Film Review: SolarBabies (1986)

Also known as: Solarfighters, Solar Warriors (alternative titles)
Release Date: November 26th, 1986
Directed by: Alan Johnson
Written by: Walon Green, Douglas Anthony Metrov
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Richard Jordan, Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas, James Le Gros, Claude Brooks, Peter DeLuise, Peter Kowanko, Adrian Pasdar, Sarah Douglas, Charles Durning, Frank Converse, Terrence Mann, Alexei Sayle, Bruce Payne, Willoguhby Gray

Brooksfilms, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“It’s an odd name for a skateball team, don’t you think? “Solarbabies.” Too soft, not menacing enough. Why do you suppose they chose it?” – Grock, “They don’t seem to need anything more menacing, do they? They always seem to win.” – The Warden

Researching this movie for this review, I discovered that Mel Brooks was the executive producer on this. Somehow I must’ve always missed that. Then again, I hadn’t seen this since the early ’90s when it would pop up on TV from time to time.

I used to really like this movie, despite its overabundance of flaws. Seeing it now, I’d say it’s less palatable than it was when it was more current, however, it’s still got charm and a really likable cast of young people, most of whom would go on to have memorable careers.

The film follows a group of teens and a younger kid that escape from a dystopian juvenile prison. They also befriend an alien orb that exhibits some special powers. The majority of the film deals with these kids being on the run from the fascist military group that is led by Richard Jordan, who I most remember as the obsessed Sandman that hunted Michael York in 1976’s Logan’s Run. I’ve always liked him since that film and seeing him in a similar role, albeit with an army at his disposal, is pretty enjoyable. This also features Sarah Douglas, as a secondary villain.

The special effects are pretty underwhelming, even for the time, but some things did hold up well. I love the matte painting work used for the landscapes and the effects sequence where the teen’s hand dissolves into bone and ash looks really damn cool.

The film’s score is a mixed bag but more on the negative end of the spectrum. It’s mostly just cheesy synth tracks that are repetitive and pounding. There’s a pop track or two, which livens things up but the music drags the film down quite a bit due to just how generic and basic it is.

One thing I do like is that this has a very spaghetti western vibe to it. Since it is mostly filmed in Spain, it really reflects the look of those deserts. It actually fits well within the slew of Spanish and Italian Mad Max ripoffs from the decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually used some of the same props and set pieces from some of those films, due to the similar dystopian atmosphere.

While this has a 4.8 out of 10 on IMDb, it’s a better movie than that. I understand why the general public would look down on it and rate it as below average but it’s got character, it’s got heart and it’s got a rare youthful energy that is missing from similar post-apocalyptic films of the era.

Plus, it’s got Alexei Sayle from The Young Ones in it.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other cheesy ’80s sci-fi movies.

Film Review: The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 12th, 1989
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Cuthbert, Grant Morris
Based on: Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Dick Durock, Monique Gabrielle

Lightyear Entertainment, Batfilm Productions, Millimeter Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Immortality? Yuck! What did you do, sell your soul to the devil?” – Abby Arcane, “More like a lease with an option to buy.” – Dr. Anton Arcane

A friend of mine thought I was harsh on the first Swamp Thing and its director, Wes Craven. But my opinions are my opinions. He was also confused as to why I remembered this one more fondly.

Well, having now seen it again, the first time in about three decades, I still have the same opinion. While this is far from a classic and a pretty mediocre comic book adaptation, it’s still a fun, stupid, popcorn movie.

What makes this one work better for me, which seems to be why others dislike it, is the added comedy element. It’s not trying to take itself too seriously. This film is pretty self-aware, so it hams it up.

I think that the first one was made in an effort to be taken seriously. Craven has only successfully achieved that with the first A Nightmare On Elm Street, his reinvention New Nightmare and his voodoo thriller, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Jim Wynorski, this film’s director, seems like the just wanted to have a good time making something somewhat lighthearted and goofy in a charming way. The scenes with the kids in this movie are hysterical and they’re more brilliant than anything in the first flick.

I also like that this is Dick Durock’s second time playing the title character and he seems a lot more comfortable and is allowed to let his personality come through. I also liked the return of Louis Jourdan’s Dr. Anton Arcane, even though he got killed in the first picture. This is a wacky, over the top, sci-fi movie… so why couldn’t he come back?

The supporting cast was also decent. Sure, the acting here shouldn’t be used as an example for students in drama class but everyone in the movie looked like they were having a ball and there were three pretty enchanting women in this between Sarah Douglas, Monique Gabrielle and Heather Locklear, who was surprisingly the one I found least attractive. Sarah Douglas has had my heart since Superman II and Monique Gabrielle became the woman of my dreams once I saw her shooting a machine gun.

In conclusion, I guess I understand why most people like the original more but fuck it, this is a lot more fun, has extra babes, extra cheese, extra charm, better effects and two kid actors that should’ve got their own spinoff movie trying to photograph cryptids in the swamp.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Swamp Thing movie, as well as the TV show that came just after this film.

Film Review: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

Release Date: June 8th, 1991 (Japan)
Directed by: Sylvio Tabet
Written by: Jim Wynorski, R.J. Robertson, Sylvio Tabet, Ken Hauser, Doug Miles
Based on: The Beast Master by Andre Norton, characters by Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Marc Singer, Kari Wuhrer, Sarah Douglas, Wings Hauser, James Avery, Robert Z’Dar, Michael Berryman

Les Films 21, Republic Pictures, New Line Cinema, 107 Minutes

Review:

“He who defies Arklon, shall be destroyed… by Arklon!” – Arklon

This is such a shitty movie but it is a wonderfully entertaining shitty movie.

Where the original Beastmaster is truly a sword and sorcery classic, this film is pretty much just a “fish out of water” comedy with some sword and sorcery elements.

I’m not sure what the filmmakers were thinking with this. It wasn’t like they rushed out a sloppy sequel because this came nine years after the original. But it is very cheaply made and it completely lacks the superior craftsmanship of the previous film’s director, Don Coscarelli.

What saves this film, at least in my eyes, is the over the top performances of its cast. Marc Singer is dry when compared to his cast mates but he’s still enjoyable as Dar and I’ll always be a fan of his version of the character.

However, Singer is pretty much overshadowed by the energetic cuteness of Kari Wuhrer in one of her earliest film performances. He’s also usurped by the charismatic Wings Hauser, as his evil brother Arklon. Plus, you have Sarah Douglas as a sorceress and she’s always fantastic. But the real scene stealer is James Avery, who isn’t in this as much as the other actors but you’re always locked on him when we walks on screen. Avery is used as comedic relief and he’s a master of that but I can’t discount the fact that this entire movie really is comedy.

This lacks the edge and darkness of its predecessor and if I’m being honest, I would have preferred a proper sequel. However, I still like this strange movie for all of its batshittery. It’s a very smudged up gem but it’s still a gem. But you also have to be the right sort of film fan for this movie to click for you. The average person isn’t going to find much value in the picture and that’s fine. All this shit is subjective, anyway.

Beastmaster II already had its work cut out for it, as the first film casts a big shadow. But all things considered, this is bizarre and unique enough to justify its existence and at least it wasn’t just a rehash of the previous movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies of the time, most notably the Conan films. It’s also fun to watch with the other films within its own series.

Film Review: Conan the Destroyer (1984)

Also known as: Conan II, Conan: King of Thieves (working titles)
Release Date: June 29th, 1984
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Mako, Tracey Walter, Olivia d’Abo, Sarah Douglas, Andre the Giant, Pat Roach

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“How do you attract a man? What I mean is, suppose you set your heart on somebody. What would you do to get him?” – Princess Jehnna, “Grab him! And take him!” – Zula

I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person that prefers this film to its predecessor, Conan the Barbarian. That being said, this is still an enjoyable flick that’s pretty cool to revisit once or twice a decade.

The Conan character is cool and almost everything he’s been in has been good. This film fails to live up to the one before it but sequels rarely do. That doesn’t make it bad, it’s just a movie that was really lacking in overall quality and intensity because the studio realized that this character had young fans and thus, we got a PG movie instead of something with a solid R.

The special effects were a mixed bag. Some of it looked pretty bad but certain things, even if not spectacular, still had an enchanting allure about them. For instance, when the ghost-like dragon steals the princess, it’s a very dated looking effect but it has a real dreamlike quality to it that just works. Also, even though the mirror room sequence was shot under too many lights, it still felt otherworldly and mesmerizing.

The monster effects weren’t very good and I think having a bunch of bizarre creatures in this, sort of dragged down the rest of the movie. The picture tried to be more creative and ambitious than the first one, where the only real creature was a giant snake, but all the monsters looked rubbery, clunky and not very inspiring.

Also, the story is a mess. I’ve seen this film at least a half dozen times and I still don’t know what the hell is going on in half of the scenes. I feel like a lot of context and exposition was left on the cutting room floor.

What makes this film work for me though, is the cast. I pretty much like everyone in this film and the chemistry between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones is stupendous. I wish they had done more movies together when they were both in the prime of their careers.

Tracey Walter was good in the film; he’s a character actor that popped up in a lot of stuff in the ’80s and ’90s. I also enjoyed Sarah Douglas, who I wish was in more movies back in the day. Olivia d’Abo did a decent job for this being her first movie. I think the only weak person in the main cast was basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who was never much of an actor but at least he gave it a shot.

This is directed by Richard Fleischer, who would also helm Red Sonja, a year later. He had a really interesting career, as he directed so many different styles and genres of film. He also directed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Doctor Dolittle, Mandingo, Amityville 3-D, the 1980 version of The Jazz Singer and lots of classic film-noir pictures.

Basil Poledouris returned to score the movie but this one isn’t as memorable as the first film’s iconic music. This film’s theme isn’t as powerful and just lacks the extra oomph that Conan the Barbarian had.

If you enjoy the Conan franchise, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. I still feel compelled to revisit it from time to time and I’m always glad when I do.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Conan the Barbarian, the Conan the Barbarian remake, Red Sonja and the first Beastmaster.

Film Review: Superman II (1980)

Release Date: December 4th, 1980 (Australia)
Directed by: Richard Lester, Richard Donner (uncredited)
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne
Cast: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Clifton James, Marlon Brando (appears only in the Richard Donner Cut)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes (original cut), 116 Minutes (Richard Donner Cut)

Review:

“Come to me, son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!” – General Zod

In all honesty, I like Superman and Superman II just about the same. II gets a bit of an edge though just because I like the story better and the threat in the film is a credible threat, as it pits Superman against an adversary that matches his power level.

While I love Lex Luthor, the character, and I also love the mind versus might rivalry, the Gene Hackman version of the character just doesn’t hit the right mark. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Hackman and his character in these movies but he doesn’t feel like the Lex of the comics I grew up with. He is to Luthor what Cesar Romero was to the Joker. He’s damn entertaining and enjoyable but he’s lacking the darkness that’s needed to truly be villainous.

General Zod, however, is an incredible opponent. He was created for this film series but he was so damn good that he would go on to be in the comics. Terence Stamp really brought some much needed testosterone to the table and his minions, played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran, were pretty cool villains as well. Man, I was crushing hard on Sarah Douglas when I was a kid.

I also really liked the romance in this movie and usually I don’t care about that crap in these sort of films. I just like how Clark and Lois’ relationship blossomed and how it was really tested and pushed Superman into having to make an incredibly hard decision, which he then had to try and fix because saving the world is his destiny, even if that means he can’t love a human. Yeah, the story around this was actually weird and nonsensical but the point of it and the challenge made me accept it.

Getting back to Lex Luthor though, his role in this film seemed pretty pointless. Once again, he was the top billed star but it’s like they had nothing for him to do. He breaks out of prison, leaves poor Otis behind, breaks into Superman’s house and then aligns himself with Zod, who didn’t need Luthor’s help at all, let’s be honest. Luthor is just sort of wedged into the film just because they had to have a name as big as Gene Hackman’s, after Marlon Brando’s Jor-El was killed off in the first picture. I should note that Brando did film footage for the film but he wanted more money than the producers were willing to pay, so it was edited out of the final cut. He does appear in the Richard Donner cut of the film though.

This chapter in the Superman movie saga is a great extension of what the first movie was. Really, they just feel like two halves of a whole. The movies did a lot of their filming simultaneously because the producers knew there would be a sequel. Some of the filming on II got put on hold though, as it was holding up the production of I and the studio wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to miss its Christmas time release. There was a lot of conflict, behind the scenes, and Richard Donner was fired after directing most of II. He wasn’t given credit for his work and Richard Lester took over. Lester would also go on to direct the terrible Superman III, showing that he wasn’t as skilled as Donner. On a side note, the Richard Donner Cut was released years later, which most people seem to enjoy more.

Despite the backstage politics, this still ended up being my favorite film in the franchise.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Superman: The Movie, the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Film Review: Superman: The Movie (1978)

Release Date: December 10th, 1978 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Robert Benton
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Harry Andrews, Rex Reed (cameo)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 143 Minutes, 127 Minutes (1980 video release), 151 Minutes (2000 restoration), 188 Minutes (Extended version)

Review:

“Easy, miss. I’ve got you.” – Superman, “You – you’ve got me? Who’s got you?” – Lois Lane

Few films feel as vast and epic as the 1978 Superman film. This was also the first superhero movie where the comic book medium was actually taken seriously. Years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC knocked it out of the park with this, the first real superhero movie.

It hasn’t aged too well and I’ve always had some issues with the story and the use of Superman’s powers in this film but this is still a true classic that opened a lot of doors for comic book films, even if it still took a long time for the genre to reach the level it has in the 2010s.

The thing that makes this film work is that it understands the spirit of Superman. It was made and written with great care, Christopher Reeve was fantastic in the role and for years, he was who I saw as the character, even when reading the comics. I know that some people had reservations about him and his portrayal of the character but he was wholesome and believable as far as creating the two personas: Superman and Clark Kent.

I was never crazy about Margot Kidder as Lois Lane but I see things differently now and I do like her take on the character. I like her attitude, her sass and her no nonsense persona. She feels like a tough New York girl (Metropolis in the movie) that can handle her own.

I was also never crazy about Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, especially since he refused to shave his head. I also thought his scheme was goofy and bizarre but not completely outside of what classic comic books were. Looking at this in the context of the original source material, the scheme isn’t too far fetched.

As a fan of the character and the comics, I liked that Superman had his normal power set but the script was written in such a way that it invented powers just to solve problems in the movie. Like the scene where he flies so fast he changes the direction of Earth’s orbit to time travel back before Lois was swallowed into a fault was beyond stupid even for 1978. It created a lot of plot holes, not that some didn’t already exist. At this point it became pure fantasy nonsense, ignoring any sort of real science or staying grounded in the source material.

Richard Donner did a fine job as the director and this is also one of John Williams’ best scores of all-time. The music really set the tone and enhanced Donner’s visual style.

I loved the Krypton stuff in the beginning and Brando was great even if he wasn’t completely on his A game. However, the bit with General Zod and his crew feels unnecessary within this film, as they don’t have an effect on anything until the second movie. Sure, they contributed to Krypton’s problems, which led to its destruction, but they didn’t need to be on screen characters.

Despite my issues with the picture, it’s still damn good and a lot of fun. I also grew up watching this a lot and I can’t not feel nostalgic for it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Superman II, the 1980 Flash Gordon.