Film Review: Vibes (1988)

Release Date: August 5th, 1988
Directed by: Ken Kwapis
Written by: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Deborah Blum
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Goldblum, Julian Sands, Googy Gress, Peter Falk, Michael Lerner, Steve Buscemi, Park Overall

Imagine Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’d give you the finger but I’m too refined.” – Sylvia Pickel

I was nine years-old when this hit theaters but I remember seeing the ads on television constantly. I never did see the movie in the theater or thereafter until now, over three decades later.

I generally like Cyndi Lauper but I haven’t seen her act in anything else. In this, she’s not great by any stretch but she’s at least likable and entertaining. Then again, she’s pretty much playing herself with psychic powers.

Beyond Lauper, you have Jeff Goldblum, who I love in everything he’s ever done. He’s good here but he also plays a character that’s pretty much just himself with psychic powers. So neither lead in this movie really had to try too hard.

You also get Peter Falk, Julian Sands, Michael Lerner, Park Overall from Empty Nest and a very young Steve Buscemi in this.

I guess out of everyone, I enjoyed Falk the most.

The plot is pretty damn rickety and it’s not very good. Although, it is somewhat salvaged by the charm of the Lauper and Goldblum, who I thought had fairly decent and unique chemistry.

Vibes just barely kept my attention, though. I didn’t find it tough to get through but had it lasted longer than its 99 minutes, I would’ve probably needed to take a break.

In the end, this is pretty forgettable and I can see why it’s been lost to time and never really gained a cult following, even from the many fans of Cyndi Lauper’s that still exist today.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Escape from L.A. (1996)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. (complete title)
Release Date: August 9th, 1996
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Kurt Russell
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Shirley Walker
Cast: Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Pam Grier, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Peter Jason, Paul Bartel, Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Breckin Meyer, Robert Carradine, Shelly Desai, Leland Orser

Rysher Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Got a smoke?” – Snake Plissken, “The United States is a no-smoking nation. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. No women – unless of course you’re married. No guns, no foul language… no red meat.” – Malloy, “[sarcastic] Land of the free.” – Snake Plissken

Full disclosure, I hated this movie when it came out. And frankly, it’s still a fairly bad film for reasons I’ll get into in this review.

However, like other ’90s cringe, such as Batman & Robin, I’ve kind of accepted the movie for what it is and with that, there are things I like within it due to my evolved perspective.

But let me hammer on the negatives first.

To start, the film looks like shit. From the CGI, to digital matte paintings and other computer generated effects, this looks cheap, artificial and since 1996, has aged incredibly poorly.

The CGI effects were bad for the time even but since that technology advanced rather quickly, it all looks so much worse now. And this film is a great argument as to why practical special effects are better in a lot of ways, especially in regards to the era in which this was made.

John Carpenter has had amazing practical effects work in most of his movies before this one but I guess he had to embrace the emerging technology, despite it being a really poor choice for this picture, which should’ve been dark, gritty and real.

The film is also full of terrible dialogue for the most part. While I still love Snake and he has some solid one-liners, most of the movie’s dialogue is just shit. I think that the good actors in this also underperformed and I guess I’d have to blame Carpenter for that, as he was directing them and then accepting the takes he was getting.

Expanding on that point, though, it looks like the performers are clunkily acting off of nothing. It’s as if there was so much greenscreen work and strangely composited shots that the performances were just off and didn’t match up in the way they were supposed to. This issue could also be due to the fact that this greenscreen style of shooting was still pretty new when used this frequently in a single production.

Additionally, the story just wasn’t good or that engaging. Other than Snake, I didn’t care about any of the characters and while it was cool seeing Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Cliff Robertson and Bruce Campbell pop up in this, they were used too sparingly.

As far as positives go, I did find the makeup and prosthetics work to be really good. But this gets back to my point earlier about the overabundance of digital effects. When Carpenter and his effects team employed practical effects in this film, they looked solid.

Also, I really liked Snake in this, as previously stated, and he got some solid, badass Snake Plissken moments that we would’ve missed out on had this film never been made. As awfully hokey as the surfing scene was, we still got to see Snake “hang ten” with Peter Fonda and then jump onto an escaping car. It was an awfully crafted sequence in the movie but it’s also hard not to love it in spite of its very apparent issues.

In the end, I don’t hate this movie, as I once did. But I do have a hard time trying to get myself to watch it. Honestly, I only watched it this time to review it.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as other John Carpenter sci-fi movies.

Film Review: Pulp Fiction (1994)

Also known as: Black Mask (working title)
Release Date: May 21st, 1994 (Cannes)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avery
Music by: various
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Bruce Willis, Phil LaMarr, Frank Whaley, Joseph Pilato, Steve Buscemi, Kathy Griffin, Alexis Arquette, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Sweeney, Lawrence Bender

Jersey Films, A Band Apart, Miramax, 154 Minutes, 178 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“What now? Let me tell you what now. I’ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin’ niggers, who’ll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch. You hear me talkin’, hillbilly boy? I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’ma get medieval on your ass.” – Marsellus

Where the success of Reservoir Dogs opened the doors of Hollywood to Quentin Tarantino, it was Pulp Fiction, only his second film, that took him mainstream and made him one of the hottest, young directors of the ’90s. With that, he was able to make movies the way that he wanted with minimal interference from the studio system and he’s still considered an absolute maestro today.

From 1994 till about ten or so years ago, this was a picture I watched at least once per year. Hell, in the ’90s, I probably watched this, Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown almost monthly. I had them on VHS until the tapes either snapped or got warped to shit.

However, it’s now been several years since I’ve watched this. At least five, as that’s about how long it’s been since I first started Talking Pulp under its original name, Cinespiria. Seeing this again, though, was like coming home after a really, really long absence.

Everything about this film still feels right and man, it’s aged tremendously well and makes me yearn for a time where 99 percent of the films coming out weren’t dog shit.

Pulp Fiction is also a movie that birthed its own subgenre of of crime film. Many imitators emerged and dialogue in film changed around the mid-’90s due to this picture and Reservoir Dogs’ influence. For a film to really have that sort of impact on the entire American film industry is astounding but this did and dialogue is one of those things that really drives Tarantino’s work and many directors that followed and were inspired by it, whether knowingly or unknowingly.

The film is sort of an anthology but not fully. It has multiple stories going on but there is so much overlap with common characters that I can’t see it as a true anthology. It’s also told out of sequence, which isn’t a bad thing but I do remember the older generation being confused by the story when the movie came out. But ultimately, I like that there are these multiple plot threads, all of them very good, and none of them really being the main story.

Tarantino also pulled the very best performances out of his cast. This is incredibly well acted, so much so, that it revitalized John Travolta’s crumbling career and established Samuel Jackson as a long-term mainstay in Hollywood. Hell, that guy has been in so many damn pictures since Pulp Fiction, I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reviewing them all and I review movies, sometimes multiple, daily.

The real breakout star for me in this movie was Uma Thurman, as she was able to show how skilled of an actress she is and thus, cemented herself as one of the top leading ladies of the ’90s and beyond.

The film also did great things for Ving Rhames’ career. He had some notable roles before this but it really opened a lot of doors for him too. Had he not done this film, he might not have gotten to be a big part of the Mission: Impossible film franchise alongside Tom Cruise and later, Simon Pegg.

Pulp Fiction is just a great film and one of the best of the ’90s, hands down. For Tarantino’s work, this along with the Kill Bill films are my favorites. It’s hard to choose between them but then again, the man’s worst work is still lightyears ahead of most directors’ best. He doesn’t have a bad movie, even if some of them don’t resonate for me on the same level as Pulp Fiction.

Anyway, you’ve probably already seen this movie and love it, so I’m not stating much of what you don’t already know. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not sure what sort of rock you live under and if you have seen it and don’t love it, you need to see a veterinarian because you’re not human.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Quentin Tarantino’s other crime films.

Film Review: The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

Release Date: May 14th, 2019 (Cannes)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Music by: SQÜRL
Cast: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits

Animal Kingdom, Film i Väst, Kill the Head, Focus Features, 104 Minutes

Review:

“That girl is half Mexican. I know because I love Mexicans.” – Officer Ronnie Peterson

Jim Jarmusch is really hit or miss for me.

Overall, I’d say this was a miss but it did keep my interest because one thing I usually like about Jarmsuch’s films are the characters and their conversations. However, while that is good and engaging the first time around, it doesn’t necessarily make a film worth revisiting.

The Dead Don’t Die is pretty much what one would expect from a Jarmusch film about zombies.

It’s weird, it’s quirky and there’s not much else there. In fact, the only real glue that holds this flimsy house of cards together is the cast and their interactions.

While Jarmusch can be labeled as weird, this film seems to embrace its weirdness a little too much. In this film, shit is weird just to be weird.

For instance, you have Tilda Swinton’s character who is a female Scottish samurai that you later find out is an alien when a UFO randomly appears to take her home in the middle of a zombie fight. Why? What’s the point? Why was she there? Jarmusch doesn’t care, so why should we?

You also have a moment at the end where the characters break the fourth wall for no reason other than creating a nonsensical plot twist in an effort to maximize on the weird. It actually broke the film for me and made it irreparable where, up to that point, I kind of accepted it in spite of its goofy faults.

Additionally, characters are introduced, relationships are established and not a whole lot comes out of any of it. There isn’t a satisfactory payoff and you’re just left scratching your head for a lot of it. I mean, you want to like characters and you kind of do but none of it matters because we’re all fucked and no one really has a plan, including the cops.

Is this supposed to be a critique on authority or society? I mean, haven’t we gotten that with just about every zombie movie ever made? From Jarmusch, a guy that has made some solid, critically acclaimed films, I guess I expected more than this. For the zombie subgenre of horror, I definitely wanted more than this, as zombies have been done to death, pun intended, and just being weird shouldn’t fly and shouldn’t get you a free pass.

I also feel like this awkward style of comedy dialogue is well past its expiration date.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other Jim Jarmusch films, as well as other zombie comedies.

Film Review: Billy Madison (1995)

Release Date: February 10th, 1995
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy
Music by: Randy Edelman
Cast: Adam Sandler, Bridgette Wilson, Bradley Whitford, Josh Mostel, Norm Macdonald, Darren McGavin, Chris Farley, Steve Buscemi, Robert Smigel, Allen Covert

Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa whoa whoa, Miss Lippy. The part of the story I don’t like is that the little boy gave up looking for Happy after an hour. He didn’t put posters up or anything, he just sat on the porch like a goon and waited. That little boy’s gotta think ‘You got a pet. You got a responsibility.’ If your dog gets lost you don’t look for an hour then call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog.” – Billy Madison

I have never been much of an Adam Sandler fan. I don’t dislike him though and I have enjoyed his more serious stuff, which I think he has a gift for. Yet, time and time again, he gives us really dumb and bad movies. Billy Madison is a film that people love but even when I was a teenager and this was a current film, I just didn’t care for it.

There just isn’t very much in this movie that I find funny. It’s not because I don’t like goofy humor but the movie doesn’t have much of a point to make and it follows a completely unlikable character that we are supposed to be rooting for.

Billy Madison, the character, is just a childlike selfish asshole. No, he doesn’t deserve anything his rich father could leave him, even if he proves that he can go back to elementary school and pass. He has to get through high school too but the majority of the movie sees him in third grade, trying to win the heart of his teacher, who can’t stand him and then suddenly, has the hots for this billionaire buffoon. I’m just going to say that she swallowed her pride and wanted the money.

This is one of those comedy movies that is nothing more than a series of gags that only really work once and even then, they mostly don’t. For some reason, twenty-plus years later, I still hear assholes in bars yell out, “O’Doyle rules!” But this film isn’t too dissimilar from what was the norm in the 1990s and hell, the norm now. Adam Sandler was at the forefront of movie comedies becoming bad and bad comedy being accepted en masse.

Billy Madison is a film that exists and for some reason, had some success that gave us a comic that has the intelligence and wit to give us special movies but ultimately chooses to make stupid ones. And in modern times, Sandler has been relegated to making Netflix movies that get incredibly bad reviews but truthfully, Billy Madison isn’t any better than the schlock he’s hated for now.

Rating: 4.5/10

 

Film Review: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Release Date: January 21st, 1992 (Sundance)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Wright (voice)

Live America Inc., Dog Eat Dog Productions, Miramax Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, why am I Mr. Pink?” – Mr. Pink

Every great director has to start somewhere and this is where Quentin Tarantino’s career truly began. This is his origin story and for a first real attempt at creating a full-fledged motion picture, the young director absolutely nailed it and gave the world something exceptional.

The film also has a great ensemble of actors who would go on to do great things, as well as Harvey Keitel, who was already established as a master of his craft, especially in crime pictures.

The bulk of the movie, from a performance standpoint, mostly falls on the shoulders of Keitel and Tim Roth. While Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney were all perfect, it is the bond between Keitel and Roth that drives the picture and gives it the needed emotional weight and purpose.

The majority of this film takes place in one room. It actually only leaves this room when the actors walk out into its parking lot or during a flashback sequence. It is a very confined film but that works to its advantage and for its building of tension.

Reservoir Dogs also showcases Tarantino’s mastery of dialogue. While I feel that his dialogue tends to get really carried away in his later films and almost ruins them, in this picture he has the perfect balance of great dialogue, pivotal plot developments and overall motion. The conversations may go on for a bit but they are the driving force of the film. But never does it go on too long or go off on drawn out unnecessary tangents that don’t work as well on a second viewing. Every scene says what it needs to say and serves a purpose. The film just moves, flows and keeps you on edge in the right way. It is witty and it is fast in a way that Tarantino’s later pictures aren’t.

Now the film is also surrounded in some minor controversy, as people have gone on to notice that this film seems to borrow quite heavily from the 80s Hong Kong film City On Fire. Ringo Lam’s well-known picture in the Hong Kong crime genre predates Reservoir Dog by five years. It features an undercover cop infiltrating a group of jewel thieves, tension around the fact that no one knows who the cop is, a Mexican standoff finale and a whole laundry list of other similar plot points. Tarantino has casually denied that Reservoir Dogs is a sort of remake of City On Fire but it is hard to deny the myriad of similarities when you have seen both films.

The thing is, even if Tarantino ripped it off to launch his career, the fact remains that he made a much better picture than Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. Also, Reservoir Dogs, despite its inspiration, is very much a Tarantino picture. Also, hasn’t Quentin Tarantino’s entire career just been made up of artistic homages to all the things he thinks are cool? But I guess the thing that bothers people is that he won’t admit he lifted the plot when he very honestly states that Kill Bill was his version of Lady Snowblood or when he just borrows titles from other movies for his films like using Django in the title of Django Unchained or taking Inglorious Bastards and stylizing it Inglourious Basterds.

At the end of the day, I don’t care how Tarantino came to create Reservoir Dogs. It is still very much his and a work of modern cinematic art. It was, by far, one of the greatest debuts of any director in history and it will always be considered one of the greatest indie films of the 1990s.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Ghost World (2001)

Release Date: September 21st, 2001 (USA)
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Written by: Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff
Based on: Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Music by: David Kitay
Cast: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Bob Balaban, Illeana Douglas, Steve Buscemi, Stacey Travis

Advanced Medien, Granada Film, Jersey Shore, Mr. Mudd, United Artists, 112 Minutes

ghost-worldReview:

Ghost World is a film I really liked for a few years around the time it came out in 2001. I hadn’t watched it in a very long time but felt the urge to revisit it.

The movie is based off of a graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes, who also created the comic series Eightball. Both of these comics have reached cult status.

Thora Borch stars as Enid and Scarlett Johansson stars as her best friend Rebecca. This film is the first time I saw Scarlett Johansson and I remember feeling, at the time, that I would definitely see more of her. I felt the same way about Thora Birch, even since seeing her as a child star before this film but she has stuck to mainly independent work.

The cast is rounded out by Steve Buscemi’s Seymour, a lonely older guy that Enid develops affection for after a prank gone wrong, and the late Brad Renfro’s Josh, who serves no real purpose other than being the guy the two girls are crushing on. It is also worth mentioning that Bob Balaban plays Enid’s father and Illeana Douglas plays her art teacher.

Directed by Terry Zwigoff, who is known for his surreal feeling otherworldly films, the style of Ghost World doesn’t disappoint. Taking its cue from the comic series, it feels like a timeless world, more in tune with the 1950s with touches of the 60s and 70s, even though it is obvious that it is in modern day.

The soundtrack is fantastic and is still, to this day, one of my favorite of all-time. The music adds a lot to the film and it serves as the force that brings the characters of Enid and Seymour together and strengthens their bond.

Ultimately, this is a film about relationships and finding yourself lost in the world. On one hand it shows the relationship of Enid and Rebecca dissolving as they grow older and apart from one another. On the other hand, it shows the birth of something new between Enid and Seymour. In the end, Enid has to deal with everything she has known and relied on slipping away.

It is a sad film in many regards but it ends with a sense of optimism and hope. Although, some people I have talked to, interpret the ending as something really dark. I don’t quite see it as that black and white or depressing. Enid’s journey shouldn’t feel that dissimilar to things we’ve all gone through: feelings of loneliness, isolation, having nowhere to turn and feeling like everything bad that’s happened is your fault.

Ghost World is a fun movie. But it is a very human movie. Despite its subject matter, it isn’t a heavy film. It is lighthearted and you do care about the characters and hope all of them find their place in the world. With that, I think the film accomplished what it set out to do and from what I remember of the comic book, which I need to read again, it did capture its magic.

Rating: 8/10