Film Review: Runaway (1984)

Release Date: December 14th, 1984
Directed by: Michael Crichton
Written by: Michael Crichton
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, G. W. Bailey, Joey Cramer, Chris Mulkey

Delphi III Productions, TriStar Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You screwed up good, Ramsay. We got two dead officers, do you understand me mister? Two. Dead. Cops! We got two wounded – one of them your own partner – and we got two dead guinea punks! And no one knows why or what the hell its all about!” – Chief of Police

This was one of those movies that used to be on HBO or Showtime all the time when I was a kid. I probably saw it a dozen times back then but it’s eluded me ever since and sort of fell down pop culture’s memory hole.

Watching it now was kind of cool, as it wasn’t as cheesy as I thought it would be and even if there is a bit of hokiness in the movie, it’s still pretty serious and a much better than decent sci-fi thriller.

While there aren’t cyborgs or dystopian metropolises glowing from infinite neon lights, Runaway still has a really strong cyberpunk vibe to it. I think this is due to the amount of robots in the film, the wacky inventions like AI-controlled bullets and the general visual aesthetic of the picture.

Tom Selleck is damn solid in this and it makes me wish he was in more action and crime films. He plays a complex cop character that specializes in community service calls dealing with malfunctioning robots. Sometimes the jobs are easy and straightforward but other times, they’re deadly dangerous. What makes him complex is that he’s a tough guy but he also has a severe fear of heights. Plus, he’s a single dad, raising a son and still emotionally recovering from the death of his wife while also wooing the two ladies in the movie: his partner and a woman that’s in way over her head with the story’s villain.

Speaking of which, the baddie in this is Gene Simmons from KISS. While I can’t say that his acting is good, he still has a presence and really hams it up in a great way. When he finally gets what’s coming to him, it’s a damn satisfying momenty.

The cast is rounded out by Selleck’s female partner played by Cynthia Rhodes, the corporate damsel in distress played by Kirtstie Alley, Joey Cramer of Flight of the Navigator fame playing Selleck’s son and the always entertaining G. W. Bailey as the cantankerous Chief of Police.

It’s also worth mentioning that this was written and directed by Michael Crichton before he became a much more prolific writer when Steven Spielberg made a little film franchise out of his novel Jurassic Park.

Overall, this is still a really entertaining picture that has a pretty basic but interesting tech crime story. It certainly feels like it’s straight out of the ’80s and while the special effects may appear dated by today’s standard, I appreciate the work that went into this. The robots all look pretty cool and function well. 

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi or cyberpunk films of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Rocky (1976)

Release Date: November 21st, 1976 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Written by: Sylvester Stallone
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Stan Shaw, Frank Stallone, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams (uncredited)

Chartoff-Winkler Productions, United Artists, 119 Minutes

Review:

“You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!” – Mickey

Every time I rewatch Rocky, I am reminded that it is a film that is much better than most people give it credit for. Maybe having over a half dozen sequels over the decades has cheapened the greatness of the original but it won three Academy Awards for a reason. Point blank, it’s a damn fine motion picture and still, the greatest boxing movie I have ever seen.

I know that this was his breakout role but if I’m being completely honest, Sylvester Stallone has never been better. Sure, his other outings as Rocky Balboa were also great (yes, I even like Rocky V) and it is hard to deny just how good he was as John Rambo in First Blood. Stallone just captured lightning in a bottle with this film though.

His acting was accented by his great script but I feel that Rocky is an extension of Stallone’s soul. You see, although Rocky was a boxer and Stallone was a guy trying to make it in Hollywood, their stories really kind of mirror each other. Rocky needed that break and made magic happen, Stallone did the same with this movie. The thing is, for anyone who has gotten to know Stallone over the years, it is really hard to deny that there are very close similarities between the real man and the character of his creation, Rocky Balboa. This is why I think that the film felt so real and why it captured the hearts of people. It’s a film with a lot of pain in it but it is authentic because it is really Stallone’s pain coming out.

The rest of the cast is also absolutely fantastic. Talia Shire was perfection as Adrian, the extremely shy woman who stole Rocky’s heart. Burt Young was great as Paulie, Adrian’s drunk and cantankerous older brother. The real scene stealer though was Burgess Meredith’s Mickey, the man who trains Rocky even though they have a harsh and turbulent relationship until they find something in each other.

It is also hard to deny the direction of John G. Avildsen, who won an Oscar for his efforts. He would also be behind a similar film a decade later, featuring karate instead of boxing and a younger protagonist. That film was The Karate Kid.

The one thing that really sticks with you though, is the score by Bill Conti. In fact, it is one of the most memorable scores of all-time. Some how his theme “Gonna Fly Now” didn’t win the Oscar and was beat out by a Barbara Streisand song from A Star Is Born. Looking back, that was damn criminal.

Rocky is a true underdog story in the best way possible. It is about getting your big break and making it matter. For Rocky, it isn’t about winning, it’s about whether or not he can hang with the best and leave his mark in the only way he knows how. And wasn’t that the same thing Stallone had to do with the opportunity he had in giving the world this movie? And just like Rocky, Stallone still has staying power, forty-one years later.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Truck Turner (1974)

Release Date: April 19th, 1974
Directed by: Jonathan Kaplan
Written by: Michael Allin, Jerry Wilkes, Oscar Williams
Music by: Issac Hayes
Cast: Issac Hayes, Yaphet Kotto, Nichelle Nichols, Stan Shaw

American international Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

I heard the Truck Turner theme when I was a kid and thought it was bad ass. My cousin told me that I should see the movie. I didn’t actually see it until my teen years in the 90s, as I was working my way through all the blaxploitation films I could get my hands on from various mom and pop video stores throughout southern Florida. I actually haven’t seen it since that time and really needed a refresher on just how tough and cool Issac Hayes could be. Luckily, I was able to rent it on Amazon Video.

It was nice seeing this again. I actually forgot how much I loved it until the film started rolling and the memories poured back into my head. I mean, shit, not only do you have Issac Hayes but you have Yaphet Kotto playing the bad ass villain and Star Trek‘s Lt. Uhura a.k.a. Nichelle Nichols as a vengeance seeking lady pimp. Then this thing is backed up by Hayes’ music. How could this not be great?

Hayes plays Mack “Truck” Turner, a tough as nails bounty hunter. While trying to catch a dangerous pimp, Turner ends up killing the man. His girlfriend takes over his empire but she promises to give all her hoes to whoever can take out Turner. She is angry because her lover died and she will stop at nothing to see Turner pay for it. Yaphet Kotto ends up being the best man for the job, as other pimps and gangsters try to take out Turner and fail. Ultimately, we end up with a balls to the wall action thriller that is cooler than a refrigerator on a Colorado mountaintop.

The film is violent but not so much so that the average person will be offended. It is kind of light when comparing it to blaxploitation films like Dolemite. While it doesn’t have the hard and heavy edge, it still has gravitas. But it also has style… lots of style. It is also lighthearted and almost a comedy at times. Overall, the film is a good balance of bad ass and fun.

Truck Turner is well shot, well directed and it feels like it has a bigger budget than it does. It feels more like a major studio blaxploitation film, as opposed to something put out by American International Pictures. They did a pretty fine job in making this film come off as much better than their typical low budget flicks.

If you are a fan of Issac Hayes and you haven’t seen Truck Turner, what the hell is wrong with you? You owe it to yourself to experience this thing. If you aren’t an Issac Hayes fan, you should probably lean your head against a deli meat slicer.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Monster Squad (1987)

Release Date: August 14th, 1987
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Stan Shaw, Tom Noonan, Jonathan Gries, Jason Hervey, Mary Ellen Trainor

Home Box Office, Keith Barish Productions, TAFT Entertainment Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 82 Minutes

monster_squadReview:

The Monster Squad is one of the best kids movies from the 1980s. Coming out in the decade when I was a kid, I was more susceptible to the pop culture of this era than any other. Also, when this film came out, these kids were essentially the same age as me. I also loved classic monsters like these kids, so it wasn’t a hard film for me to connect to.

This film is constantly compared to The Goonies, which was a bigger budget, more popular film that had Steven Spielberg’s and Richard Donner’s names on it. The Monster Squad had Shane Black’s and Fred Dekker’s names on it. At the time, neither were really well known but Dekker had written and directed the pretty stellar Night of the Creeps a year prior. Both men have gone on to make some great films and still work together on some projects. They’re currently working together on a reboot of Predator (Shane Black acted in the original).

Getting back to The Goonies comparison, I find this film to be much better. In fact, I felt that way even in 1987 when this movie came out. To start, you’ve got a group of kids fighting five of the classic Universal Monsters: Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Gillman (or as many call him, “the Creature From the Black Lagoon” or just, “the Creature”.).

While Dracula and the Mummy both look very much like their Universal Monsters incarnations, the other creatures are updated. The Gillman is now scary and frightening, while the Wolf Man is more bad ass. And while still on the monsters, Duncan Regehr (best known as Zorro in the late 80s) was a perfect Dracula, Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite) did a fantastic job as the human form of the Wolf Man and Tom Noonan (known for being the Ripper in Last Action Hero) truly owned the role of Frankenstein’s monster and should be considered one of the best to play that character.

The other thing that makes this film better than The Goonies, in my opinion, is that the kids are more real. They cursed, they were often times perverts, they watched slasher films and their parents didn’t give a shit and they felt like boys I’d hang out with at school where the Goonies crew was cool but they seemed like a bunch of kids doing their own thing and came off as less authentic and less organic.

I also love the names in this movie. The token fat kid is called “Fat Kid” even though he reminds people that his name is Horace. The creepy old recluse dude that ends up being totally awesome is only ever called “Scary German Guy”. The character of Patrick has a slutty sister that is only ever referred to as “Patrick’s Sister”. By the way, “Fat Kid” is way better than Chunk from The Goonies, as he doesn’t just eat ice cream and do the truffle shuffle. No, the token fat kid in this movie, picks up a shotgun and saves the kids who bullied him – winning their respect.

This film is campy as hell, fun as hell and just a great fucking motion picture. If you love The Goonies but haven’t seen this, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. If you love classic monsters, you definitely need to get off of your ass and watch this now.

Rating: 9/10