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: Man’s Best Friend (1993)

Release Date: November 19th, 1993
Directed by: John Lafia
Written by: John Lafia
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Ally Sheedy, Lance Henriksen, Frederic Lehne, Robert Costanzo, John Cassini, J.D. Daniels, William Sanderson, Frank Welker (voice)

Roven-Cavallo Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 87 Minutes

Review:

“When you think of guard dogs, you first think of German Shepherds: they are smart, lethal… but not good enough. Now we developed the new Emax3000. They are totally obsolete.” – Doctor Jarret

This used to be one of those late night guilty pleasures of mine, as it used to be a film that you’d find on cable at like three in the morning. When I used to be a night shift security guard, this was in constant rotation. Granted, I haven’t really seen it since then, so I figured I’d revisit it, as I noticed it was streaming on Starz.

Man’s Best Friend is far from great but it’s that sort of ’90s horror/sci-fi cheese that I love. Plus, it has Lance Henriksen in it as an evil scientist, so that automatically gives it a few extra points in the cool category.

The story is about a reporter/activist that breaks into an animal lab to expose whatever weird experiments may be going on there. She discovers a big dog that takes a liking to her and she decides to keep him as a pet. Shortly after that, Max, the dog, stops a potential rapist/purse thief and the woman feels a real bond with the dog.

As the audience, we discover that the dog is a total, murderous bastard well before the woman does. Henriksen’s Dr. Jarret is also on the hunt for the dog, as he knows what kind of murderous rampage that will most likely ensue.

If I’m being honest, this is a pretty dumb and predictable movie but that also doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. I actually still like it quite a bit and it’s just solid, mindless schlock starring a really cool dog.

Additionally, it doesn’t need to employ too many special effects but when it does, they all work pretty well and I can’t really shit on the film in that regard.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi horror from the early ’90s, as well as the 1979 comedy with a similar premise, C.H.O.M.P.S.

Film Review: Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

Also known as: Die Hard 2 (simplified title), 58 Minutes (working title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1990 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Renny Harlin
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Doug RIchardson
Based on: 58 Minutes by Walter Wagner, characters by Roderick Thorpe
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton, Reginald VelJohnson, Franco Nero, William Sadler, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Art Evans, Fred Thompson, Tom Bower, Sheila McCarthy, Vondie Curtis-Hall, John Leguizamo, Robert Patrick, Mark Boone Junior, Colm Meaney, Robert Costanzo

Twentieth Century Fox, Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Oh man, I can’t fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?” – John McClane

Why the fuck do people shit on this movie? It’s a solid action flick with a solid action star that also boasts one of the manliest casts ever assembled for a motion picture not named The Expendables.

I love this movie and while I can recognize that it isn’t a perfect masterpiece like its predecessor, it is still a fine motion picture that helped to make the original Die Hard Trilogy one of the greatest trilogies of all-time. That was all undone and fucked up once Hollywood went back to the cow to milk the tits off of the franchise years later but I still consider the first three Die Hards to be a trilogy and that’s that.

John McClane is back and honestly, that’s all you really need. However, they set this one at Christmas, once again, and then padded out the rest of the cast with some of the coolest male actors of the time: Franco Nero, William Sadler, John Amos, Dennis Franz, Art Evans, Fred Thompson, Tom Bower, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Robert Patrick, John Leguizamo, Mark Boone Junior and Colm Meaney. Not to mention that they also brought back Bonnie Bedelia, William Atherton and Reginald VelJohnson in a cameo.

There is so much testosterone in this picture that it is hard to see the movie sometimes as it’ll spill over the top of the screen and ooze down the front of it. If that’s not what you’re looking for in an action flick circa 1990, then go watch Fried Green Tomatoes with your Aunt Millicent!

This film grabs you from the get go and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. It’s packed full of action and when shit isn’t blowing up or getting shot at, we’re treated to solid scenes between the solid cast and thus, there isn’t a dull moment in this entire picture.

I love the chemistry between just about everyone in this film. Bruce Willis, at least in this era, could work with anybody and bring the best out of them. While the guy has unparalleled charisma, it always seems to carry over and rub off on anyone he works with. I absolutely loved his banter with Dennis Franz and I also loved his camaraderie with Art Evans.

Looking at another tandem that’s great in this picture, I have to tip my hat to Bonnie Bedelia and William Atherton. This is their second time playing these characters that are at odds with one another but they work so well together that it kind of sucks that they never came back for any of the other films.

Look, it is hard to top perfection, which is what the first Die Hard was. But, man, this is a really good attempt at trying to follow it up and just give the fans more of what they wanted.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Die Hard movies, as well as other Bruce Willis action films of the era.

TV Review: Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995, 1997-1999)

Also known as: The Adventures of Batman & Robin, The New Batman Adventures (relaunched direct sequel series)
Original Run: September 5th, 1992 – September 15th, 1995 (original series run), September 13th, 1997 – January 16th, 1999 (sequel series run)
Created by: Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski
Directed by: Kevin Altieri, Kent Butterworth, Boyd Kirkland, Frank Paur, Eric Radomski, Dan Riba, Dick Sebast, Bruce Timm
Written by: Laren Bright, Alan Burnett, Sean Catherine Derek, Paul Dini, Steve Perry, Michael Reaves, Randy Rogel, Brynne Stephens
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane
Music by: Danny Elfman (theme), various
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Bob Hastings, Robert Costanzo, Loren Lester, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin

DC Comics, Warner Bros., Fox, 109 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014. Also covers the sequel series, which is more or less now considered the final season of the show.

I’ve been revisiting this series lately, as it has been a long time since I’ve watched it in its entirety. Also, I wanted to do a list for this site that counts down the top fifty episodes of the series. That post will come in the near future.

In my estimation, this is probably the greatest animated series of all-time. Many will argue against that but I can’t think of any other that was as entertaining, epic, stylish, consistent, engaging or that had the quality of this series. There were a few hiccups with episodes drawn by lesser quality animation studios but those houses were quickly let go, as the show’s producers felt a necessity to maintain the show’s otherwise impeccable quality.

Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski created a unique world for Batman to play in and Paul Dini (who later went on to write amazing Batman comics) created some amazing scripts. In fact, their legacy and the influence of this show will live on forever, as many of the characters and situations created for the show, went on to live in the comic books.

Without this show, we would not have Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya and the awesome origin of Mr. Freeze, which was so awesome that it propelled him to being the greatest villain in this series and lead to him being featured as the main protagonist in the second animated film based off of this series.

Batman: The Animated Series was also innovative in the way that they produced it visually. As opposed to the industry standard of designing large set pieces and landscapes by coloring in white paper, they instead used light colors painted over black backgrounds. It provided this show with a dark atmosphere but not in a dreary way; it was more of an inviting film-noir style with very complimentary and carefully chosen colors added in.

The voice actors in this series were top notch. Mark Hamill, who was typecast after playing the iconic Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, was given a second life when he was cast to voice the Joker. Kevin Conroy was equally as good as Batman. Both men actually continued to voice these characters for years after this show went off the air. In fact, both voiced these characters as recently as the Arkham video game series and some of the animated movies.

For an American produced animated series, this show is about as perfect as you can get. There are very few shows that can maintain a level of quality this high for over 100 episodes.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Warren Beatty
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Dick Tracy created by Chester Gould
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, James Keane, Seymour Cassel, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Durning, Dick Van Dyke, Frank Campanella, Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, James Tolkan, Mandy Patinkin, R. G. Armstrong, Henry Silva, Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Estelle Parsons, Mary Woronov, Marshall Bell, Robert Costanzo

Touchstone Pictures, Silver Screen Partners IV, Mulholland Productions, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You get behind me, we all profit; you challenge me, we all go down! There was one Napoleon, one Washington, one me!” – Big Boy Caprice

I guess, from a critical standpoint, this film didn’t get the sort of respect that it should have. I’m not really sure why or how it didn’t resonate with some critics but Roger Ebert adored it, as do I.

In fact, Dick Tracy is almost a perfect film for what it is and I’m not sure what else anyone would want from this near masterpiece. Warren Beatty directed and starred in this and he gave us something magical and marvelous. It fit the classic comic strip to a t and truly breathed live action life into it. As great as the comic strip was, I feel like this film is an improvement on the story, the characters and the ideas of Chester Gould’s beloved creation.

Unfortunately, this great launching pad for what should have been a franchise, never got to have a sequel due to copyright disputes between Warren Beatty and Tribune Media Services. The courts eventually settled in favor of Beatty but that wasn’t until 2011. He has since talked of a sequel but there hasn’t been much movement and so much time has passed. Also, Disney had hoped that this would achieve 1989 Batman numbers but it didn’t hit that mark, even though it was financially successful.

And at least this film has its fans and, at the time of its release, the public supported the picture. Some of this could be due to the film’s immense star power, boasting a cast of superstars, or because of the awesome marketing campaign this film had – one of the best of all-time, in my opinion. Especially, the tie-in stuff they did with McDonald’s. Plus, there was that great Batman picture the previous year, which finally proved that comic book movies could be something that can be taken seriously.

The film has held up tremendously well and may actually be more visually alluring today. The use of vibrant giallo-like colors and tremendous matte paintings gave the film a real pulp comic feel that felt lived in and lively. Today, the picture truly feels like a work of art and has a visual uniqueness that stands on its own.

The picture was also enhanced by the incredible score by Danny Elfman. This is one of the greatest scores of Elfman’s long career and is very reminiscent of his work on Batman, the previous year, and 1990’s short lived The Flash television show. The score is powerful and blends well with the old timey tunes and the performances by Madonna.

Being a poppy 1930s style gangster story, Beatty tapped the Bonnie and Clyde well and cast Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard in small roles. The film was only missing Faye Dunaway and Gene Hackman in reuniting the gang from that classic 1967 film.

Beatty was a fantastic lead and perfect Dick Tracy. Additionally, the rest of the cast was magnificent. Al Pacino got to be a hammy mob boss and foil to Tracy. Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice is also one of my favorite Pacino characters ever put to celluloid. Both Madonna and Glenne Headly are stellar as the leading ladies and this is just one of many roles where I became a huge fan of Headly.

The cast is rounded out by so many other great actors in smaller roles. Dick Van Dyke plays a crooked mayoral candidate, Dustin Hoffman plays the gangster Mumbles and R. G. Armstrong is the sinister mob boss Pruneface. You’ve also got cameos by James Caan, Catherine O’Hara, Kathy Bates and Paul Sorvino. William Forsythe and Ed O’Ross play Big Boy’s top henchmen Flattop and Itchy. You also have the always great Seymour Cassel as one of Tracy’s cop buddies. Plus, Charlie Korsmo was cool as The Kid.

Dick Tracy is action packed and stylish but it doesn’t put that style over its substance. The narrative works, the plot moves swiftly and there is never a dull moment. Plus, who the hell doesn’t love Tommy gun shootouts in the street?

It is also worth mentioning that the character of The Blank is one of the coolest film characters to come out of this era, even if used sparingly and in the dark. Had this gone on to be a film series, it would’ve been cool seeing someone else take up that mantle or The Blank living on in some way. The character also added an interesting twist to a film that, on its surface, looks like just a straight up cops and gangsters, good versus evil, cookie cutter type scenario. The Blank added a third, unpredictable element and a noir vibe.

Dick Tracy is one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever made and it deserves more recognition today than it receives. It took some creative risks that paid off and it brought together a literal who’s who of great bad ass actors.

My initial viewing of this motion picture on the big screen is one of my fondest childhood memories. It stands alongside Batman, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the original animated Transformers movie and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as one of my favorite theatrical experiences of my early life.

Rating: 9/10