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.

Documentary Review: In Search of the Last Action Heroes (2019)

Release Date: September, 2019
Directed by: Oliver Harper
Written by: Oliver Harper, Timon Singh
Music by: Peter Bruce
Cast: Scott Adkins, Shane Black, Ronny Cox, Steven E. de Souza, Bill Duke, Sam Firstenberg, Jenette Goldstein, Matthias Hues, Al Leong, Mark L. Lester, Sheldon Lettich, Zak Penn, Phillip Rhee, Eric Roberts, Cynthia Rothrock, Paul Verhoeven, Vernon Wells, Michael Jai White, Alex Winter, Graham Yost, various

140 Minutes

Review:

When this popped up on Prime Video, I got pretty excited. Especially, because I had just watched Henchman: The Al Leong Story and felt that ’80s action flicks needed more documentary love.

Overall, this was enjoyable and it covered a lot of ground but it also had a beefy running time. However, I felt like they jumped from movie-to-movie too quickly and nothing was really discussed in depth.

Still, this gives the viewer a good idea of how broad, vast and popular the action genre was through the ’80s and into the first half of the ’90s.

I guess the thing that I liked best was that this interviewed a lot of people that were involved in the making of these iconic films. You had actors, directors, writers and stuntmen all taking about their craft and their love for a genre that hasn’t been the same since its peak, a few decades ago.

Now this was a crowdfunded project and with that, you can only do so much. But I wish that some distributor or streaming service saw this and decided to make it much broader like a television series where episodes can focus on specific films or at the very least, spend more time on each era or topic.

Maybe someone will see this, take the bull by the horns and actually do that at some point. But this could be a solid pop culture documentary series like Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us.

For those who love the action flicks of this era, this is certainly worth checking out. Had I known about it when it was raising funds, I would’ve backed it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent historical filmmaking documentaries, most notably Henchman: The Al Leong Story and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

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.