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: Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (2021)

Also known as: Snake Eyes (informal title)
Release Date: July 21st, 2021 (Indonesia, Iceland, Italy)
Directed by: Robert Schwentke
Written by: Evan Spiliotopoulos, Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Based on: Snake Eyes by Larry Hama; G.I. Joe by Hasbro
Music by: Martin Todsharow
Cast: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Iko Uwais, Peter Mensah

Skydance Media, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“[deciding to run away from the battle] Oh, fuck this!” – The Baroness

Lens flares are back, baby! And I guess they’re getting really fancy and artistic with them now. So much so, that they’ve become more important than the action and you find yourself looking for them, as opposed to focusing on the fights, that are already obscured by this effect, as well as choppy editing, sloppy choreography and what’s apparently the director not giving a fuck about anything.

Anyway, this was the third attempt at a live-action G.I. Joe movie and it’s also a huge step backwards from Retaliation, which had its problems but was also leaning hard into the right direction. With Retaliation, a follow up never came because Hasbro doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing with their own properties, anymore. Plus, Paramount has been creatively bankrupt with Hasbro’s properties since they originally acquired them in the mid-’00s.

At least the horrendous G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra kind of resembled G.I. JoeSnake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, on the other hand, is notG.I. Joe movie and the title character is not Snake Eyes.

To start, Snake Eyes is a masked, silent ninja. Emphasis on “silent” and “masked”. He’s also a white, blonde American that got disfigured from an accident while trying to save his brothers-in-arms during an actual war.

In this film, he’s Asian, he never wears a mask and he rarely, if ever, doesn’t shut the fuck up. He also doesn’t go to war. Additionally, they didn’t really cast an action guy and Henry Golding, despite his best efforts and I don’t blame him, completely lacked the energy and charisma needed for the role. And this left me wondering how Ray Park, behind a mask and without any dialogue, was able to bring a character like Snake Eyes to life so greatly in the previous two G.I. Joe movies?

The story was the biggest problem with the film and it’s just a very generic ninja movie that just sprinkles in G.I. Joe references because Hasbro is dumb and Paramount is dumber. In my opinion, the best Snake Eyes (and G.I. Joe) movie is 1985’s American Ninja, which isn’t even related to the franchise at all.

Now the acting was pretty shit, for the most part. The Baroness was especially awful and it kind of pisses me off, as she is one of my favorite characters in the franchise. In fact, I like her more than any of the franchise’s characters that were featured in this film. Also, she never looked like the Baroness. Honestly, she looked like an assistant manager at Wet Seal circa 1998.

I don’t know, man. This movie sucked and it was pretty fucking disappointing when the studio had a movie more than half right, eight years ago, and they never followed it up. Plus, they had Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis for fuck’s sake and an impressive and perfect looking Cobra Commander.

Instead, we got some generic ass ninja television pilot for a CW show that no one wanted.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: The Camp on Blood Island (1958)

Release Date: April 15th, 1958 (London premiere)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Jon Manchip White
Music by: Gerard Schurmann
Cast: André Morell, Carl Möhner, Edward Underdown, Walter Fitzgerald, Phil Brown, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Michael Ripper, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve no use for shirkers and there’s no room for self-pity here.” – Col. Lambert

Being that André Morell is my third favorite Hammer actor after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it was cool seeing him in something from the studio that wasn’t horror. Well, it’s a war film and with war there are certainly horrors.

This also features other Hammer regulars like Barbara Shelley, Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn. Being that this came out in 1958 also makes it pretty early on in their Hammer careers.

The plot revolves around the tension between a Japanese prison camp commandant and a British colonel held captive. The colonel knows that Japan has surrendered but the commandant isn’t yet aware of it. The colonel hides this fact, as the commandant has promised to slaughter a nearby camp full of women and children if Japan loses the war.

It’s a damn good setup and the film slowly continues to build its tension to a point where things start boiling over.

Some of the acting in this is really hit or miss and even if the film is a product of its time, it’s still weird seeing a non-Asian guy playing a Japanese commander. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, I don’t have any qualms with Christopher Lee playing Fu Manchu in the ’60s, as he did a stellar job and was believable. Also, his makeup was done by someone making a real effort. Here, the guy really doesn’t even look Asian. It’s just kind of jarring and takes my head out of the film, as I can’t suspend disbelief enough to ignore the glaring detail.

The good acting, mostly by Morell, isn’t enough to offset the strangeness of the Japanese commandant.

Also, this film moves really slow at times, which is surprising to me as it is only 81 minutes.

This is still pretty good, though. Morell absolutely steps up and brings his A-game making this movie much better than it would have been, otherwise.

I also thought that Barbara Shelley held her own and put in a believable performance, as a regular woman trapped in a very perilous situation.

All in all, this was a real departure from what Hammer is generally known for but they still put in a solid effort and this was better than I thought it would be.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: The African Queen (1951)

Release Date: December 26th, 1951 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, John Collier
Based on: The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Music by: Allan Gray
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

Romulus Films, Horizon Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William the Second I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.” – Captain of Louisa

Seeing two absolute legends like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn come together in a motion picture is a pretty special occasion, if handled and managed correctly. Being that this was directed by another legend, John Huston, the task was achieved and what we got was one hell of a film.

This is a mix of really emotional drama, romance, war and adventure.

It’s a great mix and it’s executed exceptionally well with the bulk of the film relying on the performances of just two characters, stuck together, traveling down a perilous river, against impossible odds and two personalities that clash quite often.

However, with both characters being strong people and having to rely on each other, they bond. In fact, they fall in love. And while this is a story that’s probably been done to death by now, Bogart and Hepburn did it better than any other onscreen duo that I have ever seen. It’s this bond, above all the other great things, that makes this picture so damn good.

But speaking of the other great things, I thought that all the other actors were good as well. I especially liked Robert Morley in this. He was mostly a portly, often times comedic, British character actor. However, he brought some real gravitas to his role, here. Even though I’ve seen this movie at least a half dozen times, I’m still saddened by his death early on in the picture. Although, without it, the real story doesn’t start.

Additionally, Huston’s direction is perfection. He took the great script and really massaged it into something greater than a less capable director would’ve been able to do. He also pulled out great performances from everyone. Granted, when you have Bogart and Hepburn at your disposal, that might not be too hard.

I love that this was actually filmed in Africa. It gave the movie a real authenticity that it otherwise wouldn’t have had if it was primarily shot in a studio or somewhere like central Florida, which was used as a stand-in for lots of jungle/swamp pictures.

Allan Gray’s score is pretty iconic but it stands strong on its own despite being forever linked with this classic picture.

I only have one real gripe about the movie and that’s the ending. To be clear, I definitely wanted the two main characters to survive and live a happy life together. However, I thought that the way they were saved from their execution was way too convenient, even for 1950s Hollywood. Still, I’m pretty okay with it because these characters should definitely not have had a tragic ending.

For this type of movie, there really aren’t any greater than The African Queen. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of romantic adventure movies. Unfortunately, for those others, this one takes the cake and probably always will considering how shit the film industry has become.

Rating: 9.75/10

Film Review: Tropic Thunder (2008)

Release Date: August 11th, 2008 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Justin Theroux, Ben Stiller, Etan Cohen
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Steve Coogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Brandon T. Jackson, Bill Hader, Nick Nolte, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Brandon Soo Hoo, Reggie Lee, Trieu Tran, Tobey Maguire, Tyra Banks, Maria Menounos, Martin Lawrence, Jason Bateman, Lance Bass, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alicia Silverstone, Christine Taylor, Yvette Nicole Brown, Sean Penn, Jon Voight, Justin Theroux

Goldcrest Pictures, Red Hour Films, Dreamworks Pictures, 107 Minutes (theatrical), 121 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m just like a little boy, playin’ with his dick when he’s nervous.” – Kirk Lazarus

Tropic Thunder is only thirteen years old yet it definitely isn’t a movie that you could make today.

Things have really changed in American culture and this picture now feels like it was Hollywood’s final attempt at a giant middle finger to the sensitive bitches that they knew would dictate the direction of cinematic art going forward.

While I haven’t seen this since it came out, I loved it pretty immensely at the time. I wasn’t sure if it would be as good as I remembered but man, I really should’ve been watching this fairly frequently over the last several years. I miss movies like this where nothing was sacred and you could make fun of anything and people still laughed.

There is a stark contrast between the world in 2008 and 2021. It’s fucking worrisome, as we live in a time where everything is fucking offensive and because of that, comedy is dead. I mean, when’s the last time a new movie made you laugh as hard as this one? These films just don’t and can’t exist anymore.

Not only is this hilarious, it’s pretty superbly acted for a comedy movie. The cast is pretty stacked with talent and all of them commit to the bit in every single scene. Frankly, there isn’t a weak link in this flick and I say that not being a big fan of Ben Stiller or Jack Black. Sure, I like some of their films but they were never guys I went to the movies for.

That being said, this might be the greatest thing that Ben Stiller has even done, as he doesn’t just star in it but he also co-wrote and directed it.

With that, the concept for the film was great and Stiller’s direction was just on another level, here. He showed that he can handle action, as well as comedy, and he got some fantastic shots in this picture.

The more I reflect on this, after my first viewing of it since the ’00s, it might very well be one of the all-time greats, as far as ensemble comedies go. While it’s not quite on the level of Ghostbusters, it’s not too far behind it, honestly.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Spartacus (1960)

Also known as: Spartacus: Rebel Against Rome (US poster title)
Release Date: October 6th, 1960 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Dalton Trumbo
Based on: Spartacus by Howard Fast
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Tony Curtis

Bryna Productions, Universal International, 197 Minutes

Review:

“If you looked into a magic crystal, you saw your army destroyed and yourself dead. If you saw that in the future, as I’m sure you’re seeing it now, would you continue to fight?” – Tigranes Levantus, “Yes.” – Spartacus, “Knowing that you must lose?” – Tigranes Levantus, “Knowing we can. All men lose when they die and all men die. But a slave and a free man lose different things.” – Spartacus, “They both lose life.” – Tigranes Levantus, “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” – Spartacus

Spartacus is another one of those classic epic films that I had seen in segments, dozens of times, on television at my granmum’s house as a kid. I don’t think that I had ever seen it in its entirety from beginning to end and with that, it’s the only Stanley Kubrick feature film that I hadn’t watched properly.

As a kid, this and Lawrence of Arabia were very similar to me. I also found this to be similar to the old sword and sandal movies of the same era, mainly the Hercules ones. However, Lawrence of Arabia takes place in a very different time and those Hercules movies can’t compete with Spartacus‘ greatness.

To start, this is directed by Stanley Kubrick, a real auteur who is on my Mount Rushmore of film directors. However, this was the one film where he wasn’t fully in control of the production and had to work within the big studio system, as he was brought in to replace a fired director. Kubrick was brought in at the request of his friend Kirk Douglas, who had worked with him previously on Paths of Glory.

Kubrick still utilized his skill set to great effect, however. While I don’t find this movie to be as stylistic as his other work, some of the shots in this are simply spectacular. For instance, watching the soldiers move into position on the battlefield is incredibly impressive and almost otherworldly while also slowly building up a real sense of dread just before the first attack.

The action in general is fantastic in this from the war scenes to the personal gladiatorial battles and every other skirmish in-between.

Beyond just Kubrick’s incredible artistic abilities, the film is loaded with some of the best acting talent that the motion picture industry has ever seen between Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. Not to mention Jean Simmons and Tony Curtis. And to be honest, this is some of the best work all these actors have done individually.

I guess it also helps that the director and his actors had a great script to work with from the legendary Dalton Trumbo, who did a stupendous job in adapting Howard Fast’s Spartacus novel, which I read in middle school and loved.

This is a movie that is pretty close to perfect for being what it is, which is a historical war drama with high stakes, a massive battle, action, romance and a good balance of humor and camaraderie between its stars.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

Release Date: August 3rd, 1984
Directed by: Stewart Raffill
Written by: Wallace C. Bennett, William Gray, Don Jakoby, Michael Janover
Based on: The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility by Charles Berlitz, William L. Moore
Music by: Kenneth Wannberg
Cast: Michael Paré, Nancy Allen, Eric Christmas, Bobby Di Cicco, Stephen Tobolowsky, Michael Currie

New Pictures, Cinema Group Ventures, New World Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“You know, I got it all figured out… Navy owes me 40 years back pay.” – David Herdeg

In my mind, I thought that I had seen this movie once or twice, as a kid. I was wrong. I have never seen this until now and my memory played tricks on me by conflating images of other movies that may not even be remotely accurate. Hey, I’ve done some drugs at different points in my life.

Anyway, I thought that this was a really weird movie, even for ’80s standards and the story was pretty wonky. Still, I did enjoy it and I really liked the bond that developed between the leads: Michael Paré and Nancy Allen.

The story is about these two Navy seamen that were aboard a ship during a strange experiment where the Navy were trying to make the vessel invisible to give them a tactical advantage during World War II. This experiment made the ship vanish but with that, the two seamen were transported through time to 1984. The time travel also gave them some weird sci-fi side effects and one of the men keeps having seizures and electrical phenomenon happening to his body until he eventually explodes into pure energy and disappears. The rest of the film is a race against time, as Michael Paré’s character is trying to solve his dilemma before the same fate happens to him.

This is also an “on the run”/road trip movie similar to Starman and other films where a protagonist is trying to outrun and outwit authorities in an effort to reach their goal.

I liked Paré a lot in this and I always thought that he was an underutilized actor that should’ve reached bigger heights in the ’80s. I also liked Nancy Allen too but she’s been a favorite of mine ever since I saw the original RoboCop, as a wee li’l lad.

The film is entertaining and it was a cool picture in spite of its hokiness and strange premise. It is slow in a few parts and the climax is a bit weird but it’s still a worthwhile experience. Granted, I don’t know if it’s something I’ll ever go out of my way to watch again.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other early ’80s sci-fi and “on the run” movies.

Documentary Review: ReMastered: Tricky Dick and the Man In Black (2018)

Release Date: 2018
Directed by: Sara Dosa, Barbara Kopple
Written by: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Music by: Johnny Cash, Glen Matisoff (music coordinator)
Cast: Johnny Cash (archive footage), Richard Nixon (archive footage)

All Rise Films, Triage Entertainment, Netflix, 59 Minutes

Review:

Tricky Dick and the Man In Black is the story of how Johnny Cash and Richard Nixon crossed paths during a turbulent time in America. A time that was more turbulent than now, if you can believe it.

This covers how Nixon reached out to Cash to get him to perform at the White House, which is a hell of an accomplishment for any artist, regardless of who’s got the keys to the country. And this obviously happened before Nixon’s crimes would be exposed and he would go on to severely damage the reputation of the United States government.

Anyway, in 1970, Cash did perform at the White House. However, Cash soon developed some serious reservations about it as it became apparent to him that his ideals clashed with that of the president.

This examines what led up to the concert at the White House and the reasoning behind how Cash ultimately wasn’t happy with the regime that was in charge of the land he loved.

Overall, the subject matter was damn interesting but I feel like this documentary was too short and didn’t really get deep enough into the mud. But this story is mostly told through talking head interviews by people who aren’t Cash and Nixon, as they’re no longer with us.

This was still a worthwhile and entertaining watch, however. It just needed more meat and felt incomplete. 

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Release Date: December 10th, 1962 (London – Royal premiere)
Directed by: David Lean
Written by: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Based on: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole

Horizon Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 222 Minutes (premiere), 202 Minutes (theatrical cut), 187 Minutes (1970 re-release), 228 Minutes (1988 restoration) 

Review:

“I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.” – T.E. Lawrence

My grandmother used to watch this movie a lot when I was a kid. It was always on her television and I’d catch big chunks of it from time-to-time. While I was always enthralled by it, especially its epic scope and cinematography, I never actually watched it in its entirety from start-to-finish until I was in my late teens.

From that point on, this became one of my all-time favorite films. Granted, it’s not something I can revisit too often, as it’s incredibly long and it doesn’t need to be revisited frequently, as its effect is almost otherworldly and sticks with you pretty deeply.

That being said, I’m not sure what it is about this that makes it pretty damn close to perfect and a bonafide masterpiece. But if you look at every element of this picture, there really isn’t anything one can pick apart. I guess some modern filmgoers might think that the pacing is too slow but I feel like the whole story is sort of a slow burn towards the end and once you get there, the payoff far exceeds the time invested in the picture.

Earlier, I mentioned its cinematography. For me, this is probably the first film that I saw that made me start paying attention to these sort of details and craftsmanship in motion pictures. I wanted to be a filmmaker, as a kid, and while I was more inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas back then, it was films like this, Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus that really opened my eyes to the actual art of filmmaking and what was possible using just the beautiful real world outside your door.

This movie also introduced me to Peter O’Toole, who I would go on to love in every role that I saw him in after this, except maybe King Ralph. I thought that one was well beneath his talent level (and also beneath John Goodman’s).

Lawrence of Arabia is an exceptional masterpiece. It’s one of those movies that everyone should have seen at least once. Honestly, even if you don’t think that it’s your cup of tea, you should give it a shot.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other all-time classic films. Specifically those that are true epics.

Video Game Review: Contra (Arcade)

As much as I have played Contra on the original Nintendo, I hadn’t played the arcade version in decades. I always remembered it looking better and having better sound but I wanted to replay it just to see the differences between this original version and its more widely known NES port.

So this obviously does have better graphics and sound but it also has smoother gameplay.

Beyond that, the levels feel more condensed and the bosses take less hits to defeat.

However, even though you have the ability to continue after death, those continues are limited, so it’s extremely hard to actually play through the game in its entirety. In fact, I kept getting put down on the snow level, about midway through the game.

Still, this was a hell of a lot of fun and it should be considered an arcade classic in the same vein the NES version is considered an original Nintendo classic.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling action games for the arcade and classic Nintendo, which narrows it down to about 8 dozen games.