Film Review: Pump Up the Volume (1990)

Release Date: August 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Allan Moyle
Written by: Allan Moyle
Music by: Cliff Martinez, various
Cast: Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Scott Paulin, Ellen Greene, Mimi Kennedy, Ahmet Zappa, Seth Green

SC Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?” – Mark

Yes, Mark… I do.

Although, it’s infinitely more fucked up than it was in 1990 and that year seems like a much, much better time to be alive than 2021. However, I get the sentiment now, as I did back then and a lot of what was wrong then, gave birth to the extreme bullshit we have to live with now.

Wow! Jesus! I went on a tangent there. Let me stick to reviewing the film and not go too deeply down the dark, hopeless 2020s rabbit hole.

Pump Up the Volume was a favorite film of mine for a few years after it came out. Granted, I had just entered middle school in 1990 and wasn’t quite the age of a high schooler when this came out but it did have a fairly profound influence on me, as did many other coming-of-age Generation-X flicks of the era.

In 1990, we were exiting the opulent “everything is fine” 1980s and entering into the peak Gen-X decade, which brought grunge and a cultural edginess to the table where PC culture was vehemently shunned by the youth, unlike the complete 180 we’ve got in the 2020s. But there I go again, trashing this dumb decade.

Anyway, Christian Slater’s Mark was kind of a stand-in for the average person in this movie’s audience. He was awkward, unsure about himself, had a hard time expressing his thoughts face-to-face but discovered his voice through his creativity and anonymity. And what he expressed was a lot of the thoughts and sentiments of his generation, going into a seemingly bleak and potentially pointless future where what’s been mapped out for you might not be what’s best for you.

Most importantly, the film shows that teen angst and the insecurity about moving into adulthood isn’t just a generational issue. But hey, at least back then, the kids questioned the state and mainstream society’s narratives and attempts at control.

All that being said, this might be a difficult movie for new and modern fans to connect with. I think it defines my generation pretty well for its time but some of the movie may be seen as too farfetched or cheesy through modern eyes. And honestly, some of Mark’s rants may seem childish and immature but that doesn’t mean that they’re not genuine and a reflection of what kids were thinking at the time.

Pump Up the Volume is a weird time capsule into the minds of Gen-Xers being pushed into adulthood by their Baby Boomer parents who grew up with very different priorities and values. This encapsulates that generational clash quite well and I say that as someone who lived through these things and had similar issues with parents and authority. Despite their best interests, I knew that what was best for them was not necessarily what was best for me.

I’ll probably always love this movie because of all the points I just outlined, even if, yes, it does come off as a bit cheesy and dated in many regards. Still, its heart and soul comes across as pure and Christian Slater absolutely gives one of his best performances.

Side note: I still adore the hell out of Samantha Mathis in this.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other more serious coming of age movies from the Gen-X era.

Film Review: Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Also known as: Super Mario Brothers: The Movie (original script title)
Release Date: May 28th, 1993
Directed by: Rocky Morton, Annabel Jankel
Written by: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, Ed Solomon
Based on: Mario by Nintendo
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Fiona Shaw, Richard Edson, Mojo Nixon, Dana Kaminski, Lance Henriksen, Frank Welker (voice), Dan Castellaneta (narrator)

Allied Filmmakers, Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, Hollywood Pictures, 104 Minutes, 90 Minutes (Japan), 87 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“[bathing in mud] Do you know what I love about mud? It’s clean and it’s dirty at the same time.” – King Koopa

Super Mario Bros. was one film in a string of a few that helped to build the reputation that video game movies suck. Looking at the picture in comparison to the video game series it’s based on, I get it. And frankly, it irked the shit out of me when I saw it in 1993. 

However, seeing it with pretty fresh eyes nearly three decades later, I have a very different view of the film now. Especially, when I just look at it as its own weird body of work apart from the video game franchise.

Removing the source material from the equation, I can still see why this would be viewed as a bad film by most but for me, a lover of really weird shit, everyone in this cast and late ’80s/early ’90s cyberpunk shit, this is kind of a feast of awesomeness!

Additionally, the Alan Silvestri score is great, lively, playful and boisterous. It reminds me of his score to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which was, honestly, what really set the magnificent tone for that movie. Here, Silvestri’s work is just as effective and man, I miss scores like this.

This movie also feels like a time capsule into the heart of the ’90s. It embraces the wonky tropes of the decade and it completely misses the mark it should’ve been aiming for. Although, in retrospect, I really like that this just did whatever the hell it wanted to and provided the world with something so damn bizarre and zany.

I really liked the bond between Mario and Luigi, even if trying believe that Hoskins and Leguizamo are supposed to be real brothers is maybe the most unbelievable thing in the film. That kind of doesn’t matter, though, as nothing in this needs to make any sort of logical sense. It’s actually cooler that it doesn’t. Now that’s something I’d typically be highly critical of but this movie with its flaws is still so much fun and overly ridiculous that it adds to its charm.

I guess Dennis Hopper was miserable working on this due to behind the scenes clusterfucks and severe delays but honestly, it probably worked to the movie’s benefit, as he truly comes off as an insufferable prick and it just makes his character that much more sinister and entertaining to watch.

Additionally, I really liked Samantha Mathis in this, as she played Princess Daisy, the apple of Luigi’s eye. Her and Leguizamo had nice, believable chemistry and she really was a highpoint of the picture. In fact, her final scene where she returns as a gun toting badass really made me wish a sequel had been made.

That being said, I actually wouldn’t be opposed to having more things made from this version of the Super Mario IP. I get it, it was a bomb and most people hated it but it’s also unique and kind of special in its own odd way. Plus, it’s developed a good cult following over the years and I think many people are like me, where seeing this decades later really allows you to separate from what it should of been and wasn’t to seeing it as its own cool thing.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other few ’90s movies based on video games, as well as other early ’90s cyberpunk films.

Film Review: American Psycho (2000)

Release Date: January 21st, 2000 (Sundance)
Directed by: Mary Harron
Written by: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
Based on: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Music by: John Cale
Cast: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Matt Ross, Bill Sage, Chloe Sevigny, Cara Seymour, Justin Theroux, Guinevere Turner, Reg E. Cathey, Reese Witherspoon, Krista Sutton

Am Psycho Productions, Edward R. Pressman Film, Lions Gate Films, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” – Patrick Bateman

I used to dig the hell out of this movie back when it was still fairly new. But I was also in my early twenties and just coming out of the edgy boi ’90s. Also, I hadn’t read the book before I saw the film.

Having now read the book, this motion picture adaptation is a real disappointment. I guess the book was so edgy and gruesome that a lot of it had to be left out but honestly, why make the movie at all then?

Now I am a fan of the acting in this, which is really solid from top-to-bottom, and this helped solidify Christian Bale as one of my favorite actors of the ’00s. I especially liked Willem Dafoe in this, as he worked well being only one of two characters grounded in any sort of reality.

While this movie is bizarre and I imagine still entertaining on a first viewing, for me, it doesn’t hold up tremendously well. It kind of reminds me of David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune, in that it’s a collection of scenes from bigger, richer source material. Source material that needs to be read and understood to actually get the full effect of the story.

However, I guess, if one hasn’t read the book, they don’t really know what they’re missing, as was the case with myself back in 2000. And at least this is less complex than Dune.

The overall narrative of the film seems like it’s spotty and full of holes, though. You never really get to know anyone in the film but since they’re all superficial and inauthentic, seen through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, I guess it doesn’t break the picture. This really just feels like random scenes strung together and since it’s not clear what’s reality and what’s not, it works in its own weird way. The problem I have with it, though, is that it could’ve worked much better, as it did in the original novel.

It’s been years since I’ve seen this and it sucks that it didn’t live up to my memories of it but the bits I really like are still great when you cut them out of the larger body of work and just see them as scenes.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other movies based on Bret Easton Ellis novels: The Rules of Attraction and Less Than Zero.

Film Review: The Punisher (2004)

Release Date: April 12th, 2004 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Jonathan Hensleigh
Written by: Jonathan Hensleigh, Michael France
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Carlo Siliotto
Cast: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Will Patton, Roy Scheider, Laura Harring, Ben Foster, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, John Pinette, Samantha Mathis, Eddie Jemison, Kevin Nash

Valhalla Motion Pictures, Marvel Enterprises, Lions Gate Films, 124 Minutes, 140 Minutes (Extended Cut)

Review:

“Vaya con Dios, Castle. Go with God.” – Candelaria, “God’s gonna sit this one out.” – Frank Castle

Holy shit! This film aged remarkably well!

It’s been well over a decade since I had last seen it but watching it now, reminded me as to why it is the best live-action version of The Punisher that we have ever gotten.

More than anything, the film’s greatness is due to just how good Thomas Jane was as Frank Castle. The dude was damn dedicated to the role and made this a better film than it really had any right to be. Especially, in an era where most comic book movies were still kind of shitty.

I might not have realized it in 2004 but this exceeds the well-received X-Men films of the time and it is also much better than the Daredevil movie that came out a year before it.

Back in the day, I thought that setting it in Tampa was a weird decision but now having a better understanding of budgets in regards to shooting locations, I get it. Re-experiencing it now, though, I really dig the location, as it gives it a completely different vibe from the other live-action Punisher things that came later, as well as other comic book films that generally take place in New York City or some other massive metropolis. Also, being that I have lived on the Gulf Coast of Florida my entire life, it somehow feels like my Marvel Comics movie.

This film, regardless of it being based on a comic book or not, is just a balls to the wall, badass action flick in the same vein as the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films. While it’s a wee bit toned down from those gritty ’70s crime flicks, it still doesn’t pull its punches and I was actually kind of shocked by some of the stuff they did in the film that I guess I had forgotten.

It gets really dark and it actually has some pretty gory and gruesome moments. But at the same time, it has more heart and charm that those ’70s classics I just mentioned in how there are good people that come into Castle’s life and try to give him back some of his humanity after the mass execution of his entire family.

It wasn’t just Jane that was great in this, it was the entire cast, top-to-bottom, including some of the people that had fairly small roles like a few of the gangsters and especially Mark Collie, who played Harry Heck, in one of the best sequences that has ever existed in a comic book movie.

Man, I forgot how great the Harry Heck character was and I kind of wish he would’ve been a much bigger part of the story. Maybe he could come back in a sequel but then again, I doubt one will ever get made, as The Punisher has already been rebooted multiple times. Also, Heck’s death seemed pretty much confirmed by how he got taken out.

Getting to the story, I really like how Castle played John Travolta’s Howard Saint and tricked him into murdering his best friend and his beloved wife by cleverly convincing him, over time and by planting seeds, that they were having an affair. This was brilliant and it couldn’t have happened to a worse trio of people, as all of them were directly responsible for the execution of Castle’s family.

This version of The Punisher was as close to perfect as a studio could get. I know that the film wasn’t a massive hit, initially, but it did build up a solid fanbase over the years. The fact that a sequel never actually materialized was rather baffling.

Although, a fan film, also starring Jane as Frank Castle, was released in 2012. After revisiting this, I now have to fire that one up too and review it.

2004’s The Punisher is spectacular from beginning to end. It’s aged so much better than the other comic book movies from the early ’00s and it deserves to be displayed on a pedestal for all to admire.

Dear Disney and Tom Jane,

Please give us this Frank Castle again.

That is all.

Sincerely,

-Talking Pulp

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s unofficial short film sequel, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, as well as the other Punisher films and television series.

That superb Harry Heck sequence: