Film Review: The Wrecking Crew (1968)

Release Date: December 25th, 1968 (Canada)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: William McGivern
Based on: The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Nigel Green, Tina Louise, Wilhelm von Homburg (uncredited), Chuck Norris (uncredited)

Meadway-Claude Productions, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“So this is the place I was gonna get shot in the back. Kind of a stylish pad to take off from.” – Matt Helm

I’ve arrived at the fourth and final Matt Helm film and while the Dean Martin spy comedies have been enjoyable, this one showed me that maybe they had already run out of steam.

That’s not to say that this one wasn’t enjoyable, it was, but it was the weakest in the series and just felt like everyone involved was simply running through the motions and the entire production had become a paint-by-numbers affair.

Sure, Martin is still charming and suave and the women are beautiful. But this really felt like they were dialing it in, trying to get one last glass of milk out of the cow.

However, if they did make a fifth film, I’d still watch it. It’s hard not to like Dean Martin in this role, as it’s tailor made for him and who the hell doesn’t like Dean Martin?

One of the strong points in this film was the villain, who was played by Nigel Green, who is most known for his roles in classic horror films.

This is also sort of bittersweet in that it was Sharon Tate’s last movie before she was murdered by the Manson Family in 1969. I enjoyed her in this but I think that she hadn’t reached her full potential and it’s hard to say whether or not she would’ve grown into a real film star that could’ve carried a production on her own.

The film also featured a bunch of boxers, wrestlers and martial artists, all of whom were uncredited for their small roles. However, it’s worth mentioning that Bruce Lee worked on the film, behind the scenes, and this was also Chuck Norris’ first film, even though he’s so far under the radar that I didn’t even notice him.

Another interesting thing about this movie is that it was directed by the same guy who did the first Matt Helm picture, Phil Karlson. He’s a director mostly known for his fine noir movies and while I enjoy his work in the Matt Helm series, it doesn’t quite live up to the movies he did before them.

The Wrecking Crew was an okay finale to the Matt Helm film series. It could’ve tried a little bit harder and gave fans something better but in the end, it did get this far and that’s something.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row and The Ambushers: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (complete title)
Release Date: February 3rd, 1995
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Michael De Luca
Music by: John Carpenter, Jim Lang
Cast: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen, Wilhelm von Homburg

New Line Cinema, 95 Minutes

Review:

“God’s not supposed to be a hack horror writer.” – John Trent

I’m actually really surprised that I haven’t watched this in the four years since I’ve started this site. It’s a film I’ve watched at least a dozen times and it’s one of my favorite John Carpenter flicks. Plus, it’s the third and final part to his unofficial trilogy of films he calls the Apocalypse Trilogy. The other two films are The Thing and Prince of Darkness.

While The Thing takes the cake in the trilogy, Prince of Darkness and this movie are still damn good, incredibly fucked up and a lot of fun, especially for fans of John Carpenter’s more fantastical pictures.

This story sees its protagonist try to uncover an “end of days” conspiracy, as he’s sent to go find a famous horror author but discovers that the writer’s written words are telling the true, current and still developing story about humanity’s fall to dark, sinister powers.

In the Mouth of Madness has a very Lovecraftian vibe, which is also pretty apparent by the film’s title, which sounds an awful lot like H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. Also, different horror novel titles seen within the film are also homages to Lovecraft’s famous stories.

The one thing this movie does incredibly well is creating an atmosphere that almost feels like a dense, creepy fog that is thickening and wrapping around the two main characters, as the film rolls on and provides more details and plot developments. Also, the small town that they’re in feels like a legit ghost town with a bizarre otherworldly-ness. Even when these characters are out in the open, it feels as if they are confined in a tight box and that box’s walls are closing in.

This is an example of a film that does a lot with very little. Sure, there are effects and actual monsters in the movie but its the unseen stuff that creates the magic. Although, when you see the monsters, it also doesn’t diminish the implied horror, it sort of just legitimizes it and makes you, the viewer, go, “Oh, shit! These things do exist and this guy isn’t fucking crazy!”

In regards to the monsters and the special effects, I dig all of it. This film really achieved some great effects shots and freak out moments. It really pushed the bar for a film that I assume just had a typical early ’90s horror budget.

Sam Neill is really superb in this, as well. While this didn’t boost his bank account like his Jurassic Park movies, it is one of his best performances and it really set the stage for what he could do in the horror realm. In fact, I think that his experience with this picture really allowed him to explore the depths of hell in his own soul in Event Horizon, a few years later. Both of these movies are two of the finest horror films to come out of the ’90s and both have aged tremendously well.

In the Mouth of Madness is a fantastic horror fantasy, through and through. It sort of just seeps into your mind and never lets go of it. I guess that’s why it’s one of the Carpenter films that I revisit the most.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse TrilogyPrince of Darkness and The Thing.

Film Review: Die Hard (1988)

Release Date: July 12th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Based on: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, William Atherton, Clarence Gilyard, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Al Leong, Robert Davi, Rick Ducommun, Mary Ellen Trainor, Wilhelm von Homburg

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 132 Minutes

Review:

“This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.” – Hans Gruber, “That was Gary Cooper, asshole.” – John McClane

I ended the year and the holiday season on a bang, as I got to see Die Hard on the big screen. I saw the second and the third ones in the theater but seeing the original on a 3o foot tall screen wasn’t something I got to experience when I was nine years-old in the summer of 1988. I’m glad I got to rectify that injustice, as Die Hard is purely perfection.

Yes, I know that using a word like “perfection” is pretty bold but Die Hard made a bold statement when it came out in a time when the action genre was ruled over by the two kings of the ’80s: Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

Bruce Willis was a nobody in 1988, other than being Cybill Shepherd’s sidekick on TV’s Moonlighting and for playing a good villain in one episode of Miami Vice. This is the film that made him a star and a household name, almost instantly.

This film has a pretty amazing ensemble cast as well. You have two of the ’80s biggest weaselly character actors with Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) and William Atherton (Ghostbusters and Real Genius). You have the ’80s and ’90s quintessential lovable cop, Carl Winslow himself, Reginald VelJohnson. You’ve also got Robert Davi as an FBI agent and Al Leong as an evil henchman, which was his modus operandi back in the ’80s.

The two biggest parts, after Willis’ John McClane, are Bonnie Bedelia, as his wife, and Alan Rickman, as the German terrorist Hans Gruber. As great as Rickman always was and even considering his iconic run as Snape in the Harry Potter films, this, to me, was always his greatest role. Having just seen this again, I still feel that this was the greatest and coolest role that Rickman ever had. He played it so well, even with his fairly funny scenes faking an American accent.

While the 1980s gave us the best action movies of all-time, many of them have flaws and a certain level of cheesiness to them, especially now, three decades later. Die Hard, however, still brings it. And while it has its funny lines and moments, they never got cheesy. It all still works and works well. The plot is solid, the action is amazing, well thought out, well executed and there are a lot of layers to the film that all weave together in a sort of brilliant way that you just don’t see in straight up action flicks.

Die Hard is perfect. And the reason why is that it is damn near impossible to pick it apart and to try and figure out a better way to make it work. It doesn’t feel dated and it should when looked at within the context of when it came out and what the standard was at the time. The vast majority of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s movies feel dated but somehow, Die Hard feels truly timeless. It’s a smarter and better executed film than one would probably assume at first glance. It is greater than the sum of its parts and all the elements of the film come together seamlessly and impeccably.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: The ‘Ghostbusters’ Film Series (1984-1989)

For those who haven’t seen these films, you have wasted your time on this planet. In fact, these are films that should be beamed into the brains of unborn babies. This would eliminate any chance of horrible humorless babies coming into the world. America, or the world for that matter, doesn’t need anymore humorless jerks being born to boring parents.

These films are great. The first is much greater but the second is still damn good. So let me get right into these movies.

Ghostbusters (1984):

Release Date: June 7th, 1984 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, William Atherton, Slavitza Jovan, Casey Kasem (cameo)

Black Rhino, Delphi Productions, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

ghostbustersReview:

I was five years-old when this came out. I didn’t see it in the theater because my mum thought it was “too intense”. She was wrong, as I saw it when I was six and fell in love with the film and its cast.

My young mind was exposed to Bill Murray, as well as Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. From that point forward, my lifelong allegiance to those three was solidified. Hell, I also had an allegiance to Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts after this film.

Few films, even great comedy ensembles, are able to assemble a cast this good. Originally, John Belushi was set to play Murray’s part but his death changed things. Eddie Murphy was also cast in the role that went to Ernie Hudson while John Candy had Rick Moranis’ part. All things considered, I’m glad the film turned out the way it did. I think Murray is the gel that makes this unit work.

Great cast aside, the film was fun and original. The story sees three failed scientists and a hired fourth guy go against the paranormal forces that are ravaging 1980s New York City. It is a pretty nonstop film that moves fast from the first scene through the climactic final battle with Gozer the Gozerian.

Peter Venkman is Bill Murray’s greatest character, even though many can just say that he’s playing Bill Murray with a bit more intelligence in the realm of science. It is also Ramis’ and Aykroyd’s most iconic roles. The film is a perfect storm of talent, comedy, action and storytelling.

The special effects, for their time, are top notch and well executed. The diversity in the types of ghosts and supernatural characters is pretty astounding. While this film could’ve played as well with typical one-dimensional ghost characters, the filmmakers got insanely creative and took a lot of liberties.

Ghostbusters isn’t a perfect film.. no, actually, it is.

Rating: 10/10

Ghostbusters II (1989):

Release Date: June 16th, 1989
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd
Music by: Randy Edelman
Cast: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, Peter MacNicol, Kurt Fuller, Wilhelm von Homburg, Mary Ellen Trainor, Christopher Neame, Chloe Webb (uncredited), Kevin Dunn (uncredited)

Columbia Pictures, 108 Minutes

ghostbusters_iiReview:

It took five years to get a sequel. Many think that it is inferior to the original, and they aren’t wrong. But it is still great and although it doesn’t capture lightning in a bottle a second time, it does retain some of the magic of the first film.

At its worst, it is a continuation of these characters’ lives. With a talented cast, such as this, it is hard to make a bad film, even if a sequel wasn’t necessary.

The entire cast that I mentioned in my write-up about the first movie, returns in this installment. We also get the addition of Peter MacNicol, who was brilliant and really steals the scenes that he is in – a tremendous feat when sharing the screen with Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, Hudson, Weaver and Moranis. I’m surprised that MacNicol hasn’t done more comedy like this.

This chapter sees the Ghostbusters go against Vigo the Carpathian, who is an homage to Rasputin and Vlad Tepes (the real Dracula). He is in search of a baby to be his vessel for reincarnation. It just so happens that Weaver’s character is now the mother of a baby.

While not as outright funny as the first film, the humor is still top notch, the gags are funny and it is just nice to see these guys together again for another two hour romp.

Ghostbusters II isn’t an example of a bad sequel, it is a good sequel. While it wasn’t needed, we got it. It could have been much worse but I am happy with the finished product, regardless.

Rating: 8.5/10