Film Review: Spies Like Us (1985)

Release Date: December 6th, 1985
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Dave Thomas
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, Paul McCartney (title song)
Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Forrest, Donna Dixon, Bruce Davison, Bernie Casey, William Prince, Tom Hatten, Vanessa Angel, Frank Oz, Terry Gilliam, Ray Harryhausen, Joel Coen, Sam Raimi, Bob Hope, B.B. King, Larry Cohen

AAR Films, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“They do seem to be headed in that general direction. Maybe your dick’s not so dumb.” – Austin Millbarge, “It got me through high school.” – Emmett Fitz-Hume

When talking about the great comedy films of the ’80s, few ever mention Spies Like Us. While it stars two comedy legends in Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd, it’s sort of been lost in the shuffle with their other movies.

I had a friend’s dad who used to watch this movie constantly, when it first popped up on premium cable. While I loved it too, going over to my friend’s house almost always meant that we’d have to sit through this for the umpteenth time. I’m not sure why his dad was obsessed with this specific movie but because of that, I got burnt out on it and hadn’t watched it since, other than coming across some clips, here and there.

Watching it now, I am no longer plagued by the fatigue I once had for this film and I got to see it with somewhat fresh eyes.

Dan Aykroyd has always been a favorite of mine and honestly, I have had a new appreciation of Chevy Chase after revisiting and reviewing a lot of his movies lately. In this, he’s exceptionally good and it’s as if the movie was written specifically with him in mind.

Aykroyd is also on his A-game in this and the two men had good chemistry, which probably goes all the way back to their time on Saturday Night Live. And with that, I really wish these two would’ve worked together more often. I think all they did together after this was the abysmally bad and super weird Nothing But Trouble and Caddyshack II, where they were barely used and I’m not even sure if they shared any scenes in that one, at all.

Anyway, this sees the two legends paired together and sent into the Soviet Union as spies. What they don’t know going into their mission is that they are just sent in to create a distraction for the real spy team. However, they do end up rising to the occasion and help complete the real mission.

This was directed by John Landis, who had a real penchant for comedy, especially in the ’80s. He had directed Aykroyd a few times before this and he’d work with Chase after. But if you like Landis’ style of comedy, this fits right in with the rest of them.

Spies Like Us is just a fun, fairly mindless movie. Being that the Cold War was still seemingly going strong when this came out, it allowed people to laugh about it and also see Americans and Russians working together for a greater good.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Black Widow (2021)

Release Date: June 30th, 2021 (Madrid fan event premiere)
Directed by: Cate Shortland
Written by: Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer, Ned Benson
Based on: Marvel Comics
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenie, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (cameo), Jeremy Renner (cameo, voice)

Truenorth Productions, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“[to Natasha and Yelena] You both have killed so many people. Your ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red. I couldn’t be more proud of you.” – Alexei Shostakov

I initially planned to see this in the theater but I was travelling for work when this came out and by the time I got caught up and was going to finally see it, it was gone. Also, I wasn’t going to pay an additional $29.99 to watch it on Disney+ when it would be free a few months later. That price tag is stupid, especially when HBO Max drops the new movies without any additional cost. But this isn’t a “bitch about how dumb and greedy Disney is” article, it’s a movie review about the long overdue first (and only) film about one of the greatest Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.

Sadly, this doesn’t live up to any hype one would have for it. Also, it’s five years too late and had it been made five years ago, it probably would’ve been a much better, much more coherent and much more entertaining picture.

Also, this proves that wedging a chapter in the MCU franchise into a previous point in the timeline, further fucks up and wrecks that timeline. Captain Marvel, Avengers: EndgameLoki and probably some other things have also done this and created serious continuity issues, not to mention, altering characters in ways that don’t make sense or ruins them.

If you can completely turn your brain off and watch this without questioning anything, it’s probably an entertaining spy thriller. I can do that with many things but not with the nearly 30th entry into a thirteen year-old franchise that features a title character that has existed in eleven of those thirteen years.

There are so many problems with this movie like its terrible plot and incoherent logic, the fact that Black Widow is apparently made out of titanium, Taskmaster isn’t in anyway Taskmaster, the main villain is by far the worst in the franchise and it has the worst pacing and editing of any MCU movie.

I won’t harp on about how a small prop plane full of bullet holes can’t fly from Ohio to Cuba with S.H.I.E.L.D. in pursuit or how secret intel is sent to a safehouse used by many other people after its existence was made known to S.H.I.E.L.D., Hydra and everyone else. I won’t talk about how the entire movie was a string of plot conveniences and contrivances where if just one thing didn’t go smoothly, the entire story would’ve been fucked. I won’t grill the filmmakers about the stupidity of a secret flying fortress in a world with the MCU‘s technology, Tony Stark, Skrulls, Kree, satellites and Google f’n Earth. I won’t bring up physics or how the human body reacts to explosions, smashing into hard objects during free fall or how joints, muscles, nerves and nose cartilage work.

So since I won’t spend thousands of words on the stuff just mentioned, I will talk about how the characters never felt right. Natasha’s family felt forced and just wedged in to her personal mythos. Where were any of these people during the events of Infinity War and Endgame? Not to mention the twenty or so other Black Widows that Natasha freed at the end of the film. Mathematically, roughly half of those Widows would’ve survived Thanos’ snap and could’ve been helping Natasha, who was essentially running the show when half the world and its heroes disappeared. Ten-to-twelve Widows would’ve been really helpful in the first act of Endgame and twenty or more showing up for the final battle with Thanos could’ve been a hell of an advantage, especially a Taskmaster fighting on the side of good. Hell, we could’ve gotten a Captain America and Red Guardian team-up moment.

Additionally, we never really get to explore her time in the Black Widow program, which I’m pretty sure was something that everyone was anticipating. So here we have a character that’s appeared in at least half, if not most, of the MCU films and she doesn’t really have an origin story. There’s the ridiculous opening sequence in this movie and a credits montage but beyond that, everything we know about the character’s past is revealed through clunky dialogue. Dialogue which may or may not be reliable considering the villain is well… a fucking villain and Natasha and her sister Yelena have both had their minds altered on some level.

Getting to Taskmaster, I honestly don’t care that the character is a woman and out of respect for her gender, I’ll refer to her now as Taskmistress. My issue with the character was that other than being able to instantaneously learn from her opponents and mimic them, she wasn’t Taskmaster in any other regard. Taskmistress is a completely different character created from completely different circumstances, devoid of personality, devoid of style, missing the iconic skull face and thus, totally lacking the character’s charisma and coolness. Taskmistress is just generic super soldier cyborg lady. And what’s even more distressing is that she is clearly a man until the helmet comes off for what was meant to be a shocking reveal but was honestly, more expected than my cousin Lindsey getting pregnant again.

Look, I like this character and I like Scarlett Johansson and her commitment to this character over what may be a dozen movies now. The problem is that she deserved a movie earlier than this and she also deserved a better story than this. Hell, she probably should’ve had three movie by now, just like the boys on the Avengers team… well, except Hawkeye but that’s another sore subject with me.

Through this, I also liked Florence Pugh as Yelena and I don’t hate the idea of her taking the mantle if Johansson is truly done with it. However, her being sent on a mission to kill Hawkeye for “murdering” her sister is retarded, as the Avengers are more famous in their world than Scarlett Johansson is in ours. Yelena would’ve known that Hawkeye was her sister’s best friend and teammate, as the entire world knows that they’re both Avengers. Man, the MCU is run by idiots these days but just look at what Disney has done to Star Wars.

Before I go, I guess my last bone to pick is in regards to Red Guardian. So we’re supposed to accept that this guy is a smart badass that has high technical prowess and is somewhat on Captain America’s level as a fighter and hero. Yet he’s Fat Thor turned up to eleven with a Russian accent and communist tattoos that make him look like a Portland SJW angrily tweeting from a MacBook Pro in a corporate chain cafe sipping an $11 coffee and eating a $7 vegan muffin. I’m supposed to accept that this slobby juvenile idiot was his country’s Captain America and that he has actual smarts?

Anyway, I’m glad I just waited to watch this for free… or with my existing subscription. It’s not as bad as Captain Marvel was but it’s honestly in the same ballpark. Everything in this is pretty forgettable and as we’ve seen, none of it mattered to the bigger picture of the MCU. At least Captain Marvel set up some things. Not things I specifically want to see but it had more of an effect on the franchise. I guess this will tie directly to the Hawkeye television series but Yelena gunning for Clint Barton is fucking stupid for reasons I already explained.

Rating: 5.75/10

Film Review: The Double 0 Kid (1992)

Release Date: 1992 (Italy)
Directed by: Duncan McLachlan
Written by: Steven Paul, Stuart Paul, Andrea Buck, Duncan McLachlan
Music by: Misha Segal
Cast: Corey Haim, Nicole Eggert, John Rhys-Davies, Brigitte Nielsen, Wallace Shawn, Karen Black, Seth Green

Crystal Sky Worldwide, Prism Entertainment Corporation, 95 Minutes

Review:

While I liked Corey Haim when I was a kid, he did make a fuck ton of dreck, as time went on. This is, hands down, one of his worst films that I’ve ever seen.

What’s surprising about it, though, is that this is loaded with a good amount of known actors, all of whom I like. But none of them were really able to carry this movie and salvage the abysmally bad script.

Alongside Haim, there’s Nicole Eggert, who I was crushing on in the late ’80s/early ’90s, as well as John Rhys-Davies, Wallace Shawn, Brigitte Nielsen, Karen Black and Seth Green.

The story is about a really smart kid that dreams of being a spy. However, he basically plays the stoner trope without actually being a stoner because I guess this was made to be somewhat family friendly for the straight-to-video market.

It’s just terribly boring, terribly unfunny and is full of so many baffling, weird bits that you have to suspend disbelief to the point of breaking your brain or your television.

There’s some strange video game/virtual reality/simulator subplot that makes no fucking sense if you understand how those things work.

If this ever pops up as a suggestion on a streaming service, my only advice is to run… very fast.

Rating: 2/10

Film Review: Golden Eyes (1968)

Also known as: Hyappatsu hyakuchû: Ôgon no me (original Japanese title), Booted Babe, Busted Boss, Ironfinger Strikes Back (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 16th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Jun Fukuda, Ei Ogawa, Michio Tsuzuki
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Beverly Maeda, Tomomi Sawa, Andrew Hughes, Makoto Sato, Yoshio Tsuchiya

Toho Co. Ltd., 80 Minutes

Review:

Since I thought Jun Fukuda’s Ironfinger was a pretty solid spy comedy, I wanted to give its sequel a watch, as well.

Fukuda is mostly known, at least in the States, for being one of the two most prominent directors of classic Godzilla pictures. While he doesn’t seem to be held in the same regard as Ishiro Honda, I always saw the two directors as fairly equal. Honda, however, did more of the earlier Godzilla films, where Fukuda did more of the later ones, which some fans like less due to them becoming more and more kid friendly as the franchise rolled on.

Fukuda did lots of other pictures over his career, though, especially for Toho, who loved pumping out quick sci-fi/tokusatsu fare. But between those movies, Toho also had Fukuda do these cool, ’60s spy flicks.

It’s obvious that these films are inspired by the James Bond movies of the era, as well as other spy flicks. At the time, there were many spy comedies like this, which sort of parody the genre but don’t completely deconstruct it like the Austin Powers movies would do later on.

This one pretty much follows the beats and tone of its predecessor but I didn’t enjoy it as much. There are some insanely goofy moments and some of the more over-the-top antics felt like they were too hammy.

For instance, there’s a gunfight scene where the heroes throw two assault rifles closer to the baddies and then shoot the rifles with their own guns, lifting them into the air from bullet ricochets where they fire and kill the villains. It’s f’n ridiculous and while it’s funny, it’s a “jump the shark” moment that happens pretty early into the film.

Still, I did enjoy Akira Takarada in this, as the spy hero. He’s just a good, fun actor and he was in dozens of Toho pictures and also worked with Jun Fukuda quite a bit.

Now I did miss Mie Hama in this one but since these movies are essentially ripping off James Bond, we can’t have the same chick in both films.

In the end, this isn’t as good as Ironfinger but it’s still cool and enjoyable if you like ’60s spy comedies.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, Ironfinger, as well as other ’60s spy comedies.

*No trailer available online.

Film Review: Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998)

Also known as: Nick Fury (Argentina, France, Italy, Poland)
Release Date: May 26th, 1998 (TV)
Directed by: Rod Hardy
Written by: David Goyer
Based on: Nick Fury by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Kevin Kiner
Cast: David Hasselhoff, Lisa Rinna, Sandra Hess, Neil Roberts, Garry Chalk, Tracy Waterhouse, Tom McBeath, Ron Canada

Fury Productions Limited Partnership, National Studios Inc., 20th Century Fox Television, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Contessa Valentina de Allegro Fontaine. Quite a mouthful when you try and wrap your tongue around it. Don’t let the blue blood fool ya, Pierce. Val’s an old hand at the sexpionage game, aren’t ya?” – Nick Fury

I remember seeing the ads for this on television back in 1998 and thinking, “Yeeeeeeeesh…” Because of that, I never watched this but I have seen some scenes and clips over the years.

If I’m being completely honest, though, there probably wasn’t better casting at the time than David Hasselhoff to play the classic Nick Fury in a low budget, TV movie that was, more or less, a failed pilot for a series.

Watching this now, I really like Hasselhoff and I think that he nails the look and chutzpah of the comic book Nick Fury pretty well. It just sucks that the rest of the production around him is really terrible and it actually brings down his performance.

If someone came up to six year-old me in 1985, handed me a Jim Steranko Nick Fury comic and said that the dude from Knight Rider would play him one day, I probably would’ve been beyond ecstatic. But alas, we got a picture that failed from top-to-bottom.

The plot is fucking terrible and makes little to no sense. For most of the movie, Fury has been exposed to a deadly toxin but it doesn’t even start to effect him till like the end of the movie, when he’s hunting down the chick that poisoned him but can also cure him. I guess the toxin isn’t all that bad if this dude can fight like nothing is wrong with him for half the movie. And if anyone knows the character Viper, once she poisons you, you’re pretty much immediately fucked.

Whatever.

This could’ve been pretty damn great and led to a decent Marvel Comics television show in an era where people would’ve really ate it up. Instead, we got a poorly written, awfully directed piece of crap, starring a guy that could’ve brought great things to the table if someone behind the scenes gave half a shit.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel films before the 2000s changed everything.

Video Game Review: Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (NES)

The first Golgo 13 for the original Nintendo is a game I used to love playing. But I hadn’t picked it up in years. Since I’ve been thinking about doing a deep dive into Golgo 13‘s anime series and movies, I figured I’d revisit the video games, as well.

This is still a lot of fun and I really liked games like this that didn’t just have one playing style. Here, you have a side scrolling shooter but then you get to use vehicles, go on sniper missions and also go underwater.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode has a lot going on for it. Each stage of the game brings something fresh and unique and for a NES game, this is pretty long and takes a few hours to beat if you know where to go and what to do. Back in the day, I had to explore and figure out which steps to take.

For the time, the graphics are pretty good and the sound is great. However, it’s the story that makes this such a cool game.

This came out in an era where games didn’t have complex stories like they do in modern times. But this game took it to a level gamers hadn’t seen in 1988. This sort of has RPG vibes to it in how you talk to informants and other NPCs, get clues and directions and more pieces to the plot. While I think much was lost in the English translation, as was common with old NES games, the story still lured me in when I was a wee li’l lad.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode is a neat game. It’s held up well and is still engaging and fun, even if all the first-person shootout sequences do become a bit tedious and annoying after awhile.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling shooters from the era, as well as the second Golgo 13 game and Rescue: The Embassy Mission.

Film Review: Deadlier Than the Male (1967)

Also known as: Deadlier (France alternative title)
Release Date: February 12th, 1967 (UK)
Directed by: Ralph Thomas
Written by: Jimmy Sangster, David D. Osborn, Liz Charles-Williams
Based on: Bulldog Drummond by Sapper Gerard Fairlie
Music by: Malcolm Lockyer, The Walker Brothers (title song)
Cast: Richard Johnson, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Nigel Green, Milton Reid

Santor Film Productions, Rank Film Distributors, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Well I have had men fall for me before but never like this.” – Irma Eckman

Deadlier Than the Male is just one of a slew of spy parody comedies to come out during the height of James Bond‘s popularity. Still, it’s pretty enjoyable and I like these type of movies, anyway. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen this one until now.

This has similar vibes to the Dean Martin starring Matt Helm films, as well as the original American Casino Royale with Peter Sellers.

For the most part, I liked Richard Johnson as this film’s version of the James Bond character trope. However, I felt like he played the role a bit too dry and didn’t have the charisma as some of the other actors that led similar movies. Granted, it’s hard to compete with talent like Peter Sellers and Dean Martin or the Sean Connery version of Bond, for that matter.

As should be expected and because of the movie’s title, this picture is littered with beautiful, supermodel caliber women. The main one of note is Elke Sommer, a German model and actress that had a good mind and spirit for comedy. Funny enough, she was also in one of those Dean Martin spy movies.

Additionally, Nigel Green, this film’s big villain, also played a similar role in the same Dean Martin spy flick that featured Elke Sommer. Green was always good in these sort of roles, though. While he’s probably not as recognized as he should be, especially by American film fans, he often times found himself in films with great, well-known British film legends. Plus, he always rose to the occasion in the right way and here, he’s just great as a token Bond-styled baddie.

I like the visual style of this movie but at the same time, when compared to other films like it, it’s not all that special or unique. The style fits the time and type of picture that this is. But there are still some neat things in the movie that do stand out like the giant chessboard finale.

In fact, I liked that sequence and that set so much that I felt like it was worthy of a bigger budget spy thriller on the level of the ’60s Bond movies.

For the most part, this is just a lighthearted, stylish and sexy film. Overall, it’s better than average for what it is and because many of these films tend to be pretty bad and unfunny. This one hits the checkboxes it needed to and after the Dean Martin spy comedies, this might be my favorite in the genre for its decade.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other spy parodies, especially those from the 1960s.

TV Review: Counterpart (2017–2019)

Original Run: December 10th, 2017 – February 17th, 2019
Created by: Justin Marks
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Jeff Russo
Cast: J.K. Simmons, Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd, Nazanin Boniadi, Sara Serraiocco, Ulrich Thomsen, Nicholas Pinnock, Betty Gabriel, James Cromwell, Kenneth Choi, Stephen Rea, Jacqueline Bisset

Gilbert Films, Anonymous Content, Gate 34, MRC, Studio Babelsberg, Starz, Sony Pictures Television, 20 Episodes, 56-60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Sadly, I hadn’t heard about this show when it was current just a couple of years ago and I’ve been a Starz subscriber for awhile now. I guess they failed to promote it properly, which sucks, as this was one of the most interesting shows I’ve watched from the previous decade.

This also stars J.K. Simmons in duel roles and he’s an actor that I enjoy in everything that he does. It also features Olivia Coleman and several others who bring their A-game and make this incredibly intriguing world come to life.

The story is about how there are two alternate versions of our world, after they split and went into different directions shortly before the Berlin Wall fell in Germany. The two versions of our world can only be accessed by a connecting tunnel underneath a secret UN facility in Berlin. Since the split, scientists working on the project have observed the two worlds, slightly tinkering with it along the way, making every person on both Earths their lab rats.

With that, this show features two versions of most of the core characters. While this is really damn cool, at first, the show does quickly introduce more characters and it does become a bit hard to follow at times. While the characters have slightly different visual cues and the two world’s also have visual differences, if you’re not paying close attention, the show can often times seem like a mishmash. I think this could’ve been avoided by easing into new characters more slowly but this entire series’ story is also told over just twenty episodes.

I guess Starz chose not to order more episodes after the second season but at least this felt like it had a natural end, which tells me the showrunners were probably told to wrap it up. I think they did wrap it up fairly well, all things considered.

The best part about this show, honestly, were the actors. The key players were all solid and their relationships drove the story. While I watched this for the sci-fi elements I wanted to see explored, it’s the personal relationships that kept me interested. Also, I liked that this showed how one event can completely change a person.

Overall, this was a damn good series and while I don’t specifically wish for more episodes, it left an impact that will stick with me for quite awhile.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Also known as: Into Thin Air (working title), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (complete title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1956 (Cannes)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes, Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles, Christopher Olsen, Daniel Gelin, Reggie Nalder, Carolyn Jones

Filwite Productions, Paramount Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, you will only have time for just one shot. If you need another, the risk is yours.” – Edward Drayton

I think that the 1950s were my favorite decade for Hitchcock movies and this is another really enjoyable one that just adds to that hefty pile of cinematic greatness.

This one also stars two of my mum’s favorite leading stars: James Stewart and Doris Day. That being said, this is also the first really dramatic role I’ve seen for Doris Day, as I mostly saw her comedies and musical movies as a kid.

This is also the second film that Alfred Hitchcock made with the name The Man Who Knew Too Much. This isn’t a remake of the black and white ’30s version of the picture, as both are very different. I’m not sure why we reused the name and it probably creates some confusion for those who haven’t seen them. I plan to watch that ’30s one in the near future though, so I can compare the two and because it features Peter Lorre, a favorite actor of mine.

Anyway, this is a story about a husband and wife traveling to Morocco with their son. They initially get confused for another married couple, who are there as spies. In this confusion, a good guy is murdered and the husband is taken into the police station for questioning. The couple leaves their son with another couple they met on the trip but soon realize that this was a grave mistake and that their friends were actually the spies. The son is held hostage, as the couple does everything they can to try and get him back.

This is a great thriller in the way that any fan of Hitchcock’s work should expect. While it’s not my favorite of this era or with James Stewart, it’s still a damn fine picture that keeps you on the edge of your seat once the real plot kicks in about a half hour into the proceedings.

It’s superbly acted but that should go without saying. Doris Day was really impressive in this and I’m glad that I got to see her outside of the type of roles she’s most known for. I also really liked Stewart kind of being a real fish out of water but rising to the occasion and being a real hero to his son.

1956’s version of The Man Who Knew Too Much was a solid ride that wasn’t predictable and ended up giving the viewer a very satisfying and emotional finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Alfred Hitchcock thrillers.