Film Review: The Wraith (1986)

Also known as: Turbocop (Mexico), Interceptor (Germany)
Release Date: October, 1986 (Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Mike Marvin
Written by: Mike Marvin
Music by: Michael Hoenig, J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Charlies Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Clint Howard, Griffin O’Neal

New Century Entertainment Corporation, Alliance Entertainment, Turbo Productions, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You listen to me, you son-of-a-bitch! There’s a kid out there usin’ his car to kill people, not that it’s such a big deal since it seems to be your gang he’s got it in for… so, if you guys try to take the law into your own hands, and that killer turns up dead, I’m gonna see you all sniffin’ cyanide in the Arizona gas chamber.” – Sheriff Loomis

This is one of those movies that used to come on late at night on cable, usually with an introduction by Joe Bob Briggs via TNT’s MonsterVision. I always got glued to the set whenever it was on though, as there is just something so surreal and bizarre about it.

The plot is basically the same as The Crow, except the dead guy looking for revenge isn’t an invincible goth dude with a pet bird. Instead, he’s Charlie Sheen and he has the ability to turn into a ghost car. But then, that’s kind of confusing because he ends up giving the car to his little brother at the end, as he goes off into the sunset on his motorcycle with Audrey from Twin Peaks.

Anyway, Tucson is overrun by a gang of race car thugs. They bully people into racing them, cheat to win and then take their car. Charlie Sheen in his previous, less dreamy form, was murdered by the gang because he was having sex with Audrey from Twin Peaks, who the gang leader is obsessed over.

Sheen comes back, turns into a ghost car a.k.a. a Dodge M4S Interceptor and kills the gang members, one at a time, in races that end with them usually being blown to bits. Although, their bodies remain intact with their eyes looking like they’ve been burnt out. I guess Ghost Car Charlie sucks their souls out through their eyes or something. Honestly, it’s not really clear.

The film also stars Nick Cassavetes, son of John, as the gang leader, Clint Howard, as a a guy that looks like a ginger Beavis with glasses, and Randy Quaid, as the no nonsense sheriff that ain’t got time for all this supernatural shit. But the sheriff doesn’t really care about solving the case, as the ghost car is killing off the scumbags of Tucson.

I can’t particularly call this a good film and really, it’ll resonate with a certain type of movie fan. Mostly, fans of ’80s schlock with a sci-fi and supernatural bent. Really, this is a common late night cable movie of the late ’80s and ’90s, so if that’s your thing, you should enjoy this.

There’s not much plot to muck up the insanity and surrealness, which in these type of movies is a real plus. We don’t need all this wacky shit explained, just serve it to us in mass amounts and let us feast.

I can’t say that this is a movie that helped anyone’s career but I certainly don’t think that it hurt anyone’s either. It’s a hearty helping of ham with a dopey but fun script, executed as well as it could be with ’80s special effects and a tight budget.

Plus, it’s got a lot of solid car action.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The Crow, which may have somewhat ripped this story off.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Erick Avari, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.

Film Review: Hard Rain (1998)

Also known as: The Flood (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1998
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Graham Yost
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Richard Dysart, Betty White, Ricky Harris

UGC-PH, Tele-Munchen, BBC, Nordisk Film, Marubeni, Toho, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Look! We just want the money! You guys can walk away, we won’t kill you!” – Jim

This film has more studios, distributors and countries involved in its creation than I have ever seen. Okay, maybe not ever but there is a whole shit ton of people behind this little action movie.

It also has a pretty big cast for a movie about a town vacated due to massive flooding. But the big cast of characters was actually a benefit as this movie has so many twists, turns and character morality shifts that at its core, this is very much film-noir.

Christian Slater plays an armored truck guard. He and his older mentor, played by Edward Asner, get stuck in the flood waters as they are transporting three million dollars from the small town’s bank to safety. They are quickly overcome by a group of thieves, led by Morgan Freeman. Asner’s character is killed in the initial confrontation but Slater escapes and hides the money away in a tomb. As the water rises further, Slater is on the run from Freeman’s gang, who have acquired boats and jet skis to more easily navigate the flooded city streets.

The town is also protected by a three man police force led by Randy Quaid. They seem like a heroic lot but as the film progresses and greed takes over the hearts of nearly everyone in the film, we see the worst come out in those tasked with keeping the peace.

Minnie Driver is thrown into the film because you need eye candy and someone for the hero to try and hook up with. You also have an elderly couple who stayed behind, played by the great Betty White and Richard Dysart. There is also the town’s dam operator, played by Wayne Duvall.

Hard Rain is a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it isn’t a good movie but it is great, mindless fun for ninety minutes. The action is good, there are a lot of layers to the story and there really isn’t a dull moment. I can’t say that the script is good either but at least the plot moves swiftly, offers up some decent surprises and is interesting enough to keep one engaged.

The highlight of the film is the three male leads, all of whom played their parts well and seemed to be having fun with the material.

This is a quintessential ’90s mid-budget action picture. It doesn’t try to do too much and stays pretty grounded in reality. The premise made for an ambitious picture, especially in regards to how much water was needed to create the scenes, but it never felt over the top or ridiculous. The shootout inside the church is marvelously executed and still looks good today.

This is just a fun movie with a good cast that I have to revisit once in awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Broken Arrow, another Christian Slater action film from the same era.

Film Review: The ‘Caddyshack’ Film Series (1980-1988)

Caddyshack was a phenomenon that no one really expected. Panned by critics initially, it went on to be a box office hit and a launching pad for the film careers of Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. It was the final film for Ted Knight but he quickly followed it up with his hit sitcom Too Close For Comfort – one of my favorite shows, as a kid. The film also starred the Gopher, who should have gone on to star in his own animated series and toy line but someone missed the boat on that one.

This film also spawned a sequel, a fairly awful sequel, but we will get to that after I talk about the original.

Caddyshack (1980):

Release Date: July 25th, 1980
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Written by: Douglas Kennedy, Harold Ramis, Brian Doyle-Murray
Music by: Johnny Mandel
Cast: Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Michael O’Keefe, Bill Murray, Cindy Morgan

Orion Pictures, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

caddyshackReview:

The first film is kind of a sentimental piece of art to me.

Reason being, not only does it feature several comedians I adored as a kid of the 1980s, and that I still love and respect, but it was shot near my home. As a kid and teenager, I have been to the golf course and pool used in the film multiple times. Actually, I didn’t even know that the pool I used regularly, was the Caddyshack pool until a few years after the fact.

Personal stories aside, it may not be a flawless film or even a great film but it is still a gem and a classic. It put the spotlight on several actors who went on to achieve greatness. It was a smorgasbord of different comedy styles that meshed well together. It featured two greats from Saturday Night Live, at a time when that show was still breaking ground and changing the television game. It also featured veteran funny men who created iconic characters.

The only people who suffered and maybe didn’t get their proper moment to shine were the regular cast of caddies and club goers. Would it had been a better, more fluid film, had the regular cast been allowed to tell their characters’ stories? Perhaps. But would it have been as beloved?

Caddyshack is a fun movie. It is simple in its execution but stellar in its heart. Whether you even like golf or not, is of no consequence here. The country club is just the backdrop for comedic geniuses at the top of their game.

And I should point out that rock legend Kenny Loggins made one of the best movie themes of all-time for this picture.

Caddyshack II (1988):

Release Date: July 22nd, 1988
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Harold Ramis, Peter Torokvei
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Jackie Mason, Robert Stack, Dyan Cannon, Dina Merrill, Jonathan Silverman, Brian McNamara, Marsha Warfield, Paul Bartel, Randy Quaid, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd

Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

caddyshack_iiReview:

The problem with Caddyshack II, in my estimation, is that they waited too long to make it. The only cast member that they could lure back was Chevy Chase and he is barely in it.

Replacing Bill Murray, as the gopher hunter, is Dan Aykroyd. Even though he was at the height of his career, Aykroyd’s character was too bizarre for its own good. He kind of took the weird Murray shtick from the first film and turned up the volume a little too high.

You have Robert Stack as the new villain, replacing Ted Knight, who passed away before this film. Stack was not the great comedic bad guy that Knight was. And it was strange watching the guy who was the face of Unsolved Mysteries trying to fill in for the lovable and hilarious Knight.

Jackie Mason, an old comedian that I love, was the sole bright spot of the movie. However, he was chosen to be the Rodney Dangerfield character. While I enjoyed Mason, he just didn’t have the chops Dangerfield had 8 years prior. But I certainly appreciate the enthusiasm he showed in this role.

Jonathan Silverman, was in this too. He was was a non-event here but would go on to star alongside Andrew McCarthy in the classic Weekend At Bernie’s a year later. You can go ahead and ignore Weekend At Bernie’s II though.

The movie also features the talents of Marsha Warfield, Dyan Cannon, Randy Quaid and a favorite of mine, Pepe Serna.

Caddyshack II was just a bad movie. It was barely funny and the gags were just too far out there. It is worth a watch just to see it but don’t expect an urge to revisit it often like the original.