad. But before she died, she was simply horny and cheating on her boyfriend. Now her boyfriend burns her alive but it was an accident. But the adult version of him, played by Michael Ironside, is pretty much a target when Mary Lou comes back from the dead 30 years later.

So with magic and the undead involved, this isn’t a straight up slasher like its predecessor in name only. This is one of those supernatural slashers, where the evil presence possesses other people and also uses a sort of telekinetic power. Or she just attacks as an invisible ghost, it’s hard to say which one it is for sure when she murders the pregnant teen by hanging her. But later on, she does telekinetically explode neon signs, which impale a girl.

While this is not a great movie, it doesn’t need to be. It does its job, it entertains and it leaves horny teenagers in its wake. What more do you want with an ’80s horror picture? Sure, it could have gored it up a bit more but it’s not completely lacking in that regard.

Also, Michael Ironside is a fucking bawse!

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Carrie and all its sequels/reboots, as well as the other Prom Night movies even if they are unrelated.

Film Review: Turbo Kid (2015)

Release Date: January 26th, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Written by: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
Music by: Jean-Philippe Bernier, Jean-Nicolas Leupi
Cast: Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Edwin Wright, Aaron Jeffery, Michael Ironside

EMA Films, Timpson Films, Epic Pictures Group, 95 Minutes

Review:

There seems to be a lot of modern films that are homages to bygone cinema. We’ve had modern grindhouse pictures and now 80s style flicks have been popping up here and there. Turbo Kid is an homage to 80s post-apocalyptic action movies but it is also much more than that.

This retro formula doesn’t always work out for the nostalgic filmmakers behind these sort of pictures. Turbo Kid, however, was an overwhelmingly positive experience for me.

Unlike the very short and similar retro epic Kung Fury, this film can follow a narrative and stay on track without becoming distracted by gimmickry and trying to do too much too quickly.

This movie also has some gravitas in the fact that it features the villainous presence of Michael Ironside, who always gave us great villains back in the 1980s. I fondly remember him as the evil warlord Overdog in the mediocre but still cool Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, a movie featuring a young Molly Ringwald in a post-apocalyptic setting before her breakout a year later in Sixteen Candles.

This film also has an Indiana Jones clone who has a buddy that is a Mola Ram clone (the villain from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom). There is also a character that resembles the characters Thunder and Rain from John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China. Apart from that, other characters have little flourishes that many will find familiar.

The other bad guy and the coolest thing in the movie is a metal skull-faced dude that shoots circular saw blades like Chinese stars with the velocity of a shotgun. He’s obviously an homage to many of the Mad Max villains but a lot more extreme.

The main characters are played by Munro Chambers and Laurence Leboeuf, two young stars that I am going to pay more attnetion to. Chambers is the title character and he evolves into the heroic Turbo Kid. Leboeuf is the cute, sweet, goofy and lovable friendship robot Apple. Leboeuf was just a perfect character in every way and she kept the film grounded, making it something really genuine where this thing could have easily just been an insane gore festival relying solely on nostalgia and cheap tricks.

And yes, the film is incredibly gory. It is so over the top though that it isn’t really gross or offensive, it is mostly comedic in the right way. Essentially, this is supposed to be a living comic book and it is.

I can’t end this without mentioning the score by Le Matos. It fits the tone and style of the film perfectly with its 80s synth tunes. It is a throwback to the soundtracks heard in films like Miami Connection and a lot of the pictures put out by Cannon Films. It fits in today with a lot of the retro wave artists who are making modern music that sounds like 80s film tunes – artists such as Kavinsky, Lazerhawk, Miami Nights 1984, Dynatron, Timecop1983, VHS Dreams, Mitch Murder and others.

Everything about Turbo Kid just feels right. It hit all the right notes but it gave us something that is much more than the sum of its parts. Accomplishing a feat like that is rare and I hope that the sequel, which is in preproduction, can live up to the high bar set by this film.

For those of you with Netflix, this is streaming right now.

Rating: 8.25/10