Film Review: Toy Soldiers (1991)

Release Date: April 26th, 1991
Directed by: Daniel Petrie Jr.
Written by: David Koepp, Daniel Petrie Jr.
Based on: Toy Soldiers by William P. Kennedy
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, Keith Coogan, Andrew Divoff, Denholm Elliot, Lou Gossett Jr., George Perez, T.E. Russell, Shawn Phelan, R. Lee Ermey, Jerry Orbach (uncredited)

Island World, TriStar Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Great, the school gets taken over by terrorists and I’m still on pots and pans.” – William “Billy” Tepper

I thought this movie was pretty badass when I was twelve years-old. I mean, it’s still okay but it hasn’t stood the test of time very well. Plus, I think at twelve, I still believed that being a real G.I. Joe was an obtainable life goal.

Toy Soldiers like Red Dawn, Iron Eagle and The Rescue before it, sees its teen stars pick up arms to take down some corrupt, evil motherfuckers.

In the case of this film, the teens’ military school is taken over by a Colombian drug cartel because the cartel’s leader’s daddy is being held captive by the United States government. The reason he chose the school was because the son of one of the U.S. government officials is enrolled there. However, he was pulled out of the academy just before the evil shitheads arrived. So the bad guys already suck before the ball really gets rolling.

Anyway, we see a pretty solid cast of Sean Astin, Keith Coogan and Wil Wheaton (before he totally sucked) work with their other buddies in an effort to stop the drug cartel and take their school back.

The adult officials in the movie are also pretty solid, as they’re played by Louis Gossett Jr. Denholm Elliot and R. Lee Ermey.

Seeing this now, almost thirty years later, all the film’s extra excess of cheese is very apparent. Sure, I noticed it when I was a pre-teen but having just come out of the ’80s, cheesiness was still at the forefront of American pop culture. So was patriotism and kicking foreign ass, as we had just won the Cold War, conquered mainstream communism and were embroiled in the first Gulf War. Also, for kids my age, we had guys like Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan preaching to us about the awesomeness of Americana. Don’t talk to me about Slaughter becoming an Iraqi sympathizer because that wasn’t real, you imagined it.

So the movie is still enjoyable in spite of its goofiness and its awkward stars trying so hard to be tough guys. It’s hard to buy into, especially when you see little Willy Wheaton shooting a machine gun on the steps of the school, only to be gunned down in an effort to give this meaningless movie more meaning.

As mindless entertainment goes, you could watch much worse. This is a pretty forgettable film but it had some good young actors for its time. I only wish it would’ve been retooled into a Pauly Shore movie because that would’ve taken it to a whole other level.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other teen soldier movies like Red Dawn, Iron Eagle and The Rescue.

Film Review: Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Also known as: Star Trek X (working title)
Release Date: December 9th, 2002 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Stuart Baird
Written by: John Logan, Rick Berman, Brent Spiner
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman, Dina Meyer, Kate Mulgrew (cameo), Wil Wheaton (cameo), Whoopi Goldberg (cameo), Bryan Singer (cameo), Majel Barrett (voice), Stuart Baird (voice)

Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“We supported you, Shinzon, when you assassinated the Senate. You told us the timing was perfect for an attack on the Federation. I don’t understand why now you delay.” – Commander Suran

A lot of people despised this movie. Well, good thing I don’t really care about what most people think because this is one of my favorite Star Trek films of all-time. I certainly have some issues with the plot but I’ll discuss that as the review rolls on.

To start, this was a really dark chapter in the Star Trek film franchise, which was definitely welcomed at the time, as the previous film, Insurrection, was a pointless romp and almost felt like a nice vacation for the Enterprise-E crew. This mirrors First Contact in its level of darkness and even eclipses it, as there aren’t a lot of funny scenes like all the Earth stuff from that movie. I guess some people didn’t like how “doom and gloom” this picture was but I dug it in the same way I really dug The Wrath of Khan, twenty years earlier than this.

The thing that really made me like this picture too was that it featured the Romulans heavily. It took ten Star Trek motion pictures to get a Romulan story and this one really setup what could have been a good trilogy of films surrounding the oncoming storm of Romulan civil war.

So many things happened in this film that changed the playing field for not just the Romulans and the Federation but also the crew of the Enterprise. I feel like this should have kicked off a trilogy within the film series, sort of like how The Wrath of Khan started its own trilogy of films surrounding the Genesis Project. I really, truly wanted to see the Enterprise with Picard fighting alongside the Titan with Riker with good Romulans on one side and bad Romulans and Remans on the other. This could have lead to massive, epic things but the film series ended with this picture. I heard that the novels that covered Riker’s time as captain on the Titan were pretty good though. I should check those out.

Anyway, I also really liked Tom Hardy as the villain Shinzon, even though I didn’t like his backstory. Shinzon was a clone of Jean-Luc Picard and was there to sort of challenge the core of who Picard is. Could he be this psychotic evil man under different circumstances? At the same time, could Shinzon be a noble and heroic character if he were raised under similar circumstances as Picard. I like how this plays out even though I felt that the clone part was incredibly cheesy and friggin’ strange.

But this also tapped into Data sort of having his own clone in the movie too, as the crew discovers an older model of Data on a remote planet. Data spends time trying to help the new android evolve and adapt beyond his simple programming and B4, this new android, is even given Data’s memories at one point and essentially carries Data inside of him.

It’s interesting that Brent Spiner, the man who plays Data, helped write the script, as this is very much a picture where Data is the focus and his journey here is his most important in the character’s history. I feel that Spiner’s inclusion in the writing process helped to enrich this part of the story in a more personal way.

I also thought that the special effects were a big step up from Insurrection, which was the first Star Trek movie to go full CGI instead of using models for the ships. This film didn’t feel as cheap as its predecessor, which came off like a “made for TV” movie for the SyFy channel.

I also loved the design of Shinzon’s battleship. That thing was sick and is one of my favorite Star Trek vessels of all-time.

I really like this film but unfortunately, it didn’t give fans the right sort of closure that they should have gotten with this exceptional cast. And for me, it left me hanging, wanting to see where the Romulan storyline could have gone.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Next Generation films: Star Trek: GenerationsStar Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection.

Film Review: The Last Starfighter (1984)

Release Date: July 13th, 1984
Directed by: Nick Castle
Written by: Jonathan R. Betuel
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Lance Guest, Dan O’Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Norman Snow, Vernon Washington, Marc Alaimo, Wil Wheaton, Suzanne Snyder

Lorimar Productions, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Things change. Always do. You’ll get your chance! Important thing is, when it comes, you’ve got to grab with both hands, and hold on tight!” – Otis

The Last Starfighter might not be as remembered as Star Wars and it may have been very strongly inspired by it, as most sci-fi films from the 80s were, but there is something pure and endearing about it that somehow stands the test of time. Frankly, it’s a fantastic picture and it still looks beautiful, even if its special effects are comprised of very early CGI animation.

The film is lighthearted and downright hokey, at times, but it doesn’t fell like that outdated bad sort of 80s cheesiness. It has charm and heart and there really isn’t even a character in this film that isn’t likable. Well, except for the pretty gross bounty hunter Zando-Zan. But hell, even the villains are likable to a degree.

While Star Wars was every boy’s whole world back in the time of my childhood, I can honestly say that I watched The Last Starfighter more often. It was a shorter movie than any of the Star Wars episodes and it told its story and was done. It felt complete, even if it did leave things open for a sequel that never came but should have. It was also just a good straightforward movie without a lot of extra plot and characters beyond what it needed to tell its story. You weren’t distracted by vague references to other worlds and new and strange characters walking into frame every thirty seconds. I’m not saying that those are bad things but The Last Starfighter just focuses on the task at hand and doesn’t try to universe build in order to sell books, comics and toys.

Lance Guest was a really good choice to play our hero, Alex Rogan. He felt like every all-American teenager from a tiny town that just wants to live a much larger life. Catherine Mary Stewart was a perfect compliment to Guest, as the two just had a real chemistry and made you want to root for them to make it and to have a great future.

Dan O’Herlihy was well-hidden as the alien co-pilot Grig. However, his voice is very distinct and I always knew he was the old man that ran OCP in the Robocop movies and the evil Irish madman that wanted his Halloween masks to melt the heads of children in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Robert Preston was the real scene stealer, though. Every time he is on screen, he commands the attention of the audience and the other actors around him. He had a very strong charisma and likability.

The themes by Craig Safan created one of my favorite film scores of the 1980s. The main theme for The Last Starfighter still holds up well today and every time I hear it, nothing but fond memories and emotions return.

The special effects are made with CGI animation but it is a much more primitive style of animation than what audiences would come to see just a few years later. While the animation is clean, it has a unique and otherworldly look to it that still feels majestic. Even if it looks dated, it still compliments the film and it still works.

The Last Starfighter was fairly popular and has a big cult following. People like Seth Rogen and Steven Spielberg tried for years to buy the rights to it, in an effort to carry on the franchise into the future. However, Jonathan R. Betuel, the writer and creator, will not allow anyone to touch it. Honestly, that’s kind of bad ass.

It isn’t a perfect movie but it still feels perfect to me. It probably deserves more recognition than it has but those who know it, love it.

Rating: 9/10