Film Review: Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 (complete title)
Release Date: February 5th, 1993
Directed by: Gene Quintano
Written by: Don Holley, Gene Quintano, Tori Tellem
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Samuel L. Jackson, Kathy Ireland, Frank McRae, Tim Curry, William Shatner, Jon Lovitz, Lance Kinsey, Denis Leary, F. Murray Abraham, Danielle Nicolet, Beverly Johnson, Ken Ober, Bill Nunn, Lin Shaye, James Doohan, Erik Estrada, Larry Wilcox, Corey Feldman, Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Gleason, Phil Hartman, Richard Moll, J. T. Walsh, Rick Ducommun, Vito Scotti, Charles Napier, Charles Cyphers, Denise Richards, Allyce Beasley, Joyce Brothers, Charlie Sheen, Robert Shaye, Chirstopher Lambert (deleted scene), Bruce Willis (uncredited)

National Lampoon, 3 Arts Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Nice weather? You think we’re having… nice weather? I guess you didn’t lose the only one that meant anything in your life. I guess you don’t feel burned out by the human misery and despair perpetrated by the criminal vermin that infest every pore of this decaying city, forcing you to guzzle cheap wine and cheaper whiskey to dull the pain that shatters your heart, rips at your soul, and keeps your days forever gray. What flavor Icee you got today?” – Colt

Regular readers of this site probably already know that I’m not a big fan of parody movies outside of Mel Brooks’ work. However, ever now and again, I discover a parody film that is actually quite good.

I never saw National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 because I didn’t have much interest, even when it came out in 1993 and I was a huge Lethal Weapon fan. These films tend to be predictable, lame and lowest common denominator humor. While this is pretty low brow and a bit predictable, it wasn’t lame and it was actually really well done and executed.

I think this stands above other films like it because it has a really solid cast with several heavy-hitters that just commit to the material so convincingly, it makes everything work. You buy into the goofy jokes and the absurdity of it all and frankly, Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson had good chemistry. I wouldn’t say that it was on the level of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but they played off of each other nicely and looked like they were having a blast playing these characters.

WIlliam Shatner and Tim Curry were both enjoyable as villain characters. Shatner went into this with no fucks given and it just made his performance that much more entertaining. I loved his accent, his facial expressions and the guy isn’t just a sci-fi legend, he’s a master of comedic timing.

This ridiculous film is just a lot of fun. If you like buddy action films and have a sense of humor, you’ll probably dig this.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the Lethal Weapon films and the dozen other movies this parodies, as well as other parody films of the time.

Film Review: Die Hard (1988)

Release Date: July 12th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Based on: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, William Atherton, Clarence Gilyard, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Al Leong, Robert Davi, Rick Ducommun, Mary Ellen Trainor

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 132 Minutes

Review:

“This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.” – Hans Gruber, “That was Gary Cooper, asshole.” – John McClane

I ended the year and the holiday season on a bang, as I got to see Die Hard on the big screen. I saw the second and the third ones in the theater but seeing the original on a 3o foot tall screen wasn’t something I got to experience when I was nine years-old in the summer of 1988. I’m glad I got to rectify that injustice, as Die Hard is purely perfection.

Yes, I know that using a word like “perfection” is pretty bold but Die Hard made a bold statement when it came out in a time when the action genre was ruled over by the two kings of the ’80s: Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

Bruce Willis was a nobody in 1988, other than being Cybill Shepherd’s sidekick on TV’s Moonlighting and for playing a good villain in one episode of Miami Vice. This is the film that made him a star and a household name, almost instantly.

This film has a pretty amazing ensemble cast as well. You have two of the ’80s biggest weaselly character actors with Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) and William Atherton (Ghostbusters and Real Genius). You have the ’80s and ’90s quintessential lovable cop, Carl Winslow himself, Reginald VelJohnson. You’ve also got Robert Davi as an FBI agent and Al Leong as an evil henchman, which was his modus operandi back in the ’80s.

The two biggest parts, after Willis’ John McClane, are Bonnie Bedelia, as his wife, and Alan Rickman, as the German terrorist Hans Gruber. As great as Rickman always was and even considering his iconic run as Snape in the Harry Potter films, this, to me, was always his greatest role. Having just seen this again, I still feel that this was the greatest and coolest role that Rickman ever had. He played it so well, even with his fairly funny scenes faking an American accent.

While the 1980s gave us the best action movies of all-time, many of them have flaws and a certain level of cheesiness to them, especially now, three decades later. Die Hard, however, still brings it. And while it has its funny lines and moments, they never got cheesy. It all still works and works well. The plot is solid, the action is amazing, well thought out, well executed and there are a lot of layers to the film that all weave together in a sort of brilliant way that you just don’t see in straight up action flicks.

Die Hard is perfect. And the reason why is that it is damn near impossible to pick it apart and to try and figure out a better way to make it work. It doesn’t feel dated and it should when looked at within the context of when it came out and what the standard was at the time. The vast majority of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s movies feel dated but somehow, Die Hard feels truly timeless. It’s a smarter and better executed film than one would probably assume at first glance. It is greater than the sum of its parts and all the elements of the film come together seamlessly and impeccably.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The Breakfast Club (1985)

Release Date: February 15th, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Keith Forsey, Gary Chang
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

A&M Films, Channel Productions, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

I got to see this on the big screen thanks to Flashback Cinema, who are doing a fantastic job at bringing classics back to participating theaters.

It is really a rare thing for a film to transcend its time. For a film that is so very much 80s, it is even rarer.

The Breakfast Club is certainly a representation of the era in which it came out in but it carries a message and a feeling that is timeless. Frankly, 1980s American teen life is on display here but John Hughes created something so deep that it reflects the attitude and feeling of the youth from any generation. While I don’t think that was his intention, at the time, his magnum opus The Breakfast Club, over thirty years later, still gives a voice to teenagers struggling with their growth into adulthood.

Being shot in under two months, primarily in a high school gymnasium made to look like a school library, the film far exceeds its spacial and production limitations. The first cut of the film, before heavy edits, came in at 150 minutes. It’d be great to see that version but an extended cut has never been released, even though it still supposedly exists.

Hughes also assumed that this would be his first film, as he had no directing experience and wanted to create it in a single space in quick time. However, he did do Sixteen Candles before The Breakfast Club, which thankfully lead to the casting of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, after their performances in that film.

Hall played Brian, the brainy character. Ringwald was originally supposed to play the recluse Allison but she begged to be Claire, which lead to the casting of Ally Sheedy as Allison. Emilio Estevez was initially slated to play the rebellious John Bender but was switched to the jock Andy after the casting of Andy didn’t go well. Judd Nelson beat out John Cusack for the role of Bender, as he was able to come off as meaner. He also took the method acting route which caused Hughes to want to fire him due to how he treated Ringwald off camera. The cast ultimately stuck up for Nelson and he stayed in the film.

I don’t often times describe the casting process in the films I review but when you have an ensemble that is near perfect, it is interesting to see how things came together in that regard, especially with all the shifting that happened in pre-production. The end result was a perfect storm that gave us characters that are bigger than the film itself.

The acting was superb, even though some of the dialogue is 80s cheesy, primarily the insults. This was a quintessential Brat Pack movie though and they weren’t all famous because they were cool kid actors, they were famous because they had acting chops. Compare the Brat Pack starring teen flicks of the 80s with those not starring Brat Pack members and there is a huge gap in talent and quality. Granted, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is a rare exception to this point.

I have watched this film many times throughout the years but each time is a reminder of just how good it is. The characters are all pretty relatable in their own unique ways. And as I move into middle adulthood, it is kind of a character check on myself, as I am reminded of the struggle that teens go through and how they view older people and authority in general. I’m not a parent but I hope that this film at least opened the eyes of many of the young teens who grew up and are parents now. It is hard to remember your emotions and thoughts from your teen years but somehow The Breakfast Club brings it all back.

The Breakfast Club is the finest film John Hughes ever made, which is a pretty big deal when almost everything he did became iconic. He didn’t just define a teenage generation, he defined all teenage generations. And all these years later, the film still resonates pretty profoundly.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: The Ewok Film Series (1984-1985)

I really liked the Ewok films when I was a kid. I didn’t even care that there weren’t lightsabers and Star Destroyers.

So how would I feel about it as a 38 year-old adult? And right after watching the six theatrical Star Wars films again? Review on those, coming shortly.

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984):

Release Date: November 25th, 1984
Directed by: John Korty
Written by: George Lucas, Bob Carrau
Music by: Peter Bernstein
Cast: Eric Walker, Warwick Davis, Fionnula Flanagan, Guy Boyd, Aubree Miller, Burl Ives (narrator)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Korty Films, Walt Disney, 97 Minutes

Review:

“A rock? These little bears are nuts!” – Mace

These were television movies and they were unlike all the other Star Wars films before them. These took place entirely on the Forest Moon of Endor and were about the Ewoks who live there. According to various sources, they take place just before the events of Return of the Jedi. Which is strange, considering the Ewoks meet humans and Wicket can speak basic (or English) and then in Return of the Jedi, they try to barbecue humans and then can’t speak a lick of basic. Also, there is no Imperial presence or half-built Death Star in the sky. Let’s ignore those details however.

These movies didn’t hold up in regards to special effects. There is a lot of really outdated stop motion. This is mostly used while the heroes are fighting big creatures but it is a definite step down in quality from the theatrical films. I can’t hold that against these movies though, as they were made for television and had a very limited budget compared to the bigger films before them.

Caravan of Courage is still pretty easy to watch and it is entertaining. It makes the Ewoks more relatable and it delves into their culture more than their limited presence in Return of the Jedi. It also expands everything you think you know about Endor. It is more vast than what you can take away from Return of the Jedi. And these films’ existence, is probably why I don’t dislike the Ewoks in Jedi when so many other fans do. Caravan of Courage succeeded in making the Ewoks more than just space teddy bears.

In this film, the story follows Mace and Cindil, who are shipwrecked on Endor. They meet the Ewoks and enlist their help in trying to track down their missing parents. There are challenges every step of the way. There is also a lot of use of magic, which makes these films feel more like Tolkien than Lucas but in a galaxy with the Force, is it really that implausible? Besides, I don’t think that these are considered canon anymore, after Disney bought the franchise.

Caravan of Courage is a heartwarming movie, it plays pretty quickly at 94 minutes and is full of enough adventure to keep you engaged.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Ewok movie and the original Star Wars trilogy of films.

Ewoks: The Battle For Endor (1985):

Release Date: November 24th, 1985
Directed by: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat
Written by: George Lucas, Jim Wheat, Kim Wheat
Music by: Peter Bernstein
Cast: Wilford Brimley, Warwick Davis, Aubree Miller, Paul Gleason, Carel Struycken, Niki Botelho, Eric Walker, Sian Phillips

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Star cruiser… crash, crash!” – Wicket

The second movie is the better of the two. It also brings in more characters and is lead by Wilford Brimley, most known for Cocoon, The Thing, Our House and commercials about oatmeal and “DIABEETUS!”

Where the first film relied on narration to talk about the Ewoks, this chapter quickly pulls the other Ewoks out and focuses on Wicket, who can speak basic very well. It makes the interractions between Cindil and Wicket more direct.

In this movie, Cindil’s entire family is killed by barbaric marauders and the Ewoks are captured. Wicket and Cindil escape, meet Teek (a speedy alien) and a grumpy old man named Noa. Together they go on to rescue the Ewoks and save the day, conquering the evil space barbarians and a witch that can turn into a bird.

Okay, the summary sounds ridiculous but it works for the film.

This movie is just better than the first in that it starts off treading some dark territory but evolves into a film about friendship, love and compassion. It brings together strangers and shows just how broad “family” can be.

Also, Wicket isn’t just a child Ewok in this movie, he is actually pretty bad ass.

The direction was good, the acting improved, the sets were better, the world was bigger and the score was really good for not being done by John Williams.

Yes, these films feel dated but who cares? Both are still pretty watchable and one could argue that they are better than the Prequel Trilogy. I’m not the one to argue that, I’m just saying one could.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Ewok movie and the original Star Wars trilogy of films.

Film Review: Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993)

Release Date: July 7th, 1993
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Robert Z’Dar, Robert Davi, Caitlin Dulany, Gretchen Becker, Paul Gleason, Doug Savant, Jackie Earle Haley, Robert Forster, Julius Harris

First Look Studios, NEO Motion Pictures, HBO, Academy Home Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

Well, despite Manic Cop II being better than the first film, the trend of improving through the sequels ended there. Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence is mostly, pretty damn awful.

So Roberet Z’Dar is still the Maniac Cop. Robert Davi also returns and is cool and bad ass. You also have Jackie Earle Haley as Drug Addicted Douchebag, Paul Gleason as Secret Murder Douchebag, Robert Forster as Dr. Douchebag and Doug Savant as Horn Dog Douchebag.

In this chapter, the Maniac Cop gets a crush on a female cop who was shot in the line of duty and is possibly going to die in the hospital. The city bureaucrats and crooked cops, who didn’t learn anything from the Maniac Cop’s quest for revenge over the first two films, decide to kill the lady cop to avoid bad press or something. Maniac Cop doesn’t like this and he sets out to murder all those evil douchebags that have hurt his crush. Of course, other people aren’t safe, either.

Overall, this film in the series is pretty boring when compared to the two pictures before it. It is really just drab in almost every way. It also employs a voodoo story line which was being done to death in this era of horror. We already saw it in the Child’s Play series, Candyman and The Serpent and the Rainbow but it was in a ton of movies in the mid-80s through mid-90s.

There is one really cool and memorable sequence, and that is when our heroes are in an ambulance and Maniac Cop, body on fire, pulls up alongside them driving a cop car. This sequence goes on for far too long but seeing a man on fire, driving a squad car in a lengthy car chase was really impressive.

Before that scene, Maniac Cop caught on fire in a church and it felt like a poor rehash of the “Maniac Cop on fire” scene from the prison in Manic Cop 2. However, carrying it over into a car chase redeemed its recycling and upped the ante quite a bit.

Ultimately, this film stinks. It was the first in the series to be almost universally disliked by critics and fans of the series. It is the only one to sit at below 5.0 on IMDb, putting it in the negative half of their rating spectrum. Granted it is currently at 4.9. Regardless, there was never another Maniac Cop after this one. Although there is a remake being developed by Nicholas Winding Refn of Drive fame.

Rating: 3.25/10