Film Review: Fear City (1984)

Also known as: Border, Ripper (alternative German titles)
Release Date: May 16th, 1984 (Cannes)
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Nicholas St. John
Music by: Dick Halligan, Joe Delia
Cast: Tom Berenger, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Scalia, Melanie Griffith, Michael V. Gazzo, Rossano Brazzi, Rae Dawn Chong, Janet Julian, John Foster, Maria Conchita Alonso, Joe Santos, Ola Ray, Tracy Griffith, Jan Murray

Rebecca Productions, Zupnik-Curtis Enterprises, Twentieth Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“[as Rossi drives off] There’s nothing I hate more than guineas in Cadillacs.” – Al Wheeler

I never saw this film but man, it was pretty damn cool. But when it stars Tom Berenger and Billy Dee Williams as two badasses at odds but hunting the same scumbag, why wouldn’t it be pretty damn cool?

It also stars Melanie Griffith during the best era of her career, just before things took off for her. The reason I like this era for her is that she did a lot of really cool flicks between this, Brian De Palma’s Body Double and the dystopian cyberpunk delight, Cherry 2000.

Griffith plays a stripper being hunted by a slasher type serial killer but she’s also joined by other good up-and-coming actresses also playing her stripper pals. Alongside her we get to see Rae Dawn Chong and Maria Conchita Alonso, two women that would go on to have a pretty good run throughout the ’80s and into the early ’90s.

At it’s core, this is a slasher flick. However, it’s not really a horror movie, as much as it is a crime thriller. It’s directed by Abel Ferrara, who previously directed the cult classic Driller Killer but would later go on to do The King of New York and Bad Lieutenant. This movie actually feels like a natural bridge between his gore littered slasher flick and his more serious crime dramas. Honestly, it mixes the best of both worlds and in my opinion, is probably Ferrara’s best movie even though most people have slept on it – myself included, until now.

If I’m being completely honest, I’ve actually never been a big fan of Ferrara’s work but this film is pretty solid. Granted, I need to revisit The King of New York, as it’s been a few decades since I’ve seen it.

Fear City is just energetic, provocative and ballsy. That’s what I love about it. It’s similar to the tone of a lot of the action movies that Cannon Films was putting out in the ’80s. It has that unapologetic grittiness to it with just a thick layer of cool.

I wish Abel Ferrara had made more movies like this.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Sudden Impact (1983)

Also known as: Dirty Harry IV (working title)
Release Date: December 8th, 1983 (Houston premiere)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Joseph Stinson, Earl E. Smith, Charles B. Pierce
Based on: characters by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman, Albert Popwell, Jack Thibeau, Michael V. Gazzo (uncredited)

The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 117 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, punk. To me you’re nothin’ but dogshit, you understand? And a lot of things can happen to dogshit. It can be scraped up with a shovel off the ground. It can dry up and blow away in the wind. Or it can be stepped on and squashed. So take my advice and be careful where the dog shits ya!” – ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan

So how does Dirty Harry hold up four films deep?

Not so well.

I feel that it’s pretty obvious that the franchise waited too long between the third and fourth films and maybe they should’ve just left the series a trilogy. Coming out in the ’80s, this movie loses its gritty ’70s vibe. Now that didn’t necessarily have to happen, as the Death Wish sequels were pretty solid, especially the second and third films.

This one just took some missteps.

To start, the opening credits have more of an ’80s poppy jazzy tune, which immediately changes the series’ aesthetic.

Additionally, the bulk of the film takes place outside of San Francisco. Seeing Harry fight scumbags in a small California coastal town just isn’t as cool or exciting.

I also didn’t like the story. I mean, it was okay in that it followed a woman trying to get revenge on the pieces of shit that raped her and her sister but the film was really dragged out for too long and the story just couldn’t pick up the momentum it needed.

As far of as the positives, this film does have my favorite scene in the series that doesn’t involve Harry using a gun. It’s the same scene that I quoted to kick off this review.

Also, I really liked Harry’s gun in this film: an AMP Auto Mag Model 180. Ever since seeing this film, as a kid, I wanted to one day own one of these just because of how cool, gigantic and badass it looked. Although, it falls behind the ridiculous Wildey Hunter .475 Magnum that Charles Bronson used in the incredible Death Wish 3.

Apart from those two things, the only other real positive takeaway is the finale. It’s a bit underwhelming, if I’m being honest, but that moment where Harry appears in silhouette on the carnival boardwalk still gives me chills. It’s absolutely one of the best “I just came here to fuck shit up” moments in motion picture history.

Sadly, though, this film doesn’t live up to the Dirty Harry name and feels more like an Eastwood picture that could’ve just existed on its own.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Dirty Harry movies, as well as the Death Wish series.

Film Review: Alligator (1980)

Also known as: El cocodrilo mortal (Peru, Columbia), Der Killer-Alligator (Germany)
Release Date: November 13th, 1980 (Argentina)
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: John Sayles, Frank Ray Perilli
Music by: Craig Hundley
Cast: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael V. Gazzo, Dean Jagger, Henry Silva, Sydney Lassick

Group 1 Films, 94 Minutes

Review:

“How about cats? I got plenty of cats. I also got a parrot I’d like to get rid of.” – Gutchel

Alligator is just one of many Jaws ripoffs. However, this one takes the animal horror carnage and puts it on land. In fact, the killer beast in this movie gets urban, as he terrorizes a city: eating a kid in a swimming pool, eating people at a opulent wedding and snacking on idiots that go into the sewers. The scene where the alligator bursts up through the street while kids are playing baseball is fantastic.

This is one of those movies that used to be on cable almost weekly in the ’80s and early ’90s. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times and well, it still amuses me. Also, it was really my introduction to the great Robert Forster. I mean, I’m pretty sure I saw this before I saw him in The Black Hole. I definitely saw this before Forster’s grittier ’70s stuff and then his resurgence in the ’90s with films like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Forster is a man’s man and he’s no different here, as he makes it his mission to snuff out this giant gator.

I think that this film resonated with me the most out of all the killer animal movies because I grew up in South Florida and this seemed plausible to me. But at that time, I also believed that Cobra had bases in the Everglades and were doing experiments to create weapons to rule the world and destroy G.I. Joe.

Anyway, this film feels very early ’80s but it’s aged well for what it is. The special effects still look good and they are still quite effective. I’d rather watch this any day over some CGI killer gator movie. The practical effects just work so well in this low budget affair and I have to give props to the effects artists that brought the gator to life.

The wedding scene is superb, especially for 1980, and even though a few shots and angles may look a bit hokey, it doesn’t diminish the impact of the scene. I mean, that wedding sequence is batshit crazy but it is better than any big carnage scene from any of the other killer animal movies of the time.

Alligator is just a killer movie, pun intended. You don’t watch these sort of things for acting and stellar directing, you watch them to see people get chomped to bits. This accomplishes that and actually does it better than one would think.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal movies from the late ’70s/early ’80s: Jaws, Piranha, Orca, Grizzly and Alligator II: The Mutation from 1991.

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, Michael V. Gazzo, 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: The Godfather, Part II (1974)

Release Date: December 12th, 1974 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola
Based on: The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Music by: Nino Rota
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Marianna Hill, Lee Strasberg, Bruno Kirby, Joe Spinell, G.D. Spradlin, Frank Civero, Roman Coppola, Danny Aiello, Harry Dean Stanton, James Caan, Abe Vigoda, Richard Bright, Dominic Chianese, Michael V. Gazzo, Connie Mason (uncredited)

The Coppola Company, Paramount Pictures, 200 Minutes

Review:

It is hard saying which is the better movie between The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. For me, both of them are as close to perfect as a movie can get. I like Part II the most overall but I like that Part isn’t broken up by a nonlinear plot and feels more cohesive. I also like the ensemble of the first movie better. That is actually magnified when you get to the end of Part II and see a flashback dinner scene of all the men in the family, excluding Marlon Brando’s Vito. After spending almost seven hours with this family, up to this point, they always seem to be at their best and their most dynamic when all the men are present.

Everything positive I said about the first film still holds true in the second. The acting, direction, cinematography, costumes, art and design are all absolutely top notch.

However, this chapter in the saga takes things to a new level. The world that the Corleone family lives in is even bigger and more opulent. The section of the film that sees Michael go to Cuba is mesmerizing. It adds an extra bit of grit to the picture, not that it needed anymore than it already had.

The highlight of this film is Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the younger Vito Corleone. He took a role that was very much Brando’s and made it his own without stepping on the toes of his elder. It was definitely a performance that deserved the Oscar De Niro got for it. It is also the only time two different actors have won an Oscar for playing the same character.

The film also contrasts the first movie in that you see the Corleone empire being run in different ways. While the family business is the bottom line, Michael goes further than his father in what he’s willing to do to keep the empire running. Michael went from a young man who didn’t want his family to define his legacy, in the first film, to a man that goes to extremes to keep the family together while he is battling the conflict within himself.

Godfather, Part II is a more dynamic and layered story overall and it is well-executed. While I mentioned preferring the linear plot to Part I, the plot is still managed perfectly. The scenes of Michael and then the flashbacks of Vito go hand-in-hand and they reflect off of each other, showing that despite the differences in the father and son characters, that they still travel the same path in a lot of ways.

In reality, The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II just feel like one really long movie that had to be broken into two parts. And the place where they decided to break them, at the end of the first movie, was the best spot. It flawlessly separates the legacies of the two men, out for the same thing but in very different ways.

Rating: 10/10