Film Review: Blow Out (1981)

Release Date: July 24th, 1981
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz

Cinema 77, Geria Productions, Filmways Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Ya know, the only trouble I ever got into was when I was too careful!” – Sally

After watching Dressed to Kill about a week ago, I didn’t want to waste much time before checking out another neo-noir thriller by Brian De Palma. I decided to go in chronological order so I picked Blow Out over Body Double but I do plan to watch that other one in the very near future.

Another reason why I wanted to get into this one was to see how it measures up to Dressed to Kill, as it came out just a year later and it featured some of the same players in Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz. Also, this re-teams Allen with this film’s lead, John Travolta. The two also starred alongside each other in De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie.

While this is the second film in a row where Allen plays a lady of the night, this character is very different from her character in Dressed to Kill. Here, she is more ditzy and too trusting where in Dressed to Kill, she was sharp as a tack and weary of those around here. I actually really like her in both roles and despite playing similar characters, they’re both different enough to show her range as an actress. And honestly, I’ve underrated her work and didn’t really recognize her ability until seeing her in De Palma’s films.

John Travolta is also on his A-game here and in fact, he’s dynamite. This may be one of the top two or three performances I’ve seen from Travolta and it’s surprising to me that not too long after this, his career sort of floundered and he didn’t bounce back till 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

The real scene stealer though is John Lithgow, who just has the uncanny ability to play crazy, really damn well. He’s played these types of characters multiple times but this is the oldest example of it that I can think of or that I have seen. He’s got the incredible ability to be a lovable patriarch on one had and to be an absolutely chilling bastard on the other. And here, with De Palma’s direction, he is a pretty intense predator that exudes danger from his very presence.

The fact that Travolta’s day job in this film is as a sound engineer for slasher pictures actually adds a lot to the film’s tone and narrative style. While this isn’t a slasher picture, it does present Lithgow as a slasher like character, as he stalks his prey (pretty women) and brutally murders them.

While this film shares a similar tone to Dressed to Kill it is less cerebral and is more of a straightforward political thriller. That certainly doesn’t mean that it is lacking. It still carries on De Palma’s Hitchcockian vibe that has been alive and well in his pictures before this. Because of that, though, this film has an energy and a style to it that is enthralling and intriguing. And despite channeling Hitchcock, De Palma’s films still have a certain panache that is all their own.

Looking at Dressed to Kill and Blow Out side-by-side, I prefer the former. But that doesn’t mean that Blow Out is less of a film. Dressed to Kill was more my cup of tea because it’s damn twisted, somewhat taboo and a bit darker.

That being said, Blow Out is still a fantastic thriller and in the upper echelon of Brian De Palma’s oeuvre.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other noir-esque films: Dressed to Kill and Body Double.

Film Review: Dressed to Kill (1980)

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, William Finley (voice, uncredited)

Filmways Pictures, Cinema 77 Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Doctor, I am not paranoid. Bobbi was making threats over the phone. She said she’s going to hurt me. My patient was slashed to death. And now my razor is gone. Now you don’t have to be a detective to figure it out, do you?” – Doctor Robert Elliot

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this picture but if Brian De Palma’s early films are any indicator, I knew that this would be bizarre, artistic and intelligent.

And it was those three things but it was also damn compelling and honestly, damn impressive.

I loved this film and it’s a shame that I hadn’t seen it before this. It was intense, melodic, sweet, scary and most importantly, intriguing.

While this picture is very De Palma-esque, maybe the most De Palma-esque of the man’s work, it is also very Hitchcockian, as the narrative and the shot framing displays a young De Palma’s callback to Hitchcock’s style and tropes.

Still, this is very much De Palma’s composition and not a cheap attempt at trying to emulate one of the masters before him. Honestly, it comes off as a respectful homage that creates a familiar framework that De Palma could then artistically build off of.

This is also very much a noir story. It has twists, turns, mystery, secrets that evolve and a shocking reveal when all is said and done. It’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to do some of the stuff they did in the time that this was made.

What really solidifies this as a great movie, aside from the solid direction and story by De Palma, is the cast.

Nancy Allen really carries this movie once she becomes the focus. And honestly, I’ll always love Allen simply for being a huge part of RoboCop but I never really thought much of her as an actress. Not to say she’s bad, she’s perfectly fine. But in this film, she really got to do some daring things. Honestly, it has motivated me to check out De Palma’s Blow Out in the near future as it also features her under De Palma’s direction.

I was really impressed with Keith Gordon and Angie Dickinson as well.

Michael Caine also plays an very important role but it’s Michael Caine, so one should expect a damn fine performance because I don’t think I’ve ever seen the guy not deliver.

I’d love to go deeper into the story and analyze some of it but I don’t want to spoil this for anyone. It’s a film that needs to be seen without knowing much about the plot and a Google search will probably spoil some major details.

If you like De Palma, Hitchcock influenced cinema or neo-noir, than you’ll probably like this picture.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Brian De Palma films, especially Blow Out and Body Double.

Film Review: RoboCop 3 (1993)

Release Date: May 1st, 1993 (Japan)
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Frank Miller, Fred Dekker
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Robert John Burke, Nancy Allen, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Rip Torn, Mako, John Castle, CCH Pounder, Stephen Root, Jeff Garlin, Shane Black, Bradley Whitford

Orion Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Well, I gotta hand it to ya. What do they call ya? Murphy, is it?” – The CEO, “My friends call me Murphy. You call me… RoboCop.” – RoboCop

RoboCop 3 should not exist. Well, at least in the form that it does.

For one, Peter Weller left the series and Nancy Allen’s Lewis gets killed off pretty early on, leaving us with a movie mostly devoid of the actors and characters we’ve come to care about except for a few minor side ones like the the police sergeant and Johnson.

Not even Dan O’Herlihy came back to play the Old Man in charge of OCP. I guess his absence was explained by OCP being bought by a Japanese company. So instead of the great O’Herlihy, we got a bored looking Rip Torn as the new head of OCP. Johnson was still there though, even if he felt out of place hamming it up with new office buddies.

The story deals with a bunch of poor people getting violently thrown out of their homes so OCP can steal the land and build Delta City, which has been an overused plot point since the first movie. RoboCop catches feelings for the poor people, especially after meeting a four year-old girl that hacks ED-209s and watching Lewis get gunned down by a private military company hired by OCP. There’s also some terrible cyborg ninjas in this. Oh, and RoboCop gets a pointless gun arm and a lame as shit jetpack.

The special effects in this are laughably bad, even looked at within the context of the era this was made in. This is a much cheaper looking movie than RoboCop and RoboCop 2 by a wide margin. ED-209 looks about the same but I’m sure they just reused one of the robots from the first film. RoboCop himself is a new actor but he’s wearing Peter Weller’s suit, which was too short for the new actor and caused him a lot of pain.

RoboCop 3 is just one costly shitshow that has nothing redeeming hidden within it. I’ve only seen this one a few times but I’ve watched the first two at least a dozen times each. This is just really hard to sit through and pretty much a pointless film, overall.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the first two RoboCop movies but they’re far superior and I guess any bad RoboCop ripoffs with an extremely low budget, hokey effects and crappy acting.

Film Review: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Also known as: RoboCop II (working title)
Release Date: June 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Tom Noonan, Belinda Bauer, Gabriel Damon, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Willard E. Pugh, Frank Miller, John Glover, Fabiana Udenio, Patricia Charbonneau (uncredited)

Tobor Productions, Orion Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes we just have to start over, from scratch, to make things right, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to build a brand-new city where Detroit now stands – an example to the world.” – The Old Man

Do you remember that time that RoboCop showed up on a WCW pay-per-view to rescue Sting from the Four Horsemen? Well, that was a stunt to promote this movie. That being said, it would have been a better stunt to promote the third film, as this one wasn’t quite as cheesy as that terrible professional wrestling segment. Spoiler alert: the third movie is terrible but I’ll review that one at a later date.

RoboCop 2 is no RoboCop but it is still a pretty solid sequel, all things considered, and it is still to this day the second best RoboCop film.

Now this isn’t, by any means, a classic. It is, however, a pretty good example of a sequel that can expand on an already established mythos and expand on it in a new way, enriching the world these characters live in and giving us new material that isn’t simply just a retread of the already proven formula.

Peter Weller is still excellent and I was glad that we got to see more of him playing off of Nancy Allen. They have a nice chemistry, which existed in the first movie but didn’t really flourish until the end of it. Sadly, this would be the last time they’d share scenes together, as Weller dropped out of the series before RoboCop 3 was filmed.

The real scene stealer in this film is Tom Noonan, who just plays creepy bad guys so damn well. This was the first time that I remember seeing him but he went on to be one of my favorite character actors of his day. Although, the scenes with the young Gabriel Damon, who plays the child gangster Hob, were pretty f’n great too. The villains here aren’t as great as Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox in the first RoboCop but they are still fantastic foils and gave RoboCop two new types of threats that he didn’t face in the first movie.

I also liked the girl, Angie, and the top level henchman that looked like a cross between Joe Bob Briggs and Elvis.

Additionally, I love that Tom Noonan’s Cain is made into a new cyborg, appropriately called “RoboCop 2”. This was the first time that we got to see RoboCop fight a big villain that was similar to himself and not just a human meatbag. Granted, he has two run ins with ED-209 in the first film but those were relatively easy confrontations for him.

I liked that they really embraced the dark humor a bit more in this film too. The use of kids as legitimate juvenile delinquents in an almost post-apocalyptic Detroit was damn cool. Especially when I saw this as a kid.

A real standout for me though was Willard E. Pugh. I talked about him a bit when I reviewed the severely lackluster The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 because he stood out in that film and was pretty funny and the same can be said here. In this film, he plays the mayor of Detroit and he’s just so enjoyable that it’s almost a crime that he didn’t come back for RoboCop 3. Other than this film, he is probably most famous for playing Trustus Jones in CB4.

My only real complaint about this film is that the score was all new. Basil Poledouris did not return so I guess they didn’t use his iconic themes. The score here is decent but it lacks the extra gravitas that the original RoboCop theme had. Poledouris would return for RoboCop 3, however.

RoboCop 2 is a sequel worthy of following its predecessor. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, or so they say, but this was much better than other sequels to sci-fi classics.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first RoboCop movie and the first two Terminator movies.

Film Review: RoboCop (1987)

Also known as: Robocop: The Future of Law Enforcement (script title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1987
Directed by: Paul Verhoeven, Monte Hellman (uncredited second-unit director)
Written by: Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith, Miguel Ferrer, Ray Wise, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry

Orion Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!” – RoboCop

I put off reviewing RoboCop for a long time on this site because it’s one of my all-time favorite movies and I wanted to save it for a rainy day. Well, the day wasn’t rainy but I was suffering from my almost annual mini cold that all the snowbirds bring down to Florida every January.

It is hard for me to talk about this film and not get overly excited about it, which certainly gives me a strong bias towards it and also taps into nostalgia and the possibility that I can’t be as objective, as I don’t care about a single flaw in the movie. But there really aren’t many, to be honest, and this was absolutely one of the best action movies of the ’80s and really, it’s better than almost every action movie now, 32 years later.

This is a film that just has the right kind of magic. It is lightning in a bottle and even though I like the first sequel, that film doesn’t come close to what director Paul Verhoeven did here. Plus, the script by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner was absolutely superb. But the one thing that really brings everything together is the stupendous score by Basil Poledouris. His work on the Conan films and its themes were wonderful. Poledouris worked his musical magic again and gave RoboCop one of the best themes of all-time and the score is pretty incredible, overall. They just don’t quite make movie music this good anymore and without it, I don’t know if the movie has the same sort of energy and spirit.

All of those elements I just mentioned, created a film where the tone was perfect for the story that they needed to tell. And all of these solid pieces coming together so well still doesn’t account for how great the cast was. I mean, RoboCop truly is a perfect storm of badass sci-fi action.

Peter Weller is RoboCop and it will always be the role he is most remembered for but he has such a long and rich career of amazing performances that it isn’t hard to understand how he was so good in this and how he gave a robotic character a real sense of humanity. You feel his emotion, his pain and it is impossible to not root for Alex Murphy a.k.a. RoboCop.

The villains in this were so damn good though. They were kind of terrifying to me, as a kid, but the impact of who and what they are is still strong and it isn’t lost in a film where there is some of that famous ’80s movie cheese. The bad guys are well written with strong dialogue but they were also well cast between Kurtwood Smith, who steals the show, Ronny Cox, Ray Wise and even Miguel Ferrer, who isn’t specifically a villain but he is a reckless yuppie piece of shit.

I love Dan O’Herlihy in just about everything I’ve seen him in. He was creepy as hell as the villain in Halloween III and on the flip side of the coin, he was absolutely lovable as Grig, the alien co-pilot in The Last Starfighter. This is my favorite role he’s ever played, however. He was great as the old man running OCP, the corporation that pretty much owns all of Detroit. I also love that he continued to play the role after this film.

RoboCop birthed a franchise. While no other movie in the series has lived up to this one, which is a really tall order, it still spawned comic books, video games, a cartoon, action figures, sequels, a live action TV show, TV movies and a remake nearly three decades later. In fact, there is another RoboCop film in development now.

Many ’80s films don’t age well and while this is very much an ’80s motion picture, it doesn’t feel dated in quite the same way as other similar films from the time. RoboCop doesn’t have a dull moment and none of it slows down, it’s just balls out action and super violence of the highest caliber. Even critics love it and this is the type of thing that critics loathe.

If you’ve never seen this film, you’ve done yourself a disservice.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the RoboCop sequels and the first two Terminator movies.

Film Review: Poltergeist III (1988)

Also known as: Poltergeist III: We’re Back
Release Date: June 10th, 1988
Directed by: Gary Sherman
Written by: Gary Sherman, Brian Taggert
Music by: Joe Renzetti
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Lara Flynn Boyle

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Carol Anne! Carol Anne! Carol Anne!” – the whole damn cast, the whole damn movie

Fuck.

Sorry, this made me angry.

Yes, I have seen this film before but it has also been a really long time. While I re-watch the first two every few years, I just remembered this one being so terrible that I never had the urge to see it again. However, it is actually much worse than what I remembered. But since I wanted to revisit all three of these movies for review purposes, I had to tough it out and try to get through this 98 minute mess.

Let me start with the positives of this film to quickly get them out of the way. Surprise, surprise… there is only one positive: the special effects.

Now the general creature effects are actually worse than the two films that predate this, but there are some really good optical effects in regards to how mirrors were used in this picture. There are several scenes where a character is moving on one side of the mirror and evil haunted shit is happening in the reflection. These effects were pulled off magnificently for being done in an era where this couldn’t be achieved through CGI or other easier modern means. There are a few spots were the effect doesn’t work because there are two different actors having to mimic the same movements, like when Nancy Allen’s back is turned away from her evil reflection, but for the most part, this stuff came off great.

But seriously, that’s it for the positives.

I should mention that Tom Skerritt was pretty okay too but I miss Craig T. Nelson.

The rest of the film is plagued by an atrocious script that should have been bird cage liner. Then there is just a slew of unlikable characters who give the audience a clinic on terrible acting and line delivery. Most importantly, this is, by far, the most unimaginative film in the series. The mirror idea was cool to explore but this is all that the movie has going for it and they do it to death. There are literally walls of mirrors and glass in just about every fucking room in this film.

The third act of the movie is just actors running around screaming each other’s names over and over and over and over and over again. Fuck, the final act of this film is mind numbingly repetitive and infuriating.

Plus, this undoes the whole point of the second film, which was about the family’s love for one another overcoming evil. Now Carol Anne’s parents shipped her off to an aunt’s house in Chicago and the family isn’t together. So… yeah, what the fucking fuck?!

It’s terrible that Heather O’Rourke died before this film came out and that it probably ruined any chance for another sequel but regardless, this film alone killed the franchise anyway. I mean, it didn’t just kill it, it took a big ass hippopotamus shit on it.

Man, did this franchise fall into the murky depths of awful.

I think it is best to just ignore this chapter in the franchise and to see the ending of the second film as the true ending of the story. This was just some terrible fan fiction.

And Jerry Goldsmith is terribly missed because this movie’s score sounded like a drunk ape pounding its fists onto a Radio Shack keyboard.

I have to go puke now.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake. And really, you should probably ignore this one too.